A/N: This story is set in the same A/U as Breaking the Cycle in my head, although it's not necessary to read the other story. As of this chapter, there's no crossover between the two plots.
The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live." – Flora Whittemore
In all possible scenarios in her head, Bella never pictured herself calling off the wedding because of Mike Newton.
This is how it begins. She's at the Newtons' store a few days before the wedding, picking up special lures for Charlie to hunt his personal white whale. Mike smiles brightly at her and says, "So, you're getting married, huh?" His voice is even brighter than his smile, but there's something in his false cheer that startles her more than all the protests she's been fighting tooth and nail against.
This is when her heart breaks. She is standing in aisle four of a sporting goods shop in the middle of nowhere, clutching a pack of lures to her chest, and sobbing as she pictures the Victorian wedding dress Alice is trying to bully her into. And Mike, bless him, is so damn nice that he only looks bewildered for a second before he's got an arm around her and hugging her reassuringly.
If Forks wasn't overrun with sparkling vampires and oversexed werewolves, Bella might even see his appeal.
She's overwhelmed and frightened, and the whole story, minus the vampires and werewolves bit, comes pouring out in frantic gasps as Bella realizes the enormity of what she's getting into. She doesn't want to get married. She most certainly does not want a corseted nightmare of a wedding dress. She doesn't want to give up the Arizona sun, her family, her friends, or her secret dream of becoming an author. Stupid as it sounds, she doesn't even want to give up her truck.
After her outburst, Bella flushes red, embarrassed with her tears and running nose. She gives Mike a brittle smile and hands him the lures. "Just these, please."
Mike just grins at her as he takes her cash. He's used to Bella's hot-and-cold by now. "How about this – you go home and we can pretend this never happened. But if you change your mind, all you have to do is say the word."
Bella cocks her head and studies him, actually looks at Mike for the first time since she got to Forks and wonders why she never saw this side of him before. "Why?" she asks. After all, deep down, she still thinks of herself as boring Bella, the girl no one ever liked. No matter how much attention she receives, she still wonders when it will end – still wonders when everyone will come to their senses and realize that she's truly just an awkward girl, nothing special, and never will be.
Mike shrugs, his face open and honest. "Because I like you," he says. "Always have, since you got here." Catching the look on her face, he laughs a little bit self-consciously. "Don't worry, no movie speeches here. I just - you're my friend. And I want my friends to be happy."
Bella blinks, unused to the lack of pretense - unused to like when all she's heard recently is love you for eternity.
"You're a good guy, Mike," she whispers, taking the lures with her out the door. The bell chimes as she steps out into the sun, and she can hear him mutter behind her, I know.
True to his word, his car is idling and he's grinning from ear to ear as Bella comes barreling down the Cullens' driveway and hurls herself into his car. She's out of breath and she feels like crying – and a little bit like laughing, too, as she hears Charlie's whoop from down the drive. Mike punches on the accelerator and the car is flying down the driveway, gravel spraying everywhere as Bella prays they don't come after her, at least not yet.
Bella turns her head to peek out the rear window and sees Rosalie standing tall and formidable, staring the crowd down with what Bella imagines is her patented icy glare. Emmett has his arms crossed next to her, and Bella's heart aches a bit for the family that was almost hers.
"You weren't kidding about the dress," Mike chortles, and Bella shoots him a sour look. She idly picks at her lace gauntlets, feeling ridiculous in the high neck and poufy sleeves.
"It's an antique," Bella says stiffly. Somehow letting anyone else mock the dress feels wrong – a greater betrayal of Edward than running away from their wedding. She supposes the magnitude of this will hit her later.
Mike just grins again. "Where to?"
Bella knows they'll be expecting her to go back to Charlie's, or maybe to the rez. "Somewhere sunny," she says impulsively, feeling as if she just climbed on her motorcycle for another ride. Somewhere they can never go.
They stop in Portland, and Bella tries to ignore the stares as she dashes into a thrift shop to buy a few changes of clothes. She reverently folds up the wedding gown and stops at a post office to mail it back to the Cullens, not wanting to risk any damage to it. She addresses the package to Rosalie with a note, and hopes Edward understands.
Right now, she just can't. Can't anything.
She sings along to the radio, and its six hours into their car drive before she stops and looks at Mike. "Do your parents know where you are?"
He just laughs and shrugs. "They knew I wanted to take a camping trip up the coast. Just didn't tell them you were coming along," he says, impish grin firmly in place.
Bella laughs too, and feels lighter than she has in months. "Thank you," she says sincerely, wishing she had it in her to make Mike happy as well.
She looks out the window for a moment, contemplative – and realizes this desire to please everyone else is what got her into this whole mess. Mike would just have to take her as she was.
As the sun gets brighter, Bella becomes more talkative. She tells Mike about her childhood, about her imaginary friends, and about her pet cactus that she left behind. She peppers him with questions about his favorite books, and even manages not to fall asleep as he lectures her on the basic rules of football to explain his crowning moment of pee-wee football in third grade.
