"Bella, sweetie, why don't you come home this summer?"
Every Tuesday at 6:00 my time, unless she'd enrolled in a class on cake decorating or Tai Chi or some such crap, Renee called me and begged me to move to Florida. It was the closest she'd ever come to keeping a schedule that wasn't work-related, something that was almost impressive, but I was getting tired of having this conversation in general, and now was an especially bad time. I'd just come home from work—Mrs. Newton let me off a little early today—and I was trying to fix Charlie's supper and study for my three remaining exams at the same time.
"Mom," I sighed, "I've visited you in Jacksonville all of once since you moved there last year. It's not my home."
"You know what I mean," she said, giggling slightly to cover her discomfort. "It would be nice to have you home—with me, I mean—for the summer before you start college. And just think, if you enroll at JU, you won't even have to live in a dorm. You'll have your own room with your own bathroom and no roommate…"
Yeah right, no roommate. I'd have to cook for her and Phil every day, because Lord knew her cooking was completely inedible, and Phil's culinary skills were about as advanced as Charlie's last time I checked. And I'd have to clean, not only this extra bathroom that for some reason she'd been touting as the Holy Grail of living with her since she first moved in, but her bathroom too, and probably most of the house. And I'd get roped into whatever hobbies my mother felt like taking up, and I'd have to sit and listen to her overshare about her marriage and how fabulous it was, as if I couldn't hear the evidence through the walls like I had nearly every night of this year's ill-advised Spring Break. And I knew if I went to stay with her, she'd hear me cry on those occasional mornings when the nightmares came back, and she'd want to talk about that, too. At least Charlie didn't make me discuss it.
"I already told you," I interrupted her before she could wax poetic about the Atlantic Ocean, as if I didn't already live within driving distance of the sea, "I've been accepted to UBC in Vancouver. It wasn't the only school I was looking at, but it's the best choice for me. They're one of the top fifty universities in the world, they're offering me the best scholarship, and they have an excellent anthropology program."
Gone were my old desires to be an English major. For one thing, Mr. Berty had gently informed me that I shouldn't pursue that course unless I really wanted to learn more than I would ever wish to know about grammar. But more importantly, it just seemed like a waste of time and money. I still loved books, but honestly, how many critiques were there of Jane Austen's work, and what good did writing another one do for anyone, anywhere, ever? How was I supposed to find refuge in a novel if I was too busy analyzing it to death and writing 4000-word papers on it? Exactly what career options was I looking at with a degree in literature besides teaching, anyway? No, it was better to make a study of people and their cultures—something real, something that meant I wouldn't be stuck sitting at a desk for the rest of my life, something that could take me to new, wonderful places. Maybe most people didn't think of Canada as anything special in regards to world travel, but everything I'd read promised that there was vibrant life there. It could be the first of many stepping stones for me.
"Besides," I went on, taking a breath before I dropped my bombshell. "I didn't get into Jacksonville University."
"What!" Renee shrieked. "How…how can you get a scholarship from the west coast of nowhere and not even be accepted at JU?"
I rolled my eyes, as I so often did when having any kind of dialogue with my mother. "Because," I replied quietly, not responding to her slight, "I didn't apply."
Renee was quiet for several seconds. I knew better than to speak at this point, so I stood patiently at the kitchen counter, sitting the phone down beside me so that I could chop tomatoes and look at my Spanish notes. Three, two, one…
"Why the hell not?"
I waited out her tirade, her annoying little tantrum, as she claimed emotional injury, insult, and rights of motherhood. That last part was nearly enough to rile me up, but I kept quiet and reiterated the real truth to myself. For almost six months I'd wallowed in unspoken grief without Renee's help until finally I gathered enough strength to quit feeling sorry for myself and stop screaming every damn morning. In the last two and a half months I'd finally been able to make myself act like a human being—set personal goals, plan things, carry on conversations again, eat full meals—all without needing or expecting anything from her. I didn't need a mom anymore, and even if I did, I was wise enough to realize she wasn't capable of being that for me.
Renee kept up her fit for a few more minutes while I read my study sheet and sliced cucumbers and carrots (pepinos y zanahorias), shredded up the Romaine lettuce (lechuga de Roma), tossed everything together with almonds (almendras) and raspberry vinaigrette (lo chinga, no sabia las palabras). Finally, when she started sounding winded, I lifted the phone back to my ear.
"Are you done yet?" I asked, irritated with the ceaseless vexation. "Because I have AP exams and finals to study for, and you're wasting my time."
