Title: Watching, Not Seeing
Author: Girl Who Writes
Characters: Bella/Edward, Alice/Jasper/Jessamine
Word Count: 6429
Genre: Romance, Drama, Humour
Summary: Five times Bella missed the signs (and one time she didn't).
Notes: ! I have been nominated for several Twific Awards, which is INCREDIBLE. I would absolutely love it if you could vote for me in Round 1 - I can't add links to my notes, so google 'TwiFc Fandom Awards' and you'll be able to find the page 3 !
This fic was written for 5 + 1 of Jaliceweek, and was something a little fun for my 3some verse. It's living rent-free in my head, so yeah. There will be more.
She sees them that very first day. She's met a lot of people - apparently, the Police Chief's daughter enrolling was a big deal. But the Cullens, they stand out.
And whilst it's Edward Cullen that imprints himself on her brain, she takes note of the whole family when they walked into the cafeteria. But especially the three trailing after the others.
The tall blond boy is hand in hand with the smallest girl, whose arm is around the waist of the tallest girl, her fingers tangled in her belt loops, the blonde girl's hand over hers. They look like they fit together, and Bella is too distracted by the redhead (Edward) to really consider them too deeply. It won't be until later, until she and Edward are… something, that she'll reflect upon the rest of his family.
"Those are the Cullens' kids," Jessica said, leaning over when she catches Bella staring. "Dr and Mrs Cullen went full-Brady Bunch with them. My mom works at the hospital with Dr Cullen, and Mrs Cullen can't have kids, so they adopted some and took some family in.
"Alice - the tiny one in the skirt, Emmett - the big guy, and Edward - the redhead were all adopted, I think when they were older? The two blonde girls are twins, and Mrs Cullen is their aunt - their parents died when they were kids and Mrs Cullen is their only living family member," Jessica continued, returning most of her focus to her lunch. "And Jasper, the blond guy - he's related to Dr Cullen, and he's just living with them, but Mom said that he was 'trouble with a capital T' and had to make a fresh start or something."
"They're all good students, and they keep to themselves," Angela broke in. "Alice and Edward are nice, I've never spoken to the others."
"Rosalie's a bitch," Lauren interjected with a frown. Jennifer snorted as she took a sip of her soda.
"You deserved it, Lau," Jennifer said. "But yeah, she is a bitch."
"Austin," Jessica said to Bella, as she motioned down the other end of the table towards a generic blond boy, "tried asking Jessamine out when they arrived last year. It… did not go well, and Rosalie and Lauren got involved."
Bella considered them, clustered around the table in near silence; Edward was staring at the orange he was rolling under one hand, one of the blonde girls and the big guy were talking in low voices, and the small one - Alice, was flashing her phone at one of the blonde girls at random intervals, accepting a nod or a shake of the head. She was practically in the lap of Jasper, who had his chin on her head.
"What grades are they in?" Bella asked.
"Alice, Edward, and Jasper are juniors. Emmett, Rosalie, and Jessamine are seniors," Angela said.
"Mom says that having one high school student in the house is hard enough," Jessica said mildly, "and that Mrs Cullen must drink heavily if she's got three seniors and three juniors."
"They look nice," Bella said awkwardly, having nothing else to say. She lets the conversation move on, and only looks back over once. It's Edward who has captured her attention, but she notices the whole table looking over at her. None of them looked particularly welcoming as they watched her, with an oddly similar manner. Edward is leaning forward, his gaze the hardest.
Unlike the other three, the trio are clad in almost coordinating black and white outfits, with Jasper's arms tight around Alice, her hands resting against his. The blonde girl is almost obscuring Alice from Bella's line of sight.
Alice is so small, she stands out - even in heels, and especially when compared so closely to her boyfriend and sister. She looks like a doll, really; the same way the blonde girls look like models, and the boys all look like Grecian statues.
That's when the blonde girl shifts, and she turns back to Angela and Jessica, and tries to get the golden-eyed family out of her head.
It only takes a month to become something with Edward. To meet him and speak with him and learn more than one of his secrets. He's mentioned introducing his family more than once, but it hasn't happened yet. Soon, Edward promises. But she hears the fondness, the exasperation, the connection he has with those people in every story, every eye-roll, every mention of their names and she wants to know them outside of anecdotes.
