The quiet familiarity of the office was soothing. Bella sat, unmoving, in the plush chair, her eyes roving over the space with mingled apprehension and nostalgia. She had spent such a short time here—only a few weeks, in truth—yet somehow, she felt like the place had become a part of her. This building, and more importantly, the people in it, had saved her from herself—they had plucked her, beaten down and defeated, from the ruins of her own life and had given her a new start. Without Invictus, Bella was not sure where she would be, or how she would have ended up there.
"Sorry." The door flew open and slammed shut with such a noise that Bella jumped. "I didn't think it would take me so long to get here…"
"No worries," she said, stretching her arms. "I've got nowhere to be."
It was Bella's day off—she had just completed her first full week as Accounts Manager at Alice's Specialty Bake Shop. She had spent a busy five days on the phone with vendors, trying, despite her awkwardness, to barter. She had made it her mission to seek out a new sugar supplier, as the one currently on the books was charging them an exorbitant shipping fee. When she had grown sick of phone calls, Bella had busied herself in the filing cabinets, nosing through personnel files, old accounting records, and payroll information to familiarize herself with those few parts of the job that had been restricted to her until her promotion officially went through.
But all in all, Bella hoped that by Monday, she would have some good news to share with Alice.
Rose broke her out of her work thoughts with a sudden thud—a binder, thick and heavy, plunked down on the desk between them.
"Here we are," said Rose, turning the binder so that Bella could read along. "Thanks again for your offer. You don't know how much it helps to have an extra set of eyes."
"No problem," said Bella earnestly, "but what exactly are we looking for?"
"Anything," said Rose grimly. Bella felt butterflies erupt in her stomach. "She's been gone since Tuesday, and I only give three days before I put out some feelers."
The evening before, Bella had received a strange and unexpected call from Rosalie. Bella's phone almost never rang—Emmett was a texter, and Alice, bless her, only ever sent memes. When the ringer had sounded Bella had leapt from the couch in surprise, startling her brother as he paused the movie they'd been watching in the large, spacious living room.
"Hi, Bella." Rosalie's voice, tinny and quiet through the speaker, was somber. "Do you have a minute?"
"Sure." Bella grimaced apologetically at Emmett. They had just been getting to the good part of the movie—if you could even call it that—and she knew her brother was loathe to pause anything he watched. Bella remembered that from childhood—no matter how badly she had to pee, how hungry she was, or who was at the door, Emmett had steadfastly and staunchly refused to pause to let her go.
She was glad, at least, that he had outgrown that childish tendency.
But at the sight of her grimace, Emmett simply shook his head, frowning. He had seen the caller ID as easily as she had, and she knew he was curious what Rose had to say, especially this late at night.
"Good." Bella heard shuffling papers over the other end of the phone, which brought her back to the present. "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Is everything okay?" asked Bella, pausing in the doorway of the kitchen as she became clouded with concern. Her tone must have attracted Emmett, as almost as soon as the quiet words were out of her mouth she heard him rise from the sofa to stand behind her, his warmth blocking the cold air register as she listened.
"I'm alright," said Rose at once. "I'm not calling about myself."
"Then what's wrong?" asked Bella, now hesitant. It was not like Rosalie to call—like Emmett, she preferred to text, and it was certainly not like her to be so serious.
A loud, deep sigh echoed over the line.
"Have you heard anything from Kitty over the past few days?" asked Rose.
The question, so startling and unexpected, made Bella pause.
"…no," she said slowly, speaking into the silence. Still, Emmett did not move. "Why?"
The image of the girl in question—that happy-go-lucky inmate of Rose's institution—came flooding back all at once. Bella recalled her friendliness, her kindness in the face of Bella's awkward and fumbling shyness, and frowned.
"Did she leave?" Bella hedged, worry bubbling up her throat to colour her words.
"No. Yes… I don't know." Rose sounded so defeated that Bella had to pause. She waited, silent, for elaboration, and was rewarded for her patience when Rose spoke again.
"She had a… relapse, I suppose," she sighed. "You know my rules—we're a sober house—and on Monday night she came home drunk. I could smell the rum on her from a mile away. She got loud and belligerent, and she fought me when I tried to put her to bed. She woke up T—those two have been having problems ever since Kitty found a new crowd to hang around with—and there was a massive blowout. The two of them shouting woke the entire floor, for God's sake…"
Rose paused and Bella frowned, listening.
"Anyways," Rose spoke brusquely, "the next morning, I went to grab the both of them—we always have some kind of mediation or debrief after a conflict—but Kitty wasn't in her room. She left no note, said nothing to anyone, and no one's seen her since early Tuesday morning."
Bella's stomach sank and she bit her lip, thinking back to the last few days for a sign—any sign—that Kitty might have tried to seek her out.
"No," repeated Bella. "I haven't seen or heard anything from her."
"I figured as much," said Rose. "But I had to ask."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.
"Not tonight," said Rose. "I've done all I can for now. All of the bars on this end of town are on the lookout for her, and I've called the other shelters in town just in case she turns up there."
"What about tomorrow?" asked Bella. "Is there anything I can do then?"
"Just keep an eye out," said Rose. "If you see any sign of her, even if she's fine, please let me know?"
"Of course," agreed Bella, "but there must be something else I can do. Can I call anyone, or go somewhere to look? I've got Saturdays off now, and I don't have any plans…"
Emmett would even be away, busy planning his New York promo with Marcus, and Bella had no desire to stay home alone in his huge, cavernous house.