They cross into California with Bella's head hanging out the window, wondering if Vitamin D deficiency was reason everything went to hell. When she floats this theory to Mike, he makes fun of her for the next two hours.
It's a little awkward when they crash at the Super 8, even if she's more covered in her pyjamas than she ever was in gym class. She climbs into her bed, trying not to think about bed bugs and Dateline specials, although that topic is less uncomfortable than Edward in her mind.
She can tell Mike is feeling just as awkward, because his grin is a little forced and Bella flips off the lamp, letting her eyes adjust to the dim glow of the television in the dark.
"Please tell me you don't snore," Mike mutters from the other bed, and Bella grins in the dark. In a way, this trip reminds her of spending time in Jacob's garage, before things got messy. Well, messier. She puts Jacob out of her mind, even if she can't stop the dull ache in her heart when she thinks of him.
"I won't tell you then," Bella retorts.
They're quiet for a moment before Mike blurts, "Truth or Dare."
And Bella, not even hesitating, picks Truth. She of the cliff diving, motorcycle riding, escape-from-what-she's feeling recklessness picks the unvarnished truth. She has no idea what the hell she's getting herself into.
"Why'd you come to Forks?"
It was less brutal than she thought it would be, and after everything else, it isn't that brutal to explain how her mother, her best friend – her only friend, really – chucked it all away for a minor league baseball player. And it's not that Phil is bad, far from it, but there's only so much loneliness one person can take.
To her surprise, Mike chooses truth and it takes Bella a moment to think of something to ask, other than the mundane. "Did you ever like Jessica? Love her, even?"
Mike sighs a bit, and Bella wonders if she's crossed a line. She's never had to deal with boundaries before, not with Jacob or Edward, and certainly not with Alice.
"Not really. I liked her for a little bit, before…" he trails off. "But I didn't love her." His voice is low and Bella wonders what it is about the dark that makes people whisper. "I've never been in love."
Mike doesn't even ask her whether she'd prefer truth or dare. "Why'd you say you'd get married?"
Bella decides that Truth or Dare is brutal and makes a mental note to never let her future daughters attend sleepovers. "I don't know," she says after a moment, trying to think, rather than feel. "I wanted to make him happy, I guess. I felt like I'd get what I wanted, finally, if I just did one more thing he wanted." Her eyes are watering a bit, but her voice doesn't waver.
"That's fucked up, Bella," Mike comments.
Bella sighs. "I know."
They're silent for a moment before Mike blurts, "I bet on Jacob, once."
She blinks, not sure exactly what he means. "What?"
"On who you'd end up with. Thought you'd pick Jacob. You're not supposed to bet on yourself, you know," he says with a laugh, and Bella can tell he's trying to lighten the mood.
"Why Jacob?" she finds herself asking, despite her mind screaming for her to just let the topic drop. Mike barely knew him, but had gone to school with Edward for years. He'd seen her and Edward together so much more. It just didn't make sense.
"It's dumb," Mike mutters. "You just – you're happy around Jacob. Anyone can tell. Because you're around. He doesn't keep you away from everyone else, or turn you into a zombie when he's not there. When you're around Edward, it's like – it's like you're blank. Like you don't do anything unless he's doing it. You only pay attention to him, and I don't know why because he treats you like shit."
Bella's too numb to really bristle at what he's saying. Unbidden, the first thing that pops in her mind is Edward bribing Alice to kidnap her. And that's when she gets pissed.
"Fuck him," she mutters, and God, it's the first time she's said fuck out loud. "And Jacob, too."
"Hey now, what'd he ever do to you," Mike protests.
He turned into a werewolf and left me for the pack. Even if she wanted to, Bella knows she can't explain. Futhermore, she knows she's being petulant. "You're ruining my stages of grief, Newton," she mutters, and she's pleased when she makes him laugh.
"Oh, Bella. Don't ever change," Mike says, laugh subsiding. Without meaning to, he has struck a chord.
A few minutes pass before Bella finds her voice to reply. "I won't," she whispers.
They are cruising down I-5 through Shasta National Forest, and Bella's craning her neck to see the tops of the trees and mountains as they pass. The sun is shining still, making her feel warmer than she has in months. Mike's talking about nothing again, and Bella's surprised how he's still finding things to talk about.
"I should probably call my dad," Bella murmurs, interrupting Mike mid-sentence about how high school basketball simply can't compare to football.
He doesn't seem fazed at the interruption. "Yeah," he agrees. "I've got some change. Think they still have pay phones at rest stops?" he asks.
Bella laughs. She hasn't laughed this much in months. "I think so. Not everyone is spoiled like you, Newton," she says, giving his long-dead phone a poke as it sits in the cup holder.
"Can't believe I forgot my charger," Mike says with a shake of his head, nodding his head toward the sign they're passing with the next stop listed in a few miles.