So, she watches them. She watches the way that Emmett ruffles Edward's hair and looks horrified at the amount of gel Edward uses; the way that Rosalie and Jasper seem to have little jokes the others aren't included in; the way Emmett throws his arm around Jess when they leave school, and the blonde girl just grins.
The way Alice always fixes Rosalie's hair and accessories before they walk into school, or Jasper always escorts Alice everywhere. That even though they never consume anything, Rosalie always chooses orange soda and the green salad, and Jasper always chooses milk.
So many little details that she tucks away for later. Some things don't need explaining (the hair bands on Emmett's wrist, just under his watch - for Rosalie, whenever she needs them); but others do. Others are noticeably strange, obvious quirks that really don't fall into either 'vampire' or 'human cover' columns, and those are the ones Bella can't resist investigating.
"Why does Jessamine always wear gloves?" she asks Edward one day. The gloves are another Cullen oddity that has been noticed by the entire student body; that no matter what the weather is, Jessamine wears a wide selection of gloves - some that Lauren and Whitney have identified as being more expensive than Bella's entire wardrobe. Bella's seen Alice's locker, with two pairs neatly folded in a zip-lock bag, labelled 'Jessamine', and she's seen Jasper pull a set out of his backpack and pass them over to Jess.
She can't think of a scenario where someone might need two spare pairs of emergency gloves. And the whole school constantly smells like lemon disinfectant - no way would it be about cleanliness.
"Ah," Edward says, looking down. "Well, I've explained to you my gift?"
"Mind-reading," Bella repeated obediently, picking at her lunch.
"Well, all vampires get some kind of talent or enhanced trait - like humans might be smarter or more beautiful or gifted," Edward said. "Some are more noticeable than others, and some are…"
"Magic?" Bella offers and Edward offers her a lopsided grin.
"Supernaturally enhanced traits from our humanity," he corrects. "There's no way of predicting what give a vampire might have, but passive gifts are more common than active ones, according to Carlisle. Emmett, Rosalie, Esme, and Carlisle all have passive gifts; myself, Alice, Jessamine, and Jasper all have active gifts."
"Alice has… visions of the outcomes of choices," Edward said delicately. "Emmett is the strongest vampire I've ever met; Rosalie is inhumanly beautiful; Esme has the capacity to love that has never been equally, and Carlisle has incredible strength and control over some of our more… unpleasant urges. Jessamine and Jasper both have empathic gifts."
"Empathic? Like emotions?" Bella frowned, looking back over to where Alice, Jessamine, and Jasper were talking quietly, pushing food around their trays.
"Yes - Jasper can feel and alter emotions within a moderate range," Edward said. "A difficult gift to manage, and one of the reasons he struggles with our diet; all of the urges and emotions we feel towards human blood can be detected by him."
"So, he can feel if someone is sad or happy? And make them feel differently?" Bella frowned.
"He can, and he's extremely good at it," Edward said, "but he doesn't really actively use his gift unless the emotional environment around him is uncomfortable. He'll make it noticeable to let you know he's doing it, though. One of the family rules."
"Huh. And Jessamine's is different?" Bella watched as Jessamine nodded at Alice and spun around so the smaller girl could braid her hair, Alice beaming.
"Jessamine's is reserved for tactile interaction - she has to be touching a person to know and influence their emotional state," Edward said. "And, in the time we've known her, it's evolved to include some inanimate objects that came into contact with strong emotion - letters, diaries, rings… she can detect the emotional 'residue'."
"Wow," Bella said. "So the gloves?"
"The gloves block it all out," Edward said, slightly disapprovingly. "A barrier so her gift can't activate. She needs to desensitise to it, train herself more, but she disagrees with me and prefers the gloves - especially in school."
Bella nodded, and looked back over at the other Cullens. The idea that Jasper had to walk around and be exposed to every little flicker of emotion, that Jessamine only had to touch an old book and understand its history… she almost felt sorry for them.
Later, she's headed to her truck when she spots Jessamine and Alice walking to the BMW, and they're holding hands - which isn't unusual, it's only been a few weeks and she's already desensitised to seeing the pair hand in hand; knowing how old Edward truly is, how old she suspects the rest of the family is, it's less weird and more charmingly anachronistic, seeing Alice and Jess's hands tangled together.
But something about the picture doesn't seem right.
