Cowboys and Candlesticks

Chapter One:

I looked in the mirror, putting on the last minute touches of the "smokey eye" look that Amanda had taught me. Tonight, tonight was the night I was going to take the next step in reclaiming my life. Sure, I probably should have studied for my exam in American history, but Riley Biers asked me out, and I would have normally said no . . . but I didn't.

It didn't seem right, but it didn't seem wrong. For the first time since Edward left, I didn't feel any guilt by going out with anyone else. It was liberating. My life was no longer controlled by the memories of the past, and damn, it felt good.

I was finally taking that next step. It is what I wanted, and is what Edward had wanted.

I checked myself in the mirror, trying to decide if the outfit I had chosen would be fine for a nice night out. Riley hadn't given me much to go on with how to dress, so I had to improvise. I settled on a white chiffon tiered cami paired with a dark purple three quarter length sleeve cardigan with my Lucky Brand jeans. I put on the finishing touches with a pair of cowboy boots and a chunky belt. Gifts from my mother when she was going through one of her phases - country chic - and it looked great with the outfit. It was the first time that I had worn them in the five years since I owned it.

I was fashionable, yet comfortable.

Alice would be proud. Well maybe. My pixie best friend was always the fashion plate of Forks. In the year that we hung out, I never saw her wear anything other than the most fashionable footwear - cowboy boots were never on her feet. Out of all the Cullens, I would imagine either Emmett or Jasper wearing the cowboy boots.

Alice.

I had tried to block her and the rest of the Cullens from my mind when they abruptly left me after my birthday a year ago. I couldn't, with all my attempts I just couldn't forget them. I missed Carlisle gentleness, I missed Esme's talks with me in the kitchen. Emmett was the brother that always joked, Rose was a bitch, but there was one in every family. Jasper, I didn't spend any time with him, sans the Phoenix incident, but I missed his quiet strength. I could tell that he was the strongest of the coven. Alice, I missed her terribly, she was my best friend . . . a sister that I had never known that I had wanted. I knew deep down that there was a good reason that she had never contacted me, but that shit still hurt. And of course, I missed Edward, but didn't mourn the loss of our relationship. I missed the guy that would take me on hikes and talk with me for hours.

I closed my eyes, blinking away the tears that threatened to fall. It had taken me a little bit to get ready for this date, and there was no way I was going to let some tears ruin my "smokey eyes."

Don't go there. You are making steps toward the rest of your life. They aren't a part of your life anymore.

I heard my therapist in my head telling me that I couldn't let Edward steal anymore of my future and that I gave him too much power. I realize now, a year later, that I would always love Edward because he was my first love, but how many people actually stay in love with their first loves? It was time to grow up and to start a healthy relationship.

I didn't know if Riley was the right person for me either, but I was at least going to try.

My therapist would surely give me a gold star for this.

I gave myself one last glance, making sure that my little trip down memory lane didn't ruin any of my efforts. Luckily, it hadn't and I looked great, if I may say so myself.

A knock on the door brought my out of my reverie.

I walked over and opened it, not bothering to look out the peephole.

"Hi Riley," I greeted him. "Come in."

He handed me a bouquet of white roses. Not my style, but it was the thought that counts. My mother and I spent a year in South Carolina where magnolia trees and azaleas where prominent. Magnolia's were my favorite, and hard to find this far north this time of year.

I met Riley at the start of the spring semester last year. He was in the program for graphic design, and I needed an art class to fulfill one of my stupid electives. We were paired up in photography together, and he had been asking me out since day one. I finally relented.

"Bella, you should really check through the peephole. I could have been any old person. You don't know about the dangers out there."

I scoffed, covering it up with a cough.

I know more than you think buddy.

I smiled, appeasing him. "I didn't think. I was expecting you, so I just didn't bother to check. I guess I really have no sense of self preservation."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything . . ."

"No, it's sweet of you to worry," I reassured him. "Am I dressed okay, I didn't know what we were doing, so I didn't know how to dress."

"You look beautiful, you always look beautiful," Riley said, causing a blush to appear on my cheeks. "We are going to Shane's Southern Bistro for dinner and then I thought we would hit up Flannigan's for karaoke night. The rest of the film crew is going to be there, Amanda, Ben, Ben's girlfriend, Aiden and Lilli."

"Awesome." I wondered if Ben was still with Angela, or if they hadn't made it through the summer. High school romance is fickle like that. I wonder if Edward will still have been with me with all the changes I made to myself. Sure, outwardly I still looked the same, but I was no longer me. I was stronger with opinions I wanted to be heard. No longer the little high school girl with stars in her eyes.

"They are great. We still have a little time, why don't you put the flowers in water, and then we can get going."

I smiled, walking into the kitchen.

