I peeled my eyes apart to stare into a dark, empty room. It took perhaps a millisecond for me to remember the reason I was lying in bed. That's when it hit me. Panic - full-blown, consuming panic. He was gone. No. He couldn't be gone. It was a dream. It had to have been a dream. Edward wouldn't leave.
The tears came again as I flung myself off the bed and tore through my room, looking for any sign of him. My mind was reeling, but somehow, it occurred to me that if he hadn't left he would be there. It was dark. He was always with me at night. My eyes flew to my alarm clock, maybe it was too early for him to be here. Maybe Charlie was still awake. Eleven-thirty. Definitely too late for Charlie to be awake. Then he really did leave. I threw the window open and stuck my head outside, my shitty human eyes barely able to make out the empty yard.
"Edward?" My voice was barely a whisper. No response. He couldn't have left. This couldn't be happening. This is not what was supposed to happen. "Edward!" My voice was a little higher, but not by much.
And that was it. The empty yard, my shattered voice. That was what did it for me. I knew he was gone. I knew he wasn't coming back. I knew I had lost everything. I was a rational being. I didn't need some kind of grand show of truth for me to understand. And it was time to make a decision. I could kill myself. The thought stayed in my mind for a moment as I sank into the chair near my window. I couldn't kill myself. Edward wouldn't approve. He left, though. Did he really get a say? The tears had stopped, for that I was grateful. I couldn't kill myself. There was Charlie to think about. And Renee. Besides... What if Edward did change his mind and he came back and here I was, dead? No. I would not risk missing out on that chance. So I had to live, as miserable as that sounded.
I realized my bladder was about to explode. "Time for a human moment," I muttered to the empty room as I headed to the bathroom.
I sat in that chair, staring out the window, for the rest of the night. Sunday was much of the same. Charlie noticed that I wasn't talkative and left me alone for the short amount of time he was home. That was how the entire summer went. Day in, day out. Charlie noticed that my mood gradually got worse. Every day I became less hopeful. Every day I became more distant. By the end of the summer, Charlie and I would say nothing to each other. Not because I was mean towards him and he'd gotten tired of it. Rather, because I would force a smile and mutter something comforting to him. He saw through it, and eventually he stopped asking me for it. Then there was nothing left to say.
When school started back up, it was much of the same. I said nothing to anyone anymore, and eventually they all just let me sit in silence. I took notes mechanically, I aced all my tests. I had nothing else to do with my life. It was my senior year in high school and I had nothing to live for except the smallest hope that Edward had changed his mind. My first few days back at school I would walk into the lunch room and search desperately for a sign of him or his family. There never was one. But for weeks I searched. Eventually the search became just part of my day, the disappointment only helping me bury myself in my agony further. Even Jessica had stopped talking at me. Angela would eye me in a concerned way at least a dozen times a day. I didn't even pretend anymore. I never smiled. I never spoke. I never ate. I would eat at home. When I made dinner for Charlie every night. If I didn't eat then, he'd get curious. I couldn't take eating more than once a day.
I began taking walks down the path in the woods every day. Clinging to any memory I had of him. They were fading quickly, the sharpness dissolving and being replaced by a fog of depression. I could barely remember his crooked smile. The only face I remembered with clarity was the cold stare. He really hadn't loved me anymore. I cried every time I walked through the woods, regardless of how hard I tried not to think about it. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
September came and went. Charlie had made a valiant effort to cheer me up on my birthday, and for him, I had practiced a smile in the mirror for a week. He didn't seem to hate my fake smile as much as he had before, so I took that to mean I had at least gotten it to look semi-sincere. He'd baked me a cake on his own. It was large and droopy. With purple icing. He'd looked up at me as I walked into the kitchen that morning, the butter knife smearing icing onto the cake halting mid-stroke.
"You like purple, right?"
He'd invited Billy and Jacob over. He'd asked them to bring some people from the reservation over, which they did. Quite a few people. There were paper streamers all over the living room, all a light lavender, along with balloons that Charlie had blown up himself. They got stepped on quite a bit and ended up popping for the most part. It was a sweet gesture though. One of the ladies from the reservation brought another cake, one that wasn't lop-sided, and I gave her one of my practiced smiles. When Jacob walked in the door, later than everyone else, I smiled my first real smile since Edward left. He strode over to me and the closer he got, the more I realized he'd shot up by what I estimated to be a full foot. He scooped me up into his large arms and pressed me to him, my feet dangling six inches off the ground. I yelped a little and his laugh echoed all through the house. I could feel it rumble in his chest. He was so warm. I found myself wrapping my arms around his neck and squeezing him back. He buried his nose against my neck and inhaled the smell of my hair.
"You don't smell like strawberries anymore, Bella." I smiled into his shoulder and shrugged. The longer he held me up like this, the less difficult it was for me to get used to it.
"I prefer flowery smells more, now. Don't you like it?" His booming laughter shook through my chest again.
"I like the way you smell, Bella. Strawberries or flowers or horse crap." Even I chuckled. I heard the rest of the room laugh as well and I realized they were all staring. I became uncomfortable and Jacob immediately noticed me stiffen. He set me down, carefully, making sure I didn't fall over backwards.
The rest of the 'party' was very sweet. Charlie had really tried with this. He got me an iPod for my birthday, and I thanked him heavily. Someone had turned music on and not long after, I noticed people covering the table with all different kinds of food. Fish-fry, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken. I walked into the kitchen in search of Charlie and found him behind some of the women from the reservation who had taken over his kitchen. He was moving behind them awkwardly, repeatedly asking if he could help. They had apparently grown tired of answering seeing as how they no longer responded. He crossed his arms and stood there, refusing to move. They flowed around him easily and his expression clearly stated he had expected to at least have become a bother that they would have to assign a task to just to get out of the way. With a sigh, he seated himself at the table and stared longingly at the food. I walked over and he immediately stood up, looking uncomfortable and muttering something about how he felt useless.
"Dad?" He looked up at me, startled to hear me speak.
"Bells." I half-smiled at him and walked up to him, wrapping my arms around his waist and giving him the most firm hug I could muster. He was taken aback at first, but it didn't take him long to wrap his big bear arms around my shoulders and hug me back, resting his chin on my head. I fought back tears.
"I just wanted to say thank you for the party. It's really nice." He cleared his throat, one arm leaving my shoulders so he could rub his hand over his face. Was he crying?
"No problem, Bells. It's nice to see you happy again."
Time passes. Even when it seems impossible. Even when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly, in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but passes it does. Even for me.