Author's Note: This is my first official bit of Jasper/Bella, and to say I slaved over it would be a scandalous understatement. So I really, really hope you enjoy it, and any comments would be so greatly appreciated! First part of my first response to the twilightficmix challenge I picked up. This is for the song "Molasses" from The Hush Sound's album "Goodbye Blues." A big round of applause to my betas: interfection and sporkedd! Also for the rain puddle prompt at twiriginal!
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. This applies to all current chapters.
Darkness, if you can hear me,
I will try to draw you near me,
But in the morning you will wake up alone.
Oh, when your body breaks,
Even the hummingbirds will feel the earthquake,
You'll sing a song of your heart's complaint.
"Molasses," The Hush Sound
Someone Else's Memoirs
i know it 'cause you wrote it down a hundred times, but you say that you're doing just fine
The fight begins today. I can almost smell her in the air, the way her hair burns away all the moisture around her. I'm not afraid as I should be… not for myself, anyway.
The earth beneath her feet didn't exist anymore. It all shifted, air moving around her in thick bubbles that shoved and squeezed. Nothing got into her lungs and nothing got out. Instead the scene in which she had been thrust (it felt almost like film now) stuttered, until the sun was out of view and everything faded to black.
He didn't bleed. He couldn't.
No got caught in her throat. A scream scratched at the back of her teeth, ripping her gums open, tearing up her tongue. Her lips, so dry, stuck together as her cheeks grew wet.
It wasn't raining.
"Bella!" A different voice. A lag, an intonation that was the broad bowl to his fine stem.
She'd find out later he'd actually cried Alice.
They took him away from me.
Six shadows circled, hunching in the rain, around twin slabs of stone. Droplets shimmered on the marble and cascaded down in crystal rivulets, over carvings of fairies and lions. One raindrop dipped into the darkened E, another balancing along an A, and others pooling at the bases of impossible numbers.
She fell to the ground, waiting for a wave of peace to smooth the corners of her shaking silhouette…. Waiting for a wave that never broke the shore.
When we got back, no one said anything. They started speaking eventually – Emmett broke the silence after two days. I couldn't even bring myself to write, or care, really.
He gave this to me before we left and made me promise to fill it up. At the time I thought it was weird and kind of stupid – there were more important things to worry about. Why would I need a diary? Now I get it. It was life insurance. He was telling me that no matter what happened to him, I had to write something down the next day. I had to live.
I wish I could hate him for it. For making me wait to see him again. My writing's so small and the pages are so big.
The Cullen house felt bigger than ever before. The hallways went on forever, leading to empty rooms. She stayed in Alice's, hoping to fill some of the void left behind. His already felt full; when she thought of it, she pictured the grand window glassless and open, his ghost floating just beyond the fall and calling her to him. Bile rose in Bella's throat, tears in her eyes, but she swallowed both and closed the door behind her.
Emmett was in the living room, sprawled on the couch. He didn't have a book in his hands; the television was silent, a sheet of reflective black marble.
She ambled into the kitchen as if she hadn't heard him.
It's unfair. I'm unfair. But I can't talk to Emmett, not right now. It's horrible to think, but he got to keep Rosalie. I know it hurts him to lose his brother and his sister… and I know I make it worse by not saying anything, but I can't help it. It's not the same. I think Jasper would understand. That's probably why he doesn't talk either.
Time passed, and it was neither quick nor slow. It barely passed at all. All Bella knew was that one day she woke up, looked at the calendar, and it had been two months.
The day was overcast, as usual. Astoria was a place of stagnancy – of mending, Carlisle said. But all Bella could feel in the air was the whisper of water and sorrow denser than fog.
"Thank you, dear," said Esme as they were cleaning the house. Bella had no homework anymore, and though she was human, she had no intention of attending university. Their house was a comfortable prison: she had no desire to leave, not even for a job. Without a job, she was without money, but that was fine as well – there wasn't anything she wanted to buy. Bella hungered for nothing these days.
It was clear that Esme hoped busywork would lift her spirits, or annoy her enough to want out. Bella admired her for it. Her caramel hair had darkened from being in the rain, her bright eyes lined a sad bronze. She looked paler, wedding band embossed on white marble. She was in pain, a mother having lost two of her children, but she smiled and uttered kind words for those that remained. The constant martyr.
Bella thought briefly of her own mother, the memory of her face split into a grin, her hair frenzied with humidity. It flickered out of existence just as quickly.
"Is there anything you'd like to do today?" asked Esme, damp cloth sweeping over lacquered wood. It shone brightly, offering reflections Bella didn't wish to see.
She shook her head.
"All right, then." Her words dipped imperceptibly, but Bella knew better. One grew used to the different tones of grief, especially when one was silent.
There's never enough work to be done. These pages never fill, no matter how many days go by. I can't help it. Nothing happens. There's nothing to write down.
I wonder if he knew it would be like this. He always was far more clever than me. Couldn't he have given me a post-it note instead?
Couldn't he have just…
When they came, the wind didn't howl. The door didn't rattle on its hinges and a wolf did not sing mournfully to the full moon. The veil of darkness hadn't even fallen; it was broad daylight, and they arrived in cloaks of woven evening.
Bella was wiping down the stainless steel refrigerator. Her mind wandered to every tiny, immaculate fingerprint. The dainty loops of Rosalie, the wide palm of Emmett. Esme's were the ridges wrapped around the handle, and Carlisle's the grooves along the door's edge. Hints and skitters caught smudged against the silver – those, she supposed, were Jasper's. They were like tiny strangers to her: she recognized them last because she didn't know them at all.
