~Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird ~
It's been more than seventy years, but I can still remember the large crab apple tree outside of my Parent's house in Rochester. In the spring, the tender white buds would appear, their soft petals cascading down like snowflakes when the
wind blew through the boughs. As spring shifted slowly into summer, the flowers gave way to bright red fruit the size of cherries. Birds loved it, and a pair of mockingbirds made their nest in the branches, singing loudly and cavorting in the front yard, dive bombing anyone who dared approach their nest or threaten their young.
I can still see the mess littering the walkway up to our house, crushed red fruit and bird droppings spotting the immaculate flagstone walkway. Only a hard rain could wash away the debris, the trade off for cleanliness being the torrents that kept us all locked inside, prisoners to nature in one way or another.
Those tiny red apples, dark crimson like blood, and the mockingbirds just outside my window were the bane of my existence. They stained the soles of my shoes, and followed me into the house, marring surfaces and ultimately clothes. The mockingbirds woke me from heavy sleep with their riotous singing and made it impossible to sit outside in the sun. They ruined everything. How people kept them as pets astounded me. I didn't care if their songs were lovely. They were foul and dirty, and made a mess of everything.
At the tender age of eighteen, with the world laid out before me, I was narcissistic and selfish, not taking the time to realize the cycle of life playing out in my tree. Flowers to berries, berries to seed, bird and egg, and the simplest of instincts that kept the cycle intact. I saw only what was in front of my pretty little nose.
And in that flaw lay my downfall. My problem wasn't with the silly fruit or the little brown and white bird with his lovely song. It was about what they did to my life, and how they affected me. Because truth be told, at age eighteen, I really didn't consider anything else.
~If that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring ~
Through all the memories, good and bad that populate the first eighteen years of my life, a few are preserved, like faded photos in old frames. At one time, I tried to purge them, but they'd been pressed in their frames too long, the acid from the photo etching the
image onto the glass where it was preserved for all time.
"Rosalie!" my mother called up the steps, her tone falsely cheerful. "Come down here, I need you to do something for me."
I'd been sitting in a chair by the window, reading as the warm summer light streamed in through the branches of the crab apple tree. My mother's call caused me to start, and I quickly shoved the book under a pillow for fear of discovery. Last week she'd caught me reading Murder on the Orient Express, and her dismay had quickly morphed to horror.
Apparently it was not keeping for a young lady of my stature to read such salacious novels. If I were to spend my time reading, it should be books about comportment, art, or the humanities, not murder mysteries about people with questionable morals.
Well, what mother didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Once I was confident that the pillow was firmly in place, hiding my little secret, I straightened the collar of my dress and slowly made my way down the hall to the open staircase.
She smiled up at me, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "Darling, your father left some things behind. Can you be a dear and take this down to the bank for him?" She held up a dark brown accordion folder, thick with what I assumed to be bank papers, and a paper bag, containing what I knew to be my father's lunch. While I had no desire to leave my book, I'd been raised to be a dutiful daughter, and could no more decline to run an errand than I could tell my mother I wanted to sit and read all day.
"Yes, Mother," I said, descending the stairs to take the objects from her hands. The folder was deceptively light, the spine was barely creased, but I paid it no attention. My mother smiled, and glanced at the Black Forest clock that hung on the living room wall. It was 11:15 am on a Tuesday in early August.
The day that changed everything.
"Run along, darling. They're expecting you."
That was my sign, the indication that this errand was a machination, a plot to get me down to the bank. But instead of questioning, I did my duty, retrieving my hat and gloves for the short walk downtown. My father worked for the Monroe County Savings Bank as the manager, and he was proud of his reputation and position in the community. My brothers and I had been raised to always be an asset to him, always acting properly in public, our clothes pressed and manners impeccable. We had been taught to carefully cultivate our image and make our parents proud at all times; respecting the time and effort they invested in us.
There were times when I wondered if that was all we were – human assets who had been cultivated to return premium dividends. Once adults, we would be traded like commodities, exchanged for goods or services that shone a positive light on the family and leant greater wealth and posterity. Now, in hindsight, I see that and understand it for what it is. There are times when I mourn for my youth and the naïve girl walking down the street in the lovely straw hat, a large folder tucked under her arm and a brown bag dangling from her grip. The eighteen-year-old me knew her value, and yet she had no clue what she was walking into.
My father waited for me just inside the heavy glass doors of the bank. He liked to stand there, greeting people as they entered off of State Street, awed by the elaborate façade, a tribute to Greek Revival Architecture. It had been built when I was a child, and I can remember the wonder with which I'd watch the lovely building grow. I used to pretend it was a temple, and I was Aphrodite, the most beautiful woman in the world, granting favors and wisdom to all that passed through those doors. As the depression had taken over, and people had grown increasingly leery of banks, my father requested my presence often, insisting that I brought a light and joy to the building, making people feel special, blessed even. It only perpetuated the mythology I formed in my head, and ultimately fueled my own arrogance.
That warm summer day in August was different though, for my father was not alone as I entered the bank. He stood next to an elaborate marble column in the lobby, the dark grey of his suit a sharp contrast to the mottled brown and white fluted stone pillar, deep in conversation. The subject of his focus was a young man who wore a lovely cream colored summer suit, his light brown hair falling in soft waves against an almost handsome face.
