AN: I'm baaaaack! LOL For those of you who have followed my previous stories and have noticed my lack of presence in the fandom in recent months, I assure you I have NOT been abducted by aliens nor have I tripped into a wormhole that transported me to some parallel dimension. Life's just been crazy, but in my absence I've cooked up a short little novella for you all. It's already completely written, just needs some editing and polishing, so you can expect fairly quick updates. Please keep in mind that this is a novella - something I've never done before - so to keep things moving toward the end, the chapters are pretty quick paced. I hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. We all know who does, and she's fab.
Have you ever been driving along in your car, taking a shower or cleaning your house while listening to music, and a song comes on that makes you think of someone in your past? Someone you haven't seen, or spoken to since god knows when; it's just been that long that you can't even begin to bother calculating the days, weeks, years even, since you've last heard their voice or saw their friendly face?
I have. It happens often, actually.
Any time I hear "Kiss Me" by the Six Pence None the Richer, I think of Jessica Stanley and the way she'd belt the lyrics at the top of her lungs while we cruised around town in her convertible Volkswagen Rabbit, each and every time she started crushing on some new guy. The memory makes me smile.
If I hear "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" by Will Smith, I crack up thinking of the way Mike Newton used to drop everything and dance any time it came on the radio. He wasn't a stranger to pulling over to the side of the road, cranking up the volume, and letting his freak flag fly right there out in the open where passersby would gawk and laugh as they drove on.
There are songs that make me think of Angela Weber, Tyler Crowley, Emily Young, Lauren Mallory, and Ben Cheney; all some of my very best friends back in my junior high and high school days. There are even some that allow me to remember, somewhat fondly, Jared Miller, Eric Yorkie , and Connor Bradley—boys who at one point or another in grade school I'd crushed on, but in later years had developed a profound repulsion of.
But there's only one song, to this very day, that doesn't bring with it a sense of nostalgic happiness, but rather, the unanswerable question of: What if?
In 1998, K-ci and JoJo topped the charts with "All My Life". Couples all around my high school the following year dropped their former 'couple' songs, and adopted the hit love song as their new one; it was all the rage. I remember thinking it was cute, but couldn't understand the hype of it...
That was, until the boy I'd been crushing on for practically my entire life—my best friend, and neighbor, Jacob Black—left a recorded tape of the song on my doorstep, along with a dozen beautiful roses and a note that detailed how long he'd been in love with me, but was afraid I'd stop being his best friend if I didn't feel the same. He'd left it for me... me, Isabella Marie Swan who had lived next door to him our entire lives, had run around with him wearing nothing but pampers when we were toddlers, eaten dirt at age seven in a fit of rebellion because he'd dared me to and called me a chicken because I was afraid I'd get sick, cried on his shoulder at age ten when my parents got divorced and my mom moved to Phoenix—and again three years later when some stupid boy broke my heart for the first time, and, embarrassingly enough, had thrown up in his lap the very first time I ever got drunk at a beach party. He knew every one of my deepest, most embarrassing secrets, hell, he'd been in attendance for most of them, and yet, he still loved me enough to want me to be his girl.
To this very day, I wonder what could have been if my life hadn't been turned upside down that very same day.
We'd had a few short months left until school let out for the summer, and it was supposed to be one of the best summers of our lives; the summer before Senior year. I'd been psyched for all the bonfires and beach parties we'd had planned and local concerts we'd wanted to go to.
I never got to experience any of it.
While my best friends, and boyfriend for all of a few short hours, lived life up the way I wished I could have been doing, I'd found myself spending the end of my Junior year and following summer in Phoenix with my father, taking care of my sickly mother. I remember being livid at her in the beginning for the burden she was placing on our shoulders, for walking out on us without ever looking back or having a second thought, and yet, having the audacity to expect us to do what she chose not to—devote ourselves to her. But then, my father came home from the hospital and said words that shattered my entire world.
"Bells... she has cancer, baby."
I spent the entire summer waiting on her hand and foot, bringing her to doctor's appointments and doing what I could to help her when the chemo made her sick to her stomach and too weak to move from the bed on her own. On her better days, I tried to take advantage of every moment I had with her, because I never knew when, or if, it would come to a sudden end.
After I first moved, I kept in contact with everyone nearly every day. I'd lose myself in their happy tales and bits of juicy gossip, allowing myself to escape for minutes, sometimes an hour, at a time. As the months wore on, though, the calls, e-mails, and letters started to become few and far between. The end of my Junior year came and went, as did the following summer, and before I knew it, I was approaching graduation... alone.
At the beginning of my Senior year, my father packed up and went back to Forks. He'd claimed he needed to return to try and sell the house and tie up any loose ends up there before returning, but I knew he wouldn't come back; not to stay, anyway. I could see it in his eyes; watching her slowly dwindle away to near nothing was killing him. It was killing me, too, but she was my mother, and whether or not she'd ever been the best one didn't matter because she was the only one I'd ever have. He'd given me the choice to go with him, but I just couldn't. Deep down, he'd known all along that I wouldn't be able to leave her behind. When he'd gone, I'd never expected him to just never return, but he never did.
