Life is What Happens
a/n: Thank you to my sister, hubs and NS for their support and encouragement.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything Twilight or Stephanie's characters but the rest of this story is mine.
Chapter One: Air out the Old
"Looks like we are almost done in here, Bella," said Angela placing one more box marked 'KITCHEN" on the counter. "Thanks," I replied, looking worriedly between the 'kitchen box of unknown contents' and the nearly full kitchen cabinets.
Taking a deep breath I lifted the box cutter off the counter as my two girls came squealing through the kitchen.
"Hey! Hey! Slow down! No running in the house you two! Take it to the back yard please."
"Sorry Mom," replied my oldest, Faith, contritely taking the hand of her little sister, "Come on Grace," she commanded. I watched my two girls, Faith, just turned seven, and Grace, who was still four until November, walk out the back door off the kitchen to the yard beyond. Angela's daughter, Sophie followed them holding a pink soccer ball on her hip.
Rolling my eyes at Angela I cut open the box in front of me. "Thank you for finding me a house with a fenced yard. I think they would make me stir crazy otherwise while I sort out all this chaos." The box was full of kitchen gadgets. Pulling out the corkscrew I smiled at my long time friend. "Break time?" I queried.
It was the beginning of August and it was hot for Forks. I had opened all the windows of our new home to let in the breeze. Air out the old, I thought absently as the circulating air cooled the sweat that clung between my skin and the thin tank I wore.
Angela placed two coffee mugs on the kitchen table while I pried the cork from the bottle of white zinfandel I had stashed in the fridge amongst the leftover containers of diner take-out. I filled each mug taking a seat with my oldest and dearest friend. One of the only friendships I maintained from the year and a half I spent at Forks High.
We sat quietly taking in the sounds of my girls outside playing with Angela's daughter Sophie. Wow, how time flies! Sophie is, what, fourteen now? Yikes that would mean that their son Aaron is twelve? No denying now that you will be 36 next month, eh Bella? Angela hasn't changed a bit though. Maybe there is something in the water here? Wonder if it will work for me?
"Thanks again for helping me find this house Angela" I said, feeling the need to break the silence first. Angela had been a godsend saving me from having to make trips to Forks with the girls while simultaneously trying to pack up and sell the house in Tacoma. She emailed listings and then between her and Charlie viewed the houses and gave me their feedback. It didn't take long for me to settle on this three bed, two bath, 1970's bungalow.
The lack of options in Forks also made the decision making really easy. It was providence that the Olsons chose this summer to move to a retirement community in Seattle to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Ben and Angela lived right across the street, Charlie was less than 5 minutes away and the Elementary school was right around the corner. The location was perfect.
Charlie approved of the house because the basement was dry, the shingles new and the furnace, hot water tank and fuse box had been updated recently. I loved the fenced yard and the updated wiring. Lord knows I wouldn't survive a day without Internet and Television. Unfortunately, the appliances came with the house. Harvest Gold, really? But a trip to Port Angeles solved that and in the next day or two they would be delivering my modern fridge and stove as well as a new washer and dryer then take the old ones to recycling for me. The endless reams of flocked and flowered wallpaper, however, will take longer for me to update.
"You're very welcome!" Angela chirped. "Did everything go okay in Tacoma?" she asked then, hesitantly, covering the question with another sip from her mug. The question was loaded. Did what go okay: The divorce settlement; the sale of our Tacoma home where my children were born and my marriage ended; or the packing, organizing and downsizing of 8 years worth of joint belongings?
"Everything went as smoothly as it could, I suppose," I answered vaguely, covering all the bases. "I couldn't believe how much stuff I had kept from when the girls were babies. I kept a few mementos and gave the bulk of the clothes and gear to a local Mother Support Organization. Sorting out what I thought Jake would want or not was more difficult. Jake, of course, has been at work for the last six weeks and thus was spared from all of this." I might have huffed out the last just a little bit. It seemed like I had been on my own with everything for so long that being divorced now really didn't seem all that different.
