So...life happened. But here I am again, tossing another chapter out there to see how it goes. I've missed writing Evening Falls and Elisa immensely, and am so happy to be back. I'm even happier to have this chapter done and behind me, so I can move on in the story. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the reviewers that let me know that this little tale has not been forgotten.
A brief recap: After discovering that Elisa and Jasper were keeping secrets about her past behind her back, Alice left the family. To make life even better, their bitter frenemy, Sebastian, could go to the Volturi at any time to inform them that the Cullens have once again broken the cardinal vampire rules in harboring a human. Also, Elisa discovers her best friend/crush is not only seeing someone else, but that someone is a boy. Doh!
Chapter 26: Reunited
A slight rustle of leaves, a blur of gleaming white and ebony and then she was there, in front of us.
"Alice!" I cried. Without hesitation, I closed the steps between us and threw my arms around her.
Alice's arms tightened around me. "I missed you too. And I'm so sorry for leaving the way I did."
"I don't care," I whispered tearfully, and I really didn't, not now that she was back, now that the gaping hole left in her absence had instantly been filled. "You're back home now.
Her smile was brilliant. "Thank you for lighting my way." With that, she pulled back and her eyes sparkled brightly. "Don't you want to say hello to everyone else?"
"What?" I pulled away from her, looking at her through tear filled eyes. "What do you - "
And then I couldn't breathe. Because I could see them both, walking forward with slow human paced caution, arms around each others waist. A matching set now, their multi faceted, slightly jeweled skin glinting in the weak rays of the waning sunlight.
Bella was the first one to step forward. "Hello, Elisa."
I couldn't speak. Couldn't move.
This had to be a dream. A really, really good dream.
Because Edward and Bella couldn't be here. Bella was supposed to be away from humans, from me, for years, until her ravenous newborn instincts were safely banked. And that had been the plan before she'd nearly torn apart two vampires and smashed a cabin in order to snack on me.
Remembering that night sent a jolt of remembered terror through me, and without thinking I shrunk back, towards the safe haven that Emmett provided.
"It's alright, Elisa…" Edward murmured. "She's OK. I promise."
Wishing I could feel more sure of that, I looked at her again. Bella clearly understood my reticence; she'd backed even more closely into Edward, and his arm was tightly wound around her waist. Strangely enough; it was that worried, unsure look on her unnaturally beautiful face that banked my fear. It made her look like...her, and less like the demon doppelganger that still haunted my nightmares.
Bella took another hesitant step towards me, then stopped. We were still several yards apart.
"I…" I couldn't say more as my eyes welled up with tears. I settled for smiling as much as my trembling lips would allow. I knew Edward understood, and I hope she realized, that I wasn't afraid anymore. I was so happy I was about to burst.
All of us stood there for another long moment, Alice next to Edward and Bella, Rosalie and Emmett at my side, as the clouds rolled in and squelched the weak sunlight.
"We should surprise her more often," Edward spoke after a long moment. "The silence is refreshing."
"Excuse me!" I burst out, offended, and the tension snapped. Everyone started laughing at once.
"There's our Elisa," Edward grinned.
He held out his free hand to me, and I needed no further invitation. I threw myself at him, and he picked me up off the ground and hugged me tightly. "Missed you, brat," he whispered softly.
I giggled as he set me back on my feet. "Right back at you."
I noticed then that Bella had moved several feet away from us. When I turned to her, she started to extend a hand, then bit her lip and dropped it again.
"It's OK, Bella. I think we're probably going to have to work up to hugging."
Bella exhaled. "Elisa, I am so – "
I held up my hand to stop her. "Bella, don't even. No apologies, ok? I'm just – " I had to steady myself before I burst into tears. "I'm just so happy you guys are home!"
"You're not the only one," Emmett grinned as he stepped forward and in one motion, grabbed the pair of them into what looked like a bonecrushing hug. "Look at you two! I thought it was going to be years before we saw you!" He pulled back then and turned to his wayward sister. "As for you…" I could see that he was trying hard to look stern but it lasted a mere second before his face cracked into another grin. "Aw, hell, I got nothing. I'm just glad to have you home where you belong." With that, he grabbed her and spun her around in a wide circle.
"Emmett!" Alice laughed as she extricated herself from her brother's exuberant embrace, but her smile faded when he set her down. I saw her attention was fixed on the one person who hadn't said anything yet.
"Rosalie – " she stopped then, as if she didn't know how to continue. I couldn't blame her. Rosalie was temperamental on a good day, and the two of them hadn't been on the best of terms before Alice's abrupt departure.
We all tensed, waiting for the explosion as Rosalie stepped forward, each motion deliberate, to face Alice. She crossed her arms over her chest. There was an excruciating pause before she spoke. "You hurt my feelings."
"Excuse me?" Alice looked as astounded as the rest of us at this disjointed opener.
"When we had that fight about Sebastian, and you said I was playing Mommy Dearest." Rosalie's voice mocked the term Alice had thrown at her. "It wasn't just that. It started long before that, when you wouldn't talk to me, not to any of us. It felt like you were leaving us long before you actually did. It hurt. That's why I was so -" Rosalie paused, seeming to search for a word.