"No I'm not done yet. Is this about That Boy?" My parents were both aware of the root cause of my depression, and neither one was particularly forgiving. But Charlie didn't bring it up every five damn minutes and accuse me of making every decision around it. "If you don't want to be anywhere close to reminders of Him, you can do that easily from here," she continued. "You don't have to leave the freaking country. There are plenty of good-looking boys in Florida."
Another eye roll. "Renee, for god's sake, would you stop acting like a fourteen-year-old girl and conduct yourself like an adult?"
Silence. Perfect—she always hated it when I compared her to the spoiled child she was at heart, and the reminder invariably stopped her mouth, as though by keeping silent she could prove she was a grown-up. It gave me time to make my point.
"This is how it's going to be," I informed her. "I am going to stay in Forks this summer. I already have a job, and the busy season is starting, which means I might even be able to make some commission, not just an hourly wage. I am going to enroll in the school of my choice, and that happens to be the University of British Columbia. I am going to do this without regard to your wishes, because I'm an adult, because it's my decision, and most of all, because you are not contributing one penny to my education. You never thought to save up for me, and I certainly don't expect Phil to chip in—it's not fair to him. I have spent the last year working, scrimping, and saving for this. Even Charlie isn't supporting me financially. I want this, I earned this, and I'm damn well going to do it my way. Is that clear?"
Renee huffed. "Crystal."
My father arrived at home fifteen minutes later. In an attempt to ease my burden a little, Charlie brought home pizza to go with my salad, and we ate dinner in our usual silence. It wasn't the companionable kind of quiet we once shared, back when I first came to live with him and we were figuring each other out. These days I took the 'less is more' policy and ran with it, maintaining an indifferent façade that allowed me to peacefully go on and removed from Charlie any responsibility to ask personal questions he probably didn't want to know the real answers to. This time, however, my dad was a little more tuned in than usual, and my neutral front wasn't quite up to par between the year-end stress and my argument with Renee.
"What's wrong?" he asked, looking at the books I had spread out around my plate. "I thought your Spanish was pretty good last time you had to translate for me. Are you worried about your test?"
Aside from the fact that I grew up in Arizona, in a section of Phoenix where it was impossible not to learn Spanish unless you were deliberately avoiding it, learning languages came easily to me, and I liked it. I found it a useful tool, particularly when Charlie needed help with the local immigrant population, which was enjoying a recent surge thanks to the logging industry. It was kind of embarrassing having to translate 'fuck your mama' to my own dad, but Charlie took it in stride, and the abuelitas were nice to me, especially when they realized the chief didn't care about their immigration status. Best of all, unlike the English-speaking residents of Forks, they didn't stare at me with eyes full of pity or call me pobrecita.
"It's not that," I sighed in answer. Dad's eyes were kind and concerned, so I decided to be honest for a change. "I had a fight with Mom about not applying for college in Jacksonville. She seems to think I should go to a beachfront school on the East Coast because of all the eye candy. For some reason she believes 'boy crazy' is a healthy attitude for a girl my age. Like that's appropriate criteria for selecting a university." I rolled my eyes for my father's benefit and turned back to my notes on conjugating verbs to future tense.
Charlie thumped his fork on his plate a few times and cleared his throat. With another sigh, I stopped looking at my binder and focused my attention on the croutons in my salad bowl, waiting.
"I'm fine with wherever you want to go to school, Bella. That's entirely your choice, and your mother has no right to pressure you." Clearly, Charlie knew her old tricks. "But I do think she may have a point about you moving forward in…other areas of your life."
"Not you, too," I scowled, meeting his eyes. "Who am I supposed to see, Dad? I've lived here for a year and a half. If I was interested in any of the boys in town, don't you think I'd have gone out with one of them by now?"
"What about on the rez?" Charlie suggested, though his voice was low and hesitant.
"I've seen them, too," I replied succinctly, looking down at my notes again. "Now can we please drop it?"
"There's always Jake," Charlie whispered. "He's always had a thing for you." Because he whispered, I knew my dad was expecting a bad reaction. Maybe even hoping for it, if it meant I'd show even one shred of emotion. Too bad I wasn't interested in obliging either his baiting or his request.
"What for?" I asked reasonably. "Jacob is two and a half years younger than I am. He's still in high school, and I'm leaving the country at the end of the summer, so I'd end up having to break it off anyway. 'Pairing up' with someone would serve no purpose other than to use somebody to make you feel better. I'd just be faking a relationship with an innocent bystander for no good reason. That's a cruel thing to do to anyone." I would know, I did not say. "Especially to your best friend's only son." I raised my eyebrow and nodded meaningfully, earning a guilty blush from Charlie.
