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Seducing Ms Swan

AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...

Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

18. An Epiphany

Rating 3.9/5   Word Count 5816   Review this Chapter

Don't hold on but don't let go
I know it's so hard
You've got to try to trust yourself
I know it's so hard, so hard

Come over here lady
Let me wipe your tears away
Come a little nearer baby
'Cause you'll heal over, heal over, heal over someday

Charlie didn't come to the funeral. There was no reason for him to. He had never even met Brady; all he knew of him was from my accounts. As far as Charlie knew, Brady had just been a kid friend of Jacob's who had tragically developed schizophrenia in his late teens. As ever, he was totally oblivious to the true story. So I had to go alone; or, at least, as alone as you could be when surrounded by a room of people – which I had long since discovered was the worst kind of solitude.

I was sitting in the living room of Carole and Jacobs’ house. It was a Tuesday, the day of the funeral. I was wearing a scratchy black turtle neck that belonged to Carole and was too long in the arms. I kept pulling the sleeves over my fingertips, bunching them up in my hands in an absent-minded, almost protective gesture as I tried to fade into the background. There were a lot of people in the room around me, despite its small size. They were mostly tribe members, milling around, greeting each other, commiserating in shared sorrow. The funeral hadn’t actually taken place yet- this was simply a gathering beforehand, a way to mentally prepare for what was to come. I couldn’t see Jacob anywhere, and I assumed he must have been with the pack. Without him I felt lost and out of place, like an outsider intruding onto grief she had no right to share. Attempting to hide, I had taken a seat in the very corner of the room.

Yet somehow I couldn't stop myself from watching the people in the room. I knew a handful of the faces from past La Push celebrations. There was an old lady sitting in an armchair by the window who I knew was on the tribal council, and the man by the fireplace was Jared's father. My gaze passed quickly over them both, unwilling as I was to have to make any sort of conversation. I saw a girl by the door that I recognized from cookouts to be a distant cousin of Jacob’s. She was talking to an old man, her hand resting sympathetically on his shoulder. I looked at his face, trying to work out who he was. Then he glanced over and for a split second our eyes met. A shard of pain went through my heart and I immediately wished I hadn’t looked at him. The features on his face were unmistakeably Brady’s- his grandfather or great-uncle, perhaps. I looked away, the shame burning across my cheeks. I wondered if he knew who I was and whether he could possibly hate me as much as I did myself.

My face grew hot as I felt blood rush to my temples. I didn’t want to be here anymore; I wasn’t sure why I had even come. I didn’t deserve to be in this room with good, innocent people who had loved Brady when his blood was effectively on my hands. I had a sudden flashback to that moment where I had cut myself on the fence on the Cullens’ snow-covered patio, my hands dripping blood onto the otherwise pure white ground. Just as I had polluted the pureness of the snow then, my guilt was sullying the room now. I had to leave. I began to get to my feet, quickly attempting to ascertain which exit route would best let me avoid making conversation with anybody.

Before I could move at all, however, I heard someone to my right clear their throat loudly. I looked around to see who it was. Billy Black, Jacob’s father, was sitting just feet away from me in his chair. I hadn’t noticed him wheel over, yet it was clear from his expression that he had been watching me the whole time. I felt my cheeks burn even redder.

"Hello Bella," he greeted me.

"Oh, hey, Billy," I said distractedly, glancing at the door. "I was actually just about to go out and get some fresh air," I lied, hoping I could still slip away.

"I want to talk to you," Billy stated simply, paying no attention to the obvious hint in my words. He had a look on his face which, somehow, reminded me of Charlie. It was a look which meant he had something to say, and no matter of deflection would dissuade him from passing it on.

Knowing I was defeated, I sank back into my chair. Billy stared at me. "How are you, Bella?" he suddenly asked. I looked at him in confusion. That was it? He'd told me to stay so he could ask me how I was?

“I’m… fine,” I replied. Internally, I wondered how old I’d have to be before I stopped using that word to describe how I felt. It was so very rarely close to the truth.

Billy sighed. "Of course you are." He seemed sad as he said it, and something in his tone of voice made my heart ache. But then, without warning, his expression sharpened. "Don't insult me, Bella. If you're going to lie, then at least try and find a more convincing adjective than 'fine'."

I didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize, for goodness' sake," Billy exhaled in frustration. "The last thing anybody wants to hear is you say 'sorry' for the thousandth time." I just stared at him, nonplussed. Billy drummed his fingers briefly against the arm of his wheelchair, then said matter of factly: "Look, Bella, it's about time somebody older and wiser decided to talk some sense into you. I know Charlie can't do it because he doesn't know half the story, and seeing as I'm the closest thing you have to a father apart from him, the responsibility of convincing you to see reason falls to me."

See reason? "What do you mean?"

"This whole situation with Brady," Billy waved his hand vaguely, encompassing the entire room, "And the fact that you believe it was your fault. The way you feel the need to apologize every five seconds for his death, how you can barely look anybody in the eyes anymore, and that when you do, you act like you don't deserve to even look at them. And it's so wrong, because you aren't guilty and the only person who blames you is yourself." He looked intently at me as he finished, waiting for my reply.

I felt as though all the breath had been knocked out of my lungs at his words. It had been the last thing I'd been expecting. Forcing myself to speak, I said in a half-whisper: "No disrespect, Billy, but I really don't want to talk about this right now." I was hyper-aware of the presence of all the other people in the room. It didn't seem right to be discussing the details of Brady's illness and death when we were surrounded by his mourners. Besides, it was too much; I couldn't bear being chastised or told off when I was feeling so emotionally weak. I knew Billy meant well, but right now it was taking all of my willpower just to hold myself together. I doubted I could stand being told off on top of everything else.

"Then when will we talk about it, Bella?" Billy asked me. "When are you going to stop feeling guilty long enough to realize that what happened to Brady was not your fault? It was a vampire that tortured him to insanity and he died from a heart attack. Neither of those things were under your control. You aren't to blame, and the sooner you understand that, the better. I'm worried about you. We all are- Jacob, Charlie, the rest of the pack. Even…" he paused, as though the words were costing him a great effort, "I'd even hazard a guess that the coven is concerned about you, much as I hate to admit it. We love you Bella. We don't want to see someone we love falling to pieces."

I met his gaze, and the honesty there caused tears to prick at the corners of my eyes, forcing me to look away. I knew he was telling the truth; I knew just how much I was loved and cared for. Wherever I went, it seemed that I had people who were willing to protect and stand by me. To die for me. I was so lucky. But the knowledge of this fact didn't make me feel any better - it just made things worse, because I simply did not deserve it. I couldn't say this to Billy, because he would never agree with me. So I just sat in silence, forcing myself not to cry.

There was a silence between us, then. Maybe Billy had said all he wanted to say, or perhaps he was waiting for me to make the next move. Whatever the reason, he didn't speak again for several minutes. I sat quietly, withdrawn deep into myself, the hum of the other conversations in the room washing over me.

Then Billy spoke again, his clear voice cutting through my reverie.

“Has Jacob ever told you about the day his mother died?”

I did a double take, spinning around to stare at Billy in disbelief. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. He looked at me calmly and there was nothing in his expression to reflect what he had just said. From the conversational tone of his question, he could just have easily had asked me about a fishing trip as the death of his wife. I wondered wildly whether perhaps I had misheard him, but after a couple of seconds I decided that there was no way I could have imagined what he had said. I wasn’t that creative.

“Um, a few times,” I said tentatively. In truth, I could only remember Jacob making a few isolated passing comments about his mom's death in the years that we had been friends. Jacob didn’t like to talk about it much. Most of what I knew about the car crash, I had heard from Charlie.

“What did he tell you?” Billy pressed me. He seemed to be unaware of my awkwardness, or else it simply didn’t bother him. I couldn't understand why he had suddenly switched to this topic, but I didn't feel that I could move him away from it. Who was I to prevent Billy talking about his dead wife?

That said, the weirdness of the situation was not lost on me, and the uncertainty I felt was clear in my response. “She, uh, died in a car crash,” I replied slowly, not wanting to upset Billy by reliving details he’d rather forget. However he didn’t seem to be affected.

“What else?” he asked intently.

