Chapter 26: Arrival

All of the car windows were down. Breeze blew loudly into my ears as I tried to hear the radio over the ruckus of Renee humming softly as she drove and maps blowing around in the backseat. My hair was whipped about my face, stinging my cheeks and my eyes. My eyes which were scrunched up against the wind and it so strong in my way. But I loved this. This feeling of freedom. I ignored the slight twinge in my stomach at the prospect of going home again. Just for now, this drive was perfect.

We stopped at a gas station and grabbed lots of junk food. Just what we needed as the evening drew in, looming ever closer as we reached closer and closer to Forks. Rain capital of the world. We could see the black clouds even now. Drawing in together over the dense woods in the distance. I didn't want to think about those woods just yet. We were less than an hour away. So close to home, yet feeling farther away than I ever had in my life.

Renee was singing now, belting out tune after tune, anything she could think of. I was used to her eccentricities now. Over the course of my stay, she had brought me on ten excursions, to four different new exercise classes and to nineteen failed attempts at sky-diving. On one such excursion, we were at a water park. Renee had wanted to go so she could fly off of a slide into the pool. But she chickened out, and instead spoke to the pool attendant for most of the day while I slowly roasted in the sun.

The sun, though, I was not used to. My skin had become slightly darker since my trip, and I was grateful for that. People didn't look at me while I was there and think: tourist. I was also slightly less clumsy. Working in that café had helped my awkwardness. It had been so busy, all of the time and so I hadn't the choice to be clumsy. That and we had to pay for breakages. On my first week, I owed them fifty bucks worth of crockery.

I thought about school there too, as we drew ever closer to that wood. I hadn't made any friends that I would have liked to have even kept in touch with. There was one girl that I sat with in Algebra, and she helped me out a lot, but she was not into being sociable, or talking about anything that didn't involve using your calculator to find the answer. Patricia was her name. She had glossy black hair and dark skin, which everyone was jealous of. But getting conversation from her was like drawing blood from a stone. Impossible.

Renee and Phil had been great though. They helped me with college applications. And, though I applied everywhere across the continent, I still had a part of me wishing to go to Peninsula College and do a course in cookery. It just seemed to be calling to me. I could stay with Charlie and maybe someday open my own business from it. I knew I could be good enough. I had cooked a lot for Renee, as it turned out, she didn't do it much herself. That wasn't a shock to me though; the shock was finding out that she ate a lot of junk. A lot. I was nearly sick when she suggested take out two nights in a row, and she told me she had it most nights.

For my graduation, we went to fancy restaurant. Phil treated us to a four-course meal and then afterwards we went and saw a movie. It was all very nice, but it was hard putting on a happy face all evening. I didn't want to go the party the other seniors were having, it just didn't seem right when I would never see these people again, I hoped. None of them had been very welcoming and as I started in the middle of term, everyone had their friends made. Not that I minded. I got mostly A's and B's all year. Lying on the porch of Mom's house in the shade studying all weekend did me the world of good.

I now had to worry about my friends back home. I had cleared my head of them these past months. But now I realised they weren't going to be like the letters I stuffed into my pillowcase so I could read them every night when no one else could see. They weren't like those letters that could be ignored, that couldn't speak or that I had to speak back to. I could push them aside and deal with them as I saw fit. But now the box they were locked in in a dark corner of my mind was opening. And all hell was breaking loose. Those letters turned into the faces of all my friends, and looked at me angrily. I don't know why I thought they would be angry. I knew they wouldn't. They had no right. They couldn't make me uncomfortable anymore.

I am no longer weak Bella Swan. I am strong and I will stand up for myself. Wolf temper or no wolf temper. But I still wasn't so sure…

'Bella, honey, we're nearly there. Will I stop at a diner and we can freshen up? Maybe have a coffee or get take out for Charlie?'

Mom's high pitched voice sliced through my thoughts. I nodded to her and gave her a weak smile. Weak, weak when I needed to be strong. I wish I could have just said yes to her, a simple word. I couldn't even bring myself to look at her then; it was sad knowing she would be leaving again tomorrow. But only because I had spent so much time with her now. Forks was still the only place that had ever felt like home to me, be it run over with monsters or not.

My cell started chiming in my pocket just as I thought of Forks, and it was the chief of police. Charlie was calling.

'Hey Bella. You nearly here? I'm almost home, so I hope you haven't beaten me. I got caught up with a missing hiker, but its okay. He just got lost and walked the wrong trail. One of the guys got him over on the east side of the forest. Anyway, how far have you come?' His voice was nervous and antsy. He sounded worried and excited, all of these things at the same time.

'Hey Dad. Yeah, we're about twenty minutes away. Just stopping for some grub, you want some? We could all eat it together?'

Charlie agreed and the call ended swiftly, just in time to stretch my legs from our awfully long drive. But Renee had had to drive as she was visiting friends in the way home, in another town. So, she had insisted. And I was able to bring my whole new wardrobe home; Renee would have liked Alice Cullen.

The Cullens. I hadn't thought of them for so long. I hadn't even checked my emails while I was with Renee. I never understood why I had gotten so attached to them, but they would always be people I would care about, regardless of the fact that they weren't people per se.

All thoughts of vampires were forced from my mind as we neared closer and closer to Forks. I kept my eyes on the edge of the forest along the highway. All I could see were dense trees with signposts sticking out every so often. The trees were waving to me again, always happy here where the sun lived. Always dancing here, the wind choosing each and every sway and dance. The travelling cars making them excited, shimmering their branches from side to side rapidly every time someone was speeding along.

