I was stacking the new shipment of Valhalla packs when it happened. We'd hit one of those lulls when no customers were coming in and it was too close to closing to really get another project started, so I was just looking for something to kill time for another twenty minutes.
The bell on the front door jangled and I looked up, hoping that someone needed a question answered or at least that someone I knew would come to entertain me. Ben occasionally 'browsed' so we could talk.
Instead, it was Dad and he looked terrible. His face was kind of chalky white and he was slightly out of breath.
"Just stopping in for some supplies," he said to Mom. "We're supposed to meet at Charlie's in about twenty minutes and I didn't want anyone to be out there without a flashlight."
"What's happening?" she asked urgently. "And what do you mean out there?"
"Missing person," he said brusquely as he headed up my aisle to get to what he needed. "Charlie doesn't want to overreact, but she's been gone for hours and it's not like her..."
My brain finally came off auto-pilot with that shock. "Wait a minute," I blurted. "Bella's missing?"
He glanced at me and I could tell he'd been too distracted to notice I was there. "Lost, maybe," he grunted. "Either way, there're a bunch of us going out to get her home."
"I want to come," I said immediately.
"Come on," he said. "You got lost coming here."
That was once, that was during a blizzard and I wasn't paying attention. Besides, that was two years ago.
"She's my friend," I pointed out. "I'm coming."
He stared at me for a minute, and then nodded. "We can use an extra set of eyes," he agreed. "You have good shoes on?"
"I've got 'em in the Suburban."
Dad nodded approvingly. "Karen," he called out. "All right if I steal your stocker?"
"Go," she urged. "Give Bella a hug for me when she turns up."
"I'll take care of that," I said immediately. "I'll leave the car for you."
With any luck, we'd be back at Charlie's place, laughing sheepishly at how someone could get lost half a mile from home in less than an hour. People had done it before.
I grabbed my boots from the Suburban and met Dad at the Dodge. He got in without saying anything and peeled out of the parking lot.
The ride was silent and tense. Usually we'd talk about everything from early application deadlines to my weekend plans. When he needed to talk, it was usually about the store or going camping with the guys from church. Tonight, we didn't even listen to the radio. I kept staring out the window, hoping to see Bella wander out of the woods on either side of the road.
We had to park on the street, since the driveway was already too crowded. Bella's monster of a truck was looming over the patrol car and I could see the Webers' van, Dr. Gerandy's station wagon and an unfamiliar pickup truck.
The pickup truck was explained the moment we walked in. Standing in a group were three of the biggest Quileutes I'd ever seen. One of them was Sam—he usually came around to tell spook stories when we came to First Beach—and the others could've been his brothers. None of us said anything in greeting. We just nodded at each other in a manly way and got back to the important things.
Chief Swan looked completely lost as if he'd forget where his kitchen was if we weren't standing in it. His right hand was clenched around a wadded-up piece of paper and the other was shoved in his pocket.
"Thanks for coming," he greeted us. "I hope I'm overreacting, but Bella went for a walk after school and hasn't come back yet. She said she'd be up the path, so we'll start there and fan out. Who has a cell phone?"
Dad and Mr. Weber produced theirs. Charlie nodded to two walkie-talkies on the table.
"We'll bring those just in case," he said efficiently. "Newtons together, John with me.. Doc, you'd better go with Sam and the others."
The Quileutes were famous for how well they knew these woods. If anyone could find someone half their size in a dark forest, it would be them. And Doc Gerandy would be good to have around if...
Oh, man. I didn't want to think about that. She'd be fine.
Dad caught my expression and grimaced. Maybe he was thinking the same thing. Mr. Weber said something under his breath to Dad and he nodded grimly before replying.
"We'll head west from the trail," he offered. "Anyone need a flashlight?"
It wasn't until we were halfway across the driveway and headed for the woods that my brain caught up to my mouth.
"Did you call Edward?"
I couldn't see Charlie's face, but his shoulders hunched. I couldn't tell if it was a shrug or if he was mad.
"She left a note saying she was with him," he muttered.
That explained the wadded up piece of paper.
"He won't let anything happen to her," I said confidently. "Ed's a good guy."
Charlie glowered over his shoulder at me and followed Mr. Weber off to the right. Apparently, he didn't want to hear anything good about the guy who would let Charlie Swan's daughter go missing.
Well, it was true. Edward Cullen wasn't the most social guy, but anyone who'd seen the way he acted last spring when Bella was hurt would be crazy to think...
