AN: New story! I'm excited! As usual, music is my inspiration. The story title comes from Bob Seger. This chapter's title comes from Miranda Lambert. How's that for a combination?
Disclaimer: This is going to serve as the disclaimer for this entire story. I am not Stephenie Meyer. These are her characters. This plot line, however, is all mine. :)
The House That Built Me
"I got lost in this old world
And forgot who I am…"
Isn't it funny how small towns never really change?
My little hometown passed in my periphery through the tinted windows of my rental car. It was dismally cloudy as a cold rain pelted my windshield. I adjusted the speed of the wipers to compensate for the brisk rain shower that had been my companion since I'd exited onto Highway 101.
One thing was for certain.
The weather sure hadn't changed.
To be fair, some things had changed in this little town. The movie theater had been renovated to look a little more modern, and it had been expanded to three screens. I couldn't help but smirk as I noticed the marquee and recognized the names of three movies – all of which had been released over four months ago.
And the admission price was still a dollar.
I continued along South Forks Avenue until I reached the first traffic light – the first of the three lights in town. I glanced to my right and noticed that the greasy diner had survived last year's forest fire. I found it funny that the most flammable place in town had somehow survived a raging blaze that had ripped through the outer region of the Olympic Peninsula.
Cockroaches and Newton's Diner would withstand nuclear war.
To my left, I saw a Subway Restaurant. This was new. But from the looks of the empty parking lot, it appeared that the sandwich shop was no competition for the crowded family diner just across the street.
I made a mental note to eat there often.
Not because I particularly liked subs. But because I liked my privacy.
Like every other small town in America, I noticed that Forks now had a shopping Supercenter. And – because someone in corporate management was a complete moron – the place was actually open twenty-four hours a day. I was positive that the utility bill to keep those lights burning all day and night was in serious contrast to the daily sales figures. Someone was bound to be losing money.
I drove northward and noticed a local car dealership – Clearwater Motors – which I assumed was owned by Harry and his wife, Sue. Or maybe their son? What was his name? Steve? Shawn? No….Seth. Seth Clearwater. Back in high school, he'd been the quarterback of the Spartans football team, which meant that – in this little town – he was royalty. He could have gone on to be President of the United States, but it wouldn't have mattered to the folks in Forks. His biggest claim to fame would forever be that he'd led the Spartans to the state championship two years in a row.
By the time I reached the third traffic light, I was a little bored with just how much hadn't changed in this sleepy logging town when I noticed a book store. This was definitely new – or at least new within the past five years. I noticed the name of the book store and couldn't help but grin. It was my first honest smile since entering the city limits.
Turn the Page
Someone in this town was pretty creative – and a Bob Seger fan. It looked comfortable and welcoming and not too busy, and I made another mental note to visit as soon as I was settled in at home.
Nervously, I ran my hand through my hair and turned up the radio. With a deep breath, I flipped the turn signal and turned onto the winding road that ran adjacent to the Sol Duc River. I took my time on the three-mile stretch of driveway that – according to my father – had been the house's finest selling point. Carlisle had always craved his privacy and seclusion. As a boy, I never understood it – that healing peace that my father found on his front porch, surrounded by the sounds of nature, the warmth of his family, and the sanctity of his home.
But today - as a thirty-year old man- I not only understood it.
I craved it.
The house looked the same, but this time, I saw it through different eyes. It appeared to have a fresh coat of paint, and Mom had planted a new flowerbed along the porch. It was far too majestic for this little town, but here – nestled in the forest – it looked like something out of a fairytale. I'd never really noticed that before, and I was amazed that I had missed something so obvious throughout my childhood years.
I turned off the engine and gazed longingly at the steps leading to the front door. It was ridiculous that I was this nervous about walking up a set of wooden steps that I'd walked a thousand times in my life.
Perhaps you wouldn't be so nervous if you weren't such a stranger to your family.
It was true. I hadn't been home since Christmas 2005. I had been too busy chasing dreams…chasing women…chasing gigs….to find the time to come home and see my family. My brother Emmett was married with two kids, and my sister Alice was almost out of college. They were virtual strangers to me, and that was my fault.