Rose paused, seeming to consider the offer.
"If you want to—and only if you want to—you're welcome to come by Invictus tomorrow. I'll be there looking through records and calling around town to try and track her down. If you want to come and man the phones with me, you'd be more than welcome."
"Yes," said Bella eagerly, glancing over at the clock in the kitchen. "What time do you want me?"
"I'll be in by eight o'clock," said Rose. "So anytime after that. Don't rush…"
"Eight it is," said Bella. "See you tomorrow, Rose. I won't be late."
And she hadn't been. One of the girls had let her in— someone Bella only vaguely recognized from her time there— and she'd taken up residence in Rose's office, waiting.
"If you want to take these," Rose slid a stack of papers towards Bella, "you can get started on emergency rooms."
Bella felt suddenly queasy.
"All you do is explain who you are, where you're from, and ask for any Jane Does or Katharine Elliotts."
Bella had never even known Kitty's full name.
"If they have a Jane Doe that matches Kitty," Rose pointed at the topmost paper, which held all of Kitty's intake information including her height, weight, colouring, and birthday, "then let me know immediately. We may end up taking a trip across town if we get a hit."
Bella, her fingers crossed childishly beneath the table, prayed that it wouldn't come to that.
"Who will you call?" she asked, accepting the cordless phone that Rose held out to her.
"Prisons and police stations," she answered, grim. "Kitty's got a good heart, but she's not always one to follow the rules."
Bella shivered. Although she hadn't known Kitty for very long, nor had she known her very well, Bella would be remiss if she said she cared nothing for her. Hers had been the first kind face Bella had seen on her first morning at Invictus. When Bella was lonely and nervous and new, Kitty had been kind to her, even though she didn't need to be. Bella felt like she owed her this, somehow—that even though Kitty had given her nothing but words and wisdom, Bella owed her whatever help she could give.
Bella would stay with Rose for as long as it took to make sure that she was safe. She picked up the first page of numbers from the top of the stack, and with careful, steady fingers, she dialled the phone.
"No, Katharine," growled Bella. "K-A-T…"
"We've got no Elliotts booked in," the woman replied. "Is there another name?"
"No," repeated Bella, for what felt like the umpteenth time. "No, I've already said…"
"No Elliotts," said the woman.
"What about Jane Does? Do you have any girls matching her description?"
"I'm not authorized to give out patient information."
"I'm not asking for patient information!" Irritation bubbled up and Bella had to bite her lip to keep from shouting. "I'm giving patient information. All I need to know is whether or not you've got an unidentified patient resembling Kitty…"
"Katharine Elliott!" Bella did shout this time. "I…"
"I'm not authorized to give out…"
"Yeah," Bella cut her off. "You've said. Could you put me through to someone who can help me?"
"One moment, please."
The call disconnected.
Bella pulled the phone away from her ear, outraged, and glared down at it, as if it were the one responsible. She could feel heat creeping up her neck— not from embarrassment or shame, but from pure, mounting irritation. How is it possible, she thought, for a hospital to employ someone without the wherewithal to transfer a simple phone call without screwing it up?
"Take a break, Bella." The words were sharply spoken and Bella, startled, nearly dropped the phone. Frustrated and cranky, she jabbed the "End" button with her thumb and set the phone down on the table, running a hand roughly through her hair.
Rose watched her quietly, seeming to survey her.
"They're often tight-lipped at hospitals," she mused, leaning back in her chair. "They've got to adhere to privacy laws, after all. And since neither of us are family…"
Bella puffed out her cheeks, blowing out a long breath of air.
"I'm starting to get that," she said dryly, "but I didn't think it would be like pulling teeth. And after all that back and forth, that woman just hung up on me."
"You should see how hard it is when they give me a false name," she said. "So many of them—especially those who've been on the streets for a while—don't trust me when we first meet. I can't count the number of times I've been looking for a Mary, only to find out that she's really Sandra, or Eleanor, or Maggie…"
Rose shook her head, turning to the open filing cabinet behind her chair. Bella did not know how she knew, but she reached immediately for one white folder among all the rest, pulling out a lone photocopy.
"Kitty Elliott has government-issued I.D.," she said, pulling out a copy of a driver's license listing a home address in Santa Monica. "So at least we know that much."
Bella glanced at the open cabinet drawers behind Rose's chair again, at the multitudes of white hanging folders that lay within. On each was a small plastic tab, some standing straight, others bent and off-kilter, but every last one of them bore a label. Typed in sterile, bold-face letters were hundreds of names, both real and fabricated, and as Bella stared, contemplative, the sheer number of them gave her pause. Each one of those folders represented a woman—and not just any woman. Each one represented a woman in need—a woman abused, a woman lost, a woman alone, or destitute, or frightened—and though it pained Bella to see them all there, lined up in neat, orderly rows, she knew that each of those files represented something else as well: hope. If her name was written here, a woman had been given a second chance. Some folders were paper-thin, barely noticeable in the row, while some were as thick as novels, but Bella supposed that was the way of things: some women who turned to Rose for help did so only once, as she had, while others turned her generosity into a revolving door, forever turning on its axis.
