Okay, this is my first ever fanfiction... take it easy on me.
I have to give a big shout out to bratty_vamp and my girl Mel for editing/validating me on this story. I couldn't have asked for more support from my homies over at ADF (.com). And thanks to my fabulous bestie Marcee for making an amazing banner (link on my profile).
*WARNING: some mild drug references in this chapter, so if that offends, this probably isn't for you.*
SMeyer owns Twilight... yeah.
"Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need to know of hell." ~Emily Dickinson
"Isabella! We have to hit the road!" My father's voice sent a slight echo up the stairs of our tiny, now empty house, reminding me for the third time in the last hour that we had to get a move on. We had to leave. Hit the road. Take off. I rolled my eyes and shoved the last of my socks into my duffle bag and heard the wistful, ragged sigh of my best friend Jacob. He was sitting on the other side of my bare mattress, picking idly at his fingernails, looking at the scuffed hardwood floor.
"Fuck, I know Jake. This blows. Don't think I don't know."
Moving. To California. Orange County. Making a trade I did not want: shadow and clouds for sun and surf. Why me? Why now? Why my dad? Why did he have to be so qualified for the job? Why did I have to leave Jake? He was my best friend, almost like a brother. The only constant I'd had during these crazy seventeen years. My mother was gone, and Charlie needed a way out of this town, a way to escape her memory. Some small part of me did too, but…
"Don't forget your pictures." The sadness of his deep voice cut through the silence, and he gestured to my old desk, where two photographs sat in white wooden frames. I heaved myself up from the mattress and made my way to the desk. I took in the image of Jacob and me from last summer's July 4th festivities at First Beach. Forks couldn't brag about much, but we always managed to get completely fucked up on the beach to celebrate our country. It had always been the highlight of summer vacation.
This day had been one for the record books. And Charlie had been so pissed when he saw the developed pictures, but still managed to laugh at this one, despite the fact that his only daughter was very obviously rebelling against her police chief father. Jacob and I had matching bandanas tied around our heads, throwing up matching sideways peace signs, lips pursed in our best attempt at "gangsta" expressions, chins jutting out just slightly. A cigarette hung loosely from my lips and Jacob was sporting a beer bottle in his left hand, one of many he had had that day. Through the slits of our eyes, I could see how bloodshot they were, from a combination of too much alcohol, marijuana, and hours in the rare sunlight. The plain black bikini top did no favors for my already pale skin, which needed no help looking anymore translucent next to my Native American friend. Jacob's long hair was a few shades darker than mine, although mine was tinged with bright red on the ends. My first foray into experimenting with hair coloring; Charlie had been shocked.
I chuckled at the picture, at the memory of that day, and clutched it to my chest.
The other framed image was of Embry, one of Jacob's friends from the reservation, planting a huge kiss on my temple, my arms wrapped tightly around his bare waist, holding him to me. The smile on my face did nothing to camouflage the feelings I had for that boy. It was taken on the beach, the same 4th of July, the world moving and carrying on around us, but Embry and I lost in our own little place in time. And on that day, he had walked on the beach with all of us, had thrown me over his shoulder and threatened to dump me into the always freezing water. He had drunk too many beers and smoked too much pot, and had invited me to sleep at his house when all the festivities were done.
We had developed a mutual affection for each other over the years. And through all the booze and the haze of that Independence Day, that affection came to fruition. Make no mistake, we had concerns: for each other, for Jacob, like a brother to us both, and for the weight of what we were doing. But Jacob approved wholeheartedly: a relationship from within his circle of friends was better than one with some idiot from Forks High who would in effect "steal me away." So Embry and I had drunkenly, but gently reached for each other in the darkness of his small bedroom that night, whispers of I can't believe we're doing this, and Are you sure? and How does that feel? seemed to reverberate off the walls with a crushing weight. That night was about learning and growing and sharing something no one else had ever had from either of us.
And when it was over and we were just an entanglement of limbs, our fingers entwined and resting on his chest, I talked to him like he was my best friend, just like any other day.
"Do you think it was a little soon?" I whispered into his shoulder. I was in uncharted territory now and it scared the hell out of me.
