EPILOGUE: AN OCCASION
"What the hell are you doing, Bella?"
A splot of cookie dough ice cream fell off my spoon onto my Marianna's Trench shirt. "Cleaning this off," I said. I stabbed my spoon into the pint-sized tub and went into the kitchen. Dad followed me in, taking in my less than formal attire, clearly disappointed that I wasn't the cool high school student he was back in his day, or something. He definitely looked disappointed.
"Before you tell me that sitting at home eating ice cream while my friends are going to some stupid high school dance is seriously unhealthy," I interrupted, "let me remind you that I'm not returning my boyfriend's calls, and therefore I have no date, and even though I confess to having a dress I could wear to the dance, tonight is not a party night. I don't have the energy to dance poorly while my toes get stepped on while I go deaf because of loud music blaring in a filled-to-capacity gym. I don't feel like having fun tonight. I feel like eating ice cream while my friends are at a stupid dance."
Dad was stunned. His eyes were wide, his mouth shut. He had his hands on his hips. He watched me take a cloth from the sink and dab my shirt, and then go immediately back to the couch to un-pause my Back to the Future marathon…which I had started hours ago and realized much too late that a big part of the story involves a high school dance. But if I took it off now I would have to explain why. It wasn't the kind of ammunition I was willing to give Dad. From the tone of his voice he had probably already convinced himself that he would take me to the dance himself just to get me there.
It's not as if I'd been living on the couch and addicted to junk food for the last two months. I'd taken a couple weeks to heal from the physical injuries and get control of the mental ones. It had been difficult to smile the first month. It had been painful. I was struck with guilt, like a slice across my heart, every time I felt a little bit happy.
Jacob had come to the funeral with Dad. They were my support system. Phil said he wanted to keep in touch. The hard part was that he really did. He hadn't paid much attention to me when Mom was alive, but now he sent me an email at then end of every week checking in. I felt obligated to, so I'd been sending one back each week. We didn't say anything all that personal, but I think we got what we both needed from each other. A connection to my mom.
I wish I could say I'd thought about it, coming back to Forks, but I hadn't. The morning after our flight back to Forks Dad had asked if I was sure. I was surprised. Mom hadn't died in Forks, so why wouldn't I come back? Dad told me he was afraid I'd want to go home, somewhere else, somewhere Mom had been. I told him the truth though, that Forks was home. He'd put on a brave face for me since he first saw me in the hospital, but knowing that I'd found my way home was too much for him. He left the room and let himself cry quietly for a minute.
Going back to school wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. My friends made it easy. I saw how surprised they were when I didn't immediately go for Edward during lunch. They didn't ask about it. They only periodically checked in to see how my mental state was. Mostly they talked about their own lives. Life had gone on without me. I'd missed events. I'd missed a couple birthday bashes, and supposedly a hilarious prank involving the teacher's lounge, Chuck Norris, and beanbags. I was told the story, but my mind had wandered. I'd caught Edward staring at me. The story wasn't nearly as interesting.
A couple weeks after I was back in school, when I was finally comfortable enough to tag along for the combination study party and movie watching after school specials (and willingly sign up for the Holiday Decorating Committee because Jess was having trouble finding volunteers), Alice invited herself over one evening. She charmed Dad easily, and as much as I wanted to be upset with her, Alice was like a puppy. She was cute, had way too much energy, and I forgave her before she'd said her thousandth apology. She said hi to me in the hallway and took it upon herself to drive me to and from school everyday. Her excuse was that she didn't trust my senior citizen of a truck but I knew she was doing it for Edward. He was giving me space, but it was too annoying to not keep close to me in some way. He also kept putting a lily in my locker. Every morning when I'd go to exchange my textbooks, there would be another one lying there. I had a vase in the centre of the kitchen table that couldn't hold too many more. Dad would watch me add another to the vase each day and say nothing, except a few days ago he mumbled something about pitying that poor Edward.
"You don't have to be happy tonight," Dad said, "as long as you promise you'll be happy most of the time."
I rolled my eyes. "I promise."
"Good." His nose crinkled. "Maybe take a shower though, fix up your hair. Rats might get the wrong idea and move in."
