Hello, fellow Twerds! *waves* I'm Jen, and this is my first Twilight fan fiction. I've written quite a few stories for another fandom, Prison Break, and I have followed my PB buddies over to this addictive Twilight fandom.

I've had the pleasure of betaing for my good friends radiofreeamy, vamplicious, and martinibaby1, who have introduced me to some wonderful stories here. And many thanks to Ekimmuh for hooking me up with some Twilight facts when needed.

I'm a psychologist, so I love writing therapy stories. I appreciate you giving this fic a try, and I hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners.

1. Forks in the Road

~ * ~

I didn't know much about psychoanalysis, but I was pretty sure that it didn't work unless the subject was relatively honest. Sure, I could tell the truth--if I wanted to spend the rest of my life in a padded cell.

~Stephenie Meyer, New Moon, p. 96

~ * ~

Bella groaned the second she noticed the sign with the name of the counseling center: Forks in the Road.

Great--the psychologist that Charlie was forcing her to see had made some cheesy play on words from a Robert Frost poem. Saturday morning just kept getting better.

"You're doing this, Bells," Charlie ordered from the driver's seat of his police cruiser. "And you can keep the editorials to yourself."

She slumped down further in the passenger seat, hoping nobody would recognize her or her father driving into the counseling center's desolate parking lot on the outskirts of town. Perhaps Charlie should have turned on the siren and flashing lights of his vehicle; there might still have been a few residents of Forks who did not yet know about her shameful ingress to therapy.

Sometimes the silence between her and Charlie was peaceful and easy; one of the aspects of their relationship that Bella thoroughly enjoyed. However, the current hush as they marched toward the white, weathered, clapboard house was more strained than serene--seething on Bella's part and resigned on Charlie's side.

Therapy was for whack-jobs, crazy people . . . people suffering from hallucinations. Bella instantly blushed, recalling the previous evening with Jessica when she had felt compelled to walk toward those questionable men by the bar, driven further ahead, almost like she was being herded forward, by hearing Edward's velvety voice popping into her head.

Accompanying Jessica to the movies was supposed to have prevented Charlie from carting her off to therapy. Instead, last night had seemed to steer her even closer to the dreaded counseling. She wondered what had made Charlie so adamant about making her see Dr. Carlton earlier this morning. Bella sighed loudly as they entered the waiting room.

Glancing around at the empty space in the older home, she asked, "Am I supposed to check in or something?"

Charlie's lanky frame loped over to a little side table, where he picked up a clipboard and a pen. "Dr. Carlton said you're supposed to fill out these papers before the appointment."

Warily she took the clipboard from him and went to sit in a big chair draped with a wrinkled, pale-yellow slip cover. The stuffed chair engulfed her slender body. Thankfully, Charlie sat across the room, affording her some privacy.

She glanced down at the packet on the clipboard, reading over the consent form on top. Was she indeed "consenting" to this torture? It sure didn't feel like it. Her mahogany eyes scanned over the introduction:

Informed Consent for Counseling

Welcome to Forks in the Road Counseling! I'm Nina Carlton, Ph.D., Washington State Psychology License #2167, and I will be meeting with you soon. We will discuss the particular concerns that brought you here and begin to formulate a plan for addressing those concerns.

Our communication is private, meaning that I cannot disclose your attendance or the content of our discussions without your permission. Exceptions to the laws governing confidentiality include imminent danger to yourself or to others, abuse of a minor or impaired person, or a court subpoena for records.

Our counseling relationship is very important and I will make every effort to treat you therapeutically, with kindness and respect. I ask you to be prompt for your appointment and to be engaged in our session. While it may take some time to build trust and to reveal some aspects of yourself, I expect you to be as honest as possible. Together we will take the road "less traveled by", hopefully making a positive difference in your life in the process.

Bella frowned when she finished reading the form. This Nina woman didn't sound all that bad, actually. However, Bella had no idea how she was supposed to be honest in this scenario, and that bothered her. Surely the men in the white truck would be quickly pulling up to this center the moment she dared to reveal the true nature of the Cullen family.

Believing that she had no choice, she hastily scribbled her signature on the bottom and then thumbed through the rest of the packet, sighing dramatically upon noticing all the personal questions the Bio Form entailed.

Wrapped up in worries from the past few months, Charlie absentmindedly turned the pages of a fishing magazine while his daughter completed the paperwork. Too bad he wasn't the one completing the forms; he could have easily summed up the reason for Bella needing counseling with two words: Edward Cullen. Charlie still felt his gut clench every time he thought about what a mess his daughter had become upon that boy's departure. And now, according to her friends, she was behaving even more bizarrely and dangerously; there would be no way he would just stand by and watch her self-destruct. She was all he had.

