Not even the moon is out tonight making the liquid darkness falling around the beam from her phone's flashlight feel extra heavy. Rose shivers in the late November gust that's cutting right down to the bone, just about.
Rose watches with a great amount of disdain as Bella wraps her bare fingers around a splintery board and pulls it loose. The old nails squeak as they're wrenched out of the decaying wood.
"What?" the girl says, looking over her shoulder with her stupid dark grin. "Do you want me to drive you home?"
She thinks of her warm bed at home, the fancy hot chocolate her dad brought back from Mexico, her boxed set of Charmed waiting by the DVD player. She could go on all night. But no. Really and truly, no, because for some godforsaken reason, she let the endlessly infuriating girl in front of her push just enough buttons to get her out here tonight in the icy wind and pitch blackness to… to break into a fucking house.
"No," she mutters instead, shoving her wind-tangled hair over her shoulder. "A dare's a dare."
Bella laughs a little and tosses aside the board in favor of another crookedly hammered one that comes away just as effortlessly. One would think nails would lend a bit more permanence, but maybe that's the fear talking. And Rose Hale doesn't do fear. Especially in front of sulky, sleep-deprived girls who seem to get a weird thrill out of making her look stupid. Trying to, at least, Rose thinks with a wry smile.
Bella's dark hair shines partly silver in Rose's light. It's halfway down her back and flows all over the place when she glides through the halls at school. And soft, remember? the little voice in the back of Rose's head adds, which goes pointedly ignored.
With one final shove on Bella's part, the grimy window slides open.
A fiery blur of sensory overload and bloodlust robbed the last eight years from her. Forks High was supposed to be her grand re-introduction to the world of humans after spending almost a decade in rural Idaho trying to curb the razor's edge of her affliction.
Bella expected a lot of what she's gotten out of it. Constant temptation from the blood racing through her classmates, alienation because there's just something a little...off about her, don't you think?, and pure, mind-melting boredom from the tedium of human life when she could so easily be running across the ocean floor or free-climbing deadly cliff faces or anything, really.
But venom ate away what was left of her adolescence, and she couldn't help but feel a little slighted for never getting to finish the last little bit of high school she had left when the newborn army tore through that stupid house party in Phoenix.
So, high school. She only meant to try it out, and she was going to bolt for the hills at the first sign of a slipping hold on her control. She really was and had even signed a contract with Charlie who is still trying to wrap his head around their entire situation but is mostly (confusedly) supportive.
Bella was prepared for uncontainable thirst and science projects.
Not Rosalie Hale.
A girl. A mean girl with the whole school, no, the whole town wrapped around her finger who decided unilaterally on Bella's first day on the debate team that the two of them were going to be sworn enemies. A girl who is incredibly easy to work up despite her position as level-headed team captain and is maybe sort of cute when she's angry and snarling, blue eyes thick with rage.
And maybe she'd be just as cute not angry, but Bella hasn't quite seen that yet.
And now in the middle of the night, with said mean girl glaring daggers of heat into her back, Bella bends and laces her fingers above her knee. "After you."
"Like hell," Rose scoffs, crossing her arms. "I'm not going first."
"Scared?" Bella asks, aware of the unfair tilt she has. Rose is many, many things and arrogant is a big one of them. She won't say no if only to save face, even if she doesn't seem to care much for Bella's respect. But she is scared, Bella can smell it.
Rose narrows her eyes but sticks her phone in the back pocket of her jeans anyway. And with a hand on Bella's shoulder, she steps up onto her hands and swallows her fear as Bella boosts her inside.
Rose lands on her feet at the edge of an old living room. She pulls her phone from her pocket and shines the light around, catching a storm of dust upset from her drop from the windowsill.
The smell hits her a second later. Mold and wet carpet. She'll have to remember to leave her shoes outside when she sneaks back into her room tonight.
She's not scared exactly. Just something about the darkness. It makes her feel not quite watched, but seen by some unfocused eye. She shudders.
