I wrote this outtake for the Fandom For Sexual Assault Awareness Charity drive. In the end, they raised over $10,000 for a great cause. Thanks to everyone who donated for the outtake and thanks to F4SAA for allowing me to share it with you!
This is in Edward's pov and covers the same time frame as chapters 9-11 in The Art Teacher, or the "morning after" through Edward's arrival in Forks.
"Gimme two plain bagels and two coffees."
"Um…" I have no idea how Bella takes her coffee. I'm not sure if she even drinks coffee. Everybody drinks coffee, though, right? I also have no clue about the bagels, but I figure it's a safe bet since she's a New Yorker. "Can you just throw some sugar packets in the bag? And do you have any of those little creamers?"
The guy behind the counter nods as he wraps up the bagels. It's a little troubling to me that Bella is such a blank slate. She doesn't feel like one to me. After last night, it feels like we know everything important about each other that there is to know. The little details about how she takes her coffee and whether or not she likes bagels I can figure out later.
I should feel exhausted, since we barely slept last night, but I'm not. I should feel terrified, since I'm stealing this girl away from her life and I'm up against some pretty formidable people who won't want me to succeed. But I'm not. I feel good. I feel amazing. I feel like I can do anything. I feel like I want to crawl back in bed with her and not come up for air for a week. I know she has to go, but the idea of letting her out of my sight, even for a minute, is unpleasant. I wonder if I can convince her to let me come with her. She probably should go see her stupid fiancé on her own, but fuck it. I don't want her to.
I'm also afraid that if she leaves me for even a minute, all of this will just disappear. Those assholes in her life will get their claws back into her and change her mind about all of this. I don't know what to do to keep that from happening, though. All I can do is make sure she knows that what we are is real and that no matter what they throw at her, I'll be there to help her handle it.
I take my change and leave the bodega, picking up my pace on the way back to the warehouse. I can still smell Bella all over my clothes and now I want to get back to the real thing. I want to touch her again, kiss her, remind myself that it's real. We're real.
I pull out my keys when I get close, but then I notice that the steel door is slightly ajar. I know I didn't leave it that way. I wouldn't have left it open with Bella upstairs alone. Anxiety twists in my chest. If she freaks out and bolts, changes her mind about this, I don't know what I'm going to do. She has every reason to, I know that. There's nothing I can offer her to make up for what she's giving up. Just myself. I have to hope that's enough.
I take the stairs two at a time, my pulse speeding up the higher I climb. The steel door to the loft is open, too. Panic curls in my chest. She's running. She ran. I'm already trying to figure out a way to get to her, to get her alone and talk to her, as I slide the door open all the way. I'm not at all ready for what's waiting inside.
Tori is leaning on one of the support columns in the middle of the room, arms crossed over her chest, her face bored. She's got her mask of indifference on, but I can feel the anger rolling off of her.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" The words are out before I know it.
She just raises one eyebrow at me. "It's my building, Edward."
I exhale hard. "Yeah, whatever. Why are you here? Where's Bella?"
The second I ask it, the dread that was hovering in the corners of my mind overtakes me. I can't see her anywhere in here. The door downstairs was open. My stomach twists. I feel sick. Fuck. I'm so stupid. Bella's not here. Of course, she's not. Why would she still be here if Tori is here?
My mind is racing and it takes me a second to register that Tori's talking again. Her voice is light, but the venom in her words is unmistakable.
"Bella? She has a nickname. Cute. I'm guessing you mean Isabella Dwyer, since that's who I found crawling out of your bed when I stopped by. I must say Edward, you do aim high."
I'm grinding my teeth together so hard that I'm pretty sure I'm about to crack one. "What the fuck did you say to her?"
Tori pushes off the column to stand up straight. "Nothing, really. Just that I was surprised that you had such… esteemed company."
This is the universe mocking me. This is payback for every bad choice I've ever made, all coming home to roost in the form of the thin red-head in front of me. I always knew it was a mistake and here it is, turning out to be the worst mistake I've ever made. I'm so angry and panicked that I can barely see straight. I'm across the room in just a few strides and I've got hold of her upper arms tight enough to leave bruises. Like I care.
"Goddammit, just tell me what you said to her, Tori!"
She drops her veneer of sarcastic indifference in a flash and the tough-as-nails fighter thatvlives under her surface rears up. "I clued the little twit in to why she was really here and what you're really after."
