Happy 10th December everyone. This advent story is actually one that I started over two years ago and finally decided to finish. Because I've been working on it for so long, it's also the longest advent story I've written this year and the only one so far that's pure AH. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy reading it.
Thanks to my beta for this, rachelgarner, and as per usual, I do not own Twilight.
I sat picking at my cereal while opposite me my step-brother shovelled bacon, eggs and toast into his mouth. An empty bowl of cereal was also sat in front of him and when I had come into the kitchen this morning he had already been chewing on a hastily-made pop-tart. I didn't know where he put it all, or how he could even eat that much in the first place.
Seth paused with a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth. "What?"
I shook my head and got back to picking at my own breakfast. "Nothing."
Sue, his mother and my father's wife, smacked the back of his head lightly. "I think Bella was admiring the sight of half-chewed food. You weren't raised by a pack of wolves; keep your mouth shut while you're eating."
Seth gave both of us an apologetic egg-y grin and I giggled as Sue rolled her eyes.
The two continued to banter back and forth as I ate. It was a very strange feeling to be surrounded by so much noise; when we had lived alone before, Charlie was usually gone to work before I had woken up, so I was used to spending most of my time at home in silence. After ten months, I still wasn't used to living with so many other people.
Well... two other people.
"So what are you up to after school today? Got any plans?" Sue sat down at the table, her hands curled around a mug of coffee.
Seth made a big deal out of chewing and swallowing before he spoke. "Going to Brady's after school. You do remember I'm staying over tonight while you and Charlie are in Seattle, right?"
"I remember," Sue grimaced slightly. "And you better be on your best behaviour while you're over there. I don't want to hear from his mother that you've been running wild down at the Res just because I'm not around."
"I promise." Seth attempted to smile innocently. I don't think either of us believed him.
"What about you, Bella? Got any plans?"
Sue's innocent question cut deeply. It was a Friday night, I had lots of friends, I was a reasonably average looking girl. Did I have plans?
"No. No plans for tonight. I just thought I'd stay in and read."
"Blah, books." Seth stuck his tongue out and wrinkled his nose. "I don't know how you can stand to read them all the time."
"Seth!" Sue reprimanded. "You'd do well to read more like Bella does. Maybe then you wouldn't be struggling so much in English like you are now."
Seth began to protest at his mother's assertion, but the damage was already done. Even fifteen-year-old Seth had more of a social life than I did. My face burning with embarrassment, I stood up and dumped my bowl in the sink before heading up to my room to grab my bag for school that day.
When I headed back down, Seth was gone. Despite moving in with us pale-faces up here in Forks, he still attended school with all his friends down at the La Push school. Sue, however, was waiting for me.
"I hope Seth didn't make you feel uncomfortable earlier."
"What?" I frowned at her. "Ummmm, no. Why?"
Sue shook her head but didn't say anything, switching the subject instead. "Are you sure you'll be alright staying here by yourself for the weekend? Me and your father were thinking of spending an extra night up there."
"Where's Seth going to be?" I asked.
"I've already spoken to Brady's mother and she's happy to keep him until Sunday. I didn't want to put you in a position where you had to look after him."
I smiled and nodded, but secretly wished that at least I would only be left only for one night, not the whole weekend. Although I didn't mind my own company, there was something reassuring about having someone else in the house at night with me.
"Of course. That makes more sense."
Sue smiled and brushed her thumb over my cheek. "You might not be alone for too long anyway. Leah was talking about coming home early so you might see her at some point."
I swallowed heavily at the mention of Sue's daughter, my... step-sister.
Except she wasn't just that, and never had been.
"Leah's coming back?" My voice wavered on the end of the question.
"It's the summer break up at the college next week. She did think she'd have to stay up there for the whole time because of her job, but luckily they've got temporary staff members in to cover all the students and give them the time off, so she was thinking of coming back to Forks early."
"That'll be nice then. I should really get to school now." I had to get out of there as quickly as possible.
"Sure honey," Sue called. "I'll see you on Sunday."
"Enjoy your trip," I yelled, already halfway out the door. I managed to shut myself inside my truck before I began hyperventilating.
Leah was coming home. She was coming back here. To this house. Possibly when we would both be alone in it together.
This could only end badly. Just like it had last time.
Trying to rid my head of those thoughts, I focused all my concentration on driving to school safely and making it to my first class without tripping up the concrete stairs or falling over something on my way. I needed to not think about her; it never did me any good when I did.
Unfortunately, my plan to distract myself with my classes didn't really go according to plan as teacher after teacher wheeled in the school's outdated VCRs as a special end of semester treat, never mind that we still had a week of school left before we broke up for the holidays. It left me far too much time to dwell on the past.
I had first met Leah down at a bonfire at La Push beach. We had all gone to celebrate the end of exams and had been joined over the course of the day by more and more of the teenagers from the reservation. I wouldn't even have noticed her if Lauren hadn't pointed her out to me.
