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love is a guess that deepens

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love is a guess

that deepens 

(time is a rose

which opens) 

                                   your eyes,my

darling,are two

young worlds of dew 

 

- extract from e. e. cummings, late poems, III.2 

 


 

i. how glorious a greeting the sun gives 

 

Bella had been driving for too long, and had travelled too far. The Arizona desert stretched out in every direction. The dark, dusty road cut through it like a crack in the crust of the earth, heat shimmering over the tarmac like steam from its core. The car gave a long, rattling groan, and Bella cursed through her teeth, deeply regretting this little outing to clear her head as unease settled into the pit of her stomach. 

Her mother was getting re-married. She liked Phil, she really did, even if they weren’t exactly kindred spirits; they both loved Renee, and that was common ground enough. And yet panic rose in her chest as she thought of it - of the inevitable change. It’d been her and mom for as long as she could remember - there had been the occasional boyfriend, and Bella’s visits with Charlie, but aside from that, it had always only been them. She somehow couldn’t see them making the shift into a trio. 

So when the good news was broken to her, she had smiled and hugged them and said all the right things, reassuring her mother and welcoming Phil to the family. And then she excused herself for the day under the guise of leaving them to celebrate, borrowed her mom’s beaten up old Subaru, filled the gas tank, and just... driven, and driven, and driven, as though she might escape her doubts if she travelled just a little further down the road...

So here she was - too many miles outside Phoenix, the afternoon sun glaring high overhead, and the engine making some truly ugly noises. There was no turn off ahead, cacti lining the edge of the road like a fence, but she was really beginning to think she should turn back; she hoped the growling car would be able to make it far enough out of the desert, preferably towards a gas station, that she’d be able to catch cell reception. The vehicle behaved itself as she performed a U-turn, even briefly quitting making its racket. Bella sighed, relieved.

And then - as if in spite - the car gave one long screech, and sputtered to a standstill.

“Son of a bitch,” she said with no real feeling, because she felt she ought to, and then slammed the heel of her palm against the wheel and meant it. 

Okay , she thought, trying not to panic. Stay calm. Wait for another vehicle to come, and ask for help .

So she waited. And waited.

A car  eventually came, and Bella threw open the door, jumping out and waving her arms to catch its driver’s attention. It gave a long beeeeeeeep of its horn, as if in greeting, and then sailed right past her.

Great.

She slumped to sit in the narrow shadow of her mother’s car, the sun still too high overhead to cast it with any length. The inside was beginning to feel like a roasting tin, the AC having died with the engine. Thirst parched her throat, exacerbated by the moistureless air, and she looked longingly at the nearest cactus. They are supposed to be full of water, aren’t they? It was coated with fierce looking spines, though, and Bella did not fancy her chances - she was more likely to come out with blood than water in a face-off with those thorns.

Something caught the light, not too far in the distance - maybe half a mile, although she’s unsure, the flatness of the landscape abstracting her ability to judge the depth of field. She looked closer. There was a definite glare of sunlight on something reflective.

Bella tried to remember if oases were real, or if they were always just a mirage; she decided that they did exist, but she’d never heard of one in Arizona. On the other hand, she couldn’t be that far from Oak Creek Canyon with the direction she’d been driving, so perhaps it would not be crazy to think that there might be water in relative proximity.

She decided to investigate - it wasn’t so far away, and she reasoned that it was worth losing a little extra water from exertion for the chance of refreshment; she’d only be sitting here getting thirstier otherwise, and it didn’t seem likely that a stream of cars would filter by in her absence.

It wasn’t exactly her style, but she was glad for the sunhat Renee always kept stashed in the trunk of the car as she walked amongst the scrub and spindly-leaved bushes, taking advantage of the sparse shade from the mesquite trees and acacia; she adjusted its wide, floppy brim self-consciously, as though she wasn’t profoundly alone in the desert.

The refracted light grew brighter as Bella drew near - she was more sure that she was seeing something , albeit less believing of the hope that it was some rogue pool of water. Prismatic rainbows shattered in an arc around some object, raised from the ground; from this distance, it looked like a reclined human body, which Bella couldn’t make sense of. Until it sat up.

The silhouette was definitely human, a girl, Bella thought - but it shimmered around the edges, throwing off light like a mirrorball, the glare almost as bright as the desert sun. A moment later it disappeared into a blur, and her eyes were unable to follow the shining streak of movement. Just as suddenly, it reappeared, this time much closer. Bella gasped.

She realised she had never seen beauty until this moment, not truly. Now it was in front of her in its Platonic Form, distilled, untouchable. Bella rocked back on her heels, realising that everything, everyone, every place she had ever considered lovely, was a shadow dancing on the cave wall. And now, finally, she was seeing the sun.

The girl in front of her was... divine. She couldn’t think of another word. Her pale skin was a million diamonds reflecting the light, like not even the sun could touch her. She was tall, and the strength of her enviably curved body was evident in its stance, her posture upright and elegant. Her blonde hair fell in waves to her waist, seeming to flow like she had a wind machine behind her even in the unmoving desert air. Her eyes were molten gold, an impossible colour, on this impossible face. Her high cheekbones, the defined curve of her jaw, the full pink lips - she was immaculate.

“I’m so sorry I have to do this,” the figure said, her voice low and lovely, slow like honey, moving towards Bella with a feline grace. To her credit, she did sound apologetic, although Bella did not know what for.

She had spoken at the exact moment that Bella blurted out the only question she could put into words. “Are - are you an angel?”

The angel stopped her advance, tilting her head to the right. And then she laughed. The sound shimmered in the air like windchimes. “Nothing so lovely as that, I’m afraid.” A pause. “You aren’t scared?”

Bella hadn’t had time to think about being scared; she was still in the wow phase of her reaction, but fear did seem like a logical next step. “Um. I wasn’t, except now I am wondering what you’re sorry for.” She was impressed by her own coherent response, though she hated how weak, how hoarse her voice sounded compared to that of the vision before her.

The beautiful mouth twisted, and she spoke under her breath, “Nobody was supposed to see me. Alice said nobody would”-- and then louder-- “I think I have to kill you.”

“Um!” Bella squeaked. The sound was far from dignified but she thought it was justifiable in the context. “You, uh, think you have to kill me? Like, you’re not sure? Because if you’re looking for a second opinion...”

The not-an-angel twisted her hands together, clearly conflicted. “I’ve never killed anyone who didn’t wholly deserve it. But there are rules - or only one rule, really. Don’t reveal yourself to humans and let them live.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Bella said. “Who would believe me? I’m not even sure I believe what’s happening. As far as anyone will be concerned I’m just a teenager who got heat stroke in the desert after her car broke down.”

“Your car broke down?” She sounded unexpectedly interested. “Really, or is it just out of gas?”

“It’s not out of gas - the engine started making weird noises, and then it died.” Bella went with the change of topic eagerly, keen to move away from the talk of killing. “I was waiting for a car to come by, but none were, and then I saw something - you - sparkling, and I thought it might be water so I...” 

“Wandered into the desert?”

“Well, it doesn’t seem like such a good idea now,” Bella said. It was half-a-lie - whatever was happening, whether it was reality or hallucination, was exhilarating; and looking at the girl’s shining face, she thought death was almost a fair price for viewing its otherworldly glory. Almost.

“Alright. Okay,” the girl said, like she was making up her mind, and her brows furrowed into a frown, lips pressed into a thin, uncertain line. “I am not going to kill you. I am going to fix your car and you can go home, and as far as you are concerned, I was only a hallucination. Does that sound fair?” 

