Twilight Recap: Bella has been taken to the hospital where she has met with the movie-star-good-looks Dr. Cullen. Carlisle has assured her that she's safe to go home, and has managed to be as suspicious as possible when confronted with Edward's lie that he was right next to Bella at the time of the accident.
Twilight, Chapter 3: Phenomenon
I want you to imagine something with me for a minute. Imagine that you are a sparkly Twilight vampire. Imagine that you've spent almost one-hundred years on the run, moving from place to place, picking up and then shedding an identity each time. Each time you move, it becomes just a little harder; each time you pick up roots and put down somewhere new, you vow to try your hardest to blend in for as long as possible this time -- even if it means having to live through the boredom that is junior high school in order to maximize your potential time at the latest address.
Imagine also that everything about you is a secret. Your name, because you can't keep using the same one each time you move. Where you were born, for the same reason. Your strength. Your speed. Your ability to read minds or see the future or control emotions or be extra-super snarky to everyone. Your sparkly-pretty, marble-hard, extra-cold skin.
Wouldn't you think that -- after a hundred years of practice -- you'd become something of a consummate liar? Wouldn't you imagine that almost every possible slip-up would have an accompanying well-rehearsed lie? The speed... you were a track star at your last school. The strength... you went through a weight lifting phase a few months back. The skin... you have an unusual condition that is marked by low circulation and intense sun sensitivity. The eyes... you have colored contacts that you switch on occasion. The mind reading... you're a naturally gifted reader of body language.
Each and every one of these lies are just within the realm of plausibility, and it seems almost a given that dispensing these lies would become second nature. After 100 years of running and hiding and lying, you should have the world's best poker face.
"Lucky Edward happened to be standing next to me," I amended with a hard glance at the subject of my statement.
"Oh, well, yes," Dr. Cullen agreed, suddenly occupied with the papers in front of him. Then he looked away, at Tyler, and walked to the next bed. My intuition flickered; the doctor was in on it.
"I'm afraid that you'll have to stay with us just a little bit longer," he said to Tyler, and began checking his cuts.
What you would probably not do is neglect a patient who is actively bleeding from a multitude of facial cuts -- some of which may still have glass fragments embedded in them -- in order to beeline conspicuously over to the Girl Who Could Blow Your Cover just so that the head doctor on duty can tell her that her boo-boo is fine and just needs some Tylenol. (Or, to paraphrase Mike Nelson from the RiffTrax of the movie, the minor characters can wait their goddamn turn.)
Really, I'm terribly disappointed that Carlisle isn't willing to abuse his authority more. He's already been filled in by Edward that in the panic of the situation, Ed dropped a really crummy alibi and Bella in her stubbornness is not buying it. Now seems like the perfect time to whip up a nice concussion, and who besides Bella is in a position to argue? The Forks hospital staff is going to have more pressing matters to attend to (what with the icy roads and no one cancelling work or school) than to check for falsification of records on a case where it would be a minor miracle for the patient to not be hurt in the first place.
So it seems like the first point of order here would be to take Mr. Swan aside and gently explain that his daughter has a mild concussion and needs plenty of rest and clear fluids for a few days, and oh-by-the-way her memories of the accident are going to be severely foggy and she'll probably experience some spacial distortion, but that's perfectly normal, mmkay? And the next stop after that will be to go say the same things, very convincingly, to Ms. Swan. Will she believe you? Probably not right away. But that's the beauty of gaslighting -- it works through self-doubt over time. The key here -- the one rule that cannot be broken -- is to never, ever provide the victim any validation. Ever.
The next step is to start cleaning up the mess that Edward has made with his obviously false lie. Carlisle should clap his hand on the boy's back and proudly announce that all those years in track have paid off, and by gum they should put his son's name in the paper because he's a gorram hero. (Edward can blush and beg off later. The important thing is the show for Bella, right now.)
Edward's job is to patiently and steadfastly morph the old lie into the new lie: "I told you, Bella, I was right next to you. Just two cars down," thereby implying that Edward's "right next to you" and Bella's "right next to you" have different definitions and thus the disconnect in stories. This has the benefit of repeating the old lie (and therefore not changing his story) while morphing it into something more reasonable and very close to the truth. Bella remembers Edward several cars down from her. Four cars is impossible, but two cars would be impressive-but-plausible. Convincing Bella that her memory is flat-out wrong is impossible, but convincing her that a detail -- like the number of cars between them -- was exaggerated is very doable.
