“I must admit, this is rather uncomfortable for me.”
Bella’s eyes wander from the screen to look at Edward. A tension wracks his body; his hands gripping the edge of the couch, his defunct veins bulging. His eyes, wide and darker than their normal gold, are locked in on the screen. “Alright. Enough of Fright Night .” Bella says with a sigh, grabbing the remote to pause the movie. The tension immediately melts from his body. He’s talked at length about how human mannerisms don’t come naturally to him, about how cold and unreadable he is, and Bella is glad for his sake that he can’t hear her internally call bullshit. His mannerisms are stilted; there is a subtle intensity cloaked by restraint, but his expressions and body language are mostly human. He isn’t a monster, like he claims, just a dork.
“Thank you.” He says plainly, his voice staying level.
“Yeah, of course. We’ll go for something less bloody next time.” Edward had seemed eager enough at the initial prospect of watching horror movies with her, but had admitted that he stopped keeping up with the genre around the early 30s. Though he was able to find Dracula funny at the time, when watching horror, he always identified too much with the monster. It became even harder to bear after his rebellious phase. He explained that then, as he watched horror evolve in the minds of the public from psychological to more explicitly sexual, it had left him disgusted. She had snorted at that. When she first learned his age, she attributed that kind of mentality to his old fashion sensibilities, but she’s since spent enough time with his family--most of whom are even older than him--to realize he’s just incredibly sexually repressed.
Edward rarely touched her. If it ever happened by accident, he would quickly pull away as if in pain. If she reached for his hand, he would hold it as reluctantly as a tween would hold his mother’s while crossing the street. Their kisses had always been short; he claimed the scent of her rushing blood that close was painful. The other day he admitted the smell had not bothered him since that time he thought she died. He was as physically distant as ever.
“Less… Of all of that.” His voice stays mostly level, but his remaining tension is clear: he is legitimately shaken up.
“Oh. Ok, no more vampires.” She had put on Fright Night because she remembered enjoying it and finding it kind of funny, and if he thought Dracula was funny about seventy years ago, she assumed he might enjoy a campy vampire movie more than one with more grounded horror.
“He bore my name and was obnoxious.” He says, after a moment of heavy silence.
“You didn’t like Ed?” Bella asks, glancing back to the screen where Edward’s eyes remained stuck: on the image of Ed reaching out in his last moments, a broken shell of who he used to be.
“He was obnoxious.” Edward reiterates.
“Hmm.” Bella shrugs. Silence hangs between them for another moment. “I think he just wanted to be accepted.”
“He was detestable and just wanted power. He wanted to actually live out his sick fantasies.”
“He was only sixteen.”
“I was seventeen.” Bella turns back to Edward and meets his gaze. Electricity passes between them, and it feels as if the rest of the world is at another frequency. She is drawn to him intensely, and she knows he feels the same. There is a strange magnetism that makes distance ache, and she feels to her core like she is staring down eternity. “I still am. I always will be.”
“You say ‘sick fantasies’ like he actually wanted to kill people. I don’t think so, I think he was just frustrated at being an outcast, at all the homophobia he was facing living during the AIDs crisis.” Bella shrugs and breaks eye contact. She loves Edward, she really does, and enjoys spending time with him, but fate is heavy to think about. Her parents couldn’t even last a couple years, and she has no choice but to be with Edward for an eternity.
“Excuse me?” Edward looks shocked.
“Dude, did you not pick up on that? The whole movie is clearly a gay metaphor.”
“How so? Are you sure?” He speaks quickly, clearly uncomfortable. Bella wonders if he’s homophobic.
“When two men move in together next door and Charley’s convinced he’s a predator who will infect the town, it’s pretty clear everyone thinks he’s just being homophobic. Ed even jokes about Dandridge sucking his way through the entire town.” Bella almost laughs at the disgusted look on Edward’s face at that last part. “His speech to Ed in the alley was about how Ed’s clearly gay and is struggling with that. He views Peter Vincent, also clearly gay, as an icon, as his hero, and figuring out that he isn’t as strong as he thought, that he’s fake, is upsetting to him as someone who doesn’t have a lot of people like him to look up to.”
Edward remains silent. Bella looks back over to him, and his eyes remain on the screen, on Ed’s dead body, reaching towards Peter Vincent. Bella doesn’t push him, and he doesn’t elaborate.
The next day, Bella brings a significantly lighter movie. He had gotten even more withdrawn after Fright Night , harder to be around than normal, and she doesn’t want a repeat of that today. She’s playing it safe; there’s no way he can get upset over Alvin and the Chipmunks .
At first his primary complaint was the pronunciation of Jekyll-- “Robert Louis Stevenson said himself it’s Jee-kill, like hide and seek-all, and he named him after a horticulturist who pronounced her name Jee-kill….” --but his tension grew with every emotional change Theodore experiences after his transformation. By the time Theodore attacks Eleanore, Edward lets out a god honest shriek, and Bella quickly pauses the movie.
