A/N: As always, thank to my lovely betas SSHG316, SavageWoman and Irritable Grizzzly for making me look like I know what I'm doing.

Thanks also to my Fictionista group for pre-reading and offering me invaluable advice. You know who you are!

Warning: Because of the stories influencing this work (Ever After & She's All That), I'm sure we all realize that there will be a little angst and hardship before the happily ever after, but there will be a happily ever after. If stories that delve into matters of mental health adversely affect or offend you, you might want to skip this chapter.


By belli486

"'There is a child in all of us,' a child in touch with a truth deeper than the logic of tragedy."

Frederick Beuchner and Doug Thorpe

Chapter 2 – Always & Forever


I had spent so much time that summer with the Cullens that I was blindsided when I found out Charlie had been seriously dating Irina Gentry of Port Angeles. I was oddly happy for him—that is, until I actually met the Gentry family.

Irina was tall, thin, and very cold, but she dressed extremely well. She carried herself like someone who had means once upon a time and who believed the caste system was still alive and well. The only time she ever seemed like she was human was when she was with Charlie. He somehow brought out her softer side.

Irina's daughters, Tanya and Kate, were my age and fraternal twins. I tried to befriend them. I was even willing to overlook their disdain for anything that wasn't a name-brand if it would make Charlie happy. However, they made it clear from our first meeting that this would never happen.

Kate, the dark-haired one most like her mother, found me in the kitchen where I was busy trying to finish up dinner. I'd called Esme, and she'd given me her recipe for lasagna.

"Stella," Kate said, her patrician nose turned up. Did she think it was the dinner or me that smelled bad?

"It's Bella," I corrected her. "Can I get you something? Kate, right?"

"Actually, yes. I'd like some water."

I got a glass from the cupboard and went to the fridge to get the pitcher of filtered water.

As I filled her glass she said, "What are you doing?" She had this horrified look on her face. "Don't you have bottled water?"

"No, we filter the tap water," I explained. "It tastes just as good," I assured her, but she wasn't having any of it, gagging dramatically as if I was forcing it down her throat.

"The very idea! It makes me want to throw up," she said and then turned on her heel and left me literally holding the glass.

"Suit yourself," I said to her retreating form and downed it myself.

A few minutes later, the strawberry blonde entered the kitchen.

"Hi, Tanya," I said. "The lasagna should be ready in about five minutes. Would you like a drink? I think we have some soda in the fridge."

"You don't have Snapple?" she asked, almost accusingly.

"No," I said apologetically. "But I could make some lemonade."

"No doubt with that awful tap water you and your blue-collar father drink," she said cattily. Her sister had wasted no time filling her in on our shortcomings in the beverage department. To say that the Gentry girls were pampered was an understatement. In my humble opinion, they were spoiled rotten, but regardless, no one talked about my father that way and got away with it.

"My dad may be what you consider 'blue-collar,' but apparently, your social-climbing mother loves him, so I suggest you get used to it." As if on cue, the buzzer on the stove went off.

Tanya stood there gape-mouthed and sputtered, but no intelligible words came out.

"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to serve our dinner," I said and turned away.

Dinner was awkward, to say the least. Conversation was stilted. Kate and Tanya followed their mother's lead and picked over their food like it was distasteful to them. Charlie and I ate a healthy portion, because Esme Cullen's lasagna was even better than Bella Italia's.

Charlie finished first and smiled at me. "That was great, Bells."

"Thanks, Dad."

Charlie looked at Irina's plate. "The Gentrys don't like Italian?" he asked.

"Oh no, it's not that," Irina said with a tight smile. "This is just rather rich. I make a much lighter version for the girls and me."

"Uh-huh," Charlie grunted. "You should have mentioned it. I'm sure Bella would've adjusted the recipe to your liking.

"Yeah," I agreed. "I also like the vegetarian version better."

"But this is really quite delicious, Bella," Irina said. "Isn't it, girls?"

Kate mumbled something, and Tanya rolled her eyes.

The rudeness wasn't lost on Charlie. He cleared his throat. "The way I was raised and the way I raised Bella is to be thankful when someone feeds you a meal. Now whether you like it or not, the polite thing to do would be to show your appreciation to the cook."

Charlie was my hero.

"Oh, Charles," Irina crooned. "The girls are thankful." Then she gave Tanya and Kate a look that cut through them like a laser beam, and their demeanors quickly changed.

"Thank you, Bella," Kate said, her voice dripping sugar.

Tanya plastered on her own saccharine smile. "Thank you both for having us over."

"That's more like it." Charlie smiled and patted Irina's hand. "We have a chocolate cake for dessert that Bella made yesterday."

