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Someone Else?s Memoirs

Their skin is sun-starved marble, streaked beneath the surface with pinstripes of raw red – carved by loss, honed by grief. But every vampire, new or old, heals eventually. [jasper/bella][post-eclipse AU, character death] Someone Else's Memoirs by Off-White

Not a songfic, but a three-part response to the twilightficmix challenge on LiveJournal. This is for the song “Molasses” from The Hush Sound’s album “Goodbye Blues.” A big round of applause to my betas: interfection and sporked! Also for the rain puddle prompt at twiriginal! Darkness, if you can hear me,
I will try to draw you near me,
But in the morning you will wake up alone.

Oh, when your body breaks,
Even the hummingbirds will feel the earthquake,
You’ll sing a song of your heart’s complaint.

“Molasses,” The Hush Sound

2. say there?s something better, but today there is a cold moon rising

Rating 5/5   Word Count 6010   Review this Chapter

I owe a lot to Jasper. Well, to everyone of course. But Jasper always seems to be there at the right time. When Tyler was camping. When the paperboy cut himself on the gravel. And last night, when I was so hungry. I couldn’t go out on my own – when I’m hunting, I don’t know when to stop. I think I’m getting better, but what if someone had been out there? A hiker? A climber? One little wound, even scabbed over…

It makes me feel sick, knowing I turn into this whole other… thing, something where peoples’ lives don’t matter to me. I was so sure I’d never have to worry about that.... That I was good, through and through, and stubborn enough to make it on my own.

Sometimes I’m glad he’s not here to see me struggle.

Her eye would heal in a few days, and in the time between she adopted an eye-patch (much to Emmett’s amusement). Carlisle explained to her as he shone a light into the sightless depth: “Newborns are more vulnerable than aged vampires. When you get older, a lynx won’t leave a mark. It’s a trade-off, you could say: newborns are easily injured, but heal much quicker. If something should happen to me, I’d invariably regenerate, but it could take months. All things considered, you’re very lucky. And thank you, Bella. I’ve missed having you as my patient.”

Reading was disconcerting with only one eye, and it became hard to follow newscasters’ lips, so she idled the minutes away in the garage. Her silhouette curved a darker red against the helmet she’d never have to use. It surprised her that the bikes hadn’t been taken away – both still leaned against the wall obediently. Had Emmett simply forgotten them, had Rosalie wanted them for parts, or had it been something else entirely?

Her answer came in through the side door with the squeaky twist of the doorknob. It was the only sound he made: Jasper treaded light as air, and the door squealed shut behind him.

“How is your eye?”

“According to Emmett, it’s arrmazing.”

His eyebrows rose quizzically – it was the closest she’d ever seen him come to amusement. It only lasted a moment, but it was burned into her mind like an afterimage.

Finally, she managed, rushing, “Then he asked me if Carlisle used rubbing alcohol, and I said yes, and he asked what kind, and a rum joke followed. He also wants me to introduce him to Keira Knightley.”

Jasper snorted. “Rosalie must be impressed.”

“She was. Especially when Emmett took it a bit too far and called her wench.” The air smelled different then – like buzzing Christmas lights and lasagna dinners. Like Forks.

Then he shoved his hands in his pockets, his shoulders squared, and it was damp Astoria again. “I wanted to apologize for my rudeness the other day.”

“Hmm?” Her fingers traced absent loops on the helmet.

“Concerning the bikes. I didn’t mean to…. You were dejected after. I’d hurt your feelings. I’m sorry.”

Her eyes widened. In all this time, she almost forgot about his power – not just that he could create emotions in others, but feel theirs as well. Her embarrassment must have been like a flashing siren. “N-no, that’s okay. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I was crass,” he continued, as if he hadn’t heard her – but the way he looked at her, it was clear he had. “I forget that holding onto these things doesn’t help. Keeping little, scattered pieces of her… but never enough to form the whole puzzle.”

Bella’s tongue felt dry, her hands running colder, her eyes itching. “Y-yeah. I know what you mean.”

