Author's Note: My sincerest apologies for not posting this sooner. The little pieces that make up this chapter have been sitting in my Documents folder collecting dust for the past while and it was only today that I was inspired enough to go brush them off and piece them together. Again, apologies.
LIKE TEETH IN THE GRASS
It's November. I'm fourteen and two months, almost exactly. My world is about to change.
The sky looks like dust; the stars are scattered about haphazardly, sprinklings of bright white pinned like thumb-tacks against the darkened chalkboard sky. On our backs, we watch the worlds and planets bend and turn before us, refusing to believe it is our world that is spinning. We're just kids - the world orbits us. There's smoke; this heady, perfumed scent that mingles in with the white of our breaths - a natural, burning smell. The air is alive with the crackling sound of the logs in the camp-fire, with the low murmur of my father's old blues music playing softly from the pocket radio he's cradling in his lap. He sits in a deck chair, my father, some feet away from us, with a second beer in hand and the sky in his eyes. His face is all soft creases and laugh lines, like each memory of his forty years is carved and etched there into his skin, illuminated in warm, shaky patterns by the fire. He catches me watching him then, and winks, nodding his head towards the skies, towards Cygnus. "You're missing it", he mouths.
We're waiting for the meteor shower; eyes tacked to the heavens, surveying any cloud cover - no matter how light or fleeting - with rueful apprehension. I easily find the stars Charlie is pointing to, my head nestling against the downy lawn. Not only is the constellation easy to spot - clear and low in the crisp night air - it's also hard to miss. Like a beacon or flare in the night, my eyes are drawn to it. It's my father's favorite; its light is his guide.
The air is cold but dry, though the earth is damp beneath my shoulders, and the flames lick away at everything. A hand finds mine in the flickering glow, warm fingers enveloping my own. It's Jacob. I don't turn to see him, but I know it's him. It's back then when it was always him, when he was a constant. Like the rain, he was inevitable. I smile and squeeze back, letting him lazily twist my mother's ring around my finger.
When Charlie spies the first meteor, he smothers the camp-fire, quenching the flames, and our little corner of the world is plunged into darkness. The smoke fills the air for a moment, drowning out even the stars, and for a moment I think we'll miss it. Until I see it. A lone meteor burns through the sky like a flame chasing gasoline, until it slips from view over the tips of the fir trees. It's followed by another, then two more in succession; the sky alights with heavenly flames streaking north to east.
It's terrifying; it's beautiful.
In the distance, a chorus of howls echo up from the surrounding forests, the sound fading with the tail of each meteor as they dip below the horizon. The light multiples; dozens of them now race each other across the sky to the ends of the earth, and I watch, enraptured. Charlie and Jacob stand slowly, urged forward by some unseen force. Jake's hand slips from mine, the cold wind filling the space where his fingers used to be, and I let my hand fall to the earth with a dull thud. I hear him as he pads his way forward, his bare feet hitting the ground in a drawn out rhythm; his silhouette only barely visible against the starlight. Clouded in smoke, there's a low hiss as he steps through the ash and burning embers of the fire, but if he feels it, he takes no notice. His face turns from the sky ever so slightly, focusing instead on the tree-line, and I do not miss the tremor that runs through him.
The golden bullets still fly overhead, their numbers still as great, but it is only Charlie who is watching now. There has never been so many before, and he finds himself gravitating forward. Another howl sounds, much closer than any of those that came before, and both Jacob and I reflexively stiffen. My name falls from his lips a heartbeat before I see it; the ghostly figure darting in between the trees, its torso doused and dripping in a scarlet liquid that hangs and falls from his chin, from his teeth.
My alarm clock sounds like screaming; like a repetitive, high pitched wail of terror that is all too realistic for my tastes. The sound can penetrate even the deepest of dreams and wrestle away the darkest of demons, but once the dreams have been chased away, I am left to face the sound.
Sometimes, when rest has escaped me or exhaustion overtaken me, I don't wake. It is then that the sound becomes the dream, rather than stirs me from it. Instead of jostling me from sleep, it slips into my subconscious and threads itself into the dream, knitting together into the plot and continuing as if nothing had happened. The dream is altered; it becomes a nightmare. As if people on the street just stood screaming for no reason. Like it was perfectly normal to shriek in terror while sitting in class, or shopping for groceries or at the beach. Their faces distort with the force of their shouting, jaws appear unhinged and eyes are sunken, but they are all mimes and the sound is my own. Yelling surrounds me in my dreams, it smothers and defines my existence. No one notices the yelling, the cries for help.
Sometimes when I dream of that night, the shriek of the alarm alerting the dawn perfectly mirrors my own strangled screaming. These are the days when I wish I had never woken at all.
Today is no different.