My parents, of course, would welcome me home with open arms. They wouldn't judge and they wouldn't question. Mom would hug me and pull me into the kitchen to make my favorite dinner. She'd be surprised when I offered to help with the dishes. Later, when Dad retreated to the tranquility of his front porch, I would ask to join him. And he'd say yes, because he'd always asked his children to sit with him, and we'd always said no. We didn't need to "let the gentle roar of the rushing river ease our troubled minds."
That was exactly what I needed. So, tonight, this child wouldn't say no.
I adjusted the rearview mirror to take a good look at my face. My eyes were a little brighter than normal…thanks in part to the fact that I no longer lived in smoky bars or stayed awake for days at a time. But regardless…I still look exhausted. It was the kind of exhausted that didn't come from a few bad nights of sleep. No….this exhaustion was bone deep…a product of a decade's worth of abuse that had finally caught up with me.
I climbed out of the car and opened the back door, dragging my worn suitcase and duffel bag out onto the driveway. I then popped the trunk and pulled out my guitar case. I was grateful the rental car's trunk had been spacious enough to protect my guitar. It was my most prized possession, and there was no way I could leave it exposed in the backseat when I'd been forced to stop for gas or food along the way.
Thieves could have my clothes, but my guitar was sacred.
With a tired sigh, I climbed the steps to the front door. It seemed polite to knock, so I did. The door flew open almost immediately, and the beautiful face of my mother was staring right back at me.
"Edward…." she whispered wistfully, and her voice was so soft and gentle that I felt a twinge deep in my heart. She pulled me into her embrace, and I rested my head on her shoulder. I nuzzled her hair, and I smiled as the familiar scent of her peppermint shampoo filled my senses and relaxed my frantic nerves.
"Your father and I are so glad you're home," Mom murmured gently.
"It's good to be home," I replied softly.
Once inside, I carefully dropped my bags and the guitar case, and she pulled me by hand into the kitchen. I could smell her meatloaf, and my stomach rumbled in anticipation.
How long had it been since I'd eaten a home-cooked meal?
"Dinner is almost ready," she smiled as she led me to the island. I climbed up on a stool as she walked over to the stove. "Your father is at the hospital delivering a baby. But he's so excited to see you, and he'll be home as soon as he can."
"Dad's delivering babies now?"
She giggled as she stirred something on the stove. "Not usually. But he's the ER doctor on call this weekend, so it's always an adventure."
We made small talk while she finished dinner, and I learned that Alice was graduating with honors from UW and that Em and Rose were expecting baby number three. I was ashamed that I hadn't met babies number one or two, but Mom assured me that we would rectify that situation tomorrow.
"Tomorrow is Family Day," she announced as she opened the fridge. "So don't be making any plans."
Whenever I'd found time to come home, I would always spend a majority of that time with my buddies down at the Rez or in some of the seedier bars on the outskirts of town. I assured her that this wouldn't be the case this time.
She wiped her hands on her apron and sat down on the stool next to me. "That's good. I've missed you, you know."
"I've missed you, too."
I could see it in her eyes. She was dying to know what had brought me home and how long I'd be staying this time. But she'd never ask. Mom was never one to pry. She trusted her children to make their own choices in life – a philosophy which her children had taken advantage of on more than one occasion. But unlike her other children, I'd never stopped taking advantage of the privilege, and I knew that it'd caused both my mother and father many sleepless nights over the years.
I had just finished helping Mom set the table when we heard Dad walk into the dining room. He kissed Mom's cheek just before his eyes locked with mine, and I was stunned to see how much older he looked. Had he really aged that much in five years?
"It's good to see you, son." He pulled me into a hug and patted me on the shoulder. "You look….tired."
Dad was always brutally honest. Besides, it'd been five years. He couldn't very well – right off the bat – say that I looked like shit. Which I did. He'd tell me later.
"It's good to see you, too. And I am tired."