"Rosalie!" My father crowed as he extended his arm to greet me. As a rule, the Hale family did not put on physical displays of affection; therefore I knew that this was a show for the young man in the expensive suit. He must be someone very important that my father hoped to impress. His physical display was my indication that I had a role to play, one that was mapped out long before I ever left the house. I was here as an accessory to my father, and I should play along with the game he set forth, acting accordingly at all times. "Darling, I'd like you to meet Royce King, Junior."
The young man smiled, or more appropriately, his thin lips stretched into the rough approximation of a smile. I had been wrong. On closer analysis he really wasn't very handsome. His nose was too long, and one eye was slightly larger than the other, giving Royce King a lopsided, almost surprised look. But his
suit was lovely, as were his shoes, a nice shiny black, with no scuffs or wear on the soles. He was a breath of fresh air in the otherwise dark and dismal landscape of depression era Rochester, a dash of style and glamour that made up for where his physical beauty fell short.
"Royce just graduated from Syracuse. He's moved back to Rochester and will be taking care of some of his father's real estate holdings."
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. King," I said politely as I extended my hand. He took it, and I glanced down demurely, cocking my head and looking up at him the way my mother had taught me, a coquettish little ploy that played up my startling blue eyes and long eyelashes. Royce King was no more immune than any other man, smiling broadly at me as he brushed a quick, dry kiss across the back of my proffered hand.
"Mr. Hale, you didn't tell me that you were the father of the loveliest girl in Rochester. You really shouldn't hide her away. She belongs out here were everyone can benefit from her beauty and grace."
His words were calculated and went straight to my naïve vanity. Royce King might not have been handsome, but he wore a lovely suit and expensive shiny shoes, and told me nice things.
That night, two floral arrangements arrived, along with a note:
Roses to match your name, violets to match your eyes, and pretty words to capture your heart, he'dwritten on the heavy cream note card. It was not lost on my mother that the stationery was expensive, and she cooed over the elaborate arrangements. Neither of us noted the fact that he didn't sign his name.
As I think back on it, my mother was more excited than I was. I didn't care about flowers or pretty words. I cared about what Royce King could provide me and the flattery he heaped on my fickle little heart. I bought into it all hook line and sinker. It didn't matter that I hated roses, and considered violets cheap. They were soon replaced by larger, more elaborate gifts, culminating in an ornate, albeit a bit gauche, ring of engagement.
Very simply, Royce King wanted me, and my parents had raised me for this shining moment. Their gamble had paid off, and they were now reaping the returns on their investment.
~If that diamond ring turns to brass, Mama's gonna buy you a looking glass~
If our courtship was a whirlwind, then our engagement was a juggernaut of activity. Within three months, I'd met and become engaged to Royce King. Our mothers were busy at work, planning what would be the wedding of the spring Rochester social season. 1934
would forever belong to Mr. and Mrs. Royce King, Junior.
I was not naïve enough to believe that I loved Royce, for he was not what I would consider a lovable person. There were moments where he was entertaining, his bawdy humor and ability to make even the most serious matter into a joke made time go by faster. But as the wedding approached, I found myself dreading our time together. Very simply, I loved the idea of being Mrs. Royce King, but the reality of spending time together petrified me to no end. Some of his jokes, the inferences, were so lewd that I found myself blushing and looking away, embarrassed by his innuendos. Like the arranged meeting, it should have been another warning bell, an indicator that all was not as I should be, but I was too swept up in the fantasy of it all to ever raise a question or concern.
To escape the constant swirl of wedding activity and my jitters I found myself making up excuses to stay away from the house, always visiting friends or attending charitable meetings. To an outsider, it merely enhanced my image as the dutiful, well-rounded daughter and future wife. I was always turned out properly, my actions meticulous and beyond reproach. But inside, I was as dead as the bare branches of the crab apple tree outside my window, the mockingbird nest long abandoned as the birds flew south for the winter.
"Rosalie, we were just going over the menu," my mother called as I tiptoed through the foyer, my heavy coat buttoned up to my neck. The weather had turned cold early, and the wind blowing south out of Canada held the promise of an early snow. "Won't you come join us?"
Unable to escape without at least a proper hello, I paused in the doorway of the sitting room, where Mother and Mrs. King sat, small note cards spread out in front of them on the large table. "I promised Vera that I would come by, Mother. She's invited me over to meet the baby."
A look of displeasure flittered across my mother's face. She'd been growing increasingly displeased with my repeated absences and deferrals. I would need to start participating in the wedding plans beyond my dress preference or she would say something to my father, who would end any chances I might have of escape.
"I won't be long," I said quickly, hoping to allay her concerns. "Vera has asked me over to visit a few times now, and I've been so busy with wedding plans that I've had to defer. Baby Henry is six months old now, and I've yet to meet him."
Mrs. King glanced up from the place cards, her thin lips spreading into an awkward smile so like her son's. "Do you like babies, Rosalie?"
I opened my mouth, unsure as to how best to respond. My exposure to babies had been limited to my brothers, and that was when I was a small child too. Vera was the first of my friends to have a baby of her own, and I'd yet to have any formal interactions to develop an opinion one way or another.
As if taking my silence for embarrassment, Mrs. King hummed and looked back down at the place cards. "I think it would be lovely to have a baby to spoil next Christmas. And Royce would make such a wonderful father."
My mother readily agreed, peppering in details about the christening gown she had preserved in a trunk upstairs. Wouldn't it be lovely for our first born to wear something his or her mother had worn when taking the sacrament?
