Previously, in Chapter Thirty-Nine ... "I've loved you since I was a boy," I told her, fishing around in my pocket for the box, then popping open the lid. "Let me love you 'till I'm an old man, and then until I'm no more."
I took her small hand, not giving her the chance to respond, then slid the ring on. It was a perfect fit, not that there was any question. Her hand trembled in mine as I stared up into her eyes, waiting for her response.
"I've loved you since I was a little girl," she said, her voice cracking as tears filled her eyes. "And I'll love you until the day I die. And then I'll love you after that, when we return to the stars. I'll shine brightly by your side, and people will talk about us as they lay on piers, sharing first kisses. They'll call me Artemis, and you Cash, and we'll be together in the heavens side by side. Forever."
A few months earlier ...
It seems like my entire life has been nothing but a blur of visions, of impossible coincidences dancing behind closed eyelids, playing out in real life once my eyes are opened to the world.
The visions scared me when I was younger, but over time they became familiar strangers. I compared them to any other uncontrollable action in my life: my mother's cold demeanor towards my sister, the absence of my father, my last name. Those things were out of my control just as the visions were. I learned to bear it, to accept them for what they were, no matter how odd or terrifying they sometimes could be.
That all changed on a warm, summer night. That's the night I held a vision in the palm of my hand, a vision that would change the course of my life, and the lives around me, forever.
It wasn't much different than any other summer night. Bella, Emmett, Angie, and I were hanging out near the pool laughing as Em dumped my sleeping cousin, Ben, onto a float and shoved him across the water. Ben drifted around beneath the stars, occasionally snoring, clueless to his watery surroundings.
The air seemed to change. It came alive with a burning current of electricity. Something stirred deep within me, and I jumped from the side of the pool, pulling my feet from the warm water. Bella stared at me in alarm, but her face began to fade. It was coming. The visions were coming and I felt alive. I barely noticing the clap of thunder above or the streak of lightning illuminating the sky.
Brightness crept in bedside the darkness of my open eyes. A swirl of spinning colors flashed through my mind: the shiny wood of a coffin, and a single white lily with startling green stems. The room tilted and I was running, grasping my father's coffin, wanting to see him one last time. The memory faded turning into something more, something unfamiliar: a classroom. A classroom and a boy, with a mop of messy hair and downcast eyes.
My mother's angry eyes appeared next, glowing in the darkness behind my eyes, flashing and stabbing me where it hurt the most. Angry words spewed from her mouth crushing me, killing what little life I had left inside. With smeared lipstick and a wrinkled uniform, she slipped into her car then spun away, taking my pride with her as she left.
I lay on my back, staring at the dark sky through the shifting branches and leaves and felt nothing. Nothing at all.
Giggles and sneaky grins replaced the bitterness of my mother's angry eyes. Kate's face with her knowing grin came and went. My body became light as I sucked on a blunt, filling my lungs with hypnotic smoke. A gray bridge beneath spinning tires loomed ahead, along with the exuberance of the unknown.
The visions twisted and curled, turning into something soft and sweet: a blanket of stars above my head, and a boy's starlit eyes smoldering beside me. The gentle brush of his arm against me sent shivers throughout my body, curling my toes. My belly tickled and fluttered, and something akin to utter happiness sang through my soul. When his lips brushed against mine, I was floating. I was floating between the cracked boards of a pier, rising to the shattered crystals hanging in the inky sky. And I was in love. There was not a doubt in my mind that at that very moment I fell in love with a green-eyed boy, laying in the dark beside a muddy river.
I was in love. I'm in love with the wrong boy. The green was the wrong shade of eye color. It wasn't crystal blue. It didn't crinkle at the edges when he smiled. The boy I loved had played in my visions for as long as I could remember. This boy wasn't the one.
Then the vision changed, and I was bewildered. That familiar set of blue eyes burned into mine, and I spoke to him, dismissing him and slipping into Kate's truck. I screamed at myself in the vision, telling my vision self to stay behind. This boy was not just any boy. He was the boy I dreamed about my entire life, the boy I would someday marry, have babies with, have a real family with. I'd seen it. I'd seen it all in my visions, and my visions always came true. Always. But my vision self was silent. When I turned in the passenger seat of Kate's truck I startled, because those dark eyes from the cab boring into mine were my own.
My face melted away, replaced with that of the green eyed boy. The sky was heavy with clouds, and heady with rainwater. Mist danced around our heads, and he pressed me against a wooden building. Conflicting emotions drowned out my desire as he touched me, kissed me. I thought of my family. I thought of ... Alice.
I'm Alice. I'm Alice. I. Am. Alice.
The sight of myself darting across a muddy lot did nothing but confuse me. I glanced down at my arms, and my body, at my clothes. I tugged at my clothes, pulling them away from my hip. The life was sucked right out of my chest by the familiar curve and faded swirls of color, of a tattoo. A tattoo of a lily.
I'm Bella. I'm envisioning that I'm Bella.
I don't love this boy ... Bella does.
