Summary: Renee finds an old plane ticket that leads her on a painful journey toward love and healing.
Disclaimer: Read with your heart on your sleeve. There's a GooGoo Dolls quote in here somewhere.
It would have been her twenty-first birthday.
Charlie sent me boxes upon boxes of Bella's stuff when she left his house. He knew something about what was going on with her and the Cullens, even Jacob, but wouldn't tell me what they were all involved in.
"I just think you ought to have what's left of her… from my house."
That's exactly what he'd said. "What's left of her."
I'd gone through one box before breaking down and shoving them all in the top of my closet. They were there, haunting me and keeping her around, but I'd never peaked even once.
Until today. I'd carried around this misguided, dumb Mom Fantasy since Bella was old enough to sit on the edge of the tub while I bathed at night. In my imagination, and interspersed all through my heart, I'd seen us going out for a drink together tonight.
Scenarios involving her being too cool for me had already taken root, but I hadn't planned for her to be all but dead.
So I pulled every, single dusty box down and flung them all open in rapid succession. Taking a deep breath, I started with the one I was already familiar with. It was filled with her bedspread and linens from Charlie's house, and a few small stuffed animals that protected her pillows when she was little.
I bundled up the whole mess and pressed it to my face, trying to find her smell. When she was a baby I'd sworn to my myself that I'd never forget her scent, the way it hid behind her ears and in the crooks of her arms, but by the time she was five I'd broken my promise. Unable to find her babyness often enough, the scent-memory hadn't stuck.
I laid the blankets out on my own bed, resting the squashed, plush animals gently against my pillows.
The second box I rifled into was full of pictures; pictures I'd never seen from Bella's time in Forks. Even so, I knew the names of most everyone present. All of the Cullen's faces were there, and the way each one of them, even the blonde, looked at her made some of my fear settle. They loved her as a family should.
A tiny shard of the glass house I'd constructed around my heart splintered when I found the image of Esme holding my daughter the way only a mother could. I fought hard against the feeling that I'd been replaced, clinging to the far off, muffled memories of the way she'd kicked me from the inside out, bustling in my belly while I tried to sleep. That was irreplaceable.
I was her mother.
I was her mother.
The third box was paper: journals, school work, and other things Bella's fingers had inked. I took each piece of repurposed tree out, read every word, and made a stack of them off to my left side. My refrigerator had been a blank slate for years. These mementos would become its armor of marker and memories. Buried at the very bottom was a smaller, thicker square, heavy like card-stock. I picked it up, flipping it over again and again, confused by its appearance.
It was a plane ticket stub.
In all her years with Charlie, I'd never known her to fly anywhere except to visit me. I'd had more than enough time to pick apart each of her visits, to memorize individual interactions and mold her words to me around my bruised heart.
This ticket was from a roundtrip flight to Rome, Italy.
My heart was beating too quickly. That maternal panic of fearing for your lost child crawled up my throat and I grabbed my gut, trying to press it back in, and not let it escape.
She could be there! My heart called, even when my mind knew she wasn't.
I pushed against my womb until the old, softened wound from her birth pushed back. The pain was dull now, but the nerves there had never healed completely. She'd been in no hurry to meet this world, and I ached, knowing I could've kept her inside me for a few more days if I known she'd leave so soon.
I had to go there, even if she was not.
Calling Charlie was a stupid, frantic decision. We hadn't spoken in years, and I doubted he would know anything about Bella and Italy anyway, but I let the phone ring until his machine picked up.
"She'd be 21 today. I found an old plane ticket from Italy in one of her boxes. I'm going." I hung up and raced to my computer.
Reservations were made as fast as my stuttering fingers could type in my information. I didn't care what time the plane left, or what the price of flying to Rome on a day's notice might cost me. My heart had been bankrupt for years. I adored Phil, but his money meant nothing.
Whatever her reason for this trip, I had to know where she'd been. Memories that were stolen from me could be snatched back. My baby was there, at least in part, somewhere.
I found her near the fountain where Edward had tried to kill himself.
