I know! I know! I am as surprised as you are. But here we are, and I hope everyone is safe and well out there. :)
.:Chapter 9 - Missing:.
MISSING: ROSALIE LILLIAN HALE
Emmett blurred from my vision as the missing person ad hung between us. The air around me constricted. I was intensely aware of Edmund behind me.
"Let me see that," I mumbled, snatching the paper from Emmett's hand. I turned away from him and scanned the page.
Below my name in the boldest script was a black and white picture of me I faintly remembered taking. It appeared to be cropped from a family holiday photo and enlarged to the best their technology could do. Just underneath, read the details of my disappearance.
'Heiress Rosalie Hale was last seen on the evening of January 30 at the Rochester Lilac Festival. Her fiance - Royce King II - is deeply worried about her safety and offers a lofty reward for any information regarding her whereabouts.'
"Fiance?!" I shrieked, unable to control myself. How in the hell had he managed that? Of all the ridiculous- What were my parents thinking?
"Rosalie," Emmett said, he and Edmund both staring at me now, confused. Emmett was never fond of things that were unclear. "Your parents were never in an accident - were they?"
I'd never seen so much distrust in his blue eyes, so much betrayal.
"Emmett, I can explain."
"So it's true," he exclaimed. "You've been lying this whole time!"
"No! I mean, yes. But you have to understand-"
"What is there to understand, Rosalie?" Emmett's thick voice rose, his frustration erupting like a volcano that'd been idle for too long. "You lied about your parents. You lied about why you came here. I don't even want to know how you got your 'inheritance'. I mean, hey, at least you gave me your real name." His mocking laugh came out like a slap to my face.
"Emmett, please. Listen to me!"
He glowered back at me, warring with himself. I was always this seductress to him, this temptress, this siren in deep waters. Now he wondered if I really was poison disguised as sugar.
"You're engaged," he hissed.
Indignation ignited my blood. Rage replaced anxiety. The bold 'fiance' was like a snake in the grass, striking me harder than any of the other words on the page. I hadn't given that vile man the time of day, and yet he had marched right into my life and sat himself down on a throne anyway. Surely, my family would have only made it too easy for him. I thought I could control his presence in my life, but now it seemed I should not have ever agreed to meet him, my parents be damned.
And yet, a small part of me wondered if it would have helped at all. My parents would have invited him into their home one day or another - would they have not?
"No," I managed through gritted teeth. "I am not engaged."
The air felt chillier than a moment ago. I threw the newspaper clipping into the air and wrapped my arms around myself. I wished I could squeeze my eyes shut and things could go back to the way they were only moments before. It was cruel how a single sheet of paper could ruin in a second what I had spent weeks creating.
"Em," I heard Edmund say amidst the quiet that had fallen. I opened my eyes and saw him picking up the article from the ground.
"Stay out of this," Emmett growled, snatching the paper from Edmund's hands before he could read a word.
"Em, maybe you should let her talk."
Emmett scoffed, shaking his friend's hand off his shoulder the moment it touched it. He turned away from both of us. His shoulders hunched, tired, and I recognized the posture he sometimes took when he didn't want to fight but he didn't want to let it go either.
Cool wind pressed against my back. I watched loose gold strands of my hair flutter toward Emmett, framing him like they wanted to reach out and embrace him.
A part of me knew the truth would catch up with me. A part of me knew I had to tell Emmett about my family eventually. But I was swimming in so many lies that were too arduous to disclose that picking out which currents of truth to push forward was near impossible. Whenever I thought about it, the strands of my two different lives kept tangling together. One small slip up about my immortal life and I was sure to end up in an asylum.
Perhaps now, though, I could straighten at least one knot in my sail.
With a deep breath, I tried to ignore Edmund's presence and put into words what Emmett needed to understand about me.
"I know you, Emmett McCarty," I said. "You hold nothing back. You say exactly what you mean, exactly how you feel the moment you feel it. You have no secrets. Me, on the other hand - I am not like you. I'm not as fearless, not as brave. I hold onto my secrets. Because I'm stubborn... But also because I have a past I don't much care for. A past I came here to try to escape from."
The tension in Emmett's shoulders had drained, but he kept his face turned away from me. "Your parents were never in an accident."
"No," I admitted. "I ran away from home."
His eyes met mine then. They weren't as angry as I thought they should be; rather, they were protective. "What did they do?"
