Ummm… Hi. My bad.

Let's get started, shall we?


The assumption that seeing is believing makes us susceptible to visual deceptions.
-Kathleen Hall Jamieson


The week had started out nail-bitingly stressful, but I was determined to end it on a high note with that date of mine.

Exams were a bitch to get through, but my final scores allowed me to pass the semester with a 3.5 GPA. My professors were eager to get through the stacks of exams and start their holidays off right, so my grades had been immediately ready to view online.

I was a little pissed with myself for earning a mediocre C grade in math, but it was passing and I never have to listen to Professor DeSantos's acerbic voice lecturing me on the duller points of college algebra ever again.

I had been so focused on passing final exams that I had completely forgotten about Christmas gifts. Luckily, I had already prepared a list of gift suggestions to buy for each person. Yesterday, I had gotten through the bulk of it while out with Alice and Rosalie. Today, I was crossing off the remaining names… well, I was trying to.

Rosalie was the easiest to shop for. I had decided to replace the Louis purse I had ruined, but it was attached to a price tag that was half of my bank balance. So, I settled on a Tory Burch satchel. I remembered what I did to her now-ruined white purse and added a matching wallet.

As for the others, well, cheerful Christmas shopping became aggressive gift hunting. Maybe it was my shitty mood, but I couldn't find jack shit in any of the stores I had visited. The Pike and the local mall was a bust, so I decided on visiting the boutiques that lined the streets of downtown Seattle. I was tired, my clothes were damp and I regretted only having a salad for lunch. I was all around really fucking cranky.

Mom, Alice and Tanya were the hardest people to shop for. Mom and Alice because what can you give them that they don't already have in a different color? And Tanya was picky with everything – food, clothes, accessories, colors. She loved aqua, but it had to be the perfect shade or she wouldn't even consider touching it. Oh and she thinks gift cards are impersonal.

I love Tanya and all, but shit! On our last mall trip before she had left for Chicago, we had spent two hours looking for the perfect black lace bra and panty set – a goodbye present for her final high school boyfriend. She had liked the rhinestone detail on one, but not the ruffles. On another, she'd absolutely love the ruffles, but the bows were all wrong. Other sets had made her look like a "cheap slut," while others – according to her – weren't very flattering. She had ended up with a practically see-through red negligee with a plunging neckline.

I walked into a store with my fingers crossed, hoping to find anything. Fortunately, there were plenty of pretty things to look at. The store manager happily informed me most of their merchandise had been picked up around the world; the owner was a world traveler and usually came back with boxes full of her findings.

I picked up a glass vase. It had fiery orange and cobalt blue streaks, gold flecks, a lattice design engraved into the bulbous body, and sparkling red stones at each crossing. I thought it would be nice gift for Carlisle and Esme. My eyes bugged out and I nearly dropped the damn thing in surprise when I saw the price tag – $4,250. If I had been drinking coffee at the time, I was sure I'd have sprayed it everywhere. The manager informed me that the decanter and matching whiskey glasses were special ordered from a popular glass blower in Rome. The gold flecks were real – eighteen karats. Oh, and the red decorative stones? Rubies. I set it down gently and backed away, afraid I would topple the sparkling display over.

I drifted towards other parts of the store and smiled. It was the perfect store for what I needed. For Alice and Tanya: a wooden, espresso-stained jewelry box with a metal filigree design and inlaid with mother of pearl. I grabbed an onyx and sterling silver chunky necklace and earrings the shop owner had picked up in Russia to add to Alice's gift, and a gold Tiffany-esque bracelet with an aquamarine stone that had originated from Tahiti for Tanya. For my mother: a white gold necklace with a diamond and lavender jade pendant and matching earrings. For Esme and Carlisle I decided on a Wedgewood crystal vase from the Vera Wang collection.