I left them to their plans, tiptoeing quietly out of the house as they mapped out my entire future. Wedding, babies, where we would live, how holidays would be spent, nothing was left for me to have a say in, and I fled the structure and control, not caring that I was almost running. I flew down the walkway, away from the house, stepping on the remnants of crab apples and the droppings from the mockingbirds that sang outside my window. Let them stain my shoes or cause me to slip; I really didn't care.
"Rosie! You're all flushed!" Vera said when she greeted me at the door to her small house. I'd not visited with my old friend since the early spring, and was amazed at the differences in her lovely face. While Vera would never be called beautiful or mentioned in the same breath as me, she had a presence about her, one that made a person feel at home. Her once narrow face had filled in, the sharp planes of her cheekbones softening and lending a youthful, almost innocent appearance to her fair skin. There were dark circles under her eyes, but they faded with the brilliance of her smile and the ease of her laugh.
For an hour we sat together as Vera regaled me with stories about her life. Her husband, her darling baby Henry, how happy she was, and how this life was vastly different than anything she expected and more than she'd ever wished for.
"I can't explain it," Vera gushed, squeezing my hand enthusiastically. "I was scared, but it all fits. It's just right."
Before I could ask her what she meant, a loud cry from the other room broke the comfortable quiet of the house.
"Just wait, you'll see," Vera said, leaving me in the small cramped sitting room as she retrieved her baby.
As I waited patiently, I glanced around the small sitting room, taking in my surroundings. The furniture was cheap but neat, no dust or disorder marring the sense of comfort that emanated from the warm space. Vera and her husband were not wealthy, and she didn't have people begging to have her to dinner, but she was happy. I was surprised to find myself envying her simple life and happiness, but quickly pushed it down, telling myself that it was merely pre-wedding jitters, and that I could never be happy with Vera's simple life.
If only I'd paid attention. So many if onlies, but not a chance to go back and change them.
"Rosie," Vera called out as she entered the room, "meet my darling Henry. Henry, this is your beautiful Auntie Rosalie. Isn't she wonderful?"
Lovely wasn't the word to describe the sweet baby boy Vera balanced on her hip. His face was round as the moon, cheeks full and rosy after a long nap, and large dark curls damp with the sweat of sleep clung to his forehead. I couldn't resist, extending my index finger to trace the outline of his face. He let out a throaty coo, his fat fist darting up to wrap around my finger.
"Look at that! He loves you!" Vera laughed. "I knew he would!" She bounced the baby gently, laughing, "Everyone loves our Rosie."
The lovely baby, Henry, cooed again, and deep indentations formed in his chubby cheeks. He reminded me of a renaissance angel whose golden curls had been stained a dark, sooty black, fat and glorious and cherished by all.
"May I?" I asked, my hands twitching at my side. I ached to hold this gorgeous little boy, so full of light and life. As Vera happily passed him to me, I recalled Mrs. King's question: Do you like babies, Rosalie?
I wasn't sure about babies, but I knew that I absolutely loved this little boy.
My original intent had only been to visit with Vera for an hour or so, but she had to feed baby Henry, and then he wanted to play, his pudgy little hand happily waving a small rattle around in the air. We happily entertained him, making silly faces and babbling nonsense back to him as he pulled up on the couch, his chubby little legs wobbly and unsure. For the first time in months, I felt light, happy even. And then it all came crashing down. Just not in a way I had ever expected.
As I walked home from Vera's house, the cold night air stinging my cheeks, I thought about Henry and the joy that oozed from him and from Vera as she played with her child and kissed her husband hello. She radiated love and happiness, and I knew that while I might end up with everything that money could buy and endless adoration, I would never have the simple happiness that belonged to Vera and her family. My possessions were material or fleeting, flowers that die or jewelry that would tarnish. Vera's possessions were everlasting, immune from the taint of greed or arrogance. While I might not be able to find that sort of joy in marriage, I could find the type of love that Vera had with Henry. That realization helped me to form my resolve. I might not love Royce King, but I would love our children, and I would make sure that they were happy and always knew how precious and cherished they were. I would kiss their fat cheeks and play patty cake with them, and sing them silly little songs and nursery rhymes. I would be the mother I'd never had, loving my children with my entire being. They would allow me to be something special, and my identity would be mine and mine alone purely by nature of the fact that I was their mother, something that no one else could be.
The staccato echo of footsteps and drunken slur of men's voices cut through my daydreams, and I released my longings for fat little cherubs with a riot of curls as I turned to greet my fiancé and the strangers that followed stumbling in his wake.
It was my last happy memory for a very long time.
~If that looking glass gets broke, Mama's gonna buy you a billy goat~
There were cycles to the pain. The first shards, the hardest to forget, were rough and jagged, the ripping of cloth, the breaking of bones, and the tearing of fragile skin. My pleas for mercy were ragged, my words broken with cries and attempts to catch my breath.
But they didn't stop until they'd had their fill, leaving me broken and cast aside. No one would want or love me now.
Cold was next, the pavement like frozen marble against my back, my aching limbs shattered and limp, as my life force slowly faded. Later, in my second life, I would learn that this was called shock, and that I was slowly freezing and bleeding to death on that dark Rochester street.
Then an agony, so sharp and precise, it was like a million needles piercing my body, took over, different and stronger than any of the agony that had preceded it. It wasn't on my skin or in my bones; it was in my heart, my brain, my lungs, piercing me from the inside out. And then the needles turned to fire, roaring through my entire body, charring me black and barren, before everything finally went cold and quiet.
