AN: This story was written for the Jacob and Bella Big Bang, and will be posted in two parts. It is a sequel of sorts to my previous fic "Breakdown". It is not necessary that you read "Breakdown" before reading this story, but it would certainly help to provide some background info, and to help explain Jacob's attitude towards Bella a little later on in the story. If you get a chance, please go to livejournal and check out the community bellaxjacob_bb. There you can find a link to some banners, wallpapers, icons and even a soundtrack for this story, all created by my fantastic art-buddy blueandblack (bluesuzanne). That's what the Big Bang is all about: collaboration between authors and artists... so go take a look! There are plenty of other stories by several talented J/B authors there!

Enjoy the story, and stay tuned for part 2, which will be posted in the next few days.


"I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion."

Jack Kerouac, On The Road

It breaks my heart to know that you'll actually read these words tomorrow. You certainly don't deserve to be dealt such an unexpected blow, but you do deserve a proper explanation, so I hope that this letter can at least provide more clarity than my aimless ramblings ever could. I'm going to leave it in a place where I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding it, and I hope that you'll read it all the way through, even if it seems too painful at times

I have to start by asking you to forgive me for writing a letter just because I couldn't find my voice. I won't blame you if you want to call me a coward, if you think I deserve to be punished instead of forgiven. I'll still be repeating it inside my head, hoping you can somehow hear me:

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry it had to happen this way.

As a child, she'd never been afraid of the dark.

It had been her only weird thing, really… the only thing that set her apart from ninety percent of the other kids in her neighbourhood or at her school. Children weren't supposed to enjoy wandering into closets at midnight, pushing aside the shoes and falling asleep behind thick curtains of musty tweed and gore-tex. Children loved the sunshine, and closets contained monsters, and night-lights were made for a reason. This was all according to her mother, who, after so many months of failing to drag a suitable answer out of her little girl, decided to (of course) find a therapist off whom she could bounce a barrage of ridiculous questions: Is this healthy? Is it… you know… detrimental to her posture if she sleeps on the floor under her bed? Is she going to grow up to be one of those people who can't go outside or be in public? Is it possible to suffocate inside a dryer?

And the answers followed like equally spaced speed bumps on a long, level, otherwise empty road: Yes. No. Probably not. Only if the door is shut (and, pre-emptively, with raised hands: You can't from the inside).

After one thoroughly enlightening hour it was determined that okay, sure it was a little odd.

It was odd that Bella didn't just endure the darkness with a determined bravery that most kids her age exhibited. She actually liked it, sought it out, found solace in it, and this was an "unconventional behaviour" according to… science.

Still, there wasn't much to be done. Renee proceeded to painfully (and somewhat guiltily) part ways with her hundred and fifty dollar check, and Bella continued to wake up cramped between the clothes-hamper and the closet-organizer until her limbs eventually became too long to keep folded up all night without succumbing to pins and needles.

Yet, even after her hide and seek phase, as it came to be known, had passed, the strange behaviour would continue to reveal itself from time to time. In middle school she rolled her eyes at her friends and their fascination with ghost stories and Ouija boards and Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, their squeals of terror always punctuated by her poorly-held-back grunts of inappropriate laughter. They would, in turn, try their hardest to get a rise out of her, jumping out from behind the furniture, forcing her to sit through horror movie upon horror movie, solemnly warning her about things that supposedly thrived in the darkness: ghosts and monsters in all their various forms. But she couldn't even force herself to convincingly bat an eyelash. It was all just so silly; she knew the dark, had seen every last corner of it, and it seemed to her that she was the only thing that thrived there. If all of it were true, if there really was a legitimate reason to be afraid, she'd have discovered it a long time ago.

It couldn't possibly make any more sense than that.

And yet it was this same logic – on this night, now that she needed it the most – that was betraying her.

It was two am. She was seated in an almost-crouch on a low concrete ledge (or rather, the appropriate concrete ledge) beneath the sputtering fluorescent Tesoro marquee, somewhat concealed from plain sight by the long shadow of a soda vending machine. It was humming a low buzz against her left shoulder, yet failing to calm her even with its gentle vibration. Her toothbrush, wallet, passport, and change of underwear casually ricocheted off the inside walls of her otherwise empty bag, shuffling around haphazardly with the alternating bounce of her restless legs.

This was it, the night that everything was about to change, and she couldn't even write off her skittishness as the simple product of an underlying childish fear.

