Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 9

Cinnamon and Shamrocks

Days continued to pass slowly and along with the continual rising of the sun and moon, came the inching lifting of spirits. Edward continued to hang on in steady form, still oblivious to the world around him due to the chemical sedation, but he'd been lowered from critical to serious but stable condition. Just the word stable alone allowed his family and friends to breathe a fractional bit easier.

By the end of the second week, Bella started making strides in her recovery. Not a day had passed since she'd first entered Edward's room that she hadn't returned, once each morning and once each night. They'd even moved her into a new room, offering her a different view from her window as well as an empty bed beside her own that Renee used nightly since she refused to allow her daughter to spend a single night alone. Her father came by every morning before work and every evening afterward, but it was her third Tuesday in a row as a resident of the sixth floor that she found herself sitting on the edge of her bed, free from being tethered to the wall by a tube, and anxiously awaiting Charlie's arrival.

As the clock struck five in the evening, Bella debated getting up to pace the room, but didn't want to wear herself out before she made her first trek to the ICU upon nothing more than her own two feet and without needing to trail an oxygen tank behind her. She'd been working diligently with the respiratory and physical therapists to increase her pulmonary function and strength. The first time she'd managed to make it to the bathroom and back on her own without becoming lightheaded from exertion had felt like a tremendous triumph.

Her healing, however, was a double edged sword.

For every degree of the return of her health that she was granted, she was reminded that the man who'd saved her had yet to even take his first breath upon his own accord.

The waiting room outside of the ICU on the sixth floor had slowly cleared over the course of days that passed. One by one people began to return to their daily lives, save for the Cullen family and the frequent presence of Alec, who Bella had met and learned was Edward's best friend. Visitors still trickled in daily, but where they'd once inhabited the stuffy room for countless hours on end, they now only came, visited, and left again.

Bella still had no plans on leaving for any lengthy span of time. Not even after she was discharged the following morning as her doctor had informed she would be.

She was adequately breathing on her own without having to constantly rely upon an oxygen source. She was getting stronger by the day, and the fluid in her lungs had cleared for the most part. There was no reason to keep her under constant observation any longer. They'd even taken her off the monitors and removed her IV, and come morning, they'd ensure she had a portable source of oxygen for emergency usage and a stationary unit for home usage before sending her on her way into outpatient care.

Bella was, by no means, completely recovered. There wasn't even a guarantee that she ever would or could be either for that matter. Her doctor had explained that victims of excessive smoke and toxin inhalation, as she was, frequently suffered for the rest of their lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Her lungs had been permanently damaged and scarred, and because of that, illnesses as mild as a chest cold could potentially hospitalize her again in the future. The knowledge of that worried her parents tremendously, but Bella took it in stride. She was alive and that, in and of itself, was both a blessing and a miracle.

As the door to her new room opened, she stood from the bed anxiously, earning herself a smirk and shake of the head from her mother as she looked up from her Sudoku puzzle.

"Did you get it? Was there enough in my account?" she asked as Charlie strode into the room. She was fairly sure she'd had enough to cover the item in her checking account, but she'd never been a master at balancing her checkbook.

"Yes, I got it, and no there wasn't so I transferred part of your savings into your checking account before I went," Charlie responded.

"Did you..."

"Yes, Bella," Charlie laughed, cutting her off because he already knew what she was about to ask as he held out the small box toward her.

She bit her bottom lip nervously as she began to lift the lid to the small black velvet box, hoping it was as beautiful as the picture Tanya and Irina had sent to her mother's cell phone. She was fairly certain her best friends were going to beat her to a pulp the next time she saw them for all the running around they did trying to find "the one", but once the lid was lifted, she was absolutely positive the beating would be well worth it.

Bella smiled as her finger delicately traced the intricate white gold Maltese medallion bearing Saint Florian within the outline of a clover. It combined everything she wished it to; his profession's patron Saint, the shape of the cross signifying the eight points of courage, and a clover as a link to his Irish heritage. Her smile widened even further as she turned it over and read the words she'd asked Charlie to have engraved on the back in an elegant script.

Valor. Strength. Bravery.

"Are you happy with it?" Charlie smirked, an eyebrow lifting as he crossed his arms over his chest. Personally, he thought it was a bit ludicrous for her to have spent so much money when there had been many other options - many much less expensive options that didn't equate to an entire month's rent - that would have served the same purpose, but he wasn't about to attempt arguing with her over it. He knew once she set her mind and heart on something, there was little one could do to change it.

