A/N: Happy birthday, Twirl.
Ein Jahr später
She can't believe it's already been a year. A whole year since she lost her best friend. "Lost," like she just forgot where she left her. She lives in her happy past in the haze of half-dreaming, but then the heaviness of real life settles on her chest. Every day she looks at the sketchbook. "Where are you, Bella?" she asks.
She stares at the picture of Bella and … someone. "Did you find him?" she asks. "Is he taking care of you?"
She touches the soft black velvet on the page with a fingertip, a holy relic. "I miss you," she says, and then she begins her day. Just another day in her life without Bella.
It's her final year of law school, and she had a great 2L summer internship, so she knows she's set for after graduation. Law, seemingly concrete and inanimate, flows and fluxes, and she loves wandering through tiny text on transparent pages into labyrinthine rulings and amendments, feeling dizzy and confused when she finally closes her books. She feels, sometimes, like she can see the world built in Legos, everything broken down to basic forms, intricately joined. Law makes sense. It makes sense in a way that the sketchbook and the tiny red plastic monkey do not. But they each provide a different kind of comfort.
Sometimes she clings to problems she knows she can solve. Brick by brick, she can build or demolish walls. Yet sometimes … sometimes it's more of a comfort knowing that she doesn't know. Knowing that there is something unknowable. Because if there is something that her human, mortal mind cannot comprehend, maybe that means there is more to this world than this life, this short, fragile existence. Maybe it means that Bella really is all right, that magic can be real, that other dimensions may exist where time flows in all directions, where life continues even when it seems to be snuffed out in this limited world.
She's not sure how she will spend this day. Maybe she'll go to Longfellow's campus church, where Bella's East Coast memorial was held, so many candles lit as if she'd kindled every soul she'd come in contact with during her short life. There's a bench in the church dedicated to her. A tiny brass plaque hammered into the worn yet majestic wood—Rose had talked to the university chaplain to make the arrangements, to start the fundraising. It hadn't taken long—whether or not she'd known it while she lived, Bella had been—is still—loved.
As Rosalie tromps to breakfast in the law school cafeteria, her skin tingles, as if her neurons are trying to pick up a signal from the great beyond. "Is that you?" she whispers, her exhalation leaving a small cloud in the February air. But the tiny misty puff is soon gone again, her brief warm breath no match against the vastness of the cold Boston air. Just like our lives, Rosalie thinks. A flash of heat and brilliance, but even the brightest flame cannot win against the endless pressure of time moving forward and forward and forward.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Rosalie slaps her face a few times, the physical sting distracting her from the ache in her chest. She doesn't want to cry today. Bella wouldn't like it. She'd feel guilty. The best gift she could give her friend today is to honor her, to celebrate, to laugh, to live.
Don't squander your life, she tells herself sternly. Live for her.
She decides to skip all her classes, to spend the day in the Museum of Fine Arts. From the sculpture garden in the back she can almost see Bella's apartment. They've rebuilt, and Rosalie wonders for a moment who lives in Bella's old place. Maybe they didn't even keep the same layout. She considers walking over the bridge and through the park, buzzing the old apartment number, but she quickly realizes how foolish that would be.
She wanders into the museum, presenting her student ID for free admission. She goes from room to room trying to figure out which pieces Bella would have spent time observing, her head tilted to the side, her brow furrowed in concentration. When was the last time they'd gone to look at art together? Maybe it was while they were both still undergrads. So stupid, me and my Trader Joe's rituals, when I should have been pushing her to get out, see art with me, teach me things, let me know about her.
Museums have a soporific effect on Rosalie, and she finds herself fighting to keep her eyes open. It's the silence, the muted light, the cloying warmth. She has an image of herself falling asleep on her feet, falling over, and ripping a priceless painting from the wall. Home, she tells herself, and she leaves the museum without finding even one painting she's certain Bella would have known.
Standing on the crowded E train back into town, Rosalie's skin still prickles. Maybe from the extreme heat to bitter cold back to the stuffy warmth of the subway car filled with stale breath. Or maybe … again, maybe it's a message. Maybe Bella is trying to tell her something.
She remembers something as she unlocks the downstairs door—as a child at her cousin's wedding, how her aunt had told her to put a slice of wedding cake under her pillow so she'd dream of the man she would marry. Rose had eaten the carefully wrapped slice, the paper napkin translucent in spots where the butter in the icing had seeped through, like a monochromatic stained glass window. Waste of cake, she'd thought at the time. If I put this cake under my pillow, it'll just get smushy and dry. I don't need to dream about my husband. And she'd eaten the cake in about three bites.
