"We're not in Wonderland anymore, Alice"
The house came into view a few miles down the road. There was nothing but trees around, capturing the house in an oasis. Simple white two-story square typical southern house. Porch along the front, a mimicking balcony on the second floor. Large windows.
The car turned off and we got out, standing idly by the vehicle.
"It's quiet," Edward noted. I nodded.
"Too quiet." There wasn't a bird in sight. I couldn't even hear any crickets or frogs.
Walking up to it, I saw an empty dog's water bowl and a few toys lying at the base of the steps. But there wasn't a dog here.
Coming across the porch, the scent of decay washed towards us. The door creaked open and closed on its own as we ventured inside. Dining room to the right, den to the left. Big ass impressive stairs right in front of us. I touched the round table in the center, gathering at least a month's worth of dust on two fingers.
"Why haven't anyone noticed anything?" Edward muttered from my side, taking in the abandoned house.
"People like to mind their own business." I started to the left, walking through the den, coming to a kitchen. Edward took the path under the stairs, coming to the conservator after the kitchen. I met up with him, finally seeing the first traces of a struggle. On the floor lay three distinctive stains. The scent was long gone. The blood had caked a while ago. Jerking my head, Edward followed my gaze.
I went before him; I come around the corner and witness a sight I haven't seen for over a century. On a quarter of a circle flower-patterned couch, sat a thirty-something woman, staring straight ahead with empty misty eyes.
Edward came in after me and saw the sight. I know he's struggling not to find it disgusting. To be honest I don't quite enjoy it myself.
"Are you sure it's him?" I nodded.
"Yep. I've seen this before." I nudge the woman's leg and her head pops off, falling onto the floor. Edward frowned in disgust. "He feels remorse. That's why he arranged her this way." I pause, cocking my head to the side, noticing her fingernails. "To make it look like he'd just found her."
"What?" Taking one hand, I hold it up, letting him see the broken off nails.
"She struggled." The hand dropped. Cuts appeared on the body, shallow but effective. "He kept her alive. Not for long. Maybe a week."
"How?" His voice was incredulous. To him a drop of human blood must seem impossible to resist.
"Perseverance." I looked for indications my little friend had made a mistake. We usually do. "He has amazing self control."
"Better than you?"
"Much," I reply with a chuckle. Understatement of the century. "But don't let that fool you. Just because he can resist the urge doesn't mean he's any less of a basket case."
"He has… issues. If you would. Not to mention an unusual reputation." Edward gave me a look. "He's called the ripper."
"As in Jack?"
"Sure. But Jack was a surgeon. Ben here is just remorseful. And nuts."
"They don't know if he was a surgeon."
"Of course not. But I do." I smirked, coming to the kitchen to look for something flammable.
"You knew Jack the Ripper?" He followed me into the kitchen, paying no attention to what I was doing.
"I've known many famous people, Edward. After a century I grew bored with pretenses and so I had non for a few years. And one day I will tell you all my stories." I found a gallon of oil in the cupboard.
"You stayed in one place for years? I have a hard time believing that." I started pouring oil over the woman and the loveseat.
"There's a lot you don't know about me. And yes. I managed to stay put for a few years. It helped when there was people around I could actually tolerate."
"Who?" I found a lighter. The couch and body caught fire. Just then, a piece of fabric left hanging over the desk chair caught my eyes. Blue plaid shirt. Man size. I grabbed the garment, turning it over in my hands. Dried blood on the front. But other than that it was clean. Too clean. I threw it into the flames.
"We need to get out."
The sun was gone by the time we arrived on the front lawn to hear the first set of windows blow out from heat. The clouds were grey and heavy. I wasn't waiting around for rain.
"What was that?"
"Dead end. He wouldn't hit this town again. We'll have to start over"
"How do we know he's even in the country?"
"He likes the south. There's enough distance between houses he can do whatever it is he wants without interruptions."
We get back in the car just as the sky opens. The grounds are turned into mush within minutes. We travel in silence for a couple of moments before Edward breaks it.
"Just out of curiosity… Who have you known?" I smirk, familiar faces flashing by eyes.
