A/N: Hello! I'm back. Hope you enjoy this one :)
Special thanks to ordinary vamp and Dinx for lending me their eyes and mad grammar skills.
Disclaimer: Rated M for language, violence and adult situations. Yes, there will be character death. Stephenie Meyer owns any names you recognize. I'm just playing with them.
When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty, will I be rich
Here's what she said to me.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.
- Lyrics by Jay Livingstone and Ray Evans
I love how you can be whoever you want to be and no one thinks twice about it.
Last week, I passed a guy wearing a tutu and a beret on Ocean Drive, and nobody gave him a second look. I smiled at him, and he had smiled back as he went on his way.
I've lived in Miami for less than a year, so the city is still mine to discover. My favorite place is undoubtedly South Beach. I love the Art Deco architecture, the history of it all. The streets are always packed with people, tourists and residents, happily co-habitating, even if it's just for a little while. The smell of Cuban food wafts into the air, as does the sound of Latin music. On more than one occasion, I've found myself drawn into the burgeoning crowd, unable to pass up the rhythmic beats of salsa and reggae. My Spanish is limited, so I can't really understand most of the words, but there is nothing quite like an upbeat Latin song to get the blood pumping.
Today, I'm on my way to meet my brother for lunch, but as happens on occasion, I get waylaid by a family of tourists.
"Would you mind taking a picture of us?" the patriarch asks, holding out his camera.
I smile, more than happy to oblige, and take the camera from him. He gathers his sun-drenched family around him, and as we stand in front of a palm tree, I hold the camera up in front of me.
"Say Miami!" I shout enthusiastically, grinning when they all yell, smiles on their delirious faces. I know how they feel. There's nothing quite like Miami. Sometimes, I think I'm still just a tourist, even if I now call the place home. I'm sure I look like one, carrying around a guidebook and a camera as I explore.
I observe the family, now being treated to a round of Dippin' Dots. The look of pure joy on their faces warms my heart, reminding me of the first time I visited the New York City of the south. I was only fifteen, but the first time I stepped foot into that warm cerulean blue Atlantic water, I knew I'd end up here again.
"Hola, Isabel novia!"
I turn, smiling when I hear the voice of one of my favorite people as he walks toward me. He pauses feet away to snuff out his cigar, knowing how much I hate the smell.
"Hola, Señor Felix!" I say, greeting him with a kiss on each cheek. "¿Cómo es tu día?" My Spanish may be crap, but I'm still learning and I have the basics down. Felix is all too happy to indulge me in my lessons.
"Maravilloso!" He squeezes my shoulders. "You are looking quite ravishing today, Isabel."
I smile. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"
"This day could not be more perfect. I suspect you would agree, no?" He playfully nudges me with his elbow.
"No, I can't argue with that. ¿Cómo es tu amor?"
"Ah, my Miriam is vivacious as ever! Perhaps you would care to join us for dinner one evening? I know how much you love her empanadas!"
Just then, a sleek black Mercedes rolls up to the curb, and Felix glares at the tinted windows before gently guiding me away, as if he's afraid that whoever is inside will open the door and snatch me – or maybe just run me down.
"So, empanadas, yes?" he asks again.
"That would be wonderful," I say. "You know how to find me."
"Of course, of course! And now I must go. I will be in touch, Isabel novia!" He grabs my hand and gives it a squeeze before rushing away.
I glance curiously at the Mercedes, its driver still sitting inside. It's not unusual to see such lavish vehicles here, or to spot a celebrity or three on any given day.
I shrug and continue on my way.
I smile as I think fondly about Felix, who had been the very first person I met when I landed on my feet in South Beach. I was strolling along the sidewalk on Ocean Drive, sipping a pineapple smoothie, and taking in the sights and sounds of my new city when Felix dashed out of an alley next to his restaurant, nearly knocking me over in his haste.
"Perdón!" he had said quickly, latching onto my arm. "Forgive me, señorita. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yes. I'm fine, thank you," I said, slightly taken aback by his jubilant personality.
He pulled back, but still held onto my arm. "You are new to here, yes?"
I laughed. "Guilty. My first day here."
He grinned and finally dropped my arm, but only to clap in excitement. He pushed the tip of his tan fedora up. "Maravilloso! Maravilloso!" he stated. "Come, let me introduce you to Alberto. You must have a proper introduction to our beautiful city."
I barely had time to argue with him as he led me back into the alley and through a door. My nose was immediately assaulted by the smell of frying meat and spices. I could hear the faint tones of conversation spilling in from the dining room, and a man yelling in the kitchen.
