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Dreamland

The sky was still dark with the brewing California heat when Phil came into my room and slammed my face into the headboard.

It wasn't the first time he'd attacked me. But it was the first time my mom, cradling her broken wrist, went to my neighbors for help. Jacob, Billy Black's boy, rubbed his eyes and squinted at us when he answered the door.

What a hot mess we made. Really, the pinnacle of white trash. Renee, topless and heaving in hysterics. Me, shivering in my underwear, blood running down my forehead.

After the police go involved, it was either Phil goes to jail or we relocate to a place where we could start over in anonymity.

Mom chose the latter.

Within days, bags were hastily packed and strewn in the backseat of Phil's Chevy. Jacob sat me down and tried to talk me into moving in with him. He was a nice kid—in a couple of years, he could be a real heartbreaker. For now, he was still sweet and boyish. Naive, but I preferred it to abusive.

It was a week-long car ride to Forks, Washington. Renee was disarmingly chipper, Phil acted like we were going on a morbid family road trip—if family road trips were a one-way ticket to escaping charges of domestic abuse.

Phil promised it wouldn't happen again. I wanted to believe it. When he wasn't drinking, Phil was a good guy. Introverted. He liked the sound of bare feet in mud and drew the prettiest pictures of sunsets and clouds.

I really wanted to believe him.

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In contrast to the sticky Golden State air, Washington was a breeding bed for overcast, year-round seasonal depression. Our new neighbor was a Doctor Carlisle—his hair so white-blond it had to be bleached. He was friendly. Phil wasn't—given his penchant for privacy.

Carlisle had a son. Edward. I didn't stick around to meet him.

"The girls in the office go crazy for him," the doctor smiled, a fluid curve of his lips that only seemed to reach one side of his cheek. "This is quite a wonderful opportunity. He needs someone his own age to play with."

I would've declined, if Phil hadn't done it for me.

"Bella has bags to unpack. So do I, actually. Are we done here?"

There was a tightness to his jaw I recognized instantaneously. Phil was pissed. Thanks a lot, doctor.

I was outside the garage scavenging boxes when the chills prickled at the back of my neck. I was being watched.

"Bella."

I tilted my head to make eye contact with Phil's ear. There was a familiar rush of adrenaline building in my gut—the body's warning buzzer. Fight or flight, step-daddy.

He rested his hand on my shoulder. Heavy. Reassuring. "Put some clothes on. This isn't California anymore, sweetie. There are going to be some real changes around here."

I could see the neighbor's boy—Edward, was it?—stretched out on his doorsteps watching our exchange. His eyes were dark.

Phil smiled. Tight-lipped.

Reassuring.

I almost believed him.

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