Bella nodded, chin bobbing fiercely. And then recklessly, stupidly, she asked, “Why did you change your mind?”

“You really want me to start questioning my thought process?” Her honeyed voice was incredulous, and she shook her head disbelievingly. 

Together, they headed towards the car. “If you’re not an angel,” Bella asked, feeling braver now that she didn’t feel like her life was imminently in danger. “What are you?”

“I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.” 

“What if I guessed?”

“You won’t. And still the killing part.” She sounded more irritated now, as if Bella’s questioning was grating on her.

Bella shut up.

It didn’t take the girl long to get Bella’s engine working, using the emergency tool kit Phil had put it in the boot for Renee. They didn’t talk. Bella watched the refracting light, and became more assuredly certain that the heat stroke had gotten to her; this was beyond bizarre. Even if some divine being had been lurking in the Arizona desert, and Bella had never been one for believing in all of that stuff, then it was still highly unlikely that they would be fixing her car in cut-off shorts and a lilac linen shirt. Only now did she register the youth of her features; she didn’t seem to be much older than Bella was. If it wasn’t for the glittering, and the insane beauty, and the unusually pale skin, and so on and so forth... she might pass for a normal girl.

“This should be okay for a few hours driving, but you’ll want to get it properly looked at soon. I could only do so much with these,” she said, looking resentfully at the tiny toolkit she had been working with. She laughed suddenly, sobering when she saw Bella’s confused face, and then in an unexpectedly soft voice said, “Sorry, this has just been a really strange day.”

“Yeah,” Bella said, feeling like she should be looking around for hidden cameras. She eyed a particularly tall cactus suspiciously. “It has.”

She looked up again, about to thank the mysterious girl for her help, but no one was there, only the toolbox neatly placed beside the hood of the car. The engine was humming, ready to move. Bella shook her head and moved towards the driver-side door, bending down to pick up two cactus flowers that had dropped from a saguaro.

She would not be able to talk to anyone about this insane dream of an afternoon, but she would not forget.

 


 

ii. a woodland in full colour

 

Her first day at her new school, and Bella was miserable, saturated by both the rain and the attention being thrown at her from all sides. Even her beautiful new truck had betrayed her, announcing her arrival into the parking lot with the deafening roar of its engine. 

Still, as much as she shied away from the spotlight focus she was thrust into, at least she had found people to sit with for lunch - popular people, even, so unless she pissed them off she’d probably be safe from bullying. Quiet loner kids were more of a target than the shy one in a friendship group.

She was listening carefully to Jessica as she gave Bella the rundown on everything, speaking in spectacular run-on sentences with random excursions down loosely-related threads, jumping from assignment loads to interfaculty affairs to a who’s who of the students without taking a breath.

“And who are they?” Bella asked, watching as the cafeteria doors parted and three students walked through. They were all beautiful and pale, eyes gold - like her, Bella thought, except not: their skin did not glitter in the lights of the cafeteria, their eyes  were tinted darker, and none of them were quite as surreally lovely. A tall blonde guy with a tiny girl with jagged black hair tucked into his side. A more youthful boy, standing slightly apart from them. His tousled curls were so perfect they must have taken hours in front of the mirror.

Jessica raised her eyebrows, her smile sly and knowing. “Oh, those are the Cullen’s, or some at least. Although the tall blonde, Jasper is technically a Hale, I guess. He and his sister Rosalie - not the girl with him, that’s Alice Cullen -  kept their surname? But they’re all adopted by Dr Cullen and his wife. The boy with them is Edward, totally dreamy, totally doesn’t date-”

And then Bella dropped her fork. Her fingers went suddenly limp, letting it clatter to the table, as her brain focused all its attention on the girl who had just walked in, blonde and radically beautiful. She was exactly as Bella remembered except for her eyes, which were much darker, near black, and her smooth skin, more like white marble than faceted crystal. But there is no possibility it could be anybody else, even with those differences, because there was no chance that anybody else could look like that.

“Oh, and here are the other two. The blonde is Rosalie Hale, she’s totally stuck up but I would be too if I looked like that. The boy behind her is Emmett, he’s pretty nice, but they all keep to themselves mostly. It’s a bit culty.” Jess pulled a face in her peripheral vision, but her gaze was otherwise occupied. She had not even noticed the boy, even though his tall, muscled frame filled the doorway behind Rosalie.

Rosalie.

She had a name for the face that haunted her dreams, even all these months later, the not-an-angel who threatened to kill her and then kind of saved her instead, ensuring she got out of the desert. 

The blonde looked back at Bella, as the boy behind her said something to her, and her perfect face twisted from recognition to shock to anger in half a second, the remaining gold blazing in her black eyes. Clearly, she was not as happy to see Bella as Bella had been to see her, elated to learn that she wasn’t insane; she kept her cactus flowers in a frame, pressed and dried behind the glass, but this was better confirmation than those meagre reminders. She was here, among people, and she had a name, and Jess could see her too. She was real.

Despite this, the incensed stare rattled Bella, and she looked away - the girl ( Rosalie , she reminded herself) had admitted to having murdered before, and didn’t look incapable of it now. She stared determinedly into her food for the rest of her lunch period.

The day passed otherwise uneventfully, although Biology had been a little strange - her lab partner was Rosalie’s adoptive brother, Edward; he had greeted her politely enough, but she felt his gaze boring into her whenever she looked away, as if he was trying to drill a hole through to her brain. She was relieved to get home, away from the attention of her new peers. 

There was a little trail from the garden into the forest behind the house that she hadn’t had the chance to explore yet, and the rain had finally let up. Although it was cold, she fancied a walk, a chance to clear her head; she was still torn by her own decision to move to Forks, knowing choosing to leave had hurt her mom even as it had been for her. She missed the sunshine, the xerophytic plants, the sprawling openness, but there was none of that to be found here, so she decided to explore its opposite, to see if she could find beauty in both extremes. There was little light in the thickly canopied woods, the sky already dark with clouds, and the vegetation here was lush and dense, encroaching onto the lightly-trodden dirt path and forcing her to duck every so often to avoid a low-hanging branch. She came to a natural stopping point as a fallen tree blocked the way forward and sighed, not ready to turn back yet. She smoothed the back of her raincoat down and lifted herself up to sit on the log. Her feet dangled against the bark, not reaching the floor, and she leaned back on her hands, closing her eyes. 

Bella inhaled deeply, trying to ground herself in her new reality, in cold, wet Forks, away from her mom, with an ethereal blonde who maybe wanted to kill her. She supposed there was something nice about the air here, as it filled her lungs - there was almost a perfume to it, the lingering heavy mist.

“How did you find me?”

Bella almost fell from the trunk of the tree she was sitting on, scrabbling at the mossy bark for purchase as her eyes flew open. She couldn’t see where the voice had come from.

“Up here,” the disembodied voice - Rosalie’s, Bella recognised - said. Bella looked towards the canopy ahead of her, and there she was, resting in the branches of an alder. She looked incredibly at ease in her precarious position, her long legs extending towards the leaves as her back rested against the trunk. “How did you find me?”

“Oh, um, I was just following the trail, it starts behind my house... and then there’s this tree in the way, so I thought I’d stop for a bit. I didn’t see you at all, I swear, I was just going for a walk, I didn’t mean to intrude.” Bella felt herself rambling, unable to stop as panic bubbled in her chest; she really didn’t want to annoy this girl more than she already had.