"I'd like to speak with you alone, if you don't mind," I pressed.
He glared, and then turned his back and strode down the long room. I nearly had to run to keep up. As soon as we turned the corner into a short hallway, he spun around to face me.
"What do you want?" he asked, sounding annoyed. His eyes were cold.
His unfriendliness intimidated me. My words came out with less severity than I'd intended. "You owe me an explanation," I reminded him.
"I saved your life -- I don't owe you anything."
I flinched back from the resentment in his voice. "You promised."
There's another key to gaslighting, and it involves not acting like a complete jerk. The key here is kindness and patience. Humans are socially conditioned from birth to respond certain ways in social situations. If someone keeps gently and patiently repeating the same "truth", we tend to feel uncomfortable with arguing with Such A Nice Person. Furthermore, if Edward can seem to truly believe his version of events, further arguing becomes even more uncomfortable: Bella is either calling him a liar, or telling that she knows better than he where he was when he saved her life. Neither of these accusations are easy to make against a kind, sincere person.
On the other hand, an openly hostile and clearly stone-walling person has the opposite effect: even if the other person started on your side, they're going to feel like they're in opposition to you because that's where your behavior and attitude is placing them. If they were already in opposition to you, then nothing you say is going to speak more loudly than your tone, and your nasty tone is screaming YOU ARE RIGHT NOT TO TRUST ME. Someone with mind reading powers and a hundred years of experience should know this by now.
He glared back. "What do you want from me, Bella?"
"I want to know the truth," I said. "I want to know why I'm lying for you."
"What do you think happened?" he snapped.
It came out in a rush.
"All I know is that you weren't anywhere near me -- Tyler didn't see you, either, so don't tell me I hit my head too hard. That van was going to crush us both -- and it didn't, and your hands left dents in the side of it -- and you left a dent in the other car, and you're not hurt at all -- and the van should have smashed my legs, but you were holding it up. . . ." I could hear how crazy it sounded, and I couldn't continue. I was so mad I could feel the tears coming; I tried to force them back by grinding my teeth together.
He was staring at me incredulously. But his face was tense, defensive.
"You think I lifted a van off you?" His tone questioned my sanity, but it only made me more suspicious. It was like a perfectly delivered line by a skilled actor.
And this isn't even a good try. The problem here isn't Edward's unnatural, rehearsed tone, but rather the fact that he's taking her story seriously. The correct body language here isn't stiff-backed, eyebrow-raised, backing-away-for-the-nurses-with-the-straightjackets, sanity-questioning. No, the correct response is relaxed body language and a laugh-and-a-smile for the funny story that Bella is telling. "Haha, I wish I could lift vans off of people! What, like Superman? Hah, no, I just know from Advanced Calculus that when a heavy object is in motion, you can use its kinetic energy to force a rebound with a small counter-force. Never thought I'd use it outside of the classroom, though. Whew."
Argue with that, Bella Swan.
Pleasant laughter + technobabble wins every time. Is his technobabble right? Of course not. Does it cover every little aspect of her story? No, it glosses right over them. Edward shouldn't take those details seriously, should not even register them, because they're impossible and Bella imagined them. He can't be expected to remember every little detail of her made-up dream story, can he? But by glossing over them confidently, they become harder for Bella to hold on to -- "Did he address the point about the car dents? He seemed so confident, but I can't remember..."
I merely nodded once, jaw tight.
"Nobody will believe that, you know." His voice held an edge of derision now.
No, no, no. Here Edward has his books mixed up. "Nobody will believe you" is the line from the Abusive Boyfriend handbook. The line implicitly confirms what the victim is saying while still pointing out how helpless they are to do anything about it. You can't do that with gaslighting -- you've now broken the one rule about never validating the subject.
The Cullens should have it hammered into them that you never, ever, implicitly admit to their natures. What if Bella has a tape recorder on her that she grabbed out of her purse while she was in the E.R. waiting on Edward and his father? (We call them "smart phones" nowadays.) What if there was someone else listening in to their conversation? What if a million things. By saying this, Edward isn't just telling Bella she's right, he's saying out loud that she's right. This should be anathema to the last one hundred years of careful practice.
