The Absence of Light

Bella's Promise

It was always the same.

I knew it was a nightmare, but for some unintelligible reason, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop myself from slipping into that dark oblivion.

I wanted it. I needed it more than anything else, since he was already gone.

Gratefully, I sank into the total darkness of the dream to see him just once more, to look into his shining golden eyes one more time, even if it were only in the most horrible of nightmares.

Sinking deeper into the frightening vision, I let it take me away.

As the leaves rustled in the wind of his passing, my feet would go into overdrive and instead of staying put or simply wandering off in another direction, any direction, I would run – run after him knowing full well I would never catch him. I would never stop him. I would break my promise and once again, I would disappoint him.

Still, I ran.

I ran until the sun no longer shined and the stars where invisible in the dark night sky. Even though I knew the path I took by heart after traveling it so many times, I still tripped over every stone, every twig and every hole. Oddly enough, I never felt any pain beyond the pain in my heart. The trees seemed to bend lower as I passed, just to slap my face, my arms and my body. I knew, as I always did, that by the time I broke out of the trees, I would leave a trail of blood a mile wide behind me for every evil creature in those sinister woods to follow.

Just a few… more… yards…

I ran out of the trees, tripped the final time and as I went sprawling in the tall moist grass I could smell my own sweat and blood mixed with his delicious scent as it blew back at me from the edge of the cliff.

I raised my head knowing he would be standing there gloriously dark and breathtakingly beautiful. I told myself over and over not to run. If I could just lay where I fell and call to him, maybe, just maybe this time he would turn around, he would change his mind.

However, my feet had a mind of their own and they dragged me forward – stumbling one foot in front of the other, toward him.

If I could just grab him before he stepped off it would turn out differently. If I could just stop him once, this crazy nightmare could possibly transform into a peaceful dream. If I could catch my breath for a second and scream his name… please… just this one time!

My feet pounded the ground and when I was within inches of him I knew again, I had lost.

He stepped off into space and I flew out after him as I always did and always would.

A split second before my body smashed against the rocks below, I saw him land gracefully on his feet and I smiled knowing he was safe, he was alive and would be for all eternity.

Then I twisted, hit the rocks and felt my wretched fragile human body fracture into a million different pieces. Still, I felt no pain. I looked at the oddly shaped driftwood that had pierced my chest dragging flesh and bone out with it and knew that the hole created there would be fresh and new once again when I awoke and I would carry it with me forever.

He looked down at me, as he always did and always would, surveying my twisted, broken and bloody form.

I knew what was coming.

Disappointment. The realization that he was right to leave me. I was human. I was nothing. I wasn't worthy of his love.

"Bella, you promised." His voice, once so silky and loving, was now full of regret.

The fragile fragments of my heart that had not already shattered exploded inside my chest. The only words I could ever say slipped over my lips. Even when I knew the outcome of my request, I couldn't help begging, just once more.

"Please, take me with you!"

His black eyes looked away in disgust and then he was gone.

As if he never existed.

Even in death, I had nothing to give him.

Again, I heard the water rushing toward me ready to cover me and with my last breath I screamed as I screamed every night since he left.

"No! No! No!" I threw my hands up desperately trying to stop the wave from crashing over me, twisting away and with a thud I hit the floor of my bedroom.


It was sad to think that I was getting used to the fall, but that one was going to leave a mark. I rubbed my temple where it connected with the floor. I slowly rolled into a ball and as the cold air seeped through my cotton pajamas and shivered uncontrollably.

Get up-- get up!

If Charlie found me on the floor just one more time, he would be on the phone to Renée. I would have no choice in the matter.

Get up!

It was odd hearing my own voice scream in my head. The voice that held no emotion to the world outside of my mind was pretty darn insistent when my existence meant the difference between staying in Forks and moving to Jacksonville. I released the hold on my legs and they seemed to move on their own. I pushed up then pulled using my bed as an anchor. I never seemed to have enough strength anymore.

I really should try to eat something.

My stomach clenched at that fleeting thought.

Well, maybe I could take some vitamins.

