Chapter 16

Playlist selection: Iris by GooGoo Dolls

Edward POV

There are sudden flashes of color and sound in my head as my hand grips the warm flesh of Bella's wrist. The images are cloudy and vague, but it's definitely something I've never noticed before. My mind is hit with a barrage of new emotions: shock, hope, and a touch of fear as to what these visions could mean. Could these be memories?

“Oh my God!” Bella shrieks, but it's the look of horror on her face that jars me from my musings. She twists her arm away from my grasp and staggers a few steps away, panic and worry rushing through her thoughts. I hear her heart thrumming away in her chest, a result of the adrenaline surge in her veins, as she compares my differences to normal humans. She knocks into the coffee table with her calves as she tries to move away from me. Her wide, brown eyes glisten in the dim light from the living room lamp. “Ed-Edward, w-what happened to you?” she whispers shakily. “What the fuck is going on? Why is he so cold?”

I try to soothe her, knowing how the shock of my icy skin has freaked her out. “Shhh, Bella. Calm down. I know it's different, but it's okay. I'm okay.” I don't know if I say that last part for her sake or mine. “I told you there was an ac-”

“Accident. Yeah, I got that part,” she snaps, quickly shaking off her fear and shifts back to annoyance again. She moves around the table and settles in the farthest spot on the couch, drawing her legs close to her chest, and looks away from me. “Why won’t he tell me?”

She asks more questions in her head, but doesn't voice them yet. I stare blankly at her beautiful face and replay the instant visions that flooded my head when we touched--blurred shapes of bright colors: a deep royal blue, a creamy white, a warm brown, a fern green. Flashing lights and whirs of sound float all around me. There's softness and happiness and laughing.

I hone in on the laughing, recognizing it almost instantly as Bella's, and the rest of the vision clears into a perfect picture. Bella's standing in front of me, wearing a low-cut dress that I remember telling her how fucking sexy it made her look. I teased her about the white grandma-sweater she wore as a cover up and laughed when she told me that Charlie wasn't letting her out of the house without it. The warm brown was her hair, pinned up with the occasional ringlet falling around her face, and the green was the leaves of the corsage tied around her wrist. I held her close to me – in my arms – as we swirled and danced at our Senior Prom...

I was there.

With her.


I felt like crying, discovering this memory from my past, knowing that I was happy at some point before this life. Happy with her. “I remember...” I say, letting the words trail off in the air.

Bella lifts her head and stares at me with wide eyes. “What do you remember?” she asks, repositioning herself up on her knees on the cushion between us.

“Prom.” She gasps, and a small smile crosses her face. “I remember dancing with you at prom. You had on a blue dress, and I was making fun of the sweater you were wearing.”

She nods, and her smile grows wider. “You asked me if I stole it from a nursing home.”

I smile, recalling that was why she was laughing in my memory. “Yes.”

“What else do you remember?”

I root around in my head for a moment, searching for another new memory, but find nothing. Well, that's disappointing. “That's it, I'm afraid.”

We are both quiet for a few moments. She stares at me intently from her side of the couch, gnawing on her lip and wringing her hands together. “How can that be the only memory he has? There has to be more...”

“I promise you, that's all I remember.”

“Edward,” she says exasperatedly, “how can you claim to have no memories and then poof, all of a sudden, you remember our senior prom?”

“I. Don't. Know!” I snarl and lurch from the couch to pace across the room. The bird squawks at my outburst, but I just ignore him.

“I don't believe you, Edward.” She lets the words hang in the air for a few moments as she steels herself for more arguing. Her thoughts flit from one subject to another, each of which are milestones in her life that I was apparently involved in. Sometimes, I wish I could just see the images in her head instead of only hearing her thoughts. That would make this a lot easier. “If you don't remember anything, how do you explain bringing me a goddamn book about Arizona National Parks, huh?” She stands and stalks across the room to where I'm pacing, her hands perched firmly on her hips.

How do I explain that? Surely, I can't tell her that I plucked it out of her brain and saw her cacti collection while I was playing creepy stalker guy, looking through her windows. I don’t even know what I was thinking when I purchased that. What a fucking idiot!

She continues her rant. “If you don't remember anything about your life before the big, mysterious accident, what made you think that book would be a nice gift for me? And on another note, how do you know where the fuck I live? I didn't leave my address on the card with the cookies...only my phone number. Have you been stalking me?”

