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]
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
3. sing it loud, sing it clear ? oh, sing so I can hear you, then sing it soft in my ear
Rating 5/5 Word Count 7599 Review this Chapter
I can’t help but wonder if my life is a novel, and I’m missing all the symbolism.... If I’m teaching Jasper, or if Jasper’s teaching me.
Bella clutched the arm of her seat. The leather squealed under her iron nails; Carlisle placed a calming hand over hers, and she gladly wrapped her fingers through his, straining not to snap the tender bones.
Flying in an actual airplane was something else. She could feel every faint rock of the craft, every bubble of air as it hit the wings. Glasses chimed, ice cubes clinked together in hollow chorus – beneath that was the drumming of the engine, the roar of turbines shredding air into tangled ribbons.
They took a private jet, so as to not smother Bella with the scent of caged prey. She sat nearest to the aisle, Carlisle to her right and Esme to his. Emmett and Rosalie were two rows ahead, and Jasper occupied a row alone, headphones over his ears and head propped against the window.
“A bit of turbulence,” came the pilot’s silk voice over the intercom. Even through the static crackle, she knew he was a vampire. Then her thoughts were dragged away, the plane lurching like a ship on a choppy sea. The air above the clouds was hot and hungry, gnashing at them like teeth, and she could feel the graze of every incisor.
Her breath came shallow, short, her eyes squeezed shut against the glare of sunset-soaked leather.
“Not much longer,” breathed Carlisle. “Jasper’s doing the best he can.”
He rarely used his gift on her, or so she supposed, but it became evident throughout the passing minutes that she was more immune to it than she ever had been before. If it was a strange manifestation of a special ability, she wasn’t sure.
The aisle jumped; Bella squeezed Carlisle’s hand, barely catching the wince on his face from the corner of her eye. She forced herself to slacken her grip. Her head rested against the chair, eyes staring at the ceiling, lips sucking in stale air.
“All this,” she growled, “for your stupid wedding.”
Rosalie heard her from two rows up, tiny giggle lost against Emmett’s merry laugh. “All this,” he called back, “and then a boat!”
Bella groaned, shutting her eyes sharply.
“Newborns are fun,” said Emmett.
“Emmett,” reprimanded Esme and Rosalie.
“Almost there,” said Carlisle.
She heard the squeal of violins through headphones, then silence. Bella opened her eyes; Jasper was standing by her seat, hand extended toward her.
“It might work better this way,” he said. “Would you like to sit with me?”
She nodded, not even glancing at Carlisle; his hand was stiff as she unwove her fingers. She rose shakily to take the seat beside Jasper’s.
“Listen to this.” The headphones were cushioned over her ears; the turbines hushed, the engine whined softly, the ice cubes quieted. Then the calming croon of a cello, accompanied by a flute – the stereo growl was almost imperceptible.
“Better?” Jasper mouthed the word.
Air spilled in through her lips, gentle and long. “Much.”
She closed her eyes. When the afterimage of the inverted cabin faded, she called to mind the forest as she’d seen it with Esme: the fawn snuffling curiously at the ground, the trees soggy with rain. Her lungs moved predictably. The cello sung for what seemed like forever… then a brief pause interrupted, and the sound of an acoustic guitar picked up. It was heady, strong, but comforting. The forest came back against her eyelids, the moonlight falling through the foliage onto Jasper’s white wife-beater, his face the same unreadable expression as in the kitchen, telling her something, screaming out silence…
Bella’s eyes snapped open. Her hand was empty; the headphones rose off her head and rested in Jasper’s lap.
“We’re here,” announced Carlisle.
I always like it when people say what they mean. It saves everyone time, and it’s probably the easiest way to avoid arguments. That’s what I like about Rosalie and Emmett. And I grew up with Renée, who always speaks her mind – and Charlie, who doesn’t speak much at all, but it’s never because he’s not saying something, it’s because he hasn’t got anything to say.
With Jasper… it’s like he’s giving me pieces of a puzzle, except I’ve got no reference picture to work off of, no box cover to look at that tells me exactly how many pieces there are and how they fit together. It’s so frustrating. I’m forming something, but I can’t tell if I’m just starting or if I’m halfway done. If I don’t know what I’m making, how can I be sure I want to finish it?
Rosalie’s dress dripped off her body in white silk, cornflowers with centers of cream embroidered on the hem and thinning as they wove upward in a pretty thicket. She lined her eyes in thread-thin traces of black, long lashes curled. Her hair spun spirals down her back and over her shoulders, pinned with pearls. Her lips were a glossy pink, her cheeks feigning humanity with a lovely powder blush.
Bella had never seen anyone more beautiful in her entire life.
She stood at the altar, Esme on her other side, Emmett and Jasper standing across from them in suits to match. Emmett looked dashing, his tuxedo black as jet, cufflinks white gold with sapphires encrusted.
