Disclaimer – Though the ideas are my own, I do not own anything Twilight related.

Chapter 1 - Purgatory


"Here you are, Ms. Swan," the lawyer, Mr. Ackland, said, handing me the keys to the house. My house. "If you ever need anything else, anything at all, please don't hesitate to call. Charlie was a good man, and I know any daughter of his must be the same."

I nodded curtly, fighting back the urge to tell him how very wrong he was. Charlie may have been good – not that I would know – but I certainly was not. I was damaged; tainted. I was bitter and withdrawn and selfish. I knew all of this, but was helpless to change it.

Keys firmly in hand, I pulled out of the parking lot with all of my worldly possessions in tow – three suitcases of clothes and a couple worn books, a rusty old pick-up truck that nobody really knew the year of, and a leather-bound journal that never left my side. And now I could officially add another object to the short list of things in the world that were mine – the small white house in the middle of Nowheresville, Washington. I would be starting over in a town with a population of just over three thousand.

But it beat the alternative.

I had been frantically searching for a way out. Mr. Ackland contacted me just in the nick of time, and I received the letter the morning of my eighteenth birthday. It was a long, boring documentation that basically amounted to: Hey, hate to break it to you, but your dad's been dead for months. Sorry we had trouble finding you. But it's okay, because you've inherited a house! Happy birthday to me.

It had taken months to secure the paperwork and tie up loose ends, but finally the house and everything inside it officially belonged to me. All I had to do was meet with the lawyer and get the keys, and it was mine to keep or to sell. I chose the former.

I had jumped at the chance to escape Phoenix. Escape my demons. Beginning a new life in a place where no one knew me sounded perfect. And I intended to keep it that way. I had seen the cruelty inside of people, and I wanted no part of it. Not anymore. I could be content with being alone for the rest of my life if it meant finally finding some sort of peace.

Unfortunately, being a complete recluse wasn't exactly a realistic option. Sure, I'd inherited the house, but houses came with a lot of expenses, and if I wanted to keep it, I would need money. Charlie had also left me the small amount of savings he'd managed to accumulate in his lifetime, but that would run out soon enough. Plus, I liked working. I had worked my ass off in some capacity for as long as I had been capable of doing so. Someone had to be the responsible one.

I was a little surprised at how easy it had been to secure a job at the lone diner in the small town of Forks. The woman who owned it had never met me, yet when I called to find out about the possibility of a job when I arrived in town; she hired me over the phone with no hesitation after hearing my last name. Apparently, my father had a lot of people who'd adored him. I hoped the good people of Forks wouldn't be too disappointed when they learned I wasn't going to be able to take the place of their beloved Chief Swan.

The drive from Port Angeles to my new home was the most boring thing I'd ever had to endure, and I couldn't believe that this was the closest thing to a "bigger town" Forks had nearby. My other options for getting the big city thrill were to drive to Olympia or Seattle, and gas wasn't exactly cheap in this hunk of metal I called a vehicle. I smiled inwardly. As much as I complained about it, I really did love this truck. In a sense, and as lame as it sounded, it had been one of the only things in life that I could depend on. It may have been old, but it was reliable, and had often been my hero in phoenix; my only means of escape. Plus, I had bought it on my own when I turned sixteen, and it was one of the first things in life that had really been mine.

After what felt like hours, I finally pulled into the driveway of the place I would now call home. It wasn't exactly Buckingham Palace, but I'd seen worse. I'd lived worse.

White paint – which may have been bright and clean once, but was now more of a dull grey – was beginning to peel, and if I planned on staying here it would need a new coat within the year. The roof and small front porch seemed to be in good shape, for which I was thankful. I couldn't afford any huge renovations now.

I shrugged in to my newly acquired raincoat, pulling the hood up. It had felt wrong to purchase the inoffensive piece of material. I wasn't used to spending money on myself, and would feel horribly guilty for months afterwards. It was worse when someone would try to buy me something. I'd rather go without than take charity.

