A heart, full of joy and gladness,

Will always banish sadness and strife.

So always look for the silver lining,

And try to find the sunny side of life.

"Look for the Silver Lining," by Jerome Kern (1919)

Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any of the characters from the Saga. Stephenie Meyer is the owner of Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended. This work and the original ideas presented therein are the sole property of this author.

Many thanks to my amazing beta BelleDean as well as my lovely pre-reader BMSequestrian for their invaluable advice and support. Without these ladies, I doubt very highly that I'd be posting this story.

Mature Content: This fiction is rated (M). It contains adult themes including severe corporal punishment, domestic abuse, and detailed sexual situations. If you aren't old enough to be buying porn, you shouldn't be reading this story.

From Bella's journal

21 October 1919

We leave tomorrow on the early train for Chicago where we will meet Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle for the first time to begin our new life with them. I would never have thought I'd say this, but I will miss Carson College when we leave. I had grown fond of the routine here and the quiet. Yes, I did so enjoy the quiet. This place seemed to hold the perfect balance for Alice and me. She could socialize with the other girls while I sat in our room and wrote. It was better this way and Alice was happier.

It had been nearly a year since Mother passed during the flu. A year since we were officially considered orphans and had become wards of the state of Pennsylvania until the lawyers could settle on where we belonged. Aunt Esme, Mother's sister, was desperate to adopt us and wrote to us the moment she was informed, but papers had to be drawn up and wills settled. Leaving Carson would be more difficult than I imagined when we came here a year ago, but Alice had high hopes for our lives in Chicago. She told me that we would start over and no one would know us. Of course, Alice had every intention of finding a niche for herself where everyone knew and understood her. But I was sure no one would ever know me. Nor would anyone ever want to.

I capped my pen and put it down in the crook of my journal, sighing as I stretched across my bed to tuck the journal into my bag. Nearly all of our things had been packed away; only the small travel bags we would carry with us remained. Alice was in a temper this morning when she realized all of our fine clothes had been packed away and we would be required to wear "orphan grey" for our travels. Really the clothes were quite sensible for traveling. A serge jumper which modestly covered our knees, a black turtleneck to keep us warm, and sturdy, buckled shoes.

"We look like twins," she groaned. "Orphan twins, no less!"

"Don't be silly, Ali," I said. "We couldn't be more different if we tried."

Alice just sparkled. Even in her "orphan greys," Alice's beautiful personality shone through in every fiber of her being. From her twinkling blue eyes that always looked mischievous to her button nose, Alice radiated both beauty and poise. Mere clothes couldn't contain her personality, her most beautiful feature. No, despite her grumpiness this morning, Alice remained perfectly beautiful.

"Well, you must let me curl your hair for you tomorrow morning," she continued. "We ought to both put our hair in curlers tonight."

After setting out our schedule for the night, Alice traipsed off to spend some last moments with her friends before our journey to Chicago. There was no need for me to say good-bye to anyone. The one bonus of keeping up a silent fa├žade and never interacting with any of the girls here was that it left me with no ties to break. The only indication that I had been here for a year would be my admission and departure records.

I stood and looked around the now drearily empty room and found myself folded into the window sill, watching the October wind blow the leaves around the grounds of the college. It was an unseasonably warm day, so many of the girls were roaming the grounds in light jackets. I watched as Alice's group came into view, kicking up the leaves with their feet and laughing raucously as they went. Alice turned around and looked up at the building, completely unsurprised at seeing me in the window. She waved her hand at me, beckoning me to join her group. I shook my head quickly and motioned for her to go on without me.

I'd get cold out there without a heavier coat or I would trip over one of the many downed branches. It was safer to stay inside where it was warm. I could hear Mother's satisfied voice in my head as I watched Alice skip along with her friends. She'll catch a cold and be sick before you get to Chicago. No man will look at her then with her red, running nose. You're being smart, Bella. Practical.

