Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer.
A/N: Thank you to my beta, JustineNicole and my pre-reader SherLynn.
Chapter 1: This Can't Be My Life
What is it about sitting alone on Christmas Eve that makes you think about your life?
Maybe it's the eerie silence that holiday nights seem to possess.
Maybe it's the record cold clearing my brain. Whatever it is, I know I don't want this to be my life anymore.
I don't want this stagnant feeling of going nowhere, of only existing and not really living. I want something better for my kids. I want something better for me. I feel it as certain as the floor beneath my feet: things need to change.
Spurred by my sudden insight, I reach for my phone, hoping for an answer on the other end.
There are three rings before I hear a timid hello.
"Ang, it's Bella. Can you do me a huge favor?"
"Of course(,)" she replies, like I knew she would. I have always been able to count on Angela.
"Can you come sit here with the kids for little bit?"
"What? Now?" she asks.
"Umm, yeah...if you could."
"Sure, give me ten minutes and I'll be over."
As soon as I hang up the phone, I begin pacing, trying to sort out exactly what I want to do next.
I urge my truck along the dark road on the edge of town, until I reach the parking lot of a small, dark building. The only sign that this is a business is the neon sign perched in the window.
Sure enough, Jake's Volkswagen Rabbit sits in the parking lot, along with four other cars.
I swing my ancient vehicle into a parking space and kill the engine.
Nerves flare in my stomach as I approach the front door. Once I walk in there is no turning back. Taking a steadying breath, I push the door open, revealing the smoke filled bar.
I've known for a while that Jake frequents this bar, and I'm fairly certain he's also cheating. Twelve years ago, when I got pregnant with Leah at eighteen, it would have bothered me, but now it barely feels like cheating. He hasn't slept with me since I got pregnant with Seth—that was four years ago.
Our marriage was never built on love. I had gotten pregnant in April of my senior year, and we were married by July under pressure from Charlie and Billy. Jake and I had been friends since we were twelve, so living together wasn't difficult, but there was always the feeling that something was lacking.
Jake was furious when he found out I was pregnant again; he accused me of doing it on purpose. I swore to him I had always taken my pill, but he never believed me. He had wanted me to end the pregnancy, but I couldn't do it. This little person deserved a chance to live, and if Jake didn't love him or her, I would love it twice as much to make up for it.
My Seth is the most loving little boy any mother could ask for, and it just kills me to see the way Jake almost completely ignores him.
When Leah was little, she and Jacob were buddies and she would follow her daddy everywhere, but now even that has faded. Everyday it feels like he can't wait to get out of the house and away from us.
This Christmas, though, he promised...he promised things would be different and he promised the kids.
He made all these big plans for the things they were going to do tonight. They were finally going to put together the train set from last Christmas. Leah and Seth were so excited—especially Seth. There was so much hope on his sweet little face.
Leah had been the first to give up. Three hours after Jacob should have been home from work, she stopped watching out the living room window and went down the hall to her bedroom, mumbling, "This is dumb." along the way.
Seth waited on that couch all night, convinced Jacob would be there any minute.
When he fell asleep with his train clutched in his hand, I carried him to his bed and then wrapped the Santa presents alone, not that that was something new. I don't think Jacob has helped me wrap gifts for ten years.
All of this and more runs through my mind as I walk into the bar.
"Where is he, Austin?" My question is directed at the pot-bellied bartender. He's been a fishing buddy to Charlie for years.
Austin jerks his head toward the back room. I should have known.
Adrenaline pumps through my blood, making my heart race and my palms sweat.
Pushing the door open slowly, I hear the telltale grunting of people having sex.
The low light doesn't show much; I can just make out the figures on a couch on the far side of the room.
I feel an odd sort of detachment seeing my husband's fingers digging into the fleshy ass of the woman astride him. Common sense says I should be seething with jealousy and anger, but there is simply a void of feeling as I stand mere feet from them.