"Do you know what the worst part of this job is?" asked Rose suddenly. There was a new hardness, a distinct bitterness, in her voice that made Bella glance up, surprised. Rose's face was an exercise in control—a carefully schooled mask of calm and stoicism belied only by the icy glint flashing in her grey eyes.
"It's the not knowing," she bit out, before Bella even had a chance to respond. The words sounded like an echo of herself, speaking of something not so different on a night no so long ago. "I've lost girls before—sometimes forever—but nothing, nothing, is worse than not knowing."
Bella almost said "I know", but the words died before she could. Rosalie looked suddenly burdened—her shoulders, always so tall and proud, sunk as she slouched, and a stray curl from the tight bun on the back of her head fell into her eyes. It struck Bella then that she did not know Rosalie's true age, but in her quiet worry, she looked much younger than Bella knew she must have been. For the first time since she'd met Rose, Bella thought she could see what Rosalie would have looked like as a little girl. She wondered if this was the sister Jasper knew… the innocent, fresh-faced youth she'd once been when they were only children, in a time and place so far removed from this tense, white office.
"Rose?" Bella spoke softly—the pregnant pause that had lingered in Rose's silence seemed volatile, and Bella did not want to set it off.
"Sorry," muttered Rose, and with a shake of the head, she was back to herself. She sat tall, and the stray wisp of hair was tucked behind her ear in an instant. Anyone who didn't know Rose would have thought her well, but there was something about the set of her mouth and a lingering solemnity in her eyes that said otherwise.
Bella waited in the silence, her gaze transfixed on Rose, who refused to meet her eye.
"I wish…" The words cut the air like a hot knife through butter. "I wish…"
Rose turned to her, a mix of torment and worry etched onto her face.
"I wish she wouldn't have run," she said finally, shaking her head hard enough that another tendril came loose. "She was safe here. She was loved. She had a chance, even if it was only a small one…"
Bella felt suddenly hot, memories of her own flight from safety fresh in her mind. Rose either didn't notice the flush of her cheeks, or she was kind enough to keep quiet.
"Do you have any idea how dangerous it can be, especially for a young woman, to be alone on the streets with no one to help her, and not a penny to her name? Have you any idea what kinds of sick, perverted people lie in wait, just hoping that the right kind of girl will come along so they can lure her back to whatever hell they've created?"
Bella gulped, the fiery passion in Rose's voice keeping her silent. To anyone else, these words might have sounded like an accusation. To Bella, they sounded like pure and unbridled frustration.
"Of course you do… What am I saying?" Rose spoke almost to herself. "I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm just worried, and tired, and…"
Bella waited, but Rose fell silent.
"And?" she prompted. Rose looked at her then, really looked at her, and her face was so intense that Bella almost looked away. She held her ground, however, and eventually, Rose relented.
"Do you know why I started all of this?" Rose gestured around the office with her pen.
Bella shook her head.
"Because I wanted better," she said. "Most shelters… have you ever been in one?"
"Only this one," said Bella quickly.
"Count yourself lucky," said Rose. "Most of them aren't like this. Not at all."
Bella had only ever heard stories.
"Most shelters try their best, don't get me wrong, but I've always felt that there was more to be done. Most have a two-week limit, did you know that? They'll house you and feed you for two weeks before you're back out on the streets, in the same predicament you were in at the start. No money, no food, no shelter…"
Bella shook her head. She hadn't known.
"And there's almost nothing worse than that… to be shown a glimmer of hope—to be given such a fleeting, passing chance—only to have it snatched away the minute you realize it's real."
Bella did not know the feeling. She did not know what it felt like to have her hopes dashed, to be taunted with salvation only to be mercilessly and heartlessly denied.
She wondered, not for the first time, how Rosalie did.
"I wanted something better than that," continued Rose. "Someplace where women and their children could feel safe. Someplace that would actually help the people who need it, and not just drop them like flies the minute some other poor soul came knocking. I wanted something better than the places I've seen—and believe me, I've seen a few—where women are herded like cattle and treated like nothing but a number… just another mouth to feed."
Bella was torn between nervousness and curiosity. Who was this woman, really, beneath all of her suave confidence? What kind of life had driven her to this line of work, where she tirelessly and faithfully helped those in desperate need?
"How much has your brother told you about me?" asked Rose abruptly. Bella, startled, shook her head.
"Nothing," she replied. It was the truth—Emmett had told her very little of his relationship with Rosalie, and as far as Bella was concerned, this was an ideal arrangement. She had no desire whatsoever to pry into the sordid details of her brother's love life…
"Good man," murmured Rose. "I'd wondered if he'd keep my secrets."
"Emmett's good at secrets," murmured Bella softly. They both were...
"I asked him to keep this one," she said. "Not that I don't trust you, because I do," she stared at Bella with earnestness, "but because I wanted it to be my secret to tell. Sometimes, I wondered…"
"Wondered what?" asked Bella. The room was grew suddenly still and Bella, who sat in the silence with ever-growing wonder, waited with bated breath.
"Whether I should," said Rose cryptically.
"Tell you," admitted Rose. "A few of the women here know, especially those I've grown close to, but you've been so anxious lately that I haven't even considered it. But then again, stories like ours do tend to forge a kind of kinship, don't they? And sometimes, that kinship is exactly what's needed to start someone on the right path..."
Stories like ours. The words made Bella frown, and she sat up straight in her seat. Rose had her eye on her, no doubt gauging whether or not her words were doing harm, but Bella was careful to keep her face neutral.
