“He glanced upon her bare shoulder, his hunger for her touch growing by the second.” Bella’s voice took on the same emotion the book had always brought out in her mind. A longing for the touch of a man, his hands marred by hard work, hours creating something for the good of others and the profit of his family.
Edward had remained in his coma for nearly five weeks. Test after test showed no change in his brain function or any damage the accident caused. Bella remained at his side, reading from the pages before her, half expecting him to spring from his slumber and knock the book to the floor. However, with each passing paragraph she smiled a little wider, as she spoke of the way a man should treat a woman.
“Marie could feel his reaction to her nakedness, a firm reminder was pressed against her backside. Before she could raise her arms in a stretch, his powerful arms wrapped around her, pulling her back into the soft mattress. God how she loved to be kissed by this man, to be dominated by his need for her.”
Bella stopped briefly after reading the passage, it had taken her several days and a handful of attempts before she could read that particular scene without her heart collapsing in her chest. She had become proficient at telling herself she didn’t need the touch of a man who wanted her, yet human nature called her on it at every turn.
“Edward, do you even realize what your cruelty does to me? I mean, I know you can’t help the words that come out of your mouth, but why didn’t you ever tell me? What have I done to make you distrust me so that you felt you couldn’t confide in me?” Bella hated being weak around him, but figured she could speak her mind now and pray he never questioned her on it.
Edward had started to muddle through the voices he heard around him. Grateful for the day he was able to give a name to the angelic voice he had been hanging on. With everything he had put her through, she remained by his side.
Edward had tried many times to wake up, but the haze held him down, keeping him a prisoner of the darkness. It wasn’t all bad, he got to hear her voice and catch the emotions she carried in her tone. He listened as she spoke from her heart about how her brother had betrayed her and that she was certain his uncles had something to do with it.
On the rare occasions when Bella slipped away, all he could hear was the sound of his uncle’s voice, grating on his nerves. It was enough to make him reach higher toward awakening so he could tell him to get out of his room. Sometimes, when he heard no voices at all, he listened carefully to see if the monster rattled in his cage, begging to come out. All had been quiet, though, giving him his only fear of waking up.
Bella had just finished the last book in the series. She released a hopeful sigh of satisfaction knowing Anthony and Marie would be in the land of happy ever after, their love defying time. Just as the last time she finished this book, she placed it in her bag and brought the first one back out. She would start over, reading from the first page, begging Edward to open his eyes and join the land of the living.
“Knock, knock.” Startled, Bella clasped her chest with her open hand, spinning around to face the beautiful woman who stood in the door. “I’m sorry, I waited for Carlisle to leave before I came in.”
Bella couldn’t believe her eyes. Standing in the doorway was the woman who inspired her dream of going to pastry school, Esme Platt. Bella had read nearly every book this woman had written and dreamed of the day she could afford to attend on of her work shops.
“I’m sorry if this is a bad time…”
Bella’s brain finally engaged and she rose from her seat, her muscles burning from lack of use, causing her to nearly collapse as she took her fist step. “No, not at all. Please, come in.” Bella prayed her breath didn’t smell of the onion bagel she’d had for breakfast, as she extended her hand in her heroines direction. “I’m Bella Cullen, I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years.”
Esme’s smile was welcome and reassuring, the first sign of friendliness Bella had been witness to in months. Shortly after Edward’s accident, the sisters who ran Delucas, decided living through the New York winters was too much for their old bones and placed the bakery on the market. Although she still had her job at the bookstore, her boss had confided that her son had been after her to move to Florida and live with him.
“Believe me, the pleasure is all mine. I only wish I could’ve come by sooner. Edward is, after all, my favorite nephew.” Esme eyes took in a sleeping Edward, the deep pools of sadness reflecting in her deep, green eyes.
“Nephew?” Bella questioned before she could stop the thought.
“Yes. Didn’t he tell you?”
Bella should have expected this, she and Edward had one ruse for the public and a separate one for family. In the six months they had been married, they had exchanged perhaps twenty words, hardly room for the who’s who of the family members.
“It’s all right, Bella. While Edward never spoke of me to you, he’s had loads to say about you to me.”
