A/N: Thanks for your patience. There's a longer note at the end!
It's not real. This can't be real.
"Bella!" Her voice echoed strangely through the empty house, her laughter filtering down from the bedroom she shared with Charlie.
"Come and find me!"
"Mom?" I called, squinting in the dark. I was back at Charlie's house, with the peeling paint, fluorescent lights and missing baseboards. "Mom?"
"Bella!" The voice called again, the cheerful trill of laughter trickling down after it.
"Where are you?" sang the voice, and my heart sped up. "Come upstairs!"
I was strangely graceful as I rushed through the familiar house I'd called home for my entire life. Like it always had, the bottom step creaked when I stepped on it. The light switch next to the staircase, while still in the same place it had always been, didn't do a thing when I reached over and flicked it on.
It seemed darker upstairs.
"Mom?" I called again, hesitating as I remembered the last time I'd seen her. Last time, she'd been silent. Last time, she'd been broken.
Last time, she'd been dead.
No response followed my query, and my heart sped up. My feet moved the rest of the way up the stairs, and I squinted through the blackness. The door to my parent's bedroom was shut tight, and when my blind groping found the knob, it was locked.
"Mom!" I called, panic surging through me. Where was Charlie?
"What the fuck were you doing with him!?" bellowed a nastily familiar voice from a floor below. "Are you fucking him!?"
"Are you!?" A loud bang shook the floor I was standing on, and I slammed my eyes shut tight.
"Dreaming," I thought wildly. "You're just dreaming…"
This couldn't be real.
The shouting grew louder and louder as I stood, feet chilled on the wood floors. I clamped my hand over my ears in a feeble attempt to block out the noise, but even then I could still hear mom's wails.
"Charlie don't! Bella's upstairs. You'll wake her up..."
Charlie's deep voice retorted with a string of venomous insults, and I felt the house shake again. As Charlie beat her, I did what I'd done that night last year… I clamped my eyes shut, blocked my ears, and pretended it wasn't happening.
I slid down the wall and rested my head on my knees, trying my best to block out the noise. Strangely, however, the sound seemed to seep right through my fingers, assaulting my ears with determined persistence. Renee's cries and pleads reached me with no trouble at all, and no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to dull them.
"Help her," came the little voice in my head. "For god's sake, do something…"
"Mom," I called feebly, getting to my feet. My eyes opened, and I was startled to find myself in my bedroom, as it had been last year. There was a family photo on the dresser, a boy band poster on the wall, and a pile of books on the nightstand that I'd always cherished.
But those were gone now…
"Mom?" I called, louder, as I glanced down at my bare feet. The bottoms of pink pyjama pants rustled around my ankles, and with a jolt of fear, I knew what was happening.
They would be red by the time this night was over.
"Mom!" I cried, a wave of panic surging through me as I heard her cries slowing. "Mom!"
"Bitch!" I heard Charlie roar. "Slut!"
Something inside me was torn between going and staying. I knew what I'd find if I went, but I knew what would happen if I didn't. Maybe this time, I'd get there sooner. Maybe this time, everything would be okay…
When my feet hit the bottom of the staircase and I peered into the dimly lit living room, I knew everything would not be okay. Just like it had been before, the room was in total disarray. The couch had been shoved forward at an odd angle, the coffee table was overturned, and the television had been knocked from its stand. There was broken glass strewn on the floor and an ashtray had been upended, scattering hot cigarette butts across the small area rug.
But it wasn't those things that got my attention. With a sickening jolt, the sight of her came rushing back. My eyes zeroed in on the crumpled, bloody form on the floor, with my father lurking over her, eyes wild and feral.
He kicked her again, and she didn't even cry.
"You're a whore," he spat, gripping her hair in his fist to bring her ear closer to his face. "Fuck you."
The scream that left my mouth was hoarse and shrill, and it seemed to snap Charlie out of his fervor. With a startled jump, he dropped my mother to the floor and turned his eyes on me, breathing hard.
There was a long moment of silence, neither one of us knowing what to say. It was Charlie who broke the quiet first, speaking in a shaking voice.
"Bella…" he said, raising two bloody hands in surrender. I watched, wide-eyed and petrified, as his hands dripped crimson onto the floor.
"There was an accident," said Charlie slowly, as if speaking to an invalid. "Your mother… God, I tried. I tried, baby. Come here." He waved his hands at me, as if encouraging me to move closer. I stayed still.
"What did you do?" The words came out of my mouth in a strangled squeak, and without my consent, my legs drew me closer to her. Charlie watched, swallowing thickly, as I knelt in the scarlet pool and rested a shaking hand on her shoulder, feeling her lingering warmth. She was face down on the floor, and although a niggling memory screamed at me to leave her that way, my hands gripped her shoulders and turned.
Although it wasn't the first time I'd seen it, the sight of her still send me reeling, and I heard my shrill screams and felt hot tears as they ran down my cheeks.
It didn't even look like a face.
"What did you do!?" I screamed, shaking mom in a desperate attempt to wake her. "Mom!"