The summer after graduation, I heard from my friends only a handful of times. I didn't begrudge them for it; they were busy getting ready to head off to college and start the next chapter in their lives. I thought of them frequently, and wished the best for them, but, admittedly, during some of my weaker moments when things at home were just too much to handle, I wondered if they ever thought about me, too, or if they even gave a damn. There were times when I questioned how strong our friendships truly were, or how genuine Jacob's feelings had been. It was hard not to with how often we'd all told each other we'd be "besties forever" and that, no matter what, we'd always be there for one another. Yet, in the never ending saga of crises my life had become, they were nowhere to be found.
I'd called Jessica once, not long after she'd started college somewhere in California, and she'd told me it wasn't a good time; she had a biology midterm the next day that she was nowhere near prepared for. Meanwhile, I sat in an ICU waiting room, terrified that the next doctor that walked through the doors would be coming to tell me that my mother was no longer alive. Jess didn't have a clue about what it meant to not be prepared for something. I'd had over a year to prepare myself for that moment, and still, I wasn't. I wasn't anywhere near ready to hear those words.
I stopped calling most of them after that. The only one who kept in touch for a while longer was Jacob. It wasn't often, but every once in a while he'd call to see how my mother was doing, how I was doing, but as the following year came to a close, even those few calls had stopped. I hadn't even noticed it at first; the calls came so far apart that they caught me with surprise when they did come. But one night after collapsing in my bed, exhausted from the emotionally trying day of feeding my mother through a tube, cleaning her, and making sure I changed her position in bed frequently so she wouldn't get bed sores, I realized I couldn't even remember what month it had been when I'd last heard his voice. It was then that I finally broke down completely. I was no stranger to crying myself to sleep by that point, but the sobs that had wracked my chest and shook my entire frame that night were something wholly unlike the silent streams that typically led me into slumber—where I could dream of living a different life, one full of friends and fun and a future that I could look forward to.
I was alone; utterly and completely alone. I hadn't made any friends in high school during the last month and a half of my Junior year, or the entirety of my Senior one. I wasn't one of the popular kids like I'd been in Forks. I wasn't one of the "in crowd"; I wasn't even one of the "not-so-in-crowd, in crowds". I was nobody; just a faceless person drifting in a sea of people my own age that were just as unfamiliar to me as I was to them. There were no jokes shared at the lunch table, notes passed in classes, or invites to parties or outings. There was only the occasional "can I borrow a pen?" or "can I copy your notes from yesterday?"
I'd fallen asleep that night wishing that I would never wake up, that I could stay in my dreams for all eternity, but it wasn't granted. It seemed as though none of my prayers during that time were ever answered. In the months that followed, I slipped further and further into a funk of depression. I'd been abandoned, at one point or another, by each and every person in my life that had ever claimed to love me; first my mother, then my father, then all of my friends. It left me routinely questioning my own self worth. What was so wrong with me that everyone in my life could leave me behind without a care in the world? What had I ever done that was so wrong that I didn't deserve to be able to live the life I'd spent my adolescence dreaming of? To find love and happiness, have friends and fun and a career, and maybe one day, even a family of my own?
Sometime during the third year, my father called to tell me he was getting married. I think it was then, during that phone call as I tried to tell him I was happy for him when really all I wanted to do was scream and pray that someone would hear me and save me from the hell my life had become, that I just shut down. I stopped hoping to make new friends, or get back in touch with old ones. I stopped dreaming of one day living the life full of sunshine and rainbows that I'd spent years foolishly believing were in my grasp. And, many, many long months later when they told me that, despite their best efforts, the cancer had spread throughout nearly my mother's entire body, I finally stopped praying they'd be able to cure her, too. I simply wished for, and desired... nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I returned home from the hospital with my mother that night and quietly cried as I sat beside her bed, holding onto her hand that had once been warm and soft but had withered down to nothing more than paper thin skin and brittle bone. She couldn't speak anymore, hadn't been able to for quite some time with how weak she'd become, but every now and then her fingers would twitch, trying to grasp my hand in return and I'd look up into her eyes and see sadness lingering there. Sadness not for herself or the prognosis she'd been given, but for me as she'd mouth the words I'm sorry, and I love you.
The doctors couldn't give us an answer as to how much time she'd have left; it could have been days, weeks, or even months they'd said with how well she was being cared for by me. As I sat there, I realized I had just as few answers for my own life as they had for hers. I didn't know where I'd go, or what I'd do after she passed. There was nothing left for me in Forks, my father had moved on with his new family, and my friends had all moved away from what I knew. Once my mother passed on, there wasn't going to be anything left for me to live for in Phoenix either.
I was twenty-one years old, had no roots to keep me grounded, and no system of support in place to help see me through the darkest of my days as I had done for my mother. Where I'd once been filled with excitement for what my future possibly held, and ambition to see my dreams come to fruition, sitting beside her in her final days, long after those hopes and dreams had vanished, I was filled with nothing but dread and uncertainty for what fate held in store for me.
