The desire I first tried to hide

That tingling inside was gone

And when he asked me, Do you still love me?

I had to look away

I didn't want to tell him

That my heart grows colder with each day.

When you've loved so long

That your thrill is gone

And your kisses at night are replaced with tears.

-Bat for Lashes "What's a Girl to Do?"


My truck rattled its way past the Forks, Washington sign, and I released my first easy breath. The old, beat-up truck made the journey from Alaska back to Washington, with only a couple stops to have it checked and tuned up. The mechanics I met who worked on it for me told me I should trash it and get a new car, but this was one of the few things I still had left that kept me feeling close to home.

It had been so long since I had been here, so long since I had spoken with Charlie, with Jacob, and I was so overwrought and exhausted that I felt the burning slide of tears on my cheeks when I saw the familiar sights.

It was one of the most comforting things I had seen in a long time. I drove by the diner where Charlie liked to eat, past Newton's Outfitters where I had worked, and past the high school where I had first met Edward. My truck slowed, and I turned and looked at the school where my life had changed so drastically. I couldn't believe just how much.

"This is where it all started," I muttered to myself.

Alaska had been beautiful and wild, untamed, but ultimately it became a place where I had no contact outside of the Cullen's. I had loved them, but over time, I had begun to realize too many things.

I was glad to be away from them, I realized with a clarity I had not felt in a long time. Our relationship had been deteriorating, I had known that things were different, but to be hit with that so suddenly took me by surprise.

I had no more tears for them.

My life was here – with Charlie and Jacob – if they would still have me. It had been so long and my stomach still hurt at the idea of just showing up and trying to explain. I figured my dad would be more welcoming than Jacob. I tried to keep tabs on them, but in the forced isolation I was in, it had been difficult. To think of how much I lost, how much I had given up, was a slap in the face.

"It was my own damn fault," I murmured, leaning my head back against the headrest. All it had taken was growing up and realizing just what I was doing with my life.

My stomach gave a complaining growl, and I turned my attention away from the high school and the ghosts that still tried to haunt me even now. The desperation of seeing those I loved warred with the guilt, so I decided to procrastinate a little longer and get something to eat first before I went to Charlie's.

The diner wasn't the one Charlie always went to; the need for some continued anonymity was what I wanted while I ate. The diner was warm, the steam from the kitchen almost clogging the air as I made a move toward a back booth. The waitress acknowledged me, letting me know she would be over in a couple minutes. I opened the ripped, plastic menu and perused the choices.

When the waitress came over, she gave me a bright smile, lips coated in bubble-gum pink lipstick. Her hair was teased mega-high and her uniform was tight and show-cased a chest that could rival Dolly Parton. She instantly made me feel at ease, though, and I smiled back.

"Can I have a cup of tea, the Spanish Omelet, and side salad?"

"Sure, honey," she said, scribbling it down. She poured me a glass of water and hurried off.

I flipped open The Peninsula Daily News while I waited and looked at the classifieds. I felt very limited since my working status had been nil for the past year and a half. The first year I had taken some classes at the Kenai Peninsula College for general business and writing classes as well. I had gotten a job at a bookstore while I did that, which had been fulfilling enough, but then I had to drop everything I was doing and hide out.

It had been so long, and so unfulfilling, though Edward had initially tried to keep me entertained and distracted to keep my mind off of my no contact with other people in my life that I loved.

It was the proverbial stake in the heart to our relationship, though things had not been easy right from the beginning. I perused the newspaper, trying to bury and forget what had now become my past, and concentrate on the present. The jobs were a bit slim, but there were as a possibility or two between here and Port Angeles.

The waitress came back with my food. Once she set it down, I saw her eyeing me speculatively for a moment. "You okay, hon?" she asked, surprising me.

"I am now that I'm back at home," I told her. My brown hair had been cut shorter, to just brush over my shoulders, but it was a bit on the lank side. My clothes were wrinkled, and I knew I probably had bags under my eyes. I probably didn't look so hot; it had been a long, stressful trip.