I could feel a cynical smile on my face, a twisting of facial features that was more a grimace than a smile.

Yeah, right.

I sat on the edge of my bed just as Charlie's footsteps came up the stairs. I watched, as the knob turned quietly to the right and the door inched open.

"Oh, Bells, you're awake. You want me to fix you something for breakfast before I go?"

"No thanks," My face felt dead. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't force my lips into even the slightest smile. "I'll just have toast."

Charlie hesitated, probably wondering if there was anything left to say that he hadn't already said, not that I would listen anyway. "Fine but make sure you eat something…okay?"

"I will." Maybe. Later. Someday.

"You want me to wait and take you to school? It snowed last night, I could…"

"Char…Dad, my truck is safer than your cruiser in the snow."

"Yeah, I know but…" I knew he cared but no amount of fatherly caring was going to fix everything that was wrong and missing in my world.

"I'll be fine." Liar. I will never be fine again.'"Really." Just not today.

"I'll see ya later then." He smiled and I wondered how in the world he could possibly be happy. How could he look at me and see anything other than the hollow shell of what used to be his daughter.

Charlie turned and head down the stairs leaving my door wide open. Crossing my room to my dresser, I opened my safe drawer, the one where there were only the clothes that didn't remind me of him and I systematically began my mind-numbing day just the same as I had in the last four days.

With the least amount of actual thought, I collected my clothing; underwear, bra, two pair of socks, jeans, a blouse and a sweater. I wasn't even sure they matched and it really didn't matter if they did or not.

The steps I took to the bathroom were automatic. Turning on the shower, I stood with my back to the sink, and waited for the hot steam to coat the surface of the mirror. I made a conscience effort to never look at myself anymore. I couldn't. The last time I caught a glimpse, the girl starring back at me was a stranger, a ghostly worthless human.

A nothing.

I never wanted to see her again. She was weak. She wasn't enough. She was alone.

She was hopelessly and irrevocably in love.

In love with a ghost that would never come back to haunt her. Ever.

A tear slipped over the edge of my left eye, sliding down my cheek as I started to tremble.

Stop it!

I swiped it away, unintentionally slapping my own skin. Slowly I sloughed off my pajamas and stepped into the shower. The water was hot but not enough to ease my trembling. I stood for a moment clutching at my chest waiting for the tremors to subside as I wet my hair. I looked around for my shampoo. There were only two bottles in the shower, one was Charlie's and the other was something I didn't recognize.

"Where's my …"

No. I can't use that anymore.

I could barely stand to use the same toothpaste much less the same shampoo. It was odd how something so trivial could remind me of a time when I was so full of happiness. The fruity strawberry smell of the shampoo I had used for more years than I could remember was only a grim reminder of when I was someone…someone else, someone alive, someone happy beyond her wildest dreams.

I grabbed the unfamiliar bottle and then remembered Charlie had picked it up for me after he noticed the empty shampoo bottle in the trash. He had no idea I had poured its last remaining contents down the drain. Leave it to Charlie to buy something other than what I normally used. I didn't mind, in fact, I welcomed the change. I flipped the little spout open and poured the thick liquid into my palm. Watching the thick stream of liquid puddle into my outstretched hand brought back a memory I had been trying desperately to repress.

As the unfamiliar shampoo began to spread, I realized it held a color that at one time, I had associated with safety, it had been somewhat of a promise that no harm would befall me. It had meant love. A golden color. Topaz, butterscotch, caramel, honey, ocher – no adjective could do it justice or explain the paralyzing pain it caused for it was a blatant reminder of my only loves eyes. Not only his, but also the eyes of the family I missed so terribly. I gasped as a sob came from deep within me and slipped between my lips. He was not the only one missing from my life, he took with him my best friend and all the people who were more of a family to me than my own flesh and blood.

Slipping my hand under the water that rained down on me, I watched as it diluted the liquid gold and slowly rinsed it from my palm. Without looking, I grabbed the bottle and tossed it into the trashcan next to the toilet.

