Chapter Twenty Three: Getting Warmer
"Maybe I shouldn't leave them here. She-"
"I think you should." Edward stops me before I can say any more, and gently pushes my hands back down to the bedside table. Because they just picked up the stack of books I had placed there. "She may not want to talk, or anyone to talk to her. This is a way that you can. And give her something she might need, without her having to ask for anything."
"But she might not want to read, either... "
"Then she doesn't have to. But the choice will be hers. And if there's any comfort to be found in escape, escape into a world you created, then I know you'd want to give it to her. Which is why you put them there in the first place. Leave them, Bella."
I would. And I do... "Okay."
"You'll figure it out, sweetheart. And I'll be here to help you, in any way that I can, as much as you want me to."
"I'll always want you. To."
"You didn't have to add that 'to'. I was happy without it."
I smile and tear my eyes from him to glance once more around the spare room I've never been happier to have. "Do you think it's okay? No one has ever slept in here but Alice, and- What if she hates blue?"
"It's a warm bed in a safe place. That's what's most important tonight, don't you think?"
I nod and he tucks me into him, holding me tight as he whispers into my hair, "Colors are easy, Bella. And we can change them. Anything she might not like. But wait for her not to, or to not at all. Because I personally don't think there's anything not to like here. And there's certainly nothing to hate."
"Thank you, Edward." Thank you so much.
Jasper stood in the doorway and watched us. And still stood there watching me after Edward left me to go to the kitchen and make coffee.
I didn't meet his eyes. I couldn't. Because I was afraid to.
Because they hadn't left me since he stood up from in front of my fire. My fire that was blazing by the time he was finished with it.
And maybe I'm just being paranoid... but I think that maybe that blaze had a purpose. More than just to warm us.
I think he saw something.
And made a decision not to let anyone else.
Something I've wondered about many times. If he would or he wouldn't.
I've always known Jasper loved me...
But I don't think I realized how or just how much until Edward came. And then left.
But I do now.
That he loves me too much.
His leaving is proof.
Because he's coming back.
And bringing someone with him.
Instead of taking her far, far away.
Like he should.
"Alexandra, this is Bella. She's-"
"No one calls me that. Well, just my mom, but she's not here anymore."
"I'm sorry," Jasper tells her, "I didn't know that. What does everyone call you?"
"My dad called me Alex, but I didn't like that because Alex is a boy's name. He wanted a boy instead of a girl. But I'm not supposed to know that."
"What would you like to be called?" I ask her, hoping she'll someday forget what she knows.
"My friends at school call me Aly."
"Can I call you that, too?" I ask now, really wanting to be her friend.
"Yeah. And I already met Bella, Jasper. I just didn't know her name."
"You did?" he asks her, but looks at me when he does.
And this time I look back. While we both listen to her. "Yeah. At the bookstore when I was getting my new book. This one," she says, holding it up as she does, "the one that you said she wrote."
"I wasn't looking where I was going and bumped into her," I add to her explanation, because he's still looking at me instead of her. But then I look at her, because what's in her eyes that are looking at me is so much more important. "I did write it. I was going to tell you that at the bookstore, but-"
"But I said goodbye before you could?"
"Yes," I say, wanting never to hear those words from her again. "But that's okay, because you had to go."
"My mom was waiting for me."
I nod, not sure what to say now, but then she says something else. "But she's not now, because I wasn't important enough."
Not important enough? "Sweetheart, that's not why... "
"Yes it is."
"It is. I asked her not to leave me in the hotel all alone. But she wouldn't stay with me. Because my dad wasn't there. And she wanted him to stay where she could see him, too. Even more than me.
"She told me to be a big girl and read my book, and she left to go look for him. Because she thought he was with that other lady that we're not supposed to know about but do. She's my dad's special friend. And she was more important than me. To my dad and my mom. And now I don't have either. Because they didn't come back where I could see them. And won't ever again.
"I only have my book now. And a sister I didn't know about but wish I did. That wrote my book."
"I'm sorry you didn't know," I tell her, because I am. More sorry than she ever could.
"I wasn't important enough to you, either?" she asks, unlike me, afraid to look at nothing. Because her eyes are boring into mine in a way that a child's shouldn't. A way that tells me she isn't. Wasn't let to be.
"No... that's not why. It's not why at all. I didn't know about you. Just like you didn't know about me. I promise I didn't, Aly. Because if I did... you would have been the most important person in the world to me."