Please wake up.
Charlie said nothing as he stalked outside, locking the back door behind him.
She can't be dead. She can't be dead.
I screamed again as the back door crashed open, Charlie's old, worn boot sending bits of wood flying into the kitchen. He stormed into the house with them on before he kicked them off into the fireplace.
"Go and get me some kindling from outside," said Charlie brusquely. "Quickly, Bella."
And like the good girl I was, I did as I was told. As I had the first time, I slipped on the slick, wet floor on my way out, spreading the mess into the kitchen.
My red footprints marred the gleaming, white floor that had been meticulously polished earlier that day.
"Wake up, sweetheart."
The night was cold.
"Hey, come on…"
The air smelled damp.
"There we go. Good girl."
My eyes shot open with a gasp, and I stared at the face hovering above me.
"You're okay," said Emmett, his anxious face very close to mine. "Just a dream."
As I glanced around the clean, sweet-smelling room, my bearings came back to me, and I remembered with a jolt where I was. When I glanced down at my body, I found grey sweatpants. My hands were clean and my hair was damp. There was no blood, and there was no Charlie…
Emmett's fierce embrace lifted me from my prone position on the pillows, and I let my sweaty, clammy forehead rest on his shoulder.
"You're shaking, Bella," he said worriedly.
I couldn't say a word in return. My voice seemed to have abandoned me; my entire focus was back in Charlie's living room.
I had helped him.
"Are you in pain?" asked Emmett worriedly, leaning back to take my face in his hands.
"I helped him!" I choked out, unable to keep this grisly secret to myself any longer.
"What?" asked Emmett, confused as I pushed him away. "It was just a dream, Bell."
"No," I choked out, wiping my clean hands on the bedspread. The blood had been washed away a long time ago, but in that moment, I could have sword they were dripping. I shook my head wildly as Emmett reached out again, his eyes bright and uncertain.
"Hey, hey, hey…" he said, frowning as I scrambled away from him. "Come here and relax."
"I helped him!" I cried again, my voice louder. "I didn't mean to!"
"Helped who?" asked Emmett gently, taking my hand in his. It was the most I'd allow him to do, though I knew he itched to hug again.
"Him," I spat, and for what had to be the hundredth time this week, I felt the bands tightening again.
"Whatever he made you do is not your fault," snarled my brother, his voice gravelly with anger.
"Ah, fuck," said Emmett, going from anger to fear in the span of a few seconds. "Carlisle!"
I wanted to protest, to insist that I was fine, but my chest tightened again and I couldn't get the words out.
A roaring in my ears dulled the sound of anxious voices.
"…in my bag, Emmett…"
Something slipped under my tongue, and a medicinal, chemical taste overwhelmed me. I grimaced as the small tablet melted, and with it, my anxiety.
"There we go," said the voice of the kind doctor, Carlisle. "That's better, hm?"
I took a deep breath, only to be cut off when my right side flared angrily.
"Take it easy," said Carlisle gently, laying me back down on the pillows. "Just relax."
But I couldn't relax. The memory of sifting through the damp, spidery woodpile for suitable firewood made me feel sick. I remembered finding a few pieces of dry wood, bringing them in to my father, who then proceeded to burn his old, worn out boots in the living room fireplace, as my mother's body cooled. He told me to keep quiet and go along with his story when his deputies arrived, and I'd done just as I was told.
They ate up the fabricated burglary story, and when the investigators showed up, they found only Charlie's muddy footprints. When they checked them against the shoes in our house, they found no matches.
And then, the case went cold.
I'd let her killer go free.
"Hey," said Emmett again, ignoring my protests and drawing me in for another hug as tears resurfaced and I began to quiver. While I felt safer having him near, everything in me was screaming at him to let me go. To leave me to my grief. That I didn't deserve his pity, nor his concern…
"Let go," I ordered feebly, forcing him to drop me like a hot coal. Fearing that he'd aggravated my rib, he held his hands up and his eyes pored over me, frowning.
"Do you need another pain pill?" he asked uncertainly, glancing at Carlisle. "Are you sore?"
I shook my head and closed my eyes, resting my forehead on my knees.
How could I tell him what I'd done? What Charlie had done?
"I helped him," I groaned again, needing to tell someone about my transgression. "I'm sorry."
"Helped who?" asked Emmett gently. "Charlie?"
The sound of his name sent a chill down my spine, but I forced myself to nod.
"Yes," I said, jerking away when Emmett went to soothe me. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," said Emmett gently, and sensing a private moment, Carlisle left the room.
We were alone now.
"It is my fault," I insisted, chancing a glance up to him. "I got him the firewood."
"What?" said Emmett, plainly confused.
"They'd have caught him, otherwise," I blurted quickly. "He told me to go and get it, and so I did. I didn't even stop to think…"
"What are you talking about?" asked Emmett in an uncharacteristically gentle voice. "What firewood?"
"For his boots!" I wailed, the truth spilling from my lips.
"So the police would think it was a robber! But it wasn't! It was him!"
