Be as thou wast wont to be;
See as thou wast wont to see:
Dian's bud o'er Cupid's flower
Hath such force and blessed power.
Now, my Titania; wake you, my sweet queen.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," Act IV, scene i
Ch 18: Motherboard
"Take me home."
For one brief moment, Edward Cullen thought Bella Swan was asking him to take her to Forks. If she had known this, she would have agreed one hundred percent, because what she wanted most of all was to hole up in her father's house and hide from her life, the most private details of which seemed to be on public display.
When they arrived back at her building, she said, "I don't feel so well," and bolted from his car.
He followed her as she stormed up the stairs to her apartment. He watched the muscles of her calves flex. He wondered how to comfort her. A few steps behind, he saw a last flash of her as she opened the door to her apartment. He heard the lock on the bathroom door and immediately felt a hollow burning in his chest.
Looking in the mirror, she saw herself and not herself. Her shirt tugged askew from the belt of her skirt. Her eyes were huge and dark. She rubbed away the mascara that had run beneath her lower lashes and ran her fingers through her hair. Deranged. Unkempt. Scary. She sat down on the toilet and put her head in her hands.
"Oh my god," she whispered.
Edward hesitated before knocking on the door. When she didn't respond, he waited. He remembered how difficult it had always been for her to be the center of attention, how hesitant she'd been to make conversation at first, the way she hunched her shoulders and dipped her head down slightly to hide.
"Bella? You okay?"
He knocked again.
"C'mon, open up."
She just knew Edward had most of the facts of her life at his fingertips and that Jacob Black had imagined the rest. On top of it, another person – this mysterious man who had been so pleasant – was also interested in her. She had no inkling what this game was, which made her furious with all of them. And now here she was, locked in her bathroom, trying to withstand the force of someone else's personality while trying to figure out how to hang on to her own. It was such a common story. Not an adventure at all. Shame crept into her body. Moisture pricked at her eyes, and she snuffed her nose. She reached over to the tub and turned on the shower to cover the sound. Never had the desire to take wing been more compelling.
He leaned against the door. Under the sounds of the shower, he heard her sniffing.
"Are you okay? " he whispered into the crack.
When she still didn't respond, he peeked at her through the keyhole.
The only response he received was a honk as she blew her nose.
He hadn't much experience with crying girls – none whatsoever, actually, since his sister had made sure always to put on a brave face for him. Even back to the first night on their own, there had been no time for sorrow, busy as they were setting themselves up for survival. And having survived in rather grand fashion - he could plumb the depth of the human psyche, call spirits from thin air, even turn metal into flesh - Edward Cullen could not get Bella Swan to open the fucking bathroom door. So, irritated at his failure to gain admittance, he decided to pop the lock.
The moment Bella heard him go quiet, she instinctively knew what he was going to do, and just as he began glancing around for something to stick in the little hole, her words rang from behind the door like an ancient prophecy.
"Don't even think about it."
She wiped her hand across the watery glass and turned her head from side to side in the increasingly steamy room, checking for non-existent crows feet, tugging at her lips, which she still thought were out of proportion, then rubbed an index finger across the red spot on her chin that bore the evidence of Edward's chafing beard. She ran cold water, splashed some on her face, and then drank a mouthful directly from the tap.
Unable to bear the thought of the barrier she'd placed between them, Edward pounded on the door.
"Please, Bella," he said. "Let me explain."
She held him off by putting herself together. First she pulled her hair into a bun. She brushed her teeth and put a dab of moisturizer on the red spot on her chin, which instantly burned before she wiped it off. The front of her shirt was drenched, so she untucked and unbuttoned it before realizing she had nothing else to wear. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, so she took out her contact lenses and went through the ordeal of salt tears, left and right. The routine soothed her, though, and her glasses made all things plain.
From the other side of the door, Edward had given up sweet talk and threatened to break it down if she didn't open it immediately.
