Bella hears her before anything else.
She’s sitting in her truck in the parking lot, watching her fellow students mill around outside and dreading another day of inquisition. She’s been wondering how long it’ll take for her to blend into the background here in Forks. Jess is sweet and all, but Bella wasn’t built for her guerrilla-style conversational tactics. Besides, she doesn’t have much that’s interesting to report. The life she and Charlie have been building together since her arrival is quiet. Quiet but peaceful, and the damp is a small price to pay for the relief of it all. She’s starting to enjoy predictability.
Music sounds from a distance, some girl-punk shrieking, and pulls Bella out of her musing. Then comes the sound of an engine running hot, a faint excited male whooping, and finally a blur of red that catches Bella’s eye and speeds across her field of vision.
The car that swings into the lot probably costs more than Charlie’s entire house, purchased thirty-odd years ago. It’s violently red and gleaming even in the fog that hangs over Forks every morning without fail. She’s no car enthusiast, she was thrilled when Charlie surprised her with her ancient truck, but even she knows to admire a vehicle like this.
Which she does, until she’s struck dumb by the occupants of the car—the five most beautiful people she’s ever seen, each more so than the last. They glow with an unseemly grace, and as Bella watches them, she feels like their movements should be accompanied by bells ringing or a backing choir. But none is as stunning as the driver, the statuesque blonde who laughs and leans into the backseat to shove playfully at her dark-haired passenger.
It should be a crime to subject such a dull place to so much concentrated beauty. Bella finds it difficult to look at them, but when the blonde turns her head to scan the parking lot, and their eyes meet for a tiny moment, something in her starts to come awake.
Her new lab partner, Bella finds, is no easier to look at up close.
“I’m Rosalie Hale,” she says, looking Bella square on, without hesitation. Her eyes are unusual, amber so light and reddish they appear orange under the fluorescent lights. Bella hadn’t noticed them from her truck. They’re mesmerizing against Rosalie’s pale face.
“Bella,” she replies, startled. She wouldn’t have expected someone with Rosalie’s intensity to notice her from a bug on the ground.
“The famous Isabella Swan,” says Rosalie. “Edward’s been telling me about you all morning.”
“My brother,” she says. “Red hair? He’s a little mopey-looking? He tells me you’re the talk of the town.”
“That can’t be true,” Bella tells her. “I’m thoroughly unremarkable. But I do prefer Bella.”
“I trust my sources,” says Rosalie, smiling. She picks up her pen and twirls it through her fingers. “And besides, I really doubt it,” she adds. “But I’ll have to get to know you on my own before I can pass judgment, won’t I? Bella.”
Bella turns to look out the window. She’s having trouble holding Rosalie’s gaze. Such strange, lovely eyes. Her gaze flits to their lab sheet, where Rosalie has taken it upon herself to write “ROSALIE HALE + BELLA SWAN” in bold black letters. They look nice together, she thinks.
“I’d like that,” she’s surprised to hear herself say aloud.
Maybe she doesn’t value predictability so much as she thought.
In the end, it’s Bella who makes it happen, and of course after the fact she’ll claim she had it planned for days, that she was confident of Rosalie’s intentions. But the truth is, there’s something in Rosalie that makes her feel a little looser, a little less in control, like she’s getting through the day on a low-level high. It’s hard not to feel that way when the most beautiful girl she’s ever seen is clearly not content with just being her lab partner. No, Rosalie wants her opinion on the bio reading, Rosalie wants Bella to call her “Rose,” Rosalie wants her to sit with her at lunch (this made Jess gasp), Rosalie wants Bella to meet her siblings.
They’re even weirder than Rose, all pale and attractive and intense and way too curious about her unremarkable life. They’re attentive to the point of discomfort, but she finds it sweet how much they love each other. Even Edward, who leans into Emmett without saying much, looks at his siblings with such admiration in his eyes. She’s never seen anything like them before.
