Never too late to say, I’m sorry.

Never Too Late to Say I’m Sorry

 

“Dr. Cullen,” Jane, our unit secretary, held up a brown handled bag., a smile on her face and pride in her eyes. “I have the popcorn you ordered.”

Her two sons had cornered me a few weeks ago, their faces bright and their uniforms pressed. I’m a huge sucker when it comes to kids, I hope to one day have a house full. First, I need the girl to complete the equation. Not just any girl, but the one who creates my dreams.

“Thanks, Jane, my father will love this.” Taking the bag from her, I returned her smile with one of gratitude. Jane was one of the few women I worked with who was single and didn’t try to flirt with me. I’d been genetically blessed with a handsome face, but hard work in the gym on the hospital’s third floor gave me the total package, as one of the paramedics teased every time she saw me. My face is where my luck ended; cupid had avoided me for years now. Granted, I had a few hookups, as my friends called them, but no one I would consider a future with.

My mother, Esme, asked me every time she called if I had met anyone. Each time I would tell her no, I could hear the sadness in her voice. She and my father wanted me to be happy, settled down and having the type of life they did. I wanted it too, but not with just any girl. I wanted the one who would take my breath away and never give it back. Someone able to catch my eye, but more importantly, my heart.

My sister, Alice, had met and married the love of her life fresh out of high school. Jasper was a great guy, as a journalist for a sport magazine, he traveled like crazy, but took care of her like he should. She had tried in the past to set me up with a variety of her friends, but nothing beyond a second date ever transpired.

“Dr. Cullen, we need you in exam room two.”

I nodded my head in affirmation upon hearing the new nurse, Jessica. “Jane, thank you again for this, my father will enjoy the treat.” My mother rarely allowed my father any sweets. Years ago, he and I formed a pact, I would mail him his favorite snack and he would keep my name out of it if she found out.  

Friday night in the ER, a place no one really wanted to be. Celebrating the survival of another week with a stiff drink with a table full of friends is more of what people would rather do. Since I wanted to be one of those folks at the bar down the street, I tried my best to get patients out as quickly as possible.

“Twenty one year old female, victim of skin versus concrete. She tripped over the curb as she was leaving her building. Lacerations to both of her knees bilaterally, with the right looking as if it could use a few stitches. No known allergies and denies any current medications or hitting anything other than her hands and knees.”

Jessica had been working here for a little over two months. New to the city, she spoke of a boyfriend she’d left behind in California. He wanted them to move in together, she wanted a wedding ring, he didn’t, so they parted ways. He found a new roommate, a girl from her nursing class and she found the interstate, never looking back.

“Thanks, Jessica. Lead the way.”

Jessica impressed me the first time we worked together as she anticipated everything I needed. Exams went faster and labs come back before I had to ask for them. She was by far my favorite nurse. Especially after she put me in my place when I teased her about landing a rich doctor and giving the ex-boyfriend a crow sandwich.

I have no desire to land a doctor, lawyer, or even a politician. I want to become comfortable in my own skin, get to know the adult I became while I was wasting my time with Paul. Don’t think for one second you can flash those green peepers at me and separate me from my panties. We are colleagues and someday, if you’re lucky, you might get to become my friend.”

I knocked three times before opening the door, a practice I learned from my dad. I knew plenty of physicians who didn’t look up from their shoes long enough to pay attention to the patient’s privacy.

“Isabella Swan?” I called, leaving room for Jessica to come into the room behind me. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her face camouflaged by her veil of dark brown hair, head lowered while examining her right palm. Glancing at her knee, I saw two lines of blood careening down her pale skin. Jessica was right, the knee would need some stitches.

“Bella.” Came a soft whisper of a voice, so quiet it was almost as if I’d imagined it. Looking up from the stream of blood, past the nervous picking of debris in her hand, my eyes landed on a set of brown doe eyes; sadness and embarrassment filling in the crevices around her expressive eyes.

“I’m sorry.” My words were thick in my throat, as my lungs failed to work for lack of oxygen. She is beautiful, in a reserved and underappreciated sort of way. “Bella, no one except my grandmother calls me Isabella.” Shaking her head as she returns to the exploration of her palm.

“Okay, Bella, care to tell me what brought you into the ER tonight?” And into my heart, I added in my head.

