Close to midnight, Rosalie considered asking Bella what Alice meant after the fourth instance of her sister imploring her to appreciate and relay "tired epiphanies." She looked up from the desk and to the TV show casually playing and to Bella sprawled across the bed, again looking at the case of the video game Renèe had gotten her. Rosalie wasn't sure if she just wasn't interested or worried she'd be bothersome by playing it. Seeing the consoles in her room made her prepare for Emmett starting up game tournaments again. Though, they also made her wonder why Bella didn't have any of them in Forks.
Bella flopped to the other half of the bed, on her back now. She rolled her head to look at Rosalie and pointed the game at her. "What's up?"
An eyebrow rose in question.
"You have words."
"You need sleep."
"Probably." Bella opened the case to pull out the manual and flip through it. "But oh well. The world spins on."
The airy nature of Bella's tone left Rosalie uncertain what to say. From what Emmett said, and considering how early Bella came downstairs that day, she guessed her mate had only slept about seven hours in almost three days. A frown pulled on her brow. "You aren't sleepy?"
"Tired, yes. Sleepy, no. My gift and my curse, but I think I bear it well. But then we're all just living corpses so I'm not anything special."
Rosalie wondered why Alice enjoyed when Bella was exceptionally tired, but then she remembered. Alice.
The manual twitched out of Bella's hands and fell onto her face as the ring of her phone pierced the room. Hand slapping to the device, she sat as she snatched it up, face twisting. The ringing stopped and she started typing out a text with what Rosalie would call hostility. But then it rang again, prompting a frustrated noise from Bella. She answered the phone without a word.
The background was loud, full of music and stupid teenagers and some shouting.
Rosalie had few guesses about the caller.
Under the sounds around her, she'd slurred the young woman's name, confirming Rosalie's thoughts and making her jaw tighten.
Bella, however, did not have vampire hearing or much patience at the moment. She hung up and finished her text. By the time her phone vibrated, she was already pulling on her shoes. Her eyes rolled at the text and she sighed, finally looking in Rosalie's direction. "I'll be back."
"I'll come with you." Rosalie stood as she did. Her words made Bella close her mouth. "Yes, I'm sure."
The irritation slid off Bella's face, replaced by the thoughtful stare you wouldn't think she had if you didn't know her, if you underestimated her depth. Rosalie matched it. It wasn't a battle of wills, or a disregard of the other's wishes, but an exchange of understanding. Something miniscule shifted in Bella, and Rosalie was blurring to the closet for all of ten seconds to change.
Bella bounced the keys in her hand as she went down the stairs and stopped between the kitchen and the living room to wave her hand in a wide arc at Renèe. "You know you won't sleep until you make yourself some tea."
The woman smiled from the kitchen table in a way that crinkled her eyes and Rosalie tried not to reevaluate how much she loved her daughter. "Oh, I know. Just too much on my mind. You girls going out? Not to a party?"
Renèe's shoulders heaved in a sigh as she shook her head. "Let me know when you get there and home. Rosalie, don't let my owl of a troll-daughter keep you too late."
Gold eyes shifted between mother and daughter. "I won't."
"Good. You girls be safe. Please."
"Will do. Night." Bella waved over her shoulder as she led the way to the garage.
A soft whisper almost made Rosalie's gait stutter.
"Like father, like daughter. Thank God I haven't gotten a call about either of you yet."
In the garage, opening the driver door, Bella seemed to feel Rosalie's eyes and looked up. "What?"
Bella's gaze lingered, but she didn't press.
It wasn't until about ten minutes of driving that Bella held out her phone and asked Rosalie to text Jennifer that she'd be there in ten if she wanted a ride. "How is Renèe just okay with you leaving in the middle of the night?"
"She's used to it." Fingers tapped the steering wheel as she chuckled. "And I know she breathes easier since I started driving because then I'm not walking around in the middle of the night. I—"
She saw Bella's entire body cringe at the withering look she gave.
"I know. But I wasn't walking the city, or far," she sighed, giving up on justifying herself, "I know. But you do things when you want to die."
Something like horror, or maybe fear, crawled up Rosalie's spine at the thought of how their lives could've played out.
