Chapter 3

The Declaration of Independence

Edward POV

Age 7

Adrenaline ignited every muscle, as the pitter patter of my feet reverberated through the glossy hardwood floor. I bit my lip to suppress any sound, and looked for a place to hide.

"3, 2, 1-ready or not, here I come!" My friend's voice echoed warningly throughout the mansion. A sense of urgency and competitiveness surged forward, and I darted towards the floor and hallway I had been told repeatedly to avoid.

Off limits, my father had said. Do you understand, Edward?

Of course I had nodded and agreed at the time, with the focus and conviction-or lack thereof- from a seven year old, but this was life or death. Dad would understand, I thought hurriedly as I hid behind a closet door. I couldn't lose to Mike, of all people. He didn't even have a Gameboy!

I willed my body to be still, breathing heavily in the darkness. And then I heard them. Low murmurs seeped in through the walls from the room next to me. I pressed my side against the solid wood, curious at what the adults were saying.

After about ten minutes, my foot started to fall asleep. Irritated, I kicked at the wall in response, and froze in horror when I heard a resounding crash of the buckets and mops behind me.

The voices suddenly stopped, and an eerie silence reigned.

The ominous, heavy sound of footsteps came closer and closer, until they were drowned by the pounding of my heartbeat. Suddenly, light flooded the small space, and I flinched back with my hands in front of my eyes.

"Sweetheart, what are you doing here?" The soft, soothing tone of my mother automatically made me relax, and I opened my eyes.

"Mom," I breathed, relieved I hadn't been caught by-

"Esme, what the hell is going on?"

Perfect timing. I clutched my mother's leg and trembled, having never heard that amount of rage infused in my father's normally soft-spoken tone, and I prepared myself for the imminent punishment.

My father's blue eyes bore into me, an icy glare his weapon of choice. "We've discussed this, Edward," he started. "What have I told you, on many occasions?"

I winced. "I'm not-I'm not supposed to b-be"

"Stop stuttering," he interrupted. "Stand up straight and face me. Now."

I looked to my mother for assistance, and in response, she shot me a sympathetic yet encouraging look. Taking a deep breath, I stepped out from behind her and tilted my head towards my father, who towered over me with his arms crossed, emphasizing the powerful muscles beneath the expensive suit. It felt like David and Goliath, only there was no doubt in both of our minds who could win this fight.

He glanced down at me the way a cat would corner a mouse. Slowly, he bent until he was at my eye-level.

"If I catch you up here again, that will be the last time you step foot inside this house," he threatened, his tone rife with anger and frustration. "Do you understand me?"

"Yes," I whispered, my fingernails digging into my sides, as I stood paralyzed with shock.

Don't wet your pants. Don't wet your pants. Don't.

A brief, foreign expression flickered over his face, like embers from a dying flame. Standing up again, he patted my head awkwardly, like the way a master would console his dog. "Esme, take him out of here," he ordered, the edge in his voice slightly dulled by fatigue. "I'll see you both at dinner."

My mother took my hand and led me away. It's only after we escaped to the kitchen in silence that my tears fell. I turned and brushed them off, infuriated at my lack of self-control and immaturity. Only babies cry, I remember thinking, consumed with humiliation and self-disgust.

She handed me a glass of water, and gently raised my chin.

Her warm, green gaze probed my own. "Edward, I know that your father can be difficult and maybe even cruel. But you have to understand-" Her hand dropped as her gaze turned pleading. "He has a lot of work to do. And sometimes, the people that love us the most show it in ways we don't understand."

She leaned in close and kissed my forehead. "Your father will always protect you, sweetheart. As long as we're here, nothing will ever hurt you."

Parents make these promises to their children to soothe their fears, and it certainly loosened the knot in my stomach at the time. But years later, I realized the unspoken question that lingered following her words:

What was my father protecting me from?

Present

"What do you mean, none of it can be used?" A quiet fury colors my voice, as I struggle to keep it even.

Phil snorts, his bewilderment clear through the secure line. "The information on the laptop is two years old. We sent it to our assets and they confirmed it was out of date. Now answer my question-do you think you've been made?"

I lean back against the phone booth, scratching agitatedly at the rust on the top. After my performance last week, we reverted back to a cold war, resisting the temptation to strike the match. I was confident that I had gotten to her, and finally found evidence of her involvement with my father's network, formally known as the The Axis Alliance.

Apparently psychopaths like alliteration. Who knew?

