I tapped my pencil on the paper absentmindedly, struggling to read and retain while Mike sat across the room, picking out a melody on his guitar.
"Would you shut up please?" I finally asked, exasperatedly throwing my pencil down. "I'm trying to study here and you're not making it any easier.
He looked up, his dirty blond hair falling into his eyes. To the casual observer, it looked like he'd just gotten out of bed. I knew that he spent at least an hour every morning getting it to look that way. Man spent more time in the bathroom than I did. "I've got this song in my head and I have to get it out and on paper before I lose it." He didn't sound very apologetic. "Besides, it's MY apartment. You've got your own place, go there to study."
I gritted my teeth. He KNEW why I didn't want to go back to my place. Tanya had her latest flavor of the month over and they were being disgusting as usual. But, given the alternative, I started throwing my books in my bag, grumbling under my breath. He gave me a lopsided grin as I grabbed everything up. "See you tomorrow?"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, sure, whatever."
I headed downstairs, mulling over the possibility of going to a coffee shop instead. When I reached the car, an old red pickup I loved, I tossed my backpack in the backseat and headed out. A couple blocks down, I heard the annoying strains of some rock song I hated that was my younger brother Jasper's particular ring tone. I growled in frustration as I drove with one hand and dug around in the cavity of my purse to find my phone. I just put it in there 30 fucking seconds ago, how was it already at the bottom of the fucking bag? I dug it out and flipped it open.
"What?" I snapped.
"Bella…." His voice was strained, desperate. "Bella, you've got to come home. Dad…" he gasped out a sob "Dad's dead."
I just about drove up on the curb. "What?" I asked, stunned.
He was crying now. "He died, B."
"What happened? My dad? Charlie Swan?" I was fighting back sobs as I pulled into a gas station parking lot.
"He just…died. I don't know. B, you've got to come home. I don't know what to do…" he broke off and sobbed harder.
I pressed my forehead against the steering wheel, fighting back the waves of shock. "Hey, hang on. I'll be there as soon as I can. I've got a few things…" I stopped, a wave of emotion hitting me. "Oh Jasper, hold on, honey. I'm coming."
"Bella?" this was an unfamiliar voice.
"Um, hi?" I fought back the sobs making my chest ache.
"Hi, this is Lillian, Roger's mom?" I racked my brain to remember who Roger was. "We're going to take Jasper home with us until you get here, ok? I'll have Jazz text you the address."
"Oh, thanks," I breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn't have to sit at the house, or worse, the hospital, alone for the next however many hours it would take me to get there.
"Drive safe, sweetie. We'll call who we can for you, ok?"
"Thanks," I repeated numbly, wondering who the hell Roger was and how Jazz got so lucky to know him and his mom.
I flipped my phone close without much of a good bye and called Mike. It went to voicemail. Still working on the damn song. I growled my frustration and left him a hasty message, explaining what little I knew.
I pulled out of the parking lot and swung around, an illegal u-turn to head back to campus. I parked and hurried into the English building, searching for Dr. Crane's office. The door was shut and locked. I jiggled the doorknob hopefully, then rested my head against the smooth wood. I turned around and leaned against the door, fighting the ache in my chest.
I composed myself quickly, then hurried out to my car and grabbed a notebook out of my backpack, tearing a page out. I hastily wrote out an explanation, asking Dr. Crane to please excuse me from my class tomorrow. I folded the note in half and ran back inside. I shoved the note under the door, then ran back to the car. I didn't pay much attention and before I knew it, I was at my apartment.
I rushed up the stairs and into my apartment. I ignored the grunts coming from Tanya's room and hurried into mine. I dug my suitcase out from under the bed and began throwing stuff into it. I didn't really pay attention to what was going in the suitcase, just ensuring that shirts, pants and underwear made it in. I froze when I reached for my only black dress. I pulled my hand back, refusing to go there. Dad didn't deserve black. I searched through the closet, finally finding what I was looking for. I stuffed it and a matching pair of heels into the bag.