My two bedroom apartment was small, and I barely made the rent every month, but it was home. I met Amanda during the first semester I was here. She was in the same photography class as Riley and me. Amanda was a force to be reckoned with, with wild curly brown hair that wasn't tamable on a six foot tall frame. She looked intimidating, but had a heart of gold on her.

Amanda's roommate was leaving and she was looking for a replacement, so it was perfect. Far enough from Forks to start over - close enough to get back if anything ever happened to Charlie.

I was arranging the flowers when a flashbulb distracted me. I cut myself on a thorn, and immediately felt the pain from the prick.

"Shit Bella . . ."

I stared in shock at the little red dot on my finger. Of course I would give myself a cut today, exactly a freaking year later.

"Sorry Riley," I apologized as I grabbed a paper towel, trying to stop the bleeding. The thorn had actually gone in pretty deep, and it wasn't letting up.

"What are you apologizing for?"

"Bleeding?" I answered.

Riley chuckled. "Silly girl, you prick yourself you are going to bleed. I'm not a vampire, I'm not going to suck your blood." He laughed, searching my cabinets for a band-aid. He bandaged up my finger and kissed the tip.

The whole time, I was silent, replaying the scenes from last year in my head. Jasper running toward me . . . Emmett restraining him . . . Edward flinging me against the glass table.

"You were a million miles away."

"Lost in memories of another time," I told him honestly. "But, it's time to live in the present. Why don't we head over to Shane's. I heard some people talking about it on campus, and I heard it was really good."


Shane's Southern Bistro was great. Riley ordered Creole Cioppino, and I ordered the pecan encrusted mahi mahi with fried green tomatoes. Not something I would expect in Port Angeles, but it the food was good nonetheless. It was nestled in the pier district of Port Angeles, which was convenient walk to Flannigans.

So soon after dinner, I found myself walking down a familiar alley to get to Flannigans. My memory yet again was flooded with visions of my first love and a silver Volvo. Surprisingly, I didn't feel a stab of pain, which was so often felt with these trips down memory lane . . . only fondness for a boy I once loved.

I finally moved on.

I was giddy at the prospect.

We walked into Flannigans, and even though I wasn't old enough to drink, I was old enough to get in. The plan was for Amanda and Riley to order my drinks at the bar for me. I walked in the bar and got stamped as underage, but promptly washed it off with the rest of the underagers in the bar.

"Bella, what do you want to drink?"

"I'll take a One Night Stand," I told Riley, sliding in next to Amanda. Angela and Ben were also there. There was also a beautiful couple, whom I could only assume was Aiden and Lilli.

Riley coughed, raising his eyebrow. We both knew that I wasn't that type of girl to put out on the first date, but still, giving off the innuendo was fun.

"Bella!"

"Angela!" I leaned over and hugged my friend. Her and Ben were the only ones who kept in contact with me after I dropped out and earned my GED in lieu of finishing up the traditional way. I had already learned most of the curriculum in Phoenix, but was making Charlie happy by going to school there.

"You are looking awesome Bella. I must say I love the boots and belt," Angela said enthusiastically.

"Mom," was all I had to say. She knew of my mother's weird gifts and what not. I pulled out my camera and handed it to Ben, who shot a picture of me and Ange. He then handed the camera to Angela, who studied the picture.

"It'll work." She accidentally hit the scroll button and found the picture that Riley had taken earlier. "Wow Bella, that is really good. You look great in that picture."

"Thanks. Riley snapped it, and then I promptly cut my finger on a thorn." I held out my thumb and stuck out my bottom lip. "It actually still throbs a little."

"You always somehow hurt yourself on your birthday . . ." Ben blurted out.

"It's your birthday?" Riley and Amanda screeched.

I shot Ben a dirty look. "Yeah, the big 1-9 today. Not that big of a deal."

"You so have to sing for your birthday . . ."

"Maybe, Riley, but I have to get some liquid courage in me first." I sighed, downing my drink. Amanda passed me a beer out of her bucket, and I took a sip.

I heard my name being called for the next in line to sing. I shot Amanda a dirty look and sauntered up on stage.

I picked my song, and took a deep breath.

"This one goes out to everyone reclaiming their life!" I screamed into the mike. Gathering my courage, I started to sing.

This ain't a song for the brokenhearted
No silent prayer for the faith departed
And I ain't gonna be just a face in the crowd
You're gonna hear my voice when I shout it out loud

It's my life
It's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just wanna live while I'm alive

I looked out in the crowd and continued singing. I scanned the faces of the crowd as I jumped and sang. Surprisingly I didn't fall flat on my face. I always had a decent singing voice, and could hold my own, so I just let loose.

The song ended sooner than I had anticipated and I stumbled off the stage, losing the grace I had acquired while I was performing.

I was bracing myself for the fall, when I felt two cold, marble arms stop my fall.

"Awesome song Bells, a little appropriate, don't you think?"