There was that, and the fact that his daughter's life was worth infinitely more than what he'd dropped in that jewelry store. He'd conceded to letting her pay for the medallion on her own, but he and Renee had contributed to the gift with the purchase of the chain it hung from—which had been nearly as much as the medallion itself.

"Very...thank you," she smiled, stepping forward to wrap her arms around her parents.

Nearly ten minutes later they finally made it to Edward's room with only minimal incident. The incident had come when Bella had been thrown into a coughing fit by a sharp intake of breath after someone had turned a corner in a hurry and nearly knocked both her and Renee over.

"There you are," Esme smiled warmly as she spotted Bella and her parents entering the doorway. "I was beginning to wonder if you were coming back tonight."

"You should know by now nothing can keep me away," Bella returned her smile as she approached the side of his bed where Esme stood. "Where is everyone tonight?"

"They just left about a half hour ago to get some dinner, they should be back soon though. Here, honey...take my seat," Esme offered as she rose from her chair and held her hand out for Bella to take. While Bella wasn't wheezing or obviously struggling, she was slightly out of breath and that was more than enough to cause Esme concern.

"I hope you don't mind...but we got him a little gift," Bella said as she lowered herself into the seat. She held out the velvety box toward Esme and shifted in her seat, slightly nervous. She wasn't sure how his family would react to the gift, even though Charlie's medallion hadn't seemed to bother them.

"Oh,'s absolutely beautiful," Esme gushed with teary eyes, fingering the charm delicately. It warmed her heart that such a sweet girl would bestow such a generous and meaningful gift to her son.

"Was this one blessed by Father Sheehan too?" Esme quirked a teasing smile down at her, having heard the story behind Charlie's medallion from Renee at some point over the last few weeks.

"Sure enough was," Charlie chuckled as Bella's cheeks heated in slight embarrassment. While she no longer held the childhood belief that the biggest church was God's favorite, his family was Catholic so it only seemed right to have it blessed by a priest of their denomination.

"It's perfect, Bella, thank you. I'm sure he'll love it," Esme said, passing the box back to her and giving her a warm hug in appreciation.

"How's he doing?" Renee asked as she and Charlie stood on the opposite side of the bed watching as Bella threaded the chain and charm into Edward's hand. She wished she could clasp it around his neck, but it would be a while yet before she could do that.

Esme sighed as she gently ran the backs of her fingers down Edward's temple and over his ear, "They've been weaning him off the sedatives and paralytics over the last few days and his doctors say it's pretty much just a waiting game now until he wakes up. I'm worried though because they said it's not uncommon for patients to wake up for brief moments during the weaning process...but he hasn't. Not unless we've all just missed him doing so. Alice thinks it might be because of the pain medication they have him on though. We're hoping that's the case."

"Why would pain medicine have an influence on him waking up?" Renee asked curiously as Bella reached out to take his hand and gently rub the back of it, trying to get some warmth into it. His hands had been freezing ever since his fever had broken and she severely disliked the idea that he might be able to feel that chill and it might add to his discomfort.

"He doesn't do well with narcotic pain relievers. He won't take them at all if he can manage because they make him too groggy," Esme smiled sadly, tracing one of his eyebrows with the edge of her thumb. "They gave him Vicodin a few years ago when he had a wisdom tooth pulled, and they told him to take one before the Lidocaine wore off to keep his discomfort down. He did and nearly fell asleep behind the wheel on the way home. Thankfully Alec had passed where he'd pulled off to the side of the road and made sure he got home safely. Needless to say, the prescription went right in the trash as soon as he got home. Ever since then, no matter how much pain he's in, he won't take anything more than over the counter pain relievers."

Just as Esme's final words left her lips, Edwards torso began to spasm; jerky movements as it rose and fell and the humming ventilator next to Charlie and Renee started wailing an ear grating alarm. The sound startled three of the room's inhabitants, but Esme calmly lowered herself and placed a tender kiss upon Edward's forehead.

"What is that? What's wrong?" Bella asked worriedly, her eyes darting between her parents, Edward, and Esme.

"Nothing's wrong, sweetie. He's just coughing and it interrupts the flow of the machine," Esme said as she smoothed the back of Bella's hair down in a comforting maternal gesture. She'd grown quite fond of Bella over the last two weeks since she'd started coming to visit Edward and she couldn't help but wish that maybe, once he recovered, there might be a chance they could find in each other what both of their lives were sorely lacking.

