Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chapter 24

Sympathy vs Empathy

Nine am Monday morning, Bella was standing before Edward's front door. When Edward had asked her to accompany him to his first visit to the physical rehabilitation center, she hadn't had the lack of heart to deny his request even though she'd had previously made plans for that morning. She'd felt horrible canceling her brunch date with Claire and Emily from work, but when she'd vowed to herself to be there for him for whatever he may need, she'd done so wholeheartedly. It wasn't a vow she could break; not to him and not to herself.

Ringing the doorbell for the third time, she began to worry. Had everyone left him home alone and in a vulnerable position where he couldn't even access his wheelchair? Had something happened to him and he was back in the hospital? Had something happened to him and no one had been there to either help him or call for help?

Her heart was hammering against her chest as her eyes darted around the front of his house and her hand reached for the doorknob. She could see his truck in the garage and Alec's car had been parked along the curb in front of the house. Bella was just about to turn the knob to check if it was open, unable to tolerate the rising panic beginning to overwhelm her, when she heard Edward's voice shouting from deep within the house for her to come in.

"Edward? Where are you? Are you okay?" Bella nearly shouted as she briskly pushed the door shut behind her and began searching for him.

"In the kitchen...I'm fine," he answered, but his voice sounded strained; partly agitated and partly defeated. The sound of it sent a surge of worry through every cell of her body, making her drop her bag on the floor and take off down the hall toward the kitchen.

"What are..."

"Don't laugh," he mumbled, cutting off her bewildered questions and casting her a pitiful glance.

Bella's heart sank as she took in the scene before her. He'd obviously been trying to utilize the kitchen sink to wash his hair after giving himself a sponge bath. There was shampoo and water dripping all down his back and chest and soaking his nylon shorts, and his eyes were bloodshot, leading her to believe he'd gotten the soap in them as well.

"I won't...can I...will you let me help you?" she asked brokenheartedly, not wanting him to feel even worse over his situation. His shoulders sagged slightly, but he nodded with a defeated expression.

"It'll be okay, Edward," she said softly as she stepped forward, careful not to slip on the wet floor. She used the towel on the counter to gently wipe the soap suds away from his eyes before passing it over his torso and back.

"Do you have anything lying around that we can use to build you up a bit in the chair?"

"Phonebooks?" he asked, not sure if he actually had anything else around the house.

"That'll work."

After having him tell her where to find them, Bella came back with a few in her arms. She couldn't help but think it was a good thing he had great upper body strength because she wouldn't have known how to build him up if he hadn't been able to lift himself enough for her to slide the books beneath him. Once he was built up, Bella helped him arrange his chair so he was backed up against the sink as far as he could go.

"Lean back," she said, her voice warm and tender in his ears as her small hand gently pressed against his forehead. He did as she instructed and watched her as she worked above him, thankful it had been her that had found him and not Alec or anyone from his family. She looked down at him and smiled sadly as her fingers slid through his lathered hair, "Just tell me if it gets too uncomfortable, okay?"

He nodded as his eyes slid shut, the feeling of her fingertips massaging his scalp indescribably relaxing as warm water washed his first failed attempt at independence away.

"All done," she voiced just above a whisper as she brought the towel to his hair and guided his head back up. As she gently towel dried his hair, she quietly asked, "Edward, where's Alec?"

She wanted to ask him why he'd been left alone. She wanted to ask him why he hadn't waited to make his attempt until someone was at least there in case he needed help, but she didn't want him thinking she felt he was incompetent in any way. She couldn't even begin to imagine how hard it must be for him to have gone from being so independent to requiring so much assistance overnight.

"At work...he took Emmett's Jeep and left his car because it's easier to get me in and out of lower seats. And Em left with my father about an hour ago to run a few errands for me and pick up some groceries."

He was miserable and his tone betrayed his attempt to keep her from knowing just how deeply his condition was affecting him. It was only a little after nine in the morning and he wanted nothing more than to go back to bed and shut out the entire world right along with all of his problems. He'd never felt that way a day in his life; had never felt the lack of ambition to face the day ahead of him, but he was feeling it now, and in spades. Worst of all, he didn't know how to make it go away, or even subside just enough to feel capable of making it to the end of the day.

"Hey," Bella beckoned his attention softly as she squatted beside him and placed her hand over one of his own. "It'll get better. I know it's hard right now, but it'll get better."