As Rosalie floated up the aisle, arm linked with Carlisle’s, the half-dozen or so vampires not in the wedding party looked on with jealousy and stardust in their eyes. The females admired her like Mona Lisa, but loathed her like Aphrodite. The males shifted in their seats, suddenly nervous in their own absolute beauty, palms flexing over the backs of the pews. But Rosalie’s smile was soft, and for the first time since Bella had met her, she was unaware of her vanity; her eyes were on Emmett’s. Bella heard their breath swill the same, like substitute heartbeats.
The minister addressed them and the congregation, saying the words with conviction and familiarity. God never arose. Bella could do nothing but stare as Emmett and Rosalie said their vows to one another. It was easy to tell they were neither memorized nor recited – that Emmett and Rosalie just brought out poetry in each other. When they kissed, Bella felt her eyes tighten and her throat go dry, her whole body trying to cry.
They signed a wedding license, and aside from the flock of absurdly gorgeous people, Bella almost forgot it was anything but a human wedding. Then it hit her that all the flashes she saw was the sunlight glinting off bare shoulders and diamond necklaces – there were no cameras in sight. Everyone merely looked on the bride and groom, lashes fluttering open and closed like shutters.
The reception took place under a canopy of lace. No lights or candles were strewn about, but afternoon sun slunk through the latticework and reflected off the guests. Wood had been lain for dancing, a band of strings set upon a satin stage. Tables were cloaked in more fine white, empty of plates and glasses, but lush with arrangements of calla lilies.
Bella folded her dress over her legs, her skin shimmering white against the silky blue. Music bled from violin strings and piano keys. Emmett took Rosalie’s hand and they moved across the floor like music-box dancers, in a seamless, beautiful loop. Emmett bent down to whisper things into Rosalie’s ear, too quiet for even their guests’ keen senses. Her smile widened unabashedly, and she pressed a kiss to his neck.
The song shifted, and other couples moved to join the dance. Bella watched, delighted. Carlisle and Esme stepped onto the floor, his hand at her waist, hers on his shoulder. They waltzed as if they had invented it.
A shadow alighted beside hers on the tablecloth. She looked up at Jasper, and for the second time since they’d crossed from Washington, he held his hand toward her.
“This dance, Miss Swan?” he asked.
Bella swallowed, suddenly nervous. In the corner of her eye, Esme spun, dress twirling about her like a maypole. “Oh, I don’t…. I’m not a good dancer. I’m sorry.”
He smiled. “Neither was Alice, until I taught her how. And you’re a very quick learner.”
She was suddenly glad she had the blush to fake how she felt. “I’ll look…”
“Lovely?” Bella’s head snapped up, surprised by his boldness. “I know.”
“One dance,” he said. The playfulness left his voice, his expression summoning her daydream on the plane into vivid reality. “I promise not to let you crash.”
She sighed, fingers smoothing her dress as she stood. “All right.”
His hand in hers soothed her nerves. He led her onto the dance floor; the click of her short heels made her apprehensive of her long-forgotten clumsiness. Jasper guided her hand to his shoulder, placing his at her waist.
“I’ll step forward,” he said. “You step back. Simple and elegant.”
Bella nodded. When he leaned toward her, she did as he said, and they moved back. He smiled encouragingly.
“Now, to the side.” His right foot went out, and she followed with her left. “Forward for you, back for me.” Forward they went.
Her shoulders dropped in a release of tension… then Carlisle and Esme circled by, smiling, and a heat she didn’t have wished to rise to Bella’s cheeks.
“One dance,” she said, ready to disentangle herself. “That was nice.”
Jasper blinked. “That was one step. Come on, Bella. Don’t you trust me?”
“Of course!” she blurted.
“Then again, to the side.”
They concentrated on stepping slowly, moving in gradual circles. She felt cumbersome and stocky next to the graceful dancers on all sides, eyes glued to her feet. They looked too big in such dainty, pointed shoes. Her dress, swishing at her ankles, was like stiff paper.
“Look at me,” said Jasper. “Watch my eyes and feel the steps. It’s easier that way.”
Tentatively, she glanced up at him, locking gazes. Her first step back, she stumbled; he pulled her waist closer to keep her from falling, and they continued the dance.
The music changed – Bella gasped when she realized it was the same song that had been playing on the plane, when Jasper had become part of her forest. Her muscles tensed, her fingers flexing around his, but she went forward when he went back, right when he went right.
The guitar called the shock out of her, let her hands relax. When Jasper abruptly spun her, she wove out and into his arms without missing a beat. He smiled, and she smiled back; the same warmth that had coiled in her stomach the day she’d broken her bike returned.
When she came back in, his hand was at the small of her back, her chest pressed closer to his. She saw her breath mingle on his neck for a moment, pale against his tuxedo jacket. But they danced more gracefully than ever, so she kept her mouth shut and stepped.
