So, who would like to run away with me and live on our own little island where we can read and write all day long and no one will bug us? Yeah, that's how I've been feeling lately. A lot of family drama going on... And I'm also still bummed about that stupid Kindle! I actually got my hopes up about a tax return paying for a new one but turns out dad claimed me on his and forgot to tell me. Grrr! That killed my day... Anywho! I know everyone is dying to know what's gonna happen next so I'll quit my rambling and let you get to it!

Disclaimer: I own lotsa stuff but not the real deal.

Chapter 14: Seconds Away

"Bella? Bella?"

Even after the line goes dead, I can't help calling her name over and over. I don't stop until Charlie appears by side and wrenches the phone out of my hand.

"Edward? What's going on?" he demands, glancing down at my blank phone and then to my spilled cup of coffee. I had knocked it over when Bella told me about that look Phil gave her. I had started to clean it up, before...

"Charlie... Bella... I was talking to her... and then... I don't know..." I gasp at him, breathing heavily. My head spins sickeningly as image after image pops into my head—each one involving Phil and worse than the last.

"Calm down, son," Charlie says calmly, leading me to the couch and sitting me down. He sits down on the coffee table in front of me and keeps his hands firmly on my shoulders. "Now, tell me what happened."

"I was on the phone with Bella," I say as calmly as I can manage with my heart still racing so painfully. I try to swallow but my mouth is so fucking dry. "And um... Phil came in the room, yelling... yelling things at her. And then Bella... she started screaming and the phone went dead, and and..."

I trail off, and though my chest if rising and falling rapidly, I can't seem to suck any air in through my desiccated mouth. Charlie tugs on my shoulders until I'm leaning over my knees and my breathing eases.

"Easy, Edward, easy," he murmurs. "Can you tell me what he said to her?"

"Uh," I say, squeezing my eyes shut. "He asked where she was all day and when she told him she was out, he accused her of being a prostitute."

I pause, waiting to see if Charlie wants me to continue. His posture stiffens slightly but he's in cop mode now so he waits for me to continue.

"He said that he was going to make her helpless," I say quietly, staring at the carpet below my feet, focusing on the pieces of lint stuck in the fibers as opposed to the screaming echoing through my head. "And that she was grounded... that she had to stay in her room until he said she could come out."

"Did it sound like he hurt her in any way?" Charlie asks sternly. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him pull out his cell phone and start dialing.

"I heard some crashing but I... I don't know," I mumble miserably, covering my face in my hands.

A vision of Bella, lying on the floor, bleeding and hurt, flits through my mind. I press my hands harder into my face, trying to block the sight. Instead, another one pops into my mind—one of Tanya, huddled in a corner, her face covered in bruises, her nose bleeding, as she tries to convince me that her boyfriend didn't touch her, that she fell, that nothing is wrong...

"Renee isn't answering her phone," I hear Charlie say. His voice sounds quiet, muted, and slowly gets louder the harder I focus on it. "Did Bella say anything about where she could be? Is she home or out with friends or at the store?"

"She... She's out," I say slowly. "With friends, I think. Something about a gallery showing her shitty paintings..."

I look up quickly, afraid my slip may have made Charlie angry but he doesn't seem to care. He nods slowly, dialing on his phone again.

"This is Chief Swan," he says in an authoritative voice. "I'm calling from the Forks Police Station in Washington. An alarming call was received from the Dwyer residence, from my daughter Isabella Swan, who's visiting her mother, Renee Dwyer there. Yes. She's remarried to Phil Dwyer. No, we only know that he threatened Isabella and then the line went dead. Yes, she sounded very distressed. She's seventeen. I'd like a patrol car there immediately. Yes, that's the address. Thank you very much, I expect a call within the half hour."

Charlie hangs up and looks down at my bewildered face.

"That's it?" I ask blankly. "We just sit here and wait, hoping to get a call back?"

My voice rises by the end of my sentence but Charlie is keeping up his professional manner and answers me as though I'm not basically shouting at him.

"That's all we can do for now," he says with a shake of his head. "It's not like we can just drive over there and check things out ourselves."

"Why the hell not?" I demand, standing up quickly.

"Because by the time we got there, it could be too late," he says evenly, standing with me. "Now let's just sit and try to keep our cool while we wait."

