First of all, I need to thank the wonderful hosts of The PostSecret Prompt Contest. What an amazing prompt and an amazing opportunity! Secondly, I'd like to thank all the awesome people who either beta'd, preread, or just cheered me on with this story. It's been amazingly fun and I couldn't have done it without any of them. I'd name names, but the list would be too long!
So, without further wait, here it is! I hope you enjoy; tell me what you think!
She logged onto her laptop and opened a browser window. Her daily ritual, as of the past few months, consisted of a detailed search of every Cullen name on multiple search engines, as well as any known aliases. Some days, she couldn't get through them all. Some days, she couldn't type one letter to save her life.
Almost a year, she thought.
He said he'd do it, but she never believed he could. Well, he'd proven her wrong alright. It had been almost one year. Eager to finish her last search on Bing, she quickly typed in "Carlisle Cullen."
She almost clicked the browser closed out of habit, but she had a hit.
There, on The Ithaca Times website, was a reader write-in talking about a local doctor...by the name of Carlisle Cullen. Bella stared for minutes before clicking on the link. It was like seeing a ghost. His name, without a picture of course, was there in black and white above the dear lady's letter.
Dr. Carlisle Cullen: Bedside Manner is not Dead.
I wanted to write in praise of an unsung hero, a man who gets too little credit and would never admit it, and a doctor who's second to none. If you don't know Dr. Carlisle Cullen, you're missing out.
The letter went on to praise his professionalism, his dedication, and his caring nature. It stated that good doctors were a "lost art" that seemed to have been reincarnated in this young twenty-nine year old man. Bella smiled, knowing full well Carlisle's true age. But the woman was right: there was no one like him.
The article listed the hospital, and in three minutes flat, Bella had a personal extension to Carlisle's work. Her heart pounded as she searched for a home number. When she found it in a surrounding city, she pulled out her cell phone and programmed the number in. As she pressed save, she felt lighter and more encouraged than she had in too long. No doubt Edward had hurt her, but then again she couldn't force him into love. She'd dealt with that...somewhat.
Okay, not at all.
But this wasn't about Edward. This was about family. This number was assurance that whatever happened, she had a lifeline. And the crazy thing about it was she didn't even know for sure yet if she even had a family anymore; they might all have gotten tired of her. For all she knew, the number wasn't even theirs. But somehow she knew that wasn't the case. Somewhere, deep inside, she knew.
The phone ringing snapped Bella out of her thoughts, and she carefully sprinted down the stairs before they hung up. She missed the last step but caught herself against the wall before she fell.
"Hello?" she said, winded.
"Hey...Bella? Is that you?" the voice on the other end replied.
"Yes, this is Bella. Sorry, who's this?"
"It's Mike...Mike Newton." he cleared his throat, slightly offended.
"Oh hey, Mike. It's good to hear from you. How are things?" She could barely muster up any interest. It was nothing against Mike, well, not really. She hadn't keep in contact with anyone from Forks High. After his family left, she'd barely managed to finish senior year.
He chuckled, as if sensing her immediate disinterest. "Good, real good. How about you? How was your summer?"
"Oh, you know, nothing special. I visited Renee in Florida, but mostly hung around here." She couldn't say her summer was filled solely with ways to forget. "What about you?"
"I had the greatest summer ever!" And with that, Mike launched into story after story of white water rafting trips, camping trips, and even a surfing excursion in California. His Dad owned Newton's Outfitters, and Bella remembered how many tour groups and adventure companies contracted through Newton's. No doubt most of those trips Mike took were all expenses paid.
"That's so great, Mike. It sounds amazing." Bella put all the enthusiasm she had behind her statement.
Not convinced, an awkward silence hung on the line. "Um, yeah. Well, the reason I'm calling is to ask if you have any plans tonight."
"Nope, nothing in the works. I put off my bungee jump till tomorrow," she kidded with him.
"Very funny, Swan," he laughed. "Anyways, I'm having a few friends over for a kinda reunion bash before we all leave. College is here! Can you believe it?"
Bella could almost see him fist pump over the phone. His enthusiasm was contagious and she found herself laughing. "I know, I know. Time's really flown by."
"So, you up for a kickin' party?"
