Song I rocked to write:
'We Have a Map of the Piano' by Múm (thank you to @LeKinkyTwilight)
She hadn't tried very hard or for very long before it became second nature to her. Living in the shadows isn't as difficult when it's the way of one's world. When it's all you know.
All there is.
Very early on, she'd perfected the art of fading into the background, unaware that there was any other way. Convincing herself that someday, it would all be different. That she just had to be a good girl and do as was expected. That it would all pay off one day.
After all, how could a heart so young and fresh and hungry, possibly grasp such a vicious reality without the aid of an incentive, distorted as it may be?
And so, guided by her naive innocence, she bides her time...learning how to cope. How to ease the hurt and let the pain of rejection roll off and away. Sharpening her concentration and deftly ignoring anything that could serve to distract her.
When the world claws and closes in, she seeks places of solace. And even in these, she remains alone.
An old, worn out tire in the otherwise unused backyard of her childhood home.
A high-backed booth, off in the corner, away from eyes and ears and the expectation of more.
A second story window seat, overlooking the water and the darkness and the stars, that lets her look out without letting anything in.
She's ill equipped to identify, let alone engage, the gnawing feeling. The sensation that overtakes her randomly throughout the day, ebbing and flowing, but never ceasing. It hollows out her chest and leaves nothing behind to compensate.
Time is a funny thing and, unbeknownst to her, it had been busy as well. While she'd been so diligently sidetracked with her tomorrow, time had eroded her spark. Without knowledge of any other way, she'd hardened her spirit, effectively smothering the flame inside of her.
The fire that had inspired her to fight in the first place is extinguished.
And after the years have made a woman of the girl and appearances try their best to mislead, it is only a matter of time before she sees the truth. Before she opens her eyes and sees it for herself.
That she's no farther along than when she'd started.
That she never shook the darkness, for it has followed her toward a place she still cannot reach.
The voice of her heart, weakened to a faded echo, whispers in her ear.
"Is this it?'"
She hears her heart, feels it trying to tell her something, but it's no match for the atrophy that a lifetime has unleashed on her will.
It leaves her unarmed and incompetent, going though the motions yet never making any leeway.
She's lived in the darkness for so long, she's lost her way out.
So what's she to do when another soul, jagged and scarred, storms its way in and drags her into the light?
What will she do when the words he won't keep to himself illuminate and expose the part of herself that remains a stranger? To her...to everyone?
Will she flee, scurrying back into the shadows and the safety of invisibility?
Or will she fight, recovering the spark of a girl who she's forgotten? A girl who, for all her naiveté, had mastered a very simple truth. One that the woman has yet to grasp.
That she was worth more.
"Hello. How are you today?"
How am I today?
Crawling out of my skin.
Wishing away the last three weeks.
Wishing him away.
Exhausted. That dazed kind of tired that sleep can't touch. It knocks me down a peg and a few years back. Five, to be specific.
It's an unwelcome nostalgia.
Gone are the days where the exhaustion is unavoidable, yet here it is again. And it seems that I'm not as cut out for it this time. I'd gone down this path for years now. For years. And managed just fine. I'd paid my dues and worked my way out. Along comes Edward Cullen and I'm dunked right back into the chaotic mindset that I'd worked so hard to get out of. And even worse, it seems I'm rusty.
Somehow, I don't think the woman behind the counter at Seattle Coffee Works could handle the brutal truth.
"Fine, thanks. Can I just get a coffee, black, please?"
She looks relieved at my preference. I can't blame her after having stood in line behind ten minutes worth of fluffy coffee orders.
My fingers wrap around the paper cup and my palm stings from the heat of it. With too much time left in my lunch hour and no desire to return earlier than necessary, I bypass the exit and settle into a booth by the front window. I watch without interest as people stroll in and out of the coffee shop and up and down the sidewalks. Droves of people bustle up and down the sidewalk and across the street. A scattered mob of people with places to be on a Monday afternoon.
