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XIV

The Waking of Sleeping Beauty

|. . . : . . .|

I shivered under the heavy blanket, knowing the reason for the extreme chill was from the pint of blood they'd taken earlier. No matter how tight I pulled the sheets to my chin I couldn't stay warm. My teeth nearly chattered out of my skull for heaven's sake! I felt my arms would fall off, or my legs would numb if I didn't tuck them close to my body.

I couldn't warm myself and if I wasn't warm, then I wouldn't sleep. It was then I felt Rosalie's heat radiating beside me like my own personal space heater. I touched my freezing toes to her calf, testing her and myself, wondering if I should take our relationship to the next level. Her skin burnt a hole through mine. God, it felt good. With no shame, I nestled closer, robbing her of any personal space to claim her heat as my own. The last time I was so cold, I'd been shoveling snow from the walk-up at Dad's in the peak of winter.

The memory caused a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold.

Rosalie didn't seem to mind. She peeked over her shoulder and I thought I saw her grin, but she remained silent and allowed me to bask in her warm presence. My eyes burned from the lack of sleep, and I knew I needed to close them, but I couldn't stop thinking about Alice.

I didn't know why her period was so painful, but she continued to shuffle, interrupting the sound of the air blowing from the small vent a few feet from my bed. I wanted to comfort her for all the times she comforted me, or offered a gentle smile, but Alice had disappeared beneath the pain and suggestions. Then again, she was more alive than usual at this time of night.

While everyone else slept, she tossed and turned. I listened with alert ears and heavy eyelids for a while, not being able to tip over the edge of consciousness no matter how still I lay or how bad I wanted it. My ears were keen to the movements across the room. When it seemed she'd settled, I calmed and began to float into the peaceful dark, the only escape I had for the moment.

No sooner, it seemed, had I closed my eyes a scream pierced my ears and startled my peace. I turned my back to Rosalie when Alice's breaths picked up, and I watched as she sat up from her pillow.

The sparse glow from the bathroom provided just enough light for me to see her form stumble from the bed across the room before she stepped into the yellow beam. Her darkened silhouette swayed back and forth. Then she turned, revealing a profile and confirming it was, indeed, Alice. Her straight nose, dainty chin and tousled hair gave her away. Her fingertips touched her lips then her cheek, as though she were figuring herself out, like she woke from a dream and wasn't sure she was real.

"Where am I?" she asked. Her voice small and blank, unbelieving. She backed into the shadow again, the dark swallowing her body and she screamed, her hysterical plea penetrating the walls, too big for the small space.

"Where am I?!"

Her words were saturated with confusion and fear, more fear than I thought I could ever muster. She'd woken from a dream and into a nightmare, as I could only watch her shuffle around the room until she made for the cracked light leaking from the bathroom. She braced herself against the sink, turning the water on and splashing it on her face and arms. Over the soft sound of running water, her sobs struck like sad laughter.

Alice stumbled from the bathroom, not bothering to turn the water off, and toward the door. She flattened her body against the wood and began to strike with her palms. She cried, the sounds resonating around me and into the hall. She wanted her mom, she said. She wanted to go home, she said. She didn't deserve to be there, she said, and she wouldn't do it again. She promised.

Despite the aching cold and Rosalie's warning, I went to her, although I was cautious in my movements. She looked at me, her eyes wild and lost in the great shadow and seemed surprised I was there.

"Where's Charlotte?" She shook under my grasp, her body trembling through my hands and into my bones as she sank against the door. "Where'd they take her?"

"Charlotte?" My confusion mirrored hers. My breaths were heavy, taking in her stink of sweat and blood.

A tear slid down her cheek, glistening until it reached shadow. "Who are you? Where is she?"

My brow furrowed. "I'm Bella, Alice. You know me."

"Where's Charlotte? Where'd they take my sister? Where am I? I thought I knew, but I don't know this place."

