Stephenie Meyer owns these characters. All dialogue borrowed from "Twilight" is purely for clarification. No infringement of copyright is intended, only my admiration.
******WINNER, READERS' CHOICE, The "Life and Times of Bree Tanner" Challenge!******
Many, many thanks to everyone who voted for this story - this was my first Fanfiction challenge, and I'm absolutely delighted by the win.
Check out the lovely award banner here:
Thanks, always, to my light-speed beta, Lezlee.
This story is for Sarah.
A CARTON OF MILK
21 Sumac Crescent, Seattle
Samson barked like a maniac as the newspaper slid through the mail chute, landing on the tile with a soft thud. Knowing the dog would just just ignore her, Sandy Baird didn't bother scolding him. She just grabbed as much of the paper as she could from his soft, slobbery mouth, extricating the remaining flyers before he took off down the hall.
With a resigned shrug, she watched him make his usual bee-line for the living room, to his favourite spot beside the hearth where he'd shred his illicit circulars in peace.
She leafed through the missives that remained intact, including this week's savings at Safeway and Target, a letter from Publisher's Clearinghouse - she could be the next ten thousand dollar winner -, coupons for pizza, tanning salons, windshield replacement, and… her breath caught as she unfolded the leaflet, gazing once again at the all-too-familiar face of the teenager that grinned up at her. Oh, God… Neon pink paper this time. As if that would make a difference. As if that would make her reappear from wherever it was she had run away to.
They're never going to find that kid.
That something like this could happen so close to home. There was no way some sicko had just taken the girl. Bree was too smart for that. Sandy couldn't let herself believe that either, because that meant entertaining the unthinkable; it meant someone could just as easily have taken one of her girls. But if she'd run away, like Chelsea believed, it was strange that she'd left no note, no explanation. She'd just… gone.
Even so, Sandy could not shake the lingering guilt she harboured as, for the umpteenth time since Bree's disappearance, she wondered if there was anything she could have said or done differently that might have helped that girl somewhere along the way.
This just showed that you never really knew people, no matter how long you lived next to them.
The Tanners had seemed pretty normal - well, as normal as any single-parent family ever could be. Sure, they had their problems, but didn't everyone? Bree's dad had done the best he could under the circumstances. It couldn't have been easy for him, left on his own like that to raise a daughter.
She remembered when they'd moved in across the street, almost ten years ago. Back then you didn't see too many divorced families where the father retained custody, not like nowadays. Her eldest daughter had befriended the shy newcomer the very next day. Chelsea was like that; she could talk to anybody, still could. During that hot summer between grades two and three those girls were thick as thieves, bonded by a love of Judy Blume books and bike riding. Bree had been such a quiet kid: all dark curls, and huge hazel eyes - and that ridiculous, gap-toothed grin of hers. She'd lost three of her front baby teeth in the same week, or so she said.
She was always humming that Cardigans song to herself. Sandy still thought of Bree whenever she heard it:
Love me, love me, say that you love me…
Shy, quiet, polite: there was nothing wrong with her manners. She knew when to say 'please' and 'thank you', all right. They'd had her over for supper a couple of times, and for sleepovers. She seemed so excited by the prospect of staying up past eight o'clock. She'd begged Sandy not to tell her dad.
Bree's father had never bothered to return the favour. He was funny about the whole mealtime thing, actually. She was never allowed to play outside after supper on those long summer evenings. He was funny about a lot of things, now that Sandy thought about it. Like the time he was out of work and the folks in the neighbourhood all chipped in to pay for Bree to attend summer camp. He'd been so insulted he'd slammed the door in Sandy's face.
She really kept to herself, that girl. Gregarious Chelsea was her only friend, really. Sometimes the other kids would tease her about the way she dressed: 'Hand Me Down Bree', they called her. Chelsea stuck up for her.
Oh, she would respond to questions politely enough when asked, but she would never volunteer information about herself or her home life. Unobtrusive, that was a good way to describe her. Kept her head down, and didn't make trouble.
In the glare of hindsight, Sandy realized that there must have been some very good reasons Bree had for keeping her head down. For example, she never really told Chelsea much about her parents' divorce - only that mommy had 'gone away when she was little'.
Bree's father kept to himself, too. After the door-slamming incident, Sandy never spoke much with him, beyond a few pleasantries exchanged, here and there. His job meant that he worked long hard hours. Her grandmother took care of her after school for a couple of years, and she had been pleasant enough. Then she died, and Bree's dad wouldn't let her go to the funeral. Was Sandy wrong in thinking that was odd?
