"You could just ask Lyra to read it," I reminded her.
"What if it tells her that Serafina will kill Faramir? Or even the other way around?" she fretted, shuffling yet another pack of tarot cards in some distress. "You know how much she loves them both--"
"But then at least we would know--"
"No! Surely we can figure this out! Now hand me the bag of runes."
And in the course of hunting for those, I discovered the Ellowynes waiting for Tonner Edward at the printerbook tableshelf. These days he alternated brooding over my copy of Jane Eyre with trading out fresh books from the Lending Library of Cleo more and more frequently. Quite honestly, since Bella's kitchen is on top of that particular bookshelf, and since he was ignoring far better collections elsewhere in the room for two small shelves of books I mostly read in grade school, I was beginning to suspect his motives.
"OH COME ON! You didn't even READ Sarah, Plain and Tall!"
"I did so. There was a farm, and things happened. Now, if you would kindly tell those girls to loiter somewhere else, I would like to borrow--"
"Bella, Small and Clumsy? You realize you're not any better than the Ellowynes, right?"
Speaking of whom, the Ellowynes had draped themselves over a stack of Stephen King hardcovers and were openly lying in wait for him. Ellowyne One kicked her feet flirtily; Ellowyne Two tossed her curls.
Bella peered down over the edge of the shelf to see what the giggling was about (and probably would have fallen on their heads if not for the Girdle of Galadriel). "Ugh," she said dismissively. "That's disgusting."
"I think I'll try something from your historical nonfiction section," he said pointedly, and swung up to the very highest level of the left-hand bookcase--on the other end of the room. But later he said to me, "You see? She understands. She's no airhead. She has dignity. She's intelligent. She's intellectual."
"She reads cookbooks."
"Because she's already read everything else, I heard her say so!" Of course he had, I should have known. But a strange look was taking over his face: "She felt pity for me then, didn't she? She felt sympathy, when she saw what VAPID HUSSIES were lying in wait for me--she saw me--"
"I don't know that she saw you--"
"She saw me and she was not repulsed!" he cried, as if I wasn't even there. "She understands! She knows the goodness in my heart! She saw it!"
"I'm really pretty sure she didn't see you at all--"
And I knew then that The Littlest Edward had better get on the stick, and he better get on it soon.
Here's the thing: The Littlest Edward wanted to shepherd and oversee every single aspect of Little Bella's life. She must have the warmest socks to sleep in, every ingredient her pastry-baking heart could desire, constant protection from his rival--but he wanted all of this for her without actually speaking to her himself. And you know, if he had managed to be content with this, if he could have loved her placidly from afar, TONNER EDWARD, that would have been one thing. But he wasn't, not at all; he wasn't descending into crazy quite as quickly as his larger rival, but bottling up all these unspoken yearnings wasn't good for him, either. I checked in on the Sparklerosa one afternoon, for example, and found him working on a little art therapy project. Good for him! I thought. He does have a lot of feelings, after all. Maybe this will help him deal--express some of it, maybe get over some of it, at least think about something other than Bella Swan for one afternoon. He was putting together a very nice mosaic of...
"COME ON!" I said, finally exasperated. "You really can't call dibs and not use them. She's lonely; you're lonely. You're both the same size. And King Kong over there is going insane. You gotta make your move, man."
"No, no--" He winced and gave a little hunch-shrug, and the look on his face was almost--angry? Angry at himself, though, I think. "I just want her to be happy. I can make sure she's happy from here, that she has everything she needs. Going over there..." (he cast a look of terrified longing in the direction of her kitchen) "... isn't going to help with that."
"Oh, come on--!"
"She doesn't need to be around" (sing it if you know the words) "a monster like me--even if she ever could love me, the first time she ever looked into my eyes, I would throw her down and rip open her throat. But it doesn't matter. Because she wouldn't." And he sighed.
Well then. He'd never quite gotten that graphic about it before. I wondered in how much detail he'd been thinking about this. "But you don't know," I said gently. "You stayed in the cabinet for three whole hours with Clarice! You're stronger than you think--besides, you and she are the only two dolls your size, surely that means something...?"
"But what would I even say?" Ah, the rub: we had finally arrived at it. "Am I supposed to tell her how beautiful she is first, or how much I love her? I... I don't know how this is supposed to work."
