Author's Note: I noticed that in the author's note I wrote at the beginning of chapter one, I said that this fic is one-shot. That's obviously inaccurate. It was going to be a one-shot, but then I realized that it would turn into a ridiculously long one-shot if I was going to fit everything in one chapter, so to speak. So, here's chapter two. Hope you enjoy! Oh, and many thanks to my reviewers; you're greatly appreciated. (Especially phantome101, who reminded me that Renesmee's hair is bronze like Edward's rather than dark like Bella's. Sorry for the discrepancy; it won't happen again!) And, again, I must state that I own nothing of Twilight. But enough babble; on with the story!
Earlier That Afternoon
Renesmee strode gracefully into Forks' pathetic excuse of a public library, smiling brilliantly at all who made eye contact with her, and sat at a vacant table near the children's books section. She pulled out her pencil, notebook, and history book and arranged them neatly in front of her. She glanced down at her stylish watch—a gift from her aunt Alice—and saw that her friend, Beth, was almost ten minutes late for their study date. Renesmee frowned. She'd known Beth for three years, and Ness knew that Beth was a real stickler for punctuality. But she also knew that everyone was entitled to have an off day every now and again, so she decided to give Beth the benefit of the doubt. Renesmee waited patiently for another ten minutes. And then, just as her thumb hovered over the dial button on her cell phone, Beth swung into the library, backpack slung haphazardly over one shoulder, strawberry blonde hair flying out behind her. Renesmee smiled and waved to catch Beth's attention.
From a distance, Beth appeared to be very well put-together. She was wearing a typical, adorable Beth outfit: a long sleeved cardigan sweater with a tank-top underneath, a pearl necklace, straight-leg jeans, and coordinating ballet flats. But as Beth came closer, Renesmee saw that her friend was far from put together. Beth's gorgeous shoulder-length hair was oddly skewed, her sweater wrinkled, the little mascara and eye-liner she wore streaked and smudged, her smiling lips trembling infinitesimally, her blue-gray eyes frantic and apologetic. And was she favoring her left arm, cradling it at her side just the tiniest bit?
No one else in the library would have noticed anything amiss in Beth's appearance and behavior. But no one else in the library was as attuned to the feelings and needs of others as Renesmee was. No one else in the library had the sensory perception unique to a half-vampire. Renesmee did.
She stood as Beth came to the table, and embraced her lightly. Beth winced just the tiniest bit at the slight touch of Renesmee's hand on her arm.
"I'm so sorry that I'm late, Ness," she said as she sat down across from Renesmee. There was a forced, sort of manic cheerfulness in Beth's voice that disturbed her deeply. "I just couldn't get it together this morning."
"Don't worry about it," Renesmee said gently, smiling. "Who wants to be early to study anyway?"
"Ha. Right. What are we studying today?"
A look of confusion flashed over Ness's face. "I thought we were going to start taking notes for our history presentation."
Beth flushed pink and sighed. "Right. I'm sorry. I don't know what's gotten in to me today." She quickly changed subjects. "What's our assignment?"
"Page four hundred," Renesmee supplied, opening her textbook. "The beginning of the section about the Civil War."
"Great! That's my fav—"
At that moment, Beth's half-zipped back-pack fell completely open, wrenching off of her shoulder, peeling back her sweater in the process. She stared, open-mouthed, at the mess on the floor.
"Incredible," she grumbled. Wordlessly, Renesmee knelt down and began to arrange Beth's scattered things neatly before Beth had a chance to leave her own seat. She blushed delicately when Renesmee handed her her back-pack, fully zipped and more neatly organized than it had been before.
"Thank you," she murmured.
Renesmee smiled and was about to reply when she saw Beth's exposed arm, bruised all over from elbow to shoulder. Renesmee's mouth fell open in horror.
"Beth," she breathed, a slender hand coming up to cover her mouth. "What happened?"
Beth's face flushed scarlet.
"Nothing," she mumbled uneasily, "It's nothing, Ness. I tripped into the doorframe when I got up last night. That's all." She yanked her sweater back into place.
There was a hard, defensive edge I her voice. But her stormy eyes were pleading, begging Renesmee not to ask ay more questions, not to open the door on her private world of hurt. She could sense Renesmee's hesitance to accept her story.
"Please," she whispered.
Renesmee was taken aback by the sudden, quiet intensity in Beth's voice.
"O-okay," she stammered, chocolate eyes wide. Then she regained her composure quickly. She took a deep breath and forced cheerfulness into her voice.
"Well," she said as she rose and returned to her seat. "This project should be easy. My uncle Jasper can help us out; he's a huge Civil War buff."
