Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chapter 27

The Opening of Eyes Wide Shut

After leaving the doorway to Bella's room, Esme and Carlisle kept their son company for as long as they could. Unfortunately, Carlisle's fire pager had gone off just a few seconds before his handheld radio did, and he'd had to depart briskly, barely having a chance to bid his wife and son goodbye. When the clock above the doorway struck three, Esme sighed and stood before kissing Edward's forehead and heading back to St. Patrick Catholic School—where she'd been the office secretary since the days Edward and his brothers had roamed the halls of the school. When most kids got in trouble, they got sent to the Principal's office, but when the Cullen kids got handed a pass for acting up at any point during their eight year long stint in that school, they were sent to their mother's office.

From what Edward could remember of it, having his mother as their school disciplinarian had been mortifying. Even so, he fully planned on sending any kids he might have in the future there, because his mother had ruled the three of them with an iron fist and a generous heart. She knew how to put them in their place without ever even raising her voice, or calling their father; which, in his case, she hadn't ever needed to.

Jasper and Emmett on the other hand... Edward could remember a few instances where their mother had had to call their father in to pick them up because they were being suspended, and it was usually for fighting—each other, nonetheless.

Edward had been different from his brothers even back then in their youths, as where they'd spent their recess hour antagonizing each other, Edward had spent it doing what most of the other boys liked doing; playing sports. He'd tended to veer away from his siblings at all costs during school hours just so he wouldn't get the reputation of being a trouble maker by association simply because he was related to them. He'd spent his entire life trying to set himself apart, to make himself shine where his brothers soiled their images. And for what? To wake up at twenty-nine years old and realize he'd started acting just like them?

"You okay in there?"

Edward's hands dropped from where they'd been rubbing circles against his temples and he sighed as he nodded to Alice. "Yeah...just got a headache."

"I've got some Motrin if you want it," she offered as she took a seat in the chair closest to him.

"Nah, I'm good. Thanks though," he responded, waving his hand to call off her search for the bottle in her handbag.

"So I just stopped by the room. Renee said her nurse just gave her some Compazine to get rid of her nausea. I'm hoping it kicks in because Renee said she isn't even bringing anything up anymore...she's just dry-heaving."

Edward nodded to himself as he watched his fingers fiddle with the stringy bow on the flowers again, "I hope so, too."

As his hand fell away from the flowers in his lap, his downtrodden thoughts got the best of him and he turned his gaze toward Alice. "Have I been acting like an ass to everyone lately, or just Bella?"

Alice's nose scrunched up as she grimaced slightly, "A little toward everyone, but most of your major moments have been aimed at's not that you target her intentionally, she's just...kind of caught in the crossfire all the time because you usually snap when something's not going the way you want it to, and she's just...there."

"Why the hell did all of you let me keep blowing up at the poor girl like that? Why'd it take so long for one of you to tell me to get my head out of my ass?" Edward grumbled, agitated that everyone had been watching him treat her so harshly, but hadn't bothered to do anything about it.

"Edward," Alice sighed, leaning forward and letting her hands hang limply between her legs as she rested her elbows on her knees.

"You're going through a rough time right now adjusting. I know that, she knows that...we all know that. From the very beginning, even before you woke up, we knew that if you were paralyzed, or even temporarily disabled, that you'd have a really hard time coping with it. We expect you to have off days where you're pissed off and everything around you irritates you. She even expects that...just not every day the way you have been lately."

Alice looked up at him with sad eyes, hurting for him, "It doesn't make the way you've been acting right, but it does make it understandable. Bella's a strong woman, Edward, but she's not without limits in how much she's willing to tolerate."

"I know she's not," Edward mumbled, his head falling back and his gaze staring off at the ceiling. "I already breached her limit."

"Oh no..." she breathed and then swung her arm out to smack his arm while demanding, "What'd you do?"

"Anyone ever tell you it's not nice to hit the handicapped?" Edward asked, lifting his head and quirking a brow at her.