My fingers shot to my hair. It was Friday. It had been a half-day, due to the preparations for the dance—the Snowflake Dance (I didn't pick the name). I admit to faking a sick day and telling my friends the day before that I wasn't feeling well and might not come…and then texted them to say I definitely had a cold and wouldn't be coming to the dance. It was a lie. I didn't feel a teeny bit guilty. But being a teenager, I couldn't help but consider that even with no one with a fashionable eye at home to judge me that it might be worth it to inspect my hair in a mirror. It had been fine, if a little flat, this morning. Maybe Dad was right. Since I was avoiding the dance, why not have a steamy bubble bath to drown my thoughts in?
It turned out to be an excellent idea. Firstly because the hour I spent relaxing was, frankly, relaxing. I almost dozed off it was so nice. Secondly, and this was a traumatizing secondly, Alice was in my room when I got out of the bath. She held up two dresses, one with a long floor-length skirt and the other had a short, above-the-knees skirt.
"This is a coup," she said with toothy grin. "You're Dad knows I'm here and I've convinced him that it is absolutely necessary for me to use any kind of force necessary to drag you to that dance looking damn fine!"
I turned and was about to close the door to my room behind me, maybe lock myself in the bathroom, when Alice scooped me up and dropped me on my bed.
"Short dress or long?" she asked.
"Neither. I'm not going, Alice."
"We're both going," she said. "Don't make me late by arguing with me."
I rolled my eyes. "Have you considered that this might do more harm than good?"
"No," she said sharply, "because it's going to do you good. I've seen it."
We both flinched. In the two months since Mom's death, Alice had gone out of her way to never mention a vision. I'd seen her lips close tightly or she'd suddenly change the subject if she got close to saying it, but it had helped me forgive her.
"It's okay," I said. I traced a finger along the pale scar on my left palm. "I don't blame you anymore, Alice. You don't have to avoid talking about what you see or feel, alright?"
"Thank you." She hopped onto the bed and laid her legs out next to mine. "It was tricky not saying anything."
I smiled. "I could tell."
Alice held up the dresses again. I groaned, but I knew that if even my Dad wanted me to go to this dance, it was pointless to fight. I grabbed my phone from my bedside table and texted Angie to tell her I would see her at the dance. Alice read the text over my shoulder and cheered.
When I couldn't decide which dress, Alice decided the long one, which seemed more appropriate for the red carpet than a small town high school dance, but I didn't have the energy to put together a list of pros and cons for the deep blue floor-length gown. There was a layer of sheer, gauzy material that made the dress sparkle like the night sky. It fit perfectly, not that I should be surprised since Alice had picked it out. My arms were bare and the front v-neck was a little wider than what I was normally comfortable with, but it did allow ample room to showcase the silver-beads that Alice draped over my in layers. She helped me curl my hair and then pinned my hair so that it was partially pinned in an asymmetrical half-pinned up, half-down do. It was fabulous in a way I knew I had a snowball's chance in hell of replicating. Alice made me close my eyes as she did my make-up, adding a line of thin, silver sparkling eyeliner and colouring my lips deep pink. The first earrings she made me try on were too heavy and I put my foot down, so she went with her backup pair, simple gold beads that matched the chains of beads around my neck.
Alice swore that the best way to avoid stepping on the skirt was to wear high heels and not flats, and since she was already making her doll for the night I slipped into the dark blue strappy deathtraps. Heels were a great way to add height, and although I had yet to perfectly master the art of walking in heels like a sexy, strong, independent woman (mostly I walked just a small child playing dress up), one thing was true: the first few steps in high heels reminded me of dancers. I'd watched So You Think You Can Dance? a few times and been awed at how mere mortals can make their bodies move. The women on those shows weren't dancing in sneakers or sensible shoes. No, they had characters shoes and heels. Anytime I wore high heels the child inside me felt like the shoes were giving me a superpower, to be that much closer to be the kind of woman that can tango or do fancy jumps even with a constant two or more inches separating my heel from the floor.
Maybe Alice's choice of shoes would make me dance better tonight. I could use all the help I could get, since the extent of my high school dancing capabilities included swaying to a rhythm and bobbing my head to a beat.
Alice touched up her own make-up while Dad snapped a few pictures of me at the bottom of the stairs. He almost let slip that he wished my mom could see how beautiful I looked. He stopped himself in time, but I heard it anyway.