Ness flashed a brilliant smile at Beth, who completely missed the inside joke. She laughed, easing the tension. Ness laughed too, and they got to work on their project.
Both Renesmee and Beth were hard workers, so over the course of an hour, they made great progress. However Renesmee's mind wasn't truly on her work. She was worried about Beth. Her doorframe story was bogus. Ness was certain of that much. But what was the truth? She had no idea.
She bit and gnawed on her lower lip until it was sore. She stole furtive glances at Beth.
She certainly seemed to be wholly devoted to her work, but as Renesmee studied her closely, she knew that this could not be so. It was obvious that Beth was in some kind of physical, if not emotional, pain. She would touch her right arm, the bruised one, and wince slightly. And then she pushed back her left sleeve, to covertly inspect the arm she'd been holding when she'd come in.
Renesmee was once again horrified.
Beth's left wrist was bruised worse than her arm. Totally purple. And swollen. She must be in a lot of pain, because her wrist was certainly broken. She adjusted her sleeve back over her tender wound and glanced up at Renesmee to make sure that she had not seen. Renesmee averted her gaze so quickly that Beth never noticed she'd been looking. She had to bite her tongue to keep from begging Beth to come home with her and have Carlisle look at her wrist. But Renesmee kept quiet, knowing that Beth's pride would prevent her from accepting any such offer of help. But still, Ness felt that she had to try.
They'd been working hard for about two hours when Renesmee closed her notebook and lay her pencil aside.
"Well," she said as she flexed her fingers and stretched casually, "I think we can finish next week after school with no problem. It won't be difficult. We know how the war turned out, anyway; old Dixie was turned over to the illustrious carpetbaggers."
Beth giggled a little bit, and the fell silent. Renesmee could see the quiet pain and stress in her lovely, stormy eyes. She reached out and gently placed her hands on Beth's. Beth met Renesmee's gaze with confusion and surprise.
"Beth?" Renesmee spoke her name timidly.
"You didn't trip into the doorframe last night." It was a statement rather than a question. Beth remained quiet. She stared down at the table.
"Beth," Renesmee said softly, squeezing her fingers with gentle pressure. "What happened?"
Suddenly, Beth was blinking tears out of her ambivalent eyes. She shook her head.
"I can't," she whispered, lips trembling. "I can't."
Renesmee pursed her lips, frustrated, but not willing to cause her friend any additional pain. "Are you in trouble?" She probed gently.
Beth snorted, eyes suddenly aflame. "I have been for years. The filthy drunk." She spat the last word.
Filthy drunk? Renesmee turned the words over in her mind for a few seconds. And then the truth crashed down on her. Beth's father had a reputation…
"Your father?" she gasped, stunned. "He—does he—he…beats you?"
Beth nodded tightly. A tear rolled down her cheek. She spoke in a small voice, very vulnerable. "I think this morning was the worst. He'd been gone for days; I'd begun to think that maybe he wasn't coming back. And then there he was, furious with me over something he'd imagined I'd done. I've never seen him in such a rage." Her voice trailed off and her eyes were distant, full of agony.
Thick silence reigned over the girls for just a moment before Beth's vibrating cell phone made both of them jump. When she answered, a man's voice was already yelling, screaming, cursing, irate without any proper cause. Beth's face was ashen, totally white to the lips. She endured a minute of the rant before slamming her phone shut, jumping out of her chair, and throwing her bag over shoulder. It all looked like one fluid movement, but every part of her was quivering with fear.
"I have to go." Her voice was strange. She quickly turned to leave. Renesmee gathered her own things, and was an instant behind her friend, half-running to keep up with her.
"Let me help you," she pled desperately, "Beth, please, you can't go home. Come with me."
Beth jumped in her truck, slamming the door in Renesmee's face. "No!" She cried breathlessly. "Renesmee, you can never tell anyone about this. Promise me."
"Your wrist—it's broken." Ness whispered, her eyes welling with hot tears. "Please, please. Let me help you."
But Beth was already backing out, speeding out of the parking lot. Renesmee turned slowly and trudged to her car. She felt like she'd been punched in the stomach, and she wasn't the one being abused. Her heart broke for her friend. Why was such a sweet girl in such a bad situation? Why? How come nobody had ever seen the signs, tried to help in any way? Why was Beth forced to put on a brave face?
Renesmee ruminated as she drove, yelling her questions at the dashboard, becoming more upset by the second. Unable to combat the flood of tears any longer, she pulled onto the shoulder and parked the car.
"It's not fair! I don't understand! How could anyone be so cruel to Beth?" Renesmee sobbed harshly.
She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to soothe the ache in her chest.
The ache called compassion.
Well, that's chapter two. Let me know what you think! And have a very happy new year!