“Edward.” She grips his shoulder firmly until his black eyes lock with hers. “It’s a kid’s movie. It ends with a party and a music number.”
“To live is to be a slave to our horrible, sinful desires and there is nothing we can do about it.” Edward breaks eye contact and gazes blankly at the television screen.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Free will is a lie we tell ourselves in an attempt to make peace with our own horrible existence.”
“Was it really that bad? Look, Charlie got it from the bargain bin when I was a kid and there wasn’t much else in the cabinet that was G-Rated, and I thought the wolf gimmick might be funny-”
“No, no, you don’t get what I’m trying to say, I…” Edward pauses and chews on his bottom lip in thought, y’know, like an inhuman monster does. “Theodore, the sweetest of the brothers, cannot help but give in completely to his monstrous nature, even though it is at complete odds with all his surface level thoughts and desires. He believes he is kind, as do the others, but even he cannot help but fall victim to instinct. There is no such thing as free will. It is rather insightful that they used Jekyll and Hyde --” Edward, of course, pronounces Jekyll the intended way, despite how it was pronounced in the movie--”as the backdrop to the story, because the moral in that work is rather similar, but allows more room for interpretation. The stupid are allowed to genuinely believe Hyde is a different person, instead of just an otherwise dignified man stripped from all accountability and reputation. The novel is easier to digest; we aren’t told we have no free will, just that the pressures of society shape our actions, and the instinctual predisposition for sin can win out regardless of how civilly we try to behave. This film takes the themes from the novel, and pushes them further to an almost Nietzschean realm of existential despair as Theodore outright attacks those he holds most dear.”
Bella gapes at him speechless through his entire spiel, and even longer after he finishes, before finally she can find but a single word: “Dude.”
Edward finally turns back to her, and his brows knit in confusion. “What?” He asks, and has the gall to be genuinely, naively perplexed by her shock.
“It’s Alvin and the Chipmunks. ”
“Media aimed at children can be complex.”
“Yeah, yeah, but there’s a difference between stuff like The Iron Giant and Alvin and the Chipmunks meet The Wolfman ,” Bella shrugs, “This isn’t a case of the movie itself being complex, it’s a case of you having some kind of complex.”
“Well, in 1967, Roland Barthes said, ‘To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text,’ and that is all you’re doing by besmirching its message on account of its intended audience, so really, everything I say about the movie is correct.”
“And right now, Bella Swan says, 'framing “Death of the Author” in terms of its author as a way to justify existential angst over Alvin and the Chipmunks is weird.'”
“That’s just how you cite sources orally. Maybe if you took a public speaking class instead of putting it off every year, you’d know.” Edward is smiling again, his words light, but looking at his smile makes the air feel thin. Her breath catches in her throat and her ears pop. Those teeth will close on her skin some day and she will breathe her last natural breath as venom rushes through her body like flames through kerosene.
“You know having people’s eyes on me makes me anxious.” Bella averts her gaze and leans against Edward, eyes back on the television, where Eleanore’s face is paused in fear. “It’s weird how the Chipettes are like girl clones of the boys and also their love interests. Girl chipmunks make sense, but why do they have the same personalities?”
“Fate.” Edward mutters, and Bella can hear the scowl in his voice.
“Fuck fate.” Bella replies, and Edward laughs at that. His arms both remain by his sides. She knows her closeness to him is not unwelcome, but not something he wishes to participate in himself. She sighs, and tries to think of a movie less Nietzschean than Alvin and the Chipmunks for next time.
Bella was saved from the burden of decision when Edward sent a text informing her that he had chosen the movie for that night. Settled on the couch, she had watched in silence as Edward fiddled with the DVD player, clearly having a bit of trouble. She spared his dignity and pretended not to notice. He eventually got the movie playing, and had settled on the opposite end of the couch. By the time the beginning credits had finished and the movie actually started, she was already bored, and by the time the first zombies appear, she’s nearly asleep. There was no hunger for brains, no fun horror, none of the stuff George Romero brought to the genre; it was just kind of sad.
“This barely feels like a zombie movie.” She finally voices her grievances out loud, if for no other reason than to wake herself up.
“It was the first one.” Edward says with a shrug.
“Zombies are sad. This is what the actual legends were like. Being inhuman is a tragedy, that’s something older films and literature seem to understand better than your new age horror.”