I ran through the wet, dreary weather up the front steps, pausing to unlock the door. I stepped inside the dark house, feeling around the wall for a light switch. The lights flickered when I turned them on, and I took a long look around my new home. To the left of the entry way was a small yet workable kitchen. The dining room table shoved in the corner was old, and the three chairs around it were mismatched. The wood cabinets were peeling much like the outside of the house. There was definite room for improvement. The thought made me smile. It would make this transition to normal life much easier if I had something to focus my attention on. And fixing up this house was the perfect project to take on.

I opened the refrigerator, happy to see someone had taken the liberty of cleaning it out. I hated to think what six months of rotting food would do to the poor appliance. I added "grocery store" to the mental list of things I would need to do today.

On the right side of the entry way was the cozy living room. The only way to describe it – dark. The walls were painted a dark green, which matched the heavy drapery covering the windows. No light shined through, not that the cloud coverage would allow such a thing anyway. The couch was dark brown , with a matching recliner shoved in the corner. The coffee table in the center of the room was a rich mahogany. Dark. Too dark. I'd had enough darkness. The living room would be my first task.

The musty smell in the air did not escape me.

I went from window to window, caring more about getting the stale air circulating than the fact that it was raining. The only time I'd been to Washington had been while I was still in my mother's womb, but I had heard rain was a constant in this part of the state. I really didn't mind. Dry air, heat, and sunshine would only remind me of everything I was trying to forget. I needed no reminders of Phoenix.

I made my way up the stairs, ready to finish the tour and start the unpleasant task of unpacking. At the top of the landing there were three doors – one to the left, one to the right, and one straight ahead. I opened the one to the left and was met by what must have been the spare bedroom. There was a full-sized bed in the center, though it was stripped of any linen. Apparently, Charlie hadn't had many visitors. A rocking chair that looked like it could be an antique sat untouched in the corner. I was happily surprised with the closet space, and there was a nice large dresser that would easily hold my entire wardrobe.

What amazed me most about the room, though, was the wall color. Though faded with the years, I could tell they had once been a vibrant yellow. The contrast of these walls with the rest of the house was staggering. Mixed with the rocking chair, it was almost as if this room had been intended to be a nursery. Though most people only had nurseries when they intended to be caring, loving parents.

And that wasn't Charlie, I reminded myself.

I took a quick peek into the bathroom. It was small, but with only me in the house, it would be fine. I paused outside the final door, knowing that this had to be Charlie's bedroom. Pushing open the door, I was not surprised to find it decorated much like the living room. It was just as stuffy as all of the other rooms, but I could detect a faint hint of something that could only been described as man.

So that's what my father smelled like.

I didn't step over the threshold of the room, feeling oddly uneasy with entering the Chief's personal space. I knew I would eventually have to clean it out, but I couldn't do it now. I knew nothing about this man. Going through his things would help me learn about him, and I had no desire to do that. He never wanted to learn about me. I shut the door, not knowing when I would get the courage to open it again.

It took only two trips to get my luggage from the truck into the house and up the stairs. I dumped the suitcases on the bare bed, setting my journal gently on the bedside table. I hated unpacking, though I hardly had enough with me to complain about. It seemed like such a waste of time, folding things and putting them in a suitcase only to take them out and unfold them when you arrived. I did it mechanically, thinking about how much money I was going to have to part with to make this place livable.

Not only would I need to buy food, but toiletries and bedding. I had needed to make a quick getaway from Phoenix, and I hadn't had time to bring anything but the essentials with me. I was sure Charlie had extra linen somewhere in the house, but I would feel much more comfortable with my own. I also decided to buy paint while I was out. I would hopefully be too busy at my new job in the next couple of weeks to get any real painting done, but at least I would have everything I needed when I wanted to get started.

The clock on the nightstand read early afternoon. I was starting at the diner the following day, though not until the afternoon shift. Kate, the owner, thought that it would be easier for me to learn after the lunch rush when it was slow. I couldn't imagine a diner in a town this small ever getting too busy, but I kept my mouth shut and agreed.