With all the names crossed off my list, I finally started the trek to my car. I still had a good two hours before Edward showed up at my door, but it would take me at least half an hour navigating through traffic. I wanted to put in a little effort into my appearance tonight. I knew how judgmental people could be. According to Rosalie, it was because of Edward that she had singled me out. Girls were catty when it came to him. Those girls at his last game were just further proof of it. I knew there were people who would tell me to ignore the haters and be happy with myself, but words do hurt. The wrong ones can ruin a night and my skin isn't as thick as I'd like it to be.

I didn't want to deal with that bullshit tonight. I didn't want this night to be perceived as a pity date in other people's eyes – me being the pitiful one. So, my usual half hour from start to finish was just not going to cut it. Maybe I could actually style my hair instead of letting it air dry. I was thinking I could put those hair appliances Renee had stocked my bathroom cabinets with to good use. I could do big, bouncy curls with some mascara, gloss and blush; sultry waves with cat-eye eyeliner and fire engine red lips; or sleek, straight hair with smoky eyes and nude lips. Shit. I didn't even know what I was going to wear!

It shouldn't be too hard finding something to wear; my closet was well-stocked. Renee made sure of that. The only problem was he didn't tell me where we were going, so I had no idea if I needed to be dressy casual or sporty casual. I certainly didn't want to be dressed for an art gallery opening while eating at some hole in the wall or be dressed in jeans and a cotton tee at a restaurant where they required a jacket and tie for service.

I hoped it wasn't the latter. Dining out with Renee and Phil kind of ruined the fine-dining experience for me. I had always felt like my fellow diners were always judging me. It was like they could smell the small town values on me. I was dining with a Cardinal and his perfect wife and daughter, I was the charity case. A poor orphan the Dwyers had taken pity on. People thought they were slick, sneaking looks at the Dwyers and then me before turning towards their companions to gossip.

Casual dining restaurants were more my pace. The atmosphere was more relaxed. Even though there were girls who judged me on my clothes, hair and makeup, most people minded their own businesses. Just the way I liked it.

As I walked toward the parking garage, I reminisced about Christmas mornings with Dad and Gran.

When Gran was still with us, every year she and I had set up camp in the living room waiting for Santa to arrive. I had never made it through a night and always woke up in my bed the next morning. I remembered how Gran would wake me with tinsel in my ear or on my nose and announce Santa had dropped by as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

After Gran had passed, Dad had insisted on keeping up traditions such as baking cookies for Santa. Instead of camping in, we had a "staked out" the fireplace. Even as I got older and Santa became nothing but a holiday icon, Dad had requested that I leave cookies out for Santa. When Christmas morning rolled around, the cookies were gone and there were present from Santa under the tree. Charlie had a bit of a sweet tooth.

I longed for our tradition of guessing what was inside before eagerly tearing into them. When I was ten years old, we had started a game: the one with the most correct guesses chose a breakfast meal that the loser would have to cook. Never lost a game. I had never wanted to make things harder on my dad, so I had usually chosen scrambled eggs, bacon and fresh strawberries – his specialty.

Afterwards, I would sit on the floor surrounded by torn gift wrapping while I sipped hot chocolate and watched Christmas movies while Dad lounged in his favorite recliner and waited for his turn to control the TV remote. Since Gran's passing, we began joining Dad's friends in La Push for Christmas dinner.

Our holiday traditions were joyous and sacred, it was a form of happiness that I could count on not to change as long as I lived in that house. Even Rosalie Hale and the cruelty she had inflicted hadn't been able touch me.

When that first Christmas without him had finally come, I had "woken up" from my walking coma like a Christmas miracle and I hated every damn thing. I had ranted about how everything was wrong; the decorations, the gifts, the traditions… the people. Instead of cinnamon permeating the air, the Dwyer mansion had smelled of pine. The whole house had looked like a damn designer-inspired Norman Rockwell painting with its perfect… everything. Vastly different from the mismatched cheap decoration I had used at home. I loathed it.

I had run through Renee and Phil's house tearing down all the festive decoration. I believe I even destroyed that stupid-looking gingerbread mansion in their formal living room. I ended up in an exhausted heap on my bed with a quilt – a gift from Gran – wrapped around me.