"Cruel?" Alice filled in acidly.
"Well, if you want to put it like that..." Rosalie looked away.
Alice seemed to consider this for a moment. "Well, Rose, I have to say that's the most heartfelt non-apology anyone has ever given me,"
Rosalie looked back at her and sighed. "Fine. I'm sorry. Are you satisfied?"
Alice just laughed and threw her arms around her. "Much better." Her face sobered. "I'm sorry, too," she looked up to include all of us in her remorseful gaze. "I know I hurt you all by leaving the way I did."
"We understand, Alice," I wanted to erase the sadness that weighted down her features. "You had a lot to –"
I stopped speaking when I saw the shift in Alice's attention. Her eyes were trained on something over my shoulder. Belatedly, I saw that everyone else's attention was diverted in the same direction
"Jasper…" Alice breathed.
"Oh!" I followed her stare. Jasper was standing halfway down the drive, staring in our direction. I didn't have to be close to him to know that his eyes were fixed on Alice with the same intensity that she was staring at him.
"Um…shouldn't we – " I began to stammer.
"Oh yes,' Bella agreed quickly, and the others chimed in hurried agreement. "Let's go inside. I can't wait to see Carlisle and Esme – " When she said Esme's name, fresh distress twisted her features and it was clear she was thinking again about the night she'd come after me, and nearly killed Esme when she'd gotten in between us.
Emmett picked me up by the waist, hoisting me on the crook of his arm, then we were flying down the long drive, stopping on the front porch seconds later. Emmett set me back on my feet. Just before we preceded Rosalie, Edward, and Bella inside, I couldn't resist one tiny peek back. Jasper and Alice's luminous figures cut through the gloom well enough for me to see that they were facing each other, her head upturned. Even as I watched, they melted towards each other. I quickly looked away, but couldn't help my wide smile. Finally, things were getting back to the way they should be.
As soon as we walked into the house, we were greeted by Carlisle and Esme. Their faces were wreathed in surprised smiles. Esme, in particular, was beaming with happiness.
"Edward! Bella! This is a wonderful surprise!" It was Carlisle who spoke first.
"Bella!" Esme rushed forward. "Oh, sweetheart, I thought it would be ages before I got to see you!" She enveloped first Bella, then Edward in an embrace.
"What brings you home so unexpectedly?" Carlisle was asking now but before he could answer, the front door clicked open and shut and where there had been seven of us, there was now nine.
"They came home because of me," Alice said quietly.
"Oh, Alice!" Esme and Carlisle rushed to her, and I had to blink a new bout of tears away. Esme was completely overcome with joy, and if vampires could shed tears, I wouldn't have been the only one sniffling.
"This is a wonderful day," Esme stepped back to survey all of us. "We're all back together at last."
"Let's sit down and you can tell us how this all came about," Carlisle ushered us into the formal sitting room.
As I settled onto Esme's spotless white sofa, Alice and Jasper passed me to join Bella and Edward on the couch opposite. As they passed me, I felt a fond squeeze on my shoulder and looked up to smile at Alice. My eyes met Jasper's instead, and my astonished gaze fell to his hand on my shoulder. He smirked slightly at my open-mouthed expression. Well...ok then. This was definitely going to take some getting used to.
"So you went to Alaska after all," Carlisle's tone was light with no hint of reproach as he addressed Alice, but she ducked her head anyway.
"No," she confessed. "I didn't."
"After we found out she was gone, we were very worried," Edward took up the narration. "And to hear about Sebastian contacting Elisa..." Hatred suffused his tone and his hands fisted.
"Well, we discussed it and we knew it would be risky to travel while I'm still so – new," Bella grimaced slightly. "But we talked it over and decided it was worth the risk."
Edward raised an eyebrow at her, and if she'd still been human she would have blushed. "Alright, he said we should discuss it and the next thing he knew I was already on my way. I suppose it was a little impulsive." She looked at Alice. "You should have known we wouldn't let you get away that easily."
Alice smiled slightly. "Well, I saw them looking for me, but they had the wrong ideas entirely of where to look."
"Perhaps that's because you turn up in the most unexpected places, Alice," Edward said quietly.
Alice's eyes danced away from him. "Anyway, I decided to save them the trouble and went to meet them. Once I told them I was coming home, they decided to come with me."
"I'm so glad," Esme reached across the coffee table to touch Alice's hand. "It wasn't the same without you, any of you."
"So what's the plan, then?" I broke in impatiently, unable to restrain myself any longer. "Are you two home to stay for good?" The pleading in my voice was embarrassingly obvious.
Bella looked at me. "We're going to try, Elisa. I can't make you any promises. The problem is, you smell really, really good to me." She looked deeply chagrined to admit this.
"Oh," I said, as sudden anxiety coursed through me again. "Like, how good? Weird Italian singer thing good?" I hoped I was being subtle about edging away from her.
Edward chuckled, though I was seriously failing to see the humor in the 'Elisa is delicious' scenario. "I don't think so, Elisa. I don't think the outcome would have been – quite the same." His face sobered.