When Bree turned twelve, some new custody arrangement seemed to have been struck, and she began spending two weeks with her mother every summer. Her relationship with her father seemed to change after that. Things got very tense in the house. Or maybe they'd been tense all along, and she'd only started confiding in Chelsea about it then? Sandy wasn't sure.
Bree's dad didn't like the music she listened to. He smashed all of her CDs in front of her once. She wasn't allowed to read those trashy teen mags that the other girls were addicted to, either. Chelsea said Bree's locker was full of them in spite of that.
That was about the time the girls started drifting apart. Bree had been so envious of those popular girls, the girls who used to torment her and call her names - there were no crueler creatures on this earth than thirteen year old girls.
By high school, they were running in different crowds. It was sad, but that's the way life moved, sometimes. It was a hard lesson for Chelsea to learn. She was bitter. She said that Bree was caught shoplifting at the mall, but that another girl had actually set her up. Chelsea said a lot of things, which often left Sandy wondering at how much was actually true, and how much was the result of an active imagination.
Sometimes though, when the windows were open across the street, Sandy had heard the yelling. She'd pretended not to. It didn't take Chelsea's imagination to make out the put-downs. The girl was no good, just like her mother. Useless. She'd never amount to anything. Maybe that's why she changed. Maybe she'd been told she was bad so many times, that she just decided to perpetuate the stereotype.
But if he ever hit her, there were no bruises, at least not where anyone could see them. Sandy really didn't think he'd be capable of… No: the utter devastation on that man's face when he'd made an appearance on television, pleading for his daughter's safe return - it was as if his soul had died. How could that have been faked?
Then, when she didn't turn up at her mother's place like everyone assumed she would, he became the number one suspect. The police had searched his property several times, actually. They hadn't been back in a while.
Maybe the rumours were true. Maybe Bree had simply had enough of the bleak home life she never talked about, and just hit the streets. Maybe she had met one of those downtown predators who promise the world to damaged young girls, and then use and abuse them. Sandy hoped not. She wanted to believe that Bree was living, happy and free, as an emancipated minor, maybe in another city. More and more often though, she was convinced that the next time the police returned it would be with the news that they'd located the body.
Samson's nails clicked on the kitchen tile as he wandered in, the corner of a Best Buy flyer dangling from his mouth. Sensing a change in the human's mood, he padded over and leaned his head against her knee. She stroked his velvet ears, staring absently out the window, across the street.
She realized that she never really knew Bree Tanner.
Cleveland High, Last Day of School, 2006
Amber Tannahil could barely contain her satisfaction. So many people had signed her yearbook that the covers overflowed, front and back, with hearts, smiley faces, exclamations of undying friendship, and everlasting love. Who would have thought that sophomore year would have turned out to be so great?
She just had to open it to the page containing her class photo one more time, feeling her heart leap with glee as she gazed at the space between her photo and the next one, where Austin had scrawled "Wazzup" and written his telephone number beside it. Austin was so hot. She had a photo of him saved as the wallpaper on her phone, he was that hot. There was no doubt he had totally noticed her at long last. She could not believe her good luck.
Drawing a little heart with her finger around his messy green handwriting, she noticed that he had accidentally scrawled over the photo next to hers.
It was Bree Tanner's photo. Now, that girl had bad luck. Totally. She was probably at the bottom of the sound somewhere, with a weight tied around her ankles. Sharkbait.
Amber shivered, looking around the parking lot nervously as she remembered what happened just after Valentine's Day. It was so scary the way Bree had just disappeared. For the weeks following, the police had been everywhere, interviewing everyone who knew Bree, or knew where she might have gone.
Everyone was so worried that some freak had kidnapped her, and that he was still around, waiting to grab another teenage girl from the school, or from her bedroom. Her own parents had become super-protective. She couldn't go anywhere without a chaperone; she couldn't even go to the mall on her own.
When she thought about it though, it was no wonder it had happened. She didn't want to think that Bree had been asking for it, but it was like she'd done a Jekyll and Hyde between freshman and sophomore years. Nobody, like nobody, had bought that badass persona she'd reinvented herself with last fall.
Freshman year, she was in the chess club, for crying out loud. She wore long skirts to school, and pantyhose - old lady beige pantyhose - underneath! The popular girls used to tease Bree because someone once said her dad cut her hair. It looked like he did; it looked like he'd shoved a salad bowl over her head, and cut around the edges.
Amber was ashamed to admit that she'd joined in the teasing, once or twice – only to avoid being teased herself, though. She hadn't meant anything by it.
Last September, Bree changed. She would still wear the clothes her dad made her wear to school, to fool him. Then she'd change in the washroom, and come out wearing low-cut, slutty tops, tight jeans, and black eyeliner. She started hanging out with those loser kids smoked pot behind the auto shop, then she got caught shoplifting. Who did she think she was? Way to win friends and influence people.