Dad snapped a few more shots with me beside Alice. He waved us away from the front door. I complimented Alice on her ability to drive so easily in four-inch heels.
The closer we got to the school, and the gymnasium where the bountiful mass of streamers had been hung, the quieter Alice got. She grinned like the Joker, but she only nodded or gave one-word answers when I tried to get her to speak. I was suspicious. She'd already strong-armed me into coming, so what other devious thing could be waiting for me tonight?
I knew when she pulled into a spot in the parking lot and the hand that helped me out of the car was Edward's.
When I looked around for Alice she was already gone. I was alone in the dark lot with Edward. There weren't any lights in the lot. I could only count on the lights coming from the front of the school.
"You are beautiful, Bella," Edward said.
"I guess I clean up okay, huh?" I laughed nervously. I'd glimpsed him in the cafeteria daily but it felt like we'd been on different continents for two months.
"You've always been beautiful, but tonight you're a goddess of the night," he said. He took my hand and softly stroked his thumb over my fingers. He leaned to kiss the back of my hand. Then he turned my hand over and found the scar on my palm. "How are you?"
"Better than I thought I'd be," I confessed. "I was sure I'd be crying for months. And angry for even longer but…" I shrugged.
Edward was every inch a modern prince. His hair was combed back and he was wearing black tux with the sleeves rolled above his elbows, the white marked with thin apple-red stripes. The last time I'd seen him he'd been worn and worried. Tonight he'd jumped from a black and white movie screen ready to dance and deliver the charming lines with all the charisma and gentlemanly manner that a beautiful and charming movie heroine deserved. But was I that heroine? I sure didn't feel heroic. Or deserving of an elaborately choreographed dance number.
"You let me have my space," I told him. I pressed my hand into his, twisting my fingers through his and stepping closer. "A better person would be more concerned with grieving for their mother than missing you."
Edward's hand found my waist. His lips touched mine. One quick kiss. One deep kiss. My hand snaked up his neck, desperate to touch his skin, to knot fingers in his hair. When he took his lips from mine, our foreheads touching, I realized how much I had been dying to kiss him since I first woke up in the hospital in LA two months ago.
"I missed you," I confessed.
"And I you," he said. He kissed my forehead. His hand rested on my cheek. "I thought you might be angry at me forever." He suddenly smirked. "But Alice reminded me yesterday that you are mortal, and are therefore limited in how long you can hold a grudge."
I lightly whacked his chest and stepped back, but I let him keep hold of my hand. "I am known far and wide for my exceptional grudge holding capabilities."
Edward shook his head. He believed me to be much more forgiving than I believed myself. The Bella in his heart was a purer soul than the Bella I knew. I wasn't known far and wide, but I did hold grudges. I just held them in secret and tonight I buried that secret deeper. I needed some comfort. I was a teenage girl and there was a boy (albeit a boy who'd lived more than twice my age) who wanted to give me flowers, hold my hand, and take me to a fantastically stupid high school dance. I needed this.
"Thank you," I said, "for the flowers."
"I was worried you might need more space than that. That I might be pushing you farther away." He frowned.
"It helped," I admitted. "I needed space, I really did. I needed it to be hard. I needed to miss you." I blinked and breathed a deep breath and tried to suck back inside me the tears and the guilt that was always an inch away from bursting out of me. "I needed to be a normal person and not think about…non-human things. But I think I feel like me again." I squeezed his hand. "I'm ready to feel like myself again. I didn't know it before five minutes ago, but…here we are." I shrugged.
"Should we go in?" he asked. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye that made me think he was really asking the opposite.
I motioned toward the door. "We're this close," I said, "and I don't like leaving things unfinished."
The twinkle erased. He held out his arm, letting my loop mine over his. Our shadows on the front doors of the school were much too elegant to belong to us—well, maybe Edward, but not me. But somehow Alice had worked a miracle and turned me into hot arm candy. It was so easy to underestimate the power of high-heels and make-up. I often had shaken my head and laughed at the Cinderella-esque makeovers in films. They films were right about one thing though, makeovers may be all about the outside, but they have equal effect on the inside.
In the gym the mass of bodies was much like my expectations. I wasn't up to date on the latest top 10 of the week, but clearly my classmates were because they knew the lyrics to the song. The DJ even turned off the music for a line of the chorus and everyone sang—correction, loudly shouted—the lyrics perfectly. My Mom was murdered and suddenly everyone learns a new song without me. Typical.