For some reason, maybe because different universe or not this was Emmett, I wanted to be truthful with him. About everything.
"My parents are...ambitious people. I love them, of course, but my natural beauty opened doorways for our family. Eventually, I suppose, their greed grew more powerful than their love." I hesitated, realizing the weight of that truth as soon as I had announced it out loud. Why had I never come to that conclusion before? Had vampire-Rosalie remembered less of their faults on her life because Royce's overshadowed them? Sighing irritably at the thought, I put it aside, because as sad as that was, it wasn't the reason I had left New York. Glancing angrily down at the small picture in the corner of the paper, of my fiance, I added, "I didn't run away because of them, though. I ran away because of him."
Emmett and Edmund both gazed over the sepia picture of Royce King II as I spoke. It sat at the corner of the page, only slightly smaller than the black and white picture of me, because obviously he needed the world to know someone as exquisite as I belonged to him. Even his haughty paper-smirk mocked me.
"The most eligible bachelor in Rochester; the prestigious son of the Kings, the family at the top of the social hierarchy that my parents so desperately wish to reach... A deceptively charming man with a hostile ego and a silent drinking problem."
"He wants you," Edmund surmised. I nodded.
"What Royce wants, he gets."
Emmett was suddenly right in front of me. I tried to step back in surprise, but he grabbed my arm, gentle, but firmly enough to keep me close. My neck strained as I looked up at his penetrating stare, the blue darker than the nighttime country sky.
"Did he hurt you?" he demanded, a harsh whisper.
A cold sort of venom started with a tingle at my fingertips and dripped its way through the rest of my body. While my blood chilled, hot, angry tears pricked the corners of my eyes. I held them firmly there, refusing to let them out, just as I always refused to let the memory go. I never let myself remember it vividly, that night Royce took me and let his friends take me after. That night they had left me for dead, frozen and broken on a damp, dark street frosted in snow. I always saw it as a blur of colorless images, winding too fast to be clearly seen. I didn't ever want to see it again... But I could always feel it.
I could always feel it.
I didn't answer right away. I could not be sure what Emmett saw on my face, but his grip suddenly tightened around my arm, desperate for me to answer him. "Rose," he choked out.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Not yet," I managed. Then louder I added, "I knew it was one wrong drink away from disaster, though. I fled away from there before anything could cross a line it would never be able to cross back over."
Emmett's throat bobbed, as he closed his eyes in relief. He let go of my arms, sighing as he stepped back. I grabbed for his hand, pausing him.
"Please," I whispered. "The timing never felt right before, but... How I wish I had been the one to tell you. Truly."
As he opened his eyes, I could still see the mistrust swimming in them. There was also openness, however. Openness to listen, to understand.
Edmund must have seen this, too, ever the observant man he was. "I will give you two some time alone," he said, picking his forgotten glove and bat from the ground. He threw me a sympathetic smile before walking away.
I stared at Edmund's back until Emmett broke the silence.
"Will you tell me everything?"
"There isn't much you don't already know," I said carefully. "My family history is the same; the only difference is that there was no crash. My family is alive in Rochester, and, yes, I may have smuggled a bit of money from our family savings to get here."
"But why here?" Emmett asked, finally meeting my gaze again.
"I don't know, Emmett. I was just running. This happened to be the place where I stopped."
"No offense, Rose, but you're clearly a city girl. What did you see in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to make you give this dirty town a chance?"
My honesty surprised us both, even if he didn't realize how deep the truth actually went. Idly, I wondered if that secret would ever present itself. Didn't he deserve to know everything? He definitely did, because I could not afford to lose Emmett, not now that I had found him. But, certainly, it was too early for that conversation. Any talk about past lives and vampires was sure to drive him away faster than his mother surrendering me to a mental facility. I had no idea how that would ever come up organically between us. But I had enough to think about right now without that added weight.
Emmett chuckled at my response. "You were planning to stay before you met me." His smile didn't reach his eyes, but at least he was calmer.
"Well, as you said, I am a city girl. I was hoping somewhere like Gatlinburg was the last place they would think to look for me. Would I have stayed this long without having met you?" I dramatically brushed some dirt off my baseball slacks and waved my hand in front of my face to ward off non-existent country-sized insects. "I almost guarantee not."
At this, Emmett did laugh, full and fond. "Did Rosalie Hale just make a joke at her own expense?" he teased.
"The odds were low, to be fair, but it was bound to happen the more I spent time with you, you jester."