I wasn't quite sure what to say or how to deal with what she was asking. I shook my head, the air escaping slowly from my burning lungs. "I don't know," I said without a singe of hope she'll ever know what happened to her sister.

She grasped my gown at the neck with her tight fists and pulled me closer to her. "They mean to kill us." Her watering eyes caught the light from the bathroom and her voice quivered from the cold, or fear. "They'll put us in a room, a dark room with no sun. The world will burn around us until there's nothing left. You believe me, don't you?"

I nodded, wishing I'd listened to Rosalie when she said to keep my distance.

"We have to get out of here," she said, releasing her grip and turning away from me. She pulled on the door handled, twisting and turning it every which way. "We have to get out of here! Why aren't you helping me?!"

She struck the door with her fists, shouting obscenities I never thought would come from her mouth. "You can't keep me in here forever! I'll fucking kill you if you don't give me back my sister!" Then, she screamed, her arms tensing at her side. Not a high-pitched, ear piercing scream, but a low, monstrous, throaty scream. A raged exclamation of oppression to her captors, and they answered.

The door unlocked and she was thrown into the wall behind the slab as they entered with great force. Felix's large frame filled the entrance, another nameless, unfamiliar face behind him, then Jasper.

Alice rose and stomped into their view, her face a ball of anger. She raised her arm to hit Felix, but he blocked her and slapped her across the face. The blow pushed her to the floor. "Quit your screaming," he said.

I couldn't think my actions through. He'd slapped her! "Hey!" I stepped in front of him, blocking him from reaching out to her again. "Don't touch her!"

"Large words from a human." Felix's voice boomed. "Go back to bed."

I ran my tongue along the sharp angles of my bottom molars. "No. You have no right to hit her. She can't help it!"

"Perhaps you need a lesson in manners!"

I took another step, my body beginning to shake with adrenaline and lack of blood. I was so very cold. "You might want to talk to Aro about that. I'm sure he'd be upset if I were harmed in any way. You'd end up like James, struck to the floor the night I arrived. He thought I needed manners, too."

Felix turned his head to Jasper, behind him. He shrugged, agreeing with me, and with that Felix settled.

Having favor with Aro came in handy.

I eyed the bare walls in the hallway, knowing how clear my exit would be if I were to take my escape. I'd move past Felix and the nameless vampire with such ease since their focus was on Alice. I'd have navigated through those halls because I'd studied their many paths and endings. I would've made it to the kitchen and out the high window after shattering it with a frying pan. But during that temptation, I knew if I took that opportunity, I'd let Dad down.Make your escape count.

It wasn't the time to flee. Not yet.

"Let me by," Jasper said. "I'll calm her."

He knelt in front of the shivering heap that was Alice as she held the side of her face. She moved away from him with the other arm, I'm sure afraid of what he could be capable of if he moved to hit her as Felix had. The night I tried to escape from James, I'd experienced the force behind their attacks. Sometimes, I could still feel the pain in my ribs, and I'm sure I'd never forget it.

He held out a hand, and she flinched. "No, no. I won't hurt you. I want to help. Please let me help," he begged as tender as the whispers he spoke when they talked privately at the doorway.

I felt pressure on my chest. The forced calm he gave to Alice affected everyone in the vicinity. She allowed him to touch her without screaming or name calling after that, and although her eyes were still wide with paranoia, she looked at him. Her brow dipped, perhaps in curiosity and I could only imagine what she felt and thought as she gazed into his eyes. Did she find him familiar, or new? Maybe both? I couldn't deny my curiosity for how the hypnosis worked.

"Where are you taking her?" I asked as Jasper escorted her from the room.

"Somewhere safe for the next few days."

That's all he offered before the door was closed and we were left in the dark once more. I turned off the water in the bathroom then crawled under the safety of the sheets and comforter. Rosalie's eyes opened.

"I told you to keep your distance," she said.

. . . A FEW DAYS LATER . . .

