Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer.


Prologue

Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting. My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and everything flickered into a blank. . . .

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I was vaguely aware of voices, far, far away. Some shouted my name, another had seemed so close, almost like a dream – the voice of an angel. I never knew my name could sound so beautiful. But it was quickly ruined by rough, yet careful hands on my head, and another voice, urgent, asking me if I could hear him. It wasn't a familiar voice, but I tried to answer all the same.

"Yes," I croaked quietly.

"Bella!" someone yelled in panic. Oh, no. Charlie!

I frowned. "Char – dad?" I sounded like I had swallowed a wad of cotton; it felt like it, too.

His blurred face appeared, hovering above me. "Yeah, kiddo. I'm here." Then he was speaking to someone else, getting a rundown on my condition, and I tried to make out what they were saying, but my head was pounding and their voices seemed to tune in and out of focus. Finally I gave up, channeling all my energies instead on remembering what had happened.

I had been examining my tires, the snowchains, then there had been a screeching sound and I had whirled to find a van coming for me, sliding and spinning out of control. The last thing I remembered was Edward Cullen, standing across the lot, his face a mask of horror.

Everything had happened so fast, and then – as if to gleefully remind me, a sharp pain cut through the back of my skull when I tried to turn. Now I remembered, I had hit my head.

"Stay still," the stranger's voice ordered, a hand on my shoulder keeping me in place, and I simply obeyed. Not that I could have done much. It felt as if something was restricting my entire neck and when I reached up I felt a brace of some sort.

Next thing I knew I was being moved, and again I forgot the restriction around my neck and winced at the dull pounding in my head. Great. Coming to Forks was turning into a tragedy. I wasn't even safe in the school's parking lot. And I hadn't been wrong about today being nightmarish.

When we arrived at the hospital and I was pulled out of the ambulance I could see Charlie's cruiser and I cringed, wishing a hole would open up and swallow me entirely. Of course I would get an escort. This was ridiculous – could my life be any more humiliating? Perhaps I shouldn't think like that, it would only taunt my disastrous luck to throw more embarrassment my way.

I was rolled into the emergency room, a typical layout with bleak coloring and beds lined up, then a nurse appeared to cuff me up to measure my blood pressure, and a cold thermometer was shoved under my tongue.

Just when I was saying my silent thanks that at least no one was there to witness the pathetic state I was in, another stretcher was brought into the ER and rolled into the empty spot next to mine. I held back a gasp, taking in Tyler Crowley's bloodied bandages and anxious scrutiny.

"I'm so, so sorry," he began in a gush, "I-I tried to stop... are you okay?"

I tried not to stare at his bandages still. "Me?" I asked incredulously, then gestured to him, "what about you? Are you all right?"

Tyler didn't seem concerned at all – even as he flinched slightly when the nurses began to fuss with his bandages, revealing several nicks and cuts beneath them – his eyes still remained trained on me. "I was so sure I'd killed you! I didn't see the ice in time, and I went way too fast-"

"It's okay," I cut him off, anxious to stop his freak-out. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me." So I'd hit my head, it was nothing unusual for me. I was however curious how I had survived. After all, Tyler was correct; his van should have squished me. Yet, here I was, head pounding – at least Tyler had momentarily quit his ranting. Really, with his injuries, the last thing he should fuss over was me. And then, as if he had been reading my mind, he opened his mouth again.

"How are you still-" he stopped, wincing again at the nurse cleaning his wounds, "alive?" he finished. "I didn't see you get out of the way, what happened?"

"You tell me and we'll both know," I muttered, then blanched. How ungrateful did I sound? Here I was: alive, not even a scratch on me, and that fact seemed down right depressing under the circumstances. Whereas the boy next to me had fared much, much worse. Obviously someone out there must like me, or I would have been a splattered mess under Tyler's van.

He was going to say something else, but they came to wheel me off for X-rays, even if I protested and told them that my head felt fine, a pounding headache never killed anyone – at least, not that I knew of. Unless I had an aneurysm, but somehow I doubted that. . . .

As I suspected they didn't find anything on the X-ray, they had even done a CT-scan, but I was still rolled back into the ER to suffer Tyler's constant apologies and incessant wishes – promises, more like it – to make it up to me. In the end I just turned my head – they had removed the neck brace, thankfully – and pretended to sleep. Tyler was still mumbling his 'Sorry'-s.

I heard doors open then, and my eyes popped open; young, blond and handsome, like some modern day James Dean, a doctor came around the corner – actually, he was coming straight for me. My eyes widened as he stepped up next to my bed, a friendly smile playing around his mouth. At a closer look, I noticed purplish shadows beneath his eyes and his complexion was very pale in the stark light. I couldn't help drawing a parallel between his general impression on me and Edward's. And I most definitely could not help staring.

