Chapter 9

Playlist selection:  Crow and the Butterfly - by Shinedown

Bella POV

Over the past few weeks, I have come to refer to that fateful graduation day as Hell.  Not "the day from Hell", but simply Hell.  So as of today, it's been exactly twenty three days since Hell.  Like a recently sober addict, I count the days and minutes from that life-altering moment that changed everything I ever knew, but I know that I shouldn't.  It makes me focus on that itch, that need, for my drug of choice that's no longer within my reach. One day at a time, they say. 

But like an addict, my recovery is ongoing and some days are easier than others.  Thankfully, today is one of those days.

On Edward's birthday, Angela manages to rescue me from my pity party and drags me out of the house for lunch at Applebee's and a quick run through Target for necessities. We have the music blaring some annoying pop song and the windows down, enjoying the warm rush of air as it blows through the car.  Angela says she needs to stop by her mom's office to pick up something, so we head off toward downtown and pull into the parking garage.  I don't really feel like going into the office building, so Ang says she'll be right back and heads toward the entrance door. 

I'm snapping my bubble gum, listening to the radio, when I get a creepy chill down my spine.  It's the same eerie feeling I had when Charlie's truck had the flat tire.  I hear a deep growl and then notice a flash in the passenger door mirror.  I whip my head around to see who's there.  

No one.

I swing around in the other direction, looking for anyone who may be watching me. I only see a redheaded woman with a leather jacket walking into the entrance door at the other end of the garage.  That's weird... it's the second of Arizona.  It's a bit hot for a leather jacket, isn't it?

"Ready to go?" Angela startles me as she opens the driver's side door and slides into the car.

"Yeah, uh, let's get outta here." I look around nervously, still trying to push away that unsettled feeling.

We arrive back at the house a little while later, and she helps me bring in my purchases from her trunk.  A pink notice is stuck to the front door, and I glance at it quickly as we set the bags on the kitchen table.

Carrumba is squawking, wanting out of her cage.  We've fallen into a routine lately, and it's past her afternoon jungle gym playtime.  As I'm unlocking the cage door, Angela asks me about the pink notice.

"It says that someone must be present at the time of delivery.  You have to call this number and tell them what time you'll be here." She points to a phone number at the bottom of the notice and places it on the kitchen table.  She helps me unload the bags and then heads back home to prepare for her date with Ben later on.

As Carrumba is chowing down on her favorite - ham and cheese instant grits - for dinner, I make a call to the delivery company, confirming a time for them to arrive.  I spend the rest of the evening just like the last twenty-two nights: soothing shower, comfortable pyjamas, and crying until I'm exhausted enough to finally fall asleep.   

The next morning, my mom and I make a trip to the grocery store, needing ingredients for the annual neighborhood Fourth of July cookout tomorrow.  With a lot of resistance from my parents and friends, I organized a small memorial service for the Masens before the cookout.  They think that I should wait and hold a little ceremony next weekend or something.  I disagree, feeling it will be the perfect date to do it, considering tomorrow would have been the day I married Edward -  under our favorite gazebo in the park at the end of our street. Finally, they relented and Renee enlisted the help of Mrs. Weber, and together, they notified all of the people we invited to the wedding, informing them about the turn of events. 

Now, instead of rows of white chairs, flowers, and a wedding cake, Pastor Weber will say a few prayers and then we will allow time for anyone who wants to share their favorite memories of the Masens to speak.  I believe, deep in my heart, that Liz and Ed would appreciate the fact that people were celebrating their lives instead of mourning their deaths.  They were always positive and happy people.  Edward would have just been thrilled with the goddamn fireworks at the end of the day, hoping for a huge finale.  

Renee has just left to go back to her house when the delivery man arrives.  I sign for the parcel and bring it inside, eyeing the unusual packaging and warning labels reading "Live Specimen".  What the fuck is this?  I haul the box to the kitchen table and grab a knife from the utensil drawer.  When I lift the lid off the box and read the instruction sheet on how to keep the three dozen creepy-crawlies in a temperate environment, I begin to get nervous.  Please, God, don't let it be some man-eating tarantulas or mutant scorpions. As I peel the protective sheet from the creatures inside, I gasp loudly and collapse to the floor of the kitchen, clutching the Styrofoam lid tightly in my hands.

No. No, no, no.


Post-Hell day number twenty-four, I wake up in tears.  I don't remember much of the dream I had, but it centered around Edward - as they usually do.  He was running through a forest, being pelted by cold, heavy rain drops, and he was smiling.  He was happy.  Maybe it was a message sent from Heaven, reassuring me that he's at peace, that it's time to stop crying over losing him.  I've been so wrapped up in my own despair and heartbreak, that I never considered whether he was content wherever he is.  A part of me is crushed by the thought of Edward blissfully existing somewhere in the universe without me.

The more I think about this, the more I cry. My eyelids are swollen, and my head is stuffy and throbbing.  I decide to take a hot shower, needing the steam to open my pores and flush out all my heartache.  As I step out of the foggy bathroom, I hear my cell phone blaring from the bedroom.  Renee asks if I can come help her this morning with preparing the food for the picnic later this afternoon.  Getting dressed, I slip on a pair of Edward's gym shorts and a basketball jersey, knowing I'll change into something more appropriate for the memorial service from my old closet at my parents' house.

After the food is prepared and wrapped securely with foil or plastic wrap, Renee shoos me out of the kitchen to get dressed for the service.  As I climb the stairs to my old room, I take a deep cleansing breath, knowing I need to corral my emotions today.  I enter the bedroom and head straight to the closet, searching for the particular outfit I want to wear.  The doorbell rings as I'm changing into a strapless bra.  I peek out the curtain, noticing a small delivery van.  Figuring it's someone for the cookout, I turn back to my closet and pull the white eyelet sundress over my head.  I spend several moments styling my hair and putting on a small amount of makeup.  I dig around my jewelry box, searching for the perfect accessories for my outfit, but when I glance down at the ring on my left hand, I decide that that is the perfect choice.  It's from Edward.  I also haven't taken off the infinity necklace since Angela clasped it around my neck.  I know technically it's not, but I consider it a gift from Liz and Ed.

