I don't get a reply. But I can hear Esme breathe. And there's a faint rustle, too. Like paper, or cloth rubbing against something. Her breathing is really loud; she's breathing through her open mouth.
Am I supposed to say anything else? I don't think so. I made my opening, and now it's her turn – that's how it works. So I wait. It makes me anxious that she's not talking, but I wait. My ear starts to hurt from pressing the phone against it so hard, but I hang on until she finally speaks.
"Oh, Edward…" she says. Or, at least, I think that's what she says. It sounds like'hhhtwrt', as if she's suffering from an affliction in her throat that stole all the vowels. It doesn't even sound like Esme. And then… nothing.
This is bad. She's even worse than I on the phone. I can't do this; it won't work this way.
"We should… Esme, could you maybe come over?"
More breathing, louder, some sniffling, and more hissed consonants. "…mso s'rry, gahd, sssoso s'rry…"
"I know. That's why I'm calling."
I'm clutching the phone so hard that all the blood is gone from my fingertips. The wheezing and sniffling at her end of the line gets even worse, and I don't know what to do. And then my heart starts beating so fast and so loud, it almost drowns out Esme's noises, when I suddenly realize what those noises mean. She can't speak properly, because –
"Don't…" I whisper, crestfallen. This is really, really bad. This is what I need to end. "Don't cry, please."
My heart is almost jumping out of my chest. I notice that I'm rocking back and forth in my seat; I have no idea when I started doing that, but right now it seems to be the only thing that keeps me from hanging up to escape the sound of her sobs.
Because that's what the sounds are… sobs! I'm pretty sure she didn't even hear my whispered plea; she's crying so noisily. I'm getting angry again. I'm angry at Esme for putting me through this, and I'm angry at myself for wanting to run away from this... fight or flight, fight or flight… there's no such thing like 'your own pace' when it's fight or flight.
But I'm rocking back and forth, and I find a rhythm. This rhythm is my own, and it centers me. Pulse rate, breathing, how often to blink and when to swallow – everything synchronizes with that rhythm. It's not exactly comfortable, but it's good enough for now. It takes away the edge and reminds me that I called her to stop the hurt, not to make it worse.
"Mom?" Her secret name cuts a swath of silence into her sorrow.
I'm rocking so vehemently now that the chair I'm sitting on inches forward with each of my movements. It's a rhythm, my own rhythm, a good one, a steady one – and it doesn't falter when I take the phone off of my ear, hold it in front of my mouth and speak with as much clarity and intent as I can muster.
"I forgive you!"
I don't know if she's replying, or crying again. With the phone held like this, I can't hear her, and I feel like a coward for avoiding her response. But I need to speak uninterrupted now, or else this won't work.
"You don't need to hurt anymore, and neither do I. I've decided that I don't want to be mad at you. It's too harmful... for everyone. I won't forget what you did, and I will ask you some day to explain why you did it, but not now. I'm calling, because I want you to know that I forgive you, so we can be good again. Will you stop crying now?"
Reluctantly, I bring the phone to my ear again and hold my breath. She's still crying: I really wish she would stop that. But, between hiccups and sniffles, she's at least speaking now, vowels and all, and I catch her mid-sentence.
"…wish I could undo it, Edward, I -"
"But you can't," I cut in, not willing to have any of that.
I think of last night when Bella found me sleeping, and my devastation when I realized I had forgotten to pick her up. I, too, had wanted nothing more than to undo it.
"I know how you feel," I tell Esme. "You want to fix it, don't you? But you can't. What is done, is done. I want you to stop crying, okay?"
I told her I forgive her; why is it not working? This is beyond frustrating.
"I made a terrible mistake, but I never meant to hurt you," she says, hoarse and breathless from all her crying.
"I know." I'm relieved she's finally responding rationally. My rocking slows down a bit, as does my heart rate.
"I love you, Edward."
"I don't know if I can ever forgive myself…"
"Oh, but you have to!" I almost shout. "Because I do, I forgive you, okay? But if you don't stop resenting yourself for what had happened, this won't work!"
It will only get worse. Can't she see that? My chair slides forward another few inches; I'm getting really agitated. My heart has left my chest and is beating in my throat now, making it hard to breathe.
"You can't… Esme, no! You're belittling my... my forgiveness... it's worthless if you don't accept it."
She falls silent, except for her sniffling. What else does she want me to say?
"Mom, I miss you. I just want you back. I want us back!"
