"Edward," I asked quietly, looking down at our clasped hands so I didn't have to look up at his face. "What happens now?"
"What do you mean, Bella?" he asked.
"I mean, when we get back to Forks. You're you... and I'm just me," I said.
"Bella, you are incredible," he said, lifting my chin so I faced him. "I wish I had gotten the time to know that before." He kissed me softly on the lips.
"So we're still going to be dating?" I asked, biting my lip and looking into his piercing green eyes, searching for any hint of hesitation.
"We're forever," he promised again. "You're my girl. I'm not saying it's going to be completely easy, but we're in this together."
I fidgeted with the small ring on my right ring finger. Edward had given it to me as a promise two weeks earlier. It was also the night that we'd first... gone all the way.
Edward and I had grown up together in the sleepy town of Forks, and though we had been in the same class since kindergarten, we'd never run in the same circles. He hung out with the popular kids, Jasper, Emmett, Mike, Rosalie, Alice, Jessica and Lauren. I hung out with Angela, who had moved to Texas with her family over the summer, and sometimes Eric and Ben. We were both top students, which earned us the honor of spending the summer taking classes at Dartmouth. Both already assured of full scholarships.
At first we started speaking to each other out of necessity. We were thrust into classrooms filled with more students than we had in our whole school and it was extremely overwhelming. We were both hungry for a little taste of home. The more we talked, the more comfortable I felt. He seemed to feel the same way, and soon we were spending more and more time together. I felt myself opening up to him in ways I couldn't have dreamed and he seemed more comfortable and at ease with me too.
Then he kissed me.
It was a simple kiss, his lips pressed ever so gently to mine, but it was everything. My first kiss. I would never even have dared to dream that my first kiss would have been with Edward. But Dartmouth was another world. People spoke to Edward and I as equals, and we both made friends. There he wasn't Edward Cullen, golden boy of Forks, and I wasn't Bella the Brain, local nerd extraordinaire. We were just Edward and Bella, two young kids far from home and falling in love.
But now we were heading back home and all my insecurities were back full force. As the plane began it's decent into Seattle, the butterflies I had been feeling intensified ten fold. I was certain I was going to throw up by the time we were taxiing to the gate.
"I love you, Bella," Edward said as he leaned over and kissed me.
"I love you, too," I said to him, pressing my forehead into his.
"Let's go. I'm sure everyone is waiting for us," he said smiling and handing my my small carry-on from the overhead compartment. We made our way through the terminal with our hands clenched together.
"Your dad is coming to get you, right?" he asked, smiling at me before we made our way through the doors to the arrival lounge.
"Yup," I said.
"And I'll see you at home," he said, kissing me once more.
"Yeah," I said.
"I'll call you tonight, and then we'll hang out tomorrow before we go back to classes on Monday."
"Okay," I said.
Edward released my hand momentarily to open the door. As soon as we were through the door, I reached for his hand but a loud squeal interrupted that thought as Alice Brandon came dashing over and launched herself at Edward. Soon he was surrounded by his parents and all his friends, and I was forgotten. I blinked quickly to dismiss the tears that were threatening to form and made my way to the luggage carousel to get my suitcase. I looked for Charlie but didn't see him. Edward and his entourage grabbed his bags and made for the exit minutes later.
An hour later I was still waiting for Charlie. I tugged my bag over to the closest payphone and dialed our home number.
"Hello," Charlie's voice said.
"Dad?" I asked, unable to believe that he was at home.
"Bells?" he asked. "Why are you calling?"
"I'm at the airport," I said, the tears I had been fighting until this minute coming without my permission.
"What airport?" he asked,
"In Seattle, Dad," I said. "My plane landed an hour ago."
"Now? You weren't supposed to be arriving home until tomorrow," he said.
"Who is it Charlie?" I heard a female voice in the background say.
"It's my daughter," he said, obviously trying to cover the mouthpiece so he couldn't be heard. It didn't work.
"That's right," the woman sighed, sounding disappointed. "She's coming home tomorrow."
"Shhh," he said. "She's actually at the airport now. Apparently, her flight was today."
"Well, you aren't driving to Seattle now," she said. "We have plans."
