"I am indeed not a fan of treeclimbing - your house, huh." Bella considers this. She reaches into her pocket for her notebook, and flips through it. She looks between it and Alice a few times. Then she opens up her phone and dials Charlie's number without completing the call yet. "I'm going to try an experiment," she says.
He pulls a phone out of his pocket and dials.
"Hi, Mom! I'm fine!" is how he opens the conversation.
Shortly afterward, "No, I swear. Cross my heart." A slight pause. "Uh-huh. Listen, is Theo out the door yet?" Another, longer pause. "Yeah, no, you got it. I've got a friend coming over who has a car, so—" He cuts himself off, cocks his head, and glances at Bella. "Mind if I tell my mom your name?"
"Mother, I swear before God she is not my girlfriend," he says, half-laughing. "Trust me on this. No. Don't even—no. Okay?" A beat. "Okay. Good. Thank you. See you in a bit." ...He rolls his eyes. "Yes, I will call you if I forget the directions to my own house. Goodbye, Mother."
After one last pause presumably containing a corresponding farewell, he hangs up.
"You do know how to get to your house, right?" Bella asks, heading towards the parking lot. "I imagine if you're generally driven to and fro it might not sink in." She trips on an uneven paver in the sidewalk and catches herself before splatting on the sidewalk.
"Oh, so a couple things—no Alice in front of the parents, they wouldn't get it. No jokes about me getting beat up, please, my dad's kinda low on sense of humour and it would be really awkward. I would also appreciate it if you didn't mention my crush on Freddie Mercury or the fact that I offered to blow a guy for fifty bucks."
"How impressive. Personally, I have no memories before age four, and any information about the time before that is contaminated by my parents wanting to assure me that I had nothing to do with the divorce," says Bella, getting out of the car. "I notice you didn't explicitly deny older siblings, though."
"It's just that I already have reason to believe you're willing to lie to me," shrugs Bella, starting towards the house. "As long as that persists I'll make you give me some information in several pieces, to make that more difficult. Do we just walk in or does having a guest mean knocking?"
The door opens.
"Junior," says a smiling woman with long, curly brown hair. "And Junior's new friend Bella." She steps back to usher them both inside. "Come in, come in."
It's clear that Alice got his looks from his mother, but not his dress sense; he appears at school almost exclusively in jeans and old T-shirts for 70s rock bands, today being no exception, and his mother is wearing a tastefully gorgeous long gown in a pale cream that coordinates subtly with her pearl earrings. Her hair is pinned up impeccably, not a single strand out of place. She looks like she belongs in a different universe, possibly one containing no dirt and definitely one containing no 70s rock bands.
Well, Alice's mother, apparently. "Hello, Mrs. Hammond. It's nice to meet you." She steps inside and offers her hand for shaking.
"It's not like I made friends in New York either, Mom," Alice puts in. His mother smiles and pats him on the shoulder, which he grudgingly tolerates.
"Well," says Bella, with a shrug and a smile. "I just moved here, days ago, so it didn't take long once someone he clicks with better came along. It is a very small school." She decides the current avenue of conversation might lead to awkward tiptoeing around how she met Alice. "You have a beautiful home," she says instead.
Bella dials the phone. The police station secretary-type-person picks up, but is able to relay a conversation between her and her paperwork-laden father. Bella's side of the conversation sounds like this: "Hi, Mr. Jenkins. Yeah, it's me - is my dad in? It's not an emergency, no, I know the number for that. Just a quick question. At a friend's house, they've invited me to stay for dinner. Yeah, I can hold. ... Great, tell him I'll see him sometime tonight after dinner, then."
"I play the piano," Alice confesses. "Badly." The subject nevertheless seems to put him at his ease. "Where's Dad?"
"I'm sure I can whisk him away to preserve his delicate ears if your friend would like a demonstration of how badly," laughs Mrs. Hammond.
"I'll just go and distract my husband," Mrs. Hammond says with a wink, and turns to head up the unnecessarily pretty stairs. Alice leads Bella through an unnecessarily pretty archway to an unnecessarily pretty sitting room, where there sits a piano whose beauty is wholly justifiable.
He is not, actually, that bad. If you'd never heard the piece before, and had no idea what it was supposed to sound like, and ignored the way he hesitates so obviously or laughs at himself whenever he misses a note, he'd probably sound reasonably competent.
He leads her through another archway and down a short corridor to a door, which he opens with a flourish.
On the other side is a set of stairs, going down. The space into which they descend is just as unreasonably pretty as the rest of the house.
"Hm, this is a basement. I don't yet know if it's a lair," Bella says, going down the stairs and trailing her fingertips over the pretty wall. "You know, if you asked the part of my brain that generates stereotypes where you ought to live, it would have proposed next door to a gang hideout and across the street from someplace severely rent-controlled, but in its own way this works too."
The space is also quite large, once they reach the bottom of the stairs and step out into it properly. The ceiling is supported by a network of pillars and arches, some of which may be decorative, many of which probably aren't; the room is ballroom height at least, and quite possibly ballroom length and width as well.