Now, it seemed I'd been played; I scan every interaction in my head, closing my eyes to recall any details, anything off about her behavior, her tone, her fucking posture-

Got it. "You need to destroy the laptop," I command. "She wouldn't have set it up so I could access her hard drive and let me get away with it. Get rid of it."

Phil chokes back a noise. "You're asking me to destroy federal property-expensive, secure, federal property?"

I rub my temples, scanning the list of businesses and credit card transactions in my mind, trying to remember anything suspicious, anything that stood out. "That's exactly what I'm saying, and that's what you're going to do. I'm going to find the secure server where she stores all the current data."

"Her private server? The one she's just mentioned in the Axis meetings?"

I take a deep breath. "Yeah-I have an idea."

Phil groans and I know he's going to hit his head on his desk a couple of times after this call. "I hate it when you say that," he grumbles, the acquiescence in his voice nonetheless ringing through.

"Destroy the laptop," I repeat firmly. "You'll hear from me when I've got access."

"Wait," Phil interrupts just before I end the call. "There's a possible defector-Alvin Ames, works as the bodyguard for Oleg Masterson. He got picked up at a charity event in Salzburg-says he's willing to share intelligence and he wants to meet. If this gets approval, I want you to be there."

Sweat drips down my neck, the result of the unexpected heat wave hitting the city mixed with anticipation striking me in my chest. "He's clean? You're absolutely sure?"

"We've been putting pressure on him for a few months now, since we learned he's only involved to pay for his grandmother's care. Boy Scout turned in over a dozen documents yesterday. It's being reviewed now but so far it looks legitimate."

I swallow, feeling the muscles in my throat rub together like sandpaper.

"You should know, Edward-he said he has evidence that Bella Swan killed your father."

My heart stops, and I feel my insides turn to ice, despite the harsh rays of the sun beating down my back. "Did he say anything else?" I ask lowly.

"No. That's why I want you there, so you can question him yourself." There's a hint of satisfaction in Phil's voice, like he thinks we're finally going to get the answers on a shiny fucking platter after five years.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice-

"No, I won't meet him. I can be on comms, but it's too convenient, almost like bait specifically designed for me."

When he answers, there's an uncharacteristic gravity in his response. "You do realize that if you don't talk to him, you'll miss the opportunity to find out what really happened that night."

I punch the side of the booth, frustration emanating through my pores. "I don't care. Send me the rendezvous information. You'll hear from me when I have something."

I hang up, and wipe the sweat from my forehead, closing my eyes to deter the dizziness.

Of course I fucking want answers. But somehow, I know I'm not going to get them from a random bodyguard. Taking down all the pawns is part of the game, but the strategy is to get to the queen. The endgame is to capture her.

I need to get information from the source. I need to cut the head off of the monster, instead of incapacitating it like I'd done the past five years.

I need to get to Bella Swan.

My father had shined in many roles-entrepreneur, philanthropist, developer-but the one he was truly born to play was simply a secret keeper. His reputation as a criminal mastermind was exaggerated out of necessity, and he was valued for getting and storing all of the information from the most powerful people in the room.

It was unglamorous and even better-overlooked. And if he was invisible to his allies, then he was practically dismissed by any enemies.

When most people discuss money and power, it's usually in general terms, lined with hypothetical "what if"s and "let's say"s. I could identify a few of the similarities and the differences, but where my father and his organization were concerned, the only distinction that needs to be made is that money fed and created greed while power, simply put, fucked you up. You can achieve a tangible degree of success measured with bills and checks, while you must constantly use power to maintain it. People aren't static; they'll serve their own self-interests-what makes you the smartest person in the room is knowing what they're after and using that to your advantage.

You can also become a parent. Same difference, really.

I knew Bella had lived with my father for almost five years, and she was now involved in the Axis. Rose and Emmett's briefings made it sound like she had assumed his role and was the one in charge. Personal feelings aside, I can't believe that this was voluntary. Bella didn't have a reason to become involved in this world, but my father brainwashing her to take the fall?

Now that I could believe.

I scroll through the files again, sipping on my coffee. The information may be outdated, but there could still be a pattern. I'd been reading through her emails, trying to find anything useful, but everything seemed innocuous. Nothing-

My thumb stopped, as I paused on an email.

HEY JEN,

MY CLASS WILL

GO AT IT ALONE;

SEEING U HERE?

CALL ME: 900-016-2100

THANKS, BELLA

Considering most of her other emails were in complete sentences and didn't use text-speak, this looked particularly weird. The spacing suggests some kind of cipher text, which unfortunately for Bella, means that I could decode it.