I was still wondering why I'd agreed to be a waitress. I had done a variety of odd jobs from the age of twelve, but I'd never considered waitressing. I was not the most graceful person on the planet, and I cringed when I thought about the inevitable dishes I was bound to break. I hoped Kate wouldn't fire me. I had warned her over the phone, but I'm not sure she took me seriously. I prayed I didn't do something really embarrassing like dumping hot coffee on someone's head or a plate of spaghetti on a poor, unsuspecting customer's lap.

I shook my head, deciding that I could only do my best and if they wanted to demote me to dishwasher, I would completely understand. I grabbed my coat, wallet, and keys and headed out the door, back into the dreary wet rain.

I didn't have directions, but the grocery store wasn't very hard to find. Forks wasn't big enough to get truly lost in, unless you wandered too far into the vast woodlands. The store was mostly empty, save for the lone checkout girl and a few scattered shoppers. It had much less variety than I was used to, but I was able to find everything I needed in no time and soon had a cart full of food to bring to my new home.

The checkout girl stared at me curiously as she rung up my purchases, but thankfully didn't ask questions. I was well aware I would be the talk of the town for awhile, but hoping people would keep the gossip amongst themselves and not try to get my life story straight from me. In a small town, everybody knows everybody, and newcomers are always treated as a novelty. I just prayed they would realize quickly how completely uninteresting and socially awkward I was, and I could go back to blending in with the background like I intended.

I made a quick stop at the hardware store for paint and found a nice little shop that sold bed linins and drapery. Soon, my truck bed was full and my checkbook was significantly lighter. I sighed. I would have to get used to spending money. I was a homeowner now, after all.

It was early evening when I arrived back at the house. I set my grocery bags in the kitchen, put the various cans of paint and painting accessories in the hall closet, and brought my bedroom stuff upstairs.

As I was putting the groceries away, I realized I'd bought more food than any one person would ever need for a month. I wasn't used to having enough money to buy more than just the barest essentials at the grocery store, and I'd gone a little overboard. I sighed. Oh well, if need be I was sure there was a food shelf somewhere in Forks I could donate to.

I forced myself to eat a quick dinner. The nerves of starting a brand new life made food sound less than appealing, but I knew I wouldn't be any good to anyone tomorrow if I was weak with hunger.

It finally got late enough to go upstairs to bed without feeling guilty. Stopping in my new bedroom for some clean clothes, I headed into the bathroom to shower. When the hot water hit my chilled skin, I vowed to always pay the water bill on time now that I was on my own. Having a hot shower was an underrated pleasure in life, and when I was in Phoenix I never knew when the water was going to be shut off. I'd tried my hardest to make it easy – I'd put the money in the envelopes and set them out well before their due dates so all Renee would have to do is mail them out. But sometimes…

Sometimes the money wasn't used as it should have been.

I climbed into my freshly made bed, hoping the strange awkwardness I felt from sleeping in a new room would pass quickly so I could get some rest. I was exhausted, and I would need to be well rested if I was going to try not to make a fool out of myself my first day of waitressing. I groaned. This was a disaster waiting to happen.

The rain was still falling lightly, and the droplets hitting my bedroom window were a foreign sound. I couldn't decide if it was annoying or soothing. It kept me awake most of that first night. After tossing and turning for hours, I finally fell into a restless sleep around four a.m. My dreams were jumbled and nonsensical, but I would take them over nightmares any day.

By eight o'clock I'd given up and got dressed for the day.

The morning was spent on the phone, doing those little tasks that I assume every new homeowner has to take care of. All of the utilities had to be switched from Charlie's name to mine, and I needed to make sure my mail was forwarded to Forks.

At least I didn't have to worry about a mortgage. The house had originally been owned by Charlie's father, and it was taken over by Charlie when my grandfather had died too young. Charles Swan, Sr. had managed to put a rather large chunk of money toward the house, and my father had it fully paid off before he'd married my mother. Or so the lawyer told me. The suppressed fury threatened to bubble over as I thought about how little I knew firsthand about my own family.

