After

Disclaimer: all characters and copyright belong to SM.

Chapter One

Bella stomped on the gas pedal of her sleek, black Mercedes Guardian-yet another unwanted present from her erstwhile fiancé. Unconsciously pressing down harder than she should have, just as she would have done with the ancient Chevy truck she used to drive, the car jolted forward violently, sending her heart racing.

"I hate this." Bella raged, gripping the wheel tightly with her fingers. "I miss my truck. I want my truck."

Her throat closed at the memory of the endless hours she'd argued with Edward to get the old Chevy restored, but as always what she wanted fell on deaf ears. His opinion was-why waste spending so much money on fixing up something so old, when you could get a brand, spanking new car with little effort. He had no concept of the sentimentality attached to the old truck. Deep down she knew the real reason he refused to spend any money on restoring it was because it was a gift from Jacob. He wanted to erase every trace of him from their lives. But he couldn't erase her memory.

Taking a deep breath, Bella continued onward to her goal, the gas station. If she hadn't been running on fumes, she wouldn't have bothered coming into town at all. She had practically become a recluse since the official announcement of her engagement to Edward Cullen.

Bella didn't know why she felt the need to hide away. She felt people were judging her. Her old friends and acquaintances couldn't understand why she was marrying so young. The rumour mill still circulating around town was that they were hurrying the nuptials because she was pregnant. A lot of people assumed that someone as rich and handsome as Edward Cullen was only marrying her out of pity because she was in the family way. The more spiteful ones were open in their disbelief that someone as plain and unremarkable as Bella Swan had managed to cultivate the interest of the aloof rich kid in the first place.

As Bella stood with blazing red cheeks next to the car filling it with gas, she looked up at the grey skies above. It was another typical drizzly day in Forks, Washington. It was just depressing. She longed for some sun. But that in itself was problematic seeing as Edward had to avoid sunlight at all costs in an effort to disguise the reality of who he really was. By hitching her star to his, she was essentially going to have to deny herself the pleasure of warmth for the rest of her days. Well until she joined his family permanently anyway.

It was on days like these that the gaudy engagement ring he had given her felt particularly heavy on her ring finger. She knew it was supposed to be a symbol of their love and commitment, and it held great sentimental value to Edward as it had once belonged to his mother, but it wasn't to her taste. She had accepted it after immense pressure from his side, insisting on marriage if they were to take their relationship to the next level. Bella thought the whole thing ludicrous, but went along with things to please him. She just wondered sometimes when he would do the same for her.

Jeez, what was taking the car so long to fill up? Bella was worn out with the constant tension.

"Um, hey, miss?" A man's voice startled her out of her preoccupation.

"Yes?"

"Do you think you'll be much longer?"

"Oh!" Bella turned to look at the gauge. Her tank was full. "I'm so sorry."

"Do you think you could move it then? I'm kinda in a hurry." The man said, pointing to his fancy SUV with brand new kayaks tied to the top.

"Of course." Bella hastily took the nozzle out of the tank and twisted the cap back on. "Its all yours."

"Thanks." The man muttered.

Bella quickly climbed back behind the wheel and started the engine. Well tried to, anyway. She groaned when there was no response. This couldn't be happening; the car was brand new. She had driven it only a handful of times.

"Miss?" The guy called out impatiently. "Is there a problem?"

Bella's embarrassment was immense. She felt frustrated tears well in her eyes when the engine still didn't respond. Through the partially opened driver's window she heard the man mumble something insulting. There was quite a queue building up now.

"What's going on?" The irritated man appeared at her window.

"I'm sorry." Bella apologised again. "I'm just having a few difficulties."

"Typical." The man was getting increasingly irate. His eyes traced the contours of the Mercedes suspiciously. "How did someone like you get to drive a car like this anyhow? Did you steal it?"

"No." Bella was feeling more and more self-conscious. The other drivers in the queue got out of their cars and joined the man to berate her for holding them up. Soon she was completely surrounded.

