It looked like a Tonner Bella, anyway.
"Hi, yeah, I'm calling about an order--it's an order I made with someone else, a site online... ... Yeah, no, it's not a problem with the actual company... ... No, but--I'm trying to figure out if the product they sent me is--you know, the same thing that would have come from y'all, or if it's defective... ... Oh, yeah--it's the Bella Swan figure y'all make? The original one, the first one y'all put out? Yeah... .... Well, see, the problem is--I get this Bella doll, right? And--it's incredibly polite and cheerful and friendly, and--I don't know--what to make of that."
The customer service rep laughed. "Yeah, we did get a lot of feedback about that when she first came out. A lot of complaints that it didn't seem much like a Bella Swan."
"Have you seen the doll?"
"Yeah, yeah. I understand what they're talking about. I do think she had that expression in the movie. At least once. But it's not how people generally imagine Bella Swan, so we had some fan complaints. We've fixed that with the newest version of the doll."
"Yeah, I saw that one. Is the resemblance to Stephenie Meyer intentional, or...?"
"I can't really comment on that," she said, but I'm pretty sure she was trying not to laugh.
"Yeah... But yeah, I guess that's what I'm asking, then. Happy and friendly, that is the doll as you originally manufactured it? The one I got is the way it should be?"
"That's how we made it."
"Mm. Okay, thanks."
And Tonner Edward had seen her.
I found him sitting out in the hall with his head on his knees. He saw me approaching and began to laugh--very, very bitterly. The soft jingling of his kitty bell was no comfort.
"You were telling the truth. You really did send for her. She really was on back-order."
"Yes, I was."
"Well, it's too late now. You might as well send her back."
"The hell I will! She is precious and darling and awesome and you are just going to have to deal with it and make her happy."
"Deal with it." He gave me that humorless smile of his. "Make her happy. Me. A murderer."
It sounds stupid to be like, Um, okay, don't let this whole ~murder~ thing get in the way of your romance. But like I said, doll justice is a bit different--here were two dolls who were literally made, at a factory, for each other.
I mean, yes, Elizabeth is perfectly happy with Anna instead of a Will Turner doll, but Edward Cullen and Bella Swan are two characters who exist solely to be in love; they pretty much don't do a damn thing else through 1800 pages of story. And it seemed unfair to Tonner Bella that because this guy did something terrible that had nothing to do with her before she even arrived, she could never be happy--she could never fulfill the purpose for which she was manufactured--and I told him so.
"I don't care," he said. "I can't be with her; I can't meet her; I can't ever, ever see her. At best, I don't deserve her--at worst, I could hurt her. A million years in my box wouldn't be punishment enough for that." And that was when I knew he was already in love with her, even after only the briefest
I sighed. "So we're doing this now? Well, it's to be expected, I guess." Then, curious: "Does she have--you know, the freesia business--going on? Like Little Bella, or...?"
Rather than speak, he closed his eyes and gave a long shudder.
"So, okay! That's all you then!" I said, and beat a hasty retreat.
For the moment, I decided not to push it. But I also started thinking... was this the purpose for which Tonner Bella was meant? Because she seemed pretty un-Bella-like, honestly. Maybe she might actually like to have, you know, a life. I was looking for something for her to do, and her interests were already becoming clear. For example, the D&D game broke up (again) when Skippy returned to report on enemy squirrel activity to Legolas.
Bella clasped her hands behind her back in a concerted effort (I am guessing) not to pet him. "Oh! You do have a lot of animals around here."
"Chi-chi-chaaaa," said Skippy, waving his weekly hazard pay (peanut brittle).
"Business first, little dude, then the ladies," said Legolas, steering him over to the hatbox the Shelfians used as a table. Eventually Purple Arwen butted in with a stack of dishes, picking up Skippy's brittle ("Chaaaaa!") and slipping a tray under it, so she could set the table. Which was as a good a signal for dinner as any. Almost everyone there was shorter than Bella, but in a way, she seemed smaller. She had walked in, unconnected, to a very warm, crowded family dinner of strange languages, inside jokes, familiarities--Purple Arwen pouring everyone their favorite drink without anyone having to ask, one Faramir reaching over the other to get to the cookies, Lyra and Legolas dueling with long-handled spoons. But the gang opened up to Bella pretty quickly--after first running into Bella, Eowyn had run to Purple Arwen, her partner in gossip, and whispered in shocked tones, "I think the new one might be all right!" And so Faramir Two asked Bella how she liked playing a half-orc barbarian; White Arwen asked to examine the embroidery on Bella's blouse; Galadriel brought her a little pink plate of lembas, which Bella was very excited to try. (The Aragorns tried to talk to her, but she seemed a little shy of them.) Maybe they genuinely liked her better than The Littlest Bella right off, or maybe they had just learned a lesson from the way Little Bella had grown on them (sort of), but it did make me feel bad for the diminutive Swan, remembering her first night. Not to mention the fact that they were all feasting on Little Bella's culinary handiwork--it didn't really seem fair. But there it is. At least Little Bella wasn't there to see it.