The door off the waiting room slowly swung open, and Bella looked up to see a striking Native American woman in the doorway. Her glossy black hair curled in waves over the shoulders of her fashionable tan suede jacket, and Bella's eyes wandered down the woman's long jean skirt and medium-heeled suede boots before returning up to her face. High cheekbones showed off her warm russet skin, but what drew Bella's attention most of all were her eyes--black, shining, intelligent, and warm.

"Hi, Chief Swan," she smiled fondly, striding over to shake his hand now that he was on his feet.

"You know you can call me Charlie, uh, Nina," he stammered. He recalled Harry Clearwater telling him once that the name Nina meant "strong", "with pretty eyes". Shaking her offered hand while staring into those obsidian eyes, Charlie deemed that her parents had named her perfectly.

Bella watched the exchange curiously before Nina turned to her and smiled. "You must be Bella. I'm Nina Carlton." Appreciating the taller woman getting her name right on the first try, Bella enjoyed it even more when Nina strode over and also shook her hand, then gestured to the clipboard. "Did you get a chance to finish the paperwork?"

"Almost."

"Good." Nina reached down to scoop up the clipboard. "How about we go into my office and review this together?"

Nina began heading inside with Bella trailing behind her, but she came to an abrupt halt when Charlie appeared to be striding into the office as well. Turning to him, puzzled, Nina asked, "You're coming in with us, Charlie?"

"Of course." He looked offended.

"Oh." Leisurely spinning around to face Bella, Nina inquired, "You're eighteen, right, Bella?"

She nodded.

"Then you are considered an adult, and I need to have your permission to allow your father to come in to the session with you. Is that okay with you if he sits in with us?"

A delicious smile spread across Bella's face as she considered the power she now possessed. Glancing at Charlie, she found him glaring at her, which erased her smile instantly. Refusing him would be a nice revenge for dragging her here. However, she hated the fact that she had caused him so much worry recently. And, she remembered their conversation from the previous morning, right before he had called her "lifeless".

I know what you're going through, he had said. I had a really hard time after your mom left, taking you away with her.

Bella could only imagine what that would have been like; losing one's spouse and child in one fell swoop. She pressed her lips together thoughtfully.

Watching her vacillate, Nina gently offered, "Sometimes I have a parent sit in for the first ten minutes or so. And then, if you're comfortable, we can finish the session on our own. How does that sound?"

"Great," Bella breathed out with relief. Truthfully she wanted Charlie in there with her.

The compromise seemed to relieve the father as well, and he held the door open for the two women before following them inside. There was a white noise machine right inside the door, likely preventing those in the waiting room from overhearing the counseling sessions. When the three settled onto lumpy yet comfortable furniture, Nina launched into an introduction, repeating some of the pieces of information from the consent form Bella had signed.

"Have you ever been in counseling before, Bella?"

"No."

Nina nodded. "Then you're probably pretty nervous, not knowing what to expect. It's just a discussion about what's going on in your life--the good stuff and the bad stuff. I may ask you some questions you haven't thought of before, and we might uncover some effective ways to deal with stress. Now," she paused while rifling through the paperwork, "The question about what was bringing you to counseling--it looks like you left that one blank."

Nina's inquisitive black eyes bore into Bella. "Why here, why now? What's leading you to seek counseling?"

Sending Charlie an antagonistic look, Bella skimmed her knuckles over her mouth, finally responding, "He thinks I've become a zombie." Images from the horror movie filled her mind, and her stomach twisted with revulsion.

"I did not say that!" Charlie protested.

Studying them both, Nina said, "Bella, I know that your dad set up this appointment for you. Did you come here willingly?"

"Not really."

"Hmm. Then while we have you here, Charlie, how about you explain your concerns?"

"Fine," he nodded, shooting a nervous glance at Bella but finding her looking down. "Bella's boyfriend left town last September--about four months ago . . ."

Four months? Had it been that long since she had seen Edward? Sometimes it felt like four years, and sometimes she could remember the feel of his cold hands on her as they slow-danced like it was five minutes ago . . . Instinctively she wrapped her arms around her midsection, holding onto herself tightly, feeling the cavernous hole within her spreading and deepening.

From the corner of her eye Nina observed Bella's straight-jacket body position at the same time that she tried to focus on Charlie's continued explanation: ". . . I thought she'd be down for a while, you know--breakups are tough, even when she's so young. But she hasn't gotten better in all this time. She just seems so . . . empty, I don't know, and yesterday I finally told her she needed to talk to a professional."

"That's when you decided to call me?" Nina asked.

"Well, no. Bella promised me that she'd try harder; that she'd start going out with her friends more. So last night, she went to a movie with Jessica, and everything seemed fine." Charlie hesitated, looking guiltily at Bella. This time she met his gaze, and narrowed her eyes slightly. Where was he going with this?