"Hey, Bella. Check them out."
I turned to see what she was pointing at only to see two girls heading our way from the other end of the beach. They would have been completely unremarkable if it weren't for the fact that they were holding hands. They were both beautiful girls, but looking at them, I thought that the taller girl with longer hair was the more attractive of the two. The other girl was pretty but there was hard set to her eyes that I didn't like. As we watched one of them leaned over to kiss the other. They both broke apart smiling.
"Looks like the Res has got itself a couple of rug-munchers. Want me to ask if you can join in?" She laughed hysterically and I flinched at the high-pitched sound.
I hated people like Lauren. Absolutely despised them. And living in Forks had exposed me to more of them than I had ever come across in a lifetime in Phoenix. Small towns had a reputation of intolerance for a reason.
It turns out I wasn't the only one pissed off by her joke. A young boy who couldn't be more than thirteen stood up and began to stalk towards her, a look of fury on his face.
"You want to repeat that?" he asked threateningly.
Lauren appeared shocked that anyone had actually called her out for her behaviour. Edward and Jasper had on a couple of occasions, and she usually stuck to picking on me when they weren't around, but everyone else (myself included) just tended to ignore her, glossing over her bad behaviour and moving onto the next topic of conversation without pausing. It just wasn't worth the effort trying to make people like her understand.
This boy though, hovered over her, scowling. "I said, do you want to repeat that?"
"Seth." One of his friends finally stepped up and placed a restraining hand against his arm. "Just leave it. She's not worth it."
An ugly look twisted Lauren's face. "Excuse me?" She put her hands on her hips.
"Yeah," another boy called out. "You don't wanna get too close to her, Seth. Isn't she the one that gave Sam Uley herpes?"
Lauren had now turned bright red in fury as all of the boys began hooting and cat-calling loudly. I couldn't stop my own snort of amusement and behind me, I could hear most of the Forks' teens laughing as well.
The two girls finally reached the circle of people who surrounded the bonfire and looked around curiously at the laughing crowd.
"What's so funny?" one of them asked.
Lauren had let out a shriek of angry frustration and stomped back up to the parking lot where we had left our cars. Shortly after, we had all followed.
I hadn't given much thought to the two girls, other than noticing that perhaps Forks' small gay community wasn't as closeted as I thought. Edward and Jasper were out, proud and scandalising people at every opportunity they could get, and obviously these two girls weren't trying to hide their relationship at all. There wasn't much point in me dwelling on them though – they were obviously together and I was relying on college to throw up a wider group of people like me.
It wasn't until a couple of months later when I was invited to meet Charlie's 'good friend' Sue, and the rest of her family, that I met Seth and his sister again. I barely recognised them from when I had last seen them; Seth was at least half a foot taller, evidently having had a growth spurt, and Leah had now shorn her hair to just below her chin, a scowl etched upon her face. She looked nothing like the happy, smiling girl I had seen on the beach. She was still gorgeous though, even if it was now in an angry kind of way.
The whole meeting was awkward, made even more so when Seth declared, "Hey, you're that chick that was getting picked on at the beach. Remember I told you about that, Leah?"
I had blushed at the reminder and ducked my head. When I had finally glanced up, it was only to find that Leah was now alternating her glare between myself and her brother.
"You're gay?" she accused.
I had merely shrugged, not knowing what answer she expected, and Charlie and Sue had immediately worked to diffuse the sudden tension that had fallen over the room.
I was rather taken aback and confused. Leah had seemed really angry that I was gay, but I didn't understand why. I knew it couldn't be because she was one of the narrow-minded small town people that were around here; I had seen her with her girlfriend, so I really didn't get it.
She didn't become any friendlier over time, even when our parents moved in together. It was the one sticking point in the family. Seth was so easy-going and exuberant that he was impossible not to get on with, and Sue was lovely – very maternal, which was quite a shock after Renee's 'sisterly' friendship.
Despite her behaviour, I still found myself studying Leah carefully whenever I got the chance. She kind of fascinated me. Of course, I was going to say anything, I wasn't that much of a masochist, but I did find her attractive and did occasionally idly daydream about what it would be like to have her as a girlfriend. In the end though, I figured that being stuck in Forks without any available gay girls was turning me crazy and it was best to banish those kind of thoughts out of my brain.
Eventually we just seemed to mutually decide that ignoring each other was the best way to go. Leah had been due to leave for college that fall coming up, so there were only a few more months of tension to deal with before she eventually left. I could only be thankful that Charlie, in a rare moment of insight, had decided to build an extension onto the house to give us all more room – I didn't know much hostility I could have coped with if I had had to share a room with Leah.
It was still awkward though, made more so for the fact that Leah seemed to openly despise me, glaring every time I walked into the room and making snarky comments behind my back. I knew that Sue and Charlie had had words with her on several occasions, but it never made a difference to her hostility. It was only after one occasion when Leah had argued with me over the laundry, of all things, and Seth got upset that Sue had finally put her foot down, telling her daughter that if she couldn't say anything nice to me then she shouldn't speak at all.