As he looked down at her, her warm and tender gaze staring back up at him, he began to wonder if he would have been able to make it even this far through this ordeal without her. Thinking back to the long days he'd spent cooped up in his hospital rooms; the distress he'd suffered from the monotony, the helplessness he'd felt from being stuck in his bed, and the boredom that had nearly driven him mad—he wasn't sure he could have.

She'd kept him sane with just her presence alone. She'd made him laugh with ease when there was little about his surroundings or situation he found humorous, and she'd brought him comfort through the simplest of actions in ways that others had never been capable of.

Turning his hand beneath hers and covering it with his other hand, he looked at her gratefully, "If I never said it...I'm glad you're here—that you stuck around."

"Me, too," Bella smiled, giving his hand a slight squeeze. "Now how about I get those books out from under you and tidy up our mess while you go shave?"

Edward nodded and gripped the arms of his chair, bracing himself to push his dead weight off the stack of phonebooks. He felt bad for making such a mess and wished he could clean it up himself after the compassion she'd shown him. Had one of his brothers, or even Alec, walked in on him in such a state, they would never have let him live it down—but she hadn't even shown a hint of amusement at his expense. She hadn't looked at him with pity in her eyes either, instead, the only thing he'd seen in the warm depths of them had been his own heartache reflecting back at him.

"Bella?" he called, his voice weakened by the sorrow he felt for how much she did for him when there was little he could do for her in return. "Thank you."

"You know," she smirked, standing from the squatting position she'd been in as she toweled up the spilled water on the floor. "For someone who once told me they didn't want to be thanked for saving a life, you sure do a lot of thanking for things much less deserving of gratitude."

He tried not to smile, but it broke through along with a slight chuckle as he nodded, "Yeah, well...there hasn't been much in my life that's required me to say the words very often, so I may be a little...overzealous."

His words, though she'd long since suspected the truth of them, sent a pang of sadness through her heart for him, but before she could express her lack of need for him to thank her constantly, the front door opened. The sound of lively voices and rustling bags not only broke the moment of silence between them, but it also lifted the somberness that had permeated the air from the moment she'd stepped foot into the kitchen.

"I should go get ready," Edward commented, his entire body sagging right along with his spirits from the task that lay ahead. The simple act of getting dressed, an action that at one time in his life took little time and even less thought, now took forever and had to be approached methodically. It was taxing; not only on his emotions, but on his energy as well.

Bella watched him begin to roll himself toward the den and then turned to finish cleaning up the mess in the kitchen, not daring to ask him if he needed help because he'd suffered enough humiliation for one day in her presence. She didn't offer an explanation for the state of Edward's kitchen to his brother or father when they paused, arms weighed down with bags in the entryway, with questioning expressions. She merely bid them good morning with a smile and continued mopping up the suds and water with the towel, and when she was finished, she helped them put the groceries away.

"Is everything okay?" Carlisle asked worriedly after Emmett headed off to see if Edward needed anything. "Where'd all that water come from?"

"Everything's fine," Bella nodded. Feeling the need to protect Edward from further embarrassment, she laughed and said, "When I got here, Edward asked if I'd help him wash his hair. I'm apparently not cut out to be a salon shampoo girl though. I think I got more water out of the sink and on him than in his hair."

Carlisle's chuckle faded out into a sigh as he leaned against the counter, "Hopefully they'll have the new bathroom fully installed by tonight. I'm sure he'd enjoy being able to at least take care of that basic need on his own. I can't imagine how crazy it's driving him right now to need assistance for nearly everything when he's never really needed anyone for anything before."

Bella wanted to blurt out that everyone needs someone sometime and that Edward isn't an exclusion to the rule. He may be strong and independent by nature, but even the strongest of mankind need a shoulder to lean on from time to time. The only difference between Edward and the rest of humanity was he didn't have very many people in his life willing to offer him their shoulder without expecting something in return. It angered her that his father, his own flesh and blood, could say something so inconceivably ignorant. Was he really that oblivious to the fact that his son was human, and thereby had been vulnerable to at least some miniscule degree prior to being injured?

She wanted to tell him just how wrong he was, but she didn't believe it would make a difference. He was perfect, untouchable, and virtually indestructible in their eyes and there was little she could say that would change that. But one glimpse at him as he rolled his way back into the kitchen area, the look on his face and the set of his shoulders screamed to her just how physically vulnerable and emotionally breakable he really was.

"Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat before we go?" she asked, focusing only on Edward and not at the aged and blind man across from her.

