There are so many ‘ward’s that we love - Darkward, Domward, Balticward – that it’s almost surprising when, with all the fics out there, a new ‘ward comes in a steals our heart the way the others have. I’m happy to admit that Catholicward (DeviKalika’s Edward in OIW) has stolen my affection and has me wrapped around his foul-mouthed, angsty, inexperienced little finger.
OIW is the story of Edward, a Catholic-school guy (shut up! I have that fantasy too!) who painfully struggles with guilt over a tragedy in his past for which he blames himself. In the first chapter, Alice (his cousin) drags him shopping and he meets Bella, an employee at a clothing store (“I close my eyes. I did not seriously just spring a boner in a fucking chick store.” – Chapter 1). Inevitably, he finds himself drawn to her like he’s never been drawn to anyone else.
Does it sound familiar? Trust me, it’s anything but. DeviKalika’s style is concise, intellectual, engaging, and completely addicting. She’s created a story that feels fresh and perfectly blends canon with her own creative twist on each character. OIW’s Catholicward is scowling, edgy, and swears like George Carlin in a bad mood… and yet he is totally lovable. You can almost imagine him letting out a little squeak of surprise when you grab and pull him into a bear hug; he’ll patiently wait out the hugfest before looking you in the eye and asking, “What the fuck was that for?” Not a complaint, just an honest question. In fact, behind the scowl you will probably see reluctant gratitude.
Catholicward’s struggle with guilt is genuine; he wants Bella but doesn’t believe he deserves her. His cousins, Alice and Emmett (perfectly captured and caricatured) and friend Jasper do their damndest to get him to relax and have a good time, and they are clearly the only people (along with their mother, Mary) who Edward truly feels comfortable with. The comic relief they provide is beautifully blended with their genuine affection and support for Edward.
DeviKalika reveals Edward in straightforward yet engaging strokes and you can tell that she loves writing him. By the end of the first chapter, there is enough Edward in there that we recognize, and she’s shown us enough of her own Catholicward that we can easily incorporate the two. He’s an almost impossible combination of cocky Wisenheimer and self-deprecating Angstboy, and this story won Best Comedy WIP at the Indie Awards for a very good reason: it’s absolutely hilarious. Edward’s honesty is endearing even though he’s entirely blunt and usually delivers everything bedazzled with curse words. Things that would be offensive coming from anyone else just seem appealing from him. I’d pay big money for the stink-eye he gives Alice. It’s probably because, when it all boils down to it, he doesn’t hide his pain very well and ultimately just wants to find a way to be forgiven but hasn’t realized it’s up to him to do it.
He successfully keeps others at a distance – of course he does, he is Edward. But, true to Edward, with Bella he turns into a puddle of lost composure. Catholicward blushes. He stares. He stutters. He runs away after boob grabs. And, most of all, he sports wood. A lot of wood.
He is lovable because he is honest and smart. But he is also vulnerable, sharp, cynical, and brooding. In many stories this combination feels forced. But here it feels at once familiar and completely unique to the story. He says all the things you wanted canon Edward to say at different points but was too polite to say (“She really does have cotton candy for brains, doesn't she?” – Chapter 1, referring to Jessica). And, yes, he also says the kinds of things we loved about canon Edward (“Don't be embarrassed, Bella,” I breathe. “Christ, you're beautiful.” – Chapter 10).
All of his detached and I-don’t-give-a-fuck bravado is completely transparent to Bella, and she calmly pulls the film away from him a strip at a time. She knows tragedy, yet she remains grounded and solid in ways that he can only admire. He needs her, and he actually realizes that, but worries about what it will cost her. No one else can get him to open up without snark or scoff. The evolution of their relationship is done entirely without pretense. He wants to stay away – thinks maybe he should – but he can’t. It’s when stories honor that pull, when they respect that these two are drawn to each other without question or barrier, that I am grabbed by the collar and forced to read. What I enjoyed about the books was that underlying sense of fate, that Bella and Edward came from two worlds that could not be more different and yet absolutely belonged together. The AH stories that capture this are the only ones that I read, to be honest. These stories, the ones that admit that these characters – different as they are, dysfunctional as they are – belong together, are the ones that capture what many of us loved about Bella and Edward to begin with.