"Bells is a good kid," he said. "I'm sure she'll take the bus."
"Good," the woman said. The finality of her words were unmistakable.
"Dad?" I asked. "Who's there with you?"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I thought I heard you talking to someone," I said.
"No, Hon," he said. "It was just the TV."
"Oh," I said, my heart breaking even more with the lie he told me.
"It's late and I've had a couple of beers, do you think you could catch the bus?" he asked.
"Sure, Dad," I said. "I'll call you and let you know when to pick me up from the bus station."
"Sounds good," he said, sounding distracted. "I'll see you soon."
And he was gone. The sobs that were building in my chest came bursting out and I collapsed on the closest bench and cried. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Strangers gawked as they walked past me, nobody even tried to talk to me. It took me twenty minutes to compose myself. I grabbed the payphone again and tried to call Edward. Maybe they had gone for something to eat and would still be close. I took the piece of paper with his cell number on it and dialed quickly.
"You've reached Edward, you know what to do," his voice said on his answering machine.
"Hey, Edward," I said, trying to sound normal. "I won't be home on time for you to call me tonight but I can't wait to see you tomorrow. I love you."
I took a deep breath and made my way out of the airport to the bus stop. I was thankful that I had packed rather light as my suitcase was hard enough to move with on the crowded bus. Forty minutes later I was at the bus station and I was thankful that I had an emergency credit card from my mom and Phil as I didn't even have enough money to pay the $46.00 I needed to buy my ticket to Port Angeles. I tried to call Charlie to let him know when the bus would be in, but the phone just rang. Oh well, I was certain he would figure out what time to meet me in Port Angeles.
I sat back and read a discarded newspaper as I waited the three hours for the bus, trying Charlie's number every fifteen minutes or so. By the time I boarded I was ready to sleep, but seeing as the other eight passengers on the bus looked like they were either muggers or murderers, I decided that I would just stay awake. When the bus finally pulled into Port Angeles it was just after 3:00am. With the east coast time change it was after 6:00 and I hadn't slept a wink all night. I had hoped to see Charlie waiting there, but he wasn't. I guess I was supposed to call.
My legs and arms felt like lead as I pulled my suitcase into the almost deserted bus station. I made it to the payphone and sifted through my coins, dialing Charlie again. I dialed him nine times in a row but he never answered. I dialed Edward's cell number again, but was not surprised when it went straight to voicemail. I didn't want him to feel bad for my predicament, so I left a short message telling him I loved him and I missed him, before sitting on a bench to wait for the first bus to Forks, which left at 6:40 that morning. At 6:30, I dragged my suitcase out of the station to the bus stop outside. The rain was light, thankfully and the bus was on time. There were only two other people on the bus and so I plopped myself down in a seat near the front and watched the scenery as we made our way to Forks. The thoughts of a hot shower, warm food, and my cozy little bed were the only things, other than Edward, that crossed my mind
I was exhausted by the time the bus passed the welcome to Forks sign, but I pulled from every energy reserve I had to get myself off the bus and into the diner.
"Bella!" Sue cheered as I walked in the door, crossing the room to give me a big hug. "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes. When did you get back?"
"Just now," I said, softly. "Can I use your phone to call my dad?" A shadow crossed her eyes as she looked a little angry for a moment, before resuming her regular cheery demeanor.
"Sure, Honey," she said. "Can I get you anything?"
"It's okay," I said, biting my lip nervously. "I don't have any more money right now."
"This one's on me," she said kindly. "How did you get back from the airport?"
"Thank you," I said, tears threatening to spill again. "Ummm, I took the bus."
"That had to have taken you all night," she said, looking shocked.
"Yeah," I said.
"And where was your father?" she asked, her tone a cross of anger and concern.
"Working I guess," I said. "He didn't answer the phone at home and I hate to bother him at the station."
"You should have bothered him," she said. "It isn't right to leave a young girl to take buses at night."
"I was fine," I said. "I'm sure he would have come if he could have. Something important must have come up."
"I'm sure," she said angrily, before taking a breath and adding in a much cheerier tone. "So am I getting you the usual?"
"Please," I said, placing my suitcase and carry on at the back booth.
"You can use the phone in the back," she said.
