Disclaimer: Twilight's not mine. This fic is rated M for language and contains copious, stereotypical references to the elderly.
A/N: I wrote this oneshot several months ago for the Twilight Gift Exchange over on LJ. It started out as a crackfic, then became something else. It's not the normal Twilight likeable-boy-meets-likeable-girl fic, but that's kind of why I like it. If you're in the mood for something really different, it might be worth a read. Be warned that it's OOC and ignores some aspects of canon, like Bella being Edward's singer and Alice being able to see perfectly into the future.
Anyway, my gift recipient, LeonMcFrenchington, provided this prompt: "Ladies' man Edward consistently brings home a 'new girlfriend' each Christmas so that his mother will be happy. This year, he's had a bit of shitty luck, gone with a single date or lay the entire time, so he decides to find a way to bring home a girl by any means necessary. BxE preferred, Bella can be in it for money, getting away from someone, etc, just please, no "I'm in love with my best friend who is a player and this is the perfect chance to get him."
And this is what I made of it:
May and His December
The first time I see the love of my life she's carrying an unused colostomy bag with one hand and fingering an unlit Virginia Slim with the other. When our eyes meet, neither of us looks away. I anticipate fear on her part; she searches for disgust on mine.
Both of us are kept waiting.
Everything about her screams that she's the perfect nursing home stereotype: cranky and crooked, a living, barely breathing human Grinch who's given up on manners and pretenses. Her hair is gray, not silver. The lines around her mouth suggest a lifetime of scowls rather than laughter. She narrows her knowing eyes at me, as if she's hip to every dastardly deed I've committed in my one hundred seventy-four years.
I like her immediately.
Her introductory words are raspy and droll: "Kid, if you can spring me from this hellhole, there's a Twinkie from my secret stash with your name on it."
I don't have the heart to tell her I prefer the blood of a thrashing, warm-blooded mountain lion over stale, Nerf-textured pastries. Instead, I shrug and jingle the keys to my Volvo. She was kidding, but I'm not when I answer, "Sure thing, lady."
She raises penciled-in eyebrows. "You serious?"
"Like a heart attack. Some would say seriousness is my calling card."
"And just how—"
"It's all in who you know."
From whatever dingy corner Carlisle lurks, he expresses sudden interest. "Edward?" His voice is rushed from the shadows, muted for an audience of only himself and me. "What on Earth are you doing?"
The old woman's eyesight is poor, judging by the way she peers up at me, neck straining and eyes squinting like a turtle emerging from its shell. In her ear, I spot a flesh-colored hearing aid. She won't see my lips moving or hear my words with her lackluster human senses.
I chuckle under my breath and assure my father, "You're always telling me to get into the Christmas spirit. Consider her the senescent Tiny Tim to my blood-sucking Scrooge."
He sighs in defeat, returning to the cavalcade of nursing home residents demanding his attention.
The woman continues to stare at me.
When I don't recant my offer, she shuffles backward into the room I assume is hers. She tosses one final he-must-be-crazy glance at me before hesitantly muttering, "I'll just get dressed..."
It occurs to me suddenly that her mind is blank, which isn't uncommon among the ancient, overmedicated zombies in this place. But, unlike the rest, something in her eyes tells me her mind is alive and blessed with a bevy of all-too-private thoughts.
While she struggles out of her housecoat, I wait out in the sterile corridor, half-expecting Carlisle to make another attempt to dissuade this year's Christmas surprise. He's nowhere to be seen, and I credit this to him secretly anticipating the look on our family's faces when I walk through the door with Strom Thurmond's chain-smoking grandmother on my arm.
I do this every year. Granted, I usually bring younger ones home, but the theme is always the same: human, female, and hideously flawed. One refused to bathe out of her love for "being one with Mother Earth," another was a narcoleptic with the snore of a congested elephant. My favorite to date is Greta, who labeled herself "bicurious" and took particular interest in my sister's chest, at one point slapping Alice on the back and assuring her "there's nothing wrong with less than a handful."
Never once have I felt guilty over my annual holiday parade of freak shows because my family brings this upon themselves. Though, to be fair, Alice and Esme are by far the worst.
It began with a vision seventy years ago. We'd moved from Alaska to Forks, Washington. For the first two and a half years, it was the same as anywhere else we'd lived. Then, in the middle of winter 2004, Alice thundered down the stairs and announced to the entire living room, "Edward's going to find a girl, a mate. And she's going to be human."
Emmett thought it was hilarious, Rosalie snorted in disgust, Carlisle and Jasper furrowed their brows with worry, and Esme…Esme's eyes nearly popped out of her head. "At last!" she exclaimed.
Alice's visions had become more nondescript and less accurate over the years, but this one was especially vague, consisting of a classroom and a faceless girl. She'd rejoiced over the vision at first, but soon it changed. No longer was there the promise of love. Instead, Alice saw me taking the girl's life. Apparently, I lured her to some meadow, where things grew hot and heavy before I slipped up and sucked the life out of her.