"What is Jake doing now?"
"He is working up somewhere in Canada at the moment. He should be back next week. I think he is planning on taking the girls camping when he gets back" I answered. Jake and I had agreed that he would take the girls whenever he was home. Jake was a specialist welder and his skills sent him to remote locations all over Northern Canada and the States. He would be gone weeks to months at a time then home for a few weeks. The money was excellent and he loved what he did. So in a way, our custody arrangement didn't seem odd to the girls. They were not seeing their Father any more or less than they did before.
"So what are Ben and Aaron up to today?" I asked to change the subject.
"Oh, they went to some kung fu movie marathon in Port Angeles. They're getting in some guy time," She answered with a grin.
Angela and Ben were High school sweethearts. They took a brief break when they started college but that only seemed to strengthen what they had. They married before graduating and soon completed their family with their daughter Sophie and then their son Aaron. Ben is a web designer and his work from home flexibility allowed them to stay in Forks near both their families. They both also wanted to raise their children in the same environment of quiet security that they experienced growing up on the rainy coast of the Olympic Peninsula.
"What else is new in Forks these days? What is the current gossip?"
"Well," Angela drew out "Lauren and Tyler are on a 'break'," she said air quoting. "He apparently has left for Vancouver to 'find himself'," air quoting again "and Lauren is still here operating the gym they opened up a few years ago."
"Hmm," Angela tapped her chin, thinking "Jessica is pregnant again. So this will be number four for her and Mike. He is over the moon and has baby pictures splattered all over the counter at their store. His parents retired last year so he and Jessica have been running Newton's independently since then."
I nodded, Mike was always a sweetheart. Lauren and Jessica both had their catty shallow moments but Mike and Jessica seemed happy together. Lauren and Tyler, though, just seemed to be together for something to do. I was not over surprised by their constant on again, off again relationship.
"Oh, and we got a new doctor in town two years ago." This was definitely news to me. "His name is Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife is Esme," Angela continued. "They moved from Alaska. Esme said that she wanted to retire somewhere green with rocks and water and not so much snow and cold. They built a house out on the river right out of town. I haven't seen it but I heard that it is something else. Esme, Jasper and I all sit on the Library Board together. Her son and wife moved here just this summer. I think his name is Emmitt and he took over the vacancy at the Forest Ranger Station. You will meet his wife Rosalie at the school because she is the new kindergarten teacher."
"They have two more kids, twins, a boy and a girl. Esme has shown me pictures. They have been doing some kind of tour of Europe for the last couple of years," Angela concluded.
"Wow, Forks hasn't seen this much new blood since Jasper moved here six years ago," I joked.
"I know! Speaking of Jasper have you had a chance to see him yet?"
"No, he actually went home for a visit down in Texas. I guess his Dad has been feeling poorly," I answered. Jasper and I met while I was pregnant with Faith, before Jake and I relocated to Tacoma. He moved to Forks as the new High school history teacher. Angela and I befriended him immediately. With email and then Facebook our friendship blossomed. Even though he is younger than me he always had felt like an older brother. Like Angela he has been my support through the struggles of the last year.
A sharp knock on the front door followed by a loud "Hey there, Bells" stopped our conversation as Charlie entered the house. Walking from the kitchen into the foyer, I stopped at the base of the stairs when I saw that my dad was not alone. Seth Clearwater was standing beside him looking sheepish for some reason.
"Hey Dad," I greeted him as I smiled and waved at Seth. Since Charlie and Sue had announced their relationship a few years ago Sue's son, Seth, became like my younger brother just like I had thought her daughter, Leah, was like my sister.
"So," Charlie shuffled his feet, "I see the moving van is gone. Is everything going okay in here?"
"Yeah, it didn't take long for everything to get unloaded and Angela has been great coming over to help me unpack," I responded. "What brings you here Dad? I thought you were fishing today?"
"Well, um, Sue and Leah are over at Billy's right now cleaning the place up. Nobody has really been in there since Billy passed last year," a brief wave of sadness flashed in his eyes "And, well, they wanted Seth and me to come over and pick up Jake's stuff."
