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Paved With Good Intentions

Summary:
created by jace If you loved someone, how much would you be willing to sacrifice? Bella makes the most difficult decision of her life; now she has to live with the consequences. A Bella/Edward story.


Notes:


6. Diligence

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3516   Review this Chapter

~B~E~B~E~B~

I’m not sure what made it possible for me to get out of bed the next morning. Was it the little bit of hope that had returned while I slept, convincing me that there might still be a way out of this nightmare I’d created? Fontaine had to be out there somewhere, if I only knew where to look. Maybe it was the fact that I was sure of Edward’s love, even if he was no longer mine. After all, he wasn’t the one who’d left this time. Perhaps it was the traitorous voice in my head, whispering at a beautifully terrifying possibility that I couldn’t let myself think about just yet. It might have been a combination of all of those things, or maybe I was just in shock.

In the end, what decided it was the memory of something Alice had said to me just recently: Part of being a Cullen is being meticulously responsible. I was a Cullen at heart and always would be. So that morning, even though I felt like the hollow shell of a girl once named Isabella, I got out of bed, got dressed, and went downstairs to eat breakfast.

The next two days passed in a blur of heartache and denial. I tried to establish a daily routine; I ate, bathed, and slept at regular hours. I couldn’t bring myself to read or listen to music, but I would sit on the couch and stare at the television. Nothing really touched me, and I didn’t cry. I tried to formulate a plan of action, but none of the myriad ideas whirling in my mind would take shape. It was if the depth of my grief had burned away all of my nerve endings, leaving it impossible to process anything.

Sometimes I would sit and listen to the house, silent except for the ticking of the clock.

I didn’t want to fall apart as badly as I had the first time. If I did, somehow I knew I would never make it back, and any chance I might have had to change this miserable reality would be gone. It was different this time, anyway. I had made the choice this time, and so I had to accept the responsibility to keep living. I just didn’t know how. I thought of all these things but formed no real plan for how to accomplish them as I sat in the quiet stillness of the house, trying to keep my mind from shattering into a million irreparable pieces.

During dinner on the second night, Charlie said, “I’ve been thinking about something.” He pinned me with a cop’s inscrutable stare. “You were wearing your jacket when you came home from the carnival that night.”

I lowered my eyes as I lied to him. “Yeah, I found it when I cleaned my room this morning.” Did straightening the blankets and picking up a piece of trash count as cleaning?

“Bells…” he sighed. “I’m worried about you. You’ve got that look, the same one you had last fall when you went through some depression about missing Phoenix, remember?”

I blinked. That was the reason his memories supplied for my breakdown after Edward left? It was so ridiculous, I almost laughed. How could longing for a place, no matter how special, possibly compare to losing the love of your life? “I remember,” I said tonelessly.

“Bella,” he said, and his voice was so pained that I had to look at him. He was obviously uncomfortable, but he looked at me with eyes filled with concern. “You were so sick last time; I don’t want to see that happen again.”

I hated seeing him suffer like this. I’d always been a pretty easy going kid when I lived with Renee, except for the occasional emergency room visit. Poor Charlie must have wondered what he’d signed on for. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

He shook his head. “You don’t have to apologize. I just want to see you get better. I can’t go through what we did last time.”

“I know.” I took a shaky breath. “Neither can I, really. I’m just trying to decide how to work my way out of it.”

He seemed pleased that I was at least willing to talk about it. “Well, let me know what I can do to help.”

I nodded, thinking of how very much we were alike. “What was it like after Mom and I left?” I held my breath. This was something we’d never discussed, and I knew he wouldn’t be comfortable talking about something so private.

He was quiet for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Finally he sighed. “It’s no secret that I loved your mom very much; I still do. Then you came along, and you were the best thing that had ever happened to me. I would spend all day at work, thinking about how I couldn’t wait to go home just so I could see you smile. Then you were gone, and there was nothing to come home to. I started working a lot; the house was too quiet, you know?”

