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Dear Pen Pal,
Hi. My name is Bella and I feel totally ridiculous writing a letter to someone I've never met. But, it's a school assignment, and I don't have a choice, so here goes.
I live in the small town of Forks, Washington with my mom, Renée, and dad, Charlie. My dad is the police chief here in Forks, and get this: the town is so small that he gets to drive the cop car all the time, not just when he's working. I thought it was kind of cool when I was little, but now, as a seventh grader, it's just embarrassing.
My mom is a kindergarten teacher. She can be very forgetful, but she's a great teacher. Every year, the kids love her.
I don't have any brothers or sisters. When I was younger, I always kind of wanted a brother. Not a younger brother, though. I wanted an older brother, someone who could protect me. Is that weird? All of my friends who have older siblings tell me I'm lucky not to have one, but sometimes I still wish for one.
My best friends are sisters, Alice and Rosalie. They look really different, even though they have the same parents. Alice is my age, but her teacher's not making her do this assignment. Rosalie's one year older than us, and had to do it last year, but she's already lost touch with her pen pal; do you know Jessica Stanley? That's who she had to write to.
Let's see, what else? My favorite color changes frequently. Today I like brown. My favorite gemstones are garnet and topaz. My birthday is September 13th. I love to cook and grocery shop and help my mom with those chores. Oh, also, my full name is Isabella, but please don't ever call me that!
Well, I can't really think of anything else to write, and since I've actually written enough for the assignment, I'm going to stop now. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Forks Middle School
I remember the day I received that letter like it was yesterday. My ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Berty, had given us a few weeks notice about the pen pal assignment. The other teacher was one of his best friends from college, and every year they did this: forced unwilling students to write to complete strangers. Of course, the teachers didn't view it as forcing. They called it a good life experience. No one in my class had been particularly excited about receiving the initial letters from the small town kids. After all, we lived in Chicago; why would we care about someone from a small town? I realized the folly of those attitudes now.
Bella and I had become the best of friends. It feels strange to say that one of my best friends is a person I have never met face to face, but I still felt as if I knew Bella. In fact, most of the time, I felt as if she knew me better than anyone else, even the people I see every day. She was definitely more interesting to correspond with than most of them.
After reading her first letter my freshman year, I immediately went to work on my reply. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of my letter to her. I wished I had been forward thinking enough back then to make copies. It would be nice to read the whole thread. Now, fourteen years, several hundred letters, and one photograph a year later, I'm much savvier. I kept all of Bella's letters and copies of the letters I wrote in a large three-ring binder, which was getting increasingly close to capacity. We also tended to email more frequently and I kept a special folder in my email box especially for Bella's notes. I never deleted any of them.
I reluctantly closed my "Bella binder" and set it in its normal spot on my night table and laid back on my pillow.
It had been a long, hard day and I was ready for sleep. As a resident physician at Chicago Health and Science University, I worked long weeks. Twelve hour shifts, at least five days a week, sometimes six. So the few minutes I spent each night with my "Bella binder" was pretty much the only social interaction I got—aside from the flirty nurses, anyway. I still wrote to Bella as often as I could. We had a pact that we would hand write letters a minimum of once a week, and lately with such a hectic work schedule, that was all I was able to pull off. Bella was busy, too, though. She had recently graduated from law school and was working similar hours to mine as a first year associate in a prominent Seattle law firm. Her letters almost always arrived on Saturday, so I spent part of Sunday, my only guaranteed day off each week, composing the perfect reply. Since tonight was Friday, though, I only had the past letters to read through, nothing new.
Despite my exhaustion, I was unable to fall asleep. After lying silently on my pillow for ten minutes and failing to fall asleep, I turned my touch lamp back on and grabbed the binder, flipping to a more recent letter, one from about six months ago.
Guess what? I graduate from law school next week! It's been so hard, but finally the payoff is coming. I'm so excited. I spend most of my spare time studying for the bar exam. I've already been offered a job at one of Seattle's most prestigious law firms, Ateara, Call, and Uley. So all I have left is making it through the graduation ceremony without tripping over my own feet and passing the bar exam. Knowing me, the graduation ceremony will be the hard part!
Well, gotta go study. Sorry it's so short this week, but, well…you understand.
I did understand. Most of my letters from my early internship days had been no longer than that letter. I read several more letters—both mine and hers, the full thread—and still wasn't tired. I decided to write to Bella even though I hadn't received her letter for the week yet. I got up out of my bed and walked to the living room where my computer desk sat. I'd send an email tonight, having decided that email would be better.
Hi. I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd send a quick message. I was just reading some of your old letters. Remember the first letter you ever wrote to me? You said you felt ridiculous writing to someone you didn't know. I remember feeling the same way when my teacher gave us that assignment; it turns out to have been the one thing from public school that's stuck with me!