Leah had stopped talking to me.
Granted she was perfectly polite when our parents were around, but the rest of the time she chose to ignore my presence within the house. It worked for me; I wouldn't have known what to say to her anyway. And so in that way we all muddled along reasonably happily. Leah and Seth both went to school on the reservation, so I only saw them in the evenings and even then, only when none of us were busy.
The one person I did see on a regular basis was Sue, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed spending the evening quietly in her company while everyone else was out. I was pleased for both her and my father therefore when they announced that they would be getting married in the summer before Leah went away to college in Seattle.
It was at the wedding though, two days before Leah left for college, that things finally came to a head.
Charlie and Sue had decided to have an open bar at the reception, and somehow, in all the excitement, I found myself drinking glass after glass of champagne. I wasn't one for alcohol really, but I found that I liked the slightly off-centre buzz that it gave me, and so when people kept offering to refill my glass, I kept on accepting.
The ceremony had been held down at La Push and after a while I escaped away from the crowds and down to the beach, glad for the unseasonably warm weather we were experiencing as the spaghetti straps of my bridesmaid's dress provided little warmth against the elements. The music from the rec centre blared out across the sand and I spun around unsteadily to the beat, the combination of the alcohol and the salt sea air making me light-headed.
One particularly enthusiastic spin sent me sprawling to the ground, the sand luckily cushioning my fall.
"You're drunk out of your mind, Swan."
It took me a second to work out where the laughing voice was coming from before I finally managed to focus on Leah walking towards me out of the shadows.
"Hmph." I turned my back on her, but the suddenly movement just made my head spin. To try and stop the blurring happening in front of me, I reclined backwards so I was lying on the sand, looking up at the stars. "It's so pretty up there," I mused, forgetting for a moment that I wasn't alone.
"I guess. Just looks like normal to me."
I glared at my companion. "Well I think it's pretty," I stated belligerently.
She held up her hands in protest, still laughing at me. "Fine, it's pretty."
I sighed. "You're pretty too, or at least, you would be if you didn't scowl all the time." I didn't know where all this was coming from, but the alcohol had obviously loosened my tongue.
Leah huffed and then flopped down to sit on the sand next to me.
"I don't scowl all the time."
"Yes, you do," I argued back. "I mean you don't scowl at your mom, or my dad, or Seth, or anyone else really, but you scowl at me all the time." In a fit of childish pique, I stuck my tongue out at her. My earlier good mood was disappearing, the effects of the alcohol vanishing in the face of Leah's constant disapproval.
An indefinable look crossed Leah's face, but she didn't say anything.
I wasn't going to be ignored though, not this time. I sat up, ignoring the blood rush that left my head reeling and poked her in the arm with one finger.
"So, what's your problem?"
Her relaxed appearance was gone and she looked almost guilty. Catching the curious expression on my face, she glared at me.
"There's no problem."
I snorted in disbelief and struggled to my feet. "Sure there isn't. You keep telling yourself that." I waved my arms about. "This is ridiculous, you know. I never did anything to you, except exist...although that seems to be enough to irritate you. And you know what? You don't have to like me, whatever your reasons are." I put my hands on my hips and frowned down at her. She avoided eye contact with me, concentrating on trailing her fingers through the sand.
"But our parents are married now," I finally continued. "We have to live together. So I would appreciate if you just admitted that you hated me and we could all move on and just avoid speaking to each other unless we have to, because I'm not going anywhere."
"I know you're not," she mumbled. "That's the problem."
I don't think she meant for me to hear that last part but I did and I could feel my face flushing red as a mixture of anger and embarrassment seized me.
"Fuck you, Leah!" I spat out, tears pricking at my eyes. I wiped at them impatiently. "Just stay away from me." Spinning around, I ran clumsily back to the rec centre, stopping to gather my composure before I re-entered the building.
Seth and his friends were gathered in the corner laughing over something, and Charlie and Sue were talking to Billy and Jacob Black. Seconds later, Sue spotted me and tapped Charlie on the shoulder, pointing me out.
Hand in hand, they approached me, smiling.
Charlie reached out and hugged me into his side. We weren't the most demonstrative people so it took me slightly by surprise and it was only when I saw the flush that lit up my father's cheeks that I realised that I wasn't the only one who had been drinking tonight.
"We're off to the cabin in a minute. Are you alright to get back to the house or do you want us to ask someone to give you a ride?"
I hadn't even thought about how I was getting home, but I didn't want to cause any trouble when Charlie and Sue had their own plans for the night.
"I'll be fine. You two can go ahead."
"I'll take her." The voice came from behind me and my shoulders began to creep up in defence. "I haven't had anything to drink so I'm safe to drive."
