Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. I'm just here to play.
Thank you to Project Team Beta for their invaluable assistance editing this chapter. Pirri, kikidew, and irelandk worked hard to get it in shape for you all.
Supper special thanks to my permanent betas, Marlena516 and darcysmom, who have hacked their way through each misplaced comma and run-on sentence.
Prologue - Winter Song
My candle battles bravely against the icy Alaskan air, shadows flickering like the scurrying rats that abandoned this place as soon as I took residence. Their pungent stench still lingers.
The cabin is a relic. Situated in the south field of our twelve hundred acre plot, it's the only structure original to this land; over a hundred years old and boasting none of the comforts brought by Esme's skilled hands. No furniture, no running water, and on the verge of collapse—it isn't fit for habitation.
A mile from the main house, it's the only building far enough away to offer a reprieve from the unending voices in my head.
I haven't abandoned my family altogether, though the hours I spend in this decrepit hovel are indeed greater than the hours I spend in their company. I tell them my time away is for their benefit; the gift of privacy. After our most recent tour of duty in high school—Forks, this time—they're due some freedom, some relief from oppressive scrutiny. They can be themselves here, free to hunt and laugh and . . . love, without my intrusion. I tell them this, but the distance—as we all know—most greatly benefits me.
Wind whistles through the snow-crusted walls as I try to focus on the faded paperback in my hands. It was once my favorite novel, but I find it no longer holds any truth or insight for me. I toss it down and turn my attention to the stars peeking through holes in the roof.
I've always loved the Alaskan stars: an endless expanse of glittering sky, unmarred by the reflective glow of city lights. The bright orbs once held the promise of infinite opportunity—worlds upon worlds of purpose and happiness, and all the time I could ask to grasp it. As I look through the crumbling ceiling of my shelter, the fathomless nature of the sky offers, instead, a reminder of my own insignificance.
I sense a presence, see the whisper of pale limbs and strawberry hair across the field outside my window as I catch her errant thoughts.
Nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing . . .
My mouth quirks in amusement at her latest attempt to avoid my gift.
"I can hear you," I murmur; my voice carries to her highly-tuned ears, even across the distance.
She curses. In a blink, she's standing before me, my candle snuffed out in her wake. I frown at the loss—it was the only company I sought.
She looks down at me, statuesque, her brow arching smugly. Her voice is like the tinkling of an ornate crystal chandelier: distractingly bright, garish.
"I nearly made it to the door, you know."
I push myself from the floor, brushing snow and dirt from my pants; there's no seat to offer her.
"I was distracted."
She gives a withering glance to the room and says, "Of course, such opportunities for entertainment in your little . . ." She struggles to find the word. ". . . shack." It's much kinder than the word she's thinking.
I don't like losing this game, even if it is one she designed . . . one in which I have nothing invested. For her my failure to read her thoughts means progress, intimacy. For me it means lack of diligence.
She circles the perimeter of the room, parading for me. A thin red sheath kisses her marble skin, and she wonders if the effect is sexy or vulgar. I don't know if she means me to hear that or wants me to answer. I hold my tongue.
I can be distracting, you know.
"Tanya," I reprimand, but of course, she takes it as an invitation.
Then she's on me, her hard body pressed to mine. Her hands wrap around the base of my neck and lace into my hair as mine hang limply at my sides. Her amber eyes darken with hunger; her nose and lips hover millimeters from my own. Pride allows her to go no further. She will wait for me to make a move.
She has been waiting for a long time.
You could have me. It would be so easy. You don't have to be alone.
And under that, quieter than the voice she is projecting, I don't have to be alone.
For a moment the mask is down, vixen replaced by the damaged woman she so carefully tries to conceal. Little does she know these few glimpses of honesty, of vulnerability, are more attractive to me than all of her carefully engineered seduction. I let myself be swept away by the pain in her eyes, their desperate emptiness a mirror to my own.
Can we do this? I wonder. Can we find companionship in each other? Will being content with her—not happy, never happy—be enough to patch over the empty hole in my chest?
I lean into her, ghosting my hands along her hips, hearing thoughts of shock and delight as I touch my lips gently to hers. She presses closer to me, flesh grinding into flesh, and moans.
Oh God, yes!
She deepens the kiss, opening her mouth and exploring. I try to reciprocate, willing myself to enjoy her hands, her tongue, her body; but her thoughts are screaming at me, a cacophony of images overtaking my senses. The kiss recedes into the background as scenes of our coupling play out in her mind—violently writhing bodies, a tangle of limbs, mouths shouting ecstasy into the night air. It is my face in those images, but not as I know it. Through the lens of Tanya's mind I look angry, feral. I'm punishing her, and she loves it.