"If you just want to focus on college for a while, that's great," my father replied uncomfortably. "In fact, I think it's a smart decision. I'm not trying to marry you off or anything. I just want to know you're moving on."
The fire came into my eyes as I carefully laid my fork in my bowl, but I kept my voice calm. "You mean like you moved on after Mom left you?"
Charlie looked away momentarily before he answered. "That was different. She was my wife. We had a child together. And I put that behind me eventually."
I glanced around the kitchen in disbelief and stood up, collecting my books. "Look around you, Dad," I growled scornfully. "This house is exactly the same way it was when Mom took off. The yellow paint, the twenty-year-old furniture, the aging appliances…even the wedding picture is still sitting over the fireplace. That's not lazy housekeeping; that's a shrine. You hang out with Billy or the guys from work every weekend, but you don't date anybody. It's been nearly eighteen years, and I bet you haven't even tried. But do I give you hell about that? Does anyone?"
Charlie shook his head, looking a little ashamed.
"I don't need a man, Charlie," I informed him in an even, though irritated, voice, "and I don't need to prove anything to anyone but myself. So you and mom can both just stop pimping me out to every warm-blooded male in sight, if you please. I'll get on with my life as I see fit." With that, I walked briskly up the stairs, locking my door behind me. The show was over.
Dumping my books on my bed and taking the large, white envelope from my desk, I sat in my rocking chair and let my feet propel me back and forth as I reread my UBC acceptance letter and looked through the brochures. It wasn't hot and dry like Arizona State, but the students looked happy enough in the pictures, and the campus was large and beautiful. Warmth was overrated anyway; I'd lived through harsher things than inclement weather. Fighting away the traitorous tears I refused to shed anymore, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself in a better life. One in which my name wasn't synonymous with the phrase "you poor thing," and nobody had ever heard of Forks or its inhabitants, past or present, human or otherwise.
"You know, Bella," Alice mused as she spritzed something wet in my hair, "between your freesia, my Easter lilies, and Edward's roses, your bedroom smells like a flower shop."
One thing I loved about summer vacation: I could spend all day with the two people I loved most in the world, and there was no need to hide who they were, not here in my own room, with Charlie at work all day and no school to separate us on sunny days, like yesterday. Today, however, was overcast, and Alice was determined I should look nice while we went out.
"I do not smell like roses," Edward objected, though he seemed amused.
"Roses too feminine for you?" I mocked, looking tartly at his handsome, well-dressed reflection in the mirror.
"No," he sang back with affected sarcasm, rolling his eyes at me. "Too cliché."
"Get over yourself, Edward," Alice jibed. Or at least, I thought it was a jibe. Edward frowned at her; perhaps I wasn't imagining the trace of an edge to his sister's voice.
"Now, now, children. Let's not fight." It was funny how Renee's kindergarten-teacher tone slipped out whenever I spent time with my two favorite vampires. "Mis-ter Cullen?" He smirked at me, and with good reason. In addition to my mother's voice, I was doing my best impression of Mrs. Karr hunting around the classroom for someone to answer a question in poli-sci. "Tell the class what you think you smell like."
Edward chuckled, muttered something, and looked away. "What was that, Edward Anthony?" I called, trying to twist around to look at him. With a sigh, Alice trained my head forward again and waved her comb menacingly at me.
Still grinning, Edward shook his head 'no,' but Alice was all too willing to rat him out. "He said 'lilacs.' Which, by the way, is completely wrong, as he very well knows."
"Al-ice," he complained.
"Ed-ward," she replied, poking her tongue out at him.
"Bel-la," I joined in, laughing.
"Hold still," Alice commanded, her hard fingers carefully gripping my scalp as she made me face forward. "I'll never get your hair done if you keep turning to look at Edward. That's why I brought the mirror."
"Why do I have to get all dressed up?" I fussed. "I swear, you act like I'm your favorite doll." I didn't mind the hairdo. Heaven knew I sucked at things like that, and I was aware Alice missed that aspect of girliness with Rosalie newly removed to Africa, nursing her grudge. But the clothes Alice brought over were a bit much, even if they were just a loan.
"You are my favorite doll," Alice giggled. "A doll who won't behave and challenges me daily with her tomboy ways, which is the best kind of doll."
I cocked an eyebrow at her. "Are you saying I'm the Skipper in your Barbie collection?" Edward laughed at us. "And what are you laughing at," I challenged a little louder, though the increased volume was unneeded, "rosy-boy?"
That shut him up. He scowled and folded his arms, flicking a piece of lint off the blazer Alice had dressed him in, looking like he might humph any minute.
