[Disclaimer] Everything Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer
[A/N] For Heather. Happy Valentine's Day :)
**From The Heart**
My lips twitch. I'm tempted to cover the answer to my manager with one of my many fake smiles. Then I decide against it and simply shake my head. "There's no way I'm doing this."
Aro's forehead wrinkles despite the injection of Botox he has gotten a week ago. His thin lips curl into a grimace. "Why?" he asks, his voice purring too sweetly. "Didn't you like the script Cullen's office sent you?"
I lower my mouth to the straw that's in my milkshake. The creamy strawberry flavor deludes my taste buds with the illusion of milk, sugar and fruit. In reality the drink I'm sipping on is nothing but water and sweetener. I swallow and sigh. Who cares if something is real, if it feels real? I'm not very real and everyone loves me. I'm a nineteen-year-old actress who is on an uphill climb to become a big number in Hollywood. I have the looks. I sure as hell have the talent. The only thing missing are the right offers. It's not enough to be a diamond. You need to find the perfect piece of jewelry to make it shine. Cullen's script is supposed to make only one person shine and that's his sorry talent free excuse of a stepson.
"There's no way I'm going to do this movie, Aro." I state, wiping a rest of the sugar-free milkshake from my lower lip with my thumb. "As my manager you should make sure I get better offers."
The man who has been responsible for my career since I started advertising for baby wipes grants me another of his creepy smiles. Aro Volturi is the living proof that overdoing it with plastic surgery is a horrible thing.
He reaches over the table and takes my hand. "Ali, sweetie, maybe you should rethink your decision."
Any sentence Aro starts with an "Ali, sweetie," is a bad thing. I hate that he knows how to manipulate me so well. "I think the role Cullen offered you is a great one. Why don't you want to play Grace?"
I slurp on the rest of my drink while my stomach rumbles. Unlike my gullible taste buds he instantly gets that my lunch isn't going to provide my body with any calories. Staying paper-thin is a constant struggle for young actresses. On the screen you always look twenty-pounds heavier and nobody wants to be casted as "the chubby girl."
"Ali? Is it because you were hoping to get the main lead? You and Cullen Junior don't have much chemistry together on screen."
Edward Cullen is the son of Hollywood diva Esme Cullen and stepson to Carlisle Cullen who is famous for bad movies that turn into block buster. Esme had her big time back in the eighties when big hair and big romantic drama was everything the audience craved. The press leashed out on her pretty badly for leaving her asshole husband for Cullen's talent-free ass ten years ago. He gets away with making crappy movies who make a shitload of money because most people wouldn't recognize a bad movie if their life depended on it.
"At least Edward doesn't smoke. Kissing him is less repulsive than kissing Hale." I mumble, attempting to free my hand from Aro's grip. "I don't know why the audience likes me and him together."
"It's the classic rebel and the princess thing." Aro explains. "Plus, you are both from the South. If you hadn't broken your ankle last spring, you and Hale could have done that Civil War movie together. Who needs Leigh and Gable when they can get Brandon and Hale?"
I hate Aro for ever talking me into doing a movie with Hale. If I sign the contract with Cullen, this is going to be my third one with this jerk Jasper. He's nothing like the Southern prince charming he plays in public. Jasper Hale has a serious drug and drinking problem that his managers Maria and Lucy are carefully hiding from the public. Alcohol makes him aggressive and moody. I don't want to be forced to work with such a kind of person for the next months.
"I hate the script. It's poorly written, even for Cullen."
Aro waves the waitress to refill his coffee cup. Her hand is shaking when she lowers the thermos jug. "C-can I get your signature for my daughter, Miss Brandon?"
I flash the woman a smile. "Of course." I pull an autograph out of my handbag and ask her what the girl is called. "To Bree," I write. "Always fight for your dreams. They are worth it." Then I sign with Ali Brandon and hand the red-flushed waitress the picture. "I hope she'll like it."
"Thank you. Thank you, Miss Brandon. Bree is going to be over the moon about this. You and Mr. Hale are her two favorite actors."
The mentioning of Hale makes my perfect smile cramp mid-way. She doesn't notice it and murmurs another thank you while she rushes back to her spot behind the counter.
"You are good with fans." Aro praises. "That's why you are so popular. That and because every little girl in America wants you as her best friend."
I never had a best friend in real life. When you start your career before you start kindergarten it's not easy to make friends that actually like you and not your on-screen character.
"Talking about best friends," I say, trying to choose my words carefully. "So, I'm supposed to play the best friend again in Cullen's masterpiece."
Aro nods. "Yes, exactly, Cullen Junior's love interest is going to be played by Izzy Swan. You are to play his sister who is also Izzy's best friend in the movie."
