A cold wind whipped around the sprawling cemetery, as Edward stood in front of a granite headstone. Next to him, Bella’s hand was gripped tightly in his own, whilst his gaze was fixed on the gold lettered inscription on the stone:
Mary ‘Molly’ Carpenter
18th May 1946 – 9th September 2012
Beloved mother and grandmother
To live in the hearts of others is not to die
The mounded earth of the grave had not yet completely settled, but fresh daffodils were arranged in the pot set into the left hand side of the base, waving merrily in the breeze.
“Fuck, she was only sixty-six. How is that possible? That means she was only in her fifties when I knew her. God Almighty, Bella, she was too fucking young.”
Edward’s voice cracked, and he bit back a sob, even as a fat tear slid down his cheek. He wiped it angrily away, before letting go of Bella’s hand and walking around the grave to stand beside the glossy black stone. Crouching down, he unwrapped the simple posy of spring flowers he was holding and started pushing them into the holes of the cover on the second pot. It had been raining the day before when they arrived in Manchester, and it was already full of water, so he hoped they would last for a few days. When he’d finished, he stood up, crumpling the plastic wrapping in his hands. He looked around for a bin, only to find Bella beside him, holding out her hand to take it.
“I’ll give you a minute,” she told him softly, and walked away to find somewhere to deposit the rubbish.
Edward placed his hand on top of the cold granite, rubbing it distractedly.
“I’m sorry I didn’t try to find you earlier, Molly. I thought I had time…”
He swallowed the lump in his throat, looking up at the overcast sky, which hung like a grey shroud over the landscape. Sniffing, he gazed back down at the grave. He knew it was futile to regret not having looked for her, as she’d been dead and buried before he even had the means to start searching.
“Thanks for the money… I can’t believe you did that. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with it, but please believe that I’m grateful. I just wish I didn’t have to think about it… that you were still here. I used to fantasise about finding you… about knocking on your door, and seeing that big, beautiful smile. You’d cook me a big roast dinner, followed by bread and butter pudding and custard… oh, God, why did you have to die so soon?”
He didn’t try to stop the tears now, letting them run down his face unhindered as the wind chilled his skin. It occurred to him in that moment that, despite the complete reversal of fortune he had experienced, he had cried more in the last three months than in the whole of his life prior to this point.
He turned his head to see Bella walking slowly back towards him.
“That’s my girl, Molly. Her name’s Bella, and she saved my life. I love her so much, and I just know you would have loved her too. She’s good, like you, and I’m so lucky to have her in my life.”
He crouched down again to straighten one of the flowers, pushing it further into the pot to stop it from being blown away.
“I miss you, Molly, but I think you’d be proud of me now—I’m a chef in a really good restaurant, and that’s all thanks to you and Marcus. I hope you’re together now. I love you both.”
He started to get up, but then seemed to think of something else.
“Hey, if you see my mum, tell her I’m sorry, and that I love her. I don’t know where she is, or even if she was buried or cremated, but maybe you could find her and tell her. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, but I’ll never forget you, Molly… or Marcus. Goodbye.”
He stood and looked over to where Bella waited a few yards away, giving him space. With one last glance down at the grave, he patted the headstone and then walked away, straight into his girl’s waiting arms… straight into his home.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
Bella turned side-on to look across at Edward where he sat in the passenger seat of the car, staring out the window. They were parked on a wide, tree-lined avenue, bordered on either side by 1930s semi-detached houses. Every house seemed to boast a well-kept front garden and a mid-range, fairly new executive saloon parked in the drive. The whole road screamed middle-class suburbia and, despite the recent major uplift in his circumstances and status, it made Edward feel a little uncomfortable.
As a homeless teenager, it was his experience that the British middle-classes were the least generous and the most contemptuous when it came to those who lived on the very margins of society. Bella, of course, was different. She might live in that world now, but she came from working-class stock and was proud of it. Her generosity knew no bounds, and he would never lump her in with the kind of city commuters who looked down their noses at the homeless.
He felt her hand on his thigh, and turned to look at her.
“We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, you know.”
He shook his head, trying to clear it of the unhelpful thoughts which were currently occupying him.
“No, it’s fine, I want to. Besides, Maggie’s expecting us.”