He rolled onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow to peer down at me, and suddenly pulled the plain white sheet up over both our heads and rested his forehead against mine. I laughed like a child and he smiled at me through his big brown eyes.
"Bella, I have known you for how long now? Since birth?" He leaned in and kissed me once on the tip of my nose, and then once quickly on my lips. "Do you really think…" Kiss. "I would be here…" Kiss. "If I were planning on making this a short-term thing? How would I escape you?" And then he kissed me slowly, deeply, our tongues slowly moving against one another, his finger tips trailing down my side and tracing unknown shapes and patterns into my skin.
And so it was then that Embry had become a fixture in my life as powerful as Jacob Black. We spent the next year together, and had ended this summer's 4th of July festivities the same way as the year before, in his bed, bodies slack against each other, talking and kissing and touching and pressing into one another until the early morning hours. There was never the need for a title of "boyfriend" or "girlfriend", even though I suppose technically that's what we were. We just existed and everyone had accepted it.
Still, Embry's words from that first night were on repeat in my mind as I stood there, holding our captured memory. "…if I were planning on making this a short-term thing." I had essentially gone and done exactly what I had been fearful of. I would be the one to leave.
"How is he, Jake?" I heard Jacob moving in my direction and closed my eyes when I felt his warm hand rest on my shoulder.
"He's fine, Bells. You two ended things the right way, the way every couple should strive to end something like what you had. He knows how you feel. He knows you don't want to go. But he also knows that you have to go be with Charlie. He doesn't resent you for backing off and ending things. Embry's a sensible dude."
I chuckled at Jake's word choice. There was never anything sensible about my relationship with Embry. But I wasn't big on the sensible either.
"And I think the guy really just fucking cares about you… we all do."
Jacob spun me around, a hand on each shoulder, until I was facing him. I now had both pictures crushed to my chest, which had begun to heave with emotion. Jacob silently took the pictures from my hands and placed them behind me on the desk again, then held me by my wrist while he reached down into his pocket. He retrieved a brightly colored friendship bracelet, handmade with strings in four different colors – one for each of us – Jacob, Quil, Embry, and myself.
It really always had been us against the world, and once my mother had gone, those three had become my entire world.
As he tied the string around my wrist, I watched as a single tear slid down my cheek and puddle on the old hardwood floor between us, the reality of the situation finally breaking through my self erected brick wall.
"I know it's not much in terms of a going away present, but the three of us put our heads together and thought you would appreciate this the most. It might be the lamest thing ever, but we're all wearing one." He extended his wrist to me and sure enough, his now matched mine.
Before I had time to respond to my gift, Jake was shoving a small, folded square into my palm. My name was written across the front of the blue-lined notebook paper in Embry's messy scrawl and I let out a breath I realized I'd been holding for quite awhile.
"What's this?" I asked through an escaping sob.
"Well, you didn't think he'd let you slip away without a goodbye, did you? You told him not to come here today, so he gave this to me and said I should make sure you got it, but not to let you read it until right before you leave."
The words made my chest ache once again, and I looked around my room, until my eyes landed on the cigarettes sticking out of my purse. I scooped up the photographs and quickly shoved them into my backpack before turning back to my friend.
"Come on, let's take a walk. I need a smoke in a bad way."
Jacob nodded his head once and lovingly tucked a strand of my brown hair behind my ear. So what if Charlie was in a hurry, it's not like he could leave without me. Although a part of me wished he would.
We set out on the familiar path behind my house, twisting and winding through the green forest of Forks, Jacob's arm slung lightly around my shoulder as I took long, slow drags from the cigarette, letting the nicotine and smoke of my bad habit fill my lungs. It seemed like there was so much to say in this moment, the last I would have with my best friend for I didn't know how long, but the silence was comfortable and I let my thoughts drift back to the day I told Jacob about the move.
He was the only one I had cried to at first, the only one who saw me wrecked with pain and feeling, the only one who knew I had begun to resent my father for so many things. He had held me close to him that stormy night, rocking me as I let my tears fall and my sobs heave within me.
"Orange County? California? Really? Who the hell wants to live there anyway?" I could hear the crack in Jacob's voice, even though I knew he was trying to make a joke, a valiant attempt on his part. And then there were no more jokes, only the facts. I was leaving and though Jake and I came up with at least ten different plans to convince Charlie to let me stay, there was nothing to be done.
