I DON'T OWN TWILIGHT OR ANY ASSOCIATED CHARACTERS.
*This story will make vague references in later chapters to my previous story, Behind The Mask. It can be read as a stand-alone. Please, R & R!
And guys, don't worry. I'm still working on Behind the Mask...just had this idea and had to get it down.
The ride to Forks was silent and long. The darkness of the car was broken by the illuming glow of the buttons and gauges, but the silence was thick and heavy.
I didn't even turn on the radio, the buzz of my thoughts enough to keep me occupied the whole time and then some. I didn't know just what I'd find there, wasn't sure I even wanted to know.
Why? Why would Bella, of all people, try to kill herself? It was inconceivable, and my non-beating heart squeezed painfully. Bella, my daughter in every way that ever mattered, was in such despair that she had tried to take her own life.
My foot tightened on the accelerator, and the car responded smoothly, leaping ahead on the deserted highway. I had to get to Forks.
I had to understand what was happening to my Bella.
Jake and I pulled up to the house, still arguing. "Look, I really don't want to talk about this right now," I said.
Suddenly a long, gleaming black Mercedes in Charlie's driveway caught my eye. I recognized that car.
The hole in my chest intensified, the raw edges rubbing holes in my heart. I gasped for breath, wrapping my arms around myself in the automatic gesture Jake had become used to seeing in the months since I'd known him.
"Bella?" he said, his anger momentarily forgotten. "Bella, what's wrong?"
His face twisted in disgust, then anger and concern. "My god, there's a bloodsucker here – I smell her. Bella, I have to get you out of here. I don't know how Victoria got past us," he said, his jaw a tight, angry line. He started the truck before I grabbed his arm desperately. "No! That's Carlisle's car," I pleaded. "I know that car. Please, Jake. It's only Carlisle."
Reluctantly, he stopped. "It could be a trick," he argued. "Victoria could be inside that house right now, waiting for you."
I reached for the door handle. "No," I protested. "It's Carlisle. I know it."
His silence forced me to look at him. "I can't protect you here, Bella. This is their territory. You are about to cross a line!"
I held his gaze with more strength than I'd had since…since he'd left.
"Then don't draw one," I snapped, jumping out of the truck before he could stop me and racing up the walk.
I heard his enraged snarl, but I didn't stop. I had to see him, reassure myself the whole thing hadn't been a figment of my imagination.
That they had really happened.
The house was dark – Charlie was still at the Clearwaters, helping arrange the funeral. I groped around for the light switch, suddenly afraid.
What if it was a trick? What if Victoria was the one waiting for me, after all?
I finally found the switch and the room flooded with light.
The house was empty when I arrived, and I decided to wait for either Bella or Charlie to come back. I needed a little bit more time to think.
I wasn't sure how much time had passed when I heard a truck in the drive. I was about to go outside when I caught the smell.
Standing stock-still, I held my breath to prevent the odor from penetrating my lungs, listening hard to be certain Bella wasn't in danger. She was arguing loudly, but without fear, though with Bella that didn't mean much. She never had known when to be afraid.
Finally I heard her walk up the steps, and I knew she'd seen my car. Her heart beat wildly, erratically, as she darted inside and started fumbling for a switch.
When the light came on, she whirled around and came face-to-face with me.
For a second she just stood there, staring. I couldn't believe my own eyes. Large bags hung under her eyes and her clothes hung off of her stick-thin frame. "Carlisle!" she gasped.
And then Bella started to come apart. She began to shake, tears springing to her eyes. In the next heartbeat she flung herself into my arms, holding onto me like a lifeline.
Sobs shook her from head to toe, and I wrapped my arms around her, murmuring the first things that came to mind. "Shh, sweetheart, it's all right. Daddy's got you."
I eased backwards until my legs hit the couch. I sat down and pulled her into my lap, holding her as tightly as I could without hurting her. Her arms went around my neck as I rocked her gently. What have we done? I asked myself, anguished. I could feel the sharp outline of every bone in her frail body. Surely, surely this couldn't be because we left. Surely we hadn't done this to her.
When she finally began to quiet, I shifted her a little and handed her a tissue. Embarrassed, she blew her nose. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice soft even with my sensitive hearing.
"Bella, sweetheart, you have nothing to be sorry for. I should be the one apologizing."
I moved her so she was sitting beside me, so I could study her. It was worse than I thought. Her gaunt, sunken eyes told me exactly how she'd been sleeping – or not sleeping. Her cheekbones stood out in hard relief, and she'd lost at least ten pounds that she could ill afford to lose. But the worst of all was the hopelessness in my baby girl's eyes. They didn't dance anymore. They were dead, in every sense of the word.
"Oh, Bella," I whispered. "I wish I'd known sooner."
"Why would you care?" she whispered, genuinely puzzled. Sadness and misery touched every word.
It was worse than I'd ever thought it could be.
