I'm not sure how long I've been awake and staring at the ceiling when I hear my phone ding.
I clear the reminder from the screen and reach for the bottle of antidepressants kept in the small drawer of my nightstand. In hopes to refrain from talking myself out of it, I quickly shake one out and toss it to the back of my throat. I swallow, but my throat is dry.
Before I start coughing too loudly, I force myself out of bed and make a beeline to the bathroom. With a turn of the dial, I duck my head under and drink straight from the faucet.
The cold water soothes my coughing and I clear my throat to ensure the tiny pill didn't get itself stuck somewhere. At least, I'm out of bed. This is the most work I've seen it do in almost six months.
That must be Bella. She's up early.
I hear him before I see him. I know that he's already dressed and on his feet, otherwise I might try to dash back into the bedroom.
Across the hall, the door opens. "'Morning, Bells." Maybe today's going to be a better day. I should treat her to breakfast at the diner. It's been too long since I've seen her smile. "How did you sleep?"
"Fine, Dad, thanks," I say automatically. No need to worry him about how I woke at three in the morning to pee and couldn't sleep after that. "I'm thinking of making French toast. Want some?" It's a desperate attempt at squashing his idea of eating at the diner. I don't know if we even have ingredients for it, but I know it's his favorite. I also know that the idea of changing out of my sleepwear and facing the world outside is out of the question for now.
Charlie's eyes light up. She's cooking again. "That sounds great. I've missed your French toast." I'm so glad she's doing better.
I try not to feel discouraged as I listen to the thoughts that run around inside his head. It feels deceitful to use them to my benefit, but I hate hearing his guilt ridden thought process. He blames himself for how I've been acting. I know he's wrong, but there's no way I'm about to tell him the truth.
"I know. It's been a while." I place a plastic smile on my face and scoot around him towards the stairs. Once he's behind me, I let my face fall as I descend.
I hear the words in his head and I brace myself, knowing there's no stopping them.
"I'm so glad you're feeling better today, Bells." Charlie comes to stand next to me by the kitchen sink and places an awkward hand on my shoulder. I try not a to flinch at the touch. "I can't imagine just how hard this must be for you."
Charlie has never been a sentimental man. It's difficult for him to show affection. But when he touches me, I feel every single emotion he's ever felt. The fear of my deteriorating health, the profound happiness to see me out of bed, the heartbreak when my mother left him. It's all very overwhelming.
As discreetly as I can, I move from his touch and release a breath when our connection breaks. I'm me again. "I know you worry, Dad, but there's no need to. I'm dealing."
"You're taking your medicine?"
"Of course," I reply quickly. Too quickly.
"You've made it almost a year without an episode," Charlie says sternly. "You need to stay consistent."
"Dad, please." I fight hard not to roll my eyes in front of him. "I'm okay, I promise."
It seems to be enough for him, as he nods and moves toward the front door to grab the paper.
"I'm grabbing the paper," he calls to me.
"I know," I reply. I didn't need to hear his thoughts to know. "You're a creature of habit."
After an excavation in the kitchen and a trip to the neighbors for nutmeg, there's a plate of French toast and scrambled eggs on the table. And despite my pessimistic mood, I'm starving.
I scoop a hefty amount of eggs on my own plate and reach for the toast. I'm placing my third slice onto my plate when Charlie places his own fork in the way to stop me.
"Hey, hey now. Watch how much sugar you're putting on your plate."
I drop the slice with more attitude than necessary. "I don't think one slice will kill me."
"No, but one seizure can," Charlie retorts. "I know how tough it is to live like this, but we need to be disciplined. You can learn to live with this."
"Dad, I already am living with this! And one seizure won't kill me. Do you know how rare it is people actually die from epilepsy? Chances are close to zero. The doctor even said so."
I almost lost her once. I won't do it again.
I wince when I hear this. He's plagued by that night as much as I am.
"It's my job to keep you safe," he says instead. "It's been almost a year. I think the combination of the diet and your medication is finally working. Don't you see?"
