Just when I thought my life could not possibly get any worse, it did.
Just like that.
I was standing in the frozen food section of our tiny, pathetic excuse of a grocery store, staring absentmindedly at the latest sale on Eggo Waffles while my mom buzzed around me, completely oblivious to my sourness. How she was able to miss my arms crossed over my chest, my brows furrowed in disdain, and my brooding silence was beyond me. In her defense, I guess my mood was par for the course of being a, what do they call it? Oh yes, hormonal teenager, so maybe my mom was playing her part and trying to avoid my mood swings for as long as she could before I snapped at a moment's notice.
"Did you want these, honey? Or are you boycotting them this week, too?" My mom was pointing towards the waffles and was referring to the cereal she had set aside for me earlier this morning. I had shaken my head at her then at the breakfast table, and repeated the motion now as we stood next to Mrs. Stanley in the grocery store. Eating was for people that actually had appetites and at that moment, I didn't have much of one.
"How am I supposed to send you off to college next week when I haven't seen you take a bite of anything, in what, two days, Bella?"
Cue teenage eye roll. "I've eaten, Mom." I was fluent in sarcasm these days.
I wasn't lying. I had eaten a couple of things here and there over the past few days, though it was nowhere near close enough to satisfy my mother and her ever growing need to ensure my safety and well-being in all areas of my life. She paused at me for a moment, looking at me intently before moving passed the waffles with a shake of her head.
I huffed and I wasn't sure if it was directed inwardly or towards my mother. To be honest, even I was getting annoyed with myself. I hated feeling this way, like I was stuck in a gray area when I preferred my life in a constant state of black and white. With a loud and obnoxious groan, I pulled open the glass door sharply and grabbed a box of the fucking waffles, tossing it into the cart with a little too much dramatic flair.
Even through my haze of teenage angst, I knew I was being too dramatic for my own good. I threw my hands up in a state of surrender when my mom turned around from in front of the cart and glared a warning, a warning that told me that I needed to keep myself together before things got a lot worse real fast.
Sure enough, I glanced around to see that even though only a few pairs of eyes were with us in the frozen food aisle, it was enough in a small town like this to give people something to talk about.
And of course they wouldn't hesitate to share that they had witnessed the chief of police's wife and daughter share a moment that would surely taint the picture of perfection my parents had worked so hard to portray since we moved to Forks seven years before.
The picture wasn't a lie. In fact, it was far from it. It was true that I came from a great family. I had a roof over my head and food on the table, if God forbid, I was in the mood to eat any of it. I was the captain of the soccer team. I had great friends and an even better boyfriend. For the first time in the years that I'd lived in Forks, I realized how hard it was sometimes to be seventeen years old and live your life under a microscope just waiting to be analyzed. It comes with the territory of being the only child of the Chief of Police.
"Whatever it is that is going on with you, we can discuss it at home." My mom's voice wasn't menacing but it wasn't spoken in her normal soft bravado. It was firm and I knew better than to challenge her in public.
"There's nothing going on, Mom. Can we please drop it?"
She casually strolled over towards the laundry detergent. "Nothing's going on and yet you're checking your phone every three minutes."
I decided not to answer her. I tried to pretend she was wrong. That she didn't know what she was talking about, even when I checked my phone and saw it still empty of messages from the last time I checked it two minutes before. Instead I followed her around the store, throwing some odds and ends into the cart every few minutes. Despite my boycott on eating much of anything with substance, I threw in some things to appease my mom even though I wouldn't need much this week since I'd be heading off to college.
We managed to make it to check out a half hour later, only being stopped by two of my parent's acquaintances. I helped my mom put the groceries on the belt, the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach growing heavier by each passing minute. After loading the bags into the trunk, I heaved a loud sigh as I flopped into the front seat.
Of course I checked my phone. Still nothing.
"Is it Edward?"
My mom's voice penetrated the silence of the car and the symphony of panic radiating throughout my brain so loudly that it startled me. My hands, that had gone to clutch onto my heart in terror, relaxed and settled back into my lap, fingering my phone as my breathing returned to normal. I pushed an errant strand of dark brown hair back behind my ear and groaned in frustration. I guess we weren't going to wait until we got home for us to have the talk my mom needed to have with me.
We were going to have it here in the parking lot of Forks' only grocery store. Apparently.
"Yeah, I guess." I tried to sound as nonchalant as she did even though I was growing more irritated by the second at how casually she brought the subject up.
I didn't have much room in my life for guessing. I strived on only two certainties: yes or no. Hot or cold. Up or down. Call it a defense mechanism, call it whatever the fuck you want to. In my life, there was no in between. Especially when it came to Edward Cullen.
"Care to talk about it?" She put the key into the ignition and turned it so she could adjust the temperature in the car. Regardless of the temperature, I was stifling.