I stare at her for a second, eyes wide, inhaling huge lungfuls of air. When I can speak again, my voice is practically a roar.
"What the fuck do you know about her and me? It has nothing to do with you. You and I are over. History. You have no idea what's between us and you had no right to come in here and fuck with her." I'm shaking her hard. Her eyes flash with anger.
"Do you really think you can pull this one off, Edward? Isabella Dwyer? You think her daddy's going to pat you on the fucking back and welcome you into the family? What we had going is one thing, but this is entirely another. You can't fuck around with a girl like that. Besides, isn't she engaged? What do you think you're going to do about that?"
"She's leaving him!"
Tori startles. Then she laughs. She fucking laughs in my face. "For you?" she gasps, when she can get herself back under control. "You think she's leaving her father's golden boy for you? Wow, I thought she was the deluded one, but it seems you're just as crazy."
"You don't know a fucking thing about this, Tori," I spit, thrusting her away from myself in disgust. She stumbles but doesn't fall.
I'm angry, so angry, but I'm also scared. Because she's right. This is crazy, I'm crazy, for thinking I can get her away from all this. My heart is pounding and I can't catch my breath. My hands are clenching and unclenching, just trying to do something with all this out of control panic.
Tori chuckles as she straightens up and adjusts her coat. "Don't I? I think I understand a girl like Isabella Dwyer better than you ever could, Edward. And if you think she's going to give it all up and run away with you then you're not as smart as I thought you were. And I understand you. I know what you are. You expect me to believe that you just happened to fall in love with an heiress?"
My hands fist. I squeeze my eyes shut and drop my head. Never once in my life have I wanted to hit a woman, but I want to fucking deck Tori. It's all I can do to keep myself from doing it. Instead, I lash out at the room, surging towards the rolling cart full of paint tubes and brushes. I flip it up, hurling it half way across the room as I scream out my frustration. If it scares Tori, she never lets it show. She's a tough cookie. Almost nothing shows unless she lets it.
"Get the fuck out of here," I gasp. "You've done enough damage."
She sighs dramatically. "You forget where you are, Edward. It's my place."
"Fine, then I'm going," I turn towards the door.
"Edward, stop." I pause just long enough to look back at her. Her face has gone soft, and I can see the vulnerability that drew me in in the first place. "Just… don't be stupid. This is a losing game you're playing. Her family will crush you like a bug. But me… us… this could be good. We were good, weren't we? You don't need her money. I can take care of you."
I feel nauseous. I want to just collapse, but I can't. I have to get out of here and find Bella. And I have to get myself away from this mess once and for all. I let it linger for far too long and look what's happened.
I want to scream at her. I want to let her have it, shout her down, tear her to pieces for assuming that I can still be bought that way. But my eyes shoot around the room, still littered with my paintings. All my best work is here for the studio visit. My soul is in this room. This room that's owned by Tori. Some tiny part of me knows I can't make this too ugly on my way out or I might never see these canvases again.
When I speak, my voice isn't loud and angry, it's tired, defeated. "Tori, I don't know what you thought you were doing here, but that was never what this was about for me. You can believe me or not, but I was with you because I actually liked you."
She opens her mouth to speak and takes a step towards me, but I hold up a hand to stop her. "Who I thought you were. I'm sorry that you thought you had to buy me. You were wrong then and you're wrong now. I'm not for sale."
I don't wait for her response, I just stumble down the stairs and out onto the street. There's a gypsy cab cruising by and I leap into the gutter and slam my hand down on his hood to stop him. It's not hard to guess that Bella went back home, so that's the address I give him. I remember everything about her from back then, including where she lived. I throw every bit of cash in my wallet at the guy and beg him to get me there fast.
When I get there, the doorman is ambling slowly up and down the short stretch of concrete in front of the glass doors. I remember this guy. He was the same one who whisked Bella away from me four years ago, the day of the blackout. There's no way he's going to be okay with me just hanging out in the open and waiting for her to go out or come in.
When he's facing the other way, I duck behind one of the potted box hedges flanking the door and crouch to hide myself. It doesn't take long, maybe ten minutes, for a yellow cab to pull up to the curb and for Bella to step out. I swallow hard and fight down the impulse to leap at her. She's got her face tipped down, eyes on the sidewalk. She doesn't respond to the doorman at all when he helps her out of the car. Her hair is damp and pulled back off her face. She's so pale and there are dark smudges under her eyes.