Emmett's face froze in a mask of shock before he closed his mouth, speechless. His eyes brightened before he blinked furiously, leaning in to take my face in his hands.
"Are you trying to tell me," he began seriously, "that Charlie…"
"Yes," I choked. "Yes."
"Goddamn it!" he bellowed, making me flinch away as he jumped up and stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him. There was a moment of shocked silence before my eyes burned furiously, and I burst into tears.
"What the hell?" said another voice, opening the bedroom door. "Bella, what happened?"
Jasper's soft voice made me cry even harder, and for fear that he would leave me too, I refused to speak.
"What the hell is his problem?" asked Jasper quietly, speaking to himself as he sat himself next to me on the bed. He patted my back gently, seeming to sense my desire for solitude while at the same time refusing to leave me alone in this state.
"It was just a dream, Bella," he said gently, repeating the same words Emmett had earlier. "It's all over now…"
I couldn't bring myself to say the words I'd said to Emmett, so I kept silent.
"What happened?" he asked again, leaning in close to wrap an arm around my shoulders. "What's got Em so pissed?"
"I'm sorry," I said again, unable to tell the truth another time. "It's all my fault."
"Shh," he said quickly, resting his chin on my shoulder. "Never mind. Forget I asked. I'll talk to him about it later."
"No!" I shouted quickly, jerking up. "Don't…"
"Why not?" he asked, frowning. "What's—"
At that moment, he was cut off by Emmett storming back into the bedroom, a phone held to his ear as he raged.
"Emmett!" said Jasper, shocked, as Emmett shouted profanities and curses as whoever was on the other line. "Jesus Christ, who are you talking to?"
"I'd better not ever see his face again!" bellowed Emmett, tears seeping through his anger. "He'd better be held accountable!" His voice broke on the last word, and a bewildered Jasper snatched the phone away.
"Who is this?" he said, more calmly as he stepped back from the bed. His eyes widened and flickered to Emmett and I as the person on the other end spoke to him.
Emmett breathed heavily, fuming, as Jasper thanked the speaker and ended the call, looking forlorn.
"Bella?" he asked, his voice sad.
I didn't look up.
"Is this true?" he asked, taking a step forward. "They're saying that Charlie…"
I groaned and apologized again, shrinking away from Emmett's hand as he raised it. His anger melted and he froze, wide-eyed, as I flinched.
"Jesus, I'm not going to hit you," he said. "I'd never…"
"I know… I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry for," he said vehemently, placing his hand on my shoulder. "Nothing at all."
"I helped him," I repeated, confessing my gravest sin for the umpteenth time.
"You did nothing wrong," said Emmett, convinced. "You're not to blame for what he did."
Jasper kept quiet, watching the interaction between us.
"You were scared," said Emmett gently. "Afraid, and confused, and traumatized." His arms surrounded me, pulling me closer. "You're not at fault. Not now, not ever."
"He'll pay for what he's done, Bell," said Jasper gently, speaking up. "He won't get away with any of it."
"They can't prove anything," I said miserably. "I burned the shoes."
"They weren't looking," said Emmett gently. "Why would they suspect Charlie of…" He couldn't say the words, but he didn't need to. "And now, with the evidence from you…"
"I dreamed it," I blurted suddenly, looking up at him. "Mom was calling me, and I went to her, and he was just…"
"Shh. I know," said Emmett gently, smoothing my hair. "I'm so sorry you had to see that."
"It didn't even look like a face," I confessed, sniffling hard as the memory of her mangled, bloody body came back to me. To my dismay, my words made Jasper turn away and Emmett's composure break.
"He won't hurt you again," vowed Emmett shakily. "I promise you, he'll never lay another hand on you, or anyone else."
There was a moment of silence, during which a niggling sense of safety settled over me. It was then, as a shaky calm fell over the three of us, I wondered just how Emmett planned to keep that promise.
A/N: Thank you so much for being so patient. I know it was a long time coming. For those of you who keep up with the Dark Waltz Prequel, you already know that I've been uninspired and have had a hard time getting new ideas out on paper. Lately, I've been feeling the desire to write again, and am hoping that this very long bout of writer's block is over. Thanks a bunch for keeping up with it, and for sticking with me even though I've been a terrible updater.
Some people have been requesting that I repost the original while this story is being edited. I have responded to a few of these requests through personal messages, but a few of you don't have this feature enabled. Here is your answer. I will not be posting the original story while I edit, for the simple reason that the original is not of good quality. I am no longer satisfied with its writing, grammar, pacing and style, and therefore, it is being redone. I originally kept my stories up in their unedited forms in order to encourage young writers to keep up with their writing, even if they felt they were no good at it (while none of my work is perfect, there is a definite improvement as you read from the oldest to newest stories). I think that reworking the stories will be best for everyone- I get peace of mind, and all of you get a better reading experience. None of my stories are being abandoned, and all will eventually be edited and reposted. It will eventually be back up and running in its entirety.
Let me know what you think of the edited version!