A/N – standard disclaimer
A/N2 – thanks for all the reviews, favorites and alerts; and special thanks for those of you who came back to read their HEA.
Epilogue – several years later
The Elusive Bella Swan
Driving through the gloom of the Pacific Northwest, a twisting, damp highway leads to a sleepy town called Forks. The berg itself is reminiscent of a long-forgotten past for this seasoned city-girl. People greet one another on the street, the single diner is more public house than restaurant and kids still ride bikes through the center of "downtown" without fear of traffic.
Follow the main road past the center of town and you find a mostly hidden drive just a mile away. The drive itself is a wooded, unpaved road that looks more like the path to some fairy tale witch's house. Just when you're thinking dropping breadcrumbs might not be a bad idea, the trees open up to reveal a modest looking cottage in the clearing. Grass grows here with no trees to choke out the little bit of sun. A peek near the back shows an elaborate swing set, a match to the rather rugged looking stroller parked between two Volvos in front.
I'm greeted by a miniature of my interview subject – waiflike and charming with one long braid captured under the strap of her overalls. She announces that she's Maggie, that she has a loose tooth and that I'm to follow her. She then leads me back through the house to an open, welcoming kitchen. The fridge is covered in artwork and school notices, two cereal bowls stand unattended on the breakfast bar. To my right, a tall and extremely good looking man stirs what smells like spaghetti sauce at the stove, his miniature clapped to his back, monkey-style. My escort dances out of the room on ballerina flats, calling for her mother and announcing that the porter lady is here. I'm left to assume that's me.
The man greets me with a warm smile, his green eyes wrinkling at the corners attractively. He introduces me to the monkey, a charming three year old with his father's green eyes, named Thomas. Just seconds later, my interview subject walks in...noticeably pregnant. From my estimation, probably six months along.
We greet each other like the friends we've become over the years, odd though that may be for gossip site maven and an award winning actress, and she leads me to a kitchen table set in a breakfast nook, surrounded by windows that capture all available natural light.
With a request for tea from her husband, we settle at the table together.
TD: So, Bella, let me start with the obvious. Congratulations on number three.
BS: [hand to the slight rise] Thanks, Tanya. This one was another little surprise.
EC: Don't let her tell you it was my fault!
BS: It was!
EC: Not even close, Hollywood. Two to tango, after all.
TD: Sounds like a familiar argument.
BS: He's been claiming innocence since the stick showed a plus sign, but he's wanted a third since Tommy started walking. [Her voice raises] I still say he got me hammered on purpose.
EC: Did no such thing and I resent the implication.
[A little voice asks what hammered means and both clear their throats. Both parents grin, and even blush slightly, which says clearly that whatever protests, this new life is a very welcome addition.]
BS: Anyway. Yes, a surprise, but a welcome one. Maggie and Tom are already squabbling over the gender. You're laughing...what?
TD: Nothing. Just in today's climate of Apple, Ocean, Fifi and Rocket, your children have such mainstream names.
BS: [laughing with me] Yeah, well, we decided that they'd have a hard enough time of it, growing up in the semi-spotlight, the last thing they needed was a weird name on top of it.
EC: Hey. I petitioned hard for Tibia and Fibula, but you shut me down.
BS: Damn right I did, Cullen.
EC: [setting a tea tray down on the table, complete with English biscuits] I'm holding out for this one. I still think Femur's got a nice ring to it. And it fits with the family history, so why not?
BS: Because, and for the tenth time, we're not naming our children after bones, and that's final.
[I've seen movies, read books, that try to describe the look that passes between these two people and all I can conclude is that every one of them failed abysmally. There are no words for the intensity of this gaze, the heat of which emanates off them like haze off asphalt. I end up having to clear my throat to break the moment.]
BS: Sorry about that.
TD: No, you're not.
BS: [laughing] No, I'm really not.
TD: Edward mentioned a femur having a place in your family history. You met after a car accident that netted you a broken femur, right?