I can't even imagine what it was like for her to deal with Tori, and I'm terrified that she hates me. I just need to get to her and try to explain. If I can make her see how hard I was trying to fix things, maybe she'll understand.
When she passes in front of me, I make my move, stepping out into her path and saying her name. She stumbles away from me, desperate to avoid my hands. Jesus. When I think about last night, and then I see her cringing away from me like this… I want to break something.
"You need to leave," she says, her voice low and raspy. She makes to push past me and I can't let her. I can't just let her walk away.
I reach out and grab for her. "Just let me explain…"
"I don't want to hear it!" She shouts. I've never heard Bella sound so angry and it startles me. Then her doorman is there, with his hand on my arm, tugging me away from her.
"Is there a problem, Miss Dwyer?"
"No problem," I snap, "I just need to talk to Isabella."
I crouch down a little so I can catch her eyes with mine, so we can block out all these other people. This has only ever been about her and me, all we need to do is shake off everyone trying to get in between us.
"Bella, please…" I murmur, trying to reach her. "It wasn't what you're thinking."
Bella suddenly raises her head and her eyes lock on to mine, hard and angry. "Does she own that building?"
I freeze inside. She knows. She knows all about it. I feel stripped bare and made small. I can't even answer her. I drop my eyes to the ground. Anything is better than the disappointment and anger I see in her face.
"Then there's nothing else to discuss," she says, taking a step back.
I'm losing her. I fucked up and I know it, but I can't undo it now. I can only try my best to fix it. For that, I need her to stay put and listen to me.
"Damn it, will you just let me talk to you about this?" My fear makes me sound angry and that damned doorman is there again, trying to angle himself in-between us, planting his hands on my chest.
"Listen, friend, Miss Dwyer told you to go, so you need to go now."
"Bella, please," I plead over his head, "just talk to me!"
The doorman shoves me again and the fucker just needs to take his hands off me. I'm so sick of every goddamn person on the planet trying to get themselves in between me and her. I shove him back, trying to get him out of my way. Bella scrambles further away and I curse under my breath. Then her mother is there, standing in the doorway, examining the whole fucked up scene impassively.
"Isabella? Is there a problem out here?" Her voice is smooth and disinterested, but I know better than that.
"Everything's fine," Bella murmurs. I try and catch her eye again so I can plead, but she doesn't look anywhere near me.
Instead, it's her mother who talks. "It's Mr. Cullen, isn't it?"
The bitch knows exactly who I am and she knows I know it. I'm familiar with this maneuver. That's how they show you how inconsequential you are to them.
"He was just leaving," Bella snaps, still keeping her eyes averted. I'm starting to panic. If her mother gets her claws into her, I know I'll never get my chance with her. At least not now.
"Bella!" I shout, but she ignores me.
"Mr. Cullen," Renee Dwyer says, "I hope you haven't come to our private residence to harass my daughter. That would be extremely unwise of you."
"I came to talk to Bella," I snap. "This is none of your business."
"My daughter is my business."
I can't help but scoff. Business. Isn't that the truth? That's all she ever is to this horrible woman. Her daughter is just business.
"I think we're done here, Mr. Cullen. You'd better go inside, Isabella."
I open my mouth to protest, but Bella just turns away and walks inside just as the doorman grabs my arm to keep me from following.
Renee Dwyer pauses just long enough to say something to the doorman over her shoulder. "If Mr. Cullen comes here again, call the police and report him for trespassing,"
Then she's gone. She's gone and Bella is gone with her.
"You heard Mrs. Dwyer. You'd better clear out before this gets ugly." He releases my arm with a little shove and I stagger back. I stand staring at the place where Bella was just a minute ago, trying to figure out what happened and what to do next. I need to get inside. I need to talk to her. But it's not going to happen today.
The doorman is still standing there, arms crossed over his chest, glowering at me.
"Don't make me tell you again, friend. Just go."
And I'm done. I've been defeated today. I know I need to keep working, keep fighting. But I don't know what else to do right now, so I do the only thing I can do—I retreat.
It takes me forever to get to Jasper's. A bus, two subways, and a really long walk. It's late afternoon before I do. The bar is open, but there's hardly anybody in there. A couple of neighborhood old-timers, hold-overs from before Red Hook's modest start at gentrification. The hipsters won't show up until much later tonight.