She lifted her head, ignoring the dark, knowing that it wasn't what was bothering her, and tried even harder to ignore what really was bothering her. But it was pointless; there were so many other things, two-sided things, arguments and passions and voices of reason that warred within the confines of her far-past-the-point-of-exhausted mind, and at this moment they were tearing her in two. Still.

So much for conquering your indecisiveness, she thought to herself, shaking her head. Of course. Leave it to Bella Swan to question her decisions even after she's supposedly made them.

She was officially the most pathetic human being on this curb.

The muffled sound of smashing glass and distant drunken laughter brusquely roused her from her trance. She craned her neck forward, angling her head awkwardly around the soda machine to see if she could locate the noise's source, but all she could see was the dark, empty street intermittently lit up with soft, tented beams of yellow light.

The clamour seemed pretty far off, and she was almost a hundred percent certain that it was simply the product of some forestry workers on a weekend high and one too many shots of Jack Daniels, but it still served to needlessly exacerbate her already anxious state of mind. She automatically drew her feet up until her thighs were pressed firmly against her chest, rested her chin on her kneecaps, and continued to wait.

After what seemed like another hour, but was actually only fifteen minutes, she glanced down at her cell phone, feeling around blindly for the appropriate button and jabbing it with her thumb to make the display illuminate, casting a subtle glow of blue-white light on her forearms and drawn-up knees.

Sure enough… Quarter after.

She shivered, setting off an unsolicited chain reaction that quickly became impossible to reign in.

Her teeth began chattering, a gradual progression from rapid, feather-light drumroll taps to a deep, hollow, jaw-tensing staccato. Eventually, the rest of her body joined in on her knees' convulsing, the muscles in her neck constricting and pulling on her shoulders until they found themselves hoisted somewhere up around her ears.

She wondered if it was just the residual chill, her body's subtle way of nudging her back to her bedroom, of keeping Edward firmly situated in her consciousness despite every attempt she was making (and had been making for the past hour) to block him out.

She closed her eyes and tried to centre herself by focusing on the almost deafening rhythm inside her chest, but even her heart seemed to be taunting her, prodding her repetitively like a mischievously persistent child: You're bluffing... You're bluffing... You're bluffing... You're bluffing… You're—

"You're right," she suddenly whispered aloud to no one, the soft sound escaping her throat with the abrupt snapping-up of her head. Her lips felt numb, and they barely moved at all as she breathed out the rhetorical question, "What the hell are you doing?"

She shoved her phone quickly back into her bag, stood with a slight wobble, and began to march resolutely back down the road that had brought her here in the first place.

She didn't get far before she was blinded, though only for as second, by a set of high-beams that should've been toned down to a level more appropriate for residential driving – but weren't. She brought a hand up to shield her eyes. The light continued to move, sweeping past her and the gas pumps until it finally came to rest on a scraggly, abused-looking shrub. The car shifted into park not twenty feet from where she stood.

He was here.

What horrible timing… or was it perfect timing? She didn't have a clue, and she was suddenly terrified.

Time to decide.

As she slowly lowered her arm from its defensive position, a tiny flash – like a spark from a fire – caught her attention, causing her eyes to lock magnetically onto her slowly lowering hand. She held it out at waist level in front of her squinted eyes, its digits delicately arched, hovering motionless over a spray of broken bottle shards that picked up and refracted the glowing red beam from the taxi's taillights. The diamond on her finger was not unlike these simple chunks of glass, no more or less impressive to her than the destruction at her feet. It sparkled exactly the same.

And so she found it easier to finally exhale the gasp she'd been holding in since the cab's arrival.

She found it easier to take her very first step forward.

These days it feels like my words (and my strength, and my composure, and my ability to string thoughts together coherently) just completely disappear when I'm around you. I open my mouth and there's only a void, so I try to forget about it. I keep putting it off til "later", and then I can't help getting angrier and angrier with myself as each uneventful day passes. I don't know if you really understand what it's like to be angry all the time without letting it show, to feel trapped and silenced by the fear of hurting everyone around you. Well, I can tell you: It's absolutely exhausting.

The sun's reflection off the windshield of the Rabbit was dancing, tracing a lingering ultraviolet squiggly line around her entire field of vision, searing into her retinas. Despite the burn, she could still make him out in her rear-view mirror, his bare shoulders slumped in defeat, tired legs slowly dragging him back towards the little car. Sure, he was getting progressively smaller and smaller, but he was still there. She could still breathe.