The music soothed her, lulling her until she could have fallen asleep, were she still swayed by her own humanity. She rested her head against his shoulder, going back, side, forward, side. Her eyes closed, the other dancers disappearing with her self-consciousness.
Her awareness woke with a jolt when the song ended. Immediately she realized her fingers, tangled in the hair at Jasper’s neck, and his arm around her waist. There wasn’t enough space between them for a strip of paper to slip through. She waited to hear her pulse race, until she remembered she didn’t have one.
Jasper broke from her, bowing. “Thank you.”
“Uh…” she stammered.
“If you’ll excuse me a moment?”
Her neck felt stiff, but she nodded anyway, and before she knew it was walking toward the tables. The music had resumed playing, but it dimmed with his retreating back.
When she looked forward again, Emmett and Rosalie were there, hands clasped.
“It was nice to see you dance, Bella,” said Rosalie.
“Th-thanks.” Bella meant to comment on how beautiful their wedding was, how beautiful Rosalie was, their vows were, the reception, dancing, anything, but the words got stuck in her empty lungs.
Emmett grinned widely. “And all that without falling!”
The thing is… I’m not so sure.
Rosalie and Emmett left them at the airport to catch their honeymoon flight to Brazil. Esme kissed them both goodbye, Carlisle gave them hugs, and Jasper shook their hands. Emmett could be heard laughing long after he passed the gate.
The flight back, Bella curled into a window seat alone. She flattened her palms against her ears and closed her eyes, imagining the Astoria house and all its rooms. She left the kitchen out, moving past it as she envisioned the foyer and the living room. She deliberately skimmed past Emmett’s room as well.
In the private jet, it became easier to ignore the turbulence and rocketing engines. After she’d remodeled every insignificant detail of the house – from where Emmett had last left the television remote to what color dishrag was hanging on the stove – Bella’s mind began to wander. It branched from the center of her universe out into the forest, past the first row of welcoming trees and into the darkness. It was threadless – there was no color aside from the green moss and brown bark.
Suddenly, as if someone had muted her imaginary sun, everything faded to grey. Bella’s eyes snapped open before she saw any hint of gold or blond. She glued them to the back of the vacant chair in front of her, counting the ridges in the leather until they landed.
As soon as I got home, I checked my email. It was as bad as I thought it would be. Charlie didn’t write anything except for two words: How soon?
Renée had obviously heard the news from Charlie. Her message was a lot longer. She wanted to know what month, day, hour, minute, and second I would be arriving at Jacksonville Airport, what flight number I would be on, how many bags I’d have (to know if she should take her sedan or Phil’s SUV), if I was bringing anyone with me, if I had warm weather clothes…
I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t really want to think about it, so I closed the emails and tried to distract myself with Tetris. But I didn’t have the right version of Flash to play it, so then I just wound up browsing around on Google and… and somehow I found myself looking at flights to Seattle and Jacksonville.
Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t take one. There are way too many people on those planes. So then I thought I might be able to take the jet again, and if I brought someone with me, it wouldn’t bother me so much to be around humans, and…
I don’t know what to say to Renée and Charlie. And I know even less what to say to Esme and Carlisle.
Bella turned the unopened can of soda around and around, until the thin frosting of cold had soaked her fingers. Her eyes wandered the curve of the lettering until each symbol steadily lost meaning, and it was all a garbled painting on smooth metal. She twirled it until the sunlight ceased to glint off the rim, until the bright red stained her hands and the dull silver shone through.
Then the phone rang.
It took her nine rings to realize it was making noise at all. She set the can down, ignoring her pink fingers. She put the phone to her ear and muttered a hello.
“Hey, Bella!” Emmett answered cheerfully on the other end of the line. His voice hurt her ears after the hours idled away without even a quiet complaint from the can. “How are you?”
“I’m all right,” she said. “Just staring at a coke. You?”
“Good. Rose’s by the pool, pretending to tan.” He chuckled. “It’s a cloudy day, but she just likes to show off. You should see the looks the girls give her.”
Bella blinked. “Doesn’t that make you angry?”
“Hmm? Nope. The looks the guys give her make me angry.”
Bella smiled, absently plucking the soda from the countertop and slipping it back inside the fridge. “So, why the call, Emmett? Or have I just missed all the Rosalie Updates so far?”
“I like it when you’re funny,” he said. “And no, that’s the first. I’m just calling to see how everyone’s doing. Are the others around?”
She shook her head, feeling silly when she remembered he couldn’t see. “Carlisle’s at work, Esme’s at the antique store, and Jasper’s gone to buy a new pair of jeans. He tore the last ones hunting.”
Silence. Then, “Whoops. Sorry. I nodded. I don’t use phones often – I forgot you couldn’t see that.”
“I can imagine,” she laughed.
“So just you, then?”
“Yep. Just me.”