He hadn’t spoken this way to her in what felt like years… perhaps ever. His words lingered in the air, connotations dripping onto the cement at their feet, mingling with their crisscrossed shadows. Then his grew nearer, stretching under the fluorescent light as he approached the bikes.

“That’s something I learned a long time ago, though.” His hand was ivory white over the sleek jet exoskeleton. “I think I’d like to learn something new.”

It took her a moment to catch up, to draw her eyes away from how his fingers slid along the bike’s hide like glass, like art. She blinked her good eye, trying to draw sense into herself.

“You want to ride?”

The slightest smile crossed his lips – and stayed. “If you’d be so kind as to teach me.”

Bella nodded stiffly, hands still over the helmet. He dipped his head in return, thanked her, and said he was due for a rendezvous with Dostoevsky.

The helmet slid from under her fingers and clattered onto the floor, scratches marring its smooth surface. She gasped, and realized it was the first air she’d breathed since he’d raised his eyebrows. Bella shook her head, the clang ringing in her ears, Jasper’s distant smile in her head.

I don’t know what to make of Jasper. Carlisle’s very straightforward, Esme wears her heart on her sleeve, Emmett doesn’t believe in hiding anything, and Rosalie’s private thoughts are best kept that way. If there’s anything any of them aren’t telling me, it’s more than likely I don’t want to know. But Jasper comes straight out of left field sometimes, and it’s hard to keep my jaw from dropping.

He either does it on purpose, to shock me (which I doubt), or he just does it… which makes him very mean or, more likely, very brave.

Bella browsed web pages quicker than she ever had before. With her new abilities and reflexes, she read much faster – which was convenient in cases like these, but it made it difficult to enjoy a good book. Somewhere in her mass of clicking, she opened her singular bookmark. It took her straight to an inbox filled with Renée’s name – it now completely blocked out the junk mail.

She paused in her searching, then clicked all the other tabs closed. Renée’s most recent letter was strangely long: four blocks of neatly arranged text.

Dear Bella,

It’s been a while since your email, and I know I’ve said this before, but I’m so happy to know you’re out there. I’ll keep sending mail, so you’ll know I’m always on my end. I’ll keep waiting for a reply.

The first block talked about Phil and the fight they had, the second about Renée’s recently acquired ability to see auras, the third about a film she watched in which the only remarkable thing was George Clooney’s chest, and the fourth…

I printed out your email and sent it to Charlie. He told me on the phone that he went straight out and bought a computer. Apparently he drove Jacob Black crazy, making him teach him how to use it. Anyway, he said he’d email you, but if he hasn’t.... Well, don’t blame him, honey. He’s not sure how to take your disappearance. He thinks it’s his fault. So since he’s probably been too nervous to send a line your way, I’ve included his email address at the bottom. Please send him your love. Even if he gets angry, just remember: he’s really a big, stubborn teddy bear on the inside.

Love, Mom & Phil

Bella read patiently through her mother’s other letters, all of which began and ended the exact same way – as if she didn’t think Bella would read them all. She waded through fourteen emails before words began to repeat themselves from the last time she’d logged on – all from Renée.

Hesitantly, she opened a new message and pasted in Charlie’s address. She typed just her name in the subject line (first Isabella, then Bella, then Bells), and clicked the tab button. The cursor blinked, waiting.


I’m really sorry to have worried you. And I’m sorry about moving out so suddenly. It.... Things were complicated. They’re still complicated. But I’m doing all right where I am, and I’ll come to visit you soon.

Bella paused, then backspaced.

… and you’ll see me again. I understand if you’re angry with me, but I do miss you. A lot.


Charlie still hasn’t written me back, but I’m not surprised. I don’t know if he could write a whole email himself without Jacob looking over his shoulder, coaching him. I wondered if I should say something to Jake in the email, but… I don’t know if he’d want to hear from me. By now, I’m sure he knows what I am. And it’s been so long, I might not know what he is.