Jasper is at the bar, making small talk with his regulars while he dries and stacks glasses. He glances up as the door opens and lets a bright shaft of sunlight in from behind me. He only looks for a second, eyes narrowed, then he drops his eyes back to the bar.
"It's a little early to see you around these parts," he says evenly. But he knows something's up with me. Because he's Jasper and he just knows.
I slide onto a stool and prop my elbows on the bar, digging my fingers into my hair and fisting hard. My eyes feel swollen and gritty and I hurt all over.
"What's up?" he says after a minute.
"I don't even know where to start." My voice sounds strained and low. Without another word, Jasper pulls a beer off the tap and slides it in front of me. My favorite. He knows without having to ask. He crosses his arms and leans back on the counter behind him, just looking at me, waiting for me to unload. When I don't say anything, he sighs and prompts me.
"This about Bella?"
"Yeah," I finally manage. "I think I really fucked up. No, I know I did."
"So you guys are…"
"Just last night. She was at the studio tour. You know… for the fellowship. I asked her to stay after and…"
I wave a hand that doesn't begin to encompass last night and all that happened, but Jasper nods in understanding. "All good so far. So what happened?"
Jasper whistles through his teeth and shakes his head. He only met Tori once, but he made his dislike of her crystal clear. I should have listened.
"What'd she do?"
"She let herself into the loft and said a bunch of evil shit to Bella while I was out getting coffee."
"Damn," Jasper mutters.
"Yeah, you could say that. I went to her place to try and clear it up, try to explain, whatever. But she wouldn't talk to me and then her fucking mother was there threatening to have me arrested. So I took off. I don't know what to do. Jasper, what do I do?"
I finally look at him, because I am just lost here. He's still examining me with no emotion.
"Fuck," I mutter, moving to get up. "I shouldn't have left. I'm just going to stand out front until she comes out again. Fuck the cops."
"Sit down," Jasper says. "That's not going to help anybody. She's freaked. Understandable, since some other chick with keys walked into your place while she was there."
I groan and drag my hands through my hair. "I can't believe Tori would do something like that."
"I can," Jasper snorts. "I told you to watch out with her. She was way too possessive of someone she wasn't even seeing anymore."
"I know, I know. I was trying, okay? You know I was."
"I know you were. You just can't trust chicks like that. All that money warps the mind."
"Not this again." I hold up a hand to stop him before he launches into another diatribe against capitalism, America's ruling moneyed class, the oppression of the working class, Republicans, and any number of other evils.
Jasper huffs but says nothing.
"So you think I should give her space?"
"Not a ton of it. You need to get in there and fix this. But maybe not today. Besides, if you show up again now, you'll just get arrested. That's not going to help."
"Fuck," I mutter again, because it's the only thing to say that at all sums up what's happened. "I don't even know what to do next. Everything's a mess. I gotta get out of the loft. Like, yesterday."
"What about that place in the Bronx you were looking at?"
I shake my head. "I can't wait that long. You didn't see how things went down with Tori. All my paintings are there and she's got keys. It's her building. She could do anything."
Jasper nods in understanding. "You really think she'd mess with you like that?"
"I don't know anything anymore. A week ago, I'd have said no. I thought she was just lonely and trying a little too hard to hang on to something that wasn't working. But today? She was pissed. Hurt. And she can be mean as a snake when she wants to be."
"Look, you can crash here for a while on the couch upstairs. I'll call some guys, see if anybody's free. We can go over first thing in the morning and get your stuff. You can stow everything in the basement for now. At least till you figure shit out."
I finally look up at him and squeeze out a smile. "Thanks, Jasper."
"No problem. That asshole, Hayden's had his motherfucking truck parked in front of my bar for two months. It'll be nice to finally get some use out of it."
"I appreciate it," I mumble into my beer.
Jasper shrugs. "You're going to have your hands full fixing the rest of this mess. The least I can do is help you out with this part."
I nod and take a long pull on my beer, the first of many I plan on drinking tonight, trying to figure out how I'm ever going to get to Bella and what I can possibly say when I finally do.
I feel like a freaking stalker, staking out the front of Bella's building from across the street a day later. I stay tucked behind the corner of a contractor's truck so the doorman doesn't see me loitering.
In the end, it took us all day yesterday to clear my paintings out of the loft. Because of the studio tour, I'd brought a lot of canvases back from various places they'd been on display—local restaurants, bookshops, coffee shops. Every painting of note I'd ever done had been there. Thank God it all looked untouched since I'd walked out, but all the same, I wasn't in the mood to take chances.