Dinner was delicious, of course. I listened with rapt attention as my parents brought me up to speed on everything that was going on with my siblings and in our little town. A new high school was finally being built. The town's librarian had passed away last week, and Mike Newton had just taken over ownership of his dad's diner. I learned that Leah, Seth's sister, was actually the name behind Clearwater Motors.
"And we have a new police chief in town. Been here about a year."
"Poor guy," I remarked between bites of meatloaf. "He has to be the most chronically bored man in the Pacific Northwest."
They laughed but didn't bother denying it.
"Chief Swan is a nice man," Dad said. "His daughter opened that new book store in town."
"I passed it on my way in," I replied as I passed the potatoes to my father. "The chief's daughter has good taste in music."
"She'll be happy to hear you say that," Dad grinned as he shoveled the mashed potatoes onto his plate. "She was positively appalled at the number of people in this town who didn't get the reference."
"Including me, but she did send me home with a classic rock CD so that I could "educate myself," Mom laughed softly. "She even quizzed me over the lyrics when I went back a week later…"
And then her eyes softened…all dreamy and angelic-like…
I know that look.
"You know, Edward," Mom smiled hopefully, "….she's single…and so pretty…and she obviously likes music…"
Yep, that's the look.
I glanced helplessly at my father.
"Esme," my father chuckled. "The boy just walked in the door, and you're already playing matchmaker?"
Mom actually blushed. "How terrible of me. Please forgive me, Edward." I waved my fork in her direction, assuring her all was forgiven. "But she is a delightful girl and has one of the best bookstores in the county. People are actually driving from Port Angeles just to visit her store. It's been wonderful for the community."
"That's great," I replied. "I'd love to check it out. Maybe tomorrow…."
"Tomorrow is Family Day," Mom reminded me.
Dad laughed. "Esme, I'm sure we can find some time within the next twenty-four hours to stop by the bookstore. Or maybe Sunday, if that works within your schedule, Edward…."
No schedule here.
"We have plenty of time," I mumbled as I stared down at my plate. I glanced up to find both parents staring a hole through me.
"We do?" Dad asked softly.
The smile that erupted on my mother's face was worth any amount of shame that I felt.
"That's good to hear," Dad commented, saying nothing more about the fact that I was obviously in no hurry to leave. "Well, dinner was delicious. I think I'll go enjoy a few minutes on the porch before I turn in for the night."
"I'd like to join you," I whispered, causing another sharp look of surprise from my parents. "After I help Mom with the dishes, that is."
Mom actually placed her hand over her heart as her fork fell onto her plate. "Alright, who are you and what have you done with my son?"
I grinned sheepishly as I rose from the table. I walked over to her chair and leaned down to kiss her cheek.
"He's home, Mom. Your son is home."
The soft creaking of the rocking chairs was surprisingly soothing as Dad and I sat on the porch and looked across the fields surrounding the house. You could see a few rays of sun setting in the western sky.
"I didn't want to say this in front of your mother – but you look like shit, son."
"I know I do."
Suddenly, something caught my eye across the grass.
"Is that a deer?" I asked, peering into the distance.
He didn't even raise his head from his newspaper. "Probably."
We rocked back and forth for a few more minutes before he folded the paper and placed it in his lap.
"Seeing a deer in your front yard isn't a rare occurrence here in Forks."
"I remember," I whispered softly. Truthfully, I'd seen everything from black bears to elk in the meadow behind our house.
Dad gazed out into the twilight. "It's good to remember where you're from. Your family. Your hometown. Your house. They remind you of what's important in life."
"And what's not important," I whispered soberly.
"Sometimes," he agreed as he turned his head toward me. "Your music is important, Edward. Music is your gift and your talent. It's good that you are so passionate about it."
"But there should be more in my life than just guitar chords and lyrics," I lamented softly. "It's been ten years, Dad. I've played in every dive bar between here and Nashville."
"You've had some success," he pointed out.
"One album in ten years isn't considered a success by any means," I argued. "I had to beg to have it recorded, and I had to beg harder to have it released. And then I had to sell my soul just to get people to buy it."