From there, things had just begun to snowball into one ugly incident after another.

After months of therapy and anti-depressants, the next Christmas was slightly better – I hadn't tried to topple the gigantic tree nor had a meltdown of epic proportions, but I had refused to fully participate in foreign traditions. I had scoffed at family pictures with color coordinating attire and stringing colorful popcorn garland with cheesy Christmas carols playing in the background.

Celebrating holidays and occasions with the Dywer family had become easier with each year.

However, my birthdays were still off limits. It just wasn't the same without Dad there trying steer me away from the places where he stuck his finger in the icing.

My high was rapidly becoming a low, so I turned away from my Ghost of Christmas Past. I started daydreaming about dinner with Edward and what it would mean for the future. And then I got acute anxiety.

What if we struggled for conversation? It was usually easy to talk to him, but what if we couldn't talk to each other on command? Would we feel obligated to fill the awkward silences with small talk? I hoped not; I hated small talk.

Was asking about the status of our relationship a no-no on a first date? Were we supposed to play it cool and let things play out naturally? He asked me to dinner, does that mean that the ball was in my court? Was I responsible for taking the next step? I wasn't sure I could do that.

Oh, my god. I had no idea how to date! Sure, I'd gone out to dinners with my boyfriend before, but that was just it – the guy was already my boyfriend. One day he was a friend, the next he was my boyfriend. Dinner-and-movie dates, making out and PDA were kind of expected. So… what the heck did that mean for Edward and me? Were we to treat this like a friend date or a something-more date? Do we hold hands? Kiss at the end of the night? Make out like the horny teenagers we were?

What if he didn't think things were going to work out between us and I thought otherwise? Holy Hell! This date could ruin the progress we've made in the friendship department!

Gah! Why does dating have to be so hard?

I probably should have been paying more attention to my surroundings rather than watching the floor for puddles or reminiscing about the past or over-thinking the future, but I've walked this route before without any problems.

There weren't many people on the sidewalk. It was only four o'clock, but Seattle was quickly losing daylight and the little heat that came with it. If people didn't absolutely have to be out here, they weren't. The misty drizzle began changing into a light shower in the blink of an eye.

I walked on, oblivious to the world around me. I didn't have my guard up because shit like getting mugged or assaulted by a stranger on the street just didn't happen to me. Fuck, it never occurred to me that it was even a possibility.

A reflexive reaction to a tug on my shopping bags was to hold on tighter. I should have let go.

A cold, rough hand clamped over my mouth. The other arm snaked around my chest, trapping both upper arms to my torso. I was dragged backwards into an alley. I dropped my umbrella and shopping bags to fend off my attacker. I scratched and kicked whatever I could reach, hoping my struggle would set me free or at least allow me to scream for help, but it was in vain because he seemed not to feel any pain.

My eyes frantically scanned the sidewalk for pedestrians before he pulled me deeper into an alleyway. The few people walking around were lost in their own worlds, not noticing someone in dire need of help. Drivers were focused on the slick road beneath them, adamant on making it to their destinations unharmed.

He loosened his hold on me when I could no longer see the street I had walked along not ten seconds ago. My survival instincts took it as an opportunity to get away. I elbowed him in the stomach and pushed him to the ground. He recovered faster than I had anticipated; he grabbed the end of my cross body messenger bag and yanked hard. I choked and forcefully fell backwards. I landed on my tail bone and slammed my back against the ground. The strap felt like a tightened noose around my neck and I struggled to loosen it, which was no easy feat as he was still tightly clutching my bag in his hands. He yanked it off my body and threw it aside.

My lungs refused to expand. I resorted to taking rapid shallow breaths that seemed to be doing more harm than good; it just made my chest feel tighter and my head feel lighter. Disoriented, I stared up at the patch of sky between the tall buildings, trying to breathe as the rain continued to fall.