BS: Yep. I got smashed up, again, and Edward put me back together. Of course, that came complete with the rod that guarantees I set off every metal detector I pass through. Makes flying so much more fun, let me tell you. Anyway, once we realized that there was more to our interactions than doctor and patient, Edward transferred my care to another orthopedist and proceeded to romance me within an inch of my sanity.
TD: Do ethics laws prohibit medical doctor and patient relationships? I thought that was psychiatrists.
BS: Legally, it probably is. We just didn't want even a hint of improper behavior, you know? Why take the risk?
TD: True. Perception is nine tenths of reality, and no one knows that better than we do. Speaking of which, at the time of your accident, you were rumored to be involved with your manager, Jake Black.
BS: Yes, I was.
TD: The same Jake that married his longtime partner last year when the law was finally passed?
BS: [grinning] The very one. I was even best man at the wedding.
TD: So your supposed relationship was all made up?
BS: Yes, though in our defense it wasn't so much a willful misleading as it was the press jumping to the wrong conclusion and us doing nothing to stop it.
TD: Was that to hide Jake's preferences?
BS: Not at all. The main reason was to give me a ready excuse from the jerks that would try and hit on me if they thought I was going to things stag.
TD: Understandable. Jake's not exactly someone a would-be lothario would want to rile. And there are some jerks of the highest order smarming around Los Angeles press events.
BS: That there are.
TD: You said Edward romanced you, but it wasn't always smooth sailing, right? Edward came to LA that one time, and then wasn't seen again for nearly two months, nor were you seen flying out anywhere. Was it too much for him?
BS: Nothing like that, no. It was more that we were two people who were suddenly given something we never expected to have and we didn't know how to handle it.
TD: So you separated?
BS: [onebriefnod] We did. I was filming Terese while my relationship with Edward was falling apart. It was probably the blackest part of my career and my life offscreen as well.
TD: I remember when that was coming out. You were uncharacteristically close-lipped about filming and gave very few interviews.
BS: Would you want to relive that sort of hell, even in the abstract?
[Out of nowhere, Edward appears. Ostensibly to check on our tea, but it's impossible to miss the hand to her shoulder, the soft squeeze of support, the kiss to the top of her head before he goes back to wherever he was lurking. However far in the past those events are, they're still some raw feelings there. I take it as a hint to move on.]
TD: No, I wouldn't. But you reconciled, yes? Right around the time Shattered premiered. You set the tongues wagging about more than the movie, showing up with a little bling on your finger.
BS: [smiling, holds out the ring for me (see inset) her skin now grown around the dual bands] That's right.
BS: Very. It was Edward's grandmother's ring.
TD: It suits you.
BS: [from the look on her face, she's caught her husband's eye again] Almost as much as the man who gave it to me
[The look between them drags on for a full minute until I finally have to clear my throat again. Bella's attention returns to me, her cheeks flushing again.]
BS:Sorry. Er. Anyway, yeah, it was rocky, but like any difficult journey, it was worth it at the end. We had some logistics to work out, how to mesh two very different lives in a way that fulfilled us both. It took a few months for him to decide which direction to go and, in the end, Edward decided against setting up practice anywhere. He worked as a set doctor for awhile, working on my films as well as others when I was between projects.
TD: You lived primarily in LA back then, but you were up here quite a bit as well.
BS: We both love this place, almost as much as my mother hates it.
TD: Hang on. You lived here before?
BS: [laughing] Yes. In a weird twist of fate, my parents lived here before I was born and I actually lived here myself for a year until my mother had enough of the rain and insisted they move somewhere in the sun. It's what drew Alice and I together at first.
TD: Alice is Alice Whitlock, your former PA?
BS: Yes, the one and only. Until she ran off to Vegas to get married then ditched me to manage her husband's fledgling band.
TD: That would be Treachery? The ones that just swept the Grammys? That fledgling band?
BS: [giggles] Well, they weren't that popular when she ditched me.