"I'm not going to tell anybody." I said each word slowly, carefully controlling my anger.
Surprise flitted across his face. "Then why does it matter?"
"It matters to me," I insisted. "I don't like to lie -- so there'd better be a good reason why I'm doing it."
"Can't you just thank me and get over it?"
"Thank you." I waited, fuming and expectant.
"You're not going to let it go, are you?"
"In that case . . . I hope you enjoy disappointment."
OK, *ahem*, I promised to be professional about this.
We can all agree that Edward has royally screwed up the gaslighting attempt, but this situation is still salvageable. The ship has sailed for convincing Bella that she's wrong, but there's still a good chance to convince her not to talk. Trusting to her vague "I don't want to tattle on you" is not something that the Cullens can take to the bank, and Edward needs to understand that.
The next step on the list -- and this should be a step that the Cullens are familiar with, because it's not possible that no one has ever accidentally seen them sparkling in the sunlight -- will be securing Bella's silence. The obvious way is to arrange an accident, of course, but I'm not going to blame the Cullens for not wanting to be murderers. They're good people, and they just don't want to be discovered (and then executed by the Italian vampires); I get that.
But there are more options between Kill The Witness and Ignore Her And Hope For The Best, and these are options that need exploring now that Edward has utterly failed at not being a suspicious, argumentative jerk.
One option would be to buy Bella off. The Cullens appear to have an infinite amount of wealth; they could easily spread some of that around into padding Charlie's salary (maybe via a well-meaning "donation" to the Forks police charity drive?) or helping Bella pay for her secondary schooling. This would have to be handled gently so as not to be suspicious (so obviously Edward the Diplomat wouldn't be involved in this process), but Carlisle could take a special liking to the sweet patient that his son saved and she just seemed like such a promising young lady, and did the Swans know that the Cullens sponsor one kid every year to the college of their choice?
The goal here would be not to buy Bella's silence, but rather to put her in a position where rocking the boat would not be in her best interest. The situation couldn't continue indefinitely, but distance from The Parking Lot Incident would drastically weaken Bella's case if she ever decided to come forward, and the time bought would give the Cullens a chance to leave town quietly and naturally.
Another option would be to embroil Bella emotionally. The Cullens have three astonishingly attractive boys and two stunningly gorgeous girls in their family. At least one of those young people is likely to be able to snag Bella's interest, particularly the one who is capable of manipulating emotions with his mind. (Yes, his power works on Bella, and no, I don't understand why if she's a psychic shield or whatever. Presumably the Emotional Manipulation isn't ranked as a direct attack in the same way Mind Reading is, although who wrote that homebrew rule I can't even imagine.)
Emotional manipulation is probably a better bet than financial manipulation, because emotional manipulation can be extremely powerful. Bella could enter a romantic relationship with a Cullen from a position of superiority -- she's got damaging goods on them, after all -- but then slowly come to accept a more vulnerable position as she becomes more emotionally attached to her partner. She's a teenager, with the emotional and physical turmoil that frequently accompanies teenage growth, and it's very likely that she could become extremely attached very quickly to a beautiful and powerful being who lavishes attention on her. She could be made to believe that she's special, and that no one else on earth is quite like her -- who doesn't want to hear that from time to time?
Of course, there always exists the chance that she might betray them and tell their secret anyway, but if her relationship with a Cullen has been a matter of public knowledge, she's less likely to be believed: the Cullens can just say that the romance turned sour and that Bella is spreading outrageous stories out of bitterness. Indeed, the stories will be so outrageous -- Vampires? But she's still alive to complain about them? -- that she'll be a laughingstock in town.
So I really do think that the best way to shut her up would be to assign someone -- possibly Jasper -- to pretend to fall desperately in love with Bella, his one true soul mate. It will be inconvenient, but as long as he can keep making moony eyes at her, they'll have a chance to walk away from this massive screw-up that Edward landed them in.
We scowled at each other in silence. I was the first to speak, trying to keep myself focused. I was in danger of being distracted by his livid, glorious face. It was like trying to stare down a destroying angel.
"Why did you even bother?" I asked frigidly.
He paused, and for a brief moment his stunning face was unexpectedly vulnerable.
"I don't know," he whispered.
And then he turned his back on me and walked away.
Oh, wait, I see Edward has decided to fall on that particular sword himself. Good start there, Romeo.