"Bella, listen to me," I said, forcing my voice to be firm. "We never stopped caring about you. None of us. We haven't been the same since we left you here behind. Esme doesn't have anyone to cook for," I was rewarded to see a small smile, "Jasper blames himself for what happened at the party. Emmett still makes crude jokes, but I catch him holding that picture album you gave us, and he's tracing your face with his fingers. Alice isn't happy without someone to be her Barbie doll. Even Rosalie, in her own way, misses you being there."
I could see she wanted to ask about Edward, but something kept her from it. Not for the first time I had to wonder exactly what he'd told her in those woods – he never would tell any of the rest of us. It had been for Bella's good. We'd all agreed on that.
"And…him?" she asked at last, unable to bring herself to even say his name.
"He misses you too," I said simply. She didn't believe me, but I let it go.
"And as for myself, Bella, I lost my daughter. A daughter I loved with all my heart."
I thought she was going to cry again, and I felt like joining her, but she was exhausted. She just leaned against me, and I stroked her hair, vowing to myself to find the old Bella no matter what it took.
"Where's Charlie?" I asked gently.
"He's at the Clearwaters," she explained without lifting her head. "Harry had a heart attack. Charlie's with his family. He said not to expect him until tomorrow morning."
I hadn't known Harry very well. He'd been as reticent towards us as most of the reservation, but he'd seemed like a good man. I knew Charlie and Bella had been close to him, and for that I mourned his death.
"Bella," I said, "you're going to go upstairs and take a shower, because you smell like a dog."
The old Bella would have laughed and glared, but I didn't even elicit a reaction out of the lifeless Bella beside me.
"Jake," she murmured. "Sorry."
So she was hanging out with werewolves. I wasn't happy about it, but I wasn't about to call her on it, at least not right now. We would deal with it later.
"And after that," I continued, "you're going straight to bed. And in the morning we're going to get this straightened out. I promise, Bella."
I winced as soon as the words were out of my mouth. We'd already broken so many promises to her. What reason did she have to believe me now?
But she let me pull her to her feet and point her towards the staircase. "You're not going to leave, are you?" she asked desperately.
"I'm not going anywhere," I assured her. "I'll be upstairs as soon as you've finished with your shower."
Satisfied, she dragged herself wearily up the stairs. I watched her go, pain wrenching me from the inside out.
In the name of protecting her, we'd done something horrible and possibly irreparable to Bella Swan.
The front door bounced open and heavy footsteps came through the hall, bringing that horrid smell with it.
I looked up to see Jacob Black come around the corner, breath coming in short spurts, fists clenched at his side.
"Jacob," I greeted him.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
"Taking a shower," I answered, keeping my tone polite. Bella didn't need a confrontation right now, no matter how much this werewolf might try my patience.
"What's your coven doing back here?"
"I'm alone, Jacob." I saw a spark of relief in his eyes before he covered it up.
"Let me rephrase, then. What are you doing back here?"
"I had no idea, Jacob, that I would find her like this."
His eyes softened just a little, as his gaze went towards the staircase. "She's been getting better."
If that was better, I could only imagine what worse must have been like.
"Jacob, did we do that?"
The anger was back. "Like hell you did, bloodsucker. You and your stupid leech of a son. He broke her heart and ripped it out of her chest. For five months she checked out of life. I was bringing her out of it, and now you're back."
"I only want to help her, Jacob. Same as you."
He snorted and turned on his heel. I winced as the door slammed on his way out.
"I'm sorry about that," Bella said. I looked up, and she was standing at the top of the stairs. "Jake can be…volatile."
Within half a second I was standing in front of her. "He does want to help," I murmured, not wanting to upset her. "Now come, Bella, you need to rest."
I tucked her into bed, climbing up to sit next to her, my back resting against the headboard. I knew she needed rest, but there was one thing I needed to get straight first.
"Bella, I know you've been feeling abandoned. But suicide is never the answer," I said, keeping my voice gentle but firm. "I wish you'd felt you could have confided in someone, but I'm here now and we're going to help you get through this."
She blinked. "Suicide? Carlisle, I didn't…"
"Alice saw it," I cut in, keeping my arm tight around her shoulders. "Bella, you should have thought about everyone who needs you, everyone who wouldn't have been able to go on without you."
"Carlisle, I didn't try to kill myself," she interrupted, staring up at me in disbelief.
"So you didn't jump off a cliff? You didn't have to pulled out by Jacob and revived because you stopped breathing?" I could barely say the last words, my throat closing up at the mental images that wouldn't leave me alone.
"Well, yeah, but it was for fun!" she defended herself. "The La Push boys do it all the time."
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or scold her. "We're going to talk about this, Bella. But not right now. Go to sleep, doctor's orders."
"Don't leave, Carlisle," she whispered, her eyes already closing.
I leaned down and brushed a light kiss across her forehead. "I'll be here," I said softly.
But she was already asleep.