Emmett's rumbling snarl surprised her. It filled the living room and pushed its way into the kitchen, making her hands shake.
It was simultaneous: everyone was suddenly in the foyer, with her looking on from the open doorway. They stood like a choir of angels in a heavenly war – poised at the gates, waiting for the reapers. Carlisle's eyes ghosted over his wife, his children, and then Bella.
"Jasper." His voice was disconcertingly calm. Jasper nodded and then his cold fingers curled around her arm and pulled her away.
As she was led up the stairs, she heard the creak of the front door, the crinkle of an aged voice.
"Good to see you again, Carlisle."
Jasper said nothing.
My mortality was nothing more than a bartering chip. I honestly... I didn't care. It would have made me just as frightened to be killed by the Volturi, which isn't very much. I don't get too scared anymore.
But that would have been selfish. Eternal life is the last thing I want, but to hurt Esme and others like that... They've lost so much already, and because of me.
Besides, I still have this damn diary. And now I have until the end of the world to fill it out. No more need to rush. No more light at the end of the tunnel.
They set up a nice room for her. The walls were bare, but they tried to add little touches of home: candles for pleasant scents, a comfortable couch, a rug. They didn't go to their usual monetary extent – they didn't need a bunch of fancy ribbons.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," said Carlisle. The eyes of Aro and Felix bored into his back; the excitement radiated off them in drumbeats. "I wish you had more time."
I wish I had less.
She closed her eyes; the pain was abrupt. She'd expected it to start out slow, as an ache and then an itch. But it erupted, spidering through her veins like fiery frostwork. She hadn't felt Carlisle bite – not even the testing graze of his teeth. Then everything was in sync, the burning in her forearm and shoulder and chest and face and oh my God.
Every inch of her skin itched, every pore struggling to sweat and failing. Her eyes sewed themselves shut, lashes like knives fluttering against the flesh of her face. Bella wrapped her hands around her body, made herself a straitjacket; her fingernails drew pretty red pictures all over her pale skin. Her senses exploded, her scream the soundtrack to her ending credits.
On the first day, she lost her voice.
On the second day, she lost her sleep.
On the third day, she lost her life.
I don't want to remember it.
"Hello, Bella." Emmett's shoulders slumped, as did Rosalie's. Pairs of sharp, pale planes that said, Nice to meet you, stranger.
"Emmett." Her voice was dry and cold, but the syllables rolled gratefully from between her teeth. How long had it been since she'd said his name? "Rosalie."
His arms encircled her with a generous lack of gentleness, and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. It was enough to break a tree in half, but it felt to her like a child's embrace. Then Rosalie held her briefly, eyes darting away, as if it hurt to look or touch what could have been a happy ending. Then Esme, then Carlisle, and they spoke words to substitute the tears none of them could cry.
Some of them shook and some of them stood stock still, not a quirk of the lips or fingers. The air hung silent, heavy; all the hairs on Bella's arms bristled. The room buzzed, anything but calm.
They all visited me when I was turning. I remember it now. I opened my eyes every now and then, but the room was so bright I had to close them. There were shapes in the darkness – silhouettes. When I saw them again, I recognized them immediately. Rosalie is alpine, Emmett is sturdy, Carlisle is soft-edged and Esme always flows.
But when Jasper casts a shadow on the floor, it disorients me. I don't think he ever came.
Emmett ran, heavy feet moving quickly. Twigs split under his weight, but by the time they made a sound, he and Bella were too far gone to hear it. She could see every flex of his muscles, every movement that had been but a blur to her human eyes. Now it was time that was slow, and they were simply faster. The world couldn't catch up.
Lace whispers of scent tickled her nose, pouring into her lungs and empty veins. They weren't how she imagined them to be. Instead of a constant mist, they were individual threads, each scent as distinct as a different color. They wove around the trees and through the bushes, growing tangled the closer she followed. Finally they knotted together, a dew-soaked maroon mass. A deer.
It was all instinct. Its black eyes were still lidded, unafraid and unaware of danger, when she snapped its neck and sunk her teeth into the furry mess of flesh. Like nectar, its blood pooled on her tongue and ran in waterfalls down her throat, trickling through the creases of her eager mouth.
"Calm down, Bella."
A snarl ravaged her lungs.
Nothing had ever tasted so good, so sweet. Not coppery, but like honey warmed in the sun, like melted sugar, like tree sap over snow, like…
But she knew, even as it ran over her chin and stained her clothing rust, that this was only second best.
Everything smells good. Deer, bears… even a mouse I saw running through the kitchen. I almost got it, but Rosalie stopped me… and I didn't thank her. I want everything. My body itches from the inside and I need everything. And even though we live so far from town…I can smell them.
What would Esme think if she knew I finally wanted to leave the house?
Saturday rolled by as all the other days did, but when evening rose, it changed. The usual mix of blood and damp bark parted, a new scent emerging. Burning wood, wildfires… bubbling, charred meat, the sickly thick drip of melting marshmallows. A bonfire. And then, the drug.
Esme, Emmett and Rosalie were hunting. Carlisle was in his study. They would smell it in moments, but moments were enough. Bella broke from the house and into the night. Rain splattered her in splinters, but she was dull to it as a windshield. The trees and leaves rushed by in a cinematic blur: she became the only foreground, the only sense against an abstract pattern of smudged shapes.
