The Twilight Twenty-Five
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Bella didn't know much about chemistry, but she listened with a genuine fascination as Rosalie spoke, and she watched with rapt attention as the Easter lily was dipped into the strange crystalline bath. The transformation was almost instant. The liquid turned a milky white and foamed around the flower, bubbles rising furiously to the surface like uncorked champagne.
When the bubbling stopped, the fluid became opalescent with alternating tones of a serene blue and a fiery orange, but it lasted for only a few seconds before a ray of light shot out of the center of the flower towards the ceiling. The shining of the ray of light must have been some kind of signal, because almost as soon as it happened, Rosalie quickly reached her hand in and pulled the flower out.
"See?" She said, with her white and enchanting smile, "It's not dangerous if you stick your hand in at the right time. But you have to move fast. Just as the light is starting to fade."
The lily had been turned completely to stone, and might have looked to an inexperienced eye like it had been carved out of marble. But it was the kind of delicate form and shape no sculptor would ever be able to duplicate, with the gentle folds of the petal and the dainty stems of pollen formed perfectly in the heart of it. A thin and pale blue veining ran throughout the snowy white stone, like a network of vital nerves, and towards the base of the lily's bell was a soft pink colour that faded into the white around it. Rosalie handed the flower to Bella, who stared at it in fascination, and lightly traced her fingers over the blue lines.
"I don't know why it does that," Rosalie explained, "Why the colours are like that, but they always are. Yesterday I tried one of Edward's goldfish, and… here. Look at it."
"A goldfish!" Bella gasped, shocked at the idea of a living creature being submerged in that mysterious solution.
They were standing in Rosalie's studio, a tall room with an abundance of natural light and plenty of plaster dust all over the floor. In the middle of the room was a very large sculpture of three life-sized figures. It was a piece she was working on for the summer show in New York; which was a sort of salon, like they used to have in Paris, where the best artists debuted their latest masterpieces. The year before, Rosalie had created a world-renown sculpture in bronze called Jason in Battle. Her husband, Edward, had posed for it. The way she had lovingly chiselled the details of his expression, and the powerful tension of his body were magnificent. She was absolutely lauded for it, and secretly doubted that she would ever be able to match the success, let alone surpass it.
She went to one of her work tables and picked up the little marble fish to show Bella. It looked like it had been frozen mid-swim. As a piece of art, it had a decidedly Asian quality, since it was a ranchu goldfish and its fins were so pleasantly dynamic. It was heavy to hold and smoother than anything Bella had felt before. If she hadn't been told, she never would have guessed it to be anything other than the work of an expert or a genius, carving some medium of stone she'd never seen before. But as she looked at the faint pink that seemed to glow from the poor creature's heart, she felt a chill of apprehension. Or perhaps fear.
"How did Edward feel about you sacrificing one of his pets?" She asked, handing it back to Rosalie.
"I haven't really told him yet. I don't think he'll be too pleased, but it's not like anybody keeps fish for the affection or the company. After all, that's why he has me." Rosalie answered with a coy smile and a playful flutter of her eyelashes.
Bella chuckled at the joke, then quickly changed the subject.
"What's that golden light that comes out? Why does it do that?" She nodded at the large bowl of the strange solution. It was, after all, what she had been called over to see.
"I'm not sure," Rosalie shook her head, "It looks kind of like a beam of sunshine, doesn't it? Maybe it's the soul of something shooting out, and I'll be cursed an extra year for every beam of light. Sometimes, since I started working with it, I've had nightmares where the ghost of the fish comes to me. Just swimming in my brain, asking for little pellets of food and begging to know why I'd turned it to stone."
At first, Bella thought this was a serious suggestion, and she nodded gravely. Then she looked over and saw the twinkle in Rosalie's eye.
"Oh, come on!" Bella groaned.
"I can't believe you bought that!" Rosalie laughed fondly.
"Alright, big joke. Let's all laugh at how gullible Bella is. Ha ha. So what is it really?"
"I honestly don't know. It's science… doing some science… thing. If I ever find out, I'll tell you," She glanced at her watch, a very expensive Cartier creation that she wore upside down, "You should stay for lunch. Edward's coming home soon, and I know he'd like to see you. It's been at least a month since you've been over here."
Bella didn't tell Rosalie why she hadn't been coming over. She never said out lout how much she loved Edward. But sometimes she still thought about that morning the day before his wedding, when he took her arm in his and walked along the autumn sidewalks and said:
"I don't think I ever would have asked Rose to marry me if I'd known you were in the world, but it's too late now."
It really was too late. Rosalie was flawless in her beauty, with her soft white skin and icy blonde hair. She had the demeanour of a glamorous movie star instead of a sculptor, and her laugh was like silver bells in winter. It was impossible, Bella thought, for anyone to really compete. Especially not a plain brunette, who preferred flannel shirts to Marc Jacobs blazers and high top sneakers to Christian Louboutin pumps. It was better for Edward to be with someone like Rosalie, and it was better for Rosalie if she never knew about the complex feelings between one of her best friends and her husband.
After all, Bella had known Rosalie since art school. They'd been part of a trio - along with Mary Alice Brandon - who'd been as inseparable as they were promising. Bella would never do anything to hurt a friend.
"Will you stay?" Rosalie asked again, taking off the white smock she wore in the studio. Beneath it was a stunning blue blouse and a khaki coloured pencil skirt. She looked effortlessly elegant, like always.
"Of course," Bella shrugged, "A girl's got to eat."
She glanced over at the Jason, sitting on a pedestal in the best of the morning light, and was taken by the expression on its face. The intensity, the desperate passion, the soul that Rosalie had managed to put into those contours. How wonderful it must be to have a man like Edward look at you in such a way, and be there to inspire such magnificent creations.
"I'm afraid the Fates won't be ready for New York," Rosalie's voice pulled Bella from her daydreams, "And the only other thing I have is the Cassandra that I had Alice pose for. It's technically good, but its missing something. It's a little lifeless."