A deep pothole suddenly shook the world around her, causing the tiny luminescent speck to dart up and out of her field of vision for a second, but she found it – found him – again easily enough with the levelling-out of the road.

It seemed physically impossible for her to release him from her sight, especially after looking into his eyes not two minutes ago and being forced to acknowledge the hurt that she had caused. Because she was causing him pain, and that should've been reason enough to take a step back and consider leaving him for his sake, but she just… couldn't, and she wasn't eager to consider the reason behind this unfounded determination.

So it was with extreme reluctance that she glanced at the road ahead for a millisecond – just to make sure that her name wasn't about to end up on tomorrow's front page along with the words "headlong", "tragic", and "toxicology report pending"– before quickly relocating the mirror.

She panicked for a moment; he'd disappeared… sort of. The little red car was still sitting motionless on the shoulder, and she was sure she could see the vague outline of a dark figure inside. This arrangement was sort of perfect in a way, because his face – the one part of him that she really didn't need to see right now – was completely unreadable behind its reflective glass shield.

This feeling of grounded calm, however, wasn't to last long. The highway began to gradually bend enough to warrant her full attention on the dotted yellow line that separated her from potential disaster, and this time when she looked back she could only see the trees lining the pavement, menacing in their solidarity like so many vague, shadowy sentinels of the road.

She almost immediately collapsed into tears. Almost. It was as if her sanity was attached to him, and the tether had finally reached its snapping point. Her breath hovered somewhere between her throat and her lungs, unable to either advance or retreat.

His words from a few moments ago gathered and built and rearranged themselves until it began to feel like they were assaulting her memory, intensifying by the second. They swept through her mind like a rake passing through smooth, levelled sand, unsettling all other lingering thoughts as they passed…

Look… into your future... Do you honestly see this working? You, me, and him?

It suddenly struck her harder than the head-on semi she'd been dreading a moment ago…

Oh God… what if his answer is no?

What if she'd actually made a decision without having said a thing?

She looked back again, then straight ahead – only now without sight. Her vision was swimming, blank, smudged; it was miles and miles and miles of farther and farther away. And it wasn't just the road that was gone now, but everything… all of the things that had once anchored her. She couldn't decide if she was supposed to feel thrilled or terrified. She couldn't decide if she was free, or completely paralysed.

Then the promise – her promise – gripped and steadied her and tore her out of the imaginary wreckage, away from the screaming in her head that she hadn't even noticed until it was gone.

I'll see you tomorrow.

She felt the ghost of his hand gently, timidly squeezing her arm, his knuckles warm under her own steady palm, and everything rushed back.

She drew in a desperate breath, and her future reappeared along with the road, straight and unclouded and beckoning. Her right foot pressed harder against the gas pedal, propelling her forward – eastward – with greater and greater speed, and she grasped at the promise like a lifeline as she left him in her dust.

Even as I sit here in the dark with my bag packed and my shoes on, I'm second-guessing every single thought that passes through my mind. I wonder if I'm just being horribly, greedily selfish? My mother used to tell me that life was about give and take, that I would have to relinquish certain things – important things – in order to make someone else happy one day. I know she was talking about compromise, but at what point is it considered prudent to step back and see if the benefits outweigh the losses? It seems to me that the moment of truth comes in finding the line that separates compromise from self-sacrifice, and then asking yourself:

What side do I really want to be on?


Jacob wasn't home. Something about "pack business," Billy told her, his eyes detached, cool, unable to linger on her face. Instead they hovered rather unapologetically just over her shoulder, apparently fascinated by the sky, or at least one of its inhabitants.

"When will he be back?" she asked innocently. "It's just that… he told me yesterday to come by today, so…"

"Late..." Billy said, his voice firm and abrupt like the chopping of a knife, eyes finally moving to meet hers. "I think he said he'd be back later…" He stopped for a second to check his watch unnecessarily, then waved his hand with casual disregard. "I mean late, later."

"Oh… okay." She stepped back, nodding her head gently as she lowered herself down the porch steps. "Will you tell him I'll--" but when she glanced back, her unspoken pledge to return was met only by the dull click of the door against its frame.

She did come back the next day, though, this time to be greeted with an indifferent "He's out again".