"Pay no attention to him," Alice insisted, pinning my hair up. "He's just mad because I won't tell him what kinds of adventures are in store for today."
"Adventures?" I perked up. "Are we talking about the nice kind, where I come home happy with life, or the annoying kind, where I want to strangle you?"
"The nice kind," Alice assured me.
"Care to elaborate, Miss Cleo, Psychic Hotline Operator?" I pressed.
Out came the terrible fake-Jamaican accent. "Call meh na-ow fer yer free reed-in." I giggled, still unsure if Alice was doing a perfect impression of the former TV tarot reader (who was actually born in L.A.) or if Alice's Jamaican inflection was really that awful. I looked up at her reflection expectantly, still waiting for an answer to my question. She said nothing else, but the stark white faces in the mirror were anything but passive.
"Hello?" I called. No one spoke to me, though Alice's fingers continued to thread through my hair. I waited for my vampires to finish whatever conversation they were excluding me from for a good, solid two minutes—long enough for a full discourse for minds as swift as theirs—before I finally huffed and stood up, catching Alice by surprise.
"If you aren't going to share with the class," I grumbled, skirting around Alice and heading for my bedroom door, "perhaps you should keep whatever it is to yourself."
"Bella—" Edward sighed, but I was through the door and walking downstairs to the kitchen.
"I'm going to fix lunch," I called up, annoyed. "Whenever you're ready to speak to me in my own house, let me know." It wasn't that I objected to the need for confidentiality. It wasn't even that I hated surprises. My problem with those two—with everyone in my life, really—was the lack of regard for my input about my own day-to-day life. I just might have wanted to do something today, or at least had a suggestion, but Alice had her precognizant idea of what the day would be like, and Edward, instead of talking to me, asked his sister.
Irritated, I flicked on the old kitchen radio and pulled out the sourdough bread and black forest ham. Edward walked in as a country singer crooned nonsense at me. I knew Edward hated country music, but I didn't care. This was Charlie's favorite station, and he got pissed when anyone messed with the dial or fidgeted with the antenna. After six months of being forced to listen to this station with Charlie, I actually kind of liked it, not that I'd admit as much out loud.
I slathered mayo on a slice of bread, making patterns in the mayonnaise with my butter knife. "Alice still upstairs?"
"No, she's gone home," Edward replied quietly, ever watchful as he stood in the kitchen doorway.
Nodding, I leisurely finished preparing my human food, pretending I didn't notice the way Edward wrinkled his nose at the smell of such simple things as ham and cheese. I sat in my usual chair and bit into my sandwich, reaching automatically for my drink and realizing that I forgot to pour one.
"I'll get it." Edward darted to the refrigerator before my eyes could fully register that he moved. "Milk, apple juice, or water?"
"There should be some Coke in there, please."
"Bella…" I knew what was coming next: the lecture about how I had a low tolerance for caffeine. I wasn't in the mood.
"With ice, please," I requested quickly. When the glass was presented, I thanked him and took a sip. He sat across from me, watching like a hawk until every morsel of my food was gone. Neither of us spoke.
Finally he sighed and asked me, "So what would you like to do today?"
Bemused, I furrowed my brow and stood up to wash my dishes. "Didn't you and Alice already have something planned?"
"I assume she had our entire day planned," Edward answered, sounding peeved. "But all she would tell me was that we should make sure we have enough gas in the car to reach Seattle, you should save room for dinner," he loosened his tie, "and we would need semi-formal clothing." He came closer and glanced down at my clothes. I'd worn jeans and a plain red button-up blouse during my hair appointment, certain that a t-shirt would ruin Alice's handiwork during the inevitable wardrobe change.
"I see." The soap suds shone their rainbow oil in the light from the window, and I wondered at the sad, alabaster face reflected in the glass. He was so beautiful, and he was terrible at hiding his disappointment. I felt like such a heel. "I suppose I should get dressed, then. Just let me finish this up."
For a few seconds, there were only the sounds of water pouring from the tap, twangy guitars and crying fiddles echoing from the tiny radio speaker, and the large black bird in the back yard, cawing at its mate. "What do you say we skip whatever formal dining Alice had planned," Edward offered with a small smile, shrugging out of his blazer and tossing it in the general direction of a chair. "We can still go to Seattle and do something fun."
"That sounds like a good compromise," I smiled back. Edward's cool arms came around me as I rinsed my plate and glass, carefully molding his body around my small one. I took in a deep breath of him, loving his alluring natural perfume.