TD: Now then. Usually when you grant interviews of this sort – ones about you, not about a film you're promoting – Jake sends a list of topics that are off limits.
BS: Yes. I asked him not to this time.
TD: So I'm free to ask about Anna.
[To refresh the memory, Bella was slated for the lead in Coltrane's sweeping remake of Anna Karenina. Rumor around town was that the part would be her landmark, that it was written with her in mind. Then she bowed out three weeks before production was set to begin, sending the whole project into a tail spin as they searched for a replacement. Bella's long-time friend, TracyHughes, filled the vacancy and went on to sweep the awards that year. To date, Bella has never answered any questions about anything related to the film.]
BS: I won't even make you ask. It came down to a choice between my career and my family, and they come first with me, always.
TD: I don't understand. I mean, I know it was going to be a year-long shoot in some pretty rugged terrain, but if Edward traveled with you…
BS: It wasn't just Edward, though. I found out I was pregnant with Maggie the same day my Russian visa came in.
TD: And Coltrane wouldn't shoot around a pregnancy?
BS: No, not at all. He was very supportive and said it wouldn't be a problem, that we could shoot around it fairly easy.
BS: I have a tendency to run myself into the ground when I work. I get so caught up in the character, in making sure everything's perfect, I sometimes lose myself. It was a magic time for us, expecting our first baby. Not to mention how precarious those early months are. I wasn't going to risk her for that.
TD: Edward being a doctor didn't level that risk enough?
BS: A doctor is one thing for twinges and aches. If a real problem developed, we'd be hours from a hospital, so, no. That wasn't an acceptable risk. I chose to leave the project and concentrate on my new job of mom-to-be instead.
TD: And you paid the price for it. If I recall it was three years before you worked again. Do you think you were blacklisted for leaving a project in the lurch like that?
BS: I'm not sure, to be honest. But it doesn't matter, not really. Even knowing what I know now, I'd go back and make the same choice today as I did then. I nearly lost what was most important to me once over misguided fears over what would happen to my career if I put my personal life ahead of it. I wasn't about to do that again.
TD: How much of that factored in to your decision to move here permanently, to join the ranks of the other commuter stars?
BS: It was part of it, especially when Maggie started getting old enough to get wigged out when some idiot would jump out of nowhere and take her picture. It didn't happen often, but it was often enough that she was starting to throw tantrums about going out anywhere. Then Tracy got attacked at LAX.
TD: Right. The Stalkerazzi trial…
BS: Yeah. She was just trying to fly back to London, simple, innocent. She wasn't embroiled in any scandal, no real gossip questions – just a woman taking her son home so they could spend Christmas with her husband and his family. And she's knocked to the ground by that asshole James and separated from Jack's stroller. Then the vultures surrounded him, snapping pictures of him as he screamed, and James snapping the pictures of her as she screamed back, both in anger and pain when he stepped on her leg in the scrum and broke it.
TD: And that scene prompted the trial and now the Ten Feet law that went into effect January first.
BS: It did, and we're all glad that some good came out of that nightmare, but at the time, it pushed us to the ultimate decision to move back here for good and raise our kids in Forks, as far away from the public eye as we can manage.
TD: And the paparazzi leave you to it?
BS: Occasionally one or two show up, snap a few pictures of me at the Thriftway, but it's so boring, they usually give up and go home. If they try and ask the locals about us, or our habits, they deny we even live here. It's become a Forks pastime to confuse the reporters. Even better than bingo on Friday nights.
TD: How about Maggie, does she still flinch at going out?
BS: Not at all. We're very lucky that she didn't come away with any lingering scars from that time. Of course, it helps that the only people who take her picture now are her parents, her grandparents, and her Aunt Diane.
TD: Aunt Diane?
BS: [laughing] My sister in law, married to Edward's brother, Emmett. She's got the only photography studio in town, so she takes all the school pictures as well.