There had been too many times of looking over my shoulder, feeling my nerves scraped raw, and not just because of the Cullen's.

My clothes were packed in my big, green suitcase and in a couple cardboard boxes. The last items I grabbed were the ones that meant the most to me; the photograph of Charlie with his arm around me after my graduation and Jacob's bracelet with the little wolf charm he carved for me as a graduation present.

I carefully hooked the bracelet around my wrist, and I carried my suitcase down the opulent staircase. It was a beautiful home, even more beautiful than the one they had in Forks. The glass and white home was similar in some ways to their other home in the style, but this one had more wood; smooth and polished to a shine. It was a beautiful place, but I had never felt quite comfortable in it. It just wasn't me.

The Cullen's were nowhere in sight, though Edward lurked in the corners, a cold, marble statue. I could feel his eyes on me as I hefted my suitcase out to my old truck and turned around to find Rosalie holding my cardboard boxes.

Surprised, I let her put them inside. She turned to me, eyes cold, but a flicker of something else there as well.

"I love Edward," she said stiffly. "He's my brother, and I despise you for hurting him. Your relationship with him was deteriorating for awhile, I understand that, and I even understand it was both of you that a hand in this."

I stayed quiet, the fight having gone out of me awhile ago. I just wanted to leave, but I let Rose continue.

"On the other hand, I am almost proud of you for standing up for yourself and making the decision you felt was right for you. I always thought you were crazy for accepting this lifestyle for yourself, but I can see how much you have changed."

Surprise swept through me at her words. I had known how Rose felt about my choices, but it still caught me off-guard that she was commending me for leaving behind my life in Alaska, leaving behind Edward.

I nodded, not knowing what to say.

"Go live," she said and melted into the shadows.

I got into my truck and let the engine rumble to life. Edward was nowhere in sight and I was glad for that. Carlisle appeared at my window.

"I won't keep you," he said quietly. "I just wanted you to know we will take care of the issue. The only reason you will hear from us will be because of that."

I nodded again and called out his name as he turned to leave. "Carlisle… thank you. And I'm sorry…"

"There are the living and the undead, Bella," he said and his voice contained the usual calm. "I'm sorry, too, but I always had doubts it could work in the long run. I'm sorry it hurt so many, but choices needed to be made. You made yours. The one that was right for you."

His voice didn't reflect any emotion, but I could see his eyes. He understood. I was glad for that. I gave a small wave, and I began to pull out of the huge, circular driveway. I glanced out the passenger-side window and caught sight of Alice's pixie face in the window of her bedroom.

Her sad eyes haunted me on the drive home.

I stared up at the waitress. "I'm home," I repeated and felt the wash of warmth over me. It was the one right thing I had done in my life.

She smiled and poured more hot water for me and handed me a tea bag. "Home is where the heart is," she said easily. "That's all there is to it."

"That's all there is to it," I repeated to myself as I began to eat. It was my first hot meal in the last two days. It hardly mattered it was diner food. I ate ravenously.

I ended up ordering a slice of banana cream pie.

When I finished eating, paid off my tab with some of what little money I had saved, I headed back out to my truck. I sat behind the wheel, staring unseeingly out the window, exhausted beyond belief and missing Charlie and Jacob. What was I waiting for?

I was so tired and lonely, but I was so scared of how they would react to my long absence where we had no contact. The Cullen's had seen to that, though in some ways I understood why it had to be done. They needed to keep me safe. Enough time had passed, though, right? There had been no activity whatsoever, so I had packed up and left.

I knew Carlisle would do what he had to do if the need arose. The rest of his family would fall in with him, but ultimately, I knew it was up to him. I decided to swing by the store and pick up a few items I had neglected to pack.