"I've never been the most important person in the world to anyone."
Her words are like a knife cutting through me. They hurt. And bring tears to my eyes. Tears I haven't seen in hers.
"I'm sorry," I say, because it's all I can, though the words choke me coming out.
And then I feel Edward's hand on my back. The warmth of it. And of him. Telling me I can give her more. Like I did him.
"But you are now," I tell her, leaving that warmth to crouch down in front of her. "And you're not all alone anymore. And never will be again."
She studies my face for a moment, and then looks up at Edward. "Are you mad that she said I am?" she asks him.
"No," he answers, shaking his head and smiling at her. "Do you think I should be?"
"I don't know. But I think you were the most important before I came. So, maybe you won't like me, even if you're not mad."
"I could never not like you, Aly. If it's okay that I call you that?"
She nods, not taking her eyes from him. "What should I call you?"
"My name is Edward."
"Is that what my sister calls you?" she asks, and he laughs.
"Your sister calls me a few different things... but mostly, yes."
"Are the other things nice?" she asks now, looking at me warily before training her eyes back on him.
"Yes," he tells her, crouching down beside me and clasping my hand in his. "Because your sister is the nicest person I have ever met. And she could never say anything that wasn't."
"Is that why she's the most important one?" she asks, eyeing our hands.
"It's one reason. Another is because she's beautiful. And she shares how much she is. Because her heart is really big."
She smiles, liking his answers, and asks yet another question. "Do you live here?"
"No. I live in the house next door."
She looks like she's about to ask something else, but then something behind us catches her eye. "Bella, you have a cat!"
"Do you like cats?" I ask, hoping her answer is yes, though the sudden joy in her face calms my fears that it could be anything else.
She rushes past us, to where Figaro now sits perched on the arm of the couch. "Yes. I always wanted one, but my mom was allergic and I couldn't have one. Can I pet it?"
"Sure. If he'll sit still long enough."
He does, surprisingly, seemingly already having decided that he likes our guest.
"What's his name?" she asks, as her little hand elicits a contented purring from him.
I cross the room and stand beside her, silently willing him to stay content and not bite her or anything. "His name is Figaro."
"Like the cat in Pinocchio?"
"Do you have a fish named Cleo, too?"
"No," I say, and smile. "No fish named Cleo. But we could get one? If you'd like?"
"My mom always said that. Because she wouldn't let me have anything else. But she didn't mean it because we never got one."
"That's another one of the reasons," Edward says before I can say anything, and comes to stand behind the couch, leaning over and resting his arms on the top. "That she's the most important one... because she means everything she says."
"I think everyone should mean what they say," she tells him, looking between us and then at Jasper, who's still across the room with his friend, who hasn't said a word since they got here. But who could still take her away, which would make it not true. Or me be able to. "Thank you for bringing me here. You can go home now," she tells them both, "I want to stay."
The woman smiles at her, but then looks up at me, as if she's not sure that I want the same thing. "I want her to stay," I tell her, because I do, and because I want Aly to hear me say the words. And hopefully remember what Edward told her when she does.
Something I'm sure she does when I look back at her and see their locked eyes and matching smiles.
"Okay," the woman says finally, turning towards the door, "I'll be in touch. And Jasper has my number. Don't hesitate to call me if you need anything before then."
I nod and watch Jasper follow her out. "I'll get her things."
"I don't have very many," Aly says as soon as he closes the door.
"Very many what, sweetheart?" I ask her, not sure what she means.
"Things. We were only here to visit my dad on his business trip. Because my mom thought it was a different kind of trip. I only have some clothes. She wouldn't even let me bring my pillow."
My god, what kind of life did this child have? To know things like that? More things I want her to forget. "Is your pillow a special one?"
"No, it's just soft. Not like the ones at the hotel. Or like the one I had before my Grandma gave it to me."
She must mean her father's mother, because our mother's died before she left me and my dad. One year before.
But I swear Jasper said she didn't have anyone else... "Is your grandma... " I stop, because I don't want to ask her if she's still alive, especially not now. "Um... "
"She died. Last year when I was six."
"My grandmother died when I was six, too," I tell her. "And I don't know what kind of pillow it was that yours gave you, but I have lots of pillows. And they're all soft. And you can have any one that you want. And if none of them are soft enough, we can go out tomorrow and get one that is."
