Monday, December 12, 2016 | By: Drotuno

Even In Death Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – Give Me a Reason
Give me a reason to believe that you're gone
I see your shadow so I know they're all wrong
Moonlight on the soft brown earth
It leads me to where you lay
They took you away from me but now I'm taking you home
“Even In Death” by Evanescence
EDWARD
Music pounded out of earbuds into my ears at the same rhythm as my feet touched the sidewalk. Muscles burned, lungs ached, and my heart hurt. Though, the latter had nothing to do with the five mile run I was pushing at the moment.
Focusing on each step, I tried to get my mind back to the present, not the past. I had to keep going, pushing, reaching…for her. I couldn’t lie down and curl up into a ball. I couldn’t waste away, and I couldn’t stop living, because she never would’ve wanted that. That last thought had me gritting my teeth and pumping my legs harder. Try as I might, I couldn’t run away from it, and I couldn’t escape the fact that my time off was over. 

The sun was just about completely up as I rounded the last corner. The mere sight of the house was just another stab to the chest. Despite its new white paint and blue shutters, that house was now haunted. Or maybe I was the haunted one.
Taking the porch steps two at a time, I sighed down at yellow-green eyes. “Morning, Steve,” I mumbled, trying to catch my breath. Shaking my head, I reached down to scratch the top of the ginger-tabby cat’s head. He darted inside the house as soon as I opened the door. “She’s not here, buddy.”
He stopped to face me with an almost accusatory glare, but then he took off to search the house anyway.
“Trust me,” I muttered, squeezing my eyes closed as I slammed the front door. “I wish she were.”
We’d had this argument every damn morning for going on almost a month. Orange tail high, he wandered around the house, because Steve adored my wife, and he simply couldn’t accept the fact that she was gone.
He wasn’t the only one.
It was one thing studying the five stages of grief in medical school; it was another experiencing them for myself. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – I was pretty sure they didn’t go in order, and I was damned certain I experienced them all on a daily basis. And sometimes, all at once.
Anger was my favorite. Anger plus denial made things easier. Anger gave me strength to get out of the bed we’d shared, to feed Steve when he’d rather it be her, and to face the fact that I had a residency I had to get back to at Harbor Medical Center.
I’d taken leave for a month – at first it was to move into the house, and then it was for Bella.
The thought of her name had my eyes burning as I reached for a bottle of water in the fridge. Shaking my head, I chugged the whole thing, leaning on the kitchen counter as Steve made his rounds all over the house. When he was convinced she wasn’t hiding, he hopped up onto the counter to head-butt my chin.
“Tried to tell ya,” I whispered, meeting those yellow-green eyes again as he looked at me like it was my fault. Snorting, I nodded. “It was my fault, Steve. I never should’ve let her go alone. Okay? I get it.”
I gave him a scoop of food and then left the kitchen for the stairs. I stepped around unpacked boxes and walked by unfinished rooms to get to the master bedroom. It was all I could do to breathe every time I stepped into that room. If another room had been finished, I’d have slept there, but as it was, I was too tired, too attached to this room – the books she was reading on her nightstand, the pillows that smelled like her hair despite the clean cases, and the memories that filled that space. It was the one of the few rooms Bella had almost finished unpacking. It was the one room that held the thickest, rawest, most amazing memories, because in that room, I’d loved my wife with every inch of my heart, body, and soul.
However, my eyes narrowed. Something seemed different, changed, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. Scanning the room, I noted pictures in frames – our wedding, dates, silly parties at UW. I took in my side of the dresser, my nightstand, and even her stuff, and I couldn’t quite tell what had changed, if anything. However, my cell phone lit up, and I saw I’d missed a few calls and voice mails. Putting them on speaker, I listened as I gathered up my things to take a shower.
“Dr. Masen, it’s Roxanne. Dr. Phillips wanted me to let you know that you need to meet with the new chief of staff today when you come in. He’s been meeting with all the residents, so he wants to see you your first day back…” She trailed off a bit, but I could hear her sigh deeply. “And Edward, please let us know if there’s anything you need.”
The next message wasn’t surprising.
“Hey, son,” Charlie mumbled into the phone. “Just checking in on ya, kid. First day back at work and all… Anyway, I need to know what you want to do with Bella’s car, Edward. They’ve released it, and I had that tire fixed…”
His voice broke, because I may have lost my wife, but he’d lost his little girl, and I honestly didn’t know which was worse. And it was all over a fucking flat tire right around the corner from his house.
“Just…call me when you can. Let me know what you want to do. And good luck back at the hospital today.”
The phone bleeped, signaling another message, but no one spoke, so I walked over to my phone and deleted them all before heading into the bathroom. I’d call Charlie back later because I honestly didn’t have an answer for him. I needed to brace myself for work, to put on a façade that I was fine, that I would be okay. However, I was not fine, and I honestly felt like nothing would ever be “okay” again.
~ooo~EID~ooo~
Stepping back into the hospital was just as daunting as I’d expected. Not only was it just as full of memories of Bella as our house, but everyone I worked with looked at me with sadness and worry and pity. It didn’t matter that I’d just started at Harbor as a resident. My wife had been extraordinarily proud of me, of my hard work, and she’d visited often, which meant everyone had already gotten to know her, and they all loved her.