My stomach clenched at his words. Tears started to sting my eyes. Charlie would go fishing the day his daughter is moving into a new home with his two grandchildren but will cancel to help 'Leah and Jake' get settled into their new love nest. I breathed heavily through my nose before responding trying to not think about where I landed in this pecking order.
"Jake's stuff is in a storage unit in Tacoma Dad."
"Well that doesn't make any sense Bells. Why wouldn't you just bring it here in the moving van with the rest of it?" he asked. Seriously? "I thought you guys were being grownups about all this. There is no reason to start being rude now." SERIOUSLY? Charlie's obtuse response shook me. Tasting bile I fought back making the many retorts that came immediately to mind.
Charlie never did do well with emotional situations and I could only imagine how confusing this all was to him. He didn't mean to be hurtful the relationships had just become so entangled. Charlie is my Dad. Sue is his girlfriend. Sue's daughter Leah is Jake's girlfriend. Jake is my ex-husband. Because of Leah! Gad! This is so incestuous! So being Charlie he just wanted to pretend that we were all one big happy family. Why then do I have to be treated like the petulant child?
"Dad," I replied as calmly as I could "Jake asked me to put his stuff, which is mostly tools by the way, into storage so he could sort and ship everything on his own time".
"Oh". Both men looked uncomfortable. Seth stared out the still open door with his hands in his pockets. "I guess Leah didn't get the message," Charlie mumbled rubbing his moustache. Don't worry Leah I got the message, I thought bitterly.
"Poppa!" my girls squealed in stereo running back into the house. They rushed Charlie each grabbing a knee.
"Hey, how are my angels?" he said stroking both heads of dark brown hair with his large hands.
"Sophie was showing us how to play soccer, Poppa. Grace kicks real good. It is really hot. Can we get ice-cream?" Faith expressed with a grin and one long breath.
A huge smile softened Charlie's features. "That okay with you Bells? I will just send Seth back as we were in his truck anyways and I will take the girls down to the Diner for ice-cream in your minivan?"
"That sounds great Dad," I answered.
With waves and smiles the two men and two girls left the house.
I walked back into the kitchen where Angela silently handed me my re-filled mug of wine. Angela always knew when words were not necessary.
Plumping the last pillow on Grace's bed I stood back and stretched the kinks out. I took in her room with a smile. Everything was pink at her request but I played it up by differing the shades and working in some brown so she wouldn't out grow it too quickly. Faith's room was similar except that she chose purple and green.
Jake had got home a few days ago and had taken the girls camping as promised. Charlie joined them over the weekend. He loved teaching the girls how to fish and, unlike their Mother, they were enthused to learn. By the time Jake drops them off tomorrow night the paint fume smell should be gone.
Satisfied that their rooms were unpacked and ready for the upcoming school year I flipped off the light switch and headed downstairs.
The upstairs held only the two bedrooms and a full bath. Downstairs was the eat-in kitchen, living room, laundry, master bedroom and the luxury of an ensuite bath. It only had a shower but it was wonderful to not have to trudge upstairs in the middle of the night to pee.
I walked easily through the dark to my bedroom. Having spent the last week or so getting everything unpacked and put away and then the last few days child free meant that they were no obstacles to trip me up as I made my way.
Since the girls were no longer babies there were no more diaper changes or potty training. No more getting up constantly through the night to nurse or fetch bottles. No more highchairs and exersaucers to take up floor space. Of course do not get me started on the hell of the zillion tiny accessories that seem to come with Barbie dolls and Ponyville toys.
With Jake taking them now on his time off to his place in La Push it is like Mommy Emancipation. Before when he was home he would be gone most of the time anyways. Visiting with his pals or tinkering on his latest toy in the garage. But he was almost always home at night to play with his girls, give them their baths and read them a story when it was time to tuck them into bed.
There was no denying that he loves his little girls.