I dialed the house number again but there was no answer, so I reluctantly tried the station. I wouldn't bother him if he was busy, but I'd just let him know I was home.
"Hey, Mark," I said to my dad's deputy when he answered the phone.
"Bellagirl, aren't you a feast for the ears," he said. "How are you?"
"Good," I lied. "Is my dad there?"
"Nope," he said. "He's hasn't been in all week. When did you get back?"
"Just now," I said.
"So was Dartmouth as wonderful as you'd hoped?" he asked, happily making small talk with me.
"It was wonderful," I said, wishing with all that I was that I was back there where everything had seemed perfect.
"Well, I should get going," he said. "Speeders to catch and all that."
"I guess I'll talk to you later," I said, hurt that it hadn't been work that kept my father from coming to get me.
"Bye, Honey," he said. After saying goodbye, I held the phone to my ear listening to the dial tone. I knew that there had been a woman at the house last night. Why had he not just admitted that to me? Why had he lied? I would have been happy that my father found someone. But why was she so important that he completely forgot me?
I tried Edward's cell again. Straight to voice mail. I put down the phone and took a deep breath, willing myself to get the courage to walk back out front. As soon as I did, Sue met me with my breakfast.
"Not there?" she asked kindly.
"No," I said. "I guess he's busy."
"I guess," she added darkly. I returned to the back booth where I'd left my suitcase and sat down. Sue put down my food and looked like she was about to say something, when the door chimed, signifying that she had more customers. She smiled sadly at me and greeted the newcomers warmly. I ate slowly, savoring the familiarity of the blueberry pancakes. I was half way done when I became aware that the booth behind me was occupied.
"Poor Eddie," Rosalie Hale's voice said, floating over the distance. Eddie? She must be talking about Edward.
"Totally," Alice Brandon piped in.
"I can't believe he had to waste his summer with HER," Rosalie said. "Can you imagine, having to play nice with Barfy the Brain?" Her? They were talking about me.
"Gross," Alice said. "Apparently he didn't just play nice he got her to cash in her V-card with him. Yuck! Her clothes alone are enough to make me want to vomit. Imagine having to touch her." They knew about our relationship. I knew they would never accept me.
"Gross," Rose said. "Apparently he even has her convinced that he loves her. Nobody does. Her own father wasn't even at the airport to pick her up. I saw him out with Tanya Denali when we got back to town last night. I wonder if she's still waiting."
"Oh my God!" Alice laughed. "Why would anyone want to claim her from the airport? If he did show up, hopefully he found someone who was at least a little bit attractive to pick up instead."
"She probably doesn't even realize she's hideous," Rose laughed. "Edward said telling her she was beautiful almost gagged him." I put down my fork and concentrated on my breathing. Hearing them talk about me like that brought every fear to the forefront.
"Exactly," Rosalie said. "Then there's her mousy hair and... ewww. Who would even want to touch it?"
"He was desperate obviously. Well, he's back with us now. I'm sure Jess will be thrilled," Alice said. "And the Ugly Duckling will be humiliated in front of the whole school when she shows up tomorrow. Edward won't even give her the time of day and she'll be crushed. I can't wait."
"Me too," Rose giggled. "And, when Eddie walks in with Jess. It'll be priceless."
"I'm sure Eddie will be happy to get some real loving and not that sad sack cold fish," Alice said. "He said, he had to think of Jess to even get it up with her."
"And her tits were the smallest things he'd ever felt," Rose giggled.
"Thank God for Jess," Alice sighed.
"No kidding! He and Jess were totally made for each other," Rose added on.
I crouched lower in my seat, my appetite gone, and waited for Alice and Rosalie to leave. After they left I asked Sue if I could leave my bag there until I got my truck and she assured me she'd keep it safe. I pulled on my jacket and walked towards home, hoping Charlie would be there. By the time I got in the door, I was soaked through. The ever present rain had made no exception for me today. He wasn't there, of course.
In a way I was glad. I went to my room, grabbed my extra toiletries and robe, before heading into the bathroom for a hot shower. I turned on the shower and let the hot water wash over me, letting my tears flow once more. I would never fit in here, never fit with Edward's friends. After what I'd heard, I was almost certain Edward didn't even want me. Why would he? Hell, my own father didn't want me here. I hopped out of the shower and got dressed in some of the clothes I left behind. I tried Edward's cell again and got the same voice mail message. I didn't leave a message this time. Then, I dialed Edward's house.