My family feeds on animals, not humans. We consider ourselves civilized and do our best to keep a low profile. Once Alice's vision changed, I took off to protect them from repercussions and myself from the humiliation of truly losing control for the first time. I never saw this worthless girl, my intended victim, which was for the best--I didn't want to kill her, and I especially didn't want to love her. Either way, my fate was solitude
I met up with my family ten years later, after they'd left Washington, switched identities, and relocated to London.
I'd missed them--all of them. That is, until Alice slapped me with a sense of déjà vu: another vision, another human female. The woman was still without a face, but Alice provided scenery this time by way of the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree. This time, I didn't kill the human…I fell in love with her.
Unlike her last prophecy, this one persisted unchanged, over years, over various homes and aliases. It never became more specific, but it also didn't fade. As a result, Alice and Esme were relentless.
At first, I avoided humans at all costs. Unlike the rest of my family, I'm without a mate, but until Alice's first premonition, Esme deemed me a lost cause and left me blissfully alone. However, once Alice opened her big mouth, telling all who would listen that I'd find my own "special someone," Esme began keeping her eyes peeled for poor, human girls to cast in the role of her vampire son's doomed soul mate.
Every December for decades she'd stroll into my room and announce something along the lines of, "I saw this cute blonde at the gas station today—"
This always received the obligatory, "But Edward—"
To which, I'd vow to start eating my warm-blooded prey with reckless abandon on the white carpeting Esme installed in every home we inhabited. Esme would vanish with a pout, and Alice would force an encore performance of this soonafter. I'd end up spending Christmas locked away from the family, listening to thrashing punk music and hating the world like the moody teenage boy I was damned to be for all eternity.
One can only take so many yuletides of solitude accompanied by a Sid Vicious soundtrack before one breaks.
For me, that number was forty. So, twenty years ago, I changed things up. If my family wanted me to find a human, I'd play along until they threw in the towel and left me alone.
One wintery day, I entered the kitchen whistling. Immediately, Esme appeared and badgered me with questions.
"You found someone, didn't you?" Although she should have known better, she was practically glowing.
"Not exactly," I told her. "But what if agreed to start mingling, maybe even bring home a girl every once in a while for the holidays?"
She threw her arms around me. "Edward, that's all I ask."
I smiled. "So you're saying you're happy with any human girl I bring through those doors?"
Her mind was already planning for my winter wedding to some anonymous, hapless mortal. "Of course, sweetheart!"
I kissed her on the cheek and headed for the door. "Be careful what you wish for."
"The One, Edward!" Esme called after me, oblivious to my warning. "She's out there!"
I vowed to find "The One" all right. The one who will repulse my family beyond belief, who will insult them, annoy them, drive them as crazy as they've been driving me. The girl destined to destroy their misguided attempts to saddle me with some swoony chick with fetishes of the Bram Stoker variety. Esme is right—the One is out there. And I'll find her, my own special someone, my gloriously repulsive, delightfully grating means to an end.
I look for her at outlet malls, Christmas tree lots, fast food restaurants, the occasional strip club. Once Wal-Marts sprang up across the nation, my search became vastly simpler. Emmett often comes to my aid as my wingman; he was especially useful the year the circus rolled through town in late November.
Unfortunately, this year's quest has not been fruitful. My hunt for a suitable human to join my Christmas parade of horrors—which has, in the past, included actual whores—has so far amounted to total disaster. The girl I'd planned on bringing home turned out to be somewhat sweet, despite her frequent Tourette's-induced outbursts. My guilty conscious consumed me, and I ended our flirtation before she took me too seriously. By then, it was too late to find an appropriate date/train wreck to bring home to the family.
Today is Christmas Eve, and until moments ago, I'd resigned myself to granting the Cullen household a reprieve, just this once. I stopped by the nursing home where Carlisle volunteers his medical services to make his Christmas and announce there would be no "special guest" at this year's holiday festivities.
Then, out of nowhere, there she was—likely senile and undoubtedly pissed off at the universe.
And, just like that, the game was back on.
She interrupts my thoughts when she emerges from her room dressed, my geriatric savior in a rumpled wool suit and orthopedic shoes. The colostomy bag is thankfully absent; the cigarette is not.
I hold out my arm to her. "Ready?"
She fiddles with the strap of her purse, tucking her precious smoke into one of its worn leather pockets. "You sure about this?"
"I'll bring you back, I promise."
"You'll be doing us both a favor if you hit me in the head with a shovel and leave me to rot in a ditch." Regardless, she takes my arm.
I know her name without asking. She's been in Carlisle's thoughts for weeks, the raging, foul-mouthed woman the nurses call "Batshit Bella."
"I'm Edward," I say, hoping to place us on a more equal footing.
"Mrs. Newton," she responds. At the mention of her name, the spirited menace seeps out of her voice.
This won't do. I need crazy, not pathetic.
Scrambling for a way to reignite her fighting spark, I ask, "Are we going to need to stop off for some Depends? I can't have you soiling my ride."
Batshit says nothing and stiffens as we pass undetected into the parking lot.
