Bella buried her head deeper in the soft nook where she was sleeping, resisting the smell of coffee as it wafted towards her. "It's too early, Dad…" she pleaded.
"Okay," he conceded, but Bella didn't hear him walk back down the hall the way he usually did. She ignored him, she was just so tired. She buried her nose in her pillow and tried to coax her herself into drifting off again. But there was this nagging sensation tugging at the back of her brain. The same one that always told her that she was going to miss the bus or that her snooze button wasn't going to go off or that Mom had let her oversleep. That math test. That milk she was supposed to get at the store. She was forgetting something…but what…
Beside her, Jake snorted in his sleep.
"Ohmygosh!" The words tumbled out in a rush and Bella frantically tried to untangle herself from the duvet and Jake and the couch and the mess of her own limbs. She stumbled to her feet, and practically pitched headfirst into her father.
"Dad, I can explain…" she started to say.
Charlie didn't appear to be listening though. He took a long, thoughtful swig of coffee, then looked at his watch. "So the strangest thing happened last night," he said, his voice unnervingly conversational. "My daughter didn't come home."
"Dad…" she tried again.
He ignored her, fishing something out of his pocket. "I wake up to find the house empty, no phone calls. And that's when I remember that she's got this fancy cell phone now. So I figure I'll just call that and make sure she's okay. But there's no answer. In fact, there's no answer twenty-one times." He held out his silver phone and showed Bella all the dialed calls.
"I…" She didn't know what to say – they'd never even heard it ring. Bella snatched her purse off the coffee table and began to dig through it frantically. "My phone's not here," she said, upending the contents all over the table in proof. "Crap!" Her brain began racing with all the possible places it could be. The garage, the floor of the truck, Leah or Claire's purses by mistake maybe. She cold only pray that it wasn't lying in the grass by the river bank. The last thing she needed was for Charlie to find it next time he and Billy went fishing.
Charlie dragged her back into the present, thrusting a cup of coffee into her hands. "Well now that kind of defeats the purpose of having one Bella. That being said, Billy has a phone too, you know."
She took a swig of coffee, and felt the caffeine begin to lift the fog of sleep that was still making everything around her seem fuzzy and disjointed. The wheels were turning in her brain again, albeit slowly. "We just fell asleep. I'm so sorry."
"We will discuss your apology and the missing phone later," Charlie said. It sounded like more like a threat than anything. "Right now, I have bigger fish to fry." He kicked at Jake's shin with the tip of his steel-toe. The boy muttered but didn't stir.
Bella plopped down onto the couch beside him and shook his shoulder. "Jake!" she hissed. But his only response was to grab her arm and, in the most un-helpful way possible, attempt to roll them both over. She tried to break his grip, but even in sleep he was stronger than her.
"Five more minutes," he muttered thickly, pulling her close.
Bella groaned, feeling her father's eyes burning holes in them both. With her free hand she jabbed her finger between Jake's fourth and fifth ribs as hard as she could, pinching some for good measure.
"Yargh!" He bolted up, instantly awake. "What the hell, Bella?!"
She didn't say anything at first, just stared and him and gave reality a moment to sink in. After a few seconds Jake blinked, suddenly confused. "Wait, what are you doing here?"
"Funny, I was wondering the same thing," Charlie said. Jake looked slowly to his left, and noticeably paled – not the sort of thing Bella was used to seeing. He shot to his feet like the couch had been spring loaded.
"Charlie-" he started, speaking in a slow, even voice, the way one talks to a scared child or a growling dog.
"Sir," Charlie corrected him.
Jacob gulped audibly. "Charlie, sir, this…this isn't what it looks like."
"It isn't?" Jake flinched under Charlie's gaze, and Bella wondered if secretly, deep below his current fit of raging over-protectiveness, he wasn't enjoying this just a little bit. "So you didn't sleep with my daughter, then?"
"Well no, we slept together but--"
Charlie glowered, his free hand drifting lower on his hip. Much closer to his firearm than either Bella or Jake was comfortable with.
"But...we…I still have my pants on!" Jake exclaimed stupidly.
"Yes," Charlie said, though he looked the boy up and down for good measure. "I can see that. That's not the point. The point--"
"-Is that you are here way too goddamned early," Billy finished helpfully as he wheeled himself down the hall, wearing a blue bathrobe and looking bleary-eyed. "You," he declared, pointing a knobby finger at Charlie. "I thought I made myself very clear on the phone last night."
Charlie handed him one of the steaming paper cups, then checked his watch again. "Black, three sugars. By my count it's 6:48am, and according to my handy almanac, dawn was officially at 6:13am." He looked at Billy smugly.
"Smart ass," the elder Black muttered sharply, pushing himself into the kitchen, coffee cup firmly planted between his knees. An air of nonchalance rolled off him, and it only seemed to aggravate Chief Swan even more.
Bella figured that was kind of the point; Billy's subtle revenge for the early wake up call.
"Where the hell are you going?" Charlie demanded.
"To make breakfast. Some of us function better on a full stomach."