It felt good to talk about something familiar, something she knew. After brushing up on the technical language (many thanks to her new computer), she been dreading her and Jasper’s first ride much less. She never realized when she was human, but she knew a lot more about bikes than she thought she did.

Meanwhile, Jasper nodded, hair tousled by the wind. Neither had helmets or riding jackets: he had on the same white wife-beater he’d taken her hunting in, and she wore a plain black t-shirt. It was strange, however, to see Jasper in jeans – not unpleasant, but certainly unfamiliar.

She gestured to the different spirals and rods of metal. Her new memory was a valuable asset: she pointed out every part with flawless conviction. Kick stand, exhaust pipe, gas tank, disc brake, shock absorber. They rolled off her tongue like her own language.

“That’s the boring part,” she said, confident he’d remember everything as clearly as she did. “Now you can actually get on the bike.”

She swung her leg over the seat and planted her feet on the ground, and he did the same. With her fingers poised on the handles, she asked, “Do you want to know everything, or just straight lines for now?”

“Straight lines should do. No need to rush.”

She felt the hint of a smile at that. “All right. It’s fairly straightforward, if you’ll excuse the expression. Your bike is automatic, so you won’t have to worry about gears like I do.” She kicked the bike to life. The well-ridden pathway spread wide before them, curving at the end. “Go at a comfortable speed, brake when you get to the end. Don’t use your feet. I did that my first time. Big mistake.”

Jasper nodded, his own bike ripping into being. It was a year old, but still brand new – in fact, this was probably its first ride. His engine hummed where Bella’s growled, but the sound was unmistakably animalistic. He looked at her, waiting, and she took off.

It felt like hunting. The beast roared beneath her, battle cries of rubber and metal. It was aggressive and hungry and everything she felt when closing in on prey, but louder. A man-made monster. Its ferocity excited her… and it ended all too soon. Where the track had narrowed from a distance, it began to widen, the turn sharpening the closer it came.

Bella clutched the brake, but too late. Her front wheel dipped off the track and into the unbeaten edge of the forest, sending the back rocketing forward. Wind whistled past her as she landed on her side, ribs crushing her arm, with the bike sprawled on top of her. The wheels spun in listless sideways circles.

Jasper was there in an imaginary heartbeat, gracefully hefting the bike aside.

“Are you all right?”

She rolled onto her front and pushed herself onto her feet, brushing dust from her clothes. It felt like falling off a bed, and no worse.

“Yeah, fine. It was like running, so I forgot the bike doesn’t react as fast as my legs do.” Dirt was caked on her teeth, bitter on her tongue, but her lips broke into a smile. She had ridden. She had crashed. She had felt the breeze in sharp needles, fully aware of everything, not in some murderous haze. “It felt good, actually.”

She thought he might look at her like she was crazy. Instead, his eyebrows drew down softly, a subtle smile on his lips. “Yeah. It did.”

I got a message from Charlie this morning. Two-fifteen a.m. I’m not sure if that’s when he checked his email, or if that’s just how long it took him to type it. All the letters were lowercase and there weren’t any apostrophes.

He didn’t seem angry… but then, it was hard to tell. I wrote back, said to get some sleep and try not to worry.

He said he missed my tuna casserole.

The sky was a fading blue, the leaves on the ground still dimly illuminated and crisply green. It was the earliest she had gone hunting yet; the minute hand on Emmett’s watch ticked and ticked, as if clapping congratulations.

Bella wasted no time in slaying a lynx, then a deer and its mate. She wiped rubies from her pinkened lips, feeling the temporary rush of color all over her skin.

“Having fun?” asked Emmett.

She ran a hand through her hair, testing it for tangles and finding none. “I’m sorry, you know.”

His thick eyebrows rose. “What’s that, now?”

“About needing a supervisor all the time. It must be like trainee week at work, but a lot worse.” He leaned against a tree, arms crossed over his broad chest, but he didn’t look bored – merely unexcited.

Then he smiled, eyes a warmer honey brown. “C’mon, Bella. Being around you is fun. You’re my sister, not my charge.”