"Please…" I rasped. "Take whatever you want. Please don't hurt me," I begged from my spot on the floor, still looking up at the sky. In this position, I felt even more exposed and vulnerable to the whims of a lunatic. My heart continued to beat faster than a hummingbird's.

He stepped into my line of sight, towering over me with a sadistic smirk on his face. My eyes tried to focus on his face, but a baseball cap was pulled low. I could make out the tip of his nose, thin lips and yellowed teeth.

I flinched when he reached down and grabbed me by my hair. I was still trying to recover from my fall, still trying to catch a full breath.

He was met with no resistance from me as he slammed my aching body against a concrete wall.

"Please… Plea—" My throat closed up and my words turned into a weak sob.

"Feisty… I like that," He whispered gravelly into my ear. He took my hair out of the elastic and ran his fingers through it. He buried his nose into my hair and inhaled while his free hand ran up and down my outer thigh. I felt dirty and helpless and disgusting.

"No!" I croaked out, struggling against his hold.

"Brought this on ya'self, sweetcheeks," he whispered, running his hand over my ass. "I was jus' gon' take your shit and go. But it turns me on when bitches try to fight back. Why whack off when I can bury my dick inside your warm pussy?" His hand stopped exploring my body and I let out a shaky breath. It turned into a whimper when I felt the cool steel of a gun barrel pressing up against the bottom of my chin.

"Make a peep and I'll blow your fucking brains all over the fucking wall. Got me?"

I nodded hysterically and then screwed my eyes shut. How the hell was I supposed to protect myself from a bullet? I tried to blend into the wall when I felt his hand restart his exploration. His rough fingers raked against the bare skin of my stomach. His thumb dipped below the waist of my jeans. He bent his knees and pushed his erection in between my legs.

"No… stop! Stop!" I begged. Loud sobs broke free from my mouth. I struggled to keep it shut when he pressed the gun harder into my skin and cocked it. I fought to breathe deeply. The steady rain mixed with my tears and blurred my vision.

"What I say about that shit?"

"I'm… I'm sor-ry… sorry…" I cried.

"You gon' be a good lil' bitch and obey me?" He asked.

"Yes," I squeaked fearfully.

"Mmm… good girl," he breathed into my ear. My stomach heaved when I felt his dry tongue lick the shell of my ear. "Face the wall."

I did as he ordered on shaky legs. My knees buckled and I held onto a metal pipe for support. I pressed my cheek flat against the chilly wall as his gun dug into my side.

His hand snaked around my waist before crawling up beneath my cotton top. My mind conjured up the smell of Esme's freshly baked brownies; the childish giggles shared between Alice, Edward and I as we started out top-secret adventures; Christmas morning in the Swan house. I tried to block out his roaming hands and the sound of my zipper being undone. I tried to go somewhere safe, to a happier, simpler time before ridicule, loneliness and loss ruled my world. A time when every scrape, bruise and cut could be healed with a kiss and ice cream. A time when everything could be fixed with a simple "I'm sorry."

The weight of his body abruptly left mine. I cringed and tried not to imagine him whipping it out of his pants. Two seconds later, I heard ten distinct pops. I watched enough TV to know those were gunshots. I waited for the pain to overtake my senses, to pull me into oblivion. How could someone survive ten shots in point blank range? I sank to the floor, feeling nothing but the biting cold. Maybe my body was too much in shock to register pain and I was steadily bleeding out. I didn't know how much time had elapsed; it could have an hour or a minute.

"No!" I rasped when I felt forceful arms pick me up from my curled state on the floor. Just let me die in peace.

"Alright… alright… calm down," he said. My head was buried in my arms, but he sounded close. I screwed my eyes shut and cowered further into the wall.

"Fuck! He's gone… Is she okay?" Another voice asked. Oh god, please don't tell me he brought friends.

"Uh… I'm not sure. Paul?"

"He's taking it better than I thought… trying to get Nina to stop crying. Ambulance should be here soon."

Silence. With my head buried behind my arms, I couldn't see either of them. But the sloshing footsteps indicated at least one of them had walked away.

