I have decided to give you all a little prequel teaser. I will post this chapter (and maybe chapter two later on) to give everyone a taste of what this much-anticipated story is all about. This story will contain dark themes and disturbing content to sensitive viewers (though you should all be aware of the kinds of things in this story, seeing as you should have read Dark Waltz before you read).
Enjoy! (and please let me know what you think)
Chapter 1- June 30, 2000
Bella stared at the commotion around her. Heart filled with discontent and jealousy, she stood, arms crossed as she watched her father climb up and down the stairs, each time returning with a new bag or belonging. None of them are mine, she thought bitterly. She was too young to accompany her siblings to summer camp. No matter how much she had begged and pleaded, she had not been able to convince her father that she was big enough, that she could spend lots of sleeps away from her bed and books and stuffies. She was not a baby.
Alice and Emmett had been preparing for weeks, packing, unpacking and repacking their bags so many times that Bella had lost count and their mother had lost her temper. Bella had listened to their excitement in surly silence. Emmett had been going to camp for years- since before Bella could remember- but Alice had only gone once before. Last year, she'd been deemed "old enough", and she had kissed Bella goodbye before loading her bags onto the big yellow school bus. Bella had been jealous then, too, as she was forced to wave goodbye.
"Baby, what are you doing?" asked her father, Charlie, as Bella stood in the doorway. "You're blocking the door."
"Can't I go too?" pleaded Bella once more, hoping her sad face would sway her daddy.
"I don't make the camp rules, kiddo," laughed Charlie. "They say you've got to be seven to go."
"I'm almost seven!" said Bella eagerly. "My birthday means I'll be seven."
"But you're still six," smiled Charlie. "You can go next year. I promise. Don't be sad, 'kay?"
Bella returned to her stony silence and inched out of the doorway, letting Charlie through. She tossed herself down on the dining table, frowning.
"Don't be so glum, Bella," came the voice of her mother, Renee. "We'll have plenty of fun right here."
"But Alice says that they'll make dream catchers and play ball!" Bella complained. "There'll be no more kids left here."
"We'll make our own crafts," bargained Renee. "I'll take you down to the craft store and you can decide all on your own what you'd like to make. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"Camp sounds funner," muttered Bella. Her mother let out a frustrated sigh and turned away, opening the two backpacks carefully and depositing a small sum of money into each. Emmett had told her that there was a store at camp where they could buy treats, as long as their cabin was clean and they were good listeners. Bella knew he wasn't lying because last year, he'd returned with a bag of lollipops, and because Bella was sad because she had wanted to go, he let her have one.
Mom would never have let him get a whole bag of suckers.
"Why don't you go see if Alice needs any help?" suggested Charlie, coming back inside. "You could tell her how you want your shirt painted." Alice had promised to paint an extra shirt for her as a present.
"Fine," said Bella, resigned. Her father watched, torn between amusement and pity as his youngest child slumped to the staircase and thumped her way up, pouting all the while. When Bella made it upstairs, she turned towards Alice's room, hesitating when she saw the door closed. A frustrated groan came from inside as Bella knocked on the door.
"Mom, I can't find it!" wailed Alice's voice. "It's not here!"
"Oh! Bella!" cried Alice, her voice turning much happier. The door flew open. "I'm just looking for my pink shirt."
"Oh," said Bella softly. Alice had many pink shirts, none of which Bella particularly enjoyed, and the identity of this absent shirt and its importance was not known to her.
"That's a pink shirt," said Bella unhelpfully, pointing at the growing pile on the bed.
"No, no," said Alice irritably. "The one with the beads."
Oh. The beads.
"I can't go without it," said Alice, fretting. "I've already packed the shorts…"
Bella said nothing.
"Are you still sad?" asked Alice easily.
"I want to go," said Bella vehemently. "It's no fair."
"You can go next year, said Alice, breezing past her, "and I'll still make you an awesome t-shirt."
"Can it be blue?" asked Bella eagerly. "Oh please, Ali! Blue?"
"Sure," laughed Alice, "and I promise I won't let Emmett decorate it." Bella giggled. Just as they finished speaking, both girls heard their brother's door fly open with a loud bang, and his noisy footsteps descending the stairs two at a time. Alice erupted into giggles too as Emmett's noise died away.
"When camp's done, are you going to let your hair grow long again?" asked Bella curiously. Alice had cut her hair last year too, as she didn't want to be bothered brushing it. Dad called it convenient. Mom called it lazy.