"Not really." I looked out the window, the gray skies surrounding us a perfect match for the storm inside me.
"So you're just going to mope around?"
I turned to look at her, not bothering to hide my annoyance. "I'm not moping around, Mom. I'm just - you know, it's not like this should be a big surprise to him. He knew I was going to NYU. I just don't understand why he's acting like this!" The words spilled out of my mouth before I could stop them and once they did, they didn't stop. I told her how a few days ago we had gotten into a fight and for the first time in my life, I had a problem that I didn't know how to fix.
And that was something that I did not know how to cope with. If something wasn't working, I fixed it. And if it was something that couldn't be fixed, I either accepted that it was broken and moved on, or I replaced said broken thing.
But this was Edward. This was about Edward staying here in Forks and me moving across the country to New York. This was about Edward not seeing how it could work. Him here. Me there.
To me, it was so simple. Like I said, everything in my life was fixable or replaceable.
Except for Edward.
My mom moved her hand to squeeze my knee. "It's probably just hitting him now, Bella. This is going to be a big change for you two."
I shook my head hard enough for that stupid piece of hair to fall out from its place behind my ear again. "Yeah, but it's not like we won't be able to talk to each other, like, all the time. And we can visit each other, too." I was adamant. Maybe a little naïve.
My mom smiled softly at me and it took all of me not to get out of the car and walk the fuck home. "I've told you before and I'll tell you again. This will definitely be a challenge for you and Edward. It's going to be hard to adjust to this new phase of your life."
I loved my mom. Loved her more than anything. But at the moment, I had never felt like such a stranger to her. "I know that, Mom. I'm not stupid. If anyone is acting stupid, it's him. He's the one that's practically ignoring me." I opened my phone to his name and showed her our conversation.
He was there, but barely. Short, clipped answers. Hours between each. Distant. So not like the Edward I had known and loved since I walked into the room in fifth grade as the new kid.
"That's his way of dealing with you leaving." With that, my mom put the car into reverse and started backing out of our spot and out of the parking lot of the grocery store.
"By already learning to live without me?" I tried to spare my mom the dramatics, I really did. But the thought of leaving was already hard enough and I didn't plan on spending my last week with Edward fighting.
"Bella, please. You're seventeen and about to go across the country for college! The best years of your life are about to start!" Her voice softened as my cries grew louder and without once taking her eyes off of the road, she reached over into her glove compartment and pulled out a wad of tissues. "You and Edward have known each other your whole lives. This is something you can work out."
She was right. She had to be.
Black and white. Up or down.
My sobs eventually turned to sniffles and soon my fingers were moving rapidly across the glass screen of my phone. Edward and I were fixing this tonight. I was tired of living in this perpetual state of gray and I was determined, no, I needed to be with my guy this week before I left.
A few minutes later my phone buzzed and I quickly skimmed over the message.
"See? I bet that's Edward right now." I could practically hear the smile and relief in my Mom's voice. I shook my head.
"No, it's Rose."
You need to come to The Rec. Now.
"She wants me to meet her at The Rec." I answered her back with a question mark, my curiosity piqued.
"Oh, okay. Do you want me to drop you off?" My mom already checked her mirrors and was sliding into the lane to get us to our new destination. I nodded.
"Yeah. Someone'll bring me home."
Like I said, just when I thought my life couldn't get any worse, it fucking did.
- - - tr - - -
The drive over to The Rec was much lighter than how my mom and I had started out our Sunday afternoon errands. With a determination to patch things up with Edward, I almost felt a semblance to the happy, carefree teenager I usually was.
It wasn't unusual for one of my parents to make the trek over to The Rec, even though it had become the road less traveled for them, literally, as we all obtained our licenses one by one. After so many trips to and from, either picking us girls up or dropping us off, my mom and dad could pretty much drive these roads with their eyes closed. A left here. Two rights. The roads leading to The Rec weren't different from any of the other roads here in Forks. We twisted and turned, tall green trees surrounding us on either side. The sound of our tires sliding over puddles left over from the rain was a comfort to my ears, but it didn't surprise me in the least.
That feeling of comfort came along with The Rec, the place where I had spent most of my free time growing up. The Rec was a two story house converted into a local, social hang out for kids of all ages. It was monitored by staff and volunteers and was a favorite amongst parents of the town because of how efficiently and safely it was run.
The Rec reminded me of my favorite pair of sweatpants. You know, you think about them all day and once you feel them surrounding you, life is just perfect. Everything is perfect.
So was The Rec.
It was our escape. It was a chance to throw away all the stress that came with being a teenager. It was a chance to relax.
In some of our cases, not mine, but people like Emmett, it was a chance to heal.
For Rose, it was a chance to matter.