A cool stirring of the musty air lets her know Bella is by her side without the need to look. It's always so cold around her, like wind off a glacier. She feels it the strongest when they're in each other's faces in the parking lot after wasting the allotted practice hour trying to talk over one another. The flash in Bella's dark eyes, the smile, the ghost of her hand hovering above her shoulder when Rose turns her back to her, cold all over.
"Emmett said this place is haunted," Bella whispers with a wiggle of her shoulders as she slips into the darkness outside of Rose's light. Annoying as she is, Rose feels a bit better now that she's inside too.
"Emmett's an idiot," Rose says, sweeping the beam to catch the swing of Bella's too-long jacket sleeves. Her heart picks up pathetically when the darkness swallows her up again.
"Jas told me you guys used to go out."
Rose hesitates a moment by a dirty glass coffee table with a jagged crack down the middle. Now she's asking Jasper about her? She's content to let her twin befriend whoever he wants, but why did he have to choose to become best friends with the girl who, about nine hours ago, asked their club advisor to open another team captain position just to get a rise out of her?
"We went on like two dates last year," she says, unsure why she's even bothering to clarify. Knowing Bella, she'll probably just use the information to get into her head during another one of their shouting matches at practice.
"Only two?" A flick of the light. She's slinking around a dining table with eight places.
"I'm not really into dating that much."
Rose shrugs. "I have better things to do than sit in a church parking lot and make out with a guy who listens to Eminem."
"Em doesn't even like Eminem."
"I'm generalizing. All the guys in Forks. That's their idea of a date."
"What about the girls?"
Rose feels herself bristling because it's yet another one of Bella's throwaway comments that's going to keep her awake trying to figure out why she said it. This inky darkness has her feeling disproportionately vulnerable. But it seems to be having the opposite effect on her co-captain who looks like she was born to lurk in forgotten places.
"You don't have to say anything," Bella says, suddenly close beside her and caught in the light. There's a bit of sincerity on her face which Rose has only seen once before, but she was supposed to forget. She hasn't. And can't.
"Um." Rose turns the light to the moldy green couch instead. "I went to this tiny middle school before with like twelve kids in my whole class, and my first thought when I got to high school was why are there so many boys here? And it hasn't changed much since."
Bella laughs, and Rose fights to keep from turning toward the sound. There's still a whole kitchen to see. "I like that."
"Yeah? Well, what was yours?" Cabinets with loose hanging doors and rat traps, pots still sitting on a rusty stove, a sink piled high with porcelain and decay. She opens a door off the kitchen into a little laundry room that reeks of sewage and putrid water. There's a dog bowl beside the dryer and a ripped-up bag of pet food against the wall.
Bella pulls the door shut for her, and pauses by her side, thinking for a beat. "It's gonna be really embarrassing when I trip and fall and take out like, nineteen of you."
A laugh bursts from Rose. It's almost embarrassing. "You? Clumsy?"
Rose distinctly remembers the first time she saw Bella Swan slipping out of that monstrosity of a truck and the fluid way she manages to float around school. She's like water, was among her first impressions before the rage set in.
"I've changed a lot over the past few years. You wouldn't even recognize me."
She doubts that. With a face like hers, Rose could pick her out of Madison Square Garden. It makes her heart race when she lingers on the thought.
Rose swallows and shines her light toward the staircase. "Up there, right?"
Bella sets a hand on the railing and nods. Her grey nail polish is chipped. Probably from forcing the window open. "That's the deal."
The deal. Survive the Satan House, and I'll quit the team.
Never mind the fact that Bella actually brings so much to the team, just that last little edge they needed for Regionals. The dare was just Bella dangling peace in front of her face, prepared to yank it back when Rose brushed her off.
But she agreed.
She wonders fleetingly just what Jess would say if she could see her now, creeping her way through some gross old house with Bella Swan of all people. Probably something like: Fucking finally. And Rose would simply have to punch her lights out.
Bella holds out her hand to help Rose over the three broken steps in the middle of the staircase. Her hand is warm and a little sweaty from the fear she's trying so desperately to contain.