“It’s stupid really.” Her eyes remained focused on the skin of her palm, a gentle back and forth sway began in her lower legs, recapturing my attention to her lower extremities.

“I have the ability to trip over air. Tonight being a prime example.” Placing her palms on the white paper covering the table, the crinkling sound reflected the movement. “I left my office a few blocks over and made it less than five steps before the gift I have kicked in.”

 

My eyes were still fixed on her swinging legs, imagining what they would look like tossed over my shoulder as I devoured her essence, or wrapped tightly around my waist as I slid into her.

Jessica cleared her throat, drenching my fantasy with subzero water. Looking back at Bella, I hoped she hadn’t noticed my moment of ignorance. Her brow was furrowed in confusion as her eyes searched between Jessica and myself.

“Well, we all have to have a talent.” I cringed at my lame attempt at humor, I should stick to being a doctor, this I know. “Let’s have a look at your injuries.”

Concentrating on the small pebbles just under her skin, and not the electric current pulsing between us, was definitely a challenge. My mother and sister would have quoted some bestselling novel turned epic movie at what was happening in this room.

Her perfume was soft and light, not overpowering my senses and making me gag. I’ve dated plenty of women who try and bathe in the bottle, covering up God only knows what. Perfume should be something enjoyed when two people are close enough to share a breath, not a convention center full of spectators.

Five stitches and seventeen precious minutes later, I handed Bella her aftercare instructions and giving her the exact date of when I would be on shift again to take out said stitches. I had ten days to find out everything I could about Bella Swan.

As I stood at Jane’s desk, watching the backside of the girl who now owned me fade into the dark Chicago street, I imagined my mother could relate to the sting in my chest. She had begged my father not to let me move across the country to attend medical school.

Jessica appeared to my left, a yellow sticky note in her hand. “She works in the same office as my roommate, and, according to Lauren, she is single and lives alone.” She was nudging the paper in my direction as she spoke, the sticky side still attached to her index finger. “Hey,” she shrugged. “Just because I’m not interested in dating, doesn’t mean I don’t like a happy ending.”

As I packed up to leave after my shift, the orange hues of the new day were sweeping across the horizon. As my shoes hit the pavement, my ear buds lodged securely into my ears, the crispness of the morning made conditions favorable for a good run. I didn’t get two blocks in before my phone began to ring. It was early, not only here in Chicago, but everywhere someone I care about lives.

“Hello?”

“Hey, is this a bad time?” My father’s tired voice echoes in my ears.

“Nah, Dad. Just started my run. Something wrong? It’s what, five there?”

“Nothing is wrong, per say. Just had to find a quiet time to talk with you.”

I was used to this, Dad and I used the early mornings, when the rest of the house was still lost in their dreams, to talk about things.

“Your mother got a call from a college friend of hers, so they met for lunch and she came home in tears.” Listening to the edge in his voice and knowing how strong of a woman my mother is, I had to stop my run and listen. “Her friend went on and on about her grandchildren and all of the activities they are involved in.”

A sigh of relief passed over me and I regained my footing, resuming my run. Esme Cullen didn’t mince words on the subject of her children having families, she wanted the house full of running, screaming grandchildren.

“Dad,  this has been something she has wanted since Alice got her first period.” Yes, my analogy was over the top, but this was how Dad and I were, no extra padding or sugar coating.

“I know, Edward, but this time was…different.” He ended with a sigh, “She worries you work too hard to ever land a good girl.”

I watched the Tribune truck pull up across the street, a guy was jumping out of the back and tossing stacks of papers to the men waiting to sell to commuters. I’d Googled the company Bella listed as her employer, it was a publishing house. “Well, if things go well, she may get those grandchildren.”

I gave my father the highlights of my encounter with Bella. Being the voice of reason, he reminded me to be cautious as she could be married or in a relationship. I’d checked this out too, there was no marriage license for an Isabella Swan in the city records. By the time she returned to the ER to have her stitches removed, I knew more about this girl than I did my own sister.

 

~~**~~

Jane wasn’t working the front, but I made it abundantly clear with the staff that when Bella arrived, I was to handle her case. Several eyes were raised and a few whispers breathed around the unit. When a patient came back for suture removal, one of the nurses or interns normally took care of it, only getting a physician involved when something wasn’t healing properly.

