It was difficult to acknowledge what I had done, once I was wise enough to have figured it out. Nothing but the passage of time, as Charlie was fond of saying. I wondered what his face looked like now; for more than two years our only conversations had happened over the phone. My mother had welcomed me back to the dry heat of Phoenix with open arms, and murmured quietly that some things were never meant to be. I didn't know whether they understood the way their perspectives collided with their own relationship. Time had hardly wiped the traces of Renee from Charlie's mind, and my mother's emotional dependence on him had never wavered in spite of her most recent marriage. Perhaps she'd fought a bit too hard against what she'd determined herself was never meant to be, but certainly was anyway.
Love is like that. Shamelessly thwarting our best intentions, brutally negotiating the standards we hold for ourselves. Love is unkind that way.
I was wise enough now to have figured all of this out, but only after navigating a long, lonely journey by myself. Only after the damage was already done. Coming home to Forks—to Charlie, to every miserable, raw, beautiful memory—was the end of the road for me. And now I was too old to ignore what I had done to everyone I loved the last time I'd been there. I thought of Edward, and the weighty responsibility his long life experience had given him, and sighed. Just another apology I'll never get to make.
I yawned as my truck crossed the state line a little after midnight. The timberline was dense and foreboding, but I welcomed it. The slight mist in the air made me nostalgic and lifted the veil off of memories I hadn't picked apart in many months. Driving through the vast, arid desert between Phoenix and the blunt, wet dark of the Pacific Northwest was a startling experience—like driving between my conscious and subconscious mind, from the reasonable, wakeful world to the endless, silent sleep the trees lulled me to. I had never slept well in Phoenix once I returned. If I were a writer, and not only a reader, I may have been inspired by the changing landscape. As it was, I just picked through the images my journey provoked in my mind, and let myself wash over with regret, longing, shame, and joy. You know. The typical by-products of a long road trip by yourself.
And it had been a long road trip. In fact, it had been so long, that I wasn't going to make it to Forks tonight. Even though it seemed close after such a long drive, the Washington state line was the furthest thing instate from Forks. I knew very well that the pack didn't make it down this far regularly on patrol, but I also knew that their enemies wouldn't have made it a point to stay once they could tell I'd moved on. Victoria had never made her grand appearance in Phoenix, and I suspected that the Cullens had found her long before she could end my life.
Or perhaps….perhaps she had realized that once Edward and I were no longer mates, the sting wouldn't be fatal to him. Perhaps she was laying in wait for his next…companion. I smiled bitterly and pulled over at a well-lit rest stop. This would be fine for six hours sleep. I was sure Charlie would be wide awake when I showed up at six am, and it wiped the bitterness from my face to think he might even have breakfast waiting for me.
He'd been right, I mused to myself, my eyes closing, the radio off. Driving through Vegas had added time to the trip, but it had been worth it. The crush of people, the shock of neon…Jake would have liked Vegas. I could feel another rueful smile on my lips as I drifted off, the doors locked and the key still in the ignition.
Just another apology I'd never get to make.
What was that?
I awoke with a sharp inhale, my eyes ripping through the dark outside the comfort of the cab. The truck's body was so high off of the ground I felt as though I were floating for a moment, forgetting where I was. Gentle rain tapped on the metal roof. I looked around for the comforting presence of the sun, and then, shaken, remembered exactly—exactly—where I was.
Then I heard it again. The same sound that woke me, a sound from a horror story Billy had told us kids around a campfire, once long ago. About young teen-agers on lover's lane, and a man with a hook for a hand.
And then they heard it again, a high pitched squeaking sound…like the sound a knife might make scraping along metal. Like the sound that was slowly moving towards the front of the cab, along the bed of my truck. My hand reached for my keys in slow motion. They were scared—it got louder, and louder, and louder—the wide-eyed face of a young Jacob flashed in front of my eyes—and came closer, and closer and closer--
Billy's words twisted the key just as my side window exploded. Glass enveloped me and the engine roared to life, the only sound resonant enough to compete with the scream of an angry vampire. A thin white arm snaked towards me, then began to feel blindly for a grip. They were going to climb in the car. They were going to kill me.
Every smug thought I'd had about Victoria mere hours before haunted me in the split second it took me to know what to do. If I wanted to live, I had one choice—crush it. The truck was strong enough—they could stop me from moving, but only if they got in front. Whoever this was wasn't thinking strategically; I could hear the taunting words coming from its mouth but my mind wasn't registering them. I smashed the gas pedal down and the truck barreled towards the brick building housing the toilets, swinging the wheel like a racecar driver. It was halfway in the truck, the glass useless against its slick, hard skin. It was her.
Victoria must have been beautiful in life. Once she was sure of herself, the feline nature of her movements terrified me, her eyes locked on mine and a wicked hiss escaping her feral mouth—we were going to hit in less than three seconds. One--the truck picked up speed as it raced towards the low, strong buildings, and out of my peripheral vision I saw Victoria turn almost imperceptibly--two—she began to push herself aggressively towards me, the leather seat ripping beneath her hard nails like wet paper—three—impact. I swung the wheel at the last perceivable second and smeared her lower body against the building. Outrage flashed in her eyes and then, just as suddenly, it was replaced by confusion.
And then she was gone.
I didn't take my foot off of the gas pedal. I continued the wide arc back towards the highway, picking up speed and honking my horn on the off chance there was anyone—anything, anybody—in the way. Of me, or of her.
She was nowhere in my rear-view mirror, but I knew she knew where I was going. There was only place where someone like me could be safe from demons like her. I shuddered to think I was luring her directly back to Charlie, and to Jake. Tears slipped down my face, my hair matting to them, my breath coming in short, hard gasps as I scanned the sky for the sun. Nothing. The clouds told me she would have all the cover she needed to run, even in daylight.
I'd have to tell Charlie I wasn't staying after all. In fact, I'd have to tell Renee I couldn't come home to her either. There was nowhere I could go, nothing I could do, to prevent hurting the people I loved.
Same old Bella. Some things never change. I swore softly to myself and pushed the truck up to ninety, the trees whispering by in a thick blur. Every time I thought I saw a glimpse of white I felt my heart seize, and then, after an hour, I slowed down again. It was just a little further, and I wouldn't get there at all if the engine gave out. I calmed myself with deliberate deep breaths, trying not to cut myself on the glass littering the seat. Charley's face when he saw me would be heart breaking; after all this time, I was coming home a real mess, driving a wreck and bearing a curse right to his front door…unless. Unless, I thought to myself, I find the pack first. Then we might have a fighting chance—then I might be able to rectify the mistakes of the past…No. I shook my head quickly, staring in to the dark ahead. Don't count on it, Bella. Don't count on changing the past…just see if the pack can help you with the present. That's all.