I was tracking fledgling souls for our dinner that night, when a scent I hadn't sensed in years abruptly surrounded me. Humanity was disgusting, and always had been. It had one saving grace, and she wasn't even human anymore. The familiar aroma startled me; something not easily done to one of the ancient undead. It wasn't quite right though, the smell. It was subtler and buried deeper, but it was definitely her bouquet. It was Bella.
Completely forgetting the ridiculous search I'd been on, I shadowed the female who harbored Bella's flowers until I could see the woman's face. She turned her head, her cheeks tear stained as she ran her hands around the stone rim of the fountain. Her eyes caught in the sunlight and I knew: she was her mother.
She was there in the gold of her mother's eyes, and the unwillingness of this woman's tresses to keep her heart's secrets. Bella's hair had been wild and full when I'd last seen her, her heart escaping her head through each strand. This woman's mane was just as wild, though shorter, her pain blunted.
Leaving my cloak in the shadows, I smoothed my red sheath of a dress and placed big, dark sunglasses on my face. The seduction of this woman, who's pain vibrated around her without any assistance from my gifts, would be so simple. Touching her arm lightly, I guided her toward where I stood out of the sun's rays.
"Mrs. Swan? Is that you? My name is Jane, and I went to high school with Bella, in Forks. I just wanted to say hi!" Perking up my lifeless words was not easily done, but this woman was too crushed to even notice. As soon as I said her daughter's name she pulsed with adoration for me.
"Actually, I'm a Dwyer now. Bella's father and I divorced when she was little." She wiped her face on the inside of her tee-shirt and begged me with her whole being to spill all my Bella-secrets.
The fact that any high school friend of Bella's would've known her mother wasn't a Swan didn't phase her. Her need for contact with any being who mentioned her long-changed daughter let her, let it pass.
My first instinct was revenge against Bella. That defiant soul who'd denied me even a smidgen of her unfettered humanness. It wasn't even her blood I'd wanted. It was her mind. I had unintentionally hurt every person, if vampires can be placed under the umbrella of that term, since I'd been made one of them. She alone was the one thing I couldn't harm, no matter how much I longed for it.
But she'd hated me.
She had every reason.
I lead the woman, rather willingly, back to the Volturri's headquarters. When she'd given me her open palm, she'd unknowingly killed herself. Just this one, human offering would please my masters so much that we'd be full, satiated for days knowing we'd caught one piece of the Cullen puzzle, finally, for ourselves. Memories made blood thicker, and Bella's smell made Renee's life impossibly appetizing.
She clasped my hand too tightly as we began walking, and It struck me as something only mothers or the elderly could get away with.
I stayed with her, at her speed, as we made our way to the covered garden on the outskirts of the Volturri's sanctuary. It was a purposefully cheerful place, made to lure guests to us with succulent flowers and cool shade, instead of us hunting them.
Renee's thumb rubbed over my hand as a prelude to her speech. No one had touched me so faintly in such a long while.
"Tell me about you time with her, please. Yesterday was her birthday, and this is my present to myself. I never even knew she came to Italy. I'm so glad you found me." She smiled at me, invading my concrete barriered skin the same way Bella had.
I couldn't sacrifice her, not yet. This might be my last chance to find Bella too. With enough information from her mother we could locate the Cullens again. Enough time had elapsed since Bella's change for her to be comfortable in her new skin. Perhaps I'd have an opportunity to talk to her without eliciting so much fear.
So, I hastened my words and injected the tale of Bella's time here with as much care as I could manage.
"They were hopelessly in love, she and Edward, and she was so beautiful." The image of her face was clean like crystal behind my eyes.
"She was fierce in her devotion to him and his sister, and I envied them immensely. She would've sacrificed her entire world if it meant that they were safe," I said, holding her eyes to mine in a way that no human could explain or understand.
Her eyes, in turn, began to leak. Raging rivulets of pain I couldn't express with my bloody irises, poured from her face.
"I think she did," Renee said in a wobbly voice. "She left with them and never looked back."
I shook my head gently. Bella Swan wasn't capable of unloving anyone.
"Maybe in looking ahead, she was protecting you from the pain of a sad goodbye." I couldn't remember my mother, but I couldn't imagine hurting her either.
Clearing my throat to refocus my guest, I continued.