Taking Charlie's shampoo bottle down from the shower caddy I steadied it for a moment – it was clear and smelled like Charlie. It was safe. I poured a small amount into my hand, built it into a lather in my hair then rinsed it out. After shutting off the water, I grabbed my towel, stepped from the shower and hurriedly dried myself off. I wrapped another towel snuggly around my head. My hipbones seemed to stick out more than should be normal as I struggled to pull my underwear on over my still damp skin.

I really have to eat something or Charlie will call Renée again and this time I won't be able to talk them out of shipping me off.

Just a little toast. Maybe.

Struggling against my moist skin, I eventually managed to get the rest of my clothing on. I went back to my room and sitting on the floor, plugged in my blow dryer and began the arduous process of drying my hair. I spent at least twenty minutes drying it without looking in the mirror. I knew it had to be thoroughly dry before stepping outside on a day where the temperature could be somewhere below freezing. My hair had always been a great asset to me, I needed it. I needed to hide my face away from the world. It was my shield. It had helped me get through the first four days back at school. It blocked out the looks people gave me, but it did nothing for the whispered comments either snide or concerned.

Gathering my books from my desk, I went downstairs to the kitchen and dropped a slice of bread into the toaster. My mouth watered at the smell of it toasting as I waited for it to pop up.

Maybe I really am hungry.

Pulling the bread from the toaster, I smeared on a little butter and took a small bite. My stomach twisted as I chewed, but I swallowed and took another bite anyway. After my second small bite, my stomach quickly let me know that was all I could eat. Feeling a little guilty for the waste, I tossed the rest of the toast into the trashcan.

Gathering my books once more, I walked out of the front door. The cold gray sky smelled of wood smoke from distant fireplaces. The snow was sticking around so far, but would cause no trouble for my senior citizen parked in the driveway. Stepping down from the porch, I could hear the snow crunching under my boots. I climbed into my truck, started the engine, feeling comforted in the loud familiar rumbling it made. Backing out of the driveway, I left my empty house behind.

When I pulled in to the parking lot, I noticed that I had gotten to school much too early. Again. Driving all the way up to the front, I parked as close as I could to the buildings in order to make a hasty retreat as soon as school was over. It was a plan that had worked out well the first four days of this week and I didn't see any reason to change my strategy.

With nothing left to do but wait until the bell rang, I pulled out my calculus book. I hated calculus, but it helped keep my thoughts focused. In the back of my mind, I felt the urge to look… to just glance over… there. To look over at the empty space where he had always parked his shiny silver car.

Don't! There's nothing to see. He will never be there again.

The voice in my head could be very demanding at times and I was developing a tendency to listen to it quite a lot lately.

Time passed just as slowly as it did everyday since he left.

I heard cars pull in and park around my truck. Voices were very close by but none called out to me. Soon it was only minutes before the bell would ring for class so I closed my calculus book, grabbed my other textbooks and my keys. Opening my door, I slid out, slamming it hard behind me.

"Hey Bella!"

"Hi Tyler." My dead face didn't move.

"Hey Bella?"

Oh God. It's a question. Smile, try. Really try, I need the job.

"Hi Mike." My face still didn't seem to co-operate.

"Are you still gonna work this weekend? I mean, ya know, if you still need some more time off my parents said it's okay."

"No, I'll be there." I couldn't hide in my house forever no matter how much I wanted to.

"Okay, well that's great then!"

"Yeah, sure." You bet. What else would I do? Where else would I go?

First period. I sat silently. Unmoving. Barely breathing. My hair covering my face and blocking out the world around me. I tried to listen.

Second period. Again, I sat, moving no more than to breathe in and out. I tried to pay attention and copied the notes from the board.

Third period. My mind drifted a little, out to a place surrounded by trees where the tall green grass swayed in the wind and the wild flowers held their faces up to the sun. I snapped back into the classroom just before the bell rang and managed to copy down the homework assignment that was due on Monday.

