Jennrosee & Reamhar beta this. Thank you:) My pre-reader is genius. Without her, this story would suck.
FIVE YEARS AGO
Thursdays are my least favorite days of the week. We have softball practice right after school. During our chat session last night on the phone, Rose said she may not go, may just tell the Clapp that she's riding the cotton pony.
Dreading the day ahead, I move at a snail's pace until there's no time to walk, until I must rely on Charlie giving me a lift to school even though I hate riding shotgun in his cruiser. I'm still delaying, drinking orange juice, when he calls me and I start scurrying to the garage. I open up the glass sliding door in the living room and see Edward running in easy, long strides across our lawn. He's not wearing his school uniform.
He looks straight up at me, his step faltering. He's wearing old jeans and has the hood of his grey sweatshirt pulled over his head. I can see clouds of his breath hanging in the cool morning air, as he stares at me, not blinking.
We both stand there, frozen in our spots.
"Bella!" I hear Charlie yell.
Edward blinks, looks away. Still, his feet aren't moving.
"Run," I mouth and turn.
When I reach the back of the garage, he's sprinting.
"The delinquent is missing," Rose notes with a smirk during lunch.
I turn around to check the table he's usually lounging at, confirming what I already know, and shrug my shoulders.
On my way to practice, I see Mr. and Mrs. Cullen walking down the corridor in my direction. Someone must have called them already to tell them of Edward's unexcused absence. My gut tells me to dodge. I make a beeline to the girls room to wait until they pass.
Rose doesn't get the Clapp by herself when we reach the gym, so she can't work her angle. Instead, the Old Dragon stands there with the Clapp, intent on chatting. After she hears Rose's whining, she orders her to spend the hour of practice sitting on a bench. I expect Rose to make more drama, but then she rolls her eyes and obliges.
We both dilly-dally after practice, taking forever to change and walk the long route home by the gas station where Rose liberates them of chewing gum.
"Why didn't you just pay for this?" I say, laughing, as we drift down the street.
"Because we'll need it to cover this." She grins, not answering my question, pulling out a pack of Virginia Slims, probably stolen from Barbie's purse. "Besides, where's the excitement in paying for stuff?"
She tucks the pack away quickly when Charlie's police cruiser stops next to us and he says, "Get in the car, girls."
"The Cullens' kid went missing today. I don't want you two walking around by yourself until we've figured out what's going on," he orders the minute we're in the car. "Bella, I'll take you to school in the morning, and I already spoke to Rose's mother. She's going to pick you up."
I don't say anything, expecting Rose to surely complain, but she miraculously doesn't say a thing, even though this will cramp her style.
"So, how was your day, kiddo?" Charlie prods, once Rose has been dropped off.
"Okay," I reply quickly as we get out of the car. I'm about sprint up the stairs to my room when Charlie stops me.
"Bella?" I stare at him, one foot on the bottom step of the stairs.
"Do you know anything? I mean, about that kid, Edward, disappearing." His eyebrows are raised in expectation.
"No, not really."
He nods and lets it go.
"I can't believe that because of the delinquent's disappearance act, we're stuck hitching a ride again," Rose lamented over the phone later that night.
"Mmm," was all she got from me in response, feeling guilty for not telling her what I saw this morning. I can't shake the feeling that I'm betraying my best friend. Still, I can't tell her.
Without my help, it's quickly determined that he ran away, rather than being abducted. Mr. Stanley saw him on his way to work saw trying to hitch a ride near the mill. Charlie calmed down after that.
After the weekend, rumors start flying. Where Edward came from before he moved to Forks becomes the talk of the town. Worse stuff than what they said about Renee.
"I heard his parents were both M.I.A. and his older brother had to raise his four siblings on his own. Some crazy story how there were four kids living unsupervised in some rat shack, one of them selling weed, when a social worker found them," Jane says deadpan, her bob so straight, like it was cut with a ruler.
"I heard his mom's a crack addict. One of his sister came out retarded because of it," Vicky blabs, her voice squeaky and her face excited like a high-strung Chihuahua. "Can you believe he ran away from the Cullens to go back to that?"