"We're not exactly alike," began Rose, evidently concluding that Bella's mind was sound enough to hear the truth of what she had to say. Bella listened with rapt attention.
"I was married once, did you know that?"
"No," said Bella. No one, not even Rosalie herself, had ever shown any sign.
"Yeah." She began to fidget with a pen cap on the desk. "I met him in high school when Jasper and I still lived with our father in Texas."
Bella could picture the two of them, clear as day, as they must have been then—two blonde youths, trekking through the rippling heat of the glaring Texas sun...
"I was young," she continued, "and stupid. Jasper had warned me off of him— apparently even back then, Royce King had a reputation."
His named stirred something in Bella—something that forced her to listen on despite the gnawing discomfort that was beginning to claw at her insides. The story did not have a happy ending—of this, she was certain—and yet she sat, rapt with morbid attention, for the sake of her friend.
"He was charming," continued Rose, counting his virtues on her fingers. "Well off, handsome, smart… everything a woman could want in a man. He bought me flowers and took me out on weekends… he even had his own car, which was a rarity in our neck of the woods—an old, vintage Cadillac that even Jasper envied, and you know as well as I do that Jasper doesn't have a jealous bone in his body."
Bella couldn't help her smile.
"So naturally, when he asked for my hand, I said yes. My father wasn't very fond of either of his kids, but he was nothing if not traditional, and so he insisted on walking me down the aisle. I was only 19, and I was the last to leave home. Jasper had come out here for school. He flew back for the ceremony, of course, and I knew even then that he wasn't happy… but I'm rambling." She cut herself short.
Bella continued to stare, transfixed.
"Long story short, we got married," she said. "He had property way out in the country. His father had left him the family ranch just a year or so earlier, and that's where we lived."
"I won't shock you with all the gory details," she said, "but I will say this—my ex-husband is a cruel and hateful man, Bella. Had it not been for one, lonely advertisement for a tiny transition house buried deep in the classifieds of a small-town newspaper, I might still be living there with that monster… or God knows where."
Bella's teeth were sunk so deeply into her lip that she almost tasted blood.
"Your James," Bella squirmed at the sound of his name, "never raped you like Royce did me. You didn't marry him, or love him, and you sure as hell weren't turned away by your own father when you pleaded with him to bring you home. But, oddly enough," Rose fixed a speculative stare on Bella, "Royce never pursued me. He never followed me, or taunted me, or left me threatening letters to find in the dark…"
The memory of that same letter, scrawled in grey charcoal on cheap notebook paper, almost made her flinch.
"But we were both marked," she continued. "Chosen, in our own ways…men like that—men who prey on those who are most vulnerable—look for girls like us. Easy girls. Pretty girls. Naïve, foolish, sheltered girls who've never known any better, and who couldn't spot a predator if he was two inches in front of her face." She spat the last words like a curse, as if the words themselves were somehow tainted, or dirty…
"So you see, Bella, I had to make a change. I founded this place because I wanted women—people like us—to feel safe. Not everyone has a big brother to come to her rescue like we did, and some don't even have a single remaining family member to care what happens to them. I wanted to help those who needed me to find a new family… I know how scary and dangerous It is to run with nothing, and so do you. So that's why it kills me that Kitty ran without so much as a goodbye. We could have helped her, Bella. And she knew that. If she would have said something, I could have at least set her up in a halfway house, or tried to get her into a rehab centre so she could stop drinking…"
Bella realized then that her own frustration—her lack of patience at being transferred from department to department without answers— was nothing compared to Rosalie's disquiet. Kitty's absence disturbed her, brought something out in her that was desperate, angry, fierce, and protective all at once, and Bella suddenly realized just how earnest Rosalie really was. To the world, she was strong. To the world, she was sure. But just now, behind private doors, Bella saw her for who she truly was—just a woman like any other, desperate to keep her family safe and out of harm's way. Bella saw her, then— really saw her— and for the first time in her life, fear was not a weakness. She did not see the anxiety, the agitation on Rose's face, and think frail or stupid. She did not think of her as lesser or diminished, but rather as passionate, strong, and deeply, imperfectly, human.
"We'll find her, Rose," said Bella finally, breaking the silence. "She's out there somewhere, and we will find her."
At once, Rose picked up her phone and turned it over in her hand.
"I hope you're right," she said. "By God, Bella, I hope you're right."
The knock on the door startled Bella, jolting her out of the Tchaikovsky-induced stupor into which she'd been lulled. She'd been listening to the Nutcracker Ballet— the dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, to be precise— on repeat for almost twenty minutes as she waited, yet again, to be connected to the Emergency Room physician, this time, at Cedars Sinai.
"Come in," said Rose lowly, turning the speaker away from her mouth. Evidently she, too, was on hold, with no end in sight.
The door cracked open and Bella saw a familiar, shorn head peek through, the bright, blue eyes rimmed red from crying.
"T," said Rose, putting the receiver down. Her finger pressed a button and elevator music, like the noise Bella had been hearing all day, rang through the room.
"A desk clerk has not yet become available," chimed a cool, female voice. "Please remain on the line to have your call handled in sequence. If you are are calling for emergency services, please hang up now and dial 9-1-1…"
"Rose," T cut through the automated voice with a sniffle. "Any word?"