Alice was never practical. Mother always chided her for being "too much." She was "too" happy; she ought to be more reserved like me. She moved "too" quickly; she needed to show more decorum. She was "too" loud; men of means did not appreciate loud women. And most importantly, she was "too" opinionated. Instead of saying yes and agreeing with Mother, Alice would disagree with her and argue. Mother would beat Alice with the strap when she did so, but Alice never learned. I hated when Mother would beat Alice, but nothing I said to Alice made any difference and I didn't dare say anything to Mother.

Despite my disgust with Mother's discipline tactics, I was privately happy to be able to please her so with my practicality. Although my appearance never pleased her because I was so plain, she always reminded Alice that I would be easier to find a match for because I was growing into the perfect helpmeet. Mother would shake her head at Alice and threaten her, saying she would be an Old Maid while I was married and taken care of. I could still see Alice sticking her tongue out behind Mother's back as she droned on about how my future husband wouldn't conscience supporting an opinionated, spinster sister. Alice always knew better; she wanted more than a "match" and she told me about it one night after Mother had taken the strap to her again shortly before she died.

I was holding a cool rag to the backs of her legs where the strap had hit her and left ugly pink welts. Alice had been arguing with Mother about going to a local social function. Mother was intent on making an appearance, despite warnings by health officials about the fast-spreading flu and its dangers. Alice told her she was being reckless which inevitably made Mother bring out the strap. I wanted to tell Alice to be quiet -- remind her that contradicting Mother would only lead to another encounter with the well-worn piece of leather. My words wouldn't come and the outcome seemed clear. Ever the obedient daughter, I remained quietly ensconced in my room until the punishment was over and I could tend to Alice's wounds.

"Anyone who is damn-fool enough to show up at that event isn't bright enough for us, Bella," Alice said through her tears. "Mother ought to know that."

I replaced the rag with a cooler one and Alice sucked in a hiss of breath. Mother hadn't broken the skin, but it still looked very painful; she would have bruises.

"Don't you ever get tired of her scheming?" Alice asked, rolling onto her side.

Seeing the evidence of Mother's cruelty written so plainly across Alice's pale skin made me wish to agree with Alice, to fight against Mother and her painful discipline. Still, the words choked in my throat and only my implied acquiescence to Mother's brutality came out.

"Mother wants to make the best matches for us that she can," I murmured.

"No," Alice said, snorting. "She wants to find matches for us which suit her. She doesn't care a lick for us."

"You don't really believe that," I whispered.

"Of course I do," she exclaimed wide-eyed. "Don't be so naive Bella, she's told you so herself. 'Marriage is a duty a daughter performs for her family; love doesn't factor into it.'"

"But that's nothing more than the truth, Alice."

"It doesn't have to be the truth!"

"This isn't a fairytale, Alice," I said, anger creeping into my voice. "We're not princesses waiting for our princes; we're regular girls. Regular girls take the matches that their mothers and fathers make for them and they make the most of them. Or do you see yourself differently?"

"I'm going to find a man who loves me, not my money or my social position," she said, her mouth set and her eyes staring out into the distance. "I'm going to find my perfect match and that's the only man that I'll marry."

"But you won't have a choice," I argued. "You'll marry who Mother says you ought to, just the same as me."

Alice reached up and cupped my face.

"I love you, little sister," she said softly. "But I won't stay here long enough for her to ruin my life. I hope you develop some sense before she marries you to the highest bidder."

I looked down at my hands in my lap, my cheeks crimson and my mind in a snarl. Alice would leave home to get away from Mother? I could never do that; Mother relied on me and I wouldn't be able to function in a world without her direction. Mother always had all the answers; I wouldn't know how to begin living without her directing my life.

But the flu had its say and Mother was ripped away from us. I cried bitterly after she died, lost and feeling more abandoned than I had ever felt in my life. Alice just stood stone faced next to me, her tiny body rigid next to my taller frame as I lost myself in my grief. She never shed a tear. I was embarrassed to admit it, but part of me was relieved; Alice wouldn't leave me now. She wouldn't abandon me.