Panic set in. Bella knew it wouldn't be long before Alice detected her distress. She knew that Edward made a point of asking the petite seer to keep a close eye on her when he wasn't around for her own safety.

"I'm calling the cops." An older woman with frizzy blonde hair at the back of the line of cars complained.

"Please don't." Bella pleaded. "I promise this is my car."

"Yeah, a likely story. I don't think this model is even available in Europe yet. Let alone here." The first man sneered. "Call them." He urged the woman.

In the rear-view mirror she saw the woman with the fried hair pull out her cell. This was escalating into something nasty. It would add fuel to Edwards's fire that she shouldn't be allowed out unsupervised. That this outing was another side effect of her danger magnet status.

"My father is a cop." Bella pleaded out of the window.

"Then you'll have nothing to worry about then, missy." The man answered sarcastically.

Bella lowered her head to the steering wheel in defeat, imagining Charlie's face when he arrived to find it was his own daughter at the centre of all the ruckus. She hoped it would be just one of his deputies who came out to answer the call. But with her shitty luck, it would definitely be her dad. Or maybe Alice would get there first. Bella didn't know which was more humiliating. She longed again for her truck. It had been very, very convenient when the ancient Chevy gave up the ghost just weeks after she and Edward had agreed to their one-sided compromise, one major detail being that he be allowed to replace her truck with a vehicle of his choice when it passed on. It was obvious to her now that he had probably been the one to make sure her truck breathed its last wheeze just days later.

Twenty minutes later Bella was pulled out of her misery by a sudden blast from a siren. The crowd surrounding her car quickly dispersed at the sound. She saw the police cruiser swing into the gas station in her mirror. And sitting in the front seat was Charlie. His face was grim as he climbed slowly out of his car, his gaze steely as he approached the Mercedes. His expression quickly softened when he peered inside the driver's window and saw his daughter hunched over the steering wheel.

"What's going on, Bells?" He asked.

"Just some car trouble." Bella answered with a weary smile. "No biggie."

"Not according to the call I just received. It seems these people believe you are in possession of a stolen car." Charlie's corresponding smile was as weary as hers. "I suppose I better put them out of their misery."

"I guess." Bella agreed. "Or you could arrest them for wasting police time."

Charlie reached in and patted her on the shoulder. "Give me a minute. I'll be right back."

Bella watched tiredly as he walked away to deal with the gaping crowd of on-lookers. This was the first proper conversation she'd had with Charlie in weeks without Edward's constant presence making things awkward. She was glad now that it was her father that had come to her rescue and not Alice. Just as she thought the little psychic's name, her cell began to ring.


"I'm fine, Alice. As you can see, I'm perfectly well." Bella said through gritted teeth.

"That's besides the point, Bella. I am still going to have to tell Edward. I promised." Alice bleated on the other end of the phone. "Which means he'll come back early from his hunting trip with Emmet and Carlisle and – "

"Then don't tell him." Bella interrupted irritably. "My dad is here. He'll take me home."

"I'll pick you up." Alice spoke over her.

"NO!" It was rare for Bella to raise her voice to any of the Cullen family, but she was at the end of her rope and couldn't tolerate anymore. She could picture Alice's disapproval in her mind's eye.

"If that's what you want." Alice replied in a hurt tone.

"It is. My dad will take me home." Bella rubbed her aching forehead as the beginnings of a headache made itself known. "Bye." She quickly ended the call before Alice attempted to make a play on her guilt.


The blue and red lights of the cruiser were little more than smudgy illuminations in the slanting rain as Charlie drove them home. Bella sat in the passenger seat, her head bowed and her hands folded neatly in her lap. Charlie didn't press her to make conversation, for which she was eternally grateful. It was oddly restful being in his company after being under the Cullens constant scrutiny for weeks on end.

Bella was thinking of her truck again. About how much she missed it. Or maybe it wasn't just the truck she missed. Edward had sworn it was only natural, that it was only to be expected, that her truck had lived a long, full life and then expired of natural causes. According to him. She had no way to verify his story, and she didn't call him out on his obvious lies at the time. If only there was a way to bring her truck back from the dead. If only her favourite mechanic was still around….