Air rushed in through her nose, tickling her senses. He’d never called her that before, not once. No one had referred to her as part of the family since the deaths, even Jasper.

“Emmett?” her voice crackled. “If I hug you right now, promise not to crush me?”

He chuckled, deep mirth rumbling, and held open his arms. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

And he was right: she had to hold back, stop herself from cracking his ribs. What she couldn’t do with her arms, she did with her heart – hoping that Emmett could feel it through the chasm of her chest, not beating, but singing.

I never noticed before, but they don’t frown when they have to hunt with me. Not even Rosalie. I always assumed they did, but.... Of course they don’t smile, and that’s fine. But it’s such a relief to know they don’t frown.

I got blood on Emmett’s shirt, but he just laughed and said kids were messy. It was hard not to show him how messy (there was a convenient mound of moss and mud right by us). I always thought I’d go endlessly forward in time – but now I think I’m going a little bit back.

Rosalie ducked under Bella’s outstretched arms, pinching fabric at her waist. She took a pin from between her teeth and stuck it in so close Bella felt the metal against her skin. Rosalie rounded and pinned the other side, then her fingers dipped under the hem of the bust, measuring the give.

“One question I never have to ask is, ‘Can you breathe?’” she said absently, the hint of a grin on her lips. She was in much better spirits as the wedding loomed nearer, always busy, always arranging. It surprised Bella: she thought Esme would have been the wedding planner.

“Convenience and its many forms,” muttered Bella, ignoring Rosalie’s fingertips prodding at her back and fiddling with the zipper.

She was fit, but her body type was different from Rosalie’s, whose musculature looked French and thin, like bird bones. Having Rosalie remark on her wider ribcage made Bella hasty to change the subject. “I didn’t know you could sew.”

“Everyone could when I grew up, all of the women, at least. It was more affordable to make your own clothes back then.” A glass-headed pin bobbed between her lips as she talked. Her admittance seemed flippant; she hadn’t spoken in hushed or honest tones to Bella since she’d warned her about unhappy endings.

“But weren’t you rich?” She turned to look at Rosalie, who cursed and told her not to move. Bella didn’t miss the pin that had just snapped against her skin, cradled in Rosalie’s palm.

“A good wife knew how to sew,” she said. “And cook and clean and entertain guests.”

“Oh.” Bella wondered briefly if he would have expected that of her – he was even older than Rosalie, living in more archaic times. She could sew only as well as she could cliff-dive.

“It’s not a concern anymore. Emmett knows how to sew too, but he stays out of my way when the wedding comes around. His responsibilities are tuxedos and agreeing with me.” She smiled. “Thank goodness he’s so good at the first.”

The image of Emmett sitting at a sewing machine, large fingers fiddling with a needle, amused Bella. “How many times have you two gotten married?”

“Not enough,” she told her. “Or so Emmett says.”

“What about Jasper and Alice?” The question left her lips before she could stop it; her eyes went to her bare feet, suddenly ashamed.

After a pause in pinning, Rosalie answered hesitantly, “Only once. Then they got into a fight and Alice divorced him. They were in the middle of planning a new one when…”

Bella nodded. “That’s so Alice.”

“And how about you?” She stepped back, observing the curves of the dress with a clinical eye, then Bella’s face placidly. “Given the opportunity, I mean.”

“I don’t believe in marriage,” she said simply, fingering the soft silk. “Kind of how most people don’t believe in vampires.”

Rosalie laughed – and though it was delicate lace to Emmett’s rough, natural leather, it sounded so completely the same.

I can’t help but wonder who will come to the wedding. Maybe some of the Denali… but maybe not. Maybe Jasper will get in touch with Peter and Charlotte. Maybe the Cullens’ circle of friends is much bigger than I thought.

Or maybe the world goes beyond this house. I keep forgetting that to me, Astoria is a ground floor, an upstairs, a garage, and twenty acres of forested land. To them, it’s a whole town full of people, an antique store, a roster of patients.

