My name is Isabella Marie Swan.

I am damaged.

I didn't use to be. I used to be that girl who loved literature and music and romantic movies on the Hallmark channel. Now I just try to get through each day without hurting myself—or someone I love. It all started with a boy—isn't that always the case? I met him when I was seventeen years old. I'd agreed to stay with my dad over the course of two school years while my mom and Phil traveled with his minor league baseball team. I was hesitant to go but anxious to please all of the parental units around me, so I went, a suitcase full of books in tow.

I've tried over and over again to write down those moments in between arriving in Forks and when my life fell apart, but somehow all I can derive from that point in my life is pain and heartache. Realistically, I know there must have been a few happy times, but I have some sort of mental block that won't let me remember them. Like I said: damaged.

My therapist thought that writing in this journal would help unlock the good memories, and maybe make me less crazy, less deranged. I want to be happy again, but the gravity of what I've done is a constant weight on my chest. I keep thinking that no one will forgive me–ever.


I changed my mind fifty some-odd times since I'd received his invitation. It was a beautiful thing, embossed in gold with a royal blue satin liner and thick card stock. The card must have cost him at least $5.00 to send in the mail—leave it to a Cullen to pick the most extravagant Christmas card. The arrival of it, though, shocked me. I never thought I'd hear from him again, not with the way we had parted. I didn't think he would ever want to give me another thought: the girl who'd broken his heart and wrecked his life.

I'd checked the mail myself for once. For a normal twenty-five year old, that statement would seem perfectly normal – but I am far, far removed from anything resembling normal. Usually, Renee or Phil would grab it first, but this time I caught it just as the mail carrier was dropping it off. The weather was a warm 72 degrees, perfectly common for a Florida winter. I'd been sitting on the front porch swing, enjoying the last lazy rays of the sun's warmth and reading a book when the mail arrived.

There really wasn't anything special about the day, nothing that would normally cause me to even pause or notice any of the goings on around me, but on this day, I did. I put down the book I had been previously engrossed in two seconds before and walked straight to the mailbox, even before the lady had finished sorting through the stacks of our mail.

"Hello, you must be Bella."

I nodded, stupidly.

"Your step-dad talks about you non-stop to my husband—he's also on the team."

"Oh," I mumbled, struggling to make simple conversation. It wasn't surprising. I'd barely spoken to anyone in months, much less tried to make small talk with a virtual stranger. "Small world." I ended up spouting.

The mail carrier smiled at me sympathetically, knowingly, and it made me want to dig a hole right there and bury myself. Of course she knew. Everyone in this small town knew about poor, depressed, suicidal Bella. I dropped the smile and took the offered mail, mumbling a curt, "Thank you," as I headed back toward the safety of the house, my porch swing and my book.

I let out a long breath and sighed, letting the letters and bills fall in a heap beside me, thankful to be alone again and shocked at my own sudden, spontaneous behavior. Something in the pile flashed in the sunlight, sparkling and eye catching. A familiar name was printed on a large, crisp, white foil letters. For a moment, I thought I was hallucinating. Months of therapy and pills had assured me that this time, it was not fantasy, and I tore open the letter, my heart pressed tightly into my throat. It went into overdrive as I quickly ripped open the beautiful heavy paper, suddenly desperate to see what he'd sent.

After seven years with no word, why would he suddenly send something now?

I wanted to savor every printed word on the front of the generic, though expensive, greeting card, but my eyes immediately became transfixed on the writing inside.

"Bella, I miss you. They tell me I should give up, but I just can't. Please, please meet with me. I've waited for you every Christmas Eve since you left. You know the spot. I sometimes think I'll wait for you forever. I love you, Bella. Nothing that's happened between us will ever change that. I've enclosed another ticket. I suppose I'm just hoping that one day, you'll use it and come back to us.

Love Always,

Edward."

It was at that moment that Renee walked through the door.

"Bella, I have dinner rea—oh the mail came?"

She must have noticed the way I clutched the card between white-knuckled fingers, must have noticed the way my hands trembled, because her tone changed suddenly from nonchalant to fearful.

"Bella? What's that you're holding?"

I was never one for dramatics, but at that moment, I threw the biggest tantrum of my life.

"Ed-ward has been writing to me?"

I struggled to say his name aloud, the mere thought of it tore a new hole in my already battered heart.

"Why didn't you tell me? What gives you the right to keep this from me? Every year?"

"Honey, it was for your own good. You were healing, and we thought it best—"

"You thought it best? You mean you decided to make that decision for me!" I was screaming now, not even caring about the tears streaming down my face or my runny nose or the neighbors that were watching curiously from the other side of their perfect little white-picket fence.

"Bella, this is not the time or the place. I'm going to make you some nice calming herbal tea."

"Why, so you can drug me and keep me locked up in my room?"

