The road is exactly how she remembers it. There’s a tingle of memory tickling the very back of her brain, almost like déjà vu, threatening to break loose in a flurry of glitter and light up the dark path. Yet it merely persists, for the meantime, and Bella interlocks her fingers in her lap patiently. She doesn’t remember, but if she could she would and it seems like the type of thing someone would say, coming home after a long absence.
She glances over at Edward in the driver’s seat. His jaw is tight; he’d been on edge all night and all morning, as if he was waiting for something to snap and unravel. She can recall many times when he had that same tension, but she had been human then, and breakable. Ever since werewolves didn’t hang around and vampires weren’t always coming after her soul, he’d loosened up a bit. She preferred that Edward.
The road opens to reveal a clearing in the forest, a mowed down expanse of pale grass, and he pulls the car over to side as if he’d done it a million times before, and he probably had. She doesn’t have many memories of before her transformation, for they had faded as her humanity did, but most of those that still linger are based around places and people that she’s still reminded of; the Cullens, their meadow, Edward. She hadn’t been back to Forks until just a week ago, or at least seen much more of it than their wildlife population and the Cullens’ house that still remains half-buried, since the wedding. That she remembers.
She waits for Edward to speak, to give her some indication of what she should do now, but he’s silent and she knows he ‘s doing that thing, where he releases her, directionless, because he’s afraid of influencing her and guiding her away from her own perceptions; it’s really annoying sometimes. So she gingerly opens the door of the car, stepping out into the grass much slower than she normally would, cautious because she’s supposed to be the one reminiscing and she can’t.
Bella stalks further toward the center of the clearing, her trained eyes picking out in the twilight the vague shape of a square house in the dirt. Touching one hand to the mailbox, a floating reminder that this was once a home, Bella traces a single finger in the dirty film that coats it, just making out the scrawl beneath: S-W-A-N.
She glances back at the car quickly despite the fact that she knows he’ll see it, and she suddenly has a flash. It had been raining, that much she knew, and the interior of a car sat solid around her. Something shiny, new… not hers.
“You don’t seem seventeen.”
It was Edward that had spoken, and the voice was so clear in her head that she had to check to make sure he was still in the car and not standing right beside her.
Her gaze is lifted slowly to the ring of trees and she catches something. A sharp rusty rib sticks out from the overgrown grass and she approaches it. The fender of an old red truck, or what once was, lays strewn beside the rest of its dilapidated body, headlights smashed out and tires deflated.
“Really, Bella, the thing runs great. They don’t build them like that anymore.”
The words come to her like a whisper from the trees, a faint impression of a whole lifetime pressed inside. He had waited for her. Charlie. He’d kept the truck for if she ever returned. There’s an ache where her heart had once beat and she’s suddenly glad that it’s still motionless, that it can’t pump the poison of this particular pain throughout her whole body.
She shakes her head free of it, partially because she hates the feeling and partially because she doesn’t want Edward to see the pained expression on her face. This is why he’d been so moody, why he’d stayed stuck to his seat: he’s preparing for her to finally regret her decision to become like him and he doesn’t want to influence that reaction because it would be selfish of him. He thinks he deserves her delayed wrath. He’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop because it’s been hanging there for nearly a century since he’d sunk his teeth into her neck and he’s expecting her to hate him for it.
“Even when you’re being ridiculous, you do it in the most selfless of ways.”
He doesn’t move behind her, having left the car sometime in her pondering of it all, and stares at the side of her face he can see, not blinking.
“You’re going to let this go eventually. Right?” It hadn’t been a question until she’d tacked on that last part, because with Edward it was difficult to know the limits of how far his martyrdom would take itself. He still doesn’t budge and Bella sighs in frustration. Her gaze flits to his and his expression is pained, deliberately contained but little is left unknown between the two of them after all this time.
A mosquito buzzes near her ear. It had taken her a decade not to swat at them as a left over reflex, instead ignoring them in disinterest, knowing they can’t and won’t bother her. Instead she became their blood-drinking kin. But she has never regretted their decision… her decision. Not beyond impermanent thoughts brought on by obituaries of people who should have outlived her or phone calls from those she left behind.
He comes faithfully to her side at the waver in her voice, cracking despite the strong words. She knows he isn’t ready to forgive himself, not yet. But he recognizes that he’s needed here and he tucks it away for another time, possibly forever, in the most literal sense of the word.
Bella glances over the clearing, letting his hand curl around hers and guide their outstretched fingers to point at things she should remember.
He jumped into her bedroom window from here.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, the opposite – you’re driving me crazy.”
It’s odd for her to think of them like that, before they had really become them. When things were new and she could still recall what it was like to exist without him. They had become so intertwined after all this time that it’s often difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends.
“Bella, I don’t want you to come with me.”
He left her broken there, just past those trees, where the ghost of a footpath is fading into the afterlife.
“Marry me first.”
Charlie had almost aimed a shotgun at his head when they told him they were getting hitched barely out of high school just under that tree. Bella wiggles her fingers, glancing at the two rings circling her finger. She smiles when the gleam from the fading sunlight bouncing off them combines with the glisten of Edward’s gold band. The metal is aged; she can’t remember ever not wearing them so the words that had flowed out of her when they had spoke of marriage in her human days (“Okay. What’s the punch line.”) takes her by surprise. All panic and reluctance.
They walk down memory lane hand in hand, in a strange narration of second person and she lets his words roll over her, beckoning the recollection to return to her like a trusty pet. He runs over years of time with her, even the stories he knows only secondhand, doing his best to supplement her humanity.
He glances at her face skeptically every few minutes as if he’s gauging her reaction, checking her expression for signs of a coming earthquake like it could be predicted with tiny spikes on a Richter scale. But her face is smooth, absorbing the information as she would if she were reading a history textbook, knowing it’s a part of her but not quite seeing the connection. Bella trusts him to write her past objectively and she knows on some level that it should frustrate her that she can’t dictate it herself, that this is one area where her cold perfect body and photographic memory has failed her. But she feels a calm sense of detachment from that life, the Bella that came before, and it’s as if it’s a past life, where she’d struggled and fought and been broken so she wouldn’t have to in this one.
On Bella Cullen’s one hundredth birthday her feet and the rubber of their tires carry her back, back to a time when her cheeks flushed crimson and her legs still buckled and eighteen was too old to bear.