"Like the angel you are,
You laugh, creating a lightness in my chest.
Your eyes, they penetrate me
(Now that is too amazing)
That's when I got up and left."
- Like The Angel, Rise Against
CHAPTER 1 – LIKE THE ANGEL
The summer grass rolled in waves with the wind. Brilliant dark green that shone as the sun hit the stalks of thin sweet-smelling greenery. The drifting pollen from the flowery shrubbery dusted my arms like talc. Half dreaming, half thinking, listening to the high, sweet song of a robin perched upon a branch of an ash tree where I lay. If I open my eyes, I can probably see the tiny brown shadow with a splash of orange on its feathered breast. It will be suspended like a paper origami from some invisible string, so high it appears to be flying toward the sun, a small being full of songs solely engaged in expressing its joy in its simple life.
Such is the simple life of living in Forks.
Jake's ears perked up. He burst forth and ran suddenly from his curled position near my bare feet, barking furiously; his predominantly dark eyes bright, his soft brown fur standing on its ends as something caught his attention.
A lazy smile curled my lips. Probably a rabbit. Jake, a five-year-old brown lab is always chasing something or someone. But he's harmless. He has been my companion since I was twelve years old; a birthday gift from dear old Dad.
He kept barking behind the hedges that hid me from pedestrian and traffic, which was barely existent in these parts of Forks. That's the reason why Charlie moved us from Seattle to this tiny town of three thousand people. But out here, back, back…waaaay back in the woods, we'd be lucky if there were at least a couple of cars that passed by in a day.
Maybe it was the fierce howling of the wind, but there was something different that accompanied the familiar sounds of the meadow. I squinted my right eye and tried to make out Jake's form. His tail wagged in excitement as half of his body burrowed inside the low hedges.
Then I heard it. The racing throb of a car engine breaking the warm symphony of nature, careening in a devil of a speed that was probably way pass the limit in all of continental United States. A car engine was the last sound I expected to hear down here. Lily Hill was unsuitable for cars—the steep sides and rough gravel road made it dangerous for them, and a sign at the top of the hill, where the narrow lane turned off, made that clear to motorists.
I stand up shakily on my sleeping legs, shrugging the pins and needles off. The car was coming too fast. Jake was standing at bay, barking with snapping jaws. I run toward the hedges, my heart speeding at an alarming rate. And as I broke through the shrubbery, a car sweeps past us.
I got a brief glimpse of the shiny, black paintwork, wide tires that did not belong anywhere but at an autobahn…or a classic car garage for that matter. It's a vintage car with tinted windows and shiny body.
I was hypnotized for a millisecond when the crash came with a splintering, scratching, splitting sound of glass, metal and wood on impact.
I was through the hedges, ignoring the bare branches that scratched my legs and started running, unconscious of my bare feet on the rough surface of the graveled road. My tumbled waist length auburn hair flew in every direction from my shoulders as I exasperatingly try and keep them off my face. Something tells me to run faster so I pushed my legs harder, closer to the smoking car.
I breathed a sigh of relief that the car was a convertible; otherwise, I don't think I'd be able to help the driver. The car idled low and eventually sputtered to its quiet demise. There was some hissing sound coming from its hood and smoke from its grills.
The dark head of the driver lay forward on the steering wheel, his shoulders slumped. I jumped on to the passenger seat and gently lifted his head. His forehead was creased in a frown, his cheek was cut and bleeding, but as I touched him, his lids drew back and he looked at me with glazed eyes. He blinked and an odd smile curved the corners of his hard mouth. He was perfection personified.
"Perfect…a dark haired angel," he murmured. "I should've known."
After a brief second or two of surprise, I laughed. "If I help you, can you walk? I know I'm not supposed to move you but I think we should get you out of the car as soon as possible." The hissing sound seemed louder as I picture flames licking and engulfing the both of us alive.
His eyes were slowly clearing, the sunshine giving them a bright silvery sheen. Green. Like the pale leaves of spring. "You mean, I'm alive?" he said, half questioning his sanity.
"Yeah," I nodded. "But there's a terrible smell of gas around here. I really think you should come out of your car."
"Do you have a cell phone?" he asked unsteadily.
"I'm sorry, I don't. My father, Charlie, is not a big fan of technology… so yeah, no cell phones." I added almost out of breath.
I reached across from him, unbuckling his seat belt and froze when his hand started stroking my arm. I swallowed noisily and ignore the sudden surge of warmth that would soon manifest through my face in a furious blush.
"Uhm…if I pull, can you hoist yourself out?" I looked up to find that our faces were merely inches off each other; that if I moved or if he moved, our lips would touch and we would kiss. I cleared my throat and pulled away from him. He smelled nice, sweet and musky.