Jacob hasn't felt like a husband in a long time, he feels like a roommate I have kids with. But I'm not here for me—I'm here for my kids. They deserve better than a father who neglects them, that would rather spend his time in a rundown bar, bouncing a tramp on his lap then at home with them. And I am definitely done making excuses for his absence.
Taking a step closer, I cross my arms over my chest and wait—wait for Jake to see me.
It isn't till the blonde astride him pulls her mouth from his that his eye catches mine.
He doesn't even have the decency to look shocked or sorry, instead he thrusts up into the still oblivious woman, returning my glare.
"I want a divorce," I finally say, bringing the attention of the blonde woman.
He doesn't answer, just thrusts again, emphasizing he doesn't care.
"We'll be with Charlie if you even care to see your kids for Christmas."
Fucker doesn't even stop screwing the blonde - just keeps going.
I turn my back on them and stride out through the bar.
"Sorry, Bella...I didn't -"
I cut Austin's words short by flashing him the bird on my way out the door. I don't even want to hear whatever lame-ass excuse he was going to give me.
My emotions are running just as high on the drive home, only now I'm angry.
I think of all the years I spent with Jake and, other than him giving me two wonderful kids, they feel like twelve wasted years.
I'm home in no time and I just sit in my truck, staring at the house. Now what do I tell my kids? Despite his neglect, both of them still love their dad.
Angela is asleep on the couch when I step inside. It's no wonder seeing as it's two in the morning.
"Ang," I whisper, shaking her gently.
Her eyes open slowly and she slides to a seated position, rubbing her eyes.
"Is everything okay, Bella?"
I'm not sure how to answer her.
"Yeah, just...making some changes. I'll tell you more about it later. Thanks again for watching the kids."
"Anytime," she tells me, gathering her coat and heading out the door.
I'm alone again in the living room, with nothing to do but take the next step.
I load the gifts into the back of my truck, followed by everything I'll need for making breakfast and Christmas dinner. Guess I'll need to call Billy and let him know there's been a change of plans.
I pack a couple days' worth of clothes in some duffle bags and then head to the kids' rooms to wake them up.
Leah gets up right away. When I tell her we are leaving, she doesn't even seem surprised.
"Dad isn't coming, is he?" she asks frankly.
"I don't know, baby," I tell her.
Seth is a little harder to wake, he whines and tries to pull the covers back over his head.
"Come on, honey, we're going to Grandpa's."
I lift him gently from his bed and slip his coat on over his pajamas.
"Momma, what about Santa?"
"He'll come to Grandpa's house, buddy."
I carry Seth to the truck, Leah following us with our bags of clothes.
I have Leah knock loudly on the door when we get to Charlie's as I stand behind her holding Seth.
Charlie answers the door on the third knock—I can tell he was sleeping, and I feel a bit bad about waking him.
"Bells? What's going on? Where's Jacob?"
"Let me get the kids in bed, Dad, and then we'll talk."
Charlie takes the bags from Leah and leads the way upstairs to my old room. The old double bed that used to occupy this room has been replaced with two single ones for when the kids stay over with my dad.
After they're settled, Dad follows me out to the truck and helps me bring in load after load of stuff. When the last of it is in, Charlie sits on the couch with a deep sigh. I know he's just waiting for me to start. He's always understood me—I don't like to be rushed into explaining myself.
"I'm leaving Jake, Dad."
In classic Charlie style, he nods his head and stays silent. It's never been his style to question my decisions. He's always silently supported me...very rarely adding his opinion.
"I'm tired of making excuses to the kids...to you...Billy for why he is always gone or late. I'm sick of the way he treats us...like we're not even there. I'm tired of doing everything alone—I might as well be alone if he's not going to contribute anything. We're barely making ends meet now with both of us working. He drinks most of his check, or maybe he spends it on that whore he's fucking."
Years of bottled frustration and disappointment flow out as I speak, tears as well.
Charlie rises from his seat and pulls me into his arms - a rare thing for him.
