Huuuuuge thanks to LayAtHomeMom for prereading this. Seriously.
"I miss the way things used to be
It's okay, no one's around
I'm off-season vacation town"
(the front bottoms)
South Carolina is humid. Miserably humid.
Bella decides this the second she steps through the automatic doors of Charleston International Airport.
She's instantly sticky with sweat and can feel it dripping down her arm, getting trapped in the thick plaster of her cast and making the stitches on her forehead itchier than they usually are.
She tries to take a deep breath but it's oppressive. Back home, the air felt clean, crisp and cool. September here feels like a damp blanket.
She drops her duffle bag on the sidewalk by her feet in the only shady spot she can find, waiting for someone she recognizes. She wishes she would have bought a pair of sunglasses from one of those kiosks back inside, the sun is so bright it's giving her a headache.
Her mother, Renee, was supposed to meet her back home in Forks, to be there with her through the funeral and help her get the rest of her life together for a 3,000 mile move. It was just a few days of her time.
"I'm sorry, Bella," she'd said over the phone while Deputy Call stared at her from her bedroom doorway. "I just can't get away from work this week." Bella could hear her moving around on her end of the line, her mind already moving to whatever project she'd started.
Deputy Call shifted uncomfortably as she hung up, tossing her cell phone on her bed, hearing it smack against a stack of textbooks she still needed to return to school.
"She's not coming," she'd told him and his dark eyebrows pulled together, pity etched in every line of his face. He cleared his throat, shifting his weight more. "It's okay," she'd assured him.
But in all honesty, it wasn't. She was the owner of a tiny hotel, not the President of the United Fucking States.
Was Bella going to throw a tantrum about it? No. She was too tired. She's still too tired.
She just turned seventeen but she feels like she's already lived a lifetime-and-a-half.
Trauma does that to you, apparently.
Trauma also thrusts you into flashbacks when you hear a car horn nearby from a silver SUV pulling up to the curb.
The phantom sound of crunching metal rings in her ears as Renee makes her way around the front of the car, her smile huge.
She hugs her and Bella winces as Renee's arm squeezes her bruised rib, but her mother doesn't notice. She holds on for too long and only lets go when Bella tries to shrug her off of herself. Renee frowns as she pulls away, surveying the stitches on her daughter's face.
"Did they say if those are supposed to scar?"
Bella looks away, bile rising in her throat. That's her biggest concern right now? She hasn't seen her in nearly three years and her entire life was just thrown up in the air and instead of helping to pick up the pieces, Renee is commenting on the mess.
"I don't know," Bella says, her voice scratchy. Renee lets her eyes linger on the angry red line on her forehead for a moment more before grabbing the duffle bag and making her way to the trunk.
"Is this all you brought?" she asks, glancing around the sidewalk near Bella's feet. She only nods, getting in the car to escape her scrutiny for just a moment. She's grateful for the air conditioning, bringing her face up to the vent on the dashboard and taking a shaky breath as Renee slides into the driver's seat. It's only a half-hour drive. Only one bridge. The sky is clear, the ground is dry.
It's going to be fine.
As they leave the airport, Renee's telling her all about how now that the busy season is over, they're going to be doing a lot of renovations on the hotel and Bella is tuning her out. She knows all of this, of course, having received detailed emails from her twice a week for the last six years, since she moved across the country from her. Bella watches the palm trees as they pass, evenly spaced out in front of fast food restaurants and shopping plazas.
"It doesn't look like much," Renee explains, "but coming from the airport isn't the most scenic route. The hotel is nice though, right near the water."
Bella considers telling her that being right near the water is the last thing she wants, but keeps it to herself, closing her eyes and focusing on the breathing exercises her therapist taught her during their brief, single session.
She's supposed to find a new shrink here.
The trip takes exactly thirty-four minutes and she doesn't even realize when they cross over the bridge onto the island, her eyes squeezed shut so tightly that it hurts.
The hotel, Summer View Suites, is small compared to the chain hotels they passed, but is larger than the houses around it. Wooden shingles are painted bright pink and the shutters around the wide windows are teal. It's so bright it's jarring. The parking lot is relatively small and there's only three other cars in spaces, the building itself lifted above them on the familiar stilts that everything seems to sit on here.
Renee grabs Bella's bag from the back of the car and gestures for her to follow her up the stairs and into what she guesses is the lobby. It's a large room, made larger by the wide windows that show sand dunes and what must be the ocean hiding behind them. Bella shivers, though, she isn't sure if it's from the proximity to so much water or the fact that the air-conditioning is blasting. She surveys the room, drop cloths over much of it, chairs and tables and what have you, are covered in the paint-splattered fabric. It smells like fresh paint, the scent stinging Bella's nose.
"Phil came into some money recently," Renee offers as an explanation. "We're doing a ton of renovations before things pick back up again next summer."
Phil. Her stepfather.
She met him once, at the wedding, six years ago.
Right before they both moved away.