Sue happily handed over her car keys to her daughter and giggling, kissed my flustered father.
"It'll just be you girls at home tonight. Seth's asked to stay at Brady's tonight, so we'll pick him up on our way back tomorrow. You two should be alright tonight -"
"Of course we will," Leah interrupted her mother. "You both have a good time and don't worry about us."
Sue giggled and, to my surprise, so did Charlie. It was slightly disturbing. Plans for the evening sorted, they took their leave to a round of cheers and catcalls, both waving enthusiastically as their car turned the corner and disappeared into the darkness.
Things wound down pretty quickly after that and all the guests dispersed into the night. I was gathering up the presents that Charlie and Sue had left behind when a cool hand touched my shoulder, making me jump. I narrowed my eye when I saw it was Leah.
"What?" I was in no mood to try to be polite to her.
She shuffled uncomfortably. "Are you ready to head out now?"
I glared at her for a second and then relented.
"I need to finish gathering up the rest of these presents and then I'll be ready to go."
She helped me identify everything that needed to be taken back to the house and then we headed back towards Forks, the heavy silence in the car stifling me. I breathed a sigh of relief when home finally came into sight.
After dumping all the wedding presents in the living room, I ran upstairs to my room, ignoring Leah's presence and, in a fit of impotent rage, slamming the door. I huffed as I slivered out of my bridesmaid's dress, ditching the strapless bra that came with it and pulling a tank top over my upper half.
I was just so angry and so hurt. I didn't deserve Leah's attitude towards me. I knew that whatever her problem was, it was her problem alone, but that didn't mean that I wasn't upset by it.
Flopping back onto my bed, I grabbed a book, trying to put the ugly events of the evening behind me. A knock came on the door though and Leah opened it and came into my bedroom without asking.
"Hey. Can I talk to you?"
I rolled my, but short of kicking her out, which I wasn't sure I was capable of, there wasn't much I could do. Tossing my old copy of Wuthering Heights to one side, I sat upright, crossing my legs.
I avoided making eye contact with her, staring instead towards my rocking chair. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leah sidle forward and sit on the edge of my bed, her hands twisting.
"I want to apologise," she began.
"Apology accepted." I didn't want to drag this out.
She shook her head. "Seriously, Bella, please hear me out."
I shot her a quick glance and then nodded when I saw the expression on her face. She looked utterly devastated. I tried to harden my heart against her – she had behaved horribly towards me – but at the same time I felt a little sorry for her.
"Fine." Just because I was listening didn't mean I had to be nice about it.
"I don't... I don't hate you."
Against my will, I snorted.
"I don't," she reiterated. "I know it doesn't seem like it sometimes, but I do like you."
I shook my head disbelievingly. "Yeah, right."
"I do!" she insisted. "I just...can't."
"Can't what? Can't like me?" She was making absolutely no sense to me and I was beginning to get impatient with her explanation. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, Leah. Of course you're allowed to like me. I'm your step-sister. Why shouldn't you like me?"
She jerked up off the bed and paced around the room, her hands buried in her hair.
"No! You don't...you don't understand..."
I stood up too, not wanting to be on an uneven footing. "Of course I don't understand, because you're not making any sense."
Leah just shook her head and continued to pace back and forth. Her lips were moving silently, almost as if she was having an argument with herself. Every now and then she paused and looked at me with an inscrutable expression that I couldn't decipher.
My head was starting to ache with the stress of the day and the beginning of a hangover and Leah's see-sawing mood wasn't making it any better. Staggering backwards, I sat down heavily on the edge of my bed.
"Leah, can you just go please. I've got a headache and I want to get some sleep. It's been a long day so can we just agree to disagree so I can get into bed."
I rubbed my temples, trying to stave off the growing pain.
Leah stopped walking and was now stood in front of me.
"No?" I was starting to get angry again.
"I'm not going until I can explain."
"Well then hurry up," I cried out. "I'm tired and all you've done so far is tell me that for some reason you can't like me. Either tell me why or get -"
I was interrupted by her mouth meeting mine, the force of the kiss propelling me backwards as her hands pressed down on either side of my hips.
Her lips were incredibly soft against my own and despite my surprise, I found myself kissing her back enthusiastically. I had already noticed that Leah was incredibly beautiful, I had even on occasion wondered what it would be like to kiss her, but I had never thought that she felt the same way. My hands crept up to bury themselves in her hair and I moaned.
We broke apart panting, and I opened my eyes slowly. Leah still had hers shut and her lips were still slightly pursed. She blinked and then looked at me. Gripping my wrists, Leah carefully pulled my arms from around her neck.
"That's why you don't understand," she finally said. "I don't hate you, Bella, far from it. But you're my step-sister now..."
I blinked in confusion, still caught up in that kiss we had just shared. "We're not related, Leah. It's not illegal."