With a sigh, I nod. It's not worth trying to change his mind. He's already decided and I can't bear to hurt him anymore than I already have. So I resolve to go along with it. As long as I do, he'll never find the truth. "You're right, Dad. I'm sorry."
Later that afternoon, I offered to go grocery shopping. After barely scraping together everything I needed for breakfast, I realized the kitchen had been seriously neglected. Lately, I haven't had much of an appetite but I felt guilty when I saw Charlie was living off of TV dinners and chef boyardee.
Charlie insisted on coming with me, of course. I can't be trusted alone to not have a fatal epileptic episode. Regardless of my so far spotless record. So here we are in the only Thriftway in town. We go up and down the aisles together, tossing things into the cart as we go.
It's crowded today. And that's impressive considering there's more people in a football team than the population of Forks, Washington.
It's a Sunday, I should have known better. Everyone shops on Sunday.
I sigh. Charlie must hear me over the hustle and bustle. He looks down at me with concern. "You're feeling alright, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm fine," I say. "I just wasn't expecting it to be so busy today."
My baby's going to graduate this year! I need to…
Maybe I should go vegan…
What did he even mean by that? I'm probably just overthinking things as usual but…
I grit my teeth and try to focus on Charlie. Everyone is just too damn loud today. Everyone is thinking and worrying. It's exhausting. I let out another sigh as the woman down the aisle passes us and I pretend not to hear her pondering the chances of her husband cheating on her.
Charlie invests himself in studying the different bottles of steak sauce. While he's distracted, I close my eyes and try to focus on my dad. Only my dad. I haven't had this ability long. I haven't quite figured out how to tune out everyone. Normally, I just shove my earbuds in and blast whatever music I'm playing. But I don't want to worry my father with any more of my strange antics.
So, I allow his thoughts to flow through my mind. Tuning into him, drowns out the sounds of everyone else. He can feel the tension in my body, despite how hard I try to hide it. He wants to ease my anxiety by starting a conversation, but he doesn't know what to start with.
I wait patiently as he plays with some ideas. How's my mom and Phil? How's Angela? He knows I haven't seen her much this summer. He finally decides on, "Are you ready for school tomorrow?"
"Yes," I respond, happy to have a distraction from all the noise. "Angela and I don't have many classes together this year, but we'll have lunch together."
Angela is my saving grace. She is the only one who knows the truth. The only one crazy enough to still be associated with me. We've been friends since I permanently moved in with Charlie in the seventh grade.
I should call her tonight. She's been so worried about me and I couldn't even muster the strength to pick up the phone and text back. I'm an idiot.
"I'm glad you two are so close," Charlie continues. "She's good for you."
Less than an hour later, we've paid for our food and we're placing the bags inside the back of his police cruiser. My dad was the chief of police before he retired to take care of me full time. I used to be embarrassed being driven around in this thing, but now it's just another reminder of the life my father gave up for me. He still helps out at the station in his free time, but he doesn't get much of that anymore.
"I think I'll call Angela when we get home," I say to break the silence.
"That's a great idea, honey." Charlie glances at me with a smile before returning to the road.
So, that's exactly what I intend to do when he pulls in our driveway. Charlie insists on carrying all the bags in. He says I need to rest and once again, I'm flooded with feelings of remorse. He truly has no clue how much I've changed. I don't need rest. Maybe a straitjacket or some padded walls. But I only nod my head and start up the stairs to my room
When I step in I'm assaulted with the smell. I audibly recoil. It's as if the air hadn't moved in months. Stagnant. I can pick out the smell of weeks-old sweat in my overflowing laundry hamper and my bed sheets. I don't even remember the last time I've felt well enough to wash them.
I need to do better. Be more consistent with my antidepressants. I can't believe I let myself slip up. This is disgusting. I can't keep doing this to myself or to the people I love.
With determination, I march in and open those butt ugly yellow curtains. It didn't do much, considering it's pretty much always gray and cloudy, but any kind of light in this room was much appreciated.