Rosalie caught my eye—and damn, she caught the eye of every other person in that gym any time she moved. Thankfully for the jealous girlfriends present, Rosalie mostly made herself a fixture on the wall—a revolving fixture in crimson with a low, dangling front and a mostly bare back. She swayed with Emmett, who earned a thousand bonus points from me for wearing a white t-shirt with the symbol of a tie on the front. Sure he wore dress pants, but the pretend tie made me wonder if, same as me, Emmett knew exactly how Rosalie made other women feel, and he wanted to do what little he could to make it clear that even Aphrodite had problems. Thank God for you, Emmett. He even gave me a high five when Edward and I passed by.
During the first song I stayed with the Cullens, who also didn't know the words. I convinced Edward that the proper protocol for a high school dance was to shimmy with friends for at least a few songs that were nearly impossible to dance to unless you had space and a planned routine. I found Angie. Jess had thankfully forgiven me—although I hadn't figured out if it was a forgiveness born out of pity or because officially becoming Mike's girlfriend had mellowed her out. Either way, we were friends again. Angie had a date too. His name was…well, he had a name, but it wasn't coming to me. Everyone knew the name of the new girl Bella Swan, but that unfortunately didn't go both ways and I had yet to understand why the rumour was that in small towns everyone knows everybody's business. If that were true, Angie's date's name wouldn't be foggy in my mind and a lot more people would be delivering garlic bread to the Cullens' door and asking them to church.
When a slow song came, Edward twirled me away from my friends and assumed a frame that would even put Baby in the corner. (Coincidentally, someone requested I've Had the Time of my Life, both the Black Eyed Peas remake and the movie original). I'd been to dances before where the slow song was the signal for wallflowers like me to shrink back and watch the couples form. I owed Edward that much. He had wanted me. For all the shit that came along with him wanting me, I couldn't help but be grateful for the ways he had permanently changed me. It was more than a scar on my hand. The change in me wasn't one visible thing. The girl who'd come to Forks months ago had been naïve and in the dark; the new me had hung a moon in the sky, found light to see by. It might be a gloomy metaphor, but I truly believed that my life because of Edward was a night world and now it felt like my world. The world that my friends belonged, that my dad belonged to, a world my mom had been stolen from, was a world I could only look at and never belong to. The change in me was that I had accepted that separation and knew that my sanity was dependent on me learning to love my night world. I could do it. I was going to do this.
Edward stayed next to me when the slow song ended, but he wasn't one to shimmy goofily and do the robot or gangnam style. He watched and snickered as I did exactly that. He took my hand, held it above my head and spun me in and out, and added a weird beauty to my flailing. I was one hundred percent sure that vampirism was not for me, but thoughts of whether my dancing skills would magically improve if I drank blood did come to mind. When the next slow number came, I was ready to be impressed by Edward's attempt to do anything more than sway in a small circle dully like the other couples, but then I heard the question I'd least expected to hear my lifetime.
"Mind if I cut in?"
Edward's arms stiffened. "Yes."
Maybe Edward wouldn't have been so rigid if a smirk hadn't spread my lips when my eyes took in Jacob in the similar number to Emmett's—except instead of dress pants I noted that they were simply dark wash jeans. His hair was combed back deliberately, painfully deliberately. Before tonight he might hadn't have brushed his hair in years. The cozy and carefree style that he usually wore was leagues away. He cleaned up pretty good.
"Jake, what's the occasion?" I teased.
"I heard there was a school dance."
"We're busy," Edward said coldly.
"Edward, you can spare one dance," I told him.
Edward released me. "One." He stepped back and gave us room. In one fell swoop, Jacob had transformed the dashing Edward into a wallflower. It was a twist that I'm sure neither Edward nor I could've predicted. Alice too seemed perplexed. She rubbed her eyes like she was in a cartoon.
Jacob held up his hands and he stared at my waist. It was like someone had replaced his arms with sticks and he couldn't figure out what to do with them. Granting him mercy, I guided is hands to my back and swung my hands around his neck. I initiated the swaying. Bella Swan, leading man. Who knew?
"Jake, what are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see how Buffy was handling Spike."
