Summary: Sometimes we forget that the fruit is forbidden for a reason. A mysterious Good Samaritan saves Bella from a bus before bolting like his hair is on fire. A mélange of Twilight, the movie How to Be, and a short story that for now shall remain nameless (so as not to give too much of the plot away for these first couple of chapters). Because Artward breaks my heart. (AU)
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight; it owns me. The title of this story is from the song "Only Hope" by Mandy Moore and/or Switchfoot, depending on how you roll.
Note: Many thanks to my PTB betas moonlightdreamer333 and CapriciousC for their incredible insight into this story and excellent eyes for detail. If you ever have the honor of getting either of them as your PTB beta, be very, very grateful.
But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.
This was decidedly not Forks.
The cramped streets sliced often and irregularly through what once had been green earth; the towers of steel and concrete rose to dominate the fog-veiled sky; and cars, bikes, and pedestrians swarmed like industrious ants through the city maze. There was so much to see, hear, and smell in the Emerald City that Bella found herself turning in a slow semi-circle at an intersection near the shoebox she now called home, her body a compass trying to find an elusive north.
When her sights at last settled on a city corridor that seemed commercial enough to harbor a grocery store, Bella stepped forward to join the ranks of faceless commuters waiting for a signal to stem the tide of vehicles bisecting their walking path.
She was a mere four hours from Forks, separated only by the Olympic National Park and a couple of narrow bodies of water, but she might as well have been in Switzerland. Bella had accompanied Charlie to Seattle once before, when he'd had the opportunity to attend a law enforcement conference in the city. In his down time between sessions, they'd played tourist by walking through Pike's market, going up the Space Needle, and riding the ducks. She'd snapped pictures of Charlie standing by a fish as long as his arm, of him outlined by the distinctive city skyline, and of him standing uncomfortably by the queerly shaped vehicles that later transported them seamlessly between land and sea.
But she now knew that spending a day in the sheltered tourist façade of Seattle was a far cry from calling its back streets home.
After she had closed her rusty front door on Charlie's retreating back, she had watched from her window as he climbed into his squad car and flicked the lights once, the brief shrill of the siren a warning to everyone on the street that his little girl lived here, and he'd be watching.
Then Charlie was gone, his face grim through the glass, and she was left standing in the middle of four white walls, clutching the bottle of pepper spray that he had pressed into her hand before giving her an awkward, one-armed hug.
With the departure of the marked vehicle, the foot traffic below her increased, the street's denizens emerging from nearby alleys and apartments. She watched from her window as an old lady pushed a rattling shopping cart full of crushed tin cans. The cart and its lady had clearly both seen better days.
Two weeks ago, this had all been a dream.
Two weeks ago, Charlie had thrown her a party to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. He stuck to the traditional guest list—Billy and Jacob—but purchased two extra six-packs in honor of the occasion.
Most college students would probably have been horrified at the thought of celebrating such an important milestone with authority figures nearby, but Bella insisted on a low-key night at home rather than the popular alternative of bar-hopping in Port Angeles. Charlie tossed Bella her first Rainier beer when the pizza arrived, and he pretended to believe her when she pretended to be unfamiliar with the taste of alcohol. Nobody mentioned the incident on Jacob's sixteenth birthday when he'd filched some Jack Daniels and returned a decidedly tipsy Bella to her father well after curfew.
They ate, drank, and talked into the wee hours of the morning, until Charlie gave Jacob an informal sobriety test and deemed him sobered up enough to brave the drive home.
As the Blacks lingered on the porch in an effort to prevent the evening from slipping away, Jacob touched two fingers to her cheek in a gesture of farewell. Although Bella saw him every day for the next two weeks, that night marked the end of another era—her life in Forks.
The other members of the Swan-Black pseudo-family had been shocked when she had announced that the University of Washington had accepted her into its Psychology Master's program and that she would start at its Seattle campus in a few short months. She hadn't told anyone—including Jacob—that she was applying because she hadn't thought that a small-town girl with a degree from Peninsula Community College would even be considered for a coveted UW graduate position, much less a desirable research assistant position.
Bella also hadn't told anyone because she was secretly afraid of how Jacob would react. After she had graduated from college with a nebulous degree in psychology and no immediate job prospects, Jacob began increasingly hinting at his plans for the future, which included opening a small garage and settling down with her in a cozy cabin on his ancestral lands. She had known of his dreams since they were little, but it took the possibility of actually having them become reality in the near future for her to realize that she had never seen herself in the ideal world he had created. She was too young to get married. She had never seen the world beyond Forks. And, although she would scarce admit it to herself at the time, she wanted to step out from under the life-long shadow of being nothing more than "Black's girlfriend."