"None," said Rose, her voice gentle. "We're having a hard time getting through, but I'm still hopeful something will turn up."
At the sound of we, T's head swivelled around to face Bella. The abject surprise etched on her face told Bella that she had not been noticed before this, but her presence was not unwelcome. T moved forward at once, a small, watery smile on her lips.
"You look good, little girl," she said. When she reached out for a quick, one-armed hug, Bella did not refuse. "We've heard nothing but good things about you since you jumped ship…"
"I've been well," said Bella, not entirely truthful, but unwilling to burden this already overwrought woman with her troubles. "It's good to see you, T."
"You too, girl… You too." Her eyes flicked back to Rose. "Thanks for helping, anyways. You and Rosie both have the right way of speaking— real smart-sounding— so I guess folks will pay attention."
"What can I do for you, T?" she asked. "Do you have any news?"
"Nah." She shifted, rocking from left to right. "I was just wondering if you'd heard anything."
"No," repeated Rose. "Nothing yet. But we've got plenty of places left to call, and I've got my brother handing out her photo to his colleagues…"
"Kitty ain't gonna be caught by no policeman," said T at once, shaking her head. "She's too clever for that."
"Never say never," said Rose grimly. The Nutcracker Ballet was still loud in Bella's ear. "You'd be surprised to know just how many of my girls I've found in the drunk tank, or worse… in a women's prison."
T couldn't help the small, reluctant grin that crossed her face at Rose's words— the pleasure of being known as one of "Rose's girls" seemed to make her happy.
"Well," she sighed, "I suppose if anyone would know, it'd be you."
"If she's still in this city, I will find her," vowed Rose. "Even if takes me weeks. She has nowhere to go and no way to support herself, and if we wait long enough, she'll pop up again."
"I hope she's alright," said T, so softly that Bella almost didn't catch the words. Rose's ears were sharp, however, and she caught the quiet guilt when Bella didn't.
"It's not your fault," said Rose gently.
"Nah," said T. "I shouldn't have lost it on her like I did. That's why she skipped— you know how her daddy used to shout something fierce. I knew too, and yet I did it anyways…"
"Kitty is a grown woman," returned Rose. "If she was a child, I might be inclined to agree with you. But she's not. She's made her own choices, no matter what pushed her to them, and all we can do now is try to get her back."
T, defeated, hung her head.
"Thanks for trying, Rose," she sighed. "For real. You don't know how much it means to all of us upstairs…"
Rose glanced at Bella with a knowing look, and Bella, sympathetic, gave a small sigh.
"I've got some idea."
"No, really," continued T. "We—"
A loud, male voice, crackling in her right ear, made Bella jump, and at once, she snatched up her pen. All eyes in the room snapped to her in rapt attention.
"Dr. Michael Snow," came the voice. "Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Yes," said Bella quickly. "Yes, I'm here. Hello."
"My apologies for the wait," said the doctor. "We're rather busy today. But how can I help?"
"My name is Bella Swan, and I'm calling from Invictus Women's Centre…"
"What can I do for you, Miss Swan?"
"We're looking for one of our girls," said Bella. "Her name is Kitty Elliott— Katharine, that is— and she's been missing since…"
"Tuesday?" finished the doctor, and all at once, Bella felt her stomach turn over.
"Yes," she breathed, waving her hand towards Rose. "Rose handed her a fresh sheet of notebook paper. "Yes, Tuesday morning…"
"Can you describe the patient?"
"Five foot two," said Bella at once. She didn't even need to glance down at Kitty's intake sheet— she had memorized it all hours ago. "Slim. Dark blonde hair, brown eyes, with a blue dolphin tattoo on her right ankle…"
The doctor blew out a breath.
"I'd hoped someone would call for her," he said, and Bella, feeling both relieved and worried, gave Rose a grim thumbs up. The latter immediately hung up her own phone and began packing her purse.
"Is she okay?" demanded Bella. "We're on our way, but can you tell me that, at least?"
"She's listed as a Jane Doe right now," said the doctor. "No one's been able to speak with her yet. If you can come in with photo I.D. to verify details about yourself and the patient, as well as some kind of documentation that verifies her place of residence, then I'll be able to give you more information. We're located at…"
"I know where to find you," breathed Bella, reaching blindly for her handbag under the table. "Thank you so much, doctor…"
"You're welcome. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"No," said Bella. "We'll see you shortly."
"Go straight through to the triage nurse and ask for me," said Doctor Snow. "I'll be waiting."
"Goodbye, Miss Swan."
She had barely hung up the phone before she turned to Rose, forgetting all about T still lingering by the door.
"Cedars Sinai," said Bella in a rush. "ER, ask the triage nurse for Dr. Snow. There's a Jane Doe that matches her description— right down to her tattoo— but we need to bring a copy of everyone's identification and proof that she lives here."
Rose was already in Kitty's folder, her hands full of intake papers and photocopies.
"Let's go," said Rose to Bella. "Good work. Excuse me, T…"
At once, T stood aside, but neither Bella nor Rose paid any mind to the sudden look of dread on her face.
"If you need anything, you know the drill," said Rose. T nodded. "I've got my cell phone. I'll call the common room on the second floor if I have any news."
"Thanks, Rose…" T's voice shook. "Good luck."
Bella was out of Rose's office like a shot, hot on Rose's heels as they darted into the small parking lot.
