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11. Done

The trouble with cycling up a mountain is that you have to go down again.

That was the one thing I had been dreading the most about this whole undertaking and the aspect about my ever-approaching trek to the Alps which filled me with the most fear. I mean…hairpin-bends. They don't look like they're supposed to be navigated by any vehicle, let alone a bike at a fast enough pace to make your eyes tear up.

The boys, of course, had laughed all my worries away; puffing out their chests in some sort of strange ritual that seemed to have come directly from the apes as they boasted about the speeds they were going to achieve and the buzz they would get out of zooming down the mountain.

Damned adrenaline junkies!

I slowly sipped on my bottle of energy drink, munching on yet another candy bar as I caught my breath again and tried to gather the courage to start my descent.

And tried.

And tried again.

And tried once more.

In the end, only the cold air starting to chill me to the bone could get me to move, my hands started to turn blue from the much cooler temperatures at 1500 ft. above where we began that morning. "You've gotta go down again, Bella," I muttered to myself. "The boys are just going to shit themselves if you call them now to come pick you up in the car."

Making sure my helmet straps were secure and my warm jacket zipped shut, I finally clicked my shoes back into the pedals, my hands already clenching the brakes in a death grip as I slowly pushed my bike forward, letting it pick up speed naturally as I turned it back down the road I'd come up on.

Almost as soon as I'd left the small parking lot at the end of the climb, I could feel gravity starting to take over, my bike picking up more and more speed along the road while my feet sat idle on the pedals, the wind blowing through my hair and zooming past my skin as, for a moment, I felt as free as the birds in the sky.

It was …exhilarating. Or it would have been, if not for the hairpin bend coming up on the horizon.

Remembering what Cullen had told me about breaking at high speed, I gently squeezed my brakes in advance, diminishing my speed slowly to keep in control of the bike and not have it swerve and buckle underneath me, the speedometer still reading a terrifying twenty miles per hour but the numbers slowly dwindling until I managed to steer my trusty bike around the bend at a safe four mile speed.

One down.

More to go.

As I went through the same process over and over again–picking up speed, slowing down and praying for mercy as my tires crunched through the narrow turns and angles of the road–my fingers started to cramp from holding the brakes in a vise-like grip. Though the pain grew with every mile until my hands started to tremble, it wasn't like I could let go of the breaks so I just clenched my teeth together and pushed through it, trying to blink against the tears caused by the strong wind lapping against my eyes as I tried not to wet myself with utter fear.

How anyone could actually enjoy this was something I'd never understand.

As long as it had taken me to climb up–nearly three hours to be exact–it took me all of forty minutes to spot the familiar parking lot coming back into view, my chest releasing a breath it had been holding for as long as it had taken me to get back down as my bike started to naturally slow down again, my fingers stiff as they relaxed.

I made it!

I managed a bona fide climb and came back down again without killing myself!

Does this mean I can actually do this shit?


I grinned all the way through the final leg of my descend; the incline now so slight that even I could afford to let loose a little and enjoy the sun on my face and the sound of birds singing in the trees. And three guys laying in the grass near the parking lot eating chocolate chip cookies, lounging around like they hadn't really done much of anything that day while I probably looked like some weird crossing between a mineworker and a ghost.

"Hey you!" Emmett grinned, popping another cookie into his mouth as he lounged back, his sunglasses perched on the tip of his nose. He was the only one who hadn't changed out of his cycling gear and I shuddered at the sight of far too tight pants on him, even though the padding prevented the whole thing from becoming too graphic. And thank God for that! I really do not need to know anything about the size of Emmett's pork sword, thank you very much!

"Hey yourself!" I answered jubilantly, my muscles all relaxing with relief as I freed my feet (making sure to do that before I stopped this time) and got off my bike. "And thanks for waiting for me until you dug into the cookies!"

"We left you some," Emmett shrugged, though he looked slightly guilty as he passed the container to me.

"Yeah," I grumbled. "All of two cookies when I know damn well your mom sent a whole container along. I'm going to tell on you the next time I see her."

Emmett actually paled a little, clutching the lid of the container to his chest as if it would protect him from the ire of Mama McCarty. "You wouldn't!"

"Try me," I challenged him, making sure to secure the cookies before anyone else's grubby hands could snatch them away. I earned those cookies fair and square, risking my life in cycling down a bloody mountain and all.

"So how was it?" Cullen lowered his Ray-Bans as he peeked at me from above the rims. I had to admit he looked good in old jeans that sat low on his hips and a worn band t-shirt on top of it did funny and very confusing things to me.

"It was good," I mumbled, talking around my last cookie as I dug into the backseat of the car to get my towel and a change of clothes. "Slow, but good."