I wonder now if I married Jake because I was so broken. Did I marry him because it seemed like the right thing to do? He wanted me. Charlie and Billie wanted us to be together. He made me feel cherished. He made me happy. Whatever the reason it wasn't enough to keep us together. The friendship remained but the rest wavered. Two people living together for a common purpose but with nothing in common. I don't know when it happened but we stopped being happy. I stopped being happy.
On some level he must have always known that he was the one more romantically invested and that is why when given another chance at love he took it. Leah made him feel needed. Inversely, I suppose, I did not. Besides, who wants to come home to an unhappy bitter bitch.
Grumbling at the turn my thoughts were taking, I quickly stripped off my tank and paint-scarred yoga pants. Throwing them into the laundry bin I realized that I had been wearing the same clothes for the last three days. I even slept in them the one night not bothering to change after a long day of stripping wall paper. Ew. The joys of being a stay at home single Mom.
Walking into my bathroom I flipped on the light and started the shower. When the water warmed up enough I stepped into the small corner shower dunking my head under the spray. With the water warming my skin I realized that I was humming the tune to Wasting away in Margaretville. Where the hell did that come from? Well at least the girl's have been gone long enough that I don't have the theme song to 'Wonder Pets' stuck in my head.
I shampooed and rinsed quickly then began shaving in the confined space while my conditioner set. Finally done with the work part of my shower I set back in the hot stream and just let myself be.
This will be the third time I have moved 'back' to Forks in the last twenty years. I just seem to yo-yo between this small town and the supposed rest of my life.
The first time I came to Forks was for my Mom. Moving here with Charlie to finish high school gave her the freedom to travel with and enjoy her new husband. Thinking of her and Phil and their happy little home in Florida always made me smile. Mom is still young at heart and nothing ever seems to get her down. Phil is her gravity. They are perfect together.
The second time I came to Forks was two-fold. I was two years out of University when Charlie had his heart attack. He survived but needed assistance while he recuperated from by-pass surgery. I needed to escape Florida after everything that went down with James. My mind shied away from the images thoughts of him brought. So I returned to Forks to take care of Charlie and escape the debacle that was my first marriage.
This is when Jake came into my life. Our relationship started out as friendship. I had known Jake, more or less, all my life. His Dad and mine grew up together and were best friends. When I was little both are families spend time together hanging out in La Push or going fishing. When I returned to Forks the second time Jake was all grown up and more than happy to help me pick up the pieces of my life. It was like he could make the sun shine in the rain. He was easy to fall in love with.
We started hanging out and then dating. Jake was the one that pushed for more and I accepted his advances. He made me feel whole. He made me laugh. He felt safe. In hindsight I recognize that passion wasn't there. Certainly there was some chemistry. Jake is beautiful inside and out. Over the years his tall muscled body has softened and he has lost his long ebony hair to a more practical for work crew cut. However, he still has his smooth coppery skin and warm happy brown eyes.
Jake and I had a small wedding on the beach in La Push and moved to Tacoma. He expanded on his natural mechanical skills at school there and ended up specializing in welding. He started working at the same time that we started our family. We decided that I would stay home and raise our girls while they were little. Honestly I was so tired all the time taking care of them and our home I couldn't imagine working on top of it and neither of us wanted to do daycare while the girls were infants.
Time just passed by so quickly. Somewhere during that time I lost myself. I was Charlie's daughter and Jake's wife and Faith and Grace's Mom. Somewhere along the way I had let Bella slip away.
Now here I am again newly divorced and living in Forks. I just seem to keep going round and round here. I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower.
Towelling off I stopped catching my reflection in the vanity mirror. I wonder if in another ten years I will again be crawling back. Maybe I should just say – screw it- and just stay. No longer treat this as a stopover point and accept it as my forever.
Looking at my reflection I began to take inventory. What have the last ten years brought Bella Swan?