It's not until she's in the truck that she realises - Jessamine wasn't wearing gloves, just palm to palm with Alice.
Bella shuddered. The idea of sharing her emotions like that, so intentionally, it seemed too… intimate. But Jessamine's gift made sense of her closeness with Alice - of course, an empath would befriend such a happy girl. Alice was always smiling, Edward's stories always painted her as a frothy bubble of happiness, and after a day of hanging around so many angsty teenagers, it made sense that Jessamine would need something positive and comforting.
It was sweet; Bella had never had a friend who she was that close to before.
Her head is pounding and she can taste blood. For a moment, the world swims and she groans, trying not to move as pain races up her leg, down her arm, around her head.
She can hear someone talking, chuckling in the background, and in a second, everything swoops back into her brain and she chokes.
James. The ballet school. Her mom.
"Welcome back," James says jovially, and she feels like vomiting.
She's not sure what he's saying, everything sounds like the way molasses moves, and he's looming over her grinning, too wide and bloodthirsty.
"…I would just like to rub it in, just a little bit. The answer was there all along, and I was so afraid Edward would… ruin my fun. Your little friend. I was surprised to see her in the clearing. I remember, all those years ago - she smelt so delicious… the one and only time my prey escaped me.
"You see, the vampire who was so fond of this little victim made the choice that your Edward was too weak to make. When the old one knew I was after his little friend, he stole her from the asylum where he worked — I never will understand the obsession some vampires seem to form with you humans — and as soon as he freed her he made her safe. She didn't even seem to notice the pain, poor little creature," James paced, and for some reason, the red light on the camera feels like it's boring into her brain.
"I suppose they can take some comfort in that - they get her, and I. Get. You." His mouth stretches in a shark grin, and then there's a terrible, loud noise that makes the room spin, and a shadow over her
It's Alice, tiny Alice, in a ladylike dress and cardigan, crouching in front of her and growling.
"It's the lady of the moment!" James sounds delighted. "Little Mary! How well you look."
"Leave Bella alone," Alice says through gritted teeth, but they all know that they are way past negotiations or verbal threats. This will come down to a fight between the Hunter, and the diminutive girl in the ballet flats and panty-hose.
Where was Edward? Bella wonders. Why was Alice alone? Where were Jessamine and Jasper? The rest of the family?
Alice and James explode into motion at the same time, and even trying to follow their motion is impossible, beyond her visual range when she doesn't have a concussion - trying to follow the blur of black and blue makes her head feel worse and she closes her eyes and wills the universe to fix this.
There's a screech, and Alice is on the ground; her dress is torn, her eyes are black, and James is holding her by the throat, his knees pinning her legs.
"You were perfect back then, you know that?" He gets right into Alice's face when he says that, his venom flecking Alice's face, and she lets out another warning noise, and Bella knows she's crying, but she can't help it because everything hurts and Alice is caught, and she doesn't know what is happening.
"You were perfect, and that old man ruined you," James spat in her face, and Alice lets out a gasp as his grip tightens. "Such a waste." Bella's head swims and she can't make out whatever else James says to Alice, but her hands are trying to pull his away from her neck and it all feels like a terrible, terrible dream.
Before the worst can happen, before Alice's head is torn off, there is an explosion of sound, and James is off Alice, and Alice is half-scrambling towards Bella, her face a portrait of terror.
What happens next looks like something out of Dante's Inferno and haunts Bella's nightmares for weeks to come. Jess and Jasper absolutely decimate James, leaving Emmett to build a fire from broken boards. Alice is holding her hand, and looks so very fragile, and Bella notices how shiny her eyes are.
That's all she sees for a moment because the world turns black. But she's back a few moments later, with Edward and Carlisle leaning over her, talking in low voices. But her vision spins and she turns her head to stop the rising nausea, and all she can see is Alice cradled in Jasper's arms, Jess talking to her, and smoothing her hair, as Alice shakes her head and grips Jasper's shirt tighter. She's wearing one of Jess's sweaters over her ruined dress, and it swallows her up, like a child.
For some reason, she worries that Alice has been badly hurt, that James hurt Alice because of her, and that makes her start to cry and everyone is trying to settle her, find out what is making her cry and she can't find the words. It doesn't matter anyway, because everything goes hazy and then she's gone again, and when she wakes up, she's in the hospital.