I quirked an eyebrow and frowned.
He rolled his and smiled, his face flushing. "I have an older sister. She watched that stuff. I had to watch it to when my parents went out."
My expression sobered. "You don't talk about your mom much."
Jacob's smile shrunk. He laughed uncomfortably. "No. I don't. I don't remember much about her so there's not a lot to talk about."
We stopped swaying. It was because of me. My shoulders were stone, followed by my back, and my feet nailed into the floor. Jacob removed his hands. Without the weight and heat of his palms, my skin cooled and my heart sank. He must have seen my lip tremble. The gym was dim except for a few rolling multi-coloured lights, but he must have seen. He took my hand. He hadn't asked about the scar there and I had never mentioned it, but somehow that was the hand he closed between his.
"Shit, I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean to…" His hand tightened around mine. "I lost my mom when I was a kid. That's all. You knew your mom. Forget what I said."
To hide my face I placed his hands on my back again and I leaned my forehead on his shoulder and started to sway. Edward was probably listening, but at least this way no one human would notice. Edward already knew my pain, but having Angie or anyone else with a shred of sympathy see me almost crying at a dance would be mortifying. I wanted them to believe I was closer to being better than being in mourning. It needed to be a quiet, unnoticed thing if I was ever going to have more good days than bad.
"I don't know if I knew her," I confessed. The voices on all sides of us must have made it difficult to listen, but I knew Jacob would hear me. "When I moved in with my dad, I was mad at her. I hadn't forgiven her yet. We were apart and I hadn't seen her…it was the longest time we'd been apart. I guess it's the second longest now."
Jacob stopped swaying and his hands held me firm. For a moment he lost his nervousness and wrapped his arms around me. His energy was bright and his warmth seeped through my skin. He was like a nightlight or a firefly in the dark. I wanted to keep him in my life. But I wasn't sure if that was what was best for him. Mom had been far from me, but simply by being my mom she'd been targeted. Was James the only vampire who would ever threaten me because of Edward? Dad had taken me back without even thinking about it. He wanted me. Jacob wanted me. I wanted them. But I wasn't sure it was safe. The doctors had warned Dad that he couldn't afford another accident this year, not after James broke into our home and gave Dad his first concussion since his high school football days.
And there was that other thing too. The explanation for it all. Even though half-truths were exhausting, I told the police and Dad a story about how James had actually been a former boyfriend of Mom's and he'd kidnapped her and told me to come meet them or he'd hurt her. I told them that he threatened her and said everything would be fine if I didn't let anyone know why I was leaving and I met with him alone. A lot of that was true—although I almost vomited in my mouth even saying that James might have a relationship with my mom, even a fictionalized one week fling. But it was easy to describe him as an obsessive stalker who didn't take the hint to fuck off. With the police focused on finding James, who Jasper and Edward had burned into nothingness, the Cullens were safe. Dad never yelled at me, but he did give me a long-winded reminder to always, always tell him when I needed help. And to never lie to him again. It hurt to promise never to lie knowing I surely would and already was. It hurt deeper when Jacob asked me to tell him the real story and I pretended to not knowing what he was talking about.
I opened my eyes and through the maze of twirling bodies I found Edward. He was glaring at Jacob. When he met my eyes his glare melted. He didn't smile.
I pushed away from Jacob and out of habit tried to brush my hair back uselessly. My nail caught on a curl and tugged it loose. Jacob cleared his throat and re-measured the distance between us.
"You've gotten taller," I said to prevent an awkward silence from forming.
"Yeah, well. Yeah." He ruined my attempt. He bobbed his head a few times.
The last chorus of the song was beginning. Edward would pounce the second it faded into a new song.
"I came to make sure you were okay," Jacob said. "Not just because of, you know, but because of him." He jerked his head back in Edward's direction. "Your dad called, worried that you might be upset without a date. He might be even more upset if he knew you only had that guy to look after you."
I smirked. I couldn't help it. It wasn't the smirk of an amused person. No, this was a smirk of someone who had seen exactly what happened when Edward looked after me. Little did Jacob know that Edward had been put to the test. What I'd learned from my misadventures with Edward was that I wasn't worried about my life. It was everyone else I had to worry about.
"I'm not taking any chances," Jacob said. He placed his hands on my shoulders. "I know you haven't always been convinced that he's a great guy and sometimes we stay with people because we don't want to be alone when something bad happens."