The blonde beauty walked over to a covered sculpture and pulled the sheet off it. She was right that it was a good piece, and equally right that it lacked the energy of her famous masterpiece. It was also slightly smaller than Bella was used to seeing in her friend's work, which usually made a grand spectacle of life on an equally grand scale. The Cassandra was only three and a half feet tall, and seemed more appropriate for a garden than a gallery.
"Still, it'll have to do." Rosalie sighed.
Bella was about to say something reassuring and non-committal when a voice saved her from one of the most awkward troubles with artists.
"Rosalie! I'm home!" Edward called from the front of the house, the door shutting loudly behind him.
"In the studio!" Rosalie called back.
Bella wasn't totally prepared for Edward when he came in. His slightly messy bronze coloured hair, his deeply fascinating and almost golden eyes, his lopsided grin. He was wearing a red button-down shirt, a tweed coat and a pair of very weathered jeans. He was perfect, just like in Bella's memories.
"Hello, Bella!" He said with genuine enthusiasm, and gave her a quick nod of acknowledgment, "Long time, no see. How have you been?"
"Hi Edward." Bella answered, completely missing the question she'd just been asked.
"I asked her to come over to see my magic potion," Rosalie explained, linking arms with her husband and her friend and leading them into the kitchen, "And now we're going to have lunch."
"What did you think of our Rose's roses?" Edward asked jovially.
"The joke doesn't work today," Rosalie told him with a pout, "I used a lily for my demonstration."
"Oh. Well. She usually uses roses," He explained, "Still, I bet you weren't expecting alchemy when you got out of bed this morning, were you?"
"I think she'll regret her discovery pretty quick," Bella answered, earning a raised eyebrow from Rosalie, "Photography didn't do any favours for us painters, you know."
They walked into the fairly modern kitchen, with its stainless steel appliances and wooden countertops. Wooden because Edward had joked that if they were marble, his wife would try to carve them into cupids and nobody would ever be able to cook. Rosalie made her way over to the refrigerator and started pulling out a roast turkey breast and some vegetables for sandwiches.
"She tells me that she isn't going to sell the formula. She won't even let me know the details of how it works." Edward explained, giving Bella a conspiratorial glance as he folded his arms and leaned forward on the kitchen counters.
"It would be a vicious blow to the world of art," Rosalie nodded sagely, "It would corrupt the beauty of the creative process, so no. I'm not going to tell anybody how it works. But I'll tell the two of you that I got the idea for it from those mineral springs that are so full of silica that the leaves and twigs and stuff that fell into them were turned to stone. The silica replaces the vegetable matter, bit by bit, and the result is kind of like a duplicate and kind of like a fossil. My solution just speeds everything up, so instead of years the process takes only a few seconds."
"Well done, Professor Rosalie." Edward smile tightly and clapped, with a strange note of sarcasm.
"Thank you, darling." She replied coolly, and then turned her attention to Bella, "What are you painting for New York? Something incredibly modern and insightful, I hope."
"Not quite…" And Bella explained her current work in great detail, while the sandwiches were passed around and eaten. There was no more talk of Rosalie and her strange concoction that day, and whatever spark of animosity had passed between husband and wife did not flicker to life again. Except for once, when Edward wondered what had become of one of his goldfish. Rosalie told him that it had died, and that she'd disposed of it and forgotten to tell him.
It was a few months later when a water pipe in Bella's loft burst, and she had to move herself and all of her paintings out. Of course, Rosalie offered her a room in her house and the temporary use of her studio, but Bella was reluctant to agree. Until she discovered that Alice Brandon was back in Seattle, working on some massive downtown mural, and would be staying with the Hale-Cullens until it was finished. All at once, Bella was excited for the chance at spending so much time with Rosalie and Alice, just like when they had been housemates in college. She was looking forward to some laughter and some friendship.
On the day she arrived, luggage in tow and canvases already in place, she found Rosalie washing up in the studio. It was very different from the last time Bella had seen it. There were tall white columns that reached up to the ceiling, and many more sculptures than seemed possible. Half a dozen of the strangely morbid little fish sat on the work table, with enough stone flowers to fill Medusa's garden. Other than that, though, everything else had been hand-carved by Rosalie. Who'd found a strange intensity, and new enthusiasm for her work.
A collection of clay cherubs sat around a deep basin on the far side of the room, making permanently cheeky faces at anybody who passed by. The basin they sat by was quite deep and fairly wide, around the size of a very expensive hotel bathtub. In the center of the room, the Fates sat mostly finished, except for the face of one and the hands and robe of another. There were also a few very dangerous-looking predatory birds of tremendous size that hung down from the ceiling on sturdy metal cables. They looked like they were going to swoop down and pick the observer up in their ferocious talons. Those pieces surprised Bella, because they were the first pieces of non-classical subject matter she had ever seen Rosalie produce - apart from the experiments with the solution.
A station had been set up for Bella and her paintings, placed in the room so that the afternoon light hit the canvas in a particularly favourable manner. Rosalie was known for preferring to work in the morning, Bella took afternoons until dinner for her best artistic moments, and Alice liked to sneak around at night with a can of spray paint and a black hooded sweatshirt. At least, she used to. But that was before the street art movement was legitimized by galleries.
Rosalie herself was standing at the sink by the door, covered in white dust from head to toe, except for an area on her face that matched perfectly the outline of a pair of goggles and a small white mask. She was wearing an old black tee and a pair of denim shorts, her long blonde hair was pulled into a messy bun and she wasn't wearing any shoes. And somehow, despite everything, she still looked more glamorous than Bella felt.
"Hey!" Rosalie said cheerfully, shutting off the water and drying her hands, "I'd give you a hug, but…"
"I'd look like a powdered donut when you were done." Bella smiled.
"Yep. Do you like painter's corner over there?" She nodded to the easel and the workspace that she'd set up for her friend.
"It's fantastic. But what's with the bathtub? You and Edward bringing the bedroom to the studio? Should I clear out of here at a certain time in the evening?"
"It's full of my formula," Rosalie answered with a shrug, "Careful you don't fall in."