This is another proof that Carlisle Cullen is terrible as a producer. Who in his right mind would cast Izzy Swan at this time? If I am America's sweetheart, Izzy is the girl your parents warned you about. She curses, she's bitchy to fans and if rumors about her are true she will probably spend her time boozing with Hale instead of taking movie making serious.
"Ali, sweetie, Grace is perfect for you." Aro purrs sweeter than any brown sugar could taste like.
"She sucks. My character sucks." I protest. "Cullen has made the part a superficial cow. All she ever does is go shopping or brush her hair or she spends hours obsessing over her shoe collection. Nobody is like that. I mean, it says in the script that everybody at school loves her. Why? She's arrogant and manipulative. "
"Maybe because she wants her brother and her best friend to get together?" Aro asks. "I'm sure the audience will love Grace."
"What the audience wants are good shots of Edward's ass. So, he's to play the school hero who…how realistic falls for the biggest nerd the world has ever seen. "Izzy Swan will sure look cute with glasses on but all this tripping and fake clumsiness is just too much." I whisper chewing the nail polish from my thumb. I need to get a manicure soon.
"People like characters with weaknesses." Aro says. "It makes them more realistic."
"Izzy's character is a klutz who falls on her flat backside every fifteen minutes. She's whiny and chews on her lips so much they must look chapped throughout the entire movie."
Aro chuckles and pushes the folder with the script back to me. "Try to keep your opinion on Cullen's script to yourself when we start filming."
I slam my fist against the table. "I said no. Didn't you hear me when I told you no? You can't force me to do this silly movie. There's no way, you can do that."
Two weeks later when I'm sitting on the plane to Vancouver where we are going to film "From The Heart," I know better. Aro, this bastard, has included a clause into my contract that he's to choose two movies I'm going to make each year. This farce of a love story, I'm about to work at for Cullen Entertainment is one of them.
My mood is foul. I pull my hoodie over my un-combed hair and put my earphones in. Flying is something I don't enjoy a lot. It's too cold. It's too loud. Deep down I always have the fear of spiraling down to the ground in a burning aircraft.
"Can I sit here?" someone asks me, tugging on the sleeve of my sweater. I take my left earphone out and lift my sunglasses. "Pardon me?"
I have to admit that Izzy Swan looks better than anyone should do at six in the morning. She's wearing a lot of make-up. Black eye shadow and red lipstick make her face look older than seventeen.
"Did I wake you up?" she asks, chewing her gum with her mouth open. "I just wanted to ask if you'd be okay with me sitting here. I don't want to spend any more time with Edward than necessary."
I take my handbag from the seat next to mine. "Be my guest. At least your man doesn't taste like ash and beer when you have to kiss him."
Izzy sits down next to me. A wave of vanilla fills my nose. She smells so sweet. Her black leather jacket, ratty jeans and chucks outfit doesn't look very sweet. Izzy has been elected as worst dressed actress in a row for three years now. It's like she just doesn't care what others think about the clothes she's wearing. Secretly, I admire her courage.
"I kissed Cullen before." Izzy whispers, leaning a bit closer to me. "He slobbers. It's disgusting."
I can't help but giggle. "You and Cullen were together? I thought that was just a rumor."
"You mean like the rumor that you visited Hale the little fucker in Rehab over Thanksgiving?"
I shake my head. "I'm not his friend. Nor am I his girlfriend. Hale is so not my type."
Izzy orders a beer from the stewardess that she gulps down before the turbines of the plane even start. "I'm sorry. Flying makes me nervous and my dad insists that beer is good to help you calm down in stressful situations."
I lean back in my seat, my sweaty hands clasps the armrests of my seat. "How did you manage to get alcohol? You're seventeen."
Izzy's red mouth flashes me a grin. "Can you keep a secret?" she fishes her ID out and holds it up for me to read. Isabella Marie Swan it says on the document. Born September 13th…"You are twenty-two? I thought women only lie about their age when they are much older."
She shrugs her shoulders. "My ex-manager Caius thought it to be a good idea. He also thought that Cullen's a good director. Not a very good script writer but Carlisle…he sees things and manages to bring them to life."
I nod. Not because I believe a word she says but because it's expected. The plane takes off and I close my eyes. I take deep breaths and hum a soundless it's ok, it's ok, it's ok, over and over again in my head. Humans are not supposed to fly. It's not natural. Otherwise we would have been born with wings.
"Are you scared?" Izzy asks, running her fingertips over the back of my left hand. "We aren't going to crash."
"Don't say that." I screech. "God, I hate flying so much."