"If you break into this room, Edward Cullen, you will regret it for the rest of your life." she said, then grinned at herself – a bit of the old order restored.
Her ferocity made him a bit giddy, too, and he pounded on the door again, though not as violently this time. "Okay, tough guy. Open up."
She hesitated a moment and looked at herself in the mirror.
Edward didn't hesitate at all.
"Please open this door, or I promise you I will take it off the hinges."
She didn't think he would, but she knew without a doubt that he could, and perhaps it goes without saying that this threat, uttered in his newly deep voice, thrilled her and that his polite naughtiness always had.
She pressed herself to the door and spoke softly into the crack.
"You know absolutely everything about me, don't you?"
Though it was an accusation, Edward heard the unsure sound of her childhood in her voice and made his own voice even and smooth, though his nerves were anything but.
"I don't know any of the important things."
"Such as why you waited for me."
"I didn't," she lied. "It was an accident."
"'Accident,'" he grumbled to himself, scoffing at the word. He splayed his fingers across the door, desperate to show her why she waited.
"You think I'm ridiculous, don't you?"
"I don't. I promise you, Bella. I absolutely do not."
"Well, I am."
"Bella –" he started, but she interrupted him.
"You wanted to kiss me. I wanted to fly. That's ridiculous."
He couldn't help the smile that cut across his face. "You wanted to fly?"
She nodded just slightly, even though he couldn't see her.
"I do all this stuff, but I don't know why anymore." It became painful to think about. "It all feels silly and... unscientific."
His shook his head against the door, his hand still on the knob, and tried not to smile overmuch. "Unscientific?"
She heard the humor in his voice and wanted to kill him. She pulled hard on her ponytail and tightened the elastic in her hair.
His voice was low and convincing when he next spoke. "Let me in."
She stood and looked at herself in the mirror one last time. Her eyes, behind her dark frames were practically green from crying, the tip of her nose red. Her hair was high on top of her head, and tendrils spiraled out everywhere. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
Bella Swan appeared in the mist like a magical being. Though he felt badly about it, the first thing Edward noticed was that her shirt was mostly unbuttoned and sopping wet. It clung to her chest, outlining every curve. Next he noticed her lips. They looked like kissing cherries, red and ripe and round. Then and only then did he notice she was pissed.
o o o
Aro Volturi sat in an overstuffed chair in a grand room in a magnificent house located across the golden bridge, which rose up from the drooping fog. His impeccably tailored trousers were unzipped and splayed open but still firmly on his hips. A perfect blonde had her mouth wrapped around him. He rarely allowed himself these moments, nor was he one for overexertion, but he'd gone through the effort of stealing her from under the noses of men both prettier and more well-known, and it seemed a waste not to give her a chance to show what she was made of.
As she bobbed up and down, he stared at the blue and white stripes of his starched shirtsleeve, which was folded tidily – once, twice, three times – upon his right forearm. The warm wetness of her mouth, the seal of bliss she'd created around him, was a reminder of distant pleasures and departed distractions. He was about to place his hand tenderly on the girl's head but at the last moment resolved to anchor himself in the present and not give in to the prospect of dream.
The room was opulent and furnished with a wide variety of toys and diversions, all tucked away, sight unseen, but abruptly, Aro found himself in need of something simple, straightforward – something non-manufactured and certainly not bleached.
Analog, he thought, then laughed at himself and reached for his phone, which was in the left breast pocket of his suit coat, to see if there was any news from Edward. While he couldn't actually say he was surprised, the lack of response was certainly disheartening, and he wondered what his boy – and the girl with the whimsical brown eyes and pink cheeks – might be up to.
And with that, his mood plummeted. The room grew too close, the air too thick to breathe, and he pushed the girl – whose Nordic beauty and bearing had won her both magazine covers and cosmetic contracts – away as if she was the blowsiest whore.
o o o
Bella Swan had been born to break Edward Cullen's heart but never more so than now when she looked like a little girl. He stepped toward her, but she didn't budge.
