Love is Always an Option

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Stephenie Meyers, author of the "Twilight" series. The original characters and plot are also the property of Stephenie Meyer. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Bella, Chapter 1

Most of the passengers had started to gather their belongings as the plane taxied toward the gate. The weather at Sea-Tac airport was cooperative enough to allow a trouble-free landing, and the preoccupied murmurings of the people on board my flight revealed a kind of relief that we'd arrived without a lot of delay, or even turbulence.

This was probably the last time I'd make this trip with any permanence, not counting vacations back east, which I doubted I would take for a good long time. You don't move clear across the country unless you have some strong motivation to get out. Maybe some would disagree with my logic, but a really bad breakup was enough to propel me out of New Jersey, where I was born, raised and educated. I didn't want any reminders. I wanted to go where people didn't know me, because I thought that would allow me to heal and possibly even rebuild myself from the ground up, if that's what it took.

After a few months of searching online, I found a position open in a hospital in the small town of Forks, WA, on the Olympic Peninsula. It was far enough from New Jersey but close enough to Seattle for a day trip when I was in the mood for something more cosmopolitan than the only rain forest in the continental United States. I'm a registered pharmacist. After finishing school a couple of years ago, I got my license and my first job at a hospital in central New Jersey, pleased that my professional life was moving along smoothly. Then, after a torturous relationship that I never should have entered into – and of course I didn't realize that until it was too late – I applied for the position in Forks and was surprised when they called me.

Although the hospital's human resources rep said they were looking for a pharmacist with only a couple years of experience, I guess I thought they'd go with someone more local. But my references were good, my grades had been high and my board scores were excellent, so I was called for an interview. The Forks Hospital said they wanted to hire me pending approval of my Washington state license, and once that cleared, I got the job and a mighty long to-do list for moving out of my home state.

My friends thought I was crazy, but I thought I'd go crazy if I didn't leave. "Does it have to be so far?" moaned Colleen, my best friend from college. She knew how badly I'd taken the breakup with Bill, but never considered I'd choose relocation as therapy. "Look, you know he's a jerk , and you know there are plenty of other guys – decent guys – right here. You have to jump clear across the continental US?"

"Yeah, okay, so I'm redefining the term 'clean break.' Honestly, it's not just that," I told her. "I want to try this while I'm still young and stupid enough to have some success with it. I'll miss you so much," I murmured, putting my arm around her and squeezing her shoulder, "but this is a good challenge for me."

Colleen sighed. "Well, I always did want to see Seattle." I'd made her promise to visit me as soon as I got settled and had someplace reasonable for her to sleep, as opposed to the floor she'd conked out on so many times in my New Jersey apartment.

My family was accepting if not understanding. I explained to my dad that I wanted to see another part of the country, again using the argument that I was young enough to relocate and make a go of it. Dad isn't one who accepts change very easily, something that became even harder for him after my mother died about five years ago. At first, he reacted the way I expected, by questioning whether I could really live on my own so far away while managing a job, an apartment and a car. I closed him down with "I'll be fine," and then he didn't really argue with me any further. He seemed to think that I found New Jersey a difficult place to live for other reasons. "The cost of living here is too damn high anyway, and I'm not even sure what you get for it any more," he said, shaking his head. I didn't respond. Rather than explain some of the real underlying reasons, I thought it best to let him believe whatever worked for him.

And my sister Pat was surprised and upset, but more sympathetic. She knew a little bit about the rough time I'd had with Bill, but assumed I was working through it. We are close, but not close enough to push a discussion if one of us sends clear signals not to broach a subject. I extracted a promise from her also to visit as soon as she was able, and to bring her husband and as many of her three kids as she could. I would miss having someone within driving distance to be with when I wanted companionship but not at the price of a lot of conversation. She understands how introverted I am even though she is quite different. Familial ties, and a common appreciation of the environment we grew up in, gave us a strong relationship even if the communication was sporadic. I wondered if I would find people like me in Forks. How long does it take to figure out the right qualities in a potential friend, anyhow? It seemed a long time since I'd had to do that. Were all my relationships stuck in a rut? It was like I hadn't even noticed. Living in a new town where I knew no one would force me to deal with that. It would be as if I was in kindergarten again, except – as the saying goes – with money.

It was nightfall in the Seattle area, and I could see the lights of Tacoma, the atmosphere industrial and smoky, with enormous black patches rooted in the ground around us that I took to be evergreens. "Star light, star bright, you've got the lovin' that I like all right…Turn this crazy bird around, I shouldn't have got on this flight tonight…" Joni Mitchell's lyrics were running through my head all day. I'd been listening to too much "Blue," which was one of the standard albums issued to anyone who goes through a painful end of a relationship.

