Title: Looking Back
Pairing: Alice and Bella
Word Count: 3,058
Rating: M
Summary: Alice finds a kindred spirit in Bella but can they have a future together?

Looking back, my early years of motherhood were a messy blur. I had plunged into pregnancy without any careful consideration of the enormity of it and no true notion of how much my life would change. I barely knew one end of a diaper from another when that tiny pink mass arrived in my arms after a long and confusing labor.

I loved my child of course. I loved him fiercely even when sleep deprivation was making my mind cloudy and fuzzy. Even when I was in a never-ending cycle of baby food, laundry and floor mopping. Even when Jasper strolled in and out the house, still having the best of his life before we became parents and I wanted to hate him for it. Laurie made up for the drudgery, with his baby smiles and giggles. His delight in new discoveries tempered my feelings of being stifled and smothered by the repetition needed to care for a child. I guess I just wasn't a natural mother.

And God, spare me from those over-bearing mothers who talked about nothing else but teething and rashes. I didn't need to know how many times their offspring filled their diaper or which lovingly pureed vegetable they had for dinner. No sane normal person needs to know these details. So after a while I stayed away from those baby groups and as Laurie grew older I avoided toddler groups too. It was really just him and me against the world, and Jasper too, when he was around.

That day in the park I had noticed her out of the corner of my eye. She looked normal enough but my past mistakes had taught me to just play it safe. So I didn't get too close, not close enough to get caught up in conversation or be subjected to any loud parenting from her. It wasn't until Laurie ran in front of the swing where she was pushing her daughter and I had to dive forward to pull him back that our eyes met. There was something there I recognized in myself: frustration, boredom, loneliness? Then Laurie lost his balance and face-planted into the sand and we rolled our eyes at each other in solidarity. And that's how I met Bella Cullen.

It was easy to be friends with Bella. What started as coffee became long lunches, and then nights in with a DVD. She met Jasper and I met Edward; our husbands hit it off too and we had each other over for dinner. Jasper was glad I had made a friend, a soul mate in the motherhood malarkey. Bella and I didn't need the child rearing textbooks and opinions of other mothers when we had each other. We held the same view of parenting: we loved our children unconditionally but we were not going to be martyrs to motherhood. We combined the child, the job and the home, just like the modern woman was expected to, and clung together for support in the exhausting maelstrom of it all.

Can I say when I began to think of Bella as more than a friend? Maybe it was when I saw her at the pool, her long legs dangling in the water, her rich brown hair glistening with water droplets. Maybe it was when we had stayed up late drinking wine and our fingers brushed against each other as we reached for the bottle at the same time. Maybe it was when I watched her long lashes against her cheek as she bounced Charlotte up and down on her knee, singing the same rhyme over and over again. But really I think it was just because Bella was Bella.

Sometimes in your life you meet people who touch you in ways you can't expect. When I met Jasper I knew I'd met someone who was true and good and caring and genuine. He loved me in a way I cherished, loved me in a way that was enduring and complete. His generous nature allowed me to be myself and try to be a bit more. But Bella ... I would watch as she lit up a room without even realizing it. I felt myself become lighter in her presence as if just being near her evaporated my worries and weariness. She was kind words and kind deeds. There was no meanness in her and yet she was able to make me laugh at myself with just a few well chosen words. She was one of life's listeners, able to see into the depths of me time after time. She knew the worst of me and yet drew out the best in me. Being with her made me try so much harder to be better at everything. Jasper was my rock but Bella was the joy and light in my life.

Late at night when Jasper was touching me I found myself imagining it was Bella's touch. In the dark I could imagine her long hair falling over my shoulders as she lay beside me. Her soft skin next to mine, her scent surrounding me, her fingers pressed to my arms as she kissed me. Sweet kisses, kisses that made me melt and swirl, kisses that grew more insistent and more urgent. I would imagine her hands beginning to travel over my body, feeling the swell of my breasts and hips, the dips and curves of me and my hands aching to feel the same of her. I would moan aloud at the thought of her hair trailing down my body as she moved down me, kissing and sucking hard and soft as she went. Jasper knew nothing of this and took my moans as encouragement. And I did not dissuade him, for I knew I was living in a fantasy world and I mocked myself for it all.

