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21 April 2008 @ 02:08 pm
Pine-Sol and the Blessings of the Damned  
Title: Pine-Sol and the Blessings of the Damned
Fandom: Twilight
Rating: PG-13 for birds and bees
Characters/Pairings: Implied Edward/Bella, Bella, Esme
Summary: Bella and Esme bond post-Eclipse. "I actually just came over to hang out." Without him. Of my own free will. It must be a first.
AN: Unbeta'd, but read and reread super-meticulously. Concrit on this would be exceedingly appreciated. Sadly, though, these characters are not mine and this is as far as I can take them. Stephenie deserves the real cred, and all the dough.

Pine-Sol and the Blessings of the Damned

I was... surprised, to walk into the kitchen of a household full of vampires only to catch Esme hard at work on something as mundane as washing the floor. She was on her hands and knees, no less. I had never thought much about it. I thought vampires did everything perfectly, but of course they would track in mud from the outside like anyone with two legs, especially after hunting. I could just imagine Emmett and muddy boots...

Without looking up, Esme's lovely voice sang, "Good morning, Bella. If you're looking for Edward, he already left."

"Oh, I know," I answered quietly. "I actually just came over to hang out." Without him. Of my own free will. It must be a first. I laughed, only belatedly realizing I hadn't even knocked. It's not as if they would turn me away, or didn't know I was approaching from six miles off, thanks to my truck's noisy engine.

She smiled up at me over her shoulder. "Anytime. Can I get you anything, dear?"

I think I must have made some face, because she answered my unasked question. "Alice went shopping for you before she left. I guess I should have known to expect you. Sorry about this," she gestured to the wet floor that stank spectacularly of citrus scent and bleach. I wondered if the smell bothered her as much as it did me. "I like to clean when most everyone's gone. No half-dozen feet tromping through my work zone."

I suddenly became aware of my dirty shoes on her wet kitchen floor. "Oh, I'm sorry," I was quick to mutter.

"Oh, that doesn't extend to you. I can't chide you... yet."

I smiled at the threat-- or promise?-- implied in her response. She continued scrubbing the floor, wearing jeans and an old T-shirt. It was such an unusually rough and casual outfit for Esme and added to the oddness of the scene.

"So, Alice went hunting too?" I asked to break the silence.

"Oh yes. She often used to go with Edward, before he felt more comfortable with her here." More comfortable with her kidnapping me, Esme meant. "You're perfectly safe, of course. I'm still here, and Carlisle, and Rosalie."

"Emmett went?"

"He didn't need to-- he and Rose were down at McNary just last weekend-- but you know Emmett."

Yes, of course. To Emmett, hunting wasn't a necessity, it was a pastime.

"Can I help you at all?" I was uncomfortable standing there, still and useless, while Esme scrubbed away on the floor.

"No, dear, I've got it."

"I really don't mind. I'm used to cleaning."

"All the more reason for you to relax. You've done your share."

I had to laugh at that. "I'm sure you've done more than me!"

She sat back on her knees and examined her handiwork. "Yes, dear, but you're too young to be concerned about dirty floors. You ought to be..." she stood and smiled at me, setting aside her rag. "You are getting married in a matter of weeks. You ought to be concerned with that. Young, and in love... Your entire world should revolve around your betrothed for the moment." She seemed wistful.

"Yes," I nodded, "but in this case my betrothed is decimating the mountain lion population this weekend, and he didn't invite me to help."

"Oh." She laughed. "Yes, I can see why you're here then."

I was glad she knew my reasons, because I didn't. I had many things to do at home, and I could have spent the day with Charlie or Angela, or packing my things for my move. I was moving here and would be spending plenty of time in this house eventually, so shouldn't I spend the time I had with Charlie and not Esme? Esme and I would have forever.

"Why?" I boldly asked her. "I feel like I should be with Charlie..."

"Then why did you come over here?" She was wiping the counters now, but her gold-umber gaze didn't leave my eyes. I had the intense feeling that she knew the answer to her question, but wanted to draw it from my own lips.

"It... makes me feel better. For one thing," I sighed in exasperation, "I don't have any secrets to keep here. No one tells me that I'm too young to marry, or that Edward and I are all wrong for each other."