Her skin is humming as she continues to climb up the stairs. Put the monkey under the pillow, the humming seems to say. Bonkers. She's gone absolutely bonkers. What would Bella do? she asks herself, but she already knows.
She wraps the red plastic monkey in a small sock, tucking him in as if the sock is only a terrycloth sleeping bag. "I hope my giant cranium doesn't crush you," she says in apology even before she gets under the covers to take a long-overdue nap.
Museums, she thinks as she lets her eyes close. Would be better with strobe lights and some techno, maybe.
She wakes up in a strange place, strange yet so familiar. I've seen this before, she thinks, and tries to remember. The tall trees, the rubble, the rushing water of the wide stream. "Hello?" she asks, feeling someone's eyes on her.
She shivers, but tells herself she is not afraid.
She takes another long look at the odd assortment of trees, the thick forest just beyond the rubble. Bella would like this place, she thinks, and that's when she remembers the sketchbook, the impossible sketchbook. She was here, Rose thinks, as much as the logical side of her brain wants to say that it's impossible for one person to enter the dreamscape of someone else, especially someone who has died. All the same, she thinks, Hi, Bella, thinks but does not speak, not wanting to share with whoever is watching her.
Her feet lead her over the rubble, the dead branches, and into the dark woods. Something crunches underfoot, almost like a dead leaf. She takes a breath and leans down to pick it up, keeping her foot pressed on top lest the object flutter away like a moth. Strange things happen in dreams.
Her fingers dig into the rich, damp earth under her foot and clamp around a triangular wad of paper. With trembling hands she unfolds the thing carefully. Huh, she thinks, I used to play table football with these. She tries to remember how to hold her hands into goalposts as she unfolds.
RAINBOW OBSIDIAN, she reads.
Oh, one of her favorite shiny rocks, she thinks, and she tries to remember when she and Bella talked about obsidian. She gives up, folding the paper back into its triangular form. She is startled to see a slim girl staring at her, pointing at the paper. Where did she come from? She's so silent and still that Rosalie's not sure if the girl is only a statue.
"That's mine," the girl says, breaking the silence and the illusion of inanimateness. "I lost it a long time ago."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know it was yours." Rose offers the paper to her. Because the girl won't stop staring, she adds, "I didn't take it. I just found it."
The girl is still studying her face as she tucks the paper into her pocket. "I know you," she says.
"I know your face."
"I don't know yours."
The girl shrugs. "That's okay." She keeps her hand in her pocket, probably still clutching the little paper triangle. "You were her friend."
"Are you an angel?" asks Rosalie, shivering again.
"That's silly." The girl scrunches her face and shakes her head. "You were her friend," she repeats. She steps away from Rosalie, closing her eyes and nodding. "She misses you," she says.
Rose's heart nearly stops. She wants to ask more, find out what this girl knows, how she knows. But what if she's just speaking nonsense? Rose would rather think in this moment that magic is real, that the world isn't all bricks and Legos and reason. "I miss her too, so much," she says instead.
"She knows. She loves you." The girl kicks her bare feet through the leaves. She looks behind her. "I should go," she says. "It was nice to see you here." She grabs Rosalie's hand in her two small cold ones. Rose can feel something pressed into her palm. "Bye now," the girl says, and Rosalie finds herself leaning down for the girl to kiss her cheek.
"Don't open it until you get home," the girl says, turning around and disappearing into the wood.
As she walks back to the clearing, the rubble, Rosalie suddenly feels like Orpheus. Her fingers itch to unfold the thing in her hand, but she knows somehow that if she did, it would disappear like smoke, like trying to turn and see Eurydice before they've left the underworld.
Wake up already, she thinks crossly, crushing the token in her hand.
It takes a moment or two before Rosalie remembers who she is, what day it is, that Bella is gone. Same as always. She balls up her fist to punch the mattress but feels something poke the palm of her hand.
A wad of paper, yellowed with age, smudged with dirt, crumpled, creased, uncreased, and folded carefully again.
RAINBOW OBSIDIAN, it says.
She tries to remember why it sounds so familiar, these two words on this tattered piece of paper.
When she pulls the sock out from under her pillow, the little red monkey seems to smile at her, and she hangs him back up on the edge of her jar full of pens, where he sways from side to side slowly like a metronome.
He's not alive, Rose tells herself, but that doesn't stop his happy swinging.