"Are you alright?" The first guy had walked off, leaving me alone with the second.

"We're not gonna hurt you," he added softly, trying to elicit a response from me. "The police will be here any minute. How 'bout we get you off that floor, it's cold out here."

There was something in his voice that made me trust him. I lifted my head minutely and peeked just above my arms to see a dark-colored jacket being held out to me. I shivered violently, only now noticing that my coat was soaked and my clothes were well on their way to the same condition. With my eyes firmly pointed toward the concrete floor, I began pushing myself up.

"Fucking hell!" The guy exclaimed. He immediately came at me with the jacket.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I cried, assuming he was angry with my sluggish movement. Perhaps that bit about wanting to help me was a ruse to make me more compliant. I collapsed back to the ground and brought my arms up to protect myself from any blows he deemed appropriate.

"Christ, Bella, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have come at you like that."

I said nothing in return.

"Bella?"

I flinched. He sounded much closer than before. Every muscle in my body tensed when I felt his finger gently brush wet hair away from my forehead. Once again, my breathing accelerated, as did my heart rate.

"Bella, it's me, Tyler." He spoke softly and calmly as if trying to soothe a frightened child.

I knew that name; I searched my memories for the face than went with it. After everything clicked into place – his voice, his name, the familiarity of my shortened name on his tongue – I raised my head to confirm what I was thinking.

"Tyler?" I squeaked, choking on my oncoming tears.

"Yeah…" he whispered, abruptly engulfing me into a wet hug. I immediately shook off his embrace and cowered into the wall. His face was a cross between understanding and hurt. He hadn't put his jacket back on and was now soaked to the bone. In fact, he had wrapped his leather jacket around my shoulders as soon as he let go.

"I… I…" I stuttered, trying to get my breathing under control. I cried instead.

"Shh… it's okay. You're safe now. You're safe," he promised. "Are you hurt anywhere?" He asked, searching for visible signs of injury. "Did he…" he trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.

I shook my head and immediately regretted it. "My head…" I moaned. It felt as if it was splitting in half. I was dizzy. I had to vomit. I was sure I was on my way to seeing double.

"Slow down… take deep breaths."

I did. And then I retched. Leaning to the opposite side of Tyler, I bowed my head and spewed my meager Caesar salad lunch into a puddle. I heaved until nothing but the bile from the pit of my stomach poured from my mouth.

Tyler helped me to my feet. The sound of multiple sirens grew louder and louder. Not wanting to be touched, I insisted on walking out of the alley on my own two unsteady legs. Of course, Tyler refused anything less than carrying me out bridal style like a damsel in distress. I visibly cringed at the suggestion.

We compromised. I grudgingly accepted his assistance after I felt my stiff muscles protest to any movement. He wrapped an arm around my waist and guided me into a standing position. I tried not to pull away.

Many first responder vehicles had just arrived. Some officers rushed to secure the scene in the alley while others began canvassing the area. Two officers whisked Tyler and me out of the alley and left us in the care of a pair of EMTs. Reports of shots fired in a commercial district of downtown Seattle on a Saturday afternoon and so close to the holidays probably put pressure on brass to get this case wrapped up.

The bright flashing lights made my head want to explode, but at least they had cut off the sirens. Bystanders had crowded both sides of the street; their natural curiosity compelling them to stay put, to wait for the drama to unfold. Many stood with cell phones in their hands, no doubt updating their statuses on Facebook or tweeting or capturing video to later upload to their blogs. With that many cruisers and ambulances gathered on one street, who wouldn't be nosy?

The carelessness my attacker had displayed with his gun had severely injured two people and killed one, thus devastating many.

EMTs were beginning to load Tyler's brother, Paul, into the back of their rig. Tyler told me that he had taken a bullet to the upper shoulder. No exit wound, so he would need surgery to remove the bullet. A sobbing red head climbed in after them. It looked as though he was consoling her instead of the other way around.

A few EMTs were working on an unconscious middle-aged man who was still lying on the floor. They were frantically trying to staunch the blood flow from his torso.

