This story was written for the Love or Life contest on Twilighted. It is still awaiting validation there. It was co-written with SweetVenom69 and beta read by PTB betas Akai_in_story and
Itsang. Thank you for your help. Note: this story is reverse chronological. Hopefully that's as clear as it was intended to be...
Rosalie sat in her rocker on the veranda at Golden Acres nursing home, an orange tabby cat on her lap, as she tried to remember how she had gotten here, gotten to be an old woman. She recalled how it all started after the birth of Reneesme, but before the child had finished growing. It was some time after the youngest of the Cullens took a trip to Brazil, but before she started dating Jacob Black. Rose had had to judge time by Nessie back then, because nothing else in her former family ever changed. Well, Bella joining it was a change, but after that moment, Bella stopped changing too.
But it was all so long ago, so hard to remember now.
Rose stroked Dawn's ears and stared out across the garden.
"Mrs. Brown? Can I help you? Do you need anything?" a young woman asked, approaching Rose quietly.
"No. I'm fine, dear." Her voice was no longer musical and sweet, but raspy and frail; just as she was. Her wispy, gray hair was pulled in a tail over her shoulder and the fingers playing with Dawn's ears were knobby and arthritic. Her worn out wheelchair was at her side, at the ready to move her delicate body anywhere she wanted to go. She barely remembered the vain vampire she had once been, and she certainly wouldn't see anything resembling her if she looked in a mirror today.
Several families were gathered in the garden. Rose watched another resident of the nursing home receiving a hug from her great-grandson. The little boy had dark curly hair and dimples in his cheeks.
"Emmett," she whispered, tears welling in her milky blue eyes. Dawn clawed at her skirt, mewling, trying to draw her mistress's attention, but to no avail. "Why did I leave you?" Why had she doomed herself to a long second life?
Rosalie leaned heavily on her cane. This would be it for her. She couldn't keep dragging herself around like this. She couldn't take care of herself properly anymore and needed to take her son, David's advice and move into that damned nursing home.
She had fallen and broken her left hip only two years after the right. Her late husband's pension had covered the costs, but left her with little extra. Steven was never one for investing their finances. Her own savings were meagre, but enough for several years. She sighed at the thought of living alone.
She hated the thought of not being able to take care of herself, but who was there to take care of her? No one now. Jillian, her granddaughter, had been her companion, her roommate, for the last two years. Rose didn't need much help; she just couldn't keep an apartment on her own. Jillian had wanted a cheaper place to stay while she went to school, and it had been a perfect arrangement. One that was cut hideously short.
Rose's black wool blazer blocked the gusty wind, but her hat flew off her head. One of the younger men across from the grave-site caught it and brought it back to her.
"Mrs. Brown? I am so sorry for your loss." She had heard those words so many times, not just today, but before, years before, and years before that. Her loss. It was always her loss. Did they have any idea just what she had lost?
"Jill spoke often of you. She said you were the hippest grandma around." He smirked, and Rose gasped at the dimples in his cheeks.
"Emmett," she whispered and then took her hat gingerly, settling it on her head. "Thank you, young man." She turned to go; she had packing to do.
"Really, Mom, I'm going to be fine," a middle-aged David promised Rosalie from his hospital bed.
"That's what your father and brother said," his mother snipped. "Why should I believe it from you?"
He laughed, tipping his head back. For a man on cancer treatments, he was in amazingly good spirits, much better than his aged mother. "Because I got your stubbornness, of course! Nothing's going to beat me. Certainly not some little tumor. Look at Jilly over there," he nodded to his sixteen year-old daughter reading a text book in the corner. "Does she look worried? You need to look after yourself, Mom. You already broke one hip. I don't like you living alone. If you fell again, who would be there to get you to the hospital?"
Rose ground her teeth, but didn't have a good argument for that.
"Really, Mom, you should look at some of the homes. Most of them are just apartment complexes with nurses. Nothing much different than where you live now."
"I don't need a home," Rose replied in a gruff voice.