"Shut up, Vicky. Nobody cares," Rose responds, her eyes narrowed. Vicky keeps quiet for the rest of the lunch break, her tail tucked in.
A week goes by with no sighting of Edward and the stories get wilder. Milky Mikey tells everyone Edward's sister is a ho and his brother the biggest dealer in the North West, who had Edward peddle drugs at his last school. Rose says she believes that one. Not the part about his brother being the biggest drug dealer or the sister being a prostitute, but she says, "The delinquent for sure has done some shady things."
Before Charlie heads out to do his fishing thing on Sunday, he asks me to run to the shed in the yard and get him a can of bait. Standing in front of the wooden door, I notice that something's off right away. The metal hook that latches the door closed is hanging down loosely rather than being rammed into the loop.
Instead of running off to tell Charlie, I stand there contemplating the break-in that happened a couple of houses down three weeks ago. Not much was missing, but the Crowley's dog, a grey old poodle, was found dead with a bullet in his head.
"Bella," someone says from inside. The door opens quickly and I get pulled through by my arm. "Shhh."
My eyes don't adjust immediately to the dark, but I know it's him anyway. He's standing close to me, the smell of rain, blood and sweat hanging in the air.
"Wait," I whisper, my hand searching for the light switch.
"Don't." He grabs my hand to stop me. He's breathing quickly next to me.
"Charlie wants a can of bait. I need light to find it." He doesn't let go of my hand. "Relax," I tell him and feel his hand let go.
He moves back the minute I hit the switch, sliding to the floor on the other side of the room with his head hanging between his knees. He's as far away from me as he can get in this cramped space. I take a step to the shelf, grab the can Charlie wants and then move closer to look at him. I don't see his face. He's keeping that carefully hidden. There's some reddish brown stuff smeared on his hands.
"I'll be back. In like twenty minutes or so. I'll get some stuff," I say and turn to the door to leave.
"Wait." I hear him croak.
"You better not tell anyone."
I don't respond, just flip the light switch and go. Telling anyone hadn't crossed my mind until he said it.
Once Charlie's gone, I collect first aid supplies in haste and march back to the shed.
He's still in the same spot where I left him, only his head is up now, leaning back against the wall, like he's not hiding it anymore. I flinch as I see. There's a cut above his eye, pink flesh wide on display. Purple and yellow bruises are covering the other side of his face.
My stomach churns. It's too much, and I don't know where to begin. Part of me is tempted to leave him there. I swallow, drop down next to him on my knees, before I lose it and bolt.
He stares at me, cotton ball in my hand, probably debating whether to push me away. He closes his eyes and I dab the blood away, hesitant, my hands shaking. There's so much gunk on his face that I keep on having to get more cotton balls soaked in disinfectant, until my hands no longer move with unsteady imprecision but with force and determination. The smell of the disinfectant is no match to the biting stench that comes from him. He stinks like a bathroom at a highway rest stop. Piss and urinal deodorizer. I keep on going, listening to the sound of him breathing. He pulls back once, his jaw tense and his lips pressed together in a thin line, but mostly he holds still, only his nostrils flaring.
"Okay," I say, once I've placed a Band-Aid on his gash. "Here." I hand him a bottle of water I grabbed from the fridge.
"You didn't have to do that," he says, his voice flat.
"No shit." I toss the cotton balls in the plastic bag, half-nauseous from the sight of it. "What are you gonna do now?" When he doesn't respond, I continue, "Sit here and hide? And then what? Eventually Charlie will come down here, you know?"
"Not your problem." He shrugs his shoulders.
I feel like poking my finger into the cut on his brow, only that would possibly make me sicker than him. "You kinda made it my problem. And by the way, what idiot would run across your neighbor's yard, the neighbor who's a cop no less, while running off? I don't know-"
"Just … shut up!" he yells, looking at me with blazing red cheeks, his eyes red rimmed and angry.
"Fine," I say with my teeth clenched and get up to leave.