The day before, after leaving the cemetery and returning to their hotel room, Edward had finally used the number which had been given to him by Molly’s solicitor. Her daughter, Maggie, had been waiting for him to call and, much to his surprise, had not only been happy to talk to him, but had invited them both to visit her at home. The call had been short, giving Edward little insight into Maggie’s opinion of the bequest, but she had seemed friendly enough. However, the cheque was in his wallet, and he hoped that he could avoid any unpleasantness by the simple expedient of offering to tear it up.
Sighing, he glanced again at the house they had come to visit, seeing the curtains twitch in the downstairs window.
“Come on, let’s get it over with,” he said, pushing open his door and climbing out of the car. He waited for Bella to join him, linking his fingers with hers when she offered him her hand. Together, they walked across the grass verge and up the short drive to the front door of the house they’d been looking at for the last twenty minutes.
As they approached, the door was flung open, and a curvy, middle-aged redhead stood on the threshold, a bright smile on her face.
“Oh, thank goodness… I thought you weren’t going to come in,” she greeted, holding her hand out. “I’m Maggie Meade, and you must be Edward.”
Slowly, Edward reached out and took the proffered hand, a look of bemused astonishment on his face.
“Uh, yeah, I am… Christ, you look just like Molly!” he blurted, unable to stop himself.
Her smile faded a little, turning wistful. “Yeah, I get that a lot—Mini-Molly, my dad used to call me.”
She brought her other hand up to enclose his, giving it a squeeze before letting go, and then turned to look at Bella, where she stood silently watching their interaction.
“And this must be your girlfriend...?”
Suddenly galvanised, Edward let go of Bella’s hand and put his arm round her shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, this is Bella Swan,” he said, finally able to give the woman a genuine smile.
“It’s lovely to meet you both,” she responded, shaking Bella’s hand warmly, and then standing back. “Please, come in out of the cold.”
Once inside, she took their coats and then guided them to a sitting room at the back of the house. There, they were introduced to Maggie’s husband, Alistair, a tall, dark-haired man, with an equally friendly and welcoming demeanour. The house was filled with the warm smell of roasting meat, which reminded him of the fantasy he’d verbalised at Molly’s graveside, and Edward could feel his anxiety starting to bleed away. He smiled up at Maggie as she returned from the kitchen with a tray of tea and biscuits.
Sitting down next to her husband, she looked across at the couple on the opposite sofa.
“I’m so glad you could come today—I always hoped I’d meet you one day… it’s just such a shame that Mum isn’t around to see you.”
Maggie dropped her gaze and took a sip of her tea, and Alistair reached across and put his arm round her shoulders.
“Come on now, love, don’t take on so, you’ll have the lad crying into his tea.”
She looked up, giving him a little smile, and then turned again to Edward.
“My, but Mum was right. She always said you’d turn into a stunner… ‘mark my words’ she used to say, ‘the next time I see that boy he’ll probably be on the telly or a magazine cover’. She used to go on and on about how she’d never seen such a beautiful child, and that you’d grow up to break all the girls’ hearts.”
Edward blushed to his roots, while Bella nudged him with her shoulder, chuckling softly.
“Did… did she really talk about me?” he asked tentatively.
“Oh, my goodness me, yes. She felt so bad for leaving you and your mum when my brother died, but she just couldn’t cope with staying in the house after that… a parent should never have to bury their child…”
They were all silent for a moment, but then Maggie started talking again.
“Mum did write to your mother, and to you, but the letters came back marked undeliverable.”
“She wrote to us? Christ, I didn’t know that.” Edward swept a hand through his hair, shaking his head. “We moved to a smaller place after Marcus died—Mum couldn’t afford the rent on our old place, and I guess she didn’t bother to sort out getting our post redirected.”
“I understand that your mother died in an accident at home. That must have been awful for you, Edward. I suppose you must have been taken into care?”
He sighed and looked at Bella, who reached across to take his hand and give it a squeeze. Turning back to Maggie, he offered her a small smile.
“Yeah, it was pretty terrible, but you just have to make the best of things, don’t you?” he responded, noncommittally.
“That’s true, Edward, although I suspect it wasn’t quite as straight forward as you make out. But, enough of all that, I can see you’re not entirely comfortable talking about it. So, what about now? You look like you’re doing well—are you still living in London?”
“Uh, no, I left last year. Bella and I live in the Cotswolds. I’m a sous chef at a restaurant there, working for the former Head Chef of the London Savoy.”
“Gosh, that sounds very grand indeed! I remember Mum saying you had a flair for cooking… she said she used to love it when you came round, wanting to bake cakes with her… always asking questions, she said.”