"That your car?" She nods to my four-door Volvo sedan. When I nod, she snorts. "No wonder you troll old folks' homes for pussy."
I bless the return of the crazy and hold the car door open. She eases herself in without taking my offered hand.
As I slide into the driver's side, she coughs and darts her eyes around. "There's no cigarette lighter in here."
Her mouth purses into a thin line. "What a crock."
"My father is Dr. Cullen, you know. He's not very approving of his patients huffing their way to lung cancer."
"But he's gung-ho for his kid stealing old ladies from nursing homes?"
"Are you complaining?"
She tightens her fingers on both hands around the handle of her purse, which is propped on her lap like a basket. Squaring her shoulders, she stares straight ahead. "Take me to the cemetery."
"This isn't Driving Miss Daisy. I'm not your chauffer, lady."
"You offered me a ride."
"I offered to get you out of there." I turn the key in the ignition. "I'm keeping my word. Now, it's your turn to do me a favor."
"You can always stay and enjoy your Christmas here." I point at the cinder-blocked building framed by a sign bearing the words 'Twilight Meadows' in chipped, teal paint. "Beef's on the menu for dinner, and I hear the cook's using the puree setting on the blender this year. Should be nice not to bother with chewing…"
I don't miss the quick glance she gives me out of the corner of her eye. "What do you want?"
She rolls her eyes and gestures to her lap. "Honey, this well dried up long before you were even a glint in your father's eye."
Batshit shows no indication of saying anything more but keeps staring like she's challenging me.
"Let's cut the shit, shall we?" I stop the car at the edge of the parking lot. "You have a reputation around that place for being—"
"—a ray of sunshine—"
"—difficult. I need you to take your winning personality to my house and use it to dazzle a few of my meddlesome family members. In exchange, you get to spend Christmas sleeping on Egyptian cotton sheets and eating food that doesn't taste like Alpo."
She gapes at me for the longest time. Finally, she pulls a Werther's out of her purse, pops it in her mouth, and says, "Dr. Cullen cannot seriously condone this sort of thing."
"My family is…unique. To say the least. He won't mind."
"You often bring withered up old bats home to meet the family?" she asks dubiously.
"Trust me," I assure her. "As long as you have a pulse and lack a Y chromosome, you're golden."
She coughs again and pats the pocket housing her precious lone cigarette. "I'm going to need nicotine."
"Sweetheart," I vow, "you can have whatever you want as long as you keep up that sunny disposition of yours."
I take her guttural grunt as a yes and head to the nearest convenience store.
Two cartons of menthols later, we pull into my driveway. I wonder if Alice has foreseen Bella Newton's arrival and hope she hasn't—I'd hate to miss the look of surprise on my sister's face.
No sooner than the thought passes through my head, Alice appears on the front porch, hands on her hips. Her thoughts are just as annoyed as I'd hoped. Jesus Christ, Edward. She smells like death and Ben-Gay.
Emmett, my only ally, stands behind her, grinning with approval. "HOT," he mouths.
"What's the little one's problem?" Bella asks.
"Bad gas," I answer. "Come on out and meet the family."
She hobbles alongside me. By the time we arrive at the front door, all the Cullens are accounted for, with the exception of Carlisle, who's still vying for sainthood over at the nursing home until the night shift begins.
"Hello," Esme purrs, taking Bella's hand in hers. "It's lovely to meet you."
On the outside, my mother is always kind to my train wrecks. As part of her high hopes that I've found the infamous One, she makes an effort to believe that somehow each one is capable of winning my affections. However, internally, she makes a mental list of the silver and reminds herself to hide the Ming vases.
Unlike the others before her, Bella doesn't shy away from Esme's greeting. Her grip looks firm as she sizes my mother up. "Your hands feel like my dead husband's."
"Thank you…dear." Esme's response falls on deaf ears as Bella breezes past her into the foyer.
"Nice place," she remarks. "Where's the can?"
Emmett gestures to a door at the end of the hall. She winks at him and shuffles off.
Rosalie wastes no time. "Congratulations, Edward. She's that old bitch from the Hallmark cards brought to life."
"You mean Maxine."
"No one asked you, Emmett," Rose barks and turns to me. "Look, I really don't see why I have to be punished with this bullshit every goddamn year. Frankly, I don't give a flying fuck if you live out eternity alone, performing your little Mozart-goes-emo routine on the piano and jerking off to old episodes of Masterpiece Theatre. There's no need to ruin Christmas for everyone."
I nod to Esme and Alice. "Then get them to cry uncle, and this ends once and for all."
Rosalie's eyes narrow, as she knows persuading our mother and sister otherwise is about as likely as Emmett taking a vow of celibacy.
"She seems lovely." Esme smiles, ignoring my exchange with Rose. Literally, all it takes is a pulse to sate the woman's need to match make.
Alice wastes one of her patented pouts by tossing it in my direction. "I love you, Edward, and I just want what's best for you. If you'd try to find an actual girl, then—"
"Are you suggesting the lovely woman currently stuffing our guest soaps into her purse is not an actual girl?"
