What if Bella lived in 1918? Would the story of Bella and Edward change or remain the same? "It was naïve of me to have thought that, even with their bodies racked with a horrible disease that was killing millions across the world, they would still somehow make it. Even with all of the pessimistic doubts I'd had before, I wasn't prepared for it when it really happened."
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I had always thought that my life had been very normal, a very unassuming existence. A commonplace childhood, with nothing out of the ordinary in my upbringing except that my mother had died when I was young. Father's presence had ensured that nothing exciting would happen.
Despite my very normal circumstances, I often felt abnormal myself. Not in the sense that I was above average in any respect, like I was somehow special. Of course, that could not be the case. It was more that I felt I did not fit in with the norm, that I did not belong there. Father pointed this out often with regard to my reactions- that I did not conform with the normal, expected reactions to normal situations.
This was made all the more apparent in the months following the death of the Masens.
A normal person, after experiencing the first death of a friend in their life, would have probably avoided any place or thing that reminded them of such memories. Of course, this would have been immensely doubled had they known that it was their fault, their own ignorant mistakes and folly which had caused the death of their friend. Surely such a crushing guilt would cause anyone to flee away from anything that brought up such painful reminders.
But I was not a normal person. And though going through such memories horrified and pained me everyday, I would much rather feel that pain than dishonor their memory by forgetting them.
So I stayed at the hospital.
This was a source of great frustration to Father and even Grandfather. They had seen the change that had taken place in me since the night of the Masens' death. Though they, Father in particular, had asked me what was wrong, I could never bring myself to speak about it. I was sure that Grandfather at least assumed what had happened, and after a few days, Father stopped asking me about it.
It was probably also normal for a person to grieve for a few days and weeks as well. But when the weeks had turned into months and nothing had changed in me, they knew there was something to worry about. I'd had to reduce my hours at the hospital quite a bit of course once school started, and Father became very insistent that I leave then. But when I sufficiently showed that I could still get high marks in school and balance work and my duties at home, he'd had no argument.
This was not such a sacrifice for me. I was not really giving up much time that could have been spent with friends or hobbies or interests. I was grateful for the increase in amount of work. Work meant that my mind had something to do, something to occupy it.
I was vaguely surprised at myself for not being able to leave the hospital. But it terrified me to think that if I stopped going, I would forget. And also, much, much worse, there would be no hope.
There had been no huge uproar when the Masens had died. It was not the most shocking turn of events for others. That night alone, thirty-eight other people had died within the city of Chicago. But, because they were well-known and a family of money, the disappearance of the body of the Masen's son had been written about in the paper. There was a casual inquiry by the police, another squadron than Father's, but they did not put a great amount of effort into it. Most everyone concluded that it was simply a blunder- someone had brought the body to the morgue without consulting others first. The body had been mistaken for another's somehow, wrongly identified. It was not a rare occurrence, especially in times like these when people died so rapidly. And many of the doctors and nurses at the hospital had testified that he had been so close to death at the time that it did not matter so much. He would have been in the morgue that night eventually; it had just been a little premature.
It was official when they declared the case to be closed, with a consensus that the boy had died and the body misidentified at the morgue. Months after the grave of Mrs. Masen had been interred into the Oakwoods cemetery another had been added next to it. This coffin was empty and the inscription on the tombstone over it read Edward Anthony Masen. I did not attend either funeral.
I knew there was no hope. Everyone without a doubt understood that they had died. It was the only thing that made sense. Yet, I sensed a part of me, which I could not even admit fully to myself, that held the slightest sliver of hope left for anything otherwise.
I clung to everything physical that reminded me of that time, though it brought so much pain. I tried not to remember the actual memories, but I held to any kind of physical manifestation that they had been here. The world seemed determined to undermine this desire. Many of the nurses and doctors in the hospital had left since that time; the first being Dr. Cullen of course, who had never returned. The Spanish Influenza as well had, after one more resurgence in the fall, finally disappeared altogether. I could not miss the disease that had killed them of course, but again, it felt like one more thing to steal their memory by its absence.
I likely would not have been able to stay on at the hospital if Nurse Thornton had not left after the last outbreak. After the disappearance of Dr. Cullen, she had become especially insistent on my own departure. But I had worked hard to become competent enough to accomplish the basics of nursing. I suppose with the numbness I so often felt these months, I could somewhat overcome my aversion to blood and needles. Still, I tried to avoid those situations as much as I could and spent most of my time in the recovery ward. And it should have been more enjoyable; the hospital had lost much of its desperation now that the world was back to normal. For everyone else, that is.