"Do you cook?"
"Well, I mean--kind of? I used to cook for my dad, but, you know--nothing fancy or anything."
Well, at least Little Bella had pastry proficiency in her favor.
And there was Tonner Bella, all the while, sitting in her corner, idly petting the chivalrous Iorek, trying to figure out who was who (and with whom) without actually staring--the two Arwens, the two Aragorns, the two Faramirs, the elves, the Gondorians, the couples, the friendships, the kinships, the various iterations and combinations. The two Aragorns were smoking together; Faramir Two gazed on admiringly as Legolas waved his hands around describing some kind of--well, I don't know what, but it kind of looked like cave troll kung fu; Serafina and Galadriel would discuss a rune reading, then the former would go back to Lyra, and the latter would turn to White Arwen; Eowyn would whisper in Purple Arwen's ear, and then they would separate and recombine with their respective Faramir and Aragorn.
(And Ellowyne One watched her, eying Bella's peasant blouse and long ringlets with something between suspicion and envy.)
After a while, I decided to check on Bella. "So, how's it going over here?"
"Pretty good. The lembas is amazing. But... wow, you've got, like, two of everyone."
"Yeah. Funny how that seems to work around here," I said nervously. She was not yet aware that there was another Bella--I had given The Littlest Bella the night off and asked The Littlest Edward to take her out somewhere nice, like the dining room table, so that New Bella could have a night to settle in before things got completely weird. And The Littlest Bella --having no idea what we were hiding from her--was more than happy to oblige, let me tell you. A night out with her gallant sparkle cupcake? HOLY CROW. Elizabeth did me a similar favor--maybe to save Anna's sanity more than anything else. She announced that she'd discovered a cache of absinthe in the bathroom cabinet, and she and Anna needed to go secure the booty before anyone else poached it, if by "secure" you mean "get hammered."
"What the hell are you talking about--mouthwash?"
"SHHHH," said Lizzie. "It's been years since she's had absinthe. And that stuff had been sitting under a windmill for who knows how long. I'll put some rum in the Scope, she'll never notice the difference, and"--she cut a sharp look over at New Bella--"nobody has to die."
And so that was why I gave Dot and Dash to Tonner Bella--not just because it had become clear that Bella was drawn to animals, but because it would be harder for Anna to torment her recreationally if she had protectors. Of course, I hadn't counted on Bella's "protectors" to be a handful themselves.
But Bella loved them--which is good, because I'm not sure anyone else could have put up with the constant YIP YIP YIP YIP. She brushed them, played with them, let them drag her anywhere they wanted to go--and pretty soon, in fact, they hauled her past the Sparklerosa, where she came across Baby Glory wandering around crying (and if you've never seen a baby unicorn crying, let me tell you, it is a horrifically pitiful sight), a toy stacker ring stuck on her horn.
So of course, Bella performed a quick hornal ringectomy, wiped Glory's tears away, and put her back on the right side of the fence. And The Littlest Edward, rather bashfully, came over to thank her.
"Okay, so what's going on?" she asked me later. "There's a guy my size who ran away when he saw me--"
"You noticed that, huh?"
"--and a guy who comes up to my knee who looks just like him. And he has ponies."
"Well, that's his job. I try to find things for people to do around here, and the ponies were his size. He's really good with them. Actually, you kind of were too," I said, half talking to myself. I was also thinking about how it might be better to go ahead and tell her now... "You know how we have two Arwens and two Aragorns and two so-on-and-so-forth? Well... his name... their name... is Edward. And we have two of him. The one you met is a very small Edward. And he's with... there's also... a very small you."
Tonner Bella raised an eyebrow.
"But the two Edwards are very, very different, and as far as I can tell, you and The Littlest Bella are WAY INCREDIBLY different," I said quickly. "You don't have to think that--it doesn't mean that--I'm just saying--it doesn't have to be weird, it's just--well, you know! How different the Faramirs are! They're not both with Eowyns!"