"The only thing really handicapped about you right now is your brain," Alice huffed, rolling her eyes. "Now answer the question or I swear I'll pop you again."

"I forgot to call her to wish her a happy birthday..." Edward paused, his brow furrowing, "At least I think that's what triggered everything else coming to a sudden boiling point for her."

"You're an idiot."

"Indisputably." Edward sighed dismally. He wouldn't argue against that fact. He couldn't argue against it, because it was entirely true; for once.

"Do you have any idea at all what I'd do to have someone like her in my life? To have someone who cares about me and shows me that they care about me every day in everything they do, instead of just saying the words when all their actions make them sound so false?" Alice asked quietly after a brief silence between them, and he turned his head to look at her. "You have that, Edward. You have that in her...don't throw it away."

"I'm not intentionally trying to, Peanut," Edward sighed, shaking his head.

"I know you're not...but think about what I said," Alice said as she stood from her seat. "Words aren't always enough, Edward. You can tell her you care and that you're her friend, but if you never show her that...she'll never know if it's true or not."

"Where are you going?"

"To check on Bella," Alice answered, pulling her purse over her shoulder. "And then I'm going to my first solo therapy session with the lady Bella hooked Jasper and I up with."

"When did you decide to start going to therapy?" Edward asked, not remembering her ever bringing it up in the last few weeks. Fights she'd had with Jasper, yeah, but nothing of her seeing someone professionally for herself.

Alice shrugged, pursing her lips, "About a week ago. I figured if he's not going to put an effort forth to work on our marriage with me, I might as well take a page from his book and focus on myself, as well, because, let's face it...I'm not happy with him, I'm not happy without him...I'm just...not happy period, and it's a shitty way to feel all the time."

He reached his hand out toward her and when she took it, he pulled her toward him. A soft smile graced her lips as she leaned down so he could hug her.

"I'm proud of you, Peanut," he told her, rubbing her back. "Just keep doing whatever it is you need to do to find the happiness you deserve."

"I'm trying,'s not easy, but I am trying."

Inside Bella's hospital room, Charlie stood leaning against the large window watching over his finally slumbering daughter. The last five hours had left him teetering on the precipice of exhaustion between worrying over his only child and thinking of the man sitting in the waiting room.

"Stop looking at me like that Renee," he sighed, rubbing his face.

"Then stop acting the way you are, Charlie," she retorted, maintaining her disapproving stare. "It's not right. It's not your place to decide if he is or isn't wanted in her life."

He turned to look at her and crossed his arms over his chest, "Well then, she can decide...when she feels better." He paused to shake his head. "She's sick, Renee. She needs rest, not someone sitting around here who will upset her."

"Will or might? Because, I have to say, Charlie...for someone who was telling their daughter to cut the guy some slack just yesterday, you sure are all about playing judge, jury, and executioner today."

"Don't give me that horse crap," he argued, "You saw the exact same thing I did last night. She was perfectly fine when she left the house after showering and she came home in tears, Renee. She may be a grown adult, but she's still my little girl and I'll be damned if I stand by and let him continue to do that to her."

"I'm not saying you should," she replied defensively.

"Then what the hell are you saying?"

Renee rolled her eyes as she grabbed her purse and stood, "What I'm saying is that what you're doing is unfair. She doesn't even know he's here, Charlie. And do you really think he'd sit around here all day if he didn't care? How is that fair to either one of them?"

"Alright, alright...simmer down. I'll go get him," he sighed, pushing himself away from the window and heading for the door, somewhat begrudgingly.

As he stepped out of the room and began to make his way down the hall, Charlie had his mind set on giving Edward a sound lashing before allowing him into Bella's room—but when he got to the corner and spotted him, his angry words failed him. Edward sat, all alone in the horrid room, in his wheelchair with his bunched up sweatshirt pressed between his hand and the side of his face. His eyes were closed, but his expression was pained as his free hand pressed and rubbed against his left thigh. Charlie sighed quietly to himself and took the few remaining steps into the room.

"Leg fall asleep?" he asked, lowering himself down into a chair across from him.