"I'm sorry, Bells, I didn't realize things were that bad."
He held me and let me cry my bitter, angry tears into his shoulder.
I never wanted to tell him. I never wanted him to see that I failed.
Even with no words, I knew he understood how I was feeling. Renee had left him when I was eleven, just disappeared one day when I was at school.
When Charlie got the divorce papers, her only statement had been that she was tired of doing "the dutiful wife and mom thing." I haven't heard from her in years. Last I knew, she was living with some musician in New York City.
"You and the kids stay as long as you need, Bells," he tells me once my crying quiets.
"Thanks, Dad. Sorry for waking you in the middle of the night."
"You can always call me anytime you need anything. You'll always be my little girl, Bells."
It feels like five minutes since my head hit the pillow on the couch, and now Seth is shaking me awake, Leah standing behind him.
"Mom...Momma! Santa found us!" Seth enthuses as I crack my eyelids. Leah stands behind her brother; even though she no longer believes in Santa, she still looks excited.
"I'm up...I'm up, buddy," I tell him, easing up off the couch.
I try convincing Seth to eat breakfast first, but he insists on stockings before anything else.
Charlie comes downstairs just as Seth is dumping all his loot onto the floor, and he chuckles at Seth's squeals of glee when candy and toy cars rain from his stocking.
Leah is more sedate opening hers, taking out one thing at a time, setting earrings, bracelets, and her own goodies neatly around her.
Charlie takes his own stocking to his recliner and puts on a good show of oohing and aahing over the fishing lures and wool socks inside.
Seth bounces up from the floor and brings my stocking over to me.
"Open it, Momma," he says, excitedly shoving the quilted sock into my hands.
"What did you get, Momma?" he asks, ducking under my arms and climbing into my lap.
"Let's see here...a new book, some nail polish and salted caramels, my favorite. Santa is pretty cool.
"Your stuff is boring," he declares.
I pull him to me, plant a big kiss on his chubby cheek and listen to him howl in disgust.
"No kisses, Mom!"
His declaration only makes me want to kiss him more, which I do repeatedly before he squirms from my grasp.
Seth goes to retrieve the lone stocking still hanging at the fireplace - Jacob's.
"Doesn't Dad want his?" he asks, turning hurt, confused eyes in my direction.
"He isn't here, buddy."
"Will he be here later?"
"I'm not sure; maybe he'll come later when Popi comes," I tell him, hoping for the kids' sake I'm right.
Billy comes over around midday and I can tell by his face he's confused and disappointed when I tell him Jacob isn't here.
"Popi! Where's Daddy?" Seth shouts as soon as he sees his grandfather.
Billy and I exchange a look and I just shrug. I don't have a clue where Jake is.
"I'm not sure, partner."
"Is Daddy lost?" Seth asks.
Billy and Charlie look as lost as I feel - I have no idea how to answer him.
"Let's finish opening presents," I say in hopes of distracting him.
For Seth it works, and he runs back to the tree to open more gifts.
Leah though is watching me like a hawk. I can tell she knows there is more going on than I'm saying.
After all the gifts are opened, I work on dinner while Charlie and Billy are entertained by their grandchildren.
The evening passes quickly; dinner is typical, the kids don't want to eat anything resembling a vegetable. Billy and Charlie enthuse and say they should have dinner with us more often. In fact, the only thing different is the lack of Jake wolfing down his food and coming up with some excuse to leave, and honestly, it doesn't seem like anyone is missing him...not even Billy.
Billy and Jake have grown distant in the past several years. I know Billy is disappointed with the way Jacob treats us, especially Seth.
It's well after the kids go up to bed that I sit down and talk with Billy. We've always had a good relationship, so I just come right out and tell him the truth.
He is genuinely shocked and hurt and even apologetic when I tell him about confronting Jacob.
I assure him no apology is needed and no matter what, I'll make sure he gets plenty of time with the kids.
I know I have an ally in Billy.