By Ethan Haas
Bella opened the door and climbed into the yellow Porsche, immediately feeling underdressed and very, very plain. Alice was resplendent in black belted top that Bella was certain would have looked like a potato sack on anyone else. On Alice, it looked for all the world like Audrey Hepburn had cut her hair short and changed her diet. Bella felt like the jealous little sister, cursing her boring jeans and boring shirt to boring, boring hell.
Alice seemed unperturbed by the silence in the car, only turning up the stereo slightly when Bella let out a soft, "Oh!" as they rounded a corner fast enough to leave dark tracks on the asphalt.
"So…what's up, Alice?" Bella asked, trying to mask her curiosity. If they continued at these speeds, they'd be in Port Angeles soon.
"Oh, not a lot," she answered loftily. "I just wanted to talk."
"Not play dress up?"
A smile flitted across her face. "No, not today. You want to get some coffee or something?"
"Sure. I can sit around afterwards while you catch a bear, if you like. It's only fair."
Alice laughed in earnest. "You've got a deal."
In what seemed like (and probably was) no time at all, they were parked in front of an unfamiliar café in downtown Forks. Once they were inside, Alice gave her order for two very complicated somethings to the boy behind the counter. She smiled as though he was very dim when he asked her to repeat her order, completely unaware that he was distracted mostly because of his ethereal customer. She did, however, glance fleetingly at Bella who was almost as agitated as she had been twenty minutes ago in the kitchen. "Make one of them decaf," she added with a wink, dropping a twenty-dollar bill into the tip jar.
Alice led her to a table in the corner and after they were seated, two different employees brought them their drinks. They both ignored Bella completely, treating her as though she were an empty chair. Alice thanked them with an authority in her voice that Bella could never have hoped to achieve – she was polite but they were very obviously dismissed.
"I guess I'll have to get used to being ignored around you guys," Bella mused quietly, taking the lid off of her drink to peek in at the steaming contents. Alice ignored hers. "You seem very at ease with the menu. Mind if I ask why?"
"I'm an actress. I have to do my research," she answered with a grin that did not reach her eyes. It was only then that Bella noticed their color – a stunning, smoldering hazel at least two shades darker than normal.
"Didn't you say that you were going hunting with Edward tonight?" she asked in a would-be casual tone, playing with the whipped cream on her drink.
"I did. But I left," she answered simply, her penetrating gaze rendering Bella quite incapable of blinking.
"Fish weren't biting?" Her feeble stab at humor failed, though the irony of the words she said so often to Charlie was not lost on her.
"Not exactly. I was just wondering if you could tell me why your future disappeared today."
Bella let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Jacob came over," she answered quickly, oddly relieved to have an answer that wasn't a lie.
"No, I know that. I saw him arrive at your house, and…" she faltered then, and it was so unbelievably human of her that Bella involuntarily reached out for one of Alice's small, marble hands. "Your future…changed."
Bella choked. "I…wait – what?"
"Your future with Edward disappeared," she said quietly, her voice abruptly flat.
"So – so what you're saying is…" she trailed off, the silence spiraling horribly.
"One minute you had a future as a Cullen. The next…"
"I was a Black," she answered automatically, cold horror suddenly flooding her stomach. Alice regarded her seriously, withdrawing her hand in one disconcertingly fast movement.
"You made a choice," she said slowly, each word falling heavily from her perfect lips. "You made that choice."
"What? I – no! No, I would never – I could never-" Bella had never seen Alice look at her like this – so full of unrepentant disgust. "Alice, no! I love Edward. I would die for him – I'm going to!"
"Bella," she said quietly, so quietly that not another soul could hear. "I saw."
It was like someone had taken the pin out of a grenade, and popped the flimsy soap bubble that was her very hold on everything – it lasted a very short second, and then Bella found herself gripping her chair very tightly so as not to fall off.
"Oh," was all she could manage, finding that her lungs seemed to have collapsed in the same moment that her brain had imploded.
Alice sat rigidly, frightening for the first time in her immeasurable beauty. She seemed to deliberate for a moment, and then sighed as she waited patiently for Bella to calm down.
"I…Oh, Alice," she mumbled, suddenly desperate for reassurance, to know that she had someone on her side. She wiped quickly at a single tear that escaped from her eyelids, hiccupping slightly. "Can you…can you tell me what, I mean if…"
"It flickered while I was hunting. Then I realized I had to leave," She spoke pointedly, her eyes burning. If Bella felt remorse before, it was nothing compared to how she suddenly found herself drowning in deep pools of amber guilt.
"How did you manage to leave?"
"I asked Jasper to make my excuses. I had to leave before Edward could – ah – see it."
Comprehension dawned painfully for Bella. "You mean you got away before he could see what you saw?"
"I thought about something else. Then I ran."
Unintentional relief colored Bella's face. "Alice, I – oh, you have to believe me!" She wanted so badly to thank her not only for keeping this from Edward, but also and more importantly for caring enough about her to give her the benefit of the doubt. "I don't even know what happened today. We were standing in the kitchen, and I was washing dishes, and we were talking, and the next thing I knew, it was like…I don't know, like I was watching home movies for a life that won't ever be lived."
Alice remained unreadable, though Bella thought that her eyes seemed to soften. She took a deep breath, encouraged by the lack of interruption.
"And I think – and I know this sounds so stupid – but I think that my heart," she blushed slightly, and mumbled, "I think that my heart sort of made the decision for me." As she spoke the words out loud, she found them to be the absolute truth. She watched Alice narrow her eyes, but her face was not unkind. "But it was so…so temporary. Fleeting." The weight that had been crushing her chest lessened infinitesimally. "That's all. And that's the truth," she finished softly, trying to breathe normally.
To her great surprise, Alice sighed loudly and offered a brilliant (albeit small) smile. "I know. I believe you."
"You do?" She could hardly believe her ears, hardly dared to trust them.
"Unfortunately," she sighed again, running a hand through her elegantly tousled hair. "I don't have a choice, even if I wanted one."
"What…what is it now?" Bella marveled at her own daring. She looked down, ashamed, and traced the edge of her cup with a fingertip.
"It's you and Edward, frolicking through a field of wildflowers. And he's getting you a kitten for your birthday," she teased. Familiar warmth spread through Bella's body – and the room, she imagined. Having Alice back wasn't unlike stepping into the sunshine after a very long physics exam in a frigid classroom It occurred to her then how much she relied on Alice; a dear friend that she valued quite independently of her relation to Edward.
"Do you really believe me? Or is it because you can see it?"
"A little of both," she admitted. "But I wouldn't run all the way back in Michael Kors jeans if I didn't have at least a little faith in you."
"You hunted in that?"
Alice feigned a very convincingly miffed face. "What kind of a savage do you take me for?" Bella felt the color return to her cheeks. "I am a Cullen, after all."
Bella's head snapped up, her left hand suddenly feeling impossibly heavy where it rested on the table.
"And you will be too," Alice added softly.