A flash of brown fur. Dark brown fur. Oh no. Who was it? My head was spinning; I couldn't think which one it was. Now they knew I was back. I knew they had an idea I was returning this week, but I had asked Charlie to keep it quiet, so I would have a few days to myself when I returned. I was panicking.

But strong Bella came to the fore. She said, no, calm yourself. Who cares? Who cares if they see you? It doesn't mean they have a right to come speak to you. Any of them. Not for a while. Not until you are ready.

My breathing calmed and the knot I hadn't realised that formed in my stomach eased off. Renee looked at me as if to say I was crazy. She must have noticed. I just smiled timidly and muttered about being excited to be back. We were almost there. Only two streets away now, I hadn't noticed Renee pulling off from the highway and heading straight for home.

The house still looked the same as it appeared in front of me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Not so much could have changed. Charlie came out through the door just as we pulled into the driveway behind his cruiser. He waved and ran at me when I got out of the car to give me a hug. I hugged him back. It was seldom Charlie and I got to spend a moment like this.

'I missed you Dad.' I whispered into his ear then he let go giving me a watery smile. He grabbed the bags from the car and brought them inside, Renee and I following along. The former overloaded with bags of take out from the diner. I went up to my room, which was exactly as I had left it – lifeless. And cold, my window was wide open. Charlie must have been airing it out for me. I closed it and threw my bags on the floor. I lay back on the bed kicking my shoes off and throwing my legs up in the air. It was good to be back. Once things stayed this easy. Charlie getting fed downstairs and I could lie here in perfect silence for the night.

I heard them call me downstairs, so I had to go. On the way down the steps, I heard a bang. I jumped, but put it down to Renee's kitchen skills. When I entered the kitchen, sure enough the two of them were sat at the table, and the food was left on the counter between them. I immediately took the food and began dishing it out, throwing the plates one after another into the microwave. Charlie thanked me when I handed him over his heated meal, as did Renee. We sat there for the night, just chatting and being together. The three of us never got to hang out like that and be happy together. So it was nice.

It got darker and darker outside. I'm not even sure what time it was. Renee was going to sleep on the couch tonight, so I got out some spare sheets for her. She left the room to get changed when the phone rang.

Stupidly I answered it.

'Swan Residence?' I said happily, not thinking about how I hadn't wanted anyone to know I was home. 'Hello?'

I heard a gulp on the other end. A hoarse voice spoke back to me.

'B- Bella?' Was all it said. But I knew that voice, hoarse or not, it was Jacob. 'Bella – Bells, is that you?' Hearing his voice was like twisting daggers through my heart. It reminded me of nights spent pining over his letters, none of which I had replied to. It made me think of times in Florida where I could do nothing but think of him, of his voice, of his warmth. I could hear the hopeful agony in his voice, that pleading note that sent me back to my numb state as before. I couldn't let myself go back there, not when it was my first day with Charlie.

'Bella? Bella, answer me. Please.'

'Not yet…' That was all I could muster. A meaningless statement to him, but for me it meant a lot that I could tell him I couldn't speak to him yet. I heard his indignation as I hung up the receiver. It echoed in my ears, that lonely growl that always escaped his lips when he was in pain.

I leaned against the counter in the kitchen. My breaths coming fast and hard and my heart pounding in my chest, aching to go and see him. I remembered opening his letters. At first I had been so frustrated that I never even read them properly. I was so angry at the pack for what they had done to me. I never had known them to be selfish people, until then. As I had cut open the envelope the tears streamed down my face. And I let them. I didn't hold back from my emotions, not when I was so alone in Florida. Nobody could judge me on what I said or did or how I felt because I never gave them the chance. I didn't know how I could be with Jacob and not speak to any of the pack. But I did know it was going to be hard.

'Who was on the phone, Bells?' Charlie entered the room and looked questioningly at me. The look I gave him said enough. He simply took the phone and as I watched he dialled Billy's number. I knew it off by heart even now, having threatened to call him day after day.

'Hey Billy, did someone call for me?' I could hear Billy's slow thoughtful voice speaking back to Charlie, telling him something. Charlie's eyes widened as he listened. 'Right now? It's been a long day Billy, and it's nearly twelve o clock!'

And I knew what was coming then. Well, who was coming. My worst nightmare. Just for the moment anyway. I didn't want to see him. Not now. I wanted to get settled back home first. I glanced back at Charlie as I ascended the stairs. He had his head hanging as he eyed the front door like something could burst through it any second. I knew better. Jacob Black was not one who usually used doors.

I entered my room for the second time tonight. I swiftly changed for bed and then dawdled around a bit, picking up some things from my bags. As I passed the window I stopped. Should I open it?

Opening it meant letting him in, and I knew he was waiting for it. If I opened this window, it would mean the drama had to start way earlier than I wanted it to. It would mean I was being dragged back into that world where once I belonged. It would mean feeling his warmth near me again. It would mean fighting for what I truly wanted - fighting with myself.

On the other hand, leaving it shut could cause more problems. But it would sedate them for a while. I couldn't hide behind a window, so I knew I would have to face it sometime. I had so wanted to spend some quality time with Charlie before having to lie to him some more. I had wanted to be home for a long time, relaxing before making that excursion where I knew I needed to go.

But right now, I had decided.

What an arrival.

A.N. - Review? Let me know what you think, I've been dormant for so long :)