Figmentum: 1. figment, fiction, invention, unreality; 2. thing formed, devised; 3. image. She coaxes him into existence with every word she writes. What will Bella do when she finds herself falling in love with the main character in her latest novel?
There are two kinds of loneliness.
Well, perhaps there are more, but there are two kinds with which I've become all too intimate with in the last few months.
The first—it's bittersweet, wistful, fleeting. The kind of loneliness you feel when two of your closest friends post pictures to Facebook of the two of them having a ball—without you. It's a little childish and you know it. Envious and petty. It's tempered by your delight in seeing the people you love giddy-happy. You love to see them smiling, but you're hurt you're not included in their joy. It's temporary—you know that they haven't suddenly decided to exclude you forever. Next time, it's more than likely your face will also be framed in an Instagram shot, smiley and prettier than you really are—those fucking filters blend away a multitude of blemishes.
The other kind of loneliness is bone-deep and hurts like nothing else. It's the loneliness that starts in your chest, heavy and throbbing, and radiates outward. It squeezes the air from your lungs and pushes gasping sobs from your throat. It sets your ears to ringing, makes your fingertips numb, and coils your belly into painful knots.
It's the kind I'm trying to stave off right now, desperate to push it from my consciousness. It's a futile exercise, though. This feeling is one that won't be ignored.
It's the loneliness that has you waking with your pillow streaked black, as yesterday's mascara is purged from your lashes by silent tears. The tears fall easily, slipping down your face with no effort, pushed out by the overflow of sorrow that holds your heart in its fist. They're stubborn tears—they won't listen to reason or logic. They fall where they will, when they will—with no regard for the people in the café who observe you with detached concern or mild disgust.
This is the loneliness that wants one person—just one—to see you; to see your soul and recognize it; to see your tears and wipe them from your face, knowing you don't need to be told you're being ridiculous and illogical. It's the loneliness that you feel even as your boyfriend of over two years sweats and swears above you, his face twisted with the pleasure that he's drawing from your body. The loneliness that knows, even as your own climax washes over you, that no amount of physical pleasure can replace what you're truly searching for—someone who touches your soul, who leaves his fingerprints on the very fabric of your person and changes you, completes you, brings you home.
Ernest Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
I reread the words my fingers have just bled across the keyboard, frowning. I'm not sure I was even aware of these feelings until I sat down and started typing. I try to look at the words objectively, seeking out any pretentiousness, any disingenuousness. I shake my head. I'm not sure I can remove myself from them sufficiently to judge their worth at this point.
Maybe they'll look different in the morning. I save again, an impulse borne of fear of losing my words, of having my rambles lost into the abyss of malfunctioning technology.
I close a few more browser windows, and click refresh on my email account, sighing in frustration when I see three more emails from Jacob. I ignore them for now—I'll deal with him in the morning. He's not going to want to hear what I've got to say anyway.
"Bella!" I'm startled when Jasper's hand appears in front of my screen, blocking my view of the email from a teenaged fan that I just opened.
"What's up, honey?" I twist my neck to look up at him.
His blue eyes are flat, his lips pressed thin. I watch the skin of his throat flush red.
"Are you planning on coming to bed?"
I glance at the clock in the corner of the screen—it's almost one in the morning.
"Oh yeah, sorry. I'll be there in a few minutes. I just need to –"
"Just need to what, Bella? Write a few more pages, send a few more emails, do a bit more research?"
"For fuck's sake. Can I just have your attention for one night?"
"What do you mean?" I frown up at him. "I spent all afternoon and evening with you. I mean, we just had sex like, two hours ago. I thought you'd be asleep by now."
He spits the words through gritted teeth. "How can I sleep when all I can hear is you tap tap tapping away out here?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I can move. Do you want me to take the laptop into the kitchen?"
"No, Bella. I don't want you to take the laptop into the kitchen."
I tilt my head. "What can I do, honey? What do you need?"
"You're fucking kidding, aren't you? How many times are we going to have this conversation? That fucking laptop gets more of your time than I do."
I fight back the urge to sigh or roll my eyes. We have had this argument far too often as of late. Instead, I listen impassively as his voice gets louder, my eyes on the muscles in his jaw as they flex and jump.