"But then her friend called me," Charlie resumed, purposely not looking at his daughter, "and told me that Bella walked right up to some dangerous men at a bar-"

"Jessica called you?" Bella shouted, looking utterly betrayed.

Charlie sighed; he knew she would be upset about this. "It wasn't Jessica," he quietly corrected; "It was Angela."

Bella's mouth dropped open.

"Jessica had called her, and Angela was really worried about you, Bells! She did the right thing by telling me."

Blinking rapidly several times, she forced herself to close her mouth and stared dumbly out in space while Charlie rushed ahead.

"Listen, it doesn't matter who called me--I would have found out about this anyway. I'm the Chief of Police! What have I tried to teach you your whole life? You know better than to mess around with strange men. You could have gotten seriously hurt!"

Bella's upper lip quivered and she continued to avoid his eyes.

Charlie shook his head angrily. "I want to know why you did that; this isn't like you at all! I brought you here to figure out why in the hell you are putting your life in danger like that."

"Okay, let's hold on," Nina suggested calmly. "Let's give Bella a chance to talk. Bella, you look upset that your friend ratted you out to your dad."

Not trusting herself to speak, she just nodded.

"Is it true that you approached some male strangers at a bar last night?"

Cringing, Bella nodded again.

"Can you answer Charlie's question? What made you do that?"

She felt both pairs of eyes staring her down. "I don't know . . . I, I wasn't thinking--"

"Obviously," Charlie huffed.

Nina glanced at him disapprovingly and turned her attention back to Bella, prodding, "You weren't thinking . . .?"

Bella sighed, and got out in a trembling voice, "I'm sorry. I really don't know why I did it. But I'm okay--they didn't hurt me. I'm fine, okay?"

Charlie leaned forward on his chair. "I want you to promise me. Promise me that you'll never do something like that again."

"I--" Bella glanced about her desperately, dodging Charlie's gaze. How could she promise to avoid taking more risks, meaning she might never get to hear his smooth voice again? His words of warning were the only vestiges of him that she had left, and she knew that she would never be able to stick to a promise preventing her from clutching on to that small piece of him. "I'll try, Dad, I'll--"

"You'll try? You'll try not to get yourself killed? What is wrong with you?" Charlie exploded. "I barely recognize you anymore. What did he do to you?"

He loved me, she silently answered, once. But not anymore. She looked down, continuing to clutch at her sides.

Sensing the standoff between father and daughter, Nina gently recommended, "How about you hang out in the waiting room now, Charlie? Thank you for providing such useful information, but I'd like to slow things down a bit; get to know Bella better. Okay?"

He swallowed uncomfortably. "I'm sorry; I got a little carried away there."

Nina gave a wistful smile. "It's just a sign of how much you care for your daughter. We will work this out--trust me."

He rose, and Nina stood up with him. "I'll, uh, I'll just be outside," he announced, and then he swiftly strode out of the room.

Resuming her sitting position, Nina smiled encouragingly at Bella. "Are you surviving this so far?"

Bella looked straight at her. "Barely."

Nina's laugh was resonant and warm. "I think you're doing great." She shifted in her chair. "It must be hard to have a Police Chief for a father. When you have a normal father-daughter quarrel, it's like you're not only arguing with your dad, but you're also fighting with the long arm of the law."

Vividly recalling the metallic snapping noise of Charlie cocking his rifle before meeting Edward for the first time, Bella gave her a wry look. "It has its moments."

"So," Nina relaxed into a casual body position, "You wrote here that your favorite hobby is reading. Can you tell me about some of your favorite authors?"

Blinking her eyes several times, gazing at the psychologist warily, Bella eventually disclosed, "I like the Brontë sisters the best, I guess."

~~ * ~~

After reading the same paragraph about fly-fishing rods five times, Charlie finally tossed the magazine aside, and decided to wait in the car. Bella would need a ride to work after the session, and perhaps he could see the latest fishing rods for himself at the Newton's store.

Once he made it outside, he took a deep breath of clean, Evergreen-scented air, feeling the tension in his shoulders drain as he admired the cloudy, wide-open nature vista; quite a contrast to the stuffiness of the psychologist's office. The fresh air of the Pacific Northwest wasn't the only reason he could breathe better now, though. Achieving some distance from the two females inside was also a relief.

Nina . . . well, she was Nina, alright. She was even more beautiful than she had been two years ago, when they had met for the first time, under less-than-ideal circumstances. And he simply hated Bella being upset with him, but he didn't know what else to do besides try to get her some help.

"Bella," he whispered gruffly, his words stolen by the wind. "I hope you heal from losing the love of your life, kiddo. Better than I did, anyway."

Striding from the porch to his police cruiser, he gazed out at the Evergreen forest lining the side of the house, failing to notice a blur of movement to his left; a vague shadow that flew to the back of the house with supernatural speed.

Author's Note:

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