At first, time passed without my realization. Normal tasks such as eating, showering and driving to and from school, was nearly impossible. Time passed in an odd, out-of-body type experience. I was numb. I was empty. Everything that makes a person alive had been taken from me; my being was ripped open and my insides were brutally ripped away. Leaving only the broken leftovers that couldn't possibly allow me function correctly anymore.
I was like a sorrowed ghost; I was stuck in an alternate life that somewhat mirrored my human life. I walked the same halls, sat in the same seats, slept in the same bed, yet absolutely nothing was the same. Not anymore. Never again.
After an agonizing, week long mental break down- that included screaming until my voice broke causing my throat to swell, vomiting, breaking the desk and nightstand in my bedroom, and hyperventilating to the point of fainting- I lost my emotions. I supposed, along with my heart, soul and spirit, my emotions were torn from me as well. It was as if I had been left with a minimum amount of feeling, some sort of meager token that I could hold onto, so I could feel the pain and know that the mystic universe I had been a part of for a precious year had been real.
But even that had been stolen from me.
He had taken everything.
Every part of me that made me who I was seemed to be missing. Not just missing, but gone forever. He'd taken them with him and made his clean break from my life. But my life wasn't a life any longer. It was more of an existence; a bland existence.
I sighed heavily. I was eating my habitual breakfast. I tasted nothing, but could feel a slight rough texture against my tongue and the roof of my mouth as I chewed blankly. I watched my arm lift a spoon to my lips and continued to mechanically eat. Charlie was sitting across the table from me reading the morning newspaper and gripping a hot mug of coffee. I knew I should be moving out of the kitchen chair soon, so I could make it to school on time.
Not that I cared. But Charlie did. And so, I attempted to keep the same routine each day so as not to rouse Charlie's suspicion. I stood and shuffled to the sink. I stared out of the small window above the sink as I washed my bowl and spoon. When I was finished, I turned around and grabbed my textbook off of the nearby bench; I never opened the book, but if Charlie saw my arms empty of books continuously, then he would ask questions.
And I avoided talking as much as possible. Suspicious questions were the plague.
I started to shuffle for the front door when Charlie cleared his throat loudly. My body froze because I knew he was gearing up to talk to me.
"Bella," He lumbered into the living room and frowned at me, "Where are you going this early in the morning?"
I stared back and vaguely mumbled, "To school."
His expression went from confusion to unconcealed worry. His chocolate eyes blinked several times before he quietly replied, "Today is Saturday, Bella."
I blinked once and mumbled, "Oh."
My face didn't blush because I didn't feel embarrassment. I just felt tired. I dropped my backpack to the floor and shuffled forward, past Charlie and toward the staircase. My textbook was underneath my arm, so I used it as an excuse when Charlie asked what I was doing now.
"I'll go study."
He mumbled, "Didn't you say you wanted to go grocery shopping today?"
I stopped my exit from the living room and said, "Sure, yeah, I'm going to the store later on."
I started up the staircase again but stopped when Charlie sighed seriously and firmly ordered, "Come back down here, Bella."
I turned around and took the few steps back toward my father. I stared blankly at him and waited. Just waited. Finally he said, "Bella, honey, I can't take this anymore. I think I'm going to get you a plane ticket to Florida. To your mother."
A wrinkled frown marred my forehead and I dumbly asked, "What?"
He gave me an anxious look before slowly saying, "Bella, look at yourself. You're depressed. I think some time in the sun, some time with your mother and away from Forks, is what you need. Maybe…after you get back on track, you can come here again." Charlie ran a shaky hand through his thick, curly hair and stammered, "I just…don't know what else to do. You aren't getting better and…and honey, I can't stand to see you hurting so much."
The first trickle of emotion in a long time ran through my chest. Panic.
"Um," I stuttered, "No, Dad, no. I'm fine. No need for Florida."
"Bella, you are anything but fine."
"Honey," Charlie's voice was oddly low as he explained, "You have been looking sick for a while. You don't eat properly and you're slipping up so much. You aren't even here most of the time. And, damnit, I can't talk about this in the right way. That's why you need Renee. A daughter needs her mother for this kind of thing, Bella."
I blinked and mumbled, "Mom won't be able to help. I like it here. With you."
Charlie looked surprised before he flustered up and stuttered, "W-Well, you know I like you here, with me, too. But I really think staying here isn't good for you anymore. Because of him, you're just-"
I flinched violently and the movement stopped Charlie mid-speech. His face paled and he whispered, "Bella, all I want to do is fix this for you. Tell me how."
The odd sensation of panic was propelled aside with an unexpected, overwhelming feeling of love for my father. I could see the pain in his eyes and the way that he was standing in a slumped, defeated position. A pain that I had put there.