But the one that really broke my heart was the little blond girl wearing a purple raincoat and matching rain boots. Officers did their best to keep prying eyes away from her, but I saw her. And there was no way to erase that image from my mind.

The little girl's dad was stoic, but there was devastation in his face and emptiness in his eyes. He held his fast-crumbling pregnant wife close as she wailed loudly into his chest. Their hands and clothes were soiled; presumably with their daughter's blood. Parents aren't supposed to bury their children.

Their little girl wasn't going home. Their little girl didn't have a future. She died there on the sidewalk near the alley I had come out of. Her blood had poured out of the gunshot wound in her neck and stained her blond hair, as well as the sidewalk, red.

All of that could have been avoided if I had just handed everything over.

I continually tested the patience of the tall, dark and handsome EMT attending to my medical needs by removing the oxygen mask he shoved onto my face. I kept insisting that I could breathe on my own. For the last time, he firmly but nicely ordered me to keep it on.

I realized my stupidity – arguing with an objective, trained medical professional – when I found that the tightness in my chest began to ease. However, the intensifying throb in my head and my unrelenting bunched muscles continued to be a problem.

After finally removing the mask, he asked me questions pertaining to my health and injuries.

Was I on medication? No, I answered as he unraveled the blood pressure cuff from my arm.

Allergies? Was pollen included in that question?

Was I pregnant? No. Why, do I look pregnant?

On a scale of one to ten – ten being the worst – how much does it hurt when he did this or that? Two. One. Two. Five.

How's my breathing? Better.

I followed his finger to the right with my eyes, but winced when I felt a sharp pain behind them. He blinded me with his light pen and I flinched away from it. He suggested I go to the hospital, just in case. I refused. I wasn't raped. I didn't hit my head that hard. I wasn't mortally wounded; just some scrapes and bruises – nothing I couldn't handle on my own.

Since my injuries weren't fatal, he couldn't drag me kicking and screaming to the nearest hospital. He made me promise to at least see a doctor sometime soon before he let the cops come near me.

After briefly speaking with a friend, Tyler had returned to my side. He was followed by a pair of suits; detectives I assumed. They flashed their badges and introduced themselves as Detectives Warren and Dodge. Detective Warren was kind of bitch, but it could be that she was absolutely blunt in her questioning. No segue into touchy topics or a soothing voice. Her voice was sharp and her questions were to the point; she must be damn good at closing cases because she had zero people skills. She was tall, brunette and two-hundred percent intimidating.

Detective Dodge struck me as more empathetic; more in tune with human emotions. Surprisingly, the stressful job didn't touch his full head of thick hair. He seemed more attuned to hang back and observe, giving his partner free reign over questioning. Still, he had decided that Det. Warren's rapid-fire question strategy was not helpful; Det. Dodge took over for his partner.

Det. Warren narrowed her eyes when Tyler kept insisting that I should go home to rest and regroup. If it wasn't for the tiny people in my head killing the shit out of my brain with pickaxes, I would've disagreed with him.

"Miss Swan, may I remind you that an eight-year-old girl is lying on the sidewalk with a hole in her neck?"

"Of course I remem—" I started. She cut me off.

"We want to catch this guy as quickly as possible. I understand that you went through a traumatic event, but you were the only one who saw this guy up close and personal. It would help if we had a description. I would think that you would want your attacker… this child murderer off the streets ASAP."

Way to pull off the guilt-trip, lady. I mentally added one more characteristic to Det. D.D. Warren: she got her way no matter the circumstances. Det. Warren called an officer over to escort me to a cruiser. Tyler insisted on taking me.

Out of habit, I reached for my purse, but stopped when I realized I didn't have it with me. I panicked and started towards the alley.

"My… I have to go get my bag," I explained helplessly after Det. Warren stopped me. Her eyes softened a bit.

"Sweetie, it's not there."

"Yes, it is. He threw it aside after... I saw him do it. It's there. I just have to look for it."

