A pile of stringy orange pumpkin bile lands on the table, flinging sticky water through the air. Rosalie arches her finely shaped eyebrows and tilts her head at me.
“Could you possibly aim that slop elsewhere, Edward? Say, toward the pig who seems to be carving out a trough?” Her gaze slides over and comes to rest on Emmett, who’s leaning into his knife and sawing away at a gigantic pumpkin with gusto. I take note of the bending blade and move two feet to my left.
He grunts in response. “Whatever, Rose. I’ve got a plan.” He wipes his hands on his shirt and resumes his full-bodied efforts.
Rosalie’s stage frown dissolves, and she bends down to nuzzle his neck. The two of them are disgusting, even without pumpkin guts flying around. I push away a twinge of envy — perhaps it’s time to give mate-hunting another chance. Sighing, I resume the messy business of scooping out my pumpkin’s innards.
Pumpkin carving is a Cullen tradition — at least since Alice joined our family — and every year, we dutifully produce a family of gourds featuring a variety of grotesque faces and scenes. The grotesque part comes not from our chosen subjects but from the fact that Alice demands we carve as humans do — slowly, with clunky, blunt knives, and inspired by human memories or references. Since we display our trophies outside, they need to be both less than perfect and recognizable. It’s a reasonable argument but an arduous process, especially when one pictures it continuing for centuries.
I smother a groan and return to the seemingly endless scooping stage. I have no idea who in history first thought this was a good idea, but Carlisle probably does. I make a mental note to ask.
A searing pain interrupts my grumpy thoughts. I reach up and press my temple, instinctively turning to Alice. She’s frozen, her hand raised and still clutching her carving knife.
“Alice, are you OK? Can you hear me?” Jasper says softly, grasping her wrist and taking hold of the blade. He glances at me, and I shake my head. I can see nothing. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Esme moving to Carlisle’s side, reaching for his hand. Emmett has stopped sawing.
We all watch Alice.
Then, like a drowning person desperate for air, she gasps and flails her limbs. Her eyes fly open, wide with shock. Jasper steadies her by the elbow and whispers in her ear.
She glances at me, and my head is suddenly filled with nursery rhymes. I cringe and throw up a mental block. Whatever she has just seen is not for my eyes, and since nursery rhymes are Alice’s cover of choice, Little Miss Muffet has been practically engraved on my brain. I plunge back into my pumpkin, and my surroundings recede into a distant hum.
For the next hour, or two, or three — I deliberately ignore the time — all is quiet. I chip away at my pumpkin, trying to avoid a repeat of 1973’s infamous Leering Jack. I’ve never been an artist, however, so since that embarrassment I’ve tended to recycle simple themes — bats, moons, ghosts — all of which, ironically, could be tied to society’s portrayal of our kind, and are about as realistic as a vampire carving a pumpkin by hand.
Just as I’m painstakingly chiseling the final star of this year’s design, a sharp squeal shatters my concentration.
“Finished!” Alice sighs dramatically, and a shard of light taps against my mind. “Let me in, Edward!” she trills.
I lower my knife and rub my neck, nodding.
She reaches for Jasper’s hand and grabs it tightly, taking a quick breath. She spins around her pumpkin so that it faces me. This year, she has carved a face. I see a delicately pointed chin, large, downcast eyes, pressed-together lips, and the outline of thick, straight hair. Alice has always had the ability to capture uncannily lifelike depictions, whether on paper, in words, or, apparently, via pumpkin.
“It’s lovely, Alice,” I say, my gaze traveling over the carving’s soft contours. “Beautiful work as usual.”
She smiles. “I’m glad you approve.” She pauses, and continues silently. “She’s going to be your mate. Her name is Bella.”
My knife drops to the floor.