I was hurting my father. The thought came forward roughly and fanned away some of the thick fog covering my brain. I painfully pieced together a few jagged thoughts. I had to try better. For Charlie. I had to make some sort of effort or else Charlie would be as broken as me. The horror of that was too much to bear, so I shoved the thoughts aside and whispered, "I'm not going to Florida, Dad. I want to stay with you. I'm going to make a grocery list now."
I walked around him and went to the kitchen table. I sat down with a pad and pen and began to write. After numerous silent seconds, I croakily called out, "Is there anything specific that you would like for dinner this coming up week?"
Charlie slowly entered the kitchen and eased himself in his chair. I could feel his eyes on me, observing me closely, as I kept writing in my messy way. He named a few items briefly. I took my time writing on the slip of paper before offering awkwardly, "Uh, we could have, um, lasagna for dinner tonight…?"
Charlie cleared his throat again and took a loud sip from his coffee mug. Then he replied, "Actually, I was going to watch the basketball game with Billy tonight. He and Jacob are coming over. I was going to order pizza-"
I cut him off quickly, "Oh, I can cook. That's no problem, Dad. That's perfect. I can even make dessert. How about that strawberry cream pie you like so much?"
He eyed me cautiously and I could tell by the frown on his face that he was trying to work out my sudden urgency. He mumbled, "That'd be good."
I forced myself to reply, "Alright. I'll be back soon then."
The trip was uneventful, but expensive. I racked my brain over and over again as I went about putting away the purchases; what in the world had Charlie and I been eating for the last week? There was next to no food in the house. Not in the refrigerator or the cupboards or the pantry. I chewed on my bottom lip feverishly as I stacked fresh vegetables in the crisper. I couldn't remember the last time I went shopping. Had it been two weeks ago? Or was the last time I went the same time that the cashier had dropped the jar of pickles, shattering it everywhere? I couldn't remember.
A headache was pounding at my temples from the amount of unwanted thoughts running through my brain. I didn't want to think or feel, but somehow, I had both. I felt a twinge of guilt as I saw how empty the kitchen was; it was my job to feed Charlie and keep the house clean. I was failing.
With a great sigh, I piled my thick hair on top of my head in place with hairpins and stripped my sweater off. I was about to throw it onto the kitchen bench when I caught an off odor. Halting, I hesitantly sniffed the sweater and snorted.
It smelled terrible. Like a mixture of bleach and sweat. Hesitantly, I smelled the flimsy t-shirt I was wearing underneath the sweater. It smelled sweaty too. I very nearly went about cooking dinner until I thought of Charlie's words. The Blacks' were coming over. Stinking wasn't socially acceptable when Charlie had his friends over. And the whole point of everything that I had done today was for Charlie, so I shuffled to my bedroom. I changed into a clean pair of sweatpants and a clean t-shirt. I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face and added deodorant before returning to the kitchen. At least I didn't stink now. I tried not to think as I went about preparing dinner, but the thought surfaced anyways, along with a hurtful amount of embarrassment: I was so out of it that I hadn't even realized my own personal hygiene.
When I heard Charlie's muffled voice call out a greeting and an oddly familiar and warm voice greeting my dad, when I heard the front door slam shut and the sound of wheels rolling across the living room floor, when I heard the squeaks from the springs of our old couch, I tried not the panic.
The large pan of lasagna and garlic bread was baking in the oven and I was working busily on the dessert portion of the menu. A large bowl of fluffy, ivory frosting was chilling in the refrigerator, but I was having trouble with the batter. I had thrown away the first disastrous batch and was measuring the right amount of water, oil, and flour for the second batch when I heard heavy footsteps coming my way.
I froze for a moment as the unwelcoming panic welled again. I pushed it down and took a deep breath before going back to measuring flour into the bowl. I focused so intently that when a friendly and warm voice greeted me happily, my arm jerked. I yelped and the bag of flour and measuring cup slipped out of my hands.
It crashed to the floor. A small mushroom cloud of flour puffed up immediately and I gagged awkwardly. Before I could move or attempt to speak, the boy that had startled me bent down and started scooping up piles of flour with his big, clumsy palms and dumping it back into the cup. His hair was extremely long and a silky, ebony color. If I hadn't have been so shell-shocked and confused by this boy, by Jacob Black, then I might possibly have been jealous of a boy who had prettier hair than I did.
I bent down beside him and stared at the kitchen floor as he chattered nervously, "Oh, jeez. I'm so sorry, Bella, I shouldn't have scared you. I thought you heard me walk in. I'll clean this up. Really. I'm sorry. I'm clumsy, sometimes, you know? Don't worry, your moment of clumsiness with this flour is so my fault; I'll take the blame if Charlie freaks out. But I doubt he will."
