Deep breath in, deep breath out, in, out, in, out. I could feel the hairs on my neck stand on end as the stench of blood filled the air. My blood? I didn't know and I couldn't make myself focus on this trivial point.
I felt tears slide down my cheeks as I gasped for fresh air; any air. I had to find a way out of the building. The heat from the fire was becoming too intense. I had to get out of here. I had to get out of here now!
Or did I? Was this the escape I was waiting for? If I died in this fire it would look like an accident. And better still, I would be free from the ambush of the memories and hallucinations. It would be over. I wouldn't have to wear a mask day in, day out to try and prove to everyone that I was okay. I would be free.
This sounded very appealing to me, probably more appealing than it should. I gave up the pointless struggle of finding an exit and, instead, found the nearest wall to lean against. The thoughts of escaping my mundane meaningless life had comforted me somewhat; my heart wasn't pounding as hard, even my shallow breathing seemed calmer. I closed my eyes, allowing the fire to engulf me.
When my knees gave way and I slouched onto the floor I didn't struggle or protest.
'It's nearly over' I assured myself. 'In a few minutes I wont have to worry about keeping up a façade to hide how broken my heart is; I wont have to worry about the gaping hole in my chest threatening to take over my life; I wont have to worry about hearing his name.'
But I was unable to help myself; I had to say his name one last time before I died. I needed to have that constant memory.
"Edward" I whispered, almost soundlessly. I allowed myself to remember him fully, the sound of his velvet voice, his unique smell, the feel of his arms as they were wrapped around me protectively…
Just as the calm was taking over I felt something that seemed…wrong. Against the smothering heat of the fire, I felt a coolness touch my face, my hands and my arms. Before I could force my eyes open I felt the floor disappear from under me. Was this it? Has it all over? Was I dead?
But that theory was quashed as soon as I felt a blast of fresh air blow over my face. Automatically my lungs expanded in the hope of receiving oxygen. I coughed and spluttered while my mind was frantically trying to make sense of what had happened. One second I had been on the verge of death and moments later I was out of the burning building and supposedly safe. This didn't make sense. Well, it didn't up until I heard something that made my heart freeze and my muscles go into lock down.
"Bella," a velvet voice pleaded. "Bella, please wake up. Come on love."
My eyes shot open so I could stare at my rescuer. As soon as his golden eyes met my brown ones every word that I had prepared died on my lips. Edward didn't seem to mind my muteness though.
"Let's get you to Carlisle" he said gently. But instead of just scooping me up in his arms – as he usually did – he paused, as if asking for my permission.
I managed to nod before melting into his marble arms.
It had been almost four years since Edward had disappeared assuring me that he didn't love me anymore. I had never managed to get my life totally back on track, but at least I had stopped myself completely falling apart.
After about a year of hell I managed to fool the people around me into thinking that I was in some way normal. Eventually people stopped staring at me as if I was a ticking time bomb. I think that they were beginning to forget the cause of my major meltdown but I would never forget. The Cullens were permanently imprinted on my mind. But even at this I had reconciled myself with the fact that I would never see any of them again. Therefore you can imagine my disbelief when I was presented to the Cullens in my semi-conscience state.
"There was a fire. I had to save her…" Edward explained quietly, seemingly regretting his decision.
After this insight into the enigmatic mind of Edward Cullen, everything went out of focus. I was vaguely aware of being placed onto a bed. I was sure that there were people fussing over me for a while but, for some reason, I was totally sapped of energy and unable to form words or even force my eyes open.
I struggled against the blankets that were covering me but with every slight movement a jolt of blinding pain surged through me. The obvious thing would have been to give up and stop fighting the pain but I needed to get up and get back to Charlie. He would be worried; I wasn't sure how long I had been out but I had a feeling it was a considerable time. I knew that I had to leave but I still couldn't muster the strength.
"You're awake" a cheerful melodic voice commented.
I turned slightly to see Alice standing in the doorway.
"Where am I?" I asked, considering it an obvious question.
"Edward's room, he insisted that you stayed here even though my room would be a lot more suited to you. More specifically you are in Mobile, Alabama."
I nodded as my tired brain tried to process this information. "Why am I here?" I enquired gloomily.
Alice didn't answer for a moment. I noticed her eyes flash toward the bandages that were littering almost every inch of my body. I hadn't noticed those previously. "You were pretty badly burnt" Alice muttered, all traces of cheerfulness gone. "Edward thought that you would be better off with Carlisle as a doctor than anyone else. They were working on you for…ages and you have been totally out of it for almost five days. They were really worried about you for a while; you had a fever and your body was getting severely dehydrated because you were unable to replace the fluids you were losing. They couldn't put you on an IV drip because the burns were preventing them finding a vein… I couldn't see whether you were going to get through it or not because your condition kept changing. You really scared us."
"What reason would you have to be scared?" I wondered aloud.
"No offence, but when you guys left you made it pretty clear that you had no strong feelings for me either way. So, why would the fact that I am on the brink of death be of any interest to you at all?" As I talked I could gauge Alice's reaction through her topaz eyes. It was as if what I was saying was the most sacrilegious oath that anyone had ever uttered; jeez she was a good actor.
Alice crossed the room muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "stupid, stupid Edward."
Yes, Edward was stupid! He was stupid to save me; stupid to bring me here; stupid to waste his time worrying about me when he was just going to send me back to Forks as soon as he had enough.
"I must get back to Forks, Charlie will be worried" I murmured making another attempt to get up. But again the blinding pain at every movement inhibited progress.
"Bella, please try not to move. That will only make matters worse" Alice sighed. "Carlisle and Edward will be back in about fifteen minutes, until then can you try and keep out of trouble?"