"In," said Rose brusquely, ushering Bella into the passenger seat of the red Beemer. Rose tore away before Bella could buckle up, though she didn't complain.
Bella stood behind Rose, her heart in her throat as she listened to the exchange with the triage nurse, trying to ignore the sounds of coughing and sniffling from the chairs behind her. It was rare for Bella to be on this side of the ER— the last time she had waited like this, her nerves raw, was when her father had been ill. But even then, she hadn't been expected to prove who he was, and she surely hadn't been denied access to his bedside…
"Katharine Elliott," repeated Rose.
The nurse typed.
"Dr. Snow just wants me to verify your information before I send you back," she said kindly. "Can I see her I.D.?"
Rose produced the photocopy, slipping it under the glass between herself and the nurse.
"Excellent…" She began to type. "And we also need to verify your information. Do you have some I.D.? Or something with your place of employment and credentials…"
Impatient, Rose thrust more documents towards the nurse— hers and Bella's driver's licenses, a copy of Kitty's signed and dated intake form, and a notarized letter from the city that authorized her to run her facility as a non-profit shelter.
"Excellent…" Rose tapped her nails on the counter. "Come right through those doors there…"
Rose didn't even look where she was pointing before she stalked off at a swift pace, pushing the door open just long enough for Bella to sneak in after her. She did not like the feel of the place— the scent of disinfectant, the glint of shiny, sterile plastic, and the sound of beeping, and running, and chattering put her on edge.
Rose turned a corner.
"Right through here… Doctor Snow is just finishing up with a patient. He'll be right over to answer any questions you might have."
"Thank you," said Rose.
The nurse bustled off.
Bella stared at Rose.
"Now, we wait." She blew out a long breath. "It sucks, just sitting here..."
Rose turned sharply at the hesitance in her voice, and Bella flushed red, clearing her throat.
"You alright?" she asked.
"Yeah," said Bella. "I'm fine."
Rose narrowed her eyes.
"I just hate hospitals," she admitted. "But never mind me. That's not what matters."
"You did well today, Bella."
"Did I?" Bella laughed. "Seemed like an awful lot of nothing…"
"Not nothing," corrected Rose. "You really helped out."
"I mean it," said Rose. "It's nice to have another set of hands to help out with these things. If I'd done it alone…"
She shook her head.
"It was nothing," said Bella. "I was glad to do it."
"Well, thank you…" Rose trailed off, and Bella couldn't help but notice a peculiar look on her face.
Both Bella and Rose turned at once, honing in on the tall, middle-aged man standing in the gap between the curtains. Bella followed as Rose stood and reached out a hand, leaving Bella to huddle awkwardly behind her.
"Rosalie Hale," she said at once. "Please… call me Rose."
"Rose," said the Doctor. "And…?"
He looked at Bella.
"Bella Swan," said Rose. "My assistant."
Bella did not correct this new title, but meekly shook the doctor's hand.
"You're both most welcome, ladies," he said. "Shall we talk before we move on?"
"Absolutely." Rose sat back down. Bella copied. "What can you tell us?"
"For starters," The doctor perched himself in a chair opposite them, "that our Jane Doe is your Katharine Elliott."
"Is she alright?"
"She's stable," said the doctor. "And in no immediate danger."
"That's a good start."
"It is," he agreed. "But…"
"But I can tell you that whoever dropped her here is being sought by police."
"Police?" Bella piped up, frowning.
"Indeed." The doctor clasped his hands. "I don't know how Miss Elliott sustained the injuries she did, but I do know that they were no accident. The detective in charge will want to speak with you, Miss Hale, about the security measures in place at your establishment."
Rose pulled a notepad from her bag, and snapped the cap off of a pen.
"Detective McAdams," said the doctor, rattling off a phone number. Rose took diligent notes. "Whoever did this is certainly had malicious intent."
"Bad enough," said the Doctor. "She was dropped off at our front door in the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday. No one saw her arrive, and no one saw anyone dropping her off…"
"All we know is that she was dropped off. She has a broken nose, a sprained wrist, lacerations to her palms and fingers, as well as a broken cheekbone and and two spectacularly black eyes. She was unconscious when we found her, but there's no sign of permanent injury. We've been keeping her here mostly for her own safety— we were reluctant to send her out on her own, not knowing where she would end up— and we also want to make sure that her concussion doesn't worsen."
"But aside from that," the doctor rose from his seat, "she hasn't said a thing to anyone. Maybe she'll talk to you, since she knows you."
"I certainly hope so," said Rose, grim. "Can we see her, doctor?"
"Yes. Follow me."
"Get some rest," said Rose, and Bella, her eyes fixed on the bed, shifted awkwardly by the door. She did not like these tears— everything in her wanted to do something, anything, to soothe them away…
But Bella was no good at soothing. When they had walked through the door, Rose's heels snapping on the cold tile, it had been she that Kitty had reached out for— pitiful, and sad, and small as she was in her time of need. Rose hadn't turned her away— Bella didn't expect her to, no matter how angry she was— and she had watched, both relieved and disconcerted, as Kitty cried her plight into Rose's collar.
"I'm sorry…" she wept. "I'm so sorry, Rose…"
"I know," soothed Rose. She sat on the edge of the bed, smoothing Kitty's hair away from her bruised and battered face. "I know. Never mind that. I'm just glad we found you."