On that note, I wiped my mouth and stood to go retrieve the cake that I was sure, once again, only Charlie and I would eat since it would be too "rich" for their delicate stomachs.

"Girls, help Bella serve the dessert," Irina suggested, as she put on a sexy smile for Charlie, effectively dismissing us to get some alone-time with him.

It was my turn to roll my eyes. I would rather do it alone than have the spoiled "Mean Girl" twins reluctantly helping me.

They followed me unenthusiastically into the kitchen. When we were all inside, Tanya closed the door and stood with her back against it, while Kate had her arms folded, eyeing me with as much venom as she could muster.

"Let's get something straight, Cruella," she hissed. "We will never be your BFFs and certainly not your sisters."

"Yeah," Tanya chimed in. "Our mother will be over this infatuation when she realizes what a common dolt your father is."

"When our daddy comes to his senses and dumps that secretary he left my mother for, we'll go back to living in Seattle in the manner in which we have become accustomed," Kate added. "In the mean time, stay the fuck out of our way."

I didn't know if it was the fact that she used such a strong four-letter word when we were barely thirteen that stunned me into silence or if I felt extremely sorry for them and their broken home, but I chose not to say anything and just went about gathering the dessert plates and forks.

Apparently they were not happy that their mother was dating again. I knew a little something about the pain of losing a parent, both to death and to grief. Even though their father didn't die, he probably didn't pay them any attention, so it might as well have been that he wasn't there. However, I wasn't mean enough to throw that bit of reality into their faces.

"Nothing would make me happier," I gritted. "Here." I handed Tanya a stack of plates, and Kate a handful of forks. "I think your mom and my dad are waiting for their cake."


If I thought the first few months without Edward had been hard, I was not prepared for what was to come. Christmas was only a week away, and it didn't look as if the Cullens would be keeping their promise to come home for the holidays. I hadn't heard from Edward for weeks. After my phone calls and texts had gone unanswered, I began calling Esme and Carlisle. They made flimsy excuses at first.

Edward's taking very difficult college prep classes. I'm sure he'll call when he can.

Edward can't come to the phone right now—he's at a school function.

Edward's with a study group working on a project. Do you want to leave him a message?

Then after a few weeks of me continuing to press them about Edward, Esme finally told me what I thought was the truth.

"Edward just needs more time to adjust to his new surroundings, Bella. I'm sure he'll call when he can. I'm also afraid Carlisle's job is going to make it impossible for us to come home this Christmas. Spring break might be a better time to shoot for."

While I'm sure she was trying to reassure me, what she said broke my heart, and I retreated into my room. Esme called every day, but I refused to talk to her, and Charlie grew frustrated that I wouldn't shower, eat, or leave my bed. He brought me food and daily messages from Esme, Angela, and Alice. Finally, he got fed up and scolded me.

"Bella, baby, you're too young to be this heartbroken over a boy," Charlie admonished. "You need to get up, take a shower, and get on with your life."

"Edward's not just any boy, Dad. He was my best friend, and I've lost him," I said listlessly.

"Who says you've lost him? Esme and Carlisle says he just needs time to adjust. And well, I think you do too. Being this wrapped up in each other at this age doesn't seem to be good for either one of you."

I thought I had cried all the tears I could, but I was mistaken. I didn't want to give up on Edward, but I knew I would never recover if I didn't get a grip on my feelings. "I just miss him so much. I would be okay if he would just talk to me, but it's been weeks."

"You two are a matched pair if I've ever seen one. He's not any better off than you, I understand."

"Why do you say that?"

"I talk to Esme every day because you won't."

"Then why won't he talk to me?"

"Maybe this is the only way he can adjust to being away from you. Give it some time. I don't think Carlisle and Esme raised him to be a jerk, and they all love you. Edward will eventually call. Trust me." Charlie sighed in exasperation.

Then I really looked at him for the first time in a week and noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the lines around his eyes and mouth, and a sadness that I didn't want to be the cause of.

"It's Christmas Eve, Bells. Please celebrate the holidays with your old man. Otherwise I'll have to endure the prissy Gentry twins alone tonight."

"What about Irina?" I asked, surprised by Charlie's sudden awareness.

He grunted. "The way I see it, she helped make that bed. But when we blend our families, some things are gonna have to change."

I had been so caught up in all that wasn't happening between Edward and me, I hadn't taken time to notice just how close Charlie and Irina had become. Now they were talking marriage, and I still wasn't sure if I really liked her or not. I was certain that I didn't like her daughters, but if Irina made my dad happy, far be it from me to object to them being together. I would just have to grin and bear Kate and Tanya.