When I didn't answer Edward gaze found mine. He quirked a brow. "Won't you tell me?" I returned his stare before sighing.
"What is it you want to know? Be straight with me." He shrugged.
"I'm simply asking a question."
"But why do you care? You hate me, remember?"
"I don't hate you."
The rain grew worse and thunder vibrated the car. We were on our way to the closest bar. One thing I knew, vampires always hang out in bars. Easy prey and not many pays too much attention.
"I knew the queen," I said softly, breaking out second patch of silence.
"Of England?" Edward asked, seeming confused.
"Of France." There is a pause.
"The very one."
"How does one meet the queen?" he mumbled. I knew he meant it rhetorically but after a few minutes, I answered.
"She liked my hair." I faced him. His gaze flicked from the road to me. "There was a masquerade ball at the opera house. I went, I left. Next day I got an invitation to the chateau. I stayed around for a while before the revolution broke out. I couldn't fully leave until after their deaths. The country was much more cooperative then." I sighed and looked out the window, watching the road signs pass at an alarming rate.
"You didn't leave Paris until 93?" My eyes widened a small fracture. A mistake. "Why would you stay for so long?"
"It was impossible leave. Guards and angry mobs everywhere. I would have been exposed." He laughed.
"A discreet vampire like yourself? I don't think so. Unless… no." My eyes narrowed, tuning back to him.
"That couldn't be. Did you… did you feel bad for them?" I snorted.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do. And that's why you stayed. You actually felt remorse." His expression was genuine but I refused to admit to having human emotions. It wasn't me and it never would be.
"That's quite an accusation," I noted, sliding into bitch mode.
"Did you leave before they were executed or just after? Did you watch? Maybe you just wanted to see their heads roll off-" My hand flashed to his neck, squeezing. The car screeched to a halt. Edward gasped for air he didn't need as I let him go, sliding back into my seat, licking my lips, trying to calm down. "Hit a nerve did I?"
"Not just yet." Turning my head, I let an expression of upmost irritation and anger cloud my face.
"Drive," I said through clenched teeth.
"Did you actually like the company of humans? I thought you said they were food and entertainment."
"But they can be more?" My teeth clenched harder.
"I will rip your head off." He sucked in a breath, shaking his head.
"No, you won't." Like a stubborn child, I looked out the window, one second away from pouting. Next second Edward lips were at my ear, whispering softly. "It's okay to feel things. Be a bitch all you want but you don't have to lie to me." He leaned back, turning on the car again and started driving.
My mind was reeling. Memories I'd rather forget kept popping back like a movie.
The leaves had all but disappeared. The wind was calm, though; showing no indication autumn was upon us. The square was buzzing. In the distance, too early for the humans to sense, I heard a carriage. The hooves of a horse against the cobblestone. The wood of damaged wheels screeched. And two heart beats. One slightly upbeat while the other's in complete rhythm. Calm. Defeated.
I watched as the crowd started screaming, jumping up and down to watch the carriage circle the square before making its final stop. Swallowing down venom I watch the figure at the back get up without a sound and gently lower itself onto the ground. With her head high, the queen took the five steps up onto the platform. She bumped into the executioner, apologizing for stepping on his foot.
I wanted to leave. I shouldn't have come. I should have left a long time ago. Years. But my feet were planted on the ground, unable to move as the bench was lifted and the body strapped.
Two men gently lowered the bench horizontally and pushing it forwards. With a final click, the wood was secured and the neck piece was placed. For ten seconds, everything was quiet. No one spoke. No last plea for survival. The queen looked up, her gaze searching our faces. I heard a sigh before she looked down into the basket of water with a solemn expression.
The blade dropped.
"Bella?" I shook my head, not wanting to talk about it. I couldn't even remember without the strangest feeling in my throat. It wasn't the first time I had blended in amongst people. But somehow, I felt too comfortable. I actually… liked them. My complexion was spot on. My posture wasn't odd. I fit. "What is it?"