"Don't you think you should be a parent and get in here so we can talk about this?" Charlie shifted his eyes back to Jake, who'd begun to make a subtle beeline for the kitchen, and the protection of his father. "I know I've got more than a few questions myself."
"Yeah," Billy agreed. "I guess I got a few too. Bella?"
She grimaced. "Yes?"
"Sunny-side up work for you?"
Jake snorted. It was a subtle, momentary, involuntary reflex, one that couldn't be helped. But Charlie, seemingly having forgotten that he was once a teenage boy, glared at him with fire in his eyes.
"…Dad," Bella said, a warning in her tone. She grabbed him around the arm and tried to drag him back to the couch. "C'mon, it was a joke…"
"You think this is funny, son?" Charlie demanded harshly, completely oblivious to the way Bella was clinging to his arm.
"Ease off, Chief. I'm making enough for everyone," Billy said from the kitchen, but the humor had disappeared from his voice.
"I asked you a question, Jake," Charlie repeated. "Do you think this is funny? Do you think the fear a man feels when he daughter doesn't come home at night is funny? Cause believe me, I've seen that fear on the faces of enough parents whose kids never come home to know that there is nothing remotely funny about it."
"That's it!" There was a resounding clang from the kitchen, the sound a pan makes when it hits a counter. Hard. A moment later Billy wheeled himself into the doorway, drying his hands on a dishrag. "Excuse me, dear," he said to Charlie, voice dripping in aggravation. "But can I see you in the kitchen for a minute? You know I don't like to fight in front of the children – it upsets them so."
Charlie opened his mouth to protest, still glaring at Jacob.
"Now!" Billy barked.
Charlie slammed his coffee down on the sideboard and stalked off into the kitchen, sulking like a child. Bella started to follow after him, but Jake grabbed her hand.
"Let go!" She tried to jerk out of his grip, but Jake just put a finger to his lips and started to pull her towards the front door.
"This is probably one conversation neither of us wants to be involved with," he said under his breath, closing the screen door quietly behind them. He looked genuinely nervous. "Or at least we can wait until Charlie puts down his gun or something."
"Yes," Bella said sarcastically, following him around the side of the house. "I'm sure us sneaking off together will totally convince Charlie not to kill you. This is all your fault, by the way. You were supposed to wake me up."
"What can I say: subtitles put me to sleep," Jake explained like it was the most rational excuse in the world. "And we're not sneaking off, we're going to find your cell phone, at which point I may or may not crazy glue it to your palm so that this never happens again…" He ran his fingers through his sleep-tangled hair, but still couldn't quite manage to get it to lie flat. "Now shush." He held his fingers to his lips, then dropped to all fours and crawled beneath the low set kitchen window that looked out onto the side yard.
Bella sighed, and hitched her dress up above her knees, doing her best to keep it out of the mud as she followed suit. The white window was open a crack, just enough to catch the early morning spring air. She paused beneath the sill and listened intently for a moment, and could barely make out the sound of gruff voices trying their best to talk over each other.
"You're right: seeing as how I have absolutely no experience raising daughters, what could I possibly know?" she heard Billy demand faintly.
She didn't stick around long enough to wait for Charlie's response. Maybe he just didn't have one.
Jake was already scouring the garage by the time she caught up. "You get lost or something?" he asked as she walked by his face. He was looking underneath the truck.
"I'm sorry, I'm not exactly dressed for scurrying all over your yard right now."
He snorted, declaring his search of the floor a failure. "Relax, Trigger, I was just teasing. Check the passenger side." He yanked open the balky driver's door and began digging his hand around under the seat.
Bella opened the other door without protest, but instead of looking for her phone, she slumped over on the seat and watched the back of Jake's head as he worked frantically. "Why are we friends?" she asked softly.
"What the hell would make you ask a question like that?" Jake continued to rummage, now digging into the crack between the vinyl seat and the backrest, totally distracted.
Bella didn't respond right away, too busy, as always, trying to find the right words to explain the heavy tangle that was suddenly weighing on her mind.
"I don't know," she admitted half-heartedly, poking through the change on the dashboard, even though she could tell her phone wasn't there. "I just never stopped to rationalize it before, but then I started to, and then after last night--"
"Okay, stop," Jake glared over the seat at her with a sheepish look on her face. "How long are you going to hold one moment of romantic spontaneity over my head? Jesus, it's not like it was awful or anything, was it?"
Bella shook her head fervently, fighting down that constricting pressure that felt like it was taking over her chest. It was the same feeling that had choked her as they'd talked on the couch last night. "No, it was fine."
Was it? Would you really feel this way if it was?
She ignored the petulant, pleading voice in the back of her mind. "It's just… I can't feel that way about people anymore. I just…" She wanted to say that it just hurt too much, but the words died on her tongue. "I don't want you here with me when you should be out there finding someone who can feel about you the way you want to feel and…"
"Alright, A: I don't feel that way about you, Bells. You dreamed that part, remember?" Jake said, his voice contracted and snippy. "I thought I told you this. And B: I don't buy that whole I'll never love again bullshit for a second, so just knock it off."