"I'm so glad you've found someone, Dad." I really was happy for Charlie, despite my crumbling relationship with Edward.

"Really, Bells? I don't want to get married again if it will be difficult for you."

"You've been alone long enough. If Irina makes you happy, marry her. I'll even make nice with the prissy twins if I have to."

Somehow, Charlie had managed to decorate for Christmas between work and taking care of a semi-catatonic lovesick daughter. The smell of fresh pine assaulted me as I went downstairs for the first time in more than a week. There were gifts under the tree from him, the Cullens, Irina and the twins, Alice and Angela. Thankfully, I had done my Christmas shopping weeks ago, and gifts for the Cullens had been mailed to Esme already, but the packages for my local friends, Charlie, and the Gentrys, were wrapped and hidden in my closet.

Charlie was happy to drive me around to make some deliveries before we left for Port Angeles. Angela and Alice were relieved to see me, and I apologized for my disappearing act. They understood, like good friends usually do.

Only one other event of that Christmas stood out in my memories. Charlie proposed to Irina right next to the Christmas tree in their living room, and she quickly accepted. Irina must have already known because she had Champagne and glasses ready, which Tanya brought out almost before Charlie could get the ring on her mother's finger. Kate had her digital camera ready and was taking copious pictures. The scene might have looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting had the smiles of all the subjects been real.



I had to face it. I was weak. Bella was adjusting to our separation much better than I was. Don't get me wrong, I knew she missed me just as much as I missed her, but she was dealing. I was not. I had lost weight, my hair had grown out, and I refused to go to the barber to get it cut. Esme said she would cut it herself if I didn't go soon. I was like a zombie. The only time I perked up was when I talked to Bella. I didn't want her to know how bad off I really was, so I pretended to be okay so she wouldn't worry.

I had tried for weeks to be strong and accept that we wouldn't see each other in school every day. We also wouldn't hang out at each other's houses anymore. We wouldn't be reading books together, or supporting one another in our favorite hobbies. I missed the smell of her paints, and I missed having her watch me play the piano. We had been living in Bel-Air for a month, and I was still struggling miserably.

The only reason my grades weren't suffering all that much was because Carlisle and Esme had always supplemented our education and the subjects we were studying weren't that difficult.

I still hadn't made any friends, and Emmett and Jasper had long since stopped trying. My relationship with them was strained to the breaking point. I'd alienated both of them, and considering Jasper's personality, that was a really a hard thing to accomplish.

When I didn't immediately snap out of my funk over the move, Emmett teased me relentlessly. He began calling me "Edweird" or "Crazy Eddie," which only made things worse and drove an even bigger wedge between us.

Carlisle and Esme vacillated between threatening to tell Bella what was really going on and sending me to see a shrink. I threw a monster tantrum and hadn't eaten for three days. Although I was technically grounded, Esme had promised me a trip to the mall to buy Bella's birthday present if I promised to eat and go "talk" to someone. Carlisle made me an appointment with one of his colleagues, a Dr. Vivian Streeter, who asked a ton of questions, some of which I answered, and others I didn't. Who the hell did she think she was asking me things that not even my mom and dad asked? I participated only because I wanted to get done so we could buy Bella's present.

After my appointment, Esme kept her word and took me to the mall. She made sure we got something that would match the locket I had given Bella before we left. Bella loved the charm bracelet and called to thank me for it. She tried to hide it, but I could tell she missed me as much as I was missing her.

"Edward, the bracelet is so beautiful," she said. "Thank you, and thank Carlisle and Esme, too."

"You're welcome. You know I couldn't let my girl's birthday go unacknowledged." I smiled, hoping she could hear it in my voice.

She giggled. "Your girl? I think I like the sound of that."

I would have given anything to actually see her face when she opened the gift and also what she looked like now when I called her "my" girl. I swallowed the lump in my throat and kept pretending everything was fine. "Good. Get used to it, because I'm not going anywhere."

"Actually, we're already several hundred miles apart," she teased.

I knew she meant it to lighten things up, but I immediately lost it.

Man-up, Cullen! I yelled at myself silently. Bella could sense something was up when I didn't respond.

"Are you okay?" she said worriedly. When I still couldn't speak, she started apologizing. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that literally."

Somehow I managed to sound cheerful when I said, "I know, Bella. Same here."

"I'd give up a thousand bracelets just to have you back here again," she said softly.

To keep from falling apart again, I quickly changed the subject. "Hey, did you finally meet your dad's new girlfriend?"