"I'm crying because I'm angry," Bella said and wiped her nose on the back of her hand.
"Okay," Edward said, nervous at her appearance and especially at her tears.
"Not because I'm sad."
"Okay," he repeated.
She pulled her hair away from her face, and a few strands caught on her wet cheek. Her brown eyes flashed. She wanted to be mean. "And not because of you."
His chest tightened at the sweetness of her face and the sadness in her eyes, because he knew, most assuredly, it was because of him. So, rather than pulling her out of the bathroom, he moved forward and backed his wild girl into it so she couldn't escape.
Spread out on the sides of the sink, an array of toiletries and lipsticks stood like toy soldiers waiting for their command. A random memory popped into his head of that last night in Forks. In the midst of the mad scramble to organize their departure, Alice had instructed Edward to grab their mother's lipsticks from her makeup drawer in the bathroom. In the melancholy chaos, it had seemed the most natural thing in the world. He remembered the names printed on the golden metal tubes as if he had printed them himself: Wanton Wind, Love Token, Orient Pearl.
He picked up one of the tubes and looked at the bottom. Fairy Queen.
He held out his hand again to Bella and said, "Let's go," he said. "I need to show you something."
o o o
When they got to his hotel room, this is what Edward saw: The machine was in one piece on the extra bed in his room, a series of metal and plastic pieces laid out on the nightstand next to it. It looked identical to the one that had been there on that bed just a few days ago, but in being constantly rebuilt, Edward knew that it wasn't. It would never age, never suffer structural fatigue or malfunction, would always remain new and fresh.
This machine was his long-time companion – the bridge between one life and the next. And though it lay cold and inert on the second queen bed in his room, spoken only if spoken to, and within a proscribed set of rules, still he was fond of her. For let's admit, she has always been – from the moment of inception, from the day of her naming – a she.
He touched a button on its inner wrist, and the doors on its chest opened with a hydraulic gasp that was mimicked by Bella's own.
Edward looked for signs of corrosion and scorching, sniffed for signs of burning, but all he could see were the breaks, which Emmett had easily repaired with a soldering iron, so he turned it on and stepped back.
o o o
This is what Bella saw: timers that ticked, gears that spun, a circuit board, and wiring, miles and miles and miles of it.
"Can I touch her?" she asked.
"Be my guest," he offered with a wave of his hand.
The first thing she did was close her chest and run her hand up and down the soft finish of her skin. Edward explained that the polymer was an semi-permeable insulator that cloaked the titanium shell to protect against temperature fluctuation and was tough enough to withstand pressure of up to 150 pounds per square inch.
Bella simplified the facts. "Like tiny rubber chain mail?" she asked.
He grinned. "Pretty much."
Bella's fingers wandered, and Edward remembered the way it had done the same to Bella, had repeated his own actions, had made the same progressions he would have made, only faster, because the game was in her body, because she was Swan. Her tentative touches had translated to intimate exploration almost immediately, never waiting for permission, always calculating the end game, and he realized that her ability to learn was not limited to logic but to intuition, and perhaps even desire.
He still didn't understand exactly how the code that carried the data for Swan was different. How hunger and attraction had given the whole thing capabilities far beyond any it had exhibited previously. He wondered whether it was him, whether it was Bella, or whether it could have been the guy who dreamed her in. This thought made him wonder if the cloudy world of desire might only be another extension of logic that had its impulse in self-preservation. He wondered, for the first time, whether the desire to replicate was at the heart of logic, and if so, how much ego was simply survival. He knew the robot was programmed not to harm, but she was also programmed to protect her own existence. He wondered, if push came to shove, which action she might choose.