These threads were fatter, clotting closer and twisting in pretty patterns. They glowed, bright lights against the dull scents of deer and rabbits. Pretty, pretty threads, sewn immaculately, screaming to be ripped apart…
Then she flew backward, wind whistling through her ears as she landed flat on her back, staring up at the canopy of trees. Hands held her arms on either side, pushing down until her body made an indent in the earth.
She blinked, the indistinct silhouette lightening to her starry eyes. Unfamiliar blond hair, unforgettably golden eyes…
"Jasper," she gasped. She thought she'd accounted for all the others before she'd escaped… but she never saw him anymore. It was if he were a part of the house, always flitting from room to room like a shadow escaping the sun, forever in peripheral vision. She'd forgotten.
"I know." To her surprise, nothing built in her chest – no revulsion that someone denied her a need, no fury that they were trainers trying to talk culture into an animal. But then it could be the tranquility she felt in every pore, colder than the rain speckling her clothes.
"Do you want to murder them?" he asked.
"No," she said automatically. "I… I want to kill them."
"That would be fair," he said. She sucked in a breath to clear her head, to warm her thoughts, to make her angry. Instead she got a lungful of nothing. "Crowley did almost kill you, after all."
"Tyler Crowley?" The threads dimmed; she focused on the honey glow of Jasper's eyes. "That's…"
"Yes." His grip on her lessened slightly, testing. "I can understand if you'd want to kill him. Mike Newton, too. He is a pest, isn't he? And I know you don't like Lauren. The spite coming off her smells like a bad hangover."
Again, his fingers slackened; she felt the earth give a little under her body. "So go ahead. They have it coming."
Bella ripped her arms away, pushing him off and getting to her feet. "No! What is wrong with you?!"
The scents unraveled as she ran, the house looming into view. Her feet tracked damp footprints on the carpet. When she marched past the living room, she didn't miss the alarmed looks in their eyes. If it was because she was back, or because she was back spotless, not a speck of red on her, she wasn't certain.
I wish I knew what Tyler and the others were doing out here. But they did always talk about the camping trips they'd go on after graduation. I do kind of remember Mike mentioning Oregon a few times on-shift. That could be it... Then again, it might not have really been them. I got so worked up, I didn't think he could have been lying.
It doesn't matter. Even if they weren't my Tyler and Mike and Lauren, they were someone's. I wonder if I could have realized that on my own.
The scents of vampires were harder to follow. They weren't solid and leading – instead, they were hazy wisps, like taillights in the dark. They faded almost as soon as they were out of sight. But his she remembered: it was sweet but subtle, like molasses.
He nodded, eyes drawn away from the book in his hands. She hadn't expected to find him in the room that would have been Alice's (he never touched her old room in Forks), so of course it was the first place she looked.
"Thank you," she said. "For last night. For stopping me." Bella breathed in through her nose, the moisture in the air helping her dry throat and tongue. "I didn't…. You were last person I would've thought to…. Well, I didn't think you cared."
Jasper tilted his head very slightly, a single strand of hair nudging out of place.
Sometimes it bothered her to notice little things like that. Insignificant facial cues and body language that humans didn't have to be burdened with. It was better not to know when someone was irritated or disappointed with you, but it glared at Bella in twitches of the eyebrow, in an invisible vein throbbing.
"I don't want you to make a mistake," he told her. "Alice would have done the same."
Her lips split open, air rushing in like water. Before that night, she hadn't heard him speak at all, much less Alice's name. Bella was still incapable of speaking his.
It gets annoying, being this easy to read. I've never seen Emmett or Rosalie or Esme gasp. Not even Alice, when she was... It's a reflex I can't stop, like when I'm hunting and I just blank. Emmett has so much more control. I never thought I'd be jealous of him, but he never gets a spot of blood on his clothes. And he eats grizzlies!
At least I've got more to write. But I still don't think I've got much more to say.
Rosalie was a divine hunter, moving with the grace of a seductress and the intent of an assassin – her shoulders square, her jaw aquiline in the moonlight, and her eyes reflective pools of greedy gold-dust.
"Do you think Jasper would ever like to come with us?" Bella's question cracked out hoarsely in the silence.
Rosalie glared; the sound of hooves slicing through wet leaves grew fainter.
"Ask him yourself," she said, staring in the opposite direction of their once perfect prey. Now they had to follow a new sliver of twine through the labyrinth. "He won't talk to me."
"Then why are we having this conversation?" Her snow-white nose twitched, nostrils flaring briefly. "Deer, one mile. Come on."
Bella trailed, too aware of her clumsy footsteps and heavy shoes, of the leaves in her muddy hair against the untarnished brass of Rosalie's locks. But her thoughts were focused on another shade of blond entirely.
I'm getting sick of deer. The taste wears off and there aren't many different species in the woods by the house. Emmett says I should try expanding my palette, but I get dirty enough already. I don't especially want to roll around with a black bear.
Carlisle told me there are more kinds of deer in the woods farther out, nearer to Olympia… back in Washington. Thankfully he ended the conversation there. I don't think I'm ready to go back... I don't want to make a mistake.
Some days, she just sat in front of the refrigerator and watched her muddled outline in the frosted steel. It was strange. It used to be stocked with any food she might desire (though she never had much of an appetite after the funeral). Now it was only another article in their museum of humanity, a prop on their quaint little set.