At his downcast eyes and minute headshake, Bella sighed and nodded as she pushed herself away from the counter and resisted the urge to scream at Carlisle to take a good long look at his son, because Edward was clearly not the image of unshakable strength he'd mentally manifested.

"Can you give us a minute?" Bella asked, turning her gaze momentarily toward Carlisle. As soon as he retreated, Bella took the few steps toward Edward and knelt down before him.

"What's wrong?"

"I heard what you told him...You didn't have to do that. You could have just told him the truth," Edward replied, shaking his head and avoiding her gaze.

"Look at me...Edward, look at me, please," she urged gently and waited for him to comply. "What happened this morning was hard enough on you. There's no need for me to broadcast it and make it worse for you than it already was, but Edward, you don't have to be strong all the time. You don't have to pretend everything's fine when it isn't—not for me or anyone else. I'm here if you need help, whether it's to wash your hair or just to have someone to talk to when you're having a rough go of it."

"This is hard," Edward admitted, looking down at his hands in his lap as he nodded to himself. "I'm used to being the person everyone else asks for help, not the one needing it constantly...and I hate it."

"I know," Bella sighed, taking a hold of his hands. "But there's no shame in asking for it. Don't do this to yourself, Edward. Don't let your pride make it harder on you than it has to be. It killed me this morning when you told me not to laugh at you because I could never laugh at someone's struggles. I'm here for you if you need anything, and if I'm not physically here and it's something you're not comfortable asking someone else to help you with...just call me, okay?"

Edward remained silent for a span of moments as her words drove spears of guilt into him. She was constantly doing things for him; had spent nearly every day of the last almost two months of her life tending to his needs, his care—his everything. It wasn't right, and it wasn't fair to her.

With a lamenting sigh, he shook his head and looked at her dolefully, "This isn't right, Bella. You shouldn't be spending every single day acting as my indentured servant. You shouldn't be tidying my house or doing my laundry or cleaning up a mess I made because I was sick and tired of not being able to do a damn thing for myself. It's selfish of me to keep allowing you to do this shit when you have your own life to live..."

"A life I wouldn't have if it weren't for you," Bella cut in sharply as she squeezed his hands. Her gaze softened as her voice took on a more gentle tone, "It's my choice to be here, Edward. The things I do for you, I do because I want to, not because I have to. Let me worry about what I should and shouldn't be doing with my life. You have enough to worry about on your own."

As Edward looked down at her, taking in the warmth and compassion behind her eyes, he began to question if they'd just met on the street, just two normal people brought together by coincidence rather than dire circumstance, would she still have become such a vital part of his life. He was too far aware of how often he thought about her and craved her company to be able to deny just how important she'd become to him in such a short amount of time, but was it just because of his situation and the kindness she bestowed upon him, or was it just her - the person she was deep within - that he'd become so endeared by.

He wasn't sure, but he wished the circumstances upon which their lives had become entangled had been different. Maybe then, if things in their lives had just been normal, trying to decipher what exactly it was that he was feeling wouldn't be so confusing.

"Now, are you hungry?" Bella asked after he silently nodded to her, accepting her desire to assist him because he wasn't sure he'd be able to manage without her. "We still have about twenty minutes before we have to leave."

"A little," he confessed quietly, still locked in her tender gaze and trapped in his confusing thoughts.

Bella sighed as she reached out to fix his medallion that rested backwards against the navy blue Tacoma F.D. t-shirt he was wearing, and allowed her hand to rest against where his heart beat strongly within his chest, "It'll get better, Edward. Just take it one day at a time."

By the time they were entering the physical rehabilitation center, Edward's downtrodden mood had lifted just enough to leave him feeling marginally capable of facing whatever his new therapist had in store for him. His earlier failed attempt at the once mundane task of bathing himself had really done a number on his motivational drive, but Bella's kindness and words of supportive encouragement had cast a ray of light into the darkness of his sullen mood.

Emmett had helped as well, in his own way, in bringing him out of the funk he seemed to have woken up in that morning. By enticing Edward's competitive side, Emmett had rekindled the withering flame of Edward's motivation to try even when his chances of full recovery seemed bleak at best.

"You can do this, bro. I know you can," Emmett encouraged him enthusiastically as they took in the vast room that resembled nothing like what Edward had mentally envisioned. To him, it appeared as more of a gym; a wide array of exercise equipment staged sporadically about the wide open area they'd been lead to.