The second floor is small. Just a few bedrooms on either side of a narrow hallway. But the rust-colored stains on the carpet aren't very encouraging. When Emmett called it the Satan House, she thought it was a joke, but it is a little creepy. Even for the vampire who feels fear much differently these days.
Rose laughs a little uneasily as her little light illuminates the possible carnage. "You didn't bring me here just to kill me, did you? Because that's the only way you're getting captain, and I won't make it easy."
Bella tries a doorknob, finds it locked, and gives it a little shove that reveals the contrary. "No, you seem like you wouldn't stay dead."
A baby's room. A crib and a changing table that used to be pink but now they're a dull shade of grey, even in the light. The butterfly wallpaper is peeled back in clawlike gashes, seeping something dark. Bella darts around Rose and turns her gently by her elbow to keep her eyes off of it. No need to scare her any more.
"Is that a compliment? That I'm unkillable?"
"Yup." Bella leads her into the bedroom across the hall. A home gym collecting soot-like dust that really shows the lack of human activity in this place. Five, ten, fifteen-pound free weights. Bella could lift a car if she wanted to. An eighteen-wheeler if she had to. She'd lift this house if Rose asked.
All she has to do is ask.
"Almost everything I say to you is a compliment, Rose," Bella says, gently kicking the base of a weight bench.
Rose rolls her eyes. "Yeah, right."
"I'm not joking."
Rose squints at her for a moment before turning. She gasps sharply and Bella snaps up, alert. But it's only Rose's shocked reflection in the mirrored closet doors coated in thick grime.
Bella smiles. Rose tells her to shut up.
Out in the hall, Bella rubs her hands together. Vampires don't get nervous, but here she is, tripping over herself in her head. The venom burned away her brain's need for shyness, seeing it as some kind of hindrance to the hunt. But she never asked to be this way. She often misses stumbling through her little life. Rose brings some of that back to her.
Another bedroom. CAUTION, the tape tacked to the door with dollar-store push pins warns. No Parents Allowed, a curling handwritten note adds.
The two exchange a look.
Bella pushes the door open, but it catches on something about a foot in. She peers inside and balks at the mess. The bed is a rumpled mess of faded and ambiguously stained sheets. Ancient food, long past rotten sits on dirty plates on the dresser. The carpet is covered with strewn clothing. Posters of bands and naked women adorn the walls. There's a trophy shelf. 1998 Woodville Arabian Festival, 1st Place Advanced Western Pattern.
"Ugh," Rose says as she steps over a pizza box on the way to the bookshelf. "Huh, Stephen King and skeezy pictures." She tosses a sharp smile Bella's way. "Is this your bedroom?"
"For the last time, your boyfriend put those in my locker. He was trying to haze me."
"He's not my boyfriend. And I don't believe you."
Bella sticks her hands in her pockets and stares hard at the Misfits poster on the back of the door. "Whatever."
"Whatever," Rose mimics as she opens the bathroom that adjoins the baby's room.
"I'm not like that."
"I don't care what you're like." Her voice echoes around the tile of the bathroom. "Save your breath."
Bella feels her throat grow tight, and it's not from thirst for once. "Can you just…turn it off for like five seconds, please?"
Rose pokes her head out and raises an eyebrow at the abrupt shift. "What?"
Bella locks her hands together behind her back to keep from fidgeting. Rose's eyes feel like hot metal poured on the side of her face, but it's too late to backtrack. She crosses her feet on top of a wrinkled striped shirt and forces herself to keep her eyes up."I dared you to do this so we could spend some time together without your entourage."
"My friends," Rose corrects, and Bella sees the point fly right over her brilliant head.
"Sure. They make you mean."
"Shut up," Rose snaps. Her face hardens into the scowl Bella gets every day. "You don't know what you're talking about."
Bella steps forward and breaks their silent promise. "I was in that bedroom too, Rose." Not here in this pit, but across town and a month ago with music and happy voices thrumming from the other side of the door. Rose's hands felt so good in her hair. "You were so-"
"That was one night. I was drunk. You don't know me," she bites out, but the fire dies suddenly. In its place, she just looks hurt. "You wish I was different, I can tell."