"Sit, sit!" he said, pulling out a leather chair, its seat cracked and worn.
I did as told, my eyes darting around the cramped office. He left me there, and after a few minutes, I began to grow nervous. He seemed like a nice man, but he was still a complete stranger. Finally, he burst through the door, startling me, and was followed by a tall, lanky, dark-skinned man not much older than me. He grinned, placing a plate on the desk. They exchanged words I didn't understand, and then Alberto left.
"What is your name, novia?" Felix asked, leaning against an old filing cabinet, its shell overloaded with old magnets and business cards.
"Um, Isabella. But I like to be called Bel-"
He waved his hands in front of me. "No buts! Isabella is a beautiful name! My name is Felix. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, señorita Isabel." I liked how he called me Isabel. It sounded like "eeza-bell," which seemed exotic.
I smiled at him, held out my hand, and he took it, giving it a swift shake before gesturing toward the food. "Alberto is one of the best chefs in all of Miami! Everyone says so. This is for you. A welcome gift, sweet Isabel."
I looked at the plate. It was filled to the edges with shredded pork, a creamy red sauce, rice and fried plantains. There was no way I could ever eat so much food, and it didn't look all that appealing, but I didn't want to piss off my new friend.
"The best of Cuba on one plate!" Felix said triumphantly. "Go on. Eat!"
I picked up the fork and stabbed a piece of the meat, still hesitant. As it went to my mouth, Felix kept his eyes on me.
"Oh my God," I said, closing my eyes as it dawned on me how wrong I was. It was pure joy in my mouth. Just the right amount of spicy and sweet.
"It is good, yes?"
"Oh my God," I repeated, nodding quickly, not caring I was mid-chew. "I've never had anything like this!"
Felix grinned in satisfaction, tapping his finger to his temple. "See? Felix know. He always know."
I finished the entire plate without hesitation.
Since that day, I've been eating lunch or dinner at Felix's at least twice a week. Alberto has become accustomed to everything I like, and he makes sure it's cooked perfectly for me. If I didn't know better, I'd believe they even count the ice cubes they put in my tea – no lemon. I swear I've gained ten pounds since discovering Cuban food.
I won't be eating at Felix's today, though. It's a rare occasion that I get to meet Jasper for lunch, and he has his own favorite places, so I'm indulging him.
I take a seat on the steps outside Park Central Hotel and wait. A lot of the best restaurants on South Beach are tucked away inside the hotels, according to Jasper. How he knows that, I'm not sure. He has lived in a high-rise condo downtown since moving here four years ago.
Jasper was adopted by my parents, Charlie and Renee, when he was three. My mom had suffered several miscarriages before doctors told her there was no hope. They went to a local orphanage to find a child when everyone else was going to China. It was rare to find a child as young as Jasper. Children that young are usually among the first to be adopted, but they got lucky with him.
It wasn't long after they adopted Jasper that they got a surprise – me. I was their miracle baby. But in order for me to be born, my mom was risking her own life. It was a chance they decided to take. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for them. On the day I was born, September 13, 1987, one month early, my mom slipped away and doctors couldn't bring her back.
When my dad told me this story on my fifteenth birthday, I was amazed that he still had so much love in his heart for me, the person who took the love of his life away from him.
His response had been "She was my love of my life, but she gave me a piece of her to love even more."
When Jasper decided to join the force, he asked our dad's permission to drop Swan from his name for professional reasons. I had thought he was crazy, but it kind of made sense. My dad agreed, and to this day, Jasper still uses the last name of Hale.
When he finally pulls up, I can't help but smile as he masterfully parallel parks his old baby blue El Camino across the street. The car is a gem, a sixteenth birthday present from our dad, and Jasper babies it. He gets out, taking time to walk to each end of the car to make sure there's adequate space before jogging across the street to meet me.
"Hey, sis," he says, kissing my cheek. "Waiting long?"
"Nope." I nod toward the car. "Looks good."
He grins. "Just had 'er waxed. So, are you ready for school?"
"I am," I answer, walking alongside him into the hotel. We enter Quinn's and the hostess recognizes Jasper right away. Of course.
I roll my eyes when he winks at the woman. "Seriously, Jazz?"
"What? I'm a friendly guy," he declares, grinning.
We decide to sit outside so that we can people watch. It's a beautiful August day, as opposed to the last two days when it was cloudy and rainy thanks to a tropical depression parked off the coast.
I begin seeking out the cheaper items on the menu. I love my brother, but his tastes run fairly more expensive than mine. I'm Golden Corral compared to his Ruth's Chris.