That was the last time she'd gone missing. We'd all gone on spring break and came back to find out that Bella was in some hospital in Phoenix. What sort of twisted relationship is that? You meet your boyfriend and end up in a walking cast? Sure, she'd said that she fell down the stairs through a window and after watching Bella in gym, I could kind of believe it.
But still, it sounded too much like one of those situations where you get a black eye by "running into a door." No one really believed that, so why hadn't any of us wondered about that? I mean, Cullen's got three inches on me and his brothers are built like the Patriots' linebackers. If Bella got any one of them mad, maybe...
Damn, why had I believed everything she said about the guy? Why did any of us trust them anyway? Until he met Bella, Edward was about as friendly as the Unabomber and probably just as social.
"I'll kill him."
Dad turned abruptly. "Who?"
"Cullen," I growled.
"Edward?" he asked, his voice going up a bit in pitch. "I thought you said he's a good guy."
"I thought he was, too," I snapped, "but the last time she went off with him, she ended up in the hospital. What does that say about him?"
Dad frowned and swung the flashlight in a wide arc. I didn't see anything, but I could tell he was staling for time. Maybe he'd been thinking the same thing.
He turned away from me again. "Don't blame this on him," he suggested. "You'll probably regret it later."
"Or maybe not," I shot back. "You read about this sort of thing all the time. Girl falls for a guy, guy lures her with false promises, guy gets her alone one night and she ends up on a missing persons report..."
"Stop that," he said shortly. "I don't want you saying anything like that around Charlie. He's got enough to worry about."
"He's probably thinking the same thing," I said defensively.
"Exactly," Dad said. "Do you want to make this any harder for him?"
All right, he had a point there. Chief Swan was a friend of the family in the same way that half the guys in town were. When you grow up in a small town, you have friends by generations. I was friends with Angela and Ben first because their parents had gone to high school with mine. It was a kind of unwritten rule when your dads spent their weekends at the same river.
Dad was even the main reason why I'd talked to Bella in the first place. Sure, she'd been pretty and new and I wanted to know her from the start, but Dad had heard over Christmas break that Charlie would be having his daughter move in with him.
"She'll be in your grade at school and coming in the middle of the year," Dad informed me. "She'll probably even be in half your classes."
"Dad," I said impatiently, "don't worry. We haven't had someone new in years. Even without me, everyone else will be too interested for her to be lonely."
"I know that," he said, "but this is Charlie Swan's girl. I was hoping you might help out."
I had vague memories of a tiny, dark-haired girl who would turn up during the summers until a few years ago. She'd been nice enough then and she' d need help now.
"Don't worry," I repeated. "I'll make it easy for her."
A flicker of movement caught my eye and I swung the flashlight beam around, but it was just a rabbit.
"What have you got against Edward Cullen anyway?" Dad asked finally. "What did he do to you?"
Other than getting the girl and maybe being a murderer, nothing. I even got along pretty well with him when he did break away from the others. I couldn't remember him ever picking a fight or messing with a teacher. He skipped classes a lot, but somehow pulled off a perfect report card. The guy had the problem of maybe being too perfect, but that was about it. Everything else was hopefully all in my head.
"Nothing," I replied. "I'm just worried."
Dad waited for me to catch up with him, and then squeezed my shoulder. "We all are, Mike," he reminded.
"What did Mr. Weber say to you back in the kitchen?" I asked.
He chuckled and released my shoulder. "He asked if I'd said a prayer for her safe return yet. I told him I'd started praying as soon as I heard."
I didn't think I could feel much worse, but that did it. I had been so busy worrying about whether or not Ed Cullen was a serial killer to remember that I went to church on Sundays for a reason. I wasn't really a serious religious type yet, but I should have at least thought of something that simple.
I was halfway through when Dad's phone rang and interrupted me. I thought a quick apology to the Lord God and turned to look at Dad.
"He has?" he said tensely. "Is she all right?"
Whoever was on the phone, Bella'd been found.
"We'll head back," he concluded. "Good-bye."
He hung up and stuck the phone in the pocket of his jeans before turning a slightly shaky grin on me.
"She's fine," he said. "Sam Uley found her a ways off the path."
I grinned back. "What about Edward?"
"He wasn't with her," Dad said. "She'll probably have some answers for us by the time we get back."
It wasn't until fifteen minutes later, when we were all back in Charlie's house that I found out that Edward had done something I would have never even thought of doing to Bella Swan.
He left her behind.