"Oh my God, yes! Edward you wouldn't believe how different she is from the kind of person my mom was. She's a certifiable snob, and her twin daughters are like Jessica Stanley to the fifth power or something. So much for me thinking we could be friends."

"I'm sorry. I remember how Emmett and Jasper had problems when I first came on the scene. Maybe they'll warm up to you eventually."

"Somehow, I don't see that happening. We're like night and day."

"Didn't you say Alice Brandon and Angela Weber had kind of taken you into their circle of friends?"

"Yeah, Angela is so sweet. She took pity on me the first day of school when she realized you weren't my shadow anymore and insisted I sit at the lunch table with them. Alice is like a freaking hurricane. She breezes in and takes over."

I had to hand it to her. She actually made me laugh. "I'm glad you have Alice and Angela now. Whatever you do, stay away from Mike Newton and Tyler Crowley."


"They're bad news—they're the reason why Jessica Stanley has a reputation."

"Thanks for the tip, but there's no boy here in Forks that I want to be close to anyway."

"So, you and Charlie going to the diner for your birthday dinner?" I teased.

"You know it. Cora has cooked for him for so long, I don't know how it would ever work if he got married again. Of course, he's invited Irina and the diva-licious Bobbsey Twins. I should stop. I sound catty."

"If you're being catty, they must be horrible. You're a really good person, and you've never been a pushover. I love that about you."

She sniffled, and my heart broke again. "I miss you so much, Edward."

"I miss you, too. But we still have Christmas to look forward to," I said quickly. I had to get off the phone before she discovered just what a wimp I was. "I've gotta go. There's a football game at school tonight. Emmett's playing."

"Okay, have fun," she said, struggling to make her voice strong for me again.

"Happy Birthday, Bella. I'll text you later. Bye."

"Bye, Edward."

That had been two weeks ago, and I was still hollow inside. Moving away from Bella was almost like it was when I lost my parents. It seemed like the pain would never go away. I was going through the motions, hoping that Esme and Carlisle wouldn't notice, but I didn't fool them for a second.

It was the beginning of October when the physician in Carlisle decided he wouldn't stand for it anymore. One Monday I came home from school and noticed a Bel-Air police cruiser parked on the street and a weird car in the driveway alongside Carlisle's.

When we entered the house, Carlisle asked Jasper and Emmett to go to their rooms and called me into the family room. There was a woman in a suit and two beefy Bel-Air police officers. I took one look at them and knew what was about to happen.

"I'm not crazy!" I screamed and began pacing. The orderlies hovered. Esme cried, and Carlisle looked like he wanted to.

"Please calm down, son," Carlisle said as he approached me. "Edward you remember Dr. Streeter?"

She stood and offered me her hand to shake, but I wouldn't take it. "Hello, Edward," she said with a smile. "Will you talk to me so we can figure out what we can do to help you?"

"I don't need to talk to you. I just need Bella!" I pulled at my long, greasy hair so hard some of it came out in my hands.

Then things happened really fast.

"Edward…" Carlisle pleaded. Dr. Streeter nodded to the officers, and they came toward me as I ran. I heard someone screaming as I raced through the kitchen and out the patio doors.

I was headed around the pool, and the officers split up, one following right behind me and the other going around to the other side. When they caught me, I struggled violently to get away, but they had me firmly in their grip. Carlisle and Dr. Streeter were just a few seconds behind them. It was like I was a wild animal and couldn't comprehend fully what was going on around me. As I finally figured out I was the one screaming, I felt something prick my skin, and I descended into a darkness that would take me the better part of a year to climb fully out of.


When I was high on the meds Dr. Streeter had prescribed for me, I'd lie on my bed with my eyes closed and forage inside myself for pieces of my parents. Was I anything like my dad? Did I inherit anything else from my mom besides her eye and hair color? I resurrected my parents nightly in my dreams and conjured Bella daily in my fantasies.

The dreams about my parents leaving and never returning became nightmares I regularly entertained about Bella. Dr. Streeter said I was fixated on her and this was unhealthy, given the loss of my parents at such a young age. All I knew was that I wanted to see her and I couldn't if I was locked up in a mental hospital. The staff was the enemy, and they were all conspiring against me. I believed they never wanted me to see Bella again. I had to get better quickly so I could at least talk to her.

My reaction, or lack thereof, to the medication made me one for the textbooks. Originally they tried a series of antidepressants that were mild enough for teens and amplified the effect of the mood-stabilizing meds for those with anti-anxiety. However, I probably had every side-effect to these medications known to man. I had digestive problems, jitteriness, restlessness, frequent headaches, and insomnia. Prozac made me so suicidal that I was only on it for six weeks. Carlisle grew frustrated with the guesswork and insisted that they perform a blood test to determine how my body might process antidepressants. Dr. Streeter agreed, and they performed a cytochrome P450 genotyping exam.