"So--is that what's going on with the other Faramir, he's with--"
"No, no, shhh--don't say anything about that. That's not a thing yet, it's en route to being a thing. But yeah. Everybody totally has their own thing. Totally."
"Gah, this place is complicated," she said, and shook her head with a rueful laugh. "Well, I guess that makes sense now--the small one always looks at me so weird, but if I look like the girl he's with, well, yeah. Awkward." She chewed on her lip a moment. "So--the regular-size one? Why did he run away? I keep sitting here thinking what I could have done to freak him out, but he didn't even look at me for more than two seconds. If we were supposed to--be like the other two--then he should have been happy to see me, so--?"
The thing about having multiple iterations of a character is that you get really tired of seeing the same story play out umpteen times. I'd already been through months of meebling once, and I wasn't going through it again. "Honey, I should just go ahead and tell you. He's a vampire. Both the Edwards are."
"Well, we've also got elves, a gypsy and a witch."
"Oh. Well. I guess that makes sense, then."
"And... yeah. Your--the taller Edward has... issues." I decided not to tell her about his kink for curls and/or brunettes, because that would just make things awkward. I mean, even more so. "I'll just go ahead and tell you--Little Edward eats toy stuffing. I give him cotton balls, he's fine. I mean, we had an incident--look, he's fine. But your--the regular-sized Edward, he feeds on real animals. Mostly squirrels. Mice, rats, minor woodland rodentia. He's not allowed to eat any dolls or toys, but..." I thought very carefully about what I was going to say next. "He would very much like to. So that's why he ran away from you. He's trying to be good."
This conversation was cut blessedly short by Baby Glory--the ring back on her horn--nudging at Bella's shin. Poor Little Edward was across the room tearing up the Sparklerosa, Easter grass flying everywhere, in search of his lost pony. "She's over here, it's cool!" I called over to him. Beside me, Bella pulled off the toy ring--rather easily. "You little faker," she said, laughing. But after a moment, a faraway look settled into her eyes, and she looked, more than anything... intrigued.
Whatever reverie she was lost in, The Littlest Edward's approach pulled her out of it. I watched them closely, not so much listening to the words: those are some nice dogs there, he's been looking for some good sheepdogs, maybe he could borrow them to herd the ponies...? If I hadn't known better--no, this couldn't be The Littlest Edward chatting Tonner Bella up, because that would actually be smooth. But by the end of the conversation, he had talked--dazzled? I was afraid to ask--Tonner Bella into staying around and teaching Dot and Dash to herd, maybe helping out on the ranch if she liked it, if she would be interested... "You seem to be really good with animals," I heard him say shyly. (Baby Glory batted her lashes up at Bella.) What the hell had I d--
"EDWARD, WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?"
"Bella, this is--" He looked up at me helplessly. I shrugged: there was no way to get around the weirdness of what had to happen next. "This is Bella."
The two Swans eyed each other.
I don't know what Tonner Bella thought of her diminutive self, but even I could tell that The Littlest Bella must have looked up and seen a tall, fully articulated doll with a head full of curls, a girly-cute outfit made of real fabric, and a figure that was very different from her own.
The silence dragged.
"That's a really nice jacket," Tonner Bella offered.
("It is a really nice jacket," I murmured helpfully.)
The Littlest Bella advanced--
and put her arm around The Littlest Edward with such a firm grip that he gave a start. "Yeah," she said crisply. "It is."
Tonner Bella nodded awkwardly.
"And you're not gonna borrow it. 'Cause it's not your size."
"Yeah. Just so we're clear on that."
"C'mon, Edward," she said, her eyes never leaving Tonner Bella's. "Time to feed the ponies."
So help me, The Littlest Edward's littlest goldenscotch eyes were glancing back and forth as nervously as mine were--but when Little Bella put her arm around him, he put his arm around her. I think, in some weird way, her possessiveness made him happy.
And then, just when I thought we'd dodged that bullet, he looked over his shoulder and called, "So--you'll bring the dogs tomorrow, right--?"
"EDWARD, I AM GOING TO TRIP!"
And then, thinking that hostilities had ceased for the day, I realized that Clarice had been watching all of this from behind the stable. Her eyes latched onto mine--me, the bringer of Bellas and supplier of sheepdogs--and they were full of dark, ovine fury.
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