"Me too," she states, not stopping to stroke my hand in a lost attempt to calm me down. Maybe I should ask her to order a second beer for me?
Izzy takes my hand in hers and gives it a gentle tug. "Sometimes we have to do stuff that scares us. That's life."
Carlisle Cullen is a good-looking man. Why someone like that chooses to work mainly behind the screens and not in front of them is beyond me. I bet he'd make a much better actor than script writer.
My skin is itching from the amount of make-up Cullen insisted on being smeared on my face before we start shooting the first scene. I'm supposed to paint Izzy's toenails during a sleep over. Apparently that's what best friends do. They eat popcorn and talk boys while they give each other a pedicure.
I repeat the crappy dialogue in my head as I enter the room where we are going to shoot the scene. Izzy is already lying on the bed. Her make-up artist Rosalie is a true goddess when it comes to the art of invisible make-up. I don't know why I'm supposed to wear a full night out make-up while I'm hanging at home with my klutzy best friend.
When Izzy sees me, she smiles. The fake braces in her mouth reflect the light above our heads. It's too warm in here. But filming here is better than outside in the pouring rain. Izzy looks younger with the braces. Of course, Cullen had to make her wear braces. It's part of his nerdy girl fantasy come true.
"Action," Cullen calls out. "From The Heart, scene nine, act 3 – Izzy and Ali, here we go."
Like it's requested in the script I sit down at the edge of the bed. "My brother likes you." I say in a cheerful voice. "He just doesn't know it yet."
Izzy whines. "A boy like him never falls in love with a girl like me." In reality, yes, I think, fighting the urge to laugh. In Cullen's stupid movie things work differently. "You and Edward are made for each other. It's destiny."
God, what kind of teenager speaks like that? I hate this role so much, so much.
Izzy sobs. Then she wraps her arms around me and kisses my cheek. "Oh Gracie, you're my best friend. I love you."
She kisses my cheek a second time. Heat spreads through me. I don't remember a second kiss in the script. Maybe Izzy's trying to improvise.
"I wish I could be as pretty as you." Izzy purrs. "Can't you help me to get as pretty as you are to get your brother's attention?"
I nod my head and grab the green nail polish from the desk standing next to the bed. "Let me do a make-over on you. Let's start with a pedicure."
Cullen is a goddamn idiot. What kind of guy cares whether a girl's toe nails are painted? Unless he's some weirdo who's into that kind of stuff. I open the bottle with the nail polish and begin to paint Izzy's toenails. The sparkly color looks like an exploded Christmas tree. I hold both her feet in my lap and continue with my work.
"Are you going to the prom with Whitlock?" Izzy asks, mentioning Hale's character in the movie. So far I have managed to avoid speaking a single word with this idiot that's not work related. He knows I hate smoking. That's why he always makes sure to have smoked right before we shot kiss scenes. I hate him.
"I'd love nothing more." I say, hoping to sound convincing. "I mean if he doesn't manage to get expelled from school that is. I'm so worried about him."
"Cut," Cullen explains. "Great work, Izzy." He praises, petting her head like she's a little dog. "Alice, you need to bring more emotion into your play."
I roll my eyes. "I don't think Gracie can get any more emotional than she already is."
"Carlisle is right." Izzy states. "You play Grace's character, like you don't care whether her boyfriend gets kicked out of school."
I snap. "Maybe it would be for the best. It would send a clear message out that ditching school and doing drugs is nothing that leads you anywhere in life."
Izzy laughs and stands up from the bed. "This is a movie, not real life. In movies true love always wins. Didn't you know that?"
She puts on a pair of black flip-flops. "Carlisle, I'm starving. Couldn't eat a bite for the whole day because of this metal fence you insisted on me wearing."
She takes the braces out and places them in a little box. "Ali, come with me. Your next scene is in three hours. That's enough time to eat and reapply Gracie's pink lip gloss."
I follow Izzy into her trailer. It's messy but the coziest place on the whole set. I instantly feel at home makes me a grilled cheese sandwich and places a bottle of Pepsi on the table.
"Don't you have any diet coke?" I ask, tugging on the sleeves of my jacket. It's like I never know where to do my hands when Izzy is around. "I can't drink regular Pepsi."
"Are you diabetic?" she asks, pouring herself a glass with the Pepsi. "Or are you just being a skinny bitch?"
"I'm not that thin." I protest. "Well, I'm not diabetic but what the hell is wrong with taking care of yourself a bit? Nobody would give me any roles when I was fat."
Izzy fills my glass. "Drink up if you dare. It's just sugar. Not some kind of nuclear weapon. How's the sandwich? Can you feel your ass getting bigger with every bite you take?"