I let out a huff and throw myself back down.

Charlie and I sit across the room from each other, neither of us speaking or looking anywhere near each other. My leg bounces nervously and I'm fucking dying for a smoke—or maybe even something a little harder—just to calm my damn nerves.

Charlie's phone sits on his lap. It hasn't made any sound in what feels like forever.

How long does it take to fucking drive to someone's house and bang on the damn door?

I think about asking Charlie but when I look up and open my mouth, he has this intense look on his face as he frowns at the window. I snap my jaw shut and go back to studying the carpet as I had before.

Damn it, how can he stand this?

Finally, Charlie's phone rings and we both jump at the sound. It's to his ear before I even take one step towards him.

"Chief Swan," he says gruffly and then listens intensely, his brow furrowing. "Are you sure? Did they try every entry? No answer..."

I feel my lungs empty in one big whoosh and have to sit down again. I can barely hear the next words Charlie says.

"No, I am positive that they are there," he says angrily, his professionalism slipping. "We only spoke to her a half hour ago! No, I have no idea where they could be but if something is going on in that house, he's not going to be answering the door when you go shouting that the police are there! Well, I would suggest getting a search warrant. Probable cause—of course we have probable cause! Since when is someone screaming on the phone for help not worth getting a warrant for? I have no idea how you handle your town but in my town that is more than enough!"

Charlie hangs up, slamming his phone down on the table. I thread my fingers into my hair, gripping tightly as I watch Charlie standing there, cheeks red, hands on hips and huffing loudly. After a couple minutes, he gives a tight nod and strides towards the door.

"Come on, Edward," he says stiffly. "We're headed to Phoenix."

The next couple of hours fucking flies by and I soon find myself sitting in a hard plastic chair in the airport, Charlie at my side. We both try to sweet talk the lady behind the counter to get the earliest flight we can but can't manage anything until the morning. She's real nice, though, and says that if we're willing to stick around, if something else opens up, we can have it. The two of us doze throughout the night, neither of us wanting to completely pass out and miss our chance.

We're both wide awake before dawn. My leg is bouncing again; if it annoys him, he's not saying anything. My nerves are shot and I've considered sneaking out multiple times to smoke but I don't want to offend Charlie or miss anything.

I see him get on his phone again but he hangs up quickly with a frown.

"What's up?" I ask nervously.

"I have a bad feeling about the police department there," he says quietly, almost to himself. "They seemed all too happy to check things out at first but quickly dismissed my concerns when there was no answer. A call like Bella's should raise more alarm, because she's a minor."

I shudder, remembering the things I had heard over the phone...

"You're the one that's been fucking around with a minor for years."

"Oh, I know you liked it..."

"Oh, damn," Charlie groans and I follow his gaze up to the list of flights.

Our flight was delayed.

My heart drops right to the floor. We can't leave for another four or five hours.

"Can't we... take another flight or something?" I ask desperately, my eyes scanning the board for more options.

"It's still Spring Break, Edward," Charlie says patiently. "We were lucky to get anything at all."

I slump down in my seat, both legs jiggling now. I stare blankly at the flights, trying to will an opening to appear.

"It'll be fine, Edward," Charlie says softly.

"How do you know?" I burst out, sitting up and staring at him incredulously; his face is poker straight. "You don't know the shit I know, Charlie. It could be very much not okay by the time we get there!"

"There's nothing we can do," he says firmly. "Our flight is delayed—neither of us can fix that. And rather than holding what you know over me, why don't you enlighten me?"

I press my lips into a hard line; my hands curl up into tight fists.

Do I break my promise to Bella? Would he be able to move things along if he knew?

Charlie looks at me expectantly, his patience wavering slightly as he raises his eyebrows.

What could it change? What would happen if I told him?

I think back to when Bella shared her story with me. I try to remember exactly what I was feeling inside when I discovered the horror of where she came from.

I didn't even know her well then and I was still furious, still angered beyond belief that someone could treat someone this way, especially someone that is supposed to be a second father to her.

Charlie lets out a small sigh, still waiting on my answer.

I try to imagine what a father would think when he finds out what was happening to his own daughter before she was forced to live with him. If I were him... It would make me feel like a pretty shitty father for not seeing something—anything—sooner.