Jessica was working, thank God, and knocked on the break room door when Bella arrived just as I was about to eat dinner. “Hey, she’s here.” Jessica announced, tossing her head in the direction of the exam rooms. “Her stitches are ready to come out, want me to handle it?”

Jessica and I had had a few conversations with Bella Swan as the core subject. One of those was shared by a long time friend of mine, Ben, who had known Bella since she moved here from Washington. According to him, Bella was a homebody, preferring to read a book than party into the wee hours of the morning. He also said she had an issue with getting too close to people, but didn’t know why.

The doctor in me wanted to make sure she wasn’t suffering from something I could help her fix, so I pulled her medical records. Bella Swan was a current patient of Alex Volturi, known in the medical community as the ‘Anxiety Wizard’. Having recently been accused of some questionable practices, his patients were now getting all their pharmaceuticals from his assistant, and soon to be ex-wife, Leah.

Dr. Volturi was known to give you what you wanted, when you wanted it. He had been accused of dealing in some drugs, which weren’t necessary legal. He had been bottling and distributing a few different pills claiming them to be better than the marketed varieties. Someone took a few of them and had them tested at an independent lab, the results claimed they were the equivalent of yard clippings.

“No, Ma’am, I got this.”

Jessica had Bella in the same exam room where I’d first met her. As I crossed the threshold, I lost my breath once again as I took in her tiny body, sitting against the blue paint of the walls and the white of the sheets.

She wore a black skirt, the hem landing just above her knees. Her eyes were transfixed on the sutures I was about to remove. “Bella, good to see you again.” I greeted, tossing her chart on the counter and washing my hands at the sink in an attempt to get my nerves under control. When she didn’t respond, I looked over my shoulder to find her looking around behind her. I held back a laugh as I dried my hands. This girl was something special, but by the looks of it, I was going to have to work to get her to believe it.

Sitting on the wheeled stool, I positioned myself directly in line with her knees. “Your incision looks great. Any pain or discharge?” Ben had been right about her, Bella was as skittish as a newborn kitten, pulling away the second I would touch her. “I’m sorry,” I spoke softly, giving her my best reassuring smile. “Where exactly does it still hurt?”

Bella shook her head frantically, her hair bouncing with the movement, the sweet smell of her shampoo filling the air between us. I loved how she smelled, clean and yet feminine. “I-I’m sorry, it doesn’t hurt, I’m just…” She waved her hands in the air. “Dysfunctional.”

I spent my entire lunch break talking with Bella and removing her sutures. In all actuality, the sutures took less than a minute, but I had to draw it out to keep her talking. There were several other patients who came in needing my help, I would excuse myself each time, asking her politely to stay and wait for me.

Just after nine that evening, I pulled the final stitch, and then cleared my throat, preparing to ask her the question I had avoided for hours.

“Bella, you said you weren’t seeing anyone romantically.” A small smile split her face, “I’m not seeing anyone either,” I shrugged my shoulders as my fingers danced along the edge of the exam table. “Would you consider going out with me?”

I left the hospital the next morning with a smile on my face and a plan in my pocket. Jessica joined me as I began my walk to the parking garage.

“Did she agree to go out with you?”

Activity in the ER had increased as Bella was leaving. Jessica and I worked several accidents and a few bar fights, not allowing much time for small talk. “No, she did not. She told me she had too much baggage to get involved with anyone.”

Jessica’s smile fell as we hit the garage doors. “I’m sorry, Doctor Cullen.”

Holding the door for her, a triumphant smile spread across my face. “I’m not.” I admitted to the confused face of my nurse. “Did you know Thomas Edison was once interviewed and asked how it felt to fail at making the light bulb, over one thousand times?”

Jessica and I stopped in our tracks, her face showing signs of the return of a smile.

“His response was he didn’t fail at anything, he discovered over a thousand different ways not to make a light bulb.”

 

~~**~~

For the next three weeks, I used my friendships with our mutual friends to make it look as if we were running into one another. Each time, I would ask her in a different way if she would go out with me.

In my research on her, I came across an article in a Seattle newspaper of a little girl who had been abandoned by her birth parents. I called my father who confirmed for me this Isabella, and the Bella I knew, were one in the same. He was able to get the records from the adoption and fax them to me. It was no wonder she had been seeing Dr. Volturi for anxiety, she was left alone in her house for nearly six days before the authorities found her. My father agreed to keep this between us, his reasoning being since the charm he’d passed to me was failing at landing a single date with her, no need to get my mother’s hopes up.

