With an upheaval of rain beating down on my car like we had bad personal history, there couldn't have been a better time to pull over and nap. Only the dark, unfamiliar roads were the perfect setting for me to end up being terrorized by a mad, woodsy serial killer, and I promised my mother I wouldn't end up on Investigation Discovery. The irony was that I'd left a barrage of thundershowers in Jacksonville only to be a part of a brand new downpour on the other side of the country. There should have been no surprise, really, since Charlie, my father, had told me plenty about Forks, Washington—well known for its blanket of fog, rain, humidity, and all-around ashen atmosphere. I'd just been hoping that I wasn't going to have to experience it after eleven hours on a plane and three in a vehicle.
Smudged directions were in my lap, hardly readable since I'd pulled over half a dozen times to ask strangers if I was going the right way, and had drenched everything on the driver's side. I hoped to the skies above, as black as they were, that I was still going the right way.
My truck, a Chevy that was older than I cared to admit, groaned and clanked as it climbed the steep terrain. I ran my hand along the dashboard in a soothing manner, humoring myself. "Hang in there, baby."
She'd been a gift from my dad when I was seventeen. My mother, Renée, constantly "forgot" that I actually attended college, so it was tough to share a car when her gym workouts got in the way. Charlie bought my truck from his friend Billy Black in La Push and had driven it all the way down to Jacksonville for my birthday; how it ever survived the trip is a mystery. It emitted exhaust like a tank, but I loved it, even though Renée whined that I should have a sporty, cute car that would accentuate my flirty side (which earned her a snort). Plus, driving the I-10 was hell on Earth and with my luck, one day I'd be plowed into and crushed. At least my chances were better in my "tank" than in some little Jaguar.
My father was on my side at least. Before I'd left, he encouraged me to put the Chevy on a shipping truck and have it meet me in Washington.
Renee ended up buying me a pity gift a few months before, which was a shiny new Mazda RX-8, after my truck was sentenced to a two-week repair in the shop. Other than her partially-failed 'Mother of the Year' award, I think she felt sorry for me because my roommate had gotten engaged and skipped out on our lease. It had been a rough few weeks for me after realizing that I'd have to resort to living with my parents again since I couldn't handle living expenses without eventually dipping into my savings. All of my other friends either lived with their boyfriends, fiancés, husbands, or already had roommates. I was the only single one left. I had a job that did absolutely nothing to benefit society (in a good way, anyway), I was unhappy, and I was completely and utterly alone.
It was then that I decided I needed a change. A move. Maybe not a permanent one, but I was too damned tired of the sunshine greeting me every morning like everything was fine and fucking dandy. Since I rarely spent money on myself and had gotten scholarships that put me through college, a fact that Renée bragged to too many strangers about, I decided that I could afford to take a break from life.
Honestly, I wanted to be someplace far away. Somewhere small and unknown to most people in the continental United States. Somewhere dark and dreary like my pissy mood.
"She should take the Chevy," Charlie had said to Renée when I was planning my trip. "I wouldn't want all the salt and rain to ruin that other thing she drives."
"But isn't it cute?" Renée had gushed over the little blue thing. "Baby, come on, it's something brand new for a new start."
Even though she was focused on the car, her words hit me.
Then, in the middle of breakfast, I found myself absentmindedly staring at my eating utensil, and it hit me. Ten seconds later, I was on the phone with Charlie. Part of the reason why I had decided on Forks as my destination was his fondness for the little town. If it had been a popular, sight-seeing sort of place, I would have bet money that Charlie would have gladly gotten a side job as one of those cheesy tour guides that bombard people with old town stories and other frivilous information. He seemed excited by my idea - much, much more than Renée had been. By the end of our conversation, he had agreed to make my arrangements, and it sounded as though he wanted to join me and take me on a month-long fishing trip. Luckily I convinced him to consider persuading Renée to go fishing off one of Jacksonville's piers instead.
As the rain went from a slight drizzle to a frenzied pelt against my windshield, I figured that if I hadn't found the lodge in another ten minutes, I'd have to suck up my stubbornness and make a call to Charlie. Knowing him, he'd probably patch me through to his old station and have them dispatch one of their rookies to come and rescue me.
Thankfully, I finally saw a sign: Red Timber Lodge, one mile.
It was more than a hundred years old. Before I left, Charlie had confided in me that he stayed there for nearly two weeks after Renée had left with me because he couldn't stand how empty the house was. Luckily for him, he'd gotten a second chance at happily-ever-after.