"No, no," Jake cut her off, reaching over the seat and clamping his hand down across her fumbling lips. "Just. Stop. See, you're a better student than I am, so I know you already know this, but the human body is designed to recover. Bones break and grow back stronger than before, people wander the desert and survive for days without food, water, shelter. We're adaptable, naturally created survivors. Someone, something breaks you down emotionally and you don't think you'll make it until you wake up and its six months later and you find out that you have."
He shook his head forlornly, and slowly removed his hand. "There's not a person walking around that doesn't have a little duct tape or spackle on their hearts. You suffer until someone comes along and makes you want to feel all those romantic things again, so you break out the glue and start all over. We all end up like your truck, basically. The imperfections make us special." Jake waited, seeing if his words would sink in.
Bella opened her mouth to protest, but he just held up a finger warningly and she closed her mouth again. After he turned away, satisfied that he'd made his point, she leaned over and spoke in a rush to the back of his head. "Be that as it may I just don't think it works like that for me, and I don't want to see you wasting your time on someone who can't adequately return your affections, and I certainly don't want you to just put up with me because you feel bad for me, and I don't want to keep you from the people you'd rather be with and that's all I'mtryingtosay."
Jake groaned into the tattered vinyl, his patience finally exhausted. "Do you ever give it a rest, or do you seriously not give yourself any credit? Like, at all?"
"Look," he interrupted her, jumping to his feet. Frustration was spelled out all over his features, but his eyes were understanding. "You're a good listener. Seriously, you'll sit there for hours and just let me ramble about…I don't know, cooling systems, or stupid stories about shit the guys have done, or how bad the Mariners suck this season – which they do. You're not high maintenance. You don't expect me to call or text you a hundred times a day. Your idea of fun isn't traipsing around the mall, making me and Quil carry your bags. You're nice to my friends, even when they're assholes, which is frequently. And you don't give me shit for showing up at your door in the rain a complete wreck because I don't handle death well. At all. So yeah, you bring a thing or two to the friendship, alright?"
Bella felt herself blush, her mouth hanging open stupidly. She'd never heard anyone talk about her that way. Not in real life, anyway. And not in such…such a simple way. With Edward it had always been grandiose statements: declarations of life-altering love and the nature of romance. She should've expected Jake to be different.
He was a details man, after all.
But he was right, she never did stop to examine the little things when it came to friendship and love and the people around her. She always felt like the concepts were just too big to put into words. Jake managed to capture them, though, in the smallest of instances. He broke emotions down into their component pieces, just like he did an engine, and by the time it was lying in a heap of random parts, he understood it better than she ever could.
"I--" she started to say for the umpteenth, but there were no words.
Jake put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze, still looking a bit exasperated. "You've got to stop thinking about life as this all or nothing process, Bells. Just because I'm friends with you doesn't mean that I can't be friends with Quil or Embry or anyone else. And just because you're here doesn't mean that I won't be adequately able, or more than willing, to take care of the multitudes of hot women hurling themselves at me." He punctuated the last statement with a trademark grin. "I am quite the stud, in case you haven't noticed."
"Gee Jake, humble much?" she asked, feeling herself beginning to reflect his smile almost involuntarily.
Jake's only response was to flex his arms in a very non-subtle fashion, showing off his "alleged" guns, as well as the fact that in his left hand, he was clutching her cell phone. "C'mon, you can't blame them for wanting to tap this, can yo—hey!"
Bella slid across the seat, threw her arms around his neck, and buried her head against his shoulder before she even had time to realize what she was doing. Jake wrapped her up and pulled her in even closer.
"What gives?" he asked softly.
Bella shrugged beneath the weight of his arms. "Just…needed to say thanks," she mumbled into his shirt.
"For finding your cell phone? It was just under the seat."
"No," she said. "For being my friend."
Charlie was waiting by the cruiser, calling her name, when Bella and Jake finally emerged from the garage.
"What were you doing in there?" he asked accusingly, but the fight seemed to have gone out him.
Bella waved her dead cell phone at him. "It was stuck between the seats of the truck. Must've gotten wedged in there when Leah knocked my purse over."
He only grunted in response and climbed into the cruiser. Bella followed suit, watching jealously as Jake slipped inside his backdoor. He was probably facing a more comfortable experience than Bella was.
They drove in relative silence until they hit the main road that wound through the edge of the forest and back into downtown Forks. Finally Charlie sighed uncomfortably, and switched off the radio. "Look Bells-"
"I'm sorry," she interrupted him, her voice tiny. "I didn't mean to make you worry. Really."
"I know you didn't," he said stoically. "You're a good kid Bells, and I know that. As much as it pains me to admit it, so is Jake. But after everything…" He hesitated, looking grim. "I know that I worry more than I should. After everything that's happened…it's just hard for an old Dad to turn it off sometimes, okay?"
"I know," she said, remembering all too clearly the sight of him crying at her bedside. "I'll be better next time. I promise."
"Oh, I know you will be," he said darkly. "Because you're grounded for the next week. Tutoring, and then home. No exceptions."
"Alright," Bella agreed quickly. After all, it wasn't like she could drive. Or that she ever had any place to be… "Oh, no," she said suddenly, remembering a particular conversation from the evening before.