"God, that's creepy!" Bella said, looking at the tub through a different lens, "Why do you have a lake of that stuff in here?"
"I made some more and I had nowhere to put it," Rosalie explained, "Besides, I kind of want to experiment on a more complex organism than a fish. I want to see what'll happen."
"What, like you want to dip a person in there or something? That's awful!" The look of horror was obvious on Bella's face, and her voice practically oozed with disapproval.
"Of course not! That would be murder! Holy shit! No, I'm not going to dip a person in there. Why would you even think that? What's wrong with you?" Rosalie gasped, wide-eyed at her friend.
"Okay, okay. Sorry," Bella put her hands out in a gesture that was placating and apologetic, "So what do you mean by a more complex organism?"
"I don't want to tell you now. You're too… judgey."
"Oh, come on! I'm not judgey," Bella pleaded, "I'm just really, really bad at jumping to conclusions! That's a totally different thing!"
"No. You're judgey." Rosalie shook her head, but the two of them were smiling again.
Alice bounced happily into the room, eager to say hello to Bella, whom she hadn't seen since getting back from Spain. She was wearing a flowing grey sundress under a fitted army green jacket, and for some reason had two stripes of blue paint across her cheeks.
"Bella! It's been forever! Hugs!" She shrieked with delight, and wrapped her arms around her old friend.
"Are we playing football or something?" Bella asked, wriggling out of the enthusiastic hold and pointing her thumb at Alice's face paint.
"I hope not, my arms are exhausted." Rosalie sighed.
"Not football. War. I met an artist in Barcelona," She drew out the sound of the city's name with a playful tone of seduction, "He's called El Soldado or something, but his real name is Jasper. I'm totally in love with him. He's originally from Texas of all places, can you imagine? There we are, a paste-up genius from Houston and a common vandal from Biloxi, Mississippi meeting in a diner/café/thing at sunset. When I met him, I knew he was my total destiny. We spent the whole time talking about the onslaught of subliminal images, and how commercial everything's getting. He's all about undermining the establishment, and usurping corporate symbols. You should see what he does with images of Ronald McDonald…"
"So, let's just chalk up the war paint to an 'Alice thing,' shall we?" Rosalie cut off the endless train of explanation gently.
"But there's more!" Alice objected.
"I'm here for awhile," Bella said reassuringly, "You can tell me all about it later, once Rosalie's out of our hair."
"That's true," Alice smiled, "Besides, I'd hate to get her mad and have her turn me to stone with her sinister witch's brew. Did she tell you about the rabbit?"
Rosalie cleared her throat and shook her head as subtly as she could, but the damage had already been done.
"What rabbit?" Bella asked.
"Nothing, Alice is just being crazy," Rosalie lied with a half-hearted chuckle, "Crazy old Alice, crazying up the place. Shut up, Alice."
"She's going to dip a bunny in her devil-goo." Alice explained.
"First of all, it's not a bunny," Rosalie sighed heavily, "The word bunny implies something cute and fluffy with tiny little paws that it wants to use to make friends with you. We are discussing a hare - a wiry, brown hare that would probably be eaten by a wolf or a bear or something in the wild. A mean hare, that has been devastating Edward's garden and ruining my Martha Stewart lifestyle. Second of all, it won't feel any pain."
"As far as you know," Bella countered, "It's not like a goldfish can scream, and they can't exactly report their experience once they're stone."
"God, you are so sensitive." Rosalie scoffed and shook her head.
"Hey," Alice interrupted cheerfully, "Let's all go to a matinee!"
They went to the theatres, and saw a romantic comedy that none of them particularly enjoyed. When it was done, Alice dragged them to every store in town in search of some highly specific brand of shirt with some equally specific design on it. After that, Rosalie and Alice headed to a local art show, being hosted by a guy who made his own resin moulds or something equally as uninteresting to Bella. She was tired from the stress and drama of evacuating her loft, and a little eager to get some painting done.
She slumped back into Edward and Rosalie's house at around four o'clock, drained and grouchy. She wasn't as used to Alice's ceaseless enthusiasm as she used to be, and she felt like maybe she and Rosalie were drifting apart. Somehow, she was sadder at the notion of not being able to keep up with one friend than she was at the notion of losing the other friend forever.
The painting came easily to her for a few hours, and she was happy with the work she produced. It was fresh, and full of that intangible quality that makes all art worthwhile. The part that the artist never sees while they create it, the piece of the soul that pours into the work while nobody's looking. Bella was strangely proud of it, and strangely disappointed. But the doubt in her own abilities was what kept her hungry for improvement, and with a satisfied final nod at the day's work, she made her way into the living room - where she promptly fell asleep on the sofa.
It was dark when she woke up, and heard the drifting sound of piano music coming from the den upstairs. She listened from a place between awareness and slumber, as though the music were pulling her deeper into a dream and waking her up at the same time. The song was twinkling, melancholy and soft. It was the sweetest music that Bella had ever heard, as though it were written just for her.
Then it stopped.
Edward hesitated for a moment with his fingers lightly brushing the keys. He looked at the sheet of music, on which he had numerous notes, some scribbled out, and waited. Waited for more of the music to come to him. But it didn't. He sighed heavily, stood up and made his way downstairs for a cup of tea.
He knew that Rosalie and Alice were headed to some artist's party or show that night, and for some forgetful reason he wasn't expecting Bella until the next day. When he'd come home, he hadn't given the living room more than a glance, and the back of the sofa concealed her. So he was not expecting it, when she sat up in the darkness and said:
Like a voice calling from the inside of his head.
He was so startled, he gasped and lost his footing. He slid down the stairs on his back, thudding along with a clamorous racket, and aching all over when he reached the bottom.
"Oh my god!" Bella cried when she realized that he'd fallen. She jumped over the back of the sofa and was kneeling by his side in the blink of an eye, "Are you okay?"
"No, not really." Edward said, hissing through his teeth with the shooting pain that came from sitting up, "I think I might have broken something."