In the aftermath, Bella finds herself at the Cullens' more often; with her leg in a cast and her arm in a sling, Charlie prefers for her not to be alone in the house and risk another accident. It's not exactly a hardship for her to spend all that extra time with Edward.
Except… something is different at the house. It's stiller, quieter. Esme and Emmett are still nice to her, welcoming, and Rosalie just looks at her like a cat presenting a dead pigeon - like always - but something isn't right. The house is too still, like it's waiting or holding its breath.
But it's not until Angela approaches her in the cafeteria at school that she realises what is off.
"Bella," Angela asks in a low voice, with Ashley tagging along. "I don't want to be nosy or anything, but we've noticed… is Alice Cullen okay?"
Bella nods immediately, of course Alice is fine, and all three girls look over at the Cullen table, where the family returned to after spring break. Alice is leaning against Jess's side, her legs thrown over Jasper's knee. Instead of one of her elaborate outfits that coordinates with Jasper and Jess, she's wearing loose black pants, a t-shirt, and a zip-front hoodie. She still looks beautiful, better than anyone should in that particular outfit, but not like she used to. She's not smiling, either, just staring off into space and nodding or shaking her head at Jasper and Jess.
"She looks miserable," Ashley says in a low voice. And Alice does. She looks so unhappy, and both Jasper and Jess are clearly focused on her. Jess has turned sideways on the bench, so that Alice's head is against her chest, and Jess is looking at her upside-down, their fingers intertwined. But it still looks like a tableau of sadness.
"Should we ask?" Angela offers.
"I'll ask Edward," Bella affirms and the girls return to their lunches, only sneaking a few looks over their shoulder.
Edward's response to her questions is just that Alice is having a hard time coping with James' information about her past. That Jasper will take care of her - Jess, too. And for the next few weeks, when she's at the house and they aren't upstairs in one of the rooms she isn't welcome in, she watches Jess and Jasper carefully fold themselves around her; a hand carding through Alice's hair; hands clasped tightly together. On one memorable day, she watches Alice cling to Jasper's back as he moves around the house, only lured down by Jess when Jasper and Emmett want to go hunting.
The mood starts to lift after spring break, and Alice starts smiling again, starts laughing. And Bella is relieved that whatever Jasper and Jess said to her, did for her, worked.
The invitation is offered at lunch, and Bella is oddly touched at the gesture from someone that she's not that close with. But the classes at Forks High are small, and most students have known each other since childhood, so it's natural that the friendship groups would blend together.
Either way, Ashley Dowling appears at the lunch table with Tara and June in tow.
"We're going to Port Angeles tonight to look for prom dresses," Ashley says, taking a seat between Angela and Lauren. June bumps Jessica with her hip and she rolls her eyes and moves over. Tara looks nervously at the empty chair between Bella and Jasper, vacated when Alice decided to perch half on Jasper and half on Jessamine. Jasper's the only boy up this end of the table - Edward's gone off with Emmett and Rosalie for some reason that had him shaking his head. Jasper's absorbed in his phone, Jessamine has her nose in a book, and Alice is listening to the conversation, whilst she works on homework.
Bella obligingly slides over next to Jasper for Tara; Edward's warned her that most humans are nervous around them - they are apex predators - and Tara was just standing there, looking slightly horrified at the proximity to Jasper. She smiles at Bella gratefully as she takes the seat.
"Do you guys want to join us?" Ashley continued. "We can get pizza afterwards?"
Jessica, Angela, and Lauren all agree quickly, and Tara looks over at Bella.
"Bella? …Alice? Jessamine? You in?" she asks, and even Bella hears how nervous she is to include Alice and Jessamine in the offer.
Alice looks up and looks over at Jessamine, who lowers the book with a blank expression on her face. Jasper chuckles at something, but his gaze is still fixed on his phone.
"Jess…" Alice begins, and Jess just gives her the side-eye. Alice bites her lip and gives her a hopeful look. Jasper's clearly trying not to laugh behind his phone.
"Jessie," Alice leans forward to rest her chin on Jessamine's shoulder, and Bella - and most of the table - is watching the exchange curiously. It's the most animated that the Cullens have really ever been, before an audience.
"Now you're playing with fire, darlin'," Jasper mutters, and June catches the endearment, exchanging grins with Angela at how cute it is.