"Is Daddy pressuring you about that again?" Jillian chided. "I already told you, Dad. I'm going to Penn State when I graduate, and I'm going to live with Grandma. She doesn't need a home." Jillian never backed down from her father, something she'd learned from her mother. Sadly, Liz hadn't backed down when life took David in a new direction either. They were still on good terms, but Rosalie didn't really think of her as a daughter anymore; too many years had passed.
Rosalie was thrilled that Jillian had decided to stay with David, especially in the last few years as he went through treatments. She reminded Rosalie of Bella when she was human, looking after herself and her father and not begrudging any of it. Rose looked forward to having the girl to herself in a few years.
"Mrs. Brown?" a nurse asked from the door. "Mr. Brown? It's time."
"Good luck, David," Rosalie kissed his forehead and smoothed his flaxen locks as she had when he was little. The few grays were lost amongst the gold.
"We'll be waiting, Dad," Jillian told him, kissing his cheek.
Rosalie and Jillian sat together in the waiting area, discussing her coursework while they waited. Rose was laughing as Jillian waxed on about her science teacher burning his tie during a demonstration, when they were interrupted by a man in a lab coat.
"Mrs. Rosalie Brown? Miss Jillian Brown? I'm afraid I have some bad news."
Rose's heart sank. This wasn't the first bad news she had gotten and it wouldn't be the last. "David," she murmured. Then another name came to her lips, "Emmett."
Rosalie stood looking at the headstone. The one with her name and fake birthdate on it. She knew, when she made her decision, that she would die, but she didn't expect to see the evidence so soon.
"Damn you, Steven," she shouted at the grave. "Why in the hell didn't you tell me your stomach was bothering you? Appendicitis! Could you have died from anything more preventable?" she raved.
"Easy, Mom," David murmured, putting an arm around her. "He didn't know either. It was sudden."
Rose hid her face in her son's chest. "How could he leave me, David? We were supposed to live happily ever after. That was the deal."
"You did, Mom. This was just as long as his after was," David rubbed his mother's back.
"Grandma?" the little girl at his right said. "Are you okay, Grandma?"
"Oh, Jillian," Rose sniffled.
"Jilly, Grandma's just sad that Grandpa went away," David tried to explain to his seven year-old daughter.
"I'm sad too, Grandma." The little girl lifted her arms, and Rosalie knelt to wrap hers around the small frame. She breathed in her granddaughter, her only grandchild. Why had Jonah had to die so young? He should have had babies too. And David. If Liz hadn't left him, they would have had more. She clutched the girl, stroking her light brown hair. It curled like her father's, though was the shade of her mother's.
"Thank you, Jillian. I love you." She sniffed and released the girl, straightening. She glowered at the headstone again. "So, I understand that it saves money to have my name on there, but really, does Rosalie Brown need a headstone so soon?" she asked no one in particular.
David laughed and it made her chuckle. "No, Mom. You're not going to have a date on the other side of that for a long time. I'm kinda glad you were able to get the plot next to Jonah though."
Rose snorted. "Please. We bought it at the same time. I just wish..." Her words choked off.
David patted her shoulder. "Jilly, why don't you go see Auntie Violet?" She was one of Steven's nieces, not really Jillian's aunt, but a cousin. Living in Pittsburgh, she and Steven hadn't kept in touch much with his family. Jillian had only met Violet a couple of times, but she wandered off quietly. "Come here, Mom."
Rosalie let herself weep in her grown son's arms. David smoothed his mother's long gray braid. "I know, Mom."
"She never got to grow up, David. Why?"
"Sometimes things aren't meant to be. Annie must have been needed somewhere else."
"Save it!" Rose spat, recognizing the anger in her grief, but not wanting to fight it now. "I don't want any of that Karmic nonsense. She was a baby! She was my baby!" Rose fell to her knees, not wanting consoling anymore.
"I'm sorry, Mom," David said kneeling and kissing her. "I'm going to get these people out of here, okay?"
"Th-thank you," she sniffled. "Emmett," she whispered when David was out of earshot. "Why did I leave you? Steven? Why did you leave me?" She hugged herself and rocked back and forth on her heels.
"I'm tired of burying children, Steven," Rosalie told her husband of thirty years. "At least this one got to live, but I'm sick of it."