The tears are silent, as always. My body still shakes with the sobs and shivers in terror, but I am too weary and too tired and my lips couldn't cry for help if they wanted to. I know that I was screaming, I can feel it in my throat. Dry and hoarse, my breaths are labored and grate my ears like sandpaper.
I should cough, but I don't. There is a metallic taste against my tongue and I know there is blood. I swallow once and ignore the lump in my throat, burying my face into the tear streaked pillow.
I curl my fingers into the sheets and drag it up to my neck, tangling myself in the cotton and pressing it to my face. There's a dull ache in my chest and a sharp stinging in my palms where my nails carved into the skin. I look down at the sheet in my hands and observe the eight red crescents that appear there like red ink on canvas. I stare until the blood darkens and the tears have slowed, waiting for the panic to pass over me.
The only dreams that are safe from the screaming are the dreams of that night. That night there was no screaming, not from me. The dreams are muted, but once I wake it is hard to keep quiet. The screams and sobs spill out of me to the point where I have to cover my mouth and bruise my skin with my own hands and pray that my mother hasn't heard. Eventually, I tire and fall back asleep, exhausted from my efforts.
The dream replays eerily silent, as if my mouth has been sewn shut. Even the howl of the wolves, that I remember so vividly in my waking moments, and the sounds of fast footsteps in the undergrowth are silenced, and I wonder if I could have those moments back to live again, what would I say now that I know those would be the last words I ever spoke to my father.
It's five o'clock before I wake again. The sun shines across the water and slants through my curtains against my cheek, the small strip of light making the skin there unusually warm. Someone has set a cup of coffee and a plate of toast on my bedside table, both of which have long since cooled and lost their appeal. My hair sticks to my forehead and I try and brush it away with an equally clammy hand. I bask in the sliver of sunlight for a moment, noting how it throws the colors of my curtains across the objects in my room before sitting up surveying the injuries on my palms.
The skin around the cuts is angry and sore, and I cringe at the sight of dried blood beneath my nails. My pillow is dotted and streaked with it, and I wonder how I could inflict so much damage on myself without waking. Through my door, I can hear the pleasant metallic clattering of knives and forks in the kitchen and the sound of my stepfather laughing at the television. The smell of someone other than my mother's cooking wafts under the door and dinner, for once, smells edible, even delicious.
Sighing, I extricate myself from the bed and pull the sheets from the mattress before stuffing them into the laundry basket in my bathroom, eager to rid myself of any reminders of what happened. I catch a glance of myself in the mirror, and I look much worse than I feel. My lips are blood stained and chapped, bitten down to temporary disfigurement, and my cheeks are scarily hollow. Lines from the creases in my sheets are dented into my cheek, creating scar like shapes against the pallid skin there. My brown eyes are overcast and shadowed, with dark gray shapes like bruises encircling the bloodshot white. I turn away from my reflection in disgust and I flick on the shower, pausing to listen for the certain and sudden cease in movement outside the door. The volume on the TV is instantly turned down, the sound of cutlery and delftware being set on the table halts and there is an odd sort of stand-off for a moment as my presence is realized.
They know I'm awake - the zombie has arisen – and I suspect that at this very moment, they are comparing interrogative strategies, discussing how best to deal with this latest night terror. But I don't dwell on it too long, and step into the shower, knowing this will buy me a few more minutes free from parental questioning and allow me to wash the dreams away.
I stand motionless in the downpour, letting the water hit me mercilessly and relentlessly. It's not long before my mind wanders into the past, and the water from the shower-head is the torrential rainfall of Washington State. It cascades down onto my shoulders and soaks my hair, gathering in annoying droplets against my eyelashes. Even though the water from the shower is warm, my mind interprets it as icily cold. I remember how it washed everything away; footprints, trails, blood and scents.
I remember that his blood has been washed into my shirt and my blood had been washed into his hair. I know that my hair had clung to his cheeks and my fingerprints had covered his dead body. But all the evidence had disappeared and my testimony meant nothing.
"She's in shock," they had said. "It's just her young mind trying to make sense of what happened. Substituting fairy-tales – things she knows - for things she doesn't understand."
Adults denied what I, as a child, had not only believed, but known. They cast off the truths as imagination, as overexposure to television and as the inability to comprehend what I had seen. They labeled me as the poor fatherless child who didn't understand death.
I understood it better than they could ever imagine.
I watch the blood from my hands rust the water by my feet as it swirls down the drain and am somewhat amazed at how water never changes, though people never stay the same.