"Oh God, Edward, I miss you too – so, so much! You are the most wonderful, astonishing... I don't deserve you…"
"Yes, you do. Will you stop crying now?" Please, this is so exhausting. The talking, over the phone and everything... I can't do this much longer. "I'll hang up if you don't stop."
"I'll stop, I promise." She sounds calmer now, thank God! She sounds like Esme. "I can't tell you what it means to me to know that you're forgiving me. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
I stop rocking and fall forward in my chair with relief. With my forehead on my knees and the phone still glued to my ear, I take a deep, cleansing breath. I did it!
"I'll hang up now, okay?" I say, eager to get this over with.
"Do you still want me to come over? I can be there in thirty minutes."
I asked her to come over, didn't I? But that was when I thought she wouldn't speak on the phone. So I tell her, "No."
We're done for now, and I'm feeling drained. This was beyond exhausting, for whatever reasons. I just want to be by myself for a while now. Every single muscle in my body aches from the rocking and the tension, and my insides are filthy with the sticky remains of all the anger I felt in the last few days.
"I'm going to take a bath," I inform her.
"Okay. Can I call you tomorrow?"
I hang up before she can say her own good-bye and drop the phone as if it has burnt my hand. I'm pretty sure I won't use it any time soon. It is sweaty from my hands gripping it so tightly, but to me, it looks like it is wet from all the tears Esme cried into it, like it's unable to hold all the sorrow that's now bottled up in it. No, I won't touch that thing for at least a month.
My shirt is damp, too. I tear it off of me, but I still feel kind of soiled – as if my sweat and Esme's tears have acted as a solvent, strong enough to dissipate all resentments, but leaving a cold, icky film on my skin. I really need a bath.
I get rid of my remaining clothes on the way to the bathroom, where I dispose of them in the hamper. I turn the water on, and then I sit on the closed toilet lid and watch the tub slowly fill, wondering why I'm not really feeling better now.
I feel some relief, but I think that's just because my conversation with Esme is over and I'm not on the damn phone any more. As for the result of my effort, I'm disappointed. One would have thought forgiving someone was easier, or more appreciated by the recipient. I expected it to be much more joyful for both of us.
But there's no real joy coming with the relief. And Esme wasn't happy either, just calm. I don't regret my decision though. I meant it when I told her that I missed her. And judging by the way she sounded at the end, it worked. She's back with me now, I think. She's just still sad.
I wish I had Bella's ability to take away one's sadness so easily. She always knows the right things to say to lighten my heart, even when I've fucked up thoroughly. But I'm not Bella.
Maybe it is okay for Esme to be upset for a little longer, considering the size of the… problem? I was very upset with myself yesterday. And compared to forgetting to pick up your girlfriend just once, the mistake Esme made is… it is just…
"Ahh…" I groan and close my eyes. As I try to fathom the enormity of Esme's fault, my chest constricts with a sudden wave of regret that is not of my own making.
And she had kept it to herself all those years. Not even Carlisle knew about the letters. My stomach turns at the mere thought of living with such a poisonous secret, day after day, year after year, while it grows and festers under the surface until it is rooted in your soul so deeply that you cannot remember any more how it was without that dark abyss inside… no trespassing!
But those are not my regrets, not mine, and I need to push them away. Breathe and push them away… in, out, in, out… push them away.
I've missed the right moment to turn off the water, so I need to let some of it drain out of the tub again before I can get in. I don't like that; it's such a waste. The entire bathroom is fogged, so thick with water vapor I can hardly make out anything that's further away than an arm's length. But I don't want to see anything now anyway.
I let myself sink down into the bathtub, close my eyes and let the warmth consume me. I let the water swallow me whole, only leaving my mouth and nose above the surface. The water gently swirls my hair, laps at the corners of my eyes and fills my ears, until all I can hear is its dull murmuring and the thudding sonar of my own heartbeat.
(A TRAILER PARK... SOMEWHERE, 1999)
To the five-year-old boy, it didn't matter that his legs didn't fit in the yellow plastic tub. Its rim cut into the hollows of his knees, with a slight uncomfortable pressure, and his lower legs and feet were dangling outside, warmed by the sun. Yet they were covered in goose bumps, as was his whole body.
The water in the washing tub was chilly, and he'd been in there for too long. With his arms crossed above his chest, the boy had managed to dip into it almost completely. He had tilted his head back, so that chin, mouth and nose were poking out, but his eyes and ears remained under the surface.