I feel a cold sinking in the pit of my stomach. This is not right—this desperate groping, this false connection. She wants something I can't give her. Perhaps together we wouldn't be alone, but still, we would be infinitely lonely.
I push her gently away from me as my eyes whisper an apology. She's confused, hands still wrapped desperately in my hair.
"What—?" Do you want something different? We can do it however you like.
I shake my head, almost imperceptibly, hating myself for this cruelty. Understanding dawns at last, and something inside her cracks. I've never seen such hatred in her eyes. Then the wall is up, and her face twists into a mask of haughty indifference.
"Fine." I don't need some pathetic hermit to enjoy myself. I'll leave you to your self-flagellation.
And she is gone.
I stand rooted to the spot, a statue amid crumbling ruins. Clouds move across the sky, blanketing the stars and extinguishing their light. For a while, I allow myself the luxury of a blank mind—I think nothing, feel nothing.
Hours pass. All silent. All still. Finally, as the sun slowly crests the horizon, I breathe in deeply. The morning smells fresh and new. An omen. What it stands for—beginning or end—I don't know.
The room stinks of cheap beer, cigarettes, and desperation. I've sequestered myself in a ratty armchair in a darkened corner, and I'm doing my best to blend into the furniture. This endeavor is greatly assisted by the lack of electricity, the only light provided by a mismatched collection of candles lining dirty windowsills and shelves. Cheap glass votives (the Virgin Mother smiling beneficently from the one next to me) mingle with tea lights and scented monstrosities from Yankee Candle. In the flickering yellow light, everything is washed out to a murky non-color—sallow skin, stale beer, sweat stains.
Then someone cracks open the glow sticks, and the dim room is splashed in rainbow points of light writhing in time to a heavy electronic beat. I strain to hear a melody in the auto-tuned voice screeching through the speakers across the room, but my quest is in vain.
There's a couple making out on the floor at my feet, threatening to knock poor Mary to the ground, and I discreetly move her out of the way. The last thing I need is to usher a hundred drunk kids out of a blazing inferno.
I don't belong here. Why did I think this was a good idea?
Oh yeah, the cute boy from Russian Lit who stopped me after class to invite me to "the most awesome blackout party ever", the one who seemed to have no idea who I was when I approached him at the keg an hour ago, the one who thinks Gogol is a search engine. I knew I should have followed my instincts and stayed home, but something had me feeling adventurous today.
Perhaps it was Professor Cameron's lecture on sexual imagery in The Master and Margarita and the resulting tingle between my legs—both interrupted by a sudden power outage. Maybe it was the unexpected taste of freedom brought about by our early dismissal from class, the way Gogol-boy grabbed my arm as I crossed the snow-covered park away from the Emerson campus, or the feel of his fingers against my palm as he shoved an address into my hand. Whatever it was, I felt brave and excited at the prospect of doing something different, something impulsive, something so utterly unlike myself.
So much for trying new things.
There's a crash from the kitchen followed by a chorus of laughter. I wonder whose place this is, if they care it's being systematically destroyed by spilt alcohol and cigarette burns.
I check my phone for the hundredth time. Yep. Still on. Angela should be here by now; she should have at least called. I search through the haze of smoke and hormones for a familiar face, but the closest I come is the too-thin girl who usually sleeps through our Psych 101 class. She's taking a shot of something piss-colored and trying her hardest to look like she's having fun. A pack of guys with popped collars form a half-circle around her, bumping fists and laughing as they fill her shot glass again.
Where is Angela? I never would have come if I thought I'd be braving Ke$ha and Pabst and blossoming bromances alone.
I've just decided it's time to go when a hulking figure approaches and sits down on the arm of my chair, trapping me here. He's wearing a Neon Trees t-shirt and reeks of Axe. It makes my throat itch. I slide further into the scratchy cushions of the armchair and stare intently over the impromptu dance floor to the bare wall across the room.
He leans over to be heard above the din.
"Hey, cutie. You don't have a drink." Apparently my attempt at aloofness has gone ignored.
I sneak a look. He's defined, bulkier than necessary, and I wonder how much time he has to spend in the gym to get his neck to bulge into his shoulders like that. His dark hair is gelled into a triangular point at his forehead, and I hold back a snicker. He has pale blue eyes and a sharp nose. Take away the hair and the smell and he wouldn't be too bad—kind of like a muscled, discount version of Christian Bale.
"I'm okay," I mumble and return to my intensely busy schedule of doing nothing.
Undeterred, he says, "Come on, how are you gonna have any fun without a drink? Here, take mine." He shoves a red plastic cup in my face, sloshing a bit on my lap.