“Jake was eight at the time,” I continued. “His Mom… uh, I mean, Sarah, was driving home from the grocery store and she got hit by some kid at a junction who couldn’t see her through the rain,” I said it almost apologetically, unsure of how Billy would react. I had heard this story from Charlie again and again in my youth; it had been part of his regular lecture on road safety and sensible driving. I had heard it from Jacob far fewer times, but his retellings had had far greater an impact on me. He had included details which Charlie had never known, such as the fact that one of the main reasons he had wanted to become a mechanic was that he wanted to find a way to make cars safer so nobody would ever have to lose their mom like he had his. But I didn’t say that to Billy. I had a feeling he probably already knew; his relationship with Jake was far better than mine had ever been with Charlie.

“Did he say anything else?” Billy asked me. “Did he mention me at all?”

I shook my head, unsure where he was going with this. Around us, the buzz of conversation continued, our discussion going unnoticed.

Billy had a wry smile on his face. “That boy thinks far too highly of me,” he sighed and for a second I caught a glimpse of the sorrow I had been expecting from the moment he had first brought Sarah up. It was gone in a few seconds, though, as Billy took a deep breath and begun what I assumed would be his explanation.

“The night my wife was killed, we’d squabbled,” he told me. “I’d just got driven back from a council meeting- it was before I’d got stuck in this thing,” he pointed at the wheelchair, “and I’d come home to find that there was barely anything to eat. Sarah had asked me to go to the store in the morning whilst she’d been taking the kids to school, but I'd forgotten. We’d just had our TV fixed and there was a Mariner’s game on…” he shrugged at me, as if to say ‘you know how it is’.

As a matter of fact, I did know. I couldn’t count the number of times I had asked Charlie to run an errand, only to later find he had watched baseball instead.

“Anyway,” Billy continued, “Understandably, Sarah was frustrated that I hadn’t done what I’d promised. She asked me to go out and fetch some food but…” he paused, wincing at a memory that was clearly painful, “I told her I was tired.” The self-scorn was evident in his voice. “I told her we could order pizza- that it’d do her good not to cook one night.” He shook his head, looking at me sadly. “I was just finding excuses. The council meeting had dragged on much longer than usual and my head hurt. I didn’t want to drive to the store in the dark and rain. All I wanted to do was relax on the coach, watch some baseball and then go to sleep. So when Sarah sighed that ‘no, we can’t give the kids pizza on a weekday- we’re trying to teach them to eat proper food, Billy’ and said that she’d have to go and get the groceries, I didn’t argue with her. I didn’t jump up and admit that I’d been wrong or offer to go instead, even though I knew that was what she was expecting me to do. I guess in a way I was kind of embarrassed about forgetting, so I was trying to down-play the whole thing in an attempt to clear my conscience. I just sat watching the television, pretending not to hear when Sarah sighed exasperatedly and stalked into the kitchen to get her purse. I barely even looked up when she came back into the living room and kissed me on the cheek goodbye. That was exactly like Sarah,” Billy said, his eyes wistful with memory, "she could never be mad at anybody for more than a few seconds. Her heart was too good; there was no way any bitterness could exist there."

He paused for a few seconds, taken with recollection. The sadness was etched across his face now, the faintest sheen of tears covering his eyes. I wasn’t aware of anyone around us anymore- just Billy, my second father, and the story of his sorrow. “I suppose you can guess what happened next, Bella,” he said. “That… that was the last time I saw her… the last time I saw her…” he trailed off, unable to continue. I leant forwards, taking hold of his hand.

“I’m so sorry Billy,” I murmured. What else could I say? No words would be able to bring Sarah back, no matter how much I wanted them to. Billy took my hands in his own, gripping them tightly as he breathed deeply. After a moment or two, he seemed to have calmed himself to the point where he could speak normally again.

“You know the worst part?” he said finally, “I never had the chance to tell her I was sorry. I never got to apologize for being lazy and selfish, or tell her that I loved her.”

“I’m sure she knew.”

“Oh, she did,” he agreed, "but I should have said it all the same. I shouldn't have ever let her leave before I had made things up with her. I should have held her and told her how much she meant to me, before letting her go. I was so stupid, so foolish and arrogant. I didn't think anything bad could ever happen to us. I just took the fact that she'd come home for granted." An expression of scorn and self-loathing surged across his face, flaring up… and then fading away again. It looked as though Billy was making a conscious effort to control his emotions.