TD: Your connection to this place, and its residents is a strong one. Rumor has it your costar in Sandscapes is a hometown connection.
BS: Courtney, yes. We've known her parents for years, Edward's actually known them both from his medical school days. Anyway, Courtney's always acted, from the time she was a little girl and started putting on plays for her friends. We would meet up occasionally for coffee when I was in Forks, asking for advice, tips, help with her craft. When she graduated from high school, we had her come stay with us for a month over the summer so I could give her a better idea of the world I lived in. She ended up staying the whole summer, working as a personal assistant. Rather than deter her, which her mother was hoping for, it just fueled the dream. I don't think Amalie's forgiven me yet.
EC: [calling from the stove] She hasn't.
BS: You warned her it wouldn't work. She loses. Again.
[There's another of those looks between them – something that manages to be teasing and seductive at the same time. Again, I clear my throat.]
BS: [blushing again, and stumbles a bit at first, getting her bearings back] Sorry. Again. His fault. Anyway, yeah. Courtney. She transferred to UCLA after her freshman year, worked whenever she could, and finally got her SAG card last year. When the role came up in Sandscapes, I suggested her for the part. Nothing more. She was cast on her own merits.
TD: Any doubts anyone had that you pulled strings to get her the job wouldn't last past the first hour of the film. Her performance, and yours, still haunt me.
BS: Thank you.
TD: And now you're both nominated for Oscars and people are saying this will be the first time that one film wins both actress and supporting actress Oscars.
BS: [laughs] Well, they can say whatever they want, but it doesn't mean anything until the names are read from the envelope.
TD: After previous nominations, but no little golden guy to call your own yet, are you nervous?
BS: I'm always positive someone else will win it.
EC: [appearing behind her again, both hands on her shoulders] Because you're goofy.
BS: Stuff it, Cullen.
TD: So, Edward, since you're here. You seem to have settled well into the hectic that is a movie star's life.
EC: It wasn't the easiest thing to do, but yes, I have.
[He takes a seat next to her and you can almost watch them meld together. She settles into his side, knowing precisely where she'll fit best. His arm settles on her shoulders, fingers tangling in her hair. This is not an affectation for a reporter, this is the natural state of these two people – or one couple, I should say, because they really are more a single unit.]
TD: I remember those first pictures of you, when Bella first brought you to Los Angeles. You looked the opposite of comfortable.
EC: I was. It was, beyond a doubt, the single most uncomfortable moment of my life. Up to and including the lovely moments my wife threatened to castrate me with her fingernails alone during Maggie's birth.
BS: I did no such thing.
TD: Pictures or it didn't happen?
EC: [laughs] I have video.
BS: Don't you dare [looks around, a wild sort of panic in her eyes] Hang on. Where are the monsters? They're too quiet.
EC: [chuckles] That's because they're not here. Mom and Dad finally got here and they've "gone to the library."
TD: Air quotes?
EC: Yes. The library is the code name for ice cream. We're supposed to not notice that they come home with sticky faces and no books in sight.
TD: I do the same with my niece, though we go to the museum for cupcakes.
BS: I've heard they have the best ones.
TD: Of course. Now then, despite the auspicious beginnings, you seem to have settled into the Hollywood landscape pretty well. The last time you were in Los Angeles, for the Sandscapes premiere, you looked nothing if not relaxed, even talked to a few reporters on the carpet.
EC: It's just part of the life she leads; it took me a while, and some bumps along the way, but if all I have to handle is a few cameras and reporters who, for some reason, want to splash my dorky smile around, who'm I to get upset about it?
TD: Dorky smile?
BS: [nodding at my apparent look of disbelief – and who could blame me? The man is star quality gorgeous] And he thinks I'm goofy.
TD: Now I have one last question, one I'm sure you're expecting if your Facebook is any indication
BS: [groans] You want confirmation.
TD: If you're comfortable with it.
BS: [to Edward] See, I told you it would happen. I knew I'd mess up one day and it'd get out.