I leaned forward to capture her lips again, this time using my body weight to pull her on top of me. She returned my kiss eagerly, pinning me to the bed as she licked my bottom lip and I allowed her tongue into my mouth.
I tangled my hands in her hair as our tongues lazily entwined, tugging lightly at the long, silky strands. In return, she shifted to one side and ran her hand up the side of body, her fingers trailing over the exposed skin at my waist, before sliding up under my tank top and cupping my breast. I moaned her name as her thumb brushed over my swollen nipple.
My voice acted like a bucket of cold water to her. She jerked backwards, a scowl on her face, scrambling to disentangle herself from me. She scurried backwards until her back hit the far wall, a crumpled look on her face.
"Don't be so fucking naive, Bella. You think it matters that we're not related? People only see the obvious – that your dad is married to my mom. You don't really think everyone'd be overjoyed if we got together." She shook her head and brushed her hair back, taking another step away from me. "No! All they'd see is two girls who live in the same house and are supposed to be sisters getting on with each over."
I bolted upright, surprising Leah by the force of my reaction. "So if you care so much about what other people think then why did you kiss me, Leah? Was it all an experiment? Did you wonder what it would be like to kiss the only lesbian in Forks besides your ex-girlfriend? What was the point of it all? Huh?"
She shied back from my aggressive reaction. I almost felt sorry for her and then remembered that this was the girl who hadn't cared a bit for my feelings over the last year, no matter what she tried to claim now.
"The point was... I liked you." Her voice got steadily quieter as she admitted that and for some reason that made me even angrier than if she'd just proclaimed it out loud.
"Well, you've got a funny way of showing it."
We faced off, staring at each other in silence, and I stood there, I thought that the saddest part of this was that for all her hatred of me, I had actually really liked Leah. I had just never been able to admit it, either to myself or to her.
I flopped back on the bed as if my strings had suddenly been cut.
"You should go."
Leah hesitated. "Bella -"
"Just go," I interrupted whatever it was she had to say. "You don't really want to be here, so just go."
She paused for a moment and then nodded and left. Seconds later I heard her bedroom door slam shut.
I clapped my hands over my face.
What the hell had just happened?! Because it seemed like Leah had admitted that she liked me – more than just friends, more than just sisters – and then cut me down before I knew what to do with that information.
Leah's feelings were far too twisted up for me to try and untangle, so I turned my thoughts to my own emotions.
Did I like Leah?
Yeah, I could finally admit that I did.
She had intrigued me the first time I had met her, but my curiosity had been abruptly cut off by her blatant hostility towards me. Her attitude had made it difficult to see myself as being anything other than a nuisance towards her.
Still, from her reaction to our kiss tonight, it was unlikely that her attitude was going to change anytime soon.
I buried my face into my pillow and screamed. This whole situation was completely bewildering and frustrating in equal measures.
What did I do now?
Did I press Leah further and see if she was willing to try with me, or did I just leave it as it was tonight?
I could've easily screamed again.
Instead, I decided to just go to sleep. I was tired and still somewhat tipsy and I wasn't sure that my decision making skills were at their best at the moment. Things would become clearer in the morning and by then hopefully Leah would've cooled down somewhat and wouldn't be so spiky to talk to.
Only I never got a chance to talk to her that morning.
I woke up late the next day, finally surfacing from my room in mid-afternoon, only to find that Sue, Leah and Seth had disappeared up to Seattle, leaving Charlie behind.
"Morning, kiddo. Have a good sleep?"
"Yeah, I guess." I rubbed my forehead. "Where is everyone?"
"Well, Susie and I got back a few hours ago, but it turns out that Leah got a call offering her early-accommodation in Seattle, so they left about an hour ago to drive up there."
My father returned to watching his game while I stood there and stared at the back of his head in shock.
"She's gone up to college already?"
Charlie glanced back at me. "Hmmm, oh, yeah. I guess sometimes these things just come up."
My mouth dropped open.
She had run away. She had run away like a coward.
"Well, did she say anything before she went?"
My father's brow furrowed at the interruption. "What's that, Bells? Oh, no. She just said to say bye." He craned his neck around. "Why? Did you two get into it again last night?"
I had to hold back my bark of laughter at that. Yeah, I guess in a way we had got into it.
"No. I barely talked to her. We pretty much just said goodnight and then went to bed. I just...wondered."
Charlie grunted, satisfied by my answer.
I went back upstairs, wrapping my arms around myself. I couldn't believe that she had run. It was such a cowardly thing to do, which given how confrontational Leah was, was completely out of character.
Maybe I should just let her have her space. She obviously didn't want to talk about what had happened, and I still didn't really know how I felt about it. It was probably good for both of us to have some time to think. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I could speak to her the next time she visited.
Except she didn't.
Leah steadfastly avoided coming home at all during the year, even going so far as to spend Christmas with her new girlfriend's family up in Seattle.
I got the message loud and clear.