“All right. Bella Update. Shoot.”
“Not much new,” she told him, sliding onto the stool again and cradling her chin in her palm. “Kind of bored, actually. Thanks for calling.”
“Mmm.” There was a shuffling sound, like the phone switching shoulders. “We never really got to talk before leaving. Did you enjoy the wedding?”
“It was beautiful.” Crisp images of white dresses and envious vampires flashed through her mind. “Really, Emmett. Are all your weddings like that?”
“Some are more extravagant than others,” he said. “Rosalie actually considered that one embarrassingly low budget.”
Bella laughed. “I thought she might.”
“You seemed to be having fun.” Even through the phone, she noticed a wary dip in his tone. “I’ve never seen you dance before.”
“I don’t dance, not really. That was all Jasper.”
“You danced with Edward at prom, that one time.” The dip grew lower, speculative. “But even that wasn’t really dancing. You just stood on Edward’s feet, didn’t you?”
She swallowed, her grip on the phone suddenly tighter. “Your point?”
He chuckled, but it was forced, not wholly Emmett. “Nothing. I’m just saying you two looked good. Enough for Rose to stop and stare.”
“She did what?”
“Yeah, caught me off-guard too. I almost knocked her over.”
“Why would she –”
“Sorry, Bella, Rosalie’s waving at me. I think she wants to go swimming. It was really nice talking to you! I’ll definitely call again before we come home. Tell Carlisle and the others I said hi, okay? And tell Jasper Rosalie said his waltz was sloppy. He’ll laugh.”
“Wait, Emmett, why would Rosalie –”
The air in the phone was empty. Bella waited, waited, until the dial tone picked up and scratched her ears. Sighing, she switched the phone off, temporary alarmed by her white knuckles over the black plastic.
I told the others that Emmett called. When they asked what he said, I told them he didn’t have much time to talk – just that he gave everyone a hello. That was all I intended to disclose… but later, as Jasper and I were cleaning the bikes, I told him about Rosalie’s comment. I don’t know why.
He didn’t laugh. His eyes darkened a bit, like they did in the forest.... Maybe Emmett was giving me another puzzle piece. Right now it doesn’t seem to be fitting together properly.... Feels more like I’m mashing mismatched images together with a hammer, and I’m only breaking it up into more fragments.
“In a second!” Bella called. She’d finally grown accustomed to their personal type of yelling: that was, not raising her voice even when he was all the way down a flight of stairs. She typed in the last few letters, completed a word, and sent the email to Charlie.
She paused at her closed door, stopped by her jacket hanging from the hook. She usually went biking in an old band t-shirt or a ragged hand-me-down of Emmett’s…. That was until yesterday, when she was sorting through her wardrobe, and she came upon the riding jacket he’d bought for her all those months ago.
It was in pristine condition, having only been worn once or twice. There were scratches in the elbows where she’d fallen on pavement, but other than that the leather shone sleekly. It reminded her of streetlights reflected in gasoline puddles.
“Bella?” came Jasper’s voice again.
She shook her head, gulped in air, and snatched the jacket off the hook, zipping it up quickly. It had always felt a little tight, as though sewn for someone smaller. Now it fit her like a glove, comfortably snug, like it was hanging on the mannequin it had been made for. She didn’t spare a glance in the mirror before rushing down the stairs.
Jasper was already in the garage, waiting for her. The dim light of a cloudy day poured through the open door, stopping short of where he stood. He turned, face slipping from relief and impatience to that same indecipherable mask.
“What?” Bella asked, shoving her hands into her jacket pockets. Her fingers squirmed inside the leather and satin, uncomfortable.
“Nothing,” he said, eyes going to the handlebars as he wheeled his bike out. “That’s a nice jacket.”
“Thanks. But I feel kind of overdressed.”
Jasper shrugged as he climbed onto the bike. They didn’t speak for the entire ride to the track.
They hugged corners and soared off jumps, but something felt different to Bella. They were on the third part of their private course when she veered to a stop, sending gravel flying in a wide arc. He braked some five feet up and looked at her, curious.
She stared at him expectantly. “Why does this feel more like work than fun?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, stationary.
Bella dropped the kickstand and dismounted, following the trail of settling dust toward him. “This ride. You commented on my jacket and now I feel like we’re racing through the course. Like you’re only riding to get it done and go home.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
His eyes flickered away, and she saw it again. Her fingers curled into fists, eyes narrowing, brows cutting downward.
He looked at her, alarmed. “You’re angry.”
She nodded slowly. How many times had she seen him make that face? How many answers had she gotten to her increasingly numerous questions?
The leather of her jacket tightened against her flexing arms, strained across her stomach and chest… again his expression flattened, and finally it clicked.
Perhaps it was the sight of the black bike, or the warm embrace of the jacket, but in that moment the mystery solved itself. It was the same expression he’d been wearing when he first gave her the jacket, when she first put it on.