However, without Mother, I wondered if I would ever make a match. The orphanage where we were headed wouldn't play match-maker for me; I felt my hopes of being someone's helpmeet fall to pieces at Mother's death. Alice would find someone; neither she nor I had any doubt about that. Suddenly, our roles were reversed. It seemed more likely that I would be the spinster sister because no one would play matchmaker for me.

We then received the letter from Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle promising to bring us "home" to Chicago. Alice was so excited that she bounced on the bed for nearly a half hour thinking about the opportunities a new city would offer us. I, on the other hand, was a bundle of fear and uncertainty. We hadn't lived with a man since Father died so long ago. What if Uncle Carlisle was a tyrant? What if he matched us with tyrannical men? What if I wasn't the apple of Aunt Esme's eye the way I was with Mother?

We never really knew Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle. Mother vaguely talked about her older sister who had "scandalously" married a man of her own choosing. Mother wouldn't visit them or write back when Aunt Esme wrote to her. Even though Mother was dead now, I was petrified of doing something she would have disapproved of. In fact, I heard the ghost of her voice for the first time after reading Aunt Esme's letter. I understood that it wasn't actually Mother speaking to me; it was my own subconscious. However, it sounded far too much like Mother not to frighten me. My "mother" voice was angry as it spoke in my mind startling me so that I dropped the letter on the floor. Esme will be nothing but trouble for you, Isabella. Mark my words, nothing good will come out of this.

"Whatever is wrong with you?" Alice asked me.

"Nothing," I replied stiffly, still reeling from hearing a voice so like Mother's.

"Bella, you can't lie to me," she said frowning at me. "You never could."

"Would you think I was crazy if I told you that I just heard Mother's voice?"

Alice stared at me; she looked as though she was trying to decide if I was crazy or just grief-stricken.

"We all grieve in different ways, Sissy," she said rubbing my arm and stooping down to pick up the letter. "You're just feeling Mother's loss more acutely right now because of all of the changes. But don't worry. Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle are offering us the chance at a new life! This is what I've always wanted . . ."

She broke off, looking at my trembling lip and watery eyes.

"You might not know it yet, Bella, but this will be good for you as well. Mother wasn't the best judge of what is right for a young girl; it will do you good to be away from this ideal that she's created for you. Just wait and give it a chance? For me?"

I smiled at her because I knew it was what she wanted me to do. Yet in the back of my mind I could hear and echo of Mother's voice chastising Alice for her insolence and telling me to be the good girl that she raised me to be no matter what my naughty sister did. Of course, I would be the good girl. I was always the good girl. Mother's perfect daughter.

The night before we left for Chicago, after Alice had said all of her goodbyes, she came back to our room and started setting out the things she wanted for tonight and tomorrow morning. As she set up, I hopped off the bed and strolled towards the door.

"Where are you off too?" Alice asked with a smile.

"I just wanted to see Mrs. Clearwater before we left," I answered softly.

"Of course," she said. "Don't be too long. I need to pin up your hair."

I nodded and slipped out the door. This was going to be hard for me; I had said that I didn't have any ties to break when we left. It was a lie though. It would be very difficult to say goodbye to Mrs. Clearwater.

I found her on the third floor near the laundry room stalking her prey. She was crouched to the ground and her little bottom was swishing in excitement as she watched the mouse from across the room. My appearance was enough distraction to allow the mouse time to run away, but Mrs. Clearwater wasn't angry with me. She stretched herself out and sashayed over to me, winding herself around my legs and purring almost instantly. I was the only human she tolerated and I would miss her dearly.

"That's a good kitty," I cooed to her, sitting on the floor cross legged. She found the curve of my legs and sat herself in them, butting the top of her head against my chin and making me giggle. "I missed you too," I whispered.