At noon, I started getting ready for my first shift at Forks Diner. Kate had said to arrive around one o'clock. She never mentioned any uniform requirements, so I hoped my jeans and black sweater combo would be suitable.

Finally, I decided it was close enough, and I headed out. I had scoped out the diner the night before, not wanting to be late my first day. It was a simple, small white building surrounded by trees on the edge of town. I parked where I assumed the other employee's were parked, and headed inside. Annoying tinkling bells greeted me when I opened the door.

A girl who looked like she might be my age was standing at the cash register, flipping through an order pad. Though she was short and slender, she had beautiful, flawless features that made her seem out of place in this drab, small-town diner. Her short, pitch black hair was styled in that perfect bed head way that no one outside of celebrities can ever seem to achieve. She was dressed comfortably, like me, but with chunky bracelets and huge hoop earrings, she looked much more polished than I could ever hope to be.

She eyed me curiously as I approached. "Can I help you?"

"Um, hi, I'm Isabella Swan…"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, her demeanor brightening upon realizing who I was. "Kate told me to be expecting you after lunch. I'm so happy to meet you!"

She came out from behind the counter and started walking toward a swinging door I assumed led to the kitchen. I trailed along behind her, as I'm sure she expected me to do, and hardly caught myself from running into her when she came to an abrupt stop before getting to the door.

She turned to me, the big friendly smile still securely on her face. "I'm sorry; you must think I'm terribly rude. Everyone's been talking about you so much it feels like I already know you."

I grimaced, wondering how far off the rumor mill was with their assessments of my personality.

"Anyway, I'm Alice Cullen." She stuck her hand out to me and I tentatively shook it. I wasn't exactly skilled in social graces, but it seemed Alice was comfortable taking over the conversation. "I'll be training you in. You're actually going to be my replacement, though I won't be leaving until August. I'm going to fashion design school in Los Angeles, can you believe it?"

I wondered if she'd noticed I'd only uttered four words since I arrived, but quickly decided that it didn't matter. Alice Cullen was saving me a lot of awkward mumbling about myself right now, and for that I was eternally grateful.

"Come on," she said, turning around and walking through the swinging door. "I'll introduce you to everyone, and then we can get started."

The kitchen at Forks Diner looked just as you'd imagine it. There was a large fry grill where two guys were stationed, their backs turned to me. A third boy was at a table a little to the side, cutting up vegetables. There was a waitress station, and a hallway, which Alice informed me led to the pantry and walk-in cooler and freezer.

Pretty standard. Maybe I could handle this after all.

"Hey, guys! New girl's here!" Alice called in a voice that seemed much too loud for her little body. She sent me an apologetic look. Two of the boys turned to look at me. Or gawk, if you wanted to be specific. I felt like a circus freak.

"Isabella Swan, I'd like you to meet Tyler Crowley and Mike Newton." The boys nodded toward me as Alice said their names. "Tyler is one of our fry cooks, and Mike does prep work and helps bus and wash dishes."

"So, you're Isabella," Mike said, coming closer to where Alice and I stood. He held out his hand, and I took it, trying not to scowl. I wondered how many times I'd have to do this before the day was through.

"Bella, please," I requested. My full name felt too formal here.

"Bella," he repeated, not releasing my hand. I stood there uneasily for a few long seconds before Alice cleared her throat.

"Ah, Mike? You need to let her go."

"Oh, sorry," he mumbled, immediately releasing my hand and flushing red.

"Anyway," Alice continued, rolling her eyes as she gestured to the one boy who hadn't turned to meet me. "That charming young man is my brother, Edward."

Edward cast an uninterested glance quickly over his shoulder before turning back toward his grill, waving the spatula in his hand over his shoulder in greeting. From the short look I got at his face, I could tell he was just as beautiful as his sister, although he seemed to be much more arrogant.

"Come on," Alice urged, tugging lightly on my arm. "Let's go find Jasper."