A few minutes and a drained cup of coffee later, I figure it out. Rail fence cipher, which is interesting since it isn't a popular one. I grab a napkin and segment the phrases, until my eyes zero in on the decrypted text:

MEET AT ULINE. 9/16 9 PM.

ULine. What the hell does that mean? It could allude to the U St. metro station, or another station on that line. As much as I hated the cliché, I pull out my phone and just type the words into Google.

Never underestimate the power of a good search engine.

ULine Arena. An abandoned, indoor arena in Northeast D.C. It was supposed to start renovation in October, but construction had already torn most of it down, so all that remained was a shell of the former stadium. Which begs the question-why would the CEO of a Fortune 500 cyber security company choose to arrange a meeting there?

Guess I'll find out.

"It's me," I greet sharply, not bothering to mince words with Phil. "I found something in her email, a possible rendezvous location, and I need verification. See if you can pass it along to our newest asset."

"You think you can get more information?" Phil asks, incredulous. "Without her noticing?"

I glance around the public park, and my lips quirk in response to a blonde who smiles shyly in my direction, brushing her hair behind her ear. Young, attractive, dressed in business casual attire, yet she's been standing near the water fountain for the past half hour. There's mud on her shoes and her hair has been hastily tucked into a bun.

Nanny.

Right on cue, a boy runs up to her, and hands her a Frisbee, while she shoots him an exasperated but tolerant look.

I stand up and walk in the opposite direction.

"I think it's time for me to pay a little visit to my company."

Bella POV

"Ms. Swan? There's uh, a Mr. Cullen requesting to speak with you."

I raise an eyebrow, and uncross my legs. "Really? I wasn't expecting an appointment."

"Well, that's generally how surprises work," came the arrogant tone of D.C.'s miracle playboy, according to the unimaginative tabloids. His green eyes sharpen and his lips draw into a smirk. "Something I'm sure you're familiar with."

I clutch the armrest of my chair and hope my face hasn't changed color. "If you have a point, this is when you should get to it," I respond pointedly. "Some of us don't have the luxury of lounging around in a house you're not welcome in."

He laughs, barely bothered by the venom in my tone. "Well, I'm hoping you'll help fix that. Want to see my resume?"

I feel my stomach drop. "What the hell are you talking about?" I question slowly, hopefully concealing the rising panic that crashes upon my body. "Why would you want to work here?"

He cocks his head, amused, and I wonder not for the first time where I could hide his body after I've shot him in the heart.

Which, unfortunately, weren't the only fantasies that have dominated my nights this past week.

"It was my father's company, Bella," he explains. "Legally, it's all mine anyway, sweetheart. But you and I both know if I force my way in, I'll just run it to the ground. That's why I'm here. I want to learn and be involved in ATC. And guess who I want as my teacher?"

His deliberate entendre and husky tone conjure images that heat my blood (among other areas), but I stand and face him so he can see my hell hath no fury gaze.

I wish I could say that Edward Cullen is another spoiled rich kid, suffering from absentee parents and ignorance from privilege, but it would be misleading. Even five years ago, he didn't fit the stereotype. It would be easier if he did.

No, Edward Cullen is the type of guy who knew how smart he was, yet chose to conceal it with a promiscuous idiot facade, so he could use it to his advantage. He wasn't Mark Zuckerberg, he was Keyser Soze. He didn't get caught with drugs and hookers; he got caught hacking the FBI in high school.

Of all the ways to deal with his daddy issues, he always chose the most dangerous option.

And now I was his new toy. "Pass," I answer, boredom flattening my words. "You're welcome to submit your application online to HR. I can give you their contact information."

He taps my desk and leans over to my side. "I hate to be difficult-" Barely suppressed snort here- "but I couldn't help but hear from Linda, your gorgeous secretary, that you have a meeting with the Board in about ten minutes. I thought we would mention my proposal, and see what they decide."

My red nails scratch against the leather of my seat. "Really? You're going to go behind my back?"

Heat flashes in his eyes. "I'm open to your front, too," he cheekily replies.

Gazes locked, we assess the other like we would an unbreakable code, trying to identify the decryption key, the formula, to reap the secrets within. Oddly enough, I don't think he hates me, at least not yet. Aside from the obvious attraction, it feels like he almost respects me, like he's letting me win the first few rounds of the game, before ultimately crushing me at its conclusion.

But I had come too far for him to ruin me.

