[Content Note: Agency Loss, Buffy Spoilers]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 12, Bella and Edward's relationship is observed by Billy Black and Bella worries that Billy may inform her father Charlie. Later, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.
Twilight, Chapter 12: Balancing
When we last left Edward and Bella, they were planning their outing for the next day.
Edward let slip the fact that the majority of his family aren't keen on his dalliance with Bella. They are concerned that if Edward loses control and kills her, they'll all have to go on the lam to avoid pointed questions. This is actually a reasonable setup: Edward has been spending a lot of private time with Bella, and I'm pretty sure that she's told Jessica that she's going out with Edward tomorrow and they're driving to another town. So Edward does seem like a likely suspect if Bella turns up missing. Additionally, it seems reasonable that the entire Cullen masquerade wouldn't hold up well to a serious police investigation.
Bella is concerned. She does want to still go out with Edward, but she doesn't want him to get into trouble if an 'accident' occurs. So Bella leaps into action. ACTION BELLA AWAY!
First there is Mike to deceive:
In Gym, Mike was speaking to me again; he wished me a good time in Seattle. I carefully explained that I’d canceled my trip, worried about my truck.
“Are you going to the dance with Cullen?” he asked, suddenly sulky.
“No, I’m not going to the dance at all.”
“What are you doing, then?” he asked, too interested.
My natural urge was to tell him to butt out. Instead, I lied brightly.
“Laundry, and then I have to study for the Trig test or I’m going to fail.”
“Is Cullen helping you study?”
“Edward,” I emphasized, “is not going to help me study. He’s gone away somewhere for the weekend.” The lies came more naturally than usual, I noted with surprise.
Following the same instinct that had prompted me to lie to Mike, I called Jessica on the pretense of wishing her luck at the dance. When she offered the same wish for my day with Edward, I told her about the cancellation. She was more disappointed than really necessary for a third-party observer to be. I said goodbye quickly after that.
“You know, Dad . . . ,” I began, breaking into his reverie.
“What’s that, Bell?”
“I think you’re right about Seattle. I think I’ll wait until Jessica or someone else can go with me.”
“Oh,” he said, surprised. “Oh, okay. So, do you want me to stay home?”
“No, Dad, don’t change your plans. I’ve got a million things to do . . . homework, laundry . . . I need to go to the library and the grocery store. I’ll be in and out all day . . . you go and have fun.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely, Dad. Besides, the freezer is getting dangerously low on fish — we’re down to a two, maybe three years’ supply.”
“You’re sure easy to live with, Bella.” He smiled.
“I could say the same thing about you,” I said, laughing. The sound of my laughter was off, but he didn’t seem to notice. I felt so guilty for deceiving him that I almost took Edward’s advice and told him where I would be. Almost.
And that's all in pretty much one page. I'm pretty sure that's the fastest and most decisive that we've ever seen Bella act.
But before we deal with that, can I reach for the low-hanging fruit and point out that "[Jessica] was more disappointed than really necessary" line? That line makes me sad. I'm quite certain that it is supposed to fit into the overall framework of Jessica being concerned that she'll lose Mike to Bella, but my brain can't help but fold it into the growing pile of evidence that meta-Bella is severely depressed. My guess is that Jessica genuinely is concerned for her friend -- she seemed more than happy to hear that Edward liked Bella, and we'll recall she had a low opinion of Edward, so my guess is that she was happy that Bella was happy and now she fears that Edward has broken her heart -- and that Bella just can't accept the idea that she might be worth sadness and concern from her friends. That makes me sad.
And it makes me a little angry that S. Meyer really did fail to include a reasonable sample of healthy girl/girl friendships in this book. I gather that Alice will be on board later (though for Twilight at least, she seems less like Bella's friend and more like Edward's trusted employee), but pretty much every other girl in this novel so far has been portrayed as jealous and two-faced and back-stabbing because they blame Bella for the fecklessness of their men. I know this is typical for YA novels, the setting up of pretty and popular girls (though in this case, less pretty and less popular than the protagonist) as literary obstacles to be overcome, but I'm frustrated and annoyed that friendly girls in Bella's life are the exception rather than the rule. And that instead we are given pseudo-friends like Jessica and Lauren who pretend to be nice to Bella, only because they believe it's better to keep their pretty-and-popular enemy close by. The nearest thing we've had to an actual friend so far is Angela, and she's a "friend" largely by virtue of the fact that she doesn't speak. There's nothing wrong with that, but in this conversation-oriented novel it makes her almost invisible.
But let's move on to the fact that Bella, for possibly the first time in this novel, is being decisive and acting with agency! Yeah! Except ... she's acting with agency in order to essentially undermine Edward's agency. Um ... yuck.
Bella wants to go out with Edward, regardless of the risks. Fine. But she wants to shelter him from those risks as well. Less fine, since that's really his decision to make and not hers. And she accomplishes this by deliberately doing things to undermine his agency, things that he doesn't want her to do, and things that she's doing without warning or his consent. Very not fine.
Tomorrow on their outing, Edward will ask about Charlie and what he knows. Bella will tell him that she's carefully made sure that no one knows that they're out together, and that no suspicion will fall on Edward if Bella doesn't come home. In other words: she's removed the barrier that he was relying on to keep from killing her.