"My treat today," he says without a hint of condescension.
"You don't have to do that." I shake my head, not happy with him trying to baby me.
"I know, but I feel bad because I hardly get to see you anymore. Now that school is starting back up, it might be even less."
"Ah, the good ol' guilt lunch. Gotcha. I won't argue. I can't afford this on a teacher's salary anyway." And it's true. I have money in savings, and my salary isn't that bad, but I really can't fathom spending fifty bucks for lunch.
"See? Just like Dad said. Everything always works out."
"I don't really think he was talking about food, but okay," I reply, smiling.
After we've ordered, Jasper lays his BlackBerry on the table, ready to answer it right away.
"Anything new?" I ask, taking a sip of lemonade.
"If by new, you mean exciting, then yeah. There's a few things going on right now. Nothing I can tell you, of course."
"I don't want the details anyway. I'll just worry," I say, thinking back to all the times Dad came home late - and then when he didn't come home at all.
"So, what about you?" he asks, eying the backside of a tall and rather svelte redhead as she passes by.
"God, you are incorrigible!" I say, scrunching up my nose. "Seriously, you need to find a girl and settle down."
"Oh, right. You know how impossible that is right now, Bella. No woman wants to get involved with someone who loves his job more than he can love her."
"You know what I mean," he says. "Anyhow, I asked about you."
"There's nothing new since the last time we met, Jazz. I'm just ... ya know, not real optimistic about the choices around here."
"You're kidding me. Look around you, Bella. There are young, hot and single guys all over the place."
I glance around, but I see none of these guys he speaks of. "Who have seen more action than Chuck Norris," I finally say.
"You have to admit the choices here are better than they were in Cleveland. Maybe you're just looking in the wrong places."
"Or maybe I'm meant to die alone and miserable with a piña colada in my hand." That's more likely.
He chuckles. "Well, Emmett's always-"
"Oh my God, stop." I hold up my hand before he goes any further. "Don't even go there."
"Just sayin'," he mumbles.
The inquisition thankfully ends as soon as our food hits the table. But as expected, we only make it through half of our meal when Jasper's phone buzzes. I sigh and signal our server. We'll need the check, and Jasper will likely need a take-away box.
"When?" Jasper says into the phone while attempting to scarf down more of his food. "Okay, yeah ... no, I'll be there ... tell McCarty to be ready ... yeah, alright. Peace."
He hangs up, an apologetic look crossing his face. "I'm so sorry, Bella. God, I feel like such a tool."
"Hey, I understand. Duty calls," I say, and I do understand. I've grown accustomed to being left to my own devices. Our dad was the same way. The phone would ring, he'd give a few abrupt answers and then disappear.
Jasper fishes a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and lays it on the table before standing. "Stay, finish your lunch." He leans down and kisses the top of my head. "I'll be in touch. Love ya."
"Love you, too," I say. "Be careful."
"Always." He winks before jumping over the rail and onto the sidewalk as if he's a superhero on a mission. In a way, I guess he is. Ridding the city of crime and all that.
I end up pushing the food around on my plate, my appetite waning. I admire Jasper for being so involved in his career, much like our dad had been. But I constantly walk around with a ball of worry in my stomach, waiting for a knock on the door, or a phone call telling me that my worst fear has come true.
I don't want to go through it again. Jasper's all I have.
Six years ago, two days after I turned seventeen, I was suddenly pulled out of AP Biology – in the middle of a test, no less – and taken to the counselor's office, where I found Jasper sitting, leaning forward, his head in his hands.
I knew immediately something was wrong. My stomach dropped, and I sank into the chair next to him. He lifted his head and looked at me, his blue eyes full of sadness and pain. More pain than I'd ever witnessed.
"Is he dead?" I asked. The counselor, Mrs. Cope, had moved to stand beside me, laying her hand on my shoulder. It wasn't the least bit comforting, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," Jasper whispered.
"I want to see him," I replied, shrugging Mrs. Cope's hand away.
"Isabella, perhaps you'd like to talk about-" Mrs. Cope started, but I cut her off.
"Jazz, take me to see him," I said, standing. "I want to go."
"Bella, that's not a good idea," he answered, getting to his feet.
"Did you see him?"
"That's different. I responded to the scene, and…" His words trailed off, and his eyes slid shut. He shook his head, like he was trying to get rid of the image. I could only imagine what he'd seen.
"I want to see him," I said again.
Mrs. Cope cleared her throat. "Isabella, would you mind if I had a moment with your brother?"