"Bella came to Italy because someone had threatened to expose certain lies about Edward that would harm his family." I explained. I couldn't tell her the truth, because even now, her innocence was maintained. She saw no malevolence in my appearance or abilities. I had no desire to frighten her either, which went against my deepest soul-traits.
My brain had been trained for centuries to feel only hatred. Was there still something inside of me capable of compassion?
She sniffed, gathering a bit of courage, and nodded for me to keep talking.
"Her determination is what ultimately swayed them to leave Edward and his family alone. His father and my employers had an old business relationship, and tried to trick the family back into a negotiation with their scheme. It backfired, of course."
The word "family" caused her to shake. Her whole body vibrated with her desire to love them: those beings who had absorbed her daughter into their inner most structure.
It was my turn to sniff. The fear in her heart made her smell so perfectly maternal, and gave me one more human action with which to draw her in.
"But… You work for these people now. Why? Why would you want to stay here in this place when they tried to hurt Bella?" She asked, betrayal running between the lines around her eyes.
It was a fair question that caught me off guard once more. The smell of Bella after so many years of foul human stench made me almost dizzy. I folded my eyebrows toward each other, searching for the right thing to say.
"They offered me a job, in this gorgeous city, that I couldn't refuse. Bella was gone anyway, so it made no difference to her if I stayed." I explained, hoping Renee's grief would forgive my fumbled lies.
"I wonder if they've had any kids by now. I could be a grandmother and not even know it." She fretted, shaking her head and pressing the palm of one hand against her heart.
It was my business to cause pain, but I could never inflict a force as deep as the one she desperately wanted to hold inside her chest.
I knew very well that Bella and Edward had a daughter.
"They have. She would be about 3 or 4 by now, I think. Her name is Renesmee, after you, I believe, and Edward's mother." I confessed, but Bella's daughter's name had pushed her too far.
Renee's mind was churning in circles and I knew I had to distract her before she fell apart under the weight of all the memories she'd missed when she sent Bella to live with Charlie.
So I did the easiest and most savage thing I could think of. I took off my sunglasses. She gasped.
"What happened?" She wailed, horrified.
I was stricken, violently, with the knowledge that Renee would never assume that someone who knew Bella would want to hurt her.
"I've suffered a lot of pain," I said, doing my damnedest to present myself as Renee needed to see me. "There's a problem with my blood… that's effected my eyes. I know they're frightening. I'm sorry."
"You poor girl." Her face was pulled down with an overwhelming amount of undeserved sincerity and love.
I laughed bitterly, but thanked her for inquiring as to what my pain might be. "You're the first person in a long time who's cared enough to ask."
It was all too much for her suddenly and she slumped into herself, covering her face as a fierce spasm of fresh ache engulfed her. She wept into her own hands.
Lifting her face, so heavy with the strain she'd invited when she asked for my reverie, she said, "Thank you for finding me and telling me your story. It was the most perfect gift on a day like today. Every day I forget so much, but now I have these borrowed memories to fill in the gaps. It means the world, Jane."
I watched as Renee bit her bottom lip to curb her tears, another resemblance to Bella, and I could sense the miniscule vessels under her skin ready to pop a cherry-coated taste of sin from her lip. The desire for her blood, so close in scent to Bella's, overtook me for a moment.
We'd been sitting side by side on a small couch, in a garden any tourist in this town would be jealous of. Jane was like a flawless 60s movie star, if the colors had been adjusted all wrong. I could see how she'd been friends with my Bella. She was precisely put together in the same way I remembered Bella describing Alice. It was hard not to love her porcelain face and cool, serene voice.
Her expression changed suddenly, hardening in a way that made me press my teeth more anxiously into my lip. This girl had culled so many emotions from me already. She made me miss my own daughter, and want to be her mother all at the same time.
As much as I tried to find fault in my decision to come to Rome, I couldn't. Jane made me remember how much I'd hurt when Bella was born, how that slice across my middle made everything excruciating, but had also meant that she was finally with me.
I put my hand against my stomach again, envisioning my scar now, so many years later. It was still there, and I was so grateful for that nostalgic reminder. It was a souvenir I could never lose.