"Hello?" the feminine voice of his mother answered.
"Hello, Mrs. Cullen," I said. "Is Edward there?"
"No," she said. "I'm sorry, dear, he was in a hurry to get out of here and see his girlfriend today. Can I take a message?"
"No, thanks," I said. "Sorry to have bothered you."
For the first time I felt like I had a little hope. He had said he would come and see me today, so I waited, cleaning house as I did. If I was Edward's girl, he should be here soon. Two hours later, the house was shining, and I knew he wasn't coming. Alice and Rosalie were right in the diner. He didn't really want me. It was all some joke. I was a joke. There was no way I could face school tomorrow, or even the father that didn't even care enough about me to come and pick me up from the airport after I'd been gone all summer. So, I called the one person I knew I could count on.
"Mama," I cried, bursting into tears as soon as I heard her voice. "I need you."
"Baby," she soothed. "What's the matter?"
So I poured out my heart to her and she cried right along with me. "I can't believe Edward just left you at the airport without knowing you were okay. And your father! He will be hearing words from me. What do you want to do? You can come here. I always have room for my girl."
"Please," I said to her. "I can't be here, where I'm not wanted."
"Phil is booking your ticket now," she soothed. "Pack what you can and I'll have Charlie send the rest. It's the least he can do."
"I don't have a way to get to Seattle," I said.
"Take your truck," she said. "Leave it in long term parking and I'll call Charlie with the pick up details once you're here."
"Okay," I said, happy to have someone looking after me.
I packed one more suitcase and loaded it into my truck. I left a note for Charlie, telling him that I had gone home to my mother, then dialed Edward's number one more time. Voicemail.
"I thought we were forever," was all I said, before hanging up and crumpling his number and tossing it into the garbage. I stopped by the diner and picked up my suitcase from Sue and gave her a hug, thanking her for being so kind. At 5:45pm, ten hours after I finally arrived home, I drove out of Forks, hopefully for the last time.
At 11:30 that night, I was settled back in an airplane seat leaving Washington, forever.
One year later:
I still wasn't entirely sure if I could do this, but, as they had been since the disaster that happened last summer, my mother and step-father were there to help me every step of the way. I allowed my mind to wander back to the flight from Seattle to Jacksonville. I had been so tired, having been awake for close to 48 hours already, but sleep wouldn't come. I thought about Edward, and our time in Hanover, trying to make sense of his deception, looking for any clue he might have given that it wasn't as real for him as it had been for me. I came up empty. The thought of him walking through the halls of Forks High with Jessica nearly made me sick. The fact that I wouldn't have to be there to witness it made me feel somewhat better... but my imagination was not my friend. Would they still laugh about me behind my back? Would I be the joke of the school? They were answers I didn't have.
Then there was my dad. I couldn't figure out what had happened. How had he gone from being my daddy, the man that was always there when I needed him, to someone who didn't even care about me at all? When I couldn't find the answer, I looked at myself.
Of course I was too plain to keep Edward truly interested. That was understandable, but my own father? By the time I got to Jacksonville I had felt totally worthless. In fact I was certain that my mom and Phil would have forgotten to pick me up. Maybe they'd just send a note telling me that they were only fooling, that they didn't want me either. I was so convinced of that fact, that when I got off of the plane, I didn't even look up. I think that was why I didn't even see her until she had her arms wrapped around me.
It seems that Phil had used his connections and gotten him and my mom let into the restricted area. One of the many perks of being a retired baseball all star. Once I felt my mom's arms around me, smelled her perfume and heard her voice... I was done. The tears that I hadn't allowed to escape on the plane were coming full force, and soon I was sobbing into my mother's shoulder, clinging to her as if my life depended on it.
I think it did.
I don't remember gathering my luggage, or walking to the car. I don't remember much about the drive, other than my mother's arms wrapped around me and her voice telling me over and over that she loved me. I don't remember Phil pulling into the garage, or him hauling my bags out of the trunk. I do remember my mom guiding me from the car and into the kitchen, where Phil was already standing at the stove making bacon and eggs.