Charlie's hand jerked on the wheel. "What?"
"It's just…I promised Angela that I'd go into Seattle with her this Sunday." She pressed the power button on her phone, and it lit up for a few, futile moments before going black again. "I'll have to call her when I get home and let her know. Maybe she can still talk Jessica into going with her," she said, mostly to herself.
Charlie was quiet for a moment, eyes glued to the road. "The Weber girl?" he asked quietly. A small smiled flickered across his face.
"Yeah," Bella said, glancing at him curiously. "Why?"
He hesitated, and then shrugged. "Well…maybe we can start your grounding on Monday."
Bella couldn't help but smile in response. "Thanks Char--I mean, thanks Dad."
"He bought you a motorcycle?" Angela repeated in disbelief. She took a break from starring at Bella incredulously just long enough to take her plate from the waiter and thank him softly. "Like, a real motorcycle?"
"No Ange, the fake kind," Bella joked distractedly. She was too busy gaping at the massive plate of sushi her friend had ordered. "Yes, it's a real motorcycle."
"Well I'm sorry," her Angela replied. "It's just not what I expected to hear when you said Jake got you a gift. It's not like I know a lot of girls who get excited over defunct automotives. I mean, is there a reason he gave you a motorcycle, or does he just not know anything about women?"
Bella shrugged, trying to find a way to explain the bike significance without sounding like a raving lunatic. Not that Angela would've judged her for it or anything, it was just that it wasn't a conversation Bella was interested in having today. She took a bite of her stir fry and chewed thoughtfully, buying herself some time. "It's just, kind of an inside joke between us, I guess," she finally replied, lamely. But, as always, Angela seemed content with that answer. She wasn't one to press or pry, and for that Bella was immensely grateful.
After depositing the twins at their gym (and after a car ride that left Bella shuddering at the thought of ever reproducing) she and Angela had stopped at a tiny Asian fusion bistro and grabbed seats under the awning. Then, safely out of earshot of any siblings, Angela had proceeded to grill her about her entire dance experience.
"He's got to fix it up and get it working first, but it's-," Bella said. "It's hard to explain, but it wasn't just a bone-head boy move, I promise."
"Hey, I don't doubt it." Angela picked up a sushi roll off her plate and then sniffed at it, hesitantly. "But I am doubting the wisdom of ordering this now. This stuff looks way more appealing on television." She popped the roll in her mouth and grimaced, swallowing quickly. "Yeah, definitely more of a visual food than an edible one."
"You're the one who wanted to come here," Bella reminded her, knowing full well that Ange had their entire day planned and itemized in her head, a carefully researched itinerary.
"Well then I take it back," Angela muttered, picking the rice off another roll, eating it and leaving behind the flattened shrimp,
Bella reached over and yanked the Angela's plate away, replacing it with her own. "You'll like that better," she assured her when Angela began to protest. "And Renee went through a pan-Asian phase for a while, so I think I can hold my raw seafood."
"Thank you," Angela said in a loud stage whisper. "That's so sweet, it almost makes me feel bad to say this, but can I ask you for a favor?"
"Hey, I rode all the way here trapped in a minivan with your little brothers, remember?" Bella said sarcastically. "I believe that makes you the favor ower, now."
"No, I promise, this is a long term request for a favor. I'm sure I'll have months to pay you back in the interim. Please?" She looked at Bella with that plaintive, puppy-dog expression plastered all over her face.
Bella conceded with a chuckle, deciding that Angela's powers of persuasion were just evil. "Fine, but the next time I need furniture moved up a few flights of stairs, I'm calling you…"
"Fair enough," Angela conceded, taking a deep breath and steeling herself for what she was prepared to ask. "Feel free to turn me down here but…I was wondering if, when Jake get's your bike working, if maybe you would take me for a ride on it?" The last words emerged as a hesitant squeak.
Bella cocked a wry eyebrow at the request and stared at Angela in surprise. "Um, sure?" she said, the words more questioning than answering. "Since when--"
"Seriously? Thank you so much!" Angela interrupted her, squealing quietly, her voice brimming with excitement. "Oh Bella, you're so lucky! I can't wait 'till he get's it working. It's going to be so much fun!"
"Jeez Ange, I wouldn't have pegged you as a motorcycle junkie," Bella said, snorting under her breath at her friend's overzealous reaction. "You into monster trucks too?"
"No, it's not like that," Angela assured her, more calmly. She re-established her air of composure in the blink of an eye. "I'm still a well behaved, non-redneck little girl. It's more a family thing. My uncle Max lives down in Santa Clara? He's in banking, and he never married, so he throws all his money into restoring these classic cars. It's sort of an obsession of his. My family would go down and visit him for a few weeks every summer when I was younger."
"Sounds nice," Bella said. "I wish my mom had siblings like that. Just run away for a few weeks..."