On the fourth week, and eleventh try, I used our friend Ben’s new apartment as a reason to host a party. He had been working his balls off saving for a deposit, which I will admit to helping him out considerably. His new apartment was just a few blocks from the hospital and in the center of some great shops and restaurants. After a call to my financial planner, the papers were signed and the keys in Ben’s hand. He agreed to never let Bella know I was his landlord or this party was for her.

The party was in full gear with no sign of the beautiful girl I was trying to win. Ben said he’d spoken with her this afternoon and she told him she would be here. “Hey, man sometimes she gets lost in her work and stays in her office really late.” Ben explained, a fact I was already well aware of. Bella was a copyeditor, hired straight out of college, which was almost unheard of these days.

Just as I was about ready to call this plan a bust, the door opened and the girl of my dreams walked in. I could tell she had rushed here from work, her chest was rising rapidly as if she had run the whole way. Her cheeks were pink from the chill in the October air, giving me a smile and a wish I could place my lips against her face. Her eyes scanned the room, looking desperately for a familiar face. Ben crossed the room, careful not to send her running in the opposite direction. He ushered her in my direction, her shoulders were hunched over as she continued to scan the room. Was she looking for me? I chose to find out, so I sat my beer bottle down and made my way to her.

“Hey, Bella.” I called, getting her attention and a bit of shock in her features. “I didn’t know you knew Ben.” My fingers were crossed behind my back, a folklore from my childhood, giving you permission to lie if your fingers were crossed.

“He is…” Her eyes trailed to Ben and then back to me. “My friend and neighbor.” I knew this, because I was given a list of all the residents when I’d purchased the building.

“Really? Ben and I have known one another for a while now. Although, he never mentioned having such beautiful neighbors.” I winked at her. “Can I get you a drink?” I offered as her eyes looked anywhere but at me.

“I don’t drink.” She snapped back almost defensively.

“Well, then I understand the clumsiness. You must be really dehydrated.” For the first time and I swore it wouldn’t be the last, Bella Swan laughed at my lame sense of humor.

All of the apartments in this building, above the second floor, had a balcony.  I grabbed her a coke, we settled into the pair of chairs and took advantage of Ben’s. After a round of conversation where she got to know things about me, I once again went for broke and asked her out.

“So, let me get this straight; you are single and never been married?”

“No, never married and no relationships.”

“You know, I’m a good guy, with an honest job.”

“Sure, you’re a doctor. But I have a few of those, so it isn’t sayin’ much.”

“Okay, fair enough. But you have to admit, I did help you when you came to my ER.” She bit her bottom lip, a movement I noticed she did when she considered something.

“I’ve asked around about you. My friends say you’re a good guy.”

Of course they did. These were the same friends who threatened my ability to have children in the future if I hurt her. “See, that’s something, right?” I teased her, getting a new smile to shine on her face.

“Yes. Does this line of questioning have any relevance? Or are you just sitting out here with me trying to avoid our friends.” I glanced down at the cup of coffee I had gotten her when I noticed her shiver. I watched her running her index finger around the rim as she looked at me through her lashes.

“It does.” I nod, sitting the matching cup to hers on the floor. “I’m trying to figure out something.” I rested my arms on my thighs, “You say you have no boyfriend or husband. And for as beautiful as you are, I can’t imagine why not. Are you sure there is no guy waiting in the wings you are holding out hope will finally notice you? No religious restrictions, or vows of joining a cult?” I counted off each point on my fingers, watching the flicker of her eyes. “The only conclusion I can arrive at is you have to think I’m ugly.” Watching and waiting is not a virtue I am a card-carrying member of, yet, I know it’s warranted in this situation. I’m wearing her down, I can tell by the way she looks at me and how the lip is captured between those teeth of hers.

“Are you fishing for a compliment? Cause I have to tell you, it’s not a good look on you.” She scrunched up her nose and I can’t help tipping my head back in laughter.

 

“No, Bella. I’m not fishing for anything, other than a date with you.” Watching Bella’s face, an internal war showed battle scars in her eyes. “You know, the second time you came to the ER, you mentioned this baggage you have, something you feel is bad enough or embarrassing enough to drive me away. Maybe if I share what I have hidden away in my past, yours won’t seem so scary.” I reached out to touch her fingers, a bold move considering what I knew about her.