Everyone on the plane, which was full to capacity, stood up as the aircraft halted at the gate. We gradually began the slow shuffle to the front, some of us weary, some excited, some indifferent, depending on the reason for the trip. I gladly let others ahead of me, knowing there would be no one waiting for me in the terminal. I'd made arrangements to ship most of my belongings to Washington once I was assured the job was mine. After my second interview, I signed a lease on a small apartment on the second floor of a house outside of Forks' downtown, if by downtown you means two traffic lights, a post office, a cafe and what appeared to be half a dozen nail salons. Even the Pacific Northwest, it seems, was not impervious to the blossoming industry of manicures.

I maneuvered my way around the crowds to the baggage carousel and waited, wondering idly if my furniture, my books, my bike and my cookware had survived their trip to Forks. I had told my landlady, Mrs. Farrelly, that I would be coming in today. She was older and retired, and graciously agreed to wait for the movers to bring my furniture and boxes with all my possessions. I wanted to avoid putting them in storage, as I wasn't sure how they would fare in the humid, rainy atmosphere. Does Farberware get moldy?

I rented a car. I'd have to buy one, but for now, this would do. Weaving my way out of the terminal, I got on to I-5 and drove south, intending to cross the Olympic Peninsula while avoiding the traffic of metro Seattle. It was too dark to see Mount Rainier –a real shame, since it was so spectacular. It's not an exaggeration to say that the scenery helped convince me to move here. Although I couldn't actually swim in the cold Pacific Ocean and therefore considered the beaches to be pretty useless, there was such an abundance of natural glory that I knew I could spend ages driving through the whole state and never see the same place twice.

I'm not terribly good with directions but I had a thorough map, so I was able to find Route 12 and then connect to Route 101 North without a problem. I wished it was light so I could at least enjoy the drive, although arriving at night might help me get some decent sleep and start the next day early. I was tired, though whether from emotions or jet lag, I couldn't tell.

I didn't know what waited for me here. I knew more of what I wanted to leave instead of what I would or could find in this tiny town nestled in this one huge forest of an enormous state. What would the people be like here? The hospital staff I'd met while interviewing appeared friendly and competent. They'd made a good first impression, though I knew enough to reserve judgment until we'd worked together awhile. My landlady seemed to be a sweet old soul, and I wondered how our relationship would work out, too. She lived on the first floor. Would that become a liability?

I had a week before I started my new job. In between getting settled into the apartment on Hoh Street, I got my driver's license and checked with the Human Resources office at the hospital. There didn't seem to be much required of me before my first day. I'd already forwarded all my schooling and license records, so I settled on unpacking and organizing.

And it rained. Oh, how it rained. It wasn't a question of the weather being rainy or sunny or even just cloudy; it was more degrees of rain. At times it was beautiful, with great rolling clouds that delivered a mist which occasionally developed into more aggressive drops. Other times, it poured for so long and with such force that I wondered how the ground could possibly absorb it. But I wasn't in New Jersey any more; the development here, way outside of Seattle, was negligible. The enveloping green foliage appeared to welcome it, to appreciate the wetness and the lack of sun, and seemingly had done so for century after century.

I straightened out the kitchen first. I had an old table that belonged to my grandmother, with an unusual ceramic top and four chairs. I found the most suitable places for my dishes, cookware, spices and groceries, figuring I'd just move them around if it turned out I'd stuck them in some inconvenient place. Food was an essential part of my identity, and I knew I had to hold on to that. I enjoy the creativity that accompanies trying new ingredients and recipes, and – lately –less familiar cuisine. It's hard to cook for only yourself, but if I could work up the motivation to do that, I knew I'd feel better. I tried to cheer myself with the thought that perhaps before too long, I would have reason to prepare dinner for others besides myself.

The week went by uneventfully. The night before I started at Forks Hospital, I went through every routine I could think of to quiet my nerves. I set and checked the alarm clock four times to make sure it would ring so I could shower in the morning. I was working the day shift, so I had to be in at 8 a.m. and I certainly didn't want to be late. I had enough food for breakfast. I'd found all my toiletries and set everything up so it would be easy to find in the morning. Although I had a television, I'd forgotten to make an appointment far enough in advance so the cable company could come for installation while I was home, before I started at the hospital. Now, I'd have to wait a bit for that. I couldn't very well take off for a day right at the start.

Maybe if I read, I'd calm down and sleep enough to be awake on my first day. I dug through boxes of books, trying to find something that appealed to me, and wound up organizing them on a book shelf in my bedroom. I had a few more boxes left to unpack when I notice it was 10 o'clock and I knew I'd better pack it in myself.