Bella didn’t want to hear any of this, to have the harshness of what he’d said behind closed doors to his family repeated to her, some things were better left unheard. To save herself the humiliation, Bella changed the subject. “I was just about to get another cup of coffee, I’ll let you have some time with him.”
But Esme Platt was not only successful, she was also quick as a whip.“I’ve come to speak with you, actually.”
Edward wanted to join in on this conversation, to assure Bella he had never spoken ill of her to his aunt. Esme would’ve never of allowed him to curse at her, tell her things she wanted to hear. Although the monster had reared his ugly head many times, Esme’s skin was thick enough to take the words for what they really were…fear.
“Edward tells me you had no idea about his illness.”
Like a man walking the green mile, Bella took her seat, dreading the story which was about to unfold; her humiliation the subject, predicate, and adverb of this horror story.
“He doesn’t ever talk to me.” Admitting the truth aloud made it sound so real and final, like a death sentence about to be carried out.
“I’m not surprised,” Esme shrugged her shoulders as she reached over to clasp Edward’s pale hand. “He spoke very few words to his father before he died, choosing instead to keep the cruelness to those who truly deserved it.”
Bella wished she would just get to the parts where he called her an ugly bitch and be on her way, ending yet another dream she once had. As Esme touched her index fingers to Edward’s knuckles, her eyes following the actions of her fingers. “Bella do you remember the night of your wedding reception? The one where you left the party, caught a bus and seemed to disappear into the night?”
Bella indeed recalled the night, the following morning Edward gave her the keys to her apartment, the safe haven she treasured. “Edward didn’t appreciate me returning the clothes I had purchased, felt I had gotten comfortable when I shouldn’t have.”
“Yes, well you did more than that.” She raised Edward’s hand to her face, placing a kiss to his cold fingertips. “You stirred up emotions he had been trying to smother.”
Bella had grown so accustomed to the cruelty, she couldn’t imagine anything good to follow.
“But what you may not know about that night was how Edward waited for you to return home, fearing he had driven you into the arms of another man.” The uncontrollable urge to roll her eyes came over Bella, the very thought of any man looking twice in her direction was completely irrational. “One of his associates phoned him just before midnight, told him he’d seen you running from a city bus, three men taunting you, and even hitting you at one point.”
Bella recalled the news report of the three men and their fate, two of them dying as a result of their injuries, the third refusing to discuss the events of the night.
“He found the three men, let the monster roam free for several hours as he took from them what they stole from you.” Bella swallowed hard, her breathing labored as she processed what she was hearing.
“He stayed away so that someday you might find it in your heart to forgive him. When this is all over and he has made things right, it’s you he wants to be the happiest.”
Edward tried with all of his might to open his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to leap from the bed and tell Bella how much he loved her. To confess to her that if he were a whole man, he would pursue her, convince her to give him just one chance to show her what he could share with her. He had wasted so much time fearing the creature inside of his head, instead of knowing the loving woman who had sat at his bedside day after day. He could not fathom anyone being able to do that to someone they didn’t care for in some fashion. Edward decided in that moment, swearing that if he was ever freed from this prison or if he woke up tomorrow and this had all been a dream, he would take Bella by the hand and make her see the man inside. The man who wanted to be the husband she deserved.
Esme stood before the young woman her nephew spoke so affectionately for, knowing he had deep feelings for her. What she didn’t know was in which direction Bella felt for Edward. From her observation and tales which had made it back to her ears, Bella had remained beside Edward almost constantly.
“You said something earlier, how you enjoyed my work. May I presume you are a baker as well?”
With passion comes excitement and Bella was unable to hide the joy she felt as she spoke of breads and pastries. How she craved the feel of warm dough as she kneaded it before baking. The joy of taking flour, water, and yeast, allowing them to mix and create this incredible food enjoyed by so many. Bella confessed, with a fondness, how she loved to watch her customers take that first bite, closing their eyes and moaning in ecstasy from the flavors she created.