"The officers didn't find your bag," she slowly explained, waiting for me to catch on.

I did. This murderer now had my ID and keys. He knows where I live and has a way to get in. Motherfucking shit… this day sucked balls.

"Do you have anyone you can stay with?" Det. Dodge asked.

"Yes."

"She can stay with me," Tyler informed us. I wasn't, but I didn't feel like arguing at the moment.

:::

"He was wearing a baseball cap, pulled low. I didn't see his face clearly," I mumbled.

"What color was it?" Officer Hanley asked. She was Kristen Bell's doppelganger who was in charge of rendering a picture of the suspect based solely on my recollection. I guess the original title would be "sketch artist." However, she wasn't working with pencils and paper; a few big city precincts had gone high-tech, using computer programs to create a composite of a suspect.

We were set up in a conference room. The glossy onyx table and black mesh ergonomic chairs took up most of the space. The white venetian blinds were closed to give us some privacy; it only served to make me feel like a "person of interest" in an ongoing investigation.

This precinct was vastly different from what I had been used to. For one thing, the building made Forks PD look like a half-assed shack built by a couple of amateur contractors. FPD smelled like gourmet coffee freshly and baked goods. The 18th precinct of SPD smelled like burned coffee and antiseptic. In Forks, officers greeted me with a smile. Here, they pretty much ignored you unless you were their responsibility or causing trouble.

"Isabella?" OFC Hanley asked kindly.

"Dark… it was a dark color. But, that could just be from the rain. Uh… there was a design on it. I can't remember what it was."

"Can you remember the shape of his jaw or chin?"

"His chin was pointy. Jaw was slender, uh, not much definition… a little wider. It looked like he hadn't shaved in a couple of days."

She made the appropriate adjustments, making the faceless man eerily familiar.

"What about his lips?"

I unwillingly closed my eyes and conjured his image in my mind. A bitter chill ran through me as I remembered what had snaked through his lips and touched my ear.

"…Thin, he didn't have that, uh, what do people call it? A Cupid's bow?"

And so it continued until an hour and a half later when we had a 95% complete composite. The only thing missing were the eyes.

Every time I had gotten close to panicking, OFC Hanley would go off topic and ask questions completely unrelated to the task at hand. She had explained to me that it was easier to remember things when we weren't being pressured into it. It also helped to keep the eyewitness calm, so they wouldn't concoct an even more sinister image in their minds. People tend to exaggerate, she had told me, thus causing an inaccurate rendering. I understood what she was saying. How were the police supposed to look for a person who looked like the devil incarnate when in reality, the person looked like the average friendly neighborhood shopkeeper?

Detective Warren walked into the conference room while I stared at the copy of the picture I had requested.

"Patrol's gonna sit on your building in case the guy is stupid enough to swing by. If you think of anything else, don't hesitate to call," she said, handing me a contact card. "And don't worry, we'll get him."

:::

"Can you take me home, please?"

"Bella, I don't think that's a good idea."

"My friends live across the hall. Maybe they'll let me stay with them for a while."

"That still doesn't mean it's a good idea."

"Tyler, please, I just want a little normalcy. If I can't sleep in my own bed then I'm sure as Hell gonna stay in my own building! I'm not gonna let some psychopath run me out of my home!" I ranted. In the small car, it seemed louder than it really was.

"Okay, sorry. I'll take you home," he said, trying to placate me.

We parked curbside since the only way to get into the parking garage was to use the keycard that was still in my wallet. I shivered as a particularly strong gust of wind tore down the street. Tyler promised that he would take care of my soaked coat, so I was grateful for Tyler's over-sized leather jacket.

Before we had headed to the station, Tyler had switched his cold, wet shirt with a dry and relatively warm pullover Paul had stashed in his car. So, I took comfort in the knowledge that he wasn't freezing his ass off.

The doorman greeted us in his usual jovial manner. I responded with a halfhearted smile. An understandable look of concern crossed his face; even on my bad days, I had greeted him with more enthusiasm.