"Stop it!" I hissed, my eyes flashing open, staring at the ceiling. "Just, stop." I faced him. "You're not my therapist. Talking about it will not help. Thinking about it, will most certainly not. So just, stop." I sat back, elbow resting against the window while my fingers covered my mouth, appearing to be thinking but I was just trying not to freak out.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. I refused to take his apology. Right now I hate what I am. To never forget is… not what it's hyped to be. It's not cool. It's not practical. It's a burden… harder than the thirst. But even if I could forget, I doubt the image of her head flying into a tub of water would ever leave my memory.
Reaching a hand over, Edward tried to touch my arm but I slapped his hand away, holding up my hand. He knew better than to push me.
Twenty minutes passed without either of us trying to make conversation. Surprising myself, I was the one to break it, saying things I probably shouldn't.
"I may be a lot of things, but nostalgic cannot be one of them." Edward watched me. "I can't afford to let my guard down and caring for humans? That's a big no no in the vampire handbook."
I sigh heavily, feeling myself telling a story I wasn't ready to share. "I never felt like a freak. They were just as pale. Just as stiff. I didn't have to pretend." I licked my lips. "I don't like this century. People dress like prostitutes." He smirked. "And they can't spell. They use numbers instead of words and completely butcher the English language. Don't… don't they know what people have sacrificed? Do they think it's all been done just to give them a blow-up version of a cell phone?"
Edward stopped the car again and turned off the ignition. I leaped out of the car, feeling the walls close in on me. I stopped across the road.
"Does it get old? A new town, a new state? Always play the outcasts because you can't afford the "luxury of friends"?" I didn't have to be psychic to know what he was going to say. And my anger flared.
"Don't you dare say I'm the same! Don't you dare say I don't have friends. I had friends!" Edward stopped a few feet away. "I had people who cared about me!" I shook my head unintentionally, tongue against my lips as if that would make my soon-to-be tantrum go away. "What's the point?" my voice whispered. The rain pelted down on us. We were both soaked. My hair a mess. "What's the point of pretending to be one of them when it always has to end?" My chest heaved. I felt sobs in my throat.
"Just say it. You'll feel so much better; I promise. What's this about?"
"Him!" I yelled; the sound carried through the woods like a knife. Now the sobs broke free. "Why would he do this to me?! How could he sentence me to an eternity of sorrow!?" Edward was right in front me. I held up my hands, wanting him to back off but he grabbed them roughly, pulling me close. And I let him. For a moment I was completely still, not sure how to respond when my arms lifted and wrapped around his neck, crushing him to me. My whole frame shook and I shoved my face into his shoulder.
"What did I do to deserve this?" I whispered; my voice heavy.
"Nothing," he answered in the same low voice. His hand went under my jacket, fingers tracing my spine up and down. "He shouldn't have taken that choice away from you." My shoulders trembled, my mouth clamped shut.
I don't know how long we stood there. Felt like hours but probably only lasted a few seconds. My arms fell from him and I pushed away, composing my face.
"Feels good getting out, doesn't it?" I nodded solemnly.
We were back in the car then, speeding off. The rain worsened. Lightening struck over a field to our left. I pushed the sunshield down and checked myself in the mirror. The sight was excruciating. I was still as beautiful as ever but I also looked like a drowned rat. I pushed the shield back up.
"We'll have to stop for the night."
"I won't be seen like this," I motion down my frame with a hand, "There's still a reputation to uphold."
"You look fine."
"I look like a drowned rat." He chuckled. "Besides, it's not like we're in a hurry."
Since we're in the middle of fuck knows where, the Hilton wasn't exactly on the menu, so to speak. I'm used to any type of living arrangement but I didn't want the Bates motel. I'm still frowning as the door closes behind me. The old school analog clock on the wall with roman numerals says it's ten to ten. Probably why they were so bitchy at the reception.
"I think I'm entitled to some answers now." I sigh.
"May I shower first? I would have though you would be the first to suggest. Since it's so human and all." Edward rolls his eyes at me. I smirk. "Maybe you'd like to share?" Now he sighed.
"Get in Bella."
And I do. The warm water cascades down my frame, soaking my hair all over again. I raise my face, letting the droplets fall around the contours. It feels good. And unquestionably normal.