"I'm not giving up," she counters, crossing the room and poking me with one of her fingers. On some level, Alice is quite fearsome. However, the girl has the hands of an anorexic midget. Regardless of vampire strength, her threats of physical violence are hard to take seriously.
I dismiss her with a smile. "Then neither am I. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to check on my date."
Leaving them in a fuming huddle, I walk down the hall and tap on the bathroom door. "You all right in there, love?"
The door opens, and Bella stares up at me with a face of disgust. "'Love?' Are you pretending to be British or something?"
Rosalie eyes Bella from down the hallway as if she's a finger painting on display at the Louvre. Suddenly, this becomes less hilarious than I'd anticipated as I watch Bella fidget. She's nervous. Her cantankerous-old-lady routine is slipping amidst a roomful of cranky vampires, her sarcasm weakened by her stilted breathing and refusal to make eye contact. Fragility doesn't suit her, and I scramble to make this less hellacious for us both.
"Would you like a tour?" I ask gently.
She swallows, darts her eyes toward my gaping family, and clutches that dilapidated purse of hers for dear life. "Sure."
From my pocket, I withdraw the lighter I swiped from our earlier stop at the Seven Eleven. "Care for a smoke?" I ask, ignoring Esme's hiss. Even the potential soul mate of one of her children cannot get away with lighting up in the house.
"Bless you." Bella smiles. The sudden joy on her face is disarming, and for a second, her eyes give me a glimpse of the girl she once was.
She puffs and inhales. We walk. I worry that the stairs will be too much for her, but she refuses my help and fights for each step with no complaints. I point out the various works of art on the walls and ignore her aside that she doesn't care "how the artsy fartsy burn their money."
At the end of the hall, we stop.
"Were you all ugly children?" she asks suddenly.
"There are no photographs of any of you in this place. No offense, but your mother seems the type to display her kids' faces like trophies." Bella has that look on her face again, as if my answer will somehow entertain her.
I smile and give her the stock answer. "We were adopted separately when we were older."
"Ah. That makes me feel better about earlier, when the big monkey-looking kid grabbed Blondie's ass downstairs."
"So you thought we were incestuous?" I'm not surprised; over the years, many have suspected that my parents run some sort of brothel for quasi-albino teens.
"I watch a lot of daytime television." Bella pauses. "The quiet, constipated-looking one was holding the tiny, angry girl's hand. Are all your siblings together, as in together together?"
"Even by Maury Povich's standards, that's a bit twisted."
"That it is."
"But you're not…with anyone." Bella puts out her cigarette butt on Esme's mahogany banister, so I can't begrudge her for bringing up my least-favorite topic.
"I embrace being alone."
Silence passes for a beat before she looks up at me with an empty smile on her face. "Good for you, kid."
I groan, sensing that we are on the verge of some sort of life lesson. Old people love that sort of crap; stubborn, century-old vampires do not. Squashing her Aesop bullshit before it can begin, I tell her, "You and me, lady…we're not kindred spirits. Don't pity me for thinking I'm like you."
"Pity?" she scoffs. "You're rich, pretty, youthful…and you've already mastered what I've strived to accomplish my entire life. Why would someone like me pity you?"
I fight the urge to pat her head. "You pity yourself instead, then?"
"Don't patronize me."
"Fair enough." I lean against the wall. "But do tell—what exactly have I mastered?"
"You're alone, and you're fine with it. That's admirable." She won't look me in the eye. "My husband died fifteen years ago. And it wasn't soon enough." Her laugh is dry, and I'm not sure if this is because of the wheezing cough that accompanies it or because it's insincere. When she continues, her tone is flat. "But even when he was alive, I was lonely as hell. It bothered me because I wasn't strong enough not to care. As hard as I tried, I wasn't happy alone."
"Humans are weak like that," I say without thinking.
She smirks, as if we're in on the same private joke. "And what are you? A robot? Some cougar's idea of a talking blow-up doll with a terrible sense of humor?"
"A vampire, actually," I answer, because no one will believe her if she squeals.
"Hmm." She smirks, and oddly enough, it makes her look younger. "When I was a teenager, the goth types wore black eyeliner and painted their fingernails purple."
"I've never been like the rest, Bella."
"No, I imagine not." She shrugs and grabs her stomach when it suddenly lets out a growl.
"Food," I recall aloud. "You need to eat something."
Bella nods. "As long as it's not prunes or blended meat, I'm game for some dinner."
When we make our way down the stairs, she allows me to help her.
Emmett's always had a thing for Julia Child. Human food makes us all retch, but my brother takes a sick pleasure in preparing it as he follows the warblings of his favorite chef on the kitchen television. "Something about the way she tells me to julienne the tomatoes in that deep voice of hers gets me hard," he's told me.
Julia Child died eons ago, but Emmett's procured recordings of every episode of every cooking show she ever did. When Bella and I enter the kitchen, he's hard at work, the stove, the television, and therefore himself all turned on. He looks up with a shit-eating grin on his face and introduces himself with a wave. Bella responds in kind.
