Four


2003

And it is such a mistake to have her here, lying on my bed, nose buried in my notebooks, scratching out the names of albums that have accompanied us to now, in the dim light of October, far away from each other. It is such a mistake to be near her now, when I haven't touched her in months. Longer than months.

"Are you sure about 'There Is A Light?'" she asks, flexing and un-flexing her calves.

"Yeah, of course. Why?"

She shifts and sighs, rustling her white dress. "I don't know—it's a little weepy. '87 wasn't weepy."

"Not for you."

"This is where I should say sorry, but I'm not going to."

"You don't have to," I tell her, drumming my fingers on the chair to which I made a necessary relocation. "And it's not weepy. All the things about houses and homes, driving out into the night—that's us."

"Well, the death wish. That's you."

"Right. Remind me—who threw themselves of a cliff that afternoon? You're just as bad as I am." Rose puts her thumb in her mouth and scrunches her nose. She's wondering how I knew, that irrational concern she has about keeping secrets from me—she still wants the right to it, to hide things that don't matter from me. "You, um… the salt on your lips and I heard you sneak out."

She looks down immediately, and reaches for the first thing she can lay her hands on—the pen she was writing with. "Right, whatever." She returns to making her mark on my possessions, writing The Smiths out in her flowery script. We should keep separate notebooks for this—that, at least, would keep her out of my bedroom—but we have volumes upon volumes now, and it would be impractical. But her crawling over me in the night to get to the blank pages of the books in my nightstand… it's untenable. Her justifications ("I thought of a new one—I didn't want to forget") when I've been lying there in the dark thinking about God what else—they make me ache.

"You can have The Smiths if I can throw some Stars into this situation," she says, glossing over the implications of our conversations the way she straightens the covers.

"Are you thinking 'One More Night' or 'Sleep Tonight?'"

"Oh please, Edward. 'One More Night' isn't '87, it's '01." A whistle of breath. It's this thing she does—she sucks the air back in, as if attempting to rewind these few seconds and recapture the words before they crawl through my ear canal into my head. I can tell she wants to dive in after them. "Mm, Canada was fun, wasn't it?" she says.

"Uh, yeah." Canada was torture. Rose thinks our road trips are fun, but she could make me crash the car with a look, and our excuse felt flimsy even though it was true. Rosalie here wants the new Stars album, and she can't wait the whole six months for it to come out here, so I'm going to drive our little princess to Vancouver. With any luck, she won't become infatuated with the rearview mirror on the way there.

"Don't act like I made you come with me—you wanted your little indie leg up on the Seattle set too," she grins, rolling over, arching her back into my bedspread. The smile I had planned is interrupted by her dress and her legs and her skin and God, God, God—"What is your deal, Gloomy Pants?" she snaps, eyes up at me. "You're totally the Sullen Cullen today."

Inhale. "Have you been working on that long? It's cute."

It's important to acknowledge Rosalie's snarkiness from time to time, or else she begins to complain that I'm ignoring her and that we're fading.

"Thanks—I thought you'd appreciate it. But seriously. Consciousness? Have you heard of it? Practice it."

"Rose, I'm going to go… hunting. I'm going to go on a hunt," I say, rising from my chair. Sunset wanderings have become habitual, sometimes resulting in a dead deer, other times not. I've got her convinced that I've recently developed an unshakable thirst, which can only be slaked by near constant trips to the woods—a thirst that inspires in me so consummate a selfishness that I must hunt alone. She's pissed about it, but she accepts it. And lately, she's as wary of our history of nature walks as I am.

"Fine. While you're gone, I'm going to rearrange your CDs in order of weepiness, and when you get back, we're going to discuss why Muse is not the answer."

"Muse is not—" I stop myself from launching into this debate again. "I'm leaving. I'm gone."

xxx

The effort it takes me to tear myself away from the doorframe is unsettling. The moment I'm across the hall, down the stairs, out the front door, I sense it—the way a sudden temperature shift feels as you leave the heavy air of a stuffy room, sensations I don't encounter anymore—I feel the weight of the frustration that is inherent in time spent with Rosalie. I want to throw her out of my bedroom, out of the window, into bed, my arms around her, myself off of something steep. I want, and that is all I do, and she speaks and I strain to listen only to her words, never crossing boundaries constructed in haste those months (now years?) ago. It's only when she pries into my mind with her thoughts (they feel like challenges, every one)—convince me—that I betray this distance of ours.

Emmett is strolling up the front walk, and God, this feels convenient, but I don't mean to leave the moment he returns. It's not about her. I wonder if she was joking about staying up in my room, and if it's normal for her to be in my bedroom alone or at all, or if we're supposed to be fighting, and how this seems to everyone else. She'll say she's doing it to infuriate me, and I will return and be infuriated, and we won't speak for a week. That will either be an excuse that she's constructed or that I have, and I won't know whether we should thank each other or curse ourselves.