"I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean to startle you," Bella explained frantically, as she tried to help him to his feet, "I thought I heard music. I fell asleep on the couch waiting for Rosalie to come home…"
He crumpled like dead weight against her, and one of his feet slipped forward on the smooth wooden floor.
"Oh, that's not good," He said sharply and quietly, gripping Bella's arm tighter and struggling for balance, "Get me over to the sofa and bring me the phone, please."
"Shouldn't I take you to the hospital?" She asked, helping him limp over the best she could. He was heavier than she thought he would be.
"No. I hate hospitals." Edward replied, stretching out on the couch that was still warm from Bella's sleeping body, and still smelled like her delicate freesia perfume. The scent calmed him, and took his mind off of the pain.
"Really?" Bella asked, picking the cordless phone up out of its cradle and handing it to him, "I thought your father was a doctor. And I've seen you go into hospitals a bunch of times."
"My father is who I'm calling," Edward explained, "And I only go to hospitals when people who aren't me are the injured parties."
All the next day, Rosalie paced restlessly around the floor of her studio. Alice watched her with a hesitance, and a nervousness. Bella was sleeping late upstairs, and neither of her friends were surprised. Bella was prone to exhaustion and small periods of a zombified state of depression whenever very dramatic things happened. Carlisle, Edward's father, had been over and declared that Edward was mostly fine. A bad sprain, and some very tender bruising, but nothing too dramatic. He gave his son a prescription for a fairly strong pain-killer, to be taken only for a day or two and only if it was absolutely necessary.
"So…" Alice said, somewhat lacking in her usual sparkle, "How's that man of yours? All busted up, but still full of charisma and the will to carry on?"
She was sitting on a small bench, more a step stool than anything else. Drinking soda out of a small glass bottle and watching her friend walk back and forth along some invisible line on the floor.
"He's off his face on that medication," Rosalie explained, biting her perfectly manicured nails, "I gave him one to help him sleep. But he didn't sleep at all, he just talked."
"What did he say?"
"I don't know what any of it means, he keeps saying something about a mistake. Do you think he means falling down the stairs? It's all so strange. He mentioned his father, and then said that his chest hurt, so I thought he meant that I should call Carlisle, but when I asked if that's what he wanted, he just about tore my head off."
"He's high," Alice chuckled, "You'll see. When he comes down from whatever cloud he's on, he won't even know that he was talking about. I'm surprised he was that coherent. One time I had to look after a guy in a hotel room who hadn't had anything stronger than a bottle of champagne, and he kept trying to tell me how he invented the house key."
Rosalie couldn't help but laugh.
"Is that really true?"
"Sure it's true," Alice grinned, "His name's Felix, he's the size of a milk truck, and he sends me a Christmas card from Rome every year. And he didn't actually invent anything."
"Invention isn't everything it's cracked up to be," Rosalie replied, suddenly sombre, as she looked over at the basin of her strange formula, "You never seem to be able to get the things you need…"
"I don't know, as long as you keep the existence of your goo a secret, you could go down in history as having the greatest fish and flower sculptures of all time. Future generations will fall over themselves trying to figure out your pink and blue glazes."
"It's not a goo, it's a fluid." Rosalie said, with some genuine resentment. She stalked over to the tub, put her hands on the edges and leaned down towards it. Her face almost touched the surface of the liquid.
"So what's the difference?" Alice shrugged, taking a long sip out of her bottle of diet soda.
"Viscosity." Rosalie answered softly, not bringing her head back up or turning around to face Alice. She stared into the solution, her pale blue eyes wide and trembling. There was nothing to look at but the impossible clearness of her discovery, and the bottom of the basin. It was unlike water, because it reflected nothing back. She couldn't see herself.
A gentle pair of hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her away.
"You're tired," Alice told her warmly, "You didn't sleep much last night. Why don't you go take a nap?"
"No," Rosalie replied, "Today we're going to try to dip the hare. Just for curiosity's sake."
When Bella woke up, the sheets were smooth and cool against her bare legs, the pillow was soft and deep, and she didn't want to move. Her whole body was tired, beyond sleepiness, like she had spent days on end crying. It was how she felt sometimes, when something awful had happened - listless. It hadn't really been that she felt bad for startling Edward, though that was the lie she had told Alice. It was the moment that she shared with him, in the dimly lit living room, waiting for Carlisle to arrive. Somehow, her mask of self-assuredness had fallen away, and she had sat with him and imagined that she was his wife. And he had responded. Like they were living in some other path of fate, where they had always been together.
And, all of a sudden, Bella Swan was a traitor. She'd never be able to look at Rosalie again.
Finally, she sat up in bed and pushed her long brown hair away from her face. She kicked the covers off, and stood up in her grey spaghetti strap top and plaid pyjama shorts. The alarm clock, an old fashioned type with bells on top and no digital display, said that it was almost lunchtime. Bella had declined Alice's offer to put her clothes in the closet, and so all of her stuff was still in the suitcases that sat against the wall by the door. She didn't really feel like unpacking yet, and she also wasn't in the mood to dig around and figure out an outfit for the day, so she just threw on her hoodie and her slippers and headed out in search of food.
"Bella…" Edward's voice called weakly from down the hall.
Bella hesitated a little, and looked around the hallway. She couldn't hear any noises or conversation, or sounds that hinted anybody was around. Besides, Edward could be in some kind of trouble. He could have tried to stand up on his own, and fallen on his bad ankle. It was irresponsible not to investigate.
The master bedroom was bright and airy. All of the shelves and Rosalie's vanity table were made of a pale birch wood, and the floor was covered in an intricate Persian rug of sky blue and cream. There was a silver chandelier that hung delicately over the king sized bed, where Edward was tossing around like he was having a nightmare. The fluffy white duvet had been thrown on the floor, along with several pillows and his pyjama top. His hands twisted the Egyptian cotton sheet, as he rolled his head back and forth. His cheeks were flushed, and his eyes fluttered open and shut.
"Bella!" He moaned, "Bella! No…"
"Shh," She said soothingly, and reached over to touch his arm softly, "I'm right here."