As I emerge into the kitchen fully dressed and newly washed - my palms stinging from soap and hearing dull from water -my mother flutters around me and pats my back, pulling my damp hair from my face, her fingers combing the disarray neatly to the side. She tries to be discreet in her comforting, but her arms hug a little too tight and her concerned gaze lingers a little too long to be casual. Her forehead is creased and her eyes are a little less bright, but she continues the 'everything-is-wonderful' charade she has perfected over the past few years. An act which, as of recently, has a nightly performance – sometimes even a matinée.
Phil gives me an apologetic look as I take my seat at the table and I shake my head in response. He smirks then, flicking to the back pages of his newspaper before folding it in half and sliding it over to me wordlessly. Our exchange takes little more than a few seconds, but is the difference between a bad day and the worst day. While Renée likes to worry and fret, Phil is easy-going and a firm believer in carrying-on; not too unlike Charlie. It's clear to see my mother has a type.
I take the ballpoint pen from Phil's outstretched hand and begin to busy myself with the crosswords, still amused by our ability to converse soundlessly before I hear a low, familiar voice by my ear.
"Twenty-one, down. It's 'supernatural'." A scratched and scarred arm belonging to the owner of the voice appears over my shoulder, reaching across the page. I swat it away as it tries to grab the pen from my hand, my ineffectual fists making little damage, but getting the point across. Jasper chuckles then and pulls out the chair beside me, the wood scraping across the floor. He thunks himself down in it, cross-legged, and proceeds to pull at my sleeve and push the paper out from under the pen as I write – his usual pay-attention-to-me antics.
"Jasper, stop it. I don't need help. Let me do it myself," I say, my eyes never leaving the black and white boxes in front of me. He groans as I fill in a word, heavy block letters marring the page. I make a mental note to fill in 'supernatural' the next time he's not looking. "I'm guessing you made dinner?"
"He has to earn his keep every now and then, you know," Phil laughs from the other side of the table. "God knows the kid eats enough of our food, he might as well cook it himself."
"That and I couldn't bear Renée burning those T-bones. They were expensive," he hisses through his teeth at the very thought of it. "I brought salad for you though. And this weird tofu thing my mom had in the kitchen."
"No problem, babe."
"Don't call me 'babe'."
I don't miss the smirk that crosses Phil's face.
After dinner, Renée tries to force a game of Monopoly upon us; prancing into the living room with the box held aloft. Even after its clear that no one wants to play and that half the money has been lost over the years, she manages to manipulate Phil into a game that mainly consists of her cheating and him letting her. Making our escape, Jasper and I make our way down to the waves that lie on the other side of a short picket fence that marks our backyard boundary, both of us skidding on the soft slope of white sand. We wander up the length of the beach for a while in the darkness, tip-toeing in and out of the water as each wave crests and crashes into itself, the foamy spray soon coating us up to our hips. It's Jasper who fills the silence.
His new car is still an old heap of metal, with more rust than working parts. His mother is off on another business convention in Wichita, where Jazz suspects she is grooming her newest boy-toy. His father is still sitting by the TV, yelling all the answers to his taped episodes of Jeopardy and 'It', the aging family dog they never bothered naming, is finally started to lose it.
"He spends most of his time running around in circles or sleeping in the backseat of the car," he explains, sitting down among the tufts of grass that spring up out of the sand. The remnant ashes of an old bonfire sit nearby, and, after poking around in it for a while and coaxing a flame from his lighter, Jasper manages to keep us warm.
"I'd take him to the vet," he continues, "but I can't even afford to look after myself. Hence me showing up at your house every night at dinner-time."
"And your parents won't do anything?"
"They don't remember to look after me, their only child. I'm sure they've forgotten we even have a dog," he laughs humorlessly. "It's like that time I had meningitis-."
"It was chickenpox," I interject.
"-but we thought it was meningitis. And that's the point. For all we know, I'm taking my last breaths, and my dad tells me to take a bunch of painkillers and have a nap."
"Would you rather have parents who crowd you because you're too unstable to be left alone for more than five minutes?"
The answer to my questions comes only in the form of silence penetrated by a breaking wave and the crackling of the fire. Beside me, Jasper sighs and sinks further into the sand. With his arm outstretched, I know this means for me to join him, so I settle myself against his side and let him wrap his arm around my shoulders. It even warmer here, sheltered by him, and I find myself closing my eyes to relish the comfort. It's the sort of feeling I can never get used to, but always seem to need.
"So, you know the memorial's on in a few days," he says, carefully.
"I know you were invited, Bella," his tone shows his disappointment. "I saw the invitation in your mail. I got the same one."
"I didn't see it."
A half truth. I had recognized the familiar handwriting – the curled and swooped mess of a penmanship that belonged to Mrs. Stanley – that scrawled out my name in large, overbearing letters. The envelope had sat by the phone for days, untouched by anyone, so of course I came to notice it. Crazy people don't get very many letters.