“And did you tell Charlie what you were up to?” he asked.
“But Jessica thinks we’re going to Seattle together?” He seemed cheered by the idea.
“No, I told her you canceled on me — which is true.”
“No one knows you’re with me?” Angrily, now.
“That depends . . . I assume you told Alice?”
“That’s very helpful, Bella,” he snapped.
I pretended I didn’t hear that.
“Are you so depressed by Forks that it’s made you suicidal?” he demanded when I ignored him.
“You said it might cause trouble for you . . . us being together publicly,” I reminded him.
Edward is angry. Good. He should be angry. Possibly for the first time in this novel, I am completely on board with Edward's anger here. But he's angry for the wrong reasons. He's angry here because Bella's life is the most precious thing in the whole world to him and here she's being cavalier about her safety. That's not a bad reason to be angry, but it shouldn't be the main reason.
Edward should be angry because Bella removed his agency. He was very careful to verify that Jessica knew they were going out together today. He tried to convince Bella to tell Charlie as well, though he dropped the subject when Bella refused. But this safety net, this social barrier, is important to Edward. Edward believes that it is useful and necessary in order to keep his behavior in line. Edward will later compare Bella to a drug addiction, saying that his yearning for her blood is like a craving for heroin. (Which I suppose, being a telepath, he would actually be in a position to judge.) By removing the barriers that Edward put in place in order to control his addiction, Bella is actively harming him and trying to take away his agency and control over himself and his actions.
Edward should also be angry because Bella isn't just maneuvering herself into a position to be killed; she's maneuvering herself into a position to be killed by him. She's making it as likely as she possibly can that he will be responsible for her murder, and that he'll have to live with that knowledge for the rest of his unlife. That's a truly heinous thing for her to do, and it shows just how selfish her "selfless" actions are here. By trying to protect Edward from the police, she's created a situation in which he may have to live with the guilt and horror that he murdered the one person he's ever romantically loved.
So far in my watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I've been frustrated that while the show seemed willing to tackle what it would mean to kill the person you love (Buffy killing Angel), it has largely dodged the issue of what it would mean to maneuver someone you care about into killing someone they love. Xander Harris is at least partially responsible for the latter; he deliberately chose not to tell Buffy that she might encounter a souled Angel in her battle, because Xander wanted his romantic rival dead. And the only way that could happen is if he -- Xander -- pushed his friend Buffy into killing the person she loved.
Bella is playing both the victim/Angel role here as well as the puppeteer/Xander role here. She's gone out of her way to make it very hard for Edward to resist killing her, and then upturned her big eyes at him and said, essentially, doesn't this prove how much I love you? And the answer is: no. It doesn't prove that she loves Edward; it proves that she thinks more about herself, and about the fantasy in her head, than she does about the actual person she loves and their feelings and wishes. If Bella wanted to protect real!Edward, she would listen to him when he says he needs and wants a social safety net; instead, she moves and acts for the fantasy!Edward in her head, the one who will take this as even more evidence of her pure unadulterated True Love for him, that she would so selflessly sacrifice herself for him! D'aww!
Fortunately for Bella, her author also prefers fantasy!Edward since we never get anything more than some grousing and general grumpiness in response to her actions here. But it shouldn't be this way. After an entire novel full of Edward being angry and upset, now is the time that Edward should be genuinely angry and upset. Bella took his agency away, and she didn't even warn him until they were halfway to the middle of nowhere together.
I could kind-of sort-of forgive this a little if Bella was doing this for people other than Edward. If she thought that Charlie would be killed in a police investigation into the existence of vampires, or that Jessica would be murdered to cover up the fact that Edward was with Bella that day, then I might be able to see something of value in Bella's decision here. It wouldn't still be a wholly morally good decision, I think, but it would be a complex and serious look at a morally ambiguous situation. I could even forgive a little if Bella was doing this not for Edward's sake, but for his family's.
But those situations, that latter one especially, would require Bella not telling Edward that she's removed the safety net. A Bella who had thought through all this carefully and decided that vengeance would just cause more harm than good would also be a Bella who understood that telling Edward that she'd removed the safety net would be the opposite of a loving act. Or she'd at least tell Edward what she'd done before they left the house together, and not once they'd gotten halfway to wherever they were going. If this hypothetical Bella really felt the need to be truthful, she'd be proactively truthful and give Edward the agency to decide how to react in response*, rather than only being truthful when asked directly.
Ultimately this scene isn't about protecting Edward, or the Cullens, or Charlie and Jessica. It's about proving that True Love means caring so much about the person you love and so little about yourself that you'll protect that person from harm ... even if it means putting them in more harm's way. (This will be an ongoing Twilight theme, actually! Stay tuned to Edward leaving Bella in New Moon!) In order to prove the purity of her love, Bella will leap into action for possibly the first time in this novel.
And Bella will exercise this new-found agency only long enough to take Edward's agency away.
* For example, Edward could choose not to go out with her, once she'd told him that she removed the safety net. Or he could choose to go get a chaperone to bring along; Carlisle, perhaps, since he's supposedly never had an 'accident'. But these things would involve risk, and there's a chance Edward would walk away from this outing, which is not what Bella wants. So by removing his safety net and not telling him in advance before they leave, she is ultimately being manipulative and selfish, neither of which reconcile well with love.