In one corner, a therapist was working with a patient on some stretching exercises - much like the ones his therapist in the hospital had worked with him on in his room. In front of a row of windows across the room from them, a man with a prosthetic leg was jogging on a treadmill. Jogging—the sight of him and his smooth strides was not only inspiring to Edward, but it sparked a ray of hope within him as well.

"Oh way! It can't be..." Bella suddenly gasped, making Edward's head shoot to the left. "Seth?"

Before he could even figure out what was going on, Bella had dropped her purse and was running full sprint, her squeal trailing behind her as she launched herself at a copper-toned man with a grin just as wide as hers had been.

"Think she knows him?" Emmett chuckled, highly amused.

"I'd hope'd be kind of strange if that was how she greeted random strangers, wouldn't it?" Edward sniggered, watching the man sway her from side to side as her legs dangled in the air, both of them laughing together. When he released her, they spoke animatedly for just a minute or two before she clasped her hand around his and led him back toward Edward and Emmett.

"Sorry about that...I'm not usually so excitable, but I haven't seen this big guy in...gosh, almost six years now?" Bella rambled, slightly out of breath; her face flushed and smile brilliant as she looked up at him.

"Just about," he chuckled, nodding at her. "Not since the summer you and...yeah, anyway. It's been a while." After inexpertly dodging the subject, he held out his hand, “Seth Clearwater, nice to meet you. I was actually just getting some things set up for you when I nearly got trampled by a blast from the past.”

“Edward Cullen,” Edward nodded, laughing under his breath as he shook it politely. “And this is my brother Emmett.”

"So you grew up together, or...?" Emmett asked confusedly, trailing off as Edward backhanded him in the stomach for being rude.

"Kind of," Seth answered vaguely, looking to Bella questioningly. He wasn't sure how much of their history to divulge without making her uncomfortable. Things between she and Jake hadn't ended all that amicably, and Seth hadn't seen or heard from her since.

Bella rolled her eyes, a smile tugging at her lips. She'd long since gotten over the events that had taken place her first trip home for summer vacation from college. "I dated his cousin, Jacob, in high school but we’d been best friends since like the second grade before that. Long story short, Seth and I spent a lot of time together during our adolescent years because he and his sister lived with Jacob’s family.”

Seth grinned as he looked down at his watch and then clapped his hands together, “As much as I’d love to spend the next few hours catching up, we’re officially on your dime. Are you ready to get started?”

“’Bout as ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose,” Edward shrugged. “Is it okay if they stay?”

“Absolutely. We’ll actually be covering some exercises today that they can help you with at home, so being here will be beneficial for all of you,” Seth said as he squatted down to the ground. “Before we start, I just want to give you a little overview of what you can expect during your time here.”

At Edward’s nod, Seth continued, “Our program is exercise based, as you can probably tell, and for your injury, you and I will be working our ways through five phases. The first and second, reactivation and development, go hand in hand. Our goal in these phases will be to stimulate your nervous system and begin retraining your motor responses by manipulating the affected parts of your body, namely your hips and legs.”

“They started that in the hospital,” Edward nodded and Seth grinned in response.

“That’s great. The earlier rehabilitation is started, the better. Have you experienced any changes in your condition between when they began working with you and now?”

“A little. I have a lot more sensation in my legs than I had initially, but it hasn’t fully returned.”

“What about any movement abilities?”

“Don’t you have all this in a medical file somewhere?” Edward asked curiously.

“Yep, it’s in the office, but I prefer learning about the people I work with through them rather than through someone else’s clinical observations. It’s less...impersonal,” Seth shrugged.

And in that moment, Edward decided he liked Seth. Working with him didn’t seem as though it would be as tenuous as it had been working with the people in the hospital and he began truly looking forward to it.

They spent the next twenty minutes covering Edward’s abilities - which had progressed from being able to wiggle the toes of his right foot to being able to somewhat flex the ankle - and the other three phases of the program; strength, function and coordination, and gait training.

“Well, Edward, I only have one thing left to say before we get started. Everyone that comes here has different goals in mind, different expectations of what they wish to achieve. I believe that the majority of someone’s ability to recover lies within how much they want it and how hard they’re willing to push themselves to get there. My only goal is to help you reach yours, so what’s yours?”

Edward’s chest tightened as his eyes flicked from Seth to his brother, to Bella, and then panned the room where the fight of his life would occur before returning back to Seth, blazing with determination.

“I want to walk again.”

Seth laughed, admiring the strength behind Edward’s words, as he rose from his squatting position on the floor and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Now that’s what I like to hear. Let’s get to work.”

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