His skin was blazing hot with fever.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," He murmured frantically, staring up at her with cloudy eyes, "I shouldn't have married her. I wanted to marry you the moment I met you. It's always been you. I love you so much. I love you, Bella. Please, please forgive me. I…I want you so much…"
He pulled her down towards him and kissed her, with desperate and delirious passion. Bella pulled away, her heart tearing into two pieces. She didn't know why he was saying those things, what kind of fever he had. But she was happy that he had said them, and it made her feel like a terrible person. She watched him for another moment, as he twisted away and kept saying over and over:
"I love you, Bella. I love you."
She turned away to leave, to tell someone that Edward was delirious, and saw Rosalie standing at the door.
All the colour had drained from her face, and her perfectly painted lips were a thin and emotionless line. She seemed to stare beyond Bella, beyond her husband and his fevered confessions, to something nobody else could see. Then she turned to her old friend, cold and emotionless.
"There's lunch. Alice made it. Some Spanish dish that she insisted we try," She glanced at Edward, with a sudden and malicious flicker in her eyes, "Is he alright? It must be a reaction to that medication. He's not used to anything that strong. I'll have to let his father know."
"Rosalie…" Bella started to say, her voice full of remorse and tears.
"Don't. Don't even try." Rosalie shook her head, and walked away.
"Rosalie, please!" Bella cried, glancing at Edward who was still mumbling his innermost desires with no comprehension of his reality or its consequences. He was still beautiful to her. Despite everything it would cost her, part of her still wanted him. But would she ever need him more than she needed true friendship? She didn't know the answer, and so she chased after Rosalie.
They sat in the kitchen, after a call to Carlisle had been placed and they were satisfied that Edward wasn't dying or having some serious allergic reaction. Each of them had a large glass of wine, and an uneasy silence filled the space between them. On the island counter, in between the spicy chickpeas and bowls of paella, sat the stone hare. Its long ears slicked down against its head, its back legs poised as though it were getting ready to jump.
"You know, a couple of weeks ago, I had a dream about a white rabbit," Alice said, uncertain of what she was supposed to discuss with two women whose lives were suddenly coming apart at the seams, "I'm kind of disappointed that this one was brown. Otherwise I could say I had a psychic vision, which would have been kind of fun. It was running down the steps to your garden. The white rabbit in my dream. I guess it was just trying to show me the way to Wonderland, must have gotten its Alices mixed up. You two should eat more. I put a lot of effort into cooking, and I like to think that even if this was the zombie apocalypse you'd still try the dip."
Nobody laughed. Nobody smiled.
"Am I bitch?" Rosalie asked softly, staring into the stone eyes of the hare. They were clear and open, with no blue tinted veins and no colour. Just a milky whiteness. "I've often wondered. I mean, I've been called a bitch more than a few times. It's easy to tell yourself that people are just insecure around an ambitious woman, or that they're just saying it because they're jealous, but…"
The question just lingered for a minute. Bella didn't look up from the rice she was pushing around with her fork. She still hadn't gotten dressed. She'd considered zipping up her suitcases, throwing them and her paintings into her old pick up truck and driving to the little town where her father lived. In the end, though, she knew that it would be worse if she ran from it.
"We're all bitches, one way or another." Alice answered with an unusual seriousness.
"This is my fault," Bella shook her head and started to cry, "I… I'm…"
"Shut up, Bella," Rosalie sighed angrily, "You don't get to be the damaged one today. You don't get to twist this so that it's all about you, do you understand that? You're going to walk away with everything! Do you know how hard I work? How much effort I put into my whole life? And you? You're just… coasting on your girl-next-door charms, but you're going to wind up with Edward. And then, when a little more time has passed, Alice is going to be your friend but not mine, because there are sides now.
"All I ever wanted were simple things - a home, a husband, a child. I have a house that is no longer a home, a husband who was never mine, and I can't have children. So, there you are Rosalie Hale. Life gives you nothing, but you still have to pay the costs."
She stormed over to the sink and threw her wine down the drain, so that it sloshed up and marked the sides of the sink with little red droplets. She didn't feel like drinking anymore.
"I'm angry," Rosalie said slowly, "I am so fucking angry, and I can't stand it."
"Holy shit, this is bad," Alice drained everything that was left in her glass, "I'm not going to pick sides, Ro. But I'm leaving right now, because this is really veering into dark secrets I have no business hearing at the moment. If you need me, I'll be in the studio working on my mosaic. My only advice is to try not to say things that you'll regret. Both of you."
When she left, any sense of levity and camaraderie left with her.
"I've always been in love with him," Bella confessed, her voice barely louder than a whisper, "I know it's not right. It's always killed me. I didn't… I was never going to… He's just crazy right now. He doesn't know what he's saying."
"Damn you. I've always been in love with him, too," Rosalie replied sharply, "It's just all so stupid and cruel. Fine. Take him. I hope he makes you happy enough to forget how you got him."
By the next day, after a very refreshing night of sleep, Edward was feeling well enough to get up and try to walk around a little. He vaguely recalled strange dreams about Bella, and wished that they were true. But the room was full of Rosalie's familiar little touches - a pitcher of cucumber water on a bedside table with two upside down water glasses, an elegant walking stick leaning against the wall in case he wanted to get up, a clean shirt and a pair of drawstring cargos folded on the wingback chair by her vanity. But Rosalie herself was not there, which seemed odd. In his blurry recollections of what had happened while he faded in and out of sleep, it seemed to him that she hadn't been around very much. It was strange, since she was usually a very dutiful nursemaid when he was ill.
He carefully lifted himself out of bed, took the pile of clothes off the chair and hobbled into the en-suite bathroom to freshen up. While he was shaving, he had a sudden memory of kissing Bella. It didn't have the quality of a dream, just a hazy grogginess. He paused with a sharp and sudden apprehension and looked at his haggard reflection. Had that really happened? Now he was worried.
When he made his way into the upstairs hallway, leaning heavily on his stick, he was surprised at the depth of the silence that greeted him. After all, even if everyone was madly working in the studio, he should still have been able to hear some music or some bawdy girlish laughter. He didn't like the stillness. It reminded him of a mausoleum.