Fourth period. It was so much harder to concentrate. My mind kept wandering not to the beautiful place in the sun but to the cafeteria, to the table I would never sit at again. The table I was fortunate enough to share with him for a moment in time. An ordinary table that had already been taking over by a group of students who sat laughing and eating without a care in the world never knowing any of the conversations that had taken place as two other people occupied the space.

Stop thinking about it!

I kept my head down as I frantically blinked away tears that gathered in my eyes.


Waiting in line to buy food I would never eat seemed somewhat pointless, but if they didn't mind doing it day in and day out then neither should I. An apple and a carton of milk. I didn't even bother with a tray.

I sat down at the end of the table. The same table I had been invited to sit at my first day here. I didn't belong at this table anymore than I belonged at any other table, but I had nowhere else to go. I closed off the world, the growing noise in the cafeteria and fought the internal battle I kept hidden inside of me.

Don't…don't…don't even think about it! Don't look there…

"Hey Bella." Eric's voice was cautious.

"Hi Eric." No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep the dead tones from invading my speech.

"Hi Bella." Mike was even more cautious. He used to be so full of himself, but now he seemed to walk on eggshells around me. I couldn't blame him.

"Hi Mike." I met his eyes only for a second, just enough to see the concern in them.

He sat on the bench across from me as Eric took a seat next to me, but not too close. They talked as if I was not really there, never asking my opinion on anything and that was fine with me. They talked about something I knew nothing about, basketball. It was something I had never cared for much even when I did care about things outside of my self.

Then I heard other voices join the table. The first one greeted me as she did everyday.

"How are you doing, Bella?" I wasn't sure if Angela really expected me to answer her truthfully or not. She wasn't one to ask people how they were doing just to be polite. Since my first day in Forks, she had always been nice to me, always accepted me for who I was.

"I'm fine." It was a lie, and a bad lie at that.

Giggling high-pitched voices sailed across the room as they headed toward the table. Lauren and Jessica had become inseparable since Mike and Jessica's break-up. They rarely spoke to me or anyone else at the table anymore. They laughed and talked about boys, hair, clothes, and movies. I was invisible to them, which was fine with me. Everyone settled in for lunch talking, laughing, and eating.

Reluctantly I took a bite of my apple, it was mealy and flavorless, but I chewed and swallowed anyway. I sipped at the milk and it was not much more than cold.

"God, Bella! Why do you even bother coming to school?" Lauren's shrill voice rang down the table.

Everyone at the table became silent. Everyone except Jessica that is. She was busy trying to hide a fit of the giggles. I was too busy trying to fathom how anyone could be happy, much less have the giggles, to answer any questions asked of me. It was the first time someone had directed more than a few words in my direction in the whole week and when I finally processed the question, I knew I needed to leave, right then.

I have to get out of here.

I tried to stand, and in my clumsiness, my hands bumped into the milk carton as I reached for my books, causing it to slide off the table and explode into a white puddle that spread rapidly on the floor. I tried to blink away the angry tears that filled my eyes.

"Bella you are such a klutz!" The words from Lauren's mouth cut at me. I had never let her bother me like this. What was wrong with me now?

"Shut up, Lauren!" As if he had come from nowhere, Mike was at my side grabbing my books off the table.

"It's okay, Bella, here." Angela handed me a wad of napkins. "I'll get some more." She ran off toward the lunch counter.

"Well she is, Mike!" I flinched at every one of Lauren's words. She kept babbling on and I tried to block her out, but I had no strength of mind.

Just then, Angela bent down next to me with a handful of napkins and helped me soak up the mess I had made. "Thanks Angela." I just barely whispered.

"No problem." I could tell she really meant it. I've noticed her looking at me all week. I knew she was concerned for me. She was the only friend who called my house every day while I was out. She had even come over a couple of times, but when Charlie asked me if she could come up to my room, I refused. It wasn't that I didn't want to see her, I just didn't want anyone to see me.

With Angela's help, the puddle of split milk was soon soaked up into the massive wad of soaking wet napkins. Still, Lauren was making snide comments and even though they were not directed at me any longer, I could hear every word.

"You're just as bad as she is Mike!"

"Just shut up, will ya?" Mike grumbled.