I'm almost out the door when I hear him again. "Hold on." I stand there, staring. "I didn't mean it. I mean … shit, thanks, okay?"
I turn, nod and then mumble, "You're welcome." Edward's up on his feet now, head bent down. "I'll get you something to eat."
Swiping peanut butter on the toast with a heavy hand, I fume. Rose would have told him to go screw himself. Yet, I feel some strange alliance, some weird pact I can't break.
"Here," I say, back in the shed, handing him the sandwich and apple before sliding down next to him a few feet away.
"Thanks," he says, digging in.
I watch him eat for a while, feeling awkward in the silence.
"What are you going to do now?" I start. He turns the apple in his palm, staring down at it, then shrugs and bites into it. "You don't have a plan?"
"No," he admits. "I guess I should go back. Next door, I mean. The Cullens." He shakes his head.
"They're worried about you. They're not bad people."
"I know," he says, wiping his hands on his dirty jeans before stretching out his legs. I see more blood through a rip in his jeans.
"What happened?" I don't expect an answer.
"I went home … to see my brother. But, yeah." He flinches, looks away to the shelf loaded with bait jars and motor oil. "Things have changed. I wouldn't be of any use there and-"
"That's not what I meant," I stop him and point at his face.
"Oh," he says with a faint grin, "that. I hitched a ride on the way back with some asshole trucker. I had some money and he tried to skin me. Cornered me in the restroom at some truck stop."
"Yeah, I can smell that."
"Sorry." He pauses for a moment, his leg bouncing up and down. "Anyway. He won."
The shifting fabric of his jeans reveals another wound on his knee. It hits me how badly he's hurt, that he could easily get sick. "You should go back. The doc can probably fix you up better," I say.
"Yeah, I know." His leg keeps on bouncing in a steady rhythm. It looks like it must hurt like hell.
"It's just the money, the money that guy stole from me. I took it from Cullens before I left."
"I don't think they'll care," I tell him. I have no idea whether the Cullens care or not, and I can tell he's not convinced either, since he just ignores me.
"How much did you take?" I ask, as if that somehow would make a difference.
"Five hundred," he answers.
Later on, I bring him a blanket and some more food. When Charlie heads down to the shed at night to drop off some fishing gear, I stop him and take the stuff from him to bring it down myself, making up some excuse about leaving something behind there when I went in the morning. Charlie's so tired that he doesn't seem to care and plops down on his chair.
Later, I wake up in panic, wondering if the Cullens would send him right back to where he came from. I toss and turn, waiting until I hear Charlie's bedroom door creak in the morning, as he gets ready for this shift. It's pitch dark outside. There's no time to waste if I want to follow through with my plan. I jump out of bed, pull the box stuffed with letters from Renee out from underneath my bed. She's been sending me cash since I moved here two years ago. I count all the bills twice, sneak past the bathroom door, listen for the sound of the shower and sprint downstairs, out into the yard.
He's asleep, rolled into a ball inside the shed. He blinks at me slowly, woken by the noise.
"Here." I place the stack of bills next to him on the floor. "It's $480. It's all I got. Go back," I say and turn around to run back to the house.
When I come back from school that day, the shed's empty.
Over dinner, Charlie confirms it. Edward's back next door. "Someone beat him up pretty badly. We're looking into it, but the guy could be miles away by now. I sure hope that boy has learned his lesson," he grumbles, while he's flipping beef patties in the frying pan.
Edward shows up to school the next day. The gash above his eye is stitched up neatly and the bruises don't look as bad anymore. The fact that he's there, limping, looking like's been in a boxing match, seems to end the trash talking that was going on just a day ago. Instead, it's back to hushed crushes and nods of respect.
"Hey," he greets me, his mouth twitching up in a half-smile.
"Hi," I say, as I wait for Rose in front of the school.
"I was going to come by this morning, but, yeah," he chuckles, scratching the back of his neck, "Esme is kind of not letting me out of sight. Driving me and stuff." I laugh, glancing down the stairs to where Mrs. Cullen is already parked. "Listen, I wanted to say thank you. I'll pay you back, okay?"