"It was nice." Angela stayed seated right across from her, but her eyes seemed miles away. And surprisingly, she looked just a little bit sad. "There was this frozen yogurt place out in this town in the middle of nowhere. Uncle Max and I used to put a cooler in the back of whatever his latest restoration was, and we'd drive three hours and bring back a month's worth of the stuff. And I just remember sitting on a phone book in the front seat of that year's Cutlass, or Skylark, or Corvette, nothing around us for miles. We would go so fast, and the wind would blow my hair straight back and we'd listen to Bruce Springsteen and laugh…" Her voice trailed off, and she shook her head at the memory, a half-smile etched on her face. "It's just, when I think about freedom, and being deliriously happy, I think back to those trips. And now it's just automatic: driving fast and feeling the wind against my face make me think of those summers again. Does that sound stupid?" she asked Bella, suddenly self-conscious.
"No, I don't think it sounds stupid at all," she said quickly. "In fact, it's kinda sweet." She wanted to tell Angela that she felt the same way. That she only remembered feeling truly whole when she was outrunning it all: the visions, the voices, the pain in her chest. But there were just some things better left unsaid. "Your uncle sounds like a good guy..."
Angela laughed into her drink at that comment, and came up for air with Sprite dripping down her chin. "It would depend who you ask. When I was 10, he gave me a picture of this car he had, waiting for him at some auto-wreckers in Houston. It was a 1968 Pontiac GTO, and he told me he was going to restore it, and give it to be for my sixteenth birthday." She chuckled again, but there was a mournful quality to it. "I thought Mom was going to set him on fire, she was so pissed. She chewed him out for the next half hour: 'she's going to get hurt' and 'you're not giving my daughter a muscle car before the ink on her license is even dry.' It was hilarious."
Bella caught herself laughing too, until something registered in the back of her mind. Angela spent her time driving around in a crappy Toyota Corolla that was missing a hubcap. Finally, she placed that note of sadness in her friend's voice. "What happened to him?"
Angela wiped her face with a napkin, and when she pulled it away, her somber expression had returned. "He's got second stage lung cancer. Doesn't really have the strength to do auto work anymore. Mom goes down and sees him about once a month, though. I think that helps a little. But I can tell he misses it." Something in her voice said that she already missed him and was mourning. Angela was losing someone by degrees.
Bella suddenly felt lucky, grateful – emotions she didn't typically experience. But the pain of ripping off a bandaid, of losing it all in a blink, was better than pulling out the stitches one by one.
Angela seemed strangely intent on pushing the noodles around her plate.
They were supposed to be having fun.
"Hey," Bella chirped, breaking the silence that was rapidly becoming unpleasant. "You never told me how your dance went. Don't think you're going to escape without giving me details. Not when you made me do a full play-by-play."
"That was different," she objected. "You went with a mysterious boy from the reservation who bought you a vehicle and helped you commit what was possibly criminal disposal of a dead body. I, on the other hand, went on a platonic date with my editor because he couldn't find anybody else, and now I'm not sure I'll ever be able to work with him again."
Bella grimaced sympathetically. "It was that bad?"
Angela mouth was set in a hard line, her lips pursed tightly together. She was trying to find a way to be nice, Bella could tell, but she was having a hard time. "Eric is a nice guy," she prefaced. "But he just has a different interpretation of what our…relationship is. I feel that it's strictly professional. He, on the other hand…"
"He tried to kiss you?" Bella asked, interpreting the silence.
Angela shuddered a bit. "Tried and was successful. It was either block his face, or hold onto my camera…" she said, letting her head drop back and staring skyward. "I just couldn't do it! That thing cost an entire summer's paychecks working at the church day care!"
Bella laughed quietly into the back of her hand. "I'm…so sorry…must've been…awful" she chortled, her voice cracking.
"Liar." She righted herself and glared at Bella over the frame of her glasses. "You're about as much help as my mother. She just thinks the whole thing is 'too cute'" Angela said, throwing air quotes out around her mother's words. "She just wants me to date more. I tried to explain to her that it's just not that easy. It's not like I'm Bella Sawn, where attractive and mysterious men from the other side of town just show up at my door and sweep me off my feet, while still respecting my personal space and not trying to plant one on me and…" Angela stopped mid-rant, and pushed her glasses back into position, staring at Bella through the lenses. Bella squirmed under her gaze and tried to will the fire in her cheeks to cool and disappear. "Spill," Angela ordered.
Bella groaned. "Yeah, he…sorta kissed me…too." Angela's smile evolved into a knowing smirk. "What?" Bella demanded.
"Nothing," Angela assured her friend, still completely unable to wipe away her grin. "I didn't say anything. Nothing at all. Not a word from me. Now hurry up and eat your raw fish. There's a place I want to swing by before we have to get my brothers."
"St. James Church? We drove all the way to Seattle and you want to visit a church?" Bella demanded they stopped outside. "I mean, no offense, but don't you get enough of that at home?"
Angela rolled her eyes and step out of the way of oncoming parishioners as they flooded out the door after the early afternoon mass. "For your information yes, I do get plenty of church visits at home. The only difference is that our church in Forks was built in 1979, whereas this one was built in 1885."