Fuck me. This is not how I want this interaction to go between us, but I can't just come out and tell her I'm a vampire and I've been watching her for the last six months. I doubt that would go over very well. The castrating look in her eyes tells me I’m probably right with that assumption.

“Bella,” I say softly. “I don't want to argue with you. This is a huge breakthrough in my amnesia, or whatever you want to call it, and I just want to find out more about my hum-, uh, my life, and only you can give me that.”

She takes in a sudden breath and tears begin to form in her softening eyes. “I want to believe you, Edward, but I’m confused and scared. What if you never remember us? I don’t think I can handle that kind of heartbreak all over again. I’ve only just found you...”

I wish she’d voice these thoughts out loud; my reply would make so much more sense. “I know.”

“Shit! Did I say those things out loud?”

My cell phone is buzzing incessantly in my pocket, and I look away from Bella toward the clock on the wall. I turn back to her and offer a small smile. “It’s late, Bella. I don’t want to keep you up. I should go.”

“NO! Please, don’t go.” “Don’t you ever leave me again.”

I won’t deny it. The quickened pace of her heart and the sudden anxiety in her voice makes me a bit giddy. I don’t want to leave her either. Her eyes are imploring, and her thoughts are begging for me to stay and never disappear. I know I can’t make that promise, but the second she gently touches my arm, the flood of blurry images invades my brain again, and my feet are fucking glued to the wood floor.

“Bella?” I rasp, and clutch her hand as another memory comes into view. “You...”

“Me, what?”

“I remember...”

She gasps and pulls me back to the couch, and I sit down without hesitation, staring blankly into space as I put the pieces of the vision together.

“What do you remember, Edward?” “Tell me!”

“You...and me, in a, a truck. We’re driving down a highway. I can feel the warm wind on my skin and your hair’s blowing all over the place...”

“That’s a little vague.” “Okay. What else?” She laughs lightly and sits next to me on the arm of the couch, gently leaning her body against my shoulder. I would have expected that this would freak me out--having a human touch me like this--but it just seems so natural, comfortable, natural, with Bella, and I fucking like it.

Her thoughts are focused on identifying this memory from her own bank and not on what her body is doing. I look at her smiling face, knowing she’s just as excited to hear this as I am for her to confirm it.

“Um, you seemed a bit nervous and you kept fiddling with the seatbelt strap. I remember teasing you about it. You’re wearing a light yellow dress and singing a song. It was from some movie you liked.”

“Oh, my God, yes!” Her smile gets bigger, and she laughs gently. “Iris. The name of the song was Iris.”

I smile back at her as I recall the title. “Yeah, you loved that song. You were singing it at the top of your lungs.”

She laughs, her cheeks darkening from her blush. “Yeah, I still do. It’s one of my all time favorites.” She’s quiet as she watches me, hoping I’ll recall more memories, but nothing else comes to mind. “What else?”

“Nothing.” I frown. God, this is so fucking frustrating.

She sighs, disappointed, but then she offers to help fill in the holes of my memories. “It was our first date. You were taking me to the butterfly exhibit as a surprise. I was nervous because it was the first time we were together as a couple instead of as friends. I was worried I’d screw everything up.”

I smile at her insecurity. She’s so damn cute. I had figured out we’d been a couple, even before the Prom memory, but this was the first confirmation. I had loved this girl. And from the tiny tweak in my chest at that thought, it seems as if that feeling is still there, buried in the frozen trenches of my body. “You couldn’t have screwed anything up if you tried, Bella. You’re perfect.” I whisper, the words softly tumbling from my mouth without me even thinking about them. Where the hell did that come from?

She flinches slightly, shocked by the tenderness of my words, and then notices our proximity to each other. Straightening her shoulders, she glances toward the bird cage, cursing herself in her thoughts. “I’m such a fucking idiot. What if he never really remembers me and what we had together?” Releasing a shaky breath, she turns back to me, a tight smile on her lips.

Not wanting to dwell on this awkward moment, I stand and walk toward the bookshelf and recall something she mentioned earlier. “You said this was mine?” I ask, pointing at the enclosed scorpion.

She moves to stand beside me and picks up the grotesque creature, smiling softly at it like it was a cherished pet. “Yes. It was your prized possession.” She laughs and then sighs. “I couldn’t get rid of it after you die-, uh, left.” “It was a part of you that I couldn’t leave behind. I missed you so much, Edward.”

“I know you did,” I mutter, and she looks up at me, squinting.

“How does he...?”