"You're on it when I wake up, you're on it when I get home from meetings. No matter what time of the day it is, I know I'll walk in the door to find you staring at a screen. I mean, fuck, Bella—we have sex and you go to 'clean up,' and two hours later you still haven't come back to bed. Because you're out here, lost in your own fucking world."
I say nothing in my defense. I can't be bothered to have this argument again.
Instead, I opt for placation. "I'm sorry. I'll just close all this stuff down."
I save my work, again, and shut down my email client. Closing the laptop lid, I smile at Jasper tentatively. He doesn't return it, spinning on his heel and storming back towards our—my—bedroom.
I flick off the lights as I follow him.
In our bedroom, he's already under the covers, his back turned. His unruly sun-bleached curls sprawl across the navy blue pillowcase. It's a sight that used to make me smile, my sweet man curled up in my bed.
I shake my head and pull a flannel shirt on. The days are still warm as fall creeps in, but the nights are getting too frigid for my usual tank top and shorts.
I shiver a little as I slide under the covers, my skin prickling into goose bumps. If I was in the right frame of mind, this—the physical manifestation of the cold shoulder I'm currently receiving—would amuse me. It's something I'd write into one of my stories.
My feet rub against the cotton-smooth sheets, trying to create warmth through friction. When they brush against Jasper's calf, I frown a little. His side of the bed is cozy and warm—and not from his body heat.
Jasper's half of the electric blanket is on. Right. He didn't switch mine on. Fine. Point taken. I try not to let it eat at me—I should have turned it on myself earlier.
I reach over and switch my bedside lamp off, trying not to disturb the wobbly tower of books balanced on the nightstand.
In the darkness, it's harder to fight the corrosive feelings bubbling inside me. Resentment churns in my gut; it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. We've been arguing about my writing almost daily. Well, in truth, it's not so much my writing as it is my singular focus once I'm settled in front of a screen full of words.
I've been this way for as long as I can remember. The written word captures my attention, and once I'm writing, or reading, it's very difficult to break through my concentration. I can read with the television blaring, with music playing, and through explosion-and-gunfire-laden video-gaming.
As a child, I would sit in the playground at break, my nose in a book, oblivious to the chatter and laughter of my peers as they ran and jumped and played and carried on. My parents had to ban books at the dinner table, for I would simply read right through meals.
As an adult, little has changed. If anything, years of reading on public transport, and writing my first novel in a crowded café, have made my concentration even more impermeable.
The problem is that I will also read and/or write right through any conversation being directed at me. Once I'm "in the zone," calling my name might elicit a "Yeah?" but I'm almost certainly not hearing a word that's being said. Spoken words simply cannot compete with those written on a page or screen.
Jasper used to find it amusing—cute, even. He would boast about me to his friends, like I was some kind of genius—brilliant but a little detached from reality. He even learned early in our relationship to touch my shoulder, to wait until I made eye contact with him before he spoke to me. And he seemed happy enough to cater to this quirk of mine.
The last few months though, he's become increasingly frustrated when I don't immediately drop everything and focus on him. I'm trying. I really am. I understand that having to call my name over and over must be infuriating for him. I just … well, I don't know how to change. How do I force myself to not engage so deeply, to concentrate less, to keep part of my brain on alert on the off chance he wants to speak to me?
I sigh and roll over, tugging the comforter up around my chin and burying my face in my pillow. I shake my head, trying to dispel the bitter thoughts.
I'm beginning to suspect that the only way I can make Jasper happy would be to simply cease reading and writing altogether when he's at home. Given that we both work from home, however, it's just not going to happen.
An uncomfortable truth settles on me, a weight of guilt pressing down on my chest. It pushes the air from my lungs in a big whoosh of breath.
If he forces me to choose—I will always choose words.
I wake early. Despite the late night and the difficulty I had falling asleep, I'm strangely alert. Beside me, Jasper is still lost in his dreams, his eyelashes fluttering, his lips slightly parted, his long, tanned limbs sprawled across the bed. I wonder if he's unwell, it's almost seven o'clock, and he's still deeply asleep. I press the back of my hand to his forehead—he's sleep-warm, but definitely not fever-hot.
For a second, I contemplate crawling beneath the blankets and waking him in a manner guaranteed to put him in a good mood. It feels manipulative though, so I climb out of bed and slide on some sweat pants and a thick pair of socks. They're too big, the wooly toes hanging past my own and flap-flapping across the wood floors.