He chuckled and kept scooping up flour. He asked, "So…where's the broom?"
"Oh, the closet." I stood up at the same time he did and as I turned to fetch the broom, my shoe slipped on the powdery substance. I scrambled to catch myself and would have smacked my head on the kitchen chair nearest to me if Jacob's arm hadn't shot out and steadied me.
He quickly took his arm off of me. I blinked up at him as he grinned brightly and chuckled, "I guess you're just clumsy too, huh?"
I was struck by the contrast of his pearly white smile and his russet face. Because I had always suffered from pasty skin, I admired pleasing, dark skin tones. And Jacob was one of the people who had a wonderful skin tone. I mumbled, "Um…yeah. I'll just…get the broom…"
Fumbling, I opened the closet door and swept the mess up as quickly as possible. Jacob stood out of the way and curiously peered at the mixing bowl from across the kitchen. When I caught him inching his way toward the oven, I frowned. He caught me staring and gave another bright smile.
He chuckled and sheepishly said, "It smells amazing. I swear that I was compelled to open the oven and take a peek. I really couldn't resist."
I was startled when my ears heard myself chuckle. It was a ludicrous sound. A bizarre pitching tune that made my stomach quiver uneasily. Abruptly, I spun around and finished making dessert. I was just pouring the strawberry glaze over the pink batter when Jacob's curious voice asked, "What is this called?"
He wasn't crowding my space, which I was relieved by, but he was still in the kitchen. He was sitting in Charlie's kitchen chair and he didn't seem to be leaving anytime soon. His presence was too bright and overpowering; he was like an eager, joyous puppy. It hurt anytime I caught him smiling, like a punch to my mouth.
He was happy.
And I was not.
My voice sounded dead and vague. "It's strawberry cream pie."
My tone didn't put him off like it had put off Mike or Jessica or Angela over the last couple months. Instead, oddly enough, it didn't faze him. He replied easily, "It looks great. Charlie's constantly bragging about your mad chef skills."
I rolled my eyes as I opened the oven. With mittens on, I pulled out the lasagna pan and set it to cool. I slipped in the pie and mumbled blankly, "That's embarrassing."
Jacob laughed. My arm hovered over the top of the stove, hot pan of bread in my hands. I listened to the sound of his drawn out laugh as he said, "Charlie always talks about you. Don't worry; I know how you feel. Billy brags on me too."
I made a noncommittal noise in the back of my throat; I set the bread pan down and set the timer. I opened the refrigerator and pulled out a gallon of milk. I was about to close the door, but hesitated before glancing at him.
His dark eyes were twinkling and he offered another smile. My heart skipped a beat and I glanced away quickly. I asked, "Do you drink milk? If not…we have…"
I peered into the depths of the refrigerator before saying, "…orange juice or fruit punch. I think…uh, somewhere, uh, there's a can of soda."
He chuckled and replied, "No, milk is just fine, Bella. Thanks."
I didn't say anything as I mentally counted the number of tall glasses and plates needed to serve everyone. I was startled once again as Jacob stood up, walked toward me and gestured. He offered, "Why don't you hand me those dishes? I'll set the table."
I blinked owlishly at him. He had a different smile on his face this time. It wasn't a big, bright smile, but more of a soft smile that reminded me of silk. I couldn't help but wonder if his lips ever got tired from the never-ending workout they got from all the smiling and laughing.
I glanced at his long, ebony hair again before handing him a stack of plates and mumbling, "Thank you…"
The smile stayed on his face as he made his way around the table with an ease that I tentatively admired. Dumbly, I watched him set out the plates before I shuffled forward and set the glasses and utensils in his trail. He asked, "What else can I help with, Bella?"
I glanced fleetingly at him, but quickly glanced away again. I scratched the back of my head and quietly said, "Give it another five minutes and tell Billy and Charlie to come eat."
He nodded and plopped back down in Charlie's seat. His posture was relaxed and light as he joked, "Do you think Charlie will ever paint these cupboards again? I mean, they've been bright yellow for as long as I've been alive."
Shocked, I turned to him with my jaw slacked.
He chuckled and asked, "Why are you looking at me like that? Have I grown another set of eyes or something?"
I stuttered, "I-I…um…had the same thought the first day I came to live with Charlie again."
And there was his million-watt smile again. I turned away and busily started cutting up healthy squares of lasagna. A smile like that would blind somebody, right? I dished out the food on each plate and poured milk for Jacob, Charlie and I, but hesitated as I came to the last glass. I asked, "Does Billy drink milk too?"