There's no way I'm drinking that.
"Really, I'm fine." I raise my voice, making sure he's heard me this time. "You enjoy."
I try to push the cup away, but the cheap plastic bends against his grip, and I'm afraid the whole thing will come spilling down on me. I can just imagine how fun it would be to walk home through the snow in wet pants. He insists again, as if he's being chivalrous and I should be batting my eyes and swooning. He's not going to give up. I relent, taking the cup and setting it down on a blue milk crate next to me.
"So. What's up?" he says with a short nod.
Oh God. He doesn't actually expect me to talk, does he?
"I was just getting ready to leave, actually. I have to meet a friend—"
I'm halfway out of my seat, brushing against him because there's nowhere else to go, and I realize in horror that he's taking this as an invitation. His hands are on my hips as he slides down into the chair, pulling me onto his lap with a surprising grace.
"No, no, no, you can't go yet. I don't even know your name."
I wiggle in his lap, trying to free myself, but I can't get any purchase, and it just seems to be encouraging him anyway.
"Seriously, I need to go." My voice hovers on the edge of panic.
I don't want to be here with this creep, in this stupid apartment with this stupid music and these stupid fucking people.
"Come on, honey, lighten up. It's a party—it's supposed to be fun!"
His hands are working their way north and my vision starts to blur. I feel like I can't breathe. The music and the glow sticks and the smoke curling into my nose are giving me a headache. If I could just get outside and get some air, everything would be okay. But this lummox has me pinned against him, and the idiot doesn't seem to understand the universal signs for "Leave me the fuck alone!"
When I was young and I'd get stressed or really overwhelmed by something, sometimes I'd zone out for a little while—"take a leave of absence," Charlie would call it. At four years old, I saw my golden retriever, Thisbe, get run over by a silver Suburban and found myself floating in an ocean of calm. One second, I was in my front yard staring at a smear of red on the asphalt, and the next, I was surrounded by blue waves of love, the reality in front of me gone, unable to break through the safe cocoon of my mind. To the outside observer I looked like a creepy china doll—dead eyes and limp limbs. At least that's how Renee described it. Inside I was safe.
I've "gone away" at least a dozen times since then—it's different every time; I have a good imagination. I'm flying, I'm in a lush garden, I'm surrounded by colorful clouds. I've never had a problem escaping. It's reality that can be a challenge.
I'm sitting in this Neanderthal's lap—his hands creeping up my body as I push against them—and I'm sinking into that happy place. I feel myself start taking that leave of absence, and I know if I let myself go something really not good is going to happen. I struggle to keep my breath calm as I flip through every lesson on self-defense Charlie ever taught me, and finally I land on the one that seems to fit this situation best: if strength's not an option, use your wits. I look around and see what I need, grab the red cup and fling the contents into his face. He releases me immediately.
"You bitch! I was just trying to say hello!"
But I'm running out of the room, ignoring the bile rising in my throat, ignoring shouts of protest as I push through crammed bodies. It takes me a moment to find my coat in the pile by the door, but I do, slamming down the stairs and into the fresh, cold night air as I push my arms through the sleeves.
I take huge strides, slipping occasionally on the ice as I make my way to the nearest bus stop. I pull out my phone as I wait for the 66 into Harvard Square, pushing the third name on my speed dial, hopping from foot to foot with unspent adrenaline as I wait for the line to connect. My breath comes out in smokey plumes.
"Hey," answers a soft voice laced with guilt. "I'm sorry, I know I said I was coming, but Ben stood me up on our Skype date, and I'm just not up for a party tonight. Are you having fun?"
My laugh is colored by a note of hysteria. The night is unusually dark, street lights extinguished in the power outage from the ice storm. Somehow it feels colder without light.
"No, Ang, I wouldn't say I'm having fun." My voice is strained. I wish I was in bed. I just want to be warm.
"Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry. What happened?"
I briefly consider telling her the whole story, but I know it'll just make her feel bad for not being here. She's already going to be moping over Ben's missed call—that's the third one this month—and I don't need to add to her recovery time.
"Nothing," I say as I kick at a frozen block of brown snow. "It was just a stupid party. Popped collars and barbie dolls and dubstep. I'm coming home now."
"Popcorn and Notting Hill?"
I see the lights of the 66 round the corner and dig my CharlieCard out of my pocket.
"Bus is here—gotta go."
As I pocket my phone, I glance at an adolescent oak on the sidewalk next to me. Its thin limbs are heavy and bowed with crusted ice.
The bus squeals to a stop, and I get on, finding a seat in back. A girl meets my glance in the reflection of the grimy window. Long brown hair, sad brown eyes.
She looks lonely.