How goes the job? Are you a partner yet? Don't laugh, I know you'll want to with that question! But I'm serious. They'd be crazy not to promote you, and soon. Any new trials recently? Hearing about your exciting days in courtrooms, I sometimes think I chose the wrong career. I mean, yeah, I love treating patients, but man…being some poor guy's one shot at freedom? That's major. Much more exciting than being a resident physician working toward board certification in family medicine.
Well, maybe not more exciting, but at least as exciting.
I spent this week in the ER; I told you last week that I'd be there, remember? There was this little boy who came in today, he was about 3. He fell off the bunk bed playing with his older brother and cracked his skull, just behind the upper lip. He came in all bloody and swollen. It was really sad. Luckily, his CT scan came back clean; all he needed was three stitches in his lip. The skull fracture will heal on its own. He was lucky he didn't do any damage to his brain.
Well, I gotta go. I have to be back to the hospital in eight hours.
I rose from my computer chair feeling better, and more tired. I flipped all the light switches off and stumbled to my bedroom, falling onto the bed and was asleep nearly as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Saturday morning came earlier than I'd hoped. I woke up still exhausted. Rolling over to smack the snooze button on the, I grumbled when I remembered that I hadn't set the alarm early enough to afford that luxury today. I rolled out of bed, dragging my feet along the bedroom floor to the bathroom.
As I stood in the hot shower, I processed everything from the night before. What had it been about last night - last night in particular - that had pushed Bella so far into the forefront of my thoughts? There were plenty of girls here, girls I had met, girls I saw regularly. But Bella…I couldn't get her out of my mind.
She and I had always had an understanding; we'd agreed to keep our relationship at the pen pal level and nothing more. We were both too busy in our lives, me as a doctor, her as a lawyer, to pursue anything more serious. But she had finished law school and had a good job; I was nearing the end of my residency. Life would begin to slow down somewhat before long. Maybe it was time to actually meet her. Did I want to meet her? More importantly, would she want to meet me?
I immediately pushed that thought out of my mind. It was easy to let my mind wander when I was standing in the steamy bathroom, thinking about my beautiful, female pen pal. I'd only seen photos of her face, and she was beautiful. There was no other word to describe the deep, chocolate brown eyes, flowing brown hair…I had to stop my thoughts before my brain stopped and my body took over. You agreed, too, I told myself. Letters, that's it. Just letters and emails. I sighed, wishing I had not agreed to that arrangement. It had made sense at the time, but it was making things complicated now.
I lathered and rinsed the shampoo from my hair and soap from my skin and stepped out of the shower. I dried quickly and wrapped the towel around my waist before returning to my bedroom to dress. I hurriedly threw on my traditional green scrubs and popped some freezer waffles into the toaster for breakfast. Casting a glance at the stovetop clock, I realized that I had a few spare moments, so I revived my computer from sleep mode and logged onto the internet to check my messages. Only one new message since last night, a reply from Bella. It had arrived not long after I'd sent the initial message.
Thanks for the message. I was thinking about you tonight, too. I sent my snail mail letter on Wednesday, so you should get it tomorrow if you haven't already.
I'd forgotten what I wrote way back then. I was only 12 years old at the time! I did feel ridiculous, though. And I agree; you are the only thing that public school ever gave me that I haven't forgotten :).
No, I'm not a partner yet. And, yes, I did laugh when I read that. I've only been at ACU for a few months. It'll be awhile—like, years—before I even qualify for partner! Thanks for your encouragement, though. It really means a lot to me that you, who've never even actually met me, think so highly of me. Thank you.
That poor little boy! I'm glad all his tests came back normal. Did you get to stitch him up?
I've got a big trial that starts next week. I'm actually only one of, like, five lawyers on our side, and as the newest member of the team, most of the research has fallen to me. That's more how I spend my days than actually in the courtroom. Don't envy me too much! I definitely spend more hours in the library than the courtroom. Anyway, this case will be the first big one I've been a part of, and since I'm so new here, I'm lucky to be on it at all. It'll be good experience.
Just as I read the last sentence, the toaster popped my waffles up and I walked back to the kitchen to grab them and spread a thin layer of butter over the surface. I ate them quickly and typed out a quick reply to Bella, basically simply saying that I had received her message, but didn't have time to reply properly just yet; I'd write to her after work tonight.
One sentence caught my attention more than any other in her reply though. I was thinking about you tonight, too. She had been thinking about me, with no provocation or current letter. Regardless of the other things going on in her life, she was thinking about me. I left my apartment with a grin on my face.
My last day in the ER was a quiet one. There was too much time to think. The same thoughts I'd entertained in the shower clouded my mind all day. I'd gone fourteen years and never felt the need to meet Bella. Why now? Why couldn't I get thoughts of her out of my mind? I sighed and roughly ran my hands through my hair.
If I was going to pull this off, I knew I'd need to start slower with her. She hadn't indicated that she was anything but happy with our current arrangement. Neither have I, for that matter, I thought. So, if I'm having these thoughts, maybe she is too, and just doesn't want to bring it up. I shook had to shake my head to clear my thoughts. Work was not the place to be thinking about Bella. Besides, I shouldn't be having those thoughts, anyway.
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