"Hey," Emmett says, with that easy smile. But, of course, for him nothing is different after dark.

"Hi," I reply, shoving my hands in my pockets. "I'm going on a hunt." I nod back to the upstairs light behind us. "Make sure Rose doesn't sneak into my room and glue everything to the ceiling while I'm gone?"

Emmett runs a hand through his hair with a sort of bemused grin—like he's been observing the indecipherable antics of a foreign species for so long that their actions, while inexplicable, are familiar. Comforting, even. "Man, I don't know why she feels the need to screw with you all the time. Different senses of humor or something, I guess. I'll keep her out of your room."

I want to grab his hand, extract a blood oath to this effect, but I nod and continue walking, shouting "see you in a few" at his retreating back.

He is going home to his wife. That thought still impresses me somehow. She is his, she belongs to him—though Rosalie would object to these terms, adamant that she belongs to no one because Rose speaks in negations—never promise you anything, never pursue anything, I've been encouraged never to feel anything. Every new no speaks to yesterday's no and the sequence of denials from decades ago. I don't, I never, and almost never I can't. Two of the many words Rose holds in the pit of her stomach. In the pit of my stomach, in the back of my throat: Wife. There was almost certainly a time when that concept meant something to me.

I'm not thirsty. That was something else. I veer away from the woods and onto the road, walking with an aimless certainty until diner lights sneak up on me. There's this Norman Rockwell painting that Rosalie despises, and it reminds me of that. Nighthawks. Some bored redhead at the counter, making idle conversation with some well-dressed guy with a head full of such ideas, and some shadowy character off to the side, reading between the lines of his palms.

I think I'll sit down for a while. When Rose sneaks off to Madonna concerts to feel what's felt by the youth she's supposed to embody, I sneak off to run-down diners to feel all the intangibles.

Tangibly: sticky counters, dim and flickering lights, grimy napkin dispensers, and waiters with surly faces, stuck working the night shift. This place is filled with late night stragglers—college students and truck drivers, whose lives begin now, in the small hours. I slide into a booth, counting the minutes until one of those surly faces turns towards me.

"What can I get for you?"

"Um… a black coffee." The waiter looks at me expectantly. "That's it."

He wanders away and my attention wanders across the yellow lights and tables painted to resemble wood to the booth in front of me. A girl, maybe nineteen or twenty, in a grey sweatshirt whose sleeves swallow her tiny hands, curly brown hair, glasses. She's beaming. "I can't explain it," she says, directing her joyously trembling voice towards the angular blonde across from her. "I just… this is going to sound so cheesy… but I've never felt this way before."

I sense from the slight tilt of her head, the twitch of her left cheek, that the blonde has delivered some variation on a smile in return—no teeth, but maybe an upturned corner of her mouth. She is silent, and then, flatly: "I bet."

"We've known each other for maybe four… five days. But it feels so much longer than five days." She pushes the sleeves of her sweatshirt above her elbows and reaches for the sugar shaker. "Like, I fell asleep at his place last night—" Here, she pauses, perhaps registering a reaction. "I fell asleep at his place, and like, I was so comfortable sleeping there, you know? And normally I would have been worried, right? But I woke up in his arms, and I wasn't even fazed by it."

"Wow," whispers her companion. A mixture of genuine emotion and the same flatness from before, either muted feeling or artificially amplified.

"I know. I know," says the brunette, pouring sugar into her coffee. "I've just. I've just never felt anything like this before."

The blonde rakes her hand through her hair, puts the thumbnail of her free hand in her mouth, and slouches forward in the booth. "Yeah. Me either."

The brunette continues, confessing to confessions never uttered aloud before ("You know I never let anyone read my poetry, right? But he was so supportive"), the blonde nodding along. The girl in the grey sweatshirt explains: the sudden need to pour life stories into each other's hands, the habits and tendencies even secret to herself that he has discovered and elected to love, an accelerated attachment outside of control (but no desire to control it), the kind of I don't want to slow down feeling she's only ever seen in romance novels and foreign films. Un coup de foudre. The jokes constructed for two are translated for a third party, and the effort to communicate this overwhelming nascent feeling is unrelenting but only minimally successful. The blonde's line of sight appears to be askew, aimed at her friend's ear, or maybe her shoulder. She alternates between her whispered wow, mumbled affirmations, and who am I to say…

I am not conscious of my rapt attention until the brunette stops speaking. "Wow. I'm sorry. I've been talking about myself this whole time. What's going on with you?"

"Oh, nothing," the blonde replies, her voice very, very small.