Whatever Leah thought she felt for me, it clearly wasn't something she was going to dwell on. The proof that she had moved on and was now dating other people was the wake-up call I needed to accept that anything happening with Leah was not in my future.
I could live with that. Especially as nothing had really began between the two of us.
It didn't stop my feelings of irritation though when I thought of her. Whatever we may or may not have been, I didn't think there was any excuse for how she had treated me in the past. Still, not having to live with her anymore or even see her anymore certainly made things easier.
So the prospect of her coming home for the summer shouldn't have filled me nerves the way it was. I was so lost in my thoughts that when the bell rang signalling the end of the day, I jumped and banged my knee on the desk.
"Careful there, Bells, wouldn't want to dislocate your knee a week before summer vacation." Edward appeared by my side, an easy smile on his face.
I pulled a face. "You never know, it might be preferable to this weekend."
Grabbing my bag off my desk, he slung his arm across my shoulders.
"Now that's a remarkably pessimistic thing to say. What brought that on?"
I stuck my tongue out. "Leah's coming home."
"Ah, Leah." Edward nodded in understanding. Over the last couple of years, he and Jasper had been subjected to a number of my rants on the subject of Leah and her bewildering behaviour.
We walked over to where Jasper was waiting by my truck.
"When's she coming back?"
He let go of me when we reached my car and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend, the two of them ignoring me for a minute, while they exchanged a passionate kiss. I was used to their displays of affection my now, but every now and then I found myself longing for that same kind of easy relationship – open and loving.
Jasper turned to me when they finally pulled apart. "Who's coming back?"
"Leah," Edward told him.
Jasper grimaced. "When's she arriving?"
"Some time this weekend." I shrugged. "Sue didn't say. She only said that she would be showing up at some point."
"Ouch." He frowned sympathetically. "Are you going to be okay? You can come and hang out with us if you don't want to be home alone when she gets there?"
I wrinkled my nose.
"Yeah, I remember what happened the last time you invited me to 'date night'. I spent the whole night sat next to you guys at the movies eating popcorn while you too made out loudly next to me. Trust me, it wasn't a fun experience."
Jasper had the good grace to look slightly abashed but Edward merely grinned at me. I stuck my tongue out at him and tossed my bag into the cab of my truck.
"Thank you for the offer, but I'll be fine." I took a deep breath. "I can totally handle Leah if I need to."
Edward got a sly grin on his face. "Oh, we know you can handle her." He raised an eyebrow at me and I blushed against my will. "The question is, can you stand up to her and her inherent bitchiness?"
I rolled my eyes. "I'll do my best."
"You mean you'll hide in your room if she gets bitchy?"
My cheeks were burning. "Maybe," I admitted quietly.
Edward laughed delightedly and gave me a hug. "That's my girl."
He waved at me and then dragged Jasper across the parking lot to his own car. Jasper offered me a rueful smile before he got into the passenger seat and the two of them sped off.
The smile dropped off my face as soon as they were out of sight and I fought back a loud sigh.
I really didn't want to go home and face Leah alone. The only thing I could hope was that she didn't arrive back in Forks until tomorrow and then I'd only have one night in her company before my dad and Sue got back.
Of course, luck was not on my side.
Reaching home, I had completed my homework for the weekend, glad that there wasn't much given that finals were coming up, and then made myself dinner. I ate in front of the TV and had just returned my plate to the kitchen when I heard the jangle of keys in the door.
Sitting back in Charlie's armchair, I kept my eyes glued to screen, unwilling to look over and see my stepsister.
There was silence for a few minutes as shuffling and loud thumps heralded Leah's return. Finally, the door shut behind her and I heard her footsteps getting closer.
"Hey." She spoke first and I allowed myself a quick glance backwards.
I wasn't going to talk to her any more than was necessary.
She fidgeted next to me for a moment. Finally she moved back towards the door.
"I should take my stuff up to my room before someone trips up on it."
Innate politeness made me ask her if she wanted any help. "Need a hand?"
She paused. "No. I'll manage."
I nodded and turned back to the TV. I didn't even know what I was watching. My eyes were blurred and the sound went in one ear and then right back out of the other. Still, I needed to keep the illusion up, for the sake of my sanity if nothing else.
Leah came back downstairs after about thirty minutes and again my innate desire to be nice to her no matter what my feelings kicked in.
"There's some leftover over dinner in the oven if you want it. I wasn't sure when you would be back so I saved you some."
This time when I glanced back it was to find her staring at me with an indefinable expression on her face. She blinked twice and jerked out of her reverie.
"That's great. Thank you," she said politely.
I nodded, trying not to follow her with my eyes as she sauntered away to the kitchen, returning a little later with a plate of food and a can of soda.
I tried to watch her subtly as she ate, sneaking glances at her out of the corner of my eye.
She looked good.
There was a softness to her face that hadn't been there before and her curves had filled out a little. She was still slim, but the angular edges to her body seemed to have melted away. Her hair was longer too, falling into curls that hadn't been present in her shorter cropped hair. Her face was healthy-looking and her cheeks glowed.