"Please don't send me away…"
"Hush, now," scolded Rose. "No one's going anywhere…"
"I'll be back tomorrow," promised Rose. "I'm not sure when— I need to ask the nurse when we're allowed— but when I come, I'll bring you something to eat. I'm sure the food here sucks…"
Her feeble attempt at humour was not appreciated, and Kitty all but ignored it in her desperate appeal.
"Please don't throw me out."
"I'm not going to throw you out," said Rose again. "You just focus on healing, then we'll talk about what needs to happen next."
Kitty's lip trembled, and she looked to Bella instead.
"Please don't throw me out," she repeated.
"I…" Taken aback, Bella shook her head. "I would never…"
Bella had no authority to do anything of the sort, but Kitty seemed to have forgotten that.
"I'm sorry I fucked up," she continued. "Please don't make me leave…"
She reached out to Bella then, and Bella felt a sinking sadness deep in her chest. She stepped closer and took the outstretched hand, offering her a gentle smile to assuage her tears.
"Just focus on feeling better," said Bella. Her cheeks went red when Rose began to watch her. "Never mind anything else. What matters now is getting healthy."
Kitty's fingers tightened.
"We'll be back tomorrow," promised Rose. "Right, Bella?"
"Sure," said Bella, desperate to make those tears stop. "If you want me."
"I do," said Kitty. "I've missed you, and…"
"Okay." Bella leaned in for a quick hug. "Tomorrow, then…"
A cluck from the doorway made all three women turn.
"It's time for your meds, darling," said a kind, stout, old nurse from the door. She held a plastic tray of equipment in her gloved hands. "Don't worry, it won't hurt…"
"That's our cue," said Rose softly. "Rest up, and listen to the pros. They know how it's done." She winked at the nurse. Kitty wiped her cheeks on her sleeve.
"Promise you'll come back," she begged.
"I promise," said Rose. "When have you ever known me to break one of those?"
Kitty shook her head.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "Really, I am…"
"Let the nurse see your IV line, and try to relax." The nurse began fiddling with the tubes. "I mean it. If you give yourself an aneurysm, they'll keep you here even longer."
The nurse chuckled, even if Kitty didn't.
"Regular visiting hours are from noon to six," said the nurse. "We made special allowances for you today, but tomorrow, I expect the doctor will be more strict."
"See?" Rose raised a brow. "We'll be back tomorrow afternoon, then…"
Kitty gave a sad, short nod.
"Get some sleep, and don't worry too much. You're safe in here, and we're going to make sure you're safe at home, too…"
The word home seemed to make her eyes light up.
"You're welcome... Bella?"
"We've got to go," said Rose. Bella tore her eyes away from Kitty's hand, where the nurse was injecting something clear into the IV line.
"Right," said Bella. "See you later, Kitty…"
"We have to get going before we get booted out," repeated Rose. "But remember: tomorrow afternoon, Kit…"
"Tomorrow afternoon," repeated Kitty.
Bella ducked out of the room, waving a soft goodbye to the girl in the bed, as she followed an unsmiling, contemplative Rose down the second floor hallway.
Neither said a word until they reached the car. Rose watched Bella as she slipped into the passenger's seat, her eyes glued resolutely on the black floor mat, and she waited a long moment before she sighed and started up the car.
She pulled out of the parking lot before she turned to Bella, her eyes torn between the road and her companion.
"You've gone quiet," said Rose softly.
"What's got your tongue?"
"Nothing," chuckled Bella, tired and thoughtful.
"Is that how it always is?" asked Bella. "When girls go missing, I mean…"
"You know first-hand that it's not," said Rose. "You went missing once, too, remember?"
Bella's cheeks reddened.
"But it sometimes is," said Rose. "More often than not, if someone's been hurt, it's because they got drunk and fell down, or they've overdosed, or they've succumbed to alcohol poisoning. People forget after being sober for so long that they don't have the tolerance they used to have, and usually, when they get hurt, it's because they've gone back to their old habits and have gone way overboard.
"No, but…" She shook her head. "I mean… is it usually like that? Someone obviously beat her up, and she was so upset…"
"That depends," said Rose. "Some of my girls get beat up and don't bat an eye. T's been knocked around about half a dozen times since she came to me last year, and she's never once shed a tear in my presence. But T's a fighter— always has been— and she's used to it."
"She's not," shrugged Rose. "She's had her own troubles, but she's not one to be roughed up."
Bella shook her head.
"How do you do it?" she asked, turning around in her seat to face Rose. "How do you do this kind of thing, every day, knowing that it's probably going to happen again, and again, and again…"
The very thought exhausted her.
"With great patience," said Rose quietly. "With lots of compassion, and as little judgment as I can muster, and with the knowledge that even if I do my best, sometimes, that's not good enough. It's not an easy job by any means, but even with the numerous and constant failures, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
"But Kitty's case is not a failure, Bella," said Rose seriously. "I know you think it is, but…"
There was a long pause.
"It's not," finished Rose lamely. "She's had a setback, that's for sure, but she's not a failure. She's still here. She's sorry. She wants another chance, and she seems ready to try... So long as she gets back up, she will not become one of my failures."
The vehemence and seriousness with which she spoke made Bella shiver.
"I could never do it."