"But I've been practicing – trying to desensitize myself to your scent," Bella hurried to fill the awkward silence.
"What?" I was instantly confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh," Bella looked embarrassed. "I guess you didn't know."
It was Rosalie who spoke up this time. "We've been sending things of yours, clothes mostly, by express mail to Alaska. It was just an experiment, and we didn't want to tell you in case it didn't work. We were afraid to get your hopes up."
"Oh!" Well, that explained why nearly every outfit I'd worn lately immediately disappeared, and Rosalie's somewhat stilted explanation that they'd been donated to charity. "Wait – you've been...sniffing my clothes?"
Bella nodded. "We got the idea from Riley taking my clothes to give my scent to Victoria's newborns."
"Well, that's just – " So very, very creepy. Just – gross. "So nice of you to think of that," I finished weakly, trying to interject as much sincerity as I could. It's not like I could really criticize any methods that prevented me from becoming an entree.
"But it's not the same as being near you," Edward was killjoying the moment as only he could. "We'll have to give it a little time, see how it goes."
"I'm going to try as hard as I can to make up what I did to you, Elisa," Bella's voice turned stark. "And you, Esme."
Both Esme and I were immediately protesting. "Bella, c'mon, are you going to beat yourself up about that forever?" I demanded. "I think you're forgetting a few things here. You almost died saving my life, remember? I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you!"
"You also came very close to not being here because of me, Elisa," Bella persisted, and Edward wrapped a comforting arm around her.
"Bella, you weren't yourself at all. We've all been there," Esme reassured her but she might as well have been talking to a wall. Bella looked absolutely miserable.
I was trying to be understanding, but my patience was quickly running out. Hadn't Edward already done enough moping for the both of them? "Seriously, Bella, is this the new ability that all vampires gain, the power of the super mega guilt trip? Is a rat drinking binge and a few decades in a moldy crypt like a rite of passage for all newborns?"
There was low laughter at that. Bella shot me a mock glare. "And to think I actually missed you."
"So…speaking of abilities..." Carlisle's eyes lit on Bella and I could see he'd been dying to bring this up ever since she and Edward had reappeared. "Have you noticed any changes in your ability?"
Bella furrowed her brow. "Not as much as I was hoping,' she admitted. "I think I've just become more sensitive. I can feel Edward trying to read my mind now."
Edward nodded. ""And I can feel her resistance. It's an odd sensation; not painful, exactly, but not pleasant, either."
Carlisle looked fascinated. "That's quite interesting. Bella, are you making a conscious decision to block him when he feels this resistance?"
"No,' Bella shook her head. "It's just there, this block or whatever it is, like it's always been. But now I can tell when he's trying. It feels almost like – someone tapping on my brain, for lack of a better term." She grimaced suddenly. "And it's very, very annoying, Edward, so knock it off."
Edward grinned sheepishly. "Sorry."
"Do you mind if we do some experimenting?" Carlisle queried now, his eyes still lit with that same eager curiosity.
"Of course we can. I'm curious about it myself." Bella agreed.
Carlisle nodded to Jasper and Alice. "I'd like each of you to try, one at a time, to use your abilities on Bella. See if she's more immune to you than she was when she was human."
Alice stepped forward first, her face falling familiarly blank. After a few seconds the blankness cleared and she smiled. "Nope, Bella, you're clearer than ever. As easy to see as everyone else here, with the exception of Elisa, of course." She looked my way now, anticipating my reaction to that. "I can see you, Elisa. You're just a little murky, like all humans are to me."
"My turn," Jasper stepped forward. He looked at Bella in concentration and a second later she chuckled and began to laugh in earnest. In seconds her laughter increased to an almost hysterical level. "O-okay, Jasper, stop!"
Immediately Jasper's look of concentration changed to amusement as Bella stopped laughing and glared at him. "Clearly, I can still affect her. I haven't had a problem reading her emotions either. So temperamental these days – typical newborn."
Bella hissed at him, making me jump, and Edward sent Jasper a warning look as he touched her arm lightly.
Sitting on the arm of the couch next to me, Emmett began to laugh. "Check out badass Bella! Want to go a few rounds?"
Carlisle gave him a stern look and Emmett shrugged jovially. "Just a suggestion."
"Of course, Bella is not the only one who has been…evolving lately, it seems." At Alice's words, I felt the attention in the room shift, and I was caught in an unwelcome spotlight. For a moment, I was puzzled and then I saw the familiar piece of notebook paper caught in her hand, my own untidy handwriting covering the page. It was the paper I'd given Jasper several weeks earlier, the one that related my most recent dream/memory of Alice's past. He hadn't wasted any time in keeping his promise that he would give it to her when he had the chance.
"Thank you for this, Elisa,' she looked steadily at me. "You have no idea what this means to me."
"Um…you're welcome," I was glad for the calm in her tone, considering that last time I'd confronted her with an unexpected tidbit from her past she'd freaked out on an epic scale. "So…um...who wants to talk about absolutely anything else? Anyone?"