Well, now we were getting somewhere, in that I finally understood that he would, paradoxically, get nowhere on his own. Clearly, some coaching was in order. And then, I had a Brilliant Idea:
"Okay, look. Here she is. Go up to her. What do you say?"
There was a long pause. A rusty "Hiiiiiiiiiiii" creaked out.
"That... is a start. Hi, she says." (I could have told him that she would then say "My name is Bella," but I wasn't sure I could count on even that elementary a courtesy from her. Better to prepare him for the worst-case scenario.) "What do you say next?"
"I... I've been watching you... [a look of horror from me ] I've seen you around, yeah. I've seen you around. Are you... new here? Because... I've seen you around. So I guess I know you're kind of new here. But... not all that new, because... around here. I've seen you. For a while."
"Okay, let's try the unweird version of that. It's okay! This is why we're practicing. It's a process; we're--we're revising, right? 'Hi. I've seen you around.' " I waved my hand: Continue! And here are some of the highlights--the highlights, mind you--of our Talking to Girls training session:
"So... I thought... I would come over and... try to talk to you... I mean... if you don't mind... you don't look like... someone who necessarily wants to talk to people--I mean--not that you're unapproachable, I mean, although obviously--I have--a hard time approaching you--or--I wouldn't be acting like such an idiot MISS CLEO I CAN'T DO THIS!"
"Yes you can. Yes, you can. Look, I need you to take a deep breath, go slow, and think about what you are saying. Don't just let all this whatever come pouring out of your mouth. Man of mystery, okay? When in doubt, leave her wanting more. Man of mystery. Go!"
"So. I thought I would come over and. Talk to you. Because. You look lonely. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with feeling lonely--I feel lonely all the time--I mean, not that I don't have any friends, because I do have some, but not that many, but not because--I mean--I can introduce you to people?" He looked back at me hopefully.
"Okay, the moment I mean comes out of your mouth, you go down in flames. GO SLOWLY. Don't explain yourself! Don't second-guess yourself! This is not a deep intellectual conversation! This is 'Hi, you're new, would you like me to show you around'!"
His face lit up at "show you around" like I had handed him the cheat sheet to a killer exam. The moment I realized this--the very depths of his cluelessness, the profundity of his lack of game--a little something died inside.
"So. I thought. I would come over. And talk to you. Because you are new here." (I gave him an encouraging thumbs-up.) "Are you... where... are you from... somewhere... warm?" (I bit my lip in frustration that he had already forgotten Would you like me to show you around?) "Because... you look cold. With all the clothes. I mean--you must not wear clothes where you're--I mean, so many clothes--I mean--"
"NO! STOP IT! NO! NO BABBLING! 'HELLO! MY NAME IS EDWARD CULLEN!' THAT IS ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY! OH MY GOD!"
He tried to hold it together, but I saw his lower lip wibble.
"Okay. Look--no, no, it's okay! It's okay. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have--look, it's going to be okay. You're new at this; I can't just throw you on the battlefield and expect miracles. 'Hello. My name is Edward Cullen. You're new here, right? Would you like me to show you around?' Seriously, I will write it down for you. Where my Post-It notes at--here. Learn this."
He repeated the lines over and over under his breath--at times it sounded like an ESL student phonetically reciting words he didn't understand--while he did his chores, he wrote them over and over in his journal, etc. And of course we hadn't thought of anything for him to say after that, but I kept hoping that the sound of His Velvet Voice™ would cast a spell over her--once we'd flipped her ZOMG EDWARD CULLEN! switch, I was hoping we'd be okay. I had set an arbitrary appointment of 10 am the next day for him to approach Bella because God knew he would never do it if I didn't physically carry him over there, set him down on the file cabinet, and shove him in her direction.
(It was only a little shove.)
I went back over to Bella and looked as "casually" "busy" as "possible." "Oh look," I said five seconds later with admirable nonchalance, "it's that guy I told you about. You know, the one the same size as you. Come on over to the printer, I'll introduce you."
Edward took a deep breath and stepped forward. Bella put one hand on her hip and surveyed him.
"Hello is my name! EDWARD CULLEN!"
And then he turned green and fled.
Bella rolled her eyes. "Weirdo."
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