I take a deep breath and blow it out slowly, letting my face relax. wouldn't change a damn thing right now.

"Forget it," I say weakly, standing up. "I need some air."

I hurry outside but Charlie doesn't call me back.

The cold air hits me when I open the door and I breathe deeply, trying to keep it together. I fish in my pockets for my smokes and stride quickly from the building, lighting up as I go.

It's pitch black out, the clouds blotting out both the moon and stars. I don't even know how late, or rather early, it is but time has ceased to really matter. All I know is that every second that ticks by is a moment too long to keep Bella waiting.

I lean against the back of Charlie's cruiser, feeling a bit defiant that I'm smoking on his car. Though I know I shouldn't be angry with him, I kind of am. Everything is just feeling so out of control right now that I can't seem to point my emotions in the right direction.

I push everything out of my mind for the time being and think of nothing but the crackle of burning paper, the glowing embers at the end of the cigarette, the burn in my throat as the smoke travels down to my lungs...

I'm so focused on my actions that I don't hear the voices in the parking lot until the group of people is only a few feet from me. I look up to see one of the only few people right now that can make things worse.

Jacob Black strides across the parking lot, surrounded by a group of friends from the rez, his arm slung over a thin girl with straight black hair. I feel the anger bubble up within me but don't move from my spot. It wouldn't do any good to pick a fight with someone right now, even with a police chief just inside that would help me out.

But...would he...?

"Hey, look who it is!" Jacob says loudly, grinning broadly. His arm swings up in greeting and I see his hand clutching a large, clear bottle.

I start to push off the car and walk away but he catches up quickly in a few long strides.

"Aw, where you going, Cullen?" he slurs drunkenly. "How about a pick me up? Looks like you could use it!"

"Fuck off, Black," I growl at him, turning away again but his friends circle around me, swaying on the spot and smiling stupidly.

"Where's your, uh... girlfriend?" he asks, raising his eyebrows in a lewd manner. "Or has she moved on to her next fuck buddy?"

"I'm warning you, Black," I say through my teeth. "Back the fuck off. Now."

"What are you doing here anyways?" he asks, taking his arm off the girl next to him and stumbling forward. "Coming to crash our party? Leah just flew back and we're all headed to her place to get shit faced..."

"Looks like you already are, dipshit," I snort, shaking my head.

How can one person be so damn stupid?

"Where are you going?" he slurs again, still coming closer. I can smell the liquor on his breath. "Going to Arizona to save your girl? I hear she got shipped back home for that bitch fight before break."

"You don't know what you're talking about," I say shakily, my hands balling into fists, my nails cutting into my palms.

"What? Didn't you know how feisty she could be?" He laughs loudly and the rest of the group joins in. "I know we do..."

I lunge forward, completely losing it. I grab the front of Jacob's sweatshirt and pull his face to mine. He's so surprised that he can't do much more than try to keep his balance. I speak in a low voice that only he can hear, doing my best to control myself enough that I don't rip his fucking head off. His friends mumble and shift around us but stay back. Leah lets out a small squeak, covering her face with her slim hands.

"You listen here, Jacob," I snarl in his face. "Yes, I am going to go save Bella, but not for the reasons you think. Have you ever bothered to ask her about her life back in Arizona? Have you ever stopped thinking about your fucking hormones long enough to ask your fucking friend why she seemed so unhappy while she was there?"

"She just... she just missed me, that was it," he mumbles, his brows furrowing. My interrogation is almost too much for his intoxicated brain. "And she... she wanted to do that shit."

"No, she fucking did not!" I say through teeth gritted so tightly together that I can barely get the words out. "It was all she fucking knew! Tell me...Has she ever said anything about her damn step-dad?"

"I know she didn't like him," he says blankly, his eyes darting down as he thinks. I shake him slightly and he looks up again.

"Think, Jacob," I say roughly. "What happened the last time you were together?"

"She said she didn't want to fuck around anymore, but—"

"And why exactly do you think that was?" I interrupt him.

His eyes grow wide and he takes a step back. I let him go, making him stumble a step or two before he gains his balance, still staring at me with a horrified expression on his face.