I drop the sandwich on the plate. "You are mean. It's no wonder nobody likes you."
"Who is nobody?" she asks, playing with her tangled curls. Naturally it's silky and smooth like silk. Cullen insisted her character needs to have bad hair, because in his opinion a smart girl is always too stupid to use conditioner.
"Everybody," I state. "The press…the fans…basically everyone on set hates you because you are being difficult to work with."
She lifts her glass to her mouth and gulps down the two-hundred calories within a flash. "I don't care what others think. It doesn't matter to me at all."
"Yes, it does." I protest in a too high voice. "I mean, don't you want to be popular? Don't you want people to like you, Izzy?"
Her mouth turns into a frown. "Can you please stop calling me Izzy? I can't stand that name."
Then why is everyone calling you that? I think, chewing the inside of my cheek. I'm hungry but so nervous that I won't be able to eat anything more of the delicious sandwich.
"My family and friends call me Bella." Izzy explains. "I would like for you to call me that too. Will you?"
"Bella," I whisper softly. "If you like me to call you that, why not? Did Caius pick the Izzy name for you?"
She nods, grabbing the almost untouched sandwich from my plate. "Caius and my mom decided on it together. I didn't have much of a say in it."
"Ready for prom, little sister?" Cullen Junior asks me as I walk down the fake stairs on set. The silver-strapped heels match the color of my dress I'm wearing perfectly. I look very pretty. But it's the kind of Oscar night beautiful and not high school prom beautiful.
"Here are your flowers for Emma." I tell him, holding a box out to him. "She likes pink roses."
"Oh Gracie," he sighs, petting my head. He clearly took on this annoying habit from his stepfather. "What would I do without you?"
I smile and vomit a little bit in my mouth when I say. "That's what sisters are there for."
Edward presses his lips against my forehead. The same cold lips that have spent an entire hour glued to Bella's lips while we were shooting the final scene. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because after two months of shooting this movie, I'm just tired. I've been bitchy to everyone apart from Bella. She and I are what people tend to call "joined at the hip."
Once you manage to break through her hard shell, she's the most caring person ever. Bella even talked Cullen into adding another scene for our characters, just to have more time in front of the camera with me. My heart does funny little pirouettes whenever she's close. I like her a lot. What I don't like is watching Edward Cullen drool over her like a lion over a lamb he's destined to feed on. Sizzling hot anger spreads through me when I watch him kiss her in a way that is supposed to look passionately on the big screen.
I could barely manage to concentrate on my own text because watching them made me so angry.
"I need a smoke." Hale announces. "Can we have a little break, Carlisle?"
"Sure, why not. " Cullen states. "Ten minutes, everyone. Alice, do you know where Izzy is? I swear, I should get an electric tag for that girl."
I change my uncomfortable heels for a pair of blue chucks. They look awkward with the dress but it's not like anyone is going to see me wearing them in public. I head outside, rubbing my goose-pimpled arms to warm them in the icy night as I walk through the darkness. I like darkness. It's full of secrets and mysteries to be uncovered.
A moment later, I stumble over a stone on the ground. I fall, but not long enough to make full-face contact with the asphalt. "Be careful," Bella whispers, wrapping her arm around me to keep me from falling over. I mumble a thank you.
"No need to thank me. Just remember that I'm the one who's playing the clumsy character, not you."
I smile. "You mean you are the…character that kisses Cullen the sleaze ball until her lips are swollen like a bee attacked them." I sound like a jealous bitch now and it's embarrassing. "Do you love him? You let him use tongue."
Bella shakes her head. "You are cute when you are jealous. Let's go back inside the gym and burst some of those horrible heart-shaped balloons."
Cullen has picked a decoration that resembles a dollar store the night before Valentine's day. The whole gym has been filled with red heart-shaped balloons and more glitter any sane person could handle.
I take my left earring out and slam it into the first balloon I pick up from the ground. "God, I hate doing this movie. I'm so glad it's over."
Bella grabs another balloon. She tosses it aside and sighs. "You are flying back to L.A. tomorrow morning, right?"
I nod, pinching a second balloon. Then I get another idea. I fumble the next balloon open and hold it up to inhale the helium it's filled with. My voice sounds like that of a cartoon character when I speak up again. "Will you miss me?"
"Why would I?" Bella teases me. "You're a little pain in the ass and a bad actress on top of that."
I see red. There are many things I can handle but being called a bad actress is not one of them. "Fuck you, Izzy Swan. You wouldn't know a good actress if your life depended on it."
She laughs, wrapping her hands around my wrist. "You are so goddamn pretty when you get angry. I wish—"
"You wish what?" I ask her, stepping closer to her. "What, Izzy?"