You look… sexy.
Her tongue ran along the roof of her mouth, seeking moisture in the sudden draught. Her fists unfurled, fingers limp, and her face slid into placid shock.
Jasper’s did the same. “Bella, wait, I –”
She stepped backward, toward the safety of her beaten bike, eager to hear its faithful growl. It started without complaint, rounding in a crescent as she rode back the way she’d come. For once, she was without the gentle purr of Jasper’s engine.
I’m going to kill Emmett.
Having rolled her bike into the garage, she stepped past the kitchen and into the living room to retrieve her Mark Twain novel. To her surprise, the television was playing on mute, Emmett and Rosalie sitting together on the couch, Esme and Carlisle on the recliners.
“Hey, Bella!” Emmett got up immediately, sweeping her into a hug. He set her down again, hands heavy on her shoulders. “Nice jacket!”
“Uh, thanks,” she said, dumbstruck. Then Rosalie was by Emmett’s side, calling his hand away from Bella’s shoulder.
“Afternoon, Bella.” Bella didn’t miss the flash of appraisal as Rosalie took in her dusty hair and cheeks. “Riding? Where’s Jasper?”
The moment evaporated, caught up in the gravity in the situation at hand. Bella’s gaze hardened and she looked at Emmett. “Can I talk to you for a second, Emmett? Alone?”
He blinked. “Sure, Bells.”
She led him to the backyard, Esme’s questions about Brazil this time of year fading as they grew farther away. When they were at the edge of the forest, and Bella was confident even eavesdropping Rosalie couldn’t hear them, she smacked Emmett on the arm.
“Ow! What’s that for?”
“For not telling me!” Bella hissed. “About Jasper! That’s a useful little tidbit, wouldn’t you say?”
He paused, face blank… then a slow, knowing smile crossed his lips. Bella hit him again, but he didn’t flinch.
“Emmett! Take this seriously, will you?”
“I am,” he said, and his tone dared her to question otherwise.
“Then why didn’t you tell me?” She lost steam along her question, voice getting watery. “If you knew, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because it’s something you should figure out on your own,” he said. “Nothing in the world felt better than when I found out Rosalie felt the same way about me that I did about her.”
“Are you insane?” Her pitch rose again into a hoarse whisper. “Do you even hear the words that are coming out of your mouth!? Jasper…. I don’t…!”
Emmett’s smile widened. “You’re still such a kid, kid.”
“This kid is going to kick your…”
His hand fell over her shoulder, calming, and the smile left his face. He looked peaceful… even a little wise. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
“Overreacting?” she breathed. “This is a big deal, Emmett!”
“Why?” he asked. “Mike Newton liked you, remember? That wasn’t a big deal. You just ignored him. It’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not,” she stressed. “This is Jasper.”
“What makes Jasper different, then?”
Bella looked at him like he was crazy, her eyes pleading, curse words running through her head. “I…. He…. He’s Jasper!”
The slightest quirk of a smile. “So he’s like your brother?”
She thought on that for a moment. “Well, no, not exactly.”
“So he’s like your best friend?”
“And didn’t you kiss your old best friend, Jacob Black?”
Bella growled, knocking his hand away. “Do you really want to play this game with me? You can’t even beat me in an arm wrestle. You want to try the rest of my body?”
Emmett barked with sudden laughter. “Man, I am so glad I got back in time for this!”
“This isn’t funny!”
“EMMETT!” she screamed. “They’ll be serving the leftovers from your wedding at your funeral!”
She’d never heard or seen him laugh so hard; it boomed past the forest, past the house. He had folded over, clutching his stomach, begging for breath. Rosalie, Carlisle and Esme were there out of nowhere, exchanging looks of concern.
“What did you do?” asked Rosalie, incredulous.
Bella huffed, knocking against him as she stalked off, all their eyes stuck to her back.
Killing isn’t enough. I’m going to get him back first. I don’t know how, but I will. I’m thinking a combination of his Wrangler, pink spray paint, super-glue, and a lot of Barbie dolls.
Night washed over the house. Bella lay on her couch, eyes unfocused on the ceiling as it slipped into darker shades of black. The alarm clock at her side cast a pale green glow in the corner of her eyes, growing more vivid as the day grew dark. Finally she turned over. 1:28 a.m.
Her mouth was still dry, her throat sore. She rolled off the bed and left her room, closing the door softly behind her. Her feet made no noise as she descended the stairs, past where her jacket hung by the door, and into the kitchen.
He sat in the darkness, watching his fingers. A pile of fabric shreds rose on the counter – what was previously a dishrag. Jasper ripped a thin strip into two smaller ones, dropping them and looking up when she entered.
“I came down for some water,” she said, though she knew it wouldn’t help. It was all there was – her thirst wasn’t for blood, just anything mundane and normal to calm her.
“Bella, I’m sorry.”
