The Long Road Home

Warning: In this story, Bella works with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) patients, as well as CPTSD (complex trauma disorder) which includes adults who survived child abuse and rape. If this is at all triggering for you in any way, do not read! There will be no graphic detail but it does discuss children in terrible situations. This is FICTION, but some scenes may reflect real tragic stories in the news. Again, please do not read if you are sensitive on this subject. Thank you!

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Chapter 1 – Jitters

"OK, just move it a little to the left," I said as I examined the sign ten feet above my head.

"Darling, now, I'm not trying to lose my patience, but you're driving me insane. It was just left, you wanted it right," Jasper said as he hung upside down from the post waving his hammer.

"I know, but now its too far right. It just needs to move in an inch," I said with an apologetic grin. "Please, Jazz. I'll owe you big time."

"You already owe me big time," he grumbled as he grudgingly pried the nails loose from the sign so he could move it to the left.

"Right there!" I shouted. "That's exactly the right spot."

"You sure this time?" he asked, clearly not believing me.

"Positive."

"Awesome," Jasper said, before hammering the sign back into place. When he was finished, he pulled himself back to the ladder and climbed down.

"What do you think?" I asked him with emotional tears building in my eyes. It was only a sign, and yet, it meant the world to me. It was a visual representation of the dream I had been dreaming of since I was a child, and I was beyond excited to see it come into fruition. It was nowhere near complete, but it was definitely moving in that direction.

He stared up at the sign, analyzing his work, and then nodded. "It looks exactly like it did the last five times I hammered it up there."

I smacked him playfully on the chest. "Does not. Its perfect now. Thank you, Jasper. I really appreciate all the help you've done this past week."

"Well, you know I really wish I could stay for the rest of the summer and help with everything else," he replied while still looking up at the sign.

"I know. Duty calls," I said with a sigh. Jasper was my absolute favorite cousin, then again, he was my only cousin. He was actually my last remaining blood relative, and I was absolutely terrified that he was being deployed half a world away. But Jasper was Jasper - a true blue patriotic southerner that wanted nothing more than to serve his country the way his father and our grandfather had done. I hated it, but I'd never dream of asking him not to go.

"There's still so much left to do before you can open in the fall," he mused.

I nodded. "It'll get there," I said confidently.

Jasper smiled. "I will say this, Cullen Ranch has never looked so good."

I laughed. "Can't you read?" I asked while pointing back up at the sign. "This is the 'Alice's Hope, Equine Therapy Ranch'."

He chuckled with me then threw up his hands in defeat. "My mistake. 'Alice's Hope, Equine Therapy Ranch, formally known as the 'Cullen Ranch' has never looked so good. I can already see the finished product. Its going to be really great, Bells. This is an awesome thing you're doing for the community. Your dad would have been proud."

I smiled. "I hope so."

"Well, I know so," he assured me. "Uncle Charlie would have been proud of you no matter what, but this… this is truly amazing. I can't wait to come back next year and see all the happy faces of the people you've helped here."

"I'm not so sure about happy faces, but hopefully you might see some healing hearts. That's all I can really hope for."

"I'm sure there will be plenty of healing hearts… and happy faces here soon. Good luck, little cuz, and take my advice and hire a helping hand 'round here. That little apartment above the shed would be perfect for someone to live in while they help you out with all the repairs and such you have left. Think about it!"

"Yeah, yeah," I said dismissively before leaning in to hug him tightly. "I love you. And don't get yourself killed over there. I'd never forgive you!"

"Hey now, this 'aint my first rodeo," he argued.

"I wouldn't care if you've been over there a thousand times. Its still dangerous, so be careful!"

"Yes, Ma'am. I have no intention of dying any time soon. Love you too. And don't hesitate to call Emmett or Carlisle. Now, I'm serious on that! If you can't handle something, its OK to ask for help. You tend to have trouble with that."

"That's because I don't usually need any help," I said like a smartass.

"Uh-huh, like you didn't need help hanging that there sign… or rewiring the upstairs bathroom, or…"

"Okay, I get the point!" I conceded. "Stop worrying about me. All you need to worry about is how to not get killed over there."

"Alrighty then. I'll give you a call when I can," he said before hugging me tightly again, and then heading for his car.