I knew. With a lump in my throat, I reached out to place my hand on his.

He swallowed and looked down at the table. “Work doesn’t cure everything, but it gives you time to figure things out. I also had some good friends who helped. Billy…Harry.” Pain crossed his face as he said the second name.

“Yeah,” I said softly. There would be no friends to save me this time. I could never ask it of Jacob, even if I could find him. I didn’t even want to; it had been hideously unfair of me to ask it of him the first time. Angela would try to help, but how could I tell her that I was grieving for a fiancé she didn’t even remember? I would have to do this on my own, go through life as a broken part of a glorious whole.

He looked at me, obviously thinking about something. “Are you upset about Jacob running off? For awhile there, it seemed like you two were heading toward something serious.”

“Jacob is part of it,” I said carefully. I wanted to look away, but I forced myself to meet his gaze.

He nodded. “I’d wondered if that might be it. I’m sorry, Bells.”

“Thanks, Dad. You’ve really helped.” He had; his words had given me something to think about. “I’m going to bed, okay?”

“Okay, Bella. Goodnight,” he said.

“Goodnight.” I kissed the top of his head and made my way upstairs. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered how long it would be before I broke down and started screaming. Even the Cullen mantle of responsibility could only carry me so far.

On the third morning I decided that if Charlie said hard work would help, then I would work. I started with my room, stripping the bed and carrying all of my clothes downstairs to the laundry. I vacuumed and dusted, straightening obsessively until every surface was clean. From there I made my way into the bathroom and then the rest of the upstairs. I continued the pattern throughout the house, completing all of my chores and adding on some new tasks I’d never tried before. I gave the windows a thorough cleaning and read the instructions on the bottle before I waxed the downstairs hallway. I was pretty sure the house had never been so clean.

Just like Charlie had said, work gave me time to figure things out. Something about cleaning allowed me to turn off my conscious mind and let my subconscious have the freedom it needed to sort through the tangled web of thoughts in my head. Eventually patterns started to emerge as I tried to reconcile the woman I was with the woman I wanted to be.

My actions during the battle with the newborns had embarrassed me. Edward had planned to fight alongside his family in the clearing, but I had talked him into staying with me. It was wrong, but I was too afraid of losing him to let him risk his life. He’d chosen me over his duty to his family, and all I could do was suffer through waves of shame and guilty relief. Then when Victoria and Riley had found us, I had experienced a terror unlike anything I’d ever known. I’d watched Edward fight, knowing that if he died, it would be my fault. I had kept him by my side…manipulated him into staying with me, and now he would die as a result of my selfishness. I’d also put Seth in danger, and the reality of what my decision had almost cost us was a heavy weight in my heart.

My grief only intensified later, as I said goodbye to Jacob and cried in Edward’s arms all night. I had wronged two very good men through my actions. I’d hurt Jacob terribly, and the look on Edward’s face as he wondered if I had made the right choice would haunt me for the rest of my days. In the weeks that followed, I became determined to always put Edward’s needs first, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness.

Then Fate in the form of Madame Fontaine had laughed at me and dared me to prove it.

My first instinct was to run away, which is exactly what I did. I had fled the carnival, refusing the agonizing miracle she offered. I was convinced that any action that might separate us, even if it granted Edward his much desired humanity, was the wrong decision for us. I might have succeeded in ignoring Fontaine’s offer, except for that night in my bedroom when Edward had looked at me, his angel’s face twisted in torture and self-hatred. I had known all along that he was too perfect to belong with me forever; the heavens never meant to grant us an eternity. Edward had been given to me as a gift for just a brief moment, so that I could come to care for him enough to do what needed to be done. I was the only one who could love him enough to let him go.

The decision, once made, was acted on quickly. What a brief span of time I needed – less than a full day – to plan a course that would change the direction of so many lives! Perhaps I should have given it more thought, but somehow I knew that if I didn’t act when I did, I would never be able to give him up. I promised myself that he would be happier, I convinced myself that I could survive as long as I didn’t have to remember, and then I made my wish.

