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All These Pretty Clouds Are Gray

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After we had both given up on the conversation of my mortality, with no surrender evident on the horizon, it was easy enough to convince Edward that I’d had my fill of this particular human experience. Thankfully, it hadn’t taken much time to check off each item on the list of expected high school prom rituals -- dressing up, taking a picture, dancing, discussing the pros and cons of your vampire sweetheart biting you. The night felt more or less complete, and Edward expressed no reluctance as he helped me back into the passenger seat of his Volvo while the dance in the gym continued on, just as lively.

Though the discussion had been set aside for the moment, the lingering, sad tension in Edward’s body was obvious to me as he maneuvered the Volvo, always too quickly, out of the school parking lot. If I wasn’t so desperate to convince him to see my side, I would never bring up the topic again, if only to avoid causing him this apparent pain, even if I couldn’t understand it.

“Thank you,” I said in an effort to lighten the mood in the tiny dark car, “for bringing me here tonight.” 

Edward’s golden eyes shifted towards me briefly, a bit widened with surprise.

“I mean, I’m still not sure that prom was a necessary experience for me,” I scowled playfully. “But at least now I know exactly how handsome you are in a tux. That’s an experience I’m not sure I could go without.”

He chuckled softly, and I was relieved as I watched some of the tension in his shoulders melt away. “If that’s all it takes to please you, Bella, I will gladly start wearing this suit every day.”

“I’m tempted to take you up on that,” I said. “But it’s probably best to save it for special occasions. I already struggle enough with incoherency when I’m around you -- I probably shouldn’t invite any additional distractions.”

Edward parked us next to my beloved red Chevy in front of Charlie’s house, soft golden light spilling out of the living room windows. Gingerly, he took my small hand in his own, holding it up to his nose to inhale deeply before he placed an icy kiss in the center of my palm. “Then I promise only to distract you when it’s appropriate,” he mused. “Even though you are much more distracting to me than you give yourself credit for. Did I mention just how stunning you are?”

I felt my cheeks start to burn a little. It was difficult to feel like I was anything close to stunning next to Edward’s otherworldly beauty, especially while my right leg was still encased in a clunky walking cast.

“Charlie’s waiting up for you,” he murmured, letting our hands fall back down to rest between us, still clasped.

I groaned. “Of course he is.”

Edward smiled. “It’s only healthy that he should worry about what kind of trouble his wild teenage daughter might get into on prom night. He is well aware of the horrors caused by drunk driving, for example”

A second later, Edward was outside of the car, opening my door and carefully lifting me into his arms. “You do drive like a maniac,” I chided.

In another second, he was setting me back on my feet on my front porch step, his arms still circling my waist.  “Yes,” he said, his velvety voice rich with sarcasm, “and that is precisely what makes me such a dangerous boyfriend for you, Bella.”

I threw my arms around his neck, hoping to distract him before he could extract any dark truths from our playful banter, as I knew he would.  “Hey, you still owe me a goodnight kiss,” I whispered.

Though his brilliant eyes were still tinged with sadness, he flashed me his crooked smile as he gently cupped my face with one hand, obliging my request. His other arm stayed firm around my waist, fully supporting my weight as his lips pressed into mine, surely recalling the previous instances where his kisses had nearly made me faint. I leaned into him hungrily, my self-control disintegrating, totally willing to faint for this. But he carefully pulled away before I could attack him in full. I tried not to whine in protest. 

“Alice will be here in a moment to help you inside,” he said. “Then I’ll be back as soon as you’re ready for me.”

I nodded. Charlie would be much happier to see Alice tonight than he would Edward. Since my injuries, Alice had stepped up to assist me with those daily care tasks I could no longer do on my own, and my father was eternally grateful to her for it. He felt much differently about Edward. Without any involvement from Alice, I speculated, Charlie probably would not have been so on board with any scheming to get me to go to prom as long as Edward Cullen was my date. 

As was her way, Alice seemed to arrive right on cue. “Hey Edward. Hey Bella.” She materialized out of the darkness to join us on the porch. She had already traded her elegant prom dress for a more sensible, but still fashionable, outfit of a blouse and what were definitely designer jeans.  “I see you survived prom, after all.” She winked at me. “At least you don’t have any more broken limbs than the last time I saw you.”

