Chapter summary: February, 1934, Hale residence, a faked death? a faked name? Bella didn't know what Lillian/Rosalie was hiding, but she swore to get to the bottom of it. She did. Rosalie couldn't have been happier. Some stones are better left unturned.
I rode out to the Hale's house on Dolly with a basket of biscuits I had baked and a jar of orange marmalade, my props with the excuse for visiting the invalid — a tea would be pleasant and safe, wouldn't it? — if she was there. And why shouldn't she be there? Dr. Hale said his "sister" was on bed rest for a month ... I thought darkly to myself. Not that she looked like she needed the rest. She looked rather like a caged animal on her bed than what I had looked like yesterday: a girl recuperating from exhaustion.
Today was going to be an interesting day.
Dolly was still skittish near the Hale property. I had to dismount again and lead her to the house and tie her off. I was annoyed with her, but, I knew my annoyance with her was in large part due to fact that Dolly didn't need to pretend to be brave. She was scared of the Hales, because there was something scary about them. All of them, not just Rosalie: her presence was obviously terrifying, but there was something off about the others, too. They were too precise, moved too smoothly, were just too perfect to be real. As I had thought before: ghost-like. Dolly knew this and acted out on it. I knew it, too, but I had to keep up a polite pretense to obey some unwritten rule of society. The pretense was tiring and annoying, and I had directed anger to Dolly, but it wasn't her fault, and, deep down, I knew that. And that annoyed me, too.
I walked up to their front door with my basket tucked under my arm. What do I do now? Knock? That seemed like a reasonable course of action, but my first rap pushed the door open. Further open, that is: the door was ajar.
The creep-o-meter had just pegged to the far right.
"Um, Lillian?" I called out strongly, "it's Bella Swan? I brought you something and came to visit while your family was out?" That sounded reasonable, right? Not particularly brave, nor nonchalant, ... but reasonable.
The house was quiet; the Hales and Edward were out, it appeared. Then, after a pause, a mellifluous voice called out to me: "Yes, I'm in bed; please come in." It was perfectly pitched and made me realize just how raucous my own voice had sounded. I patted my back pocket, feeling the articles I had clipped crinkle in response, my talisman and my motivation, and I pushed past the front room through the hall to her door. I paused, taking a deep breath, opened the door and stepped into her room.
There she sat, as before, almost regally, but this time with a pleasant smile on her face. Her smile grew as she looked me over and noted the basket in my arm. "I brought some biscuits I made and some marmalade. I figured you might like to do tea."
She practically beamed. "I wouldn't have believed him if I didn't have the proof right in front of my very nose: Edward was right; you are so very sweet!" Sweet? Me? I don't know where Edward got that impression, but he seemed to believe it strongly enough to share that with his family. I blushed at the compliment. Rosalie noticed and laughed liltingly.
I wished I could laugh like that.
"Do sit down. It's so kind of you to visit me, Bella, especially after I was told you weren't doing well at all yourself."
"Of course I'd come visit," I replied instantly, "I wasn't up for company myself, but you've looked so much better that I felt, so I thought you would like the company."
An awkward pause followed, so I pushed forward into the silence: "You actually seem much improved from when I first saw you. Dr. Hale mentioned you wouldn't be up and about for a month, but you look healthy enough to be out of bed now," I commented. She did look much better than I felt the last couple of days, even though she was recovering from consumption, and I was merely dealing with nerves ... because of her, I reminded myself. "Perhaps Dr. Hale is too cautious? Or perhaps he's out of practice due to his teaching at Rochester?" I added the last bit slyly and as naturally sounding as I could manage.
"I would say he's very careful. In fact, he's never made a mistake." She responded with a tinge of self-righteousness.
"Oh, of course, I meant nothing against Dr. Hale, but being so young, he's probably being extra careful. It just looked to me that you don't need to be stuck in bed any longer — I couldn't stand two days; I don't see how you could manage a month of this!"
"I don't either." She whispered, looking positively glum. But then, in a flash, she brightened right up, "But a month? That's nothing as compared to a lifetime, and we can't be making mistakes, can we, when one's health and one's life is on the line?"
"You certainly take the long view!" I was surprised. I knew from the immediate past that I couldn't bear to be idle and let life pass me by like that, even under a doctor's orders, even for just two days, never mind a month!