Yes, my only companion here besides Alice had been a cat. I recognized how pathetic it was that my older sister was leaving behind five or six close friends and the only thing here that would miss me was the third floor mouser. I couldn't see how things would have been different though. I just didn't fit in with other girls my age with their strange ideas of liberation and independence. They didn't understand me and I didn't understand them. Mrs. Clearwater understood me just fine and she listened so well, her intelligent little eyes always creasing at the funny parts and her soft head burrowing into me when I was the most sad. She was my only friend other than Alice.

I thought about trying to smuggle her away, but I had visions of Aunt Esme throwing her out of the house as soon as we arrived. I decided that it was best for her to stay here where, though not loved, she was warm and fed. Practical, the echo of Mother's voice intoned. Neither cats nor daughters need love, only stability.

I sat and pet Mrs. Clearwater until the tears were rolling down my face and into her soft brown and white fur. I scooped her up, held her close and then put her down.

"Go on." I ran my hand along her sleek coat one last time. "Get. I need to go now or Alice will come find me. I won't be back."

She looked at me, her clear eyes gazing up at me. Then she blinked once and turned around. She disappeared behind one of the washers and I felt a small fissure in my heart open up. It was ridiculous to be this sad over a cat. I wiped angrily at my cheeks and stomped back down to our room where Alice was waiting for me. She had a wet rag and a soft towel waiting for me to wash and dry my face because, like Mrs. Clearwater, she knew me.

I woke up early the next morning with a stiff neck from the curlers and the sound of Alice buzzing around our room. I squeezed my eyes shut against the coming storm from my sister, but it was useless.

"Get up, Sissy," she said, stroking my nose with the tip of her finger. "We have lots to do before breakfast. Come on, Bella, open your eyes."

I opened one eye and stared at her blandly.

"You torture me without reason," I croaked. "My hair will be limp by the time we get on the train."

She shrugged and pulled at my hand.

"Regardless, I'm doing your hair," she said, putting her hand on her hip. "And you are going to thank me afterward."

Her voice could be so forceful that, at times, she reminded me of Mother. It was a silly thought; neither Alice nor Mother would have appreciated the comparison. Still, the comparison was there and it got me out of bed. After plodding back from the bathroom, I sat grudgingly on the straight backed chair as Alice worked through my hair.

"You could be grateful," she said.

"I am," I replied. "However, I can't be as chipper as you are in the morning."

"You need to look forward to things more," she said, pulling through my hair and scooping it up and away from my neck. "You spend too much time frightened of things."

"There is a lot to be frightened of in this world . . ." I muttered.

"That's Mother speaking, not you." She cut me off. "You've never been out in the world, so you wouldn't know what there is to be frightened of."

"Don't be ridiculous, Alice," I snapped, turning my head around sharply. "Women aren't meant to be out in the world."

"Oh, I forgot, Bella. We're supposed to be seen and not heard, viewed and adored behind glass and a gilded cage, but never sullied by the interactions in the real world. Is that right?"

"You make it sound so terrible," I grumbled as she pulled my hair harder.

"That's because it is," she said flatly. "And you're a fool if you think you can be happy like that. Don't you want more out of life than being some man's pretty ornament?"

"It's what I'm made for," I answered stubbornly. "Mother always told us a woman was made to serve a man. We're not their equals, Alice. We can only hope for a man kind enough to allow us to keep house and raise children in peace. So many women don't get that! They get tyrants who expect unseemly favors."

Alice came around in front of me and stared at me.

"Honey, is that what you think?" she asked, kneeling down in front of me and taking my hands. "Do you really believe that marriage is a choice between domestic servitude or sexual abuse?"

I reeled back and away from her.

"Don't be so prudish, Bella. You know what I mean. Not every man who wants to sleep with you is out to hurt you, you know."

"But . . ." I spluttered. "Mother said . . . She told me, Alice. She told me all about the pain and the humiliation."