"Can't you take a hint, Mike?" I wondered how many more people Lauren would carve into with her sharp tongue today.

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about."

"Yes you do. You know exactly what I'm talking about!" Lauren was laughing now. Her voice was like nails on a chalkboard scraping at my brain. I did notice that I could no longer hear Jessica giggling. Lauren had touched a nerve in more than one person at the table. "She's never gonna go out with you, she doesn't even know you're alive…."

Mike snapped at her, "Shut up, Lauren!"

"… And why in the world you're waiting around for her to get over Edward Cullen is beyond me."

I strangled back a cry at the mere mention of his name. The gaping ragged hole created in my chest every night as I slept made its first waking appearance. Suddenly all the air in my lungs was completely sucked away by some unseen force.

"Bella, you know he was just using you don't you?" Lauren almost sounded apologetic.

Speech became impossible. I tried frantically to inhale even the smallest amount of air.

"Geez, Lauren!" Jessica giggled now that the attention was no longer on Mike.

My stomach clenched tightly and I could feel the small bite of apple and few sips of milk rising up. I was going to be sick. I tried to swallow down the excessive amounts of saliva that suddenly collected in my mouth. I gasped at the sheer pain that seized me as the hole ripped a little wider. I managed to pull in small rapid breaths, enough to keep me from fainting on the spot.

Please, just let me get out of here before I fall apart.

Tears began to run down my face falling onto the napkins I was still pushing around mindlessly. A sob escaped my lips as Angela touched my arm.

"Bella, forget it, let's get out of here." She took the soaked napkins from my hand, stood, ran quickly to drop them in the nearest trash can and ran back before I could even pull myself up from the floor.

"The way she's carrying on you'd think he died. God, Bella! Go through the five stages of grief already!" I had always known Lauren could be cruel but I never knew to what extent her cruelty could go. Her words repeatedly stabbed into me like a rusty ice pick. Did she have any idea she was shredding the last remaining remnants of my heart? Another sob escaped me as I reached out and took hold of the table trying to pull myself up.

Angela was almost hissing, "Lauren how can you be such a heartless bit…." I grabbed her arm not only to quiet her but also to steady myself.

"Angela, please. She's not worth it." I whispered. What I really wanted to say was I'm not worth it. Not worth the trouble to defend. Not worth the trouble to fight for. Someone else had already proved that fact. Someone I thought really cared for me… someone I thought loved me as much as I love him.

I was such an idiot.

My stomach was still knotting and cramping uncontrollably. Again, I tried to swallow but it was useless, it wouldn't stay down. I needed to get out now. I tried to take my books from Mike's arms but he refused to let them go.

"It's okay Bella, I got 'em." I turned toward the exits and even though I desperately wanted to run, I didn't dare. I took each step slow and deliberate. My head was spinning, my vision was beginning to blur with the nausea that rolled ceaselessly in my stomach. Lauren was still mumbling something behind me but I didn't try to make it out. I didn't need to hear it. Nevertheless, I did hear the laughter that erupted from the table just before I stepped out into the cold and looked up at the gray colorless sky that plagued my life for the last few weeks. Jessica and Lauren had obviously found something funny to cackle like hens about.

I wanted to cry… I wanted to throw up… I wanted to run back inside and beat Lauren to a bloody pulp as I screamed in her face…

Anger, Lauren! One of the five stages of grief!

"Come on Bella. I am so sorry about that." Mike was apologizing for something that wasn't his fault at all. Shaking my head I realized he was leading me toward our next class, Bio. I could not go there. Not today.

I can't. I can't sit at that empty table… by myself… next to his empty seat. I can't… stay here.

I stopped in my tracks and turned around heading for the parking lot.

I'm going home.

"Bella? Where are you going?" Mike's voice was full of confusion.

Angela rushed up to my side as I walked with purpose across the small campus toward the parking lot. "Bella, do you need to go to the nurse?"

Shaking my head frantically back and forth was all I could do as I kept up my pace toward my truck. I continued to swallow down what my wretched stomach was so eagerly trying to expel.