I lay on a table in a neat house, listening to people who weren't quite strangers, but I'd never considered friends, talking in the other room. Dr. Cullen, the handsome, quiet doctor who had moved to Rochester last summer with his beautiful wife, Esme, and her stunning but arrogant younger brother, Edward. I'd been introduced to the Cullens on a few occasions, and I'd immediately taken a disliking to the haughty Edward, who stared at me with open disdain and disgust. For someone so used to admiration, Edward's apathy and acrimony were the sharpest of stings. Prior to my injuries at the hands of my betrothed, they had been the harshest, most agonizing pains I'd ever known.
Their voices were so clear, so close, and yet they had to be at the other end of the house. My first reaction was shock, how could I hear them so clearly? And then it was anger as I listened to Edward rail at me, calling me shallow and saying I was better left for dead. Sarcasm and arrogance dripping from every word. He'd judged me just like my family, like Royce, like everyone always had. Rosalie the asset, Rosalie the decoration, easily thrown away once broken, only to be replaced by another. No value, no depth, just an empty vapid girl not worth anyone's time.
I couldn't suppress the anger that bubbled up through me, the blinding rage at his words. It threatened to engulf me, flames searing at my soul, robbing me of my ability to think clearly.
That was until the sound, gentle as a sigh, cut through the night air. I sat up, looking around for the source, desperate to hear it again. There it was, quiet and distant. A gentle little whispered coo and sigh, just like baby Henry when he grabbed my finger and pulled it into his mouth to gnaw on.
That sound, the echo of a child, content and at peace, broke me, and I sank off the table and onto my knees, burying my face in the tattered remnants of my soft grey wool dress. The dove grey of my skirt
was spattered with dark crimson blotches and streaks of dirt. It looked like the walkway to my house, the grease from the road and my blood mimicking the mockingbird droppings and crushed crab apples and the flagstones. Where was the cleansing rain, the torrential downpour that would wash it all away and make me clean again?
There would be no redemption for me. I'd been discarded, squashed underfoot like they had been. Everything I wanted or hoped for was gone. I was a husk, an empty shell, and life carried on around me, no one caring or stopping to wonder where I might have gone.
~If that billy goat won't pull, Mama's gonna buy you a cart and bull~
The first twelve months of my existence were spent in the heavy forest of Northwestern Maine. Carlisle relocated us there just days after he found me on that cold deserted street in Rochester. He told me it was for my own good, that keeping
me away from humans for my own protection.
"Just until you learn self control," he reassured me with a kind smile. "I just want to keep you safe, Rosalie."
I found his words ironic. Carlisle had claimed to save me, but he'd made me into a monster, a statue frozen in time, unable to do anything other than steal life. How could he care about keeping me safe? Nothing about me was safe anymore.
Edward, who I found could hear my thoughts, preyed upon my inner turmoil, almost like it was a salve to him. When Carlisle or Esme were gone, Edward would taunt me, his words cold and calculated. He knew that I'd overheard his conversation with Carlisle that first night after I awoke from my transformation, that I knew Carlisle saved me in the hopes that I would be a mate for Edward. He knew how deeply his rejection had wounded me, and took utter joy in reinforcing his disgust at my presence; for the longest time it frustrated me and tore at my soul. I was Rosalie Hale. Everyone wanted me.
But after a time, I found a way to shut out his taunts. He had his own demons, and used my discomfort to hide away from the thoughts and memories that tore at his own soul. Ultimately, his slings and barbs didn't disturb, and we found a way to tolerate each other, if not form a passive co-existence.
Once Carlisle was confident in my self control, something that he informed me was astounding and unique, even by his lofty standards, we slowly began to work our way back into society, moving to Burlington, Vermont so that Carlisle could practice medicine once again. I took on their charade, playing the role of Carlisle's younger sister, just as Edward had pretended to be related to Esme. For the first few months, I worried about discovery, for none of us looked remotely alike. Apparently similar hair
and eye coloring along with comfort and familiarity was enough to allay any suspicion, for no one ever stopped me to question my place in my new family.
Even with the attention and affection bestowed on me by my new 'parents,' Rochester and the things I'd lost were never far from my mind. My denial gave way to anger, and I found myself playing out different scenarios over and over in my head, always cautious to keep them safely masked from Edward. But it was not enough.
"Here," he said to me one late spring morning. A stack of newspaper clippings dropped on the table next to my chair. The familiar masthead of the Rochester paper was prominently displayed against the grey white paper. "You need to know, maybe then you can let go and move on."
I waited for Edward to leave the room before I grabbed the papers and began to skim through the articles. They began two days after my attack, and covered the span of a month. The coverage was a mixture of weak facts provided by Vera, summaries of mine and my family's background and position in the community, and 'heartfelt pleas' from the King family begging for the return their beloved soon to be daughter-in-law. They capitalized on my mysterious disappearance, using it to further the good will the town fostered toward them. Even in my subjective death, I was a commodity they profited from, and they were reaping returns with massive interest.
"I can understand why you are so angry," Edward said casually.
"I thought you left."
"I came back once I realized how upset you were." Edward's tone was affected, bored. I doubted he honestly cared. This was merely a sideshow for him, a diversion to pass the time, as was clear by his efforts to provoke me in the past. I was too far past provocation to care.