I dress in the most casual I can think of. Jeans that cling to my legs with inconspicuous rips up and down the thighs and knees. A thin grey v-neck t-shirt that's about half a size too big but the color contrast surprisingly well with my complexion.
I feel naked without my necklace, though. But I can't trust it to be safe with me right now. My mood ring, however, provides a relaxing illusion. I towel my hair until it's completely dry in its normal straight-with-minimal-waves. I let it be just out of boredom.
I hear voices in the other room. I try to tune it out but when it's almost screaming at you, you kind of want to eavesdrop. They're asking when he's coming back. Probably think I'm trying to convert him. I pay special attention to Edward's words. Any give-away to my little meltdown earlier in the day and I'll have him thrown from the room. Literally.
The phone dies and I'm leaning against the wall next to the bathroom door.
"It would be better if you went home." I don't see his face since he's sitting on the bed with his back towards me but even so I can feel his eyes roll.
"It would, wouldn't it?" He turned, looking me over. "You look normal." I shrug. "Answers?"
"The house?" I purse my lips, waiting for something more specific that I can give a short and cut answer to. "How did you know about the position of the body?"
"I told you; I've seen it before."
"When?" I shake my head.
"You're not asking the right question." He rolled his eyes.
"You sound like a Dr. Seuss book." But perhaps finding this enticing and however remotely fun, Edward started thinking before answering.
"When, specifically, did you meet this Ben guy?" That's a good question.
"Where did you meet?"
"New York society?"
"Precisely." A glimpse of the glitz and glamour of the not-so pre-gossip girl area flash before my eyes.
"I thought you said he liked the south." Wasn't a question, but a decent statement at least. I nod.
"Even bears come out of hibernation once in a blue moon." I hate myself for using that expression.
"How did you meet?" I lick my lips, trying to decide how to best phrase the unexpected rendezvous. There isn't.
"I caught him in the act." For a moment his mind flashes to an entirely different picture before focusing on a man with no recognizable face devouring a serving girl or maybe a maid.
"And what happened?" It was more a question to ask a question. He didn't need to be so reproachful. Then again, he shouldn't let his guard down.
"I was appalled, actually. They were in the coat closet, fifty feet from the ball itself. That is unacceptable. He could have been spotted and ruined the fun for everyone." I take a breath and sit down on the bed, crossing my legs. "I helped him dispose of the body. He was in awe. He hadn't met another… equal, other than his "master". His word, not mine." I don't like the term vampire being thrown out there casually. It's not meant to be view as interesting or part of a normal conversation.
"He knows the rules but he's still very green. I gave him a few… guidelines, if you would. He took to me more than I would have liked but shit happens. He tells me he feels bad for his work. And this was before I time I knew there was an alternative. If I knew I probably would have suggested it to him. But instead I told him to shut it off. They're nothing but food. Though he shouldn't take just anyone. Stalk out bars. Get the runaways, prostitutes. People that won't be missed in this sad and statistic world."
"And you told him to put them back together?" he said with disgust in his voice.
"No Mr. Moral. After a few weeks Ben went back to the south where he's most comfortable. I caught up with him after a few… disturbing news paper articles. I had made it very specific that he does not get caught. The- they would come and he'd talk because he's an idiot and then I'd have them after me twice. Except this time they'd know who I was. Though now I'm guessing they already did. Not the point. I find his little… display and confront him about it. He then reveals he doesn't need to kill them. He opens a small wound – barely tearing the skin – while sucking out the blood, never letting his tongue near it. In that scenario, his victims live and he can move on. But he didn't count on their fear when they woke up. They exerted the wound and he would go crazy. He feels bad and tried to put them together like he would if one of us were dismembered."
Edward's carefully listening to my every word. Probably cataloguing it all into a folder in the back of his mind. To be exhumed later.
"I get him to lay low for a few months and it all blows over. I tell him to pick more secluded places. Be more careful but I promise myself to keep track of him. Make sure he doesn't do anything rash. He doesn't." I lean back against the pillar of the tacky four-poster bed, letting one leg stay tucked halfway under me while the other bent at the knee, stretching out along the spread.
"When was that?"
"Is that the last you saw of him?"
"Is it the last you've heard from him?"