I smiled back at her. “Don’t speak too soon. The night isn’t over yet.”

Edward released a long sigh. His sense of humor on this subject was not quite up to speed with his sister’s carefree confidence. “Please don’t encourage her, Alice,” he said before planting a kiss on my forehead. “Goodnight, Bella,” he teased, disappearing in a flash.

Alice handed me a pair of crutches, though I hadn’t noticed them with her a second before. I hadn’t needed them earlier in the night, as long as I’d had Edward nearby to keep me in an upright position. Of course, Alice was just as capable of carrying me around like a ragdoll, but her tiny, pixie-like frame would make it hard for Charlie to believe she could carry me up the stairs that easily. She opened the front door to my house, and I followed her with the crutches tucked beneath my arms.

“Bella?” Charlie called, his customary greeting.

“Hey Dad,” I responded. “Alice is here.”

“Hey Alice!” Charlie appeared from around the corner, looking pleasantly surprised, as I had expected. “How was the big dance?”

“It was great, Charlie.” Alice’s sweet soprano voice was impossibly charming. “Wasn’t it, Bella?”

I snorted. “It was fine .” I tried to make my face serious, looking back and forth between Charlie and Alice. “But that doesn’t mean any of you are allowed to conspire against me like that ever again.”

Charlie laughed a little. “Whatever you say, Bells.” Alice was laughing along with him.

We said our goodnights to Charlie and he returned to his position on the couch before the television, immersed in whatever game was being played by whatever team. He was allowing himself to be distracted now, knowing that I was home safe and sound, and no longer with Edward, so Alice was free to dash me up the stairs at vampire speed.

“You’re not really upset are you?” Alice asked as she carefully removed various pins and flowers from my meticulously styled hair, forming a pile on the bathroom counter. “I mean, I knew you weren’t going to be completely miserable.”

“I just don’t like surprises,” I grumbled. “But no, I’m not that upset anymore. Like you said, I survived, anyway.”

Alice hummed almost inaudibly to herself, seeming lost in thought for a moment as she slid the long zipper on the dress all the way down my back. “It wasn’t that Jacob Black kid that ruined it for you?” she asked. “For some reason, I didn’t see that he was coming tonight.”

A short giggle escaped my lips. “No, it wasn’t that. That was kind of funny, actually.” It was truly preposterous just how complicated the dynamic between myself and Jacob Black was at this point. I couldn’t let him know that I knew that he knew the truth about the Cullens, because he still didn’t know that he knew. I cleared my throat. “Actually, Edward and I had a bit of an argument. You know, about--”

“Ah,” Alice said, suddenly moving with haste as she helped me step out of the pool of dark blue chiffon that was now around my ankles. “Let’s get you in the shower. Sorry, there’s a lot of hairspray that you’re going to want to wash out.”

We didn’t speak then, as I stood under the warm spray of water, and I tried not to read too deeply into Alice’s reluctance to confer with me on that particular subject. I was sure she was under strict orders not to divulge certain pieces of information to me. As much as that drove me crazy, I couldn’t blame her for it. The conflict remained between Edward and myself, after all, and I was the only one with the privilege of having my thoughts protected. I had enough confidence in my own stubborn will to change his mind myself anyway.

Even so, I couldn’t help but consider that Alice would be a very valuable ally to my cause, if she was willing.

By the time Alice helped me hobble across the hallway and back into my bedroom, my look complete with soaking wet hair and my faithful old sweatpants and a t-shirt, I noticed that her eyes seemed far away. I sucked in a breath as I took a seat on the edge of my bed, holding out hope that she would share with me whatever vision she saw. I truly did hate surprises, so it could be difficult to spend time with Alice, who virtually always knew some sort of surprise about something.

“Alice?” I asked when it seemed like her gaze was back to the present moment. “Everything okay?”

She blinked, and then the tension that had just occupied her expression was gone and her usual, cheerful face returned. “Great!” she chirped. “I should get going.”

“Wait!” I said, futilely attempting to catch and hold onto her arm before she was on the other side of the room. “I just have a question for you.”

