Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise, I just use their creations to have my wicked way with them. No copyright infringement is intended.
Like Bella in this story, I have been a lifelong fan of watching road cycling and, again like Bella, I once made a promise to someone to not just sit on my ass and watch as others climbed the magnificent Alpe d'Huez in de French Alps but actually follow in their footsteps and make my own way to the top. Last year, I fulfilled that promise during a huge charity event to raise money for cancer and the event but even more so the training and preparations leading up to that, changed my life. This story is not a step-by-step replay of what happened to me since the storyline itself is completely fictional (alas, since I wouldn't have minded a little bit of Edward in my life) but a lot of Bella's training experiences are mine. I hope you'll enjoy the story.
A big thank you is on order to my amazing beta-team Jadsmama and Ladysharkey1 for putting up with me and making me and my stories better.
"Who's…win-ning?" The sound of his muffled voice broke my heart; so labored and frail, coming from a man who used to be so strong. It broke my heart to hear him becoming so weak. Still, I somehow managed to plaster a smile onto my face, knowing it would do him no good to see me crying, no matter how much I wanted to at that moment.
"Dad! You're awake!" I replied with fake cheer.
His face took on a look of frustration as he repeated himself with a little more emphasis on the words. His fingers trembled as he lifted the mask attached to his oxygen supply but I knew better than to help him. "Who's…win-ning?"
That year's Tour de France was the most important one of his life to him, even if the route through France proved to be a little lackluster due to the absence of the 'big' mountains like the Mont Ventoux or the Alpe d'Huez. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when dad still had the breath and the energy to be angry, he and I had spent many hours damning whoever had come up with this stage scheme into the lowest circles of hell for boring us to sleep with a tour in which the most exciting climb was the Tourmalet.
And they didn't even finish on top of that one.
The tour was one of the highlights of the year to dad and me, one we looked forward to like others would to the Super Bowl, even though the recent doping developments had taken some of its shine away. It had been something that was just 'us' for as long as I could remember, as my dad's strange fascination with a sport most Americans couldn't give two fucks about already featuring in some of my earliest memories of when my toddler self climbed onto my daddy's lap to find out what had him so engrossed. I'd been watching along with him almost as soon as I was old enough to fathom what the hell this cycling thing was and from that moment the drama, danger and physical strain of the world's biggest cycling event had me hooked as much as my dad. For those three weeks, the rest of the world would just cease to exist, making only a short appearance during rest days and moments when 'our boys in France' weren't on their bikes.
I loved the sport with every fiber of my being but what I loved the most about the Tour de France was that it was 'our' thing.
Me and dad.
It had a lot of extra meaning now since it would be the final tour my dad would ever get to see.
Our last tour together.
I still couldn't believe it – didn't want to believe it – but next year, it would just be me.
Me and an empty chair that would never be filled again.
"Let's see," I hedged, my eyes flashing from my dad to the big flat screen propped up so that he had a perfect vision from his bed as I tried to blink away the onset of tears forming on my watery eyes. "Valverde escaped on the Côte de Burs and he's still up front with about a minute and a half on the chaser, but Froome and Wiggins are gaining on him now that they've reached the Peyresourde."
A fresh round of labored coughs made his chest shake as he once again lifted the breathing mask. "As long…as Fro-ome can…keep his head out…of his ass...Wig-gins will be o-kay?"
"Pretty much," I nodded, cranking the sound up a few bars so that dad could hear it better. "Valverde's too far behind him in the overall standings to be a threat and with the way they are gaining on him towards the top, he might even win it if it's his lucky day."
"He'll…give it…to Froome," Dad wheezed, really starting to feel the toll of taking his mask off.
"I wouldn't," I snorted. "Froome has been behaving like a dick for the past couple of miles; showing off at every turn that he's stronger than Wiggins."
Dad merely smiled, faintly shaking his head. "Then…Wig-gins…knows…who…he has…to thank…for his….vic…tory." If there had been any joy from this year's Tour, it was the fact that Bradley Wiggins, a big favorite of both of ours, seemed to be heading towards his first overall win.
"He…he's…a…good…man," Dad panted.
I nodded, my eyes once again glued to the television screen as the final countdown unfolded, with a jubilant Valverde finishing a mere eighteen seconds before Froome and Wiggins, with much discussion breaking loose after the finish line about whether or not Froome would have been able to win the stage and maybe even the yellow jersey if he wouldn't have had to wait for his teammate.
Dad listened with a barely veiled distaste and I knew that had he been in a better shape, he would have been hurling abuse at the commentators and the other know-it-alls, as he would undoubtedly call them.
It's your duty as an up-and-coming cyclist to ride domestique for whoever heads the team. It's always been like that and it will always be. Any people who doubt the system should poke their snotty noses into a different sports because that's how we do things in cycling. I don't know how many times I've heard my dad repeat that same statement over the years but every time I was still boggled by who he meant with 'we'. It couldn't have been him, since he'd never owned or ridden a racing bike in his life.
Not that we hadn't made plans to change that, though.
I smiled, my eyes wandering back to him. He'd nodded off again almost as soon as Wiggins had crossed the finish line, knowing as well as I did that with two relatively flat stages and a time trial – one of his specialties – still remaining, only a disaster would keep Bradley Wiggins from his first tour victory.
I just wished and prayed that dad would live long enough to see him do it.
With him asleep, it was safe to let the tears fall, though it took more effort each day to keep myself from sobbing out loud and waking him up.
He didn't need to see me cry on top of all the pain he had to suffer through already, the final bits of strength finally slipping from that once so powerful and indestructible body as he lost his struggle with lung cancer, though at the moment it seemed to have spread everywhere.