As she'd feared, Jacob did not approve. She had placed her acceptance letter on the table along with a plate of his favorite dessert.
His initial response was denial. "But you're not going to go, right?" he'd scoffed with an all-knowing look in his eye.
She'd responded by stomping up the stairs to her room and slamming the door.
Jacob responded to her anger in kind, following her upstairs and opening the door immediately after she slammed it in his face.
"I didn't even know you were applying," he said. As his anger grew, so did the volume of his voice. "I can't believe you're considering doing this to me—to us! You were sneaking around behind my back…"
His little tirade continued until Charlie threw him out of the house. No one talked to his little girl in that tone of voice.
"Come back after you've cooled off," Charlie had called out as a red-faced Jake wrenched open the door of his truck so forcefully that the hinges squealed. "And drive safe."
Jacob was back the next morning for breakfast, and he remained a step behind Bella in the tiny kitchen as she prepared scrambled eggs and bacon for Charlie. This time, his tactic was bargaining. He tried things like "The University of Phoenix has a master's degree in psychology" and "Maybe I could look into getting my undergraduate degree at UW."
When Charlie came in, decked out in his crisp uniform, he didn't comment on Jake's unusually early presence. Instead, he sat and watched him constantly angling himself in Bella's way as she put the finishing touches on breakfast. Charlie listened silently to Jacob's pleas, never adding any of his own. When he finished eating and set his fork down with an emphatic plink, he unfolded himself from his chair and waited. His silent presence soon commanded their attention, and Charlie took advantage of the resulting spotlight, pointing two stiff fingers inward at his eyes and then rotating his wrist toward Jacob in the symbol for "I'll be watching." Then he was off to work, whistling as he went, leaving Bella to fend off a series of increasingly bizarre strategies that Jacob had apparently spent all night dreaming up.
When Bella refused to delay her college plans for a couple of years until Jacob had gotten his as-yet fictitious garage off the ground, he became depressed and stopped dropping by. Days melted into weeks, and Billy consistently told her that Jacob wasn't there each time she called. Each time, Billy said the words with a sigh, and Bella could almost see Jacob poking his head out of his room and frantically slashing at his throat with a grimace when he realized who was on the phone. Bella had seen Jacob use the same tactic when Leah Clearwater had taken to calling him all summer after their seventh grade year in a misguided yet surprisingly persistent attempt to make him her boyfriend.
That was the summer Bella and Jacob made their relationship official, partly in an attempt to get Leah off his back. Leah didn't speak to either of them again after Jacob finally took one of her calls and told her that he already had a girlfriend. Sometimes, Bella wondered if she and Jacob had fallen together out of nothing more than convenience. She loved him, but she had known him for so long that her love for him never made her heart race or her blood boil. Although his body and mind had matured, she still remembered him as the short, skinny boy with an odd fixation on bodily functions.
Bella was also painfully aware of his stubbornness. As her birthday party loomed, she was worried that Jacob would not have gotten over his funk and would be abandoning her to an evening on the couch in front of whatever sporting event was currently in season. Therefore, she was overjoyed to see two silhouettes in the front seat of Billy's truck as it pulled up. When Jacob eased Billy's wheel chair from around the back of the car, she saw acceptance in his eyes.
"You came," she said quietly, and he flashed his high-beam grin at her for the first time since she'd announced that she was going off to grad school.
"Of course I came," he said. "I wouldn't have missed your big day for the world. You're always a step ahead of me; sometimes I don't think I can keep up. "
They both knew he wasn't just talking about her age.
Bella had felt his dark eyes on her as they talked and laughed the twilight of her twentieth year away. She'd met his gaze firmly, her eyes continuously communicating, I'm doing this, and his responding with a sad, I know.
As Bella had stood with her father on the porch of her childhood home and watched her best friend drive away in his beat-up, two-toned Chevy, she felt an incongruous mixture of sadness and hope, fear and excitement, bitter and sweet. In two weeks, she would be starting a new life far from home.
In two weeks, she would be standing on a street corner, trying to act as sophisticated and bored as the people around her even though she felt about two inches tall. Leaving Charlie had been harder than she'd expected.