He nodded, accepting this as a compliment because of course he did. The longer his head bobbed, though, the farther his mind seemed to wander and his small smile began to fade, until the tiny cloud of gaiety I had created moved on. The left tip of his lips turned down, only fractionally, but enough to show me he was troubled, conflicted. I could see the gears circulating in his head, processing the seriousness he was prone to avoid. I had seen the look countless times at the beginning of our long, tangled history together. Unfortunately, he didn't have a mind-reading brother in his head to help him sort it out.
"I am..." Emmett started, struggling.
As difficult as I knew this was for him, I suddenly yearned for the Emmett who already knew how to handle me, who already figured out emotions society hadn't taught him to handle. But I knew that was selfish.
"It is alright to be upset with me, Emmett," I finally said, sighing.
This took him aback. "No. No, I don't want to be upset with you," he said, the frustration in his deep voice being counterproductive for him.
"I know. But it's okay. Look at me." He was glaring at his hands instead of at me. I grabbed his hands in mine, breaking his purposeful distraction. "I lied to you. I chose to do that, no matter how sorry I am about it. So...it's okay...to let yourself be angry with me. It doesn't mean you don't love me - just that I made a mistake."
His gaze on me widened, losing some of the anger. "I never said that I... Even though I do, but..." he stuttered.
Chuckling, I responded, "I just know things."
Our eyes stayed locked this time. Emmett was searching for something in mine that I had found in his long ago - home. I hoped he found it. I did my best to convey it in my gaze, but knew it was something his heart had to help him with. Besides, I had over a hundred years with him. How strange it must be for this free-spirited, ladies' man to try to understand how he fell so hard so quickly.
"I do love you," he finally said. "I think I'm still a bit upset, but who the hell am I to say anything when I mess up all the time. I guess I put you on a pedestal higher than anyone else's, but that's not fair. You are the most perfect person I've ever met, but you're still human, right? And... I do love you. I love you."
I hadn't realized my body was tensed until my muscles relaxed as I slowly exhaled. Maybe I hadn't been as sure of my words as I lead Emmett to believe. Hearing him say that he loved me now, though, out loud, made up for everything. It hatched butterflies in my stomach that I couldn't believe were possible after all this time. With his dark, unruly curls framing those dimpled cheeks and bluest eyes, I was suddenly aware that I needed him. In a world of ever-changing chaos, he was an anchor. I had let him go once - I'd do everything in my power to make sure I never had to make that choice again.
"Um, Rose," Emmett said, clearing his throat. "This would be about the time you said you loved me, too, and maybe we'd kiss, and it wouldn't feel as awkward..."
Laughing, I realized I had been lost in my thoughts for too long after his confession.
"Sorry, Em." His eyes lit up at the nickname and brightened even further when I added, "I love you, too. I will in every lifetime."
He pressed his lips against mine then, confident and passionate. Time slowed as my heart sped up. He tasted exactly how I remembered he did, that strange, tantalizing mix of sweet salt, with his signature smell of sandalwood filling my nose. I had been waiting to get a taste of him again since that first night in front of Saint Maria's, and I was suddenly irritated that it had taken so long. What did I care about the courtship process in this society? Wasn't I beyond this time? My mindset certainly was, and I had nobody to impress here except the man I was determined to spend every one of my Forevers with.
Deepening the kiss, I ran my hands up the bands of muscle on his arms, sliding my fingers delicately up his neck and into his hair. He shivered, surprised, but pulled me closer to him.
The only place I ever felt small was in Emmett's burly arms; yet, there was nowhere I felt safer.
"Oi, McCarty, you cake-eating pansy-"
Emmett and I broke apart fast, my lips chilling. I glared at whoever interrupted us with his distasteful dialect. Of course, it was no other than Emmett's bar acquaintance Jack Fletcher, whose eyes went wide as he saw me. I realized, chagrinned, that he and the mass of men behind him must have thought I was a man, being in trousers and having my hair hidden beneath a cap. It explained his name-calling, though it hardly excused him. I was suddenly grateful Edmund wasn't here to hear it.
Emmett glowered at his friends as Jack backtracked. "Oh, what's this then?" Shock subsiding, his smirk changed. There was a disconcerting gleam that flashed across his dark eyes. "Look at that boys, barmaid Rosalie Hale clad in menswear." Then to me, he said, "That ain't suitable attire for a woman of your reputation, is it?"