My leg bounces frantically under the table as I stare out the window and I don't even taste the coffee, drinking it down far quicker than I should. It's scalding hot and the burn of my tongue adds to my slow march toward losing it.
And later, after leaving work for the day, I finally do.
It'd been a short forty-eight hours since he'd left my driveway. Since he'd hijacked my run, dropping an impromptu confession in my lap and bombarding my mind with a heap of unwanted memories. Since he'd poured words of guilt and apology and humility in my ears. And then he'd driven away. Leaving me there with all of the shit I wish he'd taken with him.
The weight of it is torturous.
He'd left...but he wasn't gone. Just as he'd done with his first two spontaneous visits, he'd smudged my thoughts with the burden of things best left dead.
I can feel myself slipping. Taking shaky steps backward. Toward a time that I'd left behind.
A time that you think you left behind.
And yes, the badgering voice of my conscience had miraculously returned as well...riding right in on Edward's coattails.
Leaving was what I'd wanted him to do. He couldn't be gone fast enough, and yet his absence did nothing to alleviate the unease I'd felt from the moment he's jogged up alongside me. I'd tried to keep myself busy with all the things I normally would. Cleaning, working, TV.
Saturday and Sunday night had granted me a whopping five hours of sleep combined. I'd skipped my morning run on Sunday, too paranoid that he hadn't meant what he'd said about staying away. I kept trudging, thinking that if I could just make it to Monday, I could immerse my mind in work. However brief a time it would be, it was something. I'd take any relief from the onslaught in my head. Any opportunity to ignore the things that were tormenting my sanity and obliterating my focus.
Every account I'd tried to work on fell to the wayside because I couldn't even hear myself think. I'd been pulled so tight all day, that every time someone spoke to me, it chafed my nerves. I'd snapped at a courier first thing that morning and barely made it through a meeting with a client who insisted there be bubbles blown, by hand, at every table of her daughter's sweet sixteen party. Even after returning from my lunch break, the day just went downhill. Kate had finally pulled me aside and asked if everything was okay. While she was a wonderful person, this business was her pride and joy, and she ran a tight ship. I could tell she didn't believe me when I'd said I was just tired, but let it slide anyways. She'd be taking a mental note. Watching me closer now. Having to be pulled into the boss' office for the first time in all of my time at Windsor just served to farther piss me off. And only exacerbated my dilemma.
His words just got louder.
'I heard you....'
'....kick you while you're down...'
'Treating you like shit made me feel better...'
'I used you...'
'I humiliated and abused you...'
'Stop fucking acting like it didn't happen...'
Over and over.
I couldn't turn them off.
I couldn't even turn them down.
They looped, replaying his points of argument endlessly, as if he were at my side, delivering them into my ear himself.
'I was a better person once...'
'...but I lost that...'
'....buried it alive...'
'...I feel guilty...'
'...maybe the good person I used to be isn't dead...'
I couldn't afford to have his words inside of me. I wasn't any match for them and I suppose a part of me already knew it. But what was I supposed to do? I knew he was waiting for something from me. Anything. I could practically smell it on him every time his eyes drifted away and back to those nights. But what? What was he after?
I am driving down the I-5, heading for home when it hits me.
What he wants.
It's the only thing that makes sense. Why he was so persistent. The only possible explanation for why he'd try so hard to make me listen to him. Why he'd even care after all of this time.
With little thought for anything besides finally putting the situation to rest, I jerk across three lanes of traffic and take an exit toward the last place I ever thought I'd go again.
It's been so long since I'd last been here. So many things have changed.
The lobby isn't one of them.
It's still as pristine and sophisticated as I remember it, decorated in tasteful, contemporary furniture and completely spotless. It smells the same, leather and a subtle fragrance. Something purposeful, like a hidden air freshener. Even the security guard is the same. A touch of gray in the hair near his temples is the only difference I see. As I walk closer to the front desk, I realize that the grip of intimidation this place always had on me is gone now.