The line went silent as Bella began to go over the excuses she could use to let him down easy. "Look Mike, I'd really like to, but I don't think Charlie will really go for a party. You know how he is."
"See! I knew you'd say that, so I had my dad call Charlie at the station and tell him about the get together tonight. He's totally cool with it."
"Mike..." she sighed into the phone and took a seat at the kitchen table.
"Come on, Bella. You need to get out.. You gotta move..."
She cut him off before he could continue. "This has nothing to do with...with..."
He started to say his name. "Don't, Mike. Don't say it."
Mike huffed into the phone. "Look, Bella, I can't say I know much about what you're going through. Really, you know me; I'm not the best person to give relationship advice. But I do know about friends. You gotta have friends or you'll go crazy. I'm not telling you to just get over it, but at least come and have a good time, okay?" His voice dropped low. "Just try."
Bella smiled. In all the years she'd known Mike, she'd never seen him as anything but a shallow pool of emotions...most were hormones. Maybe he was right this time, though. At that moment, she could have told him to save it, to mind his own business, but the truth was she was lonely.
So you're going to settle for Mike Newton's company? she thought. And the answer was yes. For now.
Bella took a deep breath. "What time does this party kick off?"
Mike whooped and almost yelled into the phone, "YES! You're going to have such a great time Bella, I'll make sure you do. This is going to be awesome!"
Bella laughed, genuinely, for the first time in a long time. "Time, Mike. What time?"
"Oh! Seven...seven o'clock. You need a ride? I could pick you up. Or, you could come over..."
"Don't push your luck, Newton," she said jokingly.
"Don't worry about me, Swan. I don't need luck!"
They chatted a few more minutes, and she begged off stating she had to get ready. Mike made her swear on her dead hamster she wouldn't back out. He even threatened to call the Chief and let him know. Bella promised her first born child that she wouldn't skip on him, and he finally let her go.
Standing in front of her closet, she stared at the unopened boxes shoved in the back behind her clothes.
Pushing that thought away, she grabbed them and pulled on a beautiful red blouse and some designer jeans she didn't recognize. They were a bit loose in the waist, and she sighed. Alice wouldn't like that...but then again, she wasn't there.
After she'd blown out her hair and put on the shoes that went with the outfit, she studied herself in the mirror. The jeans hugged her in all the right places, and the shirt "accentuated" her bustline. She smiled.
It's time to move on.
As if making sure she heard herself, and still trying to convince herself, she said it out loud. "It's time to move on."
She walked slowly down the stairs, left a note for Charlie, and walked out the door.
Mike met her at the door and immediately handed her a drink. "Bel-la! You made it!" He swung his arm over her shoulder and pulled her into the living room. She smiled, but squirmed out of his grasp and took a sip of her drink.
As soon as the liquid hit her throat, she coughed hard and tried to force it to go down without coming back up. "Mike! What is this?"
"Aw, come on Bells. It's just something to help us celebrate! My parents are cool with it." He laughed at the face she made and plopped down on the couch, pulling a very giggly Jessica into his lap. "See? We're just having fun!"
She shook her head and set down the drink. "I can't stay here, Mike. Charlie would murder me...and you! Did you tell Charlie about this? There's no way he'd have agreed. What were you thinking?"
Just then, Mr. and Mrs. Newton walked into the living room. Mr. Newton walked up and clasped his hand on her shoulder. "Bella! So glad you could make it. Mike was very excited you agreed to come. And don't worry, we've talked to Charlie. Nothing will get back to him. We just wanted to give you kids a chance to let loose before the big freshman year!"
"Thanks, Mr. Newton, really, but I don't know..."
"Oh, come now. You're safe here. On that note, though, I do have to ask for your keys." He held out his hand and gave her a fatherly stare. Bella fished through her pockets and pulled out her keyring but didn't place it in his hands. "It's just for safe keeping, honey. We want to make sure everyone has a good, clean time here tonight."
She couldn't argue with his logic, so she dumped them into his palm. "I'm a little...stunned, Mr. Newton. Mike didn't tell me there'd be drinking." She shot daggers at Mike, who ,in turn, just held up his hands and high-fived a guzzling Eric Yorkie.