I parked the truck outside the small convenience store. With a small bang, the truck quieted when I turned it off. This truck had taken a beating and would need yet more work. Inside the store, I pulled my baseball cap lower over my face, not wanting to talk to anyone.

I swiped up some toothpaste, a toothbrush, comb, a new razor, and I perused the women's products. I dumped a box of tampons into my basket and wandered over to the food aisle. My weakness for Pop-Tarts was still apparent, I realized, as I eagerly grabbed two boxes of strawberry-flavored ones. A couple bottles of water and I was ready to check out.

The cashier was a bored-looking, fifteen or sixteen year old boy. He gave me the once-over, shrugged, and started scanning my items. I ignored him, flipping through a magazine while he totaled me up.

"That'll be 23.45," he mumbled, barely concealing a yawn.

I bit my lip, hoping I still had enough cash. Thankfully, I did, and I paid him quickly and picked up my bags.

"Bella?"

The voice barely sounded recognizable as I turned. It was laced with complete and utter shock, tinged with amazement, yet I knew it was Angela a split-second before I saw her. Her face registered the same shock in her voice.

"Angela?" I didn't know what else to say. I didn't understand why she seemed so shocked to see me. It almost went beyond shock, though that seemed odd.

"You… you're here," she said faintly. "How is that possible?"

My eyebrows rose as I stared at her. "I… got into my truck…" I said, suddenly not at ease, wondering if there was something wrong with her. "And well, I drove here. I know it's been a few years since I've seen you..."

She didn't seem to understand what I said. Concerned, I laid a hand on her arm. "Angela? Are you okay?"

My touch seemed to jolt her out of her stupor, and she threw her arms around me in a quick, hard hug and talked so fast I missed almost everything she said. The only word that I heard was dead.

I froze, my arms still around her shoulders, as my mind tried to comprehend what I just heard. How did she know that? No one here was supposed to know about that. Did I not hear her right?

"Angela, what did you just say? Something about being… dead?" My voice nearly shook, and I coughed to cover it.

She looked up at me and behind her wire-rimmed glasses her eyes were red and a little watery. "I thought you were dead, Bella. I don't even remember how Mike found out; maybe through his mom. There was even a small memorial for you. I just can't believe it…"

I couldn't see it, but I could feel it. The color was draining from my face. How on earth did this get back to my hometown? They had been so careful, it was far enough away, and it wasn't huge news there that it would make any paper other than the small local paper in Denali.

My mouth opened and closed, but I managed to squeak out, "My dad?"

"Honey, he was the one who set up the impromptu service."

Hot and cold flashed all over my body, and then I felt as if I turned to ice. Oh God, Charlie thought I was dead?

"I-I have to go," I gasped and raced out of the store.

I catapulted into the truck, revved the engine, and peeled out of the lot. The short drive to my dad's house, my mind kept flashing the fact that my father thought I was dead. A sob caught in my throat as the agony of what he must have been going through this past year and a half hit me. And if Charlie knew, Renee had to know, too.

I jerked to a halt outside my home. My breath came in sobbing pants; shaking, I tried to calm myself before walking up to the door. My eyes closed briefly again as I realized Jacob would think this as well. There was no way he wouldn't have known. Did he think I was turned, though? Had he tried to hunt down the Cullen's at all or did he stop caring as much as he used to? I could hardly blame him.

Our contact had dwindled over the year; he stopped getting in touch with me even after I tried a few times. It was a huge factor in the demise of my relationship with Edward. I had never gotten over Jacob. Then this whole fiasco happened, and it had grated on me, wearing me down. I had to quit my job, my trips out of the Cullen house were planned, and I felt like I was barely living. It had come to me that I had wanted to live, but I couldn't risk the lives of those I loved.

Enough time had gone by without anything happening, though, so that was the end of my exile. It got to the point where I absolutely had to come home, where whatever love I had for Edward had dwindled. There had been strain on our relationship in the beginning and everything else was just another nail in the coffin.