You're not that girl anymore, Bella.
The guard regards me politely, generically, at first. And then I see his head tilt just a fraction and his eyes narrow slightly. He watched me approach and when I reach the desk, his words startle me.
My face heats immediately at the thought of him remembering me. At the possibility that he could know the reason for my visits here. I want to assume he doesn't know anything, but my insecurity isn't so sure.
"Um, yes sir, that's right. Isabella Swan."
"Just one moment, ma'am. I have to call up."
I nod and he reaches for the phone, but is cut off by a voice from just behind me.
"That won't be necessary, Marcus."
I straighten up immediately, a dormant reflex that belongs to him...as much as it irritates me to admit it. And because my body is as traitorous as my mind is lately, the shiver makes itself known. It always seems to slink straight off of him and slither its way up my back, reveling in the transfer and adhering itself to my volition, taunting it.
The authority that the simplest of his words can convey is impressive. He isn't being short. It's just...him. I wonder if he knows he can do that. If he knows that he bleeds control into a room just by being in it.
Or maybe it's just me he has this affect on, seeing as how Marcus seems rather relaxed.
"Good evening, Mr. Cullen. How are you this evening?"
"I'm fine. Any messages?"
Marcus' face changes then, and for just a second he looks...hesitant. He lifts a small pile of message memos off of the desk, but doesn't move to hand them over.
"Just the usual ones, sir."
I haven't turned to face him, but whatever he communicates, he does so silently. Marcus nods and balls the papers, throwing them into a small wastebasket behind him. Huh.
And, damn it, I jump in place. Deciding that having any kind of conversation with him while my back is turned isn't conducive to him taking me seriously. I slowly turn to face him, chastising myself for letting my determination slip for even a moment. I came here with a purpose. And I am going to follow through with it.
Just as soon as I could breathe again.
A suit. A fucking suit.
Did it have to be black? Shirt, jacket, pants. Head to toe.
My vision alternates between the Edward of right now and the Edward of five years ago. A cocky sneer and a white business card.
'I have a proposition for you, Isabella......Isabella.....Isabella......'
Edward's voice is just below a yell, startling me out of the memory. Both he and Marcus are looking at me with careful concern, but it's Edward that speaks.
"Are you o-?"
I wrap anger around my embarrassment and fling it at him.
"I'm fine. I-I need to talk to you."
The words come out harsher than I meant them. He nods and glances toward the exit behind him and then to the elevators.
"Okay. Did you want to come up, or..."
He trails off, leaving the decision up to me. I definitely don't want to discuss this in the lobby, and going outside isn't the best idea. Our conversations have a tendency to get...complicated.
"We can do this upstairs."
I realize the double meaning of my words, and trip over myself to correct them.
"I mean, talk! We can talk upstairs."
Marcus is still watching me, probably contemplating whether or not I'm all there and Edward's eyebrows are raised in question.
He nods and motions for me to go ahead toward the elevators.
I clearly hadn't thought this far ahead. I've never been in such a small space with him before. Well, unless you count his car, but even then I was practically sitting on my hands to keeps my hormones in check. I hate that he brings this out in me. My shoulders sag in shame as we step inside and the doors close. We both stand facing the shiny gold doors. When I glance at his reflection, the last thing I thought I'd see is his face turned toward me. I whip my head to the left and look at him. His brows are furrowed and his eyes are dancing over my face.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
I don't want his concern. I don't need it. And have no idea what to do with it.
I turn away from him and look down at my feet, but jump away from him when he leans into me.
He freezes in place, his arm stretched around and past me. Our eyes lock and his jaw clenches, just before he adjusts his body to angle farther away from mine and presses the P button on the panel to my right. He straightens back up and I feel too ridiculous for words. I hadn't flinched from fear, but from...well, I don't really know.