“No, I know that,” Rosalie said, her honeyed voice impatient, no sympathy for Bella’s nerves. “I meant in Forks. I thought we made a deal. I got you out of the desert, you would remember me as a strange hallucination, we move on with our lives, and you definitely do not track me halfway across the country.”

“What?” Bella was suddenly indignant. “You think I stalked you here? My mom got remarried and I came to live with my dad. Surely, you heard about it at school, everyone else seemed to know.” She couldn’t help the edge that crept into her tone, her resentment of small town life.

“I heard,” Rosalie said doubtfully, “but it feels like too much of a coincidence. And Edward couldn’t be sure either. Either way, you still know far too much. It would be safer for my family if I... before you settled in too much...””

“I don’t know what to tell you, I was as shocked as you are!” Bella thought about Renee and Charlie, her grandparents, even Phil. She wondered if she would see them again, or if she would die here, if Rosalie would believe her or make good on her earlier threats. “I didn’t tell a single person about the desert, I swear.”

Bella heard a crack, and then saw Rosalie flying towards her, leaping down from her position in the tree with inhuman speed, golden hair streaming behind her. 

This was it, she realised. This was how she died.

At least the view was good.

But she didn’t die. The blur of Rosalie’s form solidified into stillness in front of her, balancing a huge splintered branch on one hand as though its weight were as insignificant as a twig. She glanced up, seeing the jagged edge protruding from a trunk, and noticed the sudden influx of light from above.

“You caught that?” She asked, her voice hoarse. It would have fallen directly on her.

Rosalie looked as surprised as Bella felt, staring at the branch in her hands and then letting it fall to the wet earth with a soft, harmless thud. “Instinct.”

For someone who kept threatening to kill her, Rosalie sure did save her life a lot.

“Are you complaining?” Rosalie said. She sounded half-annoyed, half-amused, and her perfect features were scrunched in confusion. 

Bella had not intended to say that out loud. “Um, no, definitely not.”

Rosalie looked to the branch at her feet, and seemed to contemplate it for a moment. “I don’t think I’m going to hurt you. I don’t want to. But you can’t tell anyone,” she said, and her dark eyes were pleading as she turned them to Bella’s. “I really don’t want to have to move away again.”

“I don’t think I can pretend you’re a hallucination anymore.” Bella mentally kicked herself as she said it out loud; was she trying to persuade Rosalie that she was a risk?

Rosalie huffed a humourless laugh, and glared critically at the log Bella was sitting on, the way it straddled the trail like a blockade. “No, I imagine not. Just don’t tell anyone what you know, or anything you think you know, please, and we should be alright.”

“I don’t even know what you are - what could I say?”

“You could tell them lots, anything that you’ve seen of me - people here already think we’re strange, and that’s a fire that doesn’t need more fuel. For example, don’t tell them that I can do this.” Rosalie laid her palm against the fallen tree, and it moved, impossibly smoothly, turning on its axis so it was vertical to the trail, no longer blocking it. “Sorry, that was irritating me.” 

She had walked the tree to its new position, but had not seemed to exert any force, her face showing no sign of strain. Bella had not even felt the movement beneath her, still sat on the trunk. Was it telekinesis? Magic? Bella wondered. She had seen enough inexplicable things to believe it at this point.

“Can I know what you are? If I’m not telling anybody anything anyway.” Bella felt brave as she asked, the curiosity too much. She slid from her resting point on the shifted tree, pushing her own weight against it to test if it was lighter than it looked, less sturdy than it had felt. It didn’t budge so much as a millimetre.

“No,” Rosalie said, “but I suppose you can guess, if you like. You’re not going to move that tree, by the way.”

“And you’ll tell me if I’m right?” Bella felt more at ease, Rosalie seeming more amused than tense again. 

“Maybe. What are you thinking now?”

“Some kind of woodland spirit - a dryad,” Bella posited, thinking of Rosalie so at ease in the branches of the trees, how she had known the bough would break and caught it so easily, the fallen trunk moving so easily at her touch. She explained her reasoning, and Rosalie smiled wryly.

“I’m not a dryad, or magical, just very strong.” Unbelievably strong; that tree had not so much as rocked under Bella’s full exertion, but Rosalie had pushed it as easily as if it had been a hollow cardboard prop, on wheels to boot. “I knew you wouldn’t guess.”

“That was just one idea,” Bella said, recognising the challenge in Rosalie’s dark eyes. “I’ll work it out.”

“I won’t hold my breath.” Rosalie smirked, like she had told a joke, and then disappeared into the woods, down the path she had just cleared.

 A few days later, Bella entered the cafeteria on her lunch period, getting her food and automatically heading towards the table where her new friends sat. A voice calling her name stopped her.

“Bella,” Rosalie said as she passed the table where the blonde sat alone. Her brain almost short-circuited at the sound of her name in Rosalie’s voice, low and smooth and enchanting. “Would you sit with me today?”

Bella resented the way her cutlery rattled against her plastic food tray, exposing her shaking hands. She placed it down on the table, sliding onto the bench behind it. Rosalie had not even glanced her way at school since the forest, and Bella had been simmering with confusion, fear and gratitude for Rosalie threatening and saving her life mingling incomprehensibly, the mixed bag of her feelings threatening to boil over.

Rosalie’s eyes - golden, like she remembered from Arizona, not black as they had been the day Bella started at her new school - turned a shade defensive, a sharp crease appearing between her symmetrical brows. “If you’re afraid,” she said, and the intonation of her words was carefully crisp as she looked at the cutlery, now stationary on the tray. “You should sit with your friends. I didn’t mean to make you feel as though you were without choice.”

“I want to sit with you,” Bella said, because it was true, and felt her cheeks turn red as Rosalie scrutinised her face for any sign of a lie.

She was apparently appeased by whatever she saw, and her face smoothed. “I wanted to apologise, for the other day - and Arizona. My behaviour was very erratic, and it must have been frightening for you.” Her voice was very quiet, and Bella was sure that the words could not be overheard by anyone else in the cafeteria. They were strangely formal, like they were being recited. “I would like to assure you that you are not in danger from myself or anyone else in my family, and to say I am sorry for my inexcusable actions.”

Suddenly, Rosalie glared - not at Bella, but over her shoulder, and Bella swivelled in her seat to see the blonde’s siblings looking at where the two of them sat, clearly laughing at them. 

“What’s so funny?” Bella asked, and Rosalie dipped her head, abashed.

“Edward thinks it's hilarious that I’m saying sorry to a human, and Alice just won a bet that I would use the apology Esme - our mother - told me to. Why Emmett always insists on betting against her...” 

“You can hear each other?”

“Are you surprised?”

“I guess not.” At this point the thing that was hardest for Bella to believe about Rosalie was that she was actually talking to her, the supernatural powers strangely easy to take in stride; it made sense to her that everything would bow in the wake of Rosalie’s (and she supposed her family’s, though she had not thought of them much) beauty, even the laws of physics.

“I don’t want you to think my apology was insincere,” Rosalie said, suddenly, after a quiet fell between them. “It’s not really something I do, so it was easier for me to use Esme’s words. It’s just... Alice said something about how we might come to get to know each other - or how you might come to be friends with her actually, but she says I’m her in - and I thought it might be something to try. Someone new to talk to, at least.

“I suppose what I’m asking,” Rosalie continued, staring at her flexed hands. Bella followed her gaze, studying the long, elegant fingers, the perfectly manicured nails that were painted the same colour as the soft pink of her lips, “is whether you’d like to be friends?”