"They should pay for what they did. I lost everything because of their greed. They don't deserve to be successful or happy," I seethed, my anger flaring up white-hot. I could see the faces of the men who had done this, of the one who had claimed to love me, so clearly. The lewd smiles, the disgusting words and shouts as they had ripped my life away from me, echoing through my head like a song that wouldn't be purged.
Edward sat down next to me, removing the stack of crumpled articles from my hand. Apparently in my anger, I'd involuntarily clenched my fists, destroying the documentation of their deceit.
"Why did you give me these?" I demanded, a tremor betraying the emotions that roiled inside me.
"I thought it might help bring you some closure. I guess I was wrong." There was a note of remorse in Edward's voice. It was the first time he'd ever displayed an emotion other than apathy or disgust around me, but instead of making me feel bad or guilty, the anger grew to the point where I couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Tell Carlisle and Esme not to worry, I'll be back in a few days," I said, moving quickly down the hallway to retrieve my purse and a few other belongings from my room. "And I am taking the Auburn."
It was a direct challenge, for Edward loved that automobile. It was the only thing we shared any kinship over, and I realized that I wanted to see how far I could push him, and test how much he meant his apology.
"I left the keys on the hook in the garage," was his only reply.
Over the next few days, I launched my revenge, plotting it out like a master play. I broke into my parents' house, scaling the crab apple tree that had once been the bane of my existence to enter my old room. Moving quickly and quietly, I retrieved my wedding gown and the extra key to the bank that my father kept hidden at the bottom of a tobacco pot in his study. I felt nothing as I climbed out the window with the dress draped over my arm. It was the only thing I had paid attention to during the wedding planning process, and it would be my ultimate prop now.
As I descended carefully through the branches, the mockingbirds began to dive bomb me, their sharp little beaks aimed at my face and arms, but they found no purchase, pulling at my hair but doing no damage. They were ferocious in their attack, defending their newly built nest against a perceived predator. I held them no ill will, for they were merely trying to protect their eggs, something I could understand and respect. They were faultless in this and did not deserve destruction at my hand.
In the course of just three days, I unleashed a terror the likes of which Rochester had never seen. One by one, the men who had robbed me of everything fell prey to an 'unknown assailant,' the paper called it, who crushed their bones and choked the life out of them with shocking force. My torture was meticulous, the blows I rained down never breaking skin. There were no crimson stains on my hands to tempt me, nor was there a single drop of blood on the elaborate train of my cream dress, so close in color to the suit that Royce King had worn the day of our introduction. I taunted Royce with that as I held him aloft by his scrawny neck, a single hand slowly choking the breath out of him.
"I could drain you," I hissed, melodramatically biting a chunk of metal out of a safe deposit box before tossing it to the side. He'd foolish hidden away in the bank vault, hiring men to protect him, but the key I'd retrieved from my parents' house allowed me entry where he thought he'd been safe. There was nowhere that Royce King would ever be able to hide from me. "Just one bite and I could suck every single drop of blood out of you. I know how to make it hurt, worse than anything you ever did to me." I squeezed my hand tighter, and Royce started to gasp and wheeze, his face turning an angry purple red, like an overripe tomato ready to burst. When all the air was gone from his lungs, and his broken arms and legs hung limply at his sides, I dropped Royce King, Junior at my feet like a rag doll.
"You had your way with me once, violating me when I said no. I would never willingly take a single drop of you inside me again." I kicked the heap that had once been my fiancé, his still and broken form slamming against the wall of the bank vault, then crumpling to a heap on the floor. "You are not worthy of me."
His cries must have scared off the men hired to protect him, for when I left the vault, the bank was empty. I slowly walked the few blocks to the Auburn, where I changed into the clothes I'd fled Burlington in. Once I'd shed my wedding dress, I drove down out of town, stopping at the banks of the Genesee River. I wrapped the dress around a large rock, throwing it out into the rapidly flowing current. The water would carry it downstream, where the fragile satin and lace would dissolve until it was no more. It was a burial for the girl I had been and the woman I would never get to be. It should have brought me closure.
I should have known it would never be enough. I'd blazed a path of destruction through Rochester, the proverbial bull in a china shop, punishing those that had wronged me. In the end it didn't mean a damn thing.
~If that cart and bull turn over, Mama's gonna buy you a dog named Rover~
In the days and months after I wreaked revenge on my assailants, I was listless and irritable. All the rage, the ill will that had built up inside me grew stronger and stronger, while the release I'd expected by never took hold. The pressure was
bottled up inside me, like boiling water in a kettle, with no valve to release the steam. With every day, I came perilously closer to explosion.
"Rosalie, Sweetheart, you can't carry around this anger forever," Esme insisted. "You have to let go."
I always bristled when she called me Sweetheart. It was too close to Darling; the term of questionable endearment my parents had used when they wanted me to do something or when they put on a show for others. Titles of endearment, they were all just mock affectations, ways that people masked their true intent. No one would ever love me or want me. I was damaged, broken beyond repair. There was no salvation for me. The bright shining light at the end of the tunnel, redemption via children who would love me simply because of who I was, unconditional and unwavering, would never come.
I would be cursed to live this life alone. Maybe Edward and I were suited for each other in some ways, our damaged souls and self-flagellation more than anyone could ever break through.
"You think I don't understand," she said, taking my hand between hers. Esme was small, a good five or six inches shorter than I was, but she was strong in a way that I could never be, and continuously fought to break through my anger and pain. "I know what it feels like to be broken and lost."