I glance up into my vanity mirror, giving myself a watery smile, knowing I'm wearing something that represents each of the Masens.  With a shaky breath, I walk over to the window again and rest my forehead against the glass. I stare out toward the front yard, seeing nothing and everything at the same time. He was my whole life - my past, present, and future - but now he's gone forever.  A heart-wrenching sob erupts from my chest as I realize there's not a single memory or a hope for the future that didn't involve Edward in some way.

My eyes focus on a florist delivery truck as it pulls against the curb to unload several bouquets of flowers. It triggers memories of getting in trouble for trampling through Liz's flowerbeds when we were seven years old, of the wrist corsage he gave me for homecoming last year, and the daisy he placed in my locker when I was mad at him for skipping school without me during our freshman year.  More sentimental images begin to flood my brain: our visits to the botanical gardens, vampire plants, butterflies, and our first kiss. 

So many memories.

The bedroom door creaks as it opens, and I realize I'm crumpled on the floor beneath my window.  Tears are streaming like a lava flow, carrying away the remnants of my makeup with them.  I wipe under my eyes as Renee peeks around my door.

"Bella, honey," she calls as she steps across the room and kneels beside me on the floor. "It's time to go. The service won't be very long, and then you can come right back home, okay?"

With my body feeling slightly numb, I barely register that I'm being lifted to my bed and my shoes are being slid onto my feet. I gaze blankly up at my mother's offered hand to stand and pull her into a tight hug.

I collapse against her shoulder, my voice, raspy and withered with emotion, "He's gone, Mom...they're all gone."


Renee keeps busy, setting up her dishes for the cookout on one of the picnic tables next to the gazebo.  I place my small offering of potato chip cookies next to the other desserts and quickly step away before I break down again.  Last night, I managed to ruin the first two batches that I made because I cried uncontrollably and couldn't focus on the measurements.  I've made these damn cookies for years, and know the recipe by heart, but my head just couldn't pull it from my memory.

There are several women helping Renee with the food organization, and Mr. Samuels is manning the grill - as he does every year.  I scurry away into the gazebo and notice as Charlie situates a few sympathy flower arrangements near the archways.  The scent of the flowers reminds me of a funeral parlor, and my eyes immediately well with tears.  Taking a deep, calming breath, I distract myself by arranging a collection of picture frames sitting on a covered card table next to the makeshift podium/stage area.  It never occurred to me to have their family portrait blown up and displayed for the entire neighborhood to see instead of these four-by-six photos.  But these were pictures of them living life - Ed and Edward fishing, Liz covered in dirt smudges and pointing her gardening spade at whoever was taking the picture.  There's even one of Edward and me running through the sprinkler in his backyard when we were six years old.  A tear escapes and begins its journey down my cheek, but I wipe it away quickly, not wanting to break down before the service.

Several of the families from the neighborhood start to arrive and gather around the gazebo, giving their condolences to my parents and me.  I try so hard to keep it together, but each I'm so sorry for your loss and What a tragedy; they were a nice family just tears open my heart more and more.

Finally, Pastor Weber calls everyone's attention and thanks them for attending our impromptu memorial service.  He gives a short, uplifting sermon and finishes with a prayer. He turns the floor over to anyone who wishes to share a favorite memory they have about the Masens.  For a few moments, no one steps up to say anything, and I start to get nervous, thinking that scheduling this for today was a stupid idea.

Thankfully, Mrs. Doblesmith clears her throat and describes the first time she ever met Liz at the Garden Club.  After her, a few more people stand up and reminisce with us about their connections.  One gentleman had worked with Ed and my dad on the police force, another woman was a long-standing client at Liz's salon, and two sophomores mention that Edward was always nice to them at school. 

After a dozen or so people took the stage and voiced their memories, Renee nods at Charlie and they pull me to join them them as they make their way toward the podium.  Charlie clears his throat and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper.  He begins to read a letter to the Masens, written by him and Renee.  It details their close friendship that can only be described as an extended family.  Both of my parents take a turn reading the letter, retelling their favorite memories.  In closing, Renee is clutching onto Charlie's shirt, sobbing quietly.  Charlie actually sheds a rare tear; it cascades down his face as he hugs my mom and me tightly.  There are several sniffles in the crowd, and once my dad releases me, I know it's my chance to say what I need to say. 

I hand my parents each a Styrofoam box, and ask them not to open them until I tell them to.  They nod and stand on either side of me, offering their silent support.  I look out at all the friends and neighbors that have gathered to remember Liz, Ed, and Edward, and suddenly I'm not sure if I can go through with this.  My eyes start to water and I glance down at the paper in my hands; the words are blurry, and a tear drop lands in the middle of the page, smearing some of the ink.  I gaze back up and meet the eyes of Angela and Peter.  Their glistening eyes and encouraging smiles push me through my anxiety, and I swallow the lump in my throat before I begin my speech.

"Uh, hi, everyone. Thanks for coming to the memorial service for the Masens." My voice is shaky and my chin quivers with every word. "Most of you wouldn't be here if you weren't friends with them, so then you probably know what today would have been had they not been taken away from us so soon."  I looked around briefly, noticing several nods.

"Edward's and my wedding day."  There were a few quiet gasps, and Renee began to rub her hand up and down my back, relaxing and encouraging me at the same time.  I offer her a small, flimsy smile, and then I turn back to my audience.  You need to do this, Bella, I tell myself.

"I found something written by Edward that I would like to share with you all.  You would have heard it today, regardless if you were attending his memorial service or his wedding."  Looking down at the wrinkled piece of paper in my hands, I remember reading his first attempts at writing his wedding vows.  They were poetic and beautiful, and so not Edward.  When I came across the last entry in his notebook, I knew this passage would have been what he recited to me today.  I clear my throat again, and dive right into reading the words I have nearly memorized from reading constantly over the last two days.  