It was a Tuesday morning in the beginning of May, just three and a half weeks after my mother's final prognosis was given, that I awoke to find she'd passed away in her sleep. It's hard to describe what I'd felt as the county coroner arrived to officially pronounce her as deceased, followed closely behind by the funeral home to take her body away. I was heartbroken that my time with her had come to an end, but part of me was relieved. She'd deteriorated rapidly over the last few weeks, the alertness that had always remained in her eyes fading away as she struggled harder to just breathe. I'd tried to keep her as comfortable as I could, but I just never knew how much pain she was in, or if she was even aware of herself or her surroundings at all. It may seem selfish or cold that I felt that way, but after watching her struggle for so long and feeling helpless to take her pain away, it was a relief to know that she wasn't suffering any longer.
Her funeral had been held the following Friday. There hadn't been a wake, or an overly long graveside service. A minister had said a prayer as my father and I stood solemnly aside. There hadn't been anyone else in attendance; the fact that my father had flown in at all was rather bewildering. I'd fully expected to be standing there alone, as I had been for the last few years. After I said my final goodbyes to her and laid a lone daffodil, her favorite flower, atop her casket, we watched them lower her gently into the ground and then walked away. I was numb inside, nothing more than a hollow shell of the person I'd once been as I shuffled across the neatly manicured grass at my father's side.
"Bells, honey," he'd paused me with a hand on my arm as I reached for my keys in my purse. "Now that you...that your mother..."
My lips pursed and my eyes narrowed as he stumbled over his words in discomfort.
"You want to know what I plan to do now that she's gone? Is that it?" He nodded and seemed to relax, somewhat. "Oh that's rich. Now you're worried about me? Now? After you left me here, a teenager, alone, barely capable of caring for myself much less my dying mother..."
"Isabella, it wasn't easy for me..."
"It wasn't easy for me either!" I screamed, hitting him in the arm with my purse. "You ran away. You moved on and lived your life just like everyone else did knowing I was stuck here all by my goddamn self. Did you ever once consider what any of this has done to me? What affect it's had on my life? I was a kid, Charlie. It should've been yousitting here day in and day out. At the very least, you should have been here with me, but instead you left me here to sacrifice my childhood, my hopes, my dreams, my future, while you went out in search of everything being here deprived me of."
"You're right," he sighed miserably, nodding his head as he looked at the ground. "I should have been here... but I wasn't strong enough to endure it the way you have, and I'm sorry for that. I've been sorry for that, every single day since I left here."
My head bowed as I rubbed my temples. I'd just lost one parent, and fighting with the only one I had left held little interest for me. There was nothing to be gained by it. What was done was done, and there was no turning back to change it.
"I'm tired. I'm going home," I said as my hands dropped to my sides. The straps of my purse slid down my forearm and I just barely managed to grasp them before they slipped past my fingers. "You're more than welcome to the guest room, but I'm really... I just really want to be alone for a little while."
"I have a room booked at the Holiday Inn near the airport. My flight leaves first thing in the morning."
"I see." I cleared my throat and shook my head as I turned my gaze away from him. "In that case, I hope you have a safe flight. Thank you for coming. I know it must have been inconvenient for..."
"Isabella, I want you to come with me."
"What?" I balked, my gaze darting back to him.
"Sue and I talked after you called the other day, and we think it'd be best if you returned to Forks."
"With all due respect, I've managed quite well on my own thus far, all things considered."
"I'm not saying you haven't," he argued, holding his hands up. "But, Bella, there's nothing herefor you anymore."
"There isn't exactly much of anything there for me either," I scoffed. He looked hurt, and quite possibly offended which almost led me to laugh incredulously, but by some miracle, I managed to keep it from bubbling out.
"I'm sorry. I'll think about it, okay?"
I shuffled my feet awkwardly. It had been so long since I'd last seen him, I wasn't sure what the acceptable departing etiquette for estranged fathers and daughters should be. Long ago, I would have hugged him without second thought, and it would have felt natural, but as I stepped into his open arms, it felt forced and uncomfortable, much like hugging a complete stranger would be.
"I'll call when I figure out what I'm going to do."
That night, as I wandered around my empty home, the thought of returning to Forks drifted in and out of my mind, as did the many forms of the age old question of 'what if?'
What if my life hadn't been turned upside down and inside out so long ago? What if it was possible to go back, start over, and somehow still find my way to where I should have been now, and who I should have become? What if what I'd thought would have brought me happiness back then, wouldn't have, and only by walking the path that I had would I have been given the opportunity to find what truly did? What if everything in life really does happen for a reason?
"What if I've just lost my goddamn mind..."
The answer was, I didn't know, and I never would if I didn't choose where the next chapter in my life would begin.
Sitting on the couch, staring at the empty hospital bed my mother had spent the majority of her final years in, the only thing I knew for certain was that it was time for the Phoenix chapter of my life to come to a close. Forks might not have felt like home any more than the small two bedroom bungalow here did in my mother's absence, but at least it was a place to start. A place where I could hopefully connect who I'd been with who I'd become in recent years.
"Forks it is, then."
And so it begins...