 


 

iii. riding seaward on the waves

 

From then on Rosalie started sitting with Bella whenever she wasn’t absent from school, like when it was sunny and all the Cullens would be out camping; Bella had an idea that the truancy was more to do with what she had seen in Arizona than the importance of family bonding.

At this stage Bella was almost certain Rosalie wouldn’t change her mind about not killing her. The blonde’s initial reserve had faded quickly, and although she rarely gave much away, her smiles came easily as she talked with Bella. It didn’t seem right; Bella felt like she should have to work harder for so great a prize.

“Where did you go this weekend?” Bella asked, spearing an unappetisingly soggy piece of lettuce with her fork. 

“Just up to the Olympic National Park.”

“Not further afield?”

“You sound surprised.”

“I just thought... Maybe all of your trips were far away. Like Arizona.”

Rosalie gave a soft laugh. “No, that was a one-off before we moved to Forks. We were living more remotely before, so being out in the sun wasn’t so much of a concern there, and I knew I’d miss it. I wasn’t looking forward to moving back here, so I took a trip to the desert as a consolation first.”

“You mean I interrupted you, what, sunbathing?”

“Yes, actually. Alice had been so sure nobody would stop anywhere near there that day. Though I shouldn’t have had my headphones in. You wouldn’t have got so close.”

“You’d have heard me otherwise? I was still a couple hundred metres from you when you noticed me.”

“Mm. The air was so still, I couldn’t smell you until you got close.”

“Smell me?!” Bella’s quiet voice was aghast, and she tucked her arms to her sides, self-conscious.

“Not like that, Bella,” Rosalie rolled her eyes. “You smell very floral, like jasmine, almost. It’s unusual.”

Appeased, she picked up on a detail she hadn’t registered before. “Moved back to Forks? Everyone says you all moved here last year.”

Rosalie’s lips pressed together. “We lived on the peninsula before, I mean. The people here wouldn’t know us. What did you do this weekend?”

The firm change of subject wasn’t missed on Bella, but she moved with it. Rosalie was far more relaxed around her than she had been, but her moods were still volatile - not wildly so, for she rarely seemed to hit extremes. She moved from subdued shades of relaxed to melancholy to irritated to withdrawn to warm as Bella pushed buttons she didn’t even know were there.

“I went down to La Push”-- another button apparently, Rosalie’s chin flicking up and her eyes narrowing, not hostile but sharply focused on what Bella was saying-- “with the others, and we had a campfire with some of the kids from the Rez. They said you guys never go down to the beach?”

“Oh? And what else did they say.”

“Nothing, really - we didn’t really talk about you, believe it or not. It did help me rule out some of my theories, though.” Bella had mentally drawn a line across so many entries in her list of possibilities, divinities and myths and science-fiction, like flipping down tiles in a game of supernatural Guess Who?

“How so?” Rosalie said, her lips turning up; she liked this game, laughing off Bella’s increasingly outlandish speculations. No, she had not been bitten by a radioactive spider. No, she was not an alien from Mars, nor anywhere else for that matter.

“You aren’t anything to do with the ocean - nereids or selkies or kelpies or Ap or nix or whatever else, if you avoid the water. I should have been sure of that from the desert.”

“You’re really casting your net across all the mythical pantheons, aren’t you?” Rosalie shook her head. “Although, you’re wrong on at least one count - I avoid La Push. Not the ocean. I love the ocean.” Her voice was emphatic, her eyes bright, her hands flexing in the air to illustrate the magnitude of her affection. “We are getting to be friends, aren’t we?”

The non-sequitur surprised Bella, and she blinked twice, as Rosalie’s upturned lips faltered, twitching downwards. “Yes - yes, of course. You’re like, my best friend in Forks.” It was true, if maybe a little sad, because they really only spoke over lunch. She felt she could be better friends with Angela, if they weren’t both so shy, and she really did like Jess, but being around her was sometimes like listening to talk radio. 

Rosalie’s face didn’t move, yet something still seemed to sweep over her ostensibly impassive expression. Was she pleased? Or had Bella been too honest, made her uncomfortable? She couldn’t tell. 

“In that case... as much as I enjoy our little lunches,” -- like Rosalie ever ate lunch -- “I’d like to show you something, outside of school. This weekend? If you’d like.” Her low, melodic voice was carefully nonchalant, but her hands gave her away, the way she twisted her hair around her fingers with one, the light tapping of the other against the table. Bella’s grandmother would have said Rosalie had nervous hands - they were always a tell when something started to make her edgy. She cared about the answer Bella gave.

“Sure,” Bella said, tone light. She felt vaguely thrilled, knowing she had some power here; Rosalie had just sort of happened to her, and she was so glad for it, even the knowledge that she existed was exhilarating for Bella, but here she had some agency. She couldn’t help but want to test it. “But I get to drive.”

“Fine,” Rosalie’s smile died on her lips even as it formed. Her reply was grudging, but she didn’t argue, “though I get to look at the engine first. I don’t trust it.” She sniffed haughtily, but she met Bella’s gaze from behind her thick lashes, and for half a second a grin split her face. Bella hadn’t seen her smile like that before; it usually seemed like Rosalie’s lips pulled up against her better judgement, always restrained, close-lipped. This one was different, flashing her brilliantly white teeth, revealing dimples Bella hadn’t seen before.

“So, Saturday?”

“Perfect,” Rosalie said.

The week dragged, like it was happening in slow motion, the only bursts of speed her lunches with Rosalie - and her siblings, on the Friday, which had been strange but also nice, the way they were all trying to make an effort with her, the rest of the student body clearly wondering what it was about her that the Cullens deemed worthy of attention. Bella was still trying to answer that question. Part of her thought that they were just keeping a mindful eye on her, aware that she knew too much... but they seemed sincere in their interactions, Emmett’s easy laughter, the way Edward was keen to discuss this album or the other, at lunch or in their Biology class; they always finished their tasks early. She didn’t think she was making up the affection Rosalie seemed to have for her either, the way the hard lines of her face softened when Bella arrived at the table.

Saturday finally arrived, though, and Rosalie emerged from the open hood of Bella’s truck looking glum, somehow perfectly pristine, not a streak of oil touching her. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” she said sulkily, like she had wanted to give it a terminal diagnosis. “It’s just loud and old.”

“You aren’t glad that it’s not going to catch fire and burn us alive?”

“Still could. I might’ve missed something,” Rosalie said, sounding certain she hadn’t. She looked lovingly at her cherry red convertible. The boldness of its glossy exterior made Bella’s faded truck seem like it was shrouded by a sepia filter. “Maybe we better take my car instead.”

“Nuh uh,” Bella said, climbing up to the driver’s seat. Rosalie closed the truck’s hood, fetching a large bag from her own car before joining Bella in the cab. “Where am I going?”

“Between Port Angeles and Sequim - if you head that way, I’ll point out the turn-off. It’s easy to miss.”

Bella would have missed it - it wasn’t indicated by any signage. She would have driven right past it, assuming it was a private road, but Rosalie didn’t seem concerned that they were trespassing, and there were no grand houses to make it obvious to whom it belonged. 

The road doubled back on itself as it reached the coast, turning around at a grassy cliff-edge. Rosalie signalled for Bella to park-up, and she did, looking at the grey sky overhead doubtfully. It wasn’t raining, but the sun was decidedly not out, and the trees - God, there were always so many trees - were being battered by a brisk wind; it could hardly be considered beach weather, even in this land of perpetual cloud.