And she never had to clean it, because no one touched it at all. There was the occasional handprint – always Emmett's along the freezer's edge, and Rosalie's fingers splayed downward around the middle, and Bella didn't like to think what they were doing to get it that way. She just wiped it off with the hem of her shirt and resumed the practice of observing herself.
When the lights were dim, her shadow was just a darker pool of grey. When they were bright, she was a splotchy mixture of ivory whites and caramel browns. She couldn't see her eyes or her mouth or the slogan on her t-shirt, and that suited her fine. It was easier to grow accustomed to her new shape – taller, thinner bones, more oval face – in small bursts.
She showered in the dark so she didn't have to look in the mirror.
When I touch my fingers to my face, it doesn't feel the same as when I touched him – cold. It's like touching snow with gloves on. You know it's supposed to be freezing, but you can't feel it – just distantly know what it's like.
"Are you going hunting?" she asked. The far-off grind of zipper-teeth echoed in the shell of her ear, tickling the tiny hairs. Then the rough shrug of a duffle, Rosalie's soft chuckle, Emmett's heady murmur of something not meant for Bella's too-active senses. She cleared her throat loudly, concentrating on the sound of Jasper's unnecessary breathing.
"I went yesterday."
Had he been out of the house? Had he been in the house? His scent lingered everywhere, which made him difficult to pinpoint.
"You're not going either, though."
His eyebrows rose in a frown. "Then why are you asking?"
"I was curious..." The truth. It was all she could ever give to Jasper, try as she might to do otherwise. To Esme and Carlisle she said, Yes, I'm fine. To Emmett she said, I'll join in the next game, promise. To Rosalie she said, I'm sorry. But Jasper didn't expect her to lie. Jasper knew too well what it was when she did. (To everyone he said nothing.) "… About what you hunt."
He glanced back down at the book and his eyes stayed there. "It all tastes the same to me."
She stared for so long she swore she could see the words on the page reflected in his eyes, but he didn't look up. It read in clearer print than her messy diary: to the end of reckoning.
Everyone has a preference. Emmett likes grizzlies, Esme likes rabbits. He liked mountain lions and she liked foxes. I know I should try other things, but I can't bring myself to. Maybe if I get used to deer, that'll be my reality, and I won't want anything else.
I don't believe Jasper when he says he doesn't like anything more than another, but I don't want to ask him about it again. I'm a bit afraid of the real answer.
His hand wrapped around her arm, his fingers like vines. She had always thought of Emmett as a great tree: natural, implacable, wise in a very ignorant way. "Uh-uh, Bella. No deer today."
"It's all I want."
"Liar," he said, and steered her away from the familiar maroon threads that led to a mother and her fawns.
They followed the brilliant sunshine-yellow trail of something else, something she couldn't place. Her mind switched absently to a slideshow of countless brown bodies, sightless eyes open and tongs lolling onto the earth.
The scent coiled into her nose as they neared it. It was fresh, invigorating… succulent. Bella's body moved forward, becoming the predator: her feet landed feather light on the crackle-snap earth, her fingers flexing, nails sharp and shred-ready.
"What is it?" she asked hungrily, feeling her tongue slick with venom.
"You'll like it. All newborns do." After a moment, he added gruffly, "Some more than others."
It filled the shadow of a puddle then, golden body gleaming with the liquid way it moved. Its eyes were sharp and burgundy, its nose rosy pink, its teeth pearl-armored soldiers bared at the trespassers.
Bella froze; the predator inside her was unafraid, but limited by its host's weak, stupid heart.
The mountain lion growled again.
Her eyes narrowed to watery slits. She severed each word from her tongue and spat them at him: "I. Don't. Want. It."
Then she ran. Away, away from the yellow and toward the comforting dull brown of scratchy hooves and flat teeth. No more gold, too much gold. Emmett followed, silent as a shadow, and watched patiently as she slaughtered an entire family of deer. Bella never spilled a drop.
I don't want to go hunting with Emmett anymore.
When Bella walked into the house, clean as fresh linen, the air became stiff. Rosalie moved into the kitchen and Emmett joined her when he stepped in. Esme rose carefully from her spot before the television, muting the newscaster – and Jasper placed a placating hand on her shoulder, calmly gesturing for her to sit back down.
Bella stalked up the stairs and to her room. There was no translucent wall in their Astoria house, for which she was grateful. She glared into the glassless frames of art and bit her tongue and screamed into her fist and threw her tattered old Wuthering Heights at the darkly veiled window. She made her steps heavy and her rage quiet and broke ink pens over her favorite Austens, until the loves and the Fitzwilliam Darcies didn't dare peek out from behind her black teardrops.
Time ticked, paper paled and finally she stopped, a fountain pen held precariously over Jane Eyre. Her black blood soaked fingers trembled… and then a stillness filled them, so comfortable, so believable, that for a moment Bella thought she might actually cry. Instead, she stared at her closed door, waiting for the moment it would go away.
It never did.
Carlisle makes pleasant conversation all the time, talks about the news like it concerns us, or how the Denali are doing (they've started talking to us again. I don't think that doesn't mean they don't blame us for Kate, though). Esme wonders how my day was and if I'm all right, and sometimes she makes jokes about preparing dinner (they can be so funny I almost laugh). Rosalie… she flips through bridal magazines mostly, and asks me what colors I like best, and what sash I want for my bridesmaid dress (I want to tell her to pick whatever Alice would have liked – she always knew a lot more about fashion and…). Emmett speaks the most, about anything that pops into his head, about human food, about football, about jaywalkers, about crime scene investigation shows (his favorite thing to do these days is play with a pair of sunglasses, taking them off and putting them on whenever he has something dramatic to say).