The espresso machine is already on, thanks to the timer switch. I dump some fresh beans into the grinder hopper. I yawn, the back of my hand moving to cover my mouth. I flick the grinder on, cringing a little at its noisy rattling, and immerse myself in the familiar routine of dialing in the machine. Grind, dose, distribute, tamp, lock, load.
The first shot pours from the portafilter spouts too quickly—I don't even need to taste it to know that it's under-extracted. I set the grind a little finer and repeat the process.
It takes me four tries to get the espresso dripping like honey from the spouts. The crema looks thick, and is nicely tiger-flecked. I take a careful sip, sighing as the flavor explodes in my mouth. The blend is simple, but stunning. There are floral top notes—jasmine and honeysuckle—and some vibrant berry flavors, underscored by dark chocolate and some kind of nut—hazelnut, perhaps?
Satisfied—and caffeinated—I start pulling the ingredients from the pantry and fridge to make raspberry buckwheat hotcakes.
I'm just flipping the thick, fluffy hotcakes onto plates when Jasper appears, looking sleepy and rumpled and kind of adorable.
His voice is still thick with sleep. "Morning."
He takes the plate I hand him, nodding when I raise the bowl of rosemary-scented marscapone. I spoon some onto his plate and hand him the maple syrup. He kind of grunts in thanks, turning and shuffling toward the breakfast table.
I turn back to the espresso machine, pulling a double shot and steaming a pitcher of milk for his latté.
I set his coffee before him, smiling at his disheveled state, then grab my own plate and a glass of water and join him at the table.
My eyes wander over Jasper as he chews his breakfast. He hasn't shaved in a few days and his jaw is shaded with scruff. It almost looks ginger in the warm light pooling through the windows. His dirty blond curls are mashed against his skull on the right side of his head, and his right cheek still bears the creases of his pillow. His blue-eyed gaze is fixed on the window, out where the waves break against white sand. The creases around his eyes are deepening, sun and age lining his face.
The silence as we eat is heavy and thick, muting the low crash of the ocean and the fluttering of wind through the trees. Unsettled, I shift my gaze from Jasper, watching the sunlight dance its way across the balcony. His wetsuit is still slung across the rail where he left it yesterday, his board leaning beside it, cocooned in its silver insulation.
His plate emptied, Jasper stands and leaves the table wordlessly. I hear him clattering around as he stacks the dishwasher, then the dull thud of his footsteps as he makes his way back toward the bedroom.
I've finished my own breakfast, washed the pots and pans I dirtied, and am wiping down the counters when he reappears. He's shirtless, his board shorts low on his hips. I watch the muscles ripple across his sun-browned back as he pushes open the sliding doors and steps out on to the balcony.
He doesn't acknowledge me as he wriggles and squirms, sliding his body into the black neoprene of his wetsuit. He doesn't look back as pulls the cord and zips himself in, or as he unzips his board from its bag. He doesn't wave as he skips down the steps toward the beach, his surfboard tucked under his arm.
I watch him, my hand wiping unnecessary circles across the cold granite, as he jogs across the sand. I watch until he is just a small black dot bobbing up and down behind the breaking waves.
I look at my own swimsuit, their red and white stripes fluttering in the breeze where I pegged them yesterday afternoon. I chew the inside of my cheek as I consider following him into the surf.
Fuck it. If he wanted my company he would have asked for it.
Instead, I take a shower. As the steam swirls around me, cloaking me, I let my mind start to turn over the nagging questions I've been trying to ignore.
What are we doing? How long can we maintain this tug of war? Arms aching, hands blistering, hearts rubbing raw as we jerk each other back and forth?
What does he want?
Hell, what do I want?
I shake my head, tipping my face toward the rain of warming water.
I'm not sure I even know. If I've ever known.
Jasper and I always worked because things were easy.
An accidental friendship cultivated with the barefoot accountant who never seemed to set foot in an office, while I served him coffee in the summer between high school and college. An accidental relationship when a drunken party in our small beachside town found us waking hung-over and naked, the summer I came back home.
That he's ten years my senior never seemed to matter. A few friends raised their eyebrows, but were quickly appeased when they saw how easily we seemed to fit together.
I'm not stupid; I know I've had it easy.
My first novel was picked up before I'd even finished my degree. Easy.