I never thought I'd see the day when I would be sad to see Nurse Thornton's face, but it came. I had little ties to the Masens in so many people, so many inane things that whenever that thing was taken away, one more connection was cut, ripped away from me.
Dr. Cullen never stepped again into the hospital. That had been the excuse I had given myself and everyone else in the beginning- I was waiting for his return. I waited, day after day, and then week after week. Most people assumed that it had been too much for him. He had spent so much time working to help the family. The days before their deaths, many people remembered the deep, dark circles under Dr. Cullen's eyes, signaling the restless nights he had spent, most likely worrying over them. He would have snapped under such stress, it was only to be expected. And like all of the other normal people, he knew better than to come back. He had moved on.
It was a little over ten months now since that day. It was April and it was cold. And Father was being more insistent than usual that I leave the hospital. I would be graduating at the end of the school year. I had applied to the University of Chicago, which was just a thirty minute walk away from our home and Father felt that I needed to devote all of my time for preparations.
I knew he was right. I was able to perform my duties sufficiently, but I knew I could not always be there at the hospital. In the back of my mind I knew I was waiting for something there, though what exactly it was I would not even allow myself to understand. Sense and reason were trying to worm their way into my resistant mind. I sighed a little as I made my way to the hospital, this being one of the few days that I came. It meant that I would have to stay up late to finish an essay for school, but I was used to not getting much sleep, and it was never dependant on the amount of work I had from school. Rather, it was unusual when I did get a restful night's sleep; I could count the amount of times that had occurred during the last ten months on my hands. It would probably be a welcome distraction as I would have something to do while I was awake, instead of lying there, waiting for sleep to come as my thoughts involuntarily ran through what were only nor painful memories for me.
I opened the familiar doors of the hospital and passed by the nurses and doctors which had come since that time. It was strange to be one of the few that had worked there the longest. When I reached the recovery ward, there was no one lying there because they had recovered from some horrible disease sweeping across the country. There were a few who had come in for operations, and some who'd had minor fevers, and even some mothers who'd given birth. There was no doubt anymore that any of them wouldn't make a full recovery and return as good as new to their families and their happy lives.
I went straight to the patients I usually attended to. Mr. Frank was being a little more ornery than usual. He did not think that men belonged in hospitals. His body had told him otherwise when his appendix had burst. I checked the stitches on his stomach; there was a minimal amount of liquid oozing out, but thankfully not blood, so I cleaned the area with a cloth dabbed with alcohol. Mr. Frank's response educated me on some expletives I had never heard before.
I moved onto Ms. Payson, who had been there for over a week. She was in her sixties, yet very stout and hearty. She'd had a high fever when she'd been brought to the hospital. It might have killed anyone else at her age, but she had withstood it. She trapped me for awhile by explaining all of the things she was missing while not at home. The first and foremost was her cat Beulah.
Next, I checked on Mrs. Kinger, who had just had her first son. She'd had a hard delivery and was rather frail herself, but could not keep from gloating about her son. She talked of him constantly and did nothing but smile and sing happily to herself when not reveling in her son.
Today she was distressed. She was sure that her son had been born at five o'clock on the dot, but she recalled the doctor telling the nurse that it was five minutes after the hour when he'd been born. This disturbed her greatly and she asked me if I could check the medical record for her. I did not see how this could possibly matter, but I had no qualms about performing duties that did not involve blood, so I acquiesced.
Walking down the hallway was not as easy as I would have liked. I realized as I passed by the emergency ward with a sharp stab of pain in my heart that it reminded me of another time when I had been asked to look after something by a patient. I unconsciously bit my lip until it became a physical pain. That kind of pain I could at least deal with more easily.
I stepped into the room where the medical records were kept, not knowing where to start since I had never looked for this particular item before.
Before I could even begin to search, I noticed the other person occupying the room.
His back was to me, looking at some papers. But I recognized the pure white skin of his hands, the bright blond of his hair even from behind.
"Dr. Cullen?" I stuttered out, my voice just a bare whisper with my shock.
He turned around and for one brief second I saw my own shock echoed on his face. There was also a hint of... panic, maybe? But his face abruptly turned into an expression of genial surprise.
"Miss Swan! I never expected to see you still here." He smiled. "There are so few of the old nurses and doctors around anymore, I see. And I thought if anyone would leave, you'd be one of the first. Don't tell me Nurse Thornton finally got you in the operation room?"
I could barely concentrate on his words. It was too good to see him. I had always noticed his incredible beauty before, but now it was otherworldly. He was from another world, a world I had tried to cling to but always seemed to be slipping away from me. But now he was actually here.