"Tell me," I say again, in a remarkably calm voice. "After doing all that... shit... for years, why do you think she decided to call it off?"

"Was he... was he hurting her?" Jacob whispers. His friends all look back and forth between his face and mine, obviously fucking clueless but scared shitless to ask anything.

"In a manner of speaking," I say, laughing humorlessly.

"Edward, I..."

I turn around to see Charlie marching towards me. Jacob hides his bottle behind his back, attempting to look innocent.

"We got an earlier flight," he says, not even acknowledging Jacob and his friends. "Let's go."

I toss my cigarette on the ground and stamp it out, not caring that Charlie sees. Before I can leave, Jacob grabs my arm. I turn to him angrily, expecting the same expression in return, but I can only describe his face as looking sad.

"Edward, I'm sorry," he says quietly. "I know I haven't been the best of friends to her the past couple of years. You're... you're good for her. Take care of her, please."

"I love her, Jacob," I say shortly. "There's not chance in hell I will stop taking care of her and keeping her from people like Phil... and you."

I expect him to argue my statement; instead, he nods and let's me go. Whether it's the drink talking or the truth, I have no fucking clue. But I'm not giving him another chance.

I'm done with him.

On the plane, I still can't keep still. Charlie grunts at me, every now and then, obviously annoyed with me, but I just can't figure out what to do with myself. This wait is fucking killing me.

When the plane takes off and the seat belt light turns off, Charlie gets up and wanders down the aisle, mumbling something about stretching his legs already. Once he's gone, I take out my iPod and go through the list of songs I just added for Bella.

Most of the songs I added to the playlist are older songs from Taking Back Sunday, ones that I know she would like without even needing to ask.

One of the songs I added just after she left, when the most we could talk was through text messages. I don't usually listen to such sad songs but this one reminds me of a lot of things—my relationship with Bella, her relationship with her mother and Phil and now with Jacob. In a way, the song sounds like a break up song but the words hit so close to home, that it doesn't bother me a damn bit.

I put my ear buds in, push play and when the guitar and violin begin, I lean my head back to listen.

"We've got to get better," I said, "It's all in your head."

We could live through these letters or forget it all together

See the months they don't matter, it's the days I can't take

When the hours move to minutes and I'm seconds away...

I resist the urge to look at the time again. I know the flight will be short but every second that goes by is a second I can't stop thinking of her, wishing I had done something different so that this shit wouldn't have happened...

Just ask the question, come untie the knot

Say you won't care, say you won't care...

I still find it fucking unbelievable that Bella's own mother—the woman who gave birth to her, who raised her—was so blind to the shit storm that was swirling around her for years. Did she ever ask Bella what she thought of Phil? Did she ever stop to wonder why she was so fucking rebellious?

Retrace the steps as if we forgot

Say you won't care, say you won't care

Try to avoid it but there's not a doubt

And there's one thing that I can do nothing about...

I still feel like this shit is all my fucking fault. I have no clue why but... I just do. I shouldn't have listened to Bella when she insisted on telling her dad herself. She's too damn stubborn for her own good. I should have said fuck it and done it anyways, her anger with me be damned.

If chasing our dreams is just a distraction

I want to remember when I know that I can't go back...

No, I wouldn't have been able to do that. The moment I met her, I knew Bella was different, was her own person. If I had tried to go against that, I would have been just like all those other bastards that fucked up her life.

I love her too much to do that to her.

Over the past few days, Charlie and I had been getting closer. Though I could always count him as somewhat of a friend, he'd been treating me more like family, clearly already trusting me to treat his daughter right. Though he doesn't know the extent of the damage that has been done to Bella, he knows that I wouldn't let a damn thing happen to her now that we're together.

I didn't mind hanging out with Charlie but at this moment, I'm glad he chose to leave me alone. I've never really been one to hide my emotions but someone has to keep their head clear right now and as the tears roll down my face, I know I'm not that one.

I'm overwhelmed with how hot it is the second we step out of the airport. I knew Arizona was hot but I didn't think the sweat would be running down my forehead so quickly.

Charlie pulls up in a silver mini van. When I climb in, I find it ice cold in the interior.

Thank fuck, I was dying out there.

"We got lucky again," Charlie says as we make our way out of the parking lot. "This was the last rental they had left."