Then the next day – Thursday – it was, "Out. Sam's orders", and then on Friday, "You know how it is, Bella…"

Four days passed without a single breath of news from – or about – Jake, and she retreated reluctantly each time, back to Edward and the comfort only he could provide, though he did so unwittingly. She knew that she should've been relieved, that she should've been grateful to Jake for taking away her options… because while this decision that he'd clearly made on her behalf left behind an ache that wasn't easy to ignore, it also made things extremely simple. It renewed her focus.

For four days she pleaded with Edward, the same demand, but now with unparalleled intensity. Please. I'm ready. I want to be with you forever…

And Edward (

of course) being Edward, took this the wrong way. He took it in its human context, where forever was merely synonymous with a lifetime. This was why she secretly wanted to berate him when he pulled out the ring: Even at this, what should've been their most romantic moment, they couldn't see eye to eye… and it wasn't just because she was literally standing up while he was literally kneeling down.

She wanted to frantically nudge his leg with her foot, to whip her head around and scan the room, hoping to find no witnesses. She wanted to yank on his arm and hiss at him to get up and stop being so ridiculous.

But instead she just let the solitary word fall out of her, hoarse and affected and nothing at all like it sounded in the movies when those girls - the ones with tears in their eyes - smiled and laughed and actually meant it. She wasn't even sure which word she actually said until she noticed him standing in front of her, until she saw the triumphant, relieved look on his face.

Edward Cullen slid Elizabeth Masen's diamond onto Bella's trembling finger, and in that moment her future – everything that she would ever have, or be, or want, or do, or love – became so unbelievably clear that it disappeared right in front of her eyes.

You'd think, since I'm writing this (and I guess that means I'm serious), that I'd have some sort of plan laid out… that I'd know where this path that I've chosen will lead me, but I don't. All I know is what I feel, and explaining these feelings is nearly impossible, especially when all of this seems completely stupid and irrational. How can I explain insanity? How can I justify running away, leaving behind all these things that are supposed to define me? It's scary, the idea of starting from scratch, of turning my back on this secure, stable life we have together, but you know I've never once asked for security. I've never envied those who claim to know what the future holds.

"Alice is going to absolutely lose her mind… you do realize this, right?" he half-murmured, half-whispered into her ear. She shuddered, filling her darkened room with the sound of rustling sheets.

She was aware that he was trying to be funny, but she couldn't bring herself to laugh. Instead she attempted a light-hearted smile, achieved only a grimace. She was glad he was behind her, and therefore couldn't actually see her face. "Alice is… Alice. Shouldn't she already know?" she reasoned, trying again to force a giggle, and failing.

He hummed a low note against the back of her neck, so full of happiness that she could almost picture legions of jealous girls country-wide turning up their noses in disgust. "She knows that I'd planned on asking you, but… well, she wouldn't be able to see your answer."

"Not until my decision was actually made," she clarified, mumbling robotically into her pillow, still hoping that he couldn't detect any bitterness in her words.

"Exactly. Well, too bad for Miss Clairvoyant that she opted to go with Jasper and Emmett. She's going to be livid that she missed this just to go hunting."

"But now that I've…" she stopped for a second, considering her words. "Now that I've… decided… will Alice be able to see? Does she always know my choices right when I've made them?"

He let out two or three low chuckles and drummed his fingers lightly against her ribcage. "Bella, to be honest I've tried to understand how Alice's head works since the moment I first met her… and to this day I'm still not sure if I really get it."

"Hmmm…" she answered with a sort-of guttural purr, deciding to just leave it at that.

Staring straight ahead at her bookshelf, she tried to shake the feeling that she was suffocating beneath the arm draped over her side, which was feeling heavier and heavier by the second. She tried to divert her panicky thoughts by focusing on the subject of their prior conversation: Alice's gift… and Edward's too for that matter. How strange it must be, she thought, knowing what the future holds, knowing what everyone around you is thinking every second of every day? She'd never really reflected on it too deeply, never put herself in their shoes before. She hadn't considered how… well… boring their lives might be as a result of these seemingly valuable assets.

Bella wondered if, after her transformation, she would come to possess some similar gift. She considered her current skills and, as a result, felt the laughter that she'd been searching for a moment ago almost rise to the surface. What sort of terrifying vampire power could she possibly possess? Speed-reading? Useless-lasagna making? Basketball dodging? Scrabble domination?