Her exhale creates a vacuum, and it feels familiar. I've never felt this way before either. It was something I'd designated as impossible or unattainable, reserved for great artists and thinkers, those capable of great feeling. Shelley must have felt this way, Debussy surely—this is something that Bronte understood, Nabokov, and Morrissey. I have gone about it backwards, reading the literature to develop a knack for the feeling, anticipating that one day I will have the opportunity to surrender to this insurmountable feeling and that I must study for it. But I doubt this nineteen year old has read one line of Shelley, gives a damn about Debussy.

Whatever I can say about Rosalie and I, we did not fall into this. It did not overtake us. Not at first, not for a long while. This is not to say that it does not, but rather that it did not—she danced around my mind for months in an uncertain way, we broke branches in fumbling ecstasy for years with no acknowledgment, she fled from me and I from her, and we returned to each other in hazes of desire, but our descent into love was not steady. We were unaffected by gravity. We did not pick up speed or accept the conventions of direction—we began to fall for each other and struggled against physics to avoid it. Rose and I, we were a fight, not a freefall. We still are. It is not safe otherwise. We would hit the ground.

So I have never felt this, what this wide-eyed brunette describes. Feeling yourself slide perfectly, frictionless, into place beside another person. If Rosalie and I were ever pieces of a jigsaw, we've thrown the puzzle pieces across the room in frustration so many times that the cardboard has frayed, irreparable. We fit, we cannot fit otherwise, but it will never be easy.

Easiness and thoughtlessness, I feel that yearning in her constantly, for this simplicity. She sneaks out of the house to look for it, she finds it in the way Emmett looks at her, and if I remember the outlines of her old thoughts correctly, she was jealous of him for it. Rose tries to love the way she is loved, but she cannot love Emmett the way he loves her, because she cannot understand it. I feel both satisfied and grief-stricken every time I realize this.

Well, we're destined.

Well, we're broken.

xxx

He is in his handwriting, so I'm looking at his books. Our books, technically. Because Edward is a pretentious jackass who can only walk if he follows in the footsteps of Hemmingway, he only writes in those slim black notebooks that "artists" in Parisian coffee shops carry. One of their pleasing attributes (granted, not ten-dollars-worth of pleasing) is the lack of lines—they accommodate both my script and his, in their varying slants and sizes. I'm flipping through the notebook for '93, which is suddenly ten years ago, remembering with a guilty smile the beginnings of my Liz Phair Manifesto, nights when I made Edward take me out to really shitty diners and buy me sodas. ("Rose, you can't drink soda." "Sure, I can. It'll just be uncomfortable. Tonight you're going to write me letters and buy me sodas.") I listened to a lot of Hole, some Beck, a little Harvey Danger, and Edward became obsessed with his Radiohead. And sometimes, in those diners, we would hold hands.

"Rosalie?" It's Emmett's voice at Edward's door—asking for me. I leap off of the bed, shove the notebook under Edward's pillow, and run to the door.

"Yes?" I answer tentatively, hand on the doorknob.

"Rosalie, stop messing up Edward's stuff," he yells through the door.

Why does everyone always assume I do that?

I throw open the door. "I am not."

"Babe, why are you in here?" Emmett is giving me that "you are such a handful" look, which he must realize will never dissuade me from my premeditated actions, because I love being a handful.

"I am doing him a favor," I reply, dragging my foot back and forth across the floor. "You know the kind of music he listens to. I'm just doing a mild reorganization."

Emmett chuckles. That smile. It's more or less everything—there's no decoding those dimples, when I amuse him, it's all over his face. "If you bury his stuff in the backyard, he'll just dig it up," he says, and I take such offense to this. I would never be dumb enough to bury Edward's bad music in the yard.

I raise my hands in the air. "Do you see dirt underneath these fingernails? I'm clean as a whistle, baby."

"Okay, Rose," Emmett says, sweeping me into his arms, lifting me off the ground. I adore this, this gravity-defying nose-bumping we do every so often, the lead-up to the laughing, the nuzzling, the kissing. It's like being in the best nineties romantic comedy ever, and the credits never roll.

However, when the credits rolled on one of my many favorites—Alicia Silverstone, and plaid, and a Jane Austen backbone, and how could you ever deny the perfection of Clueless—I nudged Jasper in the ribs and said, "Right, but seriously, does that ever happen?" Jasper snorted. "He's her brother." And I punched him in the arm. "Not technically! But I'm serious. You're supposed to get backhanded in the face with love and then it's supposed to be like gooey happy snuggling for the rest of your life. Problems solved. But that doesn't really happen." Jasper turned to me, confused. "Doesn't it?"

My feet have found the ground again. "Mm, why are you putting me down?"

"Midnight football with Jas—I have to go kick his ass," he grins.