Edward's eyes shot open as his head raised; his sweatshirt forgotten and left to tumble into his lap, "No, it's is she?"

"Sleeping." Charlie eyed him questioningly as he pointed toward the leg he was continuing to rub. "Does it hurt?"

"A bit, but it's fine...can I see her?"

"As soon as we get one thing straight," he answered, giving him a stern look, but his voice lacked the anger it would have withheld just minutes before. "You upset her in any way and I'll have you not only forcibly removed from her room, but banned from this entire floor for the duration of her stay, got it?"

Edward nodded, looking down at his lap shamefully, "Fully deserved and duly noted."

Charlie grunted as he stood, watching Edward's cautious and sorrowful eyes follow his movements as he crossed his arms over his chest, "You're a good guy, Edward. I'm not blind to that and neither is my daughter, but I'm going to tell you the same thing I said to her just yesterday...I may like you, but she is—and will always be—my little girl, so it goes without saying that someone hurting her will never be something I'll stand for...not even for you, understood?"

Edward nodded again, a slight sad smile tugging at the corner of his lips, "I'd expect no less...she's lucky to have a father like you."

For just a fraction of a moment Charlie's hardened mask slipped, falling susceptible to the anguish he'd been learning the man before him had suffered even prior to the night he'd nearly given his life in trade for Bella's—for his little girl's. He could empathize with Edward's struggles of being placed on a pedestal too high and impossible to maintain balance upon by members of his family that simultaneously failed to acknowledge him. Growing up as the elder of two sons of a single mother, he'd struggled and succumbed numerous times to the strain placed upon his shoulders as the man of the household at a tremendously young age.

It hadn't been until his daughter had been born that he'd understood the need to step away from the oppressive burdens he'd carried out of devotion and obligation to his brother and mother. He believed that Bella had saved his life, as he was undeniably certain that he wouldn't have made it to his fortieth—much less be approaching his fiftieth—birthday beneath the weight of the stress he'd endured daily for an entire decade and a half.

"You've got it mixed up, kid." Charlie shook his head as he motioned toward the doorway for Edward to lead them out, "I'm the one who's lucky to have her, and you'd do well to realize that you are, too."

Upon entering Bella's room, Edward stole a concerned glance at her curled up form in the bed before greeting Renee politely and quietly. He fully expected to receive a second round of, admittedly lenient, chastisement for his recent behavior toward their daughter, but Renee surprised him by smiling warmly at him and leaning down to kiss his temple as she patted his cheek. His still being there after so many hours was all the confirmation she needed that his earlier declarations had been made with the utmost sincerity.

"Charlie and I were going to get some dinner. Are you hungry? Would you like us to bring you back anything?" she asked as she stood up straight and took the bouquet of flowers from his lap to place them in one of the water pitchers they'd been using as makeshift vases.

"No, I'm good. Thank you though," Edward replied with a slight shake of his head. In truth, he was starving; having not eaten a thing since early morning and it was approaching nightfall, but he didn't wish to be a burden and he wasn't sure he could stomach food at any rate, either.

"Okay, just call if you change your mind," Renee offered worriedly after placing the flowers on the nightstand beside her bed.

"Thank you, but really, I'm fine," Edward answered uneasily. Their family had already done far too much for him as it was in his eyes.

Within moments, after Renee tenderly kissed the top of Bella's head and Charlie placed a hand on his shoulder in silent reminder of their chat, Edward found himself alone in the room with the sleeping form of the person he'd waited all afternoon to see. He rolled himself closer to her bed and watched as she slept seemingly peacefully, and found himself questioning again how he'd been capable of treating her so horridly. She seemed so frail and tiny hidden beneath the mountain of blankets with only her flushed face and one hand escaping the heaping coverage.

Frail, tiny, and angelic—and he'd been brutal toward her.

"Damn, what the hell is wrong with me?" he muttered to himself under his breath.