And if any of them are invited… does that mean I’m not?

She took the turn fast, elbow up and leg out, rounding it with precision. It led to another straight line, shorter, then capped off into a double curve, a perfect S. Through the clumsy orchestra of the wind and the trees and the revving, she heard Jasper’s engine growling alongside her, handling the track with equal ease. They blew straight through the next turns, exchanging quick glances, little nice jobs and you toos.

Through a solid line of shadow cast by a tall tree, they rode farther than they ever had before. This new portion of the path was bumpy, littered with rocks in some places that they didn’t take enough care to avoid. Before them, the ground rose into a tiny peak, slanting harshly upward. A jump.

Bella knew they ought to stop and talk about this first. She’d never taken a jump before – all she knew was what she’d read on the internet, and the things she’d overheard Ben telling Austin. But her palm flexed on the handle, pressing ridges into her skin, and she sped up. He matched her, tire spin for tire spin.

She braced her feet about the frame, feeling a rush of adrenaline as the biked jerked to be suddenly diagonal. There was only the briefest moment of regret, then the earth disappeared.

Bella felt weightless. It was like flying, despite the bike locked between her legs. Nothing filled the air, not even the exhaust pipe’s smoky hum; in the soundless ether, memories made her music, flashes of importance and irrelevance.

Then her bike hit the ground, snarling harshly. She snapped awake again, fingers fumbling over the brake. The back wheel stuttered and before she knew it, she was winding zigzag patterns down the track. Another rock, similar to the ones before the jump that they’d dodged like ice-skaters, knocked her front wheel sharply left and she went sliding into the earth.

The bike rocketed forward even on its side, while Bella’s elbow dragged into the ground and pulled her to a stop. She lay flat on her back, blue shirt and jeans caked a mild brown. Dirt bloomed over her head in a thick cloud. A silhouette formed against it, Jasper’s face clearing through the dust.

He looked at her quizzically, not missing the mix of blank surprise and absolute euphoria on her face. His lips spread into a smile, wider, wider… until she saw his teeth, brilliant white against the bland brown flecking his cheeks.

Her fingers warmed, something writhing happily in the pit of her stomach… and then it bubbled through her, out her dirt-clogged lungs. Laughter. Bella laughed until she had to close her eyes and clutch her waist – and when, through the sound of her unfamiliar lilt, she heard Jasper laughing, she laughed harder.

She was curled onto her side and he was on his knees when the dust settled, their laughter fading into stupid grins. Bella sat up, grimy elbows on her knees, grin plastered to her face.

“Go again?” she asked.

He smiled, amused and kind. “I think your bike’s broken, actually. The wheel popped when you landed.”

Then she heard it – the nearby whine of the bike, the gentle hiss of air escaping. She shrugged, rather than frowned. “Think Rosalie can fix it?”

“Definitely. All you need is a new tire.” Then he rose to his feet, offering her a hand and helping her up.

She thanked him and went to retrieve her bike, lying in scratched, dirt-marred shambles. She’d never seen it look so beautiful before, so purposeful and perfect. Effortlessly, she lifted it over her shoulder and turned to Jasper. For some reason, walking back seemed like a wonderful idea.

He rolled his bike alongside him as she asked, “Y’know, I could blame the bike, but that’s probably not fair. So why, then, is it always me wiping out?”

Jasper grinned. “You just have a penchant for falling.”

I’m always wrong about this vampire stuff. I thought when I was for all accounts dead, I’d stop having near-death experiences. But when I was flying through the air, I swear a montage rolled, some short snapshots of my new photographic memory playing in a rapid slideshow. I can’t remember everything, but I know I saw Jasper on that night we went hunting, with his hand on my eye, Rosalie’s face cast in moonlight (against the old Forks house), Renée wrapped in a plastic poncho under Niagara Falls, and him smiling in the sunlight, bright as a diamond.

In that order.