"Where shall I take you?" he asked quietly, nuzzling my hair with his nose. "Any place you wish to go, my love."
"I have an idea," I whispered, leaning into his hold, a half-formed thought trying to take shape in my mind.
"Tiffany's, perhaps?" he murmured, lowering his lips to my neck. "A necklace would look beautiful right here." My head lolled to the side, allowing him easier access; I was rewarded with cool kisses along the curve of my throat.
"Mmm…I want to…" I mumbled, rapidly losing coherence.
"Yes, love?" More kisses made their way up to my earlobe. "There's a wonderful bookstore that sells rare first editions. Would you like that?"
"I want to…" What did I want again? Oh, yeah. "I want to visit a flower shop."
Edward's seductive lips stopped in their tracks. "A flower shop? What for?"
"Don't you want to prove Alice wrong?" I teased.
That was how we ended up at Moira's Specialty Floral Nursery in western Seattle.
Overall it was an intoxicating experience. There were only a few lilac bushes still in bloom outside, and these I dismissed immediately, though they smelled lovely. Edward, to my great amusement, persuaded Moira to let us into her restricted greenhouse with his particular charm. Never had I heard of anything as ludicrous as a restricted greenhouse, but evidently it was reserved for rare flowers and high-priced FTD floral arrangements. I spent an hour and a half vacillating between smelling fragrant hybrid tea roses and inhaling the seemingly incomparable scent of my indulgent boyfriend. Such odd names the roses had: Kentucky Derby (a terrible name, as it implied horse manure), Blue Moon, Midas Touch. Edward seemed relieved when I proclaimed, somewhat drunkenly, that he was not infused with Ingrid Bergman, Dolly Parton, or Barbra Streisand. Whisky Mac came very close, but at last I found the absolute perfect match, the back and forth comparison leaving me dizzy and smiling and generally entertaining Edward quite a bit. I decided I wanted a dozen of them in a bouquet immediately, even before I checked the name.
Red Devil Roses.
Once I saw that, I was certain Edward would pull his emo act and the whole day would be shot to hell. His mouth had just begun to form a thin, downturned line when I hopped up into his arms and kissed him soundly on the lips.
He gripped me too firmly, keeping me locked down as he held me so close to him, but not breathing either, his lips glued shut as he pressed himself almost unwillingly into the kiss, stone against flesh. "Damn it, Bella!" he gasped, pulling away but not setting me down. "How many times do I have to tell you—?"
"I know, I know," I muttered, trying not to exhale too much, or worse, faint. "I need to 'behave.' Don't act like you didn't enjoy that."
Hissing his rapid, unintelligible complaints, Edward placed me back on my feet, gently settled his chin on top of my head, and resumed his feather-light, restrained grasp. I sighed internally, waiting for him to finish his snake-like rant about self-control. When he was done, he waved Moira over (was she watching us the whole time?) and asked that six Red Devil rose bushes be delivered to my house.
Suddenly embarrassed by such an ostentatious display of wealth—honestly, couldn't he have simply put them in his trunk and driven them home? He had an emergency tarp to preserve the carpeting in case he ever had to dispose of a body, and I knew how to dig a hole in the ground without requiring a landscaper's expertise—I lowered my eyes to the floor while Edward talked money, oblivious to my discomfort.
It took some doing, but I finally convinced him there were no other needlessly expensive things I wanted him to buy for me. I wanted to visit the Pike Place Market Street Festival or the Nordic Heritage Museum, the kind of thing I used to love doing with my mom (I've been all over the country, and this is the only museum I've ever seen that exhibits Iceland—isn't it beautiful?), fly dollar-store kites at a nice, quiet park, since we couldn't go whale-watching (I tried it once, love, but the orcas tried to capsize the boat), and catch the new Heath Ledger movie, Lords of Dogtown (no thank you Edward, I don't need a jumbo sized popcorn, I won't be able to finish it alone). We held hands on the drive home, stopping at a little mom-and-pop diner in Port Townsend so I could grab something to eat for dinner. Edward asked me to order something I wouldn't normally have, something special. With a curious glance, I asked the waitress to bring a stack of heart-shaped pecan waffles with maple syrup.
"Why heart-shaped pecan waffles?" His eyes were bright and strange and bewildered, giving me that bizarre 'what's she thinking now?' stare.