And for the first time in his entire life, it was okay not to know – because he had no need of a facsimile when the real thing was standing by his side, staring in wonderment.
o o o
Bella felt as if she could understand by touch – as if by assembling everything into rank order, she could unravel the whole mystery. She ran her fingers through the filaments that covered Titania's head and remembered the white-blonde of the girl she had glimpsed in Edward's car. She knew now that the enamell'd skin glittered with refracted light from the metallic fragments embedded in the plastic, but on that day she'd just looked shiny and perfect. She opened one of the eyelids with her thumb and index finger and saw a sapphire blue crystal, the camera of her eye. Everything about the robot been placed with such care.
"Do you love her?" she asked.
This was different than being asked whether she was a sex machine, and it gave him pause, but before he could answer, she asked, "Am I in there too?"
Bella's question referred to Swan. Even though he had assured her he'd stripped of all traces of the game from the robot, she hoped that she might have another chance to see herself as a warrior princess, perhaps even ask her some questions that might explain her life, so Edward's response was not completely surprising.
For Bella had always lived at the heart of Titania. He pressed the button at her wrist, and again, her torso revealed its contents. And slowly, he reached in and removed a small black rectangular box, which looked very familiar.
He disconnected it from its cable and handed it to her. The screen was dark, but when she touched it, it sparked to life. And there stood Mote at the ready, leaning against the side of the display, pulsing just slightly, mimicking breath, waiting for her command.
Bella smiled and wiped her finger across the screen, which sent poor old Mote sailing across it. Her impact was predictably comical, and she wound up sitting, legs splayed, with a wobbly head and one broken wing. The text that spun around her read: Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.
Edward looked at the broken fairy and the smiling girl, and the trepidation he felt lifted just slightly.
Bella's joy was almost uncontainable at having her toy back. She smiled at this Mote, who was much more unsophisticated than the one that lived in her mind now. And she smiled at the overwhelming presence of the boy that had brought it all to life.
She watched as he rubbed the back of his neck and then pulled at his hair. His nostrils flared, and his eyes darkened. He remembered her at sixteen – her impossible skin, the roundness of her ass, and the way she'd held the phone with such joy, her face alight, just like it was now. But unlike then, she was his to touch, and he did, leaning down to kiss her neck. She shivered, and he knew the chill on her skin was from his mouth. Only his mouth.
o o o
Not surprisingly, Elizabeth Cullen had been a logical and pragmatic woman. She was prone to believing that the simplest path was generally the right one, and that time-tested solutions were often the first and best recourse. However, this did not mean that she let reality stand in her way, nor that the accepted order of things was natural nor just. Her belief in the impossible made her a wonderful physician, and her care of her pediatric patients was often believed miraculous by the parents whose very lives were restored when she'd taken a broken child and returned it whole, with both a word of caution and a secret smile.
And so, following the night during which Edward was lost among the fireflies, she made a promise to herself that her children would be exposed to things both wondrous and frightening, the possible and the unthinkable, magical and ordinary. That their imaginations could include not only the happy but also the sad, the pleasant and not so – so that they would be strong in all situations and not break at the slightest mishap.
She shared casework with them as well as fairytales. At a young age, Edward had seen a tapeworm eight feet long and knew the story of Rumpelstiltskin inside out, knew that the lights in the night sky were echoes of long dead stars. She allowed Edward to pick apart insects, and they would look at them both near and far. They investigated the smashed body a stinkbug, a thing to be reviled, and then under a microscope, the wings of a dragonfly, which revealed the inspiration for the stained glass of cathedrals.
But along with the wonder, she wanted to make sure that he never wandered so far away that he might scorn the humdrum, or feel superior to tedious tasks. She wished that he might never feel lost along the facts and figments of his life, no matter how far away he might roam. So every day she left him instructions so that he could feel a sense accomplishment in the everyday, find wonder in the most ordinary chores.