She smiled at him, and he chuckled ruefully, relieved at the change of subject.
“Yeah, I was probably a really annoying little snot, but she was always so patient with me—her and Marcus.”
He sat forward, resting his forearms on his thighs and gazing intently at Maggie.
“They were the best part of my childhood, Maggie, I want you to know that. If it hadn’t been for them… well, I don’t know what would have become of me. They taught me how to be a decent person, despite what came after, and they gave me a skill which has led to an amazing career.”
“Oh, Edward, thank you, that means a lot to me. I know they would both be so proud of you if they were here today.”
Her voice trembling, she got up and walked over to a dresser at the side of the room, pulling a tissue out of the box that sat there.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you—”
“Oh, shush, you didn’t upset me, not at all,” she said, turning and waving her hand dismissively. “So, did you get a chance to visit the cemetery?”
“Yeah, we went yesterday. It’s… well, it’s a nice spot.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”
“Look, Maggie, I wanted to talk to you about the money—”
“Oh, have you not received the cheque yet?”
“Uh, no—I mean, yes, I got the cheque last weekend. It’s just… shit…” He dry-washed his face with both hands, and Bella leaned forward slightly, gently rubbing his back.
Maggie frowned, suddenly wondering if this handsome young man was quite as good as he had at first seemed. After all, despite her mother’s affection, he had been a child the last time she’d seen him. Could he be here to try and wrangle more money from her? Maybe she’d been wrong to welcome him into her house. She started to speak, but Edward cut her off.
“The fact is, Maggie, I’m hugely grateful to Molly for remembering me, and being so generous, but I’m not sure I can accept this… it’s a huge amount of money to take away from you—her real family.”
He stood up and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. Opening it, he extracted the cheque and held it out to her.
“Bella says I should keep it, that it’s what Molly wanted, but it doesn’t feel right to me.”
Maggie simply stared at the slip of paper in his hand, and then up at his face. Clearly, she had been so wrong to doubt Edward, and she mentally chastised herself for having so little faith in both him, and in her mother’s instincts.
Taking the cheque from him, she folded it twice, took hold of his right hand, and pressed the small rectangle of paper into his palm, before wrapping his fingers round it.
“This is yours, Edward. Bella’s right, it’s what Molly wanted. She’s given us so much—and I’m not just talking about money, although there was plenty of that for all of us. But, her one big regret was losing touch with you, and this was her way of trying to make it right. Take the money, Edward, and use it for whatever you want—you’ll be honouring her memory if you spend it on something you really need or want.”
She enclosed his hand with both of hers and smiled up at him.
And, in that moment, Edward felt the weight of his guilt about the money fall away, to be replaced with a deep affection for this woman who reminded him so much of the kind and generous surrogate grandmother who’d given him so much.
“Now then, you’ll stay for lunch, won’t you? Our boy, Colin, is coming over with a friend. Maybe you can give him some tips, Edward, ‘cause he can’t cook to save his life. I do love him, but that lad could burn water,” she chuckled.
“Um, well, if you’re sure—”
“Of course I’m sure. And I hope this won’t be the only time we see you. It would mean so much to Mum—and to me—if we could keep in touch. You’re… well, you’re like family, aren’t you? And maybe we’ll get a chance to come and eat in that fancy restaurant of yours one day.”
“Oh, Maggie, that would be brilliant. You could come for a visit and stay with us…” He looked at Bella for confirmation.
She smiled, and turned to Maggie. “Absolutely. We’d love it if you could come visit. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and you just have to say the word. We’ll give you our address and phone numbers before we leave.”
“Thank you, that would be wonderful. There you go, Al, that’s our next weekend away sorted.”
Edward smiled across at his hosts. Sad as he was at Molly’s passing, it seemed that he had, nevertheless, gained a new family—an inheritance which far exceeded the cheque in his pocket.
Bella walked through the house, the soft breeze from the open windows gently caressing her skin as she followed the sound of a lawnmower. In her hand, she clutched several sheets of printer paper, a pensive expression shadowing her features. When she reached the kitchen, she paused to grab a can of lager and a bottle of water from the fridge, before heading out the back door.
It was early April, and the fruit trees in the garden were laden with white and pink blossoms. The garden was bathed in warm sunshine, as the south of England basked in an unseasonable heat wave, with temperatures peaking in the mid-20s*. Turning her face up to the sky, Bella let herself absorb the heat for a moment, before focussing on Edward as he guided the ride-on mower around the wide expanse of the garden—it was their latest purchase, and he was like a kid with the best new toy ever. As he swung around the large willow tree near the boundary, headed back in her direction, she raised the can of lager to attract his attention, and then sat down at the wooden table set back on a small gravelled area outside the back door.