After a few moments he looked at me again. “Do you want to know why I’m telling you this, Bella? Why I’m bringing it up here of all places?” He shook his head and the tiny movement resonated with regret. “For a long time, the guilt of what I did that night ate me alive. What if I’d gone and got the groceries when Sarah asked me to, instead of putting it off? What if I’d offered to go instead of her in the evening? What if I hadn’t gotten the TV fixed? What if I hadn’t liked goddamn baseball so much? The ‘what ifs’ alone are enough to drive a person crazy. For years, I blamed myself for what had happened to Sarah. As far as I saw it, I’d lost my soul mate and it had been all my fault. You know what happened to the kid who hit her?”

This question was directed at me, and I shook my head. Jacob had never said.

“He was paralyzed from the waist down,” Billy said, his eyes tight. “It was awful. Whatever people say, it wasn’t his fault. I never blamed him for what happened. You know what driving conditions can be like around here, especially when it rains. The boy had only had his licence a couple of weeks, and all of a sudden there he was- unable to walk and being blamed for the death of a much loved wife, mother and friend. You know, later on when I lost the use of my legs from disease, part of me thought it was a type of retribution. I was being punished for not being in the car with Sarah and my penalty was to suffer the injuries I would have gotten if I’d gone with her.”

He paused for a moment or two, lost in recollection, before he continued.

“Like I said, Bella, the guilt was awful. It never truly went away, just slowly faded into the back of my mind. But then do you know what happened? I gradually began to realize something very important. I realized that my three children- my three beautiful, wonderful kids who, by all rights, should have hated me for losing their mother- didn’t blame me at all for her death. Not one bit. They didn’t think I was guilty; they didn’t stop loving me in the slightest. They missed their mother terribly, but to them her death was just an accident- an awful, tragic accident. If anything, they blamed the poor teenager in the other car. They didn’t hate their dad for living- they were just glad that they had me. That they still had at least one parent left to help them overcome their grief.

“It was their love which helped me finally see sense, Bella. It made me understand that I didn’t cause the accident that day, nor did I kill Sarah. Maybe I could have done something to prevent it; maybe I couldn’t have. But I didn’t make it rain, or make the other car swerve, or make the surface of the road Sarah was driving on uneven. Those things were like a series of factors which aligned to create one awful result. And even if it had been my fault, there was no way that I could reverse what had happened. I could hate myself for the rest of my life, but it wouldn't give Sarah life again; no amount of guilt would ever bring her back. I had to live for our children- mine and Sarah's children. I had to carry on and give Rebecca, Rachel and Jacob the best life possible even now that their mother was gone. I came to realize that Sarah never would have wanted me to ruin their futures by letting my grief define our lives. In the end, as hard as it was, I had to let go; I had to move on.”

It was only when Billy handed me a tissue that I realized I had been crying. I took it gratefully, wiping my tears hurriedly from my cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled. “I feel so silly.” Here Billy was bravely sharing the most awful moments of his life with me, and I was the one crying.

Billy waved his hand at me. “Don’t apologize,” he said, “what I’m telling you is hardly a fairy-tale. It’s normal to feel emotion, but you need to understand that there’s hope in this story too, Bella. That’s the reason I’m telling you all of this. I want you to understand that what happened to Brady wasn’t your fault. Those who are truly guilty never feel the consequences of their actions; often it’s only the innocent that are brave enough to shoulder blame. You can’t spend the rest of your life hating yourself for what happened. Brady loved you like a sister - all the pack does - and he wanted you to have a chance at life. He didn’t want you to die at the fangs of a creature from a world that you shouldn’t have even been a part of.

"Part of growing up is learning to accept that you can’t change the past and that you can’t hold yourself responsible for everything life throws at you. It’s so easy to over-simplify things and believe that everything is your fault. But nothing’s black or white. There really are shades of grey. Until you realize that, you won't be able to heal.

"It didn’t work with Sarah and it won’t work with Brady either. You need to learn to let the guilt go and try to move on. It's time you appreciated the value of forgiveness, Bella.”

I stared at Billy, at a total loss for words. I didn’t have a clue how to respond; I was too overcome by what he had just said. There was so much sense in his words, yet I was almost afraid of believing them. I had been sure of my guilt for so long; how could I just let it go? I was almost buried too deep now to ever fight my way to the surface again.