Esme frowned and her wiping stopped abruptly. "Do people tell you that?"

"Not... in those words, but I know some people think so."

"Well, if anyone says so, it's a bold-faced lie, Bella."

"Oh, I know." And I did. I couldn't doubt the rightness I felt in my bones. "But it's nice to get away, to go somewhere where... I don't know." I sighed in frustration at my inability to find the words.

"Somewhere you belong?" Esme prompted.

"I do feel like I belong here." I sounded almost startled by the realization. So much had changed from the day I'd timidly set foot in here, thinking the house uncanny, though mostly terrified by the imposing prospect of meeting Edward's parents, wondering what they would think of our forbidden love-- and of the clumsy young human he'd dragged home with him. Now, though, Charlie's house seemed more like the overnight trip, and Edward's criminally luxurious bed was where I slept best. I liked waking up at the Cullen's and stumbling downstairs to find Emmett and Rosalie arguing over television stations, or Carlisle getting home from the night shift. Once, Carlisle had brought me an enormous slice of cake from a work party.

Even now, there was a six-pack of expensive bottled water on the counter, as if tap water wasn't good enough for me. A bag of cheese-flavored popcorn sat next to it. On top of the fridge, where it'd come to sit in easy reach, was a first-aid kit. I'd already had occasion to use it once, much to my embarrassment, but without any repeat of the horrors of that birthday party. When I'd scraped my knee on a table's edge, it'd been so barely a scratch that at home I wouldn't have tended to it at all, but at the Cullen's, I'd noticed several pairs of eyes dart up and glance off me almost immediately. It felt like the vampire equivalent of having your skirt fly up in a crowded room-- all the witnesses pretended they'd seen nothing, but I burned crimson with embarrassment all the same. Edward, first-aid kit in hand, had taken me outside to wash and bind the barely-a-scratch.

A lot had happened since I'd first come here. The house had somehow molded itself around me, made space for me-- the human, the odd-girl-out. I even had a regular seat on the couch, a regular chair at the kitchen table where we sometimes played board games. I got up and went to the fridge and was not surprised to see cans of my favorite soda inside. I pulled one out and opened it.

"You do belong, Bella," Esme assured me. "I don't think you can fathom how long this family has waited for you to join it. There's been this hole in our family. We all saw it, and we all knew it needed to be filled. We each of us troubled over it. I worried myself dizzy long before you were born over Edward's complete loneliness."

I stopped, my soda halfway to my lips, and stared at her. She wasn't looking at me, though, but at the floor almost as if she was seeing scenes there, visions of the past or something. She continued in a whisper so gentle it was very nearly reverent.

"He's been blessed with the gift of knowing others' intimate thoughts, but no one knew his for far too long." She smiled wistfully. "I'll have to agree with Carlisle on this one. He says we need to have faith in the Lord, who fills all needs in time. You, Bella, are our personal miracle, given to us by a God from whom we'd thought ourselves sundered." She looked up and held my eyes as she finally said the last, and I felt burned by their golden gaze. I was sure Esme was using the word 'dizzy' metaphorically, but I was not so lucky. I swayed under the weight of her poetic flattery. It was nearly word-for-word what I'd thought of Edward: my personal miracle. Carlisle and Esme thought I was a miracle? A gift from God? What were they thinking?

"Oh Bella. Please sit. I wouldn't like to bear the blame of making you faint. I'm sorry."

"No no, I'm ok. Just... flattered." All the same I sank into a chair. She sat near me in the next.

"Are you nervous?" Esme asked.

Nervous? I assumed she meant about being changed into a vampire. I couldn't think of anything else to be nervous about... The pain worried me, and there was Charlie and Renee. "Esme..." I started quietly, "I really don't want Edward with me when I'm in pain. I don't want him to suffer. That's what I worry about most."

Her eyes were blank for a moment until she answered. "Oh! Oh Bella. I don't think an army of newborns could tear Edward away from your side."

"I know," I mumbled.

"But I was speaking about the wedding."

"The wedding? Oh. No, I'm not nervous. I know Alice will do a great job."