We were both connected to her somehow. This girl, that's wasn't really a girl, understood the pain Bella caused just by existing. Selfishly, I daydreamed that it was the loss of my Bella that had turned Jane's eyes scarlet. I wished my own body had been invested enough in my pain to construe a publicly visible sore like hers. Our pain, whether hidden or not, was sweet because it reminded both of us that she had actually been there.
"Where is she?" I pleaded, my heart trying one last time to find its home. Jane shook her head, her red eyes crumpling under false tears. Her damaged vision seemed to make it impossible for her to cry, even at a time when tears made things easier.
"I don't know where they are anymore. I lost them years ago." Her pristine eyelashes were like lead on their ledge above her eyes, but they remained dry.
If Jane had truly been Bella's friend before her trip to Italy, then I could give her true friendship again, at least for extent of our conversation. That was a mother's job, right? To help a lost child find their way. I'd just had to travel a bit further than my local grocery store to do it.
Our conversation was close to ending, there wasn't much to hold us together on the predictably pompous couch any longer. I ran my hands down my thighs, breathing in the sweet flowers that deluded people into stepping into the Volturri's Venus fly trap.
I couldn't help but want to test my powers on Renee. We were running out of time and I needed to know if there was something about this woman that represented Bella, more than her smell.
I unleashed a small blast in Renee's direction and nothing happened. I was shocked, but her hand came up slowly to her forehead.
"I feel so nauseous," she moaned. "I haven't felt this sick to my stomach in decades.… Not since I was pregnant with Bella." A wondrous look spread over her face, like a disciple witnessing the love of a Magdalene.
I apologized, but Renee never understood that I was the source of the pain; the mourning sickness. With cautious humanity, I reached out to her and pulled her head down into my lap, using my cool, firm touch to sooth away the malady in her mind that made her feel so full of emptiness.
Renee pressed one hand against her mouth, as if attempting to coerce her ill feelings down again. Her legs were bent along side her on the cushion, and her free hand clutched and twisted the collar of her shirt. When her fingers left her lips, they were tinged with blood.
"Oh…" She sighed, as flowers bloomed from her lip like moistened potpourri. I felt heady with her ready warmth right there on my lap.
"Let me see." I gently twisted her face so that her hair swooshed to rest on my thighs, her warm, pain-pulsing swan's neck too close to my iron skin. My sheath-shaped clothing did nothing to hide the dagger I'd become. Her eyes looked up directly into mine.
"It's just split." I licked my thumb and ran it over the cut. The wound healed instantly as my own sanity was punctured in an unguarded moment of power and longing.
Renee stretched her fingers to touch my face with her hands, running them along the spaces under my blood-stained eyes and down the bridge of my nose. Caressing my cupid's bowl, I allowed her to pull my face down to hers, and kiss me so softly on the mouth.
I tasted the slighted memory of blood mixed with my healing, hellish venom, and cradled Renee's face in my tiny hands, pressing my mouth harder into her time-tortured lips. Bella was there, against the back of my tongue. I felt her, in the way a rose bush, wintered without its blossoms, still promised so much beauty.
The kiss started much like I imagined Renee would kiss Bella goodnight. It was tender, but reaffirmed her feelings toward me and our time spent in the stagnant garden.
But I pushed her further, wanting the moisture from her mouth on mine to taste, and savor, and relish. My own lips, while shaped like a cherub's, were unforgiving. They needed her forgiveness terribly.
I tried to be more gentle, thinking of all the times Edward must have kissed Bella while she was still human.
Renee's lips yielded to mine, each tiny crevice of chapped, warm flesh encompassing my smooth, marble mouth. Her hands fluttered to my head, brushing like a nervous butterfly through my hair, anchoring her lightly to me as I hovered over her face.
I heard, and then felt, as teardrops saturated her untamed hair on my lap, disintegrating the protective wall I'd always kept around myself.
I pulled away, gathering her hands and tangling mine with hers on her chest. Her heart thudded unevenly under my knuckles, and I smoothed our hands back and forth over the skittering mouse under her left breast until it calmed.
When her lashes finally lifted and her gaze meant mine, I was greedy for more tears. Salt water from her eyes was so bittersweet, her sadness was agonizing, but they made me feel cared for.
Her hands smoothed my hair back into place, expertly folding the loose strands back into the braids that crowned my head.
