December 25, 2000
For a moment, I think he will kiss me. Just when I think he’s going to move closer, he leans back against the couch and pats my hip. Though I recognize the gesture for what it is—a non-verbal request for me to get off his lap—I play dumb. I miss physical affection more than anything, and with Carlisle I don’t have to worry about him getting the wrong idea, even if sometimes I wish he would.
“I made cinnamon rolls while you were sleeping,” he says, “and there’s a fresh pot of coffee.”
It’s a simple gesture, for him at least. He may be able to whip together pastries from scratch in less time than it takes me to blowdry my hair, but that doesn’t change the fact it means the world to me.
“If you think plying me with caffeine and sugar will make me feel better…” I laugh. “Well, you’re right.”
“It hasn’t failed me yet,” he says, bouncing me on his knee.
Once again, I pretend not to get the hint. Instead, I tighten my arms around his neck and rest my head on his shoulder.
“Neither have you.”
December 25, 2009
When Edward first sees Alice, his mouth catches flies.
“Whoa,” he says, gesturing to her hair. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen your real hair color, I’d forgotten what it looked like.”
She laughs. “Yeah, you and me both.”
“Where’s Jasper?” he asks, hugging her.
“I imagine he’s in Texas with his family.”
“What do you mean, you imagine?”
“It’s not like I watched him get on the plane.”
Edward’s eyes shift the way they do when he’s about to roll them before he bows his head toward Alice’s shoulder, effectively hiding his face. His expression is blank when he looks up, but the opened collar of his white button-down shirt exposes the frantic pulse of his jugular vein, letting me know it’s all a facade. I wonder if it was the same ten years ago—if even then there was evidence of what was boiling beneath his cool surface but I was too young and too dense to notice.
Still holding Alice’s hands, he takes a step away from her and studies her face.
“Perhaps I missed something,” he says, “but when I left D.C., you were part of his family.”
“Can we talk about this later?”
Her voice has the same cheerful, bell-like quality it always does, but there’s something in her eyes that doesn’t ring true.
“What did he do?” he asks.
“What makes you think he did anything?” She pulls her hands away from his and starts to unbutton her coat. “Please tell me there are more pleasant things for us to talk about than why I’m here alone.”
Alice looks at Edward who looks at me. I look over at Carlisle, who’s using his hand to muffle what I assume is a snort. I shoot him the Look of Death, then turn back to Alice.
“Of course there is,” I say, taking her coat. “Let me introduce you to Esme and Sarah.”
“Well…” Edward gets up from his the sofa, slapping his hands against his thighs as he straightens his legs. “I should see if Esme needs any help in the kitchen.”
Recent history tells me this is Edward-speak for I need to get away from you and Carlisle before I break something, so I study his face, hoping to figure out what upset him. In this instance, the usual triggers don’t apply—since Alice arrived, Carlisle’s been on his best behavior. Hell, he’s barely even spoken—for the past half hour, he’s been playing Christmas carols on the piano at Alice’s request.
Edward must feel me staring at him. Just as he’s about to leave the room, he turns and smiles at me, ever so slightly nodding his head toward Alice.
He’s not upset with me; he wants me to find out what the hell is going on with his sister.
I follow Alice’s gaze across the room to the piano. As long as she’s focused on Carlisle, I can focus on her. She’s too thin and too pale, and though she hasn’t behaved any differently than usual, something about the way she’s been carrying herself makes me think she hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in days. If she has broken up with Jasper for real, if they’re not apart right now because of something silly that got blown out of proportion, I know all too well why she wouldn’t want to talk about it. Then again, I also know why she would.
Even though Carlisle’s in the room, the lid is open on the baby grand. There’s no way he’ll be able to hear us. Now is as good a time as ever.
“Alice…” I inch myself across the sofa cushion toward her. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Without missing a beat, she angles her head toward the piano. “He’s very good. I could listen to him forever—live music is so soothing.”
“He’d play guitar for me when we lived together. Sometimes in the beginning…” My eyes close as I empty my lungs in a drawn-out sigh.
I’ve never told Alice what it was like for me to move out here, mostly because I know how much my leaving Edward hurt her. I also know how much my leaving Edward hurt me. There’s a chance talking about it now will upset her; our friendship is able to exist in the present mostly because we make it a point not to talk about the past. But I remember those days and how much I wished I could talk to her, and I know I have to take the risk—just in case she’s going through the same thing and she’s wishing she could talk to me.