"Of course she will," Esme smiled with her eyes, but her mouth was tight. "I guess I was more specifically referring to..." She frowned and kept her eyes on her hands in her lap. "Things are complicated for us. We each have the social conventions from different time periods, and each our own personal histories, you understand. I was married before I met Carlisle, of course. And he never was. He... he waited until marriage, and that's a terrifically long time, if you're Carlisle." She seemed proud. The admiration distracted me, so I didn't realize immediately that she was telling me about their sex life. She spoke in a gentle and politic manner, but still! I didn't want to know that Carlisle...

"Really!?" I hoped my voice didn't sound as much like a squawk to her as it did to me. My embarrassment was completely overshadowed by curiosity. That was three hundred years of celibacy!

Esme drew back at my reaction, redirecting. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, I have no idea what Edward's... history is. I know of course he's never been in a relationship before..."

I was sure that every drop of blood in my body rushed to my cheeks. I must have looked like a feast on a platter to Esme. She didn't flinch.

"I just think you should know these things, before... It can be so nerve-wracking. And I certainly don't know your own... level of experience. Nor would I presume to ask."

This could not be happening. First Renee when I was younger, then Charlie had given me the sex talk, now Esme?! Still, somehow it was less invasive coming from her. She had started the conversation by revealing intimate information from her own marriage. A confidence for a confidence?

"No need to worry," I muttered, ashamed, "we're both equally inexperienced."

She didn't speak for a very long time, and through her silence my embarrassment only grew. At last she said, "How does that give me less need to worry, Bella?" For that one moment, she reminded me so much of Edward. I wondered if the expression on her face was something she'd picked up from him, or vice versa.

"Oh. I don't know. I just thought... You aren't worried about my virtue? Or Edward's? He's very concerned about it. His virtue, I mean."

She gave off a trilling, lovely laugh. "Edward, Edward," she shook her head, "Just because he can be like Carlisle doesn't always mean he should be. Don't try to tell him that, though. If only he were as generous and forgiving of himself as Carlisle is to him."

I hadn't thought of that. In some ways, maybe Edward really was just like a boy on the verge of manhood. This was what Edward meant by saying that things for vampires didn't change, I was suddenly sure. I would never be a more mature woman, and he would never entirely outgrow his need to admire and please his father. Luckily, Carlisle was easy to both admire and please. It was Edward himself whom Edward could never please. Or, sadly, admire, despite his enormous host of admirable qualities.

"I just wonder if you're nervous for... that night," Esme interrupted my thoughts. "I know you don't have your mother here in Forks. You can speak to me whenever you like, you know. I'm not your mother, and I wouldn't presume to take her place, but I am as close as they get to Edward's mother... Maybe that counts for something." Esme reached out and patted my cheek. "I'll be his mother at least until we meet Saint Peter and I have to give him up to the one who had him first."

She was still smiling, but I felt a pang of agony shoot through me so strong that I was at once sure that both Edward and Jasper knew that Esme felt this way. She loved Edward, loved them all, but they would never be hers. She would only ever be the step-mother or the foster mother. No one had come to her as a child except for her own, and he or she had left too soon.

"Esme? Can I ask you something?"

"Anytime you like!" I knew she meant it as literally and openly as she said it.

"Your child.. was it a boy or a girl?"

She grew still. "Boy, Bella. He... he had dark hair and dark eyes. I'm sure he would have grown up a gentleman, a gentleman's son."

If those words, a gentleman and a gentleman's son, didn't describe Edward, I didn't know what did. "What did you name him?" I wondered if I was getting too personal.

"He was Christened Michael Joseph." The sadness in her words was so large that it seemed to encompass the death of more than one child-- perhaps all of them. Esme was some kind of childless mother who stood for all time as a standard to the pain of the loss of a child. I felt for her. Her purpose was to carry grief, just as Carlisle's was to carry compassion. Each had been frozen into their death throws: Esme into the extremes of motherhood, and Carlisle into protecting the sanctity of life. I wondered if I would be frozen into my bizarrely-strong need for Edward. I hoped so.