I tried to do the same for her, sweeping her bangs to lay like a bird's wing across her forehead, and finding and re-fingering her part to a straight line.
"I haven't been kissed like that since I was in high school." She muttered, blushing so beautifully as she sat up next to me again.
Not knowing what else to say I just shrugged, "Me either." My face split into a genuine smile; not a devious smirk or a mischievous grin, but a smile. It made my cheeks hurts unnaturally.
Renee said she was starting to feel like maybe she hadn't lost a child after all. Instead, and even worse, she'd forgotten Bella in a way, and replaced her with miscarried pain and betrayal.
"I don't think she left you, Renee. I think she just followed her heart," I said, smudging her dried tears on the pads of my thumbs. It was my own approximation of what motherhood, or even just love, might be.
"She was my whole heart. Only I didn't know it until she was gone." Renee ran two fingers along an old wound, low on her belly, and I gushed grace for this woman, like a ripe fruit on the verge of bursting. The line she traced on her tangled tissue was an aged crescent, no different but in size than the ones I'd left behind on countless bodies.
Hers had given someone life.
Did Edward change Bella for a love like this? I thought.
"She made me feel split open," I confided, touching Renee's mouth again. "Flayed and bare for the first time in this life." I couldn't remember my other one, that one was a womb I could never re-enter. I'd lost my birthday.
"I knew that if we'd just had more time together, away from the danger she'd entrenched herself in, that we could've been best friends. I could've loved her." Secrets were so heavy, and I felt lighter giving mine to Bella's mother.
Renee picked up my hand and kissed my silent wrist, placing my fingers over her very alive, and rapidly drumming heart.
"You already do," she whispered, and pulled my forehead to her mouth, kissing the space in between my perfectly permanent brows. The heat of her lips, with the whisper of her blood still present, slit my dead heart wide open. My mouth gasped in response, releasing a deep and heavy breath I'd been holding since the first knowledge of Bella Swan's existence found me.
Forehead to forehead, I laid my burden on Renee's heart. It felt right, like what a mother would want. She needed a child's direction, and my words poured from my babydoll face.
"You should go… Go find her everywhere you can. I can never leave this place. You have to do it for both of us."
She looked at me with so much sadness, like she was leaving a childhood crush behind, knowing her heart would forever be split between what was and what could have been.
"Come with me!" Her voice burst against my ears, louder and with more conviction than she'd mustered all afternoon.
I traced the space between each of her fingers while my heart decided what to say. I was an evil, despised thing whose services were invaluable to the demonic creatures cavorting behind the walls that surrounded the garden.
"I can't, Renee." I whispered. "My doctors are here, and there's no other place that's better to treat my condition. Plus, I don't believe I'd have any job security at all if I left with Bella Swan's mother." I grinned, hoping that the lighthearted ending to my answer would be enough to keep the scabs over her heart in place.
She stood, backing up a few steps, but never taking her eyes off of me. I looked down at the grassy dirt under my shoes. How many bodies just like hers fertilized these flowers?
"Goodbye Jane," she called. I put the back of my hand to my mouth, desperately wanting human emotion to envelope me. But it never could.
I dipped my head, a servant addressing her master, and her steps faltered again.
She groaned and tilted her head skyward, her tears falling despite her best efforts to leave with dry eyes. We both knew she was saying goodbye to Bella too, after what seemed an eternity of endless missing.
Aro would not be pleased that I'd let this woman go freely back to her life. He too would've wanted to test her abilities, to kill or change her for the sake of avenging the dignity he'd lost when the Cullens won our final battle against each other. I'd have to convince him that my screening of her powers had been more thorough, that only Renee's faint sensory similarities were worth noting, and that her blood wasn't nearly as sweet as Bella's had been.
It was all lies, but my escape from my own reality for a few hours was worth the consequences.
Renee licked her lips once more, and my grip on the couch we'd made ours was so steadfast I felt my stone hands would crack with my self-inflicted restraint. I was stuck here, the Volturri's power like a noose around my neck.
"Go find her." I told her, one final time, and she was gone. We were alone again, but the spiderweb of Bella's life kept us intertwined, split between here and her.