"No." He takes a breath.
"Is he dangerous?" I snort.
"We're all dangerous. But yes. He is. And he'll probably have to die." He doesn't know this man and yet Edward's looking bothered by my casual murder plotting tone.
"He can very easily expose us."
"But then he'll expose himself as we-"
"Not to humans, Edward," I say pointedly. He stays quiet, considering my words. I know he wants to ask but he has more pressing questions to deal with.
"Dmitri." I chuckle. One word asks a thousand questions. "When?"
"Sixty miles north of St. Petersburg."
"He taught me... everything. How to move around. What places to uphold. Where to stay. To become invisible. I owe him." Edward considers this for a little while.
"Why does he scare you?" I release a small breath of air, finding the question difficult.
"I can't afford to trust people. Especially not when they've just a few years ago shared a castle with the Volturi." I know the question hits home but he needs to hear this. "I don't trust them. You do know their little rise to dictation is all an act, right?" He nods. "They only want control. Power. I'm surprised you haven't been formally invited to come and join the party." His eyes cast down.
"They have. Multiple times. Alice too. Even Jasper. But we've only met once. In passing. A meeting I won't be making again." He's talking in a fast enough tone that I knew he was trying to convince me more than himself.
"And you said no?"
"I don't trust them either. But the rest of us are heavily outnumbered. I'm not going to do something to upset my family." Why did that sting? But then his face turned a different emotion. He fought and internal battle before he's devil side won. "Have you two ever… Did you slept with him?"
"Are you asking for my list?" He sighs before shaking his head. "I flirt with everyone. That doesn't mean I fuck them all." I purse my lips, narrowing my eyes. Edward looks put off. "Why do you ask that?" He's at a loss for words for several seconds.
"It's just a question."
"No. What I've done during the day is a question. That was basic interrogation. I hope you're not that old fashioned that you're put off I had a life before I met you. I know you're not so don't try to lie to me."
"I'm not I just… I… I mind. Okay?" I brows rise high.
"You mind?" A nod. "You mind who I do or don't sleep with?" Another nod. "And why do you think that is?" He sighs.
"Let's move on?" I chuckle but let him ask his question but quickly turn wary as they become more and more personal.
"How do you have such good control?" It's a somewhat secret passage I've managed to crack and I like that it others find it envious.
"I've been well trained."
"By Thomas?" I breathe in the same way I do every time his name is mentioned. Hatred fills my veins but it's futile to feel this way now.
"No. He taught me nothing. Stay out of the sunlight was pretty basic. I was a doll. Being dressing in pretty clothes for his amusement. Paraded around on his arm like an accessory."
"Why didn't you leave sooner?" I lick my bottom lip, overly aware how open I was being but one more question wouldn't hurt.
"I- He- He told me things."
"This about… other places. He talked about the world like it was right there; waiting to be explored. I didn't want to stay in that town. Not sure what I remember is real or something my mind's made up but I think I hated it there. Especially- I didn't see his true self until almost a decade after he turned me." I feel the denim of my jeans, feeling depressed all of a sudden.
"And he just let you go?" A frown appeared as I let out a sinister chuckle while shaking my head.
"No, he didn't just let me go. I ran. Literally. Until I hit Spain." Such a weird sentence. "I stayed the night. There was a war. People didn't give it a second thought. But he found me. I escaped. Barely." I remember his hand around my throat; feeling it tearing my diamond skin. Such an unnatural feeling. I touch the would-be mark had I not been able to distract him. "He's found me twice since then." I sigh. "I don't want to talk about him."
Edward nods and sit beside me, shoulder bumping into mine.
"You know you can trust me right?"
"But you don't?" I sigh.
"It's okay," he breathes. "Can I ask something else?"
"One more. Think it through." He already had, apparently.
"If I had asked you to come with me… would you?" I think back to the days before he decided to leave me. He'd been off. Not really looking me in the eyes. I had known what was coming but couldn't face it until he got the courage to say something.
"I don't know," I answer honestly. "I'm not sure I can stop. Even with my control." I see him open his mouth, probably to praise my already excellent control but it would be to no use and only upset me further. So he stays quiet.