Bella gestured meaninglessly during a turn. "I just wanted out, you know? To not exist. Under the stars, alone, life isn't the same. It was the reminder Phoenix didn't care about me. I didn't matter. Who or what I'd be and do didn't matter. So I could be who or what I wanted."
And then Rosalie thought she understood what it was about Phoenix. There were no expectations, not real ones, anyway. Renèe didn't expect her to sit down to breakfast or dinner or even be home at night. She expected her to be alive. Her friends—Rosalie used that term loosely with the exception of Jennifer—here didn't expect her to spend time with them or even answer the phone. They expected her to be broken, but there. In Phoenix, there wasn't Leah to kick down her door and expect her to be better. No Edward expecting her patience. No Alice expecting her to try for happiness. No Esme expecting her to be more. No Charlie expecting the best of her.
There was something liberating and damning in such a thing, and Rosalie didn't want to think about how things would be if she was still in Forks.
What did she expect of Bella?
A nervous chuckle filled the car and brown eyes glanced at her. "Too much?"
"No," Rosalie said honestly. "Never."
To Rosalie's surprise, warmth covered her hand and her eyes dropped, watching Bella brush her thumb over the top of her hand before pulling away. The feeling that she was supposed to reciprocate with words or an action pressed against her as the seconds rolled by. The seconds stretched to an entire minute and she realized she hadn't breathed in an unnaturally long time.
Rosalie's head snapped up too fast. "Why?"
"For doing that. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
Part of Rosalie wanted to scream. She didn't care for lies, but it was more complicated than that, but she didn't want to go into her failings right now. "No, it's quite alright."
Turning down another street, Bella's gaze suggested she didn't believe her.
Rosalie was wracking her brain for a way to save this when she became aware of music and looked up the street at the only house with lights on and too many cars in and near the driveway.
"Dumbasses," Bella muttered.
They wound up double parked and Bella hit the hazards as Rosalie unbuckled her seatbelt.
Her eyebrows rose in a mix of challenge and surprise at the authority in Bella's tone. It was an order.
Rosalie Hale did not do orders.
But Bella didn't balk at the sharp glare and quiet hiss. The fire in her eyes and the set of her jaw pulled at Rosalie, had her shifting from instinctually angry to curious, thoughtful. Esme was the first person to stay unwavering under her being ready to fight.
Emmett always looked tired or like he second-guessed himself or regretted it.
"If some drunk or high fucker even breathes in your direction, I'm going to be arrested for murder. And I'm not interested in Esme, Charlie, and Renèe forming some unholy trinity of parenting, now or ever. So I'll be back."
She didn't sound angry, just determined, and Rosalie watched her go until she shouldered past some guy to get into the house.
Bella knew very well she didn't need protecting, and yet.
That warm feeling filled her chest again.
As she pulled out her phone, she got a text from Alice.
Does that count as a two for one, you think? She'll fight whoever and possibly you?
She ignored it to send her intended text to Esme, getting a prompt response.
It's fine you haven't called yet, dear. I just worry about Bella sleeping enough. Although, I'm happy to hear you're getting swept off your feet :) And you wanted to move.
Rosalie groaned, dragging a hand across her face. She glanced at the house and its increasing volume of music as she tried to discourage the older vampire through distraction and waited for the next message.
God, I despise that woman. I don't care if she likes her mother at all. I'd die if Bella faked a smile at me.
A round of surprised shouts had Rosalie shoving her phone in her pocket and staring at the house, every muscle in her body ready to burst in.
Then the door started to open and she heard the unforgettable voice of Kris. "No—I—Bella." She giggled. "I'm fine! Look."
The girl took the three steps down incredibly slowly, Bella hovering behind her looking ready to throttle the girl. It was a good thing—which was arguable depending on your feelings about the redhead—because she almost teetered off the last step, only stopped by Bella's sudden grip on her hips.
Kris let out another giggle and leaned back against Bella and the car was filled with Rosalie's growl, her hand snapping to the door handle.
"You know when I like you the most, Kris?"
"In your arms," she tried with a tentative smile.