"Do you want a ride?" He points at the car and I shake my head. "Okay. I'll see you."
"What a moron." I hear Rose say as I watch him getting into the car, feeling my cheeks heat up. No way I'm telling Rose I gave him money. She'd possibly stop talking to me, and I couldn't even blame her. I feel like a fool.
That night, Charlie works late. Alone on the sofa, I hear odd noises coming from the stairs leading to the basement. My head tells me it's nothing, but my heart doesn't stop racing, my imagination playing tricks on me. I get up and lock the door to the basement and the glass sliding door in the living room just in case. I stand there inspecting the empty yard when I see him. He's leaning against the shed wearing a t-shirt and no jacket even though it's cold.
He looks at me, motions with his hand to the back of the shed and starts walking in that direction. I unlock the door and follow him.
As I round the corner of the shed, he's lighting a cigarette.
"Hey," he says. "Your dad home?"
I shake my head and stand next to him.
"Good. I would have knocked, but I wasn't sure. Sometimes he parks the cruiser in the garage."
I notice an old tin of bait standing by his feet with a lighter and a pack of loose tobacco tucked inside. "You come here often?" I ask.
"There's nowhere to hide in that yard." He nods in the direction of the Cullen's house. "So whenever Carlisle works late and I need to get out ...," he says, offering me the cigarette. I take it and inhale halfway to avoid coughing, like Rose and I've practiced.
"Esme doesn't care?"
He lifts one shoulder and I take another hit, then tip off the ashes. "I think she would, but once she's popped her evening vitamins she usually naps on the sofa," he says.
I feel lightheaded, as I hand him back the cigarette.
"I know why you did it," he says with his eyes narrowed, squinting down on me.
"Why I did what?" I ask, shifting, standing up straighter to tame the dizziness.
"You thought about running too." He blows the smoke out of his nose, and my heart feels like it's not beating fast enough. I take the cigarette when he hands it back to me.
"Well, I didn't." I inhale again.
"Yeah, but you wanted to." He smirks, knows he's got me there, and my stomach goes on revolt.
"Does it matter?" I pretend to take another puff, hand it back to him, my hand shaking from the cold. Edward doesn't seem to be bothered.
"Relax," he says, killing the cigarette while I swallow hard. "You don't have to get defensive with me." He exhales loudly. "Your secrets are safe with me." And then he winks.
I shake my head, but the fog won't clear. "I gotta go," I tell him and march to the sliding door and then sprint up the stairs.
I make it to the bathroom barely on time, happy that Charlie's not around to witness this.
The next day at school, right before lunch, Edward stops by my locker.
"What's up? Feeling okay?" he asks and chuckles.
"I'm fine. Why?" I tell him.
"Okay." He laughs some more, dimples on his cheeks, then gets serious and stiff. "Here," he says, taking my hand, slipping me something. It feels like paper, but I don't look down. "I'll see you later."
I nod, my eyes latching onto his retreating form.
"You're crushing. How sweet." I turn to see Rose standing right next to me. "And what's that?" She grabs my hand and flips it before I can pull it back. We both stare at the twenty-dollar bill folded up in my fist. "Why is he giving you money?"
"He's not. It slipped out of my bag and he handed it back to me," I tell her, pulling my hand out of her grip.
Rose doesn't press it, just smiles and walks ahead until I fall in line.
I arrive at prison camp not a minute too soon, entering AP Math just as the Mr. Grady gets up to close the door. The new chick, Alice, is absent, which makes me think she's not really trying hard to pass this class. Or she has no trouble keeping up.
Around lunch, I try to slink by the scene undetected. I'm halfway down the main corridor when I catch Lauren working Mike, like he's suddenly got something she's dying to sample. She's leaning against his locker, chewing her gum, laughing and touching. Not surprisingly, he's into it. Smiling like a tool, he moves closer to whisper something. Mike is simple. Getting laid is still an achievement in his eyes.