The air is tense between us now. Although I was just wishing for it, I want to undo it as well. I close my eyes and try to focus on why I'm here. Bad idea. Exhaustion lends itself to relaxation and I sway a little as the elevator comes to a stop.
The silence is painful as we walk down the hall and I don't know why. I don't care to talk to him anymore than I have to. He stops at the doors I haven't laid eyes on in five years and makes quick work of unlocking the knob and bolt, again motioning for me to go ahead of him. The gesture should feel chivalrous, but it just feels oddly intimate to me. Foreign. However, I don't have too long to dwell on the unease. Not two steps inside the foyer, a heavy weight collides with my stomach. I lose my footing and fall backwards, too fast to catch myself on my hands. My elbows slam down painfully on the marble floor. It all happens in the span of mere seconds. Edward's voice booms from behind me.
"Paul, no! Down!"
I look up and spot the culprit.
Edward has a dog?
A dog named...Paul?
A golden retriever, it looks like. His thick coat of hair is light blonde in color and a stark contrast to Edward's suit as he pulls him back by the collar and leads him down the two steps and around the corner, grumbling as he does so. I sit up and flex my arms, looking for something to pull up on. The form fitting pencil skirt I wore to work today isn't exactly helping me.
"Shit, I'm sorry about him. Fucking dog. Here...let me..."
Just as I plant my right hand on the table by the wall for leverage to pull myself up, his hand wraps around my left, just above my elbow. I feel his knuckles brush against my rib cage and the heat from his palm radiates from my shoulder to fingertip.
His touch is hesitant.
He's unsure if it's okay, but doesn't want to be an asshole.
I'm not sure which I'd have preferred.
As soon as my feet are planted on the ground, he lets go, running his hand through his hair.
He nods and clears his throat, brushing his hands down the front of his shirt and jacket, trying in vain to rid it of the mess of golden dog hairs. When it doesn't work, he slinks the jacket off of his shoulders and my eyes dart away from him.
When they land on the mirror that's hanging on the wall to my right, the past takes hold of me.
I can feel his teeth clamped down on my neck.
The way the heat of his growl burned through the material of my shirt, warming my skin and chilling my bones.
The vibrations of the wall under my palms, caused by the weight of us.
"Um...have a seat. If you want. I'm just gonna..."
He motions toward the hall and it's my turn to nod, tearing my eyes away as soon as I notice the way his dress shirt clings to his shoulders. I hear a door close as I move into the sitting area and look out at the Puget Sound. The view here really is spectacular, and I settle down onto the sofa that faces the floor to ceiling windows. I avoid looking around the room, not wanting to conjure up any unwanted memories.
I jerk my leg away as something cool and wet grazes my ankle. When I look down, it's into the round brown eyes of Paul. He's lying down at my feet, looking up at me with his head tilted and his tail swiping back and forth across the carpet behind him. And I can't help it. He's begging me with his eyes. Waiting for my word.
I reach down and pat the top of his head. His coat is soft and smooth under my palm, and he immediately raises his head and lays it across my lap. He rests it there, patiently. Waiting for me to catch on and give him what he wants. His eager friendliness feels strange here, in a place so devoid of affection.
"Hey there." I whisper quietly to him, partly because it feels kind of silly talking to him and partly because I feel like my voice would echo in the large space. Like the silence isn't mine to break through.
As I pull my arm back and scratch behind his ear, my elbow brushes against a throw pillow and I wince. I rub my fingers over it and can already tell it's going to leave a wicked bruise.
"Do you need ice?"
I startle and whip around to where he stands in the kitchen, one hand on the freezer handle. He's changed into a white t-shirt and jeans. My eyes revolt against me, running down the line of his body before obeying me and looking away.
"No, it's okay."
Nodding, he comes around the large island, passing the sofa and spotting my company.
"Paul, no! Go to your bed!"