I wanted to live. And the people I loved thought I was dead.

I got out of the truck, every fiber of my being focused on my home. It had always been my home even after I left; nothing else had felt right.

My legs carried me to the front door as my heart jack-hammered in my chest. I ached to see Charlie. I ached to see Jacob. And I ached to see Renee, even though our relationship had dwindled over the course of the past few years. It didn't matter; she was my mother, and I loved her. My fist lifted, though I was barely aware of it. It was as if I were in a dream.

I hoped Charlie could handle the shock. I didn't want anything to happen to him, but he had to know I was okay. My knuckles rapped on the door, and I waited with bated breath. When the door opened, I felt tears work free at the sight of Charlie. He looked exhausted and broken down; swaying in place with a beer in hand. His hair was a mess, he had stubble, and I could smell beer fumes.

He blinked at me. "Usually you just come to me wherever I happen to be at the time; never have you come to ring the doorbell and torture me that way."

My brow furrowed in confusion. What did he mean?

"Dad?" I whispered.

He started to turn away, and still not understanding, I reached out and laid a hand on his arm. His body jerked in surprise at my touch, and he turned around again. His eyes met mine this time and it felt like an endless moment as we stared at each other. I pulled off the baseball cap, releasing my tangled mess of brown waves.

"You…"

Words failed him, yet his mouth continued to open and close.

"Bella?" His voice sounded almost like a child's and my tears came hot and fast. They streamed down my face, each one a stab in the heart at what I had inadvertently done to my father.

"You're really… alive?"

I threw myself at him as he began to reach for me, the hope on his face engulfing me. My body collided with his; arms wrapped so tight around me, lifting me, as I threw my arms around his neck and buried my face in his shoulder. I gulped in a huge breath, and even amid the beer fumes, he still smelled like Charlie.

He still smelled like my dad; a hint of soap and the outdoors.

I don't know how long we stood in the doorway, holding on to each other, but I began to shiver as the beginnings of a cool wind drifted over my back. Charlie backed up, and I was hit again with a wave of sadness and guilt as I saw that he was crying, too. He never cried in front of me before.

The wind cooled the tears on my cheeks as Charlie closed the door behind us. "Bella…" His voice was thick and rusty sounding.

All I could squeeze past the lump was a continuous litany of I'm sorry as he held on to me again. His fingers trailed over my hair, circled around my wrists, as if he was trying to comprehend that I was truly there.

"Right now, I don't give a shit how and why, I'm just so grateful to see you, to know you're actually alive," he said.

My normally non-emotive father was still trying to hold back tears as he took a shaky breath. "W-will you… stay?" I could see the fear on his face. I wouldn't have had it any other way, so I nodded.

"I'm staying," I told him. "I'm staying for good."

He sat heavily in a kitchen chair, and I sat next to him, his hand curled protectively over mine. As much as I longed to see Jacob, as much as I did Charlie, I knew there was no way I would leave Charlie right now to go find him.

I had done too much damage without even knowing it and I had to pick up the shattered remains of family and friends I cared about and left behind. No one was ever supposed to know of the dangers, but in the wake of trying to cover things up, I and the Cullen's had made things so much worse.

I held on to Charlie's hand, knowing I would do everything in my power to rectify the past year and a half; no matter the cost.


AN: So, what do you think? Any ideas on what you think is going on? On why Edward and Bella's relationship deteriorated?

Anyway, Jacob will make his appearance in the next chapter. And there will be flash backs to things regarding the Cullen's and everyone back in Forks before Bella returned. I'm guessing this will be around 10-15 chapters, give or take. No more mega-long ones for me! And a banner was made for me by Mist… check it out! It's awesome… http:/pic50[dot]picturetrail[dot]com/VOL401/12778990/22736049/400413199[dot]jpg

And lastly… hope everyone had a nice Christmas that celebrates it and Happy New Year. :o) May 2012 be a better year! (I know I need it!)