Besides, when I finally get myself in front of Bella, I need to be able to say that I'm out, all the way, no more grey area.
Now, thirty-six hours later, I'm back, ready to fight my way in by any means necessary. Well, I'm really hoping it won't come to a fight, since being arrested isn't appealing, but whatever it takes.
I know enough at this point that I know I won't be able to get inside and upstairs to her place. In buildings like this, I'd need a key to access her floor anyway. My best hope is to catch her going in or out.
After seven hours on the sidewalk, starting early in the morning, there's still no sign of her. I'd seen her step-father leave early this morning, then later on, her cow of a mother went out and came back an hour later. But not a hint of Bella.
My only hope comes mid-afternoon when the doorman who's been on all morning, the same one that I got into a shoving match with two days ago, goes off duty, replaced by a younger guy I don't recognize. I'm praying that the older guy hasn't passed on my information or left a note or something.
Once the coast is clear, I duck around the van I've been hiding behind and cross the street. I walk straight up to him, hands in my pockets, feigning a confidence I don't feel. I smile a little when I start talking.
"Hey there. I'm here to see Isabella Dwyer. Can you buzz me up or something?"
He smiles politely and I breathe a small inward sigh of relief. He doesn't seem to know me at all.
"One moment, let me just call up."
He presses a few buttons and waits. I sweat bullets. The phone buzzes and buzzes. No answer. The reason why is clear to me a second later when Renee Dwyer strides through the glass doors. She pulls to an abrupt halt when she sees me talking to the doorman. I will myself to stare right back at her.
"Mr. Cullen," she says, long and slow. "I thought I was perfectly clear the other day when I told you to stay away from our home."
Jesus, I hate this woman.
"That's not for you to decide. I need to talk to Bella."
"I think you'll find it's all for me to decide," she sneers at me. Then her eyes cut to the doorman. "Call the police, Paul."
I gape at her for a second. She's fucking serious about this?
"Bella's an adult. You can't make these decisions for her."
"I can decide who enters my home and you're never getting in."
"It's Bella's home, too. Goddammit, she deserves to know I'm here!" I'm yelling now, which is just plain fucking stupid. So much for all my planning. This whole thing has immediately spiraled out of my control. The cops are on the way. Things are going to get ugly. But I don't even care anymore. I feel helpless and angry and this horrible woman has planted herself between me and Bella and she's going to catch it all from me.
"You have no business here, Mr. Cullen," she says, her voice low and seething. If possible, I think she hates me even more than I hate her. "You've had your fun with her but she's got a real life to get back to and there's no place in it for you. Do yourself a favor and just walk away. I can make this very bad for you."
"Fuck you!" I spit at her. "Don't you fucking threaten me like you own the world! You don't own her!"
"No, I don't own her, but I own her life, which amounts to the same thing, don't you think?"
"You think she cares about your money?"
"And you think she doesn't? You presume to know her very well."
"Better than you, I'm betting."
"If that were true, you'd know that she's not even here."
I startle, because that's not at all what I expected to hear. "Where is she?"
Renee Dwyer has been staring me dead in the eye for our whole heated exchange, but now, for just a second, her eyes dart away, her face is uncertain. She's been bluffing this whole time. Bella's not up there, carefully ensconced back in her luxury lifestyle, under her control. In that moment, I'm absolutely certain of it.
"Tell me where the fuck she is," I say, with as much menace as I can muster. The doorman is hovering right behind me, but he's younger and less certain of himself than the other guy was. He seems reluctant to actually put his hands on me. If this goes any further, though, I don't doubt that he will.
Renee's eyes swing back to me and all her fire returns. She's furious, livid. "I haven't seen or heard from the ungrateful little bitch since the day before yesterday. She's gone."
I feel punched in the gut. All the air leaves my lungs in a rush. Gone.
"Where?" I whisper.
"I have no idea. If I had to guess, she's run back to that hell hole in Washington. She can rot there for all I care."
I shake my head, unable to stand her talking that way about Bella, about her daughter. This woman is a monster. "Don't you dare talk about her that way."
"I'm going to remind you one more time that you're on my private property, so you don't get to dictate anything to me, Cullen. Now, you're going to stay the hell away from here once and for all, because obviously, there's no reason for you to come back, is there? You've done enough damage already. Are we clear?"