Jessamine's wearing gloves, Bella notices, and wonders if that's an advantage or disadvantage right now.
A silent conversation passes between the two girls and Jessamine lets out a sigh. "This is not an agreement to attend prom, homecoming, spring fling or whatever other dances occur between now and your graduation," she says, eyes rolling to the ceiling. "This is looking at dresses."
"Agreed," Alice says quickly, a grin splitting her face. "We're in," she says to Tara. "Bella, too."
Everyone looks slightly surprised at the addition of them, and for a split second Bella wonders if Tara was just being polite and didn't actually want them to join in. But she shrugs it off as the rest of the Cullens finally appear in the cafeteria, and everyone tries not to make direct eye-contact with Rosalie.
There are enough of them driving down that they have to take three cars - Alice borrows the Volvo from Edward as soon as the final bell rings. At some point, Angela loops her arm through Bella's and she ends up in the car with Angela, Jessica, and Lauren.
Port Angeles only has a handful of shops with dresses appropriate for prom, and the girls are quick to dive into the racks. Alice is quick to supervise Bella, peeling off several dresses and handing them to her with a knowing look - Alice would never let anyone pick out something unflattering in her presence.
Jessamine… well, there's no other word for it than 'skulks', around the area with the dark dresses, peeling off a black beaded number that Bella could imagine Morticia Addams wearing in her teenage years. Alice huffs and bounces over to the tall blonde with her hands on her hips.
It's then she hears some laughter, and Jessamine is smiling and allowing Alice to pick out dresses for her, including a midnight blue one that seems so bright against the black and grey.
Alice picks up some frothy, brightly coloured numbers for herself, but Bella already knows that she won't buy them - that Alice would order her prom dress from some expensive designer label, not a polyester number three years out of date.
Bella finds herself having fun, as they all change and model their options - Tara turns out to have similar taste to Bella, and they get into a debate about the merits of pairing evening wear with Dr Martens or Chucks. June and Lauren both go for ballgowns that everyone agrees suit them. Alice fusses around Angela and Ashley, finding them dresses that look amazing and both girls agree they wouldn't have picked out.
Jessamine is finally bullied into a dressing room at the same time Bella is, and Bella focuses on her own dresses, snatching only a glimpse of Jessamine in the black dresses she chose herself.
Bella settles on the olive green dress Alice found for her, that everyone agrees looks beautiful on her. It's strange having this gathering of … friends. And everyone has been nice and enthusiastic - no giggling behind hands or whispered mockery. And for a moment, Bella feels really guilty no one invited Rosalie. But Jessamine is the only senior with them, and she's really only there because of Alice. It wasn't intentional to leave Rosalie out…
The girls are still discussing shoe and hair options for Bella when Jessamine slips out of the dressing room in the dark blue dress. No one is really paying attention to the Cullens, and Alice is entirely focused on Jessamine, saying something that Bella can't hear but Jessamine nods and takes her hair down, messy blonde waves framing her face. The colour suits her, bringing colour to her face, and creating a striking contrast with her golden eyes. And she looks gorgeous, like she should be in a movie; the dress spills down her body, like it was tailored for her. It's a surprise to see her out of her uniform of jeans and a t-shirt.
Alice is bouncing, clapping her hands before she reaches up to straighten Jessamine's straps, and Jessamine just stares down at her, smiling indulgently, as Alice insistently pulls off her gloves and makes Jessamine twirl. And for a second, Jessamine just smiles at Alice, like she's the only other person in the room.
Jessamine and Alice have a quiet conversation before she slips back into the dressing room, and the moment is broken.
By the time they gather up their things, and purchases are made, the store is closing. Both Jessamine and Alice excuse themselves to make the drive back to Forks rather than go for pizza, but no one seems surprised. It's still a fun night; Bella finds herself sitting between Tara and Ashley, who are both excellent company. Ashley is into classic novels, like her, and wants to study English Literature in college. Tara is outrageously funny and practically begs Bella to take her to the Res so she can stalk some of the 'hot boys' there sometime.
It's a good night - a better one than Bella expected.
She gets a ride home with Jessica, Lauren, and Angela since she lives closest to them; Jessica and Lauren have a frankly brutal discussion of the dresses both rejected and purchased, Jessica laments the fact that she's going to have to make a trip to Seattle to find something decent.