“Well, Bella, this love affair you have with baking is being wasted working in an old bookstore. While I enjoy a good love story as much as the next person,” she pointed at the bag full of books beside the bed. “True romance can only be lived, not stained on paper by mass manufacturing. Just as your love of working with flour and water, allowing the chemicals to blend and grow into something wonderful, love, too, must be allowed to rise.”
Bella had always listened to the words of advice Esme shared in her many books, feasting on the tricks of the trade she had shared over the years.
“You gave him something no one else had ever dared to.” Esme took Bella’s face in her warm, aged palms. “A good long look in the mirror, and trust me, he didn’t like the man who was looking back at him.”
Esme left Bella that night with a mind full of possibilities, including the idea her sudo husband could actually have feelings for her, and also an open invitation for private lessons after Edward recovered. A part of Bella feared the time with Esme would never happen, as Edward may never wake.
As the weeks past, Edward slowly began to show improvement, hand twitches, eye flutters and such. Dr. Black came into the room early one morning to find Bella asleep in the chair with Edward still lost in his slumber. Bella woke as he checked on the nurse’s charting from the previous night, noting several spikes in his heart rate just a few hours ago.
“Good morning, Dr. Black.” Bella’s groggy voice greeting him, her stomach grumbling from her decision to skip dinner last night. They chatted quickly, then Bella took the opportunity of having Dr. Black in the room to get a bite of breakfast. She didn’t trust the uncles to be in the room alone with Edward.
Dr. Black watched as a tired Bella wrapped her black sweater around her shoulders and shuffled her feet along the tile floor as she walked toward the stairs. Turning back to Edward, he checked his lungs and determined the breathing tube should be changed.
“Ed, you need to wake the fuck up.” Dr. Black knew of Edward disdain for having his name shortened and half expected him to take a swing at him for disrespecting his wishes. “She is beautiful, you know. Sits here every day like a goddam lap dog, just watching you waste away to nothing.” He shined a penlight into Edward’s eyes and, for the first time in weeks, there was a reaction. “Come on, Edwina, grow some fucking balls and wake the fuck up.”
Edward’s ears began to buzz as if a thousand bees were swarming inside. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, followed by the brightest fucking light he had ever seen. He raised his hand to shield the light away, but his arm felt as if it were made of cement. He could hear Jacob talking shit and tried to concentrate on it, following the source of the light.
“That’s it, come on fucker.” Jacob encouraged as he pressed the button for the nurse, while Edward became more and more lucid.
Edward could feel a burning in his throat, the bright light now encompassed him, bringing him fully into the present. He was no longer shrouded in the prison of darkness, he could see Jacob and several nurses scurrying around as Jacob shouted orders.
“It’s all right, Edward. We’ll get that tube out of your throat in a second.”
Edward could feel the panic surfacing, not for the actions going on around him, but that he couldn’t hear Bella anymore. Had she been a dream?
“Okay, man, on three I want you to cough.”
Edward felt a tugging as Jacob began to count. He didn’t have to wait for three as his body began to cough as soon as whatever was in his mouth was pulled out. “Deep breaths, Edward, deep breaths.”
Edward tried to focus on his breathing, but had only one thing on his mind.
“Bella?” His voice so low he was surprised anyone would be able to hear him.
“Yeah, man. She’s here, but she just went to get something to eat.”
When James had been released from the hospital, he’d sent word to Bella that he wished to speak with her, but she refused to leave Edward to see him. Her avoidance of him ended as he stood before her in the middle of the hospital cafeteria.
“What do you want?” Bella was too tired and too hungry for a confrontation to go down here.
Bella had heard this song and dance too many times. She was sick of what everyone else needed, what they wanted from her. Just when she was about to walk around him, he opened his mouth to finish.
“Bella, wait. I don’t want money or a place to stay, only to tell you that you need to be careful.”
James looked more like the brother she had seen in his high school years, his face free of dark circles and traces of exhaustion. But he still had a long road to go to get back to his athletic build.
“The Cullens, Bella.”
Bella was about to question which of the multitude of things he was in referencing to, when her name was paged over the intercom system.
“Isabella Cullen, please return to ICU. Isabella Cullen, please return to ICU.” Fear pushed her heart into her throat and a cold sweat broke out on her upper lip.
“Oh, God! Please, no.”