Maybe Edward's mother was watching over Michael Joseph. It was a comforting thought. I said so to Esme in a tiny voice. I sounded to myself like a small child giving irrelevant comfort in a situation I couldn't possibly understand. She ran a cool hand down the side of my hair. "Bella," her voice was a whisper, "These are my burdens to bear, and I do so with joy. For, if I had Michael but a little while, I did have him. And, if I shall have to give each one of you up at the last trumpet sound, I will already have had you far longer than my share. I am blessed, but no blessing comes without sorrow. It's all in how you look at it."

Her smile was brilliant, and her words rendered me speechless. I thought I had learned something about blessings and sorrows in the past two years. I thought of Jake then. She was right, though-- viewed from a certain angle, everything was as it should be.

Esme jumped topics quickly again, and I wasn't sure whether I was relieved or mortified when she said, "At any rate, if it's not very enjoyable on your wedding night, don't fear. I think it hardly ever is."

I wanted to leave this conversation behind quickly, but her words had caught me. "W-What do you mean?"

She smiled tenderly. "Think of it as... learning a new dance. Just because someone's told you the steps doesn't mean you can get out onto the dance floor and do it perfectly the very first time. You have to practice and get the feel for your partner, to know when to dip or spin, when to embellish on the basic steps."

I was slightly horrified by her metaphor. "I can't dance," I answered, images of falling over in long dresses filling my mind.

"No," she smiled, "because you've never learned. That's why I asked if you were nervous."

I frowned. "I wasn't until now."

"Oh. I'm sorry. I just wanted your expectations to be reasonable, so that you were comforted."

"No, it's ok. Thank you. Really. I probably would have thought it was just something else I was miserable at."

Esme patted my head affectionately. "Now," she spoke up, "I do have more chores to do. Does your offer of helping still stand?"

"Always." I stood quickly and awkwardly as all my blood rushed to my feet. I was so grateful we were moving on that I would have taken any chore, even cleaning behind the toilet. I did realize, though, that nothing could be very dirty or unpleasant in this house. Its residents were far too perfect.

"Good," she clapped her hands together-- something I guessed she'd picked up from Alice. "Vacuuming. That's next. And dusting. Which would you prefer, Bella?"

"I'd be happy to do either," I shrugged.

Esme gave me a funny, but happy, look. She seemed to be appraising me. At last she let me in on her thoughts. "I've always hoped, wished, and prayed that Edward would find a wife, but never in my wildest dreams did I presume to wonder what she'd be like. I should have known he'd only fall in love with someone so brave and industrious. I'd always thought, 'beggars can't be choosers', but apparently, they can be! Bless Edward."

In my stunned silence following her declaration, she must have gone to get cleaning supplies, because when I blinked and brought myself back to Earth again, Esme was handing me a bottle of furniture wax and a couple soft cloths. "If you need more rags, they're in the linen closet across from Rose's room."

I nodded dully and thanked her, glad for the manual labor. Mentally and emotionally, Esme had utterly worn me out. Only later did I realize the reason she'd kept this conversation until Edward and Jasper were away. It was just between the two of us.

I stopped where I was, polishing the Cullens' upstairs hallway bookshelf, to marvel at this family that was taking me in. They were miraculous, and yet they under some strange impression that I was miraculous. How many miracles and blessings could crowd into a house of the damned?

I turned to see the wooden cross that hung at the end of the hall. Carlisle's cross. Edward had said it was decorative. Somehow, though, I doubted Carlisle thought of it that way. What was it Esme had said? 'We need to have faith in the Lord, who fills all needs in time.' I wasn't so sure about that, but I couldn't deny that my own needs were met. Maybe, then, there was still hope for Jacob. I was sure beyond sure that this was where I belonged, with these people. Maybe Jake would find where he belonged someday, too. In time. Edward had waited a terrifically long time, and still not near as long as Carlisle. How had the pieces of the puzzle all happened to slide together? I didn't know. But here I was. I picked up the cloth and continued wiping waxy circles on our bookshelf before my stomach told me it was time for lunch, courtesy of Alice.