"Well, I know it's Spring Break still but we don't really need to be riding in style," I mumble, eying the street signs. "So, where do we go?"

"Now, I was thinking about that," Charlie says slowly, pausing at a stop sign. "We really need to come up with some sort of plan, a way to get her out of this safely. Clearly, the police aren't going to help us—"

"Clearly," I grumble under my breath.

"—so we need to come up with an alternative plan," Charlie continues, ignoring my interruption. "I know where they live—Renee has been in this house for years—but I don't know what Phil looks like."

"You've never met him?" I ask curiously.

"No, I never really had any kind of interest in my ex-wife's love life after the divorce," Charlie says with a grim smile. "So, what I can gather from what you heard on the phone, it seems as though he may be keeping Bella there captive."

I hear the distaste in his voice at that last word and a chill runs down my spine that has nothing to do with the blasting air conditioner of the van. I shake my head, rub my face with both hands, and then it hits me.

Charlie has always been in the habit of calling me son... so why not use that?

"I have an idea," I say confidently, my mind whirling. "It's a little elaborate but it may be our only choice. Phil doesn't seem to be too bright but he does seem pretty creative. He most likely thinks that he's the only one that can come up with a plan as imaginative as his own."

"Sounds about right," Charlie agrees. "What's the plan?"

"I'll tell you all about it... dad."

"How do I look?"

I take in Charlie's new outfit—khaki shorts, flip flops and a polo shirt. It was completely the opposite of anything he would ever wear. I wore something similar and both of us were wearing distressed baseball caps. I worried about wearing these since they were somewhat of a negative for Bella because of Phil wearing them but Charlie pointed out that it would hide our hair—one of my more prominent features. I also wore a pair of dark sunglasses to hide my bright green eyes.

"Nothing like yourself," I assure him.

"Good," he says with a nod. "Are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," I answer, taking a deep breath. "Let's go."

We drive towards Renee's house, my leg bouncing yet again. I put my palm on my knee and push on it, hoping it'll stop. It helps a little.

When we get to the right street, Charlie gives me one last nod, which I return stiffly, and turns.

I breathe evenly, in through my nose and out through my mouth, as we inch down the street. But my breath stops completely when I see a man who's dressed a lot like us, in the front yard of the house that Charlie described. He's the only one outside on a scorching day like this, gardening with the blazing sun beating down on his back.

"That's him," Charlie whispers, sighing deeply and hitching a smile on his face.

I try to mirror his expression of interest as we drive slowly down the street. Phil stretches and waves politely at us; Charlie returns the gesture. We keep moving until we reach the corner and then turn twice to get into the ally.

"Last time I'm going to ask," Charlie says seriously, hand on the keys still in the ignition.

"No doubt about it," I say before he can voice his question.

Charlie twists the keys out of the ignition and pockets them. We both step out and move swiftly down the ally, turning when we reach the corner.

I follow along with Charlie's acting, smiling and pointing at random things like I'm actually fascinated with the area. When we get close enough to where Phil is working, Charlie calls out a greeting, putting on a fake southern accent.

"Hey there!" he calls, waving. Phil straightens up and smiles, wiping his dirty hands on his jeans. "How ya'll doing?"

"Not bad," Phil says with a shrug and I resist the urge to leap at him and beat the shit out of him. "Can I help you boys with anything?"

"Just checking out the area," Charlie answers, holding out his hand. "I'm Randy, by the way. This here is my son, Travis. We're moving here from Texas."

"Nice to meet you, I'm Phil," he says, shaking Charlie's hand. I do the awkward teenage head nod thing. There is no way in hell I will touch this man civilly. "What made you decide on Phoenix?"

"We have family across town," Charlie lies easily. "My aunt—she hasn't been doing well so we thought we'd move closer to help out."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Phil says sincerely.

I glance around, pretending like I'm checking out the houses. I see that his front door is open about halfway. The inside is empty and quiet.

"How long have you lived here?" Charlie drawls.

I tune out their voices and take a few steps away, looking like I'm inspecting the house next door. I see a window on the side of the house, the curtains drawn; they're purple.


"Hey dad," I interrupt, putting a fake twang in my voice. "I've been cooped up in that car so long, I think I'll go jog around the block a few times."