There were chuckles at my ungraceful attempt to change the subject. "Elisa, I realize that this is uncomfortable for you, but we did say we'd need to talk about this at some point," Carlisle gave me a reassuring smile.
Fantastic. I saw now that Bella and Edward were reading over the page now, heads together. I'd missed seeing Alice pass it to them. Feeling even more self-conscious now, I waited.
"This is extraordinarily detailed," Bella lifted her head, done reading. "And I can't say I'm surprised to find out there was something going on with you. I remember the day you drew that picture of the little girl; you were so nervous about it – scared, even."
"The picture Elisa drew, the one she thinks is of your sister," Carlisle had turned to Alice. "Does it trigger any conscious memories for you at all?"
"I never got a chance to look at it," Alice confessed, and I felt myself shrink a few inches at that. It was finding out that Jasper and I had hidden it from her, such an important part of her past, that had set her off and ended in her leaving before.
"I still have it," Jasper said immediately, and I wondered then if I was feeling my own guilt or his. "I can get it right now," he made as if to get up.
"No," Alice put a restraining hand on his arm. She took a deep breath. "I can't wait to see it – to see her. At the same time, I'm terrified. I think I just need a little time to work up to it. Besides, we were talking about a certain somebody, and there's a lot more I'd like to know," she grinned at me.
"I can certainly second that," Carlisle added. "Elisa, I know the details are difficult for you to remember now, but can you think of any time in your life before you came here that you had experiences similar to what you've been experiencing with Alice? Visions of the future, or even picking up on thoughts or memories of others?"
I snorted. "Not even close. Believe me, it probably would have saved me loads of trouble if I had."
"How about any other experiences? Anything out of the ordinary at all?" Carlisle persisted.
"Well…" I considered for a moment. "There was this one time that I dreamed about vampires and then found out it was all real..."
There was general laughter at that.
"Well, Alice, I guess you're just going to have to deal with not being the only psychic around here," Emmett grinned broadly and Alice laughed.
I frowned at that. "I'm not psychic – " I started to object, but no one was listening.
"I wonder if that's the connection," Carlisle was murmuring, half to himself. "Why Elisa is only picking things from Alice – because they both have similar abilities…" he trailed off, lost in thought.
"I don't have…!" I had started to protest again, but as Carlisle's words filtered through my head, something clicked, something Alice had said. She'd told me that her memories had started to come back to her more when I was around her, because she related to me. And when her memories started coming back to her, that's when I started having them too...
I took a moment, struggling to clarify to myself what I was putting together, when Edward's head snapped up. "Elisa…" he breathed, looking impressed. "I think you're on to something there!"
Heads were turning, looking back and forth between the two of us. "What are you talking about, Edward?" Alice demanded.
"Ask Elisa," Edward jerked his head towards me. "I think she's just figured out something that's never occurred to any of us."
They all looked back at me now, and I picked at a pilled thread on my jeans nervously wishing Edward had chosen to explain what was in my head instead. I wasn't even sure that I understood it myself.
"Elisa," Carlisle encouraged me.
Here went nothing. "Well…see, you guys have it wrong. I'm not the psychic one. Alice is." I paused, wondering how to continue.
"If that's your big revelation, I'd say it's a tad bit disappointing,' Alice said drily after a moment.
"Hang on!" I protested. "I'm trying to explain. See, I never used to dream things that came true, or have memories that came from other people, or anything like that. Not until I came here. Not until I met you." I looked straight at Alice. "And I'm not the only one that this has happened to, am I, Bella?"
Bella looked stunned. "What are you talking about?"
"Bella, did you ever have dreams that came true before Edward and everyone came to Forks?" I asked her.
"No, of course not," Bella looked bewildered.
"But you did after they came, didn't you?" I finished, unable to hide the note of triumph in my voice.
Bella still looked confused for a moment, than her face cleared. "Oh. OH!" She looked at Edward for confirmation. "I dreamt about you as a vampire, and Jacob a wolf…though that could have been just the story he'd told me that day. But later on…the dreams about Victoria…and the night before my wedding, when I dreamt about – " she abruptly stopped herself.
Edward looked confused now. "Elisa told me you'd had a nightmare. It came true?"
As Bella nodded, my excited triumph at this new revelation was rushed away in a tide of foreboding. I'd nearly forgotten about that night.
Bella was speaking again after a momentary hesitation. "I was in the forest and I heard Elisa screaming your name. I ran to find her and she was covered in – "
"Blood,' I finished quietly. "I was covered in blood. You thought it was mine, that something had happened to me, but you were wrong. It was all about you, what was going to happen to you, because of Irina." My voice was shaking.
Bella gasped. "How could you possibly – Elisa, you lied! I asked you if you'd had the same dream! Why didn't you tell me?"
"I'm sorry,' my voice cracked. "I didn't know we'd had the same dream, I swear I didn't. I just knew we both had nightmares, and I didn't want to tell you about mine being about you, not the night before your wedding. I should have known – maybe it would have been different – "
Everyone was shaking their heads at this, and Emmett leaned over, putting his big hand reassuringly on my shoulder. "Elisa, don't blame yourself. You couldn't have possibly known."
