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The ones left behind

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He was dying. Phil knew this because Isabella had told him so. And she should know, having been dead herself for nearly six decades.

"Phil?"

The voice was Charlie Swan's. He'd groaned, asked what Bella had done this time, whether Charlie wanted to speak to Renée. Had realised only then that the strange sound echoing down the phone line was his wife's ex-husband; his step-daughter's father; crying. Not quite sobbing, but sounding as if his heart was breaking. The words, when they came, had been muted, lacking even the usual frustration at the clumsiness of the girl – no, he thought, woman, she was married now – he had fathered all those years ago.

"She's gone, Phil, dead. There was a car crash. Up north. Dr Cullen – Edward's father – he got a phone call. Alice, the sister, she identified them. She's not coming home, Phil, my baby's not coming home."

He had murmured words he could not remember mere seconds later, the words 'gone' and 'dead' echoing through his head, impossible to apply to the beautiful bride who beamed down from the wall and her handsome new husband, two children now dead. Gone forever.

When he told Renée she had hysterics and in the end the doctor had to be called to administer a sedative. While she slept he called airline after airline, trying to find last minute flights to Seattle and then onto Port Angeles.

They had, inexplicably, been met at the airport by the too-beautiful blonde he vaguely remembered from the wedding that now seemed a lifetime ago – its beauty and pageantry dulled by shock and sadness. Her face was blank as she moved forward to greet them, the stream of humanity held back by her beauty, by the other-worldly aura that he remembered surrounding the whole family, its reflection on Bella's face making her even more radiant than one would expect of a young bride. That glow, he tried not to remember, would be dulled by now, and overshadowed by the ghastly pallor of death, her porcelain skin marred by rust coloured blood.

The funeral had been a blur, the two caskets side by side in the small church, the priest who had married them so recently more horrified than he could ever remember, the occasion cruelly mocking Bella's breathless, almost laughing, 'till death do us part'. The flowers had been white on both occasions, roses on the first, lilies on the second. Love and death, permanently tied in his memory from that day forth. The stones over their graves a cruel reminder of the fickleness of life – the dates of death identical, the dates of birth not even twenty years earlier. And he had sobbed.

He and Renée had been with Charlie when he died at the age of fifty-two after a car accident. One of the motorcycles he had so vigorously warned his only child about two decades prior, had grounded her for riding at eighteen, had swerved towards him, and he had reflexively twisted his wheel away, hitting the oncoming truck instead. He had survived several days and they had been able to see him, to allow him his farewell to his first and only love, the sole reminder of the child lost so many years before.

"I saw her, Renée, my little girl"

Those were the first words from his mouth as they crossed the threshold into his line of sight. The once imposing man in the wheelchair along side the bed looked up, the greeting on his lips dying as he heard his friend's words.

"He's on a lot of painkillers, you know," the nurse had whispered as she ushered them in "doesn't know what he's saying – he thinks poor Bella and Edward came to visit him last night."

Renée had blanched at the tangible reminder of their loss and moved closer to speak to Billy.

"Does Dr Cullen still work here?" Phil had asked quietly. She looked at him, almost surprised, but sighed instead, her face smoothing into a mix of sadness and regret.

"No," she murmured. "They left only months after it happened – I'm surprised Chief Swan didn't tell you – but anyway, Mrs Cullen couldn't stand it here. They say it reminded her too much of Edward and Bella – that everywhere she looked she saw reminders of them. I believe they come back occasionally to see the graves, but no one really sees them, it could just be a ghost story for all the proof we have!" She flashed a half smile and turned away to the sound of an alarm ringing in the background.

Each morning after that Charlie had repeated his assertions, recounting conversations he'd had with Bella, telling them that Edward was looking after his baby girl. Finally, after four days, he died, slipping away quietly in the night, all alone, but smiling nonetheless.

He had no family left, so they had stayed to bury him in the grave alongside the stones marked Isabella Marie Cullen née Swan and Edward Anthony Cullen. The whole town had turned out to say farewell to the chief of police, a man everyone in the town had known all their lives, or all of his. For Renée the similarities between that service and the last funeral she had attended in the church had been almost too much to bear.

Renée had survived several more years, but on what should have been Bella's fifty-ninth birthday she had suffered a massive stroke, surviving only because he had recognised the symptoms from his last first aid course and rapidly called an ambulance. In the days and months that followed, though, he had begun to wonder whether that was a good thing as she forgot who he was and spoke to her hallucinations.

"She's much better today," the nurse had told him when he arrived "that visit last night did her the world of good."

"Visit?" he had asked, mystified, "who visited her?"