"So fun times with violence. Awesome."

He kisses my cheek. These are the gestures my mind saves, the ones I hold up to lyrics to say I have had this too. "I'll be back in an hour, tops."

He will be back in three hours. Super strength meets trained Confederate soldier will never take less than sixty minutes. I muster a passive aggressive "fine."

"I'm not kidding, babe. Do not rearrange his stuff."

"Not an issue," I say, following him through the threshold, shutting Edward's door behind me. It's all his.

xxx

I return home to find my Coldplay CDs in the trashcan, and I almost laugh at which promises Rosalie does keep. I fish A Rush Of Blood to the Head out of the bin, dust the pencil shavings off of the cover, and inspect the liner notes—shocked that Rosalie hasn't either taken a red pen to them and mercilessly satirized the lyrics or simply blotted them all out. I think she may be developing restraint. Turning to face the shelf that houses my music collection, I find that—dear God—she's un-alphabetized everything.

Christ.

I turn off the lights, strip off my shirt, and climb into bed. It's a ritual more than anything else. I'm obviously not tired (though there is a certain internal pressure building up inside my skull), but I imagine that with enough concentration—something like meditation—I can stop thinking, stop hearing others' thoughts and forming my own, and feel some sort of genuine peace.

However, there's a certain jabbing in my skull. I reach behind my head, fingers exploring in the dark the space underneath my pillow before grasping the smooth edge of one of our notebooks. It's 1993. The first page, in the bottom right hand corner in Rose's faint script, reads: "Happy sixtieth, bastard." She is constantly in the margins of my verbalized and non-verbalized thoughts; my notes on Pablo Honey are everywhere interrupted by " 'your skin makes me cry' is a new low, Edward," and occasionally those urgent insistences of hers—So Tonight That I Might See is us forever, write that down, don't forget it. Foolish nights spent staring at the ceiling together to a soundtrack of Mazzy Star.

I close my eyes and I am there. Rosalie whispering, " 'I want to hold the hand inside you,'" and I am already leaning into her, she is already pressing against my chest, as if asking me to make room for her. Skipping over verses to get to what I need to say, me replying: " 'I think it's strange you never knew,'" knowing that I have let my heart collapse for decades to create a space for her. She's…

Here.

She notices me blinking at her and looks mildly put out. "Why aren't you meditating?"

"Because you're on top of me."

She smiles, not making the slightest effort to move. "Yeah, but what does that say about your concentration?"

"Rose…" In so many ways, she utterly exhausts me, and her presence here does nothing to ease the panging concern in the back of my mind—how often I think about her, about us, how often I dissect our interactions, worries that I am inherently unsatisfiable, the falling missing from our love, and how often we lie in bed analyzing this tangle of limbs we've become. This is not the kind of love in love songs.

She rolls her eyes. "I'm just here because—"

"Why? Because you want to add Interpol to This Is The New Year?"

"Like I would come into your bedroom to playlist 2001…" she quips, and then, startled: "What did I say about reading my mind?"

"What did I say about staying out of my room?"

"Well, when I'm in your room, you normally don't say anything."

My body moves as if I am disconnected from it. I reach up towards her, take her face in my hands, and we are suspended like this for what feels like hours.

Finally: "We agreed," she whispers into my mouth.

"I know."

It's this torturous hesitation—we gave up on our retreat and advance battle strategies several wars ago, and now we stand on opposite sides of a wide-open field, daring each other to fire the first shot.

I can't stop myself from peering into her head for stolen hints (forward march, about face, at ease?), and this is why I stopped listening to Rosalie's thoughts. It was not that she asked me to, begged me to, it was not that rooftop conversation two years ago, it was this reliable effect, the sheer force of her mind erasing all the thoughts from mine. There is only one word running through her head right now, the same syllable over and over and over and over, pulsing through her brain and suddenly my skull: now. Now, now, now, now.

Now we collide, my hands to her shoulders, her lips to my skin, legs tangled in legs, and it's been so long.

xxx

It's been so long that I cannot feel anything but rapture at lying next to her, despite the impressive succession of swears in her head, her mental repetition of "I should not be here" and "you must stop doing this to him." It's only after the pleasure leaves my body and she walks from the room and diner lights fill up my mind's horizon that her now drains from my consciousness and I realize:

I have to move my bed up to the attic.

xxx

Diner Lights

"Obstacle 1," Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights

"Jigsaw Falling Into Place," Radiohead, In Rainbows

"In My Place," Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head

"Fade Into You," Mazzy Star, So Tonight That I Might See

"Why I'm Lonely," Harvey Danger, King James Version

xxx


A/N: Oh, you have no idea the mood I had to get into to write this chapter. Review and get me out of it?