"Well, no one's forcing you to drink, Bella. But, if you'd like, it's here. I know you're afraid Charlie wouldn't approve, but this is a better environment to experiment than at some frat party where there is no supervision." Mrs. Newton only nodded, seeming completely at ease with the group of drunk teens boozing it up in her living room.
"Um, thanks, I guess." She saw Angela motion for her to come over and sit down, and she politely excused herself from Mr. and Mrs. Newton.
"Isn't this great? I mean, it's kinda weird with them here, but Bella! We get to drink!" As if to prove her point, she took a long gulp of the pink punch in her cup. Bella watched her try to ignore the urge to gag, and when she smiled, Bella laughed.
Crazy preacher's kid.
As the night wore on, Bella's cup stayed full. Mike made sure of it. On top of her never ending drink, they played beer pong, which she was horrible at, Bullshit, which she lost because she couldn't lie to save her life, and finally Sixes. That was the nail in the coffin for Bella; she had no luck but bad luck.
"Hey, Bel-la. Where're ya headed?" Mike called after her as she wobbled her way to the kitchen.
"Just...over here. I'm good." Her speech was slurred a bit, but she was holding it together well enough. As she walked, she held her stomach cautiously.
Bathroom. Bathroom, she kept chanting in her head, opening and closing doors in the kitchen. When she found the pantry, she walked inside and sat down. It sure wasn't a bathroom, but the floor was cold and it was quiet.
Her head pulsed to an imaginary beat, and she swore the room was spinning. Closing her eyes made it worse, so instead, she stared at a can of sweet peas. The Jolly Green Giant stared right back at her, and she giggled a little when she noticed how obviously...unclothed he was. She rolled over a bit to see what other naked veggies they had when her cellphone dropped out of the side pocket of her sweater.
No missed calls, she thought. At least Charlie didn't call.
She stared at her cell phone.
Somewhere in the recesses of Isabella Swan's mind, she knew it was a bad idea to flip it open. Furthermore, she knew it was an even worse idea when she scrolled down her contacts and found the Cullen's number. Somewhere, deep, deep inside her subconscious, she didn't really mean to hit the call button. But when the number started ringing, it was too late to do anything about it.
"Cullen residence," a melodic and comforting voice answered. He sounded just as she remembered.
It struck her then that she'd never called their house before. She was always with Edward, so there was no need. Actually, she couldn't remember when she'd had a conversation with any of them, save Edward, over the phone. The absurdity of the situation hit her hard, and all she could do was giggle.
"Hello, Cullen Residence," the voice said again. Bella giggled more, realizing how formal he sounded. He probably had caller ID and knew it was her.
"Helloooo!" she answered, the sing-song sound of her own voice sending her into a fit of laughter.
"Isabella?" Carlisle's tone was colored with concern. Bella was laughing so hard she snorted and dropped the phone to her side, but that only fed the fire.
She laughed until her stomach hurt, and then, remembering she had someone on the phone, she put the receiver back to her ear. "Hello. It's Bella."
"Bella, where are you? Are you alright?"
"I'm in Mike Newton's pantry. Where are you?" Another fit of laughter overtook her.
Carlisle began to answer, but Bella stopped him mid-sentence. "I'm fiiiine, Carlisle, don't you worry. Did you know that the Jolly Green Giant is almost naked? On a freakin can of vegetables!"
Carlisle couldn't find any humor in Bella's comment, not considering the state she was obviously in. To him, the most important thing was finding out if she was safe or not. "I wasn't aware of that, Bella. Now, can you tell me what's going on?"
"Shut up, Carlisle! God, you're always so...so..." She lost her train of thought, so she let it go. "Nothing's going on."
Carlisle was taken aback by her hostility. "Bella, obviously something's going on. How much have you had to drink? And are you really at the Newton's? Are you supervised?"
Her head spun as she tried to answer all his questions. How much had she had to drink? She didn't know. The cups were full, and she was always losing and drinking...wait, what did she drink? She didn't know that either. She looked around, assuring herself she was in fact at the Newton's. At least she knew that. She sighed, tired from thinking, and placed her head in her hands.
"Bella. Bella, are you there?" Carlisle's voice was so smooth, so soothing. She pictured his eyes, his golden hair, and his young face. She giggled, remembering the first time she'd seen him.