Bella watched him as he continued to cut the grass, whilst making his way towards her.
It was a sight worth taking the time to enjoy.
Edward was stripped to the waist, wearing only a pair of cut-off denim shorts, and the months of good living had worked wonders for his physique. He didn’t work out much—just with barbells at home—but he still rode his bike regularly, and the frenetic pace of his job, allied to the work he did around the house, meant that his musculature was well-defined without being overly ripped. The once unhealthy pallor of his skin was now lightly sun-kissed, just from the last few days of sunshine, and his glorious mane of copper hair seemed to sparkle and glint in the light.
Bella felt the familiar tingling in her stomach as he came to a stop in front of her, climbing off the little tractor, a wide grin on his handsome face. She wondered if she would ever stop being excited by the mere presence of this beautiful man.
She lifted the can, popped the ring-pull and handed it to him. He took it from her, swooping down to kiss her quickly on the mouth, before straightening up and taking a long chug of his beer.
“Thanks, I needed that,” he told her appreciatively, sitting down beside Bella on the wooden loveseat. He turned his head to take in what she was wearing. She always looked gorgeous to him, whether dressed to the nines, or in simple jeans and a t-shirt. However, right now she looked particularly edible in a short halter-neck top which displayed her cleavage to perfection, as well as a wide strip of pale, flat stomach above the tiny little cotton shorts she was wearing. His eyes drifted down to her long, shapely legs, letting himself remember how they’d been wrapped tightly around him as he thrust languorously into her earlier that morning.
With difficulty, he tore his eyes away from his perusal, as she leaned forward to put her drink down and picked up two sheets of paper from the table.
“What’s that?” he asked.
Bella swivelled slightly, resting a knee on the bench so she was facing him.
“It’s an email from Tyler… it’s about Paul,” she responded quietly.
A frown immediately clouded Edward’s face. He put his beer on the table and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs and staring at his hands where they were clasped in front of him.
He had made the decision not to attend the trial, much to Bella’s relief, but had agreed to let Tyler keep them informed.
“What does it say?” he asked, his voice flat and inflectionless.
Bella sighed and glanced again at the printed sheets.
“He got life, Edward, as predicted. It’s done… you can put him out of your mind for good.”
She reached across and rubbed his naked back, the skin there warmed by the sun. She ran her fingers over the tattoo at the base of his neck, feeling his pain, and longing to take it away.
“Did…?” He sighed and sat up, taking Bella’s hand in his as she dropped it to her side. He rubbed her palm with his thumb, studying it fixedly for a moment. She let him find his words in his own time, knowing he would eventually ask whatever it was that troubled him.
At last, he raised his eyes to hers, giving her a small, wistful smile.
“Did Tyler find out where… what happened to Mum?”
“Yes, he managed to get Paul to agree to a visit while he was on remand. He said that he couldn’t pay for a funeral, so the Council arranged for her to be cremated. Tyler contacted someone in the Crematorium Administrative Services Department and, apparently, they keep the ashes for up to five years; then, if they remain unclaimed, they dispose of them. It seems Beth’s ashes are still in storage and he’s given me the address if you want to collect them.”
He nodded slowly but said nothing, his eyes dropping again to her hand, which remained in his.
“You don’t have to decide now, Edward—”
He looked up, and she could see immediately that he’d made the decision.
“It’s okay, babe, I know what I wanna do. I’m gonna finish cutting the grass now, and maybe we can talk about it later.”
Bella gave him a warm smile, letting him pull her to her feet as he stood up. She reached up to kiss him lightly on the mouth, before turning to head back indoors.
Huge cumulus clouds scudded rapidly across the blue sky, dappling the landscape below in light and shade. A steady breeze ensured that even those clouds which were pregnant with rain moved quickly to the east, never lingering long enough to release their heavy load.
High on the hill—the almost stereotypical English vista spread out before them like a Constable painting—stood Edward and Bella, their hands clasped between them.
They had come to Boxhill in Surrey on a warm May afternoon at Edward’s request—one Bella had been happy to go along with, despite the long drive, especially when he’d explained the reason. He described the one occasion when Marcus had brought Edward and his mother to this idyllic spot, telling her that it was amongst the few happy memories he had from his childhood—it went without saying that all of those involved Marcus. They had brought a picnic and the weather had been hot, but with a kind breeze to keep them cool. Marcus had surprised the small boy with the gift of a kite, which he had then proceeded to teach Edward to fly.