To be fair to the medical staff, I sometimes regurgitated my meds or held them under my tongue until the orderlies left me alone. It depended on who was in charge of medication dispensing. Eventually Peter, one of the more astute orderlies, realized what I was doing and began to monitor me closely when he was on duty. On weekends when he wasn't there, he made sure that Felix knew the score.

Drugs were eliminated until they finally landed on Lexapro. The success of the drug, coupled with psychotherapy a few more weeks into my treatment, and I was definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Esme usually visited me daily, with Emmett and Jasper joining her a couple of times a week. I think Carlisle would come in a couple of times a day, but I couldn't really keep track and I refused to ask the staff. Emmett had stopped teasing me because Esme had probably chewed him out. Jasper was the same and just seemed relieved I was in a place where I could get some help.

Just before Christmas, Esme had petitioned for, and received, permission to provide a holiday meal for me. I had overhead her say to one of the nurses, "There's no way I'm going to allow my son to eat institutional food on Christmas Day. Who do I have to talk to?"

That's how I found myself sitting with the family in a conference room eating a Christmas lunch. It wasn't until we got to the opening of presents that things became a little dicey.

"Son, we're going to let you open your presents today, but we have to take them back with us, okay? You can't have them here," Carlisle said gently.

I'd been fine with that until Esme handed me a narrow box. "This one is from Bella," she said.

I tore through the wrapping like my life depended on getting that package open. Inside was an eleven-by seventeen-inch canvas on which Bella had painted a picture of a boy playing piano while a girl sat beside him on the piano bench. It was almost an exact replica of the two of us as we'd sat so many times in the parlor of our house in Forks, her listening intently as I played.

I held the painting to my chest, even as my family prepared to leave. This was a piece of Bella that I wanted to keep with me. Once they had packed everything up to return home, Esme reached for my painting and I lost it.

Felix and Demetri, the orderlies on duty, rushed into the room to subdue me. It took what seemed like an eternity for them to pry the picture from my arms.

Esme was sobbing and saying, "Please let him have it. What can it hurt?"

Carlisle was trying to help me calm down. Finally, he gave up and helped the orderlies subdue me while a nurse gave me a sedative. When my arms went slack and my eyes refused to stay open, I could feel them slipping the painting from my hands.

When I woke up, Carlisle was in the room with me. At first, I couldn't remember the events from earlier, but then it all came back to me.

"What time is it?" I asked, my throat raw from my earlier bout of screaming.

Carlisle poured and handed me a cup of water. "It's 9:15." I took in his appearance. Even his usually pristine and starched white coat was all rumpled and unkempt. I was killing my dad. This had to stop.

I sat up on the side of bed and took a gulp of the water. "Dad?"

"Yes, son?"

"I want to get better. I'm going to get better."

Carlisle looked surprised by my lucidity, but he hugged me so fiercely I almost spilled the water left in the cup.

"I believe you, son," he said. "I believe you."

I realized then it was still Christmas, so I begged Carlisle to let me call Bella. I could tell he was apprehensive, but I tried to appear as rational as possible.

"We promised her we would be there for Christmas, and we're not. The least you can do is let me talk to her today. I promise I won't get upset."

Carlisle finally reached into his pocket and gave me his cell phone.

My angel answered after only a couple of rings.

"Merry Christmas, Carlisle!" she said. I could hear Christmas music and voices in the background.

My smile was so wide, I split my lips that were already dry due to the medication cocktail I was taking. "It's me, Bella. Merry Christmas to you and Charlie."

"Edward!" she squealed. "Where have you been? Oh God, I've missed you so much. Merry Christmas. Did you get my gift?"

"Yes, I got your gift, and I love it. I hope you got mine." Esme told me she'd gotten Bella a pair of earrings to match the necklace and bracelet I'd given her before. "Um...I've been around, just been trying to adjust to everything."

I continued with the vague explanations we had been giving her. I begged Carlisle and Esme not to tell Bella the truth. In my irrationality, I believed she would think less of me somehow. Esme and Carlisle just didn't want Bella to be hurt because of what was going on with me, so they agreed.

"But we haven't talked for weeks," she said. "You haven't even answered my emails."

"I'm sorry. This place is so different from Forks... I think things will get better after spring break."

"It's okay. I knew there had to be some serious reason for you to break your promise. Maybe soon I can visit you. Esme has given me a standing invitation, and my dad will probably agree."