“So, Phoenix!” says Alice, Rosalie’s adorable and gregarious little sister, pulling her back to the present. (“She’s going to be all over you,” Rosalie had warned Bella, but she’s taken aback nevertheless.) “All boring-flat and baking hot with not a raindrop all year? How did you ever cope?”
“Oh, I loved it,” says Bella, quieter. “It’s flat, sure, but when you’re in the desert you can see the sun rising all around you, and it fills up the whole horizon. I missed it a lot, at first, but I’m learning to appreciate Forks. Easier to do on the days it doesn’t rain, though,” she finishes ruefully, glancing up at the drops starting to flick against the cafeteria window.
“We prefer the wet ourselves,” Alice laughs. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in the sun, ever—I burn.” Bella smiles bemusedly as Emmett chuckles, not sure she’s in on the joke. Alice is pale, it’s true, but who could live without sunlight?
“Oh, stop,” Alice says as Jasper shoots her an odd look. “Everything’s going to work out just fine.”
Uncertain as she is, Bella goes willingly, enchanted by the intensity of feeling that flows between them. The curiosity that pushes Rose to ask Bella question after question without pausing for breath as they have lunch together and Bella, in return, to answer in greater detail than she would’ve ever thought possible. She didn’t even know what her favorite color was until she found herself describing the hues of her favorite cactus flower for well over a minute.
A few weeks into her first semester in Forks, she’s had enough of their unfailing interest in her, the way they dodge her inquiries, gentle at first and then more insistent. She asks Rosalie if she’ll drive home with her, take a walk on the quiet trail behind Charlie’s house.
“I have questions, too,” is her only explanation.
“This thing is a death trap,” Rosalie says as they approach Bella’s truck.
“This thing is four times your age,” says Bella. “Show some respect.” Rosalie laughs as she gets into the passenger side.
“Whatever you say,” she says.
“Play whatever you want,” Bella says, handing her the aux chord. “I’m not picky.” Sharon Van Etten’s low voice fills the cab as Rosalie hits play, wrapping them in warm golden sound.
It’s cool and foggy in the meadow where they sit facing one another.
“And how long have you been nineteen?”
“Quite a while,” says Rosalie, leaning against the rock at her back. Bella’s surprised she didn’t put on more of a show of denial. Apparently they’re no longer pretending. “The circumstances of my death were not pleasant. Carlisle made it so that I never had to worry about dying again, but for a long time, the only joy I found in this life was my new ability to inspire fear… I was able to exact my revenge with ease.”
“I’m sorry,” says Bella, moving closer to Rosalie to grip her hand. It’s cold and firm in her fingers, but she gives it a squeeze anyway. “And now?” she asks, looking into Rosalie’s perfect face.
“And now… I’m grateful for Carlisle’s decision, narrow-minded as it was. It means that I can be here, with you, and that my monstrousness can be put to use on your behalf.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Bella, have you met yourself? Trouble follows you like no human I’ve ever met. Your truck? The burners in our biology classroom? Stairs in any context whatsoever? If my strength or my eyesight or my speed can be of use to you, then you’ve given me a purpose beyond creating more death.”
“Is that all I am to you?” asks Bella, smiling. “A purpose? Something to rescue?”
“No…” says Rosalie, running a hand through her honey-yellow hair. In a flash of movement Bella’s eyes barely register, she pulls Bella off the ground and into her arms before leaping into a tree above them.
Bella feels her pulse thrumming in her chest, picking up speed as she processes her new surroundings. They’re very high up, but she can’t be bothered to admire the view with Rose right in front of her.
“You’re a heartbeat I can listen to without fear,” says Rosalie, leaning back against the trunk, “because I know that I will never hurt you.”
For all her superhuman reflexes, Rosalie is still startled when Bella crushes her lips to Rosalie’s. Though it doesn’t stop her from wrapping her arms around Bella and kissing her back.
“Everything is so green here. I hate it,” says Bella, kicking a moss-covered tree trunk. “Ow,” she sighs, dropping her sore foot back to the ground. Her date, girlfriend, whatever Rosalie is to her these days, snorts.