"Haven't you realized that you are the only person on set here who is allowed to call me Bella instead of Izzy?" She tells me. "Why do you think it is that way?"
I swallow twice although my mouth is completely dry. "I don't know. I never thought about it."
"You never thought about it." Bella repeats, taking another step towards me. The tips of our shoes touch. "Do you want to know what I was thinking about earlier while I was shooting that kiss scene with Cullen?"
I nod. I know what I think about when I do a kiss scene. I think about whether my eyelashes and nose will look okay on the screen. I wonder if the other actor's lips are pressed hard enough against mine to mimic a real kiss. Sometimes I worry about bad breath too.
Bella's answer is a shy whisper. "You," she confesses. "All the time, he kissed me, I was thinking about how much better I would have liked it if it was you whom I had to kiss."
The premiere for "From The Heart" is set for Valentine's Day. I choose to wear a killer outfit. A ruby red dress that clearly says straight and not sexually irritated. Still the thought of meeting Bella again makes me nervous. I hate the way she makes me feel all confused in the head. She hasn't spoken a single word to me since we finished shooting the movie. Yes, I admit that I might have reacted a bit childish after what she confessed to me. What are you supposed to say when another girl tells you she has you on her mind instead of her – smoking hot – the press's words, not mine – co-star? I remember blushing, like a twelve-year old fan when you hug them for a photo. I also remember the awkward silence between Bella and me. I'm sure she wished she could take back the words. I mean, she must know that I'm not gay? I don't act gay, do I?
The buzzing of my doorbell interrupts my inner struggles. I check my reflection in the mirror before I head out of the door. My feet are already beginning to hurt after the first steps. After tonight I'll be dead, but who isn't willing to suffer a bit for looking fabulous on the red carpet.
"Why didn't you put on the yellow dress I send to you?" Aro snarls, wiping sweat from his pale forehead. "I signed a contract with this new designer. This," he snaps the strap of my dress. "This is going to cost us a big advertising contract, Ali."
I sigh, putting my feet up on the seat across from me in the limousine. "I thought red would look better on me."
"Are you a rocket scientist now? Your job is not to think, but do what I tell you to."
He waves a crumbled sheet of paper against his chest. Aro is always a nervous wreck on premiere days. I know that tomorrow he's going to apologize on his knees.
I pull out my little mirror and check my teeth for any traces of lipstick. Then I look out of the dark window and try my best to ignore my manager's rambling. He's just worried and too old to handle stressful situations with calm dignity.
Finally, after what feels like a little forever the car stops. "Go and kill them, gorgeous." Aro demands kissing the back of my hand before he orders the driver to open my door.
The flashlights of the cameras blind me. I smile and wave my hand. Like a robot set on autopilot I answer the same stupid questions over and over again with endless patience.
"There's my best friend."
I don't manage to spin around. Bella's leather covered arm comes around me in a tight embrace. "Doesn't she look stunning tonight?" she asks the press-chick with a sheepish grin on her face. I turn my head and manage to get a glimpse of Bella's outfit. She's wearing a black lace dress. It would probably look appropriate for a big carpet event if she wouldn't have topped it with her leather jacket and the inevitable black chucks.
"Are you two really best friends?" press-chick who's name tag says Jessica Stanley asks curiously.
"So close we finish the other one's sentences." I lie, unable to bring my heartbeat back to a normal tempo. Bella smells like vanilla again. I want to crawl underneath that ugly leather jacket of hers and hide from the rest of the world.
For the next hour, Bella follows me on the red carpet as if Wendy Darling herself had sewed Bella's shadow to my body.
"Having fun tonight, ladies?" Jasper prattles walking towards us. His blood-shed eyes are hidden safely behind dark sunglasses.
He loops his arm through mine, almost making me stumble on my backside. No actress wants pictures of herself falling down to appear in the tabloids.
"Damn it," I hiss. "Let me go, you idiot."
Jasper's drunk. More drunk than he usually is. There was an announcement in the press earlier that week that he's going to rehab again. "Kiss me, Ali."
He grabs my jaw. "Help me to give those assholes from the press something to really gossip about."
The crowd of fans begins to cheer when he lifts me up and spins me around. I kick my feet against him. I hate that everyone loves me with him. I would never date such a miserable piece of crap.
"Let her go, or I'll kill you, Hale." Bella threats. "If you dare to put your whisky soiled mouth on hers, I will end you."