I surprised myself by eating in the living room simply to be near Esme as she folded laundry. Neither of us spoke, but the silence was comforting and companionable. I was sure she usually folded laundry upstairs. Being here, and with her, all made me feel less alone. She seemed to understand this even if she didn't have Edward or Jasper's gifts. A mother's gifts, that's what she had-- an instinct for comforting others.

I didn't leave until well after dark. The four of us had played antiquated card games that I consistently lost. So much for beginner's luck!

I rolled down the window and let the breeze sink in, understanding not for the first time-- this family was not only Edward's, it was mine. I wasn't going to be added to the family; I was already a part of it. Losing them would have ripped me to shreds. How had I survived that summer? It didn't matter. It was never going to happen again, and the next time someone threatened our family, they'd better be careful, because they would have one heck of an angry newborn to get through first.

I smiled. Emmett was right about one thing, at least. No way could hell be bad when you lived in the midst of a band of angels.
Current Location: University of Minnesota
Current Mood: workingworking
Current Music: Smash Mouth - Padrino
kallaneboi: Twilight all coverskallaneboi on April 21st, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
Wonderfully written, beautifully done. My applause to you. The characters were wonderfully canon in their mannerisms. Good job!
Amyamyxaphania on April 21st, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
I loved this! I really, really enjoyed the read. Good job!
Clairediamondqull on April 21st, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
It felt like the vampire equivalent of having your skirt fly up in a crowded room *giggle* that was a brilliant simile, it really made me laugh. Great fic, very enjoyable to read!
papierblumen11 on April 21st, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
Some points I was like ROTFL!, others I was ~GASP~, and I just loved it!!!
Great job! Keep writing more!
Vanishing Train: birth controlfrostedcowgirl on April 21st, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story! I usually skip over fanfiction posted at lion_lamb but something about your post just caught my attention and I'm so glad I took the time to read it =) I love the dynamic between Esme and her family and I think you captured the characters wonderfully. Fantastic job!
Bloody Jack Flint: Maggie Hushrhye on April 21st, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, your comment makes me feel especially good. I've been studying recently about the importance of titles, and how to title stories to get the readers you wouldn't have gotten otherwise. I've been trying to take mine much more seriously. This story was done several days ago, but it took me that long to think of a title. So whether it's true or not, I'll tell myself that the title worked its magic and caught your attention, yay!

I'm glad you liked the story, too, of course. I think the Cullens fascinate me so much because of their family dynamics, and especially with Bella. I have been a step-child in four families and I have in-laws, so I am familiar with all the different ways Bella could find her part in their dynamics, and I guess I'm hunting for the one I feel is right. So is she, come to think of it!
Vanishing Trainfrostedcowgirl on April 22nd, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
I think the title definitely worked it's magic! I have no problem saying that it was probably one of the main reasons I stopped to read =)

I can definitely see how your personal situation helped with the dynamic of the story. I, for one, would probably never be as convincing with writing this material as I've never had to incorporate myself like that. And of course I'm excited to think that Bella is finding her home there! The little things like the food in the house mean so much I'm glad you got to touch on these things.
xlovelessotakuxxlovelessotakux on April 21st, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful! I love the way you write! Esme and Bella were just perfect here! Awesome, awesome job!
desanimada: edbellablackwhitedesanimada on April 22nd, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
Gorgeous. Had me blinking back mist and laughing at different parts.
There's no anecdote for ironykudosirony on April 22nd, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
Awesome story! The tones matched the characters wonderfully and the dialog was quite believable. Two thumbs up.
Rebecca JJpurplerebecca on April 22nd, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)
Oh, this was so beautiful.

Thank you for it.
Ms. J to the Diva: twilight: new moon flowerjadeddiva on April 23rd, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)
This is so original and so well done. I love the insight into Esme's thinking that we get here - for such an important character, she's rarely looked at and this is a fantastic portrayal of both Bella and Esme.
noperfectlife on April 23rd, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
I rarely read Twilight fanfics to be honest, but there's something about reading about Edward/Bella through other characters that I find really appealing, and of all fics I've read, yours is one of the best. The characterization couldn't be more spot on, it's almost disturbing lol. How long did it take you to write this?