My stomach twisted in knots and I had to force myself to stay where I was instead of throwing my body in front of his car so he couldn't leave, but then that would probably just end up getting him in trouble with the military, so I suppose I had to let him go. With all the losses I had experienced in my lifetime, watching him leave was definitely one of the hardest things I had to do. But I couldn't wallow in my sorrow. The ranch had so much that needed to be done, and I was the only one there to do it.

I walked back in the house, and the moment I got elbows deep into another project, the phone rang, and I already knew who it was.

"Hello, Rose. Everything is fine, Rose," I said before she could even breathe a word of a greeting.

"How did you know it was me?" she asked surprised. "Did you finally get rid of that ancient dial phone and get a real one with a caller ID? And why is your cell never turned on anyway?" she asked, though it felt more like I was being scolded by a parent than talking to a friend.

I took a deep breath so I could ensure the proper lung to air ratio I'd need to answer her questions, knowing all too well she wouldn't be satisfied with a short simple response.

"No, I didn't get a new phone. My vintage rotary phone works perfectly fine and belongs here in this one hundred plus year old ranch house. I knew it was you because you always call around this time of the day, and especially today because you knew Jasper was leaving and I'd be upset. And what was the other question again?"

"Cell phone," she reminded me.

"That's right. Why don't I ever use my cell phone? Well, maybe I haven't charged it in a while because I don't need it. I'm far too busy to be playing on that thing all the time the way you do with yours."

"Oh, so now I'm not busy, huh?" she said in mock offense.

"Oh, come on, you know what I mean," I whined in frustration. "Rose, I really am busy, so can you just tell me why you called so I can get back to work?"

"Okay, okay, so I'm sending someone to come stay with you."

"Whatahuh?" I asked confused. "Someone to stay with me? How so?"

"Jasper called me after he left there..."

"Ugh!" I whined again, already knowing where she was going with it.

Rose continued as if she didn't hear my complaint. "His name is Edward Masen. He's a handyman that did some work on our bathroom last week."

"He did work for you? That's the only way you know this guy? He could be anyone."

"I checked his references," she defended herself.

"Ugh! If you just talked to Jasper about this a little bit ago, how have you already lined up this guy? "

"He gave me his number last week and said to please call him if I needed anything else done. So after I got off the phone with Jasper, I called him… and he said yes!"

"He was just like - 'Sure, I'll go stay with your friend out in the country and do random maintenance work around a ranch'? What kind of guy would agree to something like that without even surveying the job first… or the condition of the place he's going to be staying in? Or the terms of employment?"

"Oh, Bella, you are far too paranoid. I'm sure it'll be fine. The guy is like… a drifter, or something."

"A drifter? Wow, this just sounds better and better."

"Oh, come on. He's not a serial killer," she argued.

"How do you know?" I shouted in frustration. "You, being a Cullen, should understand that terrible monsters really do exist. Knowing what happened to Alice, how could you just invite a random strange man to come live with me out in the boondocks with no neighbors close enough to hear me scream?"

"This guy is nothing like... that creepy old guy that took Alice," she whispered, obviously not wanting anyone around her to hear what she was talking about.

"And you know that for sure, how?" I challenged her. "Because a couple of his references checked out?"

"Yes, and because he's really good looking…"

"I wouldn't care if he was Clark Gable. I'm not looking for romance right now!"

"Clark Gable? My god, Bella, get some cable TV already. Besides, I'm not trying to make a love match here. Him being eye candy is only a bonus. He's really good at what he does. And he's nice…"

"Yeah, so was the guy who took Alice," I said perturbed.

"Oh Bella, look, I know you grew up in that situation, and everyone around you was always paranoid and freaked over everything, but not everyone is bad. Not even most people are bad. This guy seems very genuine, and he was looking for work, and said he'd be willing to travel. So when Jasper said you could really use someone staying out there with you to help around the ranch, I thought of him immediately and called him. He's not a murderer. He has a clean record. Young. Handsome. Just someone looking for a fresh start. Much like you."

"Wait, did you say his name is Manson? OK, nobody with that last name has ever been good. Marilyn Manson, Charles Mason…"

"His name is not Manson, its Masen. Edward Masen. Come on, you're getting silly with this."