"And we can make them all the same size. Or not, but let's anyway, as if we deviate from all the standards no one will ever play and I will lose my opportunity to make a million dollars in speaking engagements as the inventor. Five to a team should be manageable. And the object is to get a ball, or two or three, to make a specific number of bounces off of pillars? Like pinball."
"In what sense does a team own a ball if they can't use 'their' ball to score?" inquires Bella. "And if I understand you right, it gets too ridiculous - I don't think I know anyone who could except by astonishing fluke get a ball to bounce off three pillars in a single throw, so this would hold down everyone to two points and they'd spend the entire rest of the game on defense thereafter." She tilts her head. "Unless there are other ways to score, too."
"The same way a team owns a goal in, like, anything else?" he says. "And maybe you count up separately per ball, so that gives everybody four points with no ridiculous throws, I meant that word when I said it, but they'll be tough to get because now everybody's fighting like cats over everybody else's balls, and wow that got dirty fast."
She ignores the remark about dirtiness with a genteel smile.
"So if someone gets five points, game ends, they win - if no one does, then whoever has the most points at an hour and a half wins - if two or three teams are tied at that time, whoever scores the next point wins." She chews her lip a little. "But if two or three are tied at four points, then they have to be ridiculous in sudden death mode. So if the tie is at four, they only have to make a two-bounce?"
Then he sits down again, rubbing absently at the scar on his neck.
"So you didn't hear this from me," he says, "in fact you didn't hear it from anybody, because if it gets out that anybody in Forks knows this Dad will blow his top and we'll move somewhere I'll hate even more. Got it?"
"I suppose if there's a clientele at all here it would be smaller," Bella says. "If I'd had to guess what you'd do if itching for income I would have guessed something like "steal any of several hundred knicknacks in the house and hock it", but perhaps that's not even mostly fun? Or substantially more hazardous?"
"One, there are way, way more guys in New York who want to get their dicks wet and don't really care how than there are valuable little goodies in even my stupidly huge house," he says. "Two, it is way, way easier to get caught stealing from my own house than it is to get caught being fucked in an alley. And yeah, three, it's not as much fun."
"What's your plan?" she asks. "Do you have the grades to get into college without being financially dependent on them, when I'm told you don't even show up to class? Have you considered getting a non-hooking job? How old are you now, for that matter?" She looks at the ceiling. "Or is it your life's ambition to do something just scandalous enough that you can't be bought out of jail, and you're on a long hunt for where that line is so you can poke a toe over?"
"If I wanted to be in jail, I'd walk into school and kill somebody," he says, like it's so obvious he doesn't have to think about it. "I don't wanna be in jail. I don't wanna be dead, either. Killing yourself's easier than killing somebody else; you're guaranteed one less person trying to stop you." He shrugs again. "Shit, if I had a plan, I'd be out of here by now."
She sighs. "I'm glad you don't wish to be in jail."
And pauses. And says, "You need a plan."
She glances up the stairs, makes sure the door is closed. "So," she says. "What do you want, Alice?"
"Okay," he says. "If, like, my fairy godmother showed up and whacked me in the face with her magic wand, my three wishes would be: never see my dad again, live by myself until I don't want to, and get to spend all my time making clothes or cooking or, you know, doing fun things."
"...Little from column A, little from column B... look," he says flatly, "what I think would happen is, it would turn out I'd told your dad a really bad joke. Ha ha. Isn't that funny. Kids these days. 'Cause what you think happened, well, that doesn't happen. Not in families like mine. Not to kids like me. So it didn't. You get what I'm sayin', here?"
Bella rubs her forehead with her thumb. "Well," she says. "You have less reason than I to think highly of my dad's professional capabilities, and perhaps I'm biased anyway. But look, there are other options. You're eighteen. If you want to buy a bus ticket to Nevada and get a job at a brothel, he cannot actually stop you. I'd loan you bus ticket money, if you don't have even that much socked away. Does that count as 'fun'?"
"It's not running away, when you are eighteen, although you could separately get in trouble for vagrancy or similar and you might be dumped at your parents' house if no one has a better idea of what to do with you. If he is hiring private goons to kidnap you, that is also a matter for the police."
"So," Bella says. "What does the scenario in your head look like? Step one, you borrow some cash from me and you buy a bus ticket to Nevada and board a bus that is traveling to Nevada. We don't tell anyone where you're going and because it is January in the Pacific Northwest you can use my ugly knitted face mask that I made when I was nine without arousing particular suspicion. Step two?" she inquires. "Does your dad hire a private investigator and learn your location and hire someone to kidnap you? Does he let out that you're fleeing across state lines after having committed some horrible crime for which there will pretty much be no evidence? Does he bribe all of the brothel operators in the state of Nevada to turn you away, and then all the restaurants in case you look for work as a short-order cook? If you would be specific about the failure mode it is not impossible that it could be patched, but you've already given up."