For a solid hour he sat in silence, just watching over her the way he had many a time when it had been him in the bed instead. He'd watched her sleep restlessly through her discomfort more times than he could count, but not once had he ever seen her sleep soundly as she was in those moments where kept vigil at her bedside. And during that hour as she slumbered with a serene expression, devoid of the cinched brow-line and unconscious frown, something stirred deep within him that caught him completely off guard.

Somewhere between noticing the tiny freckle just above her left eyebrow, gazing upon her long dark eyelashes that just barely grazed the tips of her cheeks, and tracing the gentle slope of her nose and how it curved and led his eyes down to the perfect cupid's bow of her upper lip, Edward realized Bella was... beautiful. He'd long since known she was attractive, as that had only taken him a mere glance to ascertain, but in just the span of an hour, he’d come to realize that the generic term hardly served her justice.

Whether it was her inner beauty that he’d become so familiar with over the last six and a half weeks suddenly shining out of her, or if she’d always been so stunningly beautiful and he’d just been ignorant to it, he couldn’t be sure; but matter it did not, because his eyes had been opened and he doubted he’d ever be able to close them off again.

At twenty after eight, a light knock resounded at the door just before it opened and Edward's attention was beckoned away from Bella's face. The nurse, surprisingly one Edward hadn't come to recognize while being a resident of the same floor, smiled kindly and quietly made her way to Bella's bedside.

"I'll just be a moment," she said in a hushed voice, ever mindful of her sleeping patient as she checked her fluids and the bedside monitor keeping track of her oxygen saturation and temperature. When she stepped away from the bed, she paused and faced Edward once more, "Visiting hours will be ending in a few minutes. Will you be needing an overnight pass?"

"Please," he nodded and watched as she slipped from the room silently. As soon as she'd departed, he pulled his phone from his pocket and sent off a text to Jasper.

Are you still at the house? - E

Not two full minutes passed before his phone lit up silently with a reply and he flipped it back open.

Yea. U need a ride? - J

He ran his thumb in circles over the keys as he thought about how to respond. He wanted to stay, but he wasn't sure Bella would want him there once she awoke. Sighing to himself, he tapped out a reply message and sent it.

Maybe, but not right now. I might stay the night, if so, can you bring me clothes in the am? - E

Again, nearly instantly, Edward received a reply.
Yea sure. Call if u need a ride - J

He'd almost slipped his phone back in his pocket before he flipped it right back open and shot another text to his brother.

Did you feed the dogs? - E

It took almost five minutes for the reply to come, and Edward had to roll his eyes, figuring his brother was just feeding then them because he hadn't thought to.

No I let them dig through the trash. Yes, I fed them & let them out too - J

"I bet you did," Edward muttered to himself as he slipped his phone back in his pocket just as the overhead announcement notifying the end of visiting hours blared through the hospital corridors.

As the familiar overhead message approached its end, Bella began to stir. A smile tugged at the corner of Edward's lips as she whimpered and began to uncurl beneath the blanket, stretching her legs toward the bottom of the bed and bringing her bent arms up toward her head. He stayed silent, hoping not to startle her, but the moment her eyes peeked open, she jumped despite his efforts. A breathy chuckle left her lips as she brought the sheet up to hide her blushing face. Waking to find Edward in her room was not something she'd been expecting.

"Hi," she rasped, her voice hoarse and barely audible. "How long have you been here?"

Edward smiled slightly as he shrugged one shoulder, "Since about one in the waiting room...I've been in here a little over an hour though." His smile fell as his head tilted to the side and he regarded her with repentant eyes. "Is it okay that I'm here?"

Bella gazed into his eyes, her face still half hidden by the sheet as her heart skipped a beat at his remorse laden expression. Moments, which felt like eons spent in silence to Edward, passed before she nodded and lowered the sheet so it just covered her lips.

Edward's frown deepened as his eyes flitted over her face and the way she curled the sheet around her delicate fingers, and he wheeled himself closer to the side of her bed. As he stretched his arm out, leaving his hand palm up atop her bed, he silently beseeched her with his eyes to reach back out to him. Her eyes, dulled and swollen from her illness, but still warmer than he'd ever known eyes could be, darted back and forth between his own and his hand. His lips quirked in a sad, regretful smile as he moved his fingers in invitation - and only upon her acquiescence as she slipped one of hers over it, did his shoulders relieve their anxious tension.