"Bella, this isn't necessary. Come with me. Now!" If her voice didn't say it, her eyes did. Renee had had enough, and she wasn't about to back down. I, however, was past caring. I jerked my arm out of Renee's, and ran down the street past Phil who was pulling into the driveway, in the direction of the nearest bus stop.

"Phil, stop her!" I could hear my mom screaming from the front door. Phil ran up to me and lightly grabbed my arm; I stopped in defeat. There was no way I would be able to run the fifteen miles to the bus station and then get to the airport with no money and no plan. What he did next surprised me.

"Bella, honey..." He looked between me with my sopping wet face and Renee, both hands covering her mouth. She looked relieved that Phil had stopped me, and I was aware she was just as upset about this turn of events as I was. I was always making my mom cry.

"Honey, go pack some bags. I'll drive you to the airport in thirty minutes."

I could feel the blood draining from my face as I heard Renee shout out, "NO!"

I packed, but I wasn't sure what I put in my large suitcase. I tried to block out the sounds of Phil and Renee fighting at the other end of the house. My heart was a resounding jackhammer in my ears.

Edward.

Why would he want to see me? Why would any of them want to see me? After the way I'd left things...I'd destroyed them. I'd torn apart his family and then left in the middle of the night without so much as a forwarding address. The look on Charlie's face when I'd walked out the door – I shook my head forcefully, but it wouldn't erase the images of the disappointment I saw in my father's eyes that night. Would Charlie want to see me?

My eyes filled with tears as I threw random articles of clothing into my bag until my drawers were completely empty and my closet barren. I didn't have much in the way of clothing, but that was the least of my concerns. I was going to see Edward. He wanted to see me! He still loves me! But why?

I could hear bits and pieces of yelling, and it was closer now.

"She will never forgive you!"

"You don't know what's best for her, I'm her mother!"

"You haven't given her a chance to choose any of this!"

"I can't allow you to take her from me!"

"She's a grown woman!"

"She's sick!"

I immediately grabbed my headphones and iPod, a Christmas gift from Phil last year when I'd finally been able to stomach music again, and placed them over my ears, turning the volume on full blast. Heavy metal was never my favorite before. Ever since my "difficulty," it had become a God-send. That's how Renee referred to my life-changing event: my "Difficult Time." It was generic enough to not be too personal but still had the same effect as burning acid running through my veins.

My "difficulty" as she put it was what made me this...this barely living person once called Bella. I'd spent months on suicide watch, filled with enough pills to start my own pharmacy, taken to every acupuncturist, therapist, and hippy-psychiatrist in the state of Florida. Finally, I'd come out of it on my own, though not completely. I just got tired of hearing Renee cry and seeing the strain I put on everyone around me. Now I hide most of it – but some scars won't fade, no matter how much time passes.

I ran my hands under my top, above the line of my jeans. I could feel every little ridge and indent: proof that it was real. It made me feel better and worse all at once. The stretch marks have faded some, and I used to be terrified that I'd wake up one day and they'd be gone completely, but now I'm positive they are not going anywhere. Renee offered to give me some cocoa butter for them once, and I'd snapped at her and flung it into the trash can. She never mentioned it again.

I heard a door slam. Phil knocked softly in his irritating, endearing way, and I jerked my hand away, afraid that I was doing something wrong, embarrassed to be losing myself in a memory that I was told over and over didn't really mean anything. I had to keep telling myself that as well. The last thing I wanted was to get lost in that desperate heartache again. I knew for certain if I fell into another depression that deep, I wouldn't be able to find my way back.

But Edward still loves me. How can he?

Phil poked his head around the door, his cheeks and the tops of his ears red with anger, though his voice didn't show it. "Hey, kiddo. You ready to go?"

"What about Mom?" I pushed the headphones down around my neck and felt wetness on my cheeks. Does the crying never stop?

"Yeah, well. Your mom is just afraid for you, you know? She doesn't want to lose you again."

He sat down beside me and put his arm around me. I gratefully leaned into his strong embrace.

"Promise me something, okay, Bella?" he said, his voice as serious as I've ever heard it. "Promise that you won't go there again, that you won't get like you were before. Okay?"

"You mean you want me to promise that I won't try to off myself again?"

Phil winced and then squeezed me tighter. "Yeah. No matter what this guy put you through, or what happens when you get there, I need to know you'll come back here and still be you."

I wanted to point out that I hadn't been me for seven years, not since that first day that I met the devastatingly handsome and talented Edward Cullen, but I couldn't. Phil would'nt understand. It had been so long since he or Mom had been around a completely healthy and happy Bella, how could he understand? So I did all I could do and nodded into his scratchy jacket, hoping he accepted my feeble promise.

"Okay, Bells." He stood up and jerked my bag onto his shoulder like it didn't contain everything I owned. "You ready?"

Suddenly, I didn't feel ready. I felt sick. It would be so much easier to stay here and write Edward a letter rather than see him in person. What would I say to him? I was pretty sure whatever I said would include a lot of whimpering and crying. I imagined myself pleading at his feet, begging his forgiveness while his family looked on in disdain.