Everyone here knows that anybody can get with him. Only Jess didn't get the memo. She stands three steps behind them, watching the whole thing. I don't like her, but feel bad for her anyway. Whatever Lauren wants from Mike is probably short lived, and she knows that Jess has it bad for him. Jess's pudgy cheeks are tinted a brighter shade of pink and her eyes focused into the distance, you can tell Lauren's stunt is getting to her.
If Rose was around, we'd stay and watch until Lauren lost her cool and scuttled. Alone, I can't miss my chance to leave unnoticed and head toward the back exit.
I slip out when the bell rings at the end of the day. My car is parked at the far end of the lot, in the only spot left upon my late morning arrival.
The rain has stopped and, as I get closer to the car, I see someone leaning against the passenger door. Definitely a guy. Maybe Lauren's attention wasn't enough for the day. I think about walking home, leaving the car there. Then I focus, notice that the person leaning against the car isn't wearing a uniform and hate myself for being such a wuss.
"Wassup, B?" Jake stands up straight from his slouched position, a smile on his face as if everything's perfect, sunshine, clean and clear. I'm relieved and angry at the same time.
"How did you get here?" I ask, unlocking the doors.
"Last period got cancelled. They couldn't find a sub. Embry was heading this way, so I thought I'd come see you. Been a while." That would never happen at St. Mary's. He settles into the seat next to me, smelling of soap and fabric softener. Things would be easier if I could just transfer to his school. Unfortunately, that's out of the question; La Push High's only for the kids of the reservation. "Your place?"
"You smell like a girl, Jake."
"That's the way I like it."
At home, in the backyard sharing his menthols, his soft-shaven face straightens. "Yo, you look like shit," he says, his eyebrows furrowed.
"Thanks," I reply, exhaling, hating the minty aftertaste. "I work hard on it."
"How's the head shrink, the ice-lady?"
I shrug my shoulders. "Why do you call her that?"
Jake blows out smoke and runs his hand over his neatly cut hair. "She looks it. Pretty, polished, no hair out of place. Kind of like you can't get to her. She's above it all. Makes you wonder, what the fuck she's doing here."
"She is … good, I guess," I say, though I sometimes wonder about that. She lets me get away with a lot and I'm a no master at faking it. I've come to think that maybe she's got something up her sleeve, some trick she's yet to play. "I'm only going because of Charlie." He offers me back his cigarette. I shake my head.
"Does she give you any meds?" He's cracking a devious smile to mock me.
"Please. You don't wanna take that shit. Unless groggy and numb is your thing."
"So you're not takin' what the doc prescribes?" I shake my head in confirmation. Jake kills the cigarette butt in the dirt and then puts it in the shirt pocket. "Why?"
"It's legal. Where's the fun in that?" I tell him, half-seriously, and he laughs.
"You think you're badass, B? You never could play that shit off. Rose on the other hand …" He bites his lip, pauses. "Besides, looks like you could use a good night's sleep," he says, blowing his menthol smoke in my direction.
"Do me a favor and worry about your own stuff instead of mine." I push myself off the wall and head back inside.
He doesn't offer a comeback, but follows me and then just stands in the living room with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
I sink down on the sofa and turn on the TV, ignoring him.
"Well, at least I'm not losing sleep over stuff or letting the shitheads at school scare me," Jake says quietly, sitting down next to me.
I stare at the screen; the weather report's on.
"Yeah, you're so much better than me, because you're driving two towns over to hook up with a guy who doesn't even say hi to you when you see him in the street." Being mean, hitting below the belt didn't always come easy to me, and I hate that it happens now more and more. As if it's a skill I picked up, like braiding friendship bracelets in third grade, and now I can't stop practicing it. "Tell me, do Seth and Embry even know? I mean, it's not like you're really being out and honest or did I miss anything?"
"Fuck you too."
We watch TV for a while in silence. Jake can't stay mad though. I know even before his fingers flick against my thigh. He takes the remote and turns off the noise.
"Listen, I'm sorry for stirring the shit back then. It wasn't my place to call you out like that. It's just … man, I hated that girl's guts and what she was doing to you."
"Rose wasn't doing anything. I was the one who screwed things up."