My grandparents left me their beachside bungalow when they bought a caravan and took off to explore the country for the few years left to them. Easy.
Jasper stayed one night and never went home. Easy.
Before twenty-two, I had independence: a home, a live-in boyfriend and a three-book contract. Easy.
Just past twenty-three, I find myself wishing that things had been a little harder.
I feel like I've been caught in life's riptide. I allowed myself to be carried along by it, letting its current propel me where it willed. But like a swimmer suddenly losing sight of the shore, I'm starting to realize it's dragging me out to a place I don't want to be. And I'm starting to fear I'll drown.
I shut off the shower, squeeze the water from the lengths of my hair, and cocoon myself in dark blue toweling.
I smooth my skin with milk-and-honey lotion, the sweet smell lingering in the warm, damp air as I perch on the cold ceramic of the bathtub.
I'm just walking into the bedroom when the bzzzzt-bzzzzt of my phone vibrating across the nightstand begins.
I reach for it, rolling my eyes. I answer and tuck it between my shoulder and ear as I turn to rifle through my drawer for some clean panties.
His deep voice is like a rumbling snowball, gathering momentum as it races down a steep slope. "Hey, Bea. Listen, you haven't answered my emails and I really need to know what you're planning, and when I can expect the next one. And maybe just a bit of an idea of what you're planning on writing. Obviously, you're sticking to YA, but maybe it's time to shift your focus a little. Dystopian –"
"Whoa, Jake. Just hold on a second."
"Although, maybe you could –"
Frustration and anxiety course through me, my heartbeat pounding in my ears. I cut him off with a shout, "Jacob!"
"Just slow down, please." The shrill tone in my voice lingers.
Jacob must hear it. "Uh, have I caught you at a bad time? Are you okay? You sound …" He trails off, his voice coming to rest, finally.
I tell him "I'm fine," though I don't know if it's the truth. The phone still balanced in the crook of my neck, I slide the lace in my hands up my legs.
"Sorry, I got a bit carried away, huh?"
"Just a little."
"Right. Sorry." He chuckles. "So, anyway. Do you have anything concrete for me?"
I sit on the edge of the bed, my fingertips brushing across the cotton, picking absently at the little balls of fluff. "I want to do something different, Jake."
His groan-sigh is transmitted across the radio waves into my ear. As my brain decodes the sound, the anxiousness in my belly coils tighter. "Bea—"
"Look, Jacob. I just … I mean, I've never set out to write young adult books. I've just written some characters who happened to be teenagers. But I want to explore something different. I want to write some more mature characters –"
Jake sighs again. I can almost see him, rocking back in his black leather chair, his eyes on the ceiling as he considers my words.
"Have you got anything written?"
"Bits and pieces. I, uh, well—I've been plotting out a few ideas."
I imagine him rubbing his hand across the whiskers that shade his upper lip, his dark eyes closing in thought.
"All right, Bea. You gotta write whatever's taking hold of you. But—can you get me something by the end of the month? So I can see where you're heading, and start trying to figure out how I'm going to sell it to the big boss?"
A wave of relief washes over me. "Yeah, I'll see what I can do."
"Cool. I don't know, Bea. Just get me enough to get a feel for what you're trying to do."
"Okay. My fingers are itching, anyway. I should have something for you soon."
"Great. Okay. And, you know … should you have any more teenaged characters chattering away in your brain—let them speak."
I roll my eyes. "Yeah, yeah."
"Don't roll your eyes at me."
"Bullshit. I can practically hear them squeaking in their sockets."
"Well, shit." I chuckle. "I guess I better find the WD-40."
Jake laugh-snorts. "Okay, okay. I've got more writers to harass, Bea. I'll be in touch."
I throw my cell phone on the mattress, and turn my head to look out over the ocean. There are about a dozen surfers out the back, black blobs bobbing as they wait for their waves. I watch one—it could be Jasper, it's impossible to tell from here, his arms working furiously to catch the wave. He jumps nimbly to his feet, the ocean taking hold of his board and propelling him toward the shore.
I think about the ocean, how it's in control of the surfers. They're not catching the waves, not really. The wave catches them, pushing them with its own agenda. Powerful. Inexorable. Eternally pushing its white cavalry forward and then sucking them back out to sea.
