Struggling through tragedy and betrayal, Edward believes he’s living in a cold and loveless world with no choice but to harden his heart. He’s only living a numb half-life as his sole focus becomes revenge. If he forgets his true reason for living, is there anyone who can get through to him?
Most of us are conditioned to live our lives as though we’ll be around until we’re grumbling over gray hairs. It doesn't occur to the average person, untouched by the venomous hands of death, that this isn't always the case. Some people die young; some younger than others. We tend to take our days for granted, assuming nothing can touch us. We slowly forget to say I love you every day, to never go to bed angry, or to hug our parents goodbye. We know that tomorrow is going to show with the sun, no questions asked. We become complacent.
We’re idiots, basically.
But when that tragedy hits close to one of us, then we suddenly understand the truth. It’s an ugly truth, but the bottom line is, we should treat every day as our last. We should take that leap, do that one thing that scares us a little. We should say the words in our hearts, and we should remember to call our parents and grandparents more often. We should have life insurance, and living wills, and burial plots. Even with those basic preparations in place, nobody wants to think about their own death, and that included him. We should realize that we begin our journey to death the day we are born. No one knows when or why, just that everyone dies.
And when death came for him with its greedy touch, it came with a screech and a yank. It came with twisted metal and broken glass. It came with blood rushing out quicker than it could be staunched. It came on a harsh cry and a broken sob. It came with her begging him to save her, and him unable to do anything but kneel in the jagged shards of what was left of his heart and beg for their Lord to take him instead. It wasn't quick or merciless, but agonizingly painful. He saw their promised forever slipping through his fingers faster than the blood she was losing. He thought of their little girl, who would grow up without a mother, left only with the man who’d let her mother die.
He didn't have to be told that there was nothing they could do. By the time the paramedics arrived, the life was gone from her eyes and what he thought he knew about his existence in this world was forever changed. His clothes were soaked with her blood as he knelt in the spot where she died, the last place he felt whole before normalcy was ripped away.
He was lost. Shock and devastation could do that to a person, and he was no exception. His parents came, Mommy and Daddy trying to fix what was broken. This was not a scraped knee that could be bandaged and kissed better. This was the end of his life as he knew it. His soul was sucked out, gone with her to wherever souls roamed. What was he supposed to do next?
Taken home and pushed into the shower, he washed her blood from his body without thought of the movements. Brought to the hospital where they'd tried their best to save what was lost, he was given time to say goodbye. But what was he meant to say to a corpse? He'd done his begging and it landed on deaf ears, leaving nothing else to attempt to choke out. Instead, he kissed her cold cheek and stroked the blood-streaked hair that clung to her forehead. And then he wept.
He didn't know what happened after that. Days or weeks, he was completely unaware. People came and went, his mother stepping in as caretaker for him and his baby. He agreed to whatever his wife’s parents wanted for a funeral, didn't even notice their cold stares and disapproving mutters about how they always knew he'd be the death of her. He didn't know his family stayed at his house until he was dragged to the funeral parlor where her body awaited them. He had nothing left, no tears and no theatrics. Her mother wailed and screamed, placing blame where it should never land, until she was escorted out by his parents. Family versus family meant hers went back to where they came from, and his stood by his side.
The cemetery was the worst. Too hot in his suit, too hidden in his own mind to shut out the idea of her burial, he ripped his tie off and dropped to the ground in front of the headstone they'd picked in a rare moment of clarity for the world of possibilities. He couldn't make himself get up, couldn't force his legs to help him stand or his feet to carry him away from so much death. He remained for longer than was healthy, long past the time her casket had been lowered into the ground, past the time others went home to maybe remember that life wasn't guaranteed. He remained, and he found his tears wouldn't ebb. He feared he would lay down in the dirt until his mortal body eroded, leaving nothing but his aching bones. He knew; he knew in his heart that leaving that cemetery without her was the final step toward forcing him to admit that she was gone, never to return.
And still, he remained.
She’s gone. Taken from me. This world is cold and without love.