"Kristen, I like you the most when you're not around."
A wicked smile overtook Rosalie's face as she literally watched the hope on the girl's face die and some tears form in her eyes.
"But you came for me!"
Tired annoyance tightened Bella's jaw as she sighed and held onto the girl even as she pushed her away. "Quit it. I wouldn't leave you in this situation even if I wanted to kill you myself."
"I can get myself—"
Bella jerked a hand through her hair and Rosalie heard her jaw pop for how hard she clenched her teeth. "Can you get to the car yourself or not? Because Rose will probably fucking throw you in the fucking trunk any second, holy shit."
She sympathized with the small scream that left the back of Bella's throat because, frankly, she hated that the girl even said her name. And then so much warmth blossomed in her chest she considered getting Carlisle to see if she was dying.
"Calling her that is a privilege, not a right. Walk." Bella pressed a little against her arm as if she didn't want to touch her.
"Who is she?"
"Right now she's someone less ready to kill you than me. Now, walk. Please. Fuck."
Kris obliged, focusing carefully on her slow, imbalanced steps. She didn't look up from her feet and therefore missed the way Bella threw her head back and dragged her hands across her face. "Why's…Why's she with you so late?"
"She's staying with me."
Before Kris could fully articulate a syllable, Bella made a frustrated noise and stooped to literally sweep her off her feet.
Rosalie didn't hear whatever Kris said because she was blinking rapidly in an attempt to process the wild, conflicting feelings of being impressed, proud, jealous, and hateful all at once. She got out the car and opened the back door, staring. Bella's strides weren't troubled, and, even in the night, Rosalie could see the casual lines of her muscles perfectly and felt rather inclined to running her fingers across them. She guessed Kris was an absolute max of 120 pounds and that Bella could carry her on account of Leah getting her back to being fit, so she could probably carry Alice. True, she was a vampire and therefore heavier, but she was even shorter than Kris so their weights were more or less the same.
Bella cocked her head once they got close.
Rosalie ignored the question in her eyes and got back in the car. She in no way wanted to explain she had a moment of distress over not knowing if she ever wanted to be carried bridal style by Bella, or the fact the thought even occurred to her. She was still out of sorts when Bella opened her door and bent down to lean in, indecision on her face as she tapped her fingers against the top of the car. For an inexplicable reason, something soft settled inside of Rosalie, smoothed out her emotions and relaxed her expression as she waited.
"I…" Brown eyes slid from the dash to Kris in the backseat.
"Isabella." She murmured it without thought, so quiet she wasn't certain Bella could hear, but then she had her mate's undivided attention, then Bella was waiting on her instead. She wanted to study Bella's face, framed by her ruffled hair, but she was as trapped in brown eyes as they were in her gold ones.
Words didn't exist for this. And if they did, Rosalie didn't want them. She felt complete even as some distant part of her mind scoffed at the notion. Reaching out, she tapped her finger against Bella's lips just once as a lazy smirk stretched across her face that Bella mirrored. "I'm going to fight you, Swan."
"Name the time and place, Hale."
The back door flew open, smacking against Bella and making her hit her head on the top of the car. "What the fu-uck!" Bella slammed Rosalie's door as she jumped back just in time to get out of the way of Kris puking onto the street, some of it hitting another car's tire.
"That's not a party I want a part of!" Jennifer laughed too loud as she came over, peeking around a fender down at Kris who panted as she sat back against the car she'd gotten some of her fluids on.
"Well at least I don't have to come get you," Bella muttered, rubbing her head. "Hey, make sure you're done. If you do that in the car, you might actually be murdered."
"You're together," Kris wheezed, clutching her chest, a few tears going down her face.
"Get over yourself." Jennifer slammed her hand on the hood, uncaring that it made Kris jump. "Your obsessing is unhealthy and fuckin' annoying. Relationship? Dead. Friendship? You killed that one yourself. Years of shit down the drain because of you."
"Can you guys not do this shit?"
Kris used the car to pull herself to her feet, leaning over the hood to jab a finger at Jennifer before swinging her arm toward Bella. "Why does everyone act like she's a saint in this?"