Air rushes from between my lips, fast and hard, then seeping softly as my lungs deflate. How long do I continue to ride this wave of my life? Do I let it propel me, hope for the shore? Or do I bail out—though I don't know what other dangers might be submerged beneath me?
I look at my hands, at the fading scratches criss-crossing them—scars from my epic battle with the briar rose that I helped Mom prune from her garden last weekend. There is a woman forming in my mind. Rose. Rosie. Rosalie. She, like her namesake, is beautiful, but fiercely self-protected.
Why? What does she fear?
I leave the room, gravitating toward my laptop—lying closed on the coffee table where I left it in the early hours of this morning.
My still-wet hair drips down my back as I wait for the computer to come alive.
"Rosalie." I say her name out loud, as if to conjure her presence, to have her materialize fully formed from the jumble of phrases piling up in my mind.
As a rule, first love affairs almost always meet with disastrous ends, and first heartbreak almost always seems impossible to survive. After the dizzy heights of first love, plummeting back down to earth leaves the heart feeling battered and bruised, and loving again seems quite impossible.
Rosalie Hale suspected she was not so different to many other young women—getting caught up in the heady intoxication of first love, or lust—only to have it all fall down around her. Promises broken, faithfulness abandoned, and love betrayed. She was left feeling as though her heart would never, ever recover, that she would carry this dull, throbbing ache between her lungs for as long as they continued to expand and fill with breath.
But Rosalie, like those many other young women, found that she did, after all, continue to breathe, that life did go on—just as her mother promised it would, her age-wavered voice soothing in its crotchety tones as she stroked her daughter's flaxen hair. The steady trickle of time swept Rosalie along, and the blue-black marks on her heart began to yellow and fade.
Rosalie watched the other young women—friends, colleagues, and sisters—noting their perpetual cycle of love and heartbreak. The gushing-gossip over new love, the teary-condemnation of love lost. The girls, whose giggling voices one month declared the latest boy-wonder "so perfect for you," were the same ones whose voices would shrill with bitter recriminations the next: "I never liked him anyway."
Disillusioned, Rosalie determined that unwavering, predictable loneliness was preferable to the rollercoaster highs and lows her friends were riding. And so, while she enjoyed the company of many young men, and even allowed a few into her bed, she was careful to clingwrap her heart, determined to keep it safe and fresh for such a time as she was ready to offer it—wholly, completely—to another.
"Could you please get off your fucking computer for a few minutes, and go put some fucking clothes on?"
Jasper's voice startles me out of Rosalie's mind, and I glance down at myself in surprise. I'm still wrapped in a towel, and my hair has dried into untamed spirals.
"When did you get back?" I ask, meeting his eyes nervously. Their blue is frosted over.
He shakes his head, his hands running through his damp curls. His voice is tight with frustration. "Half an hour ago. I've already showered and eaten lunch. We need to go in ten minutes." The ends of his words stamp a staccato beat, distracting me from their meaning.
His eyebrows rise when I fail to move. "Bella? We. Have. To. Go."
I feel my eyebrows contracting and my lips pursing. "Don't speak to me like that. I'm not a child."
"Then quit acting like one!"
I stand up, pulling the soft toweling close to my skin. My eyes are on my toes as I return to the bedroom, pulling clothes from their hangers at random.
I'm shimming the stretchy denim up my legs when Jasper's sigh travels across the room. He's leaning against the door jam, his arms folded across his chest. I watch the muscles jump and flex as his fists tighten.
"What?" I ask.
"You're going to wear jeans?"
I look at him blankly. "Is that a problem?"
I search through my brain, flipping quickly through the conversations we've had this week. I draw a blank. We're expected somewhere—I can't remember where—but it would seem jeans are not appropriate attire.
I raise my white flag. "Where are we going, J.J.?"
His eyebrow arches and his nostrils flare. "I knew you wouldn't remember."
His sneering sparks something in my gut. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Bella sucks and she forgets shit. Either tell me where we're going—and what would be deemed acceptable clothing—or just fucking go without me."
His mouth turns down, weighted with disapproval—he hates to hear me swear. "We're meeting Mom for afternoon tea."
I resist the urge to kick the closet door in frustration. Mrs. Whitlock's afternoon teas are legendary—for all the wrong reasons. People attend them only to avoid being the subject of the malicious stories that are spun in her airless living room.