I argue with the mossy-eyed boy, the words falling from my lips without my permission. My chest seized as my head realized he was a Cullen, but my vision self already knew this as a truth. I left him standing in the rain and I ran, I ran to my self, to my sister, who was chasing a boy with a bat, a boy I've seen a million times in my visions.
The rain washed the muddy lot away, and I'm standing in front of Nana's cake shop. The green-eyed boy is standing in front of me, begging with his eyes to let him love me, but I can't. I can't because I'm worried. I'm worried about my family, of the problems it could cause. I'm worried about my sister, my sister who's warned me to stay away from this boy.
I love him. And I've never loved anyone more, not even Alice.
Nana's backyard transforms in front of me. The psychosis in my Uncle Aro's eyes shines brightly as he takes down his favorite dog. I know that could be me, I know I could be next, but I want him. I want Edward. And I'm willing to do anything to be with him.
Then I'm flying. I'm in his arms on the deck of my house, and he's so tender, so loving, trying to tell me how he feels, but I won't let him. I already know how he feels. I know because I feel the same way. It's love, plain and simple, but there's so much against us. The world. The world is against us and it's terrifying and exhilarating and so deadly.
A gun is aimed at me by a russet skinned wolf of a man until he transforms. Battered and broken, he's thrown into a river. I watch as the gators rise to tear into his flesh, ripping and shredding his skin, snapping his bones. One less man upon this earth, and a man is left childless. It's my fault. My fault.
Journal entries, lies, broken promises, and picnic baskets come next, and I'm alone in the world. Alone unless he's by my side, and he is. My mother is dead to me, and he's there when I crumble, comforting me.
A lone girl dressed in white standing on a bridge. Her face bloody and swollen, eyes barely open. We drove her to the hospital and there he was, breaking my heart in the rain, leaving what's left of me as he walks away.
A football game and cheering fans comes next, but it's not enough to lift my spirits. They've been crushed by him, crushed by the one person outside of my family that I loved. But he returns, meeting me in a dark playground near the school, apologies on his lips and I accept them.
Pain shoots through my heart and I'm staring down at myself, at what's left of Alice Swan. There's a paleness to my skin and a blue tinge to my lips. Needles lay nearby and it couldn't be real. It couldn't be me ... couldn't be me laying there dead.
Laying there dead.
The dead girl faded away, replaced with the smell of a storm brewing in the distance.
"The storm's here. The storm's here," I whispered.
Something grabbed my hand, shaking it slightly. I jerked with a cringe, glanced down, and met the worried eyes of my sister, Bella.
"What?" I asked, struggling to cover the fear with anger, indifference, anything.
Bella's mouth opened, but I was saved by the alert tone of my phone. I turned away, breathing a sigh of relief once I'm away from my sister's troubled eyes. I hated upsetting her, and the visions did that to her sometimes.
I snatched my phone from the table and plopped down in a chair, trying to shove the vision from my mind. A cold chill ran through my body as I read a group message from Mike Newton announcing the Cullens had Kate at the old train station.
We were on our way to the train station in a flash, and I sat in Bella's Jeep sneaking a glance at her eyes. They were full of worry and trepidation, but also hope. And that was one thing I hadn't seen in my sister's eyes in so long. I remembered the love I felt while laying on that pier in the vision, the love that he gave me, that he gave her.
I was a selfish girl. I depended too much on my sister, letting her worry when she shouldn't. I squandered my days away sometimes while she picked up the slack. She eased into the role of my mother and never complained.
I was selfish. Always had been, always would be, until one day I wasn't.
I knew I would fight it. I would fight telling my sister about the vision, just as I would fight the feelings I had for the blue-eyed boy in my dreams. I couldn't let myself love him, I couldn't grow attached, and I couldn't let him grow attached to me. But I wanted to. I wanted to let him love me, let myself love him. I wanted to live.
I wanted to live.
If I told Bella about the vision I knew she would sacrifice her love for the mossy-eyed boy for me, just as she sacrificed so many other things for me during our lives. It wasn't fair. My sister deserved happiness in her life.
So, with pursed lips and a heavy heart, I kept my silence as best I could. I allowed her to make her own decisions, and pave her own way into her future, and for once I wasn't selfish little Alice.
I wasn't anything. Anything at all.
Huge thanks to all of you who read, rec'd, reviewed. Thanks to Ali for beta'ing and Fran for stepping in to beta whenever Ali took one of her many rich girl vacations. Thanks to Jonesn for pre-reading and being my shoulder to lean on.
It's been a wild month. I finished NaNo and wrote an OF novel that I'm considering self-publishing, so I'm excited for that. I entered the Age of Edward contest, which I chose not to announce. Anyway, I somehow won SIX awards for my entry 'Bartered.' It's inspired by 'The Color Purple' and is written in a somewhat complicated dialect true to the region it's set in. Check it out if you'd like.
I'll miss Artemis and Cash. I've grown so attached. The dedication at the beginning of this story is to my father in law, who was much like Charlie Swan's character, and my sister in law, who is my Bella. My Bella didn't make it in the end, so I chose to write a story when she gets her happily ever after, in my mind, forever.
Thanks for the journey. I hope you enjoyed the ride.