"I hope you like manicotti," he says before setting down a saucepan full of marinara and staring across the counter intently. He places some cheese-covered glob that supposedly serves as an appetizer in front of Bella and asks, "So, cranky old lady, what's your deal?"
"I'm eighty-seven, a widow, and my arthritis is a bastard when it rains. What's your deal, pale, steroid abuser?" A smile plays on her face as she digs into the cheese with a cracker. Bella appears to enjoy Emmett's company, and for some reason, this pleases me.
They talk and soon discover a mutual love for soap operas and The Price is Right.
"Bob Barker…God, how I miss that man," Emmett laments, now chopping onions and putting too much effort into faking human tears. He realizes his initial mistake and corrects himself, "I mean, I watch Bob all the time in re-runs. Uh, really old re-runs."
"I miss that silver mane of his," Bella agrees, oblivious to the fact a teenager today should have no idea who Bob Barker is. "I'm a sucker for a great head of hair."
Emmett laughs. "Your husband fit that bill?"
"God, no." Her face falls. "Since the age of thirty, Mike was completely bald…and he had these piercing little eyes that blinked far too much. Man looked like an eagle with anger-management issues."
I start raking my fingers through my own hair. Emmett gives me a look that plainly says, What the fuck is wrong with you?
I have no answer.
At some point, Rosalie enters. When no one bats an eyelash, she tries to garner Emmett's attention by pulling on the hem of her sweater so that the tops of her tits spring from the neckline like Pop Tarts from a toaster.
Emmett notices. As does Bella.
"Those are impressive," she says, her compliment genuine.
"I know," Rose shoots back, but she struggles to keep the corners of her mouth from pulling up into a smile. Women never compliment my icy, narcissistic sister, but apparently Bella never got that memo.
"Real?" Bella asks.
"Damn straight," Rose answers.
Much to everyone's surprise, Rosalie sticks around. Soon, Emmett is teaching Bella to juggle tomatoes. Eventually, she gives up, and Rose and I howl with laughter when she chucks one across the room and tells my brother, "Go fuck yourself and join the goddamn circus."
This feels too good, and all of us realize it. Humans don't fit in with us, especially the Christmas trolls I drag through here as my special brand of Alice torture. Bella is…different. In the best possible way.
Alice doesn't feel the same, but she does sense that those of us in the kitchen are far too at ease. This explains why she walks in and falls dramatically into one of the chairs. Her face sports that perfectly strategized, woe-is-me expression that only Jasper falls for. Emmett, Rose, and I aren't the sort to coddle wannabe martyrs, so we ignore Alice for a solid hour, until Emmett announces dinner is served.
His eyes dance as he spots Alice shooting daggers in the general direction of Bella's hunched back.
"So, Bella," he begins, "did you know manicotti is Alice's favorite food? Every Christmas, she eats at least… I don't know, Edward, what was the count last year?"
"Five pounds' worth," I answer with a smirk, seeing what he's getting at. "And she does it in under ten minutes. It's a sight to behold."
"I think we can get to ten this year," Rose suddenly pipes in. The woman never plays along with our Alice pranks; Emmett and I both stare at her like she's sprouted a second head.
"Can't wait," Bella announces. She has no way of knowing that Alice can't digest human food and will have to spit up the food later, likely soiling her precious Jimmy Choo's. Regardless, when she spots Alice's glare, she gains some courage, grins widely, and adjusts her dentures with a deliberate smack.
The family gathers around the dining room table, complete with Carlisle, now home from work. Esme always enjoys this, regardless of how abhorrent my guests are. My human "dates" notwithstanding, we Cullens are the Brady Bunch of the undead at Christmas time, full of togetherness and forced politeness. My mother appraises us all with a peaceful smile.
After Emmett sets the food before us, Bella begins eating with a feverish passion. Her gums are exposed as her mouth opens wide. "Goooood," she murmurs, garlic bread crumbs falling from her tongue to her lap.
Emmett beams. Alice squishes up her nose. I fight back a grin, because I know Bella is lying through her dentures—Emmett's enthusiasm in the kitchen doesn't equate to quality in his finished product. Of the few of my guests who've been brave enough to try his concoctions, Bella is the first not to spit the food back onto Esme's china.
Soon, I'm questioning if she's even lying at all. Bella not only swallows her first bite, but she finishes everything on her plate, begging the question of what sort of shit they force-feed her at the home. All of us watch her in wonder. Only when Bella finally looks up from her plate does my family begin our charade.
Of us all, Jasper is the worst at fake eating. He has a tendency to never lift his fork to his mouth and instead uses his utensils to make forts out of his mashed potatoes, likely some subconscious throwback to his Civil War days. Usually, our human guests are too creeped out to pay him much attention.
But not Bella.
She watches as Jasper turns his broccoli on end, creating a tree line at the edge of his plate. Leaning over toward me, she asks in a loud whisper, "Head injury?"
Swallowing a laugh, I shake my head. "Eating disorder."
Jasper now glares in my direction, and I'm cursed with a sudden feeling of lust. Before I can get the world's most misguided hard-on for a certain decaying houseguest, I bark out at vampire speed, "Knock it off."