"Oh, please. That whole martyr act of yours is bullshit and you know it. You didn't screw up anything. Do you honestly think this wouldn't have happened eventually?"
"Forget it," I say, hoping he'll let it go.
"That's weak, B."
"You can talk to me, you know? If the Ice Lady ain't doing it for you, that's fine. But I think you need to talk to someone."
"I'm okay. It'll be okay. I'll graduate, leave and this will be so over," I say and almost believe it. "Talking about Ice Lady, I've to go. I have a 5:30 appointment. I can drop you off?"
He gets up sighing, offering me his hand to pull me up. "Fine. But you're going out with me. This Saturday. Seth's throwing a party."
"Okay. Seth's place. Saturday."
We pass by the Clearwater's old shack on the way to Jake's place. Barely standing, almost washed away by a freak rainstorm last year, its remains littering the landscape. A Popsicle colored emergency trailer sits next to it. Leah's German Shepherd barks from his spot behind the fenced-in lot, as angry at its owner.
The last stretch of the road to Jake's house is unpaved and narrows to a path with only enough space for one car at a time. We pass a mountain of tires and rusting car parts sitting nearby, all part of a side business Billy used to run before Diabetes put him in a wheelchair. I pull up to their house and put the car in park.
"Have you thought about calling him?" Jake asks with a sober expression on his face.
"Why do you even ask me that?" I say on the defensive.
"Listen," he says as he eyes me up and down in the closed space of the car; it feels like all the air is gone, "This isn't working for you. Personally, I think he's an asshole and, well, his behavior pretty much proves it." He exhales loudly, and rolls his eyes. "Whatever. But I think you need to talk to someone. I'm obviously not doing it for you, and you two, I mean, even without Rose, you used to be tight. Think about it."
"I don't need to talk to him."
"Please, not again." He's starting to sound tired, like he's over it. Over me. "I don't wanna hear the 'I need to see Rose' line again. If that's all you got, save it. I'm outta here."
He waits for a second before hugging me good-bye.
Despite what Jake thinks, Edward wasn't the asshole. Not this time around anyway. I was.
Denali's not at her office. The lady at the front desk informs me she had an emergency and needed to leave early. I breathe a sigh of relief.
The driveway and the garage are empty when I get home, which means Charlie is working late. Since it's garbage pickup day tomorrow, I go inside, empty the last trash bags into the black plastic drum and drag it out to the street. Esme is near the corner, placing a pumpkin in the center of their lawn.
I try to sneak back to the house, but then she sees me and calls, waving at me. "Bella!"
"Hi, Esme," I say, turning slowly in her direction.
"How have you been? It feels like I haven't seen you since … well, since Edward left." I smile as she plucks at her shirt and then pushes her short hair behind her ear.
"I'm okay. Busy with school and all."
"Right, right. College applications and all that stuff. It's so exciting." I nod, waiting to leave. "I meant to ask Charlie—I wanted to trim the hedges, if it's okay with him. Could you ask him about it?"
"I'm sure it's fine," I say. She knows Charlie doesn't care if she trims the hedges.
Esme doesn't respond, just stands there, playing with the golden charm of her necklace, looking at me. I'm used to it. It's her thing. Like, sometimes, in the middle of conversations, she stares at you for a really long time without saying anything and you wonder whether she's waiting for something from you, like expecting some kind of answer. It used to drive Edward nuts when he first came to live with the Cullens. I think, at some point, he just started walking away whenever it happened.
"Well, goodnight," I say, and Esme drops her necklace, startled.
"Right. You probably have homework to finish," she mumbles.
"Yeah." I turn to leave.
"Goodnight then," she says, still staring at me and not moving.
Charlie comes home around midnight. I'm up, wonder if what Jake said about Edward and me being tight was ever true. People used to think we were friends though they never made the mistake of thinking we were more, not even before he was with Rose. Friends. I can't say if we were.
I'm sorry for the long delay in updating. Going forward, I hope to work at a faster pace. And who ever rec'd this at The Lemonade Stand – thank you so much. It totally made my week to see all the alerts bouncing into my mailbox.