As if to punctuate her declaration, a cop car pulls up to the curb, sirens blaring, lights flashing. People in the South Bronx could wait for forty-five minutes with somebody bleeding to death, but Renee Dwyer is bothered and they're here in a heartbeat. I hate these fuckers and their power over everything in the world. I hate it all.
Two uniformed cops are out in a flash, and one grabs each of my arms, pulling me back away from Renee Dwyer like I was assaulting her or something. I don't even fight it, I just let them take me. But I'm not done with her, not by a long shot.
Renee is standing in the same spot, watching me get hauled away, her face dispassionate.
"I'm going," I shout at her, "but you listen to me. I'm going to find her, I swear it. And I'm going to spend the rest of my life showing her how amazing she is. I'm going to try to make up for the utter failure of you. You fucking disgust me."
Her eyes go wide and her face is white with fury, but I just turn away, letting the cops shove me face-first against the side of the squad car. I don't protest or fight as my hands are wrenched behind my back and the cuffs are slapped on. Nothing they're doing to me, nothing Renee Dwyer can do, is any worse than what I've already done to myself.
Thank God I'm arrested on a weeknight. The holding cell is nearly empty. Just me and some guy brought in for drunken disorderly, but he's passed out now, sleeping it off. I use my one phone call to call Jasper and then I just sit on the bench with my head in my hands, thinking.
I think a lot.
I think about everything I've done—every choice that I made since leaving school—that have led me to this one, really low moment. Because let's face it—cooling your heels in a jail cell is a giant wake-up call from the universe telling you that it's time to re-evaluate your life choices.
I think about the first, really giant bad choice—Mimi Weigert. I still feel sick to my stomach about that, even four years later. It feels like I'll never wash off the filth of that, the stain it left on me.
I think about the degrading, destructive path it put me on, a future littered with women just like Mimi. I'd already taken the first step with Diana. Thank God the thing with Bella happened then, as painful and ugly as it was. It slapped some sense into me, and scared me straight, at least for a while.
I think about all the compromises and sacrifices I've made along the way, all for the sake of my art. My art is me—there is no dividing line. And somehow that seemed to justify everything for me.
No, that's not entirely accurate. As I sit here with only a chipped grey concrete wall to stare at, I realize it wasn't some pure impulse to create that drove me. Not entirely. It was the need to have my creation recognized by others. Because what good is a painting if it's just you in a room with it alone? What does it even mean if it's not on a wall someplace, if people aren't looking at it and talking about it?
And that's where the problem lies. I remember when I first got to art school and I would barely stop painting long enough to put something up for the teachers to critique. I had so much to get out, so much I was desperate to put down on canvas. I didn't care who saw it or what they thought about it. It was all about me, what I thought and felt. What other people said about it was an afterthought. What happened to me since then? Since when did what people's opinions about my art become more important to me than the work itself?
In the end, I can even trace Tori to that same destructive drive for success. Yes, I'd stopped trading in myself. I worked honest hours for honest money. But I still felt defeated. I felt cheated. I felt like a failure. Why? I was painting. The work was decent. Why was I in such a dark place when I met Tori? Because I hadn't sold a painting in a year? Because I was still pouring booze to pay the bills? What was wrong with me that I couldn't just be satisfied with that life? Why was a little flattery from Tori enough to turn my head?
And what the fuck was I thinking when I moved into her building? Yes, the whole thing had blown up in my face, but ultimately that saved me from myself. Because what if Bella hadn't stumbled back into my life last month? What else would I have done to make my path a little smoother? Would I have let Tori do me a few more favors? Pay for a few more things? I don't know the answer to that and that makes me feel sick with myself.
No, it's clear I need a change. A major one. Bella comes first. I have to find her and fix this mess. But I also have to fix me. I need to get away from this life and this scene that seems to be turning me into someone I don't even know anymore.
Renee Dwyer chooses not to press charges. I suppose I should feel grateful for that, but the cops still manage to hold onto me until eight the next morning, even though Jasper was there by midnight. I doubt it was just paperwork that held it up. Renee seems able to fuck with me no matter where I am.
Jasper drives me back to the bar and I pass out on his couch for several hours, since I didn't sleep at all the night before. When I wake up in the afternoon, it's time to make a plan.