He doesn't yell, but commands him firmly, pointing toward the foyer and hallway area. Paul spares him a sideways glance with his eyes and makes a dismissive snorting sound through his nose.
The dog doesn't budge and I can tell Edward is frustrated at being ignored.
"It's okay. He's fine."
He stares at me for a long minute and then drops the arm that was pointing Paul away back to his side. He looks down at Paul as if deciding whether to leave him be, and then walks over and sits in the chair to the left of where I'm sitting.
"You named your dog Paul?"
It's a totally random question, and only after I've asked does it occur to me that he might be offended. He seems surprised by my question, but not bothered.
"Um...yeah. It was the first name I thought of."
I nod and we slip back into the awkward silence that might as well be a third person when we're in the same room together now.
"It was for th-..."
I watch him carefully as he falters in his words. He's turning them over and around in his head, debating whether or not to use them. For the first time tonight, we lock eyes and I see something there. Ever since he'd rung my doorbell on that first Sunday afternoon, he'd persisted and pushed, demanding to be heard. To be listened to.
This was the first instance where he hadn't cornered me.
Out of nowhere, I feel a curiosity pinching at me. I wonder for just a moment how he sees me. How my silence in the face of his revelations might have felt. How my anger, which always seems to storm to the forefront during our conversations, might be perceived by him. He triggers my ire with very little effort.
And for the first time, I wonder if it's really him I'm angry at...or what he brings out in me. The taxing reminiscence he sets off in my body every time I see him...hear him. The unwelcome rush of feelings that he causes whenever he's near. They breach my senses and encroach upon my peace, until I'm twisting and jerking to be free. Until my back is to the wall and exasperation turns into anger. And then nothing stands a chance of making it past the wall of defense I throw up.
Can he see it?
Does he see me?
He swallows down his hesitation.
"It was my therapist's idea. 'The first step toward companionship'...whatever the hell that was supposed to mean."
He flings his words around, feigning carelessness, but I can see the finality he feels about what he's said. He can't take it back. It's already out there. The nonchalant way he shrugs his shoulders doesn't match the way his eyes cautiously wait on my reaction.
"So, you're in therapy? That's...good."
"Was. Not anymore. I don't even know why I kept him. The damned dog hates me. He usually just stays on his bed all night."
I look down at Paul and a clouded memory pushes its way to the surface. Shaggy black hair and white paws. I keep my eyes on Paul's head as I pet him, forgetting myself and wrap my tongue around words I hadn't meant to say out loud.
"I had a dog once. I'd found him eating out of the dumpster behind the school and brought him home. Gave him a bath, fed him. When I came home from school a week later, he was gone. Guess Charlie decided he didn't need one more mouth to feed."
I'm snap violently back to the present when I hear that name come from his mouth.
Just like that, I feel myself pull back and twist inside my skin, gritting my teeth and wordlessly chastising myself for opening my mouth. Figuring it's best to just ignore his question, I try to summon the determination I'd had when I'd jerked my car across the freeway earlier.
"Look, Edward, I just came by to tell you that I thought about what you said. And...that even though I don't think you should feel bad about what happened, you seem to. I understand that you felt you needed to make amends, but there isn't any need to. I made the decision to...take you up on your offer. No one forced me to. You may have known more about my...situation, but it still doesn't change the fact that I went along with the arrangement. I showed up. And I took the money. I knew where the door was."
He's watching me closely, his eyes narrowed slightly and his posture casual. He's leaning forward with his elbows resting on his thighs, arms folded together so that each hand is gripping the opposite forearm.
"But if it makes you feel better...I forgive you."
I shrug my shoulders and take a deep breath, relieved to have said it. Eager to give him the only thing I could possibly think he'd be after. That would make him drop this whole ridiculous thing and move on. Go away.
His eyebrows raise and I fidget. I don't know what I was expecting. Relief? A smile? A thank you and goodbye? He doesn't give me any of that. He just...stares at me.
"Well, yes. I do."