I just nodded to show Alice that I was going to comply.
"Is Charlie okay?" I asked, by way of making conversation.
"He's fine," Alice replied gently "he was suffering from a little smoke inhalation but nothing half as bad as you. Carlisle rings him regularly to give him updates on your condition. He also had to come up for a plausible reason to explain why you suddenly disappeared from Washington and ended up in Alabama. So, you can stay here as long as you need to and you don't have to worry about your father, okay?"
"Okay" I managed to mutter. I felt unbelievably relieved, at least Charlie was okay. I vaguely wondered what excuse they had come up with for my disappearance. If Alice had anything to do with it couldn't but be innovative.
Alice made idle conversation until Carlisle and Edward returned. While there was never an empty moment or an inkling of awkwardness, we both knew that neither of us was talking about what we wanted to talk about. The happenings of three years ago never came up but it was on the tip of my tongue the whole time. I know it was kind of unreasonable and very ungrateful but I needed explanations.
After exactly fifteen minutes a kind voice from the door signified the boys return.
"Good Afternoon Bella" the voice of Carlisle Cullen greeted. "How are you feeling?"
As he spoke he floated over to my side. With gentle hands he lifted the various dressings on various wounds examining each one with a careful precision. He questioned me about whether they hurt etc. Once his examination was over he insisted on giving me morphine for the pain; I couldn't say no!
Alice watched from his side, watching with unveiled interest, looking like an exemplary nurse. I noticed Edward standing in the doorway. He never came too close or made any attempt to help. Well, I guess I know how he felt about me.
Carlisle ordered Alice to get me something to eat, preferably something light. His parting order to me was to drink lots of water. With that both he and Alice left; leaving me alone with Edward.
Once we were alone, Edward didn't wait a moment before coming closer. He sat on the edge of my bed and slipped his hand into mine. The coolness of his hand came as a major relief to my scorching one.
"Are you feeling okay?" he demanded soothingly. "Is the morphine kicking in? Do you want me to open a window for some fresh air? Do you feel up to eating something or should I deter food?"
"I'm fine thank you" I said as detachedly as I could. But it was hard to remain detached as I realised that Edward Cullen, Edward Cullen, was sitting next to me on a bed, worrying about my wellbeing. This was the moment that I had been waiting for, for three long years.
'Cop on,' I told myself 'he is only being polite. As soon as I am feeling better he will ditch me again. I can't possibly live through that torture again…'
"I was so worried" Edward confessed. "When I saw you there in the middle of the fire, I thought I had lost you."
I stared at him, confused. Surely I had lost him three years ago when he decided that he had had enough of me; that he didn't love me anymore.
"I just thank whatever God is out there" he went on, ignoring my bemusement "that I decided to go check on you on that day. I mean you if I hadn't you would be…dead" he said the last word with a certain amount of distaste.
Now I was even more confused. He decided to check on me? What did he mean? I decided to ask him; at least if I understood that I might have a chance of understanding of his other ramblings.
Edward smiled his dazzling half-smile. "I couldn't bear to live without you Bella, not the same way you managed to live without me. After about six months I took to checking on you. Mostly I would just sit outside your bedroom window and watch you sleep – like before – but sometimes I would trespass on the minds of your friends and family. That was the only way to determine how you were. At first, I must admit that, I was really worried about you but slowly I began to notice improvement. You managed to move on with your life a little. I started visiting less and less, satisfied that you were going to be okay (and that was all that mattered to me). And then you pull a stunt like this?" he said gesturing to the burns that covered every other inch of my body.
I barely had time to acknowledge the fact that I had my own personal stalker that I hadn't even noticed. That last comment couldn't go unchallenged.
"I didn't start the fire" I hissed. I wasn't actually as angry as I hoped I was coming across. Inside, I was thrilled! Edward had been checking up on me for the last two and a half years. That meant he had to feel something, no matter how minute.
"No, you didn't," Edward agreed, "but you did give up. You could have easily found a way out. How long had you lived in that house? You could have found an exit if you tried hard enough, but you didn't! You just gave up; you left yourself for dead. If I hadn't turned up you would have been dead!"
There was a degree of pent up emotion in his velvet voice that even the biggest sceptic could not ignore.
"I had to…escape" I attempted to explain, knowing that I would sound insane. "I'd had enough of trying to pretend that everything was okay when it wasn't. This was meant to be my way out."
Edward eyed me suspiciously. Great, I did sound insane. I decided that I had better change the subject quickly before Edward decided I was totally mental.
"But why would any of that matter to you anyway? I mean you left me! You are the one who proclaimed that you no longer loved me. I think that when you got bored of me, you pretty much gave up all rights to worry about me." I could feel myself getting riled up as I thought of that day in the forest when Edward had shattered my heart. My breathing and heart rate quickened simultaneously. Tears were welling up in eyes and I couldn't wipe them away because of the intense pain that flashed through me when I attempted to lift my arm.
"Shhh," Edward soothed, "its okay darling, its okay. Listen to me, Bella. I never gave up the right to worry about you because I never stopped loving you (regardless of whatever drivel I came out with), so don't deny me my right, right now okay. We can talk properly later but presently I am going to look after you until you are better and then I am going prove to you that I love you with every fibre of my being, always have, always will. So," he started wiping the tears that were now sliding down my cheeks, "let me take care of you and I promise you that I won't leave this room until you are able to leave with me."
With a tender kiss on my forehead Edward lay down on the bed next to me. I felt his arms wrap around me but he was careful not to irritate the burns. Not that I would have minded. I had my knight in shining armour back, nothing could hurt me anymore.