"Do I have to fight to get a ride, too?"
Rosalie followed everyone's gazes to a girl about Kris's height, meekness seeming strange on her as she held herself and her hopeful smile quivered.
Bella's shoulders slumped. "I'd rather you didn't. But you have to squeeze in with these two assholes in the back."
"Thanks, Bella." Her smile became more genuine, more confident, and a shine of affection came over her eyes. "Your right hook is as mean as ever."
"And I missed it!" Jennifer threw her hands up.
Bella seemed to feel gold eyes and glanced at the tinted window with a sheepish expression.
"Who else did you pick up," the third girl asked, turning back to look at the house, the music inside growing louder.
"Shut the fuck up, Kristen," Jennifer hissed.
"Okay, look, everyone in the car, and no fighting. Jo, will you sit between the children?"
Jo's nodding stopped as Jennifer started pushing her into the backseat. "Pffft, my ass. I wanna talk to Rosalie."
"What? Who is—oh my god, your hair is so gorgeous I could die."
Kris fell into the car with a groan and covered her eyes as she fumbled with the seatbelt.
Rosalie turned her head by the time Bella got in, silently enjoying the way Jo's eyes widened and how she touched her chest at the sight of her. "Thank you."
"Yeah," Jennifer said with a far too wide grin, leaning forward to the front and resting her hand on the top of Rosalie's seat. "Bella's wifey is gonna introduce me to my future wifey. Or husband. So, tell me, your brothers and sisters. Single?"
"I'll tell you about them if you explain this right hook we both missed."
Kris sighed against the window. "Johnson was harassing me and wouldn't stop and Bella punched him."
Rosalie met brown eyes for a second before glancing at her red knuckles.
Bella shrugged. "He's a little bitch."
"And you're a fighter!" Jennifer punched her shoulder.
"Jenn, please sit back and buckle up."
"Please," Bella agreed with Jo, making a left turn. "And I can't fight."
Jennifer and Rosalie scoffed.
"Hey! Fighting and hitting someone are two different things!"
Jennifer patted Rosalie's shoulder. "Who'd she hit?"
"This idiotic girl said something about my sister."
"Some things never change," Kris muttered.
"So she just hit her?'
A curve came to Rosalie's lips as she looked past Jennifer's expectant face for a solitary glimpse of Jo before she was blocked again. "No, she went on to loudly call them derogatory things in public and then Bella jumped a table to punch her in the face repeatedly. Not too harshly, though she should've."
Jennifer gave a bark of laughter. She finally sat back and bumped shoulders with a stricken-looking Jo. "Hey, that could've been you!" She looked at Kris next to her, lip curling. "Should've been you."
Kris elbowed her and slapped her arm and before Bella could express the irritation on her face, Jo shoved Jennifer toward the front so she could awkwardly slap Kris.
"Neither of us deserves Bella in any way, so shut the fuck up and stop acting like some prissy princess. You're not a victim!"
"What's wrong with you! What is actually wrong with you? At least I know I fucked up. But sometimes I think you fucked up more than I could've. Maybe you did." Jo crossed her arms and stared out her window, rubbing her temple after a few heartbeats of silence.
The tension in the car didn't compare to Bella's grip on the steering wheel and, for the first time in a long time, Rosalie felt like a burden. They were all dancing around something because of her presence and Bella's wild heart made her sure she was ready to burst anyway. She was supposed to say or do something. She could feel it.
But she didn't know what.
A few minutes later, Bella pulled into a driveway.
Jo slowly unbuckled her seatbelt. "Bella?"
She met her eyes in the rearview mirror, empty of animosity, and she sounded as if she spoke to an old friend instead of someone who betrayed her trust. "What's up, Jo?"
The girl surged forward suddenly, wrapping an arm around Bella's shoulder from behind the seat. She whispered, "You're a good friend. Happy looks good on you. Bye, Bella."
Not a second after the door closed behind her, Kris pushed against Jennifer.
"I like being near Rosalie! And I need to find out more about these brothers and sisters."
Bella gave a small wave when Jo turned around at her front door before slipping inside. And then they were driving again.