I slide the jeans back down my legs, leaving them puddled on the floor. I find the lilac sundress Jasper gave me for my last birthday and pull it off its hanger. I glance at him in the mirror, but his eyes are on the cell phone in his hand, not my naked form.
Six months ago, a wiggle of my hips was all it would take for him to have me pressed against the mattress, his hands greedy, his mouth devouring mine. Lately, though, he seems to have lost interest in that side of our relationship. He never makes the first move, and only responds to perhaps half of my advances. It's left a tender bruise on my self-esteem—being unable to inspire his desire.
With a sigh, I dress quickly, smoothing the gauzy fabric down my thighs. Jasper groans when I step into the bathroom, so I settle for quickly swiping some mascara across my lashes and smoothing some beeswax balm across my lips. I grab a cardigan out of my dresser and head for the door.
While I wait for Jasper to grab his keys and wallet, I walk out on to the balcony, my eyes wandering across ocean, sunlight bouncing off its surface. I let the salt air flow through me, swirling into my lungs with each breath and easing the ache in my chest.
The ninety-minute drive is silent and tense—static crackling between us. Jasper's fingers move to his collar every few minutes, tugging at it. I'll never get used to seeing him in a starchy button-down.
Mrs. Whitlock greets me with air kisses and insincerity. It's not that she particularly dislikes me—it's just that everything about her is fake. From her false eyelashes and her silicon-inflated breasts, her gel nails and her platinum chignon, right down to her affected accent—everything about Charlotte Whitlock is a carefully crafted charade.
In her living room, the windows are closed tight, keeping that "awful draught" from rusting and corroding her trinkets and knick-knacks. The air is thick with the cloying scents of a dozen different perfumes, mineral face powder and sticky lip-gloss.
Nettie gives me a half-smile as I take a seat beside her, wriggling my ass around to make room.
"Hey, Nettie. How are you, chickie?"
"I'm very well, thank you." I stifle my laugh at her stiffly enunciated words.
Her usually cheerful twelve-year-old face is creased with concentration as she tries not to fidget. Her honey blonde hair is pulled back into a severe bun, and I barely contain my eye roll when I notice her eyelids are shaded with pink. Although she's almost thirteen, her mother continues to treat her like a fucking doll. A talented surfer and a really bright kid, she hates these afternoons even more than I do. She'd much prefer to be in the surf, or loitering down at the skate park with her friends, acting her age and goofing off.
Nettie cringes as her mother's voice carries from the doorway leading into the kitchen.
"Stop bothering Isabella!"
I raise my voice but don't turn. "She's not bothering me at all, Lucia."
Nettie gives me a grateful smile, her eyes on her fingers.
I can hear Lucia's pursed lips in her sniffy reply. "How many times, Isabella? Please, you must call me Lucy."
I wink at Nettie as I turn to face her mother. "You must call me Bella."
She nods stiffly, her sharp eyes sweeping over me. I'm sure she's cataloguing the chaotic tumble of my unbrushed hair, and the three pimples that have stubbornly formed on my chin. She sniffs, before disappearing back into Charlotte's kitchen.
"Cupcake?" I offer the plate of pastel-frosted treats to Nettie.
She looks at them longingly but shakes her head, her pouty little mouth turning down at the corners.
I choose two from the tray, and lean in, speaking into her ear. "Give it two minutes, then come and meet me under the frangipani tree."
She nods solemnly, her blue eyes filled with gratitude.
"I read your book." Nettie's voice is quiet, wobbling with nerves.
She's leaning against the trunk of the twisted and gnarled tree, her back to the house. Lemon frosting coats her top lip.
I pluck a frangipani from above her head and tuck it behind her ear. The scent of the pink and yellow blossoms hangs heavy over us in the dappled light the afternoon sunshine is throwing around us.
"Yeah? Which one?"
Oh. I look at her, keeping my expression neutral as she watches her toes dig into the damp soil.
Is she too young? There were a few scenes in that book that were a little, well, mature. Nothing too explicit, but I doubt Lucy would approve of some of the things my sixteen year old Jessica puts in her mouth in that story.
Nettie's lip is between her teeth, and I feel a little bad for her. I remember the frustration of being bored with "age appropriate" books.
"Did you like it?"
She nods, peeking up at me. "I really liked Tyler."
I pretend not to notice the pink spreading across her cheekbones. "He was my favorite, too."