"It's been five years. I think it's time you face what happened," Jasper huffs, and his grip on me loosens a little.
"I face it every time I close my eyes, Jasper. I don't need to go back there to relive it all again."
"That's not what I mean and you know it. Remember who gave me these scars?" my head hits the sand as he jerks his hand free to roll up the cuff of his shirt. In the moonlight, several white scars show up clearly against the tanned backdrop of his forearm.
Lines that match the ones on my palms.
"I did," I admit, the words are barely there.
"The first night we spent together," he affirms. "I know it hurts, and I know you're still living with what happened. But I really think going back to Forks is what's best for you right now. Phil and Renée agree."
"They sent you to talk to me, didn't they?"
"No actually, it was my idea. Besides, I'm going to need some one there with me."
"You're going?" I can't help but sound surprised.
"I've wanted to go since the first one, but I didn't for you. I said I'd wait until you were better and we could do it together. But it's been five years and you're only getting worse."
I sit up fully, angry now, and try and put some distance between us because I know if I stay close that I will either hit him or kiss him and I want to do neither.
"So your solution is to bring me back where it all started?"
"My solution is to get you to accept Charlie's death. You can't live your life unless you accept what's happened. Christ, Bella. So many people died back then, but you didn't. You lost your father, I lost my sister. Angela lost both her parents. Eric died. Lauren died... Jacob died. So many people died. So many suffered, but everyone else are all living. Carrying on. I just don't understand what makes you so fucking special that you can't."
It takes a few moments before I can say anything. I stand and try to walk away, but my legs refuse to move past him. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, and my hands clench and spasm at my sides, but the words come out eventually. And once they do, they're practically unstoppable.
"Because no one else survived it like I did. I saw what happened, I was there. I survived. So excuse me if I'm a little fucked up because I watched people I love die. And I know what you think, that I'm just upset because no one believes me. That no one gives a shit what I think happened. Maybe I am deluded, maybe watching Charlie die did fuck me up a bit, but that doesn't mean that they can invite me there to live it all again only to turn their backs and not listen when I tell them what really happened. And sure, I don't want to go back because of that but what really hurts is that you don't even believe me."
He sits there and takes it, all of it. In a moment when other people would be grabbing my arms and strapping me to the nearest immovable surface, he listens. Legs crossed, hands held together, he observes my rant and lets it all sink in. It unnerves me; the only people who do that are the people who are paid by the hour to listen to me.
"Well fuck what I think," is his first response. "Fuck what everyone thinks. You're Chief Swan's daughter. Like you said, you're the survivor. Did you ever think that maybe you're important to these people? Despite whether they believe what happened or not, you're hope for them, you give them that hope."
And I keep none for myself.
I don't say the words, but they are all that runs through my mind as I walk away from him. Jasper calls my name, but I don't turn around, and am somewhat surprised when he doesn't try to follow. It's only when I'm shut up again in my own room that I allow myself to think, try to convince myself to change my mind. Falling into clean sheets, I pull the blanket over my head, and tell myself repeatedly not to cry.
I'm right. He's right. I'm right. The internal battle goes on well into the night, and I soon give up on sleeping, choosing instead to flick mindlessly through the four measly channels the television set in my room gets.
By the time I've flicked around enough for a late night movie to come on, I've already worked through part of the problem. Though I can't tell who's right, I know that neither of us are wrong. So taking a step either way – staying here or going to the memorial – would, technically, be the 'right' thing to do. But staying here wouldn't be fair. To me or to Jasper.
We are bound by our shared past, united in our shared grief. There's not much else to keep us together. Maybe that's why I cling to it, the horror of it all. Perhaps this is why the dreams have returned, why I feel more hollow than ever. I realize he is slipping away, that we are but two people leaning on each other solely for support, and he is slowly finding his own balance while I struggle to find mine. My choices are for us to be devastated together, or be happy and alone. The decision is perhaps the hardest I have ever made, but either way the hypothetical choice is selfish.
Should I be selfish enough to keep him, but in keeping him, inflict pain and suffering by subjecting him to the horrors of my past? Or should I be greedy for happiness, and stumble through recovery without him, casting him off as if the five years meant nothing? All I know is I could never be happy with him, but there's a part of me that never wants to be without him. Either way, whatever I choose leads me to Forks. To follow him or to leave him. To grieve or to heal. To always remember or forever forget.
It is with these choices in mind that I scrawl a note to Renée and sneak out the front door after a quick phone call, dragging my stuffed suitcase behind me. I toss it into the backseat of the car that pulls up quietly a few yards down the road from my house before sliding into the passenger seat.
"Don't talk to me, I'm still mad at you."
Jasper nods, twists the key in the ignition and, for once, does what I say.