“Yeah but…” Bella trails off, shifting in her seat and trying to organize her thoughts, “I don’t think it has to be. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that monsters are fun now. I don’t know much about zombies, but I did research vampires back when I was trying to figure out what your deal is. I know you’re real,” she glances at him quickly when she says this, as if to verify her words, before looking back to Bela Lugosi on the screen, “Bram Stoker wrote Dracula because his friend Oscar Wilde was on trial and he was terrified of his own sexuality. Sheridan le Fanu wrote Carmilla because…” She trails off and frowns, “I honestly don’t know what his angle was, she’s very sympathetic and it’s my favorite vampire novel,” she flushes lightly before forcing herself back on topic, “Vampires have been used to talk about fears of sexuality and stuff like that for centuries, and horror has always kind of done that, so I think liking the inhuman characters, and showing them as complex and sympathetic, is in line with how our culture is growing and changing.” Edward remains quiet, eyes on the screen, entirely too still. Bella quickly moves on, afraid she pushed the subject, which she’d only recently come to understand was such a sensitive spot for him, a little too hard. “Plus, dude, this movie has not aged well. A white ‘voodoo master’ and a plantation owner as primary characters? Really?”
“They’re the bad guys.” Edward grumbles, not addressing the first subject. She lets it drop.
“And I haven’t seen this movie in 70 years, I just remembered the terrifying idea of being a mindless, undead slave in the name of unnatural love. I thought it might scare you.”
“That is pretty uncomfortable.” Bella agrees, settling back down to keep watching, “It’s like how Jake described imprinting.”
“I hope he never has to go through that.” Edward says, almost too quietly for Bella to hear. She looks to him in surprise.
“I’ve never heard you voice concern for him before.” She says quietly.
“Don’t look too surprised; I wouldn’t wish that kind of emotional prison on my worst enemy.” There isn’t an ounce of mirth in his voice or expression as he speaks, “Fate is a cruel mistress.” His eyes are black, and as Bella meets his intense gaze, she can’t agree more.
“This is forever,” She says finally, “There is no choice, is there?”
“Would you want to make another one?” Edward asks, his gaze remaining stoney but his voice showing his nerves.
“Would you?” Bella replies, and sees him falter.
“I love you.” His voice a low rasp, as if he cannot will it louder. He didn’t answer the question.
“I love you too,” Bella replies, easily enough. They don’t kiss. The moment ends, and they both look back to the movie. It ends in a cheery Hayes-code compliant romantic moment, with the formerly zombified woman hugging her fiance.
“That’s the part I don’t understand,” Edward says as the movie ends, “As soon as the trance ends and she can think for herself, she still chooses love.”
“What do you mean?” Bella asks, cautiously turning her attention back to him.
“Love is an obligation, a sworn duty, not an act of free will. It makes no sense.”
“Is that really how you think?”
“Is that not how you view me?” He counters, and Bella can’t argue, “Is that not what this is? What we are? You said it yourself, we have no choice.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t care about you,” Bella protests weakly.
“And I you,” Edward assures, “I’ve never loved anyone more.”
“Then why are we so weird? Why does everything feel so…”
“I was going to say heavy,” She shoots him a stern look, but it quickly melts away to one of insecurity, “If we had the freedom of choice, would you still choose me?”
“Probably not,” He shrugs, then snorts at her offended look, “Bella, I don’t know if I properly expressed to you how torturous being near you had been at the beginning.”
“Bad enough for you to flee to Alaska,” She replies with a laugh, “Yeah, ok, fair enough, but beside that. Imagine: No blood thirst, no life or death situations, just us assigned biology partners in a very mundane way… Would you ask me on a date?”
“No.” Edward says, without as much as a pause to think.
“No?” Bella asks, not sure why the rejection stings. She knows she’s plain, quiet, and rather ordinary, and expected that kind of answer, but cannot help her wounded confusion.
“Well…” He trails off and his face scrunches in a very human way, “I think at first I would be as closed off as I usually am, but you would see through that. You’d make fun of me in a way that would somehow make me laugh instead of just getting on my nerves. I’d start to talk to you outside of biology. We’d exchange phone numbers, and when I would eventually realize you’re also up late at night, we’d sit in the back of your truck in the Thriftway parking lot after they close, looking at the stars, I’d show you music and you’d show me movies…” He trails off, his gaze still far from hers, but small, matching smiles are on both of their faces. “I think we’d still be best friends.”
“That might be the nicest thing you’ve said to me.” Bella’s smile widens as Edward meets her gaze, his eyes shining in the fluorescent light, “Who says we can’t do that now?”
“Uh, right now?” He says, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt.
“C’mon, they’re still open. I’ll drive and then you can watch me eat an entire cheesecake.”
“Are humans supposed to eat an entire cheesecake in one sitting?” Edward’s voice was full of wonder as Bella grabbed his hand and her keys, and started to drag him out the door.
“ Are humans supposed to eat an entire cheesecake in one sitting? ” She imitates his scholarly tone with a laugh, closing the front door and running to her trusty red pickup. Edward effortlessly catches up, and can’t help laughing along himself. The tension between them entirely dissipated as he follows along, talking about Bela Lugosi as she picks out and purchases a cheesecake, then about the ways the art rock genre evolved in the early 80s, as she devours it in the bed of her truck. Bella isn’t used to hearing him talk so much, but it’s a welcome, comforting sound. He could read the ingredients list on the cheesecake box and she’d be happy. Staring down eternity wasn’t quite so bad when knee to knee with her best friend.