She and Esme walked through the forest after a night of hunting, threads lambently gleaming out of the corner of Bella’s eye. Her tongue stung, not entirely pleased with her for trying rabbit. But she couldn’t eat anything else in front of Esme: she saw her pained expression, even if killing them was controlling their overpopulation.

She had never been hunting with Esme before, or heard her when she slipped out to eat. From what Bella gathered, she did it as rarely as she safely could.

“Have you ever walked back before?” asked Esme, pushing a thin protruding branch of thorns out of the way. It didn’t even graze her skin.

“No, actually.” Bella’s eyes wandered the darkness, forms distinct. Everything looked like marble, splashed by the moonlight. “It’s nice.”

Esme softly hummed her agreement. “Sometimes a slow pace is the best kind.” She flicked an overhanging cluster of leaves, sending sprinkles of rain onto the ground.

“Thanks for coming with me, Esme,” said Bella, after a generous but comfortable silence. “If I’d known Rosalie was going to find so many parts at the dump she’d have to call for the jeep, I would have waited until tomorrow.”

“Not at all.” She turned to smile, caramel hair blazing in a thin beam of light. “I’d been hoping to come with you, eventually. Emmett and Rosalie are wonderful hunters, but they rush through everything.”

She paused, attention drawn away suddenly. “Do you smell that?”

“Deer,” Bella whispered back in less than a beat. In fact, it was alarmingly close – but Bella had mostly blinded herself to maroon, especially when she already felt full. “But I’ve had enough for tonight, Esme.”

“No, I don’t want you to eat it,” she said, drawing a hand back and flattening herself and Bella to the bole of a wide tree. Their lungs were quiet, their hands still. A fawn stumbled over a fallen log and passed directly in front of them. Its ears were perked, standing stick-straight… then they seemed to relax. It bent its head to sniff at the earth, then a far-off twig snapping sent it bounding in the direction it was facing.

Esme’s arm fell to her side, and Bella unstuck herself from the bark. “What was that?” she breathed.

Esme smiled, standing in the puddle of shadow the deer had occupied, toeing the leaves it had smelled. “That was a fawn. Someone else’s child, probably running back to its mother now. You might have killed it earlier, if it had made the same mistake.”

Bella blinked, mouth suddenly dry. Esme looked up, and even drowned in darkness she was in a different light than Bella had ever seen her. “Always appreciate the life you’re taking, Bella, whether it’s been spent on four legs or two.”

In that moment, Esme truly looked like a mother.

For a long time, the word “family” wasn’t in my dictionary. But I think, somewhere along the line, I got the revised version. I’m beginning to understand it again.

Bella read through Renée’s recent emails, all four of them. The last was stuffed to bursting with photos. In one, Renée strained a smile, sweat beading on her forehead. Behind her a banner waved that read “Mexico Trip 2009!” Phil positively beamed, a boy of maybe four years laughing atop his shoulders. Everyone clutched a water bottle except Renée, who had a book on charity work in her hands.

In another, it was only Phil, glowering from under his eyebrows. He was in a sterile white room, circled by mismatched plastic chairs. A heavily beaded hemp purse rested on one. Underneath was Renée’s caption: “Phil wasn’t impressed when I dragged him to the vegan support meeting…. Neither was I: he wore a leather jacket.”

One that made Bella smile was just Renée and Phil outside their Florida home, she in a sundress and flip-flops, he in Bermuda shorts and a hideous patterned shirt. A camera hung around his neck, and Renée had a star map sticking out of her bag. She wrote, “I read in one of those ‘keep your marriage alive’ books that you should do something spontaneous at least once a month. In April, Phil wanted to play tourists! We went to Disney World, but one of the mascots recognized us. I forgot Farah’s daughter works there in the summer.” Directly beneath it was them posing with Tigger.

Bella fired an email back, making sure to mention her favorite images and suggesting Renée not pull Phil into her strange hobbies, at least the ones that cut out meat. She apologized for not having photos of her own to share. No one took them in the Cullen house – it wasn’t necessary, with an immaculate memory.