Obviously college, and her new girlfriend, had been good for her.
I was glad that she looked much happier, but a small part of me was desperately jealous.
I wasn't sure yet whether my jealousy was directed towards Leah and the peace she had obviously achieved or towards her girlfriend for making her happy when I had never been able to achieve any kind of positive emotion from her.
"What?" Leah suddenly asked me.
"You were staring at me."
I blushed again. Crap! I hadn't meant to let my mind wander like that. I especially hadn't meant to be caught watching her like a creepy stalker.
"I didn't mean to," I apologised. "I was lost in thought."
Leah sighed and set the empty plate aside.
"I wanted to talk to you actually."
I froze in my seat. "About what?" I could only pray I sounded more nonchalant than I felt.
Leah leaned forward. "I wanted to apologise, for leaving the way I did, after the night of the wedding -"
"There's nothing to apologise for." I stood up abruptly.
"Yes, there is." She reached out towards me but something in my face must have stopped her because her hand paused, half held out towards me. She withdrew it awkwardly. "The way I just left like that. It wasn't right. I had no right to speak to you the way I did, the only excuse I have is that I panicked and -"
"Leah!" I interrupted her. "It really doesn't matter. Seriously. You don't have to apologise to me; you don't owe me anything. You can't help the way you feel and I shouldn't have yelled at you like I did either."
She frowned. "But -"
"I'm going to go to bed." I cut her off again. I was being rude, but I didn't know if I could sit here and listen while she reiterated all the reasons why she didn't want to like me. "I'm really tired."
She watched me carefully for a minute and then nodded. "Okay then."
"I'll see you in the morning." I tried to smile at her to make up for my earlier rudeness. Goodnight."
"Night," she replied softly.
I ran up the stairs as quickly as I could without falling and got ready for bed as fast as possible. As soon as I was safely behind the locked door of my bedroom, I let out a sigh of relief.
Well, I suppose that Leah's return had gone okay.
We had been polite to each other. I hadn't yelled at her, she hadn't scowled at me.
Yes, things could have definitely gone worse.
And now that that awkward exchange was over we could just avoid each other from now on. There was no need for us to spend any more time than necessary together.
I still wanted to cry just a little though.
I managed to escape the next day to work at Newton's, although I wasn't sure whether spending all day listening to Mike brag about his sporting prowess was preferable to Leah's silence.
When I got back home, I found that in my absence Leah had cooked dinner. I hovered, unsure of myself, in the kitchen doorway until she looked up and beckoned me into the kitchen.
"Hey. I hope you don't mind me cooking. I figured it was only fair since you cooked for me last night."
"It wasn't a problem," I mumbled.
"I know." She smiled at me and that took me aback more than anything else. "Come on, sit down. I promise I won't poison you."
I sidled forward slowly and sat at the table. I did not know what to make of this new Leah.
The meal was surprisingly good and Leah and I made awkward conversation about our days over the food before lapsing into silence. When we were finished, I helped her clean up the kitchen in silence.
"Right. I guess I'm going to go and read or something. Thanks for dinner."
I turned to leave, but Leah grabbed my hand, stopping me from leaving.
"Bella, can you just...stay...for a minute."
I hesitated and then gave in. "Sure."
She let go of me and twisted her hands together. She opened and shut her mouth several times, and at one point her mouth was moving with no words coming out.
She jumped at the sound of my voice and then nodded.
"Okay. Right. I wanted to say, first of all, that I'm so sorry about what happened the last time I was home."
I froze at the mention.
"I thought I knew what I was doing and I just took everything out on you and then left the next day without apologising and I'm so sorry that I treated you that way. You didn't deserve it."
I stared at her. "It's okay, Leah."
"No, it's not okay." She stepped forward and reached towards me and then stopped herself. "It's not okay," she repeated. She swallowed heavily. "Bella, I was a total bitch, both the night of the wedding and before. I was just so confused and so messed up. I mean, you're supposed to be my sister." She shook her head sharply. "What I feel for you isn't sisterly at all."
"What you feel for me?" I was sure I looked like completely stunned, like I had been smacked across the face.
She took a step forward. And then, when I didn't back away, she took another step.
And then she wrapped her arms around my waist and kissed me.
I was too dumbstruck for the first few seconds to do anything but just stand there and let her, but then I found myself automatically responding. It was everything I remembered and better. It would've been absolutely perfect, except that this was Leah and I remembered all too well how this had ended last time.
I pulled back abruptly and stumbled against the table.
"What are we doing? We can't be doing this?"
Leah approached me cautiously.
"I made a mistake before, Bella, and I'm so sorry for that. But I've had a lot of time to think over the last year and some of my friends made me see that I was just so afraid of what other people would think. I don't know why. I've never cared about other people's opinions before. I just freaked out and I hurt you and I'd like a second chance to make it up to you."