Jasper comments on the weather and tells us when he's going hunting. He's more silent than Rosalie, but…I get the feeling he's actually saying a lot, just not in words.
That sounds stupid, so I kind of get it. Talking can be overrated.
"She hasn't gotten any better," Emmett's voice filtered through the white noise of the wind whistling and a squirrel chattering on the roof. Bella's eyes lost focus on the words Tell-Tale Heart, her hearing quickly compensating for the sudden nap her vision was taking.
"You haven't been looking hard enough," Rosalie answered. A page whispered as it flipped.
"I took her to a mountain lion the other day." A pause. A page. "Stupidest thing I ever did."
"It wasn't your fault."
"I know. I was lying."
Emmett chuckled bitterly. "I should let you do that more often."
"It's good that you don't." Bella could hear the smile in Rosalie's words, and just as easily heard it fade. "She was going to cross one sooner or later."
"But I took her to it."
"That's better. I would have if you hadn't."
"Now you're lying."
"Let me finish. I would have eventually."
Bella half wished her heart were capable of hammering against her chest, as if to confirm what it was she was hearing. She was also half grateful it couldn't, so it didn't drown out the words with its pesky thump-thump.
"How do you always distract me?" Bella assumed that in this pause Rosalie grinned her lovely grin and shrugged closer to him. "I was saying: she hasn't gotten any better."
"And I was saying you haven't been looking hard enough. Rewind successful. Press play."
On a sneer, he said, "If I haven't been looking, then I've been listening. I'm listening now. You want to enlighten me?"
"Are we watching with subtitles now?"
A sigh. "If I do tell you, will you make up your mind on a color scheme for the wedding?"
"Jasper," she said, half decisive and half flippant.
Bella's ears itched in the long span of silence. Then, finally, "I like the blue and cream."
I thought the feeling of always being the last to know would go away once I became a vampire. It got worse instead, because now I always know when I'm the last to know. I wish it wouldn't bother me... I'm fairly sure it didn't before. But Emmett's smiling more, Rosalie's smiling more, Carlisle, Esme... It's starting to freak me out a bit.
Rosalie has the wedding pegged for next June. They're going to have it in Canada, near Vancouver Island. She's the least spastic bride I've ever seen, but I guess when you've gotten married as many times as she has, you've seen everything.
From what I've heard, everyone has their usual roles: Carlisle's walking her down the aisle, Esme's the maid of honor, and Jasper is the best man. No one has mentioned the ring-bearer yet.
She was vaguely aware of the outside world at most, if not all, times. The drone of the newscast stuck in a distant curve of her mind, long after the television was switched off. The newspaper lay open across the dining room table every evening (it spent the first few hours in Carlisle's study, and sometimes came out missing bits and pieces).
In the time she'd been gone (six months and twenty-eight days, according to the tiny, slightly smudged print), three murders had been committed in the Washington area. One happened on Quileute land, the torn body of Samantha Adams found clean and neat in her bed. Police said that she had most likely snuck out in the night and was attacked by wolves, while community members argued that wolves couldn't dress a girl up and return her home. The family was in mourning, and the girl's boyfriend reportedly refused to talk to anyone, much less journalists.
Oh, Paul, mourned Bella's icebox heart.
Other than that, life passed in a normal, mortal way. A tremor rocked California and a series of robberies seemed linked to a pawnshop in Seattle. An honors student almost killed four of his friends driving drunk, and a woman named Nora won the regional senior bingo championship. All headlines that would cease to matter in the following days of her life, the years, the decades, the centuries.
"Nothing changes," he muttered, so softly as he passed. She hadn't even known he was in the room, and then he was out of it.
Bella folded the paper and tossed it in the recycling bin, ready to be made into new headlines.
Sometimes, especially when Esme's got a talk show on that she's not really watching, I think of Renée and I wonder how she's doing. Nothing major has happened in Florida – Disney World had to shut down for a day because someone almost lost their arm on Splash Mountain. Other than that, nothing. I keep waiting for the day her face shows up on the T.V. beside the caption "Eclectic Woman Breaks World Record For Most Casual Hobbies."
I keep waiting for her face to show up anywhere.
Rosalie moved behind her, a snowflake for all the impact she made on Bella's senses. Bella took a deep breath, holding it in for moments and moments on end, letting it leak out through her white-line lips. Then she closed her eyes and felt the wind rush by.
It smelled scarlet and writhed wildly in her stone fingers. The spine was bent in an unusual way, very unlike a deer – but it snapped like a stalk of wheat. Then, with the scent in her nose, she dug her teeth into the paper-thin skin.
Her tongue blazed sour then sweet. The blood was thicker, hotter, redder. Bella drank and drank and drank, her throat singing with venom, until her lips were pink and her cheeks were flush. Her prey ran dry, like air was whistling through vacant veins.
Bella's teeth released the cushion of flesh and she stood. Her eyes fluttered open, the world already in perfect focus.
The empty lynx stared ahead.
"Your first cat, Bella." Well done.