"Did you see Jessamine Hale, though?" Lauren asked, scrolling through music. "The girl is a knock-out once you put her in a dress."
"Why wouldn't she be, she's Rosalie's sister," Jessica replies, focused on driving. "Did she pick out a dress?"
"No, but she tried on this blue strappy one and I was like 'excellent, just what my self-esteem needed, seeing how good you look in that'," Lauren huffed. "And Alice made her take her hair down and it was over for me. Bella, can you find out from Edward or Alice where Jessamine gets her hair done? Because I swear, I have never once seen that girl with her natural roots."
"Probably someplace in Seattle," Angela offered, looking thoughtful.
"More likely Alice does it for her," Bella says, and then regretted it as all three girls looked at her - it felt like she'd given away something personal about the family.
"There is no freaking way I'd let my sister anywhere near my hair," Jessica mutters, and Lauren snorts with laughter.
"Did you see how Jessamine looked at Alice?" Angela asked tentatively. "When she came out of the dressing room?"
Jessica nodded as she carefully switched lanes. "Yeah, June and I noticed," she said.
"Noticed what?" Lauren looked over her shoulder, curious.
"Just the way she looked at Alice… I think Jessamine likes her," Angela bit her lip. "Romantically."
"You don't look at a sister or a cousin like that, that's for sure," Jessica agreed. "You think Alice knows?"
"Or maybe Alice is cheating on Jasper with Jessamine," Lauren looks delighted for the potential for drama.
"I didn't say that, Lauren," Angela said sharply before deflating. "I just… the look on Jessamine's face. Alice was turned away from me, I couldn't see how she was looking at Jessamine. But god, I don't think anyone has ever looked at me that way. I didn't think people looked at other people that way outside of old movies."
"So the rumours are true? Jessamine is gay?" Jessica said. "Man, it makes you and Austin look like a-holes, Lau."
"When Jessamine turned Austin down, she was really… blunt," Angela explained to Bella. "Like, scary-blunt. And she was by herself at the time, without Alice or Jasper. And Austin was really embarrassed, so he started to say some really bad stuff, and call her some really bad names. Rosalie appeared out of nowhere and just started destroying Austin, so Lauren got involved, and it was a huge mess."
"And Emmett Cullen was just laughing and telling Austin how lucky Alice and Jasper weren't around for 'the Sophomore Smackdown'," Jessica finished. "Can you imagine little Alice beating anyone up?"
"No, but I can imagine Jasper gutting someone just because they looked at him funny," Lauren said. "It's sexy. I wonder if he's going to need a shoulder to cry on when Jessamine and Alice get caught…"
"Guys," Bella was half-laughing at the story she'd just been spun. "Trust me. Jessamine and Alice aren't like that. Alice is so in love with Jasper - last time I was at the Cullens, Jasper and Alice were dancing together. Like, romantic swaying to old records. I think that Jessamine had a really hard life and Alice just gets her. Jasper too." She thinks back to Jasper and Jessamine lying together on the couch, watching some foreign movie.
"She must be worried about next year," Angela said slowly. "Going away to college alone? Without Alice?"
"But it's weird, right? That Jessamine is closer to Alice than she is to her own twin?" Lauren offered, clearly not willing to give up on the potential for gossip.
"You've met Rosalie, right?" Jessica said, and everyone laughed, the conversation slowly turning away from the Cullen sisters.
By the time Jessica pulled up in front of the Swan house, Bella was texting Edward, letting him know that the gossip du jour was that Jessamine was irrevocably and passionately in love with Alice, following it up with a laughing emoji.
God, as if anyone could imagine Alice being with anyone but Jasper.
Staying over at the Cullens was always an interesting experience. On paper, Charlie assumed that Bella was having a sleep-over with Alice (a willing alibi and co-conspirator in these matters), but Bella didn't actually spend a lot of time with Alice - Edward monopolised her time, and she couldn't say she didn't enjoy it.
It wasn't until she was physically slumping on the couch that she admitted she needed to sleep, and whilst Edward looked disappointed for a moment, he nodded and escorted her to his room.
The bed and mattress were clearly new and arranged next to the wall of glass. Her bag was sitting at the end of the bed - Esme's doing, of course.