“Don’t worry,” Rosalie said, and there were those dimples again, just the flash of a smile as she looked at Bella’s concerned expression, “I brought you blankets. And I don’t expect you to swim.”

“You’re going to swim ? In the Pacific Ocean, in February?”

“The cold isn’t a problem for me... and the waves make it more fun.” Her eyes were lit up with excitement, like her face should be flushed with it, but her skin remained an even ivory. “Come on.”

Rosalie led her down a winding path down to the ocean, revealing a tiny cove, mostly shielded from the wind by steep, if not high cliffs. There was only a thin strip of sand at the very shoreline, the rest of the ground flat planes of rock, divided by little tide pools and rivulets. It was beautiful, in a stark, wild way. The grey waves were tugged to-and-fro, building in momentum until one would crash against the dark stone in a denouement, and then the dance would begin again.

‘I brought you blankets’ turned out to mean that the huge tapestry bag Rosalie had had resting on her lap the whole drive was almost entirely devoted to them. “I thought it was better to be on the safe side,” she had explained, a half-embarrassed mutter, when Bella laughed at the quantity - seven huge, soft throws just for her, “and I didn’t want you to get hungry.” The blankets had served as protection for the haphazard range of snacks Rosalie had packed for Bella’s benefit: a bottle of water, a can of coke, a carton of juice, a multi-pack of different Doritos flavours, protein bars, chocolate, a baguette, a tub of hummus, a pot of pre-cut tropical fruits. Far too much for just Bella.

She was twisting the cap off the water bottle when Rosalie started unbuttoning her shirt, a swimsuit revealed beneath, and her fingers suddenly felt leaden and clumsy, fumbling against the plastic lid. She deliberately turned to stare out at the water, fully aware of the warmth crawling up her neck despite the chill, knew that a red tint would spill onto her pale skin in a bold flush that could not be explained away by the cold.

“I’m not shy, Bella,” Rosalie reassured her, sounding amused.

Bella automatically turned when she was spoken to. Her heart jumped to her throat and lodged there as she saw Rosalie in front of her, looking like something out of the heavenly-edition of Sports Illustrated , if they had that kind of thing up there. Her legs were so impossibly long, her bare shoulders strong and straight, her red swimsuit - it was the exact hue of her BMW, and Bella wondered if it were her favourite colour - vintage-looking in its design. Bella thought of the technicolor Esther Williams films she had watched with her grandmother as a child, Neptune’s Daughter , the Million Dollar Mermaid. She had thought Esther impossibly beautiful, but Rosalie put her to shame.

“I like your bathing suit,” Bella managed to say, her mouth horribly dry. She finally managed to unscrew the cap from her water, and eagerly gulped from it. Rosalie looked terribly smug, which only made Bella blush harder, knowing her wide-eyed stare had not gone unnoticed. 

“Thank you,” Rosalie said with a wink, and then jogged down to the ocean, like a Baywatch fantasy. Bella wondered if she was trying to give her an aneurysm; Rosalie had said she wouldn’t kill her, but maybe it wouldn’t count as murder if it were indirect, Bella a victim to her own biology.

Rosalie in the waves was nothing short of spectacular. She rejoiced in the surf like a dolphin, twisting and spinning in the foam, her lithe body cutting through the water like a knife, almost as fast as Bella had seen her run on land. She disappeared under the surface of the water for alarming lengths of time before breaking back up, showing Bella things from the bed - sea stars, and shells, and one hideous crab that Bella wouldn’t have gone anywhere near; Rosalie did not seem afraid of its evil looking pincers. The smile - the wide one that stretched her cheeks, revealed the dip in them - never left her face. Bella’s heart beat faster at Rosalie’s dynamism, the hedonistic abandon with which she faced the water. It was like a partner dance, between Rosalie and the ocean, and Bella could not tell who was leading. 

She found herself drawn closer, removing her boots and tucking her socks inside, rolling her jeans as high as she could, until the tight cuff dug into her upper calf almost painfully. She padded gingerly towards the water, the rock cold and kind-of slimy underfoot, before she reached the soft sand. The stretching fronds of the waves began to lap at her ankles, icy cold, shockingly so - the chill raced up her spine like electricity, but she took another step forward. The tide hauled at her, tugged her legs, but the gravitational draw was nothing compared to the magnetic pull Rosalie had on her. She wanted to dive into the rough water, fully clothed as she was, to fight her way through the frothing surf until she reached the blonde, answering a call as dangerous as a siren song.

Rosalie easily lifted herself out of the water onto a crag of rock, and she could have inspired a million mermaid myths sitting there, unbothered by the freeze of the water and the wind. Her blonde hair was twisted like seaweed around her face, the most unkempt Bella had seen her, but also perhaps the most beautiful, the most animated, the most alive. The sun seemed to want a closer look too; it was foiled by the light layer of cloud it could not burn away, but shone fierce and bright behind it. Rosalie shimmered - not the wild refraction of the desert, but a hazy glow like a silver aura, so slight that Bella would not have noticed it had she not been searching for the effect.

“I changed my mind,” Bella said, unable to hear herself across the churning of the water, but sure Rosalie could. “You are definitely some kind of magical ocean being. What did the sea witch want in return for giving you legs? Do you have gills?”

The glorious sound of Rosalie’s laugh sang above the waves, and then she was diving from her rock back into the water, barely rippling the surface, emerging in front of Bella in seconds. 

“See for yourself,” Rosalie said, her chest heaving in exhilaration though she did not seem out of breath, brine streaming down her flawless skin like a waterfall as she twisted her hair away from her beautiful, elegant neck, exposing its smooth planes.

Bella’s hand moved without her permission, coming to rest on Rosalie’s throat - it was freezing cold, hard like marble, soft like silk. Rosalie’s chest stopped moving, and her dark golden eyes went wide. It would have been a bold gesture, had she thought about it, but it was instinctual: her hand rose to lightly touch Rosalie’s cheek, just once, and then dropped back to her side.

“No gills,” she confirmed.

 


 

iv. the mountains are calling and i must go

 

Dinner at the Cullen’s had become a fairly regular occurrence. Rosalie’s texts had started with formal invitations, growing more frequent and more casual until Bella was receiving a single question mark every other evening, Bella accepting or declining based on whether Charlie would be home early that night, though she always, always wanted to say yes. As she grew closer with the family, the invites started to flow from all sides - even Jasper had messaged her once, from a number she hadn’t had saved:

I think Alice would be very happy if you were to join us for dinner tonight, Bella.

In that exact moment, a text from Alice herself, like she was watching as Jasper messaged her. He’s right! See you soon. Rosalie will pick you up.

As commonplace as it had become, it was still a fairly odd experience. It was somehow weirder, their not eating, around the beautiful dining table in their home than it was the cafeteria; maybe because at least at school, Bella wasn’t the only one in the room who was actually having a meal, and the Cullen’s didn’t make lunch for her. Luckily, it was easy to show sufficient enthusiasm for the food presented to her; Esme’s cooking was as beautiful as her face, and she always gratefully accepted the leftovers to take home for Charlie. 