Jasper laughs. He calls Bella a stupid cunt but drops me down to the floor again. I'm relieved that we've reached the end of the red carpet. A bottle of water is shoved between my hands and soon, I'm finding myself sitting in a dark movie theatre. My heart begins to quiver when Bella reaches for my hand in the darkness. I don't dare to push it away. I let her hold my hand like it's the most natural thing on earth. When the lights are turned on again, it takes me a bit longer to find my way back to reality than it would be necessary.
"What was your favorite scene?" Bella asks while we are waiting in the line for the rest rooms. Yes, we are Hollywood stars but we still need to pee. "Ali?"
"I liked when you managed to drop on your ass on the only two inch piece of black ice within a mile. Is it difficult to play a clumsy character?"
"Is it challenging to play a dumbass bitch with a jerk of a boyfriend? I could have ripped Hale's windpipe out. His paws were all over you."
I have seen Bella moody. I have seen her playing lucky-go-happy. I know how her eyes light up when she's agitated. When that happens she always begins to talk with her hands. I've never seen her truly mad though.
"Are you jealous?" I ask. "You don't have a right to be jealous. You and I aren't together."
"We could be." Bella states wrapping her arms around me from behind. "You and Hale are good on camera." She lowers her lips to my naked collarbone. "You and I would be good in reality."
I rush to the next free stall, like it's the last fucking lifeboat on the Titanic. I sit on the closed toilet lid for a full ten minutes with my head between my knees. I don't want to go out there and face Bella. The way she makes me feel is too confusing. I think of Aro and how it would make the thick vein in his forehead burst if the press would find out about me being in love with a girl.
In love? Are you about to lose it, Brandon? You. Are. Not. In. Love!
"Do you have some kind of bladder infection?" Bella asks me when I finally dare to make it outside the stall. "No wonder with that little dress thing you've chosen to wear."
"Fuck you," I spite, heading over to the sinks to scrub my hands like I suffer from a compulsion to wash. "Leave me alone and mind your own business."
I don't know why I act like a bitch. It's not who I usually am. She's confusing me. The way that Bella makes me feel is intimidating me. This is nothing you can learn by re-reading your script all over again. This is life and I'm only good at movies. Real life is something I'm a newbie to.
"Why are you so mad at me?" she asks, playing with a wisp of her hair before she tugs it behind her ear. There are several silver-rings in it. Aro would flip if I got a piercing without his permission. Idiot…
"You are hitting on me." I say, glad that she and I are the only two people in the restroom. "You were hitting on me while we were out there! Are you crazy?"
Bella laughs. The angrier I get the more she laughs. I lose it and reach forward, trying to cover her mouth with my hand. She grabs my wrist and pulls me close. Another curse dies in my throat when Bella's lips lock with mine. It's not a gentle kiss. A kiss can be a point or a question mark. This one here is a big fat exclamation mark. Her mouth moves with mine. I don't want to kiss her back. I don't want to like it being kissed by her. But it feels so good. I've been kissed a thousand times before and mostly in front of a camera. I know how to hold my chin up so that it looks smaller. I know how to make my eyelids flutter to fake excitement.
"Stop acting," she whispers softly. "Just feel, Ali. This is real." She kisses me again. "We are real." I moan. I moan into her mouth when her tongue slides between my parted lips. It's perfect. It's like I've never been truly kissed before in my life and I suddenly know that's how I want it to be for the rest of my life. My own tongue touches against hers. I shiver. My blood tingles in my head.
Then I hear a familiar sound, a sound that is so much part of my life that I would recognize it always and everywhere. It's the clicking of a camera.
We jump apart but it's too late. The little bitch with the camera has already seen more than enough. She's a tiny thing. Her hair is blonde and tied up into a thick knot at the back of her head. She wears enough black eye-shadow to last a normal woman a month.
When she realizes we noticed her, the ruby mouth of hers curls into a devilish smile. "It's very interesting how you two like to spend your time together."
I panic. I don't know how to handle a situation like this. Usually I have Aro to make sure the press only prints pictures of me that we want them to show to the public. Izzy Swan kissing me gay in a restroom is definitely nothing I want anyone to see. Crap, if this goes to the newspapers and tabloids my parents in Mississippi are going to see it.
"Give the camera to me." Bella demands. "I'm sure we can figure something out."
"I'm only loyal to those who pay me for my services." Blondie devil responds. She waves a small, almost doll-like hand at us and rushes outside. I stare after her. My sight becomes blurry from tears filling my eyes.
"It's okay, Ali." Bella whispers into my ear, hugging me tightly from behind. "It's going to be okay. Don't worry."
"No," I sob. "Nothing is okay and ever will be. You ruined my career."
I break free from her embrace and storm out of the restroom. My shaking hands try to save my cheeks from getting smeared with black trails of mascara. I should have picked a waterproof one tonight. Or I should just have stayed home in the first place. Oh my God.