As he described the moment when his kite had soared up into the sky, his smile had lit up his handsome face, and Bella could clearly see the child he’d been. What she also saw, much to her relief, was a wistfulness that spoke of fond memories, minus the dark and heart-wrenching sorrow which had previously been Edward’s constant companion.
She hoped, with every fibre of her being, that the task they were about to perform would free him from the last remaining shackles of his past.
Relinquishing his grip on her, Edward now brought his hand to the lid of the plain aluminium canister he was holding. He glanced at Bella, and then down at the receptacle which held his mother’s ashes.
Taking a deep breath, he started to speak.
“Do you remember, Mum, what a brilliant day we had here? You made corned beef and pickle sandwiches and Marcus helped me make the cupcakes with butter icing… except you called them fairy cakes. We had Coke to drink and you didn’t even mind that there was no wine or vodka. I remember you laughing… you laughed a lot that day, even when I pretended to puke when Marcus kissed you.
“It was such a fantastic day, wasn’t it, Mum? On the way home, Marcus bought fish and chips, and we ate them in the garden because it was so warm. I went to bed, thinking that it’d been the best day of my life. And, for a long time, it really was. But I’m happy now, Mum… happier than I ever thought possible.”
He glanced over at Bella, who simply stared at him, glassy-eyed, before transferring his attention back to the container.
“I wish so many things, Mum… but mostly, I wish you could have met Bella. I love her so much, and I’m pretty sure you would have loved her too. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you, but I hope you’re at peace now.”
Bella wrapped both hands round his upper arm as his voice cracked, and a lone tear ran, unhindered, down his face. Ignoring it, he unscrewed the lid, and held up the canister.
“Be happy, Mum,” he whispered, unable to speak louder for fear his voice would break. As he did, he tipped the metal urn and gave it a little shake. A stream of fine, grey ash poured from the open top and was immediately caught up and blown on the breeze, swirling and dissipating until it was all gone.
At last, Edward lowered his arm and replaced the lid on the tin. He looked around him, almost absently, before casting his eyes up to the sky. The sun was momentarily hidden, the only clue to its position being the golden aura rimming the large cloud currently obscuring it from view.
“Are you okay, my love?”
He dropped his gaze to Bella’s and smiled. His eyes were a little watery, but she could see that they were clear and untroubled.
“Yeah, I am, actually. I’m glad we came here… thanks for making the trip with me.”
She shook her head, giving him a wry smile.
“How could I not, Edward? I love you… where you go, I go.”
He turned to face her fully, dipping slightly to place the empty can on the ground next to his foot. Straightening up, he captured her face with both hands and crashed his mouth to hers. He poured every ounce of feeling into the kiss, wanting Bella to be in no doubt of the depth of his love for her. It was almost as if, with his final farewell to his mother, he was giving himself permission to move forward; he knew that every step he took from here on in would be with Bella beside him.
In turn, she accepted everything he had to give, slipping her hands into the thick, soft hair at the nape of his neck. She opened her mouth to him, her tongue making contact with his… sliding, dancing, tasting.
Breathless, they paused but didn’t draw apart. Forehead to forehead, they remained silent as their breathing returned to normal until, reluctantly, Edward drew back slightly. As he did, a strong breeze suddenly swirled around them, lifting Bella’s hair so that it whipped around her face. As quickly as it arrived, it dropped and calmed, just as the sun burst out from behind the fluffy white cloud, bathing them both in a pool of light and warmth. As one, they smiled, their eyes meeting, before Edward glanced up at the sky.
“Thanks, Mum,” he whispered.
Bella cupped his face, stroking her thumb over his high, sharply-defined cheekbone.
“You ready to go?” she asked softly.
He nodded in acquiescence. Turning to walk back up the hill towards the car park, he slipped his hand around Bella’s shoulders, whilst hers crept around his waist. As they crested the peak and reached the footpath, Edward paused to glance back once more. He gazed out over the endless vista below him, a rich tapestry in every shade of green, and smiled. Bella stood silently beside him, letting him have his moment. Then, without a word, he turned back, dropped a kiss on the top of her head and then continued walking.
Temperature – Mid-20s, e.g. 25 degrees Celsius = 77 degrees Fahrenheit