The writing is flawless, the situation and dialogues are perfect. It all flows together really well. I'm in awe.
Bloody Jack Flint: Jake Minor Threat Hushrhye on April 23rd, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
*blush* Thank you. The rough draft took about ten minutes, but I'm a perfectionist so I went through it about 15 times, shifting and changing the focal theme. In the end, I kind of settled for not clinging to any one focal theme. They all seemed too forced (I didn't want an after school special! lol). I just worked them all in there. It took me a little while to come to terms with a lack of central theme, though! I think a lot of my editing was not even me changing the story so much as me trying to decide whether I trusted it as it was.

Thanks for speaking so kindly on the characterization. This is the first time I've written Esme, and she's hardly ever written with even this much focus in canon. I too like to see glimpses of what others see when they try to look into Bella/Edward. No one can get the full view except them and the readers, which is why I find it so cool to explore. I'm working on a Carlisle piece, as well, though it's not just about Bella/Edward, but also his thoughts on Charlie.

Bah, sorry for writing another story as a reply. I'm at work and I like the distraction!
noperfectlife on April 23rd, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)
Haha, it's ok. I'm really fascinated by the way you wrote this story so as a writer, I'm welcoming the discussion as well. I'm going to read more of your work, that's for sure!

The rough draft took about ten minutes, but I'm a perfectionist so I went through it about 15 times, shifting and changing the focal theme.

Sounds like me when I wrote my Seven degrees of Edward Cullen. It's the kind of story when you just don't feel like forcing anything and it's almost as if the story was meant to be one way and only one way, like you could try lots of different themes or situations and it doesn't work until you find THE context, THE situation. There was nothing forced about your story, it really felt natural and that was the amazing thing about it.

Esme is very overlooked, it's true. Most characters are actually. It's a pity because Stephenie Meyer just barely hinted at those characters in her books and there is so much more to Alice than her perpetual excitement, there is so much more to Rosalie than her ice cold beauty... And you just showed how there was so much more to Esme.

Really, thank you for that. I actually already added you to the memories of dazzling_love and I will be sure to rec you. The community hasn't started yet, but it will soon, you'll be in the first recommendation post! I'm disappointed to see so little comments about your story! That needs to be changed!
Bloody Jack Flint: Hiro Fanboys Flyingman Hushrhye on April 23rd, 2008 05:22 pm (UTC)
*double blush* Thank you for the rec. I'm also hoping to be a writer, so thinking about the writing process is something I really like. And I like overlooked characters because they give me a chance to test my wings at character building. Original characters must come from somewhere... I have to confess, though, that there are some characters... I cannot get into Rosalie's head, for instance. I'm hoping Reed will bring something more to her on screen so that I'll get it, or maybe BD will be helpful. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that I don't get her. She seems to think that decisions she would make are the same decisions everyone should make, and I don't get that when I see it irl either.

Do you have a link to your story that you mention? I'd love to read it!
noperfectlife on April 23rd, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)
Some characters are really hard for me to get into as well. Jacob for instance. I'm really torn about him and I cannot seem to make my mind on who he is and why he does some of the things he does. I guess, sometimes, you just miss the character for nothing and it takes one moment, one scene to just think, "soooo, that's why" :D

As much as I always loved Esme, she was one of the hardest POV for me to write in that story. Harder was Emmett. I'd love to try my hand at writing all those characters but I'm afraid that if I start, a one shot is going to be 20 pages long.

I really hope that BD will feature those characters in another light. They've been pretty... static in the three books. Granted, the books are about Bella and Edward and I know that Stephenie said something about vampires being very constant, but the potential is so huge it would be a shame not to explore it!

Here is the link to my story: http://community.livejournal.com/logicandparadox/16843.html

I'd love to hear what you think about it :)
Ms. Friday: Kayleei_am_girlfriday on June 7th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I guess I wouldn't mind doing housework if I had all the time in the world :) I really loved your Esme. Simply wonderful.
pot kettle black: [random] zooey!sazeracs on June 30th, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC)
I thoroughly enjoyed this. Your Esme is so very real and sympathetic! I only hope that if her character is explored in BD Smeyer will do her as much justice as you have here.

I liked how quiet the fic was, but still supremely meaningful.