Perhaps things would have just continued like that forever if Renee hadn't become ill. At first it was just a few small things that her mother mentioned to the doctor and Bella didn't seem too concerned. After a few weeks it became more serious and rapidly it was a whole different situation. I held Bella in my arms as she sobbed and cried, patted her back and soothed her. I tried to tell her it would be okay even though we knew it wouldn't. But Bella knew I was telling her that I was there for her and she wasn't alone. We rocked back and forth, her head resting on my shoulder, her sobs erratic and painful, the night her mother was admitted to the hospice.

When Bella showed up on my doorstep one night, her arms laden with material and batting, her face blotchy with tears, I calmed her down and listened. She had found her mother trying to sew, trying to finish a quilt she had started years ago for Bella and never finished. Renee wanted it complete so she could pass it on, leave some tangible reminder of herself here when she was gone. But Renee was too weak now and Bella knew this was one last thing she could do for her mother. "Help me Alice, please?" she had pleaded. And I answered her yes, yes of course. So we stitched and stitched, piecing the fabric together as fast as we could. While Bella was visiting her mom I stitched alone because I wanted to, I needed to. Joining the squares together made sense to me in a situation I was scared of. It was the way to help my friend in the darkest time she had ever faced.

When it was finished Bella cried and sobbed some more, like there were only tears and no words for the feelings she was dealing with. I held her hand and no words were needed. She ran her fingers over the cotton, feeling the lines and paths made by the quilting thread, her eyes glassy as she tried to take in the beautiful pattern made by the many squares linked together. Then she folded it up and took it to Renee. She phoned me from the hospice, her voice barely a whisper. She was saying she was too late, Renee was no longer awake, no longer able to see.

"Talk to her," I said, "Maybe she can still hear you."

So Bella sat with her and told her mother about the quilt being finished and how it was something that stood for love and devotion, something to have forever and how it would be a part of their family now. She told Renee how she would decorate Charlotte's room and hang it on the wall or have it on the bed; the pinks and lilacs, the sky blues and forest greens of it would tell a story for all the years to come.

At the funeral Bella stood with Edward, her pale skin luminescent against her dark suit. I watched as she greeted family and friends, the long line of her neck exposed, her slender fingers shaking hands with well wishers. I watched as she listened to stories and platitudes about her mother and I saw her determination to find a way through grief.

The Bella I knew came back to us. In one sense it made no difference to our friendship; she could have stayed in sackcloth and ashes and I would still have loved her. But she returned; she lavished her love upon Charlotte, she listened to my indulgent moans, she delivered her one-liners which made me laugh until I wheezed.

When Edward suggested I stay the night with her while he was attending an overnight conference I can honestly say I thought nothing of it. I had pushed my feelings about Bella as anything other than my friend so deep down that I barely acknowledged them. They were like old photos you only take out of a box when you are in a sentimental mood. In the cold light of day they were nothing other than the random thoughts of a bored stay-at-home mom who had confused her love for a friend as something else. We stayed up late, drank some wine and chatted. I went to the guest room and Bella went to her room.

When I passed her room an hour later, to fetch some water, the sound of crying was unmistakeable. I pushed open the door and saw Bella lying on her bed, Renee's quilt in her arms, muffled sobs racking through her. I climbed up beside her and drew her to me, holding her like she was my child, scared by a nightmare. I told her to cry, to let it all out. Her curled-up body stretched out beside me and her arm was suddenly across my chest and clasping my arm. Her breathing steadied and after a long while she fell asleep. I slept too, holding her all night, and feeling the soft warmth of her.

When daylight streamed in the window she drew herself a little way from me and turned to me. There was something stiff and angular in her body, as if there were rods of cement in her limbs. And I just knew. I saw it in her eyes: confusion, surprise. I stared back at her, willing her to see it was all right, it would be more than all right. I just needed one chance to show her everything. I moved to touch her but Charlotte called out for her, and she slid out the bed, leaving the warm space beside me empty.

I knew nothing of loving another woman but I knew loving Bella would be easy. I knew it would be like finding an answer to a never-ending question. My mind could only think of her soft skin, pale against my summer tan. Her long arms and legs, tangled with mine. I could imagine her lips and tongue, sweet, yielding, like a secret to be uncovered. I would brush her breasts with my fingers and watch her nipples harden. I could feel the round fullness of them against my cheek as I kissed her and heard her heart racing in her ribcage. I would listen to her gasp, hear her ask for more and I would want to give and give and give. I couldn't think about touching her without having to close my eyes and seeing spots of light appearing inside my eyelids, my heart climbing up into my throat.