"Bedding," Edward said suddenly. "I'm sorry Bella, let me just go and fetch some."
Unwilling to let an opportunity to explore (or snoop) through the house, Bella trailed after him, down the hall of the second floor; this wasn't an area of the house that Bella ventured very often - it housed Alice's huge bedroom, closet, and ensuite, and Jasper's study slash library. Edward had never mentioned whatever space that Jessamine possessed, but maybe she was like Emmett - there were enough rooms in the house for everyone to find their own place.
"Alice?" Edward called out, knocking on the door opposite Alice's and venturing in.
Alice was perched on Jasper's lap in a silky blue slip that made her look less like a teenage girl than ever. She smiled welcomingly as Bella trailed after Edward, looking around at Jasper's space.
One entire wall was devoted to bookshelves. Another wall had a bunch of photographs arranged on it - mostly of various arrangements of Alice, Jessamine, and Jasper, but Bella could easily pick out other family members, and a handful of people who Bella didn't recognise (though, with a sinking feeling, she bet she knew exactly which one of the breath-taking women was Tanya).
Jessamine was sprawled out on a long couch, her blonde hair knotted messily on top of her head, clad in one of Jasper's hoodies and the tiniest pair of shorts that Bella had ever seen - Bella wasn't sure she had ever seen Jessamine so exposed before. She wasn't wearing her gloves either, which made sense - she was at home, where she felt safe.
"I need some bedding for Bella - Esme said you had some," Edward said stiffly.
"Of course, let me get it," Alice hopped off Jasper's knee and flitted to the door. "What do you need, Bella?"
Following Alice into her bedroom, Bella was pleasantly surprised by the space; she had assumed Alice would have an overly girly space, bursting with items, but it was full of light and understated - the most chaotic thing in the room was a drawing table covered in sewing materials.
Alice moved towards the doors on the opposite wall, flinging them open to reveal one of the most incredible closets Bella had ever seen, and she was hardly interested enough in fashion to have seen many. Both walls were covered in racks and shelves laden with clothing, and motion-sensor lights lit up as Alice moved down the hallway-like space.
Bella quickly realised that these weren't Alice's clothes - one side of the room was for Jasper and one was for Jessamine; each self and rack had a careful label - 'Jasper - tees - graphic' or 'Jess - jeans - skinny'. At the end of the hall were racks and shelves holding sunglasses, bags, watches, jewellery and gloves, just as carefully arranged and labelled as the rest of the closet.
"You, Jessamine, and Jasper share a closet?" Bella asked, pausing to admit a star-print leather jacket on Jess's rack.
"Yup," Alice called over her shoulder. "It makes sense - I mean, I've got the space." She motioned to the wall; Bella marvelled there was an actual ladder to allow Alice to access the shelves that ran up all ten-feet of the wall.
"Doesn't Jessamine have a room?" Bella asked. A pair of black stilettos on Jess's shoe rack caught her eye; she couldn't even imagine Jess wearing such shoes.
"No, she shares with Jasper and I," Alice said, taking a sharp left that Bella didn't even notice.
As Bella turned the corner, her eyes widened again. This was Alice's section, twice as big as the first space, and twice as full as the front section. She was staring down a ten-foot wall covered in shoes of every imaginable style and colour. She looked over her shoulder to see a mirror image space behind her, except the wall was covered in handbags.
Humming, Alice pulled open a slim cupboard and began pulling out bedding - two plush pillows, a quilt, and a blanket, as well as a set of pristine sheets that unused.
"Here you go," she said, passing the pillows to Bella, and picking up the rest of the bedding. Bella was transfixed by the sheer number of evening dresses Alice owned - no one needed to own that many tulle dresses.
Obediently following Alice out of what had to be clothing nirvana for the right person, Bella looked over the bedroom one last time. The low bed seemed huge, piled with pillows. She spied one of Jasper's hoodies draped over a chair, several pairs of shoes scattered around the place; there was something oddly sweet about the hardcover book on the nightstand, along with two bottles of nail polish, a hairbrush, and a tablet. Jasper and Alice were like any married couple, really.
Alice, too, appeared to favour family photos over art with several framed on the wall, dating back decades. Polaroids, photo strips, black and white, sepia, colour… the photos seemed to span more than one lifetime, documenting the family through the years.