"Emmett, Carlisle?" Their names came out more like a squeak. Never in a million years. "What . . . Where . . . Emmett, Carlisle?" I quirked my eyebrow, searching their faces for a reason why they would be in Flannigans of all places. They definitely weren't out to get drunk like the rest of the crowd. Carlisle released his hold on my arms, and I realized just how much I actually missed all of them.

"Bella," Emmett started to speak, his normally loud, boisterous tone gone, replaced with one of worry. This immediately caught my attention. "We know you have every reason to hate us. . ."

Before he could even finish that thought, I launched myself into Emmett's arms and hugged him, squeezing him as much as I could. I knew it wouldn't make a dent, but I had to do something.

"I could never hate you guys. I love you all. I was just really hurt that none of you said goodbye, it was like abandonment."

"I know Sweetheart, and I'm sorry." Carlisle's grave voice cut through the crowd. "Happy birthday by the way."

"Did you make it through a year without damaging yourself?" Emmett laughed. There was the Emmett I knew and loved.

"Kinda. I broke my arm going cliff diving with the boys at La Push . . ."

Emmett growled. "Boys, werewolves, same difference . . ."

"Anyway," I glared at Emmett. I knew all about the legends, and yes, the boys were werewolves, but hey I dated a vampire, didn't I? "And I cut myself on a thorn today, so if you are affected, hold your breath, because Lord knows I don't need to be attacked again today. Let's not make that a birthday tradition." I showed them my bandaged finger. It was no longer actively bleeding, but who knows.

Carlisle's eyes darkened at the mention of my birthday last year.

"Bella, I can't even begin to apologize for last year."

"Then don't. You all have nothing to apologize for. All you did was throw a birthday party for someone," I replied. "It wasn't Jasper's fault, and Edward left me because he was trying to do the right thing, as messed up as it was. I'm not going to pretend it was easy to get over, because it wasn't. But I'm at a good point right now."

"Carlisle, we shouldn't have come . . ."

"I know that now Emmett. I'm sorry for barging in on your festivities with your friends," Carlisle told me.

I snapped. "No you don't. You don't get to do that again. Tell me, what is going on? I know there is something going on. Where are Esme and Rosalie?"

"Is there someplace quiet we can talk?" Carlisle asked.

"Yeah sure."

Riley was surprisingly understanding when I said I had to leave with Carlisle and Emmett, and would call me in the morning. I opened up the coffee shop where I worked, and ushered Carlisle and Emmett in. I took a seat on the sofa, waiting for them to speak.

After a couple of minutes, I started getting antsy. "Look, I know you guys are arguing in your vampire speak, but could you tell me what brought you back? And where the heck is everyone? Are they okay? Did the Volturi . . ."

Oh God, what if the Volturi hurt them? Edward had told me about their laws, what if someone had told the Volturi that I had found out their secret and they let me live?

"Bella, breathe," Carlisle commanded.

I took a deep breath. "Just tell me Carlisle."

"We need your help. We have no right asking for it, especially in light of some situations that have arisen, but there really is no other way," Carlisle said, sitting next to me on the couch. He sighed dramatically, running his fingers through his hair.

"I'll do anything I can . . ."

Emmett sighed. "We shouldn't be sucking you into our world again, but it's a necessity. Jasper is sick."

"What? How does that happen? You guys are supposed to be invincible."

"We honestly don't know. I called in as many favors as I could to figure out what is wrong with my son, but I can't figure it out," Carlisle said in anguish. "I called Aro for help, but because of Jasper's past, he wouldn't give it to me."

"Esme, Rosalie, Alice, and Edward are with him now."

"What's going on with him?"

"His power went haywire," Carlisle said. "He is going insane with absorbing everyone's emotions and he has no way of letting them out. Jasper has had periods were he is not able to even speak, which are becoming more and more frequent, and feeds from animal blood that we bring him. He can't even hunt on his own anymore."

Emmett sat with his head buried in his hands. "I miss my brother Bells. Since we moved to Maine, he has been like this."

I grabbed their hands. "Anything . . . anything I can do to help, I will do." I looked at Carlisle square in the eyes. "You guys are still my family, and I will do everything I can to fix this."

"Are you sure Bella?" Emmett asked. "We left you . . ."

"That's all in the past now. You need my help, and I am going to give it. Take me to Maine."

AN: I made some changes throughout the chapter. A reviewer Mynxi pointed out some inconsistencies, so I fixed it up a bit. Thanks for that.

Also, some of you have pointed out that this chapter is similar to December Jinx's Time Will Tell. It's a good story, and I liked it, but there are enough differences to where this isn't plagiarism. Thanks for the concern. If the similarities bother you, then don't click for the next chapter.

Anyway, thanks to all the reviewers and readers for the support on this story.

Reviews rock my socks.