Steven rubbed his wife's arm. "I know, Rose. We saw this one coming though. Not like Anne. We were ready, right? We said our goodbyes?" He turned his brown eyes to his beautiful wife, wondering again how he had been lucky enough to win her heart. He wasn't the first. She had told him about Emmett, her first husband. He couldn't be jealous though. He was only grateful to have her now, to have kept her through so much tragedy. She deserved better, his beautiful bloom.
"Yes, he told us he would make it through this, but we all knew better." Jonah had suffered from Lupus. He had died of complication during a renal transplant. It had been a slow, steady decline from his fourth birthday. They'd learned how to prevent his flares, how to treat them, but no one was able to fix it. They'd lived every day as though it were Jonah's last, so Rosalie wasn't surprised when the doctor's told her that he wasn't coming out of the surgery.
She turned to her remaining son, David. He was solemn, but not crying. Like them, he had no regrets, no unsaid words for his brother. They'd stopped having that problem when they lost his sister. He had been neglected, her middle child. The oldest killed tragically, the youngest requiring so much time and attention. David never complained. He look amazing at twenty-one. Easily as beautiful as Jasper, his curly blond hair reminding her of her long lost brother. How long now since she had chosen this life? Over thirty years, obviously.
It had been long since she had thought of her other family, the one she had traded for this. She didn't regret it, not really. She loved Steven, even if it was slightly less or different from how she loved Emmett. She loved her children, even the two who had never been born. Steven had been so loving, so welcoming of the new lives she desperately wanted to bear. He had quickly filled the emptiness remaining when she left her family.
She took David's hand, and he smiled at her. "I'll miss him, Mom," he said with a small smile. "But I'm glad to have you to myself for a while."
Rose chuckled. "I don't doubt that. Not long though. You'll be moving on soon, finding a new woman in your life." She smoothed one of his curls that twisted the wrong way.
"You'll always be the woman of my life," he declared, squeezing her hand. "Even if I get married and have six girls of my own, you'll be the first and last woman of mine." He grinned at her, cocky as ever.
She chuckled. "No wonder you're a lady killer," she told him, hugging him. "Charming as your mother," she teased.
David hugged her back. "I learned from the best. More flies with honey, right?"
"Right," Rose agreed. "I love you, David. I wish I'd been..."
"You stop right there," he commanded, pushing her away slightly to meet her eyes. "You were always here for me, Mom, and you were always there for Jonah. Don't beat yourself up because he needed you more than I did. When I needed you, you were there. When I came home crushed because Cindy didn't ask me to the dance, you listened patiently to my whining. When I didn't make the baseball team, you came to school and demanded the coach give me some sort of training so I'd make the cut next year. When Jeff moved away, and I thought I'd never have a friend again, you played with me and introduced me to Don. Do not for a moment think you weren't there for me. You didn't have to put me ahead of Jonah - I didn't need to be."
Rosalie sighed. "When did you grow up?" she complained.
He laughed. "I blame Cindy. Heartbreak, nothing ages a man like that." He made sad eyes and rubbed the middle of his chest, making Rose chuckle again.
Steven wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulders. "You know Jonah loved that sound. He's smiling to hear it now." Steven kissed Rose's cheek and directed her away from the graveyard. David moved with them.
Rose looked back over her shoulder at the plot next to Jonah's, the one she and Steven had purchased for themselves. "We'll be back, baby," she promised her son. "Emmett," she whispered.
"Hmm?" Steven asked.
Rose shook her head.
Rosalie rubbed her stomach, knowing she'd lost two children today. "How? Why did she do that?"
Steven had no answer for her. "She was always so careful. I don't know what possessed her to run into the road.
"Bald!" David slurred from the step he sat on. He had had his third birthday, and his comprehension of words was fine, but his speech was still impaired. The specialist insisted it was just his tongue still learning. He had great gross motor skills, but his fine ones were still developing. He had trouble with his fingers too, manipulating small objects. He was asking for his ball.
"I don't know where your ball is, Davie," Steven said to his son.
Rosalie cringed. "David," she said emphatically. The boy looked at her.
"Bald?" he asked his mother. He could have been describing himself. His hair was so light it was barely visible. "Amm?" he asked next.
Steven straightened, his voice stuck. Rosalie fell to her knees beside her tiny son. "Anne is gone," she tried to explain.