My face was on fire and I could feel the tears warm in my eyes as I thought back to the lectures Mother gave me about men. I thought about how she told me that my husband would expect certain favors of me that I would have to endure, but that a good man wouldn't prolong the experience. I couldn't believe what Alice was implying.

"Bella, sweetheart, you're too young to be this jaded," she said. "Can't you even imagine a scenario where you might love your husband?"

"What are the chances of that?" I asked, grabbing the handkerchief she was holding out and rubbing at my face vigorously.

"I'll grant you with your attitude and the poison Mother filled your head with, it's unlikely," she said. "But if you'll just open your eyes, Bella, there could be so much more to life than what your allowing yourself."

An echo of Mother's voice filled my head then, reminding me that there were words for women who believed as Alice did. Men called them sluts or whores, but they didn't marry them. If I wanted to be a good girl and get married someday, I wouldn't let her fill my head with nonsense; I'd listen to the sensible advice Mother had given me and I would find someone to take care of me.

Alice sighed and shook her head, going back to fix my hair again.

"I know that look, Sissy. You're not listening anymore. But someday I'm going to get through to you . . . I have to."

She worked harder and faster on my hair and I could almost hear her mind working itself through the problem in front of her. I knew that I was the problem troubling Alice right now. Unfortunately, I was just as worried about her as she was about me. What would Aunt Esme and Uncle Carlisle think of her when they met her? Alice didn't change to suit anyone. Would they think her immoral and beat her the way Mother had? A smaller voice in the back of my head whispered my even greater fear: Maybe they'll like her better than you, it said. Maybe Alice is right and everything you've been told is wrong. Maybe in Chicago you will be the target instead of Alice.

The echo of Mother's voice was so much stronger than my weak wonderings; it drowned out my worry, filling my head with vile thoughts about women who thought as Alice did. I was ashamed of myself, and yet powerless to break free of those thoughts. Alice finished my hair and I got dressed for our trip numbly. The nagging voice was still there, quietly worrying that I wouldn't be good enough for my new family. It continued to nag at me as we boarded the train that morning and plagued my mind for the entire twelve hour trip to Chicago.

I was barely able to concentrate on the passing scenery Alice kept pointing out to me. She was angry with me because I wasn't keeping her company on the long trip and opting instead to write in my journal or stare vacantly out the window. She was excited about our journey and wanted to make small talk with me, something I was never good at. She was speculating about our aunt and uncle when I started to listen to her more carefully.

"I remember Mother comparing me to Aunt Esme once," Alice said.

"Mother talked to you about her?" I asked.

"Oh, you are awake. Yes, she spoke to me of Aunt Esme frequently." Alice was smirking at my sudden interest, crossing her arms and leaning back in triumph.

I leaned forward, interested for the first time, and whispered conspiratorially to her.

"What did she say?"

"She said I reminded her of Aunt Esme. I knew that it wasn't a compliment, but it thrilled me. Aunt Esme is an amazingly strong woman."

"I heard she was brazen," I commented.

Alice snorted. "Of course you did. You only ever listened to what Mother said and never heard what she didn't say."

"Don't be cryptic, Alice. What is that supposed to mean?"

"You know that Aunt Esme married Uncle Carlisle even though Grandmother had picked out a different match for her, right?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

I nodded, remembering the many times that Mother muttered about her brazen sister as she threw out her letters unopened.

"Do you know what happened to the other man?"

"No, Mother never mentioned."

"But Aunt Esme did," Alice said in sing-song.

"What do you mean?" I gasped. "You've spoken to her!"

"No." Alice shook her head. "But her letters were fascinating."

"Alice Swan!" I whispered furiously. "Mother threw those letters out! How did you get your hands on them?"

"She didn't rip them up when she threw them out," Alice insisted. "And besides. Mother never paid attention to me unless I was sassing her. It was very easy to get what I wanted when I didn't open my mouth."