But they were lovely, strange as they were, kind and funny and welcoming, and Bella mostly forgot she was in a house full of probably supernatural beings. She spoke with Edward about books and music, Esme about cooking. Emmett would crack jokes, and Alice was so enthusiastic about everything that Bella found herself riveted by topics she normally wouldn’t be interested in. Carlisle asked after Charlie, his voice warm and fond. Jasper was reserved, but seemed to be more relaxed as she visited more often; at some point, he and Alice had swapped the adjacent seats they regularly sat in, so that he was next to Rosalie. He almost seemed to glow, smiling more easily and even laughing at times, no more tension in his tall frame. It became easy to take their differences in stride and fully relax, enjoying their company over dinner, and Rosalie’s after even more.

There seemed to be some unspoken rule amongst the Cullen’s that after dinner they would leave Rosalie and Bella alone, even if Alice would pout sometimes, threatening to steal her while Rosalie looked on unimpressed. She learned more about the girl in these moments - not about whatever she may be, but who she was. The books on her shelf, the CDs and records she listened to, the subdued luxury with which her bedroom was designed. There were things she was surprised by - Rosalie’s houseplant collection could rival a botanical garden, and she kept a vegetable patch behind the house, despite having no use for them (“I like helping life grow,” Rosalie had said when she saw Bella looking, “it makes me happy.”). She supposed considering their first meeting, she shouldn’t have been shocked by Rosalie’s garage and passion for auto mechanics, but the professional space was still impressive.

Today, Rosalie was showing her something new, twisting her golden hair between her pale fingers, looking nervous; it was out of place on her, usually so elegant, regal, composed. She opened a door Bella had never been through before, revealing a large, bright room, walls painted white. Stacks of canvases were propped against the walls, a few larger ones hanging framed. “This is my studio,” the blonde said quietly, “this is where I paint.”

“Can I look?” Bella asked, not wanting to overstep. Rosalie folded her arms self-consciously, but nodded.

“I wanted to show you.”

Bella walked around, taking in the artwork, the range of subjects and techniques. There were some beautiful landscapes, achingly evocative; even where the brush or pencil strokes were distinctly impressionistic, the spirit captured by the lines, colours, light, made the pictures more dynamic than any photograph could, like she could climb into the frame and live in the scenes before her. It was mostly portraiture though: a lot of sketches but some gorgeously rendered oil paintings. Bella hadn’t imagined it would be possible to capture the ethereal beauty of the Cullens on a page, but Rosalie had managed. 

She gravitated towards a large sketchbook that lay open on a table, and gently flipped through it, aware of Rosalie hovering behind her. It was almost all self portraits drawn in thick, smoky charcoal. They were breath-taking, of course, but also made Bella sad. Was this how Rosalie saw herself? Her beauty was cold in them, her face too still, expressionless, eyes lacking the gentleness Bella saw in them. They felt detached, her likeness examined from every angle as if trying to find a flaw that wasn’t there.

Bella turned the page, and this piece was different - a watercolour. It was definitely Rosalie... but in some ways not. Still unbelievably beautiful, but not otherworldly; her skin was a soft peach, a rosy flush extending from her elegant neck to her cheekbones, lips a bolder pink, marred by a tiny scar that Bella’s Rosalie did not have. The eyes were neither gold, nor black, but a startling shade of blue, almost violet. Bella wanted to look more closely, study the unusual likeness like a reflection in a funhouse mirror, play spot the difference, but water had been spilled across the page, and the colours leaked into each other, blurring the outline of the face and distorting its features. Rosalie was never clumsy; it was like she had thrown the liquid across, ruining her own work.

Rosalie leaned over Bella’s shoulder, reaching out to close the sketchbook, and Bella could almost imagine a heat that wasn’t there, their bodies so close; she turned around and was overwhelmed by the proximity, taking a step back to rest against the edge of the table. She had a strong feeling she would do better not to mention the strange watercolour.

“Would you ever draw me?”

“I have, actually,” Rosalie said, looking shy again, but also proud. “They’re quite good, I think.”

Bella inhaled sharply, suddenly nervous to see her own flaws laid out on paper by Rosalie, who had none, whose other portraits were of faultless angels; but Rosalie flicked open a smaller sketchpad, and Bella held her breath in her lungs. Surely this wasn’t what she looked like to others, to Rosalie?

She tried to reconcile the image on the page to her own reflection in the mirror - surely Rosalie had left out the chicken pox scar between her eyebrows, the way her chin was too pointy, her eyes too far apart, the bump on the bridge on her nose. But those features, the little things that Bella hated, were all carefully recorded on the paper, somehow more kindly than Bella had ever seen them; not like the soft oil pastel was forgiving her defects, but as though it were celebrating them.

“I look so pretty,” she said, surprised.

Rosalie looked confused by Bella’s shock, and then the expression twisted into something irritated. “You are not merely pretty , Bella,” she said, and her golden eyes burned like fire. Did they flicker, so briefly, to her lips? Bella couldn’t be sure.

Bella felt heat rise on her cheeks, and ducked Rosalie’s gaze as she blushed. “So do you just... do all this from memory?” A subject change felt like a good idea, her heart threatening to beat out of her chest. “You said this is where you paint.”

“Mostly,” Rosalie said, taking a step back, the tension that had bloomed between them curling back into its bud, “but when I paint landscapes, I like to be there. To feel the mood, and not just the memory of it.” She hesitated. “Actually, I was going to go into the mountains tomorrow. To paint the view. I was wondering if you would like to come.”

“It’s going to be sunny this weekend,” Bella said, eyes wide; she had assumed she wouldn’t be seeing the Cullen’s again until Tuesday at the earliest. “You’re not going camping ?” She whispered the last word, knowing the story the kids at school spouted was a cover for hiding from the sunlight.

“Not unless you want to make it an overnight trip.” Rosalie raised an eyebrow, and Bella felt her throat drop through her stomach, mouth dry, before the blonde laughed. “I’m kidding, stop looking at me like I’m speaking in tongues, it’s very obvious you’re not the camping type.” -- yes , Bella thought, that is why that made me freak out -- “But you’re right about the weather. I figured you’d already seen me in the sun before, so there’s no extra damage done a second time. Unless - unless that’s too weird for you now?”

“No,” Bella said quickly, eager to see Rosalie like that again, radiant in the natural light; she had begun to resent the heavy cloud that blanketed Forks for more than just the rain. “Not weird at all. I’d love to come.”

“I’m glad,” Rosalie said, and Bella lit on fire when she smiled. “I’ll pick you up at eight, if that’s not too early.”

Bella would get up at any hour if it meant time with Rosalie. “Eight is fine.”

“It’s a date then.” Rosalie’s eyes flexed wide, and Bella felt the tips of her ears burning. “I mean, we have a plan. I’ll drive you home now, Charlie will be back soon.” She turned abruptly and walked briskly out of the art studio, Bella taking one last sweeping look around before hurrying after her.

The next morning, Rosalie was exactly on time, her cherry red BMW idling outside the house at eight am on the dot. The blonde waved as Bella peeked through the blinds in the front room. Of course she saw , Bella thought. She had super eyesight on top of her super everything else. 

The cloud hadn’t dispersed yet, although the air was already growing warm, and the convertible’s roof was down as Bella climbed into the passenger side. 

“You sure you don’t want to take the truck?” Bella said, mouth twisting into a sly smile as a scowl crossed Rosalie’s face.

“Are you trying to get our nice day off to a bad start, Bella? I don’t want to think about that god-forsaken death trap you drive around in. At least get something fast if you want the sense of danger.”

“Sorry, what I meant to say was: Good morning, Rosalie! Very excited to spend the day with you and not discuss my mode of transport, even if you are wrong about it.” 