Then she read Charlie’s two letters, each graciously short. He mentioned Sam and the others once, Jacob at least three times, and informed her of Billy Black’s failing health. She frowned at the screen, wondering what to say, and keeping it short-handed.

Tell Jacob I said hello, she wrote. And the others, Mike and Angela and the others, if you see them.

Her condolences dotted the end, and she hadn’t realized the significance of her final words until the message had already been sent: See you soon.

I don’t exactly regret those last three words… but I don’t know what to make of them either. They just came out. I can only imagine what Charlie will think when he reads them… what he’ll expect. I feel more ready to face him than I ever have before, but feeling ready might not be enough.

Rosalie’s grease-stained hand rummaged through the toolbox, searching for a proper wrench. Bella watched, knees curled to her chest, fascinated as she fastened a new wheel to the old spoke.

“Where did you learn to fix cars?” she asked.

“It’s not always fixing,” Rosalie corrected her, unfurling her lip from where it had been clenched between her teeth in concentration. “Something doesn’t need to be broken to be improved.”

“Right. So where did you learn to improve cars, then?”

Her fingers closed around the wrench she’d been searching for; Rosalie lay back against the cold concrete, ponytail gold over grey. “It was my first job.”


“Receptionist.” She grinned at a far-off memory. “At a car shop in Memphis. I hated it: lowest of the low for a socialite princess like me. The only thing that made it bearable was the owner’s son – kind of cute, in a human way. I didn’t like him, but he liked me, and I liked that.”

Bella nodded. It was easy to admire Rosalie – not for her beauty, but for her honesty about a vanity most other people would be ashamed of.

“He was humble. By this time it was the late fifties, and boys were forgetting how to impress a lady. He never asked me to dinner or brought me flowers, but he showed me how to jumpstart an engine and replace a tire. I was always more interested in the cars than I was in him.”

“What was his name?”

“Roger, I think. Roger Lively. I looked him up once, years later, out of curiosity. He married the landfill manager’s daughter.” Her eyes darkened in the shadow of the bike’s frame. “They have two children.”

“Sounds nice,” Bella said cautiously.

Rosalie hummed, neither in agreement nor denial, and then sat upright. “Good as new. Well, good as it gets. You could always get a new bike, you know.”

She shook her head. “I like my monster.”

Rosalie smiled, a dot of dirt in the crease of her lip, the ridge of her nose. “There’s something classic about a well-worn bike. When the rust holes come in, though, I’m getting you a fresher model myself. You’ve got to let go of the oldies eventually, and beat a personality into something new.”

As Rosalie clicked the toolbox shut, Bella got to her feet, wiping dust from her jeans. “Thanks for this, Rose.” She stopped, eyes blurring on the cement and refocusing on Rosalie’s face. She’d never called her that before.

Rosalie didn’t seem to notice. “Anytime.”

He called her Rose now and again, and Alice teasingly called her “Rosy.” Carlisle doesn’t often, and Esme rarely uses anyone’s name unless she’s reprimanding them – usually calls them dear and love. Emmett calls her all sorts of things, stuff I tune out. But Rose is a nickname. It’s more a signifier of her family than Cullen or Hale.

I never thought I’d call her that. And even if I did, when I did, I would have thought about it beforehand. Maybe strategically dropped it after a lot of preparation and carefully steered conversation. But it just… popped out.

And I always assumed that she wouldn’t like it. That’s she’d glare at me, or tell me not to call her that. But she just walked away, like she hadn’t heard it. … No, not like that. Not like she was ignoring something she didn’t like. As if she had heard it, but didn’t mind. Crickets chirping, birds singing.... Something natural.

I wonder if she’ll ever call me Bells.

Careful not to track dirt on the pristine white carpet, Bella left her shoes on the steps and tiptoed in cotton-socked feet over the doorframe. Jasper followed, fingers combing through his hair; dust took flight, swirling in the air.

“Not one crash,” he said, more amused than proud. “Rosalie will be disappointed.”

“She’ll find something else to repair,” Bella droned. “What about you? You sound pleased.”

“I won a bet with Emmett.”