She faced the sink, placing a cup under the column of running water. She struggled to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “It’s not your fault.”
A venomous chuckle. “I suppose that makes you my unfortunate circumstance?”
“I was thinking the jacket,” she turned to look at him, glass to her lips. Water rushed down her throat… as soon as her tongue felt slick, it was dry again. “But I guess I’ll take credit where credit is due.”
Sighing, Bella drew up a stool beside him, sliding the glass onto the table and taking a strip of fabric. She wound it around her finger idly. “I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have run away like that.”
“You’re my best friend.”
“You say that a lot.” She tried to smile. “So, what do we do now?”
His hair fell in front of his eyes, blond obscuring gold in the darkness. Fabric keened as it was slowly ripped apart. “Move on, I suppose.”
“Get a new riding jacket,” she offered.
He half-laughed, devoid of humor. “Or a new bike.”
“A new track.”
“A new house.”
“A new state.”
“A new planet.”
She grinned. “Well, I can help with the state, at least.”
Jasper looked up, fright in his eyes for a moment. “You’re…”
“Going to visit my mom and dad.” She brushed hair behind her ear. “I don’t think they’ve ever met you.”
He nodded slowly. “Alice said Charlie was nice.”
“Alice is never wrong.”
His eyes went back to his fingers. The strip in his hand was already too small to be separated again. “When?”
Jasper rose from the stool, scooping up the remains of the dishtowel and tossing them into the garbage like used confetti. Then he said, “Sure. I’ll buy you a pair of headphones for the trip.”
Rosalie looks at me like she’s disappointed. It makes me want to scream at her. I can’t apologize for something I never had. I can’t be sorry for feelings that simply aren’t there.
“I just don’t feel that way about him.” The worst part is I can’t even tell her that. When I try to, the words won’t come out.
I thought that day, when I wore the jacket, I finally finished the puzzle. Now it feels like there’s one little piece missing.
“I think you’re making a big mistake,” hummed Emmett from the couch, remote bouncing between his hands.
“I think I didn’t ask your opinion,” Bella muttered, not looking up from the newspaper.
“I think I’m your brother, so I get to give it regardless.”
“I think I’m your sister, so I get to disregard it, regardless.”
She didn’t look up, but supposed he pouted. The volume of the sitcom character’s voice fluctuated, the laugh track ebbing accordingly… then the static bing! as the television winked out of life. The couch cushions sighed as Emmett heaved himself off. His shadow edged over her, and he waited for a response.
“I don’t actually need light to read, so you can stand there all day,” she said, flipping a page. “Do vampires get leg cramps?”
“They get annoyed.”
“Trust me,” she droned. “I know.”
Emmett groaned; his shadow shifted as he craned his neck from side to side. “You’re a ball of nerves lately, you know that?”
Bella shrugged noncommittally.
“Oh, come on. You’re not even going to analyze what I just said? I have a whole ‘deeper meaning’ speech prepared.”
A page whispered as it turned.
“Fine then. Enjoy the newspaper. I hear there’s an article about you in the Denial Section.” Then he retreated, quiet footsteps fading as he ascended the stairs.
Ball of nerves. The term’s been rolling around in my head for the last two hours. Stupid Emmett.
Ball of nerves. Well, of course I am! Wasn’t I when I found out about Jacob’s feelings? And nothing good came of that, not for either of us! Not that I even have that option here. I don’t feel the same way about Jasper as he apparently does about me. I just.... When I’m around him, I feel like my palms should sweat. Like my cheeks should go red or my hair stand on end.... And no wonder! Emmett keeps freaking me out with all pushing and needling!
No one’s taking my side, either. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a game of sides. But Rosalie gives me disapproving glances, Emmett’s ready to start a campaign, Esme smiles like it’s all one big inside joke, and Carlisle doesn’t say a word, just watches with amusement and some weird sort of knowing. And Jasper.... I haven’t seen him much, not enough to know how he feels about this.
Ball of nerves. Stupid, stupid Emmett. He really is like the big brother I never wanted.
She returned to the kitchen island around midnight to finish off the paper she’d been forced to put down, when her fingers curled into fists and those three irritating words boomed louder and louder. Now the house was quiet, and Emmett was confined to his room, and she could sit in silence.
Her eyes scanned every word inattentively. From the crimes to the cell phone advertisements, from the film reviews to the classifieds. The ink was a delightful jumble of information that she never had to focus on to interpret. The newspaper was meditative: the smeared words passed into her head, briefly illuminated, and then back out into the darkness. She retained what few important bits there were and let the rest quietly cleanse her mind, body counts and shampoo coupons alike.
“Evening,” came Rosalie’s siren call. She emerged from the shadow into a beam of light, white nightgown effervescent.
“Hello,” said Bella, glancing up for only a moment. “What are you doing down here this late?”