Bella was nodding in agreement with his words. "He's right, Elisa. Warning or not, that dream was so vague. There's no way we would have put the pieces together, even if you'd told me everything that night."
"Wait, please," We all turned to look at Alice. Her face was strained. "I don't understand. Are you trying to say that your and Bella's dreams, the vision we shared, your memories of my human life, all came from – " she broke off.
"You," I looked at her. "It was never us at all, Alice. It was you all along."
Alice seemed struck speechless by this. Across from her, understanding dawned on Carlisle's face. "Remarkable!"
"Hang on a second," It was Rosalie's voice that sounded this time. "So what you're saying is, Alice can pass off her abilities to others in some way? Why hasn't it happened to any of us then, the ones who have been with her for years? Of course, we don't dream, but Elisa has shared at least one vision with her as well. It doesn't make any sense!"
"It does if she can only do it with humans," Edward leaned forward. "Think about it, Rose. Mortals must be more susceptible to her influence."
"Of course!" Carlisle seemed fascinated by this. He looked at the rest of his family. "I think I can see the pattern as well. Think back to the few times that we have come across a human that began to suspect something – unnatural about us with rather inexplicable accuracy. I strongly suspect that they may have been experiencing a tiny fraction of what Elisa and Bella have – odd dreams, perhaps even visions."
"You're saying that whatever Alice has been broadcasting could have clued people in to what we are?" Emmett said in surprise. "I don't know about that, Carlisle. We would have been beating off Buffy wannabes armed with stakes and torches. There's no way Alice is broadcasting her psychic abilities to random humans without any of us realizing it."
"Not just any humans…" Carlisle mused. He looked up to include me in his thoughtful gaze before his eyes turned to Bella. "I don't think just anyone can pick up what Alice may be inadvertently putting out. First, they'd need some kind of regular contact with her, a phenomenon that was nearly unheard of until we moved back to Forks. Second, they would need to be exceptionally sensitive, as Elisa has so aptly demonstrated for us just now. Whenever we were in danger of discovery before, it was always someone that was unusually intuitive, much like Bella and Elisa. It's extraordinary that it didn't affect anyone else in Forks, especially given how much more social we were there than anywhere else."
Bella's mouth dropped open slightly at that as a sudden realization seemed to dawn in her eyes. "There was someone else!" As soon as she said the words, she looked as though she wished she could take them back.
"Who?" I asked, and by the looks of everyone around me, they really wanted to know as well.
Bella looked reluctant to answer. After a moment, she sighed. "Angela Chase." Her reply was so quiet I had to strain to hear it.
"What makes you think that?" Edward asked her.
Bella wasn't quite meeting his eyes. "Angela knew...something. She knew I was lying about Dartmouth and our future plans. She as much as said so the day of our wedding." She was being less than forthcoming with the details, and I felt frustrated as Jasper spoke.
"You never said anything," his eyes were steady on Bella. "Didn't you think this was something we should have been informed of?"
Edward shot him a warning glance, but Bella was already speaking. "We were leaving anyway. I just – I didn't want anyone to be forced to make any hard decisions."
Oh. Now I understood. But they wouldn't have really hurt her, would they? Not gentle Angela, their friend… I looked back at Jasper, and it seemed like the temperature dropped ten degrees. If he thought he was doing it to protect Alice, to protect his family, he'd do anything…anything. Dread slithered down my spine to pool in my belly.
Alice stood up then, and I was happy to leave that disturbing train of thought behind as I watched her pace the room. "I just think we're missing something here. Elisa didn't just have dreams that hinted at the future. She shared the vision I had on Bella's birthday! Besides, none of this explains how she is picking up memories of my mortal life."
I snorted. "Yes, it does!"
Alice looked like she was about to argue, and I hurried to continue. "Remember what we talked about the night you – left? About your memories, how they're trying to come back? You are remembering, more than you ever realized. I think you're just not quite ready to deal with it all yet, so you've been – " I paused, trying to think of how to explain what I was getting at.
"Projecting your memories onto Elisa!" Carlisle breathed, saving me from further explanation. "It's so incredibly simple, yet it explains so much! How could we have not realized it before?"
Alice was shaking her head. "I don't think it could possibly be this easily explained."
"Why?" I demanded, tiring of her tempering my relief at finally having the weirdness explained with her skepticism. "Why does everything have to be so complicated? That's the problem with you all knowing types. You're so busy using your big super vamp brains to twist every single possibility around in your head that you forget to just connect A to B. Sometimes it really is simple. Sometimes it's obvious."
Emmett chuckled. "You gotta admit, Alice, she's got a point."
Alice looked like she was about to object, apparently planning to stay on the denial train until she ran out of track. I sighed. At the same time my stomach growled, and I realized suddenly that I was ravenous.
"Sorry," I stood up. "I'm starving."
Esme started to get up as well, but I waved her back down. "I'm going to make myself dinner. You all talk it over amongst yourselves. If you bog yourself down in a sea of logic, call me. I'll break it down for you."