But she didn't know any of this. She was at the beginning of a journey I had started a long time before. Bella was on the precipice while I had already jumped.

Bella avoided me for the next hour or so, busying herself with Charlotte's morning routine. I let her be for a while, hoping she was working this out in her mind. But eventually I felt like I was suffocating with the need to

know. Her eyes were fixed downcast as I stood in front of her with nowhere for her to go.

"Talk to me," I pleaded. "Tell me you want this too."

She couldn't answer me and her silence told me everything. She did want this but she wouldn't be the person who betrayed Edward. She wouldn't let me be the person who betrayed Jasper. I told her we could find a way, some way to make this right. Her head jerked up and she looked straight at me. Her eyes said yes, no, maybe. Today, tomorrow, in the future. I will, I can't, I won't.

Seconds ticked by. I moved to her and pressed my cheek to hers, my arms around her slim waist. I could hear her heart and her breathing, jumping, anxious. I turned my lips to her and placed them on hers, softly, gently. When she didn't pull away I kept kissing her, feeling the oxygen in my lungs getting lost and yet it felt so good, like something intoxicating. Bella began to move her lips against mine and the sensation of it, her participation, was making me giddy and unearthed from the ground beneath me. I ran my tongue over her lips and I felt her lips part for me. Our tongues touched and I fought down the impulse to moan, but pulled her harder to me, feeling the soft lines of her against me. We kissed more and more until she stepped away, breaking her contact with me.

"No, Alice," she said as if she had found the simple answer to a complicated puzzle. "My future is with Edward." She stared at the floor while I glared at her, furious and desperate.

There was finality in her voice, her decision was made. I begged and pleaded but she was resolute. There was nothing more to be said. I took myself home, told Jasper I had a migraine and went up to bed. I stared at the ceiling for hours and despaired over which was worse: to have taken the chance and been dealt the cold hard slap of rejection or to protect our friendship by never saying a word, never telling her how I felt. There were no answers.

Bella avoided me for the next few weeks. We spoke on the phone a few times but it was never the same. Every friendship has its breaking point and I had propelled it through that barrier. There were only tattered remnants left of what had been strong and unbreakable before that night. Jasper made a few comments on Bella not being around much but I didn't add to them and he muttered about not understanding the complexities of female friendships. It didn't come as a huge shock when Bella and Edward told us they were moving a thousand miles away. Bella sugar-coated it by saying it was a promotion for Edward but I knew it was more than that. I knew it was what Bella wanted because Edward loved her too much to uproot her from the life she had loved. The life she had before her mom died and I ruined the bond we had created.

Saying goodbye turned my heart to marble. Bella tried her best to be bright and breezy. I knew it was fake. We promised to keep in touch all the time. I knew it was a lie.

Once they were gone I felt like a lifeless doll. I wondered why people didn't notice there was nothing in my eyes, why I was a frozen copy of my former self. I imagined myself like a wisp of smoke, ready to disappear into thin air, as I dragged myself through those first few months when she was no longer there.

That first Christmas we received a card and a photograph of them sitting outside their new house. Edward had his arm around Bella's shoulders, Bella was smiling into the camera, Charlotte was a little bit taller and more grown-up looking. I stared at that picture for long periods wishing it could tell me something, anything.

The second Christmas I sent them a picture of our new daughter. We had named her Emily Isobel Whitlock. I told Bella, in my letter, that Isobel was a family name on Jasper's side and I hoped she saw through my lie.

On the third Christmas I received a package from Bella and Edward. I opened it to find a quilt in turquoises, jade greens, soft lilacs and hints of baby pink. 'For Emily Isobel, with love' said the attached note. I ran my fingers over it, feelings the paths and rivulets of the thread through the layers. I saw Bella cutting and stitching, the quilt spread over her as she sewed. I saw the hours of work, the careful placement of each piece of the pattern, the love of someone who wanted to send me something I would keep forever.

Now when I think of Bella I think of love. I think of the love of a daughter who cared for her dying mother. I think of the love of a mother who put her family first. I think of the love of a wife who never lost sight of her husband. But most of all I think of the love of a friend who left before we could hurt the people around us. And at night, in the darkness, as Jasper touches me, I hope she is happy.