“Emmett wanted me to show you this,” she sighed; Bella noticed, then, a tiny slip of glossy paper in her hands. A photo. “It’s from the wedding.”
“Why would Emmett –”
She slid the photo over the newspaper; it shone against the dull, recycled page. “He’s very persistent. He’s bothered me about it for days – even though I kept telling him it’s the wife’s right to nag.”
Bella swallowed a groan, only able to concentrate on the photo when Rosalie’s perfect stone hand had pulled away.
There was Rosalie, looking like a model from a wedding catalogue – no, better: like a bride painted by a master on her wedding day, immortalized in brushstrokes. Emmett looked just as handsome, and even the mere likeness, bound and embossed, was almost more beautiful than Bella could handle.
“I didn’t know anyone took a picture.”
“We get at least one at each wedding,” she remarked tiredly.
“You look beautiful.”
A sigh of irritation escaped Rosalie’s lips. “Yes, well, if it were just us, Emmett wouldn’t have begged me to show it to you. Look behind us.”
It was hard to pull her eyes away from Rosalie’s flat, hypnotic smile, Emmett’s smoldering and happy eyes. Behind the two was the dance floor and the tent, the platform upon which the band weaved their music…. It had been taken at the reception, while people were dancing. Esme was mid-spin, her lips open in a laugh, Carlisle’s in a smile…. And there were Bella and Jasper.
As she had been dancing, she’d closed her eyes and felt only her feet, only the steady breathing of Jasper’s chest. Now she saw how they must have looked: her head rested snuggly against him, nestled into the crook of his neck. Her one arm was around his shoulder, toying absently with the collar of his jacket, and her hand seemed to disappear in his; his other rested in a proper but intimate way between her waist and hip, fingers gently guiding. They were close enough that her dress swirled around not only her legs, but his as well. A soft smile played on each of their lips.
Bella swallowed. “Oh.”
“I know,” said Rosalie. “Leave it to you to outdo me in my own wedding photo.”
Bella looked up, apologetic, but blanched upon seeing Rosalie’s face. She didn’t look jealous or spiteful, but wistful, her eyes on the photograph as it was gripped again in her thin fingers. When she glanced at Bella, it was almost piteous – it disregarded the sharp words that were always on Rosalie’s tongue and said instead, I can’t bear to watch you make the same mistake.
“Do you see now?”
“A little,” Bella admitted. “But it’s…. Rosalie, I can’t…”
“Most people,” she said, voice unusually heavy, as if leaden with the grief she was always hiding, “only get one chance at a happy ending, Bella. And look at you, so lucky with two.”
She blinked quickly – it was the second time she wished she could cry for Rosalie, but only the first out of sadness. “I’d give it to you if I could, Rose, you know that.”
“That’s not what I want,” her voice turned harder, but her eyes stayed drawn and achingly dry. “Emmett was my second chance, but he might not have been if I never took the time to realize it. For so long I said, ‘He is my brother. He is my friend.’ And I would have been all right like that, Bella. But like this,” she glanced down at the thin band around her third finger, “I’m happy.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Bella choked out. “I can’t just make feelings happen, Rosalie.”
“Can’t you?” She handed the photograph back to Bella, not bothering to be careful of smudges, except for the small corner where Bella and Jasper danced. Then her tone hardened, her invisible tears vanishing. “Keep that. We have others. And think about it, Bella. Goodnight.”
Rosalie had long since left the room when Bella finally unglued her eyes from the picture and squeezed out, “Goodnight.”
“It was just a dance,” I’d told myself. “It was just a dance.” Now I’ve got that picture stuffed between the pages of my poor, beaten Wuthering Heights, tucked deep into my suitcase... but I still can’t get it out of my head. “Ball of nerves” is gone and now it’s “it wasn’t just a dance.”
And if that wasn’t just a dance.... Were those just bike rides? Was that just a track on an MP3 player? Was that just a can of soda and a knack for perception?
All these months… have I been listening too hard to the music to realize I was moving my feet?
“Are you sure, Bella?” Emmett asked, magazine now closed over his lap. “Rosalie or I could go with you. It’s not any trouble.”
“No, it’s really all right,” she said. “It’s… important for me to do this alone.”
“Jasper might like to come,” Rosalie suggested. “After all, he’s flying with you tomorrow, isn’t he? I’m sure he’d like to hunt, too. You can never be too careful.”
“He’s already been hunting,” she told them. “Yesterday. He knows I want to do this alone. And he’s already checked – no one’s camping.”
“Are you –”
“Yes, Emmett, I’m sure.” Bella wound an elastic band around her hair, and opened the backdoor. “I’ll see you later.”
“Good luck,” they said in unison.
Don’t need it, she replied silently, but thanks.