"Hang on," he said, sitting up with a wince. "Come around and see if you can open my door."
The car sideswiped a tree, his door crushed against the trunk.
"I don't think so. Your door is pretty well damaged, it's not going to budge unless I use the jaws of life, which well, what does a seventeen year old girl be doing lugging around a piece of machinery like that?" I stammered nervously.
"Seventeen…" he said under his breath. He sounded—regretful?
He was probably suffering from a concussed head judging by the confused crease of his brows.
Ignoring the weird feeling in my stomach, I slid an arm around his waist and started pulling him to the passenger side. A few painful moans and grunts later, he sat on the leather seat with his feet planted flat on the gravel road.
I chewed on my lip nervously. The longer we stay out here with his injuries unattended, I worried that he was going to get worse.
"I really think we should go." I told him with more gusto that I intended.
"Stand still and I'll try to get up under my own strength." He stood up shakily while I moved slightly aside, ready to catch him if he showed signs of falling.
He had a tall, lean body, casually dressed in pressed khaki pants and a black golf shirt. He looked fit and strong and older—much, much older than me. He moved with the pain clear on his face but he was trying. A couple of steps later, he swayed and I quickly moved close beside him, my arm slipping around his waist.
"Lean on me," I commanded.
He obeyed, the weight of his long frame sagged against me. He was six foot two of pure muscle. He was hard and strong everywhere. I guided him slowly along the road toward our house.
Jake eventually stopped barking and was watching us, his eyes curious. The house was at least a few yards still and he was really having a hard time keeping his body upright.
Sweat was breaking upon my face, and I can only imagine the sores I will have as pebble upon pebble dug deep on my feet. I tried not to show it after all, he was in much more pain than I was.
"I've got to sit down," he said through gritted teeth. Sucking in air in between his tight lips, his hands clenched into fists as waves of pain wracked his bruised body.
I helped him down on to the long grass, his back against the thick, burgeoning green hedge. He closed his eyes, slumping a little. His face was ashen and bruises as well as cuts are now much more visible on his hard-boned cheeks. I studied him curiously, and wondered what he was doing around here. He was a total stranger to me. I would've remembered if I'd ever seen his strikingly handsome face. He was not a man whom one would ever forget—a face that stands out in the crowd, the strongly modeled features reflected energy, power and the will to win. There was harshness in those eyes, sad and angry and somehow full of regrets. He was pale, not sickly pale but it was just the natural pallor of his skin. He has a sharp jaw, red lips, strong masculine nose and his bright green eyes made me think of budding spring leaves again.
Charlie would find him an interesting study.
I had inherited that much from my father, anyway—a fascination with faces. They crowded into my father's canvases, surprising one, because his passion for lonely places, which had brought them long ago to this town, seemed to rule out the love for human race. We used to live in Seattle; busy, bustling, well populated. My Dad had a condo on Beach Drive. It was perfect for an artist like him. He could conjure up inspiration simply by looking out the floor to ceiling windows that surrounded the house. Everywhere you look there was a spectacular view of the mountains and the of course the beach. But then he got tired of it. He got tired of being around people. He sold the condo and found this odd, old cottage in the fringes of Forks, several hours away from the city of Seattle. That was five years ago.
He painted loneliness quite beautifully. His art would sometimes reduce me to tears. He hasn't been the same since my mother Renee died in a car accident. I was six years old then. She hit another car head on, and I always think that she must've been drinking that night but I can't gather enough courage to ask Charlie. The pain in his eyes was always visible, kind of like the pain on this stranger's face. Tangible.
Charlie Swan is a brilliant artist. He had no time for softness, tenderness, and delicacy. His sketchbooks were crammed with faces from long ago when he and my mother had wandered around Europe. The dark Latin faces, the lined ones of Greek merchants that bore the deep marks of experience and suffering, hardship and resignation and it were these faces, which he transferred to his strange canvases. Never happy faces.
He had never painted me though.
Suddenly the lids flicked back from those green eyes and he looked at me sharply. Realizations were back in his face.
"How do you feel now?" I asked him gently.
"Fucking awful," he said, but there was a faint grin on his face. I think he was trying to shock me with his curse word. Being mostly alone with a person who has limited his dialogues to perfunctory greetings and civility, and not being exposed that much to society, the word, fuck was almost sacrilege.
His small grin widened to a full smile.
"Where the hell am I? I turned off the road somewhere. I thought this road led to Churchill, but my brakes failed as I came down that bastard of a hill and I was helpless to stop my car from crashing."
"You must have missed the sign," I stated slowly. "Lily Hill isn't suitable for cars."
"I jus realized that, actually." He looked around at the warm, sunny meadow. "I supposed it's too much to expect there to be an auto shop anywhere around here?"