It had happened quickly. For as long as I could remember, Charlie and Renée had been separate parents on separate sides of the continent. Charlie made trips down to Florida every few months and for Christmas; I'd only visited him a handful of times when I was younger and barely remembered it. Then, last December, Charlie had come for another routine holiday visit. Renée and Phil, my stepfather, had finalized their divorce only a month previous, and my mother was a lackadaisical mess. I had taken over cooking, of course, and begged Charlie to come to dinner. I couldn't bear to see Renée cry through another evening and I knew she would not dare go to pieces in front of him. Charlie, of course, had planned on ordering hotel room service like he'd done every other Christmas. He used to say that he liked his alone time, but I always knew it was because he secretly couldn't stand to see my mother in her wild Christmas sweater, the same one she had worn when she was married to him, with her arm draped around Phil, laughing and smiling and showing Charlie everything he had lost. This past time, however, was quite different.
I'd practically pushed Renée into the shower, picked her out an outfit that didn't include the Christmas explosion sweater (after all, it was a ferocious sixty-five degrees out), and managed to get the table set by the time Charlie showed up at the door. He looked like a lost puppy when he'd entered the house - head low, feet shuffling. I'd hardly recognized him. He was actually wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt and holding two bouquets of flowers. Seeming embarrassed, he handed me a bunch of purple irises and jasmine.
"Merry Christmas, Bells."
I felt a goofy smile creep onto my face and exclaimed with a laugh, "Charlie, you bought flowers?"
He eyed me funny when I used his first name, but said, "Well, I got you some gift cards for tomorrow."
"Dad," I said, to make him feel better, "I didn't mean it like that. It's thoughtful. You remembered my favorites."
"Yeah, well," he said, looking very much like a little boy as he scuffed his shoe into the floor.
Renée had come down the stairs, then, and stopped in her tracks when she saw Charlie holding flowers and dressed in something other than long-sleeved plaid. Charlie, of course, tried to hold back his weak-in-the-knees expression that he always got around Renée, but I could see through him. It was odd how they seemed to drift toward one another all night, actually smiling comfortably and showing interest in each others' conversations. I'd all but dropped my fork when Charlie looked over at me and winked.
Dinner went extremely better than I'd expected and Charlie and Renée were still talking at the table when I decided to go to bed. To make a long story short, Charlie had extended his visit to New Years, and that went well, too - embarrassingly well. I'd come home from a party on New Year's Day to find them sleeping half-clothed on the couch. I still shuddered at remembering the sight, even if they were my parents.
Fast forward to a couple months later, and Charlie had decided to move to Jacksonville to embrace the sunshine and my mother's bouncy lifestyle. Maybe it was a midlife crisis on his part, or loneliness, or just the fact that he was tired of the rain … but he was happy. They both were, and I wasn't about to step on their toes. In a strange way, I felt satisfied for them.
My brief reminiscence ended as I turned into a long drive that crept up into another tightly packed herd of trees. If the sun ever did come out, I wondered if I would even be able to see it through the cluster of branches and leaves. Talk about privacy. Charlie didn't lie.
In the dirt-paved parking lot, my decrepit truck stood out like a nun on a street corner. Mostly, there were compact cars and a few minivans scattered throughout, and also, to my amusement, a bus that resembled a minivan with the decal "Senior Sunrise!" sat in the only handicapped-accessed space. All were surprisingly clean and seemed to be much fresher than what I was driving. I spotted a girl around my age standing by a shiny red car, who was wearing a black apron; she probably worked here. Though, she wasn't exactly 'employee-friendly' as she eyed me and my truck with presumable disgust as my truck's engine growled, in desperate need of rest. I quickly parked in the nearest empty spot next to a glossy, silver car. A ... Volvo. Maybe I'd meet a nice soccer mom.
As if on cue, my truck let out a fierce blast-like sound as I turned off the ignition. For the first time ever, I missed my Mazda. I then proceeded to pretend like my truck hadn't just backfired as I slipped out of the driver's seat and went around to the passenger's side to collect my suitcase and duffels. The girl who had been watching me moments ago peered over at me again with her nose wrinkled and her cell phone pressed against her ear, trying to be inconspicuous. I gave her a small wave.
Hi, I see you staring, you judgmental priss.
She whisked her head in the opposite direction as if she didn't see me and strutted away, her dark curls bouncing in unison with her boobs (which were practically yelling "Hellooo" at me out of her shirt). Oh well. At least seeing her with a cell phone meant there was such a thing as reception out here, which was a miracle in itself.
I heaved my duffel bags over my shoulders and picked up my ancient suitcase. As I walked closer to the lodge itself, I took in the detail of the building. It was cabin-like, similar to the Lincoln Logs I used to play with as a child. The size of it astonished me; I'd envisioned some sort of pastel-painted, old-time, small bed-and-breakfast you would see on a side street in New England. But it was charming. A log mansion.
This is it, Bella. Let's go.
I made my way down the path and took a deep breath.