"Yes, I do. But I know from personal experience that making decisions without thinking things through thoroughly can lead to serious regrets, so I've learned the long view is good for long-term happiness."
"Well, well," I said. I suspected her last pronouncement and the articles in my back pocket were intimately connected, but I felt, for forms sake, that questioning her words directly would be impolite — prying. I so dearly wanted to know everything, to have all the dots connected and have all this make sense, but haranguing went against my nature. Maybe she'd be willing to tell me the story of her past, but I couldn't brow-beat it out of her ... I would never wish that to be done to me, and when people became prying about me or others, it was always made life very uncomfortable for me. So I took a different tack, "Well." Yes, I'm good at saying "well": thank you for noticing. "It must have been quite the decision for you to come out here to Montana all the way from New York! And leaving your parents behind; you're on quite an adventure!"
"You find Ekalaka adventurous, do you?" Her expression was amused.
"Well, no, I mean, actually, yes. Now it is: your family has generated a bit of a stir by coming here, as any newcomer would, but I meant," What did I mean? "that you picked up roots from what you knew and from a comfortable living Back East to have to start all over again out here."
"For a time I did have a comfortable life in Rochester, but it really wasn't my own life ..." Rosalie began.
"I know what you mean." I muttered under my breath.
"No, you don't. You have no idea what I mean," she snapped harshly. How did she hear me? And what did she mean by that? And what's with the sudden shifts in moods?
I lost it. "Well, then, tell me what you do mean, Rosalie!" I snapped right back. "Because I have no idea what you're talking about, and I'd really like to know!"
She looked at me.
After an uncomfortable pause, I put in another "Well?" petulantly, crossing my arms. I suppose my behavior couldn't be called the model of "comforting the sick", but I had held my temper too long already dealing with this exasperation. I wasn't about to back down, and my last confusing visit with her still stung. On top of that, all the mystery of this family had already laid me out for two days. I didn't like all these maneuvers: tell it to me straight when you're talking to me. That, or don't talk with me at all!
She continued to look at me and then she smiled again. A shiver went up my spine, for it wasn't what anyone would call a warm smile. "It seems we have a lot to learn from each other, Bella. Why don't you put on some tea? Then we can have a nice talk."
Finally, we're getting somewhere! I hoped tea would be a breakthrough, because I was tired of talking around in circles. "That sounds wonderful, Lillian." Relief wreathed my voice. I set the basket down, "I'll go make the tea and be back in a few minutes."
"Take your time; I'm looking forward to our chat." She seemed ecstatic.
I got up and headed back to the kitchen. It was pristine. Mrs. Hale was much more of a neatness freak than I was. I looked in the cupboard. It was empty. Huh! I opened the cabinets: no tea things. Perhaps they hadn't unpacked them yet? I looked in the ice box. It wasn't cold. And it was empty, except for my pan of corn bread from two visits ago, untouched. The bread had hardened into a brick. Was there something wrong with my corn bread? Mrs. Hale's comment about Edward liking anything I cooked came back to me and stung like a slap to the face.
My country cooking must've been just too disgustingly plain for these folks from Town. I blotted my eyes, gritted my teeth and put on my brave face. I think I've cried more in this last week than the entirety of my life preceding it. "Lillian?" I called, heading back to her room, "I couldn't find any of the tea things, could you tell me ..." She wasn't in her bed. "Lillian?" I called out louder.
Then, out front from outside the house, I heard a blood-curling scream. "Lillian!" I shouted and beat feet, had she fallen and hurt herself? The Hales were going to kill me. They'd have to wait in line behind Pa! I tore through the front door, then froze at the sight that greeted my eyes.
Nothing made sense. Dolly lay on the ground, her legs twitched spasmodically. Her head was unnaturally bent upward, looking straight at me with eyes glazing over. Lillian was bent over her, kissing her neck. All I could think was Pa's not going to be happy with me about losing a horse. Then Lillian looked up from Dolly, red stained her mouth. I noted, stupidly, that she was wearing a full-length velvet candy-red dress. It looked tailor-made: high society. The color looks good on her, it brings out the highlights in her irises. Then there was a red and white blur. I felt something smooth, cold and hard wrap around my neck. My throat constricted, and then everything went black.