"I'll ask Mom and Dad, but I'm sure they'll say yes," I said happily. "What's going on at your house?

"Irina and the twins are over here. Oh, guess what? Charlie proposed to Irina yesterday."

"So, you're about to have a couple of stepsisters. Are you getting along any better with them?"

"You might say we've come to a mutual agreement to stay out of each other's way," she stage-whispered.

I talked to Bella for ten minutes. She told me how close she, Alice, and Angela had become and gave me an update on some of our classmates. Finally Carlisle and I heard some noise in the hall, and he involuntarily reached for the phone.

"I have to go now, Bella, but I'll be in touch again soon."

She said goodbye to me the same way I had when I'd left Forks. "Okay. Always and forever."

"Always and forever," I whispered back, but she was gone.



I didn't hear from Edward again until a week before spring break. I was beginning to think that he was having a change of heart but just didn't know how to tell me. I had thought that after hearing from him at Christmas things would go back to the way they had been, but there was silence again for weeks and vague excuses from his family. I was so happy to finally hear his voice, since all my emails and texts had gone eerily unanswered.

"Hi, Bella," he said anxiously. "Are you ready to come for a visit?"

I was so happy to hear from him, I managed to keep most of the sarcasm out of my voice. "I don't know. Do you guys really want me to come?"

"Uhh... Yeah! We talked about this at Christmas. You are coming, right?"

"Charlie's got something planned with Irina and the twins. I'll try to get out of it if you really want me to."

"I really do. Why would you think I wouldn't?"

"Oh, I don't know, something simple like, you don't return my phone calls, my emails, or my texts for weeks." I didn't want to be angry with him, but I was getting mixed signals from my best friend who was supposed to be my boyfriend, and with no explanation.

"It's complicated, Bella. But believe me when I say I want you to come."

I could never stay upset with him for long. "Okay, I'll go talk to Charlie."

Charlie surprisingly fought me on the spring break visit. I knew he was trying hard to blend our families since he and Irina were now engaged, but he was the only one. Neither Irina nor her girls seemed particularly interested in interacting with me very much. I tried to tell Charlie this, but he wouldn't hear of it.

"Bells, you've just gotta be around them more so you guys can get to know each other better. We have a week of uninterrupted bonding we can do in Vancouver. It's time for us to start acting like we're a family. You can go visit the Cullens another time," Charlie said firmly.

"But Dad..."

"No buts. I let Esme take you on vacations with them for years. The least you can do is honor this one request from me."

I had no idea how I was going to break the news to Edward. I retreated to my room and called him immediately.

"Edward, I couldn't get out of the trip. I'm sorry."

Edward exploded. "What do you mean you can't get out of it?" I heard Esme in the background trying to calm him down. "You promised! You said you would come for spring break. You promised. You've got to come... " There was a loud crashing sound, and I heard Esme calling for Emmett and Jasper. Then I heard Edward's phone hit the floor.

"Edward! Edward..." I was afraid. I knew he would be disappointed but had no idea this would be his reaction. Besides, he had ignored me for months, and now I was supposed to just run to him when he called? The next voice I heard was Esme's.

"Sorry about that, Bella. He's so stressed out right now." Her voice was raspy, like she was barely holding back her tears. "We understand if you can't come right now."

"My dad wants us to go on vacation with Irina and her girls. I could come for a long weekend at Easter, maybe..."

"That would be great," Esme said. "Please give your dad our love, okay?"

The next day, I got a long apologetic email from Edward. We were so busy getting ready for our trip, I didn't answer it right away. Once we returned from Vancouver, I did finally answer him. We talked, emailed, and texted, but it wasn't the same.

I never did make it for that long weekend, and for the rest of the year we kept in touch, but as is so often the case, the emails, phone calls, and text messages lessened until they stopped altogether. Distance and time had somehow conspired to kill the friendship we had forged through our loss in our youth.

Inevitably, we each became immersed in our separate lives where we were planted, and I learned to guard my heart. Eventually, I was badgered by one and unconditionally loved by another, until I became inseparable with Alice Brandon and Angela Weber. They were the only two girls in Forks who didn't think I was either too weird or too eccentric to matter. In fact, they were each artistic in their own right. Alice had known since she was a little girl that she would someday have a career in fashion design, and Angela was a fantastic writer and poet who was bound for UW's Creative Writing program upon graduation.

Even though we'd grown apart, I kept up with Edward essentially by cyber stalking him and through my continuing friendship with Esme, who'd stayed in touch with me even when Edward didn't. Carlisle flourished as Chief of Surgery in a hospital to the stars, and Esme was a stay-at-home mom who embraced her favorite charitable causes. Edward and his brothers became involved in academics, sports, and a bevy of extra-curriculars at their posh private school that rivaled most colleges.