Smiling down at her, I nod once and turn to sit down on the couch again. “So, you finally believe that I’m not lying to you? That I really don’t remember things before the, uh, accident?”

“Accident. I hate when he calls it that. Why won’t he tell me what happened?”

“Some other time, Bella. I don’t really want to talk about it. It was, uh, traumatic.”

“It’s like he keeps answering the questions I’m not actually asking. Can he read my thoughts? God, I hope not...”

I redirect our conversation back to the insect. “So, why would that thing be special to me?” It is a rather impressive specimen... How the hell do I know that?

She looks fondly at the display box from across the room and then back to me. “You loved bugs, Edward. You wanted to be an entomologist ever since you were a little kid.”

“Get the fuck out,” I scoff. “You’re shitting me, right?” Right?

“No,” she says, looking at me as if I’ve suddenly grown a third eye. “You were the biggest bug geek I knew.”

She has got to be joking... Bugs? Fucking bugs? I fucking hate those things. They fly around, buzzing their wings in my ears, annoying the shit out of me. How the hell could I have liked them? They’re disgusting. Okay, well, maybe just the flying ones are a nuisance, and that scorpion is pretty interesting looking, but I still find it hard to believe I had wanted to study them. However, the look on her face and the thoughts in her head only seal her conviction that I, Edward Cullen, was a former insect lover. Who’da thunk it?

I laugh disbelievingly and shake my head. “Well, that’s something you’ll never hear about me again. I don’t do bugs now, Bella. I’m not the same guy you knew back then.”

She nods and looks down at her hands in her lap, disappointment marching through her thoughts. “Understatement of the century...” “Yeah, I noticed a difference in you from the moment I saw you in the library.”

“Yeah?” I already know the answer, remembering her thoughts from that day six months ago like it just happened this morning.

“It was your tattoo that sealed the deal, you know?” I glance down at my wrist as her fingers reach out to sweep across the script. “You got that for me...”

It’s in this moment when her fingers connect with my skin that I realize I get these surges of images or memories in my head when she touches me. Not when there’s a barrier of clothing like when our shoulders were touching earlier, but when there’s direct skin-on-skin contact. This time there’s a sensation of pain, directly where she touched me on my wrist, and images of a man in a police uniform and a white gazebo.

She continues, “...and I got this one for you.” Bella turns her back toward me and points to the partially hidden tattoo on her shoulder. I had seen it before, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time.

Ever so gently, I pull the fabric away to expose the art on her soft skin. I may or may not have run my finger against her on purpose, instigating another memory to hit me. This one is of Bella and I at a pool party with other people our age. I shake the vision off and refocus back on her explaining the tattoo. “Ever since our first date, Monarch butterflies held a special meaning to us. That’s why you had it inked into your skin. When I thought you had died, I wanted something that represented how much you meant to me.”

I take in the delicate design of the butterfly on her shoulder, noticing how it’s hovering above the intricate initials. “E-A-M?” I ask in a small voice, suddenly realizing those initials as my own.

“Edward Anthony Masen.” She looks over her shoulder at me quizzically, silently asking if I don’t even remember my own name.

“I didn’t remember my full name after the accident. I’m just Edward Cullen now.”

Bella bristles at my new last name and gets up to stalk into the kitchen. “You’ll always be Edward Masen to me. I don’t care what those people tell you your name is.” “Fucking kidnapping weirdos...”

“Don’t hate them, Bella. They’re really good people and helped me so much over the past couple of years. I’d like for you to meet them sometime.” I offer an encouraging smile, hoping she’ll lighten up and agree, but the death glare she gives me says I’ve got some convincing to do. “They are eager to meet you, too, you know. I know you already met Esme when you came to bring me the cookies...”

“Yeah, she seemed nice, but I-”

“She is,” I interrupt. ”She’s kind of like the matriarch of our little family or some shit.”

“Family,” she scoffs. Rooting around in the fridge, she grabs several items, sets them onto the counter, and huffs in annoyance. “I don’t get it, Edward. If they found you after your accident, and you didn’t remember anything about your life before it, why didn’t they contact the police? Your missing person’s report was all over the news and in the papers. Someone would have recognized you from all the photos.” “I need to tell my dad...”

Of course, I use this moment to reach my hand out and touch her arm, offering her some comfort and gain a new memory for myself. What can I say? I’m a vampire, and I’m selfish by nature. This new memory is of me and Bella around the age of seven or eight, dressed up for Halloween. She was the cutest lady bug I’d ever seen. I was a bug catcher with a net.