Emmett told me today around dinner (that's still when it is, even if we don't eat) that the next time I go out, I should bring him back some bobcat. I couldn't tell if it was his way of apologizing, or his way of saying "I told you so." Probably both.
I didn't laugh, but I nudged him a little with my shoulder when I left the room. Esme told me later that I should have seen the way he lit up.
The off-grey sunlight peeking through her closed blinds told her it was morning. It became obvious by a bird chirping some twenty yards or so off, the thud of the newspaper hitting the front door… then the unexpected gnash of gravel and broken wheel spoke squeals.
It hit her like a fist to the face: a brilliant ribbon of white fire, leading straight out her door. She wrenched it from the jamb, irises darkening to black moons. Three steps, two steps, the door, the door, the ribbon, the door, the blood, the –
Her back was pressed to the wall, steady hands on her wrists, stone chest keeping her still. At the base of the stairs, the door creaked open; the beautiful scent bloomed, and she struggled, struggled.
"Oh dear. Did you have an accident?"
Salt and water and – "I h-hit a rock. My bike's broken. Could I c-call my mom?"
"Why don't you let my husband take a look at your arm first? He's a doctor."
"My… My m-mom will be worried about where I am."
"You can call her while he stitches you up – Oh! Don't make that face. It really doesn't hurt at all. You're not the first paperboy to crash his bike."
The smile in Esme's voice only made Bella angrier, and she thrashed.
"Bella." How many times had he said her name? She caught the tail-end of the word, latching onto it like her nails longed to latch onto whoever was holding her down. "Bella."
"I want it," she hissed. "I need it!"
"Bella." His voice was even. Then his hand grabbed hers, a cold she could feel, and twisted it between her face and his. She spied him through her curled fingers: Jasper's eyes bore into hers, gold reflecting coal. "Look at this."
She growled. "Jasper…"
"Look at this." The blood called, the boy's frail voice was taunting, but she looked anyway. Staring back at her was the crescent of raised flesh, taut at the edges and pale.
Her struggling quieted, her shoulders still against the wall. "James did that."
"Do you think he needed it?"
The throbbing in her throat became a resigned hum. "Jasper. You're always stopping me –"
A fresh blush of blood, the threads twining into a lovely, lovely tapestry just two steps away, and she jerked against his hands again.
"Michael, is it?" asked Carlisle, and though his voice was calm to any human, to Bella it was, frustrated, frightened. "Please stay still. It's important we close this up – now I'm going to have to re-do those stitches. Esme, have you gotten a hold of Michael's mother yet?"
"Bella!" Jasper's voice sliced through the petty conversation, the planning, the denial. "Look at –"
"NO!" She broke for half a second before his arms closed around her and pulled her away, farther down the hall and into Emmett's empty room. The door slammed noiselessly behind them.
"Bella, no." The words, so similar to the first he'd spoken to her in months, made her muscles stiffen. She was without protest as he brought them to the corner of the room – the furthest in the house, directly against the southern wall. As much distance as they could put between Bella and the clumsy blood.
"Don't let go of me," she managed, while images of dead lynxes flashed through her mind, their bright scarlet signatures fading in the wake of Michael's vibrant silver. "I don't want to…"
Carlisle and Esme's voices were muffled, Michael's a weak whine. Then came the stereo growl of the telephone speaker, and the salt sounded again, and Esme assured Michael's mother that they'd drive him home, good as new. Finally the door closed, a stifling echo in their shaded little corner.
"I'll follow them," Bella told him. "I can feel it in my chest."
Jasper nodded, lips ghosting lightly over her hair as he spoke. "Am I hurting you?"
Her ribs ached, her lungs wanting to expand out of habit and straining to do so. "Yes."
The circle of his arms didn't shift or slacken. "Sorry."
"Yeah. Me too."
The silence stretched as the silver gradually dimmed to grey, then evaporated into pale wisps and slithered away like smoke. She supposed he could feel her body relax, the monster having slunk back to its cave; Jasper let her go, and she turned to face him.
With clear eyes, it was easier to look at him. "Thank you, again."
"Don't," he said plainly. "I'm only –"
Quiet, quiet thuds, and the door swung listlessly open.
"Whoa." At Emmett's voice, both Bella and Jasper stepped away from each other. "What did I miss?"
Emmett didn't tease me about the Jasper thing. In fact, he didn't bring it up at all, which kind of scares me. This seems like the sort of thing he doesn't let go – endless teasing material. I've been listening, but he hasn't told Rosalie about it. I wish I could thank him, but I'd rather just follow his lead and try to pretend the whole thing never happened. After all, that's worked so well for me in the past.
Carlisle nudged the door open with his shoulder, crossing the threshold gracefully despite the cumbersome box in his arms.
"That looks heavy," remarked Esme.
"Looks," smiled Carlisle. When the door was closed, he gave up the act and held it easily under one arm. "Feels heavy as a tissue box."
Bella, who had been eying the refrigerator door, edged closer to read the writing obscured by reflective gloss. "A computer?"
"We thought you might like one," he said.
"We also thought we'd give it to you for your birthday, but that's so far off. Consider it an early present." Esme's fingers intertwined with Carlisle's, her face pleasant and hopeful.
"I… don't know what to say." And she didn't. She'd entirely forgotten about her birthday – the last one had already passed, she realized now. "Thank you."
"We have no one to talk to outside our family." Carlisle's hand broke from Esme's as he began up the stairs. "But you might like to speak to your friends."