Having spent countless hours with Bella in Edward's room, Esme had come to know her rather well. They'd spent hours on end talking and getting to know each other, and when Bella would run short of breath, Esme would tell her stories about Edward and her other children from their younger days. Days when things weren't as complicated or strained as they'd become as of late. It was through those stories that Bella had come to feel as though she knew a part of the man that saved her life, but it was also through those same stories that she began to feel something more than profound gratitude toward him.

She no longer wanted to be there just to help him as he'd done for her, she wanted to befriend him. She wanted to know not only who he'd been as a child and teenager, but who he was now and who he'd be in the future. She wanted to truly know the amazing man who so many respected and adored.

Bella just hoped he'd feel he had the room in his life for another friend when he clearly had so many already.

"That's a good thing though, right? That he's coughing?" Bella asked as she gently squeezed his now warm hand between her own.

"It is," Esme smiled and nodded to her. "They said it's a sign he's trying to breathe on his own."

Bella's eyes traveled back to Edward's face as her parents and Renee continued talking with one another. Their voices began to fade into a muffled hum as she focused solely on Edward and hoped and prayed that he'd begin to wake soon. There was so much, so many moments that had been stolen from him, that she wanted to tell him about just to see him smile the way he did in many of the pictures adorning the walls of his room.

She wanted him to laugh the way she did when his brother, Emmett, pretended to be an astronaut on the moon with her oxygen mask just to make her smile when she was feeling down one day the previous week. She wanted to tell him how his brothers and Alec had schooled her in poker one night and took her entire stash of candy winnings from games with her favorite nurse, Ben, and how Carlisle had stolen it from them and snuck it back into her room. She even wanted to tell him how Alice had come to her room and painted each of her toes a different color after she and Renee helped her finally get in a decent shower.

Bella didn't know why she felt so compelled to tell him what an incredible family he had, but she did. There was just something in the way they would look at him with remorse in their eyes that led her to believe that maybe he wasn't aware of how truly wonderful they all were. The only person that had remained distanced from her was Rose, and Bella understood and tried not to let it bother her, but even she looked at him with those sad, regretful eyes.

The only one who didn't was Alec.

It confounded her because she couldn't fathom, for the life of her, the answer as to why they all felt so remorseful. So many times she wanted to ask, but she felt as though her questioning something that obviously didn't pertain to her would be intrusive and impolite and she didn't wish to treat those that had been so kind to her that way. It worried her severely that they might have legitimate reasons for their guilt, and that thought pained her deeply because if it was true, he wouldn't have deserved it. She knew that much to be unquestionable.

Bella had learned so much about the man in the bed before her from each of them. Through their eyes, hearts, and memories, she knew him to be a man of amazing inner strength and character. Their stories portrayed him as a genuine kindhearted soul who was selfless to a fault, proud and passionate about his career, and as humble and down to earth as any man could possibly be.

Their stories painted him in a light of perfection that no person could possibly live up to, and that worried her even more. She often found herself wondering if he'd lived under the constant pressure of living up to their expectations and what carrying around that suffocating weight must have felt like to him.

After an hour or so Bella's parents departed the room, heading home so they could make sure everything was in place for her homecoming. Bella had been so lost in her thoughts and worries in that moment that she acknowledged their parting with no more than a nod and blank glance in their direction. As her gaze landed back upon Edward's face, a seemingly bizarre question left her lips in just above a whisper.

"What color are his eyes?"

None of the pictures in his room had been up close enough for her to be able to tell, and she wondered if they were a greenish brown hue like Carlisle's, or a golden flecked brown like Esme's. She wanted to know what color would shine at the world when he finally opened them, and it was only the idleness of that curiosity that could tame the worry she held for what heartaches they may hold within their depths.

"Shamrock green...just like his grandfather's only more vibrant. They're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Esme smiled wistfully, wishing she could see them right then.

It had been too long for Esme since she'd last been able to look into the mossy depths of her son's eyes. She missed them greatly for they truly were windows into his soul, so expressive they were that she rarely needed more than just a glimpse into them to tell her what he was feeling. They glowed when he was happy, dulled when he was gloomy or upset, and sparked fire when he was angry. His eyes were his only feature he'd never been able to conceal behind a shielding mask when he wanted others to believe everything was okay with him, and at that moment, she needed reassurance from them. She felt as though she'd aged a century from anxiety and worry over the last few weeks and desperately needed a slight sign of hope that would enable her to let go of just a fraction of it.