"My Dearest Bella-Bug,

I’m not sure I have the words to express the feelings and emotions running through me right now.  I am going to try my hardest to convey the depth of my love for you,

but always know, that there will never be the correct words for it.  It's that immense.  I am telling you in the only way I know how to express how much I love and adore you.

Bella... You and I started out as caterpillars, vulnerable and needing shelter from the outside world.  Our mothers did their nesting side-by-side as we grew inside of them.  Already, before we had met, we knew each other.  We loved each other through our mother’s love, in their friendship, their sisterhood. 

In our infancy, Bella, we played together and grew quickly.  Our skin stretched, our legs grew; we became awkward in our adolescence…and yet, we grew closer and closer.  I pretended to be grossed out by girls, and you by boys, at some point.  I was never grossed out by you.  How can you be grossed out by your other half?  By the person that makes you feel most complete in this world?  It’s always been you; we were meant for each other.

As our bodies grew and matured, our relationship began to change.  We metamorphosed from an innocent friendship, into courtship, then into love.  This is the next step in our life cycle, Bella-Bug, to forever change our lives, and to let our wings spread, and take flight!  I am so honored and excited to have you at my side for this day and for the rest of our lives together.  You are my butterfly, and your beauty, inside and out, brings me to my knees.  

So, Isabella Marie Swan, I take you to be my wife from this time onward, to join with you and to share all that is to come, to be your faithful husband, to give and to receive, to speak and to listen, to inspire and to be inspired.  From this day forward, you shall not walk alone. My heart will be your shelter and my arms will be your home. As I have given you my hand to hold, I give you my life to keep. This is my commitment to you - made in love, kept in faith, and cherished for eternity."

I take a deep, cleansing breath and chance a glance at my audience, noticing several people blotting their eyes.  Renee sniffles next to me and tries to pull me into a hug, but I know that I will lose the weak grip on my emotions if I don't finish my speech.  I shake my head at her quickly and continue on...

"My Dearest Edward,

When was it that we fell in love?  When we were seventeen or fourteen, maybe ten? I don’t know ’cause the truth is I can’t picture a time that I wasn’t in love with you. I always knew you were the one that could look into my eyes and see my soul. I would have never questioned your commitment to us, and I know there’s nothing we wouldn't have been able to work through. And I would have accepted you as my husband and as my best friend above all others. It’s a miracle to find the kind of peace and happiness that you had given me, and in honor of that miracle, I pledge before our family and friends to continue to love, cherish, and honor you forever. 

I know you aren't here to place a ring on my finger, kiss my lips, or call me your wife today, but I know wherever you are, that you love me and are watching over me.  I promise to live the rest of my life with the passion you would have, and to keep your memory alive through everything I do. 

So, Edward Anthony Masen, from this day forward, I shall not walk alone. Your heart will always be my shelter and your arms will always be my home. As I have given you my heart to hold, I give you my life to keep. This is my commitment to you - made in love, kept in faith, and cherished for eternity. I will love you forever, until my last day."

As my voice cracks on the last phrase, I peer up to my audience again. Not one single dry eye in sight.  Angela and Peter, Pastor and Mrs. Weber, Mr. and Mrs. Corbin, and even old, crotchety Mr. Patricks is wiping his eyes.  Renee and Charlie have tears streaming down their faces.  The brick wall containing my emotions is starting to crumble, so I push through with the final part of my declaration to Edward.

"There is a Native American saying that if you whisper your wish to a butterfly, and set it free, it will carry your wish to Heaven and it will be granted."  I carefully lift the lid off the box of a dozen sleeping Monarch butterflies.  Edward had ordered these to be set free for our wedding, but instead, in a fucked up twist of fate, I'm releasing them at his memorial service.  Gently, I cradle the precious creature in my hands and hold it against my lips.  I quietly whisper my wish to it, place a soft kiss to the butterfly's wings, and raise my hand up and watch it take flight.  It flutters around my head and then escapes from under the roof of the gazebo, out into the world.  Renee lifts the lid from her box and does the same, as does Charlie.  I turn to Angela and Peter, offering them each a sleeping butterfly.  Other close friends of the Masens step up to claim a butterfly, whisper their wish to it and set them off toward Heaven. 

The chaotic swirl of black and orange wings, flitting around us, reminds me of our first date at the botanical gardens, and my eyes well up with tears.  Pastor Weber approaches me and asks if he could recite a poem that he feels would be very fitting for the service.  I nod and take a step back to allow him the podium.  He deep voice echoes under the wood canopy of the gazebo as he reads from his worn tablet in his hands.

"As you release this butterfly in honor of me,
know that I'm with you and will always be.
Hold a hand, say a prayer,
close your eyes and see me there.
Although you may feel a bit torn apart,
please know that I'll be forever in your heart.
Now fly away butterfly as high as you can go,
I'm right there with you more than you know."

Charlie and Renee wrap me into a tight hug and I finally let the tears fall.  Suddenly, this is too much, too final, and I need to get out of here.  I need to get back home.  Renee begs me to stay and eat something, assuring me that I need a good meal and some fellowship with our friends and neighbors at a time like this.  I stay for about three minutes and a dozen hugs from people, before I am itching to escape.  I excuse myself from the small congregation of people, and try to cross the soccer field quickly, but I'm stopped by Peter.

"Bella!" he yells as he jogs to meet up with me. "Where are you going?"

I look at him with tears streaming down my cheeks and snot bubbling from my nose. "I-I can't, Pete.  I just... can't."  I wave him off and continue my path towards my home.  He stops in the middle of the field, his face full of pity for me, and I just can't take anymore of that.  Not right now.  Not today of all days.

I start to move faster, approaching the parking lot of the park, dodging cars and I speed up my steps.  By the time I hit the start of my street, I'm in a full run.  Running as if the Devil was chasing me.  I can't seem to get to the Masens' quick enough. The tears are flowing like a ruptured dam and my vision blurs, but I turn into the familiar driveway and sprint the last few feet until I'm inside the garage, wrenching open the kitchen door.  I take a few steps inside and slump against the refrigerator, releasing a few pent up sobs.  This isn't where I want to be.  I don't want to be in the god damned kitchen!  I want to be in my bed, clutching my pillow, and wailing into the empty room, letting loose all the pain and heartache I've been only showing smidgens of over the last few weeks. I need to scream and cry and throw things.  This isn't fair!  He shouldn't have been taken away from me!  He was stolen from me! 

