Past is Past

She and Jasper had stopped in a small town to pick up some things. She needed a few new books for the road and he was hoping to find a CD that they'd left in the last town. For they'd been travelling for years now- around the nation and the world. It had started on a whim of Alice's. She wanted to see the world, really see it without being hindered by the sun or distance. And while the sun still played a factor, distance did not. She and Jasper, while keeping in touch, had finally left the Cullens to pursue their own interests. And neither of them could deny that it seemed to be for the better. After they left Washington things never really were the same. In a way, the family was torn apart. Leaving was for the best. They both knew that.

Because Alice had to get away. She couldn't stop getting images of her, no matter how desperately she wanted to, but didn't want to. It was a strange feeling. One that she tried not to understand, though the answer was clear. When it made her aloof from the rest of the family, it was ignored. Because there were other matters at hand. When it interfered with her relationship with Jasper, something had to be done. She couldn't risk losing him over visions. It was ludicrous, no matter how tantalizing the visions became. So they left. And they'd been gone ever since. After a few decades Alice lost the vision of her. And while that was for the best, she couldn't deny she missed them from time to time.

The short girl shook her head, breaking herself from those lingering thoughts. She really shouldn't dwell on them. The past is the past and can't be changed. She'd learned that so many times before.

The little bell over the door chimed as she entered the small country store, watching as Jasper headed across the road to the music store. The sun had fallen over the horizon just minutes ago and the afterglow was casting a pink shade over the dusty knickknacks. Alice smiled to herself as she picked up a toy soldier. It had to have been forty or so years old. His right arm squeaked and Alice moved it up and down a few more times to hear the antiquity. A door opened to her right and Alice followed the sound to see an old woman shuffling out of the back. She looked quite feeble but happy and she smiled at Alice, who eagerly returned it.

The woman slowly headed towards the cash register and Alice put the toy soldier down, looking across the street. Jasper was still inside, browsing the racks. She watched him for a moment, smiling, then headed over to where the books were located. All of them were at least 6o years old and Alice traced the lining of a cover with her fingers, feeling the worn paper beneath them. It was beautiful, to be reminded of that time period. A time when everyone was happy and alive and contentment was everywhere. It was disappointing that those times were a memory, not present, but what could be done?

Nothing. Nothing was the answer.

Alice sighed and took the book in her hands, shaking her head.

"Can I help you with something?" the woman called from behind her counter. Alice prepared her smile and turned around, only to have her ears catch up on what was actually said. That tone of voice…there was something about that tone of voice. Alice furrowed her brow at the woman who paid no mind to it and stepped closer, book still in hand.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" she asked, reaching the counter and studying the woman behind her wrinkles. She had dark brown eyes and though her hair was now salted, Alice could tell that it used to be a lovely shade of brown as well. The woman's smile grew wider as her eyes grew a knowing look.

"Can I help you with something, love?"

And then it clicked. The woman's breath fell upon Alice and her scent, masked by years and years, became all too clear to her. Alice felt her deadened heart fall into the pit of her stomach and her hands clenched desperately at the counter top. For she was certain that if she let go she would fall to the floor. The woman blinked slowly and placed her hand over Alice's. "Are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost, love."

Alice broke into a smile, then a sort of manic laughter. She couldn't believe it. It couldn't be. Years and years of searching in darkness only to find her here, in this small town, just as radiant as ever. "Bella," Alice whispered softly, squeezing her frail hand. The woman nodded knowingly, placing her hand over Alice's.

"Yes, I'm Bella," she assured. Alice frantically looked across the street to find Jasper still searching the racks. She wanted to run and tell him, but she also couldn't leave Bella's presence. It was too powerful, too surreal. A vision that was all too terrifying as it was beautiful. Alice couldn't take it anymore. She leapt over the counter, startling Bella, and pulled her into a tight hug. After calming down, Bella hugged her back, chuckling into the girl's pristine ear. It was just like Alice had remembered, so pure and void of anything but cheer.

"Oh, Bella, it's been so long," Alice said, her voice groaning with regret. She reached out and stroked Bella's now coarse hair, engraving the feeling into her memory.

"Has it? It feels like yesterday," she answered, still smiling. Alice returned it somberly and grasped both of her hands, feeling the tissue like skin, even more frail than ever before now. The blood was warm and just as potent as ever now that she was so close. But she'd long since grown used to Bella's scent and there was no harm. There never was any harm between the two of them. Alice could always tolerate Bella's blood more than anyone else, whether Edward was willing to admit that or not. Alice grimaced at the thought of him. He'd taken them away from Bella. This was all his fault.

No, no that wasn't right. Alice could have come back. Alice should have come back. But the past is in the past. Still, she could try to make it up now. She brought Bella's hand up to caress her cheek slowly, feeling the warmth sting her skin. "Oh, Bella, I'm so sorry. I should have come back. I should have done something other than let you wither away! How are you?"