"Like they'd even acknowledge you."
"Look, if Rosalie can acknowledge Bella, I must have some good odds."
"Hey!" Bella let go of the wheel entirely and leaned into the backseat.
Rosalie sighed and started steering as the two took to a small fight. The car lurched forward as a result of Bella hitting the gas too hard.
The vampire sighed again. "Swan, I'm going to fight you if you don't resume driving properly."
Bella bounced back into her seat, adjusting herself, and huffed. "Fucking fight me, Hale."
"I just might."
Rosalie's glare only widened Bella's grin.
Quiet, Kris's voice barely sounded over the music. "How'd you two meet?"
"The stars aligned," Bella said without missing a beat. Then her brow furrowed and she looked herself in the mirror for a second as if she couldn't believe what she said.
"Gayyyyy!" Jennifer punched her shoulder. "How long have you guys been together? Three months or something?"
"It's been less than two weeks," Rosalie clarified, eyes on the passing buildings and street signs.
Jennifer whistled and sat back with a mischievous smile playing about her lips.
"So," Bella blurted, "Why'd you go to such a big party with cops due at any minute?"
"Man, fuckin' Juan invited maaaybe twenty of us, but so many people invited other people like assholes real late and suddenly the music's too loud, there's too much alcohol, more than weed being passed around."
"Why didn't you hit me up?"
A stupid grin. "I lost my phone."
"Sometimes, sometimes I pretend I don't know you. Find it?"
"Yeah, that's what took me so long. Told Jo to come. She didn't think you'd take her home and I told her she was an idiot."
"Will you please stop squishing me against the door?"
"No, okay? Let me have my crush and think about how I can replace Bella."
"Dude," Bella laughed, but Rosalie saw a glint in her eyes when she turned to look at Jennifer for a second. "Dude, I will literally fight you all the way to hell first."
"Oh, well isn't that nice."
It was too quiet for the other humans to hear, but Rosalie couldn't pretend. She unbuckled her seatbelt to fully turn in her seat and pin Kris with her eyes. The girl squirmed, looked at the door handle like jumping out the car was a viable option. "Is there something you would like to say to me?"
Rosalie turned back around. "Good, I didn't think dirt had opinions."
Jennifer wheezed and coughed and laughed all at once. She patted Kris's leg and choked on another laugh at her red face. "Man, we aren't friends, but I say this out of concern. Don't try to have a comeback. She killed you. You are dead."
The appreciative look on Bella's face pulled a small smile from her.
Thankfully, Kris heeded the advice offered to her and Jennifer filled the silence in the car, talking about nothing in particular, until they hit her street. She bounced out the car and rapped her knuckles on Bella's window. Before it was fully down, she leaned in for a hug and held out her fist for Rosalie to bump it. "You two get into trouble now, mkay?" She winked, spun around and whistled all the way to her front door.
A few streets and turns and fifteen minutes later, Kris lurched to latch onto Bella's seat, oblivious to the glare from Rosalie. "Are you taking me home?"
"Uhm, where the fuck else would I be taking you?"
Her hands squeezed Bella's seat. "I can't go home. I told Mom I was spending the night at Lexa's house."
"Uh, okay. Sounds like a personal problem."
"I'll tell Renèe you're together," she blurted, clearly desperate.
If Rosalie didn't despise the girl before, she certainly agreed with Alice's sentiment about burying her.
"Fucking do it, then!" Bella threw her hands up before slapping them back down on the steering wheel. "You think I wanna be here? No. I can't wait to go back to shitty, rainy-ass, no sunlight or seasons-Forks without even a Walmart. I'm trying to appease Renèe so she doesn't harass my fucking dad for months and I'm never coming back to this shithole. Do it. End my fragile dynamic with my mother. But tell me," she grabbed Kris's wrist when she tried to retreat, "tell me, afterward? Are you still going to act like you weren't riding my friend's dick into the fucking sunset and then having the nerve to smile at me and say you love me?"
Rosalie's eyebrows could not get any higher.
Kris finally managed to snatch her wrist from Bella and started slapping the door, her voice quaking. "Let me out the car. Now. Let me out."