"Amm, bald," the boy tried to explain and pointed.
"Oh my god," Rosalie breathed.
"Anne went to get your ball?" Steven croaked.
"Bald!" David cried again.
Rosalie shook her head in disbelief. "No, David, no ball. And no Anne either. They're both gone."
"All gone?" he asked, lifting his hands.
Rose felt the tears rolling into the corners of her mouth.
"Mama?" David wailed, suddenly afraid.
Rosalie hugged him, hiding her face from him. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry they're gone, David."
"Okay, Mama." He patted her back with a pudgy hand.
Rosalie sniffled and chuckled at the same time. How ridiculous that her baby would be the one comforting her!
"I'm so sorry, Rose. We'll try again. Annie would have wanted that," Steven said, crouching behind her and hugging wife and son together.
She turned to bury her head in Steven's shoulder, remembering one broader, larger. "Emmett," she whispered.
Steven started to pull away, but she clutched him more tightly. "No. I... I miss him too," she tried to explain.
Steven's jealousy evaporated quickly. "I know you do, beautiful. I'm sure he wishes he was here for you now." He stroked her blond waves and then his son's. "Come on, David. Let's give Mom a little quiet time, okay?"
David squealed as his dad turned him over his shoulder holding him by the knees.
"You going to be all right?" Steven asked as he rose.
Rosalie nodded, wiping her cheeks. "Eventually."
That night, it wasn't Emmett's large barrelled arms that held her, it was Steven's softer ones. She buried her nose into the crook of his neck and kissed him.
He chuckled as her hands wandered. "I didn't mean tonight," he told her.
She started to pull away, but he tightened his grip.
"No pressure," he assured her. "That's all I meant."
She kissed the second love of her life, the love of this life, and knew she could trust him to stay with her forever.
Rosalie mopped the floor of the diner. Her head came up at the sound of the bells of the door.
"I'm sorry, we're... Steven?" she asked surprised. He was drenched from the rain outside and dripping on her clean floor. She sighed, lifting her eyes from the growing puddle to his face. She had been about to scold him, but the look in his eyes stopped her. She dropped the mop and stepped toward him instead.
"What's wrong?" she asked, setting her hands to his chilled cheeks.
He shook very slightly and then settled down on one knee. She blinked in surprise, but let him take her hand.
"Rose, I saw my life flash before my eyes tonight, and you weren't in enough of it. I can't live without you. I don't have a ring yet, but I'll get one soon, I promise, just..." His brown eyes hadn't quite met hers since he dropped to the floor, now they met her blue ones, intense and fervent. "Share my life with me? Be my wife? I know I'm not much in the looks department, and I'm not rich, but I can look after you, give you the family you want."
Rosalie was speechless. The first time she had brought up wanting children, she thought she would never see Steven again. He seemed mortified at the thought of being a father. At the time, she had thought that for the best. She wasn't in love with him then, and would rather not be if that were the case. Of course, now it was too late. She was in love with the man; she just prayed she would be able to bring him around. Something had changed tonight.
"Please, Rosalie? My beautiful bloom?" he pleaded when she didn't answer.
She smiled slowly. "And why should I accept, Steven Brown, when you come without a ring? Am I some impulse decision of yours?"
"No!" he argued immediately, jumping to his feet. "No. I've... been thinking about it for months now. I just... didn't have the courage," he admitted quietly. "I thought you'd turn me down," he admitted, not meeting her gaze again.
She was only an inch or two short than him, so was able to thrust her nose under his, making him look at her, see the mirth in them. "I'm teasing you, Steven. I'd love to marry you. Why did you think I'd say no?"
"You're so beautiful. You could have any man. Why would you want me?"
It was a good question. One that didn't have a logical answer. "Because I love you."
It was the right answer. "I can't fill his shoes," he reminded her.
"You don't need to," she assured him. "You just have to fill your own." She looked down at them and clicked her tongue loudly. "And get them off my clean floor!"
He grinned sheepishly. "Yes'm. Can I walk you home?"
She nodded. "I'll be out in ten minutes." She walked back to her mop, turning suddenly. "Walk? What happened to your car?"