Tyler and I rode the elevator in silence. He was fidgety while I was as still as a statue, watching the floors numbers increase as we ascended. The elevator dinged and the steel doors slid open.

"I'm supposed to be on a date right now… maybe sharing a dessert with him. I was supposed to be dressed up and pretty, but instead I look like a miserable drowned rat."

"I'm sorry," he said, not knowing anything else to say. "And you don't look like a drowned rat. You look beautiful… smeared makeup and all."

I scoffed at that and said, "he's gonna think I stood him up."

"He'll understand…"

"What if he won't give me a chance to explain?"

"You don't owe him an explanation."

"He's been waiting, without one word from me, for the last two hours. He deserves to know what hap—Edward!" I gasped in surprise, jumping a little. After the day I've had, you can't fault me for being jumpy. Tyler protectively wrapped an arm around me. I tried not to flinch. "Oh… you… you scared me." My voice and body trembled from unnecessary fear. He didn't say a word.

"I'm sorry," I apologized, knowing he wanted some kind of explanation. "I… I was" –being violated—"I just…" I choked on my words as my mind flashed back to the smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer, the feel of rough fingertips.

"You alright?" Tyler asked as he rubbed my arm in what he thought was a soothing manner. I really wished that he would stop touching me. He probably thought that he was helping. However, I still couldn't help but shy away from his touch a little bit.

"Who the hell are you?" Edward asked, his voice tinged with anger.

"Tyler… just wanted to make sure Bella made it up alright," he responded in a clipped voice.

My traitorous mind decided it was the perfect time to replay the "traumatic event," as Det. Warren called it. I could feel his calloused hands on my skin; the weight of his body on my own; the feel of his breath slither across my cheek before he licked my ear. I could hear his low, gravelly voice telling me he'd paint the wall with gray matter if I made a sound. My eyes burned with tears until they spilled over and gravity took over.

"Bella, what…" Edward started.

I opened my mouth to give him an answer. He deserved one; he looked really stressed out. But, all I could think about was scrubbing every inch of my body raw. He walked away from me. Again.

"Oh, fuck that! I'm gonna kick his ass," Tyler growled. He followed after Edward. I followed Tyler.

"Look, you selfish little—" Tyler started.

"Who the fuck are you to come in here and—" Edward exclaimed, whirling around to face Tyler.

"Stop," I grumbled.

"—shit, you have no idea—"

"—run your fucking mouth? Get the—"

"—what she's been through, so—"

"—fuck out of here or I'm breaking your goddamn face!"

"—don't go around assuming shit!"

"Stop it!" I yelled. Their shouting match triggered another headache. Regardless of the thick walls, I was sure our neighbors heard every word. "Tyler, thank you, but I'm fine now. You should get to the hospital and find out about your brother."

"Are you sure? You know you're always welcome at my place. You don't have to stay here… with him." He said as he glared over at Edward. Edward glowered back.

"I'll be fine, really," I replied softly, removing his jacket from my shoulders. He told me I could borrow it. Edward scoffed.

"You'll call me later?"

"Sure," I responded.

"Don't be an asshole," he spat at Edward. With that he left the condo and began his journey to the ground floor.

"Where the hell were you?"

Where shall I begin?


A/N: I told some of you that this was going to be a monster of a chapter, but I decided to split it. I thought that most readers would probably lose interest if the chapter went on with 10,000 more words.

Thank you for reading and reviewing the last chapter. And thank you to those reviewers who politely told me to get my ass into gear, I definitely needed it.

*Detective D.D. Warren and Detective Bobby Dodge belong to Lisa Gardner. Mrs. Gardner had always described Det. Warren as blond, but I had always pictured Angie Harmon from Rizzoli & Isles.

I turned 25 yesterday *heavy sigh* Yep. I plan on drinking myself silly this weekend, but I WILL post the second part of the chapter no later than Thursday. You can harass me if I don't.

Even though I am shitty at updating, I'd LOVE it if you left me a birthday gift in the form of a review.

Thanks for reading!