With that, I backed out of the family room. As I walked down the hall to the kitchen, I heard the hum of voices start up again and was instantly glad I'd bailed when I had the chance. It sounded like the Alice Has New Powers summit was going to go on all night. You'd think they'd be used to the weird by now, but I guessed even vampires could have their minds blown every now and then.
A quick perusal of the fridge turned up a fresh package of bacon and my stomach growled again approvingly. Hmmm…BLTs sounded delicious right now.
I dug out my iPod, put in the earbuds, and hummed along I assembled my ingredients. I could believe what a good mood I was in suddenly. Everything was falling into place. My family was back together, my secrets were out in the open, and best of all, it turned out they weren't even my secrets. All this time I'd thought I'd had some weird creepy ability of my own, that maybe I'd been even taking Alice's abilities…it all seemed so melodramatic now. I'd blown everything way out of proportion.
I tossed the bacon into a pan to fry, still humming merrily, and began to slice tomatoes on the cutting board. Yes, everything was perfect. Absolutely per –
I gasped as the knife slipped, slicing into my fingers. The pain was immediate but that wasn't what had my horrified gaze riveted. It was the crimson stream dripping from my fingers that had me so frozen. Bella. She was in the next room, and her favorite snack sized human's tasty blood was on free flowing tap. She was just getting used to me again, and she couldn't resist this, not in her ferocious newborn state. There was no way I was getting out of this one. I'd been lucky far too many times.
And in those few seconds that I stood there in mute, abject horror, the air around me changed, becoming weighted and wrapping itself around me like a constricting cloak. It shrank tighter and tighter around me and I couldn't move, couldn't breathe. The walls were melting around me, the floor underneath my feet shifting and blurring, everything spinning together.
Abruptly, the world righted itself again. I sagged, gasping, and the knife fell from my unblemished fingers onto the cutting board besides the whole, uncut tomato.
My fevered mind struggled to make sense of what had just happened. There could be no pretending anymore. This wasn't a vision, or a memory. This wasn't Alice. It was me.
The kitchen door burst open then. "Elisa!"
"Alice…" I tried to turn to face her, and a volcano of agony erupted in my head. My knees buckled and I had a quick second to observe the kitchen floor rushing towards my face before a cold hand caught me.
Mercifully, darkness was right behind the pain, and I sank into it gratefully, letting it bear me away.
Bits and pieces of reality broke through my peaceful black, long enough for me to hear concerned voices and try to respond, but then the pain would surge again and I was washed away.
Eventually, unconsciousness loosed its hold on me slightly, and I began to dream.
I'd been here before, in this uncomfortable, narrow bed, held down by straps and tubes, the beep of the machine next to the bed maddening. I tried to sit up, to free myself, but my head felt full of fuzz and my limbs refused to respond. It seemed to take minutes to even blink my eyes clear of sleep and focus on anything around me.
It was the bracelet on my wrist that caught my attention. Not the printed hospital band with my name on it, but the cheap, plastic beads on a clear rubber band. I remembered this bracelet now – I'd gotten it out of one of those red quarter machines at the grocery store. I remembered it now, because I played with it constantly, until the day the rubber band broke, scattering the beads over my desk, and I'd cried in front of the whole class. I couldn't have been more than seven years old at the time.
Now I understood. This was a memory, but this time it wasn't Alice's. It was mine.
"Daddy," I whispered tearfully to the figure sitting in the chair next to my bed. "Daddy…" I began to sob, feeling the nightmarish terror coming over me. "She was all bloody!"
"No," My father's teeth clenched together. "It never happened, Elisa! None of that ever happened! You imagined it – it was just another one of your daydreams, do you understand me? It is not real!"
"Not…real?" With every fiber of my being, I wanted to believe him.
"No," his voice gentled for a moment. "So you can't ever talk about it again, OK? If you keep telling people, they won't let me take you home. You want to come home with me and Mommy, don't you?"
I nodded, tears spilling over. "But – "
"No!" His voice was angry again. "You do not ever mention this again! You are going to forget this ever happened!" His voice broke. "You have to forget, so we can all go back to normal." His hand tightened on mine painfully. "Promise me, Elisa. Promise me that you'll never tell."
His face was fierce in the gloom, lips pressed together, eyes tight and angry in a way I'd never seen them before. In that instant, the nightmares I'd been fighting off seemed to recede in the face of his fury. Whatever I was afraid of, he was scarier.
"I promise," I whispered. "I'll never tell."
"Elisa, wake up. You're having a bad dream."
Abruptly, I was in my own bed, warm and heaped with extra blankets. A fire was crackling merrily in the fireplace.
Emmett was leaning over me, his eyes concerned. "You've gotta stop scaring us like this, kid," Gently, he brushed a tear I hadn't realized was there off my face. I must have been crying in my sleep.
Sorry," I croaked. "What happened?"
It was Rosalie who answered, appearing from nowhere to touch a cool hand to my forehead. "You had another one of your migraines and passed out in the kitchen. Luckily, Alice saw it and got to you before you hurt yourself."