Hell, loving Bella came easy. I’d pretty much fallen head over heels in love with that beautiful girl the second my eyes fell on her at the campus library at UW. Shy, sweet, smart Bella, but with an underlying strength and loyalty and sensuality that rendered me speechless that first day.
I could feel everyone’s gaze on me as I made my way upstairs to the chief of staff’s office, some surreptitiously and some blatant in their study of me. I wasn’t sure what they expected me to do, perhaps break down into tears or rage against the unfairness of it all. I’d already done that…every damn day since I’d gotten the call from Charlie. I’d already lost it this morning when the alarm broke me out of dreams of her, dreams that were never the same. Sometimes those dreams were memories – a reliving of our past, of dates and kisses and declarations of love. Sometimes, though, the dreams were harsh, an in-my-face reminder that she’d been taken away from me. Dreams were occasionally cruel, with Bella leaving me, or she haunted me in some sort of a nightmarish gruesome entity where she was covered in dirt and blood.
I shook my head as I walked into Roxanne’s reception area, trying to clear my head of the nightmares. Sadly, I’d take any form of Dream Bella I could get. Good, bad, scary – it simply didn’t matter. I missed her too much for it to matter.
“Dr. Masen,” Roxanne whispered, getting up from her desk. She was an older woman, with hazel eyes and a kind voice. She hugged me like a mother would, practically cradling me, which made me smile down at her for her kindness. She pulled back, cupping my face. “I won’t ask how you’re doing. I can see it.” She dragged a thumb gently beneath my eye. “And I won’t spew that BS about how it gets better with time, either. It’s hard. And it’s every damn day; you just learn to live with it. She was a beautiful girl, Edward, and I know you’re hurting. Just know you don’t have to hurt alone. You can come talk to me any time.”
Roxanne’s honesty made me smile the first true smile in days. Nodding, I hugged her again and thanked her. Bella and I had lived in the same apartment building as Roxy before we’d bought the house. She’d always been kind to us, even more so since I’d started at HMC. She’d been the assistant to the chief of staff who brought me in for my residency. Dr. Rollins had retired, and instead of promoting within, they’d brought someone from another hospital, which had caused a stir while I was out on leave.
“How is he?” I asked her in a whisper.
“Handsome!” she gushed like a girl, blushing a little. “He’s younger than I’d expected. But he’s kind and soft-spoken. He came highly recommended, and I’m starting to see why. He’s very good with people, very good at catching things other doctors miss. He likes to fill in down in the ER.”
My eyebrows shot up at that, but I nodded in acceptance. “Fair enough, Roxy. Is he in?”
“Yeah, and expecting you. Go on in, sweetheart. And come see me for lunch; I’ll take my break with you.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
I gave the office door a light knock and heard someone call for me to come on in. The man behind the desk looked up, and my first instinct was fear or trepidation, but I smiled anyway. His return smile was soft and small and kind as he stood up. He was younger, with blond hair and golden-hazel eyes.
“Dr. Masen, it’s good to finally meet you. I’m Dr. Carlisle Cullen.”
“Nice to meet you, sir. Call me Edward,” I told him as I took a seat in front of his desk.
He smiled gently, opening a folder in front of him. “I’m sure I’ve caused a bit of a stir around here, but I assure you, I wasn’t aware of starting any trouble when I accepted this position.”
Chuckling softly, I nodded. “Well, I wasn’t around for the explosion, so…you’re safe with me.”
A wry smirk crossed his features, but he nodded. “You’re currently working pediatrics. Is that your focus?”
“Yeah, definitely, but I don’t mind emergency either, so…” I shrugged a shoulder. The fire I’d had for work wasn’t back yet, and I briefly wondered if I’d ever feel the same about anything ever again.
Dr. Cullen closed my file, leaning on the top of his desk. “Tell me about yourself, Edward… Tell me what’s not in your file.”
Snorting a little, I nodded. “I was born in Chicago. My parents died when I was in middle school – a car accident. I was raised by my grandmother, who passed away last year. I play the piano for my own entertainment, and I run just about every morning. I attended the University of Washington, where…” I let out a deep breath, glancing down at my hands where my wedding band gleamed in the fluorescent lighting. I gave it a slow twist around my finger. “I met… I met my wife there. We married a little over a year ago, but…” Swallowing back the lump in my throat. “My Bella was taken from me almost a month ago. That’s why I was on leave.”
“I’m so very sorry for your loss, Edward.” He frowned, his eyes warm. “May I ask what happened?”
Squeezing my eyes closed, I nodded as I took a minute to get the words together. My fingers were still toying with my wedding band, which I refused to take off. “She’s from a small town…Forks. It’s about a three-hour drive from here. We… We’d taken a week off to move. It was the perfect time, after med school and just before I got too busy here. We’d just bought our first house, and…” Squeezing my eyes closed, I fought the tears. “She… Sh-She wanted to go visit her dad, who’s the chief of police there. He’d been working hard on a few issues in town, and since we’d both taken time off to move, she drove down to spend the day with him.” Sniffing, I glanced up to see Dr. Cullen listening intently. “She had a flat tire not far from him when she started back home, and she called him to come help her. She called me, too, but he was closer. Sometime between her calls and Charlie arriving to her car, she…she…”
My hands balled up into fists in my lap, and I heard Dr. Cullen murmur, “Take your time, son.”