Turning for the stairs, I climb up to the room, stripping off my sundress along the way.  My mind is so muddy and my vision so cloudy that my body moves automatically.  I'm naked before I wrap my body with the soft, silky material and crumple on the floor next to the bed - legs so weak that I can't even stand to fling myself across the mattress.  I cry and scream, and punch the side of the bed.  Yelling that I hate the world, I hate the shitty future I have without Edward, and I hate Edward for leaving me.  I know it's not his fault he's gone, but now I've reached the anger part of the grieving process.  I'm angry that he went on that camping trip with his parents without me; angry that I never got to tell him goodbye; angry that my life feels meaningless without him; angry that I was supposed to become his wife today, but that I won't be.

Time seems to pass slowly, but as the sun shines from the opposite angle across the room, I realize it's later in the afternoon.  Renee's voice is floating up from downstairs, frantic and worried. "Bella?!  Are you up there?!"

"Mom?" My voice is thick and froggy.

"Bella?  Oh, Bella, sweetheart!  I've been looking for you for over a hour!"  She wraps her hand under my arm and helps me to stand. "I thought you'd be at the Masens', honey."

I look at her, momentarily confused, until I hear her gasp.

"Baby, your dress. C'mon, you're going to ruin it." 

Does she really think I give a shit about my useless wedding dress?  I don't care if it's soiled with mascara smears and smudges from being dragged across the floor.  The damn dress shop won't take it back, and I'm never going to need to wear it.  She tries to pull the bodice down, but I'm gripping the top tightly with my fingers, stepping away from her, ready to run again.

"Stop it, Mom!  Just leave me alone, please!"  I turn and bolt down the stairs, nearly trampling Charlie in the kitchen, and I make a bee-line for the Masens' house.  The crinoline under the skirt of the dress catches on a fucking garden ornament in Liz's garden, and I trip, landing hard on my hands and knees in the middle of the driveway.  My palm and knee are stinging from being scraped against the concrete, but I manage to get to the front door, barging in and locking it behind me.  I collapse against the back of the door, still gripping the lock.




"Hi, Carrumba," I mumble.  She stops climbing around inside her cage, silently listening for me to speak again. "I'm sorry if I scared you."  I pull myself up to stand, and make my way through the living room and into the kitchen.  My mouth is parched.

As I'm pouring a glass of ice water, the most melodic, most beautiful sound calls out to me, and I instantly think I'm delusional.  It's Edward's voice.


I listen silently, hoping I will hear it again.

"Bel-la, Bel-la, Bel-la," Carrumba sings. 

It's a miracle.  I lift my face towards the sky and silently thank God, or my little butterfly, for granting my wish today... to hear Edward's voice call my name again, even if it is through a bird.




A/N:  The poem recited by Pastor Weber is a real poem written by Jill Haley for a butterfly release.



Chapter 8

Chapter 7 summary:  Bella, Charlie, and Randy discover the gruesome crime scene at the cabin and call the authorities.  After the police have questioned them and taken the evidence, Charlie and Bella pack up some of the Masens' belongings to take back to Phoenix.  Before they leave the cabin, Bella gets an unsettling feeling - as if she's being watched - but shrugs it off.  On the highway back to Phoenix, Charlie and Bella are quiet, both lost in their own heads, when Charlie shouts and BANG! the car swerves to the shoulder of the road and comes to a sudden stop...
Chapter 8 playlist selection:  Home by Michael BublĂ© 