My bedroom door opened then, and Carlisle and Esme were there. Esme bore a tray with a steaming bowl. "Alice gave us a heads up that you'd be coming out of it soon." She swooped to my bedside as I struggled to sit up. "I've brought you some soup and ginger ale." She indicated the dishes on the tray. "Eat what you can."
Carlisle was already holding my wrist, apparently checking my pulse. "Normal," he murmured. "Your temperature is fine as well. I must say though, these episodes are concerning me. Your headaches are unnaturally severe." He gave me a faint smile, but his dark eyes were troubled. "I'm going to take you to the clinic as soon as possible and give you a full check up. We'll sort this out, don't you worry. How are you feeling now?
"Much better," I tried to make my voice hearty and healthy sounding. If I recovered quickly, hopefully he'd back off of the whole checkup idea. I didn't feel too bad, regardless. Thankfully, the pain in my head had dulled into near non-existence, though my stomach churned and the horrible taste in my mouth indicated that I'd spent some time making Technicolor tributes to the porcelain god again. Ugh.
"Good," Carlisle smiled and straightened up. "Eat what you can and try and get some rest."
Esme patted my cheek and with that, followed him from the room.
Trying to ignore the apprehension still chilling me, I obediently began to eat. I was nearly finished when there was a quiet knock on my half open door and it opened fully to reveal Alice.
"Rosalie, Carlisle and Esme need to hunt. Why don't you two go with them? I'll sit with Elisa for a while."
Rosalie frowned, looking back and forth between us, then turned to Emmett. I realized then how dark both their eyes were – it had been a while. "I suppose it's a good idea," she said finally. "We won't be gone long, Elisa. Get some sleep."
As soon as they filed out, Alice closed the door. I watched, puzzled, as she stood in front of it for a long moment, head cocked, listening. Finally she seemed satisfied. A fractioned second later, she had zipped to my bedside, but instead of sitting down in one of the vacated chairs, she stood next to me, her eyes fixed intensely on my face.
"Alright, Elisa. Spill it."
My tongue twisted in my mouth. "Um…I don't know what you're talking about," I managed to mumble.
She sighed then, and in an instant was sitting at my side. I scooted over to make room for her.
"Do you know how I managed to get to you fast enough to keep you from hitting the floor? It wasn't because I saw what happened. It's because you blurred right out of my sight for a few seconds. You may have scared a century or two off my immortal life. There is something going on with you that is well beyond a simple migraine." She was staring directly into my eyes. "And right before I came into the kitchen I could have sworn I smelled blood. Your blood. And yet here you are, a little worse for wear maybe, but not a scratch on you. Believe me, I'd really love an explanation for that."
"Oh my God!" I nearly jumped off the bed as her words registered. "But Bella –"
"She wasn't here," Alice hurried me to reassure me. "She and Edward left for a quick hunt before any of it ever happened.
Weak with relief, I nearly collapsed back onto my pillows, but then I caught a glimpse of the clock on my bedside table. 3:09 am. "A quick hunt?" I burst out.
"They're fine, Elisa,' Alice hurried to soothe me. "They're just…" her voice trailed off.
"Oh!" I blushed. "They're…busy."
We both snickered before Alice's tone became stern once again. "Enough with the diversionary tactics. Talk to me."
I stayed stubbornly silent.
"Aren't we beyond secrets now, Elisa?"
At that, I sat up once more. "Are we?"
Alice looked surprised now at my accusing tone. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing much. I was just wondering if you enjoyed your trip to Ireland?" I asked pointedly.
Alice gasped at that. "How did you – " She broke off at my triumphant smirk. "I guess I fell right into that one, didn't I?"
I refused to drop her gaze. "You did exactly what we were afraid of. You went after Sebastian by yourself! Alice, you could have been killed!"
Alice hushed me quickly, shooting an anxious look at the door, but Jasper must not have been within hearing distance. She turned back to me. "Was I really that easy to figure out?"
I shrugged. "I'm reliving your memories, Alice. Kinda makes me feel like I know you pretty well."
She managed a small smile at that, though she still looked pretty unnerved. "I suppose so."
"Well?" I said impatiently when she continued to look blankly. "What happened?" I modulated my voice to a whisper.
"Nothing much," Alice said quickly. "I didn't go there to attack Sebastian." Her protest did not ring entirely true. She saw the disbelief on my face and hurried on. "I merely wanted to impress upon him the need to keep his word about not revealing you to the Volturi. Or ever coming near you again, for that matter."
I sat all the way so I could look her in the eyes. "You want me to believe you went all the way to Ireland and tracked Sebastian down to have a conversation?"
Alice nodded, not quite meeting my eyes.
"So?" I prodded her when she didn't continue. "What did he say?"
"Mostly 'ow, ow, please stop hitting me'," Alice smiled acidly.
"He did promise to keep our secret," she added. "But this is Sebastian we're talking about, so I thought I'd better go ahead and twist off his head, just to be on the safe side." She scowled now. "Unfortunately, he didn't seem to like that idea much. I chased him as far as I could, but he led me right to the city and there wasn't anything I could do then but let him get lost in the crowd. Sneaky bastard."
"I'm just glad you're alright," I sighed. "Edward knows too, doesn't he?"