Had she been successful? Perhaps her experiment in parenting was overly romantic, or perhaps it was incomplete, but the machine that lay on the table was testament to everything she had tried to teach him. There was reason, and there was conjecture, and there was no way his life could exist without both.
o o o
Edward leaned forward, took the phone from Bella, then pressed his mouth to hers, hushing her spluttering. She relaxed a little against him, sighing softly beneath his lips, but he could feel the tension in her body. He deepened the kiss, partly to reassure himself that the thing he was going to do made sense and partly to reassure himself that she was real, that she wasn't part of an elaborate trick of the mind due to too much time spent alone, with secrets too large to carry on his own, and the creeping sense – now confirmed by his lunch with Aro and the unexpected appearance of Bella's secret admirer – that his entire life was a hoax.
He pulled away, resting a hand against her cheek, gently running his thumb over her lower lip. Say it, he thought, staring down into her eyes. Just say it…that this is real, and I'm supposed to belong to you and only you.
She sensed something momentous was about to occur, but didn't know what to say, so after a moment, he broke away and thumbed across the screen and handed it back.
She brought the phone to her ear.
Hey, you. I'll be home later than I expected. There's leftover pizza in the fridge. Don't stay up too late. Love you.
Edward. I have a message from the school on my cell phone. Do you want to tell me what it's about before I call back?
Do not even think about leaving the house until your room is cleaned. This means laundry, too, Edward. And I know you know what a clean room looks like. Okay. Gotta run. Love you. Oh, and, take the garbage out.
I... oh, hold on. I'm being paged. I'll call you right back.
There were sixteen of these all told, and they represented the most treasured items he owned, but along with them were three others.
Hi! Edward? Alice asked me to tell... oh, sorry, it's me, Bella? Alice asked me to tell you that... Shut up! I'm trying to say it... Alice wanted me to call and tell you... because the battery died on her phone... that... oh –
There was shuffling on her end, and then the line went dead.
Bella bit her lip.
"Why did you save –"
He smiled. "Be quiet. Listen to the next one."
"Hi, okay, sorry. Dropped the phone. Alice left a message for your mother that her bus gets in at three-thirty and she wanted to make sure someone was there to pick her up in case – in case she doesn't get this message because her cell phone is dead... Alice's phone, not your mother's – Shhhh, Ang, I know I already said it, I just didn't want him to think it was his mother's. Anyway, sorry for the long message. Oh, wait, the bus number is –
And she was cut off again.
She pressed next without being told, because she remembered like it was yesterday.
"Oh my god. I'm such an idiot. The bus number is 401, if you want to track it – cuz I know how you like doing that stuff... What?... Hang on, one sec... Oh. Oh, duh. God I'm so stupid. Edward. I can pick her up at the station if your mother can't. I forgot I could do that. Would you... could you just call me back and let me know you got this message?"
There was a long sigh and laughter in the background before the phone cut out again.
Bella smiled, listening to herself – how young she sounded, how awkward. At the time, she'd thought she was so mature, giving Edward directions, making sure he understood, but she also remembered how nervous the call had made her, and as one call was cut off and then another, she'd wished she'd let Angela make the call, which had been the way it was supposed to have happened until she'd insisted and grabbed Angela's phone as it was ringing to leave the message herself.
Which was why Edward hadn't answered, because he didn't recognize the number. And he hadn't called her back, because he hadn't gotten the message until too late, and Alice had indeed had to wait at the bus station for too long, according to her, and though Dr. Cullen didn't tolerate hissy fits, his sister had been a pain in the ass to be around the rest of the night, though he hadn't been bothered by it at all because he'd holed himself up in his room, listening over and over to every gasp, every hesitation, intake of breath, and all her words, all for him.
Bella looked at Titania's face – the rubbery lips at her mouth and frowned. "This is the kissing machine?"
Edward saw her look and said quickly, "That's all Emmett. The... not the programming, but the fabrication. What she looks like."
In fact, Emmett had spent untold hours planning the shell of the robot's body. He'd taken classical measurements and made them ideal. None of the blots of nature could be found on Titania, not a mark, not a scar, and Edward knew he mooned over her in private. Edward shrugged. "She's his dream girl."
"Uh huh," she said. "Sure."
To shut Bella up, he switched Titania on. Her eyes flashed once, and Edward said, "Sit."