She led me back out the swinging door and into the dining room. The place was decorated horribly, but I suppose when you have a monopoly on the diner business, you can decorate any damn way you please. I suppose it was supposed to look "outdoorsy", but pretty much was just a big, cluttered mess. Random pictures and memorabilia hung on the walls, seemingly with no rhyme or reason. The place wasn't big, though it was more than I'd expected. Two rows of brown booths lined the walls, and a few scattered tables filled the middle area.

Though it was pretty quiet at the moment, I noticed that most of the tables were dirty, which made me feel a little better about business. I wasn't deluding myself into believing that I would become rich off the tips at Forks Diner, but any little bit was sure to help.

"You'll have to excuse my darling twin," she said. "Being a jerk comes naturally for him. It's kind of his thing."

"You're twins?" I asked, incredulous. Other than their unnatural good looks, the two of them were like night and day.

She giggled. "I know, right? That's the wonderful thing about fraternal twins. You don't have to look anything alike."

She glanced around the small area.

"There he is," she squealed, pointing to a tall, lean blonde cleaning off a table. She pulled me along behind her, and I couldn't understand her enthusiasm. "Jasper!"

He looked up from his work, smiling brilliantly when he realized it was her. I didn't even know these two, and I could sense the attraction.

"Hey, Alice. Who's your friend?" he asked, flicking his crystal blue eyes to me.

"This is Isabella Swan. Bella," she introduced.

"The Chief's daughter," he stated. "It's very nice to meet you, Bella. I'm so sorry about your father."

"Um, yeah. Thanks." I frowned. I hadn't considered people would be offering me condolences. I would have to work on being a little more gracious.

"Well, I need to get to the back," he said, unfazed by my awkward response. "These dishes aren't going to wash themselves. I look forward to working with you, Bella. Alice." He nodded at her once before grabbing his full bus tub and heading toward the kitchen.

"Isn't he great?" Alice sighed, sounding so much like a clichéd, love struck teenager it was almost ridiculous.

"Yeah," I agreed, much less enthusiastically. "He's very…polite. Are you two together?"

I regretted asking the second it came out of my mouth. I wasn't here to learn these people's life stories. Too much small talk and people started to assume you were friends.

Alice snorted. "I wish. No, he's been friends with my brother since he moved here in the fifth grade. You heard the southern accent, right? Anyway, he's pretty much Edward's only close friend, and he refuses to jeopardize that friendship by dating Edward's sister."

I could tell by her tone that Alice held some resentment toward her twin for that.

She sighed. "I know he likes me, too. I figured he'd eventually say 'screw it' and ask me out, but now that I'm leaving for college, I guess it's just not meant to be."

A pretty, young looking brunette wearing an apron came up to us then.

"Hey, Alice. Is this Isabella?" She smiled warmly at me.

"Bella, yes. Bella, meet Angela. She's the only other waitress on this shift."

We said our "how do you do's" and then Angela scurried off to tend to her tables.

"So how many people work here?" I asked, not wanting to suffer through many more introductions.

"Well, in the kitchen, you still have to meet Eric. He's another fry cook. As for waitresses, besides me, Angela, and now you, there's Lauren and Jessica. We usually have two girls on per shift, though we try to have three on weekend mornings. That tends to be our busiest time."

Alice handed me a black apron and a blank ticket pad, instructing me to be her shadow for the day. I quickly learned about diner hierarchy, and that Alice and Edward were sort of unofficial managers of the place. Kate only made an appearance a few times a week to open up or to fill in when needed.

"She pretty much hates this place," Alice claimed. "She only keeps it because she inherited it from her Grandma, and if she sold it, they'd tear it down in a heartbeat. She's too nostalgic to let that happen, so ten years later, it's still hers."

Alice informed me that she was the only employee leaving at the end of the summer. It seemed that most of the graduates of Forks High School commuted to the local community college after graduation. Only a few students a year went to a major university, and even less got to go out of state. I briefly noted that she didn't mention Edward's plans, but I wasn't about to question her about her brother when they seemed to have some sort of inexplicable tension between them.