What is wrong with me?

"Do you want to go home?" Poor Angela. I felt horrible for letting her see me this way, unhinged, pathetic, but I nodded and then stopped. Turning around I could see Mike keeping up with a reluctant look on his face. I reached out and took hold of the books he was still carrying for me. There was no way I could look him in the face. I knew he had been embarrassed by what Lauren had said and I didn't want to cause him any more grief. My weak hands pulled at the books. He didn't seem to want to give them up but I tugged harder and he finally released them to me. In that short span of time, I had forgotten how heavy my textbooks had become, almost more than I could carry.

"You'll need to check out with the attendance office." Mike's hand reached out for me. I flinched away from his friendly gesture.

Don't! Just don't …

I couldn't imagine what my reaction must have looked like to Mike but it felt awful to me. I couldn't understand why I would flinch away from his touch. I was sure he didn't mean anything by it but I couldn't help it. I wanted to apologize but couldn't open my mouth for fear that the contents of my stomach would come pouring out. My eyes lifted to his and I hoped he could see how really sorry I was. How sorry I was that my friends had to see me this way.

Broken. Unworthy.

I turned and ran as the floodgate that had been holding back my tears burst open. Mike and Angela's running footsteps kept up easily behind me.

"Bella? Bella stop. Let me take you home. You can't drive like this." Angela was pleading with me and she was right, I couldn't drive like this. I also never wanted anyone to be a witness to the seemingly endless downward spiral I had lost myself to. I clutched my textbooks to my chest not only trying to hold down my lurching stomach but to stop the nightmare hole in my chest from ripping open any farther than it had already.

As I came within feet of my truck, I realized I needed my keys. In pulling them free from my pocket, I lost the fragile grip I'd had on my books and they fell from my arms onto the pavement next to my truck. I stumbled over them grabbing hold of the truck bed so I wouldn't fall on my face but that little stumble caused me to lose control of all that I was so desperately trying to hold inside.

My body broke out in an ice cold sweat and I violently vomited up the small bite of apple and few sips of milk I had managed to swallow. There was little else in my stomach that could come up. I just stood there holding onto my truck, dripping sweat and heaving until there was nothing left. I knew this could not possibly be a pretty sight for either Angela or Mike.

"Oh Bella!" Angela's gentle hand was on my back.

"I'll go get the nurse!" Mike turned but didn't get very far as I called him back.

"No, no!" I caught a breath. "Mike, please don't!"

"Bella, come on! You're sick for God sakes!" I could hear how lost he was in the situation but the last thing I needed was the nurse.

"I'll be fine now." It wasn't the first time I had lied to Mike and I was sure it wouldn't be the last. "Really, I'm feeling better already."

Please just let me go home.

Angela pulled my keys from my hand. "Bella, let me drive you, okay?" I gave in and nodded feeling totally defeated.

Mike was already picking up my scattered books from the pavement as Angela walked me around to the passenger side. She unlocked the door with the key and then I saw the look on her face as she tried to help me up and into the cab.

"Ah, Mike, I can't drive a stick shift." She smiled a silly sort of grin. "Sorry, Bella, I never learned how." She shrugged her shoulders.

"It's okay." I stepped off the sideboard to walk around to the driver's side. "I really feel a lot better. I'll be fine." No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep the lifelessness from invading my voice.

"Toss me the keys. Angela. I'll drive." I heard my keys clink together as they sailed over the bed of my truck and jingle when they hit Mike's hands.

"Would you rather sit by the window… you know… just in case?" I was thankful Angela was still coming along for the ride. I nodded and she climbed in, scooted over and sat in the middle of the cab. She held out her hand to me as I got in and helped me up. When I was situated in my seat, Mike started up my truck, shifted into reverse and slowly backed out of the parking space as I roll down my window… just in case.

Mike shifted the truck into first gear and we all jerked forward suddenly as the engine died.

"Damn! Sorry about that!" Mike laughed, "I'm not used to your clutch."