Jacob gave a friendly, brief smile and replied, "Yes."
I poured Billy a glass of milk as Jacob called loudly for our fathers. I could hear Billy and Charlie moving around and talking in joking voices. I pulled out an extra fold-out chair from the closet and scrapped it across the floor. I made sure that Dad's place setting was far enough away from Billy's that Billy could easily maneuver his wheel chair without difficulty. But that left me sitting closer to Jacob. I wasn't exactly close, but was close enough to be bothered. I sat down and waited until Charlie and Billy were seated. Charlie gave me a uncertain smile and said, "This looks good, Bella."
His smile was the goal I had been aiming for. I pushed my fork around the plate, peeking glances at the three people around the table. Charlie and Billy bantered simply, occasionally bringing Jacob into the conversation. We were half-way through the meal when Billy gave me a warm smile. It was then that I found out where Jacob inherited his eye-catching smile from.
Billy chuckled quietly and said, "That was a very good meal, Bella."
When Jacob and Charlie both glanced at me while eating, I turned my lips up slightly. My facial muscles were fighting me over such an unnatural action and I mumbled, "Thank you, Billy."
I hoped the expression came off as a small smile, but I doubted it.
Charlie stood and retrieved second helpings for himself and Billy. Jacob brought his plate to the sink and turned the faucet on. I was standing up and carrying my nearly full plate to the counter before I realized what my body was doing. I set my plate down near the sink and stuttered, "Uh, no, Jacob, I've got it."
He gave a careless, easy shrug and warmly replied, "I can wash it, Bella, no problem at all. It's the least I can do after some awesome lasagna like that."
I hovered near him for a moment with my hands halfway raised as if to snatch the plate from his hands. He smirked and raised a dark eyebrow. He jokingly said, "Of course, we can split the chore. I'll wash you and can dry."
I blinked and said, "Um…okay."
And that's how I found myself cleaning after-dinner dishes with Jacob while our fathers hollered and cheered over basketball in the next room. It wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be, but was still awkward enough. Jacob supplied easy conversation. He was on his third story of his friends' adventures when I finished icing the top of the pie. I found myself attempting to listen to his story, but his voice fell upon deaf ears; I couldn't focus on his happy tales.
I was so used to tuning things out that Jacob's friendly voice was a buzz in the back of my mind as I cut slices of pie and put them on saucers. I was just about to dish out a fourth piece when a broken thought sluggishly made its way into my muddled brain.
I gasped, "oh no."
Whether it was the tone of my voice or the sudden and frantic way I began to tear through the pantry, Jacob abruptly stopped in the middle of his easy-going story. He demanded, "What's the matter?"
The tough tremor in his voice was definitely unforeseen when compared to the soothing tone I had been hearing all night long. When I glanced at him curiously, I saw that he was standing up straight and tall. He had a frown on his face. I quietly explained, "I forgot…"
He cocked his head to the side and frowned again. "Forgot what, Bella?"
The action reminded me much of a confused puppy. I felt a warm blush coat my cheeks as I cleared my throat and retrieved the sugar-free cookies Charlie kept specifically for Billy's visits. I held them out to Jacob and apologized, "I can't believe I forgot about Billy's condition, Jacob. I'm sorry."
Understanding dawned in his dark eyes right before he blinded me with a swift, happy smile. He took the package of cookies and laughed, "Oh, Bella, you had me worried for a minute. Don't feel bad. Dad wouldn't want you feeling bad at all."
I tried giving a smile like I did when Billy complimented the dinner, but it turned out as more of a grimace.
After Charlie and Jacob polished off the pie- I nibbled on mine- Billy and Charlie said their goodbyes. I was exhausted, but was grateful nonetheless, to Jacob's help with cleaning the kitchen after dinner. I stood in the kitchen archway, watching as Jacob rolled Billy's wheelchair out of the door. Jacob gave a wave and big smile before saying, "Bye, Bella. It was nice hanging out."
I doubted that he was being sincere, but thought I had figured out enough about Jacob Black to know that he would be nice anyways. I gave an awkward wave followed by another small grimace. "Bye, Jacob. Yeah, it was nice."
Charlie closed the front door and lumbered back toward the couch. He plopped down and sipped on a beer. As another basketball game started, I knew I could slip upstairs undetected. As I started up the staircase, Charlie vaguely said, "Oh, Bella, Billy mentioned that Jake wanted some money for some car parts, so Billy's going to send him over tomorrow morning. He'll be tuning up your truck. I'll be heading into the station at six, so I thought I'd let you know. Uh, stay home. Keep him company, huh?"
I blinked and mumbled, "Okay, Dad."