As he disappeared, she added, "We thought before might have been too early. I hope you'll use it? But I understand if you don't." Something in the way her eyes dimmed made Bella think she might just.
"Of course I will."
It was much quicker than her old computer, the swiftly flashing advertisements making her eyes spin. But they were bound to the edges of web pages, sewn into the tops and bottoms – never once cropping up unexpectedly. It felt odd not to be on constant manual pop-up blocker duty.
The LCD was obscenely bright, each pixel keening for attention. Bella squinted, at once understanding why she never saw any of the Cullens using a computer, even for homework.
When she opened her email (it took her a moment to remember the password), her bloodless face might have blanched. Rows upon rows upon rows of foul junk, of grocery coupon offers, of exotic vacation packages. And between those was line after line of Renée Dwyer.
Bella, honey, I heard about your boyfriend. I hope you're okay.
Bella? I know you're going through a tough time, but I'd really like it if you could email me back. Maybe even give me a call? You can talk to me about anything, I promise.
Honey, I haven't heard from you in weeks. Please, maybe talking about it will help.
Isabella, do you want me to die too? Because you're killing me with worry over here.
Sorry about that last email. I wasn't being fair. Please don't be…
… send me a message…
… just one or two words, even.
I went down to Forks. Charlie's scared to death. Where are…
Bella's fingers shook over the smooth mouse, repeated words screaming holes into her head. Worried. Bella. Honey. Please.
When she got to Renée's last message, sent only eight days ago, she watched the cursor stutter over the reply button. The click echoed in her head for what seemed like ages. The blank white page burned into her eyes as she stared, waiting for the words to write themselves. Finally, her fingers flew over the alien keyboard.
Mom. I'm sorry I worried you. I'm okay. Bella.
A pause…. The computer clock went from forty-three to fifty-four.
P.S. I'll write again. Love you.
Renée wrote back not three hours after I sent the email. I spent the whole time pacing, wondering if I'd done the right thing. Maybe it's better she thinks I'm dead. But…she sounded so relieved, even in a tiny little font. So happy.
She asked me where I was, what I was doing, if I'd changed my email address, what my phone number was (cell and home), what airport was closest, if I was working and what weekend I could take off, what my bank account was so she could wire me money to fly to Florida…
I haven't written back yet.
"Talked to your mother?" asked Jasper. She was searching the library for a book to read (non-fiction: no princes and no pixies). He shimmied an old biography onto the shelf and plucked a collection of Frost poems from its perch.
"Yeah," she said. "About as much as you talk to yours."
The corner of his lips twitched – upward or downward, she couldn't tell. In the sliver of a second it was gone, as was he.
Emmett bumped into me on the way down the stairs, thieving my book away. His hands are surprisingly nimble. He looked skeptical about my choice.
"Brave New World?" he'd asked. "We have less depressing stuff, you know. Like Gone With the Wind."
I just shrugged and grabbed it back. I really don't see how Gone With the Wind is less depressing.
While Carlisle was away at a medical conference, Esme decided it was time for spring cleaning (in the middle of December). Bella knew this was one of the things Esme did to preserve her own humanity, in the way Emmett watched college football and Rosalie bought make-up to add shine to an already perfect face.
"Rosalie and Emmett are making a run to the landfill," she said, organizing neon bottles under the sink. Aquamarines and lime greens stung Bella's nose with their chemical songs; Esme wasn't breathing. "They're coming back for a few things. I left a list on the freezer in the garage. If you and Jasper could quickly…"
"I've got it," Bella told her, eager for any excuse the escape the sharp, intoxicating reek.
Their garage was graciously large. It rose in a stone square many feet apart, affording room for Carlisle's Mercedes (its spot dark and vacant), Rosalie's gleaming BMW, and the large empty space that Emmett's Wrangler usually occupied. Shelves towered neatly, stocked with tools and other odds and ends. A freezer huddled mostly untouched in the corner, the contents of which Bella could smell from afar. Deer and grizzly.
Jasper had the list in his hands, a shadow cast over his face as he read it. He looked up upon her arrival. "They'll be back soon, then Emmett can organize everything into the jeep. You take the bikes, I'll get the old table set."
His gaze flickered behind her, and then he went to a stack of fine-looking chairs.
She followed where he'd glanced. Unbelievable. There, crouching in the wall's shadow, was Bella's ancient motorbike… and his as well. A helmet hung on the handles of hers, red shell shining through a thin layer of dust – completely juxtaposed against the half-flat wheels and rusted mudguards. On its other side was one of a newer make, draped in brilliant black and steel.
"We're getting rid of the bikes?" Her voice was hoarse as pieces of the past flashed through her head: her hair whipping her face, stinging her eyes; the wind stabbing into her lungs like a battering ram; defying logic and reason and gravity, all for a whisper of the impossible.
"They're on the list."
"Can't we keep them?" When Bella turned, he'd already lined up the set of dining chairs and the mahogany table. She braced her shoulders and feet, palms out, as if protecting the motorbikes.
"Riding," she said, and surprised herself. She was one of their kind now – she could run faster than her bike could go on nitro. But it wasn't the same: running was fluid, natural – the roar of a metal monster beneath her, tires shredding the earth, was reckless and violent. She missed it.
"I suppose, if you'd like to. Will you need two, though?" He stepped toward her, eying the brighter bike.