"Mom, sorry we took so long, but Dad wanted to get Edward's lawn mowed tonight since it's supposed to rain for the next few days. We brought you back some chicken that okay?" Emmett's deep voice cut through the silence that had descended between the two women.

"That's fine, dear," she nodded as she rose from her seat beside Bella and turned her gaze down to her. "Would you like some? I'm sure there's more than plenty to share if you're hungry."

Bella smiled up at her, thankful for her offer, "No thank you, Esme. I'm not hungry and mushrooms and I are arch nemeses of one another."

"You don't like 'shrooms?" Em questioned, slightly amused. There hadn't been much he'd noted that Bella wouldn't eat over the last two weeks.

"Nope, not a fan of the fungi, I'm afraid," she shrugged as her nose scrunched up. "It's kind of a rule of principle...ya know? I've never been tempted to lick mildew off a shower wall or eat anything that was growing a fur coat, so why consider putting it in my food on purpose? Don't eat mold...seems like a healthy choice."

Esme barely concealed her snort-like snigger but Emmett full out laughed as he shook his head, "You're a trip, ya know that?"

Bella smiled softly as she bobbed her head in a noncommittal fashion. She'd never been called a trip before, but eccentric, strange, or just plain odd had been familiar terms she'd heard throughout her teen years. She briefly wondered if there was a difference or if she should feel offended, but decided it didn't matter. She was who she was and she'd come to terms with the fact that she was a little—off, years ago. It's not like she was crazy or anything, she just didn't conform to society's stereotypical moulds.

She wasn't a size two or overly concerned with her sense of fashion. She wouldn't choose a salad over a greasy, cheesy burger dependent upon whose company she was in, and if you asked her what an accessory was, she'd tell you it was someone who helped a criminal perpetrate a crime. The only piece of jewelry she ever wore was a ring she'd gotten out of one of those quarter machines on the way out of a store when she was about twelve. She and her best friend at the time, Lauren, had both gotten one and wore them on their thumbs like friendship rings.

The blue paint on Bella's had faded and worn off, much like their friendship, but the ring became a permanent fixture on her finger. As she'd grown over the years, the ring hadn't and had eventually become stuck within the space between her first and second knuckles. No amount of dish soap, lotion, or oil could get it off, and by her sophomore year of college - two years after the end of their friendship - she'd given up and just accepted it as a permanent part of her body—like a birthmark you wish would go away but you're too afraid to have surgically removed.

As she watched Esme and Emmett leave the room to eat their dinners, she silently admired Lauren's bravery in having her own ring cut off her finger a week before high school graduation. Her high school boyfriend, Jake, had tried to cut hers off the night before the ceremony with a pair of garden shears, and accidentally cut her finger. She'd walked across the stage with a thumb the size of a cucumber from all the gauze her father had wrapped around the injury and the experience had staved her off from extreme methods of removal from that point onward.

She looked down at her thumb, the now dull silver colored ring and white line of a remaining scar glinting back up at her as the setting sun shone the last of its rays through the window. The ring no longer served as a memory of a friendship that turned sour, or a boyfriend that meant well but inadvertently continuously "accidentally" hurt her. The only thing it served to remind her of anymore was to not live her life in constant fear of everything. To not be afraid to just be who she was instead of hiding that person from the outside world. To not be afraid to end a relationship when she should just because ending it might mean ending the friendship as well. And, to not be afraid of only having a handful of true friends instead of an endless list of false ones.

That ring served as a constant reminder that while she'd had friends and an intimate lover back then, she hadn't been as happy as she was now; single, true to herself, and able to count those she loved and held dear in her heart on one hand.

Bella sighed as she scooted her chair closer to the bed and took Edward's hand once again between her own, the dull, scraped, and scuffed silver of her thumb ring appearing morose beside the vibrant gleam of his white gold chain. Her eyes traveled over his blanketed form while her thumb stroked across his knuckles rhythmically as she let her mind wander.

"You know," she began speaking softly, her vision coming back into focus as she turned her eyes to his face. "I used to live my life in fear. I mean...not just in fear of things that are actually scary, but everything."

She brought one arm up to the rail and rested her head against it as her thumb continued moving back and forth across the back of his hand, "I think the thing that scared me most when I was younger was letting go of people in my life. I had this belief that everyone that came into your life, came into it for a reason and they belonged there to stay.

"It took me years to realize that some people are only meant to come into your life to teach you a lesson, and then it's time to let them go because holding onto them will only do you damage..."

Her words were cut off by the ventilator's alarms as he started coughing once again. She rubbed his forearm soothingly until he'd relaxed once again.