"Hello?" He called, a little uncertainly, at the top of the stairs, "Is anyone around?"
There were no smells from the kitchen, which was marginally creepier than the silence. There was always something cooking in his house, especially when there was company. What time was it? Where were all the women?
Finally, Rosalie appeared at the bottom of the stairs. Her golden hair was falling around her shoulders and she was wearing a pink sundress, with no jewellery and no shoes. She looked exhausted.
"I need a little help getting down the steps, Rose…"
She nodded quietly, and came to help him down. She very gently took his arm, and he thought it was strange that she wasn't speaking. It was almost like he was still sleeping, and this was all a dream.
"I'm quite hungry, is there anything to eat?" Edward asked as cheerfully as he could manage.
"There might be some leftover pizza. I'm not sure."
She turned to walk away from him at the bottom of the stairs, but he reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. It was a tentative, light touch.
"Is everything alright? Are you okay?" He asked.
"You need to eat something. Try to take it easy," Rosalie replied, "Alice and I are in the studio, shout if you need anything."
Edward nodded, hesitated, and asked:
Rosalie inhaled sharply and looked away from him, her expression hardening. He noticed that she wasn't wearing any make-up. Something was definitely going on.
"Bella's around. She might be in the garden, or maybe she went shopping. She hasn't been very talkative lately, but that's only to be expected given the circumstances. She's very dedicated to trying to work everything out so that we can all be friends. It would be endearing if I didn't despise her so much right now."
"What circumstances? What's going on?"
"Why don't you ask Bella? I'm sure she'll give you a highly detailed, emotionally overwrought account of how things stand. And I'm very tired of talking about it."
She left, and Edward was alone.
He opened the refrigerator and saw the flat square box of pizza, marked with a few grease stains and decorated with a smiling Roman emperor. It looked very out of place among the fresh leafy bunches of parsley and cilantro, and the perfectly packed leftovers. Inside were two pieces of vegetarian, and one of classic pepperoni. It made him smile, as he pictured Alice honouring some remnant of her insufferable vegan phase, Bella being completely unable to let go of the true classic that she loved, and Rosalie - Solomon like - decreeing that the pizza be split into two.
"Oh. You're awake." A soft voice said from behind him, as he put a slice of vegetarian in the microwave and set the timer.
He turned around and looked into Bella's deeply fascinating brown eyes. She was wearing a striped henley, skinny jeans and a pair of uggs. She looked as exhausted as Rosalie, but Edward found more charm in her tiredness. Something about her messy, almost countrified style appealed to him, and he took more notice of how her clothes fell against her body. He realized he was staring, and was relieved when the microwave beeped and gave him a chance to turn around.
"I'm just having a snack," He said awkwardly, "I suppose you were all too busy making art to cook dinner last night."
"Not exactly," Bella pushed her hair behind her ear, and sat at the counter, "We're all a little worn out from the arguing. I guess Rosalie told you about it. She's pretty pissed off, but she has every right to be. Who wouldn't be? I guess the big question is what you want to do."
"What are you talking about? Rosalie wouldn't tell me anything, she said I should ask you…"
An awkward moment passed between them. Like a missed step.
Bella took a deep sigh, and recounted Edward's confessions and the kiss and how Rosalie had seen everything. She told him how the entire house had felt like a powder keg and everybody fought and argued until they were so tired, they fell asleep on chairs and couches and woke up when the sun streamed into the living room. And he listened, and felt like he was the monstrous cad in some regency novel. And when everything was explained to him, he spoke quietly and carefully.
"I married Rosalie mostly to please my parents," He said, "They liked you, but thought that you were too flighty and they didn't think you would be able to bring anything… anything financial to a marriage, you understand. If she never made it as an artist, she had a backup plan. My father told me that you'd never be able to settle down, and that you'd leave within the year and take everything that I had with you. I knew they were wrong, but I've never been good at going against them.
"And then, as time went on, and you drifted away and chased your dreams, I started to fit into my life. My role as a husband. I got used to Rosalie, and in a small and quiet way I think I learned how to love her. I knew she wanted children, and I hate to admit how relieved I was when she found out that it would be so difficult for us. But lately, she's been talking about fertility treatments and I just… kept thinking about you. It's not… I could never feel about her like I felt about you. It was never the passion, the depth. I could never forget that, and I never stopped being in love with you. But I never wanted to hurt anybody."
"It's okay, Edward. You're only human." Bella said.
"Why is it all such a mess? I've ruined everything."
He looked so forlorn, so devastated, that it broke Bella's heart to look at him. She still wanted him. She knew then that she would always want him, despite everything that stood between them and everything it was going to cost them. She hated it.
"You haven't ruined everything. These things happen. It wouldn't have been fair for you to stay married to Rosalie anyway, not if you were so unsure of your future with her. That's not being good to her, no matter how we feel about each other."
"How we feel… about each other?" He raised his eyebrows and leaned in towards her, expecting a kiss.
"Edward, no." She gently put her hands against his chest and pushed him away.
"You two certainly don't waste much time," Rosalie scoffed, as a rather mortified-looking Alice followed her in from the studio, "I mean, can't you at least do me the favour of not making out in my home?"
"Rosalie! We weren't…!" Bella objected, aimless and uncertain of what was happening and what she was supposed to say.
"Forgive me for being so prudish," Rosalie replied coldly, "I guess I was trying to ask you to not engage in small, intimate gestures in my goddamn kitchen before I've even had a chance to file for divorce. You slut."
"Hey!" Edward barked, "She is not a slut, Rose. And nothing happened. Now, why don't you calm down and you and I can discuss this in private. You're being theatrical, and it's very unflattering."
"I don't understand why we should bother talking about it privately, you're going to tell it all to Bella between sweet nothings anyway."
"God, shut up! Seriously, Rosalie!" Bella shouted, "You think that you're the only one who's being affected by this? You think that I don't feel awful - absolutely awful - that this is happening? This whole thing is ruining my life! This isn't the happy, prince charming kind of love a sane person picks out for themselves!"