The drive home was long. Normally a three hour drive, I somehow made it in two. Every time I tried to broach the topic of Dad in my mind, my eyes would cloud up. At one point, I pulled over on the highway and threw up until there was nothing left in my stomach. I rested my forehead on the steering wheel for a few minutes until I was calm enough to drive. I forced myself not to think of anything after that, other than Jasper.
At fifteen, Jasper was still in that whole awkward boy phase. Too tall and skinny to be anything but clumsy, with hands and feet that just got in his way, causing him to fumble and trip a lot. He looked a lot like Dad, a messy mop of dirty blond hair that looked startling against his olive skin, dark brown eyes and an infectious laugh that you couldn't help but join in on. I hadn't seen him since Spring Break six weeks ago, but then he'd dwarfed me. The kid was easily 6'4" already.
I pulled up in front of a neat one story red brick bungalow, checking the address for about the 10th time on my phone. I took a deep breath and climbed out of the car. I was halfway up the walk when the door flew open and a tangle of legs, arms, and blond hair threw itself at me. Jasper slammed into me, nearly taking us both down. I wrapped my arms around my "little" brother as he cried.
"What happened?" I asked when I pulled away from him and looked up at him.
"Shit, B…it's all my fault." He looked so pained when he said that, I couldn't help but shake my head.
"I'm sure you're wrong. What happened?"
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand up on end. Perfect bed head without the hour of work that Mike put into it. "He was mowing the lawn and…he collapsed. I was supposed to do it last weekend but I didn't 'cause I went out with some friends to a movie. If I'd done it he would be ok, B. He'd be here." He started to cry again and I pulled him to me awkwardly.
"If you'd mowed the lawn, then maybe he'd have collapsed somewhere else. It's not your fault." His body shook against me as he cried. I didn't know what else to do so I rubbed circles on his back.
"Bella?" I looked up and saw a woman with immaculate blond hair pulled back into a French twist. "Hi, I'm Lillian." I nodded. "Come on in, there's a few things to talk about."
I managed to maneuver Jasper into the house, where a short kid who looked to be about his age took his arm and led him into another area of the house. Roger. I followed Lillian into an amazing kitchen, settling myself into a bar stool and gratefully accepting a glass of water.
"Your dad collapsed this afternoon mowing the lawn. A lady walking her dog saw him and did CPR. Someone who was driving by called 911 and the paramedics got there and took over. They got him back to the hospital and they did everything they could, but…he was gone, sweetie." She reached over and squeezed my hand. "They think it was his heart. He was just a heart attack waiting to happen, they said."
I nodded numbly. Dad ate pretty well, but heart disease ran in the family. With a pang I thought of my older brother Emmett. "Has anyone called Emmett?" I asked.
Lillian shook her head. "No, Jasper couldn't remember quite how to do it. And it's something like 12 hours later there." I nodded. "Bella, there's one more thing. You need to go identify the remains. Jasper wasn't old enough for the legal purposes." I groaned inwardly, then nodded.
"Can you keep Jazz while I go do that?" She nodded. I downed the last of my water, then headed out.
I drove automatically to the hospital. I couldn't think how many times I'd been here growing up. Since Jasper and Emmett and their friends were always doing something stupid, not to mention I was a total klutz, we made at least one trip a year to the ER. I pulled up in front of a side entrance, where Lillian had told me someone would meet me, and waited. After a few minutes, a youngish man in blue scrubs walked out the door. I stepped towards him.
"Are you family of Charlie Swan?" he asked. I nodded. "Follow me."
We walked through quiet, dark hallways before coming to a small area with several patient rooms branching off of it. He pointed to one. There was a body laying on the table, a white sheet pulled up over it. Funny, I always thought that was made up for the movies.
I stepped forward, suddenly nervous, and reached down to pull the sheet back. My breath caught in my throat when I saw Dad's face.
I stared down at Dad. This wasn't him. It couldn't be. There had to be a mistake. Some truly fucked up joke. I looked around, desperate for someone to jump out, laughing. Nothing. The room was quite. All the machines were off. I reached out a shaking hand and smoothed Dad's hair. It was standing up, messy like he'd just woken up. Everyone has bedhead, I thought ironically. His skin was cold to the touch. He looked….surprised. Like he wasn't expecting this. I picked up the corner of the sheet they'd put over him and gently wiped at the blood coming from his nose. "Why is he bleeding?" I asked the nurse without turning around.