I had eaten slowly, the food feeling like a rock in my stomach, but as soon as I was finished, my mother tugged me by my hand up the stairs into the guest bedroom. I didn't notice the bright orange walls, or the yellow drapes, in fact I didn't notice much at all. I know I took my clothes off and had a shower, but the next thing I remembered was wearing a crisp new white cotton night gown while my mother brushed out my hair, putting it in a long french braid. Then she tucked me under the covers, and ran her fingers through my bangs as she hummed to me, just as she'd done when I was a little girl. I was asleep in minutes.
It was dusk when I woke. I didn't even know where I was at first, but it all came back to me quickly, leaving me in tears once more. I got up and looked around the room for my bags, hoping to put some clothes on. My bags weren't in the room so I made my way down the hall to the room I had stayed in when I had visited the previous Christmas. The room was painted bright white, the paint obviously fresh. There was new furniture in there since the last time I'd been there. A dark wood classic bedroom suite.
"Your mom felt it would be more to you tastes," Phil said from behind me.
"You just did this?" I had asked.
"You mom can really make things happen when she wants to," he chuckled.
"Thank you," I said to him.
"She had hoped you would have come to live with us years ago," he said. "Charlie was never keen on the idea, but that has always been her fervent wish. I am really glad you are finally here, even if the circumstances suck. I don't know what came over Charlie to just abandon you like that, but just know your mom and I won't ever do that."
"Thank you," I said again.
"All your stuff is in the drawers though you mom is talking about you needing to go shopping," he said, smiling indulgently. "I would say it's because your Washington wardrobe is not suited to our climate, but I think she just really likes the idea of actually shopping with you."
He smiled and headed down the hall. I went into the room, my room and picked out some clothes. I had chosen my Dartmouth t-shirt and my only pair of shorts. After getting dressed I headed downstairs in search of my mother. I found her in the kitchen, talking to Charlie on the phone.
"I don't care what happened. I don't care if you were busy at work or busy with something else. You should have at least made sure she was picked up and safe," she seethed at him. "You want to talk to her? Well I don't know if she wants to talk to you."
I didn't, but I knew I should.
"What the hell is this note business?" he yelled as soon as I said hello. The tone he took angered me.
"I thought it was better than just disappearing," I said sarcastically.
"You get your ass home right now," he demanded.
"I am home," I said to him.
"You know what I mean, Isabella," he said.
"Do I?" I asked, raising my voice to my father for the first time ever. "I thought I was at home with you, but you showed me exactly how important I was to you on Saturday, when you never even bothered to show up to pick me up at the airport."
"So I made one mistake," he scoffed.
"One?" I asked. "What about making me bus to Port Angeles in the middle of the night?"
"I told you to call," he said.
"I did. Multiple times. Then, when I reached Forks, after not really sleeping all night, I tried to call my father to pick me up from the diner," I said.
"I was working, you know I can't control that," he said.
"Bullshit!" I growled. "I called the station. Mark told me that you hadn't been in all week."
"He's wrong," he said angrily.
"So he lied to me?" I asked.
"Must have," Charlie answered evasively.
"I don't think he is the one with the lying problem, Charlie," I said, using his given name.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he growled.
"Who was the woman at our house when I called?" I asked.
"There was no woman," he said. "It was the TV."
"Liar," I said. "I heard every word of your conversation. Covering the mouthpiece hides nothing."
"I don't lie," he said.
"Really?" I asked, quoting his and the mystery woman's conversation word for word. "So who was more important than me? Who is so important that you lied to me, abandoned me to try to get home on my own, and never even bothered to show up and see me all day?"
"You were gone almost immediately," he said.
"Ask Sue at the diner," I growled. "She was the first person to show me any kindness since I got back to Washington. I left my bag with her so I didn't have to drag it on my walk home. Then I showered, cleaned the house, and managed to pack my bags with no appearance or call from you. I didn't leave Forks until almost 6:00 on Sunday night and in the meantime, you didn't even know if I was dead or alive. Did you even care?"
"How dare you ask me that?" he roared.