"Then why, Bella?!" Rosalie shouted back wildly, "Why would you do this to me? Damn it, I thought that you were my friend! I hate you so much! I'll never, ever forgive you for tearing up my life! And you know what? You are a slut! You can't keep your hands off of your best friend's husband for two days, for godsakes! You're a dumb, clumsy slut who just accidentally falls into wonderful things that you don't deserve!"
"And you're a bitch!" Bella screamed, tears streaming down her cheeks, "You're a mean, obsessive ice-queen bitch who thinks that everything in life is supposed to look like Barbie's dream house! You're deluded! You're an obsessive perfectionist, and you take me and Alice completely for granted!"
"Please don't drag me into this." Alice requested with a half-hearted smile.
"Then you must be so glad that you don't have to be my friend anymore!" Rosalie cried at Bella, completely ignoring that Alice had said anything, "Just take him and leave, already! Just get out of my house, you little tramp!"
"Stop it! Stop calling me a tramp and a slut! You psycho, rabbit-killing bitch!" Bella screamed as loudly as she could.
Rosalie went right over to her and hit her hard across the face.
"You slapped me!" Bella gasped. She put a hand to her cheek, where it was bright red and buzzed with pain, and looked at her old friend in shock and disgust.
"You deserved it." Rosalie replied evenly.
"Okay, let's all try and calm down," Edward said as patiently as he could, "I think you should apologize for hitting Bella, Rose. Violence really shouldn't…"
Rosalie could feel her entire body tensing with anger, as her husband tried to get her to apologize to her ex-best friend who was now his mistress. In what world would it even be fathomable that she ought to apologize? In some cultures, it was perfectly acceptable for the wronged wife to simply murder the mistress. At least, Rosalie was reasonable certain that this was true. She vaguely recalled reading it in a National Geographic. And so, before Edward had even finished what he was going to say, she slapped Bella again.
Bella lost control of her emotions and punched Rosalie with a frantic swing that landed on her right breast. Rosalie gasped with the unexpected pain, and reached forward, grabbed two handfuls of Bella's hair and threw her down towards the ground. Bella shrieked as she landed on her side, and she kicked Rosalie hard in the shin.
"Rosalie! Bella! Stop!" Edward gasped, like a scandalized Victorian lord.
"Yay! Catfight!" Alice clapped cheerfully, going over to the fridge and grabbing herself a bottle of diet soda. As she opened it, she watched Bella scratching at Rosalie's face, while Rosalie held her wrists and tried to push her back towards the wall. They knocked a very expensive vase off of a pedestal, but neither of them seemed to care.
"Alice, help me!" Edward pleaded, trying to pull the two girls apart. His ankle prevented him from being as physically useful as he needed to be.
"Trust me, Edward. Catfights are good for the soul - they're very cathartic in these kinds of situations. I totally suggest letting them go at it until it gets just a little shy of murderous. Then we should stop them, and see how things are."
"What a friend you are!" Edward scoffed, finally getting his arms around the waist of a kicking and screaming Rosalie. He pulled her away like she was a toddler having a tantrum, and when he put her down she turned towards him and started sobbing into his chest. Her tears felt boiling hot, and soaked through his shirt in no time, and she was making a sound like a dying cat.
"Why do you hate me, Edward?" She asked over and over again, "I tried so hard to be everything for you."
His face was completely devoid of emotion, his jaw tight and stern, but his eyes were intense with a dangerous, almost hysterical glitter.
"I don't hate you," He whispered in a coarse and barely audible voice, "My god, Rose. Of course I don't hate you."
Softly, he ran his fingers through her loose golden hair. He looked over to the sofa, where Bella was sitting in a crumpled mess of exhaustion, with her face buried in her hands and her hair a tangled mess. Then he looked at the vase the two women had broken during their fight. It had been a wedding present from his parents.
When she had calmed down, he looked into Rosalie's face. It was like an x-ray of her broken heart, and he couldn't stand it.
"I'm sorry," He told her, "I'm sorry, and I don't know what to do. This isn't what I wanted."
Rosalie stared back at him, and for a moment he felt a glimmer of the same powerful love he had for Bella. It was deep and unexpected, but he realized that he had been building a life with Rosalie. No, she didn't catch him off guard with how passionate he was for her, and he didn't hunger to be with her or feel her touch in the same way that he hungered for Bella's. But it was a true love, made out of all of the quiet hours they had spent together. The way they had organized their world around one another. The way he expected her to be around, and to be with him forever.
He didn't want to lose her.
But she looked away, pushed herself out of his arms and said:
"I want you out by tomorrow. I'm not going to ask for anything but this house."
He nodded, and watched her go upstairs.
"Well, that's that," Alice sighed, "I guess I should follow her and make sure she doesn't burn all of your clothes or something. Are you going to be okay, Bella?"
"Yeah, thanks." Bella nodded, flashing a half-smile. A bruise was forming on her cheekbone.
"We should go," Edward said, once it was just the two of them again, "I shouldn't pack anything today. I don't think I can. We can get a hotel room somewhere, or…"
"I can't, Edward," Bella shook her head, "I can't be with you."
"What? What do you mean?"
"I can't do this. It won't work. I love you, but we need to be realistic about this. We can't just go off and be together with no consequences. Rosalie is one of my best friends, and I need time to think about all of this."
"I don't understand. I thought you were…" Edward trailed off, standing there mystified.
"I just need some time. Please, don't put pressure on me…" She looked at him with wide and earnest eyes. There was a sudden hopelessness in her voice that cut through all of the daydreams and fantasies, and brought Edward back to reality.
He was a man who had just lost everything, and whose uncertain future was promising to be full of many more moments like this. Moments where he broke hearts and moved too fast or too slow. Moments where there was nothing but pain in the silence where the shouting had been. Times where Rosalie would be devastated, times when Bella would be devastated, times where nobody wanted to be in the same room together and everyone but him wished that they had never met.
"It's alright, Bella. I'm sorry."
