Hello again, friends. Thank you to ShearEnvy (betafantastic) and my lovely prereaders Livie79, roglows and bashfulfan. Liv, you walked me through this one. I owe you a lot.
Will update weekly!
I shouldn't have come here.
Maybe I thought they'd be in mourning. That they wouldn't still be able to laugh and drink and smoke without him.
I watch my former friends build a bonfire on the east bank, laughing and joking and...it's all the same. None of them look over, not even a little curious about what goes on outside their world. That doesn't surprise me.
The river divides us completely, but it occurs to me that the division is only important to them. This side, the west bank, is oblivious to its inferiority. Or maybe they...we...the unfortunates that live without pools and maids and enviable zip codes just don't give a shit.
Either way it's strange to be on the side that doesn't exist.
I can't help but scan the beach for Edward again before I turn my gaze to the fire. He's not there and somehow that makes me feel better.
Alice drops down next to me in the sand. She slides close so our bare arms are pressed together. As always, she smells like lavender and weed.
Emmett's starting a bonfire as the sun starts to get low in the sky. Beers are passed and someone lights a joint.
"Drink this," Alice says, handing me a flask. I take a sip and she laughs at the face I make.
She takes a sip herself, cringing even though she tries not to. I smile.
Emmett sits down on the other side of me, a colorful glass pipe in his hand. He hands it to Alice, who hits it expertly, talking through the thick smoke as she exhales. "I brought fireworks."
"That's how we got busted last summer, Al," Emmett says. She shrugs.
I take the flask and tip it back.
"I'm gonna walk down the beach," I say, standing. Both of them look up at me.
"You want company?" Alice asks. I shake my head but smile before I hand the flask back to her.
I can hear her and Emmett talking quietly as I walk away. It doesn't bother me. If it hadn't happened to my brother, I would whisper about it too.
Down the beach the river bends and I can see the cliff Ben jumped from. The rock face is still blocked off with caution tape that has started to fade, the tied off ends in shreds from the ten months of wind and snow and sun. The water's low this year but even so, I sit back on the beach by the tree line.
I'm just far enough away that the conversations by the fire blend together. More people show up, carrying bottles and dropping their backpacks in the sand. Across the river the scene is almost identical but I know the booze is top shelf and they arrived in German cars. The only thing that's better over here is the weed.
Edward would be annoyed to know that.
I start to scan their crowd for him but stop myself, looking back toward the cliffs.
Ben would have loved today. He would have driven here too fast and been the first to do a keg stand. He was popular and a good student but he was also a daredevil. He had more speeding tickets than anyone I know.
He was the first to jump, of course. The river had risen almost a foot that week and the current trapped him under a shelf in the rock face. The thought of my tall, athletic brother unable to swim away still doesn't make sense to me. It probably never will.
A couple walks down the beach toward the cliffs on the east bank. I remember that there's a path there that leads to a clearing. Ben used to take Rosalie there and no one ever says it but I'm sure it's where people go to get enough privacy to take their clothes off. They're too far away to really see but then he reaches up to adjust his hat with both hands and the movement makes my skin go cold. I squint and can see the strong cut of his jaw; the red spots of color on his cheeks.
It's Edward and he's with Angela.
I'm frozen at the sight of my former best friend. She looks prettier than last time I saw her...older. She walks with her head held high and her shoulders back. No wonder I didn't recognize her right away.
She stops to tie her shoe while he kicks at the sand. She says something to him over her shoulder; they laugh and my heart breaks in familiar, weak spots.
Standing, she holds her hand out and he takes it.
This heartbreak is new. Someone lights off a firework on our side and the noise makes Edward look up abruptly, his eyes focusing on mine as the firework lights the beach.
He drops her hand.
From this distance we can't talk. We can't yell or fight or explain and maybe that's for the best.
I already know I'm going to have to walk away.
My gaze goes back to the cliffs and when I look back at him he's still staring, his mouth open like he has something to say. Angela's got one hand pressed over her mouth and I think she's crying.
I don't have tears for this, though. Not for this.
