My next door neighbor was eighty years old and had dementia. Like most, when I first met her I just thought she was old and senile. I felt that quiet sense of guilt and sympathy that she couldn't live independently anymore and then didn't think much else. She liked to sit on her little front porch and talk to people as they went by on the street. Her name was Didyme, but she said to call her Didi. She called me Alessandra and I stopped correcting her after the first couple of times because Alessandra was a pretty name and Didi was charming.
She told stories about being a famous film actress in Italy in the fifties. She'd lift a shoulder and do this little grin and say things about how she had a stunning figure; she was very petite and I believed her. The part about her looks anyway.
Several weeks ago, she stopped me on my way past her brownstone and told me she saw a man leaving my house. "He was leaving like the rent was due," she quipped.
I just sort of nodded and said something like, "Oh? hmm…," before going up the steps to my house.
For some reason, I was thinking about that while I sat in the back of Jasper's car. The door was open and my bare feet didn't touch the pavement. I was trying not to feel; I didn't even mean for that errant memory to seep through. Instead I stared, staring was good. I tried to be invisible.
A man's pair of dress shoes interrupted my view of the street. "Bella," Jasper's voice was soothing. He kneeled down to look me in the eye. "They're going to bring him out now, ok?"
I tightened the itchy grey blanket over my shoulders, but didn't say anything. I couldn't, if I opened my mouth, if I looked at him, I would fall apart and then never be able to put myself back together again.
Around me, I could hear people talking, both officially and not so officially. I knew people were awake, peeking through their windows or watching from front porches. I was so sick of people staring at me. At my feet, the flashing lights were turning the street red.
"Bella? Bella, look at me," I could hear Jasper's voice, but he was very far away.
"Hey, sorry I'm late." Jasper strode in, his keen eyes taking in the small coffee shop automatically.
"It's ok, I ordered you some coffee." I paused, actually looking at him for the first time. I grinned, "nice hickey, is that why you're late?"
He flushed lightly and readjusted his scarf. "Enough, now tell me what's going on."
The barista called my name and we grabbed our drinks; I let Jasper lead me to a quieter corner of the bustling place. I sat down and exhaled loudly. The more I thought about it and worked myself up, the more ridiculous I felt. I took a sip of my scorching hot chocolate, remembering at the last minute that I usually took it without the whipped cream. I played with the lid, flicking my thumb over the plastic, wondering how long I could put this off.
"Bella," Jasper's voice was smooth and calming. Did they teach you that before you became a detective? "Just begin at the beginning."
I took a breath and counted until my heartbeat was something resembling normal. "Ok, well it…it started with my sheets," I kept my eyes down, my face hot. "I don't really make my bed or anything, but it's never really that messed up anyway, so…," I cleared my throat. "Anyway, I came home -,"
"When was this?" Jasper asked.
"Umm…just over six weeks ago?" I sort of asked myself because I couldn't be sure. "It wasn't that long after…you know…," I looked up and he nodded. James Hart, I tried not to think about him or about the stupid decision I'd made to walk home alone that night.
"Go on," Jasper encouraged.
"Well," I began, gaining confidence by my friend's open expression. "I got home and the sheets were just…wrong – like, too messed up on one side. I didn't think that much of it, but I changed the sheets…,"
I took a sip of my drink, using the moment to see if Jasper would say anything. When he didn't, I continued. "So, it was things like that at first -,"
"With the bed? How many times did you notice it?"
"No, with other things too, they were just…a little out of place." I leaned forward, my anxiety making me more animated. "Like, I always set my books face down, but open so I don't lose my place and sometimes, I'd get home…and they'd be shut, but I could have sworn…," I paused, trying to put my memories in chronological order. "It was the books first, just my books. And it was pretty much every day." I felt my heart thudding more quickly.
Jasper nodded, "Ok, take your time."
"Then it was my bathroom, it's kind of stupid, but…I have this thing about the labels on the stuff in the shower – I like them to face forward, I don't know why…and when I came home one day my shampoo bottle was backward," I remembered thinking it was strange, but that maybe I hadn't been paying attention when I used it. I was sleepy in the morning and my little quirk wasn't an obsessive thing, just something I did.
"When did you first see that?"
"Umm," I counted the weeks backward in my head, "it was right after the books, maybe a few days later, so…five weeks ago, give or take a couple days."
"Is there more?"
I leaned forward, my elbows on the table. "Well…it just – hasn't stopped. It's nothing specific, just little things all over my house…I feel like I'm losing my mind or something…," Over the last two or three weeks, I'd taken to obsessively checking everything before I left every day. How my books were sitting, which way my soap was facing, where my things were on the vanity, how mussed my sheets were. I would have started making the bed if all the checking didn't make me nearly late for work every morning as it was.
"Do you think someone could be living there when you're not home?"
"Living there? In my house?" I made a face.