Calling Bella is obviously a bust. There's no way she'll answer me, or anyone else for that matter. If Renee's hunch is right and she's gone back to Washington, then there's only one course of action—I have to go there, too.
I fire up my laptop and try to figure out where to start. I cast my memory back over every interaction I've ever had with Bella, trying to remember some clue that might tell me where she is. In the end, the answer is simple: her father. There's no way I'd ever forget the story she told me, about losing him in the line of duty. Likewise, there's no way I can forget her name… her real name. Swan.
I type Swan Washington police into Google.
The first hit is a link to an article from a newspaper in a town called Forks.
"Beloved Police Chief Shot and Killed in the Line of Duty"
It's a long article. Forks is apparently a small town and the death of Officer Charles Swan was very big news. There are quotes from traumatized, grieving citizens and a biography of Officer Swan's simple, shortened life. There is, of course, a mention of his young daughter, Isabella, and the information that she'll be cared for by her mother, who lives "out of state". I'm betting when they wrote the article, they hadn't even found her yet. I'm furious at Renee all over again, but that won't get me anywhere, so I try to let it go.
Okay, then. Forks, Washington. A few more google searches and I've uncovered property records for a house in Forks owned by one Charles Swan. The title to the property changed hands ten years ago and is now held by an I. Dwyer. She still owns the house she grew up in. It's the best I've got to go on.
A quick look at google maps tells me that Forks is about as far west as you can go in America before you fall off the continent. And it's tiny, tucked away between a massive national forest and the ocean. How am I ever going to get there?
I've already guessed that I can't afford a plane ticket, or even a bus ticket, but I check anyway. No dice. So my next stop is Craig's List. I post an ad under ride shares, hoping for at least Seattle. If I can get that far, I can figure out the rest of the trip to Forks.
After that, all I can do is wait. I start picking up shifts at the bar for Jasper. I want to do it for free, to pay him back for everything he's done for me during this mess. But Jasper won't hear of it. He points out that I'll need cash for my upcoming cross-country trek, and I have to admit that he's right, so he puts me back on payroll. There's stupid legal shit I have to deal with because of my arrest, but nothing too dire and that situation gets resolved fairly painlessly. Outside of dealing with that, all I do is work and think.
A week after I post my ad, I get an offer to share a ride with this kid from Hunter college. He's dropped out and he's headed back home to Seattle. He seems sketchy, but I don't have a lot of options, so we strike a deal. I pay for gas, he hauls my ass across the country. It's the best I can do.
A week later, I thank Jasper for his endless help, pack the bare minimum in my old army surplus duffle bag, and hit the road with Tyler.
Tyler is stoned when he picks me up and he stays that way for our entire torturous cross-country saga. To make matters worse, once we hit the road and it's too late for me to back out, he announces that he wants to make a couple of stops to see friends along the way. He makes it out like it will save us hotel fare, which I reluctantly admit would be a good thing.
Friend Number One lives in Louisville, Kentucky, which is the entire state of Ohio away from our route. I bitch loudly, but I'm in Cleveland when Tyler springs this on me, and since I don't want to get stranded there, I pretty much have to go along.
It's apparent immediately that he's stopping to stock up on pot before he gets back home, and what's supposed to be an overnight stop, turns into a day and a half as Tyler hangs with his old high school friend. I cool my heels and stare at the map and try not to tear down the walls in frustration.
It's not like I don't already have a lot on my mind without all this delay to deal with, too. I have no idea what I'm going to say to Bella when I finally find her, if she's really there. This is madness and there's nothing less at stake than my entire future happiness with the woman I now realize I might be in love with.
Tyler doesn't get why I'm so "uptight". I want to rip his stupid, stoned face off.
Friend Number Two lives in Denver. It means we have to take Interstate 80 instead of Interstate 90 and it's a little out of the way, but at least we're still heading west. But like Louisville, it's not an overnight stop. We're there two fucking days before I manage to convince Tyler that I really do need to get to Seattle before the year ends.
After that, I push us hard. We're to Seattle in two very long days, but we're tired, hungry and dirty. I don't even give a shit. I make Tyler drop me off in the middle of downtown and I've never been so grateful to see the last of someone as I am of him.
Seattle is kind of a nightmare. It's a nice enough city, but I just want to get out of it and to Forks, which is no easy feat without a car. I check in at the bus station and I'm told it's possible, but arduous, starting with taking the Bainbridge Island ferry early the next morning. I catch a little sleep on a bench in the ferry terminal and a little more on the ride itself.