I leaned my head back, allowing the shame and defeat to course through me.
Dad continued rocking back and forth for a few moments before whispering, "Not that we're complaining, but what brings you home, Edward?"
Because I've lost my third record deal. Because I'm sick of chasing a dream that isn't meant to be. Because the money is running out.
These were not things I could admit to my father. Not yet.
"A man can't miss his family?" I hedged.
"Sure he can," Dad chuckled. "But do you honestly expect me to believe that you've come home after five years because you missed us?"
I sighed miserably.
"It's just time, Dad. Time to get a real job. Time to grow up."
Dad nodded in understanding. "You've been gone a long time. Are you sure you can readjust to small-town life?"
"I honestly don't know," I admitted. "I was actually thinking maybe Olympia or Seattle. I mean… are there any jobs here?"
"We're just like the rest of the country," Dad sighed. "The economy has hit the logging industry pretty hard. Folks are moving away just to find minimum wage jobs. There's very little here."
"I do have a little savings," I replied softly.
Little being the key word.
"That's good," Dad replied quietly. "So in the meantime…"
I took a deep breath. "In the meantime, I'd like to stay here for a while….if that's okay?"
"Of course," Dad said, and I could see his smile in the dimming light. "Get some rest. Refocus. Decide where to go from here…"
I nodded. Rest sounded so nice.
I wished Dad a good night as I made my way up the stairs and to the bedroom I'd shared with Emmett until I was twelve when I finally convinced my parents that a boy needed his privacy. I pushed open the door and wasn't surprised to see that it looked just the same as it did ten years ago. My journals – which were filled with lyrics and guitar tabs instead of your usual diary entries – still lined the shelves. I slowly walked over to the tall bookshelf and ran my finger along the spines and wiped the dust away. Some of my journals had made the trip to Nashville with me. These particular journals – filled with words of teen heartbreak and rebellion – were far too mundane and juvenile to actually put to music. But I kept them, because I learned long ago that some of the best songs could come from the most ordinary of memories.
I turned and noticed that my bags and guitar case were arranged carefully on the bed. I'd have to remember to thank Mom for that tomorrow. I sat down on the bed and turned on the lamp on the nightstand before glancing down at the tiny drawer on the front.
I pulled the drawer, and sure enough, my Bible was still nestled within the confines of the small drawer. Growing up, I'd struggled with religion. Not too surprising, considering mom was a devout Catholic and my father was agnostic. As a child, I always wondered which one of them was right, and until I was sure, I was hesitant to devote my life to any denomination. But it was my grandfather – who refused to label himself one particular denomination over another and preferred to just call himself a Christian – took me to our family's meadow when I was fourteen. There, surrounded by the glistening sunlight that was streaming through the trees, he told me that God didn't care what we called ourselves just as long as we believed in Him.
So that's what I did. I believed.
And because I believed, my grandfather had given me his Bible.
I opened the book and found the bookmark perched among the pages of Psalms. Mom always said it was my favorite book of the Bible because the verses were songs.
She was probably right.
For fun – or maybe for a little guidance – I closed my eyes and drifted my finger along the page. I slowly opened my eyes and read aloud in a gentle whisper.
By day the Lord directs his love,
At night his song is with me."
With a sigh, I quietly closed the Bible and placed it back in the drawer. Then, I opened my guitar case and gently placed the instrument in my lap. I grabbed my pick and strummed softly, hoping that I wasn't disturbing my parents. I laughed to myself as I remembered all of those nights growing up when I'd strum just as softly and wish for the same thing.
I played a few chords….nothing really elaborate….just something to soothe away the day. I could hear the sound of the rain as it splattered on the roof, and the combination of strings and rain brought a calmness to my soul that I hadn't felt in so very long.
It was good to be home.
As I placed my guitar back in the case and got ready for bed, I found myself actually looking forward to tomorrow. I was going to surround myself with my family, my mom's cooking…
…and – just maybe – a few new books.
I'd love to know what you think so far. Thanks!