"Squatting, I've seen it before. Have you noticed anything in the kitchen moved around? Food missing, that sort of thing?"
I thought back and then shook my head. "No, the kitchen was always fine...," It hadn't occurred to me to think it unusual; I didn't spend much time in the kitchen.
Jasper chewed lightly on the inside of his bottom lip, mulling this over. "So, you found things moved in the living room, bedroom, and your bathroom, correct?" He steepled his fingers together.
I nodded, feeling the fear beginning to show itself. Thinking about it was one thing, but now I was saying to someone else. Someone has been in my house.
"Bella?" Jasper's voice broke through my thoughts, "is there anything else you want to add? Anything at all?"
I looked down and shook my head, "it's just…nothing…,"
"It's not 'nothing', you'd be surprised how important the minor details can be."
"It's just…I feel watched," I fought the urge to wrap my arms around myself. "All the time, like someone's right there and I just – don't see them." I blinked back tears. I hated this, I hated all of this. I didn't feel safe anywhere, and the more I talked about it the more I knew that I was right. Someone was there, touching my things, watching me. But I didn't want it to be true. I almost wanted it to just be paranoia, just a feeling, nothing important.
"Hey," Jasper reached out and grabbed my hand in both of his. "Let us take care of this now, ok? I'll take you to the police station; tell them what you told me." He squeezed my hand. "I don't think it's nothing."
I nodded and he let go of my hand. "Ok."
"Before we go, I need to ask you one more question." He waited a beat before continuing, "do you know of anyone that might consider you an enemy? Anyone that might want to hurt you?"
"No," I said before I really thought about it. But it was true, I didn't have any enemies that I knew of and for the most part I kept to myself. I couldn't be sure exactly, but I thought I was pretty nice, or fairly easy to get along with at least. "Nobody I can think of."
Jasper chewed on the inside of his lip again and I knew he wanted to ask me something else so I kept quiet. "Ok, think about this before you answer me. Can you think of anyone who might have an unhealthy – affection – toward you? Someone you rejected? Or someone, an acquaintance even, that may be a little too close, too forward, anything?"
I almost laughed; I didn't often get the chance to do any rejecting. "No, I -," and then his face appeared.
"What is it?"
I wanted to forget it and go with my paranoia theory, but I couldn't. "It's…I just…," I couldn't seem to get the name out. Finally, I forced myself to say it. "Edward."
I could see Jasper's wheels turning. "Edward…Cullen? The guy from the night you were attacked?"
"Alright," he stood up, "we should get going."
He had closed up inside himself the way he did when he was focused on figuring something out. It made me nervous. I knew it was probably stupid to even think but I did anyway; this was getting serious. It was real now.
"Just don't look up, ok?" Jasper was talking again.
I looked up anyway; I wanted to see him. I heard Jasper sigh. Two uniformed officers were leading him out, one in front and one beside. Their faces were emotionless, but their grip on his arms was hard.
He looked so tired, exhausted, finished – so different than when I'd seen him the first time. He'd saved my life that night. I remembered distinctly the way he'd turned violent to protect me and then how quickly he was able to turn it off. I'd been so grateful to have him in my life at that moment.
Suddenly, his eyes snapped to mine. Past the other officers, onlookers, and police cars, it was like he sensed me nearby. He opened his mouth as if to call out something.
I looked away.
Alice squeezed my hand and I clenched my jaw, willing myself into stoicism. It wasn't working. "It'll be alright," she said quietly.
We sat in the spare chairs at Jasper's desk. He had papers piled everywhere, some tipping precariously toward the floor. I cracked a grin, watching Alice eye the mess. "I'm glad you're here," I whispered.
Everything was different now, but not. The cops milled about, some at desks or getting coffee; a couple of them laughed at something. It was noisy and I wanted to shut it all out. But it wasn't their fault, they weren't different – I was.
"Afternoon, ladies," Jasper leaned down to give Alice a quick kiss. He put a file down on his desk; I could tell he was looking for a way to start.
"You…have more information?" I asked. I'd learned a little about Edward Cullen over the last day. I knew he'd had a job at the local college, but they'd fired him almost a month ago for not showing up. He'd been missing from the office for more than a week without any word. I knew he had no family and no friends to speak of, no vehicle or credit cards, just a little apartment a few short miles from my house.
He sat in his old computer chair heavily. "Ok, officially – here's what I can tell you. He's confessed and signed a statement, which corroborates with yours. He's got a public defender in with him…," he looked at me for the next part. "The lawyer might try and argue that he's mentally unstable."
I frowned, not understanding because to me, he was. "So, what would that mean?" I let go of Alice's hand and started picking at the skin around my nails.
"Reduced sentence, hospitalization…or no jail time at all depending on what the lawyer argues."
I felt like the air was being sucked out of the room.