He went into the studio. Normally, he would have wanted to make his way into his study, and perhaps play his piano or work on his songs. But he didn't think he could manage the stairs, and all of the songs he had ever written were for Bella. So he went into the studio.
By then, the sun was setting and all the light that poured in through the tall windows was tinted orange. He looked briefly at Alice's tile project, recreating video game sprites from the early nineties to plaster along an overpass. Then he glanced at Bella's paintings, and he was overwhelmed by the depth of emotion and the strangely familiar figures and settings that she always chose. And Rosalie's statues - the unfinished Fates, the cherubs, the hawks and ravens hanging from the ceiling, the table of flowers. He picked up one of the goldfish, he had never seen them before, and realize with some grim humour why all of his pets had suddenly taken ill and died. Maybe he would have been angry about it once, but just then he couldn't bring himself to care. He held one in his hand, and slumped down to sit on the floor with his back against the work table.
He looked across at the Jason and remembered posing for it, and touring with it for publicity. He hated that statue. It always looked like it was mocking him, the way it stood with such obvious ferocity and tension, but the eyes - everyone always said that they saw something in the eyes. Tenderness or intensity or longing. But all Edward ever saw there was his own cowardice. The face of that statue was powerful, but its eyes were weak.
Rosalie, Bella and Alice were sitting on the floor of the upstairs hallway, laughing. It was a good, honest and deep laughter that came straight from their hearts and chimed like silver bells. A few times, it threatened to give way to tears, but then somebody tried to talk and it all roared back to life. They were laughing at themselves, the things they had been doing and the things they had been saying. And they were laughing because it felt good, when everything was threatening to never be good again.
"I am so sorry that I called you a slutty, slutty slut," Rosalie managed to choke out between giggles, "You're not a slut. I know you're not a slut."
She paused, and thought for a moment or two.
"Edward's the slut." She decided with a nod.
"I've always thought that he dressed a little too provocatively." Alice noted.
"Aw, come on. That's not cool, Alice," Bella objected, "Rosalie picks out all of his clothes."
For some reason, this was the most hilarious thing ever, and they all laughed again.
"I want to punch him in the junk," Alice sighed, with a strange note of contentment, "I mean, y'all were screaming about how everybody ruined everything, except me. And I just want to say that you two are my sisters, and I'm mad at Edward for trying to take you both away from me. Seriously. Fuck that guy."
"That's so sweet, Alice." Rosalie smiled.
"I love you," Bella announced, "Both of you. I really do."
"Don't cry!" Alice warned.
"I love both of you, too," Rosalie said with a toss of her lovely blond hair, "It's going to take awhile for things to get back to normal. And we're going to fight again, probably. Ugly, mean fights that last for days…"
"We should build a colosseum."
"No. No more catfights," Bella pointed to her bruised face, "I don't mind if we're destined to scream horrible things at one another for the next two years, as long as she doesn't hit me anymore. You're a surprisingly intense fighter, Rosalie."
"Whatever. My point is that, even when it's bad, from now on it us three. We're the important ones."
"Yes," Alice nodded, "Totally agreed. We'll be like Gayle and Oprah, only there are two Gayles fighting over the same man. And Stedman lives in Spain. I'm Oprah."
"Are you drunk?" Bella finally asked.
"Obviously. I have been drunk since yesterday. Do you think it's easy being in the middle of all of this? The only non-alcoholic beverage I've had was that soda I drank while you were trying rip each other's hair out."
"You're going to feel like shit tomorrow."
The reconciliation was halted by a sudden burst of light at the bottom of the stairs. For a second, Rosalie thought that one of the light bulbs had gone out, or maybe a storm was starting outside. Then, the colour and suddenness of the beam triggered something in her memory, and she stood up and raced down the stairs as fast as she could. Her bare feet slammed against the wooden floor, and terrifying thoughts raced through her head. She prayed that she was wrong.
She could hear Bella and Alice following her, asking what was going on, but there was no time to answer them. There was no time for anything. She knew that she would be too late.
He was lying at the bottom of the basin, his arms folded across his chest like a pharaoh and his eyes closed peacefully. His face was calm, serene but sad. The stone that had replaced his skin was a very pale white, the blue veins fainter on him for some reason than on the other subjects. The soft pink blush formed a circle around the place where his heart used to be, and was partially hidden beneath his arms.
He was perfect. He was beautiful. Like always.
Rosalie didn't say anything when she found him. She just pulled the silver stopper on the side of the basin, and let all of the liquid drain out. The light of the room seemed to catch Edward's skin, and it shimmered with an impossibly beautiful sparkle.
Bella screamed, but Alice clamped a hand over her mouth and told her to calm down.
For several moments, the silence in the studio was deafening.
"He's dead," Rosalie finally announced, as she emptied out all the jars full of her solution with an eerie calm, "He killed himself."
"What do you want to do?" Alice asked, as Bella crumpled in a faint against her. Holding her unconscious friend was hardly comfortable, but she somehow managed it.
"What can we do?" Rosalie shrugged, pulling out all of the notebooks with all of her discoveries and formulas written inside.
She was going to make a fire in the living room, and burn them to ash.
Everyone who knew him was shocked by the sudden disappearance of Edward Cullen. Carlisle pressured the police to keep searching for months, and Edward's face was plastered on telephone poles all over Washington state. Rosalie, Bella and Alice were all questioned, but there were never any signs of foul play, and in the end it was suspected - though never made official - that Edward had panicked at the idea of fatherhood, thanks to Rosalie's investigations into fertility treatments, and left the country to start a new life.
That year, at New York, Bella and Alice both had masterful paintings that were immensely well-received. But the most famous piece, the one that went down in history, was Rosalie Hale's tribute to her lost husband. No one could figure out how she had created such delicate and life-like details, or how she had gotten the colour in the stone to sit in such strange places. They examined it, and looked it over, and were amazed. She would never surpass it, but she didn't want to.
As time went by, many things changed in the lives of Rosalie, Bella and Alice. But the one thing they could always count on was their friendship with each other.
And the fact that nobody would ever speak of how Rosalie's masterpiece came to be.