"In town," I said.
"How far is that?"
"About five miles."
He groaned. "Is there a phone around here?"
I smiled at the thought. The phone that Charlie has in the house was an old, rotary thing. It rarely rang. The only person that calls us was his agent and that's rare. He only calls when Charlie has an exhibition. He always made sure that all transactions were done even before he leaves the show. He doesn't like unnecessary noises. Phones, televisions, computers, all are banned from his house.
"We have one up at the house."
There was a strange silence while he regarded me, a wry look on his face.
"What were you doing here? Do you live in this paradise?"
I nodded and hid the smile at the word paradise. "I'll take you to the auto shop when you've rested. You really should sit still for a moment and be quiet."
He stared into my face fixedly. "Shouldn't you be at school?"
"I graduated high school last year," I told him. "I'm a bit of a geek and the Forks High authorities thought that I'm way too advanced so, I got my diploma and decided to take a year off—I'm not sure what to do about College. Charlie doesn't really want me to leave him and there's only a Community College here…it's in Port Angeles, which is still a two, three hour drive, and I don't have my license and he doesn't want me driving—" I took a deep breath and realized that I probably bored him to death. Words just came out of my mouth freely and awkwardly.
My cheeks colored as soon as I realized he was staring at me.
"You really shouldn't be talking…are you in state of shock?"
The green eyes glinted. "For an angel, you're very bossy," he said teasingly.
"That's the trouble with angels," I said quite seriously. "They're always right and we don't make mistakes."
"Not true," he said. "Lucifer was once an angel. He was God's right hand. But on the day of Creation, he rebelled against God because He wanted to make the human race in His likeness. Lucifer argued and begged God not to do so but God wanted to populate the Earth with people. So He created Adam and Eve and let them roam paradise freely. They could do anything they want, eat anything they want except for that apple. Lucifer had powers, you see, and decided to tempt Eve with the Forbidden Fruit. We all know what happened to the cursed apple. God found out what he did and vanished him to Earth. Do you know what his first mistake was?"
I shook my head.
"He was jealous," he said while he intently stared at my face. "He thought that just because God created the humans, he would no longer be loved. I think Lucifer still roams the Earth in some form or another," his green eyes shone in mischief. "He's waiting…just waiting," he added with a dangerous tone.
"Are you trying to scare me?" I asked him.
"Aren't you?" the mocking amusement in his face grew.
"I don't believe in God. I'm an eternal atheist. I believe in what I can see and what I can feel."
"Literal child, aren't you?"
"Realist is more like it. I do believe in angels though. I have to. I was an abandoned baby and grew up in an Italian convent. I was five years old when my father and mother found me."
His brows rose sharply. "An Italian convent? I should've known. That other-world look had to come from somewhere." His eyes ran slowly down over my white t-shirt, cut off jeans shorts and bare feet, my long tousled hair, the slightly sun kissed skin which bore no cosmetics, my mouth and clear, straight golden-brown eyes.
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen," I said and smiled meekly. "Eighteen in six weeks."
"And you look years younger," he told me, watching with a curious expression.
I smiled at him cheerfully, showing no sign of pique. "Charlie would like me to stay twelve all my life," I said, "Every time he sees me he groans, like I was literally aging in his very eyes."
"Charlie?" His eyes narrowed. "Who's Charlie?" He must really be out of it. I've mentioned his name so many times.
"My father," I said matter-of-factly, then gave him a scolding glance. "You really should be quiet for a while. You're very pale and you've had a shock."
He leaned back, his eyes closing. "You're right," he muttered. "My head hurts."
"Don't fall asleep, okay?" I asked him.
For a while, there was just silence. I contemplated on his fictional Lucifer story and found it interesting. He was wrong though. I'm not literal. But maybe there's some truth in his fable. I dissected and came to my own conclusion. I believe that Lucifer is the dark side in every one of us. If God sent his angels to watch over his children, then He also sent Lucifer to balance the good and evil. Otherwise, my biological parents would've never left me at the convent's doorsteps; accidents like what took my Mom away would've never happened. She would've never drunk too much that night and drove herself to her own demise. Charlie would actually act like a father and not an acquaintance. He would tell me to pursue my dreams and never take anything for granted. I believe that God is always testing the human race. I believe that God has an ego the size of the universe; always making sure that His children loved no one but Him. If I sounded like a bitter child, well, that's probably because I am. I know there are worst things in the world but I am selfish enough to care only about Charlie and myself. And that's what I meant when I said I am a realist. But I'm not evil. I don't go out and purposely hurt people. I, unknowingly, obey what God wants according to the Bible. I may not be a practicing believer but I still know the difference between good and evil. All these knowledge came from being raised by nuns and a little bit from human decency. I still know all the prayers and some hymns still lingered in the niches of my brain but I really can't admit to have the belief.