So I decided not to let anyone else know about the move until the start of summer, including Embry. Jake and I kept everything from the other Quilluette's and from my friends at Forks High, not that there were all that many to keep it from there. And during the last week of school, I had told them I wouldn't be coming back for my senior year. Angela and Mike were the only ones who seemed really earnestly upset about it. Angela had cried a little on the last day of school and Mike claimed they would all try to come visit me, maybe during Spring Break.
When Jacob and I had broken the news to Embry and Quil, they both tried to maintain their masks of calm, but I knew they were frantic. I could practically see the wheels turning in Quil's head, and knew he was trying desperately to devise a plan.
"Hey buddy," I said, gently patting his leg and trying to demonstrate that I had come to terms with the facts. "Don't even worry about it. There is nothing you could come up with that Jake and I haven't already thought of. Promise."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. It wasn't the typical, goofy Quil grin, and I could feel the prick in my eyes at his defeated expression.
On the other side of me, Embry sighed heavily and ran his fingers through his hair. I met Jacob's eyes across the room and he nodded towards the door, suggesting I should maybe talk to Embry alone. I reached over and laced my fingers with his and whispered, "Let's get out of here."
My initial fear was that he'd been mad at Jacob and me for not telling him when we first learned of the situation. But instead, he seemed relatively calm, probably because I seemed calm as well. We weren't "exclusive", but everyone knew we were together. And as a semi-girlfriend, I probably should have told him from the start. We walked down the quiet street away from Jacob's house and had made it almost a whole block before either of us spoke.
"Look, Bells," he began, using my nickname, "I just want to know you're okay. That's all I'm worried about."
As indifferent as I had tried to be about my relationship with Embry, it was hurting me not only to leave Forks and Jacob and my friends, but also to leave all that we had. Maybe I had taken an air of nonchalance regarding my feelings for him. Maybe it could have been something bigger, something more if I had allowed it. Maybe for the first time, I was wondering just how strong his feelings were and realizing that I may never know.
So, I let him see me cry, and we stood in the light misting rain, Embry cradling my head to his chest while every ounce of my anger and sadness poured out of me. I was angry that this move was causing me to give this up. I was angry that our little group would be short one person in a few months. I was angry that I would begin my senior year of high school in a place where I knew no one and probably didn't want to. I was angry because I was suddenly unsure of so many things.
I cried all this out, and when the tears subsided, he brushed the wetness from my cheeks and kissed me in the rain. Neither of us would ever have to vocalize the inevitable: we knew that once it was time for me to go, this couldn't continue. The distance was too great and we were too young. We both knew all this.
And instead of talking, instead of making proclamations that wouldn't change the facts, we just clung to each other, his warmth radiating into my skin and shielding me from the chilly Forks air.
When we returned to Jacob's house, our clothes and hair sticking to our bodies and faces, Quil rushed to me and pulled me into a tight embrace. I threw my arms around him too, entangling myself with my quiet friend, and chuckled softly in his ear.
We never spoke of that day in the rain. The summer passed much as it would have even if I hadn't been moving.
And now it was ending. Now here we were.
Jacob and I sat in the comfortable silence, down the winding trail behind my father's house, which was now obscured by the greenery and the fog. I rested my head on his broad shoulder and listened to his slow, heavy sigh. We sat for several minutes, not speaking, the cigarette in my hand burning to nothing but ash. I flicked it to the other side of the path and pulled another from my pack, tucking it between my lips. Jake's smug expression lingered in my periphery and the silence was broken with my dry laugh.
"Don't think the chief would approve of my smoking in his truck. Better get them in while I can."
He rolled his eyes and smiled --- my own personal sun. I playfully nudged his shoulder and tried to match his grin, but knew I was unsuccessful.
"Man, I'm… well, I'm gonna miss the hell outta you, Bella."
"You gotta keep everybody in line while I'm gone. And by 'everybody', I mean Embry and Quil. You have to take care of yourself too, okay?" I pushed the tears back again, inwardly deciding that I would not cry again until I was alone in California.