"Oh, I'm getting along just fine. Portia came over the other day and finally fixed my window. Darned thing wouldn't hardly stay closed. But you know, I kind of liked it that way. It made me feel at peace to have my window open. Like I was safer."

Alice nodded, closing her eyes and breathing in Bella once more. She prayed that this moment would never end, but her prayers were never answered. She opened her eyes to find Bella smiling again. "Who's Portia?" she asked, genuinely interested and surprised at her own wavering voice. Bella sighed wistfully, shaking her head.

"She's my daughter."

"You have a daughter."

"Two, Alice is in Houston."

Alice closed her eyes again, breathing out and feeling the pressure welling under her eyes. Tears would never fall, but she could never forget the feeling of crying, for it was always prevalent. And only Bella could make her want to cry for so many different reasons. "You named your daughter Alice?" she asked, her voice nothing but a meek whisper.

Bella nodded, her eyes warming at the thought of her daughter. "Of course, I've always loved that name."

Alice shook her head, unable to take it anymore. She leaned forward and kissed Bella on the cheek, allowing her lips to linger on the warm pulse beneath, feeling it beat against her lips. She pulled away, swallowing hard, then leaned in again to wrap her arms around Bella's petit frame. Bella held her back, her grip soft and gentle, perhaps out of fear of waking the arthritis that slept beneath her swollen bones. "I always loved you, Bella," Alice whispered, inhaling the elderly woman's hair. "I still love you. More than I can ever show you." Her heart, which was still residing in her stomach, began to ache and she rocked the woman back and forth.

"I love you too," she replied, going along with Alice's ministrations. The vampire closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of her heartbeat against her. It was strong and soft at the same time, like it always had been. Then a door opened, and Alice forced herself to lift from Bella's arms. She drifted slowly back to the other side of the counter and turned her head lazily to watch as a much younger woman approached from the back room. She smiled at Alice, then a look of concern crossed her face as she headed towards Bella.

"Mom, what are you doing behind the counter? Come on, let's go back here." She mouthed an apology to Alice and placed her hand gently on Bella's back, leading her from behind the counter. Alice watched her, her long fingers and brown hair the exact same as her mother's. Her eyes were a deep blue but her lips had that same red tint that Bella's used to have. It had long since faded but luckily her daughter was there to carry on that beautiful gene. Bella had grown up and was appearing before Alice as her daughter, aging, but still lively. It was the Bella that Alice never got to see. And she was beautiful. Bella moved slowly, looking to Alice and waving to her.

"Bye now, Portia says I have to leave."

Alice was about to bid her farewell when she heard Bella's daughter sigh impatiently. "Mom, my name is Alex, remember? I don't know where you got this Portia person from." She smiled at Alice again and noticed the book in her hands. "Were you wanting to purchase that? They were mom's old books. She can't seen the print anymore, nor does she remember what she's read." Alice then watched as the woman looked to her mother sympathetically before mouthing 'dementia' to the customer.

The words hit Alice like a brick and she fell to her knees. The woman, Alex, left her mother's side and knelt down beside the vampire. "Are you okay?" she asked, looping her arm under Alice's and lifting her up. Alice shook her head, finally gaining her footing. She lunged from Alex's grasp and ran to Bella, holding her hands as she'd done moments before. Bella smiled at her just like before and Alice felt her eyes burning with pain. Jasper was purchasing something. He would be here any time now.

"What's my name, Bella? Do you know who I am?" she asked quickly, squeezing Bella's hands. Bella's eyes widened as her eyes searched Alice's. Then she shook her head casually.

"I can't say that I do, love. What's your name?"

"Alice," the vampire responded, her words choking on the lump in her throat. "My name is Alice."

"Oh, that's a pretty name," Bella answered before her daughter was by her side again.

"Come on, mom," she urged, flashing Alice the death glare. "If you're not going to pay for that I suggest you go," she said, gesturing to the book still in Alice's hands. Alice picked it up and read the title, closing her eyes. Then she reached out and placed the book in Alex's hands.

"The name Portia is from the Merchant of Venice. You should read it to her sometime. I know that she'll love it. And you should feel honored that she calls you that."

Alex opened her mouth to say something but Alice shook her head, walking backwards towards the door. When she felt her foot touch the threshold to the store, Alice stopped. "Goodbye, Bella," she called, watching as Bella's head popped up at the mentioning of her name. She smiled at Alice and waved.

"Bye, Alice!" Alex, who was still helping her mother, stopped then and looked back and forth between Alice and Bella, seemingly surprised. Alice grinned at Bella and stepped out, closing the door behind her. Jasper was standing behind her and she jumped as he placed his hand on her shoulder. When she turned around, he grinned warily at her.

"I surprised you?"

"Yes…how surprising," she answered distractedly. Jasper nodded, then looked into the store.

"Did you find anything worth while?"

For a moment Alice considered telling him. But in the end, it wouldn't change anything. In fact, it was already in the past. So she shook her head and fell into his side. He held her tightly, like he always would, and they walked peacefully to the car.