Bella POV
"God, damn it!" Charlie yells as he slams the car door after inspecting the tire. "That tree limb tore the tire to shreds."  He waves his hand toward the crushed wood on the highway behind us, shaking his head in frustration.
I lean across the center console of the car, peering at him through the driver's side window.  "Sorry, Dad. I didn't even notice it in the road."
"I didn't either, Bells.  It appeared out of nowhere!"  Still shaking his head and glowering at the debris, he makes his way to the metal storage bin in the bed of his pick-up truck.  I twist around in the passenger seat, watching as he unlocks the compartment, retrieves a jack, tire iron, battery operated spotlight, and two road flares.  Officer Swan - always prepared for emergencies.
"Need any help?" 
He rolls his eyes and scoffs at my offer, knowing I'd be useless instead of helpful. "Why don't you go sit over by that boulder - out of the way." He points to an outcropping of rocks near the tree line, away from the shoulder of the road.  "I'll only be a minute or two, and then we'll be back in business."
"I'll just wait in the truck instead."
"It's too dangerous to sit in a parked vehicle on the side of the highway with cars flying by you at eighty miles per hour." 
I glance in both directions, assessing the amount of traffic on the highway at this time of night.  Nothing.  Not one fucking car in sight.  We haven't passed anyone for several miles.  I decide not to give him any shit right now, not wanting to argue.  We'd already had one hell of a night.  I turn and walk through the gravel toward the pile of rocks and sit on top of a large, level boulder.
Charlie ignites the road flares and situates the spotlight before he sinks to the ground and proceeds with changing the tire.  I keep a watchful eye for any sudden, rush-hour traffic whizzing by us on this desolate stretch of highway at one-thirty in the morning.  Still nothing.  As he is replacing the lug nuts, I hear a twig snap just beyond the trees behind me.  An uncomfortable chill rushes down my spine, and I feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck raise in alarm.
A faint murmur echoes from somewhere in the forest, and I whip my head around, nervously searching for the owner of that bone-chilling voice. An involuntary shiver runs through my body and I am overcome with the urge to run.  
"Hello?" I whisper toward the forest, my heart pounding furiously in my chest. "Who's there?"
"Okay, Bells!  Tire's changed. Let's get a move on!" Charlie calls to me as he dusts off his jeans and tosses his equipment back into the metal bin.
I make one last glance at the dark woods along the roadside, but I don't see or hear anything more.  The creepy sensation is still lingering, so I quickly hop off the rock and dart toward the truck, climb into the passenger seat, and lock my door.  Charlie looks at me questioningly, but I just shake my head and stare at the floorboards.  He reaches over and squeezes my hand gently for a moment before twisting the key in the ignition and putting the truck into gear.
"Let's get out of here. Alright?" 
I nod, let loose a deep sigh, and rest my head against the window, closing my eyes for a second or two...
"Sweetheart, we're home," Charlie says softly as he rubs my left arm. "Wake up."
I open my eyes, blinking a few times to help get my bearings.  Recognizing the neighborhood park at the entrance to our road, my eyes begin to fill with tears as we make a right onto our street, and are greeted by the cheery, colorful mailboxes that line the left side of the drive.  The Barkers.  The Dunlaps.  The Knights.  The Masens.  
A sob erupts from me as we approach their house - dark and empty.  Elizabeth's flower garden is in full bloom, vibrant Verbena and Salvia sprinkling life throughout the desert landscape. Ed Senior's patrol car and Edward's truck sit in their driveway, abandoned. And Renee on their porch...
Wait!  Mom?
"Ah, shit, Renee," Charlie mutters to himself.  He shifts nervously in the driver's seat as he pulls into our driveway two houses down.  Releasing a deep, sad sigh, he admits, "I didn't get ahold of your mother earlier. The call went to the answering machine.  She doesn't know yet."  His pained eyes look into my shocked ones, and I am immediately unsure if I'm going to be able to handle this confrontation tonight.  I thought he had softened the blow earlier when he was on the cell phone, but apparently not.  This is going to be horrible.
"Charlie!"  Renee yells through the night, sprinting from the Masens' yard toward our house, and meeting us in the driveway. "So? What happened? Why didn't you call when you got on the road?  I was so worr-"
Charlie interrupts, trying to usher my mother into the garage, "Renee, let's go insi-"  
She continues, "I fell asleep watching reruns of Seinfeld, and the next thing I know, I'm awakened by flashing lights and car doors slamming.  I peeked through the windows and saw three cop cars pull out of Liz and Ed's driveway!"
"I know, honey. C'mon, let's go-," he tries again, guiding her toward the kitchen door.
"So then I run out the door, trying to wave down the officers, but they were already at the end of the street and didn't see me.  I walked over the Liz and Ed's house, trying to peek into the windows, but I couldn't see anything this time of night.  Ed should really invest in those sensor flood lights, because they real-" 
My mom shuts up at the sudden sharp tone of my father's voice and looks up at him with furrowed brows.  Charlie escorts her inside, practically manhandling her like a prisoner. 
I stay behind, not wanting to follow my parents into the house as my dad rehashes all the details of our evening. 
I suddenly feel awkward standing in the middle of the garage, as if I don't belong here, in this house.  Not that I feel unwelcome, but that it's not where I belong.  It's a strange feeling, confusing, especially since I grew up in this house.  This is the only home I've ever known, but I feel it holds nothing for me anymore. 
Home is where your heart is, they say.  Edward is, or was, my heart, but if he's no longer with me in this world, then where does that leave me?  Homeless?  The closest I could come to being "at home" would be wherever Edward is, but since there is no way I'm going to kill myself, I'm left with only one other option to be as close to him -to home- as possible.  The Masen House. 
Through the screen door of the kitchen, I see Renee crying, her loud wails pouring into the silent night air.  Watching my mother break down from the news, I let my own tears fall as I see my father hugging her tightly and offering soft apologies like he did for me earlier tonight.  I lean back against the front of my mother's car, burying my face in my hands as my body shakes from the turmoil and sadness that's running its course through me.  
After a moment or two, my mother barrels out of the screen door and clutches me in her arms.  She's bawling, soaking my already damp shirt with her tears.  I grab onto her tightly, hoping her embrace will wash the pain away, but it's no use.  Her whispers of condolences pass over me, doing nothing to soothe my heartache.  There's only one person that will douse the flames of that, and he is rotting away in a morgue somewhere.
Charlie tries to corral us back into the house, our cries getting louder by the second. "C'mon, ladies. Let's get inside."
"No. I'm not going," I rasp, weakly pushing my father's arms away.
"Bella, baby," Renee coos. "Your dad is right. C'mon inside." She wraps her arm around my shoulders, nudging me toward the kitchen door.
My father huffs in exasperation and leaves my mother to tend to my stubbornness alone in the garage. 
"You're home now, sweetie. You're safe." She sniffles and wipes her nose with the bottom of her tee-shirt. "Come inside and sit with me on the couch."   
"This... This isn't home for me anymore, Mom.  Edward is my home." Another round of sobs wrack through me, and once I contain my cries, I continue, "I need to be with Edward, Mom.  I'm going to the Masens."
Her eyes widen with fear and she reaches to grab onto my arms to keep me from running.  She probably assumes I'm going to off myself in Edward's bedroom or something else completely absurd.  "Bella? No. Don't..."
I plead with my eyes for her to understand.  When she shakes her head 'no', I resort to desperate begging, "Please, Mom. I want to go home."  My voice cracks on the last word, my chin quivering uncontrollably.
Charlie, thankfully, has been listening to us from the kitchen, and comes to calm my mother's worries. He pulls her against his chest, burying her face against his shoulder, and tells her that I just want to be alone with the memory of Edward.  He continues to whisper to her, reassuring her that he will check up on me every hour.  Charlie gives me a wink and slow head nod, indicating that's it's okay for me to go, and I turn to run toward the Masens' house.