Jacob nodded his head, his silent agreement basically meaning he would make sure he stayed happy and would keep the others happy in my absence. "You have to be happy, Bella. Try to make the most of it. Don't give Charlie a hard time."
It was as if he was reading my mind. I nodded my head, just as he had moments earlier, silently pleading with my eyes that he wouldn't ask me if I was okay. I wasn't. We were all losing something in this situation, and I hated it.
I went back to resting my head on his shoulder and just as I was finishing my smoke break, Charlie's voice came through the forest from the back porch.
"Bella? Bella, we have to go, kiddo!"
I couldn't help it. Despite Jacob's last words, I rolled my eyes at Charlie. Jacob caught me and then it was his turn to nudge my shoulder. "Bella…"
"I know, I know. Don't give Charlie a hard time. I'm trying." We began walking up the path toward the house and just as it was coming into view and Charlie shouted my name once again, Jacob spoke.
"Don't forget to read Embry's note. You have to before you leave."
I dug in my back pocket, where the neatly folded square had been shoved. "I'll, um, meet you back at the house, Bells… let Charlie know you're coming." And then Jacob was gone, leaving me alone with Embry's words. I sighed before reading the sloppy handwriting there.
This is it, huh? I probably won't be very articulate in this letter, and I know I'll forget something I should or want to say, but take it for what it is, okay?
You're one of the strongest people I know, and just like you seem to bounce back from everything else, you'll bounce back from this move too. You're my best friend and that has made more than just this past year incredible for me.
I left you a gift, it's in your mailbox. Spared no expense, so TAKE IT. I'll be by later on to make sure you got it.
Please learn to surf while you're living in Cali. But don't hurt yourself trying! I intend to have my first lesson when we see each other again.
I guess the only thing left to say is that I love you. Always have. And I hate that you're leaving, but please know that the memories don't go with you. We will always have those. Your friendship has meant more to me than anything else.
Stay true to yourself and don't forget where you come from. Don't forget that you are one of us.
I glanced down at the thick braided string tied to my wrist and knew that Embry was going to be fine without me. That should have made me hurt, but instead it brought me peace. Love does things like that to us. I took one long, last look around at the verdant haze of Forks, Washington and headed toward the house, smiling.
Jacob was loading my duffle bag into the cab of the moving truck and smiled when he saw the ease of my expression. He raised his eyebrows, questioning my mental state no doubt; to that I simply nodded quickly and smiled back.
"Well Jacob, tell Billy we'll call when we stop tonight. There's no way I'm driving all the way down in one day, but I know he'll be thinking I will want to try." My dad grabbed Jacob's hand in a firm handshake just before pulling him into an easy hug. And in that moment, I knew this move was hard for Charlie too. I knew he was leaving behind the same thing I was: Friends. When you've been through what Charlie and I have endured, when you lose your family, friends become all that matter. Billy, Jacob's dad, was Charlie's best friend. I had Jake and Embry and Quil. Charlie had Billy. These were the people who had helped us cope with the difficulty of losing my mom, these were the people who we called now when things were rough, who did the cheering up when we got down, who stood beside me through it all. We weren't just leaving friends. We were leaving family. Both of us were.
I felt the corner of my lip curl up at my realization, even though I was choking back a sob in my throat. The mailbox, where I knew Embry had hidden his farewell present, was at the front of the truck, and I made my way there before Jacob had his chance to envelope me in one of his bone-crushing hugs. The white metal box was cool to the touch and a few raindrops rested on its top. I flipped the door down and saw the square wrapped in brown paper, again with my name written across the front. Tucking Embry's folded letter back into my pocket, I pulled the package out and clutched it to my chest, releasing the deep breath I had been attempting to hold until we had crossed the other side of the Forks city limits.
"I really think you'll like what he got you, Bells." Jake interrupted my quiet moment, and I knew I would have to turn to face my brother when I felt his hand slowly creep up onto my shoulder.
Letting out a small whimper, I quickly turned my head into his chest and let his big arms gather me up, just like always. He stroked my hair and made soothing statements in my ear.
"It's not goodbye, okay? It's see you later," he whispered. I nodded, allowing him to bury me deeper in his warmth. "You know I'm always gonna be here for you, Bella. Even California can't keep me from my sister. I'm always only a phone call away."