Even so, as the very words leave and float in the air, images of said ruin arrest my heartbeat and cling to my skin. In a split second, I think of what might happen if I unzip my dress, walk in front of my desk, and lay bare on the cold, cherry wood. Would I spread my legs with my heels on, showing off everything he desperately wants but could never have? Or would I push him back with one foot that slides down his chest and gently applies pressure to the tantalizing bulge in his dress pants? Would I strip slowly, letting the fabric cling to my smooth, milky skin, and enjoy the rising uncontrollable hunger in his eyes while my hands explore the soft, wet parts of me? Or would I skip the foreplay and fuck myself furiously and come right as I command him to stop and sit back down?

His eyes drop down to my feet before slowly making their way back up, scouring every inch, strategically pausing at the exciting parts.

I resist the urge to cower or show signs of discomfort, instead taking a deep breath to purposefully draw attention to my chest, which happens to be mostly exposed due to the deep V cut of my dress.

"All in good time," he growls, hunger evident.

"Not on your life," I respond evenly. Go fuck yourself.

Suddenly, the door to my office bursts open, and Linda, my assistant, pokes her head in. "Ms. Swan-the Board is ready for you."

We both make our way to the door, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes when he dramatically takes a bow and opens it for me. "After you," he mocks. I manage to get one foot past until I feel something brush my ass.

I glare in his direction, and he raises his eyebrows. "My hand slipped," he explains innocently.

Just as I open the door to face the Board, he moves over to me and adds, "Your ass is so fuckable, all I'm going to think about is how I'm going to ruin it."

Motherfucker.

I'm unable to hide my shocked glance as he smoothly slides to a seat next to me. Clearing my throat and brushing my hair behind my ear, I quickly launch into the agenda.

"Good afternoon," I welcome. "Today's meeting is mainly to provide some updates on our major projects and discuss next steps. As you can see, Mr. Cullen has decided to join us today to learn more about ATC. I'm confident we will welcome him and any ideas he may have regarding our efforts. Let's begin."

Almost an hour elapses before we reach the end of the meeting. At this point, I feel the corporate mask starting to chip and restrain myself from exhibiting any nervous quirks to remain calm. If I could barely tolerate his presence at the mansion, how the fuck could I feel in control if he were constantly around in the office? My concentration was determined by a series of clearly defined variables, and he was still unknown. I had no idea how much he knew, no idea who he was working for, or what he was after.

And the more we interacted, the more I started to realize how dangerous he had become.

"At this time, I'd like to turn it over to Mr. Cullen," I announce as I sit back down. "He has a proposal that I'm sure you'd all be interested to hear."

Edward buttons his suit jacket and stands up, but instead of exhibiting the typical, happy-go- lucky charm, his expression is surprisingly sober and he clenches his fists at his sides.

"Thank you for having me here today. It is frankly, an honor to come back and face you all, given my colorful history, and everything I've done." He pauses and focuses his gaze around the room, lingering every so often. "I'm sure there's been concern over what would happen to ATC following my return. Legally, I now own this company and can assume the position of CEO at any time."

I force myself not to react, even as I feel several pairs of eyes sweep towards me.

"But we all know I'm not fit for this position. I'm not fit for a lot of things-I was never a model student, a faithful son, or even a productive member of society. I was disrespectful, selfish, and unkind. And I don't want to stand here telling you how tragedy changed me or that I've become a better person. I don't want to pretend that I know how to run this company and can tell you what's right or wrong. All I can say, at this point in time, is that I want the opportunity to learn and become someone that I know I can be: an honorable man."

His jaw clenches. "Just like my father was."

Righteousness and self-deprecation drip from his words, and I'm torn between applauding and vomiting. He holds the attention of the room like a conductor for a few more seconds, before he swallows dryly and thanks the members. A smattering of applause breaks through the silence, and Ron Ramiro, the CEO of a chain of banks in Switzerland and financier of the DiCenzos and other criminal organizations, comments, "Thank you for your thoughts. I don't see a problem with creating a role so you can become better acquainted with your father's legacy."

Phillip César, owner and president of a think tank that does freelance work with mostly the Chinese and Korean governments, nods. "I agree. Of course, you will need to acquire the appropriate security clearance from Ms. Swan, but I think this will be a great opportunity for you to learn how ATC operates."

Ok, enough of the testosterone fueled love fest. "While I think Mr. Cullen's intentions are admirable, I have to question his knowledge and experience. We don't have enough time to train and manage someone who is a novice in every aspect of the company's activities. Never mind the fact that he's been gone for five years."

Ramiro waves his hand dismissively. "He'll learn as he works. I knew Carlisle well, and he would have wanted his son to be a part of this company."