Angela shifted her messenger bag around to her hip and drew her camera out from its depths. "So, they recently did a full restoration of the architecture inside. I'm trying to put together my portfolio for my college applications, and my advisor at school said my artistic photos were 'lacking'. I just want to get some shots of the interior architecture – it looked beautiful in the article I read. Think you can behave yourself for that long?" she teased. "Or am I going to have to play the quiet game with you just like I did with my brothers?"
Bella laughed as she followed her friend up the concrete steps and into the vestibule recalling the sight of the twins in the backseat as they'd competed to see who could go the longest without talking. Thirty blissfully quiet minutes later James, the victor, had been more than happy to claim five dollars from his sister in prize money. "I thought Christianity frowned on bribery."
"Oh, please." Angela shot her a look over her shoulder. "That was not a bribe, that money was hard earned. For a ten year old boy, keeping his mouth shut is an act that requires some serious will power. I'm just helping them to develop said will."
"Yes, I'm sure your actions were entirely selfless…" Bella muttered, but she stopped her teasing as she and Angela crossed the threshold into the atrium of the church. "Holy…"
It was instantly obvious why Angela had selected this church for her photos. The ceiling was composed of a series of intersecting domes and arches, all colored midnight blue, and covered with a field of gold filigree 'stars'. Stained glass windows, several stories high, stretched upwards towards the intricate sky, making the walls glow pink and green and gold as the sun shone through them. It was an architectural feat by today's standards, but to think that something so impressive had been created without today's mechanics and technology…it was mind-boggling.
They weren't the only ones inside the massive structure. A few people lingered after mass, sitting by themselves in pews, heads bowed in prayer or starting off into space blankly, lost in thought. But they seemed undisturbed by her presence and by the soft clicking of Angela's camera, so Bella figured they were probably welcome inside. She wandered while Angela worked, admiring the artistic elements of the place as she went.
Still, welcome or not, Bella didn't feel entirely…comfortable. She and religion had a strange, if not strained, relationship. Like so many other elements of her life, Renee's religious views never remained static for long. Her spirituality shifted as rapidly as her taste in clothing or food. Deep down, Bella thought that what her mother actually loved the excitement of discovering new things, more than any of the new things she actually discovered. She was addicted to expanding her horizons, as much as she tried to deny it. That didn't really leave her and Bella with the ability to put down religious roots anywhere.
And unlike her mother, the abrupt changes didn't leave Bella with a feeling of excitement. They left her feeling like something of a gypsy – familiar with many places, but unable to really call any of them home. She'd been a Buddhist, a Taoist, Jewish for a brief time in fifth grade, she'd practiced meditation, prayer, and had even attempted interpretative dance as a form of worship, but never long enough for anything to stick. And so she followed Renee from one idea to the next until, by the time she left Phoenix, Bella had decided that religion was just a subject better left to more reflective and philosophical people than herself.
It left her with the feeling that this sacred ground was not hers to walk upon.
Her feet stopped their slow walk along the pews when a softly flickering light in an antechamber to her left caught her eye. Nestled into the alcove were hundreds of votive candles, both lit and unlit. Above them an intricate statue of the virgin mother seemed to keep watch over the flickering flames, her hand outstretched, her eyes downcast. Bella shivered for a split second as those porcelain eyes looked straight into her own.
Then, without thinking, she grabbed a tiny, wooden stick from the basket, and lit the tip of it. With shaking hands she transferred the flame to one unlit candle, then another, and another.
"Who are the candles for?"
Bella jumped, her heart leaping into her throat as Angela's voice broke her silent vigil. Behind her she heard a snap and saw a telltale flash, as her friend captured the flickering lights, and the haunting statue, on film. She sighed. The last time she'd been in a church like this one, it had been for a funeral. She remembered it in that dim, jagged quality that all childhood memories seem to take on after a while. Patent leather shoes and a pink ruffled dress, the feel of her mother's hand around her own. "My Nana and Pop. Charlie's parents were Catholic," she explained. She was relieved when Angela didn't ask about the third candle.
Some part of her felt horrible in that very moment, as though she was disgracing the dead, wasting their honor on the living. He's dead to me, she rationalized inside her head.
She hoped those her were truly gone would forgive her for this small comfort.
"It's strange seeing this statue here. It's one of the biggest points of contention between the Catholic Church and other Christian faiths," Angela murmured.
"What?" Bella asked. Gently she blew out the flame, and deposited the balsa wood stick in a basket by her feet. Behind her she could hear Angela clicking away, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the flickering candles.
"Mary," Angela answered. "The Catholics pray to her. Lots of other faiths consider it idolatry."
It was the kind of talk that she used to share with her mother, every time she had a change of faith. Or a change or heart. "What do you think?" she asked softly.
Angela drifted into view beside her, camera still raised. She shrugged. "I don't know. You have to admit that she was very brave regardless, going through what she went through. Imagine how scary it must have been: she was just a kid, and then all of a sudden she has this huge destiny dropped onto her shoulders. Literally, the survival of all mankind. It must have been terrifying."
But Bella was only half-listening. She drifted back into the church gallery, her head heavy as she collapsed into the nearest pew. Her mind churned with thoughts of supernatural losses and spiritual destinies. In hindsight, it all made so much sense, all the pieces fitting neatly together, part of some great cosmic plan.