Renee keeps them moving, explaining how the hotel is set up: three floors of guest rooms, with 12 rooms total. There's a kitchen and small dining room on the first floor, right off the lobby and out back is a patio they throw parties on during the summer. The floors are all carpeted, rough and worn down from years of tread and the walls are wallpapered. Bella knows that her mother only bought the hotel a few years ago, but she figured with how busy she's saying she's been, she would have actually made more progress.
"Phil and I have a room on the first floor, back down the hallway by the kitchen," Renee continues talking, even as she pauses on the third floor, inspecting a flickering wall sconce.
"Where is, um, my room?" Bella asks, sounding small. Renee seems to break out of her tour-guide-trance and smiles sympathetically.
"I'm sorry, baby, you're probably exhausted," she says softly and Bella exhales, relieved. "Right this way." She leads her up a narrow set of stairs at the end of the hall, hidden behind a door.
'We don't use this floor much," she says and Bella can see why. There are some cracks in the walls and cobwebs are covering the exposed beams of the ceiling. The wood floors creak with every step she takes.
It's an attic.
"I know it's not much right now, since you're here on such short notice, but we'll get it all fixed up for you however you like. This is your space."
The walls are white, and there are white sheets on the bed covered by an old, ratty quilt.
"It's all I had for a full-sized bed. We can go get a duvet set soon."
"I like this," Bella says quietly, running her fingers over the raised embroidery on some of the faded squares of fabric.
"It's ancient, your grandmother made it during her RV years," Renee tells her offhandedly, watching her drop her bag on top of it.
"There's a bathroom right down the stairs in the room across the hall. No one's checked into that one, but we're working on converting the supply closet on that floor into a bathroom for you. Speaking of which the contractors should be here any minute, I'm going to go wait for them. Make yourself comfortable." She turns to leave but says over her shoulder, "I'm glad you're here, Bella."
Bella swallows thickly, not being able to return the sentiment as her mother walks away. She waits until she hears her footsteps leave the stairs and disappear completely as she reaches the carpeting.
She takes survey of her "room." There's a small armoire in the corner and a table and chair under a round window facing the beach. Above the sand dunes now, there isn't anything to block the view. The green-blue water is calm, far as the eye can see. She feels nervousness clawing its way into her stomach. She's going to need to get a curtain.
She tears herself away from the window, using her good arm to start to unpack her duffle. Since the weather is so different on the island, most of the clothes she had were useless. She donated them before she left, though she couldn't dare part with the old sweaters her dad had, the ones he'd wear when he drank his coffee out on the back porch on Sunday mornings.
"This is my favorite kind of quiet," he'd said once on a rare occasion she'd joined him. The sun hadn't quite reached that side of the house and the shade left everything covered in frost.
Her dad always said that there were different kinds of silence. There was the back porch, wind-blowing-through-the-trees quiet. There was fishing-off-the-docks quiet. The bad kind of quiet, the kind when the squad would run into something heavy at work and no one quite knew what to say.
In her new room in South Carolina, only hearing the hum of the AC throughout the hotel, Bella finds a new kind of quiet.
A lonely kind.
One of the things her therapist told her to do was to start keeping a journal, to help her sort through her thoughts. She'd been told that she can write as many negative things as she wants, she can vent and vent and vent, but she needs to include a positive thing as well. Something about finding the good in every situation.
She's yet to make an entry.
But still, Bella's sorting through the few notebooks she brought with her when Phil knocks on the bedroom door.
The sound makes her jump.
"Come in," she says, hating how uncertain her voice sounds. He pushes the door open slowly and makes his way up the stairs, looking awkward and about as uncomfortable as Bella feels. He takes his hat off, one that has the a nearby high-school's mascot on it. It's his team, the one he coaches for now. His light hair is starting to thin and some of his stubble is graying, but he's still as handsome as she remembers.
"Hey, Bella," he says, stepping forward. "I just wanted to see how you were doing."
She's thrown a little bit so her response takes a moment, "I'm okay, thank you."
"I know, ah, that we don't know each other very well but I just wanted to let you know that I'm here if you need anything."
Her throat tightens at the sentiment and she can only nod.
"I'm sorry that things are so hectic here today," he continues. "There's so much your mother is trying to do at once. You know how she is."
"I understand," she says softly, looking down at the book in her hands.
He laughs at his own private joke, and Bella appreciates his attempt at trying to help, offering a small smile as a thanks.
The silence that falls between them becomes too uncomfortable for him, she can see it in the way he fidgets, his fingers drumming on the bill of his cap, his eyes avoiding her stare. He finds escape when Renee calls his name from the foot of the stairs. He ducks out of the room, shrugging apologetically.
Bella opens one of the notebooks, spiral bound with a flimsy green cover. She picks up a pen and scribbles onto the first blank page.
The good: Phil is nice.
The bad: everything else.
Here we go! I can't promise a regular update schedule at this point, but I'm excited about this thang.