I was given old, shredded gowns and wood polish. It appeared to be a brand new bottle, full of thick, gold liquid. Jasper walked in front of me and I followed him into a small sitting room. Two windows were opposite me, the light guarded by thick, red curtains, but it still managing to etch small, luminous lines onto the ceiling and wood floor. A large coffee table separated the brown, leather sofa from the brick fireplace which was covered in oddities. Golden statues of curvaceous women with linens wrapped around them held blue and white fragile-looking urns. Between them was a box, and behind that a framed mirror.

I stood among all the antiques, curious at their origin and somehow comforted at the normalcy of that stuff. I could pretend, if only for a moment I was cleaning a rich, pompous man's house.

"You can start in here," Jasper said. "Remove all the crap from the mantle, clean it then put it back in the exact order. Hey, are you listening?"

I lowered my eyes from the high, beamed ceiling. "I'm listening."

"Polish the wood thoroughly, clean the windows and when you're finished with that then you can vacuum."

"I thought the girls took turns vacuuming."

He shook his head as he sat in a high-backed, red chair and plucked a newspaper from the table next to him, letting out a groan reserved for old, tired men. "They're not allowed in this part of the house."

"Aren't I special," I said. My interest for the windows grew. I wanted to see the life outside my prison during the day, and that's where I stepped to first, running my finger along the rough fabric. "Do you mind if I let in some light?" I didn't wait for his answer. I separated the heavy material, the rings along the rod at the very top of the ceiling singing as they slid. The afternoon sun spilled into the room, revealing the dust clouding and dissipating into a million shiny particles.

Jasper flinched, bringing his newspaper over his face and moaning. My eyes grew wide at what I'd done, shocked at the realization I'd just introduced light to a vampire. A big no-no, but then I smiled at running through the mansion and drawing back every single curtain until they were all a steaming pile of ash. That thought delighted me and I bit my lip, trying not to chuckle.

"Sorry," I said. Not really. "I forgot."

He peeked over the black and white print, the golden curls on his head seeming to glitter in the indirect light sliding across the floor next to his chair. "Warn someone the next time you do that," he said, agitated. I could feel it across the room.

No smoke or panic or ash. Nothing. He didn't fear the light. Were the legends regarding these coffin-sleeping, nocturnal demons untrue?

His red glare broke and he returned to his Los Angeles Times with the vigor of a business man on Monday morning. I couldn't help but sneak a peek at the outside world and smiled when my eyes settled on the tall trees surrounding the front yard and drive-way disappearing into the forest. I wished to feel the air on my face and smell the grass. I couldn't imagine a city being somewhere on the other side of those pines. There was no skyline or hint of civilization. It reminded me of the cool woods in Washington.

I set myself to work, clearing the knick-knacks from the end tables, mantle and shelves on the built-in bookcases on either side of the fireplace. I lined them all on the coffee table and sat with a piece of old gown wrapped around my index finger to begin dusting them.

Some wouldn't come as clean as they would have when they were new. Some of the silver-plated trinkets bore black spots on them and I set them to the side to come back to them later. I wanted to put in the effort. If I actually did what I said I'd do, then my performance would give me some moving room, at least I'd hoped. I picked up the mirror and turned it over, wiping away the dust from the glass first and catching a glimpse of Jasper's pale hands gripping the edges of his paper in the reflection.

Immune to light and still maintained a reflection. These origins were unfounded.

I sighed and flattened the back of the mirror against the table so I could dust the frame.

"You're bothered by something?" Jasper asked.

"No."

"Good. I'd hate to think there was something wrong with Aro's instructions."

"No. No. It's not that," I said quickly. I'm glad he can't read minds. But, while he's talking... "I'm just wondering what's wrong with her?"

"What's wrong with who?"

"Alice. The other night, what was that about?"

After a few moments of silence, it became clear he didn't intend to answer.

"Why don't you like talking about her?"

"Why do you insist?"

"Because she's in the same room with me, and I'm curious. I'd like to know so I'm better prepared if it ever happens again."