"You know, you're just hot! I've always thought...your hair is like, so perfect, and your body...you're just so...so...hot!" She laughed and fanned herself. Her cheeks flushed and she thought about Edward, his hands, his lips and...she just told her his father... "Oh shit...I mean, shoot, I'm sorry, Edward...I mean, Carlisle. Shit!"
She threw her head back against the pantry wall in frustration. "Ow!"
"Are you okay?"
"No, but I'd really...really like to talk to you. You're a...a...bastard, you know that?" She sat up straight and balled her fist at her side.
"Bella..." He understood her anger, and he'd even accept it, but he knew Bella. She'd regret saying it when she remembered. Carlisle heard a snicker and looked behind him. Everyone had gathered.
Bella continued to ramble. "No! I'm telling you...I'm trying to tell you that we never had sex, me and Edward."
"Bella, I don't think..." He smoothed his hand over his face, desperate to help her, to make sure she didn't embarrass herself further...but it seemed that wasn't going to happen.
"Just...shut up, okay? You're...you always talk too much about...all kinds of weird vampire things. But I won't tell, ever. I swear, Carlisle, I swear. I won't ever, ever tell."
He stiffened. He never once carried a concern that Bella would purposely tell their secret, but he realized, in that moment, it was possible. Remembering she was at the Newton's, Carlisle tried another suggestion. "Bella? Can you find an adult for me? Can you do that?"
"Shhh! You're talking...they'll find me." She giggled and covered her mouth, unable to stay quiet for even a few moments. "Anyways, so no sex for me. Why, Carlisle? Why doesn't he want me? I tried everything, and all he does...did was that perverted stalker shit and watched me sleep."
She paused, taking a deep breath, which only made her hiccup. "And I know, Carlisle, that Edward has a little problem with... you know what." She whispered the last part as if it she needed it to be private.
"What Bella?" He asked, trying to make heads or tails of her hidden meaning. "Do you mean Edward has a problem getting an..."
"Shhh! God, Carlisle! No! That's crazy. I mean, a few times we've kissed and his...you know...I could feel it." She snickered, remembering their kiss.. "No, he's good there. Really good, from what I can tell. I'm no expert, but I'm not a stupid. I'm not as naive as he thinks I am. I've seen...pictures and...stuff."
"I understand, honey."
"I was talking about the...blood," she whispered again. "Fu...I mean, freak. I just wanted him to crawl in my bed with me. Other boys can't keep their fu...oops, I mean freakin hands off me. Mike Newton, that slimey...ew...but, you know, he tries. Edward would shit if he knew. And Jake!"
Bella broke out into a fit of laughter at her own memory, but Carlisle raised an eyebrow. "Jacob Black?"
"Yup!" Bella said, popping her "p." "The one and only! See? I told you, I'm good, good, good at keeping secrets. I told Jake I'd never tell people about when he...you know...kinda tried to kiss me, so I did a good job! Damn good."
Bella suddenly stopped talking, stopped laughing, and sat very still. Carlisle, waited, giving her a chance to regroup. "Bella?"
"Oh...shit. I told you. Oh God! Jake is...is...he's going to be so pissed off!" A snarl erupted from the background and Bella froze. "What was that?"
"Nothing, Bella." Carlisle shot a look at his audience, and they quieted down.
Bella began to mumble to herself, and Carlisle heard Sam and alpha and imprint and several other words he was all too familiar with. Finally, she huffed a few times, admitting defeat. "I'm...I think I'm drunk, Carlisle. Charlie's going to kill me!"
He decided this wasn't the best time to talk to his daughter about the dangers of having a werewolf as an acquaintance, so he tried again to be the voice of reason. "Yes, I think you are, sweetheart. And speaking of Charlie, why don't you find an adult for me? We'll get this straightened out."
"You're so funny, Edward. I...hate you, but I love you, you know? You're...Carlisle, oh shit...shoot, I mean, I'm sorry. I'm so f...frickin sorry." She giggled at her own mistake, but those happy sounds soon faded into small sniffles. Carlisle groaned inwardly, dreading the turn in conversation. "I...I...did something, right? He doesn't want me anymore. No, there's more...I just can't remember. You! You can remember! Vampires...vampires remember everything!