By now she’s unloaded half of the fucking refrigerator’s contents onto the counter and is staring blankly at all the food. “Look, Bella, I know the circumstances seem, uhh, weird, but I promise that the Cullens did nothing wrong when they found me. Please, just...believe me. Trust me. Just, shit...just let me tell you everything in my own time. Okay? Please don’t tell anyone back home about finding me yet. Can you just help me remember who I am, err, was? I’m not ready to answer everyone’s questions about where I’ve been and what happened to me.”

Her thoughts are wavering, but I reach out again to gently touch her cheek. She flinches slightly, but her mind only registers the cold from my skin, and then she turns her face toward me. More images invade my mind, but as I’m focusing on those, my cell phone buzzes again. At the same moment, she lunges toward me, throws her arms around my neck, and buries her face against my chest.

“Oh, my God, Edward! I’ve missed you so so much,” she cries, drenching my shirt with her warm tears. “Please, promise me you won’t disappear again?” Her sobs shake her body as she clutches the shoulders of my shirt and pulls me against her. “Jesus, it’s like hugging an iceberg, but I don’t care!”

I smile nervously as I tentatively rest my chin on top of her head. Holding her gently--I hope--in my arms, my hand grazes her skin near her waist, and I revel in the tidal wave of new memories that hit me all at once. We’re riding in that truck again, headed to school. Bella has her backpack in her lap and is rifling through it for her Trig homework.

The next one is of me lounging on a couch with her bird--my bird, apparently--standing on my stomach and stealing potato chips from the bowl resting on my lap. There’s a baseball game on the TV in the background.

Then there’s an older woman with Bella’s eyes, patching up my scraped knee. Bella and I had been riding our bikes in the street, and I tried to impress her and fell, injuring myself. The woman pats the bloody wound with a gauze, and suddenly, venom pools in my mouth. I swallow that shit down as my cellphone goes off again.

Bella finally collects herself and pulls away from me enough to look up into my eyes. “I miss your beautiful green eyes.”

I’m not going to lie, that shit makes me feel fucking smug as hell. But the wistfulness of her voice grounds me. “Green, huh? Yeah, I guess they are a bit different now, aren’t they?” I smile sadly at her and stare down into her warm brown eyes.

“Yeah, they’re different, but not necessarily in a bad way.” Reiterating her words from earlier, that’s the ‘understatement of the century’; she doesn’t know how bad they really are. “But I had always thought our kids would have your green eyes,” she says softly.

Jesus, there isn’t much that could bring a vampire to his knees, but the weight of that comment definitely hits below the belt.

“I’m sorry.” It’s all I can offer her now.

We stare at each other for a few seconds longer before she remembers something she wants to show me. Gathering all the food from the counter and haphazardly tossing it back into the fridge, she leads me back into the living room and sits me down on the couch.

“I have something that might help you remember.” She crosses the tiny living room and digs in a cabinet at the base of the bookshelf. “Where is it? I know it’s here... Aha!” She waves a DVD in her hand. “I’ve never watched this. I don’t even know how long it is.”

“What is it exactly?”

“Well, my parents bought me, uh, us a video camera for graduation. I only used it a couple of times before we discovered you were missing.” She looks down at the disk in her hand and turns to put it in the player next to the TV. “Here goes nothing...”

Returning to her place next to me on the couch, she reaches for the remote with a shaky hand and presses PLAY. I gulp the rush of venom in my mouth--more out of nervousness than thirst, I think-- and slowly wrap my arm around her shoulders. Hesitantly, I pull her against my side and rub my finger against the soft flesh of her arm. I don’t know what I’m fucking doing!

The first sound we can hear is of Bella’s voice, laughing, as she tries to figure out the camera. After a moment, the lens cap is removed and the same woman from my earlier memory is on the screen; Bella’s mom.

“Your mother’s name is Renee,” I say confidently.

“Yes!” she practically squeals. “And that’s Charlie, my dad.” A dark-haired man in a police uniform sits at a kitchen counter, sipping coffee. I don’t remember him.

We’re quiet for the next couple minutes as we watch the video. I smile as a younger Bella gets ready for school, leaves her home, and walks two houses down. She stops to talk to another man in uniform as he’s pulling out of the driveway in his squad car. I do remember him.

“That’s my dad,” I whisper. “Our dads were on the same police force?”