So what was the reason behind her existence then? What was Bella Swan's destiny, aside from love…and loss?
Bella dug her nails into the cracks in the rough-worn pew beneath her. "Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? That, you know, God has some master plan for all of us?" she asked softly.
Angela turned and looked at her curiously for a moment before answering. "Are you really asking if I think there's a reason that you got hit by a van?"
Staring intently at the wood beneath her, Bella simply nodded.
Angela didn't say anything right away. She walked over to the pew and sat down beside her. With deft fingers she began cycling through the pictures she'd just taken, examining the working potential of each shot, and discarding the bad ones. With anyone else the actions would've seemed rude. But during the car ride earlier, Bella had learned that if anyone was the master of multi-tasking, it was Angela. Apparently when dealing with twins, the skill was a necessity.
In this case, Angela was using her pictures as an excuse to contemplate her response. "You know I read this article once, in Time I think. It was written by this life analyst, and it was exploring the theory of whether God is a sitcom viewer, or a video game player."
The odd response yanked Bella from her stupor, and she glanced up at her friend strangely. "I don't understand…"
"It was this piece about free will," Angela explained. "About whether we believe that God is watching the events unfolding here on Earth like a television show. You know, you can watch the characters and be affected by theirs moods and all, but you're also powerless to stop them, or control their actions. The other school of thought is that the world is a giant video game, with God controlling the individual actions of each person like they're his own, personal mustachioed Italian plumber." There was a soft beep as Ang skipped past the photos she'd taken at the café, keeping all of them.
"Ah," Bella said, finally understanding the point Angela had been trying to make. "And what did this article determine? What are we, the cast of Friends or Mario?"
Angela chuckled. "It was more the question posing type of article, than the answering type."
"Ah." Bella figured that she must have looked really crestfallen at that answer, because Angela put her hand on her shoulder and did her best to look reassuring.
"Look I…this is the sort of thing that I'm not really good at explaining," she said. "But if I've learned anything growing up in a family as spiritual as mine, it's this: I don't know if we control our own fate or not, but I do know that without a doubt, the one thing you do have control over is what you choose to make out of a situation."
"Are you saying that I should try and view the fact that I got run down by a car as a good thing?" Bella asked in disbelief.
"I'm saying that regardless of whether you were destined to get in a car accident, or it was just a random and unfortunate act, the one thing you can control is your perspective on the situation." Angela knitted her eyebrows together in frustration, her brow furrowed like she was trying to find the right words say what she meant, and failing. "My Dad is the eloquent one, not me, but bear with me," she finally pleaded. "It's like the women who find out they have breast cancer and decide they're going to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness about women's health as opposed to just throwing up their hands and admitting defeat. Look, what happened to you was awful, Bella. No one would ever argue otherwise. But maybe you can use this as a vehicle for something positive, as opposed to allowing it to turn into a rain cloud that follows you wherever you go."
"Something positive like what?" Bella asked softly. The accident had carved a gaping hole in everything she was, everything she thought she knew and loved…it felt too big. Too big for her to hold in her hands, and shape into something new and less devastating. But maybe the failing was her own. Maybe what she really lacked was the willpower, the strength to change her outlook on life. Maybe people like Angela were just tougher than she was…
As if Angela knew what she was thinking, at that very moment she reached out and covered Bella's hand with her own. "That's for you to figure out," she answered in a voice full of hope. "Maybe it's opened your eyes to a whole class of people in need of company and friends, people who aren't fortunate enough to have a family there with them in the hospital, like you did. You could become a patient volunteer or something?" In the midst of the somber moment, Ange let a small laugh roll off her tongue. "Or maybe it's made you want to be an advocate for an increased driving age – you could write to Congress about it. It doesn't have to be huge, either. Maybe you could just look at the accident as teaching you an important lesson about how short life is. Maybe you could use it to give yourself the nerve to try something you never thought you could do. Go skydiving or climb something."
"I…I don't…" Bella was stuttering again, trying to keep her composure, but Angela seemed to sense that she was getting upset.
"It's okay, it's okay," she assured her friend. "I'm not trying to get you to change your life as we sit here. I'm just trying to tell you that you don't have to be a slave to all the bad things that happen in life. Maybe it's unnaturally idealistic on my part, but just know that when everything else slips out of the realm of your control, the one thing you can never lose is your ability to change your perspective on the situation, okay? And trust me," she said, shooting Bella a warm smile and patting the camera on her lap affectionately. "I know a thing or two about perspective."
Despite herself Bella laughed wetly, managing to keep her tears at bay. "That was an awful joke."
"I know," Angela laughed along with her. "But you can't blame me for trying. I didn't mean to get all serious on you…"
"S'okay." Bella wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve. "I started it. Sometimes it just all feels overwhelming, you know? Like I'll never be able to make sense of it all."
"Which is why you have friends," Angela replied smartly. "You know, for giant heart-to-hearts and whatnot. Besides, you got me my shot." Angela turned the camera around and showed Bella the picture she'd saved: an image of Bella from behind as she stared up at the statute of the virgin. Bella took the camera from her friend and inspected the images more closely. The dark shadows from the flickering candles made the entire scene feel dark and morose.