She nodded reluctantly. "I couldn't keep it from him, but he's the only one, aside from you." Her guilty gaze returned to the door. "Jasper would be furious with me, and I can't blame him. If the situation was reversed, I'd be livid at him for deliberately putting himself in danger. I – I just got him back. I can't bear another rift, not now."
Before I could respond, she frowned at me. "Elisa, you've done a nice job of turning the tables here, but I'm still on to you. Are you going to tell me what really happened downstairs?"
I took a deep breath, but just as I opened my mouth, my father's voice was echoing through my head again. "Promise me, Elisa. Promise me that you'll never tell."
I pressed my lips tightly together, as if a confession was going to fly unrestrained from my reluctant mouth. Alice saw the expression on my face and her eyes narrowed. "If you tell us what this is, we can help you."
I shook my head. "Alice…I just…I need a little time. Can you give me that?"
Slowly, Alice shook her head. "Whatever this is, Elisa, it's hurting you. You can't expect me to keep quiet about that."
"I can handle it," I crossed my arms over my chest. "Alice, please. I will keep your secret for you. I'm just asking you to let me try to figure this out on my own."
Alice's expression became dangerous. "Are you blackmailing me, Elisa?"
My resolve crumpled into dust at the hurt underneath her indignant tone. "No," I sighed. "I won't tell anyone about Ireland, no matter what you do. I'm just asking you to remember that you know how this feels. Once upon a time, this was you."
Alice rubbed her fingers against her temples. "Elisa…" Her voice was resigned. "A little time. That's it. Then you're going to tell me everything."
"Thank you," I whispered gratefully.
We were silent for several long moments before she spoke again. "Edward and Bella will be back soon, and they'll want to check on you as soon as they hear you were ill. If you don't want to clue him in, you might want to try to think about something else."
I groaned at that. Easier said than done.
"I'll help you out," Alice encouraged brightly. "Tell me about everything I've missed lately. Tell me about school. Wait, I know! Tell me about Jimmy." Her eyes sparkled.
Ugh. Jimmy. I knew she meant well, but my spirits instantly plummeted once more. With everything else going on, I'd almost managed to forget the humiliating events of these afternoon at school, but now it was all rushing back.
"You don't like him any more?" Alice's face fell.
"Oh, I like him, alright," I said flatly. "Unfortunately, I walked in on him and Jock Boy playing tongue twister in the science lab. Note the specific use of gender in that sentence."
Alice's mouth fell open. "Oh!" she gasped. "Well, damn. I have to say I didn't see that one coming."
"Me neither," I said sourly.
Alice was starting to look angry. "Wait – if he likes boys, why did he kiss you?"
I shrugged. "Believe me, it's a long, complicated & humiliating story." I softened at the disappointment on her face. "I'll tell you all about it, I promise, when my head's a little clearer. It just happened today. I haven't had a lot of time to process it."
"Of course," Alice smoothed back my hair. "I'm sorry. I know how important he was to you."
"He's still important to me," I said after a moment. "Don't get me wrong – I want to strangle him right now. But when it comes down to it, he's been my best friend. And if I had to choose, I guess I'd rather have the best friend instead of a boyfriend who probably wouldn't have lasted anyway."
Alice smiled warmly at me. "Listen to you, Elisa. I must say, I'm impressed. You're growing up. How does it feel?"
I stared at her in disbelief. "It blows."
She chuckled and reached out to draw the blankets higher around me. "You should try to get some sleep."
I turned over and closed my eyes, knowing she was right. It was only a couple of hours before dawn. Of course, my head was too full for sleep to come easily. Despite myself and Alice's rather stellar attempt to distract me, the incident in the kitchen was turning over and over in my mind.
These past few months, all the strange things that had been happening to me... I'd never realized that I was looking at two completely different scenarios. On one hand, there were the visions and memories that I now knew had never belonged to me at all – they'd all come from Alice.
But there were other things – the day in the library when I'd broken Carlisle's cross and then it was like it never happened. There was today, when I'd nearly ruined everything with a careless slip of a knife. And when Bella – my mind jumped away from that one, not wanting to remember one single moment of that horrible day.
I had managed to – what, reverse time? But if that were true, how did Alice smell my blood today? How did Esme hear Carlisle's cross falling off the wall, if I'd made it so those things never happened?
And what about my dream – no, the memory I'd had earlier tonight? A lump rose in my throat as I saw him again, my father sitting next to my bed, remembering his words, telling me to forget, to keep our secret... But how could I be sure that was even real?
I was so confused and my head was starting to pound again. Sleep was only getting further and further away. Plus Edward was going to be home any time and the last thing I needed was for him to pick up on any of this.
Giving up, I sat up with a sigh. Alice was already standing, anticipating my request. "I'll get Jasper."
Just before she reached the doorway, she turned back. "Everything is going to be alright, you know."
I really, really hoped so.
But even if it was, it was becoming clear that there was no way my life was ever, ever going to get less weird.
To be continued...
In the next chapter, it's all human hour as Elisa confronts Tandy and later on, her normal human life begins to collide dangerously with her secret world.