"Are you alright?" someone asks, putting a cold hand on my shoulder. "Why are you crying, Alice?"
I blink at Edward Cullen's face. He's a good looking guy to anyone's standard. His tousled copper hair is his pride. The green of his eyes is bright against the freckle-free pale skin. He avoids the sunlight like it's his personal enemy.
"I'm fine." I stutter. "Thank you."
"You don't look very fine. Your face is white. You are trembling."
I sob and although I don't like Edward I wrap my arms around him and cry. The purple of his suit is going to be ruined. I expect him to push me away. I mean, this is Versace I'm marking with make-up, tears and snot. But my movie brother acts like a perfect gentleman. Esme raised him well. He holds me. He strokes my back and when I finally manage to calm down he even gets some tissues and a wet cloth to wipe my face.
"What are you doing there with my doll?" Jasper prattles, walking towards us. "She's my bitch not yours."
"You are high. Don't let my father see you like that." Edward fishes his cell out to call a taxi to get Jasper home. The moron kisses my forehead before the driver pulls him outside to the parking lot.
"Maybe it's nice being high." I state. "You don't have to feel what you feel or take on the responsibility for your choices, especially the bad ones."
The next morning after a night I spent with crying and ignoring my phone and my cell, Aro shows up at my apartment. He throws a pile of magazines on the table where I can take a close-up look at me and Bella. The pictures are awful. The headlines are even worse. "Dykes from the heart" and another one has a picture of a sad looking Edward next to us that says. "Cullen's heart thrown to the sharks."
"I'm sorry, Aro." I tell him, pulling my blanket up to hug it closer against my chest. "I didn't know someone from the press would see us."
He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. "Carlisle Cullen is going to cancel your role for his next movie."
Like I ever wanted to do a movie with him in the first place! I never get to play a role I truly want to play. Aro has been making my choices for all my life. I'm his puppet. Now the strings have been cut.
"I don't give a shit about Cullen's next movie. Rumors are spreading that he wants to make one with vampires in it. I mean, who wants to see a movie with vampires? A PG13 vampire movie is destined to suck."
"You are going to be lucky if Cullen lets you suck a little bit of blood in that movie. You ended yourself. You ruined what I created over a decade with just a single moment of weakness."
The vein in his forehead throbs. Aro's eyes morph into small slits. I cough when he suddenly wraps his hands around my throat and begins to choke me. "You ruined me." He yells. "I won't let that happen, you little selfish bitch. I made you. I can end you if I like to."
Something splitters over my head and then Aro is pushed abruptly from my couch. He moans and his eyes roll back in his head when he falls over. My carpet gets soaked with vomit and blood.
"Ali?" Bella asks, pulling me into a tight hug. "Ali, are you alright? I came to check on you because I was worried you might do something stupid."
Aro coughs. "Stay away from her, cunt. If you ever come near her again, I will, I will…,"
"If you ever come near her again, you are dead. Now get your fucking ass out of this apartment before I show you how well my Dad taught me to shoot. "
I almost faint when Bella actually pulls a silver colored gun out. "I am going to count to five, shithead. Get out of here."
Aro tumbles to his knees.
"Stop it," I beg. "Please, put that thing down, Bella. Please,"
"Two," she calls, clicking the trigger.
Before she manages to say four, Aro runs out of the door. I've never seen the man run that fast in my life.
"You are fucking insane." I state. "This is not same wild west movie. You can't just shoot people if they are in your way."
Bella laughs and pulls the trigger of the revolver again. A loud banging noise fills the air, followed by the rain of confetti shaped like countess little red hearts rains down on us.
"Happy late Valentine's Day, Darling." She calls out, dropping the toy revolver onto the pile of magazines. Then she pulls me close against her chest. "Are you okay? Let me take a look at your throat."
"I'm okay." I lie. "It's not that easy to kill me."
"They kill you. They kill me." Bella states, picking one of the magazine's up. "I don't give a crap about the press. I could make an interview declaring that I tricked you into kissing me. That it was a bet or something like that."
My left eyebrow twitches upward. "You'd do that for me? Why? The public already hates you enough."
"This is what we do for the people we love." She whispers, taking my hand in hers. "And I can't imagine loving anyone more than I love you."
"You're in love with me?"
Her answer is a very gently kiss on my lips. "From the first moment I saw you." My lips search hers like they are opposite magnets. My parents and Aro have told me I was born to act. Maybe in truth I've been born to kiss Bella.
I don't know how Bella manages to reach a hospital that's fifty minutes away in less than half an hour. She drives like a maniac. It's scary.