I turn and walk back the way I came, because nothing on that side of the river is mine anymore.
Alice is waiting to loop her arm through mine. We sit and listen to the song someone's strumming on a guitar and I force myself to keep my eyes on the fire.
Emmett nudges me with his foot and nods toward the east bank. It's then that I realize it's too quiet on their side. The whole bonfire has stopped and they're staring at us, squinting across the distance. They're looking for me. Angela has her face in her hands and I don't see Edward.
"Do you know them?" Alice asks, quietly.
I look at the stricken faces of Jasper and Jacob. Tyler and Mike. Jessica and Lauren. I know everyone around that fire. I know what sports they play and the cars they drive. I know what their parents do and which of their fathers have mistresses. I know who's anorexic or bulimic and who is secretly addicted to Adderall or Oxy.
But I don't know them at all.
I shake my head slowly and take the flask out of her hand. "Not anymore."
My parents are gone by the time Alice and I wake up. It's the best part of my summer. I love them but they look at me like I'm on the edge of something all the time now. It makes my skin crawl.
The monstrous Victorian we moved into last fall is being renovated, so on different days the water will be off or I'll walk past a space where a wall used to be, but I don't mind the noise. I prefer it to the quiet after the contractors pack up for the day.
We moved because my dad's business hadn't been doing well for many years. The mortgage and all of the club memberships and tuition payments got to be too much and by the time they sold our house we were under water. Ben probably never knew, but our lives would have changed drastically that summer no matter what.
I'm a brat so I miss my pool and the knowledge that I would get a car for my 18th birthday, but in the end it's just stuff.
I would give it all up for one more minute with my brother.
Alice rubs her eyes and looks at my alarm clock. "I think I'm hungover."
"Water?" I ask.
"Coffee." She groans and rolls over but I get up and shuffle downstairs.
The coffee pot is covered in plaster dust but the coffee is still hot from when my parents made it this morning. Felix and Marcus are tearing out the cabinets today. Unlike the tedium of most of their work, the demolition aspect of home renovation looks like something I could get on board with. I say good morning and walk through the house, looking over their progress.
The doorbell rings and I peek out the living room window to see who it is.
Jasper is the last person I expect to see on my doorstep. He's got the old screen door propped open and he inspects the doorbell before ringing it again. I seriously consider ignoring him and pretending I'm not home.
"Someone's at the door, Bella!" Felix yells from the kitchen.
Jasper hears him through one of the many open windows and before I can move he catches my eye, raising an eyebrow when he sees me hiding behind a curtain.
I take a deep breath before I open the door. Jasper and I never really got along. I expect that hasn't changed.
His eyes travel over me and he nods in approval. "You look good. Slumming it suits you."
I start to close the door in his face but he slaps his palm on the door, stopping me.
"I'm kidding, Swan."
The nickname stops me. It's what he called me but it's also what he called Ben. From the look on his face he realizes that at the same time I do. Jasper and I may not have gotten along but he and my brother were thick as thieves.
I step outside onto the porch and close the door behind me.
Gesturing to the two old wicker chairs, I sit. He frowns slightly and I roll my eyes. Jasper is a perfectionist in the worst way. Everything from his hair to his clothes to his car is pristine. I once saw him lose his shit because he stepped in gum. We used to joke that he has his butler iron his underwear.
It might be true.
"What are you doing here, Jasper?"
He rubs a hand over his face. "I need to talk to you about Rose."
I look down. The loss of my friendship with his sister is my biggest regret, I think. "How is she?"
The way he hesitates makes my chest ache. "Okay." He bounces his knee and doesn't look at me.
Ben and Rosalie were the best couple I've ever seen in real life. There was something wholly organic about the two of them together.
Neither of us kept in touch. Seeing her reminded me too much of my loss. The last time I saw her felt too overwhelming, like the culmination of our pain may suck both of us under.
"Maybe not okay. I'm worried about her."
Hearing these words out of Jasper's mouth gives them gravity. I don't know if I've ever heard him show so much concern for another person.