I stagger across the lawns, my vision blurred from my tears, until I'm standing in front of Edward's truck in their driveway.  I grip my hands tightly onto the tailgate, using it to support my body so I can catch my breath.  I feel like the wind has been knocked out of my lungs, the weight of my emotions are starting to suffocate me.  I hold onto the edges of the truck as I make my way to the other side, closer to the front door of their house. 
As I reach the porch, I fumble for the keys that I put into my pocket before Charlie and I left for the cabin... Edward's keys.  I slip the silver key into the lock and push open the door.
Jesus, shit!  I forgot about the bird.
"Sorry, Carrumba," I mumble, closing the front door behind me.  Leaning against it, I take several deep breaths, attempting to wrangle my emotions.  It doesn't really help.  A large lung full of Elizabeth's favorite scented candle floats through the house, permeating it with memories of her. 
I wipe my face with my hand, exhale deeply, and push myself away from the door. Walking toward Carrumba's cage, I glance inside it to assess her food status.  There are a few beans and plenty of birdseed, so I decide to forego her dinner-time feeding - since it's nearly three in the morning - and replenish her bowls in the morning.  I yawn loudly, the constant plummet of events of this horrific day finally catching up with me. Turning toward the stairs, I toe off my shoes in the living room, strip my shorts from my body in the hallway, and climb up to Edward's bedroom in only my tee-shirt and underwear.
The emotional numbness that seems to come in waves has returned, and I glance around the room, resigned.  He's gone.  There's nothing that I can do to change that, but I refuse to let him go.  I know that at some point in my life I will have to move on.  He would have wanted me to be happy and have a family of my own.  But, that's unfathomable right now.  The pain in my heart is so new, so sharp, that I can't even begin to imagine my future without him.  He is a part of me, whether he's living or dead, and right now, my mind can't wrap around that fact.  It's too muddied with a constant war between denial and acceptance.
I slide between his soft jersey sheets, breathing in his familiar scent, and cry myself to sleep, clutching his pillow to my chest.
I spend most of the next morning in Edward's bed, fighting the tears that threaten to spill from my eyes over the devastating turn of events from last night.  I still don't know how I have any left in my body to cry out.  I toss and turn, trying to settle myself down enough to go back to sleep, but it's fruitless. 
My eyes begin to gaze around his bedroom.  His autographed team penant for the Diamondbacks is proudly nailed to the wall next to his closet and an oversized poster of some blonde bimbo leaning over the hood of a Porsche is taped to the back of his door.  Typical male. The shadow boxes that hang on his wall next to the bedroom door display his prized bug captures.  I flashback to four years ago, and to the brilliant smile on his face when he brought me into his room, pointing to his collection's newest addition.
"It's a Diplocentrus spitzeri, Bella." Edward looked from me back to the hideously large scorpion tacked to the back of the frame. "I've been searching for one of these babies for a while!"
I groan and flop over to face the window.  His bookcase is now in my line of sight, and the plethora of entomology journals and a framed picture of us at prom just twists the serrated knife in my heart a little bit more.  I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my jaw, willing the tears not to fall. The faint sound of a television catches my attention, and I reluctantly crawl out of bed and slip into some of Edward's pajama pants hanging from the footboard. 
The smell of fresh brewed coffee drifts up the stairs as I head down toward the living room.  There's no one on the couch, so I move through to the kitchen, again finding nobody. 
"Hello?" I call out into the empty space.
"Hey, honey.  I'm in here."
Charlie sticks his head out of the home office door and nods for me to come inside.  As I get to the doorway, I notice papers strewn about, file cabinet drawers open, and my father holding a thick file in his hands, thumbing through the documents inside.
"What are you doing in here, Dad?"
"Well, since the investigators were here last night, ransacking the place, I thought I would come and try to pick up a bit." 
I bend down to pick up a file of Edward's old school report cards and attendance certificates from elementary school.  I smile to myself when I find the class picture from Mrs. Fields' second grade class - the only class were in together as kids.
Charlie continues, "But I've also been looking for Ed and Liz's wills.  I can't find anything in this mess."  He gestures to the room and shakes his head, reaching for his coffee mug on the desk.
"What do you need their wills for?"
"I, uh, need to tell the coroner's office what their wishes were - buried or cremated."  Fuck. That's not what I was expecting him to say, but it's good to know at least one of us has a level head considering the major pit of fucked-up-ness our lives have been thrown into.  I was thinking about their property and stuff... not burial preferences. "I'm sorry, baby.  I should have waited until you went back home to look for them."
I take a shuddering breath and try to change the subject. "What time did you get here this morning?"
"Um, well, I came over after your mom fell asleep - around four."
"You've been here all morning?"  I glanced over at the clock on the wall, noticing it was nearly eleven-thirty.
He smiles sheepishly, "Yeah, well, I couldn't sleep, and I just wanted to make sure you were going to be okay.  When I first checked on you, and found you sleeping in Edward's room, I decided to come downstairs and straighten up a bit.  Three pots of coffee later, you come down the stairs. I haven't even noticed the time." He glances up at the clock again, then back at me, and sighs. "I should go back over to the house now. Why don't you get dressed and come home.  I know your mother needs you home to hold her together."  
"I know she does, Dad. I just can't leave here just yet."  This is my home now, I think to myself.
"Maybe she'll want to come over here to spend some time with you, but I don't know if she'd be able to deal with being in their house so soon. You know?"
I smile weakly at him, turning to walk back into the living room.  Carrumba has been quiet since I woke up this morning, and I wonder if she senses that something is off.  I approach her cage, watching her climb against the bars of the enclosure and jingle her little bell toy.
"Hi, Carrumba."
She stops playing and hobbles on the perch toward the front door of the cage.  As I release the latch, she holds on as the door swings open and clangs against the outer side of the bars.  She climbs up to the jungle gym on the roof of the cage and begins to preen herself.
"Isn't it going to fly away?" my dad questions as he emerges from the office. "I don't want to chase it down if it gets loose outside.  I don't even know how to take care of a damn bird."
I wrangle her food and water bowls from inside the enclosure and turn to face Charlie. "Lucky for you, Dad, I'm going to take care of her. She's my bird, now."
Charlie looks at me disapprovingly for a moment before he turns toward the office again.  "I just wish I knew where the hell their papers are," he mumbles softly. 
After I've fed Carrumba, I poke my head into the home office, checking on my dad's clean up progress.  He's elbow-deep in a pile of appliance warranty information, grumbling to himself, when I suddenly have an idea. "Hey, Dad! I might know of another place to look.  I'll be right back."
He nods and shuffles through another file as I make my way down the hall toward the master bedroom.  The door creaks slightly as I enter, and I feel along the wall for the light switch.  The curtains are drawn closed, so I walk toward the large picture window that overlooks the backyard and open them, allowing the bright Arizona sunlight to shine inside.  Their bedroom has always been immaculate - bed made and dresser tops cleared, the total opposite of Edward's room.  I trail my hand across the taupe-colored silk bedspread as I make my way to their closet.  Wrenching open the levered door, the first thing I see are the two large garment bags hanging in the corner of the closet - their vampire costumes.  I smile wistfully to myself, remembering their Halloween party a few years ago.
Ed greased up his forehead with face paint in order to make a dramatic widow's peak to replicate the look of Dracula. Elizabeth had tried wearing the plastic fangs, but said she couldn't eat the hors d'oeuvres with them in, so she claimed that she was a vampire with razor-sharp, normal-shaped teeth covered in venom.  Edward had argued with her that vampires have to have fangs to suck the blood out with, not poison their victims. 
That was a heated discussion.     
I push through the garment bags and find what I am looking for - their "safety deposit wok".  I grab the entire appliance and dart back to my dad in the home office.  Charlie pulls off the lid and -low and behold- there is a thick envelope labeled "wills".