He could hear the adults talking, but the water surrounding him reduced their conversation to a muffled, meaningless background noise. For that, the boy was glad. A few minutes earlier, they had tried to talk to him – which was weird, because they were strangers.
Well, except for the gray lady. The gray lady was a neighbor, and she was nice. She had brought him a sandwich this morning, and a glass of milk, too. Mommy didn't like her and she used to scream and shout at the gray lady when ever she saw her. But Mommy wasn't here now, hadn't been here for quite a while since her friend had picked her up with his rusty truck.
At first, it wasn't too bad, and the boy enjoyed the quiet. But on the third day, he had eaten all the white bread that was left. The milk in the fridge had become clotted and when he tried to drink it, he couldn't help but spit the mouthful he'd taken on the floor. Shocked by the foul taste and the spill, he rushed outside and hid under the trailer. That's where the gray lady had found him.
She brought him breakfast and called him by his name. She was nice. She asked a lot of questions – about his mommy, and whether he owned any other clothes than his pajamas… clean clothes, she said, and… who did that, who did that, pointing at the bruises on his arms and legs – but she didn't really demand answers. She didn't try to touch him or push him around. She was nice.
She also filled his plastic tub with water, even though she couldn't know about the spilled milk in the kitchen. He didn't want to raise her suspicion, so instead of washing his clothes as usual, he just stepped in with his clothes still on. He thought himself very smart to do so. The gray lady had watched him for a while, and then she got out her phone and talked into it for what seems an eternity.
And then the strangers came. One was an elderly lady with a big black bag, the other a younger lady who wore a police uniform. The boy hadn't known that ladies could be police officers, too, but there she was. They both talked to the grey lady and to each other, then they talked to him in soft voices.
At first, he had actually made an effort to listen, although he had no idea why those people were even here or what they wanted. He only got anxious when the police lady went inside the trailer, where she undoubtedly noticed the mess he had made. She returned with a grave expression on her face and whispered something into the other woman's ear. That's when the boy finally understood what was going on.
She was here! The one with the big, black bag… that was her! Finally, the cee-pee-ess lady had come to get him. The horror he felt at his realization was so excruciating, that he escaped in the only way he could think of right then. He squeezed his eyes shut, slid down in his yellow plastic tub and let the water work its magic.
And there he stayed. And waited. They had to leave at some point, right? He could still hear them talk, but now it was as if he were wrapped in thick layers of cotton wool.
Then there were hands touching him, hands under his arm-pits, grabbing him, lifting him up, out of his liquid cocoon. The boy threw his head back, his spine bent backwards in an angle one wouldn't think possible, and gave a piercing scream that lasted and lasted, until all oxygen had left his lungs and everything went black.
I wake with a jolt, sitting up so abruptly that the bath water swashes around vehemently. I hold on to the rims of the tub with both hands, gasping for air, while the obscure remains of a strange dream dissipate like shreds of clouds.
I fell asleep in the bath, but I know it can't have been more than just a few minutes – the water is still warm – so that's not what startled me. It's the weird feeling that someone just grabbed me and pulled me upright.
Of course, that's impossible. And I don't believe in ghosts either. But the sensation is so strong that I involuntarily check my torso for any traces... like visible hand-prints on my skin or something.
It's been a while since I've had that kind of dreams, those faceless graspernightmares that used to torture me when I was a child. I guess the talk with Esme has stressed me out more than I realized. I'm such a baby sometimes. I should get out of the water before it gets chilly. After a few deep, cleansing breaths, I grab the sponge and start lathering myself thoroughly.
To steer my mind in a more pleasant direction, I start thinking of Bella, recalling our morning together. I'm very much looking forward to tonight. I imagine myself entering the drugstore to pick her up, saying hi to Tanya – maybe exchanging a few words with her – then greeting my Bella with a small kiss on the lips. It's a nice mental image; it makes me feel confident and… normal. That's what boyfriends do. It feels right.
When I step out of the tub and grab a towel, I notice I've been quietly humming to myself for the last few minutes. I smile to myself, a warm whole-body-smile. Unconsciously, I hummed the melody that used to keep the grasper dreams in check. My voice reverberates strangely within the tile-covered walls as I repeat the lines, this time adding the lyrics.
"Just a little green like the nights
When the northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow…"
When the northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there'll be sorrow…"
There's a Little Green and Easybella outtake in Jasper POV up on FFnet.
Maybe you'd like to check it out?
The lovely banner was made for me by the lovely 17ForeverLisa.