“When I was younger, I wanted to live in a zoo. I rescued every animal which crossed my path, snakes, birds, rabbits, it didn’t matter, I helped them all. Everyone, my parents included, assumed I would grow up to be a veterinarian. But as I grew older and progressed further in school, I began having issues. My Dad took me to a specialist, where they diagnosed me as having dyslexia. I worked with a tutor all four years of highschool and took extra classes in the summer. I didn’t graduate at the top of my class or even in the middle, but I did face the challenge and graduate. I took the MCATs six times before I got into med school. I had to work harder and longer than all of my classmates. Keeping up was hard as hell and many times I thought about tossing in the towel and giving up.” I looked over the railing, the lights of the street glowing back at me.

“But you didn’t, I mean your are a doctor.”

“I am.” Looking back at her, I felt myself drowning in the softness of her face. “My father reminded me, even the person who graduates at the bottom of my class is still called Doctor.”

Bella slowly stood from her chair and leaned over the wrought iron of the railing. The soft breeze caught her hair, whipping it playfully around her face. She stood there silently for several minutes. As bad as I wanted to wrap my arms around her, freeing her from the pain and uncertainty rushing around in her mind, I held myself to my chair, giving her all the space she needed.

“When I was a little girl, my parents left me in a house with no food or running water.” I knew the story, every emotion-evoking syllable of her past. I’d read the reports, the searches for her parents and the adoption. I let her tell her version, some of the details differing from what I knew. “They never found my real parents, it’s as if they disappeared into thin air.”  My heart broke for her, this must be the real reason for the anxiety she suffers from. As children, we forget many things, the innocence we lose as adults makes our minds somehow more able to retain memories.

Bella Swan needed solid memories, ones where she knew she could count on the people around her not to change and not to go away. I was just the person to give them to her.

~~**~~

 

The phone on the other end rang three times. I knew I had one more before the voice mail would pick up and I would miss out on making my mother smile today.

“Edward, what’s wrong?” Her hurried voice startled me as I was about to end the call. I pressed the down arrow on the elevator bank after walking Bella to her front door.

“Nothing is wrong. As a matter of fact, things could not get much better.” I bragged as I entered the elevator, a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

“You met someone!” She shouted and I laughed.

My eyes locked on the closed door of the girl I knew was my forever, “No, I met the someone.”

Our first few dates were repetitious, dinner and a movie, and then home. I called her every night at nine and sent her a text every morning during my run. I had to show her I was a man of my word, never taking or giving more than she could handle. I spent a great deal of time making her laugh and holding her hand, anything to keep her close.

When the lease on my apartment was up, I searched around to find something more permanent, contemplating moving into the same building as Bella. As I was running one morning, I had to take a different street due to a water main break. Using the detour route, I came to a halt outside of a building with a for sale sign in the window. Taking down the number, I contacted the owner and was able to tour the apartment that afternoon. The space needed work, but it was perfect for what I needed; being close to Bella, yet far enough away to give her space.

If things continued to go well with her, I may just be moving her in with me by the time the remodel is finished.

***

“All I’m saying, Son, is make sure this is about Bella and not your need to fix something.” My parents had come into town, partially to see me and run the annual marathon, but mostly to meet Bella. We had been together for almost six months and while the time together had been great, it wasn’t without its challenges.

More than a month into our relationship, I tested the waters to see if she was willing to have sex with me. She pushed me away, stood from the couch and excused herself. Three days later, she showed up at the hospital, a tin of cookies in hand and an apology on her lips. She gave me an open door to end the relationship, explaining she was holding on to her virginity until the moment she felt it was right to part with it. I pulled her close, reassuring her we were solid and I was willing to wait as long as she needed me to. Taking her face between my palms, I kissed her lips and confessed my feelings for her. “I love you, Bella.”

When the renovations were complete, I made an elaborate dinner and invited Bella over. After giving her the tour, I asked her to consider moving in with me. She refused, no thinking about it, no sleeping on it, a quick and abrupt no.

“Trust me, Dad. I love her for the woman she is, and not the one she has potential to be.”

My parents absolutely adored Bella, considered her an instant member of the family. Alice and Jasper flew in after talking with Mom and hearing how wonderful she was. They’d made more visits to Chicago after I started seeing Bella than in the many years I had lived there.