Great, so now I'm a cold-hearted bitch for not letting the prince rightfully take his place on the throne.

I clear my throat. "And who do you imagine will take on this role as mentor?"

Phillip chimes in conveniently, "You can assign someone as you see fit, Ms. Swan. But I agree with Ron, and I think we've heard enough to call a vote. Those in favor, say aye. Those who oppose, say nay."

It's obvious what the outcome of this rigged election will be, and I feel myself deflate when they unanimously declare to include him in the company.

Edward Cullen might have gained access to ATC, but he won't have the same guarantee to the Axis.

"Hey," he says softly as he approaches me, long after the members have left. "I just want to say that I'm sorry for being such a jackass. Sometimes it just resurfaces, I guess, but I meant every word I said and I'll try to be professional from now on, seeing as how we'll be working together."

I scoff. Who does this fucker think he is?

"Do not insult my intelligence," I respond bluntly. "You can claim to be reformed and pretend to be a hero in your sob story. You can even act like the entitled asshole you were who didn't give a shit about anything. But you and I both know, that all you will ever truly be is an undeserving, waste of space that your father regretted, from the day you were born, to his very last breath."

I take a step closer but not enough to touch him. "Don't fuck with me." His gaze stays neutral the entire time, but I notice the nostril flare, the slight widening of the pupils, and the clenched jaw.

He was furious.

About goddamn time.

I turn away, my hand pausing on the door handle. "Oh and if you call me sweetheart again, I'll cut your dick off and serve it to you on your mother's china. See you at home."

Victory.

"Bella? You're secure."

"Thanks, Trina. Put him through."

"Well, isn't this a surprise," the Southern twang of Jeffrey Simmons, an oil distribution tycoon, oozes through the phone.

I clamp down on the nausea and force myself to politely say, "Jeffrey. I know we haven't spoken in a while."

He chuckles and my skin crawls at the sound. "Too long," he agrees. "To what do I owe the pleasure, darlin'?"

I spin around a pencil in my hand. "I wanted to confirm next month's shipment date with you, courtesy of the DiCenzos. Will you be free anytime soon?"

I can see the amused smile work its way on his sneering face. "For you, I'm free anytime. When should I expect Rose and Emmett?"

"Actually, I was hoping to make the trip myself," I purr, the throatiness making the invitation clear. "Do you happen to have a spare room?"

Practically panting, he stutters, "O-of course, Bella. When will you be coming?" I roll my eyes at the poorly disguised lust in his voice, tapping the sharp lead with my finger.

The male brain-truly too small to process suspicion and horniness at the same time.

"This weekend," I state. "You see, Edward Cullen's back, and well...I guess I'm feeling a bit vulnerable." Twirl, twirl.

"Aw, hell, you know you're always welcome here," he responds eagerly. "I'll book the tickets, sweet cheeks, and get the house ready. I promise it'll be a weekend you won't forget."

Snap! I point the pencil down and stab the surface of the desk, grinding the lead until there was just a nub left.

"I believe you," I answer and hang up.

Five down, one more to go.

Bella, age 9

"IF YOU WANNA BE MY LOVAH, YOU GOTTA GET WITH MY FRIENDS, MAKE IT LAST FOREVER, FRIENDSHIP NEVER ENDS!"

My hair bounced around my shoulders as I jumped up and down, yelling out the lyrics with my best friend at the time, Angela. I remember feeling so happy, so normal, like any child should. I remember sitting on the beige carpet with the stain from my grape juice incident a few weeks earlier, and I remember waiting for my parents to come home.

Most importantly, I remember laughing.

"Hey, we should watch that new Britney video! I heard she says a bad word in it!" Angela giggled as my eyes widened. "We're not supposed to watch that," I warned. She rolled her eyes. "Don't be such a baby. We've still got maybe half an hour before my dad gets home. C'mon!"

She dragged me to my feet and turned on the TV, searching for MTV, which her parents had blessedly not blocked yet.

If our grandparents were from the Greatest Generation, then we might truly be from the lamest.

I sat down on the carpet with my feet stretched out. "Angela? What do you think is gonna happen after I move away?" I asked sadly, silently pondering over my family's decision to move to Omaha, of all places, next month. "What's in Omaha?"

"Not MTV, that's for sure!" Angela cheered wildly. I started to tear up.

Her eyes softened. "Hey, you're my best friend, ok? I promise we'll talk every day. Maybe I can even come visit you!"

I eyed her skeptically. "Really? You think your parents would let you?"