He rocked us for a few more moments, and I was thankful that Charlie just let me be there with him. Jacob's chest heaved once against my cheek, and I knew he was crying with me. When I pulled back, I didn't immediately look up at him, but instead brushed the tears from my cheeks in an act of composure. Jacob's hand lifted to his own cheek and swiped at it quickly.
"Moment of truth, huh?" I looked up at him finally and quirked an eyebrow. He smiled and we bumped fists.
"Call me tonight. Don't forget or I will assault your phone with text messages."
I smiled at him and moved to the passenger side of Charlie's truck and yanked the door open as Jacob stepped away from us and stood by his Volkswagen Rabbit. As I hopped in and shut the door quickly, a cool Forks breeze blew through my hair, and I drank it in. I would miss this place. I would miss cliff diving with my boys and fishing trips on Lake Crescent. I would miss skipping school and getting caught down at the rez. I would miss weekly marathons of the latest lame series Quil would decide to watch. I would miss cookouts and bonfires at the beach. I would even miss the rain.
I waved one last goodbye to Jacob Black and blew him a kiss for good measure. Charlie sighed gruffly as he turned the ignition and I forced a tight smile for him.
All I could do was nod. I had to shut my eyes, had to stop any more tears from falling. I didn't want to see my home zooming past me through the window of the truck. I wanted to feel the wet, mossy ground beneath my feet. I wanted to be back in my best friend's warm embrace. I wanted to rest my cheek on Embry's strong chest and feel his heart beat against it. I wanted to see Quil's bashful smile and let his happiness fill me up.
And when I opened my eyes, Embry's gift still lay there in my lap, unopened.
I ran a hesitant finger down the front and hooked my fingernail into a seam in the wrapping before ripping it open.
A brown, faded leather book with a bare cover lay there, and I smiled. Upon flipping the cover open, Embry's recognizable handwriting was scribbled across the first page:
Start writing, you know you want to.
Make sure to 'see the sign.'
See the sign? What in the bloody hell?
And when I looked up, he was there. Standing on the edge of the road, his old beater truck parked on the shoulder, right next to the huge wooden sign that said, "Now leaving Forks, Washington."
I laughed out loud and saw Charlie shaking his head in amusement. "Those friends of yours…"
"They are the best," I whispered, and pressed my hand firmly against the glass in farewell. Embry smiled broadly and placed a hand on his chest, right over his heart, before raising it to wave goodbye to me.
Charlie and I drove south for several hours, before finally deciding to stop for the night, somewhere right along the Oregon/California state line. His eyes were becoming lazy and I was too afraid to drive while hauling the trailer behind us. Accidents were too much my forte to risk an endeavor like that.
The Holiday Inn Express off I-5 did have something we were both interested in: hot showers and free breakfast in the morning. After pulling through a drive-up window at McDonald's, we checked in for the night, and I let Charlie have the first shower while I slowly sipped the sugary sweetness of my Coke and decided now would be a good time to call Jake.
His enthusiastic voice boomed through the earpiece of my cell phone and we talked until Charlie emerged from the shower, clad in his flannel pajama pants and a white undershirt. He wanted to talk to Billy, so Jake and I put our conversation on hold until the adults were done with small pleasantries.
Jake informed me that the rain hadn't stopped since I left and I thought to myself, "Forks must be weeping at my departure." I told him about Embry's parting gift and his waiting for me by the sign.
"Bella, he's fine. I saw him just about an hour ago. He is even smiling. And he expects you to do the same."
"Sure, sure. I'll do my best. Tell the boys we made it and I will talk to you guys again soon."
As soon as I had hung up with Jake, I picked through a bag of chips while Charlie nibbled on his probably cold French fries. Our conversation hadn't amounted to much during the drive so far, as I had kept my nose buried in back issues of Rolling Stone. Surely Charlie was feeling that I was probably angry and not amused at his new choice in jobs, so I finally cut the silence.
"So Dad, tell me about the townhouse."
His gruff voice echoed across the room, no doubt excited at my sudden interest in all things California. He told me what he knew about the house, it's location ("Only a few blocks from the beach"), the type of schools in the area, and some of his co-workers.
"Apparently, another new guy in the division lives just across the street from us. He's got a boy about your age. They came up from Texas about a year ago."