"Slow and steady wins the race," Jasper chimed in, lounging against the back tire of Emmett's Jeep.

"Yeah, but I'm not very likely to win a race going up against you guys, am I?" I joked back, squeezing the sweat out of my hair as best as I could, while mentally calculating how long it would be until I could get back to my bathroom. "I'll just go change and then we can go, okay?"

The boys had already packed up again when I got back, an acute sense of grief striking me as Cullen and I followed Emmett as he tore out of the parking lot, my eyes following Hurricane Ridge Road upwards until it disappeared from sight.

I missed my dad.

So much.

Growing up around these parts, he would've loved to have been a part of this day, even if it was just from the sidelines cheering us on as we went up and listening to our stories as we came down again. I could just see him waiting in that parking lot; his lazy ass parked in a lawn chair and his eyes glistening with excitement.

Oh, daddy.

Getting back to Seattle was the kickoff for the most grueling couple of weeks in my life. Between prepping for my finals on top of training, my days consisted of training, work, class, eating, more class or studying, more training, more eating, a final study session and then bedtime.

No fun for Bella.

Unless anyone would count stuffing pages and pages of criminal facts and figures into your head or cycling down some godforsaken road until your legs felt like they were two miles away from jumping ship and finding some lazy girl to hang out with fun?

I didn't.

And what's more; the lack in my social life was really starting to get to me, almost to the point where I became ecstatic when I could manage to squeeze in a short movie or an hour or two with some music and a good book. I'd all but given up beer too, after Cullen's incessant lectures on the influence of alcohol on your body and, after another lecture on junk food, I had his damn voice ringing in my ear every time I wanted to eat a snack. Apparently Cullen wasn't just a cockblocker; he was also a more efficient diet guru than any of those other schmucks out there.

Add that on top of my still non-existent love life and it was no wonder why I ended up walking around with a sour face half the time. Which, of course, didn't really help with the love life either.

Not even the Tour the France managed to cheer me up, even if it was the Centennial edition; packed with breathtaking climbs, exciting chases and heartwarmingly little mention of the dreaded D-word. It seemed like the peloton had really turned a new leaf and decided to come out fighting for the sport we all loved so much.

For me, though, it had been forever changed but not so much because of the doping affairs of the past. It was because dad was no longer with me, his voice competing with mine as we cheered on our heroes. Not even a double climb of Alpe d'Huez could change that, though it did make me sit up, take notes and wet myself with fear at the prospect that in a few weeks it would be me up there.

And then I went back to studying.

"What's with the face?" Cullen joked as I met up with him for what would be our last training session before we'd head out to France. "I'd have thought you'd be jumping for joy since you had your last exam today."

"I'm fed up with all of this!" I growled, wishing this cycling gear wasn't so expensive so that I could kick it because God knew I really needed to break something at that moment. "Any other year I would have spent tonight getting insanely drunk, have a couple of laughs and dances and end up getting plowed by some guy I had my eye on for most of the year. Just like most of my classmates."

Cullen cringed at the prospect, though he must have done his fair bit of plowing and drinking in the past, if the gossip mill was to be believed. "Well, look at it like this," he recovered, fastening his helmet on top of his head. "At least tomorrow you won't wake up with the mother of all hangovers and besides…I bet this sure beats last year's end of term."

And just like that, he reminded me of why I was doing all of this, a feeling of intense shame and self-hate at my selfish, superficial whining taking hold of me as I remembered what dad had looked like around this time.

"It's just…" And then it all came out; my ongoing and unaddressed grief over my father's death, my anger with my mom and Alice for always wanting to change me and, most of all, my fear that no matter how hard I worked in life, I would never be good enough.

I was never going to make it to the top.

"Don't doubt yourself, Bella." The sincerity in his voice almost made me fall of my bike, my leg pace slowing slightly as I tried to digest his words. "Just look at you: you went from having no stamina to speak of to having the kind of endurance that will get you up that mountain all while keeping a part-time job and juggling a course load that would be a challenge even without the goal you've set yourself on top it. If anything, I'm in awe of your determination and persistence, but most of all, of your devotion to your dad." He paused, taking a few breaths. "If your mom and Alice don't see that then fuck them! Your friends believe in you."

"Okay," I answered dumbly, feeling like an idiot for not coming up with something more eloquent to say to such amazing words.

"You can do this," Cullen insisted again, his feet sitting idle as we slowed down, already having reached the parking lot close to my dorm again. Apparently times flies when you're freaking out. "You just have to believe in yourself."

Hearing him say the words, it sounded so simple but in reality it was much easier said than done.

I would try, though.

For dad.