"Don't you think I have a right to know?" I challenged.
"You are a child, you have no rights," he yelled. "You get your ass back to Washington. How do you think it looks for me to have my daughter run off?"
"How does it look?" I asked, shocked that that was all he worried about. "It's all about appearance for you! I don't care what you say. Tell them I ran off and joined the circus. Tell them I ran away, or here's a novel idea, how about the truth? I moved to Florida with my Mom. Who cares? You certainly didn't."
"Isabella, you are my responsibility," he growled. "You need to get back here."
"No. Mom has joint custody of me," I said. "Plus, I am eighteen in less than three weeks and can choose for myself, so it's you that has no rights."
He hung up on me then and I sobbed on my mother again. This was not the father I left in June when I went to Dartmouth. He was something completely different. He finally called two days later, and I hoped he wanted to apologize. He didn't even want to speak to me, telling Phil that if they didn't get my crap out of there in two days, he'd toss it all in the trash. Phil flew to Seattle that night, and packed up my room. Charlie let him in but otherwise ignored him, as did everyone in town, other than Sue at the diner. After two and a half hours, he had my stuff boxed up and was on his way out of town.
The boxes remained in that state for my entire time in Florida. I used the excuse that I had too much going on, but really, there were too many memories there. Good and bad. For the first while, I hoped that he'd call. That he'd tell me he was sorry and that he missed me. Anything, anything to let me know that I was worth something to him. My 18th birthday passed, so did Christmas. I sent him a card for his birthday in February. It was returned unopened, so I gave up.
I spent the first week in Florida shopping. Shopping for my room, shopping for new clothes, shopping for fun and silly nicknacks with my mother. We went to the spa where my mother had a whole host of services preformed. I opted for a pedicure. The next week, I started school.
School. The bane of my existence in Forks. Yet, in Jacksonville it was different. Within the week I had friends, a whole group of friends. Friends that accepted me for who I was, even though I wasn't entirely sure myself. We hung out together all the time, and weekends were filled with beach trips, shopping, and sleep overs. We studied together, cheered for each other and talked about EVERYTHING. Yes, my everything included Charlie, and Edward. They created all sorts of evil ways to torture Edward for toying with my heart and abandoning me. They even tried to stalk him on facebook, but though they found Rosalie, Alice, Jessica, Jasper and Emmett, Edward was nowhere to be found. They also found Angela Weber and I managed to reconnect on facebook chat and Skype. She was stunned about what happened between me and Edward, and equally as stunned when I told her about Charlie. She was so mad she was ready to book a flight back to Washington to kick their asses.
My mom and Phil even insisted on throwing me a birthday party, my first one since I was eight, much to my chagrin. I was actually surprised when it turned out to be a complete blast, and there were actually more people there than there were in the whole senior class at Forks High. Better yet, I knew and liked them all.
I was truly happy in Jacksonville, filling my time with studies, friends and family outings. My only sad times were at night when I would think of my dad and Edward. Edward, my first love. Even though I knew that he didn't feel the same way, I couldn't just turn off my feelings. In fact, despite everything, I was asked out more than a few times, but I steadfastly refused to date. How could I when I was still in love with Edward? Not only that, but no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn't even see the deception in his actions. I revisited our time together constantly, looking for any sign that it wasn't as real for him as it was for me. Was he just such a good actor that there wasn't any? Or was I just too naïve? My head accepted that it was just a game to him, my heart... my heart refused to believe that.
The year was hard, filled with challenges. Phil, my mom and my friends stood by me through them all. With their encouragement and assistance, I had even decided that I would still attend Dartmouth as I had planned. It had been my dream since I was young and my mother, especially, refused to let me give up on it.
My main drawback, was the fact that I knew that Edward would likely be there. I was stronger, and certainly had more self-confidence and strength then ever before. Finally, I decided to go. I was determined to face Edward with my head held high... and armed with the list my friends gave me, 101 ways to make Edward suffer. My mother and Phil even decided to relocate with me. Phil took a job coaching baseball and a local college in Hanover and my mom decided to retire to become a homemaker and caregiver. They had driven up last week to finalize everything with the house they'd bought for us, while I stayed behind with my friends... and Jake.