"Edward was right, you're really nice."
"He was," Jasper agrees, coming back into the house, carrying a small yellow suitcase. That I try not to focus on the color of. But, God, I hope her favorite color isn't yellow... "And about all of the other things he told you about her. So, I will go home now, because I know that you're in the best place in the whole world here with her. Goodnight, Aly. I hope you have sweet dreams."
"Goodnight," she says, and I mouth a silent Thank you and watch as Edward follows him to the door.
"You coming?" I hear him ask him, but I don't wait for his answer. Because I know he won't leave us.
"I'm thirsty, how about you?"
My little sister nods her head, and grabs my hand. Trustingly.
And together we head to the kitchen.
Where coffee waits.
Edward and I.
And something sweeter.
My little sister.
Who never should have been given anything that wasn't.
And never will be again.
"I'm tired now."
The sun is nearly up when she whispers the words.
And her eyes finally look like they might close. Like she can let them.
I know, because I've been watching her.
Have barely taken mine from her face.
The face that looks different to me now.
She doesn't look so much like our mother, like I thought when I first saw her.
It's our grandmother she looks like.
Someone good. And loving, and sweet.
Someone like, from what she's told us - Edward and I, because he's still here - the one she had until a year ago.
And someone like Edward's. Because we talked about her, too. Because Aly asked him about his.
Because she likes him.
Something I thought I saw right away, but something I was sure of when she asked him not to leave. Because she heard him ask me if I wanted him to, even though she wasn't supposed to.
Want him to...
But I would have asked him to if it would have made her more comfortable.
And he would have understood.
That I wouldn't have been asking for me.
Because he knows I'm not just me anymore.
Her and I.
Who both wanted him to stay. And still do.
"Okay." I get up from the couch where we sat with her in front of the fire, that we kept going because she liked it, too.
Something she told us she'd never had before. Or seen, except on tv.
Something she couldn't take her eyes off of, while mine watched her. And Edward's watched us both.
Like they do now as we head down the hall.
"Goodnight, Edward," she calls, "Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams, Aly," he calls back. Then "See you tomorrow." Because he'd already told her she would. When she asked him. And me. If we spent every day together.
Because you should. Always, she said, if someone was important to you.
And I couldn't agree more. And Edward couldn't, either, and told her so. When he said we would. From now on.
"Are you warm enough?" I ask her, once she's climbed into the bed and I've tucked the blankets around her.
She nods, her head nestled sweetly against the pillow. The sight of which reminds me that she might not be something else.
"Is your pillow-"
"It's soft," she says before I can finish asking, and a smile touches her tired eyes. "It's very warm and soft here."
Tears fill my own at her sweet words. And for the ones that don't fill hers. "I'm glad you think so, Aly. Really, really glad."
"Me, too," she says, as hers drift closed. And then, in the faintest whisper "and that I have a sister like you, that I wish I always knew about."
Me, too, sweetheart. Me, too...
"Come here." Edward holds his hand out to me, and when I take it, pulls me into his lap. "She's going to be okay, Bella," he whispers, wiping the tears from my cheeks. "Better than okay. I promise you she is."
"She didn't deserve the life she had, Edward. To know the things she knew... was told... To believe the things she believes now... We only spent hours with her, and I know she didn't deserve it."
"No... but she deserves the life she'll have. The life you'll give her. The one that's waiting for her. The sweet, beautiful, innocent words... instead of the selfish, ugly ones they'll make her forget. The kindness, because you're not capable of giving anything else. To anyone. And the truth, that you'll never let hurt her. Because you'll give it. And mean it when you do. Like the promises you make, that all of the rest will show her she can believe in. She deserves everything good, Bella. She deserves you."
Oh, Edward... if you only knew how wrong you are... and how right I want you to be... "You sure do think highly of me."
"Yes, I do. And so will she. Even more than she does already. After only hours with you."
"She told me it was very warm and soft here."
"But I don't think she meant the fire... or the pillows... or-"
"No... I don't think she did, either. I certainly don't."
"You know, I'm never going to order you away... "
"Or give permission, even, for you to go."
"So, I'm stuck here?"
"Yeah. You're stuck here."
"Well, I'm glad, Bella... because Jasper was right, too. And, like Aly is... I'm in the best place in the whole world here with you.
"And I want to stay. "