Edward could have said a million things to her right then; could have made an attempt to excuse his treatment toward her by laying the blame solely upon his inability to cope with his circumstances, or vowed right then and there to never act so callously toward her again, or even asked her to stay away in fear of hurting her again—but he chose to do none of the above. After spending the entire afternoon contemplating what best to say to her and weighing every possible outcome, the words he'd settled on had been simple. Simple and truer than any he'd ever spoken before.

"I'm sorry. You deserve better."

Anything more than those few words would have diluted the truth held within them, and anything less would have been a cruel and unfair injustice to her. But within those few words and the inflection with which he spoke them, Bella had heard all she'd needed to hear; she wasn't unwanted, she wasn't a mere convenience to him, and she wasn't unworthy of his friendship.

"You're forgiven," she murmured, squeezing his hand gently before pulling it back beneath the covers as her teeth began to chatter. "You shouldn't be here, Edward...I'm contagious."

Edward leaned farther forward and ran the backs of his fingers against her forehead, brushing her damp bangs away from her feverish skin, "I'll take my chances."

"Don't be ridicul..." she attempted to chide as she moved to sit up, but her words came to an abrupt halt as she began coughing hoarsely. It was painful for him to both watch and hear, and even more so to know there was nothing he could do to help, but he did try. From where he sat, leaning all the way forward, he could just reach her enough to rub the side of her back.

With a whining moan of discontent, Bella fell back against her pillows, out of breath and rubbing the center of her chest with the palm of her hand. "Jeebus, that hurt," she panted, a tear streaming from the corner of her eye and disappearing into her hair.

"You okay?"

As he asked, he slipped his hand from behind her back and helped her pull the blankets back up.

"Yeah," she nodded, her chin quivering as she shivered and pulled the blanket further up, leaving only her head exposed. She turned her face to the side and looked at him worriedly, "You really should go home, Edward."

He propped his elbow atop the mattress and rested his head against it, "Do you want me to go because you don't want me here, or because you're afraid I'll get sick?"

"Because I'm afraid you'll get sick," she replied through chattering teeth and closed her eyes as her entire body broke out in uncontrollable tremors.

"Then I'm staying," he sighed, shaking his head, "I told you, I'll take my chances."

The night was long; longer than any Edward could remember having had since he'd left the hospital. Hours passed after Charlie and Renee had returned, bringing with them a to-go container of spaghetti with meat sauce for Edward, and a small bowl of Italian Wedding soup for Bella—both which had gone nearly untouched by either. They'd stayed until just after ten before departing to head home; both having to work in the morning.

By midnight, the lights had been turned off and Edward watched on silently as Bella's eyes drooped and blinked sluggishly at the small TV airing the last half hour of a nineties sitcom marathon. Beside her sat a plastic basin, steadily filling with used tissues as congestion began to set in. She both looked and sounded miserable, but even so, Edward couldn't take his eyes off of her. And as her eyes began to droop further, her blinks becoming more sluggish and drawn out until they closed as she drifted off to sleep, Edward's began to do the same. He waited until he was sure there were no signs of her waking any time soon, and then he made himself as comfortable as he could.

In his cramped discomfort, Edward began to understand all that Bella had gone through just to stand beside him. Not only did he begin to see the physical strain she'd willingly suffered just to be in his company and befriend him in a way no other person ever had before, but he also began to truly see the kind of person she was to have been able to give of herself so wholly and selflessly to a person no more acquainted to her than a stranger passing by on the streets. She was an angel.

His guardian angel.

It was there, with his head resting atop a pillow at the foot of her bed, and his arm stretched out so his hand could rest atop her blanketed leg, that Edward dreamt peacefully for the first time in years; no flickers of flames, no terrified cries of faceless victims he couldn't find, and no nightmarish visions of tragedies he'd witness during his ten year career.

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