"I'll tell you later," he said, opening the door again.
Rosalie downed another ounce of alcohol, loving that she could taste it, she could digest it, she could get drunk. She was drunk. Well, maybe not drunk, definitely feeling the effects though.
The man on the stool next to her was ogling her blatantly.
"Like what you see?" she asked, slurring her speech slightly.
"No," he said with a smile.
She frowned. She wasn't as beautiful as she had been, but she was still stunning.
"I hate to see a lovely lady treat herself so poorly," he said.
She snorted. "What? I'm not supposed to get smashed?" she asked sliding off her stool.
He caught her elbows and held her up as she searched for her balance again. "You most certainly can do that," he told her. "But drowning sorrows, shouldn't be done alone, and shouldn't be done by one such as yourself."
"What does that mean?" she asked, irritated.
"You should have a circle of friends, if not admirers, listening to your every whim, every concern, every heartache. I don't see any here with you-such a shame."
She smirked. He was good. "What if I told you I just left my friends, my family. Ran out on the whole lot of them. Left them in the dust."
"I'd wonder what they had done to wrong you."
"Nothing," she whispered, remembering. They'd wished her well. They'd been happy for her. Even... "Emmett," she whispered. She felt tears falling from her eyes. They still felt strange.
"Come with me. I know a quieter place. We can talk." He held her elbow again, leading her.
She pulled it away roughly. "A place? Your place? Presumptuous aren't you?"
He chuckled and shook his head. "Only my place in the sense that I go there often. A diner. Please."
"I don't even know your name," she argued.
"Steven. Brown," he said, offering his hand.
"Rosalie Hale," she replied, taking it. "I'm not going home with you tonight."
He laughed. "I didn't imagine you would! If that was what you were after, you would have chosen him," he pointed to a young man cutting up the dance floor, "or him," this fine specimen was making out with a girl in a booth. "Or your bartender." The man behind the bar actually winked at her as she met his eye. Her lip curled in a sneer. "I'm here to be a friend. One you can tell all about... Emmett, was it?"
She nodded, tears welling again. "My husband," she murmured as she walked out with Steven.
"He left you?" Steven asked, incredulous.
Rosalie shook her head. "I left him. I changed too much. I couldn't stay." She broke down further, sinking onto a convenient bench.
"Maybe I should walk you home instead," Steven suggested, worried for her.
"I don't... don't have a home." She had a room rented in a motel, but she hadn't found a place yet.
He nodded. "I have a spare room. My roommate moved out a week ago. You can stay there tonight. I don't want to leave you alone. Not like this."
She wiped her face. "I'm fine!" she shouted, pulling herself from his gentle arms again.
"You are," he agreed. "You can take care of yourself. But if you're willing, I'll take care of you. You can let me do it."
Rosalie sagged, defeated. She'd been drifting for months now, never letting anyone in. Somehow, this mild-mannered, mildly attractive, quiet man had slipped in without her realizing. She wanted someone to take care of her. Someone always had. At the same time, she wanted to see to herself, meet her own needs for the first time in her existence. She looked into Steven's eyes and knew he would let her do both.
"Rosalie," she said, her voice catching. Remembering herself.
"Rosalie," he echoed, rolling her name over his tongue.
She leaned into Steven's embrace, and felt whole for the first time since she had run.
Rosalie fell to the ground, not sure what had just hit her. The old woman didn't seem anything other than human, and Rose hadn't understood her language. So why was she on her ass?
"You are not?"
What was she asking? It was English, but Rose still wasn't sure she understood the question.
"No... people?" the woman asked.
Right, this lunatic had assumed she was like all other vampires.
"No, only animals." Rose pointed to her eyes. The woman cackled.
"Then not this," she said while continuing to hack and wheeze with laughter. She plunged a knife into the ground.
Rose's brow wrinkled. What good would a knife be against her?
"Live... long!" the woman laughed a last time and hobbled away.
Rosalie blinked, wondering why her eyes were blurry. Maybe part of the fall? She rubbed them and looked at her hand. Her pink hand.
Gasping, she put her hand to her throat. She hadn't thought to listen for a pulse, but now she could feel it. Tears welled in her eyes, where none had been for nearly a century.