Her hand in mine is not scary at all. It feels right. It feels safe. The press has already found out about us being together, so there's no need to worry anymore. Right?
"Girls, what are you doing here?" Cullen asks us when we enter the waiting room. Carlisle is standing next to a doctor. There's a thick book in his hands. "Anatomy for beginners" is written on its back.
"Alice's asshole manager choked her." Bella explains. "I want to have her checked on by a doctor to make sure she's okay."
"Carlisle, I'll handle this." The doctor next to him says. "Miss Swan can wait here for her until we are done. What are you waiting for, CC. Come with me. I'll show you how to do a proper examination."
A few minutes later, Cullen is shining a little flashlight into my eyes. "Am I doing it right?"
Is he doing what right? I blink and look away. "Why is he letting you do that?"
The doctor clears his throat. "I'm the official medical consultant on Mr. Cullen's next movie. I mean, Mr. Cullen Junior's first movie."
"I get to play a doctor." Cullen announces proudly. "Isn't that amazing? I always wanted to be a doctor."
I've seen Cullen's reaction on set when someone sliced his finger on a sheet of paper. He got all green around his nose.
The real doctor examines my throat and applies some cooling salve on my neck. "It's going to bruise anyway. You were lucky he didn't break your hyoid."
"I'm not going to work with Volturi ever again" Cullen states. "There's no excuse for such a behavior. I hate men who dare to lay a hand on women. My wife's first—," He covers his mouth mid-sentence, like he was about to tell me something he's not supposed to talk about. We all have things we want to hide. Things we want to forget. That's part of life.
I feel awkward. My throat begins to ache really badly. "Weren't you supposed to do a vampire movie?" I ask, trying to distract both me and Cullen.
"There are vampires in that movie. They are vampires pretending to be human. Isn't that exciting? It's something new."
"Well, good luck for it."
"Aren't you going to ask me for a role?"
I cough. My throat burns. It's hard to swallow and so I cough another time before I can speak up. "Didn't you read the press this morning?"
He shakes his head. "Why would I? I have people who read that garbage for me. Today I was extra busy because I was with Dr. Gerandy here all morning long since the break of dawn."
I can feel my cheeks blushing crimson when I give Cullen the short version of the Bella and Alice in love story. How I am in love with her. How she's in love with me and how the press chick caught us kissing last night.
For an endless minute I watch the time on the wall behind us click slowly forward. Finally Cullen ends the awkward silence. "You think I wouldn't hire you because you are gay? I've hired Hale and he's a drug addict. I mean, he's hopefully going to be clean before we start shooting again in fall. That boy is gifted and so are you, Alice."
I blush and stutter a shy thank you to him. "Would I play a human or a vampire in the movie?"
"If you play a vampire you'd get to spend more time around your girlfriend. Would you like that?"
I nod. I nod several times like an idiot. Cullen scrawls his private cell number onto a piece of paper and demands that I'm to call him in a couple of days so that we can discuss the details on my role. He actually wants my opinion on the role. I've never been asked to do that by a producer. Aro always insisted they hate being criticized.
Whatever is left of my pride disappears when a nurse insists Bella has to push me outside in a wheelchair. Security reasons. She insists taking me to her hotel instead of back to my apartment.
"The fuckers from the press are probably already waiting there for you." She states. "I booked the hotel room under my stepdad's name." She grins and waves a fake ID with the name Marie Dwyer on it.
When I close the door to the hotel room behind us a couple of minutes later, Bella goes on full mother hen mood. She applies more of the cold lotion on my neck and throat. She insists I'm to lie on the couch and don't move a finger while she sits next to me. She puts her hand on my forehead as if she's worried I could develop a fever.
"This is wrong." I whisper. "I don't feel ready for being out in the open."
"We don't have to announce our engagement tomorrow." Bella says, gently caressing my face with her fingertips. "I just want to spend time with you. I want us to be together." She kisses my knuckles. "You mean a lot to me."
You mean a lot to me too, I think in my head. The words don't leave my mouth. I could blame it on the numbing effect of the lotion but the truth is I'm still overwhelmed by the intensity of my feelings for her. I lean forward and kiss her mouth that feels all kind of right when it's pressed against my lips. Much too soon for my liking Bella pulls back.
"We should take things slow. You've been hurt today and should rest."
Bella plants another very light kiss on my chin and the tip of my nose. "Your skin is like porcelain. It will be easy for them to put on your vampire make-up."
"Cullen said you are to play a vampire too." I tell her. "He said that if I decided to play one too, you and I could get to spend more time together on set."
"Cullen has the best ideas sometimes. You and I are going to be the most amazing vampires the world has ever seen."