I nodded my head as Charlie continued his spill, finally ending with, "I really think you'll like it there, Bells."
Turning my eyes from Charlie, I acquiesced and nodded, resolving myself to genuinely pretending to like the new locale.
"I know you'll miss your friends in Forks…" He trailed off, letting the thought hang in the air. Anger stung at my eyes again, but I really had no one to direct the anger towards.
"I think I'm gonna take a shower, dad. Get some sleep, huh?"
Remote in hand, Charlie turned his double bed down and nestled himself into the covers as I retrieved some shampoo and clean pajamas from my duffle bag.
I let the shower run as hot as my skin could stand it, reveling in the scalding water beating down through my long hair and washing all the tears away with it. Eventually, I curled myself onto the ceramic floor and pulled my knees into my chest, letting the steam and the heat envelope me, cleansing me of my anger and hurt. Charlie is not to blame. Charlie is not to blame. If anything he had been my salvation, my saving grace. This move was only because he had our best interest as a family at heart. The only thing I could legitimately place on his shoulders was courage.
He had been strong for me, choosing not to fall apart after he lost my mom. And if anything, that had kept me stronger as well. So why start falling apart now? Not everything had to be about loss. Embry and Jake and Quil were not gone forever. Just like I had picked up the phone and called Jake, I knew I could call on any one of them at any time. Hell, for all I knew, if I needed them, they would pick up and drive all twenty hours to California to help me.
But the memories… they are all left behind now.
I stood and quickly washed my hair and body, then stepped from the tub to dry off. I donned my own pair of flannel pants and a white wife beater before twisting my hair onto my head and giving my teeth a quick brushing.
Charlie was snoring softly, just like I knew he would be. The remote lay on his stomach, the TV glowing softly and emitting almost no sound from the Weather Channel. I grabbed my purse and the room key and decided hydration was in order. I ducked out of the hotel room as quietly as possible, lighting a cigarette on my way to the vending machine.
The first text from Embry came as soon as I had opened my bottle of Aquafina.
"Jake tells me you made it to stop #1. Call me if you can. –E"
I smiled and decided that now was as good a time as any.
"Yes, phase one of the Bella/Charlie road trip adventure has come to a close. Phase 2 begins in the am. Why are you still awake? –B"
I sat on the stairs outside of the hotel room and waited for his reply, quietly sipping my water and picking at a loose thread on the hem of my pants.
My phone gave signal of his response.
"I'm keeping your side of the bed warm. ;-) –E"
I chuckled to myself and rolled my eyes before hitting the "send" button on my phone and waiting to see the screen flashing "Calling: Embry Cell."
He picked up on the first ring. Eager, horny boy.
"Figured that would get you to call." I could hear the smile in his voice.
"You must really be missing me, Embry Call."
"Not near as much as you're missing me though, Swan."
I paused, wavering in my resolve to just find the friendly feelings I once harbored for this man. In that moment, I would have given anything to be lying there with him.
"Bella… you there?"
"Yeah, sorry. Just sort of dazed and confused right now I guess."
"Are you… will you be okay, Bella?" He was so genuine in his concern that I could feel that uncalled for, needless anger rising up in me again. My heart ached for the familiar green of Forks, for the lumpy mattress I knew Embry was lying on at that moment, for the people I loved.
"I really loved your present, Embry. Thanks."
"Bella, don't make me worry about you, please. Say it right now. Tell me you're going to be okay."
I smiled and could hear him smile back through the phone. Recalling my thoughts from the shower, my mind settled again and I was able to comply with his demand.
"I'm fine. I will be fine. I promise. Goodnight." I pressed my lips to the mouthpiece of the phone and kissed loudly. Embry's laugh filled me up before the call was ended.
Trudging back into the room, the clock on the bedside table glowed an ominous red: one am. I was sure there would be several more text messages to pass between my three friends and I as I typed out a message to Quil, and exhausted, let my head hit the pillow.
Tomorrow, the ocean would be in front of me. The California sun would beat down on my face. There would be sand and surf and a new house at some point. I glanced over at Charlie as a soft snort issued from his nose.
After all that my father had done for me, the least I could do for him was make the most of things.