I trailed behind Alice as she went about her shift. She introduced me to the regulars, who seemed to be expecting me. I plastered a fake smile on my face and greeted them all cheerily – well, as cheerily as I was capable.

The menu at Fork's Diner was relatively easy to learn. A lot of breakfast, burgers, and pie. Simple, just like the building, just like the town. And now, I was simple, too.

It was strange for me to walk around with Alice, pretending to be a normal girl doing a normal job in a normal town. I'd practiced my cool façade for years, and no one could guess the inner turmoil I was going through at any given moment.

People seemed realize quickly that I wasn't much of a talker, and thankfully no one pushed it, simply passing me off as shy. There was the occasional inquiry as to where I came from, and I kept it brief yet truthful. I'd come from Phoenix, wanting to try something new with my life. That was all anybody needed to know, and all they were going to get from me.

Alice insisted I leave before the dinner rush, so at promptly five o'clock she walked me through the kitchen to the back door used by employees.

"Alright, tomorrow we have the evening shift. It's not as busy as breakfast, usually, but it's pretty decent. You need to be here at four, and we close at nine, so we're usually out of here by nine-thirty. I'll give you a couple of my tables tomorrow to take on your own, and hopefully by Friday you'll be good to work by yourself."

"I'll be here," I promised, taking off the soiled apron and putting it in the bin Alice instructed.

It seemed to get darker earlier here, I noted as I drove home. I was sure it was because of the constant cloud cover and rain. I wondered what time of year I'd have to worry about ice covering the roads. I'd never driven on it before, and I was pretty sure I needed different tires if I was going to survive winter driving. It was a ways off, but I would need to ask someone about that.

Except I had no one to ask.

I couldn't just call up Renee, not that she'd know anything about anything anyway. I took care of her, not the other way around. And I had no father. I struck out twice on that front. I was completely, utterly alone. And the worst part was – I always would be.

I'd made a promise to myself while I was recovering in the hospital a year and half ago. If God, or Buddha, or whatever higher power was listening to my pleas would get me out of Phoenix, I'd never let anyone get close enough to hurt me again – physically or mentally. I'd thought it'd be easier being alone than giving someone that kind of power, and in a way, I was right.

But it still hurt.

Alone. All alone. You'll always be alone. You don't deserve anything better.

I waited until I was safely in my bed that night before I broke down.


"Tyler, we need more fries down," I called, growing more and more irritable as the orders came pouring in.

I was tired and hung over. I wasn't expecting the entire fucking town of Forks to want to come out for breakfast and lunch. The girls were running their asses off out front, and I was ready to rip the stupid welcome bell off the door. Who in God's name decided that six-thirty was an appropriate time to open a diner? Or, more appropriately, who the hell actually comes in to eat at that time?

"God, I hate this fucking job," I muttered under my breath.

"So why don't you suck it up and quit already?" mused a deep voice with just a hint of southern twang.

"Jesus Christ, Jasper, you know I hate when you do that shit."

He chuckled. "Sorry, buddy. However, if you weren't so out of it, you'd have heard me coming."

"Yeah, well, it was a long night," I grumbled.

"Mm-hmm, I saw you duck out pretty early last night," he smiled, a bit too knowingly for my taste.

"I was tired." I shrugged noncommittally.

"Not too tired to hook up with Lauren, though." His grin grew. "I also saw her sneak out after you."

I smirked back at him. "Well, you know me. Always up for a little bedtime snack."

He chuckled heartily, slapping me on the back.

"Seriously, though, where the hell are all these people coming from? Isn't it Wednesday? Don't they have jobs?"

"I don't know, man, it's weird. At least the day will go by faster, though, right?"

Jasper was always an optimist, much like my sister. And while she annoyed the living hell out of me on any given day, Jasper and I somehow became best friends along the way. It didn't make sense to those around us, though we were more alike than we seemed. In reality, Jasper was just a big of an asshole as I was; he just used his southern charm to cover it up to the outside world. I, however, was much more vocal of my distaste of…well, pretty much everything.