I laughed – it sounded hysterical – not funny hysterical, more like a crazed lunatic's demented cry for help. It sounded as if I were losing a battle between sanity and madness. Angela's arm came around my shoulders and she tried to smile reassuringly. Mike started the truck again and we lurched forward at first but he managed not to pop the clutch a second time.

Laying my head on my arm, I let my hair stream out the window as the icy air cooled my flushed face. Closing my eyes, I drifted away to the roar of my truck engine.

The soothing engine noise died suddenly.

"Bella?" Angela's arm was squeezing my shoulders, trying to wake me. "Bella, you're home."


I opened my eyes and reached for the door handle but Mike was already there outside opening it before I had the chance. He held out his hand to me and I gratefully took it this time. He helped me out, and then Angela slid out and took my arm walking me up the steps of the porch while Mike fumbled with my keys trying to unlock the door. Holding out my hand, I took the keys from him, easily turned the lock and opened the door.

I turned back trying to keep them from following me in. They needed to get back and would probably be in trouble for leaving school anyway.

"Thanks for bringing me home – I think maybe that milk was bad or something." I really tried to smile, to move my frozen face into something that could possibly looked as if I were grateful. "My stomach just seemed to get upset all of a sudden."

Mike's face turned to stone as he stood there looking at me. What had I said to cause such a reaction in him? His body tensed up and the fist of his right hand smashed against the doorframe making both Angela and I jump.

"Bella, what did Cullen do to you?" He all but yelled in my face.

"Mike!" Angela yelled back at him.

He lowered his voice but it still held all the anger behind it. "Did he do something to you? Did he hurt you?"

The ragged hole in my chest screamed 'yes' as I shook my head frantically, "No. Nothing." It came out as an extremely fragile whisper.

"Mike! Stop it! You're not helping." Angela pushed me into the house and followed right behind me.

"Fine!" He stormed off the porch, "I'm going back to school."

"Could you wait just a minute, please?" Angela asked nicely before moving into the house with me.

Mike's answer came to me inside the house, "Whatever." Angela came into the living room leaving the door open. I flopped down on the couch waiting for total exhaustion to set in on me. What else could I expect when I couldn't sleep or eat much of anything. Of course, everything would catch up to me in time, it was just a question of when.

"Bella, do you want me to stay until your dad gets home?" Angela sat down next to me on the couch never taking her eyes from me. Worry was written all over her kind face.

"No. I'm much better now, really." It was hard to believe that lying came so easily to me now. It seemed I could lie to anyone, even myself.

"Bella, look at me." Her voice was sweet and full of compassion. I let my eyes seek out her caring face. "There's a free clinic in Port Angeles. I'll go with you if you need me to. I could drive."

I sat staring at her. For some reason I couldn't fathom, she had totally lost me in the conversation. I had a doctor right here in Forks and I had already seen him more times than I wanted to lately. "I don't need to go to the doctor, my stomach feels fine now." Still, her expression softened as she took my hand in hers.

"I promise I would never tell anyone." Her voice was very sincere but I was still confused by her meaning. "Bella… is there a possibility that you may be pregnant?"

Was she joking… trying to lighten an otherwise all-around depressing situation? I sat starring at her open mouthed wondering when the punch line would come or if I had missed it. Her expression changed to something so sad it tore at me to look at her.

"Oh, Bella." The tears I witnessed forming in her eyes broke my silence. She was dead serious. She actually believed that I might be pregnant. I wondered briefly if that was what everyone thought. If that was what my own dad might be thinking. The dark fog I had been swimming in inside my head lifted long enough to allow me to answer my friend.

"No, Angela, it's not like that." I tried to sound stronger than I felt.

Angela looked into my eyes, "Are you sure? Absolutely positive? You know it can happen even if it was only one time. You never… ?"

"No, Angela, we never… " He never touched me. I wasn't worth the risk. I was just a foolish fragile human girl.

My face was sinking back into the dead mask that had covered it for the last few weeks. Angela still held my hand, looking at me with her compassionate eyes.

"Mike's waiting. You'd better get back to school." I wondered if the sound of my own voice could possibly be any bleaker, any more utterly hopeless.