Bella looks out the window, fingers tightening around the armrest at the prospect of calling home. Still, the anxiety is nothing like the stress she's felt for months. A phone call is hardly life and death. At least, not this time.
Charlie picks up on the second ring, and Bella hopes he hasn't been worrying too much. "Hi, Dad," she says, her voice a bit sheepish.
"Hi, Bella. You doing okay?" he asks, voice concerned. Bella's sure he's picturing her half-comotose over the endless drama of Jacob-Bella-Edward. She's still pleasantly numb, and she's intent on keeping it that way.
"Yeah, Dad. I'm in California. Ran off with Mike Newton, but not like ithat/i…" she says, trailing off. She'd been so caught up in Jacob and Edward's melodramatic attentions, she hadn't realized Mike could like her and they could still be friends. Feelings didn't have to be such a big thing. Life wasn't always Catherine and Heathcliff.
To her surprise, Charlie chuckles. "Oh, I know. Heard a big earful from his mom about how you're a bad influence."
Bella giggles. Where she'd once have felt bad, instead she finds humor. After all, Mike is a big boy. He could deal with his mom himself. She asks about the weather and the conversation starts to taper, both avoiding the emotional landmines still littering her consciousness.
"I love you, Dad. I'll be back in a few days. I just…I need some time," she says, surprised at how important it was to tell him how much she cared.
How could she have given this up?
"I know, Bells. I love you too."
Bella hangs up the phone, contemplative. She's silent for the next four hours, letting Mike's intermittent chatter wash over her. She's away from Forks, away from everyone – and she's disappointed clarity hasn't come. She still loves Edward…and Jacob. She doesn't want to be married. She doesn't even know if she still wants to be a vampire.
She leans her head against the car window, wishing this was easier. The ache in her chest is back, and she has a lump in her throat from holding back tears. If not choosing hurt this much, she couldn't imagine the pain of actually making a choice.
They end up in San Francisco exploring Fisherman's Warf, and Bella's inspired to write poetry by the light glinting off the waters. She clamps her lips together to keep from laughing when she thinks, Maybe I just like shiny things.
Not once does Mike declare he loves her, and the only time he grabs her hand is to pull her across the street before the light changes. They ride a cable car because she's always wanted to, and she closes her eyes to pretend she's Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. She lets Mike drag her into all sorts of shops with things she can't afford, but it's all right because she makes him eat sushi after that.
The look on his face when he tries octopus sashimi will be etched in her mind forever.
They crash at another Super 8, and Bella's thankful he's worn out, because she doesn't think she can take another round of Truth or Dare. Instead, she stares blankly up at the popcorn ceiling she can't see in the dark. She vacillates between hurt, anger, and numbness, succeeding only in thinking more about Edward when she tries to put him out of her mind. Thinking of him makes her physically ill with anxiety.
It's almost as if she's detoxing.
Bella shivers in the dark but she doesn't sob.
They travel up the coast on their way back, and Mike cajoles her into camping. Once again, Bella is surprised that she doesn't hate it. If she misses the sensation of Jacob curled next to her in the tent, she doesn't acknowledge it.
"Are you going to college?" she asks Mike, watching him put all the effort into building a fire. He wanted to camp, he could deal with setting everything up. There may be the risk of bed bugs at the Super 8, but at least they weren't sand fleas, ticks, and Lyme disease.
He shoots her a mock-exasperated look. "I'm taking some classes at Peninsula in Forks. I told you that twice on the way down," he tells her and she reddens.
"Really…I'm sorry. My mind's been elsewhere." Bella feels like a clod. After everything he's doing for her, the least she could do was listen to him.
He grins. "Kidding. Well, about the telling you part. I did tell you before, but that was back in Forks and you were zombified Bella, so I won't hold it against you," he teases.
Bella chucks a piece of driftwood at his head, but it's about two feet short from its intended destination, which only sets Mike off laughing again.
Once he's got the fire going, he looks at her. "What about you?"
She's so caught up in her own thoughts that she doesn't realize what he's talking about at first. "College? Oh. Well, I'd applied a few places…to go with Edward. But now…" Her voice is wistful as it drifts off. Everything else may have been terrifying, but the possibility of studying at Dartmouth had been a pleasant dream. "Maybe I'll try some classes at Peninsula, I guess."
"Slumming it with the locals. Nice one, Swan," Mike teases, and Bella doesn't fight the laugh that bubbles up.
She has all the time in the world to figure out what to do with her life.
The closer the car comes to Forks, the worse Bella begins to feel. She tumbles out of the car when they pull into Charlie's driveway, retching into the bushes at the thought of seeing Edward. She can hear Mike muttering to Charlie that she must be carsick, but from Charlie's response, Bella knows neither one of them really believe it.
She takes a deep breath and straightens, shooting the both of them a weak smile. There are no possible scenarios in her head now. She's detoxing from two years of heart-wrenching choices.
Right now, she'll just take it one day at a time.