On the other side, I ask around to find the first bus of many I have to take to get to Forks. I ask a truck driver who's just climbing behind the wheel of an empty logging truck, since he looks like he would know what's what. Finally, I get my first really lucky break. He's going past Forks and he says he'll be grateful for the company for the long drive.
I thank my lucky stars and pray he's not a serial killer. He's not. His name is Steve and he's really happy to have someone to talk to. I'm too exhausted and wired to contribute much to the conversation, but he doesn't seem to care. He yammers away about his kids, who live with his ex-wife in Tacoma, and about how many times a month he makes this exact same drive. He asks me why I'm going to Forks, of all places, and when I tell him it's for a girl, he just smiles and nods like that explains everything.
We skirt the Juan de Fuca Strait on our right for miles and miles. The water is flat and gray-silver, bleeding seamlessly into blue mist of the distant shore of British Columbia and the overcast sky above. It's cool and calm and oddly reminds me of the Whistler Bella showed me that night at the Frick, the one that reminded me so much of her. Suddenly it feels right that she's here in this place. The air and the light seem to suit her. I don't have any solid proof that she came back here when she left New York, but now I feel it in my bones that she did. She's here, close to me.
As the hours slip by and Highway 101 curves around the edge of the Olympic National Forest, the scenery around us changes. The forest is the darkest wet green I've ever seen. It's overcast, but for the first time, I don't mind the lack of sun and light. This diffuse, cool light feels right for this dark, primeval forest around me. As dense as the trees are all around us, there's still some sense of space and peace. My head might be a mess and there's still a knot of anxiety in my chest that's been there for weeks, but I feel like I can breathe here. The air is clean and smells like pine. I bet she loves the cool silence of this place.
After an endless drive down a shadowy two-lane highway with unrelieved wet woods on either side of us, signs of civilization begin to reappear—the odd gas station or remote woodframe house. Finally, Steve pulls his rig to the shoulder of the road on a stretch that doesn't look a bit different to me than any other stretch of woods we've driven past so far.
"Here we are," he says brightly.
"Here we are, what?"
"Your stop," he says. The road on your map. It's right over there."
I look to where Steve is pointing and then I see it, a break in the trees that I would have mistaken for someone's driveway, if I noticed it at all. To the right, half-concealed by a dense pine tree, is a street sign. It says Carter Road, the address of the late Chief Charles Swan.
My pulse starts to pound and suddenly I'm sweating. I thank Steve for the ride and climb down out of the cab. He throws the rig into drive and rumbles away. Soon, it's just me on the side of the silent road in the fading light of the day.
I take a deep breath and start down Carter Road. There's one house right at the top of the road, not hers. Then it's just ragged grass and scattered trees for a hundred yards or more. Then, ahead on the left, I see a small white two-story wood-frame house. It's spare and simple, with a huge elm tree in the side yard, arcing over the roof. It's the only other house down here and as I get closer and see the number painted on the mailbox by the road, it's confirmed.
If she's here. Jesus Christ, let her be here.
Once I reach the yard and walk up the narrow cracked concrete walkway, I stop and just think for a second. I've been so intent on getting here that it only now occurs to me that I probably look like shit. I've been in these clothes for three days without a shower or a shave. I've barely slept, and not just on this trip. I've barely slept since that last time I saw her in New York.
I wipe my palms on my thighs, but it doesn't help. I'm so freaking nervous and I have no idea what I'm going to say. I've had weeks to think it through. Days spent staring at the country roll by the window to craft the perfect words and now that I'm here, I'm at a complete loss.
I'm standing there trying to think of what I'll say after I knock on the door when it startles me and opens.
And there she is.
Wrapped up in a giant cream wool sweater and jeans, rag socks on her feet, her long hair pulled back in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck. She looks just the same, just simpler, fresher. No makeup, no manicure, no diamonds in her ears or on her hand, no heels, no dress. Just Bella. Stripped down this way, she looks younger, almost like she did when I first met her four years ago.
She glances up just as she steps out on the porch and freezes in her tracks. Her eyes meet mine and I want to swallow, but I can't. She says nothing. She doesn't even look like she's breathing. I still don't know what to say, but I have to start somewhere.
She blinks and stares. She opens her mouth, closes it again, and then I finally hear her voice again.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
This is not going to be easy.