September 23, 2005
"Bells! Time to get a move on, baby girl, or you'll be late!"
Groaning, Bella Swan rolled over and peeked under the covers to check out the clock on her bedside table. [7:38]
"Shit, shit, shit!" she yelled, jumping out of bed. "Stupid freaking alarm. Argggh, I'm going to be late!"
Hastily, she grabbed a pair of jeans, a well-worn Rolling Stones shirt and clean underwear from her drawer, before rushing out of her room to get to the bathroom. Her father, Charlie, was leaning against the wall between the two rooms with a smirk on his face.
"Oversleep, baby girl?"
Bella growled and shut the bathroom door with a huff. After quickly changing and brushing her teeth, she took a deep breath and looked into the mirror while brushing her long, dark brown hair. Her eyes were round, large and chocolate colored. Her skin was pale and her smile could light up a room, although she thought that she was rather plain. Pulling her hair up in a ponytail, she dashed back into her room to grab her knapsack.
Charlie stood in the pale yellow kitchen and secured the lid on his daughter's travel mug, which was now filled with hot chocolate, her morning beverage of choice. He stepped out into the hall just as she was coming down the stairs. She grinned and hugged him.
"Thank you, Daddy! You're a lifesaver!"
Charlie blushed slightly and scratched the back of his neck as he walked her out the front door.
"Make sure you say 'Hi!' to Alice and Angela for me."
Alice Brandon and Angela Weber were two of Bella's closest friends. All three of them went to Forks High School together and decided to take some classes at Port Angeles University for two years before transferring to UW. Angela's mother passed away last year, leaving Mr. Weber and Angela to care for her twin 11 year old brothers. Angela felt better about waiting until the boys were starting high school before transferring to UW's Seattle campus. Bella and Alice had decided to follow their best friend's lead and stay close to home for a little longer.
Jumping into her beat up old Chevy, which had been a sixteenth birthday present from Charlie, Bella started off towards Port Angeles. If she could push Bessie to go the speed limit, she might just make it to class on time.
Almost four hours later, Bella emerged from the Fine Arts building. An hour and a half to get there and then a two hour Journalism class, made for one cranky and hungry Bella. Luckily, she was meeting the girls just a few blocks away at a little cafe, ironically called Brunch. Walking the three blocks to the cafe briskly, Bella pulled out her phone to check her messages. Two missed calls, one from Alice and one from her sort-of boyfriend, Jacob. She and Jake had been friends since they were kids and fell into an easy relationship. It was more like hanging out with a best friend than a boyfriend. Though, it was not for lack of trying to get into her pants on Jake's part. She just wasn't sure if that was a step that she wanted to take with him. Alice was all for her losing her V card and becoming a "grown up". Angela was the complete opposite, championing her decision to wait for the right person.
She put her phone back into her pocket as she opened the cafe door, deciding that she would call him back later. She waved at Jodie at the hostess stand and walked over to their usual table by the window. Angela and Alice were already there waiting. Dropping her bag on the floor, she slid into the chair with a sigh.
"Ugh, I hate school. Why did I sign up for a 9:00 am class again?" she groaned, as she laid her head on top of her arms on the table.
"Because you need the credits?" Angela piped up. Bella's stomached growled and their waiter approached, as if on cue.
"Can I get you ladies the usual?" a deep, slightly Southern voiced drawled. Bella looked up and smiled half-heartedly at Jasper, who worked there part time while going to law school. He also happened to be Alice's boyfriend.
"Yes, please, Jazz!" Bella smiled up at him. Jasper was tall, about 6'5" with slightly shaggy honey-colored hair, which curled around his ears and bright ice blue eyes. He was a kind man with a relaxed and calm demeanor. He complimented Alice's hyper pixie-like attitude. Anyone could feel the love radiate off the two of them whenever they were near each other. Bella was in complete awe of their relationship and perhaps a little jealous. She'd never tell Alice, but she and Jasper were one of the biggest reasons why she couldn't sleep with Jake. She was absolutely sure that she didn't love him, other than as a friend, so she wanted to give herself to someone who loved her and treated her like Jasper did Alice. When she was a child, her parents argued constantly until her mother up and left them when Bella was 10. Renee Swan had been a bit flighty and a free spirit, but no one would have expected her to abandon her little girl and never look back. That was almost nine years ago and no one had heard from Renee since, other than the occasional postcard she sent to Bella. They were usually post-marked from places all around the world, from exotic locales to small towns.
"I'm so happy that today is Friday! What are we doing this weekend, ladies?" Alice chirped, as Jasper walked away to grab their usual assortment of food.
Angela smiled and shook her head, knowing already that she'd go along with whatever Alice suggested. Bella chewed on her bottom lip slightly, in thought.