"You won't tell Mom, will you?"
"Tell your Mom what, sweetie?"
"That I—" She breaks off, a smile plumping the apples of her cheeks. "Thank you."
"Don't think I didn't see you giving Nettie cupcakes."
I roll my eyes, and press my finger against the button on the door. I smile as the opening window allows the warm sea air to rush into the car. "She's nearly thirteen, J.J. One cupcake isn't going to do her any harm." Nor will the three others I smuggled outside for her.
"I know that." His voice is as stiff and starchy as his shirt. "The problem is not with the sweets, but with you encouraging her disobedience. She's already enough of a handful for Aunt Lucy—without you teaching her that her mother's rules don't matter."
"Did you tell on her?" My heart turns upside down at the thought. It's ridiculous—it's a little cake, it's not like I rolled her a fucking joint or handed her a bottle of vodka.
"No." He smiles a little. "One cupcake isn't going to do her any harm."
Jasper pulls into our driveway, and has barely engaged the handbrake before I'm out of the car and heading for the beach.
"I'm going for a walk." I toss the words over my shoulder. I don't hear his reply—if he did, in fact, acknowledge me.
My thighs soon start to burn as I walk-run down the beach—away from Jasper, away from his mother and her sister, away from Jacob, away from all the pressures and demands that seem to be piling up on my shoulders.
I only slow my pace when I reach the little bend—the little cove where I can find solace and solitude.
Sunset orange bleeds into nighttime blues. The darkening sky casts a shadow across my heart, and I feel the sting of warm salt water at the corners of my eyes. I walk across the slippery-cool sand, the fine grains like silk, squeaking under my feet.
When my toes find the breaking waves, I imagine that I am some strange halophilic tree, planted on the shoreline. I can pretend that the water dripping down my face is being drawn up through my buried toes and flowing through me for nourishment, rather than being borne of this … this tight-chest, heavy-shoulders feeling that I don't want to name.
The sea breeze gathers around me, tangling my hair and cooling my skin.
Shivering a little, I move up the sand, away from the incoming tide. In the dunes, the sand is soft and dry, and I sink down into it, drawing my knees up to my chest.
In the darkness, with the waves shining silver under the pale moon, I remember the surfers I watched this morning. Here, I realize that though my observation was correct—that it is the surf that commands the surfer—the waves are not their own masters, either.
The moon, she controls them, her gravity ordering the tides, their highs and their lows.
But the moon—is she not tied to the earth? Chained to unthinkingly orbit it day by day by day.
And the earth—it wanders its wobbly path, making its annual pilgrimage, dancing it's obedient circle around fierce-burning Sol.
I watch the waves continue to swell and surge and I think about impotence and impetus, about choice and change, about the road I'm on, and the one I want to walk.
I'm back in the same place again. I love Jasper, I do. But the threads holding us together are wearing thin, fraying under the strain of our mismatched expectations and needs.
And I don't know what to do.
Later, I think. I'll worry about it later.
I pick up a handful of sand, watching it spill, soft and white, from my fingertips. I close my eyes, imagining the warmth of a body beside me.
My mind drifts to Rosalie. Sad and lonely Rosalie.
I want her to fall in love. I need to create a wonderful man—flawed, of course—but perfect for her. Someone worth the risk of falling in love.
My mind begins to fill with him as I stand, as I wander back toward the house. He starts to take shape. Words and phrases piling up, sketching him out.
Strong but compassionate. Adoring but not coddling. Considerate. Gentle but not weak. Thoughtful. Kind.
He wouldn't have turned off all the outside lights, I decide.
He wouldn't have locked the front door.
He would have come looking, I decide.
He—Edward, I think—would worry about a two-hour absence.
Edward would be concerned about dried tear tracks.
Ignoring Jasper's rolling eyes, I make my way to my laptop, my fingers drumming on the table as I wait for it to load.
Rosalie Hale; meet Edward Cullen.
A/N: Hello, friends :)
I'm starting this journey much earlier than I planned to, but this story is just so incredibly insistent about being told.
Love, as always, to my lovely friend BelieveItOrNot who is onboard to make sure I lose the word "gently" from my vocabulary, hold my hand, and be the person who always says "You can do it." Having someone who believes in you means the world. YMFC, Tam.
So ... I'd love to hear your thoughts.