"Alright, son, just don't stray too far," Charlie laughs and turns to Phil, distracting him easily. "That's Travis—always on the move. He was on the track team back home, you know. Do you have any kids of your own?"

"No, I don't," I hear Phil say as I trot steadily down the sidewalk. "I do have a step-daughter, though. Can't say I know her too well, though."

I pick up my speed, not wanting to listen to his lies any farther.

Luckily, the house isn't too far from the corner so I'm able to turn quickly. I peek over my shoulder and see that the two men are still heavily engaged in their conversation. Once I'm out of sight, I race around the corner. My shirt is soaked in sweat but I don't care about the heat. The only thought in my head right now is finding Bella.

I find our rental parked where we left it and pause for a moment to catch my breath before letting myself into the sparse backyard.

Oh God, I hope the back door is unlocked.

I creep across the yard and test the knob on the back door. It opens silently, swinging forward on quiet hinges. I poke my head around the corner, see the kitchen is empty, and step over the threshold. I stand and listen for any sign of life in the house.

I'm met with only silence.

I tip-toe across the tile floor, noticing that it's hotter inside than it was out, even with the kitchen ceiling fan spinning. This strikes me as odd.

Where the kitchen meets the hall, I pause, looking around the corner. The staircase is just a few steps away, but in plain view of the front door. Phil's back is to me; Charlie can see me but keeps talking exuberantly to hold Phil's attention.

I move soundlessly towards the stairs, my eyes locked on the men outside. I take the steps two at a time, making it up in seconds, and turn around again to listen. Laughter filters in from outside, assuring me that my presence inside is unknown.

The upstairs of the house is boiling hot. I pull my sticky shirt away from my body and wipe my forehead with the tail of my shirt. I'm sweating again within moments.

All the doors upstairs are closed. I start with the nearest one but find a bathroom. The door next to it has an untidy office. The third, the master bedroom. I'm starting to panic but there's one door left—and it has to have her in it.

I try the knob but it's locked.

"Shit," I mumble, trying again.

Examining the door, I see that the knob has been turned around so that the lock is on the outside rather than the inside.

No fucking doubt about it, this is where she is...

I spin around frantically, at a loss of what to do. I drop to my knees and look under the carpet running the length of the hall but there's no key there. I'm breathing so loudly, both from the heat and the desperation, that if someone were to come inside, they'd find me in a heartbeat.

My phone buzzes in my pocket and I dash down the hall, throwing myself in the first room I reach—the master bedroom.

"Yeah?" I say breathlessly into the phone.

"Hey, son, where'd you go?" Charlie says into the phone, his accent still thick.

"I'm upstairs," I answer quickly. "The room is locked."

"Oh, you're down at the corner store?" he says, obviously still in front of Phil. "Grab me a coke for the drive home, will ya?"

"I'm in the master bedroom," I whisper, looking around me. "I don't know what to do!"

"We were thinking of checking out the house for sale across the street," he says evenly. "But I was wondering... Did you remember to grab the key for your great-aunt's house from the dresser?"

If I hadn't been listening closely enough, I wouldn't have caught the slight inflection he put on that last word. I race to the dresser on the side of the bed that looks more like it would belong to a guy. There's a bit of change but no key.

"It's not there!" I say, checking the other dresser. Nothing.

"Huh, she said she left it there," Charlie muses. "Maybe it was by the TV."

"No TV," I mutter, flitting around the room to check every surface in the place.

"Alright," he says, sounding only marginally upset but then he changes his tone to sound a bit more urgent. "Remind me to call the school office to sign you up, ya hear?"

"The office!" I exclaim, throwing open the door and racing down to the next room. I fling the door open and directly across from me is a cork board, papers pinned to every space available but right smack in the middle is a key. "Got it!"

"Thank you, son," Charlie says in relief, chuckling to Phil. "Kid keeps me on top of things—" and then to me, "—I'll see you back out front in a few."

I hang up and rush back to Bella's door. With shaking fingers, I put the key in the lock.

It fits.

I open the door slowly and the first thing I notice is the hot stuffy air that spills from the room. I gasp, my eyes blinking against the sweat pooling in my lashes, having trouble breathing in the dense, hot air.