“Side effect of the gloom and rain,” says Rosalie. “Which, unfortunately, are what makes this area livable for us.”
“Vampires love water?” asks Bella.
“We’re scared of fire,” Rosalie says, smiling slightly. “And being conspicuous. We don’t like bright, open spaces.”
“So, that’s what Alice meant, huh? I won’t find you in the desert?”
“Nowhere like Phoenix, no.”
“I guess you’re worth the sacrifice,” says Bella judiciously, wiping her mist-damp hand on her jacket before offering it to Rosalie with a winning smile. Her—girlfriend—snorts. But takes her hand and continues along the trail without comment.
The inquisition hasn’t stopped now that she spends so much time with the Cullens. Well, with Rose, mostly, but that’s enough to draw attention to herself. The Cullens are notoriously reclusive, but Rosalie’s known more for her outright hostility.
If anything, Jess is more intense with her questioning than ever, making the temptation of leaving the Cullen lunch table essentially null. Maybe she’s neglecting her human friends a tad, but really, who can blame her?
When Bella wakes up on the morning of her first sunny day in Forks, her heart feels ten times lighter. She can’t remember the last time she saw such a shining blue sky. Her bedroom window doesn’t have a lock on it; she leaps out of bed and pushes it open, leaning out to take a deep breath in. If Rosalie were here, she’d pull Bella back from the one-story drop (“You’re a disaster magnet,” Rose told her the last time she caught her mid-stumble) and insist she smell the fresh air safely from the front door. But she didn’t stay over last night, so Bella can do whatever she wants. Bella reaches for her phone and smiles at Rosalie’s name on her lock screen.
I won’t be at school today. Please give my best to Jessica.
Bella groans. She’s gone two and a half weeks without being subject to a Jess interrogation, but it looks like her winning streak is coming to an end.
I’ll miss you, she types, then forces herself to send. And I will, but she won’t appreciate it. She drops the phone when it buzzes back immediately.
Not as much as I’ll miss you.
Will you be back tomorrow?
Alice expects the sun to be gone by then, so I should be. There’s a reason my family chooses to live here, and it’s not the scintillating gene pool. Present company excluded of course.
What happens when there are no clouds?
I can show you next time. If you like.
Bella didn’t think Edward and Rosalie were close, so she’s surprised to see how many portraits of her there are in Edward’s studio. More than his other siblings, more than Esme even, second only to Carlisle. She tries not to stare, but his work is stunning; studies of his piano and the Cullen house, lush landscapes, and of course, the portraits, all different styles but all possessing a rangy elegance that marks them as his work. Her eye lights upon a particularly beautifully executed triptych of the Cullen women, and she stares into Rosalie’s proud gaze. Edward steps toward her with a small smile.
“She was alone for so long,” he says. “And of course, Carlisle brought her into our family for me, so you can imagine how uncomfortable it was when that didn’t work out for either of us. It took a long time for us to come to speaking terms, let alone become true siblings, but the complexity of her nature fascinated me from the beginning. I’ve always cared deeply for my sister.”
“I didn’t think—” Bella’s cut off as her eye crosses what’s undoubtedly the finest work in the room. Edward goes still as she turns toward it, but she doesn’t notice.
She sees her Rose in the portrait, but her beauty is the only recognizable thing about her. Everything is… abstracted. Her blonde hair is a shade darker, tawny, and flows to her shoulders in wild tangles. Her top lip is a little overfull, and her painted cheeks glow with a healthy pink light. Most strikingly, her eyes are not the comfortable gold Bella knows so well or even the red associated with drinking human blood. They’re an unsettling deep blue, practically violet, and painted with such vivid emotion—confidence, bashfulness, innocence—that Bella could swear she sees them dart around the room.
“Woah,” she whispers, forgetting for a moment that Edward can hear her quietest vocalizations. He lets out a pained chuckle.