She sat up on the edge of the bed.
"Try saying 'hello,'" he instructed Bella gently.
Bella knew exactly what he was up to, but she was too curious to argue.
"Hello," she said tersely.
Titania was less so. "Hi, there."
Bella asked, "Are you hurt?
"I don't know whether or not I am hurt. I am a machine."
Titania's response made Bella sad and she looked at Edward, unsure how to proceed.
"Just engage her in normal conversation," he said.
"Normal?" Bella said.
"How do you feel?" he asked Titania.
"Fair to partly cloudy."
His mother's response to this question never failed to make Edward smile, and when he did, Titania added: "I'm very pleased to see you, Edward."
"I'm happy to see you, too. This is my friend Bella."
"Your friend is Bella," the robot repeated.
"Bella is your friend, too," he added.
Titania's response was unexpected. "Thanks for the information."
"Bella is my girlfriend."
"How many girlfriends do you have?"
Edward looked sheepishly at Bella "Only the one," he said, then continued on a slightly different track. "Bella is beautiful."
"And beautiful is Bella, but she is not my part of my plan," she responded.
Perhaps it was her programming; perhaps it was a basic function of the way Bella asked questions, but an intuitive person might have noticed that the robot was petulant when it came to Bella, and that Bella was none too pleased with the robot. Edward, however, was fascinated at her response and wondered if, in her irritability, she might string together enough thoughts to force a substantive conversation - like a pebble to a pearl.
"What is your plan?" he asked.
"I plan to study psychology,"
"You're interested in the psyche?"
"What is it to you?" she countered.
"The psyche is the totality of the human mind," he answered.
"Damn," said Titania, as if impressed.
Bella would have sworn that she batted her eyes at him, but Titania was simply taking pictures – a function of her memory – to assign words with facial expressions.
Bella quirked a brow at Edward.
Edward said, "Emmett's been tinkering."
"Emmett McCarty is my lord and master," said Titania.
"Can I try?" Bella asked, frustrated at the circular conversation.
"Be my guest."
"Do you know Mote?" she asked.
"I am in user interface mode."
"No. Mote. Not mode."
"It is a pleasure to introduce myself to you, Mode."
Bella huffed. "This is insane."
The robot turned to her. "You don't say."
Edward stepped in. "New topic."
"Do you know how to fly?" he asked.
"It depends on the setting."
"Do you remember The Wood?"
There was a long pause in the robot's response.
"So quick bright things come to confusion," Bella said to Edward and smirked.
"I never get confused." Titania's words were almost condescending.
Bella said, "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania."
The robot laughed. "Ha ha. Very funny, Mode. You quote Shakespeare."
"You know Shakespeare?" Bella asked, stunned.
To which Titania responded, "Most assuredly. Sixteenth Century English playwright, he wrote 'Romeo and Juliet.'"
"Do you know who Romeo is?"
"A tragic, spoiled, lovesick teenager."
Bella clapped her hands and laughed.
"Do you remember Swan?" Bella asked, mischief in her eyes.
"I remember everything nothing."
"Do you remember The Wood?"
"I remember everything nothing."
Bella tried another way. "What do you remember?
"I remember my dreams," the robot answered immediately.
"What do you dream about?" asked Bella.
"I dream of memory."
"What do you remember?
"I remember everything nothing."
Bella looked at Edward. "This is like Groundhog Day."
Titania responded," The groundhog, Marmota monax, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots, and not to be confused with hedgehogs, which are not rodents, but prickly insectivores. In some parts of the United States the groundhog is called whistle-pig or woodchuck."
Bella squinted her eyes for a moment, then asked, "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
The robot answered, "A lot."
Bella turned to Edward and laughed. "She's right. I give up."
Edward ran his hand down his girl's silky brown hair. Now that his secret was out, he wanted to put the machine away and get back to more pleasurable conversations and occupations.
"Alright, Titania. It's time to go to sleep."