"I worry about you. Your family's told me so many stories about you and they all seem to place you on this precarious pedestal of perfection. I'd like to believe that it just seems that way because they only want to think about your shining moments right now, that they only want to think about the good times...but something in the way they all look at you as if they're sorry for something horrific makes me think otherwise. I just hope, whatever it is they think they've done, you can forgive them for when you wake up, because I don't think they're the kind of people that come into your life that you're supposed to let go of eventually."

She chewed the inside of her cheek for a few minutes, wondering what to talk to him about. She didn't really mind the silence when no one was around and talking, but she wasn't sure if somehow he was aware of it and it bothered him but he had no way to express his discontent, so she tried to talk to him as much as she could. It may have seemed odd to some, but she knew that if it were her in his position, she'd want someone to talk to her even if she couldn't respond.

As his family ate their dinners inside the ICU waiting room, and Bella did her best to soothe him with her voice and touch, the endless darkness began to swirl around Edward's awareness. The muffled and indecipherable sound of someone's voice filtered into his mind as warmth in areas of his body he couldn't pinpoint slowly began to burn and send sharp shooting pains through every inch he could feel.

He tried to grasp at anything below his hands to clench against the pain rocketing through him, but he felt like they weren't connected to him. He could feel something feather light and warm moving against his left hand, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make his hand move to grab it.

"Your brother Emmett's kind of a handful, isn't he? I bet he keeps you all on your toes," the edges of her lips curled up as she thought of something to tell him about. "He came to my room a few days ago with Jasper, Alec, your dad, and Alice and insisted we all play Pictionary. On the fourth round, he drew a picture of male genitalia and tried to claim it was Bullwinkle. Your dad yelled at him and told him to grow up. It really didn't look anything like Bullwinkle, but then again, his dragon didn't look like one either..."

She stopped talking as he started coughing again and her brow furrowed as her head lifted and lips turned down into a frown. His eyes were moving behind his eyelids and she stood from her seat, worried.

On the inside, Edward struggled against the darkness, trying to focus and clear the confusion in his mind. Everything felt detached and sounded far away as if he were under water—everything but the damn pain burning him alive.

"Hey...shhh...shhh, it's okay, just relax," Bella cooed softly as she passed her hand over his forehead and into his hair as multiple alarms started sounding from all around his bed. "Don't fight it...just let it do the work for you."

His eyelids fluttered, sending bright flashes of blinding light into his eyes and shredding shards of pain through his head. His chest felt ready to implode as another burst of unexpected air made him choke and cough again.

"Alice!" Bella cried out, seeing her approaching the room quickly. "What's wrong? He was fine a minute ago."

"Crap," Alice breathed, sliding past Bella to quickly assess his vitals on the monitor. "He's in too much pain."

"Edward hold on, honey," Peanut's distorted voice rose above the warbled tone of the one that had first filtered into his ears. He wanted to yell out to her to stop the pain he was feeling, but when he tried, he started choking and coughing again.

Room 635 was the site of mass confusion and teetering hopes as half a dozen people crowded the left side of Edward's bed. His eyelids fluttered again as tears began to build within them in response to the agony he was in. The voices of his parents and brothers were all mixing together with the cacophony of a dozen alarm clocks, leaving him feeling disoriented and bewildered.

His eyes opened, only long enough to blink and shut again against the harsh light and hazy blur. Hope soared through the bodies in the room as he fought to open his eyes again and focus on their faces. He blinked repeatedly, feeling like his eyelids were the only thing he had control over as he tried to overcome the searing pain he felt and clear his vision.

"Eddie, blink if you can hear me, honey," Peanut's voice broke through again over the chaotic noise. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to let himself fight against that damn repetitive bursting of air that would make him cough again when all he wanted to do was scream out in pain.

"Your nurse is pushing Fentanyl into your'll take the pain away, just hang in there for a few more seconds," he heard her as he felt her slip her hand into his other hand. He tried so hard to squeeze back against her, but he couldn't. It was a terrifying feeling and made sheer panic course through his veins as his eyes opened once again and finally focused—and when they did, he was locked into the gaze of a pair of rich and endlessly deep cinnamon colored eyes.

He knew instinctively that those beautiful large almond shaped eyes belonged with the soft, strangely familiar, voice he'd heard. He'd never seen them open, but he recognized them instantly just the same. And as the pain began to numb and the darkness began to creep into his mind once again, her name echoed through his mind...


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