"They cut her some slack last year but she's on academic probation. We're not sure if they're going to let her back in or not."
"Can't your dad just cut them a check?"
He's not offended by the suggestion. "If money could fix this, do you think I'd be here?"
I laugh because only Jasper can say shit like that with a straight face.
"I don't know how I can help her," I admit.
"She doesn't laugh anymore." He says it quietly and I can tell he's uncomfortable.
I think about the last year of my life and how little laughter there was for much of it. "I can't change what happened. I can't bring him back."
His blue eyes flash and his voice gets louder. "You just left. You didn't say goodbye. You didn't explain. Now you're living...here." He gestures behind us with disdain. "Ben...died and then you just disappear like you died, too. It's fucking bullshit."
I stare at him with wide eyes. It's not that I didn't know I would be missed, or obviously that Ben would, but somehow I saw this as the easier route for everyone. A clean break so they could forget. So I could forget.
Maybe what I saw on the beach was an act. Maybe they all feel his loss the same way I do.
"If you could just call her. Talk to her. Anything." His sincerity is unnerving, even if he won't look at me.
We sit in silence and I think of asking him about baseball or student council or if his parents are sleeping in the same room again but now that we've gone this deep I'm not sure we can return to the surface.
The front door swings open and Alice trips out the door wearing plaid boxers and a lacy bra. I'm sure Felix and Marcus loved that. She's got a cup of coffee in her hand and her sunglasses on. "Morning," she mumbles. "Did you know there are a bunch of dudes in your kitchen?"
I grin and she blinks, seeing Jasper. She lowers her sunglasses and looks at him suspiciously, giving him a wide berth as she moves to sit in the chair opposite us. I watch him take in her bare feet and long brown hair, twisted into a messy bun on top of her head. Her skin is tan and she has rings on every finger. They continue to eye each other and she takes a deep breath, sticking her chest out, but he won't bite. His eyes stay on hers.
"Who's the prep?" she asks.
"Who's the hippie?" he fires back.
She throws her head back and laughs."Is this kid for real? You're clearly on the wrong side of the river."
He sneers and I roll my eyes. "Alice, this is Jasper. He's richer than God and he is, in fact, on the wrong side of the river. Jasper, this is Alice. She's got the best weed you've ever smoked."
It's his turn to roll his eyes. She pulls a small baggie out of her bra and holds it out to him. He hesitates.
"I don't have cooties," she says flatly.
He grabs it and inspects it, glancing up at her in surprise. She smiles sarcastically and sips her coffee. He opens it and smells it, biting his lip as he closes the baggie.
"You can have it."
"What if I want more?"
"Oh, you will want more. Bella knows where to find me." She grins and stands with her coffee, stretching her free arm overhead. I don't miss the way Jasper looks her over and neither does she. "You know, you'd be cute if-"
She reaches over to mess up his hair and he recoils. Her laugh is audible even after she's inside and out of sight.
"Nice crowd you're running with," he says, raising an eyebrow.
I shrug. "Like you're such a model citizen."
"Edward's gonna trip when he sees this, though," he says, inspecting the bud further.
At the mention of his name, I go still. Jasper glances at me and then stands, brushing at the back of his pants. When he feels sufficiently clean he turns to me.
"He's only with Angela because you're not there."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
He slips the weed in his pocket and pulls out his car key.
"No." He gets a few steps before he turns back around. "My dad said your dad went broke."
My knee-jerk reaction is defensive but pride isn't something I care about so much anymore. I nod and we stare at each other for a long moment.
"If you ever need anything…"
It's the nicest thing he's ever said to me. He walks away and speeds off in his shiny car. I sit and stare at the spot where he was parked. I'm not sad, though. For the first time in a long time I feel hopeful about the future.
I get up and am not surprised to find Alice waiting for me with a packed bowl and a thousand questions.
It's late when I call the number I still have memorized. She answers on the third ring and it takes me a second to respond.
"Rose, it's Bella."
I hear her breathing.
Then I hear a muted click as she hangs up the phone.
This may be harder than I thought.
See you next week!