Sometimes, I could almost believe in my own convictions.
I picked up a stem of grass and chewed it reflectively, watching him. The sun poured down on him in golden splendor. The hot scent of the grass rose up in waves to my nostrils. A bee fumbled irritably among the dandelions; flitting from one to the next. Jake stalked it and I whistled under my breath, calling him to crouch beside me.
I lay down beside the man, using Jake's belly as a pillow. I closed my eyes, the languor of the unseasonably warm fall afternoon seeped through my senses and let the warmth enveloped me.
"Are you asleep?" asked the masculine voice with which I was already oddly familiar.
I opened my eyes and smiled directly at him.
"Just enjoying the day," I said frankly. "Are you feeling up to walking to the house yet?"
"Where is it?" he asked.
I pointed behind to his right to a belt of firs that partially hid our house. "Behind those trees. Can you manage the walk?"
"Yes," he agreed, standing up carefully. I moved close to him, my arm going around his waist, using my own body as a crutch for him.
"Lean on me," I offered for the second time.
He laughed; the sound vibrated right through my sides where our bodies were in contact.
"I could snap you in half with a finger and thumb," he said in amusement.
I grinned up at him, my head on even keel with his chin. "Try it," I said. "Jake would have you for breakfast."
He smiled crookedly. "Vicious, is he?" He looked at the brown lab who grinned amicably back at him. "Is he your bodyguard?"
"I've never needed one," I said. "But if necessary, he would be delighted…he likes biting people, especially ones that hurt me."
The stranger began to laugh. "You're an odd couple," he said. "Come on, take me to your father. I'm scared to think what he's like."
I guided him across the meadow, taking my time to ease the walk for him. "You're sure you're not hurt anywhere? No broken bones?"
"Just bruises," he said, wincing. "And a general reluctance to move a muscle."
We reached the trees and moved through the white picket fence. The old cottage stood facing us, the roof and the stonewalls were lined with green lichen. It stood stubbornly against the onslaught of high winds, weather and time. The cottage was built of stone, thick beams and paned glass windows with black shutters. It was a cottage much like in fairy tales. It had three bedrooms, a bathroom and an addition to the back of it for Charlie's studio. The studio was bigger than the house itself.
There was no sign of life around it. A few crows sat in the elm tree at the end of the garden, watching us approach, flapping away at the last moment, screeching at Jake who ran raucously and chased them.
"I'm afraid Charlie is sequestered," I said apologetically. "He can't be disturbed while he's painting."
The handsome stranger looked down at me, frowning. "Are you two alone here?"
"Yes," I said, opening the front door and leading him into the house. "Come into the living room and lie down. I'll clean your cuts and find some antiseptic while the kettle is boiling. A cup of tea should make you feel better."
"A Scotch would be preferable," he said.
I smiled. "We don't keep liquor or any spirits in the house…you shouldn't drink them, anyway."
He sat on the long dark brown couch, looking at me drily. "You're too young to be drinking, but what about your father?"
"Well, he doesn't drink." I wanted to add that alcohol killed my mother but I don't really know this person sitting on our couch. I simply walked away, his eyes burrowing a hole on my back.
"You left your shoes out in the meadow," he said, staring down on my dainty feet, reminding me of the sores from stepping on the pebbles. It stung and I wouldn't be surprised if I was tracking blood all over the floor.
"I wasn't wearing any," I said calmly before disappearing in the kitchen.
I turned the faucet on while I search for a washbowl.
I came back to the living room with an awful orange salad bowl with hot water and some clean washcloths. I knelt down beside the couch and asked him to bend down.
Obediently he bent his head down and I gently cleaned his cuts with warm water, drying them very carefully. I took his big strong hands in my own and washed them too. I don't know why. His hands didn't get dirty from the accident. I washed it, fascinated at how easily it could hide mine. He watched me intently without expression; his eyes hidden beneath his long lashes.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Isabella Swan," I said without looking up.
"Swan! and your father is an artist? You're Charlie Swan's daughter?" he exclaimed.
"Yeah. I told you that earlier," I said haughtily.
"I know his work," he said. "Brilliant but disturbing. A grief on canvas."
I looked up at him unsmiling, "Yes," I agreed.
He watched me again as I continued to wash his hands. "Has he ever painted you?"
I laughed bitterly. "No. I don't inspire him." And then we were quiet. The only sound you can hear was the water lapping at the bowl. His breaths and mine; Jake panting furiously.
I could feel his stare, intense and deep.
"He must be blind," he said after what seems like forever.