This newfound scepticism, this second-guessing of every last one of her yesterday-self's most beloved aspirations probably should have caught her off guard, but strangely… it didn't. Instead she was starting to see that something impulsive, something rebellious was growing inside of her. She could tell it had always been there, almost like a hereditary gene that had been dormant all these years, waiting to be discovered and utilized.

Bella almost jumped when Edward tilted his mouth back towards her ear and spoke in a tone that was about as close to giddy as he could possibly get. "This is the happiest day of my torturously long life." The announcement faded out into amused laughter, proving that he was at least capable of acknowledging his own ludicrous hyperbole.

But again, she couldn't laugh with him; instead she released another slightly muted "hmmm", hoped it came out sounding more agreeable than it felt.

He lowered his voice to a whisper, pressed his lips against the skin at the ridge of her jawbone, and spoke again, this time with the utmost sincerity, "Do you know how long I've waited for you?" His cool breath grazed past her earlobe. "How long I've waited for this?"

She turned onto her back, allowing him to see her face but keeping her eyes trained on the ceiling. "So why can't we both wait just a little longer?" she said, trying not to sound too whiny. "Why do we have to get married before I…" But she couldn't finish the sentence, the remaining syllables having already been swallowed.

"Bella…" He sat up, placing his cool hand on her arm, awakening thousands upon thousands of goosebumps. "Why does it matter so much to you?"


It was all she could come up with.

"What's the difference?" he proceeded convincingly, "This… what we feel for each other now… it's not going to change after I transform you. Whether we get married today, or next month, or six years from now, it's still just you and me. I just want to hear you promise yourself to me while you still have a choice. It's important to me, Bella…"

She wanted to roll her eyes and tell him the same thing that she'd repeatedly told Jacob in so many different words: Oh, please Edward. You know I don't have a choice. I need to be with you. There is no other option…

Yes, she wanted to roll her eyes and laugh it off, but instead she settled on almost choking on her own saliva.

The Cullens, she realized, really didn't have any options. They were stuck – in their bodies… away from the sun… in high school… with each other…

That was when she realized that all of this – her presence in their home, her showdown against James, her brush with the Volturi – must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to them. No wonder they loved her so much… she and her silly human fragility had managed to somehow bump their monotonous little world right out of its orbit. She had given them something to do.

Is this what it will be like for me too? she wondered, Am I just gonna hunt bears and drive sports cars and take the same trigonometry class over and over and over again until maybe, if the fates should smile upon me, some stupid human wanders into my life and stirs it up by trying to get themselves killed? Is this what I have to look forward to?

She felt a light sheen of sweat starting to build on her forehead.

"Edward?" she mumbled.

"Yes, Bella?" She felt his hand move to her waist. It didn't feel cold this time; the blankets provided a barrier between them, but it was firm, steady, and, in some strange way, almost desperate.

She panicked for a second; had he lied when he'd once told her that her mind was a mystery to him? Could he hear the screaming, the voicing of a final decision in the back of her mind, even if she wasn't sure she could?

Impossible. He would never lie to her.

She took a deep breath. "I think I just..." She paused, but refused to let herself think about it. She just breathed out and allowed the words to come, "...need to be alone tonight."

She felt his body weight shift, but she'd already turned her back on him again, so she couldn't tell if he was sitting up or not. "Of course", his soothing voice assured her... naturally. "Whatever you need, my love."

His hand pressed down slightly harder in that second, and she felt the overwhelming urge to take back what she'd just said, to ask him to stay, because she knew that he'd make good on his promise to love her forever, just like he always said he would. His nature, his being, his devotion to her ensured that he would never intentionally hurt her, would never leave her, would do everything in his power for the rest of both of their eternities to make sure that she never felt pain, or sadness, or fear.

She snapped back into the moment and suddenly realized that she hadn't even seen his face in what seemed like hours. She flopped back onto her back again as he stood to make his exit. She looked at him, and she loved him, and it changed nothing.


He didn't respond, waiting for her to continue.

"I love you," she finally managed to whisper, and she was sure that – even without being able to read her mind – he could tell that something had changed.

Still, she couldn't imagine letting him just leave without hearing the truth for the last time.

He bent over her bedside and kissed her, this time not quite as hesitantly as usual. She didn't fight it, didn't feel the need to push him away to solidify her resolution. She accepted it as a final offering. She would remember it like this until the day she died.