"I always liked them as a kid," I shrugged. "Especially for dinner. But Renee could never find the right kind of waffle maker for a good price, and Charlie doesn't have one at all. I haven't had them in years." I watched him carefully, his odd smile at my mention of years, like I'd spoken a word that simultaneously pleased and pained him in ways I would never comprehend. My waffles came quickly, and Edward, displaying the most atrocious table manners I'd ever seen him allow himself, rested both elbows on the table and set his chin on his folded arms, completely entranced as I cut my food along the square lines and dribbled my syrup just so, filling each tiny square indentation in every little piece. They were warm and soft and perfect, the maple syrup heated and thin, each bite more scrumptious than I remembered from my childhood. I would have to come back to this diner and have them again.
Edward had watched me eat plenty of times before, usually with his lips curled in disgust or his nose upturned, as he had earlier today. But this time…I didn't think I'd ever seen quite such longing on his face at my mealtimes. I was dying to know the reason, but he seemed to take a quiet pleasure in this moment, and I didn't wish to ruin it, whatever it was. I ate, he gazed, we kept silent.
"Are you going to tell me what today was all about?" I asked as we zoomed back toward home, the trees a blurry wall of green showing through the red reflection of my blouse in my window.
"Can't I do something nice for you?" Edward replied softly. He was always dodging my questions, always making me sleuth out the truth like Miss Marple or Nancy Drew. Sometimes I relished the challenge, other times I found it irksome having to drag things out of him. Today I simply wanted to be let in.
"There's nice…" I said slowly, "and then there's today. Alice hasn't done my hair up so fancy since prom, and you've been dying to spoil me. Today seems to be important to you, but you haven't told me why."
At first he said nothing, and I waited, squeezing his fingers encouragingly to show I was willing to be patient and open. "The roses are for your front and back doors, and for the windows outside the kitchen and the living room," he finally told me, though he did not look away from the road. "So you can see me and have my scent, even when I'm not there."
"Thank you." I looked at him, loving him and wondering at him, trying to understand the words he wasn't speaking aloud. "They're lovely. I'll treasure them always."
He gave a half-hearted smile, and I instantly understood that expression. Whenever I said forever or always, he had to bite his tongue to keep from reminding me I had no concept of such things, which in turn led to my insistence that I would have a perfect concept if he'd give in and change me, and thus would begin our usual quarrel. He'd taken to stopping his mouth with that smile, and while I often pursued the topic anyway, tonight I just wanted to listen to him willingly share something of himself with me. Edward hesitated for a beat, then smiled more genuinely when I did not instigate the dreaded argument.
"And the waffles?" I pressed instead. "You seemed like you wanted some. I almost offered you a bite. Should I have…?" I laid my free palm over our joined hands on the gear shift. "Did you want to taste them?"
"Yes, and also no." Edward exhaled, that longing in his face again. "I wanted to be able to taste them for what they are. But if I tried, it would have been like cardboard drenched in motor oil. So I watched you enjoy them instead."
"Why the sudden nostalgia for food?" I wondered. "You usually hate smells like that."
"I don't hate it," he denied quickly. Which was an outright lie if I ever heard one. "I just…" Edward struggled for a moment, though I couldn't see what was so difficult. "The last time I had pecan waffles was eighty-seven years ago today. My mother made them special for me."
"Really?" I tried to picture a bronze-haired Elizabeth Masen in a hundred-year-old kitchen, mixing batter. With so many of Edward's human memories lost and forgotten, how did this stand out so clearly? And why? He never mentioned it before. "Do you remember what they tasted like?"
It made me so sad for him, that he watched me devour and ooh and ah over something he actually missed from his human life but couldn't quite recall. "Did pecan trees grow in Chicago?" I decided to tease him just a little to cheer him up. "I didn't realize pecan waffles had been invented yet. Or waffles in general, for that matter."
"In point of fact, the waffle iron was patented in 1869," Edward groaned, though the corners of his mouth turned up. "I wasn't born in the Dark Ages, Bella."
"I know, I know," I chuckled. "You were born in the highly modern Edwardian Era."
"Yes, I was. We had pianos and motion pictures and epinephrine research and even the first vacuum cleaner when I was born," Edward reminded me. "There were the Wright brothers and automobiles and cake icing and—"
"I know, I get it," I laughed. "You were born into an advanced, vital…" Realization stopped my tongue as I finally figured everything out. "Why didn't you just tell me?"
Edward looked my way at last as I lifted my eyes to meet his.
"Happy birthday, Edward."
He extracted his hand from mine and stroked my cheek, his warm ochre eyes shining.
Then his expression became ravenous, his eyes blackened with thirst, and a terrifying snarl ripped from his throat as he lunged at me, his suddenly-blonde hair flying and his claws outstretched. His other self, called into being by unknown magic, stood between us, thrusting me out of the way. I flew backward, landing in a pile of sharp glass and sticky birthday cake, my arm screaming as it was sliced open, oozing red in a pool around me as dizzy waves of water sloshed through my mind.