"Bella?" I whisper, stepping into the room carefully.

It must be over a hundred degrees in here, even with it being so dark. The curtains are pulled tight and I see a lamp and chair on the floor. I take another step, pulling off my sunglasses, and hear a crunch. Looking down in horror, I see Bella's cell phone in pieces.

"Bella?" I say again, louder this time.

I hear a soft groan and snap my head to the left, where I see a tall dresser. I shakily walk across the hard wood floor, avoiding the broken shards of the phone and the lamp, and nearly collapse at what I see.

Bella is slumped against the dresser, her tank top and jeans torn in a few places. Her dark hair is pulled haphazardly up into a ponytail. Stray bits of hair are plastered to her sweaty face and her eyes are closed. Her breathing is labored, the air being pulled painfully over dry, cracked lips.

I kneel down in front of her, brushing back her damp hair. Her normally pale face is bright red and burning up. Under the flush I can see bruising across her cheeks, her neck, down her arms...

"No, angel, no," I murmur, noticing that though it's so hot in the room, there's no perspiration on her skin at all. There's no water in her body to sweat out...

The fucker was burning her alive!

I know I don't have much time so I gingerly grab her arms and sling her over my back in a fireman's lift. She's so light and limp that it's scares me. She doesn't stir as I leave the room, checking out the front door to make sure there's no one there. I can see Charlie and Phil across the street, bending over to check out the foundation of the front porch.

"Don't worry, baby, I got you," I whisper, stroking her arm as it twitches against my chest.

Before I leave, I close and lock the bedroom door again, giving the illusion that nothing was disturbed. I go to the office, fling the key under the desk and pull the door closed.

It's almost too easy to go back through the steaming house and back out the back door. I don't look back, knowing that even if Phil was on his way back, there's no way in hell I'd give her up now. I get out to the van with no incident and lower her into the backseat.

As I lay her down, she moans again, turning her head and trying to open her eyes.

"No..." she breathes. "No, please..."

"Bella, angel, it's me," I say quietly, opening the ice chest on the floor behind the driver's seat and dipping my hand into the freezing water. I swipe my fingers across her forehead and she hums in pleasure.

"Edward?" she mumbles.

"I'm here," I say, smiling. "You're safe now."

Bella nods minutely, just barely moving her head enough for me to see. I wet her face with a few more handfuls of water, grab a water bottle and a coke and close up the van.

I jog back around the corner, pouring some of the water over my head as I go and shoving the sunglasses back onto my face. When I reach the house across from Renee's house, Phil and Charlie turn to me.

"Ah, there you are, Travis!" Charlie says happily. "I was worried you got lost."

"Sorry, there was a hot chick at the store," I say, giving a genuine smile now that I have my angel safe. "You shoulda seen her, pops. Hot damn, she was a looker!"

"You don't have your own girl back home?" Phil asks with a chuckle.

"Heck, no!" I say, laying on the act thickly. "Shoot, the only good-looking ones are the rich teachers there."

"My son here goes for the older ladies," Charlie laughs, patting me on the shoulder and taking the coke I hand him.

"Is that right?" Phil asks curiously, turning to me in fascination.

"Oh yeah," I say, taking a swig of my water. "Hot young guy on the track team—whoo whee! They love that!"

The three of us laugh and I see Charlie reach into his pocket slyly. Phil's too busy laughing to notice.

"Young or old, the ladies are all over my son," Charlie says, still chuckling. "Takes after his pops, here."

"I'm sure you were just the same in high school, sir," I say to Phil. "I'm sure all the ladies just loved those baby blues you got there."

"Were?" Phil says, shaking his head and leaning in closer to whisper conspiratorially. "Still am."

"Is that right?" Charlie says, shifting closer and looking interested. "You know, I was never one for the cougars but I once dated a girl at least eight years younger than me."

"That's it?" Phil scoffs. "I got one almost half my age! Still in high school and everything."

"Half? Wow, how'd you manage that?" Charlie says, angling his body slightly. I glance up at Phil, trying to contain my eagerness for more information.

"It was easy," Phil says, looking around as if to check for eavesdroppers. "She's been all over me for years. She's nearly eighteen and with the way she's been acting up, she'll be sent back home for good any day now."