Fate laughed again, a hideous snarl of glee, as my wish was granted…with one modification. One minor detail that might not seem like much, except to the heart it had shattered. I remembered him; I loved him and always would. And as I scrubbed the kitchen floor until the muscles in my arms burned, I acknowledged the truth of what I had told Edward several weeks ago as he was preparing for battle: I could not live without him. I could not survive in a world in which I existed apart from him.

With that truth accepted, the solution seemed obvious, even if devastating to my poor parents. I wondered that I had not already taken measures to end my own life. My drive to act as a responsible Cullen had saved me, at least from that immediate outcome. I could almost hear Carlisle’s voice in my head, urging me to think through every detail before acting. Even if I eventually decided to die, which was still very much an option, there were right and wrong ways to do it. So I hesitated, and in that hesitation I found the single reason I might have to continue living.

It was that traitorous voice again, whispering something to me that I had no business thinking. It had been trying to catch my attention for the past three days, arguing its logic until I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I didn’t want to avoid it, honestly, because it said the only thing I really wanted to hear. Edward was still alive. I shouldn’t think it, and I definitely shouldn’t act upon it, but if Fontaine’s magic had worked like she said it would, then Edward was out there somewhere, human and hopefully well. The voice immediately followed up this fact with another, even more intoxicating idea. I could look for him. I tried not to let myself think about the reality of this situation. Where would I look? Even if I could find him, would I dare approach him? It was impossible to form any kind of relationship with him, even casual friendship, with so many hidden memories between us. Was it fair to unsettle his life this way?

I couldn’t let myself think about that right now. I had to survive long enough to find out if Edward was alive and happy. He had to be happy. Whatever happened to me after that was insignificant. I would concentrate on finding him; I would stay in the moment and not think about the future until I had no other choice.

Frenzied thoughts filled my mind as I finished cleaning the house. The one thing about which I was absolutely certain was that I couldn’t stay in Forks. It was too hard being surrounded by memories and knowing that he would never return here. Even worse than the physical mementos were the people, my family and friends who had the wrong memories about everything. How anyone could forget the blazing brilliancy that was Edward Cullen was incomprehensible to me. He was the sun, the air, the brush of spring, the frozen beauty of winter; how was it possible to live and not remember him?

By the time Charlie came home for dinner, I had made my plan. I waited until halfway through the meal to broach the subject; he would be more agreeable with food in his stomach. I winced as yet another memory rose to the surface of my tortured mind.

“I’ve noticed that people – men in particular – are crabbier when they’re hungry.”

He chuckled. “You are observant, aren’t you?”

I didn’t answer; I just listened to the sound of his laugh, committing it to memory.

Shaking my head, I forced myself to concentrate on the subject at hand. All of those moments were gone and would never return to me again; I had to focus on the present if I wanted to stay sane. “Dad, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said yesterday.”

He looked up from his plate cautiously. “And?”

Here goes nothing. “What would you say if I told you that I don’t want to go to college this year?”

To his credit, he didn’t lose his temper or start yelling, even though I could tell he wasn’t thrilled at the idea. He took another bite of his food before speaking. “Any particular reason why?”

I had thought all of my arguments through carefully, looking for any loopholes. “I didn’t get to apply to the schools I really wanted because I missed the deadline. You know, when I was…sick.” He nodded, and I continued on, grateful to skip over that part as fast as I could. “I was thinking that I could work for a year, make sure to take care of myself, and then apply again for the next cycle.”

“Dartmouth isn’t good enough for you?” he asked.

I flushed. More like I’m not good enough for it, not without Edward tutoring me and paying off the administration. “I don’t think I’d fit in there; I only applied because of the late deadline. Besides, I can’t really afford it,” I said.