She walked quietly through the forest, patiently searching for a particularly appealing color. Blues were dull, the maroons were too numerous to make the chase as long as she’d like. Slivers of orange and purple (elk and bear) shone, but both left a sour taste in her mouth. Two or three scarlet threads wound together in a lazy, boring circle. Bella was about to give up and pursue one when there it flashed: gold.
Out of curiosity, she followed it further into the forest. It dove through thicker patches of shadow, away from the moonlight and into caves of leaves and fallen tree trunks. Soundlessly, she hopped over roots and under branches, slow, savoring. The gold grew more vibrant the closer she came until there it was, bathed in flecks of moonlight: a mountain lion.
Its head turned slowly, jet eyes tracing her precisely despite the shadow. It – he – didn’t move. Instead, his paws sunk deeper into the ground, cords of muscle flexing beneath the smooth fur. His nose caught her scent as it wafted on the dewy air.
Bella lunged. Her fingers dug into the earth where it had been standing; its paw prints led a smudgy trail away. She took off after it, legs pumping, catching glimpses of its tail as it ran.
The air rammed into her lungs, remnants of rain sticking to her skin like sweat. Her shirt and jeans clung heavily to her body; loose strands of hair stuck to her face. The mountain lion moved seamlessly through the underbrush, but the branches whipped ferociously at Bella’s eyes and cheeks.
Time became insignificant. He consumed her being with his flashes of black eyes and ivory teeth, coat of woven brass. Her hand clawed at the air, missing his tail by a hair’s breadth. She stumbled a moment, knee swallowed by the earth, air rushing out of her – and was just as quickly on her feet, sprinting forward.
He led her farther into the forest than she’d ever been before, into new patches of worm-eaten trees and thriving weeds. Her foot caught on a vine of thorns, gnawing at her sock and jeans. She tore the whole plant from the ground in her haste, and it fell off as she ran.
He burst through a curtain of leaves, disappearing. She followed suit, erupting through the darkness… into a strangely familiar meadow, bright like a pool of liquid moonlight. The long grass rolled in waves, whitened tips like foam licking at the shore.
Suspended in the night, it looked no different than when it was bathed in the sun. Memories sparked to life, her prey temporarily forgotten. Her eyes swept over a tree that rose and poked out, wound still jagged from where he’d ripped off the thick branch and tossed it to the ground. Then he’d been a blur, circling and circling like a race car on a track…
The mountain lion froze in the center of the meadow, facing her. Its black eyes called her attention back; the memories hushed. His lungs heaved with effort, his jaws hung open to draw in gusts of white breath. His claws dug into the grass.
Bella watched him, air rushing needlessly in and out of her. Her hands clenched and unclenched, knuckles going from cream to white. She waited, exhausted but patient, for him to pounce.
Instead, his eyes seemed to focus on hers. For a moment, they both stopped breathing. The movement in the meadow stilled to stagnant water, and they treaded, sharing the silent ocean.
His head dipped, neither sadly nor in defeat, but in acknowledgment of an equal predator, foe, animal, king. A common, quiet language passed between them, words woven of his rapid heartbeat echoing in her cavernous chest. Then he turned, sturdy spine to her, walking quietly away. The grass around him stirred, sending ripples back that broke gently against her knees.
She felt pulled to him, stopping only when he had vanished back into the circle of encroaching trees. She was left in the center of the meadow, alone, ripples fading as the wind died.
Bella blinked, hands shaking, body worn and tired… but she breathed in deeply, filling her lungs with air, feeling the evening spill into her body. Her eyes closed, the moonlight warming her cold, damp skin. Her lips, iris blue, widened into an open smile.
I said goodbye to my lion.
It was impossible to say how long she’d been standing there. She only opened her eyes when a new peace washed over her – different, yet very much the same. Sunlight painted the grass tips a warm yellow.
She turned. He was as he’d been against her closed eyes, as she’d seen him while she dreamt waking all throughout the night: white wife-beater, mask of concern.
But now it made sense. He looked the way Edward had when he’d seen her in the jacket… but also the way Edward had when he’d seen her in Jacob’s memory, when he’d seen her in this very same meadow. The way Emmett had as he’d watched Rosalie walk up the aisle, the way Carlisle had when he’d lowered Esme into a dip while they danced. The way they both had as they'd swayed across a carefully-lain dance floor to a music all their own, each completely unaware of yet entirely tangled in the other.
He must have felt it as it burst out of her, of her lungs and lips and eyes – as though it caused its own ripples, this intangible thing. Then his arms were around her, pulling her close until her ribs hurt, and she sighed against his chest. Bella’s fingers dug into his shirt, bunching at his back, craving and carving her own place here.
Invisible violins echoed through the trees, the wind twisting into the familiar, deep thrum of guitar strings... and they moved, his hand around her waist, hers around his neck.
Her eyes closed, ear pressed to his silent heart and beating breath. Her body rocked, lungs stuttering.... Her cheeks grew wet.
It was raining.
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- 27 Jun 08
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