"Yes, I would mind," I snapped at her. "I know what you're going to say. You're going to tell him that I want to see my dad's dead body as some sort of closure, or because that's the only way I'll believe it."
"Bella," Jasper said in his warning tone.
"I want to see him. Is that too much to ask?" I crossed my arms in defiance. Maybe part of me needed to be convinced that it wasn't a dream, but somehow, I thought that if I could see him before he was dressed in a suit, with makeup on his face and stuck in a coffin, I could say goodbye to the dad that I knew, the one I remembered. At his funeral, he would just be the shell of a man I called Dad.
Jasper sighed and nodded. "Alright, let's go."
"I'll take care of your classes for the next few days, Isabella," Mrs. Cope said, walking with us into the hallway. "Shall I send someone by with your homework?"
I nodded, tried to offer her a smile of gratitude, but it came out as a grimace.
The drive to the hospital was short, only a few miles to downtown Cleveland, but it may as well have been a dozen. Jasper said nothing as he drove, and I stared out the window. My mind was foggy, still trying to remember the last time I'd told him I loved him. I hadn't seen him since the prior evening, when he thanked me for fixing his favorite pasta dish and headed upstairs. At some point in the middle of the night, I heard a phone ring, his, and not ten minutes later he was heading down the stairs and out the door.
I wonder if he ever gave any thought to the fact that when he left the house, he might not return.
"Jazz?" I broke the silence in the car with a voice that didn't sound like mine.
He glanced in my direction, but said nothing.
"Was he … I mean, did he die there? Wherever it happened?"
Jasper pulled into the parking lot and drove toward the main entrance. "He died in surgery."
I swallowed down the rising bile in my throat and said nothing.
Jasper killed the engine and sank back against the seat, his eyes fixed ahead. "Bella, I don't like this. He wouldn't want you to see him this way."
"Jasper, I have to," I said softly. "I don't want to regret not doing it."
He nodded and opened his door. I did the same and met him at the front, where he took my hand and gave it a squeeze.
We walked by a horde of media, none of them paying us any attention.
On the elevator, Jasper hit the button for the basement. The morgue.
I laid a hand on my stomach and closed my eyes. I played a scene in my head of my dad and I at a father-daughter dance when I was twelve. It was obvious I got my lack of dance skills from him, because while other fathers were twirling their daughters around, my dad and I were content to just stand there and shuffle our feet around a little. But he was there, and that's all that mattered.
The elevator came to a stop, and I felt my heart rate spike.
As soon as the doors opened, my eyes landed on two of my dad's fellow marshals. They were talking in hushed tones that halted when they realized they had company. Neither of them said a word to us, just nodded sadly as we walked by.
Jasper walked to the counter and told someone that we were there to see Charles Swan.
"Deputy Marshal Swan," I added. My dad had given his life to them, after all. The least that we could do was recognize it.
We waited as the woman made a phone call. She glanced at us, then hung up the phone.
"Someone will be right with you," she said. "May I get either of you a drink?"
I shook my head, but Jasper asked for coffee, and had it in less than a minute.
Several minutes passed before a set of steel doors opened at the end of the hall, and a man wearing a white coat quickly walked toward us. The heels of his shiny black loafers echoed so loud on the tiled floor that it sounded like a horse was approaching.
"Deputy Hale, Miss Swan," he said. "Follow me."
Jasper looked at me, and I knew he was again asking me to reconsider. I shook my head in silent dispute and followed the man down the hall.
When we passed through the heavy doors, I shivered. The air was cold and reeked of chemicals. I wrinkled my nose in disgust.
Surrounded by dead bodies, and all I could find sickening was the smell of bleach.
The man paused outside another steel door, and he gave me a look that rivaled Jasper's.
"I should warn you," he said, pulling the door ajar. "I did my best to clean him up when the front desk called, but-"
Jasper laid a hand on my back, ushering me through the door.
I froze when I spotted him. His entire body was covered with a white sheet, save for his head.
I glared at Jasper. "You could have warned me," I said through clenched teeth.
Jasper looked at me in disbelief. "Are you kidding me, Bella? I tried."
"But you didn't tell me he …" I turned my back to the room, covering my mouth. The salad I had for lunch was threatening to make a reappearance.
I heard footsteps, then a small paper cup was thrust in front of me.
I drank the water quickly, crumpling the cup into a ball before taking a deep breath and turning around.
Jasper kept in step with me as I slowly made my way to the slab holding the body of my lifeless father.
I paused a foot away, tears in my eyes.
"Oh, Jazz," I whispered, seeking out his hand.