"Bella, don't say that so loud, honey, please," he pleaded.
"NO! I know. I know this." She mumbled incoherently again before deciding on a memory. "You're in L.A.! You and your perfect family with your perfect life. I never fit in. You hate me, don't you? I'm not good enough."
Someone snarled again and Carlisle held his hand up, threateningly. "No, not at all! Don't ever think that. We love you."
"Then why did you leave? Why won't Edward love me? Why won't he make love to me?" Her voice became pleading and broken, something Carlisle had never heard from an otherwise composed Bella.
"Bella, you're confused. This is all very normal. You must understand the changes alcohol produces in your body when..."
She hiccuped and then giggled. "You said boobie."
"I said 'body,' Bella," he clarified. The peanut gallery behind him was already having trouble reigning in their laughter.
Bella laughed louder. "No, you didn't! You said boobie! Carlisle Cullen said boobie!"
He smiled, but sighed. "Bella, please." He could hear laughter behind him, and fearing Bella might become emotional if she knew she was being broadcasted, he spoke softly and admonished his audience. They were begging him to put her on speakerphone, but he shook his head.
"Hey, hey, hey! Don't do your vampire-speaky thing! I can hear you!" Bella pouted. A small tinkling laughter trilled on the other end of the phone. "Is that Alice? Alice! Alice, this shirt makes my boobs look awesome!"
Carlisle rolled his eyes, and finally conceding, he punched the speakerphone button. Alice smiled, and laughed, something she hadn't done in so long. "You sound like you'd doubt me! You should listen to me more often."
Emmett bellowed in the background and Bella squealed. "Emmett! Oh my god! I miiiiss you!"
"I miss you too Bella-bear." He walked close to the speaker and leaned over. "Hey, do you still have a parking spot at the ER?"
"Ha. Ha. Funny, Emmett. No...oh..." Bella moaned as her stomach lurched. "You know, I think...ugh...I think I'm going to be..."
"Bella? Bella. Are you alright?" Carlisle moved Emmett out of the way and hovered over the phone.
"Oh God," she gasped, breathing hard. The pain became worse and Bella doubled over...then belched loudly. Her manners out the window, she giggled. "Ya, I'm alright. I feel better now."
Emmett whooped and gave Alice a high five. "Way to go Belly Button! That was awesome!"
"Hey! I am awesome! I can take you!" She growled playfully into the phone, giving her best vampire impression, and more laughter ensued. "Name the time and the place and we'll throw down. I can take you."
"You're on little sister! You're on!" Emmett was almost laughing too hard to answer.
After the noise died down, Bella closed her eyes and groaned. "This room spins, I think. Is it spinning?"
"No, sweetheart," Carlisle said, "It's the alcohol. Try to stay still. Do you have any water with you?"
Bella shuffled around the Newton's pantry until she found a case of bottled water. Pulling one out, she cracked the lid and took a sip. "Ya, I got it."
"Good, try to drink it all. It will help flush the alcohol out of your system."
She took another sip and, replacing the cap, set the bottle next to her. "Hey, is Rosalie there?"
"Yes, Bella. Where else would I be?" Her irritated voice came through the speaker.
"I...I love you like a sister. I...we never really, you know, got a chance to talk. I'm sorry I made you move."
Rose's face iced over, refusing to reveal the emotions underneath. She didn't say anything, unable, or unwilling, to give the kind of retort she wanted to given Bella's inebriated state. Shaking her head, she walked out of the room.
"Rosalie? Are you there?"
"She walked out for a moment, Bella," Carlisle said.
"Oh. Sorry." Bella took a few ragged breaths and stared at the ceiling. The phone drifted away from her ear and ended up leaning against her shoulder. She was so tired, but her stomach rolled, again, and she moaned.
This was such a stupid idea, she thought. Too late, though. It was too late for a lot of things. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she couldn't stop the small streams that escaped. She sniffled and wiped her nose with her sweater.
Voices seemed to be talking all around her, so she tried to answer. "Hello?"
"Bella. Are you still there?" When she realized it was coming from the phone, she placed it against her ear again and heard several people calling her name.
"Geez, I'm here. Don't shout." They laughed, but she didn't. "Jasper?"