"Thank God," he mutters. "I'll call the coroner's office and notify the attorney as soon as I get home."  He kisses me briefly on the top of my head and rushes out of the room. "Hurry home, Bella!" he yells as he slams the front door on his way back to his home.   
I drag myself back to Mom and Dad's house for some clothes and other necessities. Renee is waiting by the door like a lonely puppy, and her face lights up the moment I step inside the front door.  Before I can stop her, she has her arms wrapped tightly around me and is crying into my shoulder.  I fight the tears again, not wanting to breakdown right now.  I hold her for a moment or two, before I wrangle myself from her grip and break the news to her that I'm only there for a few minutes to collect some of my belongings to take to the other house.  She tries to argue and plead for me to come back home, but I can't be living here right now.  I just... can't. 
An hour is the most that I can stay in my parents' home without crumbling into a sobbing mess, so Renee helps me gather my loot and kisses me on my forehead as I'm leaving through the front door.  As I pass by Angela and Peter's house, I notice their father talking to Charlie over the picket fence separating the side yards.  Charlie's head is hung down, his hands covering his face, and his shoulders are shaking.  Pastor Weber has an arm on my father's shoulder as he's talking to him softly.  I assume my dad just told him everything that happened last night.
A few hours later, the sun has started to set in the sky, and I bring Carrumba into the kitchen with me while I scavenge for dinner.  I place her on the table top and turn to dig through the bare refrigerator.  I microwave a half bag of pizza rolls and sit at the table, sharing pieces of the delicious snack with my new pet.  We are stuffing our mouths - or in Carrumba's case, her beak - when the door bell rings.  She wipes her beak on the placemat as I head toward the living room. 
I lean up onto my tip toes to look through the peep hole of the door, but I can't see anyone.  Soft cries are muffled through the thick wood, and I immediately recognize it as Angela.  I carefully open the door and find her crumpled against the edge of the door frame, crying into her hands.  The sight makes my knees buckle, and instantly we are both sobbing and grasping on to one another.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," she rasps, hugging my body tightly. "It's so terrible!"
I let my tears fall on the shoulder of the only best friend I have left. "I don't know what I'm going to do, Ang. He was my whole life." 
We fall back into another round of sobbing and hugging, until we are both cried out and completely emotionally drained.
"Hel-lo?" A soft, perfect mimick of Edward's voice is heard in the doorway, and Angela and I both jump at the sound, startling Carrumba. "GWAAKK!"
She flaps her wings franticly, but I reach my arm out for her to climb onto my hand, and bring her to stand on my leg. "Sorry," I whisper to her, patting down her ruffled feathers.  She climbs closer to me and peeks around my body to look at Angela. "Yeah, she's sorry too, Carrumba."  
We laugh lightly and decide to get up from the porch and go back inside just as the house phone started ringing. 
"Are you going to get that?" Angela asks, quirking her eyebrows toward the cluster of electronic devices sitting on the counter.
"No, it's probably someone calling to give their condolences, and I just can't handle any more of that tonight."
She nods just as Liz's voice answers on the machine.
"Hi! You've reached the Masen's.  We can't come to the phone right now, so leave us a message!"  -BEEP!-
"Uh, hi, Mr. Masen. This is Tony from B&E Jewel-" -BEEP!-
Angela whips her head around to look at me, silently questioning why I hit the disconnect button on the machine.  I shrug and shake my head, not really caring who it was.  If it was important, they'll call back.  Thank God it wasn't the local news station or any more police detectives wanting more details.  I couldn't handle any of that shit right now.
We clean up the kitchen and head into the living room.  Angela pops in a DVD; I'm grateful it isn't a tragic love story or violent movie. Disney's Mary Poppins is perfect. I always wondered what happened to my copy of it.  He was a closet Disney fan.
Halfway through the movie, Carrumba climbs into her cage, yawning loudly as she settles into her favorite spot on the perch.  By the time the credits are rolling, Angela and I fall asleep on the living room couch, snuggling throw blankets and decorative pillows.
Friday morning, Angela and I are startled awake by the sound of a loud knocking at the door.  I shuffle over to it, fumble with the lock, and squint into the ridiculously bright morning sun when I open it.
"Uh, Miss Masen?"
A quick intake of breath, and I nod furiously. I'll never be referred to by that name ever again, so I had better relish in his mistake now.
"Y-yes, that's me."
"Please sign here, miss."  The delivery man hands me a clipboard and a pen, and I purposely sign "Bella Masen".  I smile sadly to myself as I hand the clipboard back with a shaky hand, and retrieve the small box addressed to Edward Masen.  What is this?
"Have a great day, Miss Masen."  The man smiles broadly at me and turns to jog back to his truck.
Turning back to the living room, Angela is sitting up and rubbing her eyes, yawning. "What's that?"
"I don't know."
"Well, are you going to open it?"  She quirks an eyebrow at me as I carefully sit the box on the coffee table and gently lower myself to the couch.
Without any further encouraging from her, I rip into the package, and find a flat gift box inside. We stare at the unopened gift box as it sits in front of us on the coffee table like it was going to do a magic trick or something.  I've never felt right about opening someone else's gift.  You just don't do that.  Liz would consider that to be rude.  But curiosity is driving me crazy, so I snatch the box off the table and hold it tightly to my chest for a moment before slowly cracking open the lid.
Inside is a beautiful, delicate necklace.  The smooth, shiny texture of the platinum infinity symbol pendant was breathtaking.  Angela grabs the invoice, claiming that it was designed by the customer: E. Masen and purchased with Ed's credit card.  Who knew Ed had such nice taste?
"It must have been for Liz's birthday.  She would have been forty-four next week," I whisper, my voice trembling slightly.
Angela pulls the necklace out of the box and holds it out to fasten around my neck.
"I can't wear this!? It's Liz's!" I shriek.
"Bella, I don't want to sound insensitive, but she's not going to need it."
"But it's just wrong, Ang. Ed designed that for her."
"Well, if she was to give it away to someone... say, in a will... who would that have been? Hmm?" She quirks an eyebrow, and nods once when she notices my silent admission that Liz would probably hand the pendant down to me later on - if she were still alive.
Silently, I turn away from her and pull my hair up, allowing her access to fasten the necklace around my neck.  We glance in the decorative mirror above the couch and admire the way it fits perfectly against my skin.
"It's like it was made for you, not Liz.  She was a little bit bigger than you, so it would have been like a choker on her."
I nod my agreeance and turn to Angela, hugging her fiercely.  She's such a wonderful friend.
Charlie and Renee pop in from time to time during the next few days.  Both of them have only been working a few hours each day; Renee says that the salon is just not the same without Liz's cheerful smile, and Charlie claims the department is a really somber place and if he spends too much time there, he just gets more and more depressed.  When they visit me, they bring food, movies, and a few of my books to read, but neither of them can stand to be in the Masens' house for too long. Too many memories.
Angela and Peter spend some time with me, too - laughing, crying, and reminiscing on the good times we all shared with Edward.  One day, Angela finally convinces me to wash the piles of musky clothes on Edward's bedroom floor.  I cry as I carry them down to the washing machine, wailing even harder as I pour the laundry detergent into the water, sad that his scent will be gone forever.  Angela holds me while I cry with each load, but she sticks by my side until the whole room is laundered.
As I put the last load in the dryer, I remember Edward's duffelbag from the cabin.  I sprint up the stairs and rummage through his closet, finding it stuffed in the corner on top of his shoes.  I heave it onto the bed and notice that a few items fall out of the bag and onto the floor.  Gathering them up, I put them in the nightstand drawer to cry over later tonight when I go to bed.  God, I miss him so much.  Pulling myself out of my depressing thoughts, I yank all the worn clothes and smelly socks from the bag and toss them into a hamper.  I head back down the stairs to start the next load of laundry.