What do you want me to say?
Tell me you forgive me.
Forgive you? For what?
If I'd been more careful, nothing would have happened.
Bella, you gave yourself a paper cut—that hardly deserves the death penalty.
Then why did you leave and sentence me to slow human death?
You're not good for me, Bella.
Don't say that! Whatever you want me to be, I'll be! Just don't do this!
Goodbye, Bella. Take care of yourself.
"Wait!" I screamed, hastily sitting up in bed, tears choking the rest of the pleas in my throat as the oppressive blackness of my room closed in on me. I grasped at my aching arm, surprised to find it uncut and dry, stitches long gone. Scrabbling for the nightstand at my side, I turned on my lamp to reveal my salt-blurred surroundings, desperate for the where and the when.
Rocking chair. Closed window. Dresser. Desk. Decrepit computer. Clock. 2 A.M. Picture of my mother.
Wall calendar. Rows of exes.
The rose bushes were all gone. I hadn't noticed until a week after the family left, but all six shrubs had been ripped from the ground, roots and all. They weren't in the garbage can, the neighbors' yards or garbage cans, or the woods around my house. The only evidence they'd ever been there were the muddy, partially caved-in holes in front of our windows and beside our front and back door. They never grew back.
I squinted across the room again and counted the nineteen exes on the calendar, my grief-weakened voice barely breathing the words that came unbidden to my lips:
Red Devil Roses. Heart-shaped pecan waffles. I never indulged in either of those again. It would be like begging, and I begged no one for anything.
"You sure you don't want me to come with you?" Charlie asked. Again.
"I'll be fine, Dad," I reiterated, watching the way the morning mist swirled around his brown, curly head. "I've got everything packed in the car. I don't have room for an extra body and your suitcase."
This was not remotely true. There was plenty of room in my unassuming little '97 Honda Accord. I patted my faded grey car with affection—Matilda was its name, and it had been a graduation present of sorts when, a few weeks after the dull, hurried little commencement ceremony, my stone-aged truck wheezed, coughed out its last backfire, and died in the driveway ten minutes before I had to be at work. It surprised me when Phil pitched in for the new car, but Renee's guilt was a powerful motivator, and at least Charlie didn't have to waste even more of his retirement money on me. Jacob, who looked over the car for Charlie at the dealership down in Aberdeen, declared that 1997 was a great year for the Accord (the way he said it made me snicker, like he was describing vintage wine). Evidently it was built to last 400,000 miles before I would need to replace it. Dad hired Jacob to perform a few minor repairs and routine maintenance, and I was under strict orders to change the oil at regular intervals and use synthetic motor oil only.
Matilda was small, but it could have fit my dad and several additional bags easily if I'd packed my things differently. I just didn't want Charlie's unintentionally oppressive presence in the car. I needed this time to myself before I started a new life.
"You've got everything, then?" he asked furtively. "Passport, temporary residency papers, enrollment paperwork? Cell phone, charger? Pepper spray, pocketknife? Map? Gas money, snacks? Cash for the ferry? Vehicle emergency kit?"
I nodded in all the right places, waiting for him to be finished with his nervous-parent checklist. I must have had that old glazed look on my face, or perhaps something else, something I let slip unintentionally. Because Charlie, who normally didn't see anything but what I wanted him to see, suddenly looked through me and understood.
"Okay, then," he said roughly. "Make sure you stop at the bank to exchange your currency as soon as you're done with Immigration, and call me when you get to your dorm. I guess I'll see you at Christmas." I'll miss you, Bella, his eyes told me.
"Christmas," I repeated softly. I'll miss you, too. But I can't be here anymore.
A one-armed hug and a turn of my key, and I was headed north on one-oh-one. I just had one stop to make before I left Clallam County.
I hadn't been here in nearly a full year. The grass had grown waist high since my eighteenth birthday almost twelve months ago—whose job had it been to maintain the tedious chore of keeping the lawn mowed? I never remembered seeing any of them with a push mower or riding mower, but surely one or all of them had to perform the mundane human task. For just a moment, I imagined them taking turns using scythes in their rapid pace, pale figures in the moonlight, images of Death.
It was common knowledge that the place had not been sold—located hours away from the major cities, it was too customized and overpriced, and nobody with that kind of money wanted to purchase a vacation home in the middle of nowhere at the onset of an economic slump. I suspected they all were simply waiting for the real estate market to improve. The front door was locked, and the south wall of glass stood covered with the giant metal shutters I remembered from that fateful Spring Break eighteen months ago. But this was not the house of people who wanted or needed human assistance to protect their possessions, so I knew I had no need to fear any kind of security alarm system being triggered when I took my tire iron to one of the low-placed windows overlooking the front porch.
