Sorry I didn't upload over the weekend--I haven't been feeling well. Here's the next chapter!!!
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This was a difficult chapter to write. I've been rewriting it for three days to get it just right...and it's rather long.
Let me know what you think, okay?
Chapter Nineteen: The Facade
I placed my hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, drawing on my well-developed talent for lying. I hated to lie, but I wanted to preserve this evening intact for her-for the future. So she would have this memory, untainted, to look back on.
To remember me by.
I closed my eyes, trying to hide my pain from her. I knew the expression in my eyes would terrify her-the truth of what I was going to do must be written across my face-Bella would see my agony and know. Taking a deep breath, I drew her into my arms and held her to me. Her arms wrapped around me, her palms flattened against my shoulder blades. Bella's warmth enfolded me, and I drew strength from her presence, from her touch, from her love-enough strength to do what I knew I had to do....
To finally do the right thing...the right thing for Bella.
Even if it killed me....
And I knew it would.
But I pushed away those thoughts, knowing that I couldn't let them haunt me. Not right now. Not when I had to be strong enough...for the both of us.
And not for the very short time that we had left to be together, wrapped up in one another, like this.
I soaked up the moment, cherishing her in my arms. This moment was searing itself into my perfect memory where I could relive it again and again in the future, limitless years without my angel. I buried my face in her shoulder, in the swirl of her strawberry-scented hair, my hold tightening slightly as the urge to never let her go overwhelmed me.
I am not certain how long we stood there, wrapped in each others' arms in front of the fireplace, the candlelight flickering around and over us. Bella seemed content, her heart rate calming as we simply stood there, together. Wrapped up in each other for this eternal moment.
I refused to allow myself to think of how rare these interludes were going to be for us in the very near future. I took a deep breath, steeling myself to get Bella settled and asleep so that I could plan what I knew I had to do.
My heart sank at the thought, but I whispered into Bella's ear, "Are you ready for bed now? You must be exhausted, love."
Bella nodded, stepping back but remaining within the circle of my arms. "Are we going home in the morning?" she asked, bending her beautiful neck to look up at me. I forced a natural smile, burying my pain for her sake.
"After breakfast," I replied reluctantly. So little time....
She nodded again, then moved toward the master bedroom.
I didn't follow her. As she walked away, her hips swaying provocatively, the pain of this insignificant separation rocketed through me, and my hands began to shake....
And this-Bella walking into the next room to ready herself for bed-was nothing compared to the separation coming. How could I handle cutting myself out of Bella's life permanently if I can't even let her leave me in another room within our hotel suite?
At the doorway, she turned back to me with a sweet, beckoning smile. "Coming?"
Plastering a hopefully-convincing smile across my face, I hid my pain again behind a facade of calm as I answered, "When you're ready, love."
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