It's been nearly two weeks since the crime scene was discovered, and each passing day seems to get a little bit easier.  But the nights... the nights are the worst.  Every evening I take a shower using his body wash and shampoo.  The smell brings back the memories of running my fingers through his chaotic hair and snuggling against his chest as we watched movies on the couch.  I even imagine the damn loofah as his hands - softly caressing my skin as they travel all over my body.  Eventually, I slip into a pair of his pyjama pants and a teeshirt - sometimes even a clean pair of boxer briefs - and crawl into his bed, crying myself to sleep.

Tonight, as I'm snuggling under the covers, I remember the trinkets I put in the nightstand drawer.  Already a blubbering mess, I wipe my eyes on the edge of the pillow case and wrench open the drawer.  I reach in blindly and my hand grasps his watch.  Pulling it out and looking at it closely in the light of the bedside lamp, I frown.  I never really liked this watch, but it suited Edward perfectly.  It was created for the avid outdoors man: built-in compass, temperature gauge, and waterproof, but the gaudy gold links made it look cheap.  It was a gift from his parents for his birthday last year.  You'd think after eighteen years, they would know that their son never wore yellow gold.

Another tear trails down my cheek as I clasp the tacky time piece to my wrist and reach into the drawer again.  This time I retrieve his strawberry lip balm.  I smile to myself, recalling Peter always teasing him for buying "chick Chapstick".  Edward would shrug it off, knowing how much I loved the way it tasted on his lips.  I twist the top off and bring it closer to my nose to sniff it.  Just as I am about to smear it on my lips, I realize his lips were the last to touch it.  A sob wracks through me as I lift my shaky hand and make a gentle pass with it against my lips.  Kiss me, Edward.  I move my lips against one another, imagining they are his that are touching mine.

I carefully put the cap back on and toss it back into the drawer.  Reaching for a tissue to blow my nose, I notice his phone and a tattered notebook.  I grab the phone, mash the power button, and set it next to me on the bed, giving it time to power up.  Grabbing the notebook, I notice the worn edges and frayed remnants of paper stuck in the metal binding coil.  There are several figure-eight designs scribbled onto the front cover.  Some have other shapes in the center of it, and others have lines drawn from the ends.  Bored with Edward's heiroglyphics, I flip through the first several pages, noting some random drawings and sketches of bugs.  Skipping through to the middle of the book - where most of the frayed edges are - I notice... poetry?

Edward didn't do poetry.  Men don't write that sissy shit, he used to say.

I read a few lines of his writings... Oh. My. God...

His wedding vows.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or it's character names - those belong to Stephenie Meyer. Bittersweet Irony and it's characterizations, backgrounds, and plot lines belong to SweetVenom69. No copying, translation, or reproduction is allowed without my written authorization.
© 2010 SweetVenom69.