For Alice, it was a chance to be heard.
For Jasper, it was a chance to hide.
And for me, it was a constant.
And eventually, all the people I met through The Rec became constants in my life, too. And it turned out that consistency was what I was missing in my life, even though I didn't need the years of therapy to know that truth.
But to Edward, it was a chance to belong.
Not soon enough to my liking, the car eventually stopped in front of the brown, wooden building that resembled a log cabin in the middle of the woods. I could see the outside equipment and the jungle gym to the left, but it was empty even though a crowd of people stood in the front of the building.
I unbuckled my seat belt and leaned over to kiss my mom. We smiled at each other, each of us recognizing a glimpse of ourselves in the other. As much as I may complain, she really is up there with Rose in the best friend department.
"Thanks, Mom. I'll let you know when I leave."
"Not too late."
I nodded and made sure not to trip over anything on my way out of the car, knowing firsthand that it was definitely within the realm of possibility for someone as clumsy as me. I heard the car slowly pull away from the curb as I searched the small crowd for Rose and the others, not having to look long once I spotted her long, blonde hair standing near the bottom of the steps.
"Hey, Felix lock us out again?" I said, joining our group and looking around at the familiar faces gathering outside. This was another plus of The Rec. It was the same kids that came every day. No judgements. Just another kid looking for a safe out.
Rose didn't answer, instead brushing her shoulder with mine and pointing a perfectly manicured finger towards the door. I looked at her strangely, bummed that Felix wasn't setting us up with one of his scavenger hunts to find the key. He always said it was about teamwork but I know it was just a chance for him to laugh his ass off at us as we tried to unravel his clues.
My eyes scanned the crowd, seeing no sign of Edward, and I eventually made it to where Rose was pointing. I squinted my eyes in the late afternoon sun, my hand resting on my brow as I strained to read the yellow paper taped to the door.
"Closed?" I turned to Rose in a panic, doubting the words I struggled to read. "For good?"
Rose nodded, shaking her head before hiding her face in her hands. Her voice was muffled against her fingers.
"Felix left a note for Carlisle."
"Saying what?" My voice rose a few octaves.
Rose dropped her hands from her face after wiping her eye. She shrugged. "I'm not sure. Something about money."
In disbelief, I turned to stare at the crowd of people that I had come to know. Most had been around since before The Rec became a part of my life. Some had come after. All were welcomed.
But now we were abandoned. Some for the first time. Some the second.
But for one, it was another in a lifetime of abandonment.
My heart was shaky at best after the past few days but now it was shattered, that pit in my stomach gnawing its way to the center of my chest. I clutched my chest, already feeling the darkness and the displacement but knowing that what I was feeling was on behalf of someone else. While I had lost a piece of childhood and my need for control, Edward lost his purpose. He lost his anchor. After a life in and out of group homes and foster care, The Rec was Edward's home. It was his escape, his hideout, his solace, his sanity.
Rose pointed over to the back of the house, towards the tree that had started it all. Without a word I nodded and disappeared through the crowd, letting Emmett and Rose lean on each other.
The grass tickled my toes between my flip flops, the wetness from the earlier rain making my introduction much noisier than I had wanted it to be. I don't think he noticed though, and if he did, he made no attempt to move on my behalf.
Instead I planted my feet firmly on the ground before hoisting myself up with a jump. My arms and legs expertly maneuvered my body so I was sitting next to him on that ancient and sturdy branch that we discovered when we were ten. We were silent for a few minutes, and I pretended not to see him wipe the tears that slid down his face.
Eventually, when I couldn't take seeing him like this any longer, I slide my arm under his and he held it there for a second, his chin hitting his chest in defeat before he pulled away from me.
"What do you care, anyway? You're leaving this place in a week."
I know it wasn't Edward talking. It was the whole situation. It was the inner child in him that struggled with understanding why no one, or nothing, in his life ever deemed him worthy enough to stay.
"The Rec is the best thing that ever happened to me, Edward."
It was. It really, really was. And underneath the hard exterior he chose to portray that late afternoon, I knew he knew it and believed me. Edward was hurting and I knew he had his walls up and guarded. I didn't blame him and didn't take it personal. We had known each other since we were kids barely old enough to cross the street by ourselves.
"Was." His tone was short and non-expressive, reminding me of his texts that burned a whole in my pocket.
I shook my head at him and reached for his hand again. "Always."
Reluctantly, he allowed me to hold his hand and pretty soon my head was resting against his shoulder, the two of us looking out over the trees and impending sunset in silence as we digested all we had lost with a simple piece of paper left on the fucking door.
The hours ticked by without either of us saying anything, and it wasn't the first time that we had found and lost ourselves in the silence. It was Edward's comfort zone, and though Edward knew nothing could ever grow within a comfort zone, it was what he needed at the moment. Just us. It was what had sustained him time and time again over the years.