"Miss Swan," he greeted me in a soothing and strangely appealing voice, "I'm Dr. Cullen – how do you feel?"

Edward's adoptive father?

Mentally I shook myself. "I feel fine," I replied evenly, hoping I sounded convincing enough.

He nodded in acknowledgment. "Though your X-rays are all clear, I heard you took quite a hit to the head – are you having any pains at all?"

I blinked. How would someone know how hard I hit my head? "Um, my head is fine," I said hesitantly, wondering who had seen me. Could Edward Cullen have seen it? He had been standing across the lot, after all. I could still see the horrified expression on his face.

Dr. Cullen helped me sit up then and I felt slightly woozy, until his cool fingers on my head made me flinch.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

"No," I lied. I wasn't going to tell him that it was the cold touch that had made me flinch. But then I really did wince when he felt along the back of my skull, not able to help it.

"Are you certain? Perhaps we should keep you overnight-"

"No!" I protested quickly. "Really, I'm fine," I repeated, for what I prayed would be the last time.

A small laugh escaped him, the sound disconcertingly pleasant. "All right. However, I want you to promise to come back in if you're experiencing any spells of dizziness, nausea or memory-loss – this is very important, Miss Swan," he told me. "Your father is in the waiting room-" his hands shot out to steady me when I'd – in my eagerness to get out of there – slid off the bed, only to wobble on my legs, "Easy there. Are you absolutely sure you are feeling all right?" he asked now, deep concern coloring his tone.

"Fit as a fiddle, just stood up too quickly – it happens all the time," I fibbed. So I was overdoing it, but I really wanted to get out of there, and I didn't feel ill or dizzy at all.

He sighed and shook his head. "Very well. Just remember what I said and you may go home."

I paused on my way past him. "But – what about school?"

At this he smiled a wry smile. "You should go home and rest. Plus, I believe your entire school is in the waiting room," he said with humor.

"Ugh," I groaned, hiding my face in my cupped hands.

"Staying, then?" he suggested questioningly, but he sounded like it was all just a super funny joke.

"No way," I declined and steeled myself, pulling my shoulders back.

"All right. Do take some Tylenol, though, for the pain," he advised.

"Thanks," I said and started to walk off but he waved the papers at me before I had rounded the bed, which made a blush rise into my face. "Oh, right," I mumbled. It was official. This day definitely couldn't get more humiliating. "Thank you," I said, still mumbling when he handed me the signed release forms.

When I came out into the waiting room Charlie spotted me the same time I spotted him, and he made a dash for me, making me roll my eyes and sigh. He stopped in front of me, his eyes raking over me worriedly.

"Wow, kiddo, you sure know how to scare your old man."

"Dad," I protested, feeling defeated by all the times I'd tried to convince everyone of my perfectly healthy condition. The pain in my head really was fine. "I'm fine, really, I mean it. Can we just go home?"

"If the doctor says it's okay, I guess-" I cut him off by lifting the papers, giving them a little shake. "All right. Home it is."

With his arm hovering behind me he ushered me through the doors. I tried to convey my healthy state with a grin and a small wave as we passed some familiar faces from school on our way toward Charlie's cruiser. He held the door open for me and I all but dove in, surprised at the relief I felt when he closed it behind me. Usually the prospect of riding in the Chief's cruiser would result in utter mortification; but not this time. With a deep, yet contended sigh I sank back in the seat.

We rode home in relative silence until we pulled up in the driveway at the house, and Charlie informed me – quite sheepishly, and somewhat guilty-looking – that I should call Renée.

Great. "You called mom, didn't you." It wasn't a question so much as an accusation, and his expression gave me all the confirmation I needed.

Of course mom was freaking out, all but going ballistic. I thought I would never get her to calm down, but eventually I did, at which point she started begging me to come home. I reminded her that there was no 'home' to go back to, even though, in the back of my head, I was half entertaining the idea. Maybe I would? Who knows what would happen next. Perhaps a monster would jump out of the forest and eat me.

The thought cued a grim smile.

After I'd politely, but firmly, declined dinner – explaining that, after the day's events, I would just go to bed early – I dragged myself toward the stairs. It earned me an anxious glance from Charlie, which I tried to ignore, climbing the stairs quickly to brush my teeth. Before I left the bathroom I grabbed a few Tylenol from the cabinet. I felt like something the cat dragged in – not that we had a cat.

Before long I had my pajamas on and my lights out, lying back on my pillow. I tried to lie on my side so I wouldn't aggravate the lump that had formed on the back of my head. Luckily it didn't take too long for the Tylenol to start working, and when they did I began to drift off to sleep.

At least I didn't have any nightmares. Actually, I didn't dream at all.

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Author's Note:

A big thank you is in order to Cretin and Tim C. Girl for the incredible support, inspiration, and beta-ing throughout this story.