A/N for 2019-04-07: I owe a massive debt of gratitude to eeyorefan12 for their incredible editing and analytical skills. A truly amazing beta.
A word about trigger warnings: I have no idea what your individual 'triggers' are. Mine are firebells. Yeah. That's right. Seeing or hearing them. Long story. Anyway, I don't like posting trigger warnings as they are usually just poorly disguised plot-spoilers. If you're really concerned about something, feel free to PM me.
Finally, a request: please don't post plot-spoilers in the reviews. It really robs future readers of their enjoyment of the story.
Charlie, Phil and Renee had shooed her away to the kitchen, where a cup of steaming tea and some toast waited for her.
"You need to eat. Go, we've got this," her mother had said gently.
So she was sitting, staring at the enlargement of Matt's picture, which was leaning against the tall pantry cupboards. It was a shot from their honeymoon. She'd snapped it while they were lounging outside the small cabin they'd rented. He was smiling, hands folded behind his head, as he'd relaxed on the hammock.
They'd talked about their first date—and the many that had followed.
She blew out a wistful breath and ran a finger over the dates that sat beneath the photo: March 6, 1986 - February 25, 2015.
She'd had him for just over six years. Six happy, normal years, full of ordinary problems, none of which required a return to the psychiatric ward.
Smiling, she recalled that first date when she had explained her own, unique history to him.
"So, full disclosure," Bella started, sitting across from Matt, "I'm kinda screwed up."
"Oh?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.
"Yeah. I had a psychotic break when I was eighteen. I spent six months in psychiatric care. I'm on serious meds, and I see a psychiatrist regularly to make sure I'm not going off the rails again, which is entirely possible."
Unlike the few other men she'd had first dates with, he leaned forward and held her gaze. "That sounds challenging."
"It was. It is."
"Are you telling me to see if I'll run away?"
She lifted her eyebrows at this. "Most men do."
"I'm not most men."
"Sorry." he murmured, "That sounded really arrogant. Actually, that was really arrogant." His face flushed a bit and Bella felt a pang of sympathy. She knew what it was like to have one's feelings be so painfully transparent.
"It's okay. I'm assuming it came from a good place." She didn't, not really, but it was the polite thing to say. She was pretty sure he was moments from fabricating a reason for leaving.
So his question surprised her.
"Can I ask what happened?" Matt's voice was soft. Gentle.
"Uh . . . sure." She tried to keep the little tremble from her voice. She hadn't been prepared to tell her story. It never got to that point. She struggled with the words for a moment. "My first boyfriend broke up with me and I became very depressed. I started hallucinating—seeing him. I missed him so much that I started to do things to trigger the hallucinations—dangerous things. Dirt bike riding..."
Matt frowned at this. "That's not dangerous."
"It is without helmets."
"Okay, yeah," he nodded, "definitely dangerous."
"Then I dove head-first off a cliff. I nearly drowned, and my best friend jumped in to save me." She had to pause before she could say the next words. "He died. His neck was broken."
"Oh," Matt breathed out.
"Yeah," Bella said. She'd made her peace with her mental illness, but Jacob's death—that still haunted her. It should, she reminded herself. "That's when the psychotic break happened. I thought a vampire had killed him." She watched him absorb this and then added. "I also thought my friend had been a werewolf."
Matt didn't say anything for a bit, looking at her.
She cleared her throat. "We're now well past the point when my dates usually make an excuse about a term paper they've forgotten and leave real quick-like."
"Sorry," Matt said, "do you want me to leave?"
"No . . . You seem really nice."
He did. Her roommate Mel had introduced them. Or rather, had insisted Bella go out with Matt when he asked.
"I just—I figure people should know who I am. Fabulous paper writer, total klutz, and still technically psychotic."
"Well," Matt had said, sitting back, "you're right. Full disclosure is good. Want the big stuff, or the little things first?"
"Big," she said, wondering what flaws his kind face hid.
"That's a fault?"
"To be loyal to a fault? Yes. I have a hard time believing bad things about the people I care about, even when they show me I should probably believe differently."