Rosalie stuck her tongue out, and Bella grinned; she loved when Rose was relaxed, silly like this, no sign of the aching sadness Bella sometimes caught in her gaze. 

They didn’t talk that much on the drive, but the silence between them was companionable; Rosalie had turned on the radio and was singing along quietly, her voice enchanting, low and lovely, as Bella strained to hear it. At some point she glanced at the digital clock displayed on the stereo, pressing a button to raise the roof of the car just moments before the sun burned away the last of its shroud, as if she’d known exactly when it would happen. She laughed at Bella’s face.

“Don’t look so disappointed,” Rosalie said, her voice stern; her soft smile gave her away, though. “I’ll sparkle for you soon, just not where there are speed cameras about. By the way,” she added, just as they drove into the Olympic National Park, “it’s been a while since you came up with any new theories for what I might be.” Her tone was light, but prompting, and Bella was suddenly struck by a new thought, where she had exhausted so many possibilities, ruling them out in her mind.

Was this trip... a clue? The Olympic mountains pierced the sky ahead of them like a jagged comb, proudly making themselves known. Olympus. Home of the gods... Bella had often thought Rosalie had to be something divine, and she certainly looked like a goddess, the rest of her family easily celestial too - their different personalities, interests, the way Rosalie was the loveliest of them all...

“Aphrodite,” she said out loud, without thinking, her eyes going round. There was a moment of tangible silence, and she bit down on her tongue.

Rosalie burst into laughter, shaking with it, the windchime sound of it fading until it was just her shoulders quivering, like she couldn’t stop for long enough to take a breath. “Aph-ro-di-te,” she wheezed emphatically, like she was using the last drop of air in her lungs.

“Or not, then,” Bella said, red-cheeked and sullen with embarrassment, though looking at Rosalie in her mirth, she could not detect anything outlandish about the spontaneous guess; this was surely the embodiment of love and beauty in front of her, the utter perfection of her visage, the feeling that lit up Bella’s body like a supernova at the sight and sound of her laughter.

“You’re very kind,” Rosalie said, gathering herself eventually, but her measured tone could not conceal the warmth of her amusement, the way her lips kept twitching upwards as they drove into the mountains, clearly restraining herself. 

Bella was surprised when Rosalie pulled the car over, parking just off the road - they were only in the foothills. “I thought you wanted to paint the view from the mountain.”

Rosalie pulled a face. “I might’ve forgotten that you wouldn’t have done so well in the cold, higher up in the peaks. It’s cool here as it is”-- Bella looked at the dashboard, the temperature sensor announcing it as fifty degrees fahrenheit outside-- “even with the sun.”

“I brought a coat, hat and gloves,” Bella insisted, although she hadn’t given more than a cursory thought to how cold it would be up a mountain in March. “I’ll manage, you didn’t have to change your plans for me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Bella. Besides, I think it’s beautiful here.” Rosalie’s eyes were fixed appraisingly on the view stretched in front of them, the lush hills giving way to snow and rock, starkly contrasting with the clear pale blue of the sky, the last of the clouds burned away. Bella could not help but agree as Rosalie got out of the car to fetch her easel from where it was strapped into the back seat; she stepped into the sunlight, and shone.

Bella tried to keep her thoughts coherent as she looked at Rosalie, somehow even more beautiful than she remembered, with rainbows dancing across her skin. 

“Just a little hike, is that okay?” The blonde asked, looking away at the intensity of Bella’s stare, turning to face a trail that Bella hadn’t noticed. She nodded, knowing she’d follow Rosalie anywhere.

It wasn’t a difficult trek, maybe a mile and a half, Rosalie effortlessly boosting her upwards in the couple of places she might otherwise have needed to scramble and pointing out protruding roots that could’ve tripped her. It was more than worth it. They emerged onto a flat outcropping, sheltered from the wind by walls of twisting rock formations. From this vantage point, the bright yellow sun cast its glow across the wide vista like a blessing, picking out the highlights and shadows of the landscape laid out before them, almost as breathtakingly beautiful as Rosalie was beside her.

Almost.

Bella sat down on a curve of rock, carved out by the elements to form almost a throne, curling her legs up beneath her as she watched Rosalie set up her easel and pull out her paints. She stayed quiet as Rosalie started mixing colours, studying how the rich hues of the oil paints reflected against Rosalie’s glittering skin, casting rich streaks of blue, green, gold that seemed to shatter across her bare arms.

“You can talk, you know. I didn’t invite you up here just to watch me.” 

Maybe not, but that would have suited Bella just fine. “I won’t distract you?”

Rosalie laughed, a fluttering, feather-weighted thing. “I am always distracted by you Bella,” she said, voice so soft as to make it more of a confession than a chide, “but it won’t hurt my painting.”

 



v. someone asked me what home is

 

“I was reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses the other day,” Bella said, stopping mid-sentence to watch in wonder as Rosalie threw her head back, untamed golden hair shaking out like a lion’s mane as her laugh rang in the air like a song.

“My God,” she said, eventually, when she had stopped laughing, and Bella missed the sound. She rested her elbows on her knees as she sat in a chair by the desk, her chin in her hands and shining eyes fixed on Bella, who was sitting on the edge of her bed. The irises were very dark, the colour of bonfire toffee, and Bella searched them for traces of their usual molten gold. “You are the most pretentious seventeen-year old I have ever met. Well, except for Edward.”

“I mean, Edward would probably be reading the original latin, so trying to outcompete him there would be a losing battle. But anyway, I was making a point. So I was reading this translation of Ovid, because enjoying classical narrative poems is a perfectly respectable pastime”-- Rosalie snorted, and Bella delighted in the uncharacteristically ungraceful sound-- “and there was one myth in particular that made me think of you.”

“Roman goddesses this time? They’re really the same thing, Bella, but if you want to call me Venus too, I suppose I’m okay with that.”

“Okay, big head,” Bella said, smiling at Rosalie’s faux expression of affront. It was so easy between them these days, the banter flowing back and forth rhythmically, like the waves of the cove Rosalie had taken her to. The warmth of Rosalie’s eyes, her smiles, her laughter - they filled all the empty spaces in Bella’s chest, like sea-water flooding moonlit tidal pools until she felt she could glow with it. “No. Pygmalion and his statue - the footnotes said she was given the name Galatea, later.”

Something more reserved drew over Rosalie’s face, her eyebrows pinching the slightest bit, although her curved lips did not lose their smile. “Oh?”

“He carved a sculpture out of ivory, and she was so beautiful that he fell in love with her.”

“And then Aphrodite gave her blessing, and his statue became human,” Rosalie finished. She knew the myth. “That’s your latest guess? That I’m some living statue?” Her low, velvet voice was perfectly even, yet Bella could tell she did not love this new connection she had made, wasn’t amused or delighted by it as she was by the others.

“Sometimes it seems like you’re made of ivory, or marble, or - like diamond in the sunlight,” Bella said, “and you know you’re more beautiful than anyone I’ve ever seen. But I couldn’t make it fit; there’s your family too and then... in the myth, Galatea becomes soft and warm to the touch.”

“And that’s not me,” Rosalie said, a bitter edge souring her lovely voice. 

Bella held out her hand, and Rosalie followed the unspoken instruction, getting up to take it and sit beside Bella on her bed. She seemed to be holding her breath, not looking at Bella, but she didn’t let go of Bella’s hand with hers, cold and smooth and hard as it was.