"Well, not me, but I don't like riding alone." She retreated instinctively, palm sliding over the grainy seat. Her eyes fell downward, watching the rough texture under her smooth fingers.
"Rosalie only likes cars," he told her, "and Emmett rarely drives anything but his jeep. Unless you know someone in Astoria –"
"How about you?" she asked abruptly. The back of her throat suddenly itched, her ears tuning into tiny sounds – internal cues were the only marks of her embarrassment now. "He was going to give you the bike, after all. He said you wanted to learn."
She looked up, but stopped her lips from parting, the air from rushing in. "Right. Okay. Sorry."
The jaws of the garage yawned open, revealing the immaculate cutout shadows of Emmett and Rosalie, the Wrangler glowing behind them in the hazy sun.
It was stupid. I probably wouldn't even like riding anymore. It probably doesn't feel the same without the risk of going to the emergency room after every wrong turn.
Rosalie shrugged into an unremarkable blue shirt as she stepped into the living room. Bella was lying on the couch, playing with the television remote: the volume was at its lowest setting and she didn't even have to lean forward to hear every word crisply.
"Hunting," said Rosalie, as though she were clocking in for a job she'd lost interest in months ago. "East or west forest tonight?"
"I'm not hungry," muttered Bella, watching the game show host's lips with the volume on mute, and still able to comprehend each syllable.
Rosalie, fingers tangled in her hair, elastic poised to ensnare it, froze. "Pardon?"
Bella looked up, aware of the sudden stiffness in the air, hearing her answer as it reverberated off the walls. "Oh. I didn't realize…. I'm telling the truth, though. I'm really not hungry."
"But you last went hunting three days ago."
"I know. I'm not lying, Rosalie. Look at my eyes. Are they black?"
She approached as if Bella were a danger – no, as if she were a miracle Rosalie didn't believe in. She scrutinized Bella's eyes a moment, her inkblot pupils still. Finally, her lips curled into a curious, reluctant frown.
"No. They're a bit darker around the edges, but you've got at least another day before you need to feed."
Bella nodded, unsure how she felt in this knowledge. Splashes of color annoyed her peripheral vision, so she turned the television off and watched Rosalie. Waited. "Okay then."
Rosalie eyed her a moment longer, then began fiddling with the buttons of her hunting shirt. "Mm-hmm."
I'm thinking of borrowing one of Carlisle's books on sign language. That sounds like a good first thing to learn. I wonder if Renée would be any less upset with me if I apologized with my hands? That might just make her angrier – but I can imagine the look on her face.
Or maybe I'll pick up something completely different. I think Jasper knows Lithuanian. At least it would get him talking.
Rosalie was sadly mistaken about an entire day of freedom. By the time Esme's grandfather clock tolled eight the next night, the mild colors in the house were too loud for Bella to handle. She clutched at the sides of her waist, knuckles white, nails dipping into the fabric of her shirt.
She supposed Jasper sensed her unease; the door to Emmett's room, where she was hiding, opened quietly and a pillar of light spilled across the floor.
"Thought I'd be good until tomorrow," she grunted. As did the others, or they wouldn't have left her alone. "Didn't know you were home."
"I had some business in town. I just got in." Before she could protest, he pulled his shirt over his head – too nice to hunt in – and guided her to her feet. "Let's go."
She let her arms fall to her sides, lax with the peace that permeated her bones. He led her as far as outside – then she took the reins, breezing westward through the securely embracing trees.
Maroon trails blazed left and right, some in pairs and some singular. She ignored them, following her favorite scarlet as the hunger made her stomach clench tighter, tighter. There it was, sniffing out a rabbit's hole (pale blue threads wove into it). Bella sprung at the lynx, her thirst so wild that she bit before she snapped.
It rounded on her and raked its dagger-like claws across her face, catching her in the eye. She screamed, taking hold of its head and twisting. The spine cracked, discs grinding, and its skull caved clumsily under her harsh fingertips.
"Bella, your eye."
She ignored him, all but inhaling her prey's blood. It was her first mess in a long time, for a newborn. When she was done, she unfolded her hunched body, the carcass an indecipherable lump of shredded skin at her feet.
Awareness seeped back into her, bits of humanity. She looked at Jasper wonderingly – he seemed flat against the endless expanse of trees. When he stepped forward, her equilibrium shifted, a strange bubble making her stomach spin.
"It's not too bad," he said, stony fingers gentle over the flesh of her cheek, the arc of her eyebrow. "Newborn eyes are a vital weak-point – that's why you always snap the neck first, Bella, then bite. But it should heal." The pad of his fingertip over her eyelid, closing it. "Can you feel that?"
With half her vision gone, her senses realigned themselves accordingly: sounds from miles off became a pretty hum; the slight weight of dew in her clothes felt heavier. In her good eye, the moonlight cast everything in a vaguely three-dimensional painting, including Jasper. It cascaded over his brilliant hair and scarred shoulders, brightening the white wife-beater he'd left the house in.
"Can you feel that?" he asked again, palm resting on her cheek.
She swallowed laboriously. Traces of blood fell down her throat, sharpening her attention. "Yes."
"Hmm." Then he looked in her good eye, and his face shifted into something she hadn't seen before, something she couldn't place. Simultaneously, it fell back into clinical concern and his hand fell to his side. "We can keep hunting, if you like. But that lynx should tide you over until tomorrow, and your vision will be better then."
"Sure," she said, looking toward the direction they'd come in. "Tomorrow."