I just stared at her. I had no idea where all of this had come from. I was expecting her visit this summer to mirror the pattern we had already established before. This plea for...I don't know what...had come out of nowhere.
"Please, Bella." She was near tears now. "I'm sorry that I screwed up before, I just didn't know what to do. I'm not supposed to like you like this; you're my step-sister."
I finally met her eyes.
"What do you want from me exactly?"
She chose her words carefully, speaking slowly. "I'd like another chance. I know I fucked up the last one, but I'd like to try again. As for what I want from you, I just want to see if we can make anything... of us," she finished hesitantly. "Christ, I'm fucking this all up."
"No," I reassured her. "I get what you mean."
She looked at me hopefully. "Is there a chance?"
I thought carefully. Did I really want to try to be in an actual relationship with Leah?
I considered all the worry, heartbreak and disappointment that I had felt over the last year, when she had rejected me. And then I thought about all the time I had spent obsessing over her, wondering what a relationship between us would be like, and yes, even fantasising about her.
Wouldn't it be better for me to just suck it up and try having a relationship with her for real?
I had accepted her apology; I even understood the reason for her hesitation in starting anything with me. But was it all worth it? Would saying yes really make me happy or would I just be going along with what Leah had decided once more?
She looked so nervous in front of me. She was biting her lip and picking at her nails and I saw a glint of tears in her eyes. In that moment I realised that she was preparing for me to reject her.
And that made my decision for me.
"If we do this, we're going to have to have some rules."
Her eyebrows rose is shock and her mouth dropped. She closed it with an audible click and took a shaky breath.
"Firstly," I began, "I'm not going to be treated like I have been for the last two years. You don't get to push me away or scowl or anything. If we're in a relationship then we're in a proper relationship and I won't be treated badly."
I lifted my chin up defiantly and Leah nodded quickly.
"Secondly." This was the tricky one. "We need to tell our parents and Seth. I don't want to be a dirty, little secret for you. I don't care what other people think...Well, I care, but it's just...none of their business." My little stance finished a lot less confidently than it had started.
Leah gulped but nodded silently in agreement.
"And third, we take this slow. I'm not... I haven't had a lot of girlfriends before. I'm not ready to just jump into anything with you."
A relieved smile crossed Leah's face. "Of course." She paused. "So...are we doing this?"
"We're doing this," I confirmed.
Neither of us moved, we were both still anxiously watching each other.
Suddenly, I giggled nervously and that broke the tension between us. Grinning at me, Leah stepped up to me slowly and slid her hands up my arms. I shivered as her fingers danced over my bare skin.
Wrapping her hand around my neck, she drew me towards her and our lips gently met.
If I'd thought our kisses before were something, then this one blew them all out of the water. I could've stayed there and kissed Leah forever.
Eventually though we retreated out of the kitchen, first to the living room and then when it got later to Leah's room, an inner sanctum I'd never ventured into before.
We kissed and we held hands and we talked.
Leah described to me her confusion upon first meeting me. She had found me attractive, but at the same time I had just been introduced to her as her mother's boyfriend's daughter, and over time the guilt over her attraction had grown.
I reminisced about the first time I had seen her with Emily and how I had been so surprised when I arrived back in Forks to find that the small town had a much larger gay community than I had expected.
Eventually, tiredness took over and I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up snuggled against Leah, my head resting on her shoulder, her arm around my waist. I blinked sleepily. I hadn't expected to fall asleep in the same bed with her, but I had just been so tired.
So much for my determination that we would move slow in this relationship. Although I supposed the fact that both of our clothes remained intact and on was good sign of our restraint.
A lock of hair had fallen across Leah's face and I brushed it back. Although her eyes remained closed, she smiled.
"Morning," she whispered.
Taking the initiative for once, I leaned in and kissed her. Her lips moved against mine and then she drew back, giving me one last peck on the nose, before her eye fluttered open.
The sound of the front door closing cut her off and seconds later there was the sound of footsteps thundering up the stairs.
Seth burst into the room and then stopped, his eyes bugging wide.
I felt myself cringing at the sight we must have presented and we scrambled to disentangle ourselves from each other and stand up.
"Mom!" he yelled loudly, making me flinch.
"What is it?" Sue called, starting to climb the stairs. "Is Leah back?"
She appeared on the top hallway, Charlie right behind her, and then stopped, surprised at finding myself and Leah together.
Charlie looked between us and then stepped forwards.
"Bells?" he asked. "What's going on?"
This was it. Although I could never have imagined us telling our parents this way.
Leah was silent for a moment and I felt myself growing angry. Was she just going to lie and cut me out of her life again?
To my surprise though, she didn't move away from me like I thought she would. Instead she took my hand and looked both our parents in the eye.
"Mom, Charlie. Bella and I have something to tell you."
I squeezed her hand, and smiled.