Bella looks up at me with tear-filled eyes, nodding. “Yep, for about twenty years. Ed was awesome. He was so proud of you.” The tears are now streaming down her cheeks as she turns her gaze back to the video. “Your parents were awesome, Edward. I wish you’d remember them.”

I nearly puke when my human-self appears on the screen. I look the exact same as I do now, except I was pretty fucking tan, and my eyes really were a bold green. Bella moans lightly next to me as I throw flirty innuendos at her on screen. There’s a surge of warmth from her, and I glance down to notice a rosy blush has spread across her skin.

“Oh, my God! I hope he didn’t hear me moan.”

I pretend not to notice anything and turn back to the video, deciding to keep that little tidbit for myself to evaluate later on. I can’t help the smirk on my face, though.

Further into the video, there’s a scene of us in the truck that I had remembered, and I suddenly recognize it as the same piece of shit that’s in front of Bella’s apartment. “That’ truck in your driveway?”

Bella smiles sheepishly and nods as she wipes her tears against my shirt. I pull her close to me and she fists my shirt and nuzzles her face into the crook of my shoulder. I kiss the top of her head just as my damn cellphone buzzes in my pocket again.

Bella notices the vibration and pulls away, but I tell her to ignore it and pull her against me once again. God, she’s so warm. It’s like snuggling up to an electric blanket. I might need to get one for my house...

There are a few more clips of our friends and classmates, but I don’t remember them and decide to ask about them later. The video lasts a total of fifteen minutes and then the screen turns blue. We sit in silence for a moment until the bird makes a little peep and startles us from our thoughts.

“Oh, shit. I need to cover her cage.” Bella jumps up and grabs a sheet from a shelf under the cage and tosses it over the gigantic contraption. “Night night, Carrumba.”

“Nigh-nigh,” the bird says.

“Holy shit! That thing sounds just like me!”

Bella turns and smiles at me, giving me a well, duh kind of look. “You did teach her that, Edward.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. She mimicked everything you said. You two were best buddies.” She laughs. I smile, remembering my triggered memory from earlier with the potato chips.

Bella turns off the TV and puts the DVD away and then reaches into the cabinet again, this time she pulls out a large photo album. Oh, fucking hell.

Bracing it against her chest like it’s a fucking shield of armor she comes back to the couch and plops down beside me, settling the book in her lap. “Okay, um, I haven’t looked at this book since the first anniversary of your death. And I know that’s kind of morbid and weird thinking that you were dead, because you’re here now, but just keep in mind that that is what we all thought at the time, okay?”

“Okay,” I whisper, getting really fucking nervous as to what I’m going to find in this album. I angle my body toward hers and put my arm around her shoulder again. She smiles and exhales loudly, then starts to open the front cover, but slams it shut again as worry laces her thoughts.

“I wonder what he’s going to think about this. Maybe this is too soon to show it. Maybe it’s too soon for me to see it. It’s gotta be strange for him to hear that we felt he was dead all this time...”

“I don’t mind you saying that I had died, Bella.” I laugh humorlessly. “In a way, I did.” You have no idea how true it is...

Tentatively, she opens the front cover again. “Okay, um, I think I’m going to need some tissues for this.” She jumps up and darts into the bathroom and returns with an entire roll of toilet paper. “All right, let’s do this.” She sighs as she settles against me and puts the book between our laps. “It’s in chronological order, so this may take while.”

She looks up at me, unsure, but I nod and pull open the front cover to reveal two baby shower invitations--one blue, one pink.

The weight of our history hits me like a freight train, and suddenly I feel like I want to sob--break down like a little bitch and cry my fucking eyes out. Page after page of photos of birthday parties, family vacations, riding bikes in the street, trick-or-treating on Halloween where my parents seemed to always be wearing vampire costumes, ironically. Interesting.

After looking through nearly the entire book, I notice that Bella has started to doze off against my shoulder. The thought that she’s comfortable enough with me to fall asleep in my arms, allowing me to be this close to her at her most vulnerable state, is indescribable and really stupid. This girl has no sense of self-preservation at all.

In a sick and twisted way, sitting like this with Bella is like a human snuggling a T-bone steak, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t think I really have thought of her that way. From the moment I first registered her thoughts in the library, I was intrigued--in awe of her--but I don’t think of her as a meal. Of course, if she goes and pricks her finger, allowing her luscious blood to pool against her soft skin, all fucking bets are off. I’ll just have to make sure I’m in control of any sharp objects. Immediately, I glance around the apartment and take a quick inventory of all potential weapons that could cause her to bleed.