The sight of an antiquated electric bus rattling down the hill toward her intersection provided a welcome distraction from the look in Charlie's eye when he'd said goodbye. She remembered this public transportation option as yet another oddity from her brief jaunt in the city. The bus rumbled along the ground rail below it, the power lines above the street crackling with its passing.
As the bus slid closer, picking up speed coming down the hill that sloped toward the Puget sound, someone jostled Bella in the shoulder, likely the hotshot businessman talking animatedly to the air in front of him, a Bluetooth bug in his ear.
Everything happened at once.
The force of the unexpected contact upset Bella's already fragile balance, and she stumbled off the curb directly into the path of the oncoming vehicle. Brakes and power lines screamed in protest, but the bus was moving too quickly, was too heavy with passengers, and was too near.
In a moment of heightened clarity, Bella could see every pockmark and paint chip on the bus' front bumper. She could see the female driver's horrified expression, the tendons on her neck straining as she mashed on the foot brake. The instant before impact, Bella thought for the first time that maybe Jacob had been right. Maybe she never should have left Forks after all.
She'd never given much thought to how she would die, but this was not what she would choose. She was going to die on some nameless corner in an impersonal city surrounded by faceless strangers rather than her family, friends, and the dark, damp forests of home.
She could only close her eyes and fall.
But impact never came.
Instead, her hair snagged on something, like when she was little and she and Jacob were climbing recklessly through the trees in his backyard. The ground behind her rose up, slapping the air out of her lungs. She looked up with eyes stinging from the burning pinpricks in her scalp to see the bus wheeze to a stop in the middle of the intersection, directly above the patch of ground that only narrowly escaped being smeared with her guts.
The almost-accident ignited the little group of pedestrians who had been so staunchly ignoring each other but a few moments before. Now, they were comrades, shouting queries at each other and Bella and obscenities at the bus driver, who was venting her fear toward the group in a very vocal and vulgar fashion. They gathered around Bella, their necks craning to see if she were okay and to catch a glimpse of her savior.
"Are you alright?" asked the businessman, his face red with shame and worry.
Before Bella could answer, he barked, "No, not you" to whomever he was talking to on the phone, and then, for the person's benefit, started a lengthy explanation of the incident. Bella cringed at the inadvertent excitement in the man's voice as he recounted what had nearly happened. Because of the babble of voices, it was a few moments before she became aware that she wasn't alone on the sidewalk. Something—or, rather, someone—was cradling her head. As she shifted awkwardly at the realization, gentle hands helped her sit up. She turned to stare into the face of the person who had just saved her life.
It was a young man of indeterminable age. She didn't recognize him from the brief glance she'd spared on the other people waiting to cross the street. Even now, Bella registered little about his appearance except a white face and bronze hair falling into deep eyes that stared over her shoulder at the bus. She watched as his eyes shifted from a point behind her and focused on her face.
For a moment, Bella watched his lips tremble as though he were going to speak, but then his forehead creased, and he abruptly scrambled up from the sidewalk. The crowd scattered like bowling pins with the force of his departure, and he slunk away with his hands shoved in coat pockets, shoulders stiff, head down. His posture screamed shame and self-loathing, as though he regretted his actions.
As though he regretted saving her life.
She stared in his direction long after he disappeared around a corner. Then three pairs of hands extended to help her back to her feet, and one lady was kind enough to retrieve the tote that had slipped off her shoulder as she fell.
"I'm fine, thanks. Really, it's no big deal," she repeated in a monotone to everyone who would listen, backing up until she felt a solid brick wall between her shoulder blades.
Bella let the wall hold her up until the crowd dispersed, back to their routine, the event nothing more than a bit of excitement in their day that would lend itself well to water cooler discussions back at the office.
But Bella didn't have a routine to fall back on. She didn't know where she was going; she didn't know where home was any more. She didn't even have anyone to tell. Charlie would just worry about her even more. Jacob would say "I told you so" and would probably drive out here and try to bring her back to Forks whether she wanted to or not. So she stood alone on a street corner and tried to decide whether her desire to get away from prying eyes outweighed her need for food.
Eventually, with the thought of the brown bag of miscellaneous items that she'd scavenged from her kitchen at home—peanut butter, tuna fish, cans of soup—she convinced herself that she had enough to live on until later in the week. She'd Google the nearest grocery store rather than striking out on her own like a leaf in the wind.
As she turned back toward her apartment, she kicked something at her feet and looked down to see a small black wallet skittering across the concrete. It was even more lost and alone than she was.
Somehow, Bella knew it was his.
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