I stared at him, the old mirror on the table forgotten. He noticed this, and relieved his paper, folding it into his lap. "You're not going to shut up, are you?" he asked.

I shook my head. No I wasn't.

He looked around briefly before answering, "She's sick."

"What does she have?"

"According to her medical records, an ovarian cyst."

"You guys keep medical records here?"

"Timestamps, logs of blood, but not medical. The scout who found her thought Aro would be interested considering he picked her up in a drop-in center."

Drop-in center? I must've appeared confused because he further iterated. "Where humans go when they're addicted to drugs and have mental illnesses that their families are too lazy to deal with."

Oh my God! "You picked her up from a men—"

"Sh! Keep your voice down! Yes, I mean no! It wasn't me. It was a scout! He found her, thought her blood would be good for the house, just as Jacob did with you." His whisper was angry, but he calmed after he looked around again. The mention of Jacob's name made me want to break the glass in front of me.

"So he just took her away from her family?"

He leaned forward, his face contorting into an angry mess of lines. "She didn't have much of a family to begin with, Bella. Don't try to understand something you know nothing about."

"And you feel sorry for her, don't you?"

"I have no pity for humans."

"You do for her. You love her, and you can't deny it."

"If you don't keep your voice down, I'll take you back to your room. Don't speak of us like that." He looked around once more, and I knew, then, he was making sure no one was lurking. Satisfied with our empty surroundings he continued, "If anyone heard you..."

If anyone heard? "No one knows?" How could he keep something like that a secret?

"It's heresy. They would kill Alice and lock me in the dungeon just for feeling for her."

"Why don't you just run away with her?" I asked, expecting him to shut down my question any moment.

"It's not so simple. There are laws in place, set forth by Aro many years ago. By law, Alice is his property. Me taking her out of this house is theft. I'd starve for eternity, or what would seem like it." His eyes darted back and forth between the objects on the table, never settling on mine. While his nerves went to work on my own. My stomach turned with anxiety.

"He can't own people," I protested.

But, he only shook his head. "Your world is different from mine," he said. "Your laws were meant to hold mankind, and do not apply to us. We're not men. We required different laws. Be quiet. Someone's coming," he finally whispered.

I took in a sharp breath as he leaned back into his chair, like he was never speaking with me to begin with. I turned my attention to the antiques set out before me, absently stroking the frame of the mirror. I caught the movement from the hall.

He was a mess of dark, copper hair and dark blue. Edward neared the corner of the room entrance and looked at us, then. When he saw Jasper and then me, his lips parted as though he meant to say something, but didn't. He only stared at Jasper, his dark eyes a serious stab into a soul under his furrowed brow.

He'd heard us, or a least he heard Jasper, and Jasper knew it, too. He didn't turn to look at Edward, only stared straight ahead, his hands resting in his lap. It was an unnatural position for him because he appeared too tense, focused, when he was usually neither.

Edward only stood there for a few seconds before his eyes slid to mine. He closed his twitchy mouth, deepened his brow and pulled on a pair of sunglasses.

"Yes, why don't you run away with her, Jasper? I'm sure the two of you would be incredibly happy together," Edward said. "Just think about every time she would try to kill herself, and you'd stop her. The irony," then moved on. His shoes rapped and echoed away from the parlor until there was the sound of the front door opening and closing. Silence.

"What was that about?" I whispered.

Jasper let out a long breath, and stared where Edward had been. "You and Aro. He's been in a great mood ever since the arrangement. In fact, you're to blame for Alice and the chaos that follows."

A car engine rumbled outside. It roared as Edward (I assumed) accelerated then gradually dissipated as he drove away.

"So he's pissy because he's not getting his way?"

"It's more than that. Edward is second in command because of his age and his allegiance to Aro, and you've undermined him, made him feel less important." He picked up the paper again, unfolding it in his lap. "Furthermore, you've gotten Aro to agree with you; a human. Edward has refused to assist him in any matters because of this, which means monitoring the hypnosis – one reason why Alice was allowed to waken. There's no telling what else will happen. More women will begin to realize what's going on, become distressed. An alert livestock," he shook his head, "does no good around here. Which leaves me to take care of them."