The only thoughts in his head circled on repeat as he rearranged the flowers at her grave marker. Date of birth and date of death would be added later; they were all she would have wanted under her name. A carved stone angel sat vigil near the top of the slab, watching over her while he could not. His heart was as cold, as hard and unyielding, as the marble that proclaimed her remains would lay there until they became one with the earth. He had nothing left in his heart, nothing but that one tiny spark that insisted he kept living. Surely he’d been damned in another life, penance playing out in this lifetime. He shouldn't have to suffer her loss, but he did. He would. He hadn’t been offered a choice.
He had to return to the house packed too full of black-clothed mourners, eager to see his grief played out on his face. They made him recognize the fact that he had to come out of the depths of his drowning despair, forced to live on without her. Sympathy fell flat as it became repetitive. They said it by rote until he wasn't sure who was sincere and who offered platitudes. Anxious hands stroking, patting, touching when he wanted no human contact. Choking on profanities he tried desperately not to spew, he escaped to his bedroom and closed the door. Almost immediately there was a knock.
“Can I come in?” His brother; a sincere mourner.
“Yeah.” The sound was no louder than a croak. He sank onto his bed when his knees would have buckled.
“What can I do?” Emmett stood over him, hovered even, a stranger to this level of grief.
There was no sound but his pulse beating ever steady in his ears, despite his wish to the contrary.
“Yeah.” The words from the question hadn't retained in his ears, flitting through his brain like so many bats in an empty cave.
“What can I do?”
Edward tried to think. He needed nothing for himself, but there was one who needed more than he could give at the moment. “Have Rose take the baby.” He choked on the short response, his palm pressing tightly to cracked lips.
“I know. Mom has Maggie’s things ready to go.”
“What do I do now?” Edward desperately wanted the answer to that question. He would pay his life’s wages if someone could tell him how to heal the agony that settled on his chest. It was the same weight and size as the rock she was buried under.
“Live one day at a time, I guess.”
Where once there would have been a snort of disbelief at the trite phrase, he was instead consumed with silence. He fell sideways onto the bed and buried his nose in sheets that smelled of her. Tears were a torrent that would not be stemmed, despite the brother that engulfed him in his arms. He didn't fight them off as he had downstairs. Emmett was a comfort in a world where he had recently found none.
The broken plea was met with a fervent nod. Emmett would stay to see his brother through his pain. Mourners left to live their lives, but Edward remained in his room. Days where he forgot to feed himself or shower, his brother was there to prod him into action. Though the pain morphed into a blank numbness, Edward could not move on. Emmett showed up daily without fail, keeping his brother alive in the morning and again at night while running their business during the day. When so much time had passed and he hadn't seen his daughter, Emmett had Rose bring her over. The pain of seeing his beloved wife in the face of the daughter she left behind tore at him. She was too young to know the tragedy of her mother dying, and Edward vowed to keep her mother’s memory alive for her. She was the only thing that got him out of bed in the morning, and soon he realized that he had to continue living for her sake. Maggie needed him, and so his agony was locked away in the daylight while he cared for his infant and Emmett went back to his life. Only in the darkest hours would he unlock the cage around his heart and allow his sorrow to break free. In the midnight hours, he was ripped to shreds, only to be made whole again with the sunrise and his sweet Maggie.
It took more than mere months to function as a whole human being, but it became less of an effort to take a deep breath as the anniversary of her death came and went. He took Maggie to the cemetery often, feeling that his wife somehow looked down on them and saw that they had survived. One day he hoped to show her that they were flourishing. Slowly but surely the tides turned until Edward was as normal as he thought he would ever be after suffering his greatest loss.
The brothers’ business once again thrived. Old friends were welcome at his house once more. When summer came, he could be found in the backyard manning the grill with family and friends surrounding him. His child grew like a weed, blocking out the sun until she was his golden orb. She was the brightest light in his life, his Maggie. Walking and talking turned into reading and writing as the first day of school came and went. She was the only reason for his existence now.
It had been four years since his wife died. Many seasons had passed. Now the leaves were changing color and pumpkins were rotting on porches when his world tilted off its axis for a second time.