Then, just as I was about to formulate some kind of reply to Billy’s declaration, a voice called out:

“It’s time, everybody.”

The movement in the room was instantaneous. All the people in Jacob’s living room who I’d stopped paying attention to during Billy’s story began to move en masse in one great black flock towards the door. I caught Billy’s eyes in the sudden blur of activity and they seemed to speak to me. Let the guilt go, Bella.

And then the moment was broken and Billy had been wheeled away by some well wisher in black. I found myself being helped to my feet by another faceless person and being carried with the crowd across the room and out of the door into the cold evening air.

Next thing I knew I was stumbling down the sandy track that led towards the beach, the person supporting my arm gone, my mind still saturated with all that Billy had said. I barely noticed the people around me; I paid no attention to their low murmurs or the soft sound of their footsteps on sand…

What happened to Brady wasn’t your fault.

Somebody spoke to me, and I wasn’t even aware of how I replied. I couldn’t register anything outside of my own head, the memories of Billy’s words almost deafening me…

Nothing’s black or white; there really are shades of gray.

Vaguely, I sensed the breeze growing stronger. I wondered dimly whether we were nearing the beach…

Stop blaming yourself

Then, the murmurs around me fell away, enabling me to catch a last whispered order in my head before it died away…

Let him go, Bella. Let Brady go .

The power of the words shook me like an explosion, but as I looked around me, I realized there was no time to think about what they meant.

We had arrived on the beach.

The funeral had begun.


It’s a cold evening in late winter, and you’re assembled with the tribe on the beach at La Push, the twilight-washed sea ahead and the darkening woods behind. Your long hair is stirring slightly in the breeze, and you can taste the salt from the sea on the air, mingled with wood smoke. A great bonfire lies to the left of the crowd and you watch it as you wait, noting the way the flames reach up to the purpling sky, their orange tips dissolving into curls of sparks and smoke, before drifting away into stratosphere, fading into nothing.

Tonight is a time of farewells.

Suddenly, you sense movement in the crowd around you. A ripple passes through the group as heads and bodies turn as one, hundreds of pairs of eyes focusing on a single point in the East- the direction you are facing. You crane your neck to see, and instantly find what you’re looking for. A procession is making its way from behind the bonfire; nine people, each bearing a torch, walk slowly towards the centre of the crowd, winding their way through the silent mourners. They’re all tall- almost impossibly so- their black hair and russet red skin taking an unearthly, almost godlike quality in the dying daylight. They walk slowly in a line, hands clasped around their torches as though they are lifelines; as though the burning wood, cotton and gas are the only things which will keep them from drowning in the grief which hangs thickly in the air. You catch the eyes of the leader of the group-your best friend- and it takes all your strength not to look away, so intense is his pain.

On the sand some yards from the water’s edge is a canoe, atop which is the body. It scares you somewhat to think of it as a ‘body’, because barely days ago it was a ‘he’ and he was a living, breathing person, but then you remind yourself that ‘living’ is the wrong word, that he had not been living for years. He had existed. In truth, his mind had passed a long time ago; it was only now that his body followed suit. You keep this present in your mind as the torch-bearers close in on the canoe and, one by one, set it alight.

They act quickly then; each, taking hold of a section of the craft and pushing it swiftly into the water. The momentum causes it to cut swiftly through the gentle waves, but not before the flames have started to lick across the body, growing in number, building in strength. Their reflection dances in the water and for an instant, the night is completely still.

This is the moment of release, the split second when the boundaries between life and death blur, and another spirit passes on.

And then it’s over; the spell is broken. The blood-red sun dips beneath the horizon, and you become aware of the soft sigh of the forest and the crackling of the bonfire behind you.

His soul is gone.

And it’s only then, as you look to the sky embedded with slowly blossoming stars that it happens. That slowly, incredibly, wondrously, you begin to feel a weight shift from your shoulders.

It wasn’t your fault, Bella

Something within you is changing; you can feel something unfurling inside your heart. It’s as though your body knows- as though your head is finally about to accept something your soul has been telling it for so long. You hear that voice again. It’s the same one from the hospital- the same one that haunted you while you crumbled to pieces in Charlie’s arms. It calls to you, begging to be heard, and this time you can actually make out what it says. It tells you that you’re innocent; that you’re good; that it’s time to let go.