Bella braced her arm against her own door and mumbled against her fist. "In a second."
They turned onto Bella's street and she stopped. Kris fled the car and up three houses. Once her mother opened the door, Bella shifted the car back to drive. "Wanna go to Walmart?"
Gold eyes darted between the clock—a little after one—and to Bella's tired expression. The dead tone she had didn't give any cues about how to make her feel better, and Rosalie wasn't entirely sure what exactly she felt anyway.
She just nodded.
Bella had relaxed considerably in the ten minutes they'd been strolling along the edges of the store, but she was still reserved. As Bella turned into an aisle and immediately opened a box of eye drops to use them, Rosalie tried, "Jennifer is…interesting."
Bella rubbed her eyes and yawned for the third time since they'd entered. "She's a great friend, even if we argue pretty bad sometimes. I dunno. I think I like being around Leah more because she's more mature and actually wants things. Then I think the preference is more out of my mental health than actual preference. And then I take a nap."
Rosalie watched her chuckle like she'd made a joke. Which reminded her. "Tell me a joke."
Bella pointed a finger at her as they walked. "You're cheating."
"You know how I feel about excuses."
"I hope you know you're driving home."
The word choice made Rosalie's eyebrows knit together. "I thought Forks was home to you."
"Yeah, but you're here."
Rosalie's expression softened even as fear registered in some distant part of her.
Bella, meanwhile, paused in examining the box of a product she'd picked up to look at Rosalie with something like alarm in her eyes. "Sorry. My filter's totally fucking gone."
"Well, you know how I feel about honesty."
After a while, Bella developed a purpose to her steps and took them to the aisle full of candles.
"What kind of scents do you like?"
Rosalie blinked. Watched Bella pick up a "moonlit stream" candle and sniff it before picking up another one. It was such a mundane question, but it felt so…intimate. Like there was so much reason behind it, and the thought was backed by Bella looking at her curiously as she sniffed another candle. And she suddenly couldn't think of a single answer aside from Bella's affinity for lavender being pleasant. Her fingers closed around a candle and she lifted it, trying to process the fact she was about to sniff a candle.
"Personally," Bella started brightly, with a grin that matched, "I prefer roses." She whipped out a rose-scented candle from behind her back and wiggled it at Rosalie.
The vampire's lips were moving before she thought about it. "You are obnoxious."
But Bella was unfazed, staring down at the candle in her left hand before setting it down with a hum. "That was wordplay, not a joke. Or does that count?"
Affection lingered in her chest at the way Bella had looked during it. "I'll accept it this time. If only to keep you from trying."
They spent ten minutes in the aisle, Bella holding candle after candle to her to smell and talking about…Rosalie didn't really know what. Just unrelated sentences about smells and burn times and ratios of room sizes to number of candles. Apparently the store brand's candles wax left a horrific texture on your tongue and Rosalie did not inquire about how or why Bella knew that. Then Bella stared down at a white candle and sighed.
"I hate vanilla."
"I hate vanilla."
Gold eyes scrutinized her. "You're kidding."
"No." Bella sniffed it and shook her head before holding it out to Rosalie. "It's a mistake. A blight to the senses."
She didn't take it. "You're a mistake."
"You got me there." Bella frowned at the candle like it'd personally burned her books before setting it back down. "Don't tell me you like that abomination."
"There's nothing wrong with it."
"Everything is wrong with it."
"It's a basic scent! It's a safe one. Most people don't feel either way about it and it's one that doesn't elicit a strong reaction from someone. Like, say, cinnamon. It's so widely used. How can you be saying this?"
"I'm just stating facts, okay?"
Rosalie's eyebrows drew together. "Facts? You clearly don't know what a fact is! You are beyond defective. I can't believe this. You—" Her eye twitched as Bella's expression cracked to reveal a grin. "I hate you. Why have you done this to me?"
"I just wanted to see if I could get you to argue about vanilla at two in the morning at a Walmart." Bella laughed and her eyes actually sparkled in a way that made Rosalie simply feel. "I had no idea you were so passionate about vanilla."
"You bring specialized pain to my existence."