He nodded, considering. “Well, you don’t want to go to a school you won’t like, and you should be completely healthy before you take on such a big challenge. Don’t know where you’re going to work, though. Katie’s already taken your place at Newton’s.”

This was the hard part. “I don’t want to stay in Forks, Dad.” His anguished eyes flew up to meet mine, but I rushed ahead before he could speak. I had decided to use his suggestion from the previous night. “Remember what you said yesterday, about me missing Phoenix? I think that’s part of what’s been going on. I’ve enjoyed being here with you…very much…but I really want to move back to Phoenix.”

I could tell he didn’t like this part at all. “Renee’s not even there anymore,” he protested. “Where would you live?”

“I’ll get a place,” I replied. “Isn’t that what college kids do anyway, move away from home?”

He shook his head. “I’d feel better if you were close to one of us. If you’re missing the sun, you could move to Jacksonville.”

I couldn't live near either of my parents; they would notice too much. This way if I fell apart, they wouldn't be there to see it. “I want to live in Phoenix,” I repeated. I held his gaze firmly, refusing to back down. This was it; he would either agree or disagree. I was of legal age. I didn’t need his permission, but this would probably be one of his last memories of me. I didn’t want it to end badly.

He thought for a bit longer; it was unbelievably hard to sit still until he spoke again. “Give me a few days to clear my schedule, and we’ll drive out there to find you a place.”

I took a deep breath. “Thanks, Dad.”

He nodded. “I have some money I set aside for your first semester. We can use it to get you started in Phoenix.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I protested.

“I want to.” Stubborn Chief Swan was back. “I’m not going to get that many more chances to take care of you, Bells.”

I gave in, partly because he wanted me to, and partly because I needed the help. My savings had taken a pretty big hit, and I had been worried about the cost of getting my own place. As much as I didn’t like accepting money from my dad, I would do whatever it took to find Edward. “Thanks,” I said.

“Call your mom,” was his answer. He went into the living room to watch TV while I cleared the dishes.

Renee was easy to convince; she liked a good adventure enough to think that my sudden desire to live by myself sounded exciting. She promised to forward all of my summer clothes once I had an address, and she said she was sending me a check as a belated graduation present. I didn’t even try to protest this time.

Things moved fairly quickly after that. Charlie took care of stuff at work so he could leave, and I researched places to live in Phoenix. I didn’t try to look for Edward on the ancient computer in my room; that could wait until I got away from Forks. I packed my meager belongings in a few boxes. Charlie asked me if I wanted to take the bed, but I couldn’t face the idea of sleeping in the same place where Edward and I had shared so many beautiful nights. I told him I’d rather he kept it for when I came to visit, which pleased him.

The morning we were to leave Forks, I got up early and went to sit at my desk. I hadn’t planned to leave on this day; it had just happened that the date fell when it did. I stared at the calendar for awhile, fighting back tears. Finally I reached for a piece of paper and started to write.

August 13, 2006

My name is Isabella Marie Swan. Today I was supposed to marry Edward Anthony Masen Cullen. Instead, I let him go because I love him and I want him to be happy. He was everything to me; my life began the day we met and ended when I lost him. I will love him until the day I die.

It wasn’t enough. Five sentences seemed a paltry offering to describe one of the greatest love stories ever told. It was all I had, however, and I had to do something. I needed proof, something concrete for this day, so that I would never forget. I ran my fingers over the words and then reached for a little velvet bag that I kept in the top drawer of my desk. I folded the paper and slipped it carefully into the bag, along with the jade butterfly that had destroyed my life.

Finally I slipped my engagement ring off of my hand, caressing it lovingly. Holding it up to the light, I watched it sparkle. I thought of something else that had sparkled for me, back in another lifetime…shone so brightly that it put the sun to shame. I smiled tenderly, but I did not cry. Pressing the ring to my lips, I kissed it gently. I slipped it into the bag and placed the bag in my backpack. Then I rose from the desk, picked up the backpack, and walked out of my room for the last time.

I did not look back.