I stared at her open-mouthed; I was at once incredulous that she would go behind Mother's back in such a way and intensely curious about what she had found in those letters. Alice across from me, her little foot tapping expectantly and her smile widening. She was savoring my warring emotions even more than thrill of finally divulging her information about Aunt Esme.

"Well are you going to tell me about it or not?" I asked, annoyed that she was making me beg for the information.

She flashed over beside me, tucking her legs up under herself and grabbing my arm in a vice-like grip. Alice's energy was contagious and I found myself smiling in spite of my reluctance to go against Mother's orders. Her breath tickled my ear as she began whispering furiously about the letters.

"I started stealing the letters when I was about ten," she began, her eyes darting around involuntarily as if checking to make sure we wouldn't be discovered. "That was when Mother started becoming intolerable to me. The day after one of our arguments, I stumbled upon one of Aunt Esme's letters in the trash. I just wondered . . . I wondered if maybe Mother's comparisons were right and I might be able to relate to Aunt Esme. I always felt so alone in that house."

Her voice was so bitter. I tried to imagine life for Alice in a house with a mother who hated her and a sister who, though plain, seemed to do everything correctly. I reached over and squeezed her hand and she smiled at me.

"It wasn't your fault, Sissy," she said. "I just didn't fit in there. Aunt Esme's letters were beautiful daydreams. Do you want me to tell you about her?"

I swallowed loudly, trying to block out the remembered warnings about 'loose' women such as Aunt Esme. Part of me wanted to shut my ears to her story; nothing good could come out of identifying with her. I shook my head to clear my mind of those thoughts; I could tell how important this story was to my sister.

"No?" Alice asked disappointed.

"No!" I said. "I mean, yes, please tell me about her. I'm sorry, I was just trying to clear my head. The train is making me . . . sleepy."

Alice frowned. "You didn't sleep well, did you?"

I smiled and shrugged my shoulders weakly. "I don't know that I'll ever get used to sleeping with curlers, Alice."

"Bella, what am I going to do with you? Your hair looks so beautiful like this!"

"Aunt Esme, Alice. Please tell me?"

She giggled. "Alright, alright. She missed Mother terribly although I could never understand why. From my estimation of their relationship, Mother was positively awful to her."

"She was her sister," I said simply.

Alice squeezed my hand and smiled.

"Yes, I can see that," she whispered. "Anyway, it seemed like Aunt Esme was constantly trying to explain something to Mother. In the first letter I read, she seemed angry at Mother for not writing back to her. I realized Aunt Esme had a story she was trying to tell so I vowed to intercept every letter she sent. She wrote every three months religiously; she never missed a month."

"Did you ever find out her story?" I breathed.

"Of course, silly girl. It just took some time and piecing together. I saved every letter I read so I could go back and figure everything out. Here's what I came up with."

She reached inside her bag and pulled out a leather pouch I had never seen before.

"Alice," I hissed. "Where did you get that?"

"I took it from Mother's room one day so I could hide the letters," she said quickly. "Mother never noticed."

"That doesn't make it right," I scolded.

"Hush, Bella," she said looking at me. "My thievery was the least of what was wrong in our home. Did you know I used to imagine that Aunt Esme would come and rescue me?"

I shook my head furiously, unable to believe that my sister was so unhappy.

"Oh yes," she said, nodding just as furiously. "Mother told me all the time how it was inconceivable that I was her daughter with the way I acted; so I wished I really did belong to Aunt Esme. But all the wishing in the world didn't make life with her any better. I only wish I could make you see . . ." She trailed off, as if thinking of a way to get through to me. She sighed and shook her head. "I have all of the letters here, but I know her story by heart. Would you like me to tell you what I know?"

I looked over at the gathered letters, there must have been more than thirty letters in all. I wanted to read them. However, I wanted to know what Alice saw in Aunt Esme more than anything. I liked to think that if I were the one who Mother beat, I would still love her and respect her for trying to better me. I wondered what Alice could have seen in Aunt Esme to make her wish to live with her.