Definitely some baby weight. Okay more than a little. I feel like my body has a layer of jell-o armour. Well I can probably join the gym in town. Ugh that means Lauren. Well no room in the house for a treadmill so the gym it is. Not much can be done for the stretch marks or the c-section scar gained from having Grace. Well, it is not like I plan on wearing a bikini EVER again. As for the boobs well they had been 'working' boobs. Breastfeeding is worth it but it does change things. In my case they ended up bigger but less perky than before.
My skin was still relatively smooth and I occasionally get carded for booze. Hmm though I imagine they are being nice since I usually get called 'Ma'am' while they are making the ID request. Being pale and phobic of any tanning attempt have served me well in the skin aging department. But good night cream doesn't hurt. With that last thought I pulled out and started applying my lotions.
My hair is still long, brown and curls in the rainy humidity of Washington. Though the red highlights are more often the affect of foils from my monthly color appointment to disguise the few white hairs that have made an appearance.
I remember when brushing my hair, my teeth and quickly washing my face was all that my beauty regime required. However, as we get older everything just seems to get more complicated.
Fatigue swept over me. Staring into my own brown eyes I relived the conversation last week with Charlie. Jake had already come to take the girls and Dad decided to stop by to check on me during his lunch break.
"How did it go this morning with Jake?" he asked, sitting having coffee at my kitchen table.
"Oh, good. Faith and Grace are really excited for their camping trip. Even though it is just a tent set up in his backyard," I laughed.
Charlie chuckled. "They certainly didn't get their outdoor spirit from you. You hated camping".
I shrugged. It was true. Sleeping on the ground being cold and using the great outdoors for my toilet ceased to interest me at an early age. Living with Renee made me a city girl. "Must be their Dad and Poppa in them," I said with a smile.
The girls were a mix of Jake and me. Though their hair was more brown than black they both had their dads dark warm brown eyes and they both were growing like weeds suggesting that they will both be tall like him as well unlike my diminutive 5 foot four. Neither girl is cursed with my pale complexion either rather they have a golden cream skin that tans easily in the sun rather than going from white to lobster in under twenty minutes. Personality wise, Faith, has my quiet serious nature and Grace carries Jakes gentle exuberance.
"How are things with you and Jake?" He asked then uncomfortably.
"Same as always. Really Dad it is not like we don't or can't get along. Jake and I work well together married or not. We are still friends I guess. We need to be so that everything works for the girls. It is why we both decided to move back here." I replied. "You know we didn't get divorced because we hate each other. We just, I don't know, I guess we just stopped wanting to be man and wife and of course, there is Leah," I fumbled out.
Charlie looked out the window his fingers tapping the coffee mug between his hands. Charlie didn't approve that Jake wanted out of our marriage so that he could be with another woman. It complicated things too that the woman was Leah. At least Jake was good enough to tell me first, unlike James. It helps a little but there is no denying that it doesn't hurt that I have now had two marriages end because someone else came along who was better.
"I still don't like this idea of yours to be driving all the way down to Olympia almost every day to take more classes Bella. Why don't you just take something here at the extension college?"
"They don't have the classes I want to take Dad. All that is available in town is Teacher or Nursing accreditation, secretarial or bookkeeping. I already have a degree. But I have been out too long without any work experience. I need to build on what I have," I told him, already seeing where this was leading.
"I dunno, Bells, it just seems that at your age with two kids to take care of you should be a bit more practical. If you took something here you could be done and working in six months and not have to lean on Jake's child support."
Gad he makes me feel like somehow I am not only irresponsible and not 'acting my age' but also a leech on Jake's money. Does he not remember that it was MY hush money/divorce settlement from James that paid for all of Jake's courses in the first place and bought the house in Tacoma? Money which ironically I had to split with him as shared assets in our divorce. I certainly wasn't going to feel guilty about using his child support to take care of our kids while going back to school. Okay he hit a sore spot. None of this is what he really means, right?
Angry brown eyes now stared back at me. No Bella. You may be back in Forks starting over yet again but that is exactly what this is – starting over. It is a beginning not an ending. This time nothing is going to stop you from following your dreams, I told myself determinedly.