His hand over his mouth, he responds just as quickly. "Serves your right. You're killing Alice with this little game of yours."
I shift my gaze abruptly and focus on the object of Jasper's affection and the target of my disdain. She's huffing like a spoiled toddler.
"So, Alice…" I begin, reaching for the large tray of manicotti in the middle of the table. "Hungry?"
She glares over at me, which tells me I've already won. Alice has a problem with dares, especially since her ESP has waned in recent decades. Where she once won every game of chess, knew the ending to every movie, and had a perfect grasp on everyone's future, now she has no reaching control over anything other than Jasper. No longer the winner of anything she sets her mind to, Alice now has something to prove and--whether she foresees the outcome or not--the girl always refuses to back down.
"You're all children," she growls, digging her fork into the red mess of sauce in front of her.
Bella looks interested, and Emmett is bouncing in his seat. "Wait! I'll get the timer," he exclaims, barely bothering to travel at a human pace to the kitchen.
Playing with the greasy napkin in her lap, Bella smiles fondly and confesses to me, "I used to enter pie eating contests when I was a kid."
Alice scoffs. "Why not now, when you can just plop out those teeth and shovel it in?"
Esme shoots her a look, but Alice feels no repercussions until Emmett sets down an extra tray and the already-ticking timer in front of her. "Two minutes?! How am I—"
"Oh, come on, Al," he chides, knowing full well that she hates that nickname. "Somehow, I think you have the skills to wolf down a couple of plates with no problem."
Unlike her husband, Alice is highly skilled at humanizing her actions. In her quest for across-the-board perfection in anything she attempts, she takes faltering from her human façade as some great failure.
Timer ticking, Emmett smirking, Bella gawking…Alice eats enough stuffed manicotti to satisfy at least three starving Sopranos, and she does it like any human forced to eat a quarter of their weight in undercooked Italian food would—loud, messy, and with a scowl on her face. Marinara sauce drips down her chin and splatters onto the collar of her white shirt. A piece of pasta is still dangling from her upper lip, and ricotta cheese seeps between the gaps in her teeth. She looks like a rabid dog, far scarier than I've ever seen her look while feeding off wild, flailing prey. Even Carlisle is visibly entertained.
"For such a tiny, prissy thing, she's kind of gross," Bella whispers.
Alice stands abruptly in front of her empty plate and marches out of the dining room, Jasper at her heels. No one bothers to wait until they're out the front door to crack up.
Bella's smirk is slight. Of course, I catch it. "Something funny?"
"Do you force her to pretend to like food for all your guests, or am I just special?"
Our eyes meet when I answer, "I suppose you're kind of special."
After dinner, we play Scrabble sans Alice and Jasper. Rosalie cheats, Emmett gets bored and chucks vowels at her, and Esme and Carlisle are oddly silent. When the game ends, Bella and fI are left alone in the den.
"Am I sufficiently repulsing your family?" she asks.
I pour her a glass of wine and nod for her to put her feet up on the coffee table. "No, but thanks for trying."
Bella thumbs though one of Esme's Home & Garden magazines in a piss-poor effort to appear nonchalant. Her words aren't as casual as she likely thinks they are when she says, "I never told you earlier, but thanks for the jail break. It's nice not to spend an evening with Jolene."
"My roommate back at the home. She has night terrors, no bladder control, and a tendency to sleepwalk."
"You share a room?"
"You think rent in that cinder-blocked, linoleum palace runs cheap?" She's joking, but I'm suitably depressed. It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas.
"So you don't have any children to visit you?" I ask, already suspecting the answer will be no. I might as well go for broke as far as gloomy topics of conversation go.
"Sure, but they're six feet under." She's casual about death, like anyone who's practically knocking at its door.
"How long have you been doing time at Twilight Meadows?"
More laughter, and then she asks, "How can you say that with a straight face? I've always thought it sounded a lot like the title of one of the soft-core pornos my husband used to watch on Cinemax."
Bella's funny, but I'm not laughing. "You're dodging the question."
She answers, humorless, "Eight years."
"Believe it or not, I know what purgatory feels like," I say wryly.
"Right, Dr. Cullen mentioned that you're in high school." She watches me for a long time before continuing, "I don't want to burst your bubble, but it gets worse. At least you don't have to deal with bed pans or friends dying on a seemingly rotating schedule."
"You look like you're handling it better than most."
She clicks her tongue. "Yeah, well…my slot on the schedule's getting closer."
"And that's a good thing?" Death is foreign for me. As a human, I embraced it, wanting to fight and even die for glory and country. As a vampire, I've caused it but the odds of facing it myself are slim at best.
"It's not the worst thing. When I was younger, I thought I was meant for bigger things, better things. Then, I got knocked up and married my high school boyfriend. I lost the kid two months later. For me, life was over at eighteen."
"Ever think about divorce?" My question is too personal, but Bella doesn't seem to mind.