Very few things seemed to be missing at first glance. The large furniture pieces were meticulously covered in drop cloths to protect them from dust or yellowing. As if they might one day decide, out of the blue, to drop by and check on their antique dining table or white sofas. The large wooden cross that had adorned the second-floor hallway was gone, as were all the paintings and most of the books, which did not surprise me—those were the only things that held any real value to them. There were no photographs for me to find on desks or hanging on walls; they didn't believe in using them except as necessary for false identification, the better to hide evidence of their agelessness. The shelves in the golden bedroom on the third floor stood full with a multitude of music. I debated whether to take any, but I knew I'd only end up hating whichever CDs I stole.
Instead, I went to the closet. As I suspected: full. He left all his clothes except for those on his back. And because the door had remained shut all these months, the rosy smell of Him lingered on everything, sweet, delicious, and deadly.
I took three white button-up shirts, three warm pullover sweaters, and the suede jacket he'd given me to wear once, so very long ago, when he took me to a quiet dinner at a tiny restaurant and finally started being honest with me about who he was, though not, I now knew, about how he felt. Yes, this jacket, I would take. It didn't matter that these things meant nothing to Him, or that they would only serve as painful reminders for me. I wanted them. I had to have something besides the crescent scar on my hand, still colder than all my other skin, which wasn't so much a memento of Him as it was a mark of my near-death experience at the hands—teeth—of someone else.
I raided a different closet on the second floor, one with a different familiar smell all its own: Easter lilies. I came away with a number of tops and dresses to supplement my own meager wardrobe comprised primarily of cheap clothes from Wal-Mart. I knew she wouldn't care—she would have seen me doing this a month in advance, when I first started planning this day, and she would have contacted me in some way if the intrusion or theft mattered to her. If I mattered.
Oh, my sweet almost-sister. Why did you abandon me, too?
Interestingly enough, one of the unlocked drawers in her dresser held not clothes, not cosmetics or accessories or jewelry, but cash. Stacks and stacks of cash.
Tempting, but no. There was petty theft, and there was grand theft, and in Washington, stealing anything worth more than $250 was a felony—I looked it up in advance. As far as the ethics of it, there was taking old, unwanted clothing to keep myself warm in what I knew would be a cold country, and then there was funding my future with the cast-offs of someone's unwanted life. There had to be a line.
But since I was already technically guilty of breaking and entering and vandalism…
Screw it. They didn't care about money any more than they did about clothes or armchairs or this neglected house.
To hell with the line. What did they know about growing up poor? What did any of them know about struggling to keep food on the table and the electricity turned on or worrying how they were going to find a way to pay for gasoline and insurance and still save up for school? Seven adults and only one of them even had a goddamn job. The rest of them sat around playing dress-up and challenging each other to chess matches, tricking out their sports cars the minute they saw some new, expensive accessory in Car and Driver, then ditching the whole vehicle like it was nothing a few months later when the newest model came along, wasting their infinite resources, time, and talent on their idle pastimes, thinking of nothing beyond themselves. So what if I filched their petty cash? They stole something else from me, something precious. Something I could never get back.
Three suitcases, one fruitful trip through the garage, and three hundred thousand dollars later, and Matilda was repacked and ready to go. There was only one thing left to do. The real reason I'd come here.
My fingers ghosted lightly over the keys, trying to dredge up the memory of the right notes. Was it possible that I'd finally started to forget that song? I closed my eyes and found my answer: no, I hadn't.
"Goodbye," I whispered to the glossy, black surface. "Goodbye" to the taut wires under the lid. "Goodbye" to the ivory. "Goodbye" to the brass foot pedals and the sturdy bench. "Goodbye" to the sweet melodies that haunted my dreams, that I'd never hear Him play again. Goodbye with my voice. Goodbye with the pads of my fingertips. Goodbye with my lips. Goodbye with a can of red spray paint. Goodbye with wire cutters. Goodbye with a blowtorch from the garage. Goodbye with a fire extinguisher. Goodbye with a sledgehammer.
lo chinga, no sabia las palabras: fuck it, I didn't know the words
pobrecita: poor thing; poor little thing
Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction. All recognizable characters are the property of their respective copyright owners. Portions of Stephenie Meyer's original work are reprinted, but no copyright violation is intended. References to real places and groups are used fictitiously.