"I'm having dinner with my dad and Sue on Sunday night," Bella replied. "I think they're finally going to tell me that he proposed and that she's moving in."
Bella shook her head and smiled. They thought they were being so secretive, but Sue's son, Seth, was best friends with Jacob and he had already spilled the beans to her earlier in the week. Sue was a sweet, kind-hearted woman who lived on the Quileute Reservation not far from Forks. Her husband, Harry, had been one of Charlie's best friends for over 10 years before he passed away about five years ago. They had two children, Seth, who was 16, and Leah, who was Bella's age, 19. Seth was adorable and clearly inherited his mother's sweet disposition. Leah, on the other hand, was miserable most of the time and came across as resentful of her mother's relationship with Bella's father.
"Oooh, I hope they let me help with the wedding plans," Alice squeed and clapped her hands. Angela laughed softly at her friend's excitement. Alice was always excited for any reason to throw a party.
"Why don't we all head into Seattle tomorrow morning and do some shopping for the special occasion?" Alice suggested. Bella snorted.
"Like you need any reason to go shopping?" she asked her excitable friend. Alice had the decency to smile somewhat sheepishly.
"I would be down for that," Angela piped in. "There's a book I've been meaning to pick up for a while now and a trip to the city would be nice."
Bella nodded her head in agreement. They had all worked their behinds off the past few weeks, getting ready for finals. They deserved a break. Jasper and Jacob were more than likely working all weekend, as usual, so it would be nice to have a girl's day.
"Sounds like a plan, ladies. Now, let's get through the rest of the day's classes before we get too excited about the weekend." Bella winked at her friends.
Early the next afternoon, Bella found herself shoved into a dressing room by her short, bossy friend.
"Alice," she whined, "it's only dinner with my dad and his girlfriend. Why do I need a new outfit? You know how much I hate this kind of shit."
Angela snickered from the chair where she was skimming through the book she had bought earlier.
"Oh, Bells!" Alice exclaimed. "What am I going to do with you? Mark my words, one day I will make a shopper out of you!"
"Good luck with that. You've been trying for the past five years and it hasn't gotten you anywhere yet," Bella laughed.
Bella picked up the tiny black strapless dress that Alice had sent in with her.
"You know, Allie, if I wore this tomorrow, Charlie would have a heart attack."
"True, but that doesn't mean that you can't try it on and maybe save it for a later date! Every girl should have a little black dress."
"Alice," Bella sighed, "sweetie, I think this would qualify as a handkerchief on me."
Suddenly, their conversation was cut short by a high-pitched screeching sound. Poking her head out the dressing room, Bella saw a little girl around seven years old who was clinging to a rack of dresses, refusing to let go.
"No, I don't wanna go! I wanna new dress!" she shouted at a weary-looking woman. The woman rolled her eyes and jerked the girl by her arm.
"Dammit, you are so annoying. Why can't you just sit down and shut up for two minutes while I pick something up? Really, I don't know why the hell I bother." The woman pulled the girl away from the rack and out of earshot.
Bella turned with wide eyes and looked at her friends. Angela looked upset and Alice was shaking her head.
"That right there is why I'll never have kids," Alice commented. "They're so loud and whiny."
Angela shook her head. "Kinda like you, huh?" Alice grabbed the closest thing to her, which happened to be a shoe, and tossed it at Angela, giggling.
"Seriously though," Angela started, "it's not the kid's fault that the mother couldn't be bothered to listen to her and talk her down gently. I've handled worse temper tantrums from the boys much better than that. I don't get some people. Why have a kid if you're going to be mean or talk badly to it?"
Bella sighed, thinking about her own mother. She remembered Renee being sweet and kind, making cookies with her on the weekends. The most prominent memories she had of Renee were of her and Charlie yelling and arguing with each other. Afterwards, Renee would always take her frustration out on Bella by either snapping at her or ignoring her.
"Sometimes, people make the wrong choice. Having a kid to save your relationship or unprotected sex are common. Mostly, I think women go into motherhood thinking things will be one way and then get disillusioned when reality hits. Some roll with the punches and do their best. Others turn into cold bitches or just drop their kids off at the neighbor's and never come back."
Both Alice and Angela lowered their eyes sadly, knowing exactly how much that last comment hit home for Bella. Renee had done just that to Bella. No one knew what made her choose that day to take her daughter three doors down and drop her off at Angela's house for a play date and just never come back.
"Sorry, Bells," Angela spoke quietly. Bella walked over to her friend and pulled her into a hug.
"Nothing to be sorry for, Ange. That was a completely valid question. It really does suck when some people are crappy parents, but I'm glad your mom was awesome. I really miss her, too."
Alice joined into the hug and wiped a few stray tears from the eyes of her girls.