"Mike wasn't the worst option. Who was I to think something better would come along?" She lifts the wine glass she's cradling in her palm. "But who knows? Maybe my next go-around will be more interesting."
"You believe in reincarnation?" I hadn't taken her as the type to swindle me into a Come to Jesus moment.
Bella shrugs. "I don't know. All I know is that I gotta believe in something, or else it's just me, a cheap casket, and the maggots for all eternity."
I nod. Religion, the afterlife…it's not something we immortals concern ourselves with.
During our brief pause, Bella has directed her attention elsewhere.
"You have the head of an elephant above your fireplace," she remarks.
"Emmett has odd preferences when it comes to hunting."
She chuckles. "I bet he does."
Bella swallows more wine and begins to look sleepy. She's a tired drunk, probably fate's way of balancing out the relentless harpy she channels in sobriety.
Her eyes narrow as she asks, "You born here in Portland, Edward?"
"No, I'm from Chicago, actually."
"I'm not from this place, either. Mike moved us here so he could work for his cousin's accounting firm." She leans forward from her seat on the couch. "I spent most my life in this tiny little town in Washington State. Most people have never heard of it…but something tells me you have."
The silence between us goes on for too long.
Finally, I hedge, "I've lived a lot of places."
She's referring to Forks, of course. My family has spent two tours of our faux human lives there, although a century separated the first from the last.
"Including Forks," Bella supplies. "But that was quite some time ago."
It was nearly seventy years ago, to be precise. I'd left immediately following Alice's alternating visions of love and death and never returned.
The question is, what does Bella know? And do I even care?
I watch her as she watches me, eyes sparkling with excitement. She smiles tentatively at me, and without meaning to, I want to return the favor.
The answer, I realize, is no…I don't care. Not at all.
She's ancient. She has no one to tell. Plus, I really, really don't want to dodge who—what—I am. I lie to everyone, but with this woman, I can't even evade.
"You're friends with the wolves, I take it."
"Once upon a time, yes," she answers casually, clearly relieved that I didn't hold out on her. "A friend of mine was a member of the tribe. He spilled the beans years ago, way back when I was in high school. When I first saw Dr. Cullen at the home, I remembered him from Forks. He treated me for a broken arm once. And your siblings…I went to school with all of them. Of course, I was much younger and went by Bella Swan back then. I wasn't surprised that they didn't recognize me…hell, seventeen-year-old me wouldn't recognize me now, either."
Bella watches my face closely as she speaks. "Are you angry?"
"Are you scared?" I counter.
"I wouldn't have come with you if I was."
Under her skirt, her knees shake a bit. I can't tell if this is nervousness or excitement. Far more than I'm willing to admit, I hope for the latter.
I lean forward in my chair, toward where she sits on the couch. "Why did you leave with me today? For all you know, I was looking for a meal."
"Maybe." Bella's face reddens, and she looks away, a grin playing at her mouth. "But even if that were the case, getting some cute vampire to do away with me sounds like a lot more fun than passing away in my sleep."
"You think I'm cute?"
"Honey, everyone does."
It's my turn to grin.
We don't say anything while she swallows more of her wine. Finally, she glances over at me, apparently nervous, as if bracing herself to confess some terrible secret.
"Until today, the high point of my year was when one of the nurses snuck me a few extra Rice Krispie treats on my birthday." The small portion of merlot left in her glass swishes back and forth. Bella watches the liquid move until it stills, and then looks up at me, hesitantly smiling. "Even before I was in that place, I was always bored, I always knew what was coming next in life. When I saw you, nothing made sense. I thought you were interesting and strange and kind of annoying…but honestly? I would have left with an ax murderer so I could feel something, anything at all."
I swallow. Over a century ago, I wasn't much different than some homicidal maniac with an ax, except that my teeth gave me no need for props. I want to tell her this, not to scare her off but just because I want her to be the one who finally knows everything there is to know about me.
The silence between us grows poignant. I have nothing specific to say, but it feels as if Bella's interrupting something when she says, "Just so you know, I'd take you over an ax murderer any day."
I'm not lying when I respond, "That's the best compliment I've received in a very long time."
Bella's wine glass is empty now, except for a drop or two. She begins to set it on the coffee table but then pauses and turns to me. "Should I spill some of this on the sofa? Your eyes light up when I ruin your family's shit. I can make your day and stain the upholstery…"
"No, I think we've pushed them enough for one evening. Although, I appreciate the offer."
Bella is exceedingly careful as she places the glass on a coaster. "I told you why I came. Now tell me why you picked me in the first place."
"I needed to bring home someone to meet my family. You see…my mother wants to see me happy. My sister wants to be right about something again. And I just want to get them off my back."
"So you do this a lot? Bring home strange women off the street to meet your parents?"
"Something like that." I'd have no qualms about telling Bella I've murdered countless human beings in my past but admitting that I routinely use women for my own amusement comes less easy.
"Do you actually like any of them?"
"No." Of course, that was the point of picking them in the first place, but I don't want to waste my time with Bella living in my past.
Apparently, Bella does. She has questions, lots of them. "Aren't you…older than you appear?"