"Did you get that from the internet or a self-help book?" It was easy to laugh at him, which I did, because I knew my reasons for wanting Edward were more than wanting a distraction.
He grinned and shook his head once. He sighed sharply and dropped his hands. "Neither. Late night TV. I was avoiding studying."
I bobbed my head a few times, lips pressed tightly. "Should've guessed. You and your anything-to-avoid-homework addiction."
Jacob slipped his hands into his pockets and ducked his head. "It doesn't change what I mean."
I almost crossed my arms, but wondered how horribly un-classy that would look in a dress. Dresses were for lady-like people. I didn't want to ruin the illusion yet. I folded my fingers together in front of me.
"Don't forget I'm here," he said.
"Never," I promised.
He raised his head. "My dad has been talking about you and the Cullens. He hasn't been their biggest fans for a while now, but…"—he shrugged—"he blames them for hurting you. He thinks they have something to do with it." Jacob glanced over his shoulder and then leaned closer. "If there's anything you need to say, I'll listen."
I peeked over Jake's shoulder. Edward was on the move. The song was fading into another. Jake's time was up.
"I'm fine," I said. "If I need you I'll call. Unless it's a ghost, then there's a whole other number I have to dial."
His eyes rolled up. A second longer and his irises might've rolled back into his head. But he laughed, his face scrunched at me. He knew there were serious thoughts in my head but that a serious conversation wasn't what I needed from him.
I touched his arm. "Thanks, Jake."
He watched my hand slip from his arm. He inhaled slowly; his breathe hitched once. "Have a good night, Bella."
Edward breezed around Jacob and slipped his arms around me. Jacob waved and then waded through the bodies to the exit. It was nice having a friend who wanted to listen, even when it was painfully obvious I was keeping things from him. Too bad Edward didn't like the idea of our friendship.
"Let's get some air," Edward said.
I was surprised that Edward didn't go for escape route I assumed he would. Instead of the front doors, he led us past the cafeteria, through the halls that were so cold without student bodies hurrying through. I remembered when I'd told him to follow me this way. I'd told him to let me say my thoughts out loud. I'd told him that I liked him, but even though I did, really did like him, I had to fight for myself first. I told him I wouldn't let him hurt me. It was naïve to think saying it out loud would make it happen.
He held open the door for me. My heels had been easier to navigate on indoor floors. The pavement outside the doors was rougher. I pinched some of my skirt between clammy hands to keep it from dragging and getting dirty. It was cold and the sun was down now. The light above the door was on and it highlighted my breath, visible as I exhaled. The first semester was almost over. It was December. Exam started Monday, ended Friday, and then winter break. Never before in my life had so much happened in such a short time. Four months and it felt like a year.
"Do you remember when you brought me out here?" Edward asked. He stood behind me, his arms around me.
I leaned my head back on his shoulder. "Yes."
"I promised I would put you first," he said.
A cloud passed by to let the moonlight flood down. It was a bright moon. But it was an old moon. It had been full a few nights ago and it was fading. I wondered if the moon would be a sliver for Christmas. Not exactly fitting for the iconic image of Santa and his sleigh flying across the full face of the moon.
"I know I failed you," he said, "but it won't happen again. I know how selfish it is to want to be with you, so if it ever comes to that choice…to protect you or stay with you, I'll do what's best for you. I couldn't bear to see you hurting like that. Not again."
I placed my hands over his. "I'm human, Edward. I have human friends and human family. That means sooner or later I'm going to lose them."
"But not because of me," he vowed. His kissed my cheek. "I never want to be the reason you cry."
I touched his cheek. "I hope you can keep that promise."
Edward and I didn't speak for a few minutes. We stood close and watched the moon light up the clouds that kept passing over it, trying to block it completely. Goosebumps spread on my arms and when my teeth chattered Edward said we should go back inside. I didn't object. We rejoined the dance and stayed a couple hours. I had always thought I was good at lying, but maybe Edward knew me too well. I think he could tell I had changed.
MOONLIGHT: NEW MOON COMING SOON. I HOPE YOU'LL TUNE IN!
As always, comments/reviews are welcome. (Except maybe entire stories written in the comments. What's that about, Madam/Sir?)