"No," Bella mutters as she opens the last door in the hallway. "You're perfect."
The master bedroom.
Rose keeps her light trained on the yellowed carpet and the moth-eaten curtains, mood soured. Of course, she brought up Alice's stupid party. Just like Rose knew she would.
They never made a deal about that one, but it should have gone without saying. Things have gotten worse between them since then. Even Jess and Lauren have noticed.
The king-size bed is halfway unmade. Only one side is untucked from the mattress. The other side is covered with white dog hair. The closet is open, clothes dangling from metal hangers.
That night, she'd felt Bella's eyes across the giant cavern of Alice's living room, and all night she was aware of the steady pressure of her gaze, like icy hands on her overheated skin. And she liked it. She wanted the real thing.
The floor creaks as Rose steps into the room. Something about this feels vaguely dangerous for the first time since Bella lifted her up to the window. She thinks maybe it's because she's alone now, and she spins around, livid that Bella would dare leave her alone in here.
But she didn't.
She's standing right there. With her head down like she's crying. And Rose's heart burns blue in her chest.
Caved in, mold-infested walls everywhere in this left-behind house. What happened to the owners? Why wasn't it gutted and resold or bulldozed? Where's the pentagram burned into the carpet? The blood on the walls, the clear curse in the air? Why is it irredeemable? Why is it ruined?
She'd taken Bella's hand and tugged her into Alice's blue bedroom. Listen, Rose, Bella had said in such a soft voice, just for her, I don't want to fight with you tonight. I kinda never want to fight with you, it just happens. But…you look really pretty. Sorry, I'm- I'm speechless, honestly.
Words weren't meaning much to her at that point in the night, but those did. And maybe because of them, she'd kissed Bella against the back of the door, she couldn't wait any longer. And Bella was mercifully cool against the angry heat that had been burning her away into nothing over the past few months. Maybe years. It felt so good to let go.
Then the next day, Bella came over to her house to hang out with Jasper. She knocked on Rose's open door to say hi with some kind of moonbeam smile, and Rose could have kissed her a hundred more times. And something in that snapped her in half.
She climbed out of bed and slammed the door shut in her face. Get the fuck away from me.
Walls don't have to be made of matter. Who knows that better than Rose Hale?
Rose takes a step and the floor shakes. It dips slightly and her feet slide forward.
Bella's head snaps up. "Rose-"
The moldy floor falls away like a trap door, all at once, and Rose shuts her eyes because this is the Satan House and if you die here, you're already in hell.
But then, she feels a cool sting of the wind, and she knows without looking that she's still alive and not buried in mold and insulation. When she opens her eyes, they're back on the ground floor in front of the window they broke in through, and Bella's arms are tight around her waist, and Rose has the front of Bella's jacket caught in her fists. The closest they've been since Rose ruined it.
"Rose…" Bella says gently. More gently than she deserves.
The kitchen is drowning in the master bedroom. The air is thick with dirt and flakes of dust. She was up there just a second ago. How did she get-
"Rose, are you okay?"
Rose starts to nod, but something goes wrong and a sob wrenches from her chest instead. The unfocused eye makes her feel so puny and wrong. She presses her face into Bella's shoulder, hiding.
"I dream about you." It comes out quietly even though she wants to scream it into the wind. "All the time. Even when I'm awake."
She can't tell if she's really saying the words or she's just crying uncontrollably, but she can't stop now. The gates are open. Catch me or put me back where I belong.
"I can't stop thinking about you, and I don't know what to do. I hate-" Rose turns her face into the cool curve of Bella's neck and sobs anew when she feels the circles Bella's tracing into her back. "I feel like you can see through my skin."
"I want to hate you so much, but I can't… I don't. And I wasn't drunk when I kissed you. I wanted to. I still want to. Ever since you moved here," Rose says, pulling away to squeeze Bella's remarkably sturdy shoulders, "you've been driving me crazy."
"Don't you dare."
"Okay," Bella breathes. "Okay. Can I take you home? You're shaking."
Rose nods once.