"Older than me?"
"Then aren't you a bit too old to put forth so much effort pissing off your parents?"
"Well, mostly it pisses off Alice. Esme seems to take some sort of sick enjoyment in seeing me with anyone, even if they're royally fucked up." I exhale, realizing how much of an ass I am. "It's complicated."
"Vampires mate for life. Everyone in my family has someone, except for me. They think it's their job to make me just like them. And, frankly, I'm not interested in playing the field. At best, I'll end up with someone I can tolerate."
Bella nods. "I get it."
She eyes the tarnished gold band on her fourth finger. "Even if you hope to find someone, there's a pretty good chance you'll be disappointed when you do."
We're on the verge of another life lesson, but this time I'll let her teach me. Given the look on her face whenever she considers her own marriage, her experience with disappointment and love vastly exceeds mine.
She doesn't go on, though. I suppose I'm not the only one who doesn't want to squander today on the past.
"So Emmett hunts elephant?"
"The bigger the prey, the more obsessive that man gets. Whatever you do, don't ask him about it. Otherwise, you're going to get the run down of his greatest kills and how he'd love a time machine so he can take on a wooly mammoth."
Bella laughs, and all is right in the world until Alice comes in out of nowhere and plops down on the couch.
Ignoring me completely, Alice turns to Bella with wide eyes. She doesn't speak.
"Uh, hi?" Bella murmurs.
"Alice, stop weirding out the company," I hiss.
Her behavior is strange, but Alice appears to have exited bitch mode since we'd seen her last.
"Bella," she says, her tone gentle, kind. "I'm sorry we didn't get to talk much earlier." Her eyes flicker to mine. "I was distracted."
"That's…okay." Bella scoots to the corner of the couch, as far away from my bipolar, creepily friendly sister as she can get.
Calm down, Edward, Alice assures me. I'm not going to eat her.
She has a bottle of wine in hand, which she uses to refill Bella's glass. "I'd like to get to know you a little better."
"There's not much to know." Bella refuses to take a sip of the wine. I'm sure she thinks Alice has poisoned it.
"I couldn't help but overhear that you're from Forks."
"We went to high school together, didn't we?"
"We were in the same grade."
Alice's smile is real, her mind silent. She's blocking me. Whatever she's getting at, she's setting it up for a grand reveal.
"I apologize for not recognizing you, Bella."
Bella shakes her head. "No, I completely understand. I don't look like I used to."
"No," Alice disagrees. "Your eyes are the same."
"Yeah, I guess."
"Did you always live in Forks?" Alice asks the question with her eyes boring into mine.
"I was born there, but my mother left with me when I was a baby. I moved back later, to live with my dad."
Like a detective closing in on her suspect, Alice's eyes narrow and light up. "And when was that exactly?"
"Um, early 2005…" Bella darts her gaze back and forth between Alice and me, confused.
Alice gapes at me. It was her. All along. Both visions, she was always the girl. Your girl.
Aloud, she says, "I knew I was right about you, Bella."
Alice seems sincere when she adds, "I wish we could have been friends back then."
Dumbfounded, Bella only nods.
When Alice turns her stare back to me, her face is a mix of redemption and loss. "I should get back to Jasper."
She backs out of the room, her head bowed. I'm sorry, Edward.
I'm unsure whether she's apologizing for her earlier, shrewish behavior, her current bizarre conduct, or the fact that she never really saw enough to make her premonition come into fruition. Something tells me it's all the above.
I turn back to Bella, who's watching me like I'm nuts. "Care to explain what that was all about?"
I can't tell her the truth, that in some alternate reality, I either killed her or married her or possibly both. Instead, I say, "I'd like you to stay."
"Well, if you can guarantee your sister didn't slip any roofies into my merlot, then I'll at least stick around until I can polish off the bottle."
"That's not what I mean," I cross over to the couch and sit beside her. "Stay in this house, for as long as you like."
We both know I mean as long as she can, as long as she lives.
She shakes her head. "Don't be stupid. I don't belong here."
I place my hand on hers. When I look closely at her, I can see the shadow of Bella the girl, Bella the optimist. When she smiles, I can sense that maybe once she didn't have such a hard time trusting people and didn't always hide behind snark and bitterness. Once I really start looking, I can believe in what could have been.
Finally, I answer her, "Yes, you do."
"You don't even know me. I don't think—"
"We'll discuss this tomorrow."
I plan on saying that to her every day, convincing her day by day that she can stick around here, around me, for just a bit longer. It may be too late for us in the grand scheme of things, but I can be with her for as long as we still have.
"You're entire family is pretty fucked up, Edward. Present company included." There's no insult behind her words because Bella is smiling when she says them.
"I'm well aware."
She sighs, and I hand her the lighter from my pocket. "Care to stink up Esme's living room?"
Whipping out another cigarette, she's glowing as she tells me, "You know, I think a handful of decades ago, in another life, we could have really been something."
My kiss—likely our first, last, only—lands on the wrinkled, papery skin of her forehead. "I think you're right, sweetheart."
~ FIN ~