"I get that," Bella said softly.
"And I'm stubborn."
"And I never pick up my clothes off the floor until it's laundry day."
Bella chuckled. She did the same thing. "And the small stuff?"
"Well, I play football—"
"Yeah, that is pretty terrible," Bella said, rolling her eyes but smiling.
"And I cheat on the training diet all the time."
"Diets are pretty crappy." She knew this from having to adhere to one. The psychiatrist had wanted her off of almost all sugar. "How do you cheat?"
"Promise you won't make fun of me?"
"I solemnly swear." She put her hand to her heart.
He leaned forward, and whispered, "Pop-tarts."
Bella snorted her drink out her nose.
The conversation and laughter had gone on from there and, when dinner was finished, they had skipped the movie they'd planned to see and went for a walk instead. A really long walk that took them past the frigid waterfront, and the darkened park, and into the quiet hours of morning.
They'd become inseparable soon afterwards.
Her sigh became more than her throat wanted to bear, and she made herself sit down and sip the tea Charlie had left her.
Her father's voice surprised her. "You actually going to eat something?"
"Yeah," she said, pulling the toast towards her.
"Hear it works if you actually put it in your mouth."
"Pearls of wisdom, Dad. Thanks."
"You're welcome," he said, coming to sit down across the table from her. He ran his hand over the grain of the wood, frowning at the thinning varnish. "That needs refinishing," he mumbled.
"It's fine, Dad," Bella said, "and you don't need to worry about the house stuff."
Charlie's frown deepened as he looked around the unfinished kitchen.
"It'll get done eventually," she countered weakly. She'd be lucky if it happened at all. There had been a small life insurance policy, but she was determined to leave it untouched for Josh and Mer's education.
Charlie didn't argue, but swirled his fingers over the table. She knew it for his thinking gesture.
She ate and drank her tea, and his fingers kept working.
"You're still seeing your psychiatrist."
"Bella." His voice stepped over the syllables, rising to a warning.
"I haven't. Not lately."
"Now is not the time to experiment with your . . . endurance."
"I know," she gritted out.
"Clearly you doubt that."
Charlie's posture sagged. "I can't see that again, what happened before, when you lost someone, Honey. You can't, not with Mer and Josh around."
"And I'm not going to."
"Okay. How're you going to make sure?"
She avoided his gaze, training her eyes on her half-eaten toast. "I'll see someone."
He let the smallest of sighs escape. "Good."
Where the sounds from upstairs had been muffled and dull, they were becoming sharp and high-pitched.
"Shirt!" Joshua's voice squealed and Bella stiffened.
"Just give her a minute," Charlie said, putting his hand on hers. "Let her figure out being a grandma."
Bella didn't relax, not so sure Renee's interpersonal skills were up for the challenge that Joshua presented.
"Yes, that's your shirt, honey, let's put it on," she heard her mother say.
"Shirt!" Joshua repeated. There was a quick set of thumps from what Bella assumed were his bouncing feet.
"Well, you need to let me put it on." Renee's voice came again, this time less patient.
Joshua's tone altered too, becoming more shrill. "SHIRT!"
Bella bolted for the stairs, but wasn't fast enough to prevent the coming tantrum.
Joshua's scream pierced the air and both Bella and her father flinched..
"I got it," Charlie grumbled, nudging past her. "Go finish your breakfast."
Bella stayed where she was, jaw clenched, waiting.
After a few tense minutes, Renee came down the stairs, followed by Charlie, a stiff and still-screaming Joshua slung over his shoulder.
"No, no, no, I got it," he said, waving Bella away. He marched to the front door, where the roar of traffic briefly dimmed the effect of her son's screams, as Charlie opened and then closed it behind him.
"I don't know how you do this, Honey," Renee said to Bella.
"Me either," she mumbled before turning to go to the bathroom. She was pretty sure her mother was still talking to her but she couldn't handle any more noise. Or really, any more of anything.
DISCLAIMER: S. Meyer owns Twilight. No Copyright infringement intended.