There are two photos framed on her dresser that Bella spots just before she walks out; one of Alice and Jasper that looked decades old and might even be a wedding photo, in an ornate silver frame; and a cloudy orange-tinted polaroid of Alice and Jessamine holding each other tight in a slim gold frame. The smiles in both photos are wide and joyful, and Bella wishes she could get a closer look. There's nothing forced or awkward about a Cullen family photo, apparently.
Bella absently wonders if she'll ever be as close to the Cullen sisters, when she's changed, as Alice and Jessamine clearly are.
Hurrying up the steps to the second floor of the Cullen house, Bella headed left, towards Alice's bedroom. Edward would be home with Emmett in a few hours, and this wasn't a conversation she wanted to have with him in the house - and of all the family members, Alice was the one who will probably answer her questions without immediately jumping into action or interrogating her.
Knocking as she walked in, she began, "Alice…" And froze, all the blood in her body rushing to her face.
All three of them were completely naked, clothing scattered around the room. Alice and Jessamine were passionately entwined on the bed, locked in deep kisses, their bodies rolling together. And Jasper knelt behind them, moving between Alice's legs in a steady rhythm, his hands on her hips, his eyes closed and head thrown back. Groans and sighs filled the room, and the entire scene felt somewhere between a communion and an obscenity.
"Oh my god." Bella backed away, pulling the door shut after her. She felt like she'd never stop blushing. She'd never get that image out of her head.
Stumbling towards the stairs, Bella sat down to bury her face in her hands, as what she knew about the Cullens rearranged itself.
The way Jasper and Jessamine always moved protectively around Alice.
The way Alice seemed to reach for both of them when they were out of reach.
Jessamine holding Alice's hand without her gloves.
The way Alice and Jessamine both seemed to borrow Jasper's hoodies and sweaters indiscriminately, even when Edward had told her how important scent - especially the scent of a mate - was to vampires.
How she almost never saw one without the other two in tow.
Bella looked up to see Esme and Rosalie peering at her from the bottom of the stairs.
"Are you okay?" Esme looked worried.
"I came to see Alice," Bella managed and Rosalie snorted as Esme shook her head, trying not to smile.
"Ah," Esme said, moving up the stairs to sit beside Bella. "Yes, Carlisle was very thorough with the soundproofing when we moved in."
Bella shook her head. "I didn't know they were like that," she said. "Why didn't Edward ever tell me?"
Rosalie was actively laughing at her now. "You didn't know?" she repeated.
"Rose," Esme said warningly before turning back to Bella. "Edward did imply that you weren't aware. He preferred not to bring it up, fearing your condemnation. We did try to talk to him about it, but he was… insistent."
"Tell the truth, Esme," Rosalie said, with a smirk on her face. "Edward hates that they're together, all three of them, and is so offended by it that he pretends it isn't happening."
Bella looked back up towards Alice's bedroom door. "I'm such an idiot," she groaned. "Jessamine must hate me."
Rosalie shrugged. "No arguments here," she said and avoided the pencil Esme winged at her head. "But Edward intentionally led you on, so he is partially responsible. Just apologise to them, and they'll forgive you."
Bella groaned again. "That involves looking them in the face," Bella complained, burying her face in her hands. "I'm going to kill Edward."
"Is she okay?" Alice bit her lip and looked worriedly at the closed bedroom door, as Jess and Jasper finished snickering at the look on Bella's face. "Do you think I should go after her?"
"Esme and Rosalie will find her," Jess said, kissing her cheek.
"I did warn Edward she'd find out eventually. She probably won't be able to look us in the eye for weeks," Alice complained, resting her head against Jess's shoulder.
"There will be a gushing apology," Jasper said, running his hand soothingly over her back.
"Probably some really awkward questions," Jess grinned.
"Be nice," Alice huffed, but they could see the hint of a smile.
"Now, are you finished worrying about Bella?" Jasper asked in a low voice, rolling his hips against Alice, who gasped and groaned.
"All eyes on you, cowboy," Jess said with a smirk, leaning forward to press a harsh kiss to Jasper's lips, one that he returned eagerly, as Alice whined impatiently between them.
They knew that what they had might not make sense or look 'right' to other people. But they were happiest together; it wasn't depraved or embarrassing or scandalous. It was sanctuary, affection, protection.
Love. Happiness. Joy.
It was home.