"I'm sorry, Bella," he replied, gripping my fingers tightly.
I took another step forward, and paused again. I had made a mistake by coming to this place. I'd never remember my dad's warm brown eyes, full of mischief when we went fishing and he dangled worms in front of my face. All I would remember from this moment on was the big fleshy hole where one of those eyes used to be.
The door to the room closed, and we were suddenly alone. Just the two of us and our dead father.
"They tried to save him, Bella," Jasper said. "He wasn't shot at close range, and the bullet went in through his cheek. They worked on him all the way to the hospital and took him straight to surgery, but they lost him on the table. He'd lost too much blood."
"Were you with him?" I asked, my eyes focused on my dad's still chest. I stared at it, sending up wish after wish that it was a horrible mistake, and could his chest just please move.
"I was headed to the scene after I heard the initial call for county backup. Then the call came for an officer down. I never imagined … it never occurred to me that it would be him. They were serving a warrant on a guy wanted out of Atlanta. He wasn't going to go without a fight."
"Is he dead?"
Jasper nodded. "Peter took the guy out, or so I heard. Dad never regained consciousness. I rode in the ambulance with him. I don't even know if he knew I was there."
"He did, Jazz," I said, hoping to comfort him. "I'm sure he did."
Jasper reached a shaky hand up to his face and wiped at the tears. He may not have been our dad's biological son, but Charlie was the only dad he had known.
I laid my head against his shoulder, and we stood there for several minutes. It was quiet in the room, and after the initial shock of seeing my dad had worn off, I began to find some comfort being at his side. I kept thinking about all of those weird shows and movies that depict the afterlife, and whether or not they were true. Had my dad reached his final destination yet? Or was he still there with us, his soul hanging on for just a few more minutes with his children?
We were both startled when the door opened, and a man who was quite clearly a police chaplain walked in. He was dressed in a dark blue suit, his badge pinned over his heart and a Bible in his hands. His steps didn't once falter as he neared my dad's grotesque figure. I could only imagine the horrible things this man had seen.
"I hope to be of some comfort, should you welcome it," he offered, standing at the head of the table. "Perhaps with some prayer?"
I looked up at Jasper, and he nodded. Neither of us were religious, but at a time like this, strength was welcome from anywhere.
The chaplain moved so that he was across from us, and my eyes widened slightly when he reached under the sheet and took my dad's hand. He looked at Jasper and I, as if silently commanding us to do the same, and I found myself reaching under the sheet. The minute my fingers touched my dad's cold hand, my knees buckled and Jasper's arm slid around me to hold me up, but I clasped the once-strong hand of my father and held on to it tightly.
Can you feel that, Dad? I'm here, I have you…
The chaplain bowed his head. "My Lord, if I may be walking through fields that are rough with grief and care, may I have the courage to continue on to the smooth pastures, where I may walk with comfort and peace. May I not let the weariness and sorrow that may come to my heart today dwarf my hope and enjoyment of the future. Amen."
"Amen," Jasper and I whispered.
The chaplain removed his hand, gently straightening out the sheet, but I couldn't find the will to let go just yet.
"You both have the prayers of an entire law enforcement community," he said. "My services are available for you should you need them."
He opened the cover of the Bible and pulled out a card, handing it to Jasper. "God bless you both."
I ran my thumb back and forth across my dad's hand, tears rolling down my cheeks.
"I love you, Dad," I whispered. "I'm going to miss you so much."
Jasper stood by my side silently, and again four days later when we were faced with the daunting task of a massive funeral.
Two weeks after that, Jasper announced that he was going to follow in our dad's footsteps and pursue a career in federal law enforcement.
I wasn't happy about it, but who was I to try and talk him out of it? He never once told me I couldn't do anything I wanted to do.
I graduated from high school the next spring, and since he no longer had to look after his baby sister, Jasper left his job as a sheriff's deputy and went to the training academy in Georgia.
I headed off to Ohio State University in pursuit of my education degree.
Jasper eventually took a job in Miami after his training was complete, which was why I decided to leave Ohio after getting my degree.
It's strange how things just seem to fall into place. Had my dad not died, I'd probably still be in Ohio rather than sinking my feet into the white sands of South Beach.
And Jasper may not have decided to join the U.S. Marshals to do what I suspected is his way of finishing our dad's work.
But as I sit here on the beach and look across the vast expanse of the ocean, I realize there are greater things at play. We can make plans, do our own thing, but in the end, we really have no control over anything except for our emotions.
Everything else is out of our hands.
Chapter End Notes: Next chapter...soon.
Thank you for reading!