“That was a naïve gift,” he says, lifting her hand to the canvas to touch the layers of oil paint. “Early in our acquaintance. I was close with Carlisle, I knew how she’d come to join our family, but I thought… I don’t know. With the clarity of time I can say that it was a cruelty. As I began to know her better, I offered to destroy it, repaint it, anything, but she wouldn’t let me. I hope it was to spare my feelings, rather than from some kind of self-flagellating impulse. Esme seems to think that’s the case, so I let her reassure me.”
“You couldn’t have known,” murmurs Bella, unable to look away from the portrait, from the depth of blue.
“I have to thank you,” says Edward behind her.
“Hm?” says Bella, caught still in Rosalie’s gaze.
“Since she met you, she hasn’t come in to look at it. My other work, sure—I’m working on one of you, actually, don’t let me forget to have you sit for me—but not this one. She used to, often. It always felt like penance.” He puts his hand gently—they’re always so gentle with her—on her shoulder. “I think, for once, she’s glad to have lived to see the days ahead of her.”
Her second sunny day in Forks, Bella cuts class. Someone has a promise to keep.
In the spirit of scientific inquiry, she lets Rosalie carry her on her back while she runs, back to the meadow where Rosalie let her into her life. (“Life,” Rosalie would scoff, “it’s anything but,” but lately Bella hasn’t heard as much of that talk.) It’s dizzying, disorienting, exhilarating—not so different from regular Rosalie time.
The trees start to break as they approach, but Bella doesn’t notice. Her eyes are screwed shut and she’s waiting patiently for Rosalie to put her down, so she doesn’t see the muted glow that begins to rise from her girlfriend’s cool skin.
“Keep your eyes closed,” Rosalie murmurs as she slows her pace. Bella’s all too happy to comply, and screws them shut harder as Rosalie deposits her gently on the meadow floor. She tilts her head back onto the rock at her back, reveling at the lizard-like peace that’s instantly activated by its familiar warmth. She has missed the light these last months.
She hears Rosalie take a few steps backward, into the center of the meadow. Into the sun. Suddenly, every piece of vampire media she’s ever consumed floods back into her mind at once, never mind the fact that the Cullens have disproven basically all of it, and she shouts—
“Rose, no!” She lurches to her feet, head filled with visions of her Rosalie bursting into flames in front of her—
Her eyes burst open wide—
And stay wide, as she’s stunned in her tracks. Staring. She forgets to blink, as if she could stay conscious of something so mundane. She doesn’t breathe.
Rosalie has not burst into flames, but she is aglow with so much light that she might as well have. Every inch of her skin blooms with the sunlight, not just reflected but refracted, casting gleaming rainbow flickers onto the trees and rocks around them.
Rosalie smiles at her. She takes a nervous step closer to Bella, and when she doesn’t move, Rosalie twirls slowly, just once. Her eyebrow raises. What do you think? it asks, first playfully, then worriedly, as Bella continues to stare without speaking.
“Rose,” she breathes, and that word is enough, Rosalie is in front of her, and she moves her finger, pure id, to touch Rosalie’s shimmering lips. Her girlfriend’s amber eyes fall shut in contentment as she traces the sparkling across Rosalie’s cheek, temples, nose, back to her lips again.
“Rose,” she says again, louder, and Rosalie opens her eyes. “Come here,” says Bella, pulling the collar of Rosalie’s leather jacket down towards her.
“Like what you see?” says Rosalie, and her chuckle is cut off when Bella wraps her arms around Rosalie’s neck and presses their lips together.
“Devotedly,” Bella murmurs when she breaks off for air, her forehead still pressed to Rosalie’s glowing one. Rosalie’s eyes widen, and Bella is covered in flecks of light as Rosalie picks her girlfriend up off the ground and tugs her tightly to her chest.
Bella sighs contentedly into the leather, wrapping her legs around Rosalie’s waist. “Can we stay here until the sun goes down?” she whispers, looking up into Rosalie’s eyes. “I don’t know when my next chance to see you like this will come,” she adds plaintively as Rosalie hesitates.
“Of course,” she decides. “Whatever you want.”