She plopped down next to me in a flurry of blonde hair and Sticky Lips chapstick. "Duh! And think of all the animals we can play with! I've always wanted to ride a horse! Ooh, maybe we can do that since it's all farms out there!"

She bumped her shoulder with mine playfully and winked, and I couldn't help but laugh again.

Suddenly, the front door closed. Angela and I both hurriedly turned the TV back to CNN, and then off. We raced back to her room and snagged a Barbie doll, shakily brushing their hair. "Shhhh," she indicated, still giggling.

And that's when I heard it. The quiet sniffling and sobbing from Angela's mother, Diane.

Angela's expression became frightened and I patted her hand reassuringly. "It's ok," I whispered. "I'm here."

I didn't have time to prepare for what I would learn in the next few minutes.

The door opened, and Angela's father, Dan, fixed his red-rimmed eyes on mine. "B-Bella, sweetheart," his words exhaled on a shaky sigh, and I saw Diane wipe away her tears furiously.

"We need to talk."

The scariest combination of four words from the English language.

I stood up, my muscles locking up as fear seized every fiber. "Stay with Angie, Diane," Dan ordered softly. I followed him despite Angela's protests, and we both sat on the couch in their living room. It was late afternoon, one of those weird transition days from summer into fall, when you didn't know when the sun was going to set anymore and only noticed how late it was when you glanced over at the clock in the imminent darkness.

Dan ran his fingers through his hair, and swallowed. "This-this isn't going to be easy, Bella. I-I don't really know how to say this, except maybe just to be direct with you."

I twisted the fabric of the couch nervously, feeling my foot bounce in trepidation. "What's wrong, Mr. Weber?"

He managed to tilt his head up and look near me, but not at me. "Sweetheart, your parents were in an accident a few hours ago. Their car-it, well, something was wrong. P-police were there, and they went to the, to the-hospital."

I brightened a little. Hospitals were where people go to get fixed, my mother, a nurse, had once told me.

Dan let the first tear drop and roll down his cheek.

All of the hope deflated and a sense of something dark and deeply painful that I had never felt in my nine years before, started to lacerate my chest.

"M-Mr. Weber?" I whispered, as I felt my lungs tighten and my world grow smaller.

"Your parents-they didn't make it, Bella. They're gone." He hurriedly escapes to the kitchen, where I hear him muffle his loud sobs, interrupting the peaceful evening.

When I was 7, I had once "befriended" a snake in my backyard, unaware of how dangerous my new friend could be. Luckily, my mother had caught me before I tried to give it a hug, and frantically administered a lecture of avoiding things that I was unfamiliar with and the importance of being safe.

It's funny how we believe we're most indestructible when we're children, when we're actually the most fragile. We see bravery where adults see stupidity, and we don't carry baggage from our past mistakes. We let most things slide off of us like water, only to realize the extent of the damage when we're older.

Up until that moment, that's exactly what I believed. I thought that I was invincible, and that anything bad that happened was merely a temporary obstacle, something that I could shake off by watching TV or getting ice cream.

I thought I was strong in every sense of the word, only to realize how weak I truly was, and how violent and unjust the world could be.

So I didn't speak for the longest time, just blinking every once in awhile. The Webers would later describe this as shock, and they're partially right. I don't want to discredit the 5 stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance-because this would later define my adolescence. But to summarize how I felt as grief or denial is bullshit. I was ripped apart, sliced open and turned out, as numb as an infected limb that needed to be separated.

My parents had died, and I no longer felt alive anymore.

So even though I was no doubt breathing, all I can remember was my stillness and my mimicry of my parent's fate. At some point, my vision became obscured, which is when I realized I was crying. All my actions, feelings, and thoughts were separated from each other, and when I finally absorbed the full onslaught of my pain, when it all finally registered, my first instinct had been to seek comfort from the people that I thought would always be there:

Mommy, daddy, help me. Please don't leave me here.

And so I cried and time resumed. Everything seemed normal again, or as normal as it should have been. Unfortunately, Angela's parents weren't able to adopt me, and there were no other living family members. I stayed in foster care for a few months, until a sheriff from the small town of Forks, Washington, adopted me.

By then, people gave me pitying looks and sympathetic glances, thinking it was comfort I needed, so I could recover.

But I had known that I would never recover. Not from this. And so, on the day I moved in to the house of Charlie, my new foster father, I looked him in the eye for the first time and commanded, "Teach me how to shoot a gun."

If I wasn't ever going to find peace in my life, then I would have to settle for revenge.