“Charlie said that there had been a few animal attacks in the area – bears or wolves or something. Forks is set in the woods. When he got there, her…there was… Blood was everywhere, along with ripped-up pieces of her clothes, and the lights of the car were still on. The keys were still in the ignition. Her purse was still in the passenger seat. She was gone, along with her phone, but…she always tucked that into her back pocket. He called me, and I’m pretty sure I broke some sort of speeding record to get there, but no searches turned anything up. She… There were a lot of torn-up spots on the ground in different places, so…we’re sure she wouldn’t have made it. I…”
I trailed off a bit, the anger returning sharp and heavy. I glared at my wedding band, speaking through gritted teeth. “I can’t even bury my wife…or…or have her cremated. There’s just…fucking nothing.”
Wincing, I realized I’d just cursed in front of my superior, so immediately, I glanced up. “Sorry, sir.”
“No need to apologize, son,” he said through a deep sigh, sitting back in his chair a little. “Edward, are you talking to anyone about this?”
I shook my head no. “No, sir. I just came back today.”
“You’re…what? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? That’s young to be married these days, isn’t it?”
“Twenty-four, actually. I doubled up on classes and took summer courses to get ahead.” I couldn’t help but smile and nod a little when his eyebrows raised up a bit, but I fiddled with my wedding ring again. “Yeah, but Bella… She was it for me. You don’t understand just how…perfect we were together.”
“Tell me about her.”
I glanced up, thinking that was a cruel request, but my gaze met only warm, innocent curiosity. There was something else in that gaze, too, but I couldn’t quite place it. But talking about my Bella was a double-edged sword. Remembering her was comforting, but it was harsh that all I had were the amazing memories and what-might-have-beens.
“Bella was…beautiful,” I started softly, smiling at that, because she never believed just how gorgeous I thought she was. “She was sweet and selfless and strong. And oh my God, she was smart.” I huffed a small laugh, glancing back at him. “She was a bookworm, which made her job at the campus library perfect for her, and later, she worked for a branch of the Seattle Public Library. When I met her I was…shy, introverted. I’d lost my parents just before high school, and living with my grandmother made me different than the kids at school, so I stayed to myself. Going to UW was a shock and scary. My grandmother wasn’t really healthy enough to be raising a teen boy, so I took care of her, which meant I didn’t date or party. Girls were…not exactly unimportant, but I was so focused on getting into college and medical school, not to mention my grandmother was a bit strict, that I just…”
I trailed off, wrinkling my nose a bit at how awkward that made me sound. I’d known a few girls through school, but I simply was too shy and too damn busy to do anything about it.
“Anyway, the second I set eyes on this…this…petite brunette, with eyes like melted chocolate and a smile that lit up her whole face…” I chuckled and shook my head slowly. “She scared me to death because everything hit me all at once. I…I wanted to protect her from the male students eyeing her like something to eat. I wanted to make her smile as much as possible because it made her look like an angel. And all the things I never had time for prior to that moment, I suddenly wanted to make time for – dates, calls, talking, flirting. All at once.” I grinned when Dr. Cullen laughed quietly. “All of it. And I did, because she made me feel like I was the only guy in the room. She had no time or patience for anyone else.”
I sighed, sitting up a little. “Anyway, we started dating, and then we became more. Eventually, we moved in together, but I knew after our first date that I’d never feel for anyone the way I felt for her. I asked her to marry me the summer before our senior year. We got married just before I was finished with medical school. Six years…she was everything to me.” Frowning down at my wedding band, I gave it a twist around my finger. “It wasn’t perfect all the time, but we worked stuff out. She wanted to work, but she didn’t have to. I was so very busy all the time – studying, long days, and then just starting my residency here. But when we made time…” I shook my head slowly, smiling sadly. “We were perfect again.”
I went quiet for a moment. “Now…I feel lost without her. It hurts to breathe. I feel like there’s a part of me missing – a hole in my chest – that nothing will ever be okay again. And I know that’s a part of grieving, but I’m not sure I can ever get to a point to let her go. I look for her everywhere – the house, on my drive to work, on my runs in the morning, in my dreams. Hell, even our cat still looks for her.”
“It’ll get better, son.”
I hummed noncommittally. “It doesn’t feel that way, but I know I’m supposed to keep going. I know she’d be mad if I gave up, so… Here I am.”
Dr. Cullen smiled sadly, and he let out a deep sigh as he glanced out the window of his office. “Edward, I think you should talk to someone, and if you don’t want to do that, at least come see me anytime. Okay?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll think about it,” I told him, standing when he did.
“I’ll let you get back to the ER.”
We shook hands, and I left his office, waving at Roxy on my way out. I started to note all the things I still needed to do. The task list was daunting – the hardest one concerning Bella’s car – but I’d figure it out and call Charlie when I got home.

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