"Just like that?"
"Tell me, Isabella, what is it exactly that you forgive me for?"
He's not angry, but I feel his sarcasm toeing the line. And maybe just a touch of skepticism. Sarcastic skepticism. I didn't see that coming.
"Well...for...everything. All of it."
He stares at me, frozen in place, for nearly an entire minute. Suddenly, I don't feel as victorious as I had just moments ago.
"It won't go away just because you ignore it. Trust me."
His voice is soft...careful.
My eyes dart to the door and my hands clench on the cushions at my sides, abandoning their steady scratch of Paul's head.
"What happened to you, Isabella?"
I shake my head back and forth, but don't say anything. No.
"Was it me? Did I do this to you?"
With every word he says, I feel my panic build. I shake my head at him again, but can't begin to formulate an answer.
I want to leave.
I have to go.
He buries a hand in his hair agitatedly and exhales long and hard.
"I don't understand you. You came here...for what? To give me your half-assed forgiveness? To lie in my face? Don't fucking patronize me, Isabella. I meant what I said. At least have the decency to be honest."
All thoughts of fleeing are abandoned.
How dare he?
His audacity rips my mouth open for me.
It's the closest to an out of body experience I've ever had. My indignation gags my common sense and pins it to the floor, leaving nothing standing in the way of the words that come next.
I don't mean them. Well, not all of them. But it's too late and they fall out into the space between us. I don't recognize the woman talking. I haven't seen her in so long. Felt the hatred that she's capable of giving off.
"Honest? You want to talk about honesty, Edward? You haven't exactly been forthcoming about yourself. You keep saying you're sorry and you feel guilty and that you were a different person. Well, fine then! Let's be honest. What happened to you, huh?"
He glares at me, but doesn't answer. And for some reason, it ignites a
fury in me. And so I lash out, hiding behind a bravery that I don't believe in at all. It isn't real. I know it's not, but I use it to shield myself anyways.
"What happened to your daughter, Edward?"
I register the change in him immediately. It feels like all of the oxygen has been sucked from the room.
He rises slowly to his feet and I can see him shaking with the effort to contain himself.
Two words...two syllables...and they slam into me with such an impact that I flinch.
I'm still seated, and the way he towers over me makes the muscles in my legs tighten, tensing up...ready to run.
"I said...get out."
I'm paralyzed by the severity of his anger.
Eyes on fire.
Standing at his full height above me isn't the Edward that showed up on my door three weeks ago.
This is the Edward from the booth at the Westin.
The Edward from the dark, dirty supply closet.
The Edward that dominated every cell in my body into submission at his feet.
I was mistaken when I thought I'd spied a glimpse of him before.
He was here now.
"GET THE FUCK OUT, ISABELLA!"
Adrenaline flies through me and I jump to my feet, narrowly avoiding tripping when the heel of my shoe catches on the carpet. I barely have time to notice that at some point, Paul had disappeared from sight.
I take long strides to the front door, aware of him trailing just behind me. I can feel his rage. It's palpable, hovering just over my shoulder...showing me to the door. Flattening my palm on the wall to the left of me for leverage, I tear the door open with my right.
I fly through it and into the wall across the way, turning just in time to see him pound each fist into the door.
A thundering, furious roar and it slams closed so hard that I can feel the vibrations of it through the wall I have my back pressed against.
I keep swallowing, feeling my heart in my throat and my pulse in my ears. My hands shake as I smooth them over my skirt and my legs feel like rubber underneath me.
I startle when I hear a bang.
His fists...on the door.
Over and over.
I can hear a colorful rant of words and then it stops.
I'm rooted in place, wanting to run. Having no clue as to why I haven't yet.
And then I hear it.
Deep and constant and labored.
A sob, stifled and deep...but I hear it.
One word repeats in my head.
But I don't.
And when the shiny gold double doors close, I look away...not ready to see what's looking back at me.