EC: Time to come out of the closet, baby.
BS: [another groan, turning to me] You're referring to what I said to Jeremy at MTV last week?
TD: Yes. He was asking everyone their thoughts on where they'd be or what they'd do when the Zombie Apocalypse started, and you commented, and I'm quoting here, "I just hope we have gravity hammers and energy swords by then."
[Side note – I had to look this up, these are weapons in the popular X Box game series, Halo.]
EC: In a word. Busted.
TD: Not five minutes later, your Facebook page was taken over by the video game crowd and, as far as I know, hasn't let up yet. The consensus seems to be that you couldn't have used those words so easily, or in context, unless you knew what they were. So...
BS: So... well. This is probably easier to show than tell. Want a look at the playroom?
EC: You should see the look on your face, Tanya. She doesn't mean Maggie and Tommy's play room, she means ours.
[I'm still confused as we walk to back through the house to what appears to be an addition to the original structure and probably the most well-equipped game room I've ever seen. Computers take up two corners of the room, two large flat panel televisions hang from one wall, each with a separate game console hooked to it. The shelves are lined with game cases, computer-based game boxes, and hundreds of strategy guides.]
TD: Good God. The fanboys will go ballistic over this. Mind if I snap a picture of it?
BS: I guess not. If I'm coming out of the closet, might as go all the way.
EC: You should also note that while I can still whip her backside at chess, I have yet to win against her on anything X Box.
TD: You play against each other?
BS: And on live against other gamers.
TD: Live? Really? So do your opponents know they're playing against an Academy Award nominated actress?
BS: [laughing again, leaning against her husband, his hand caressesing the baby bump in a clearly unconscious action] Are you kidding me? Most of them don't believe I'm even female.
TD: Begs the question. Comic Con is coming up in June, will you be attending?
BS: Another secret out. We've gone every year for the past six, actually. I'm thinking about finally doing a session now that I'm not hiding it anymore.
TD: The last six years? How have you gone unnoticed?
BS: [very wicked grin] Never underestimate the power of a fake name and an award winning makeup artist. Besides, no one really looks twice at another couple of steam punks pushing a stroller.
EC: We do have a few friends that know.
BS: They're not friends, they're a gaggle of smart asses.
EC: There are a couple of our gaming friends who recognized Bella the first year when we were at their booth. It was funny, watching the doubletake when Joel figured it out.
TD: You said you were thinking of doing a session, but the convention is mostly for science fiction and fantasy media. You've never done anything along those lines.
EC: Maybe not credited.
TD: I'm sorry?
BS: I'm out, might as well go all the way out. The guys that figured me out? Well, they run this web-based animated series that Edward and I love, that's why we were at the booth. We got to talking and they joked that I should do voice work for them. I gave them Jake's number.
EC: They about fell off their chairs, but they called Jake. I've been a part of the series ever since but under a pseudonym.
TD: You realize your hiding days will probably be over now that more will be actively looking for you?
EC: I dunno. Zafrina's pretty good. She was able to hide my identity from my own sister once.
BS: [giggles and turns into her husband's arms] That was a priceless night, wasn't it? I think Alice is still plotting revenge.
I step back as the pair share laughter and stories about their past years of working within the Hollywood landscape and finding their own ways around it. Their children come barreling in not long after with the expected sticky faces. I watch as parents are greeted and introduced, as the young girl plays with a children's game on one of the flat panels while the younger boy makes himself at home on his father's back once again.
The love between them- as a couple and as a family - is palpable and one can't help but feel they're watching another Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman – a couple that will last through all Hollywood throws at them until only time and age separate them.
And that's the end. Thank you everyone for taking this journey with me. It's been so much fun writing Bella and Edward's story, even more fun sharing it with you.
If you're so inclined, the reviewers at Rob Attack have nominated Crash into Me as a Best Golden Oldie Reviewed fiction for 2013 and I'd be honored if you'd give me a vote :)