Alice danced over to greet Bella and me in the school parking lot. "Mrs. Espinosa is sick today, and they couldn't find a sub."
"Are they canceling history class?" Bella asked hopefully, pulling back her hood as we stepped under the awning of Building 2. Her scent rose off her damp hair like steam, and I delightedly breathed it in.
Alice laughed brightly. "Even better. They're lumping the history and art classes together today. Looks like you kids will be with me and Mrs. Maddock for second period. See you then!"
Bella grinned at that, and Alice waved a cheerful goodbye as she skipped off to Calculus.
Bella and I took our seats next to Alice just as Mrs. Maddock switched off the lights and walked to the front of the room. "Good morning, class. Since we have some guests today, we'll be studying art history instead of working on projects. We'll just make it easy for everyone."
I looked sidelong at Bella, who was surreptitiously scrutinizing me. The last time we'd been in a darkened classroom together had been... excruciating. Did she remember? She broke into a sly smile and inched closer to me. Chuckling quietly, I rested my arm on the back of her chair.
Mrs. Maddock flicked on an overhead projector. "I understand Mrs. Espinosa had you studying 18th Century Europe, so we'll be looking at some of the great artists of the period." She frowned thoughtfully, and the room stilled as the children absorbed her somber mood. "Some of these images may be a bit startling to our modern sensibilities of modesty, but please remember that this is art. It's history. Much of this comes from chapels and cathedrals. Not one of these paintings were meant to be titillating, and I expect you to all be mature enough to respect that." This isn't porn unless you treat it that way, people! So don't!
Alice used her foresight to skim over the next hour, watching our male classmates' upcoming reactions. Yeah. Right.
Mrs. Maddock droned on, and I didn't bother to pay any attention as the hour dragged. This was all material I knew, and Bella was infinitely more interesting. As before, the compulsion to touch her grew, and this time I indulged, stroking Bella's arm with my thumb. She leaned into me, and I could tell by the quickening of her heart that I'd pulled her out of her bored stupor.
Mrs. Espinosa wouldn't test us on any of this, so I decided there was no harm in distracting Bella just a little. I leaned over and blew on hollow at the base of her ear. Bella shivered, and beside me, Alice saw a vision of Bella passing out.
My sister's smile was vaguely annoyed. Knock it off, will you? Besides, we might want to pay attention for the next part.
"And of course," Mrs. Maddock said, changing the overhead slide, "Solimena."
I froze. Did the name mean anything to Bella? I watched her closely.
"This is The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, depicting the Apocraphal Roman official Heliodorus being forcibly expelled from the Jewish temple by an angelic horseman."
So far so good. Bella was still focusing on breathing.
"At the time," Mrs. Maddock continued, "it was considered something of a failure. The bystanders are seemingly apathetic that the Holy of Holies is being desecrated and are barely interested in the divine intervention happening right in front of them. Even the heavenly observers are passive witnesses, with the exception of the blond angel here, who is turning away."
At the words "blond angel," Bella's head jerked up.
Mrs. Maddock pointed with her pen at a cluster of four angels in the upper left-hand corner of the print.
Bella's eyebrows lifted in surprise as she finally recognized where she'd heard the name Solimena before. The four angels were Carlisle and the Volturi, of course. She looked to me for confirmation, and I nodded slightly.
"In modern times, however, it is seen as a rather scathing social commentary." Mrs. Maddock changed the slide. "The Allegory of Rule is one of Solimena's more well-known works..."
Bella's eyes widened in horror, then her jaw slowly dropped as she recognized the gray-maned man lounging prominently at the bottom of the frame. I wondered if she noticed Death's black scythe and hour-glass at his feet.
Her beautiful face twisted in disbelief. "Caius?" she breathed, just loud enough for me and Alice to hear.
And Caius it was, bearded and nude.
My unflappable Bella shuddered. I shrugged slightly and whispered, "And Aro, to the lower-right." I frowned at the image on the projector screen. Yes, that would be like Aro, to strike such a dramatic pose.
She focused on the jet-haired figure who was taking a vicious bite of an apple, and goosebumps raised on her arm. I wanted to take her into a protective embrace, but a supportive arm around her shoulder would have to do until we were in a more private setting.
I tuned back in to what Mrs. Maddock was saying, desperately wishing she would move on to another subject. ANY subject. Alice was thinking along the same lines and peeked into the future to see what the next slide would be — and almost burst out laughing.
Even with that advanced warning, it was still a shock when the image on the wall changed. "And here is another example of chiaroscuro. Aurora Taking Leave of Tithonus."
Beside me, Bella was red to the ears as she studied the painting. Under other circumstances, I'd assume the bare-breasted depiction of the goddess Aurora would be what was embarrassing her. After seeing the Volturi, though, I knew her gaze would be drawn to the golden-haired angel to the left, his back arched and wearing nothing more than a strategically-placed bit of billowing cloth. Alice rocked under stifled convulsions of laughter, and even from the front of the room, Mrs. Maddock realized there was something going on in our corner.
For crying out loud! It's just a breast — an organic baby-bottle. I expected the boys to react, not little Alice. I thought she was more mature than that. "Do you have something to share, Miss Cullen?" she asked severely.
"It's just..." she gasped through her giggles, "that angel there... He reminds me of someone."
Mrs. Maddock's brow furrowed as she studied the image. Who would...? Bella's blush — Alice's laughter — Edward's nauseated look... Oh my gawd! Suddenly she, too, was blushing. "Y-Yes... He does bear a striking resemblance to Dr. Cullen."
Laughter rippled through the room, and Alice lost it. She started to slide out of her chair and I caught her elbow.
Mrs. Maddock still gawked at the painting. Wow! I wonder if the real Dr. Cullen looks like that. He is GORGEOUS! Images of her and the angelic Carlisle flitted through her mind, and my stomach lurched as though I'd had Bella's cereal for breakfast.
"Carlisle's going to kill you," I muttered to Alice.
"It's his own fault," she snickered back. "For keeping company..." She couldn't stop laughing. For keeping questionable company. Did you SEE Caius?
I cracked a smile at that. "He's still going to kill you." I deliberately ignored Mrs. Maddock's lustful thoughts — not to mention the boys who were ogling Aurora — and instead turned my attention to Bella. Her face was carefully composed as she studied the desk in front of her. Hiding.
"Does Carlisle know about this?" she murmured, her eyes darting to the painting.
"Yes," I whispered. "It took him decades to talk Esme into taking down her bedroom collection of Solimena."
Bella choked once, then burst out laughing. "Esme?" she hissed through her giggles. "Bedroom... collection?"
I nodded, chuckling softly.
"ESME?" Bella was laughing so hard tears were rolling down her cheeks.
Mrs. Maddock cleared her throat twice before the class finally settled down again. "All right, everyone, that's enough. Let's move on..."
I mention several paintings in this story, so if you'd like to see what I'm talking about, you can find them at the following links:
1) "The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple" http://www.wga.hu/index1.html (then search by title)
2) "Allegory of Reign" http://www.wga.hu/index1.html (then search by title)
3) "Aurora Taking Leave of Tithonus" of Solimena's work can be found at YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for beta-reading this, Heartbroken!