"Last time, it was the oh no, missing kid deal," says Alice. "He might try that gig again. Or maybe it'll be private investigators. Or I don't fucking know, he'll think of something," he says, "and I don't think you are really thinking about what happens after that, but trust me, I am. And you know, fuck my three wishes, the absolute minimum I want out of my life is that if somebody's gonna beat me to death it'll be somebody else."
"You've known me a handful of days, we are not even dating, and you're announcing you love me. You don't think for two minutes about whether to commit battery in the cafeteria. You give up before you even begin to come up with ways to get three wishes that do not, strictly speaking, require magic."
"On inspection, it doesn't actually bother me," she shrugs. "But perhaps don't make me explain it to my father by saying it in front of him, should the two of you ever meet." She pauses thoughtfully. "If my mother visits - it's not very likely, but not impossible - then I don't care what she hears. She'd think it was precious."
"If that's the sort of thing yours would do, mine might humor her, but that's not her personal hobby, and she'd actually believe me if I explained that we are only friends and not intending to be future co-parents. Renée'd be more likely to demand your astrological information, or corresponding nonsense for whatever spiritual belief has captured her attention that month."
"Pretty sure Mom's just thinking if I get a steady girlfriend she might finally get rid of me," he says, with no particularly intense emotion attached. "Who knows, might even work. Although Dad probably already thinks we're fucking down here, so he might decide I'm never allowed to see you again. Or congratulate me on a job well done. Sometimes I just don't know which way he's gonna jump."
When they reach the top, he leads her back through the maze of beautiful rooms. Just as they enter the one with the piano, a new voice comes floating down the stairs, audible through the archway.
"...so indulgent, Judith," says a stern-sounding older man. Alice stops in his tracks.
"I don't see that it does any harm," Mrs. Hammond answers.
"Really? You don't see it doing any harm that my son is fornicating in the basement with the police chief's daughter?"
"We didn't hear that," murmurs Alice.
It's almost like he has practice not hearing things he isn't meant to have heard. A lot of practice.
"Bella is a perfectly nice girl, darling," Mrs. Hammond is saying. "I'm sure she wouldn't do anything like that."
"I'm sure that boy has his ways," Mr. Hammond asserts. Alice makes a face.
"That's enough of that," Mrs. Hammond says firmly. She continues too quietly to be heard, and Mr. Hammond responds; after one more such exchange, Alice crosses the room and gently shuts the cover on the piano keys with a quiet but audible clunk.
"You should keep that thing closed when you're not mauling it," is how Delaney Sr. greets his son.
"I know," he says, ducking his head. "I came back up the minute I remembered. So, Dad, this is my new friend, Bella Swan."
"I've heard," says Mr. Hammond, inspecting her.
Contrary to Alice, who tends to let the pretty things speak for themselves, his mother has a story for everything from the carpets to the chandeliers. (Well, there's only one chandelier, hanging from the ceiling at the top of the stairs and spraying fragments of light onto the walls. She has a story for it, nevertheless, regarding its purchase back in New York and brief sojourn in the room downstairs before she decided that the pillars were prohibitive in a good ballroom and had it moved up here.)
Alice mostly just lets her talk. He seems much more relaxed with her than he was when his father was present.
Apparently the peculiar shape of the wall in one of the spacious upstairs guest rooms is because it conceals the chimney of a recently demolished fireplace— "it just wasn't modern enough," Mrs. Hammond flutters, and goes on to describe the origin of the wallpaper. Alice seems more amused than the situation really warrants.
"Hey, Mom," he interrupts, to no obvious censure. "When's dinner?"
"That is an excellent question," says Mrs. Hammond. "Why don't you go find out?"
He blinks, considers, then shrugs. "Okay, I guess. Back in a bit. Don't get lost."
Mrs. Hammond laughs.
Mr. Hammond sits at the head of the table, of course, with his wife on his right and his son on his left. There's a place set for Bella on the other side of Alice.
No one seems inclined to start a conversation.
"It's a pretty friendly town. I've been coming for summers all my life, but only started to make friends my own age when I came during a school year," Bella says chattily. Slightly dim, slightly dim. "My dad's friends don't have kids, except for some much younger than I am."
Mr. Hammond chews his next bite of lobster with unnecessary force. Mrs. Hammond doesn't seem to notice, but Alice hunches a little lower in his seat, an ineffective move since he is the second tallest person in the room.
Bella glances at Alice, and at Mr. Hammond, and slowly relates things that anyone in the room could learn by asking anyone who has heard that Bella even exists. "My parents split up when I was very young. Until recently, I lived with my mom most of the time, and my dad during summers. Now I live here, because my mom is going to be traveling a lot with my new stepdad."
"Be that as it may," says Mr. Hammond, with a hint of a smile of his own, "rules are rules."
"May I be excused?" Alice asks meekly.
His father shakes his head. "The meal's almost over, Junior. You can hold it two more minutes."
She turns to Alice and says, "I'll see you in gym class tomorrow."
It's a perfectly innocuous thing to say. And if he's not in condition to attend gym tomorrow, she'll notice, and Mr. Hammond knows it.
"Bye!" And she heads for the door. "Please tell Hilary for me that everything was exquisite."