He pulled away slowly, allowing his face to hover millimetres from hers. His lips parted again, as if he wished he could go back for more, as if he knew that he'd just kissed her for the last time, and was now regretting its brevity. Instead, he just whispered, his nose against hers, "Thank you..." He paused, grinning lovingly while looking down at her lips. "...for saying yes," he finished, raising his eyes to meet hers with a slight increase in his smile.

She didn't speak, because she knew there was nothing to be said in this moment that would ever make sense to them both.

I refuse to believe that you didn't see this coming at least a little bit. You're too clever to allow yourself to be caught completely off guard, even if you've never possessed the ability to read me like a book. I know you. Things like this just don't escape your silent attention. What confuses me is why you never mentioned anything to me about it. Was it a subconscious hope that kept you quiet all this time, or did you purposely decide to ignore the warning signs in order to maintain the status quo for as long as we could both endure it? Either way, I'm sorry. I wish you could have had the courage to break my heart, since I'm the one who deserves it. As it is, we now both have to accept that this is the way it was meant to play out.

She just sat there for a while, unsure how to process the seconds as they inched along and vanished one by one. If she was to believe what the voices in her head were telling her, then she'd just kissed Edward Cullen for the very last time. She felt as though she were lying to herself, or at least playing a game to see if she could trick her own brain into believing a lie. She was frozen; she had to stay completely still for a moment, because she knew that whatever came next – whatever move she made – would determine the entire course of… everything. These weren't things to be taken lightly.

Her first move was made subconsciously: a simple step out of her bed and towards the closet. She grabbed a bag from somewhere near the back and started filling it with the first clothing items she could reach. As the bag started to fill up, she realized that there was no possible way she was going to get everything to fit inside, so she stepped back, gripped the hair at her temple with her right hand, mumbled "screw it" to herself, and decided to just abandon it. And while it was all very literal at the moment, the metaphorical implications threatened to crush her as she lobbed the bulbous, brimming duffel back into the closet, deciding – rather dramatically – to travel light.

She instead threw a few modest items into her old, ratty backpack, slung it over one shoulder and darted across the room to her desk. She tapped the button on the front of her computer monitor with her knuckle, waiting impatiently for the blue-white glow to flood the small space and offer her some much-needed illumination.

She knew she couldn't take the truck; that much was obvious. If she started the engine, Charlie would hear, and this whole thing would be over before it even started.

Bella opened the browser, allowed her fingers to hover tetchily over the keys for a second before pounding out the desired words: "Taxi Forks Washington". She clicked on the first link that popped up, then frantically scanned the room to locate her cell phone. She couldn't see it anywhere, couldn't even remember when she'd last used it, and the resulting panic educed a thud that echoed inside her chest cavity like a thick rubber-band being snapped against a balloon.

She yanked all of her nightstand drawers out of their slots and, after pawing through their contents to no avail, stacked them on the floor right next to her bed and continued to ransack the place. She whipped the sheets from the mattress, shaking them out, tossing the pillows carelessly behind her, then piling everything back onto the bed haphazardly. She checked the desk, the windowsill, her bookshelf, even the closet, and still came up empty-handed.

This can't possibly be a sign, she thought.

She didn't even believe in signs.

She frantically spun around one last time, her dangling arms answering the tug of her upper body, slicing the air like loose propeller blades. When she stopped, she saw it… right there in front of her face. She remembered now. It was right where she'd left it on the seat of the rocking chair, right where she'd sat waiting for Edward not even an hour ago.

As she bent to pick it up, the tears just… appeared. She knew why they were there, but that still didn't mean she'd been expecting them. Soon the sobs began to intensify to the point where they were almost completely annihilating her, stealing all the breath from her lungs, forcing her to grip the chair for balance. The silent screams burned in the back of her throat, and a dull ache throbbed somewhere just behind her eyes. This lapse in concentration, this unanticipated flash flood lasted only about five minutes, but it left its intended impression all the same.

When it was over she picked up her phone, wiped off her face, and sat back down in front of the computer. The night wasn't about to stop and wait for her, and she didn't have another five minutes to waste on crying.

I'm not going to try and fool myself into believing that running away is the same as disappearing. I know you have the means to track me down, just like I know that, given the chance, you'd have followed me anywhere I asked. Please… I'm begging you not to try and find me.

The pieces of shattered glass crunched loudly against the concrete, giving her measured steps their own staticky soundtrack, an auditory reminder that she was indeed moving forward… that the time for idleness had passed. The noise was too rhythmical for her liking, though. It was unsettling, and even though she couldn't figure out why she didn't like it, she nonetheless broke into a lazy jog, stopping when she found herself facing a passenger door adorned with faded black and yellow checks.