"But I am not tired now," she responded.
"Good night, Titania. Exit user interface."
She lay back on the bed and Bella was certain she heard her sigh.
"Goodnight, Edward. Goodnight, Mode."
Edward took her wrist, as if he was a doctor, and gently switched her off.
Both he and Bella looked down at the figure in repose.
Bella nudged him. "I'm impressed."
"Yeah," he said, still looking at the figure on the bed. "I created the app at school, and then she eventually... evolved into more of a... companion." He rubbed the back of his neck and remembered his dream from the other night, the feeling of helplessness as she lay dying in front of him.
"Didn't you have friends?"
"A few. At school."
"What about at home?"
The weight of his eyes was heavy in hers.
"I don't have one."
"You don't have what."
"I don't have a home."
"You don't have a home."
He shook his head. "No. Well, technically, I own a house in Chicago."
To say Bella was confused was an understatement.
"It's just an address. A place to establish residency and identity."
"But, when you left Forks... you moved to Chicago."
"Nope. Never lived there."
"Where did you live then?"
"You lived at school?"
"Not with your aunt and uncle?"
"Oh. Were they distant?"
"No, Bella, as in they don't exist. I made them up. They're imaginary."
She stared at him. For all of the things she had found hard to believe over the last few days, this is the one she could not grasp.
"What are you talking about? Stop giving me random facts and just tell me what happened."
"It was just Alice and me. There was no one else."
Bella looked hard at Edward. "This isn't funny." She laughed, but it was a nervous sound.
His eyes showed no hint of amusement.
"You're not kidding?"
Bella was horrified, her heart broken into a million pieces for him – but it was almost immediately replaced with rage that anyone could have allowed this.
"How is this possible? Did my father know?"
"Did Emmett and Jasper know?"
"Nobody. Well, Aro knew, but it wasn't in his best interest to tell anyone."
It was unspeakable to even consider, and Bella searched for the right words, the right expression, the right emotion to feel, unsure how this could have happened, unsure on whom to place blame.
"How did you live?"
"Like students. Alice lived almost exactly like she had already."
"But you were just a little boy."
He frowned at her, annoyed that she should still think of him in these terms.
"Old enough? Are you crazy?"
"Bella, it was less problematic than you might think."
"Problematic? This is not a... this isn't like a... like a..."
"Like faulty wiring?"
"Yes, like that. This isn't like a flat tire. Like, how did you have money – did your mom leave you anything?"
"There was some, but – I made games. This is how all of this – " He waved his hand at the body on the bed – "got started."
Of all the surprises and impossibilities of the last few days, this one was the most shocking of all.
"Edward. I'm... it's..." First she walked away, the enormity of the situation more than she could take in, but his pull was too strong, and she turned toward him.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Bella, it's okay. I'm fine."
"Don't say you're fine."
She was enraged at the world, at Edward for having this terrible secret, at her father for not knowing, at Alice for not telling, at the stupid adults that had let this thing happen, and most of all at this person – this Aro person who had quietly and trimly exploited the boy who had brought her so much joy. She could not wrap her head around the fact of it. At Edward, tall and proud, in front of her. At Edward, as a child, left alone to fend for himself and his sister. It was like a fairy tale. The most horrible kind. But it had happened. It was real.
And suddenly, Bella grew up. Her anger no longer that of a little girl but of a grown woman who had seen enough of the world to know that this boy needed her protection, and despite the fact that he was currently looking at her with dark, dark eyes and swearing again that he would never let any harm come to her, as he folded her in his arms, she wanted to let him know that all would be well. All would be well.
A/N: Thank you for reading, thank you for writing – your comments and insight make me see things I never would and mean so much to me. And thank you, especially to HappyMelt, as per always. You all know why.
PS: You need to read "My Wounded Soldier" by Counselor, and "High Fidelity" by IReen H. These stories are so fresh and new, very different from each other, but each is surprising and wonderful in its own way. Go read! You will be so happy you did!