With a slow kiss on the top of my head, he lifted our joined hands and whispered, "Let me take you home."
- - - tr- - -
"Come to New York with me," I whispered into the comfort of car.
We were parked in front of my house, the sun well dipped behind the trees and the moon taking its reign. Edward sighed loudly and drifted out of our embrace. His tethered voice answered a few moments later.
"I'm sure they'll let me stay in your dorm with you." I guess this was where I was getting my sarcasm from.
"We can work something out. Get an apartment or something, I don't know." That was the black-and-white-and-no-room-for-gray-side of me talking now. Solving problems was something I was good at and it was killing me that we had become a problem without a solution.
"Yeah, your dad will love that idea."
Frustrated, I threw my hands up in the air, my voice ripping through the peacefulness of the car. "Where else are you going to go, Edward?"
I watched his nerves get the best of him for a split second and he ran his fingers through his hair, tugging at the ends before exhaling loudly. His eyes dropped to his keys and his fingers toyed with them as he avoided eye contact with me, knowing that we'd get lost in each other if we allowed it.
"Carlisle said I can stay with him for a bit. Until I get back on my feet again. Find a job." Edward shrugged his shoulders as if it wasn't a big deal for an eighteen year old to have nowhere to go. He did until a few hours ago when The Rec was all of a sudden a devastating piece of the past.
"Did he know about this?"
This time Edward didn't try to hide his emotions, the sadness he felt molding itself onto his beautiful face.
A few more minutes passed in silence before I intertwined our fingers again.
"Just come with me. Everything will work out. As long as we have each other."
He didn't answer me for a few minutes, and I began to wonder if he had heard me.
But then the bastard laughed at me. "Don't you get it, Bella? If I go with you, it's just one more thing in my life that I have to chase after and –"
"What, I'm not worth chasing?" I interrupted, knowing that emotions were running high and with everything that happened within the past few hours, this was a fight I probably should not have picked.
For the first time in what felt like hours, he turned to look at me and what I saw in his eyes shook me to my core, and it should have prepared me for the turmoil I would come to know so well. He squeezed my fingers that were still wrapped around his. "You're worth everything, and you know that. The problem here is that I'm not."
"Of course you're worth it. Why is that so hard for you to believe?" I stared at him incredulously.
He dropped my fingers, scoffing at my disbelief. "The only person who has ever believed in me is you. And now you're going off to New York, to do all the things that you worked so hard for, and what do I have to offer you? Huh? Nothing. Shit, Bella, and as of tonight, I don't even have a job or a place to live anymore!"
This wasn't the first time that we had this conversation. "You are more to me than a job or a place to live." I spoke through gritted teeth, feeling like a broken record. Call me young, naive, or even stupid but I knew that Edward and I were stronger than life's obstacles.
"You say that now, but I'm the one who grew up without a home, not you. Making you live without is not something I can ever do to you."
"Living without you is not a life, Edward."
"It's better than anything else I have to offer."
Now I was angry and I felt like I was losing control of the situation, my future, my life.
"I just don't understand how you can walk away from something you claim to love so much!" I yelled but it wasn't long after that it hit me. I looked over at him, the light from my front porch lighting his face in a soft orange that I'd never forget. "But that's what you do, though. You leave before something can leave you."
I watched as Edward pursed his lips, knowing that I knew that he was doing what self-taught from almost two decades of being on his own.
"You should go. I'll see you before you leave."
I watched him leave and I knew that things were never going to be the same again. I was leaving, The Rec was no more, and Edward and I were most likely another couple to fall victim to distance. I was only seventeen, a few weeks shy of eighteen but damn it, I knew that a love like ours was bigger than this.
It just doesn't matter what you think you know when you're the one half of the couple that believes it.
The timing of everything was the worst of it all, the one thing I tossed around in my brain over and over again. I wonder if I had gone to The Rec that night and that stupid piece of paper wasn't on the door, if our paths would have drifted or converged. Would I have walked into The Rec that afternoon and found him playing air hockey with Jasper, instead of alone on our tree? Would I have been able to convince him that I would be the one to stay with him for the rest of our lives? Would I have gone off to NYU with solid confidence that we would turn out fine in the end?
I didn't know.
There was one thing I was absolutely positive. It was that The Rec had been the backdrop to all of my biggest milestones I had achieved while growing up. I entered The Rec as a lonely and shy fifth grader, and left it, and my childhood crush and high school sweetheart, behind.
I couldn't help falling asleep that night, amidst all the tears and tissues floating around my pillowcase, thinking about how one small decision as a ten year old ended up paving the way for my life to begin.
Hello, all! We're about to enter Part I of our story and I'm so glad you joined me on this ride! See you soon!