My damn cell phone hasn’t stopped buzzing in my pocket, and I know it’s Alice making sure I’m alright. I still don’t answer the fucking thing.

I squeeze her against my chest, burying my face in her hair. Humming my appreciation of her warm, soft body against mine, I turn my face back to the photo album in our laps. I pull it over to rest on my legs and tug the afghan from the back of the couch across Bella’s body.

Flipping through more pages, I can easily see the progression of our relationship from platonic friends to romantic love. There are a few snapshots of her with googly eyes staring at me, and many more of me looking at her like she’s the most beautiful creature on earth.

Jesus, I was whipped. Maybe I still am. Emmett is going to have a blast torturing me with this. I wonder how long I can keep it from him?

The last few pages seem to be from our senior year, and I gloss over the unfamiliar faces until I come across a large envelope near the back of the album. Careful not to wake her, I open the metal clasp and pull out several pieces of paper: newspapers clippings, a folded copy of a MISSING flyer, police reports, and a death certificate.

My death certificate.

The phone goes off again, this time I answer it, talking in a vampire whisper so I don’t wake Bella.

“We’re fine, Alice.”

“I know, but we just wanted to let you know that we’re outside if you need us.”

“You’re here?” My voice escapes at a normal human level, and Bella shifts beside me. I shush her softly and place a gentle kiss against her hair, settling her once again.

Alice squeals, “Oh my God, he just kissed her!” The shocked, muted voices of Jasper, Esme, and Carlisle can be heard discussing this in the background.

“Good night, Alice. Tell them they can all go home. I don’t need them here right now.” Honestly, I don’t want any of them to eavesdrop on my moments with Bella. As each second passes, I feel more grounded and whole when I’m with her. Like...I was meant to be here.

“But wait, Edward! Don’t you think we should stick around in case something happens?”

I glance down at the fragile, beautiful human in my arms and shake my head. “No, I don’t. Good night. I’ll meet you all back at the house later.”

“But, but-”

“And don’t wait up.” Smirking to myself, I power down the phone and rest my cheek against Bella’s head. I’ve waited four fucking years to say that to them..

Glancing down at the contents from the envelope, I read the details of the flyer and cringe at the dumb picture of me. It was one that I had seen in the album, but I guess it was the most recent photo at the time. I read over the death certificate, noting my cause of death as ‘homicide by animal’. Again, how fucking ironic.

As I unfold the multiple pages to the police report and newspaper clippings, the reality of what had happened weighs heavily on my mind.

Bella was there. She worried for days when she didn’t hear from me, and I never came home. She went to the cabin to look for me, only to find remnants of my parents’ bodies and suspecting mine had suffered the same violent end. It was a violent death, my dear Bella, but not like you imagined. She mourned for me, cried her eyes out, for losing her boyfriend--me--so tragically.

I can’t imagine ever going through something like that. I mentally tell her how sorry I am that she suffered such heartbreak because of me and kiss her hair once again.

Stuffing the articles back into the envelope, I replace it in the album and turn over the last pages in the book. What the fuck is this?

On the left side, torn pieces of notebook paper are lined up side-by-side in the photo pockets, my chicken scratch handwriting written across it. My eyes follow to the bottom of the pages, and I read the final pieced-together paragraph:

“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."

What the..? Wedding vows?!

To the right, a crinkled page is folded and stuffed into another pocket. Bella’s elegant script written across the page.

Bella’s vows.

I wasn’t just her boyfriend. I was her fiance.

At the very bottom of the album page, a small poem about a butterfly’s journey is printed on a piece of heavy card stock. My name, dates of birth and death, and the date of a memorial service are written below the poem.

Again, I press her tightly against me, this time whispering my regrets out loud, “I’m so sorry I left you, Bella. I’m so fucking sorry I put you through all of that.”

I feel so damn guilty.

She shifts again, and I glance down at her peaceful face and know that I have to go. I need time to absorb this. I wasn’t some acquaintance she knew from Arizona or a weaselly little boyfriend. We were best friends and lovers, and we had promised to spend the rest of our lives with each other.


I need to think. I need to go.

Gently cradling her in my arms, I carry her toward her bed and lay her down. I pull the afghan around her and lean in to kiss her forehead.

“I’m so sorry,” I say again and turn toward the front door.

And then I run.


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