She looked back over her shoulder, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape. “You bet Emmett?” There was no scandal in her voice, only surprise – she hadn’t even seen Jasper exchange words with his brother in months. The last, made morbidly what seemed like decades ago, neither had won.

He nodded. “First in a while. I said you wouldn’t crash today.”

She snorted. “That’s quite a gamble. Hope you didn’t bet too much.”

“My bike, but I knew you’d stay on your feet. You’ve been improving a lot. You look more confident now.”

Bella smacked him in the arm, more dirt flying into the air; he recoiled. “Oh, sorry. Forgot I’m stronger than you.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “It’s not your fault.”

She faced forward again, and they found themselves in the kitchen. The island was bare except for an empty fruit bowl resting in the center and one of Esme’s Tolestoy novels lying neatly in its shadow. Through the curtained window, evening light fell in a thin line, reflected off the frosted refrigerator door and beaming in shattered puddles onto the far wall.

Jasper pulled a stool out for her to sit on, which she accepted gratefully. Then he went to the refrigerator and returned with a can of Coca-Cola, dripping with cold. She watched curiously as he set it in front of her and sat down beside her.

How often had he been watching her when she had lingered over the counter, the can growing warmer and warmer as time passed? She would have blushed if she could, but instead she popped it open gently. The fizz of the carbonation made her want to sigh with nostalgia. The feel of the can in her hands, the crisp popping of the bubbles; it was all still comforting somehow. How would it feel, to have it fizz violently across her tongue?

She rejected the thought, and the aluminum gave a muffled chime against the counter as she set it down.

There was an extended silence. Jasper folded his hands on the table, waiting patiently for Bella to speak. She kept her eyes on the splotch of brown that was her reflection on the steel door.

“I hear that a lot, but it never gets any easier to believe,” she said finally.

“What’s that?”

“‘It’s not your fault.’ But even if it’s not on purpose, if I do it, it is my fault. Because I was there to be controlled by the circumstance.” She ran her thumb along the can’s curved skin, moisture beading on her nail.

“That may be true.” A breath ghosted out of her, of strange relief. “But there’s nothing that’s been your fault, Bella. You haven’t made any mistakes. It’s somewhat amazing, actually.”

“I have you to thank for that.” The water dripped down her finger, curling along her hand and splashing silently onto the counter. Her gaze left it to look at him, his gold eyes blazing but calm.

Then it was his turn to look ashamed. “No, you don’t.”

Her eyebrows rose, her lips upturned. “Come on now,” she half-laughed. “Don’t even pretend! That night when Tyler was camping. The paperboy. The lynx! If you hadn’t been there –”

“You might have done something. I know.” His eyes were drawn downward, to her cheeks, her nose, her lips, her throat… anywhere but her own gold-red. “But I only gave you the reason not to.”

Creases sliced along the bridge of her nose, brows furrowed. “You stopped me.”

“You stopped yourself,” he said, exasperation mingled with defeat. “If you really wanted it, Bella – the blood, the hunt – I couldn’t have stopped you.” Finally his eyes met hers again. “I wouldn’t have stopped you.”

Thoughts paced sluggishly through her mind, memories dulled by a predator’s poor brain. His hands, steady and unflinching on her arms, pinning her… but weak against his words, that cut through the beast’s voracious hunger to the girl inside. Bella tried to shove a word onto her tongue, tried to decipher what he was saying now, lips unmoving, eyes unblinking, topaz pleading…

Her fist clenched tight, a spray of bubbles and foam erupting from the can and soaking them. Jagged bits of metal furled against her skin like paper; the puddle of soda stretched across the island, dripping onto their laps.

“I’ll get a rag,” he said. His eyes faded into gentle placidity as he rose and went for the plaid cotton hanging on the stove handle.

“Wait – Jasper!”

Esme came into the kitchen, alarmed. “Oh, Tolestoy! Honey, hurry with that rag!”

Bella sat there, dumbfounded and numb, as the cola turned her jeans the color of mud.