Edward's social life eventually exploded in Bel-Air, a mecca of wealth, beauty, and superficiality. His preternatural beauty, along with the impact of the losses he had experienced, made him a prime candidate for fitting into that plastic environment quickly.

His Facebook friends numbered in the hundreds while I barely had fifty, and only about a half-dozen of them that I could loosely consider "friends," other than Alice and Angela. It was as if Edward had made a conscious decision, just like I did, to never put himself out there for anyone again, because people you loved that much didn't tend to hang around. What distinguished us was that I had Alice and Angela, but he didn't get emotionally close to anyone, a fact that troubled Esme.

I watched helplessly from a distance as my best friend and I drifted further and further apart.


Charlie and Irina were married, and he brought her and the Evil Barbie Doll Twins to live with us. We were entering the ninth grade, and I was adjusting to my second first day of school without Edward since second grade.

This turn of events, though great for Charlie, effectively changed my life for the worse. While Irina did love my dad in her own way, she detested me because she knew Charlie still loved Renee, and I was constant living proof of that love. Irina pretended to like me when my dad was around, but when he was away at work, as police chiefs often were, Irina and my stepsisters treated me with an indifference that bordered on abuse.

Charlie and I shared a special occasion between us that Irina never knew about. Each year on my parents' wedding anniversary, I would make a picnic basket, and we would visit Renee's grave together.

He picked me up from school in his squad car during my lunch hour, and we headed out to the cemetery. My characteristically taciturn father became a different man when he talked to his first love. We were standing reverently in front of Renee's headstone, and Charlie was talking about me to Renee as if I wasn't there.

"You wouldn't know Bells now, sweetheart. She's grown up so much. Like you, she is kind, beautiful, and artistically talented. I can barely paint the garage without messing it up, but you should see the works of art your daughter creates. We got her those HPV shots. Dr. Gerandy says they are no guarantees, but it gives her a great chance of staving off ovarian cancer..."

"Dad..." I pleaded, embarrassed that he had even felt the need to discuss that with my dead mother.

Charlie soldiered on. "I know you would want Bella to have the chances in life that you didn't, so I've invested a little money to help out on her college expenses." He cleared his throat as his voice got filled with emotion. "I guess you know that I'm married to Irina now and taken in her two daughters. Tanya and Kate are Bella's age, so she's not lonely anymore."

I rolled my eyes but did not interrupt the flow of his one-sided conversation.

"This will probably be the last time I'll be coming on our anniversary, sweetheart, although I will come at other times. It's probably not fair to Irina that I do this, but I'm encouraging Bella to continue with the tradition."

Little did Charlie or I know then how true his statement was. Later that day, Mrs. Cope called me out of class. I found Irina waiting in the school office with one of Charlie's deputies. She was dabbing a tissue at remarkably dry eyes and forcing herself to look like she had lost her best friend. Deputy Crayford addressed me directly.

"Isabella, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. At 1:45 pm Pacific Time your father responded to a call from dispatch for Cora's Diner. He interrupted a robbery in progress, and he had to draw his weapon to defend against the robber who was also armed. The robber shot him, and unfortunately the bullet hit the femoral artery. Before he went down, he injured the robber and he was apprehended. Your father died a hero protecting the safety of the citizens of Forks."

When I heard Officer Crayford's words and the gravity of the situation sunk in, for the first time in my young life, I fainted.

I went through the funeral and memorial service on autopilot. It was only by sheer force of will that I was able to get up each day and function. Irina and the stepsisters magnanimously gave me two weeks to grieve. After that, they resumed their abuse, but it now went far beyond indifference. Now that my father wasn't around, they demanded that I cook, clean, wash, and cater to them as if I were a Molly Maid, not the daughter of Irina's late husband and their stepfather. They didn't have to pretend anymore to show affection for the daughter of the man for whom all they cared about was his insurance policy payout and officer's pension, possibly my only sources of college funding. And in my overwhelming misery, I didn't have the strength to care. In fact, I did everything they asked of me and began to really like cooking, but I never told my stepmother that. Also, the hard work got my mind off of things.

When Esme and Carlisle heard about Charlie's death, they came back to Forks to pay their respects. Irina had not even bothered to contact them, and I had been too busy trying not to self-destruct to call anyone. I vaguely remember Esme fighting with Irina about me. Renee had been Esme's best friend, and she feared that Irina wouldn't treat me well, so she and Carlisle hired a lawyer to inquire about getting custody of me.