I stumbled forward and would have fallen except that he caught my arm. I clutched at his arm with my other hand, gripping it tightly. I likely would have hurt anyone else with how tightly I seized his arm, but I noticed dimly that Dr. Cullen's arm was very strong and hard. He must have been just outside for, even through the cloth of his jacket, I could feel that his skin was rather chilled.
"Dr. Cullen," I stammered again. It was the only thing I could think to say. My mind was still reeling with joy.
"Are you alright, Miss Swan?" He asked, still polite but a little concerned. He may have made a slight effort to move away from me, but my hand was still clamped to his arm.
I forced myself finally to form a coherent sentence, before he could ask if this was a sanitarium rather than a hospital and if I was a patient rather than a nurse. "It's... it's so good to see you."
"Yes." He smiled again but there was a touch of remorse in it. "I'm so sorry I haven't returned since... well for such a long time. I..." -he paused and then sighed deeply- "I have no excuse for my behavior."
These were the questions that I had wanted to ask for so long. It made it slightly hard to fully form my thoughts. "Where... what-"
He somehow made sense of what I was asking. His face turned suddenly remote. "I left the city. It was very cowardly- you are free to think that of me- for having left the way I did." He struggled for a moment for words, his face troubled, then abruptly smoothed. "But, I found another hospital to work at in my new residence. I very much enjoy it there."
He moved back more forcefully this time and I let go of his arm finally. He turned away for a moment to fold the papers he had left on the counter and returned them into their proper places, too quick for me to see what they were.
"In fact, that's why I was here today," he continued on smoothly. "One of my patients there had reminded me of a case we'd had here before and I wanted to see what measures had been taken in their care. I think I might have found something that will help them- at least I hope it will." He smiled again at me, his eyes warm. "But it was very good to see you again, Miss Swan. I'm very pleased that you've stayed on here at the hospital. Hopefully, we can see each other again if I have the chance to stop by."
He started to walk away, and I felt like my throat was closing over, my lungs shriveling up. I grabbed his arm again, not caring what his reaction would be.
"Dr. Cullen, that night..." I started. I felt the pain swirling inside my chest. This was the first time I had talked about it out loud. "Do you- what happened... that night?"
He looked down at me, his expression looking a little torn. Then he looked away. "There were many mistakes made that night, Miss Swan. It's best if we don't think of it." He paused, and when he spoke again, it was just a murmur, as if he were speaking more to himself. "And yet, sometimes, good things can come from mistakes."
I stared at him. What good thing could have come from that horrible night?
He placed a cold hand on mine to remove it gently from his jacket, grasping it once quickly in his hands in a sign of friendship. "I promise I will visit again sometime, Miss Swan. But I must leave you now; I have another appointment, I'm afraid." He smiled once more, apologetically, and then quickly walked out of the room. I couldn't move for a moment as I was still in shock. When I came to my senses, I ran out of the door and through the hall, but he had gone. Some of the nurses and doctors stared at me, but I did not care. I stood for a few minutes staring after him.
One of the nurses finally tapped my arm. "Bella? Are you alright, dear? Mrs. Kinger has been asking for you for ages."
"Oh." I looked at the nurse with slightly bewildered eyes. I suddenly remembered why I had been in the record room. I remembered that there were other things beyond Dr. Cullen's sudden appearance. "Right. I'll go see her now." My voice was as unfeeling as ever, no one might notice the difference, but I did. I knew that it was no longer sadness that made me numb, but shock.
I returned to the recovery ward, forgetting that I was supposed to have checked Mrs. Kinger's son's birth record. I lied quickly, telling her that it was indeed the time she had said. She was comforted.
I stayed there for the rest of my shift, my mind racing the entire time. As soon as my time was over I headed down the hall. I ducked quickly back into the records room, checking to make sure no one noticed me. It was night now and there were no candles in the room to guide me. But I remembered where Dr. Cullen had been standing and the general location of the files he had placed on the shelves. I headed over there and knelt on the ground to see the files. I thought he might have placed them on the top shelf.
I thumbed through the files, straining my eyes in the dark to look at the names. There were none that I remembered Dr. Cullen working with directly, but then he had been at the hospital earlier than I had. I moved to the lower shelf and started looking through the files there. Halfway through, the file I picked up fell from my hand.
The folder was for the Masens.
When I regained my senses, I flipped the folder open, searching through the file. This was all information that he had already known- why would he need to review it? The only thing new was some statements from the police and the morgue, recording the decision about Edward's disappearance. But how could that matter?