“In the beginning,” I say, “those were the only times I was able to stop obsessing over what Edward was doing and just be.”
“Carlisle plays guitar, too?”
If anything, she seems to be wishing I could take a hint.
“He plays just about everything. Once in a while, he still does paid gigs.”
“That’s surprising. I assumed he didn’t like having an audience given the way I had to practically beg him to play.”
“That’s just because he’s in a bad mood.”
She laughs, then quickly covers her mouth with her hand. “Gee, I wonder why.”
“Don’t be dense, Izzy. Hosting a holiday dinner is a lot of work even when it’s just for family. Carlisle’s also been asked to entertain two strangers. I’m not a big deal. Edward is a United States Senator with such a rabid following, there are whole Tumblr blogs devoted solely to pictures of his ass. I don’t care how many restaurants Carlisle owns—the thought of paparazzi in his yard has to be stressing him out. Are you really so wrapped up in Edward this hasn’t occurred to you?”
“Devoted to his ass? Really?”
All those years I was too stubborn to Google him, it turns out this is what I missed? Part of me is legitimately outraged. The rest wishes there was a way to pull up Tumblr on my phone without anyone noticing.
“Yes. They started after the People magazine article.”
“Would-be bubble-butt rimming cum-blr sluts!”
“Whoa, Izzy.” Carlisle stops playing and looks over at us. “To what do we owe that outburst?”
“Since when does Izzy need a reason?” Alice gets up from the couch and sits beside Carlisle on the piano bench. “By the way, thank you for playing tonight. Edward makes fun of me for it, but I’ve always loved Christmas songs.”
“I leave the room for five minutes and already my sister’s telling lies about me,” Edward says, reclaiming the seat next to me. “I make fun of her for liking over-the-top, sentimental crap, and Christmas music generally falls into this category.”
Alice turns to Carlisle. “He doesn’t realize my passion for Christmas music has nothing to do with sentimentality and everything to do with egoism. Just about every Christmas song out there—well, the traditional ones at least—they all have my name in them.”
Carlisle laughs. “I’m calling bullshit on this one. Outside of Alice’s Restaurant, which is about Thanksgiving, I can’t think of a single holiday song with your name in it.”
“I’m not talking about Alice—that’s my middle name. My first name is Mary, I started going by Alice in high school when I found out about the curse.”
Edward rolls his eyes. “Here we go.”
“Shut up, Edward. It’s real and you know it.”
“Of course it is,” Edward says. “I mean, she asked the oracle. Magic 8-Balls are truth.”
“You can make fun of me all you want.” Alice folds her arms across her chest. “But you know as well as I do that everyone ever named Mary in our family has been batshit crazy.”
“Present company included.” Edward takes a swig of his scotch. “Besides, lunacy is subjective.”
“Our great-aunt died in an asylum after being lobotomized—that’s as cut and dry as it gets. But anyway…” Alice lets out an exaggerated sigh. “That’s why I don’t let people call me Mary. There’s an association there I don’t want, if that makes any sense.”
Carlisle laughs. “Makes sense to me. Then again, I go by my middle name, too. My first name is William.”
“Really?” she asks. “That’s my father’s name.”
He swallows hard, but his smile doesn’t waver. “Mine, too.”
When we return to the living room, we’re in much better spirits, our moods lightened by the consumption of…well…spirits. The mood is subdued enough that at some point during after-dinner drinks, Alice falls asleep.
I shake my head, laughing. “If she didn’t look so peaceful, I’d wake her ass up to make fun of her for being such a lightweight.”
“You can’t get drunk from Shirley Temples,” Carlisle says, “and that’s what she’s been having all night. We should let her sleep; she obviously needs it. Though…” He turns to Edward. “She can’t be comfortable with her neck bent like that. If you think she’d like to lie down in the guestroom until your car gets here, I’ll go make the bed for her.”
Edward looks at him like he’s on crack.
Carlisle turns up his palms, shrugging. “What?”
“Thank you; that’s very considerate.” Edward crosses the room and kneels in front of where Alice is sleeping. “Hey there,” he whispers.
She doesn’t respond.
“Alice?” He nudges her gently. “Would you like to lie down in the guest room for a bit?”
He lifts her arm. The second he lets go, it falls onto her lap with a thud.
“Alice?” With his thumb and forefinger, he opens one of her eyes, then the other. “Why are you all just standing there? Someone call 911!”