She kept boasting about how she was going to hitchhike out of state and live with her mom too, but she never did do it. For a couple of days, that's where everybody thought that's where she'd turn up, but then her mom came to Seattle and appeared on TV with her dad. They'd both cried in front of the camera…
Amber felt a little bit like crying now, as she processed her guilt. Maybe if she'd been a little nicer to her… maybe if she had stuck up for her, instead of making fun of her… She couldn't cry though, because her mom pulled up in the minivan, giving the horn a sharp little tap, and her daughter a sharp little wave.
Life had to go on.
King County Sherriff's Office, Seattle
Sonya Macready sighed at the teetering pile of manila folders overflowing her in-basket. Five years on the job, and jaded already. Hadn't her mother warned her she wasn't cut out for this line of work?
The ceramic coffee mug was warm comfort as she took her seat and began leafing through the Youth Court case docket. She already knew what was lined up, of course, but rarely did she get time to sit and peruse the files like this beforehand.
Marvellous. Marcia Davis was getting another day in court. Hadn't those kids been through the wringer enough times already? They were happy in their foster homes; they didn't deserve to be yanked out for yet another 'clean start' with their mother, only to watch her descend into her spiral of smack dependence and prostitution a few months from now. What were those idiots upstairs thinking?
Oh, but this time she would do it right. This time she would make it because she had the support of God, and Twelve-Step. She also had Sonya, who would, despite all her best instincts, attest that, yes indeed, your Honour, since Ms. Davis has been clean and sober for the requisite amount of time, and has secured affordable housing, there was no reason that the children should not be returned to her care.
At eleven o'clock, she had an interview with the concerned but clueless refugee parents of a math prodigy, who were baffled about the way he had managed to procure a Mercedes Benz when he didn't even have a driver's license. No, no, their boy didn't do drugs, and he certainly couldn't have been involved in any nefarious activities like the police were suggesting. Well, he didn't get the money from his paper route…
Lifting the second last file from the basket caused her to suck the air between her teeth in disappointment. Bree Tanner. She'd really hoped that kid might have made it. Instead, she'd managed to slip through the cracks before anyone could help her.
Today she'd have to tell Bree's parents to prepare themselves for the eventuality that their daughter might never come home. No matter how many years she'd been on the job, it was a task she never got used to.
Bree's mother had called again yesterday, too. Sonya felt an irrational surge of irritation at the memory. She had to stop letting her assumptions about the woman bother her. But if things had really been as bad in the home as she'd intimated, why hadn't she taken her daughter with her when she'd moved out of state? Why hadn't she fought harder for custody?
And what more information did she think Sonya could pull out of thin air? All the leads had been exhausted. Maybe Bree simply did not want to be found. A lot of the kids on the east side were like that.
When she'd first begun investigating the disappearance, indications were hopeful that Bree might be found. The word among the street kids she'd befriended on her beat was promising. Yes, a few of them recognized Bree's picture. She'd shared a joint with a couple of the boys; maybe she'd shared more than that with them, they wouldn't say. She had spent a night at one of the shelters on the downtown east side, using a pseudonym. Shade, she'd signed herself on the night roster. She was even seen on a bookstore surveillance camera, of all things, having an intense conversation with a young blond man.
There were rumours among the street kids about a young guy, possibly a pimp, who was new on the east side scene. They were scared of him; some of them had disappeared after being seen with him.
That was when the leads dried up, just as Seattle began to experience the most vicious spate of murders in years.
Her coffee had gone cold. She grabbed the urn from the burner by the sink and poured herself another, wrinkling her nose because she knew it had been sitting too long. Sweetening it with sugar, and a little cream, she sighed, thinking that the next time anybody saw Bree Tanners face, it would either be on "America's Most Wanted", or on the back of a carton of milk.
Somewhere in the Olympic Ranges
A honey-haired woman entered a clearing in the pine forest. She walked noiselessly but purposefully to a spot under a huge hemlock. Had the day been bright, the sun would have cast its rays on a spot at the base of the trunk, no more than a foot from where she stood. She remained there for several moments, silent and still, with bowed head; any passerby would have been forgiven for believing her a statue, placed there by some mountain god to remind mortals of the sanctity of this place.
A few moments more, and the woman bent to brush the grass away from a small stone marker. She placed on top of it the bouquet of flowers she was carrying. Standing again, she sighed, and nodded as if acknowledging an unseen presence inhabiting this place.
She bowed her head once more, turned, and walked away as silently as she'd come.