Jasper went back to whatever it is that busboys do, and I focused my attention on not burning the loyal patron's hamburgers. This really was a shitty job. But there was no way in hell that I was quitting. I was proving a point, working here, and I intended to see it through. I wouldn't give Dr. Carlisle Cullen the pleasure of seeing me grovel. Not in this lifetime.

The breakfast/lunch rush finally died down, and I had only two more orders to fill until I was caught up. I needed a cigarette and a nap. The only good thing about being unofficially in charge when Kate was gone was that I could skip out early whenever I damn well pleased. Of course, leaving these idiots in charge was never a good idea.

I heard the kitchen door swing open and Alice's tinkling voice chatting incessantly to some poor victim. She paused in her speech long enough to announce the arrival of the new girl loud enough for the entire population of Forks to hear.

Newton, of course, pounced the second Alice said his name. He and Tyler had been talking about nothing but Isabella Swan since Kate had informed us of her impending arrival. It was slightly pathetic, the way everyone went absolutely fucking crazy whenever someone new came into town. It only proved how simple small town life really was – and not in a good way.

I glanced over my shoulder once, barely getting a good look. She was cute. Possibly even pretty, though I didn't look hard enough to be sure. I sent her a half-assed wave over my shoulder which, in my defense, was much more effort than I really wanted to give. Unlike everyone else around me, I actually had my own shit to deal with. I wasn't going to fawn over the new girl like she was some sort of specimen in a science lab.

They left the kitchen as quickly as they'd come. Alice was taking her job as unofficial welcome wagon very seriously, and I had no doubt that Isabella Swan would know every single person in Forks – and their life history – by the time her shift was over.

"Wow, she's hot," Mike grinned. "And she was totally checking me out."

"Oh, please, Newton. Don't insult the girl's taste. Besides, why would she look at that," Tyler gestured vaguely in Mike's direction, "when she could experience these bad boys?" He flexed his arms, attempting to show off his nonexistent muscles. The results were less than impressive.

"How about you both shut the fuck up and get back to work?" I suggested.

They grumbled under their breath, but complied easily enough. Under normal circumstances, I could care less if everyone in this place just stands around twiddling their thumbs. I'm not the owner, and it isn't my job to babysit the idiot employees. However, I was hung over on a Wednesday, and lack of nicotine left me in little mood to deal with the two stooges. At least Yorkie wasn't here today to be their third.

I watched out the small window as Alice dragged the poor girl by the hand to meet Jasper, laughing softly under my breath. Alice and Jasper were a constant source of entertainment. Both of them had some sort of fifth grade crush on each other, but neither would make a move. I was well aware it was because of me. The best part was, neither of them had bothered to ask me if I'd have a problem with them as an item, they'd just assumed. And who was I to correct them when it was so much more fun to watch their ridiculous attempts at subtle flirting? I scoffed. Alice was about as subtle as a Vegas showgirl.

Alice introduced Jasper to Bella, and as expected, Jasper unleashed the full force of his Southern-bred charm on the girl. She surprisingly didn't swoon over him as most of the girls did, which was simultaneously impressive and strange. Alice, of course, ate that shit right up and batted her eyelashes with a big, goofy grin plastered on her face.

They exchanged pleasantries quickly – Jasper was never one to stick around and partake in idle chatter. That was one of the most surprising things about his attraction to my sister. Alice could drone on for decades without ever taking a breath.

Jasper gathered his now full bus tub and pushed his way to the kitchen to his post at the dishwasher while I refocused my attention back on my cooking. Sometime later he returned, bringing with him a cart full of washed dishes. It wasn't until the last plate was put in its place that he spoke.

"You meet the new girl?" he asked.

"Yep," I confirmed, not bothering to take my eyes off the grill.

"She seems nice. Kind of quiet, but…"


"She's pretty," he commented offhandedly.


Jasper shrugged. "Just making a simple observation, my friend."

"Well, how about you make those simple observations while you take over for me?" I asked, ready to get the hell away from this place.

"Sure," he obliged, easily sliding into my place behind the grill.