Was it true? Was she human?
She picked up the knife the woman had left behind and ran it over the tip of a finger. Blood welled and she laughed.
"Thank you!" she yelled in the direction of the woman. "Thank you so much," she whispered, her voice thick with emotion. What would she do with this gift? Could she share it? Would the woman even understand if she brought Emmett to her?
Emmett, the others, if they couldn't join her, wouldn't they want her to come back? She couldn't. She wouldn't. This was her chance. The life she'd always wanted. They were in town somewhere, but if she left now, Alice might not look for her until it was too late. She'd have trouble finding a human. The woman's decision to let her live might not have reached Alice either. They might think she was dead.
She would run. She would keep this. They would understand. They would want this for her.
"Thank you," she whispered again. "Goodbye, Emmett."
Rosalie lay unmoving in her electronic hospital bed, her contracted body angled toward the window. Voices floated in from the busy hallway outside her room, but none of them familiar or directed to her. She stared at the bleak concrete fascade of the building across the street, missing the lush landscape of the gardens around Golden Acres.
That was all she had left now – the few items from her life with her family and friends that had been placed sporadically around her private room at the nursing home-but she wasn't sure if she'd ever see it again.
Doctors had diagnosed her with a failing heart, and with each passing day, the outcome looked more dismal than the gloomiest day in Forks. Medications weren't effective anymore and her symptoms were worsening by the moment. At times, she struggled for breath, the oxygen flowing into her nose not able to pass the fluid build up in her lungs, and she had only enough energy to open her eyes and whisper a few words.
The nurse's aide fluttered into her room, checking to make sure Rose was comfortable and offering another blanket, but left just as quickly as she appeared, and Rose was alone once again.
"Home," she mumbled to herself against the scratchy pillowcase. "I want to go home."
The sun began to set in the sky, casting long shadows across her hospital room. The television on the wall was set to the Home Shopping Network, but Rosalie's eyes were not paying attention to it. Her focus was more on her breathing, praying for eternal sleep to take her tonight, once she finally closed her eyes. She had nothing left to live for; everyone she had cared for had died.
A deep, tender voice called her name from the hall and she opened her eyes to peer at the doorway. Her vision had diminished over the past fifty years, but the bulky shape of a man's silhouette was easy to make out.
"Who's there?" She rasped, unsure if her visitor is another doctor or the laboratory technician coming to poke her frail veins for more blood work.
"It's me, Rose."
The moment she heard his warm, tender voice, her heart sputtered in her brittle chest and she stopped breathing. "Em-Emmett?"
Before she could finish his name, his was by her side, caressing the wrinkled skin of her cheek with his icy fingers.
"I'm here, beautiful," he whispered to her.
She took a shuddering breath and reached a bony hand toward his face. "Thank you," she said.
"Thank you? For what, my Rose?"
"For letting me go."
The two sat in silence for a while, gently touching each other as if they were both made of the thinnest glass.
Emmett spoke first. "I never let you go, baby. I've watched you your whole life." Rose's eyes brightened at this news, but she didn't speak a word. "I was there when you met Steven. I was the one who slashed all four of his tires." He smiled sheepishly at her. "Alice knew he was going to be a good man for you, so I did what I could to help make your dream happen. I'm sorry your life hadn't been as joyful as I had wished for you, but I knew deep down that you were happy living your human life."
Rose smiled softly at the handsome vampire sitting next to her on her hospital bed. "I was happy, Emmett. But there was never a day that went by when I didn't think of you." She struggled to capture her breath before continuing. "I missed you so much, you know."
Emmett clasped her hands in his and brought them to his lips. "I know."
"Why did you come back to me now?"
"Because I can't stand to see you suffer anymore, Rose. You see...you chose life. I chose love. I'll never love anyone as much as I've loved you. I'm here now to give you the gift of eternal life, but not like you had once before. I mean the one you should have had a century ago..."
Rose smiled up at Emmett, whispered a breathy thank you, and rested her weary body back against the pillow. He cradled her face in his hands and softly touched his lips to hers.
"I love you, Rosalie," he said against her lips and then placed tender kisses down her chin to plant the welcomed kiss of death against her throat.