The walls were a dark purple. My dad painted them when I was a child back when Grandma Swan had just passed. She had left him the house, but I was terrified of living there knowing she'd died here. In an effort to calm my fears, he'd asked what my favorite color was. Purple, I'd said. A few days later, I came home to find my room had exploded in purple. Purple walls, purple bedding, even a purple bookshelf. Renee, my mother ended up adding the yellow curtains, saying it needed a splash of color.
Back then, it'd been a dream come true. Now, with little to no daylight, it was an abyss.
I opened the window as well and let the cool air wash in, hoping it would clear out the stale smell.
In the linen closet, I broke open a bottle of febreeze and pretty much emptied the entire can in my room. Then, I tackled the clothes. Soon, I was able to see the floor and I felt quite proud of myself.
Lifting the basket, I struggled to see over the heaping pile. I tiptoed toward the stairs and carefully started down them. I thought I had successfully made it to the bottom, when I realized I miscounted. There was one more step I didn't account for when I stepped forward and fell flat on my face. It was the loud thud of the laundry basket that alerted Charlie.
I groan aloud. Not from any injury, but from the onslaught of questions I know I'm going to get from him. "I'm fine, Dad."
"Are you hurt? What were you thinking?" Charlie takes my hands to help me up and I flinch, totally unprepared for his touch, but he mistakes it for pain. "What happened?"
"I just tripped." I stand up and dust myself off to show him I'm alright. "It was an honest mistake, nothing to worry about."
"You should let me take care of those things, honey." He touches me again, this time on my cheek but I'm ready for it. "You could really hurt yourself."
I cover his hand with mine in an attempt to reassure him. "I'm fine, really. Sorry for scaring you."
He visibly relaxes. "Okay, if you say so. But let me take this for you." He scoops up my laundry and takes it to the washing machine down in the unfinished room behind the wall of the kitchen.
After I get the second load in the dryer, I finally call Angela. I start off by apologizing for not reaching out and how I've been stuck inside my head for too long. Angela of course is always understanding and asks me how my summer has been.
"It's been fine, I guess." I'm leaning against our old dryer to keep it level. The legs are slightly uneven so as it dries, it tends to wobble back and forth on its front and back legs. "Charlie's always the same. Always hovering, always worrying."
"Well, you know if you tell him you're not epileptic anymore he might calm down."
I roll my eyes. She's always trying to get me to talk to my dad, but I shut down the idea every time. "We don't even know that for sure. I'm always prepared to have another seizure."
"I think we do know that for sure. Have you even been taking your meds?"
"I'm taking the antidepressants."
"Okay, what about for epilepsy?" she continues.
"Of course not—ouch!" The dryer kicked me something fierce in my back.
"Well there's your answer," she concludes. "What is that noise I'm hearing in the background?"
"The dryer," I say. "I'm finally washing my sheets."
Angela gasps audibly over the phone. "I'm proud of you, Bella. You're making progress."
"Thanks," I say, genuinely encouraged by her words. "I'm trying."
"I still think you should talk to your dad. He means well, but living like you're still sick is obviously affecting you. You can't keep pretending forever."
"I just don't want to freak him out," I admit to her. "Renee told me that Grandma Swan was a little sensitive, but Charlie never believed her. He hardly let me see her, he thought she was going to teach me to sell my soul to the devil or something."
"Do you think she's where you inherited this from?" Angela asks, curiously.
"I guess it's a possibility. But to be honest with you, I think this was all just a freak accident."
The dryer finally slows down to a halt and I can stand up straight again. "Hey, I'm going to let you go, now. I've got a ton of laundry to fold."
"Okay, B. Want a ride to school in the morning?"
"Yeah, actually that'd be great."
"'Kay, I'll see you tomorrow then."
When I hang up the phone, I'm surprised I feel hopeful. These last few months, I'd been stuck in the house with Charlie. And as much as I hated being around crowds, I looked forward to having a break from my dad's hovering. It was true, he had good intentions. But lately, I've felt trapped. Helpless. I can't even lift a grocery bag without him worrying, I'll topple over.
Maybe, one day I'd tell him the truth. But not when I'm living under his roof and relying on him to give me shelter. If he reacts as badly as he did with his mother, I can only imagine how he'd take his daughter being a freak too.