"You have someone who loves you," I said, refusing to cede any ground. "Absolutely and unconditionally. No one has ever felt that way about me, and no one ever will."
Esme sighed, and squeezed my hand. "You live in a world of absolutes, Rosalie. But the sun has a way of shining in and casting shadows. How do you deal with shades of grey?"
To illustrate her point, Esme extended her hand into a beam of light that flooded in through the window. The late afternoon sun was strong, and it caught the little facets in her skin, which sparkled subtly, brilliant refractions dappling the walls in rainbow hues of blue, violet and gold.
"When you look, you see a shadow against the floor, absolute one way or the other. But around the edges, things blend and blur, they get fuzzy. There is no hard stop where the shadow ends and the light begins, they slowly fade, one into the other, blending up until the last second. You need to late the fade happen, Sweetheart. It takes time."
Her words, so simple and poignant, unlocked something deep inside me, a visceral pain that I didn't know how to manifest. Without tears or the mucus that would lead to a runny nose, how could this anguish that tore me apart from the inside ever break free?
Esme released my hand, reaching up to run a single finger along my cheek. It was the same action I'd taken when I met baby Henry, and that simple touch tore me apart, breaking free the dry sobs that had been locked in my chest for more than a year.
I sank to my knees on the carpet of our small sitting room in Burlington, and gasped unnecessary breaths as incoherent words poured out of me. They morphed into garbled gasps and moans as I manifested my grief and loss in the only way I knew how.
"Shhh," Esme cooed, resting her cheek on my head. "It's going to be all right, my darling, beautiful Rosalie. We love you, and we are never going to leave you. You belong with us now."
Clamping shutting my eyes, I let Esme continue to whisper to me, her promises of love and loyalty slowly deflating the lead balloon that had grown so large it had threatened to rupture in my chest. If I worked really hard, and forced the old memories back into a safe little spot, locked away from the light, I could allow myself to believe that this kind woman was my mother, and not another lost soul who had been robbed of her dreams as well.
These people had taken me in, saved me when I didn't think I wanted to be saved, and now, as I came out of the other side of my grief, they were here, loyal friends who insisted that they loved me. We might have been monsters, natural predators, but these people were capable of deep love and loyalty, more so than most of the people I'd ever been exposed to.
And while Esme's humming and consolation might been an approximation of what a mother would do for a child, I let my head rest in her lap, and let her take care of me. Eventually, I even came to believe that she did mean it when she said she loved me. To Esme, they weren't just empty words, just like Sweetheart was not a manipulative term of affection to garner an action. She was more a mother to me than my own had been, so I accepted her protection, and it was with her help that I slowly began to heal.
~If that dog named Rover won't bark, Mama's gonna buy you a horse and cart~
In the fall of 1935, we packed up our belongings and moved south, past the Mason-Dixon Line into Kentucky. Carlisle needed a larger town, one with a decent sized hospital, and Esme longed to be near Columbus and the fond memories of her human days. She was the only one with any sort of emotional tie or bond left to her human
life, and we all loved her too much to deny her a chance to quietly say goodbye. Carlisle bought a large farmhouse on the outskirts of Lexington, a booming college town that offered a surprising number of cultural opportunities. Edward could happily dabble with his music, and there were department stores and small drug stores with newspapers and books, as well as hardware stores to arm us in tools. There was plenty to keep us entertained.
While not completely at peace, I was slowly growing more and more comfortable with the concept of being by myself. I spent hours tinkering with the cars that Carlisle brought home, fascinated by the clean logic of their workings. Esme had accused me of only living in absolutes, and to a degree, that was true. I found comfort in the clarity of black and white, and it carried over into my affection for automobiles. If you completed steps a, b and c correctly, the engine would work, and the car would roar to life. If you didn't then you would have to start all over, learning from your mistakes until the solution was found. That predictability provided a stability and harmony that was new to me, and I soon found myself spending most of my days in the barn, hands covered in grease, my hair tied back in a kerchief.
"You can't live in there, you know," Edward liked to chide me when he could pull his head out of a book or step away from his piano.
"I don't see you being in a place to offer me advice, Edward."
"At least I go out and hunt. You are living off the small options around here, and I can tell. You look terrible." While I had learned to let go of my need to be desired and longed for, my vanity was too firmly rooted in who I was. Edward knew that, and played me like his beloved piano. "You need to go for a real hunt, get out in nature."
"If you tell me I need some sun, I'll throw a hammer at you, and I won't miss," I threatened, ducking back under the hood of the Auburn. "Besides, I have to put the gearbox back together."
"I can put the gearbox back together, you need to go take down a mountain lion or an Elk or something substantial. Coyotes and white tails can't be that satisfying."
"Since when do you care?" I demanded, uncomfortable at the attention. While Edward and I didn't live at each other's throats any longer, we were not close, and his interest indicated a hidden motivation, something that made me distrustful of his intentions.
"Maybe I just want the car, Rosalie." He reached under the hood, pulling a socket wrench out of my hand. "And maybe I want some peace and quiet, which I can't get when you are out here working. You think too loud. Now go."