Before my family left that weekend, they all exchanged numbers with Bella and included her in all of the family get togethers for the next year.

The chief of staff at the hospital I worked for called me into his office one afternoon. He had been contact by HR, advising him of the excessive amount of vacation I had accumulated. I called my Mother, asking her to help me plan a special getaway for the family, I was ready to ask Bella to marry me.

I contacted Bella’s father, practically giving him the blood from my body in a promise I would always take care of his little girl. Arranging time off with her work was a breeze, her boss was a sap for a good love story.

My coworkers loved Bella almost as much as my family did. She would bring the nurses trays of sugary goodies, even on the days I didn’t work.

My heart raced and my body shook after I dropped to one knee, asking her the biggest question of our lives. Waiting for her answer, as the sweat dripped down my back and the nerves rocked my gut, was worse than any exam I ever took.

Both of our mothers cried when she finally gave me the answer I’d hoped for. Plans of parties and registries filled the room as Bella wrapped herself around me. Later, after everyone went to sleep, she crawled into my room and tried to give herself to me. It took everything I had, but I sent her back to her room, virginity in tact.

When we returned to Chicago, we were met with the news of Dr. Volturi’s arrest. A number of psychiatrists opened once closed doors to accommodate the patient’s left by his imprisonment. Bella went out on her own, choosing a doctor whose practices were considered alternative. Dr. Meyers wanted to wean Bella off her meds, getting rid of the chemicals and dealing with the issues, not bandaging them.

For months, Bella refused, claiming she was too afraid to handle things without the medications she had taken for years. One evening, she came to me, asking for my help as she wanted to one day have children with me.

With Dr. Meyers’ help, she started the process of weaning. For a few days she was physically sick and I took time to stay with her, holding her hand as the chemicals left her blood stream. My parents called everyday to check on her, my father advising me of what I should be giving her to help the withdrawal.

“Edward, have you thought about what this will mean for you when she isn’t dependent anymore? Not just the drugs, but on you?”

I laid on the couch, holding a sleeping Bella, my father’s question running on a loop inside my head. It plagued me for weeks after, even into the night we had planned for me, together. I would go out with a group of friends and she would remain home, trusting I was coming back to her.

My cousin, Emmett, took time from his own busy schedule to help us. He loved Bella and offered to keep an eye on me. She begged him to go have fun with me and not worry about her.

With each hour that passed and each beer I consumed, my fear of her no longer needing me grew. Would she break off the engagement? Choosing to find a new guy to go along with the new person she had become.

When I saw her standing there, hair pulled back and dressed in the clothes she wore around her house, I knew something was wrong. The words that left my mouth, screamed into a crowd of dancing drunks, had to come from someone else. A vile and hateful person who had no self control or character. But they did come from me, and as Bella has always been, she took every foul word and internalized it.

The girl I found tasted wrong, like peaches and strawberries, not the mint Bella loved so much. Yet I kept kissing her, wrapping my body around the giggling girl. Others joined me and I allowed myself to fall into an alcoholic haze.

A hand on my shoulder, painful enough to wake up a dead man, which I was in a sense, yanked the bottle from my hand. “Shut the fuck up and follow me.” He commanded, his eyes showing so much more than disappointment.

The cool air of the Chicago night hit me in the face, sobering me. My ears buzzed from the absence of the loud music, disorienting me until Emmett grabbed my shoulder again, tossing me into the side of a taxi.

“Uncle Carlisle is hurt bad.” He shoved a rolled up paper against my chest. “Bella was here to give you the news and get your ass on an airplane, not to fucking check on you like you accused her.” Fire lapped at his words, hurt reflected in his eyes. “Aunt Esme has been calling you all night.”

Checking my pockets, I found my cell phone buried deep in the front with my wallet. Swiping the face, I see twelve missed calls and a few text messages.

I try to turn back around, intending go inside, find Bella and apologize to her, but Emmett grabs me again. “Nope, you need to get your ass on a plane.”

Anger fills my throat as my rage builds inside my chest. “I have to get Bella.” I argued, attempting to push him away.

“She’s gone, man. You told her to leave.” With one phrase, a smattering of words placed together, my world crashed around me. Right before I crawled into the car, I looked to my friend Ben, his eyes said it all; I had fucked this up, possibly beyond repair.