Edward called me while his parents were still in Forks working every angle they could to free me from my prison. I don't know what I expected. We hadn't talked in months, but I wasn't prepared for how much he had changed.

An awkward apology tumbled out of his mouth. "Bella, I'm... so sorry. Charlie didn't deserve to die that way."

My hand holding the phone was clammy with sweat, and my throat was dry, but I managed to answer him back. "Thanks, Edward."

"How are you holding up?"

"Okay—I guess."

"Mom and Dad want to bring you back here to live with us." When I didn't respond he said, "I think—I think that would be great. I can introduce you around at school to all the right people, and you'll fit in because you'll essentially be a Cullen by association."

"Oh, really?"

"Em, Jazz, and I, we kinda rule at Bel-Air Prep."

"So, you're part of the in-crowd, huh?"

"Yeah." He chuckled. "It's way different than Forks."

"Who are you and what have you done with the Edward who would rather die than be like Mike Newton and Tyler Crowley?" I tried to joke it away, but I knew he was already entrenched. Even his speech patterns were different.

"You don't have to be like Jessica Stanley or anything, Bella, jeez. They take popularity to a whole new level here in So Cal. You'd be like royalty because you live with us."

I couldn't believe how shallow he had become. "Have you even read the book Esme gave us both for Christmas?"

"What? Utopia? Please. They already have us reading tons of classics at school, and I'm not looking to read any more outdated literature than I have to."

"Are you even still playing piano?"

"Yeah, but only when I feel like it. I'm not practicing an hour a day or anything like I used to. I've got sports now too, you know. Don't tell me you're still playing with your watercolors and oil paints?"

"As a matter of fact, I am." As my anger spiked, I couldn't resist telling him off. "You might have sold your soul to whatever devil you're worshipping now, but I'm never giving up painting."

"Well, you don't want to be labeled as the hick painter girl from rural Washington State, you'd be doomed forever to the lower echelons of weird world."

I couldn't believe that Edward actually had the audacity to go there. This was not the same little boy who had comforted me when Renee died. Of all people, I had expected him to understand, but I didn't even know him anymore. Charlie wasn't gone a month and his first reaction was to caution me about upholding their reputations in La La Land. It didn't occur to him that popularity was so low on my list of priorities then, it was inexistent. I wouldn't realize until much later just how much this exchange between us hurt me. I think I was just too numb about Charlie at that point to care.

"I never thought I'd see the day when you'd become such a monumental douche, Edward. Grow up!" I said, hanging up abruptly.

Esme and Carlisle exhausted all their efforts to take me back with them, finally conceding defeat. Charlie's will was clear and could not be successfully contested unless Irina would allow them to take me. Of course, Irina wouldn't hear of that. She would lose her built-in maid and access to the funds that Charlie had left for me. She was not about to let that happen.

I was disappointed for Carlisle and Esme's sake. However, I convinced myself that I wasn't overly concerned because I had decided that going to live in California with the new not-improved version of Edward was not something I really wanted to do. I would rather cheerfully gouge my eyes out than live anywhere near that Edward.

Esme sobbed steadily through our goodbyes, and it was only then I had the good sense to fear what would happen when they left. Irina and her daughters had been cordial and even kind to me while the Cullens were in town, but I didn't know what I was going to get once they were gone.

"Bella, I'll always be here for you. If you ever need me, don't hesitate to contact me. I'll continue to call and write just as I always have," Esme promised.

Esme held me in her arms for a long time before they left. It was the last motherly affection I would receive for a long time… and the last time I would hear from her until all the Cullens came back into my life.


E/N: I recently wrote a one-shot for a contest that pushed the limits of the word capacity and was so ambitious, it is just begging to be fleshed out into a small work in progress, of sorts. So at the end of March, I'll be posting said one-shot, which I will break up into approximately 5-7 chapters and will post a chapter a day until the story wraps. I'll share more information once the contest ends so you'll know what to be looking for. I can't give you the details yet, because the contest isn't over. Please put me on author alerts if you want to receive this new work.

Lately, I've been reading: The Plan by QuantumFizzx (which I could read over and over again), Fridays At Noon by Troublefollows1017 (which had me hooked for like two days), Trippin, Slippin, Stumbletumblin by Yellowglue (which I'm just beginning and loving), and Righteous and Wicked by (is about to end and I'm going into withdrawals).

My almost complete WIP, Trust, Loyalty, Commitment was featured as a Weekly Fic Pick by The Twilight Awards (go check it out): http : / reviews dot thetwilightawards dot com/search/label/Belli486

(Remove the spaces and insert the dots to access the site).