I lick my dry lips, gripping my water bottle too tightly to look natural. I cover it by taking another drink but I nearly choke it back up. My throat is constricting slightly at the sick sight of how proud of himself Phil is.

"Ah, I envy you, sir!" Charlie says, a forced smile on his face now. Phil doesn't notice. "But what do you mean, sent back home?"

"Well, she's actually my step-daughter," Phil admits, frowning slightly and continuing in a rush. "But I never officially adopted her or anything. She was sent back to live with her dad but I knew it wouldn't last long. She's a real tough one, big trouble maker. She hates the cold, though, so she won't last long. I know she likes the heat."

Phil laughs again and it sounds evil to my ears.

"Oh, I'm sure she'll come back home," Charlie says darkly. "What's her name, anyways?"

"Oh! Isabella, or Bella for short," Phil says, a disgusting dreamy look on his face. "Yeah, she's got a real tight body, I just love it..."

"We better get going, pops, we'll be late for Great-Auntie," I cut in, not wanting to hear any more talk about my girl from this monster. "Nice to meet you... Phil, right?"

I back away slowly, Charlie following my lead.

"Yes, Phil, Phil Dwyer," Phil says, following us slowly, looking a little disappointed that we're leaving. No doubt he wanted to continue discussing our apparent mutual love for woman of an inappropriate age.

"Well, thank ya, Mr. Dwyer," Charlie says, touching the tip of his hat in a southern farewell. "We'll be seeing you."

We turn and rush across the road, Charlie putting his phone to his ear and pretending to call his aunt to apologize. I take one last look at Phil, who's still ambling back to his gardening. When we get to the corner, I glance back again and breathe a sigh of relief that he's still out there, shoveling dirt, as though he doesn't have a girl locked away upstairs like he believes.

"Did you get her?" Charlie asks, dropping the fake accent once we're out of earshot.

"Yeah, but she doesn't look good," I tell him, huffing as we hurry through the heat. "He was keeping her locked upstairs without food or water or air-conditioning."

"How hot was it?" he asks quickly, picking up the pace.

"Too hot," I say shortly. "Did you catch his confession?"

Out of his pocket, Charlie pulls a mini tape recorder. He pushes a button to rewind and then shifts his thumb to the play button.

"...I never officially adopted her or anything. She was sent back to live with her dad but I know it won't last long. She's a real tough one, big trouble maker..."

Charlie stops the tape and smiles in triumph.

"Got it!" he exclaims.

We're at the van now and we both glance up at house but there's no activity going on inside. We pause to listen; I can still hear the sound of Phil's shovel hitting the hard dirt as he digs.

I open the sliding door to the van and Charlie gasps when he sees his daughter lying on the seat, still looking flushed and lifeless. We only stand there long enough to see her chest raise and fall weakly and then Charlie gives my shoulder a pat.

"Thank you, son," he says gruffly. I nod once and throw myself into the van, letting Charlie close the door quietly behind me. He gets into the driver's seat and starts the engine as I gently lift Bella's head to cradle it in my lap. She makes a quiet whimpering sound; I pull off my hat and glasses and scoop up a handful of ice water.

"Bella, I'm here," I whisper, tipping my hand over her lips. They part slightly as she sighs, allowing the water to trickle onto her tongue. "Can you hear me, angel?"

Her eyes twitch, opening a crack, just enough to focus blearily on my face.

"Edward," she sighs, giving a small smile. "You came for me."

"Of course I did," I say, my throat closing with emotion. "And I always will."

She smiles again and closes her eyes. I lean forward to kiss her softly on the forehead and she sighs again. I stroke her hair back, blinking back tears.

No words can describe how happy I am to have her back in my arms. By the looks of her in that room, she was seconds away from letting go.

No fucking way I was ever letting her go again.

Truth: The name of the song is actually New American Classic but the line about being seconds away kinda stuck out to me. I almost cried a few times writing this, especially when I had the song playing! I was actually bummed when I had to stop midway to leave—leaving me at a real sad part. Things will get better from here though, you'll see...

Question: I prefer the cold to the hot, mainly rain. I don't mean like freezing but yeah, chilly is okay with me. It's easier to warm yourself up then it is to cool off. Which do you like, the heat or the cold?