“Yes, Bella?” If I hadn’t known any better, I would say she looked -- and sounded -- nervous about something. She didn’t move from where she stood by the door, like she was ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

I inhaled deeply once. “You’ve seen it,” I said matter-of-factly. “You’ve seen that I will be like one of you.”

Alice took one full second to deliberate her response. “I’ve seen lots of things. They don’t always come to fruition.”

I nodded slowly, willing myself to remain calm. “And have you seen any visions like that… of me… recently?”

I thought I saw a split-second flash of panic in her golden eyes before she met my gaze with sincerity. “I really shouldn’t discuss this with you, Bella.”

Despite her evasions, her words felt like a confirmation of all my anxieties. The future had shifted, and from what she could see at this present moment, there was no chance for me to get what I wanted. My eternity with Edward shriveled down into however many decades I would be allowed to exist. Or worse, merely the years I had left before he no longer wanted me. Edward, in all his seventeen-year-old perfection, would certainly not want to waste so much of his existence with my fragile, clumsy, aging human body.

Before I could stop it, a low sob escaped from my throat. 

“Oh, Bella!” Alice sat beside me on the edge of the bed, throwing her tiny arms around my shoulders. “Please don’t be sad. You have to take what I say with a grain of salt, you know.”

“I know,” I sniffed, trying to compose myself. “But it’s just so hard, when it seems like he is so dead set against it. He says he loves me, that he won’t leave me. But if he won’t change me…” My voice cracked, and the end of my thought came out as barely a whisper. “It makes me think that he must not want me around for that long.”

Alice let go of me quickly, her body going stiff, eyes flickering to my cracked-open window.  “Edward will be back soon,” was all she said.

There was a moment of silence between us then, but my heart was suddenly thumping wildly in my chest. 

Those terrible words I had just said -- Alice wasn’t denying them.

“Alice?” I was helpless to the shaking in my voice. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

I looked up at her, fully expecting her to cut me off, for her to uphold whatever ridiculous code of secrecy her brother had enforced upon her. I really shouldn’t discuss this with you, Bella. Instead, her beautiful, angular face was twisted with conflict.

It took me no time to pounce, taking advantage of her apparent hesitation.

“Alice?” The shaking in my voice was gone. “Please tell me. Please. I know he doesn’t want you to tell me, but that’s so unfair, don’t you think? If there’s something I need to know, please just tell me. Whatever it is, I can take it. Please.”

She looked at me with a sad smile.

“Please? Will you tell me?”

Alice pressed a thin white finger to my lips, shushing me. “ Maybe ,” she said. “Let me think .”

Then her eyes glazed over, and I knew that she was weighing her options, mapping out the future according to her decision. I tried to focus on my breathing, not wanting my thoughts to run wild in the meantime. Whatever she might say to me, I felt fairly sure it wasn’t going to be good news , at least not the way I thought about things. So it was going to be bad. But how bad?

I didn’t have time to consider that to the fullest extent.

“Okay,” Alice’s clear voice snapped the both of us back into reality.

“Okay?” My heart was thrumming even louder, and twice as quick. Okay?

“I’m going to tell you something,” her voice was low and urgent. I had to really concentrate to catch every word she spoke. “But the second I say it to you, I’m going to have to get the hell away from here. I don’t want to run into Edward before he’s had a chance to explain this to you himself.”

My head bobbed up and down in a twitchy, anxious sort of a nod.

“But that means you have to let him explain, you understand?” I don’t think I’d ever seen Alice look at me so seriously. “He only wants what he thinks is best for you, and that’s why he’s doing this. Okay?”

It felt like my entire skeleton was vibrating with fear, anticipation. I nodded again.

“He’s planning to wait until you’re completely healed from the accident.” For the tiniest second, Alice’s eyes darted off to the future once more, double-checking her work. Just as quickly, she was back to intently holding my gaze. “But then, he’s going to leave you, leave Forks. We’re all going to leave Forks -- for good.”

Somewhere in the back of my head, I felt a bundle of dynamite detonate. My body was frozen in place, and the explosion immediately rendered me deaf, blind, and mute. 

I was only tangentially aware of Alice standing, squeezing my hand, and fleeing the room. “Goodbye, Bella,” she might have said.

And then I was alone.