What had he been doing?
I sat for an undeterminable amount of time, reading over the file and trying to make sense of it. Trying to see what Dr. Cullen could possibly want with it. The chime of the clock in the hallway finally brought me around, and I realized that I had stayed much, much longer than I was supposed to.
I stashed the file away in its place, and quietly snuck out of the room. There were hardly any nurses walking around now. They did not need many for the night shift.
I signed myself out at the time that I was supposed to have left, then grabbed my coat from the closet and walked out of the door. I usually walked home with a group of other nurses, but obviously they had left without me. I would have to walk home alone tonight.
The wintry air outside whipped around me as soon as I stepped outside of the door, greatly helping me to waken from my slightly dazed state. Everything was still rather dream-like to me. Finally dream-like instead of like a nightmare.
Dr. Cullen had been here. He had actually stepped through the hospital doors once more. And he had been looking through the Masens' medical records? Why? He had to have been lying earlier- if he was treating some other patient in another hospital, why would he want to see the Masens' case for comparison? Surely he would have remembered all that they had done for them, and more importantly, known that nothing had worked. What on earth would he need to know from their file?
And the way he had acted was somehow... suspicious. He had been so casual, so friendly, just like old times, and yet I couldn't forget that flash of panic in his face when he'd first seen me. I was one of the few that would recognize him at all of course, but why would that matter so much? Had he been doing something illegal? What had he been doing?
I wasn't paying much attention to where I was heading. I barely registered the light snow falling from the dark sky, swirling around me in cold drafts. I walked faster than usual down the streets, my mood making my gate swift. I hardly noticed the bustling crowd around me. My thoughts were completely focused on what had happened.
I was entirely confused, nervous, and somehow... elated. Because this was one of the most exciting things that had happened in so long. And, just by his appearance alone, Dr. Cullen was one of those inextricable ties to the Masen family. One of the foremost actually. At least he had promised to return sometime. Maybe then I could get more answers.
My life had seemed so... empty after their deaths. I had been changed. Most might call it a growing experience, some sort of rite of passage, but I couldn't think of it that way. I still felt such pain and heartbreak and, more than anything, an incredible guilt when I thought of them.
And, a very small part of me- the small part that held the hope I was not allowed to admit to myself- was bothering me. It whispered that there was something more to this, something that went beyond merely checking medical records for another patient.
I had turned down some alley without thinking much about it. I noticed that the crowds were gone; I was quite by myself. The darkness of the night, made so much stronger by the black alley, brought me down from my excitement.
Where was I? Father was sure to be furious when I got home.
I was so wrapped up in this momentous evening that I hadn't realized the precarious situation I had placed myself in. Sense was returning finally and suddenly it felt like a million eyes watched me from the lurking shadows.
"What are you doing?" I muttered to myself, shaking my head slowly. I turned around to retrace my steps. There was a dim street lamp near the entrance of the alleyway. I headed towards it.
I was almost to the light when something pulled at my arm sharply. My head whipped around behind me for a second to stare into a grimy, blackened face. There were lines and creases in it, caked in dirt, and the mouth was stretched into a leering grin.
"Come here, sweet..." his voice rasped; a sudden gust of wind brought the stale, alcohol-drenched scent of his breath to me.
I did not have time to try to scream or run or hit him. In the next second, he was pulled away from me by some dark figure. I could hardly see anything as the newcomer had pulled him into the dark alley once again. The second man was much taller than the first, and stronger too, as my would-be attacker appeared to struggle futilely against the tall man. The shorter figure finally slumped to the floor, looking unconscious. Or perhaps worse.
I did not know if I owed the tall man my thanks yet. Could he only have saved me so that he could have me for himself?
I deliberated where I stood. The tall man stood there, his back to me, looking down at the crumpled figure.
Then the dark figure turned slowly towards me. Should I thank him? Should I run away?
He raised his head to look at me and I gasped, all thoughts of running away disappeared. In the pale moonlight, his skin was ivory white, almost to an unbelievable degree. This was made all the more apparent in contrast to his hair, which the night had painted into an inky black. His features as well were different- sharpened, perfected, almost ethereal. And his eyes were completely opposite, going from the vivid green I remembered to a deep burgundy red.
Even with all of these changes, and though some of them seemed entirely impossible, I still knew exactly who my savior was. If I had ever thought that he had appeared as an angel before, it was never more so than now. I could no longer feel my heart beat; it must have stopped from his beauty. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
"It's you," I whispered. "Edward."
The angel's bright red eyes glowed at me as he stepped closer.