It was not my nature to follow Edward's demands, but deep down, I had to admit he was right. Since our move to Lexington, I'd subsisted on whatever herbivores or small predators could be found around the farmhouse. It was subsistence living at its best, leaving me constantly hungry. I took a quick bath, scrubbing the grease from under my fingernails, and pulling my hair back into a low chignon, more for function than style. Affecting the riding clothes of the wealth horse set that populated the area, I would not look out of place if I ran into a human. He or she would merely see a beautiful young woman, and be struck by the way the jodhpurs complimented my long legs, or how the high white collar of my blouse framed my face perfectly.
Leaving Edward to his beloved Auburn, I jotted a quick note to Esme, who had gone into town with Carlisle, letting her know I was taking her advice, and heading south for a few days. Just recently, they'd gone hunting in the Smokey Mountains, a large park at the northeast tip of Tennessee. It was only a few hundred miles from Lexington, a trip that I could easily make without a car.
Once clear of Lexington, I ran aimlessly, letting the wind whip through the hair that had worked free as I dodged trees and over hills. There was a simple elegance to this part of the country, the gentle rolling landscape and the beautiful trees that were just beginning to shift from dark forest green to softer colors. The leaves were umber and ochre and scarlet, the last vivid sunburst before winter took over and dropped the world into desolation. I allowed myself to soak it all in, the warmth of the sun on my hair, the soft scents and sounds that carried on the breeze. Periodically, I would spy a crab apple tree, heavy with its dark red fruit, but I would feel no pang or longing for home. That was all behind me now.
As I entered the park proper, I gave over to my instincts, searching the fresh air for familiar scents. There were deer nearby, and smaller creatures, chipmunks, rabbits, or a fox. Nothing large enough to make more than a light afternoon snack.
I slowed to a stroll, listening as the birds sang overhead. Jays, cardinals, and the intermittent trill of a mockingbird filled the air, their tweets and chirps blending with the rustling of the trees to crafting a symphony, lovelier than anything Edward could ever create. I let those songs lead me as I wandered through the trees, stopping to rest on a rock that hung out over a small waterfall. It was nice not caring that my skin caught light and sparkled. There was no one here, and I could simply be myself.
As the sun started to drop on the horizon, I set off again, sniffing the air for scents that might lead me to a meal. Just at the outer reaches of my grasp, there was a tang, zesty and earthy, accompanied by a loud thumping heartbeat. It was unlike anything I'd smelled before, and I began my pursuit, curious as to what could put off such a strong odor.
The scent became stronger as I ran towards it, the earthy fragrance becoming deeper, almost pungent. I was just about to abandon my chase, the trail having become almost vile to me, when the gentle symphony of the forest was split in two. A loud roar followed by a shout.
And then the sweet bouquet of human blood, rich and flowing fast. The louder heartbeat, which must have been a bear by the sound that had just broken the calm, had masked that of a human. My body instinctively moved forward, unable to resist the call of the blood, so rich and tantalizingly good. I'd never erred in my resolve, never once tasted a drop of human blood, but the call was too much, and I was too weak, hungry after weeks of depriving myself.
In a clearing, just two miles from where I'd begun my pursuit, a large black bear was reared up on its hind legs, its paws viciously striking at a the trunk of a tree as chunks of wood flew in all directions. A crumpled form huddled at the base, lifeless and limp. I knew the human wasn't dead, for I could hear the heartbeat, frenzied to the point of panic, and yet the body didn't move. This human was alive, and waiting to die.
I stepped forward, twigs breaking underneath the heel of my riding boot, which alerted the bear to my presence. He dropped to the ground, spinning faster on all fours than he could on his hind legs, and opened his mouth to bare mighty, yellowed teeth and emit out a low, malevolent growl.
"You don't scare me, I've stared down worse than you could ever dish out," I told the bear, taking one large step forward. He didn't understand me. He couldn't. Stepping closer, he sniffed in my direction, as if debating the best angle to strike.
And then he stopped, his large mouth clamping shut, and he slowly began to back up. It was as though the bear realized that I was the predator, and not his prey and that there was no way he could do the damage to me he'd done to the poor heap of bones at the tree. Once he reached the edge of the clearing, the bear spun and ran off into the trees, leaving me alone with a human leaking the one substance I didn't know if I could resist.
Without the bear to obscure my line of sight, I could make out the details of the human huddled on the ground. It was a man, his clothes simple denim and cotton, signs of someone who spent time outdoors in hard labor. A shotgun had fallen not far from where he lay; next to a crude dark knap sack. The man groaned, and rolled to his side, revealing a riot of dark brown hair, damp at the temples from sweat. The perspiration darkened the curls to almost black where they clung to his pale skin.
I stepped closer, curious and afraid of what I might find as the man angled his face up at me. Blood streaked his left cheek, revealing slight indentations in his skin. Although he did not smile, I could clearly make out the small divots that would form laugh lines and deep dimples.
"Henry," I whispered, shocked by the resemblance between the man and the baby who had once captivated me. But it couldn't be. Henry would be no more than two, maybe three now, and this man had to be at least my age, if not older.
Moving even closer, I took in more of the man, has body battered and bloody from the attack. I had to fight back the urge to dip my finger in the blood that flowed from a deep gash in his leg, the desire to take just a small taste more temptation than I knew I could resist. Instead, I took in the damage and assessed the man's frame. He was large, larger than anyone I'd ever seen, long legs, broad shoulders and all muscle, his forearms and cheeks stippled with small freckles from time spent outdoors. There was dirt underneath his fingernails, and his clothes were cheap, most likely homemade. Even through the damage the bear had done to his body, and the affectations of a lower class lifestyle, the man was absolutely beautiful, almost cherubic in his own way.