"I don't know," I said, mostly to myself. I hated pre-judging anyone, but with the upbringing I had, it was definitely difficult to trust strangers. Then again, if all went well, I'd be opening the ranch to strangers all the time, so I supposed I needed to learn to somehow come to terms with my fear of the unknown. And I really did need the help…

"I guess its OK if he comes…. On a trial basis only! If I get a creepy vibe or he steps one foot out of line, he's gone."

"Good, he will be there in a couple hours," she said, taking me aback.

"What? He's already on his way?"

"I hope you're planning something good for dinner."

"Rose!"

"What? I told him you're a good cook," she giggled, knowing all too well that I was a terrible cook.

"The apartment above the shed has it's own kitchenette. Why would I need to cook for him?" I said in a panic. The situation was getting completely out of hand, and my nerves were spiking to an all time high.

"You don't have to cook for him, but it would sure be nice. Especially considering he's going to be arriving after dark and he won't have much time to go shopping and get all settled in before dinner time.

"Grrr!" I growled out of frustration. "Okay, Rose, thank you so much for the help, but now I really have to go since you just doubled my workload for the afternoon."

"What? No, he's going there to help, not make more work for you."

"Except now I have to drop what I'm doing and go take clean linens to the apartment, then run to the store and pick up stuff for dinner and a can of pepper spray. The store alone will take me over an hour since it's a good twenty minutes away."

"Oh Bella, stop complaining. This is going to be a good thing. You'll see."

"I hope you're right," I grumbled before saying goodbye and hanging up the phone. I loved Rose like a sister, but sometimes she really did piss me off.

I cleaned up the job I was in the middle of working on, then put clean towels and sheets in the apartment, before rushing out to the store.

I had to try really hard to not be so closed off when it came to people I didn't know, so having a complete stranger coming to basically live with me, was extremely nerve-racking. I was anxious and jittery the entire time at the store, and somehow managed to knock down the cracker display.

"Shit," I said under my breath as I clumsily attempted to restack the boxes in a somewhat orderly fashion.

When I was finished cleaning my mess in the snack aisle, I decided it would probably be nice to stock up the fridge and pantry in the apartment as well. I had no idea what this guy would like or what his dietary needs may be, so I just got some generic staples like bread, milk, eggs and pretzels. But before I could make it to the checkout counter, I second guessed myself and decided to put it all back. What if he was lactose intolerant, or had a glucose allergy? I certainly didn't want to make the guy sick. He could just go shopping for himself in the morning.

I settled on making a pot of spaghetti for dinner, because it was one of the few things I could actually cook, and I figured most people liked it so he probably would too. When I had all the ingredients, I hurried home to get it on the stove.

It was dark by the time I rounded the bend onto the long tree lined driveway of the ranch, and for the first time in my entire life, the house almost looked eerie as I approached it. I grew up with stories of real monsters who took the shape of men and preyed on women and children, but I was never truly afraid of my own home until right then. What if Rose's handyman really was one of those evil people my dad and Carlisle had always warned me about? Suddenly I was more than anxious, I was terrified.

I rushed into the house and locked the door behind me. I turned on all the lights in the house, and finally forced myself to put a pot of water on the stove to boil and start on my sauce.

"Calm down, Bella. Everything is going to be fine," I said to myself out loud.

But then the doorbell rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I grabbed my pepper spray and tucked it into my pocket, and then for even more protection, I also took a large kitchen knife from the block with me to answer the door.

I took one more deep breath, and then slowly unlocked the deadbolt…

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***A/N: Think this is your typical - Made for TV - love on the ranch - type of story? Think again! We might start off that way, but we will be going in some dark directions, might even be slightly disturbing, so if you can't handle it, please don't continue.

** Despite the dramatic plot unfolding, this is ultimately a love story and I plan on that being the main focus, and everything else just being in the background. As always with my stories, we will end this thing with a Happily Ever After!

*I do not have an update schedule, nor do I know how long it will be. Maybe 5 chapters, maybe 50. I have it complete in my mind, but getting it all down in a readable form might be a while. I will post each chapter as I complete it.

Thanks for reading!