"I don't know, seems like kind of a sad picture," she murmured. Angela snatched the camera out of her hand and tucked it back into her bag.
"I'm not so sure," she told her with a knowing smile. "Seems kinda hopeful to me. I guess it just depends on your perspective."
Bella felt utterly exhausted as she climbed the stairs to her room that night. Too tired to go into detail when Charlie asked how her day had been.
"Fine," she'd murmured. "Tired. Lots of walking."
She shut her bedroom door behind her, and as if by some strange compulsion, for the first time since that night she'd come home, Bella jammed a nail file between the warped wooden planks at the end of her bed, and pried up the loose floorboard. Her box was still in there, completely undisturbed, as were its content. She pulled out the note from Jake first, the ghost of a smile drifting over her lips as she re-read the words he'd written there. The greasy paper felt fragile in her hands, as though it was something not intended for the permanence Bella attributed to it. The second item was much harder to remove.
And had a much greater permanence attached to it.
She refused to let her eyes focus on the faces staring up at her until she'd set the photo down on her desk. By the light of the moon coming in through her window, the glossy faces of Carlisle and Esme, and a hundred medical students, smiled up at her. It was haunting, all those people looking at something, someone she couldn't see. Bella swore they were looking directly at her, out through the Kodak paper.
The first time she'd laid eyes on this photo, it had given her hope. That last strand to cling to when it felt like the rope was about to slip from her grasp. In her mind it had been proof that she wasn't completely insane. Proof that the Cullens, that Edward, had once called this place home. Had once lived and breathed and existed in proximity to her. And it had given her hope that that might one day be true again. That they might come back and…and what?
There was no answer to that question.
Because as much as that photo had given Bella hope, it had also destroyed it. Carlisle and Esme in the California sunlight, devoid of the mystery and magic that had once, in Bella's mind, surrounded them. They were human, and their son was human. And Bella was human too. Human and fragile and breakable. Damaged.
She was not meant to be special. Edward was not meant to love her. And this place, this world she was supposed to survive in and call home, became nothing more than a prison of normalcy.
"No more," she said to nobody but herself.
With quivering fingers Bella gripped the sides of the photo. It had given her hope. It had taken her hope away.
It had become an anchor. And Bella was tired of the carrying the extra weight.
Before she could lose the nerve, she tore the glossy paper in half. Then did it again. And again. And as the last scrap drifted from between her limp fingers, Bella waited for that feeling of relief to wash over her.
She was making her decision. She was taking her destiny into her own hands.
She was going to reclaim her life.
So then why didn't she feel any better? Any freer? The weight of all the things she remembered was still heavy on her shoulders, like some kind of demonic yoke that she couldn't manage to shake. She'd expected it to be gone now.
Somewhere in the background, Bella was dimly aware that the phone was ringing, but she ignored it, waiting for her moment.
It didn't come.
Rather, that sick, twisted feeling began to gnaw at the hollow place in her stomach. Something between doubt, and dread. It was the feeling of being powerless. It was that feeling that something was going to happen, something big. Something beyond her control.
Instead of being free of her emotional demons, Bella was beginning to feel like she was saddled with another one.
"Bella?" A soft knock on her door drew Bella from her thoughts. She whirled around to find Charlie standing in her doorway, holding the portable phone out to her. "It's your mother."
Trying to compose herself, she took the phone with shaking hands. "Hi, Mom."
"BELLA!" Renee screamed excitedly through the speaker. "Phil's got a contract! We're MOVING to CHICAGO, sweetie!"
A/N: First and foremost, I'm in no way, shape, or form qualified to make religious explanations or conclusions. Nothing in this chapter was meant to offend or prosthelytize. I'm not trying to push any agenda. I'm a pretty lapsed Catholic myself, so please forgive me if my Sunday School knowledge is a little rusty. If you have a problem with anything I've said in this chapter, please don't hesitate to PM me about it.
That being said, sorry for the delay guys. No excuses this time, just writer's block. But I'm back in action. Long chapter this time, but lots of it is going to be relevant later on, even if it doesn't seem so at first glance. Oh, and exciting news! DoB is up for a Bellie Award! Thanks to everyone who nominated it. Voting is open till 2/28, so don't forget to go to www[dot]thecatt[dot]net/tw/Vote[dot]aspx and vote for it in the Edward, Who category ;)
Also, St. James is a real Catholic church that has BEAUTIFUL architecture and was recently restored. However it's in Vancouver, WA, not Seattle. But it was so lovely in this picture I found, that I took some artistic liberties with its location: miniurl[dot]com/29307
Shameless Plugging: I recently got named one of A Different Forest's VIP authors. They're equal opportunity Twi-Fans, and I'm thrilled they decided to lend a podium to J/B fans like myself and Blueandblack. So swing on by and check it out at adifferentforest[dot]com. Sometimes (when I'm actually being a responsible writer) I even post excerpts and stuff in my cabin.
As always, thanks to Blue and Ceci for keeping me on track.