"Tell me, Alice," I murmured. "I want to hear it from you."

She smiled, clearly happy to be able to share her childhood stories with me after all this time.

"Tell me what you know of Aunt Esme," she began. "I want to know what I'm working with."

I thought back over the tangled pieces of information I had picked up over the years. There wasn't much. I frowned at Alice, annoyed at her for drawing this out further.

"I know the basics," I huffed. "Grandmother and Grandfather had a match picked out for her and she chose to marry someone else."

"Oh, so you don't even know the basics then," Alice muttered, picking at the lint on her dress as she thought through the story.

"Alice," I said a bit more loudly than I needed to. "What do you mean I don't even know the basics? Wasn't that why Grandmother became so angry with Aunt Esme?"

"No, honey, she was disgraced after Aunt Esme divorced her first husband."

I gasped. A divorce? No wonder Mother refused to talk about her errant sister. The shame the family must have felt after the divorce must have been monumental.

"It gets worse. Just try to listen to me without judging her," she pleaded.

I nodded my assent, unable to form words. I was shocked by this revelation and couldn't imagine an explanation to justify these actions.

"Charles Evenson was an older man who knew Esme from an early age. His family was friends with Grandmother and Grandfather for years and they hoped to make a match between Esme and Charles. When Esme was just sixteen, Charles, then twenty-five, began courting her. She never liked him. In her letters, she told Mother that he made inappropriate comments to her while they were courting. His attentions just felt wrong to her.

"On her eighteenth birthday, Charles asked Grandfather for Esme's hand in marriage. Grandmother and Grandfather were ecstatic; Esme was terrified. Something in her cowered from the thought of a marriage with this man. Plans were made, however, and they were married just after Esme's nineteenth birthday. It wasn't long before Charles's true nature came through. Once she lived in his house, Charles began to beat her routinely."

Alice paused, letting the information sink in. Thus far, Alice hadn't really told me anything to suggest why Aunt Esme would seek a divorce. Of course it was awful that she married a tyrant, but so often that was the lot of women. It didn't warrant divorce, only pity from those of us who could potentially share that lot in life. After a deep breath, Alice continued.

"Esme became pregnant only a year after they were married. She was devastated."

"Devastated!" I said. "Why wasn't she thrilled? It's what every woman would want!"

"Think, Bella!" Alice said angrily. "Her husband beat her. She was terrified to bring a baby into that home."

"When you say he beat her . . ."

"I mean he beat her within an inch of death several times," she said grimly. "He was not merely an overbearing husband; he was a monster. He enjoyed her pain. Don't think ill of Esme because she didn't want to bring a child into that world. She wanted a child so badly, but not like that."

I could feel my stomach churning. If what Alice was describing was true, Aunt Esme had been tortured. But to divorce her husband? It seemed unthinkable, even knowing what he did to her.

"Don't judge yet," Alice said, taking my hand. "There's more. Charles didn't stop beating her after she told him about the baby. If anything, the beatings got worse as she got bigger. She feared he was trying to kill both her and the baby. She went to Grandmother, pleading with her to help her, but Grandmother wanted nothing to do with her. She told her she was being unreasonable; she was a married woman now and not her mother's concern. Grandmother told her to go home and be a good wife.

"Esme felt abandoned. She went home and cried on her bed for hours and Charles found her there. He had been drinking and Esme was certain this was be the end. He stormed into their room, screaming and yelling at her, telling her she was a worthless and disgraceful wife. He began beating her, but it was different this time. She knew that he meant to kill her. She tried to run, but he caught her and threw her down the steps."

My hands went immediately to my stomach. "The baby?" I whispered.

"The neighbors called the police when they heard the yelling and the loud banging. They found her crumpled at the bottom of the steps, bleeding profusely. She lost the baby, honey, but she found her light that night. Uncle Carlisle was the doctor who cared for her in the hospital. They fell in love quickly and he was her strength while she went through the divorce."