Deep breaths, Bella. Nothing happens from standing still. He still loves you, that must account for something...

But why would he?

I asked myself that the entire ride to the airport, in the baggage line as I mechanically dropped my bag into a plastic bin and removed my shoes, the entire plane ride and two-hour layover, and then once again as I walked out from the runway into the Seattle airport terminal.

Charlie was standing there as I rounded the corner, looking ever so much the noble police chief of Forks. Phil told me he'd call Charlie to make sure I wasn't alone at the airport. My dad had more gray around his temples, and I was sure that was because of me. I hesitated for a moment, but then he did something I didn't expect: he held his arms open for me. I ran into them like the lost little girl I'd become. He held me while I cried and begged his forgiveness right there in the middle of the crowded airport. My dad, who usually wasn't a fan of public affection, held me close and kissed the top of my head and acted like he didn't even care that people were around, making me wonder why I'd stayed away for so long.

Right, Renee thought it would be best if I'd stayed far away from this state.

"Shh, Bells, honey..." His voice cracked and it struck a nerve, making me sob harder. "It's okay, baby. Come on, let's get your bags and go home."

I dried my eyes and nodded, following him around the airport on numb legs. It had been a long time since I'd allowed myself to cry openly. It felt almost therapeutic.

The ride home was mostly silent, though Charlie insisted on holding my hand the whole way, ignoring his "General Safety in Driving Rules". It made me smile. How odd that my dad would end up becoming the nurturing one. It was a total reverse in rolls from when I was a kid. I'd probably worn Renee down, though. Maybe she'd still be her old self if I hadn't put her through so much hell. I guess I wore down her hug reserves. I'd have to make a point to be more loving to her when I got back – though I'm still pissed that she kept Edward's cards from me each year. Why would she do that?

When they pulled up to the old white clapboard house, a flood of memories overtook me: small, old-fashioned, laid-back Christmases and snow, waiting seemingly forever to get the decrepit computer to log on, countless quiet evenings in front of the TV lost in my own thoughts. First date. First kiss...

I let out a heavy breath, knowing from long months of self-deprecation that I had to curb my thoughts there: this was not the time to get lost in memories of what was. It hadn't occurred to me until just now that maybe this trip was going to be my time to heal, a time to forgive myself and hopefully gain forgiveness from others. I couldn't live forever in my past, wishing I'd changed all of my decisions. Still, the biting ache of what could have been would always haunt me, and it was never more prevalent than it was at that moment, as I looked up at my father's house, through the haze of winshield glass.

"You okay, Bells?"

I hadn't noticed he was holding the door open for me, and I said a quick, "Sorry" as I stepped out, remembering to be careful on the ice and snow.

"We're going to have to get you some warmer gear soon, or you'll freeze to death. How does a trip to Newton's sound?"

It sounded dreadful, but I nodded anyway. The last thing I wanted to do was see old classmates who knew all about my "difficulties" and try to make awkward conversation with them anyway.

"So..." He dropped my bag on the couch, and I rubbed my hands up and down my arms to get warm again. I could tell he was hedging around something by the long pause before he continued. "Phil told me you were going to meet up with Edward while you were here."

I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks and panic eking its way into my chest.

"Yes? Maybe? I don't know. I don't know why he'd want to see me after...I don't know. Maybe." I realized I was babbling and picked up my bag, scrambling to distract him from the conversation.

"I guess I'll take this up to my room and rest a little. The plane ride took a lot out of me." I started to drag my heavy bag across the living room floor, wondering how Phil and Charlie had carried it around so effortlessly.

"Bells, how much do you know?"

I stopped a moment.

"What do you mean?"

Charlie sighed and ran a hand through his thick, salt and pepper hair.

"Nothing, Bells. I'll have something for you to eat when you get up. You're too thin."

I wanted to laugh, but he hadn't said it as a joke, more as a concerned father who was worried about his kid.

"Okay. See you."

I spent twenty minutes in my room, studying everything, amazed at how it could look exactly the same as it did when I'd left it, right down to the pencil I'd last used to do my final math homework at Forks High, which lay placed precariously on the corner of my desk. It was eerie, like the way a parent who'd lost a child would leave their room, afraid that if they moved something, it would somehow tarnish the memory. I suddenly realized that reasoning wasn't far from the truth: there were a couple of times he has almost lost his little girl.

I cried myself to sleep, hoping and praying that I would get a chance to do better this time – to make him proud of me.


Thank you so much for reading! I'm always extremely nervous to put my writing "out there" where others can see it! ACK! Writing this, so far, has been very therapeutic, so I decided it might be worth sharing.

This chapter was edited by Project Team Betas, Mel/ccmcc101180 and Twilightmom505, who are amazing and kind and wonderful. :) Any errors are clearly my fault and not theirs.

Also, I do have a definite direction with this story, which is exciting!