Another strange fact about Jasper. He could run the place if he wanted to, not that being in charge of a run-down diner in Forks, Washington was anything to write home about. But still, in principle, he had been employed much longer than I, and could do the jobs of every single person in the place with ten times the efficiency. But he chose to primarily bus tables and wash dishes. Whatever. His reasons were his own.

Stripping out of the grease-coated apron, I made my way out the backdoor, digging through my pockets desperately seeking nicotine relief. I sighed in audible happiness on the first inhale of the harsh, smoky goodness. Getting into my trusty Volvo, I quickly spun out of the parking lot, heading nowhere in particular.

I hated this place. Forks was the epitome of a Podunk town. I didn't belong here. Hell, in all honesty, my entire family didn't belong. Carlisle had more money than he could spend in five lifetimes, on top of being a world-renowned surgeon. The man was a medical genius, with offers pouring in from every major medical center in the world. Too bad for them he was an arrogant bastard with a God complex, and chose the smallest, most insignificant town in the United States to call home. He enjoyed the power of being the big fish in a small pond. Not that Forks could really be considered a pond. More like a puddle.

I sighed. No wonder I was such an asshole. I did learn from the best, after all.

As I wound through the familiar back roads, my head began pounding. I cursed, wishing I'd had the mental capacity to cut myself off the night before. What the fuck was I thinking?

My phone chirped, the flashing display answering my silent question. Lauren. Ah, yes, it was all coming back to me. Making her shrill, annoying voice even remotely tolerable had required at least a liter of Jack. And even then, I was pretty sure she was still insufferable. I hit 'Ignore' quickly.

I pulled up to the ostentatious white mansion we called home, parking in the middle of the driveway without bothering to pull into the garage. I could never force myself to stay home long enough for it to matter.

"Edward!" my mother, Esme, called warmly, greeting me in the foyer with a warm hug. "You're home early."

"Yeah, well," I shrugged noncommittally, not bothering to elaborate. I stepped out of her embrace, heading into the living room and ready to pass out on the couch for a few hours. I stopped short in the doorway, frowning at the man in the easy chair, reading a newspaper.

Esme came up behind me. "Your father came home early today, too." She smiled as if this was good news. He didn't bother glancing up from his paper, and Esme sighed softly. "Carlisle, Edward's home."

He graced me with a withering look for half a second. "Edward," he nodded before lowering his head.

I nodded back, and then rolled my eyes, because it wasn't like he'd see it anyway.

"You left work early again," he continued, surprising me by uttering more than one word to me at a time. "Your boss doesn't mind you coming and going as you please?"

I scoffed. "I'm the best she's got. I can pretty much do whatever the hell I want."

"Language, Edward," Esme scolded, and I tried my best to look chastised.

"Well, a job like that will definitely teach you the responsibility you'll need for the real world," Carlisle muttered sarcastically. "Honestly, Edward, can't we end all of this ridiculousness?"

"I don't know, are you ready to let me make my own decisions?"

"Have your decisions become any more sensible?" he asked in that seemingly uninterested tone that could drive me mad – though I'd never let him see it.

We stared at each other for an immeasurable amount of time. Finally I realized how stupid this war of the wills was and broke the silence with a resigned sigh.

"I think we're done here."

I turned and went up the stairs without waiting for a reply, having had enough "family bonding" to last a lifetime. Alone in my bedroom, I kicked off my shoes and flopped onto the bed, staring at the ceiling. I was restless. The urge to pack my shit and take off into the unknown was gnawing at me, but as usual I pushed it aside. Five years, I told myself. Just five more, long, boring, wasted years. Then you can go.

I sat up with a sigh, tugging on the ends of my hair in frustration. There was no way I was going to survive five years without a distraction, and the girls of Forks were never worth the effort. Time was my enemy, and I felt like a string poised to snap at any given moment.

Something needed to change. Before this purgatory I was caught in drove me over the edge.

Notes –

*If it feels you've read this story before, you probably have. I wanted this story associated with a new name…

*No, all my chapters won't be this long.

*I'm ready for all your feedback – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Show me what you got.