If there was ever a single cell of me that contemplated picking up smoking as a habit, dad's fate was enough of a cautionary tale to never make me give in. I don't know how many times I'd seen him light up a cigar over the years; the house always filled with spicy, fragrant blue smoke whenever he was home. He knew the risks, he wasn't stupid, but I think part of him had never wanted to think about the potential consequences.
To think that maybe his addiction would claim his life one day.
I sighed, wiping away the remnants of my tears as I heard some noise coming from the driveway; mom and Alice returning from their shopping trip and sounding so chipper the neighbors might have started to wonder if maybe dad wasn't in there, dying after all.
"We're back!" Alice sang as she traipsed into the place like she owned it with mom hot on her heels carrying the grocery bags.
Rolling my eyes, I once again wondered how two people born from the same set of parents could be so unlike each other. That was, after I was done being pissed off. "For God's sake, Alice," I hissed, checking from the corners of my eyes to make sure her dad was still asleep. "Keep your fucking mouth shut. You know he's sleeping!"
At least my sister had the good grace to blush guiltily, though there was no apology as she shot into the kitchen. Mom, however, had different ideas about making her displeasure known, and it wasn't with her oldest child. "Do you have to lay into her like that?" Renee whisper-yelled. "We all work so hard to make this as easy as we can for your father. It's not like she meant any harm."
Her comment made me roll my eyes for the second time since they'd been home. It was so like mom to pick Alice's side, whether it was because girly, ever-cheerful Alice had always been the apple of her eye or because she still hadn't forgiven me for picking my dad's side in the divorce and choosing to live with him instead of my mother's.
"Whatever," I huffed, turning my attention back to dad. He'd always been on my case to keep up the contact, even going as far as to forbid me from bearing the burden of his care alone when he had been diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer, though he had to have been disgusted to have that woman and the ungrateful oldest daughter who always complained about having to spend a few weeks in Forks each summer under his roof.
For dad's sake, though, I bit my lip, kept the peace because I knew he would be disappointed to see me fighting with her and because I didn't want his last days to be filled with tension and strife.
When all this is done, I deserve at least a nomination for the Nobel fucking Peace Price.
Fortunately even mom and Alice picked up on the fact that I was in no mood to talk as we all sat down to dinner a few hours later, dad still sleeping in the living room as they chatted on about stuff I either didn't understand or couldn't give a fuck about while I mentally went over the list of stuff that needed to be arranged for the funeral.
They also didn't seemed to mind when I volunteered to sleep in the living room with dad, just as I'd done most nights, so that I'd be close by if something happened.
Neither of them would have known what to do anyway, since they hadn't arrived yet when dad was brought back from the hospital and his doctor gave me the run down on all the stuff he was hooked up to and the medicine he needed to take.
I think Alice was more afraid that something would happen and she wouldn't know what to do or say to dad when he needed her most. Mom however…
Her inability to take the lead and actually stand up in hard times shouldn't have surprised me anymore, since she'd never been able to do either such things, but that didn't mean it didn't still hurt that she was only doing this because of what others might say to her if she didn't.
She'd never given a fuck about my dad and she wasn't about to start.
"Bella." Between my glum thoughts and the exhaustion of being up and about all day, taking care of dad, I'd just started to doze off when his voice woke me up again.
"Dad!" I pushed the pain away from my shoulders, stretching against the stiffness of being perched on the sofa when I was used to my own queen-sized bed. "Do you need anything? Water? A higher dose to dull the pain?"
He shook his head a strange sort of solemn determination settling onto his features that made me wonder what the hell he was planning. "I want you…to promise…me…something," he spoke, his voice stronger than it had been in days as his hand held the breathing mask to his mouth again, taking a few shaky pulls from his oxygen as he look expectantly at me.
"Anything," I replied before even thinking about how making promises when you didn't even know what they were about was never a smart thing to do. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you…to do it. What we've always…dreamed…about…but never…got to do," he spoke with eyes fierce as they traveled from my face to the stage scheme mounted on the wall next to his bed.
He didn't need more words for me to know exactly what he meant. It had been the dream that had started that very first time, years ago, when we watched the Tour de France together, witnessing with open mouths as Guiseppe Guerini braved the crowds lining all fourteen kilometers and twenty-one hairpin turns of the climb.
We decided we wanted to do that, too, one day.
Well, maybe not with so many people lining the road and nowhere near as fast as Guerini, because that would just be madness, but that mountain? It had something magical in our eyes and we were desperate to experience that magic.
Seeing as both knew how much hard work would go into fulfilling that dream and neither one of us was particularly fond of actually practicing sports as opposed to watching them from the cozy confines of your living room, I'd always assumed the dream would remain just that.
"I want you…to go up there…and take me with you." Dad went on, his strength quickly diminishing as his demand to on a clearer shape. "Scatter….my ashes…from…the…top."
I nodded, tears falling from my eyes as the magnitude of what he was asking from me started to register. Can I really do it? I'd do anything for him; I knew that in my heart, no matter how impossible his challenge might have looked.
"We'll do it, Daddy," my sister's voice sounded from behind me before I had time to answer his question myself. "Bella and I will take you up there, just like you've always wanted."
A part of me wanted to yell at her to keep the fuck out of our dream. This had always been something that belonged to dad and me alone but somehow she'd managed to weasel her way into our plan and the fact that she did so without as much as blinking an eye or asking me if it was okay made me seethe with anger.
One look at dad's face, though, was enough to make me eat my words before they spewed from my mouth; the relieved smile and look of intense relaxation on his face as he slowly sagged back into nothingness being more important than anything, even my sister butting in.
"Good," he whispered, his thin, feeble hand reaching out for both of us, his other hand patting the top of the little stack of hands as we placed them on top of his. "This…is good."
I nodded, biting my lip to stop the tears from falling as inwardly I was still trying to find out what the hell I'd just signed up for.