I semi-smiled. "You must hate me even more."

"I don't think I could hate you more than I do now, but the truth is, Bella, I owe you."

His statement surprised me. "For what?"

"For defending Alice when I couldn't."

I shrugged. "It wasn't right for him to hit her. She can't help it." I paused, thinking of Edward interrupting our conversation a moment ago. "Must be hard... keeping it from Edward, though."

"No, he knows. He keeps my secret for a price."

I nodded. "And Aro?"

"Can only see actions, so I do nothing to discredit myself, nothing unusual."

"And me?"

He looked up. "You'd do nothing to harm Alice, and if you told, you would. Besides, I think you've known. If you haven't said anything by now, then you won't. I have no choice but to trust you, Bella Swan, and I can not believe I just said that."

I sort-of chuckled because he did, the moment odd, yet easy. The weight I'd been burdened with eased as I stared at him. "No, you can trust me. I wouldn't do anything to hurt those girls."

"I know you wouldn't."

"What is it about her, anyway? Why Alice?"

He looked up from his paper, his lips parted and for a moment he wasn't a vampire. He was as human as me. There was a vulnerable side to him, I saw it. "She reminds me of my wife."

. . . X . . .

I ate a dinner of rice, green beans and a piece of whole grain toast with my roommates then returned back to the bedroom. Still no Alice. I'd hoped she'd return soon. It felt strange not seeing her face among the girls. I worried for her and couldn't shake the long conversation I had with Jasper today. Certainly it was the longest and most knowledgeable since I arrived. For a moment I thought it strange he was willing to share so many facts about this place and his life, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Jasper was lonely, probably more than he allowed anyone to believe. He hadn't talked to another person in a long time, at least not of the things we spoke of. How could he?

I absorbed everything he told me, and his words played in my head on repeat. Turns out, he was a soldier for the Confederate army, and the more I stared at his face and hair, the more I could see it – a relic from the Civil War. He'd left his home and wife to fight, and when he returned two years later the house was abandoned, not lived in for months.

At first, he thought she'd died when he found drops of blood around the house, but found no body or grave on the property. Surely, he thought, the servants would've buried her. It seemed they'd just left, or vanished into thin air. He walked the two miles into town, hoping to find a trace, but nothing. Not long after, he stumbled across a beautiful Spanish woman who had attacked and nearly killed him.

"She was the fiercest creature I'd ever laid my eyes on. There was madness on her face and hunger in her eyes. She bit my neck then tore me to my shoulder. After she finished drinking from me, she left me for dead on the banks of Galveston. I thought it some miracle I'd survived when I woke days later, and realized what I'd become. I'd acquired a thirst from the Devil himself. I eventually found and killed her for what she'd done to me. I couldn't even decide my own fate anymore, how I'd die."

A life of running, hiding and blending into the shadows, he'd said, scared not of other people, but himself, of how people affected his mind, body and need for blood. I told him I couldn't imagine what he'd gone through. I'd never lost a husband... only a father, and I could empathize with him, and he with me. Years later he joined a coven, and took up arms in their new cause searching for and exterminating other vampires whose thirst had overtaken their mind. During this crusade, he found his wife, but she was no longer a coherent woman. She'd been driven into madness, plagued with the same demons he possessed, only hers caused her to become a monster worse than him. Her only thought was blood, and she no longer recognized Jasper. She was killed before him, slayed like a beast on a hunt and left to rot on the Earth.

Jasper was the one to get closer to, not Aro. He had empathy for Alice, a woman who reminded him of his long-dead wife, and he trusted me because I'd never put her in harms way. He trusted me. Trusted. If there was ever a way out of the house, it was through Jasper. Having a vampire on my side increased my odds for survival. With him, I didn't only hope to escape, I'd escape alive.