"I can call your dad if you want?" She released my hand and stood from the couch.

"Angela, I swear, I'm fine. It's just been… hard." Angela was the only one I could confess that small truth to. The only one I knew who would keep my suffering secret. She walked slowly to the still open front door.

"Bella, will you promise me something?"

I nodded my head but inside I was begging, 'No more promises, please!'

"Don't do anything… you know… stupid after I leave, okay?"

A very similar question echoed in my head from a dark night almost two weeks ago.

Don't do anything reckless or stupid. Do you understand what I'm saying?

My head nodded up and down just as helplessly as it had when he asked me that question. "I promise." It was another promise I could easily keep. There was nothing left of me but the promises I had made. But, what good were promises made by someone who was so pathetic?

From outside the door we heard Mike's impatient yell, "Angela! Are you coming or not?"

Angela looked out of the door and yelled back, "I'll be right there!" She turned and gave me a quick hug. "Mike's a nice guy but he can be real jerk sometimes." She released me and stepped back with a grin on her face. Her smile seemed to give me a glimmer of hope that someday I would be able to smile once again. I wanted so badly to return her grin, for her friendship and for her kindness, but there was nothing of me to give.

"Go ahead. I'll be fine." I could at least try to make my voice sound not so bleak, not so… dead, even if I knew in my heart it wouldn't last one second after she left my porch.

"Call me if you need anything, day or night. I mean it! Okay?"

"Sure, thanks, Angela." She walked out onto the porch. Mike was busy kicking gravel around at the edge on the road and looked up just in time to catch me watching him. At first glance, his expression was one of anger and then it softened to something that looked like pity as he shook his head. Slowly I shut the front door.

I wandered into the kitchen for no particular reason and sat down hard in one of the kitchen chairs. Pulling my knees up, I rested my chin on them and sat holding myself that way as the minutes ticked by. The dark fog that had settled in my brain seemed to have been swept away leaving only a gray colorless empty space in its wake. I closed my eyes and drifted off into a welcomed dreamless sleep.

Suddenly I was startled out of my nap by the shrill ringing of the phone. I jumped up and grabbed it just wishing to stop the noise from invading my head any longer. Out of nothing but habit, I brought the receiver to my ear and said hello.

"Isabella Swan?" I didn't recognize the voice on the other end.

"Yes. Who is this?"

"Oh! It's Mrs. Cope hun. Are you okay? I heard something upset your stomach at lunch. You know you're really supposed to check out with me here in the office before you leave campus." Angela or Mike must have let her know I had become ill and left.

"I know and I'm sorry but…"

"Okay, well, just remember next time." She sounded relieved just to hear my voice on the line. "I'll call your dad and let him know you went home sick. I know he's been really worried about you lately. Take care of yourself and we'll see you on Monday. Bye hun." With a tiny click, she was gone. After setting the phone back into its cradle I turned to face the empty kitchen.

I know he's been really worried about you lately.

Did everyone in this dreary little town know what happened that night, the night he left me behind and disappeared in to the darkness?

Another echo from my not so distant past came back to haunt me once more. It wasn't his voice exactly, only what I remembered him to sound like, not much more than the voice of a ghost.

I'm thinking of Charlie, of course. He needs you. Take care of yourself—for him.

I had made a promise for Charlie's sake if not for my own. So far, I hadn't even kept that simple pledge, to be here for my dad. That would have to change. I had made a promise.

I walked over to the refrigerator and pulled the door open. Surveying the meager contents I managed to find something I could cook up for dinner, not that I would eat any, but Charlie would appreciate it. I swore to myself that I would at least try to pretend to be here, to be in the present, to behave as if I were a living breathing human being. My blatant wallowing in self-pity would have to stop. I would do it for Charlie. At least he would be able to go to bed at night believing I was getting over what happened.

But I knew differently. I would crawl into my bed each night terrified to fall asleep, but at the same time praying the darkness would come take me away and give me one more chance to be with him, even if it were in the most horrible of nightmares.