Alice spoke up for me, "you mean that maniac could get off for this? Are you fu -,"
"We're trying, I seriously doubt he'll walk away, I just had to give you all the possibilities," Jasper gave her a look. "We can argue that he knew exactly what he was doing. He found the unlocked window, he knew your schedule, it was all premeditated. And we have the pictures of your bruises…He's not some raving lunatic…," Jasper still look frustrated, like he'd said all these things before. "There's something you should know, Bella."
I stilled, trying to be ready for whatever it was.
"During his confession, he admitted to being in the house when you were there," he paused, "he said he watched you at night, when you were asleep."
Just like that, all the air left my lungs. "He -," I couldn't breathe, tears pricked at my eyes and I couldn't see either. I was underwater, fighting to get to the surface.
"Bella?" Someone asked.
I was having a panic attack.
"Breathe, Bella," someone said. I felt a push on my shoulder. "Put your head between your knees."
I squeezed my eyes shut and did as I was told. Come on, I told myself, in and out. Slowly, too slowly, things started making sense again.
Alice was talking, "in on three, out on three," I could hear her modeling her breathing for me and felt a tear fall from the corner of my eye.
"I -," I started, my voice muffled by my position. "I'm ok." An inch at a time, I sat up.
He'd watched me sleep. What else had he done? I wrapped my arms around myself. He'd been there when I was there. He'd watched me…all the time. I felt a staccato shaking that I realized after a moment was coming from me. I closed my fists tightly against my sides. Alice and Jasper were both staring, waiting for me to come back to them. "I'm ok," I repeated.
Alice held out a paper cup of water for me.
I took it and said thank you before taking a long drink. The coolness felt good, normal. "Is – is there more?"
Jasper hesitated, but if he had more to tell me, I wanted to hear it. "Ok," he leaned forward, clasping his hands between his knees. He took a breath and spoke quietly, "unofficially, we can't use it and it can't move past here, but – he's done this before -,"
"What?" Alice looked horrified.
I thought of the other girl, whoever she was. How afraid she must have been, was she as lucky as I was? I hoped so, but, what if she wasn't? What was Edward Cullen capable of?
"His records are sealed because he was a minor when it happened. What I know is that he had a girlfriend in school and when she tried to break things off, he couldn't handle it. It didn't go nearly as far as it did with you but there was a restraining order. Eventually, she moved away and things settled down. So, he has a definite history of instability."
In some strange, merciful way, I started to think that maybe he should be hospitalized.
"We're doing everything we can," Jasper said, looking determined.
I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that this all could just go away. "I can't live there anymore," I said, suddenly.
Alice touched my arm, "you can stay with us."
"Of course," Jasper added.
I thought – I'm one of the lucky ones.
I talked to another detective and answered more questions and by the time I was finished, the morning was gone and my stomach was grumbling. It was a weird comfort, that this one thing was still the same.
"Feel like getting lunch? I'm freaking starving," Alice met me back at Jasper's desk; I was a little surprised she'd waited for me, but not surprised that she was hungry. She always was.
"Sure," I said, faking a smile. Despite my appetite's reemergence, what I really wanted was to sleep the rest of the day away. I felt like hiding, going somewhere no one would ever find me.
A uniformed officer appeared on the other side of the cubicle wall. "Hey, Jasper asked me to take you out the back way, there's some media out front." He led us away from the noise of the other people, down a hallway to another open area; there were holding cells across the room. "Stay here," the officer ordered. He moved away to talk to a woman in a suit.
I knew I shouldn't look, but I did anyway.
In the fluorescent lighting, his face looked drained. I could see that he hadn't shaved in a while and that his hair was hanging haphazardly across his forehead. He sat on a bench alone, his elbows resting on his knees. He seemed so tired.
Again, his eyes rose and met mine. Like he knew already that I was there. I felt a small tug on my arm, but I couldn't look away. Edward made no movements and I saw no anger, no resentment, no hurt or even betrayal in his eyes. And I wasn't terrified like I thought I would be. We regarded each other for a moment while I tried to find a word that would describe the way he was looking at me. His eyes looked alive in a way I'd never seen during our few interactions.
He watched me with pure…devotion.
"Bella, let's go," Alice gave one final tug and I came back to myself.
The officer led us a short way until we reached a heavy steel door. When he pushed it open I took a deep breath, shaking off whatever had just passed between myself and Edward Cullen, and stepped out into the light of a new day.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading this; it was pretty crazy to write. You guys totally make my day.
So, news - I was interviewed recently by silver sniper of night; it's on the blog So You Think You Can Write? and is linked in my profile, check it out. Thanks to everyone involved over there! :)
As for my next project, yes I have one and it's way different than this. I like Edward as a good guy too much and this next story features Jasper as well (not quite in the slash way, but you'll have to read it to find out exactly what I mean). I'm gonna take a little break so I can write without worrying about a posting schedule, but chances are I won't be able to stay away for long. So keep a look out! Thanks again everyone.