“I think you’re soft,” Bella said, ignoring Rosalie’s quiet scoff, “and warm, in the ways that count. I feel it when you look at me.” She laid her head on Rosalie’s shoulder, the other girl perfectly, immaculately still, as if she really were a statue, and not one that had been brought to life. “But I couldn’t make the myth fit, because whatever you are, Rose. You’re human, first and foremost.”

“I was, once,” Rosalie said, voice unbearably sad, wavering like a violin note, and Bella pretended not to know what she meant.

 


 

vi. time is a rose / which opens

 

“I’m in love with you,” Bella said, and nothing had ever been more true. 

They were lying in Bella’s bed, facing each other; a sleepover, Charlie staying late to watch a game down at Harry Clearwater’s, but happy for his daughter to have company. It was just another night. There was nothing special about the timing of Bella’s words, just a burning inability to keep them to herself any longer.

“Stop it, Bella.” Rosalie frowned and looked away, refusing to touch Bella’s gaze with her own. 

“I can’t just turn it off. I love you.”

“Stop saying that!” Rosalie’s voice came out like a hiss. It seemed to crack down the middle in a way Bella didn’t know her voice could break, always so honeyed, so flawless. “How can you even - you don’t even know what I am!”

“Yes, I do,” Bella said evenly, and Rosalie’s eyes - the lightest gold Bella had ever seen them - flashed to meet hers. 

“Say it.”

“I know what you are, Rose. You’re in love with me.” Bella took hold of Rosalie’s hand, carefully lacing their fingers together, triumphing in the fact that she was letting her. “That’s what matters. That’s all that matters.”

Rosalie stared at their joined hands, not speaking for long enough to make Bella nervous. Her beautiful face was a perfect, expressionless mask, and her voice was dead, her careful monotone almost hoarse compared with the usual velvet with which she spoke. “You only say that because you still don’t know what you’re talking about. It would matter, it does matter - Bella”-- her free hand rose to cup Bella’s cheek, eyes suddenly fierce with tortured emotion-- “I’m not some divinity, or fairytale, I’m a monster, I-”

“You’re a vampire, Rosalie.” She pressed her hand against the one Rosalie held to her face, keeping it there. “But you’re far from a monster.”

She heard her own heart beat once, twice, three times. Da dum, da dum, da dum.

And then Rosalie was kissing her, and the rhythm went so haywire it would have been impossible for her to count any more.

Rosalie’s lips, like the rest of her, were not as soft as they looked, but they were so velvety smooth that they might as well have been. Freeing her hand, Rosalie slid it from Bella’s cheek to thread through the dark hair at the nape of her neck, rolling onto her back and pulling the girl to lie on top of her as the kiss deepened. Bella was electrified, body pressed against Rosalie’s, her head swimming with joy and arousal and relief. Rosalie had not rejected her. The skill, the intensity, the sheer enthusiasm with which Rosalie kissed her was more than she’d even dreamed.

Having to pull away for even a moment was a Herculean task, but she had run out of air, and needs must, for a human at least. Leaning an elbow on the pillow beside Rosalie’s head, she propped herself up, and opened her eyes. Rosalie was looking at her, eyes glowing with wonder and mouth curved upwards in an easy, unrestrained smile. Her dimples were deep, etched into her stretched cheeks, and Bella touched each of them reverently. A smear of Bella’s tinted lip balm smudged the edge of Rosalie's shell pink lips, and she dipped her head to kiss it away, only making the problem worse.  

“I’m in love with you too,” Rosalie said, sounding surprisingly breathless for someone Bella was fairly certain didn’t rely on oxygen, “if you didn’t pick up on that before.”

“I’m pretty sure I had to tell you that- mmph!” 

She didn’t mind being shut up like that.

A while later, Rosalie curled against Bella’s side, using her as a pillow as Bella played with the ends of her hair. “You’re so soft,” she said, stretching out like a cat before settling down. “I could almost sleep.”

Now you close your eyes? Not the whole time we were making out? That’s pretty weird, Rose.”

Rosalie did not sound abashed as she playfully pinched Bella’s side. “Why should I look at the back of my eyelids when I could be looking at you kissing me?”

“Asking myself that right now.”

Opening her eyes, Rosalie tilted her chin and leaned upwards to press a gentle, lingering kiss to the corner of Bella’s mouth. “Mmm. Good point.” She grinned, the uncustomarily wide smile spilling like sunshine over her beautiful face. “I’d still say you’re the weird one,” she said, conversationally. “Falling in love with a vampire.”

“Have you met her? She’s very pretty.”

“I’ll bite you.” Rosalie deadpanned, eyes darting to Bella’s face to make sure her joke hadn’t crossed any uncomfortable lines, relaxing as Bella laughed. “But, to be serious for a moment. How long have you known?”

“Since you all skipped school when we did the blood-testing, more or less.”

“Hmm. After goddess, before Galatea. I should have known, that one was stupid.”

“Goddess wasn’t stupid?”

“I quite liked it. Aphrodite?!” Her mouth formed a shocked “o”, her low voice lifting an octave to imitate Bella’s. “Very flattering.”

“You know how beautiful you are.”

“And yet it feels different to hear you say it.” Rosalie took Bella’s hand, resting it on her stomach palm up, playing with her fingers. “I don’t understand why you’re so comfortable with me, knowing what I am, but I feel like I need to stop questioning it before you change your mind.”

“It’s like when I asked why you changed your mind about killing me, that first time we met.”

Rosalie growled. “Don’t remind me.” She sat up then, suddenly animated. “But actually, speaking of that - I have openly threatened your life more than once in the past, and then you let me kiss you and lie here with my vampire face in your neck. I feel like I should be concerned about your survival instinct.”

Bella just shrugged. She trusted Rosalie. “Is it very difficult for you? To have your ‘vampire face’ so close to me and not go for my throat?”

Rosalie paused. “Honestly, it’s easier than trying not to kiss you was,” she grumbled, settling back down, touching her cool lips to Bella’s pulse as if to prove a point. “But then I’m not very hungry right now.”

“Your eyes are light. You normally keep your distance when they get dark.” Bella pulled a face; she wanted no space between them.

“I hunted yesterday. Animals,” she hurried to add. “We don’t - my family, most vampires do - feed from humans.”

Bella wasn’t surprised: “I thought it must be something like that - I figured what you were doing on your hunting trips when I realised you were all vampires, always heading to quiet national parks. Never any stories about missing hikers. And then when I asked Emmett and Alice why they didn’t eat in the cafeteria, he said you were all vegetarian and then they both laughed for like five minutes, like it was an inside joke.”

Rosalie rolled her eyes.

“I do have a question, though.”

Rosalie turned her face into Bella’s shoulder, muffling her voice. “I think I can guess.”

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” she said, and then more quietly, “and or ninety.”

Bella tried to wrap her head around that. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I mean, there was a brief moment when I thought you were a millennia old Greek goddess, so this is definitely better.”

“I suppose.   I hadn’t thought of that.” Rosalie gracefully pushed herself further up the bed, pressing a kiss to Bella’s cheek as she came to lie level with her. “I’ll tell you everything soon, but I’d rather not today. I’m too happy.”

Bella turned onto her side, so they were face to face again, like they had been when she had made her confession except so much closer, their noses almost touching. 

Bella knew that they had a lot to talk about, stories to share, questions to ask, but she had meant it when she said it didn’t matter to her that Rosalie was a vampire. It would later, she knew, when this bliss gave way to reality, but right now only one thing was important:

“I’m in love with you,” Bella said, again, and nothing had ever been more true.