"You could," Rose argued, giving Bella a sidelong glance that seemed to pierce through her. "You really, really could…"
"I don't have the patience…"
"You do," interrupted Rose again. "Don't sell yourself short. You've got more patience than a lot of people I know."
Bella thought back to her short-tempered response to the obstinate telephone operator and snorted.
"You do," insisted Rose. "Look at how good you were to her back there… You didn't judge her— or if you did, you didn't let it show— and you were kind, and sensitive..."
"To Kitty?" Bella blinked. "Well of course I was decent to her…"
"So?" Rose asked. "What's the problem, then?"
"I could never keep my cool when I'm getting nowhere," said Bella quietly. "When I try my best and it does nothing..."
"It never does nothing," corrected Rose. "It always does something. And you know what?"
"Even if your best isn't good enough, that doesn't mean that someone else's might not be," she said. "In this job, the key is to know when to ask for help. It's to know your strengths, and most importantly, to know what you don't know."
"Well, I don't know much," she said, "but it felt good to help. Thanks for letting me tag along."
Rose eyed her again.
"You could learn," said Rose carefully. "You'd be good at it, if it's something that interests you…"
Bella's face screwed up.
"I did it," said Rose. "And the qualifications give you so many networks, it's unbelievable."
"What do you want to do with the rest of your life, Bella?"
The question was so overarching and sudden that Bella, caught off guard, blinked stupidly at her.
"I have no idea." She shook her head. "Why?"
"Because you can't want to work in retail all your life… you've got so much potential that it would be a waste not to see it through."
Bella didn't know whether to be flattered or offended.
"I haven't thought much about it," replied Bella. "Not with everything going on…"
"Life doesn't stop just because it gets tough," said Rose sagely. If anyone else had said this, Bella would have bristled, but she forced herself to be silent and still, listening.
"You could, if you want to…"
"Have you ever thought about work like this?" asked Rose. She gestured to the file wedged between Bella's seat and the armrest.
"No," said Bella honestly. "I haven't thought much about anything like that…"
"Well you should," said Rose bluntly. "You'd be good at it. You've got the smarts, and the patience…"
"And you've got that little bit of personal experience that sets you apart from the rest. Like I said before… there's a kind of kinship forged between people with stories like ours. We can make connections that other people can't. I know they say you shouldn't become invested— that you shouldn't let yourself get upset, or worried, or scared for any of your clients— but sometimes, that's what these women need. They need to know that someone cares about them— even if it is only a social worker. And you do care, Bella. It shows. Just the fact that you're so anxious to get it right…"
Bella stared resolutely through the windshield as Rose turned the corner.
"You'd do well," she finished. "And if you did decide to go forward with it…"
Rose sounded so suddenly soft— so suddenly affectionate— that Bella glanced up.
"...I'd be happy to take you on."
It took a minute for the words to sink in.
"You heard me," laughed Rose. The strange bubble that had been created as Rose spoke popped at once and Bella blinked, still staring at the side of her face. Rose chuckled at her look of surprise but did not revoke her offer, and Bella felt suddenly, fearfully, excited.
"Are you serious?"
"Yes…" Rose spoke calmly. "I need some extra hands now that I've expanded to over twenty beds, and I absolutely cannot bear to hire anyone I don't know. And I don't know anyone with the proper credentials and personality to do the job…
"What is it with your family?" Bella asked, still shellshocked. "You guys all want me to work for you."
"It's not my family," she returned. "We just happen to be employers. You're the marketable employee."
"Think about it," said Rose. "I don't expect an answer now. It would be quite some time before you're even qualified— three or four years at least— though I'd be happy to take you on in any capacity once the wheels are in motion... if the wheels are ever in motion," she added softly.
Bella shook her head again.
"I…" She blew out a breath. "I just…"
"If you don't want to," said Rose quickly, "then don't. But if you do…"
"I don't know how I could," admitted Bella softly. "I would do it… believe me, Rose…"
Rose gave her a strange, questioning look.
"Do you want to go to school?" asked Rose. "For anything, really… it wouldn't have to be social work… but for anything at all?"
"That's all I've ever wanted," laughed Bella. "But that ship has sailed. Charlie shut that down a long time ago."
Rose pursed her lips.
"No ship has ever sailed that hasn't come back to port," said Rose, and Bella snorted. "It's college, Bella. Not the Titanic."
"It's on my list," she said finally. Rose pulled into the parking lot of Invictus. "It'll happen someday… maybe."
Rose was watching her curiously.
"Nothing." Rose looked away.
"No… what?" she insisted. "You look… strange."
Rose snorted. "Thanks Bella."
"Not like that…" Bella shook her head impatiently. "You just look…"
"I'm fine," said Rose at once. "Don't worry about it."
Bella crossed her arms, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"I'm fine." Rose smiled to prove her point. "See? Fine."
"Think about what I said, Bella…" Rose glanced up at the sky, which had grown inky and dark since their departure some hours prior. "You don't have to decide now, or even soon, if you don't want to, but think about it. If it's something you want…"
Bella bit her lip.
"... then you should do it."
"I know." Maybe…
A beat passed between them.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then?" asked Rose. "I can swing by and pick you up, if you want…"
"That would be great."
"Have a good night, Bella… let me know when you get home safe."
"See you, Bell…"
And as Bella drove away into the bright, city lights, all she could think about was Rose's proposition, and the frightening, maddening hope it had ignited deep in her chest.
A/N: Leave some love!