During the drive to the airport, I kept the windows down, hoping the cool air would give me some clarity and remove the stench from my clothes.

I tried Bella’s phone, but the recording told me her line was no longer in service. While my words were loud and harsh toward her, the silence she gave me in return was louder and just as painful. It would take a miracle to bring her back to me.

I stopped in the bathroom just inside the airport to wash my face and get a grasp on what was happening. I called my mother, letting her know I was at the airport and on my way. She reminded me to be careful and apologized for not finding another flight tonight for Bella. When mom told me she would be there early in the morning, I hoped I’d be able to speak with her.

As the plane taxied down the runway, It took everything in my power to remain in my seat. I needed to vomit and when the seatbelt sign went out, I bolted to the bathroom to rid myself of the contents of my stomach. Three times I revisited, finally ending a night which had become a living hell.

Dad had been in surgery for several hours when I finally arrived in Seattle. I grew up in this hospital and not much had changed since I’d left for medical school. I found my mother and sister in the surgery waiting area. Alice was curled in a ball, her belly full with the baby she expected in a few short weeks. My brother-in-law, Jasper, cradling her head on his lap, exhaustion coating his face.

Emmett came in forty five minutes after I did. A friend of his owned a private jet and had just returned from a vacation in New York. He tried to contact Bella and bring her with him, but just as I already knew, her phone had been disconnected.

Emmett tried to get the staff to let him scrub in, but he didn’t practice at this hospital and was too close to the patient. So we all sat and waited, Emmett keeping quiet about the shit show of my life back in Chicago.

Almost two hours after I arrived, my father came out of surgery, alive but not out of the woods. With my credentials and my mom being…well, my mom, we were allowed to sit by his side in the ICU as he continued to remain in his medically induced sleep.

As a doctor, I’m no stranger to the horrific sights you will find a surgery patient in, as a son, nothing can prepare you for how the man who has taught you everything looks so broken, lying in a hospital bed.

Mom sat beside him, wrapping her hands around his and saying words only her and God could hear. When she finished, I pulled the hard plastic chair to his side, said a silent prayer and allowed my exhaustion to envelope me.

I saw Bella standing on the other side of a train. She was waving for me to come to her side of the tracks, calling my name as she waved her hand. I could see and hear the train as it roared between us, but after it passed, she was gone. I woke with a jolt, panic touching my heart until I realized it was a dream.

Reaching to wipe the sleep from my eyes, the bright rays of the new day nearly blinded me in this white room, I felt something scratch my face. Pulling my hands back to see what was hurting me, the panic returned, Bella’s ring sat on the first knuckle of my right hand.

My father was still asleep, but my mother sat quietly knitting in the corner, a soft hum accompanying her task. “Emmett told me what happened,” her eyes stayed trained on her yarn and needles. “Bella left about an hour ago.”

I immediately shot to my feet, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

Her fingers stopped as her eyes slowly met mine, a spiked brow marring her face. “And let you scream at her again? I don’t think so, not in my presence anyway.” She returned to her knitting, her words final.

A soft knock rapped at the door before I could say anything further. I was going to apologize for being an ass to Bella and a disappointment to my mother.

“I’m sorry, but the nurse said I could have five minutes.” Charlie Swan stood in the door frame, his uniform crisp and gun in place. “I figured this would be the safest time to come in and say what I need to.”

“Of course, Charlie. You’re family, no matter what my son has done.” It was there in her voice, the embarrassment and sadness, and I couldn’t bear to know it was my ignorance that put it there.

Charlie remained in the doorway, his hands resting angrily on his hips. “I took her to the airport, making sure her plane took off before I left.” Rocking back and forth on his toes, he gave me a look. I had seen my father give the same one to Jasper when he had done something wrong with Alice. “You swore to me,” his words catching, the emotions trapped there by his own will. “You would never hurt her and now she…” He cleared his throat with a shake of his head. “Well, let’s just say she asked her mother to cancel the wedding planning.”

It took both my mother and myself a good bit of convincing to get Charlie to agree to wait on cancelling. He had no reason to believe me or what I once again swore to him. But he did feel as if he could trust my mother and agreed to do it for her.

The next day, my father woke from the anesthesia. After his doctor gave him an assessment, he gave instruction for my mother to go home and rest.