But he was missing. Had been for weeks. His cheerful face was plastered on flyers stapled to every telephone pole and street sign courtesy of Charlie. Her father couldn't understand his best friend's lack of interest in scouring the whole world for his only son. But Billy remained locked inside his mind and his house, depressed and uncommunicative. She had driven him inside of himself, just like she had driven away his son. It was her fault. All of it.

"We're home, Bells." Charlie said unnecessarily as he pulled into the driveway. He glanced at her sad face. She looked on the verge of crying. "You can talk to me, you know. I'll listen. There's no judgement here."

"There's nothing to talk about." Bella tried to inject some life into her voice, but failed miserably. "I'm perfectly happy."

"You don't look happy. You look like the end of the world is coming." Charlie turned in his seat, wishing she would look at him, but like always, she avoided his gaze. "Is this about Jacob?"

Bella's hands shook in her lap. "What makes you say that?"

"Because you say his name in your sleep." Charlie revealed. "I've heard you crying in the night."

Bella felt her throat tighten. She didn't want to be reminded of the many times she'd awoken from another nightmare, with Edward's arms tight around her in comfort. He was so gracious, never asking her why she was dreaming about another man. Her best friend. Her Jacob.

"There's no shame in admitting you miss him, Bells." Charlie continued gravely. "I'm trying my best to find him. I promise."

Bella felt the urge to sob overwhelm her at the determination in his voice. He had no idea it was a hopeless enterprise. Jacob would come home only when he was good and ready. If at all. Charlie had printed up the flyers and spread them all over town. And not just Forks, but Port Angeles and Sequim, Hoquiam, Aberdeen and every other town in the Olympic Peninsula. He loved Jacob like his own son. His own station had a corkboard dedicated to finding Jacob.

"I'm going inside" Bella mumbled. She couldn't take anymore. She needed to be alone so she could have a good cry without any witnesses. She was so glad that Edward was away hunting. Pushing open the passenger door of the cruiser, she made a run for the house.


"Hello." Seth Clearwater answered.

"Hey, Seth. Its Bella." Bella hated that her voice sounded hoarse. It was no surprise with all the crying she had done.

"I know." Seth said tiredly. He was used to her frantic phone calls at all hours of the day or night, checking whether he or the pack had made any contact with Jacob. Hoping for any sliver of information, no matter how tiny.

"How is he, Seth?" Bella pleaded into the phone.

Seth sighed. "The same as the last time we spoke."

"He must have communicated something." Bella felt more tears blur her vision. "You guys can read each other's thoughts for goodness' sake." She knew she was taking out her unhappiness on Seth, but she couldn't help it. He was the only member of the pack prepared to tolerate her presence. The others wanted nothing to do with her. She couldn't blame them.

"Its not as black and white as that. Jake has gotten good at hiding his thoughts from us. He's trying not to act human, just letting his instincts guide him."

"Do you know where he is?"

"Somewhere in Northern Canada."

"When is he coming home?"

"He's not, Bella. Sorry." Seth replied bluntly.

"But he might…. if you let me talk to him through you, he might listen." This wasn't the first time Bella had pitched the idea to one of the pack. First, she had tried Jacob's best friends-Quil and Embry. But they had cut her off, citing that Sam wouldn't agree. So, she had then tried the Alpha himself. That meeting hadn't gone well.

"You know Sam has Alpha ordered us not to interfere. I couldn't do it, even if I wanted to." Seth at least sounded a little regretful.

Bella swallowed down her unhappiness. "It's okay, Seth. I know you must be taking a lot of heat from the others because of me."

"KInda…look I have to go. I'll guess I'll see you at the…. wedding." Seth added the word 'wedding' like it stuck in his throat.

"Yeah…wedding." Bella choked on the word herself. "Take care, Seth."

"You too, Bella." Seth hung up.

As the phone went dead, the ring on Bella's finger suddenly weighed a hundred pounds on her finger.

A/N-thanks for reading!