The door was locked when she first tried to open it, and the driver must have pressed the release button at the exact moment that she made her second attempt, because it still refused to budge. The third failed effort was nothing short of embarrassing.

She raised both hands up to her shoulders, palms exposed to the slightly tinted windows. At the same time, a deep, muffled voice from inside shouted, "Don't touch it for a sec!" When she finally heard the click, lifted the handle, and snuck her face into the gap, she was sure her cheeks and forehead were as red as they could possibly get.

Her nervousness silenced her for a second, and she suddenly realized that she didn't know what she was doing… or what she was supposed to say. Still, the last thing she wanted was for her ignorance to be so apparent that it would start to raise suspicions, so she forced herself to speak despite her complete lack of preparation.

"Umm… are you the taxi that I… uh… ordered?"

Her eyelids involuntarily squished together in humiliation, and she deliberately bit down on her tongue, already anticipating – and trying to head off – the words "Wait, can I start over again?" before they escaped her mouth.

"Nope," he answered flippantly, "I'm a human person." His attention was mostly focused on the open side console, fingers casually sorting through what sounded like several sheets of crumpled paper… receipts, perhaps.

She must have looked either completely stunned or completely appalled, because he immediately felt the need to elaborate, "This here's your taxi." He tapped the dashboard with his knuckle, "and this is where I was told to come, so that must make youuuuu…" He finally lifted a scrap of paper from the chaos of the console and held it out at arm's length in front of his horribly squinted eyes, moving it back and forth to try and gain some focus. "…Swan… Isabel?"

She stepped back defensively, straightened up a bit. "How do you know my—"

"Caller ID at the depot," he interrupted her question, continuing, "If you don't want people to know your name when you call them, you should probably change your privacy settings. Everyone's got caller ID these days."

She blinked, taken aback by his honesty. Since she couldn't think of a decent comeback, she turned and glanced at the road she'd been dead set on re-tracing not thirty seconds ago. Her eyes swept from the car to the street and back again, dragging her entire head along with them.

"So…" the driver said, derailing her train of thought as he turned to rest his elbow on the shoulder of the passenger seat, "yooooouuuu need a ride somewhere?" It probably wasn't meant to come out as sarcastic as it ended up sounding.

"Oh, right…" She forced herself back to present-time with a rough shake of her head, "Yeah, I guess so."

When she finally ducked inside, the second thing she noticed (the first being the overwhelming new-car scent, undoubtedly the product of a one-dollar cardboard tree) was the meter on the dash: "Forty-six dollars!?" she squeaked, unable to hide the surprise in her voice.

He cleared his throat, jerking his head slightly to the side with apparent confusion, "I thought Dave said you were willing to pay the extra fare it took me to get here."

"Yeah, I did say that… but… crap," she mumbled.

"Crap is right," he sort-of-laughed with vague interest, plucking his Blackberry from its cup-holder nest and punching out few rapid keystrokes. "What's with the out-of-town cab thing, anyway? You going back to Port Angeles?"

"No," she replied, determined to leave it at that. She wasn't about to tell him that she couldn't take a cab in Forks because all of the drivers knew her father, and she really didn't feel the need to mention that she actually had called Forks Taxi initially, only to abruptly hang up on Marty Schultz, Charlie's longtime darts rival. She cringed a little at the recollection of her momentary lapse in judgement.

"So then… where to?" the driver finally asked after a moment's silence, settling back into his seat and draping both hands on top of the steering wheel. She decided he seemed nice enough, though possibly a little jaded from being forced to work the night shift. He'd probably jumped at the chance to take on this unusual assignment, the solitary highway drive at least promising a refreshing break from the norm. She was sure the potentially extravagant fare had likely played a deciding role as well.

She cleared her throat softly, managed to force out, "La Push."

"The reservation?" he gawked, his head now partially turned towards her. She could only see half of the shock on his face – one wide, slightly bloodshot eye straining to size up this odd girl sitting just outside its peripheral line.

"Yeah." She said it quickly, brushing aside his surprise like it was nothing, then decided it was necessary to tack on, "Is… that okay?"

He chuckled, shifting into drive. "You're the boss."

She nodded as they pulled out onto the main road that led towards the highway.