But instead of floundering or contributing to his neurosis, this Bella steps up. In OIW, Bella doesn’t chase Edward, she pulls him. She is strong, confident (teasing him while she eats pie, knowing exactly what her effect on him is: “It's not like you're the first guy to ogle me while I make sweet, sweet love to my fork.” – Chapter 4), and experienced where he is not (I love that she is experienced without apology, even if it’s messy, at least it’s real). She tells him she’ll wait for him and she means it.
His past tragedy (which we don’t learn about until Chapter 9) is the reason why he feels unworthy. This familiar theme is done so simply and perfectly here that it is almost impossible to not feel the urge to lean in towards the computer screen and tell him to ease up on himself the way that we all wanted Edward to let go a little bit in the books.
What DeviKalika has done in OIW is something that makes me fall over fangirling. She writes AH but respects canon, even with a foul-mouthed, blushing, constantly-wanking Edward. Importantly, she does it in a way that feels like a new approach because her characters have such depth. Her nods to canon are scattered throughout: Edward deciding that if he lets himself get to know Bella, he’ll be relieved to be disappointed. Edward keeping everyone away from his true self (though, thankfully, his family knows him too well). Edward as an old soul in a young body. But perhaps the best nod is when she takes the two largest canon issues that have no doubt been done in fic countless times – Edward’s vision of self as unworthy and his fear of hurting Bella – and makes it feel genuine and bare. She makes me care how she resolves it because it will probably be messy and I’m sure I will hurt for him sometimes, but I know it will be real and honest. DeviKalika has created a captivating approach-and-retreat where Bella is patient and encouraging and Edward is earnest and confused. He needs her to guide him, but first he needs to forgive himself. It’s a tall order, and for once Bella is wise enough to know that only he can free himself.
This process of self-forgiveness is aided by Father Corwin, DeviKalika’s Indie Award-winning Original Character and the patient priest who sits through Edward’s fuck-laden confessions (“I accuse myself of the following sins, Father... I dishonour my mother and father. Pretty much daily. I take the Lord's name in vain all the goddamn time, and I curse like a fucking sailor.” – Chapter 3). He has watched Edward sort through his tragic history and has obviously transitioned from encouraging Edward to stop shouldering the blame for everything to simply listening and encouraging. Father Corwin realizes, as does Bella, that the only person who can forgive Edward is Edward. The contrast between Edward’s rampant use of curse words in confession with his complete dedication to regular confession attendance provide the perfect analogy to the ways that his entire being contradicts itself: Wise yet tentative. Intuitive yet oblivious. Loving yet distancing. Loyal yet isolated.
Although Father Corwin is one of my favorite characters in this story, no one can overlook DeviKalika’s Emmett. He is, hands down, my favorite Emmett. Similar to MrsTheKing’s, Manyafandom’s, and algonquinrt’s side characters, DeviKalika has taken Emmett and made him exponentially, deliciously, addictively more. She creates entirely new words for Emmett’s vocabulary, and it would ruin the humor to share even one of them here. He alone makes the story worth reading, but it’s so much more than that.
The thing that boggles me is that the best is still yet to come in this story. Edward and Bella have kissed a few times, but they still have so many more awkward sexual moments, conversations where Edward blushes, revelations of their fated love, and, hopefully, discussions where Edward learns to forgive himself and just dive right in. Not to mention all of the Emmett, Jasper, and Alice time we still get. Some tricky questions remain, though, and I’m pretty sure DeviKalika isn’t going to make it easy for Catholicward, Bella, or us. Most importantly is the issue of whether Edward can ever be a good partner if, instead of healing, he continues down this path of self-loathing. Rome wasn’t built in a day, I hear, and Edward’s pain runs deeps. However it turns out, I trust DeviKalika to give us the honest version that resonates with each of us.
In Catholicward’s own words: Christ. I am definitely swooning.
LolaShoes is the author of Let Your Light Shine and its sequel, A Life Extraordiary. When she isn't churning out the fic, she is bringing together some of fandoms BNA's for this past Comic Con.