He was not Henry. I knew that, but I couldn't erase the little boy from my mind. Here was someone that needed me, if only for a little bit. I could help him, save him. And maybe, just maybe, he could fill the place in me that had been empty for so long. This giant of a man with the child's face and dark sooty curls spoke to me in some strange and visceral way, and I knew that I couldn't leave him there to die. Someone finally needed me for who I was, and I would not let him down.
My trek back to Lexington was not an easy one. I was strong and fast, but carrying the man while running pushed me to my limit. It had been almost a month since I'd had a decent feeding, and the call of his blood was almost more than I could handle. There were moments as we approached the outskirts of town where his heart stopped, and I almost gave in to my inherent vanity. I could really save him, be the one to change him, and then he would be mine and mine alone. But I was too hungry, and I knew just by the scent of him that once I started drinking, I wouldn't be able to stop. His death at my hands would break me in a way nothing before could have. I had to guarantee that this man lived.
"Carlisle!" I shouted as I kicked the door front door in. Esme was in the sitting room, a small embroidery hoop in her lap. As she jumped up, skeins of dyed cotton fell to the floor, the same hues I'd admired as I wandered aimlessly through the Tennessee wilderness. "Carlisle, I need you to save him."
Edward appeared, taking the large man from my arms. I collapsed to the floor as Edward carried the broken man upstairs, where Carlisle slowly began to administer the bites that would putting him back together.
~If that horse and cart fall down, you'll still be the sweetest little baby in town~
The process of healing was faster for Emmett than it had been for me. He accepted his fate willingly, with a childlike enthusiasm that we all found so endearing. I had been right in my assessment that he'd grown up poor, but Emmett was not
uneducated, and took the gifts of our immortality with a grace and vigor that surprised us all.
He read voraciously, consuming books as quickly as Edward did. In Emmett, Edward found a kindred spirit, one who allowed him to rediscover laughter and pushed him to expound on his elitist, sometimes antiquated ideals.
Emmett had grown up around tools and wood, and happily taught Esme how to cut mitered corners or use a lathe to gently repair the elaborate pieces of furniture she loved. They spent hours in the yard, lovingly restoring the old farmhouse banister piece by piece, their conversation and laughter filling a space none of us had ever considered empty before we knew what it was like to have it occupied.
His gift to Carlisle was as simple as it was profound. Emmett leant a perspective to our 'father,' a balance to the compassion that could, at times, tear up his soul. Emmett taught Carlisle how to balance, to accept that with good came bad, and it wasn't something that Carlisle could stop, but he could help or temper. The teachings of Carlisle's father had done their damage, and it was only with Emmett's optimism and hope that Carlisle began to accept the role of nature in the world, which allowed him to focus on the areas where he could provide the most help. Maybe that is why Emmett was the last of Carlisle's 'creations.' With Emmett, he learned his lesson, and accepted the course that nature could take, and who should really be saved.
As profound as Emmett's effect was on our strange little family, it was the changes he brought about in me that had the largest and most marked impact. Our revelation was not immediate or overnight, for there were parts of me that still needed to heal. But in time, our respect grew into friendship, and ultimately into love. I learned to put aside material trappings, my insecurity, and even my vanity, to accept that money, adorations, and beauty were empty concepts without the love of another. More importantly, I learned that love comes not where you want it or expect it, but when you most need it, and in the least likely places.
Emmett gave me a book the other day. There was no commentary, no 'you'll like this' or 'I think you should read it.' He simply placed it in my hand, gave me that beautiful smile, his dimples creasing his handsome face, and walked away with a spring in his step.
I sat in the late afternoon sun, and read, trusting in what he didn't say.
The book was new, and had been raising quite the stir. While the United States was going through great cultural change, there were simple concepts, like the ones put forth in this book, which could inflame people, and cause tempers to flare.
That wasn't what touched me, though. It was the simple message of love and the loss of innocence that echoed throughout the story. It wrapped all my illusions from my naïve youth, those of justice, of class, of innocence and the danger or assumptions, and spun them back to me in a way that made me understand just how wrong I had been, and how every step in my life had been of my own making. I could blame others for their decisions, Royce for the way he'd hurt me, Carlisle for turning me without my permission, my parents for using me but never really loving me, but I never addressed my own culpability in the matter. They'd all had an impact on me, but ultimately, my decisions brought me to this point in my life. Had my parents not staged the meeting with Royce, I would never have accepted his proposal. Without the acceptance of the proposal, I would not have almost died, and Carlisle would not have saved me. In turn, if I had died, then I wouldn't have the family now, and none of us would know Emmett.
One of the characters in the book said Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy...
but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.
Like the crab apple tree in my parent's front yard, and the mockingbirds that lived in its branches, there was a cycle, a pattern to life that could not be broken. The flowers turn into berries, which the mockingbirds use as food in the fall. The birds, who mate for life, often return to the same tree to have their young, finding solace in the boughs as the soft warm sun shines through. There, with the breeze gently ruffling the leaves, the birds sing their lovely songs as they live out their lives. In a way, we aren't any different, the patterns of life unfolding around us as we hover close together, happy and safe, and full of love.
The Northern Mockingbird, the only commonly found Mockingbird in the US, is the state bird of Tennessee. They are loud, preferring to sing at twilight and dawn, and have superior intelligence. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee was published in 1960 to critical acclaim, and is still one of the most censored books in the US.