"What do you say we take a break and get some lunch?"
Bella and Angela smiled.
"Best idea ever, Allie!"
Three hours later, the girls were carrying their purchases and making their way back to Angela's little Acura. Two blocks from the car, Bella heard a noise. It sounded like someone was crying softly. They were just passing by the mouth of a tiny alley and the sound got stronger.
"Guys, wait up," Bella said as she started to walk into the alley. Alice reached out and grabbed her arm, looking at her wildly.
"Are you freaking crazy? There could be a killer down there waiting to chop you up! Or a wild animal that will eat you!"
"Alice, we're in the middle of Seattle. There aren't any wild animals wandering around. Trust me on this, I'm a cop's daughter, remember? I can take care of myself."
Alice looked skeptical and didn't let go of her arm. Bella heard a small sob and felt something pulling her into that alley, like an invisible string.
"Please, Allie, I just have a feeling. I need to check it out."
Alice let go of Bella's arm hesitantly, still looking wary.
"You have five minutes. If I don't hear anything from you after that, then I'm coming in guns blazing!" Alice practically shouted.
Bella smiled reassuringly at her friends and quietly walked back down the alley. The crying had softened a bit and was now interspersed with sniffling.
"Hello?" she called out. "Are you hurt? Do you need some help?"
Quiet immediately enveloped the small place. Bella continued to walk, stepping around trash littering the ground and broken bottles. There was graffiti along the wall and a dumpster that was pressed against a wall at the end of the alley. Next to it was a worn-down door that was boarded up. In the small space between the dumpster and the wall, a tiny form was curled up into a tiny ball, shaking like a leaf. Her brows furrowed in confusion. The body was too small to be an adult, but why would a child be hiding in a filthy alley?
She reached out and touched the child's dirty hair softly. Its head jerked up and she found herself staring into the greenest eyes that she'd ever seen. They were staring back at her, wide with fear.
"Pp-ple-ease, don't hurt me," a voice asked, barely above a whisper. Bella felt her heart break and tears sting her eyes.
"I'm not going to hurt you, sweetheart," she said as calmly and gently as she could. "I want to help you. Are you hurt? Where are your parents?"
The child started to sob again and threw himself into her arms. Bella was startled and fell back on her behind. She wrapped her arms around the kid and felt something burn in her chest. In that instant, she felt something shift. She knew right then and there that nothing would stop her from helping this little one. She ran her fingers through his crusty hair and wondered again how one so young could just be all alone like this. Both his clothes and hair were caked with mud and he smelled of urine and vomit.
When the boy quieted a little, Bella tried asking her questions again.
"Hey, Little Bit, I'm not going to hurt you. I want to help you. Can you tell me your name at least?"
"Well, Jack, my name is Bella. Are you hurt, sweetie?"
"N-n-no, but I hungee." The boy's statement was punctuated by a loud grumble from his stomach. Bella started to shift to stand up and Jack tightened his hold on her neck.
"Ssshh, don't worry, Little Bit, I'm not letting you go. We're going to get off of this dirty ground and go to my friends outside of this alley. Then we're going to go get something to eat, okay?"
"Yes, please," he said. Bella wondered once again where his parents were. The kid was terrified, yet still polite, so he had to have a decent family somewhere, but then where the hell where they?
"OK, then that's our first stop. Jack, do you know how old you are?"
He held up three fingers.
"You're three years old, baby?" she asked in confirmation. He nodded.
"All right, do you know where your parents are, sweetheart?"
"I-I don't know," he started to sob again. Bella rubbed his back comfortingly as she stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Both Angela and Alice looked shocked to see Bella come out of the alley carrying a small child in dirty clothes.
"Bella, what's going on?" Alice asked. Bella shrugged.
"I don't know, Allie. His name is Jack and he's hungry and all alone. Let's get him something to eat and I'll call my dad. Angie, why don't you take our bags to the car? Allie, do you think you can run back to one of the stores and grab him an outfit to change into? We'll head over to the McDonald's down the street and see about cleaning him up a little."
The girls nodded their agreement.
"Bells, make sure to take some pictures with your phone, just in case we need them as evidence or something."
"I was thinking the same thing," Bella said as she nodded. Whoever was responsible for hurting this little boy would be in some serious shit. She wasn't a violent person, but she was having some pretty vicious thoughts at the moment.
A couple of minutes later, after cleaning him up a little in the restaurant's bathroom, the girls had Jack settled into a booster seat while he dug ravenously into a pile of chicken nuggets. Bella's eyes started to tear up once again as she dialed Charlie's number on her cell phone.
"Hey, baby girl! How's your shopping trip going?" he asked kindly. She let out a watery sigh and Charlie immediately knew something was wrong.
"Daddy? I need your help."