"We're not really sure," he admitted.
I nodded and wiped the renewed sluggish flow. I picked up his hand and held it tight, squeezing it, wishing desperately for the return squeeze that always came. Nothing. Tears pricked the back of my eyes and my throat ached. Impulsively I crawled up onto the table and rested my cheek on his chest, surprised at the small amount of residual heat over his heart. I stayed there for a while, then climbed down and nodded at the nurse. "Thanks for letting me see him one more time." He nodded sympathetically.
I followed him out of the room, quickly filled out the necessary paperwork, and then headed home to see Jasper.
It hit me as I pulled up in front of the red house that I was it for Jasper right now. Emmett was thousands of miles away in fucking Russia being all he could be in the fucking Marines, Mom was who the fuck knew where in Africa. Both would be difficult to contact and both would have a hard time getting home. I felt sorrier for Jasper than anyone. He was not only left without a dad at 15, but he was left with me as his guardian.
I dragged myself up the walk to the house. Everything in me hurt and my chest ached from the tears I wouldn't let myself cry. I had to be strong for Jasper. He couldn't see me lose it, even though I desperately wanted to.
The door swung open for me and Jasper grabbed me in a hug again, this time much more gently. He must have realized he was twice my fucking size. "Can we go home?" he asked, his voice breaking.
I nodded and we started back down the walk. I turned and waved over my shoulder at Lillian and Roger who stood in the doorway looking concerned for us.
"Thanks for everything," I said, my voice catching in my throat.
She nodded. "We'll be over first thing with breakfast. You two just sleep."
I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded. Jasper climbed into the truck, careful not to put his feet on my suitcase. We drove in silence the five minutes it took to get to the house. It didn't take more than five minutes to get anywhere in this one horse fucking town. Part of me hated Forks right now. It was an irrational part that thought maybe, if we'd grown up in Seattle, the doctors could have saved him.
I sighed as I pulled into my spot at the familiar white two story house. Stupid, I knew. Carlisle Cullen was a great doctor and loved Dad. He wouldn't have stopped until he knew for a fact that nothing more could be done. Even then, he'd probably have kept going until someone told him to stop. He was the father to Emmett's best friend Edward, so Dad and Carlisle were always talking about some stupid shit the guys did. Being the president of the hospital and the chief of police, there wasn't much Em and Edward could get into without our dads finding out.
Jasper flicked on the light in the living room and I looked around numbly. It was just like it had always been: old furniture that didn't match set in a semi-circle around an old scarred coffee table and facing a nice entertainment center. Dad never saw much point in having nice furniture as long as my brothers and I were home. He didn't mind having nice electronics, though. We'd always had whatever was hot and new before a lot of other kids did: cell phones, iPods, laptops, all of it. Dad wanted us to be on top of technology.
Jasper was already heading upstairs to the room that he and Emmett had shared for 8 years before Em joined the marines and shipped out. It was a bigger room than mine, but there were two of them and they were huge. I followed him up and got to the top of the stairs just in time to see his door closing behind him with a quiet click. My eyes strayed to the closed door of Dad's room and I felt a bubble of grief well up in me. I swallowed it down and headed for my small corner room.
This hadn't changed, either. Still small and cramped, a full size bed taking up a huge part of the room. There was my tiny desk in the outer corner, my bed in the corner to the left of the door, and the closet in the third corner. I set my suitcase down by my desk and dropped my purse into the rocking chair under the window. I toed out of my shoes and pulled my jacket off, dropping it on the desk chair. I knew I should change, but I was exhausted. I crawled into bed, pulling the comforting old quilt around me and drifted off to sleep.
Tali: This is something I've been working on off and on as a way of dealing with the grief of my own dad dying. The way Charlie dies and the way Bella says goodbye (minus crawling up on the table, though I did drape myself over his chest) is exactly what happened to my dad. Today is the 3 month/1 day anniversary and it hurts just as much now as it did then. Let me know if you're interested in reading more of this story or if you think it should just end here.
Thanks for reading!