When I thought my indignation toward Jack Fletcher couldn't grow any higher, he pulled stunts like this. And yet...somehow I wasn't understanding his sentiment.
"Pardon me?" I said, at the same time Emmett responded, "None of you will be smiling tomorrow when Rose here shows you up on the field."
Shock emanated off the group like heat waves, visible and uncomfortable. Usually, I thrived in a spotlight soaked with scandal, but my stomach was aching, tensing the muscles across my body.
Something was off.
Before any of his friends could criticize my participation in their planned baseball game, I steered attention back to the previous comment.
"What reputation are you referring to, Jack?" I demanded.
This put a smile back on Fletcher's face. "Ya know, I'm not all that sure how things run up there in Yankee town, but south of New York our claimed women are handcuffed." He waggled the third finger of his left hand in emphasis.
My body felt leaden with ice, chilling me to the bone. The world around me stilled, including Emmett.
"You saw the ad," Emmett noted, cursing. "Look, Jack, it's all bull-"
"No need to explain, McCarty. The boys and I were relieved to finally figure out what had you so hooked on this hotsy-totsy. But now we get it."
Every man I had graciously tolerated and served beverages to on countless nights was now grinning at me. I saw no faces, just a group of judging, hungry eyes, divvying up their newly found prize, and I understood what my gut was telling me. I knew the direction a story like this could go. Automatically, I took a step back. Emmett glanced from me to his friends, unsure what was happening. He took a step to the side, partially obscuring me from his friends' stares. Was his gut telling him something was wrong, too?
"What are you talking about?" Emmett demanded, suddenly loud and harsh.
Jack didn't pay Emmett any mind - his attention was only for me now. "Hey, Rose, if ya' want real experience I'm right here. But I reckon there're plenty of willing men out here for you to whore-around with, right boys?" Jack glanced behind him as he addressed the group, but he was the only one laughing. The others were smart enough to already be staggering back. Jack had barely turned back around when a fist connected with his jaw.
Emmett was on top of him before Jack could even think to fight back, and by the looks of their shared friend group, nobody was risking getting between the force of Emmett's obvious strength.
Nobody but me.
"Emmett!" I ran, trying to calculate how I could fit between two giant-sized men without being killed. "Emmett, that's enough!"
Fists flew, cracking jaws. A cloud of dust kicked up around their scuffle as I tried to grasp Emmett's shirt and pull him away. Every time, the fabric would slip through my fingers.
"One of you could help!" I shouted, glaring at the group of cowards watching their friends altercation with blank faces. Where was the sympathy? The loyalty?
"Rose, get out of the way!"
My head swung around in time to see Edmund lurch me away from a rogue kick that came swinging from the two tangled bodies on the ground. He shoved me gently further still, and then dove into the battle scene.
I stumbled on my feet, never having felt so helpless, like my small build would be able to do nothing except get in the way. How tremendously irritating!
Edmund wrestled Emmett and Jack apart far enough to get between them. I cringed as one of Jack's blows aimed for Emmett slammed into Edmund's shoulder instead. Now I had two men I was worried about. There had to be a way to stop the fighting before either one of them was severely hurt.
Looking around, I grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on and curled my fingers around it. Planting my feet, I waited for the right movement from the brawl, aimed my sights on my target, and flung my arm forward with as much strength as I humanly possessed. The baseball landed with a resounding SMACK against Jack Fletcher's temple. He thudded to the ground. Emmett and Edmund staggered back in surprise, a chorus of shock erupting behind me.
Emmett and Edmund turned to me, eyes wide. Victorious, I smiled.
Finally, the crowd behind me began to stir. A couple of familiar faces ran over to Jack, unmoving in the dirt.
"You're crazy," one of them said, igniting more accusations.
"You could've killed him."
"What's wrong with you?"
They could whine whatever they wanted about me, I only had eyes for Emmett as I scanned him for injuries. His upper lip was cut open, and future bruises were visibly forming across his face, but other than that and his dust-clad clothes he seemed fine. Nothing that couldn't be mended.
As their so-called friends either kept their distance or converged on Jack, who was now groaning back to consciousness, Edmund shook himself out of his awe. He waved me over. "Let's get out of here, Rose."
Surprisingly, Emmett didn't protest as I grabbed my bat and glove and joined Emmett's other side as Edmund and I hauled him quickly away from the battle scene. We didn't stop until the park was no longer in view.