"Oh," the nurse cooed, "a lovely young lady – what was her name again? Give me that," – reaching for the visitors' sign-in book – "ah yes, that's it – Isabella Cullen."

"What?" His face must have betrayed his shock, his anger, because she quickly inquired what was wrong. "A sick joke! That's what!" he had responded "that's my step-daughter's married name."

"Oh no," the nurse responded quickly, "she looks far too young to be Mrs Dwyer's daughter."

"You don't understand" he began "Bella died nearly forty years ago, and now someone's using her name to visit my wife."

Horrified allegations ensued, with the name Isabella Cullen, as well as any variant on her and Edward's names he can think of, put quite firmly on the persona non grata list.

Despite the precautions, the names of his step-daughter and her husband continued to regularly appear on the visitor's register, although there wasn't a single nurse who would confess to having seen them. Renée was a different story – she told him almost every day, even on the days when she couldn't recall her own name, about her visits from 'darling Bella' or 'that lovely Edward', having apparently forgotten how suspicious she had been of his motives when he was a living breathing man, intent on stealing away her baby girl.

In the end, he ceased to care. If these people – whoever they were – kept his darling wife happy during her darkest hours, as her brain cells died away and her personality faded he could only thank them from the bottom of his heart.

The funeral had been held in Forks, the town Renée had despised, on a grey and rainy day (he wondered, sometimes, if there was any other sort) and nearly the whole town was there. Whether it was some lingering sadness at the last of the swansong – the final member of the family laid to rest alongside her ex-husband, daughter and son-in-law or due to some actual love for the woman who had grown up with them and then grown too big for small-town life he was not sure and did not care. Finally his wife, who had outlived her adored daughter by four decades, could be reunited once more with her family.

That day the only guests he had really looked at had been a trio of women, one blonde, another a brunette and the third with inky black hair; all three veiled, standing quietly at the back of the church and then later, as far from the open grave as possible while still being within hearing distant of the now Methusala-esque priest who had blessed the marriage of the young Cullens and interred them, who had buried Charlie, and who now said his final farewell to the tragic family. The triumvirate fascinated him. While their dark suits were modern, beautifully tailored and clearly expensive, all three wore funerary hats with veils that would have been more suited to 1847 than 2047, regardless of how 'in' his great nieces claimed retro looks were these days. After the service was over, when they thought everyone was gone, he saw them step forward towards the grave, the brunette in the lead kneeling before the muddy hole in a manner that was sure to ruin her perfect skirt, while the other two took up the guard positions on either side of her, all three staring at the casket while the grave diggers kept their distance. Finally the woman stood and turned to her companions. The blonde waved to him and he looked over his shoulder in surprise, sure she couldn't have seen him watching. When he turned back, they were gone.

Now, at the ripe old age of 99, his mind still surprisingly intact, he was dying, not from some horrific accident, no dreadful disease, but from the gradual failure of his body, one step at a time. No matter how far medicine progressed they were still, even as the third quarter of the 21st century drew to a close, unable to defeat death, the great leveller.

He was in a hospice now, at the urging of one of his great-, or possibly great-great- – he'd lost track – nieces, a young doctor. It was, he now agreed, the best place for him, although home would probably have been less embarrassing place to be the first time he saw the ghost of his long-dead step-daughter and screamed aloud.

"Phil?" It was a quiet, melodious voice speaking from the doorway, and he turned to see Isabella enter, unaged but not unchanged. She was more radiant and beautiful than he ever remembered her in life, even on her wedding day. Behind her lurked Edward, still as perfectly handsome as ever. They made a breathtaking pair he thought, even as his brain registered the anomaly and he drew breath to scream.

They had come again since that night and he had not cried out again. Instead he had begun to revise his understanding of life and death, realising that despite the differences in their circumstances, Renée and Charlie had described remarkably similar encounters with Bella, while his conversations had also followed the pattern – and he knew he wasn't on drugs, and that his brain was working fine.

Last night she had told him that she wouldn't come again. He had asked why, and Edward had merely smiled at him. Bella, meanwhile, had given him what he had called her 'Renée' smiles – meant to reassure that she would sort everything out – and calmly explained that he would die that day. That he would no longer have any need of her companionship as he would be reunited with her mother.

That day when he woke up he immediately called for a telephone to brought to him and, dialling long forgotten numbers, summoned what remained of his family to his bedside.

Isabella Marie Cullen watched quietly from the doorway as at 4.30 pm on 17th August 2075, 3 weeks before his 100th birthday, Philip Dwyer, baseball player, widower and last of her family, quietly slipped away.