“Fine, but you need to have a word with your son, about respect.” Mom collected her things and kissed my father, letting him know she would be back later in the evening. After she left with a kiss and an I’m sorry from me, I settled back into the plastic chair and told my father every detail of what had happened.

“You know, Edward, my scars will heal. I will get out of this bed and back into the one I share with your mother, but I will never forgive myself for what I did to cause the worry I put her through. You’re going to have to work hard, and I mean harder than you have ever worked in your life, if you want to get her back. Returning a ring is a strong message.“ Nodding my head in agreement, I twisted her ring round and round between my fingers and thumb. “But it isn’t permanent, until another lucky bastard claims her with his own ring. If you can live with that, well it’s your decision. But if you can’t imagine a single day without her, use the pain crawling in your chest to fuel your drive to get her back. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is.”

 

~~**~~

The smell of Bella was gone from my apartment, almost as if she had never existed. Tossing my body onto the couch, I felt something poke me from beside the throw pillow. It was a bookmark, one she’d picked up at an art fair last spring. Removing her ring from my pocket, I slid the tassel through the ring and secured it. I made myself a promise, both of them would one day be back in her hands.

I looked around the room at all the photos she had changed, the only one remaining was of the two of us on my cell phone. I would change this too, bringing her back here where she belonged.

I took to waiting outside her apartment like I did when I first met her, watching her leave early and come home late, a dingy sweater tucked around her and the glasses she never wore after she got contacts, sitting once again on her face. When I wasn’t at work or sleeping in the on call room, I was sitting here in the shadows, waiting to catch a glimpse of her.

My father phoned me as I contemplated a run, letting me know he had sent her an email, asking her to meet me at a coffee shop we had frequented often. I volunteered to work the night before as I knew I would never sleep while waiting to see her.

A last minute emergency had me running out the door just to make it on time, my clothes and hair were a hot mess from being worn two days in a row. Seeing the bag on the table, I knew my time to act was fading fast.

“Emmett, I worry if I say the wrong thing she’ll take off and I’ll never see her again. Or if I move too fast she will revert back to not speaking to me.” I had been doing everything I could to show her how much I loved her. Taking things at a snail’s pace wasn’t fun, but necessary.

“I’m not going to say a word about her wanting to bring a friend today, anything to get her to go out with me.” Emmett’s body was in the chair beside me, but his heart found its way to the girl Bella came in with. Seeing the instant love between them, I knew there was still hope for us.

One of the rare days off I took, I received a call from Jasper. He had a recently had lunch with an old colleague. “Guess who he says sent him a resume?” Jasper’s friend now worked in a publishing house back in Seattle. He passed along his name and number, so I gave him a call.

“Is Bella a girlfriend of yours or something?” He questioned, surprised at someone calling out of the blue.

“No,” the admission created a hole in my chest, begging me to fill it with something Bella. “I know her work and the level of devotion she brings to the table.”

Maybe it was manipulative on my part, but I had been wanting to move closer to my parents for a while. If Bella got a job in Seattle, this boy would go with her, either by her side or stalking her from the shadows.

The moment Bella walked down the aisle and into my arms, will be the day I truly believed in miracles. Forgiveness didn’t  come easy from her or myself. As hard as we worked on getting her off the medication, we worked even harder at trusting each other.

As I laid her down on the white sheets of our honeymoon suit, her dark hair fanned over the pillow, I finally saw the understanding and acceptance in her eyes. I kissed and licked every inch of her body before I slid my length into her, consummating not only our marriage, but our souls as well. Making love to my wife, my Bella, was beyond any fantasy I could ever have dreamed.

~~**~~

 

“But, Dad, Anna said she never wanted to see me again.” Mason, my second son, had just broken up with his girlfriend of two years. A rumor of his being seen with another girl floated around his school. He had come home and immediately run up to his room. Bella had started up the stairs, but I asked her to let me handle it this.

“Mason, women are complex creatures, ruled by the same hormones that make us like them so much. Right now, she is mad and probably crying. Give her a little time and then apologize.”

My son’s head shot up, his face contorting in confusion. “But Dad, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was with you and Momma when this party happened.”

Placing my hand on his shoulder, “You will learn at an early age a few things which will keep you in the good graces of the women in your life.” Leaning back into his headboard, he crossed his arms in defiance.

“Rule number one; nine times out of ten, the man is the one in the wrong.”

“Rule two, in reference to rule one; it is never too late to say I’m sorry.”