"I'm here, Bella." He hung his head and waited for her rejection or anger. He knew both were well deserved.
Instead, Bella began to cry softly, "Jasper, I need you. Can you come get me?"
Jasper's head snapped up, but even with the relief he felt, his heart broke at the feeble tone of her voice. "I can't do that, Bella. I'm sorry."
"Are you mad at me...for my birthday? I'm sorry! I'm such a fu...freakin klutz! Don't hate me! Please!" She began to unravel into begs and pleas.
"Shh, Bella. I don't hate you. I could never hate you. And I can't come get you because, well hun, you're a bit far away at the moment."
"Oh." She sat silently, realizing they weren't down the road. They were gone. Pain shot through her heart, and she pleaded, "I love you, Jasper. I'm so, so sorry. Please forgive me. Please come back."
He walked closer to the phone, leaning over and reaching out his hand as if he could soothe her. "Oh, Bella. You did nothing wrong, nothing at all. Don't do this to yourself."
She shook her head, placing her hand on her forehead. "I did! I did do something wrong or you guys wouldn't have left me! I...it's so hard here, by myself. I..."
She couldn't finish her sentence. Esme walked up and gently wrapped her arm around a suffering Jasper. "Oh Bella, darling, you were perfect, just the way you were supposed to be. We love you and miss you too. Don't cry."
"Esme? Oh, Esme! I...I..." and then Bella lost control and sobs wracked her body. "He doesn't love me! He...he...I can't, I can't do this. Every night, I...Charlie, he thinks I'm sick, and he watches me...all the time. He's waiting, waiting for me to crack up. And I try so hard, so hard for him, but I can't...I don't know how to..."
She laid the phone at her side as she clutched her knees close, holding in the pain that burned through her chest. They were calling her name. She could hear them, all of them, but she didn't have the strength anymore. Why had she called? Why had she ever thought this was a good idea?
Then something dawned on her. She picked up the phone slowly, praying she was wrong. "Is he there? Please, tell me he's not."
Silence followed. For minutes, no one spoke; Bella held her breath. There was shuffling and whispers, but then, just nothing. Without warning, a long broken sob pierced the silence.
"I'm here, Bella."
And then her whole world broke apart.
The phone dropped from her hands and clattered onto the pantry floor, skidding across the linoleum. She screamed and gasped for breath as her heart thundered loud in her chest. Footsteps rumbled down the stairs, getting louder, and then the door to the pantry flung open.
"Bella?" Mr. Newton exclaimed. "Bella, honey, what are you doing in here? Are you alright? What's wrong?"
She couldn't stop gasping, and her whole body shook as his voice reverberated through her mind. She looked up at Mr. Newton and found the same look Charlie gave her every time he woke her up from another nightmare. He had squatted down and talking to her, obviously, because his lips were moving, but Bella heard nothing.
Sweat broke out on her forehead and her whole body went clammy. A light-headed feeling swept over her, and she swallowed profusely. But as soon as she moved the slightest bit, bile rose in her throat, and she leaned towards Mr. Newton and vomited at his feet.
"Oh damnit, Bella. Karen! Some help, please?" he yelled.
It took them both to lift her small, frail frame up off the floor. She was dead weight. Mrs. Newton took her to the bathroom, wiped her face and hands, and helped her change into a pair of Mike's boxers and a t-shirt. Mrs. Newton brushed her hair, had her brush her teeth, and then put her in the guest room. Bella cried the whole time.
As Mrs. Newton rounded the corner, she could hear her husband on the phone with someone.
"Yes, that's right. No, we don't. No, absolutely not! Now you look here, Carlisle. Yes. Yes, okay? We'll keep an eye on her. Of course I'm going to 'inform' Charlie. No, that's not necessary, I'll call him myself. Mmhm, sure. I'll tell her. Goodnight to you too." He flipped the cell phone shut, obviously irritated.
"Who was that?" she asked.
"Aw, Bella was talking to the Cullens on her cell phone. Carlisle is beyond pissed. We'll talk about it in the morning, Karen. I gotta call Charlie." With that, he walked out into the living room to disperse the rest of the kids.
Mrs. Newton had the pantry cleaned up just in time to hear Bella scream in her sleep.