"What happened to Charles?" I squeaked.

"Nothing," Alice spat. "He snuck away and hid like the coward that he was. After the divorce, no one from Esme's family would speak to her. They felt she should have forgiven Charles when he apologized and gone back with him. Esme was devastated to lose her family and her beloved sister. She hinted in one of her letters that she believed Grandmother hid the truth of what happened from Mother, telling her only that Esme left her husband for another man."

"Well that explains Mother's reaction, then!" I exclaimed. "She didn't know."

"It doesn't excuse her," Alice hissed. "She could have known if she had just opened up one of Esme's letters. Don't you see, Bella? She chose not to know."

"Alice, you're being horrible. Mother couldn't have guessed that story."

"She didn't have to guess," she said, waving the letters in front of me. "The whole story was right here. All she had to do was look, but she wouldn't even do that. It was so easy for her to walk away from her sister. I could never do that to you, no matter what you were accused of."

I hung my head. Alice was right. There wasn't a charge in this world great enough to make me walk away from my beloved sister.

"It's not all sad, Sissy. Esme found her perfect match in Uncle Carlisle. They were married after the divorce was finalized and they had a son of their own. We have a cousin! His name is Emmett and his three years older than me."

How could I have gone my whole life never knowing that I didn't have a cousin? How could I have lived thinking that my aunt was an immoral woman and not the courageous woman whom Alice had idolized for so long? I felt cheated. The tear hit my had before I even realized that I was crying. Aunt Esme's story was so tragic and yet so full of hope! The knowledge of her strength helped to beat down that echoing voice telling me to ignore the story and remember what I had been told. Aunt Esme's story, more than anything Alice had ever told me, made me question my Mother's wisdom.

But her story frightened me at the same time. Aunt Esme was like Alice. What would she think of me, Renee Swan's daughter? She loved her sister it seemed, but would she love what her daughter had become? Would she try to change me and my beliefs? Or would she accept me the way that I am?

I realized that Alice was kneeling in front of me with a handkerchief, her eyes full of tears as well.

"I know, Bella," she said. "It's almost too sad for words, isn't it?"

I nodded, wiping at my eyes and looking around. Quite some time had passed while I considered the effect Aunt Esme's story had on me.

"So you see?" Alice said, her voice pleading. "She's not as bad as Mother made her out to be. Our life isn't going to be as bad as you've been imagining."

I looked at her, unsure how to communicate the dread I was feeling about the coming meeting. I knew that Alice was nothing but excited to finally have her childhood dream come true: she would belong to Aunt Esme, her heroine. But what about me? What would happen once we stepped off the train into a world where my ideas about marriage were clearly in the minority? I wondered what I household run by Aunt Esme would be like and how they would view me.

As if she could read my mind, Alice took my face in her hands and brushed the stray curls behind my ears.

"It's going to be ok, Sissy," she said softly. "We're going to be together and we are going to be loved."

"Of course, Alice," I said softly.

She curled up next to me on the seat again and tucked her arm through mine. She laid her head on my shoulder and began to hum to me. Her melody was soothing and calm; it lulled me into a light sleep as the wheels of the train pushed us closer and closer to Chicago.

A/N: Welcome! Thanks for taking a chance on my new story. This story goes way outside the box for me. Most of my stories are canon and this is quite the opposite. After writing my o/s, An Edwardian Birthday Surprise, I felt compelled to write this larger story telling Bella and Edward's story. This story actually comes many years before the time period of the o/s. First and foremost, this is definately a Bella and Edward story. However, you should know that this won't be a Twilight re-write. I have a story outline in mind and am anticipating about 20 chapters. I hope you enjoy the ride. Please leave a review if you enjoyed it -- or even if you didn't! I'd love to know your thoughts and reading those reviews really help me to improve my craft! Thanks! ~Jen