It wasn’t your fault.

And it’s then that you realizes,the voice doesn’t belong to Carlisle, or Billy, or even Brady. It’s your own. It’s you- your own conscience pleading with you to see reason and sense. It’s been there all along, but only now do you listen, only now do you realize.

Part of growing up is learning to accept that you can’t change the past

The chains are crumbling apart, the bars of the cage dissolving to dust. The wall which you had built across the path to your future has cracked, and the light from the other side is streaming through, almost blinding you. You want to cry out with the joy of it.

His soul has gone; and with it, your guilt.

You have been set free.

Life continues as before; the earth continues to turn. Yet something has changed, imperceptible to all but you. The blame and guilt you’ve trapped yourself in for so long has disappeared; your sins have been absolved. You realize where the forgiveness you have always wanted was hidden- in the prison of your own heart.

The funeral vessel begins to be swallowed by the gathering dark and the crowd around you starts to turn away. Their words merge into subtle hums of reminiscence, harmonizing with the hushed song of the sea and reverent whisper of the trees.

You don’t move at first, preferring instead to watch the burning canoe as it slips slowly into the shadows, like a long-harbored memory of a nightmare which you’ve only just managed to let go. It’s hard to believe that this moment is finally here, after six years of knowing, deep down, that it was on its way. And you can’t stop some tears from falling, as you think of all the things that were lost in those six years; love, innocence, trust, hope...

And yet, some things were preserved. Friendship. Bravery. Those years taught you more about yourself than the rest of your life; the difficulties of those days, weeks and months are as much a part of you as the new scars and burns that mar your skin. They remind you of what it took to get where you are now,of what was lost and what was gained, of what has yet to be re-established. You look to the sky, marvelling at the brightness of the stars as, one by one, they unfurl like flowers on a bed of ebony.

And, inevitably, your thoughts drift to him. The one who broke the heart; the one you still love with all your being. You haven’t seen him for a month, not since you told him to leave at the hospital and then hastened to put thousands of miles between you.

But now everything has changed. The weight from your chest has melted away, your eyes see thing differently and even your heartbeat seems to have changed its rhythm. And you begin to wonder whether it’s time to go back; whether it’s time to confront everything... and begin to move forward.

You turn back on the sea, facing towards the beach and close your eyes. The cool breeze curls around you, its wintry tendrils caressing your skin like a familiar, much longed for embrace. And it’s then, in that moment, that you know the answer to your question. No more running. No more fear.

As you leave the beach, the wind whispers with a promise of something akin to hope.

I turned around and followed the last stragglers from the beach back up the path to La Push. The lights were on in Jacob and Carole’s house. There was music coming from inside and I could hear laughter and the clinking of cutlery on china. I remembered the conversation between Carole and Emily where they had decided to make the evening after Brady’s funeral as happy and positive as possible.

“It’s the best way to say goodbye,” Emily had maintained, her kind eyes shining with determination, “that way we can remember him when he was happy, not empty and bed bound.” Carole had agreed, adding that it would be easiest for ‘the boys’ that way.

I felt a rush of fondness towards both of them as I recollected this. They had certainly achieved their wish; the atmosphere around the house was warm, inviting and, most of all, full of hope. Everybody here was looking to the future and the next chapter, their sorrow consigned to the past.

I slipped by the house, resisting the urge to join the pack and their wives who I knew would be inside. Their voices faded and mingled into the lilting sounds of the night, as I walked on through the trees to the place where I had parked my truck all those hours before.

Then, I drove home, let myself in to Charlie’s empty house and hurried through the dark up to my old room.

It was weird being back. The room was still the scene of so many memories for me; hidden deep in those four walls were the ghosts of every tear and peal of laughter, the words of all the homework essays and emails to Renee, the dreams and nightmares and, of course, the indelible, inescapable presence of Edward. He haunted me, in every glance at every section of the room I could see him, the stare of his amber eyes printed in my mind as though tattooed there.

In a way, I decided, it was only right that his spirit was here with me. It was only fitting that he bore witness to what I was about to do.

And it was then, all alone in the shadows and silence, that I did the one thing which made sense. I slowly opened the desk draw and pulled out a sheet of paper.

Dear Edward.