"Maybe," said Alice dismissively. "I kind of like it like this."
"I wish you wouldn't be sad, Bell," said Alice. "I mean, we'll be back soon."
"I don't want you to go," said Bella. She gazed up at the back of her sister's head, frowning.
"We'll be back in two weeks," said Alice easily. "You and mom and dad'll have so much fun here. I think dad wants to take you fishing with Uncle Billy again."
"Really? You think so?" asked Bella eagerly. Last time, they'd caught a fish, but Bella hadn't let her daddy keep it. She had cried and made him throw it back, and although dad and Uncle Billy had laughed, Bella thought they'd have been happier if she'd let them keep that fish.
"I know so," said Alice, secretive. A wide grin split her face. "Emmett and I will go to camp and you'll stay here and have fun with mom and dad."
"I'll miss you though," said Bella sadly. She loved Alice and she didn't want to see her leave. "You promised to read me that new story."
Alice had brought Where the Wild Things Are home from the final book sale of the school year, and Bella wasn't a good reader like her sister.
Bella was jealous of that, too.
"You can do a little reading," reasoned Alice. "You try while I'm gone and I'll read it all to you when I get back." Alice leaned down and pressed a kiss to Bella's cheek, taking her hand in her own. Alice abandoned her search for the pink shirt and led the way to the lower floor, from which Emmett's voice was echoing.
"Do you think there'll be any hot chicks at camp, dad?" he asked eagerly. Alice rolled her eyes and stared his way when she walked in, looking haughty.
"You're gross," she complained. "Everyone at school knows it."
Bella stood back, observing the all-too-common sight of her big brother and sister fighting.
"Shut it, Pixie," groused Emmett. "A guy like me needs some hot women around." Bella didn't quite understand, but when her father's neck reddened, she knew it was probably bad. Mom would call it inappropriate.
"Emmett," scolded Charlie. "Don't be rude."
"I'm not rude!" protested Emmett. "It's true!"
"You'll live without some 'hot chicks'."
"Charles Swan!" cried Renee from the sitting room. "Don't you teach him things like that!" Charlie looked alarmed.
"I wasn't teaching him anything, Renee," said Charlie quickly. "I'm chastising our son for objectifying women."
Bella didn't understand, so she turned her attention to her letter magnets on the fridge. Her mother distracted her almost immediately.
"Emmett Charles!"she rebuked. "You will respect every single young lady there. If I hear you've been anything less than a gentleman—"
"I know! I know!" interrupted Emmett, irritated. "You won't let me date until I've graduated high school!" He mimicked Renee in a high, girlish voice.
"That's right, young man, and don't you forget it," said Renee, pointing a threatening finger at her exuberant son.
"Like I could," grumbled Emmett under his breath as Renee turned to the cupboard and retrieved three granola bars. She handed one to each older child, taking care to open the final one for Bella, whose fingers were still not deft enough to conquer the wrapper.
"Here, sweetie," said Renee gently, watching as Bella nibbled the chocolate chips out of the treat at her small Fisher Price table.
"Oh, don't be sad, Boo!" cried Emmett jovially. "I'll come back for you in two weeks!"
"I know," said Bella softly, trying to imagine how long that would be. Bella measured time in school days and sleeps.
"Fourteen sleeps," said Emmett easily. Bella's eyes began to fill with tears at the very thought—she missed her brother when he went to Nathan's house for only two sleeps.
"Fourteen?" she confirmed, hoping he'd made a mistake.
"Aw, don't cry!" he said sadly, tossing his wrapper aside and stepping towards her. "We'll be back before you know it!"
"I don't want you to go," declared Bella boldly. "You gotta stay here."
"I've got to go," corrected Emmett. "Alice and I will be back very, very soon. Maybe you'll even spend some time with Old Batty!"
Bella choked back a laugh at the look on her mother's face..
"Emmett!" she scolded. Mrs. Finchley, or 'Old Batty', was their elderly neighbour who often looked after Emmett, Alice and Bella when their parents had an engagement.
"She hates me, mom," said Emmett. "I know it."
"She's been nothing but kind to you," scolded Renee. "You be nice."
"She made me eat spouts!" cried Emmett, offended. "She knows I hate those!"
Renee rolled her eyes as Emmett turned back to Bella.
"We'll be back before you can even miss us," said Emmett softly. Charlie smiled at the interaction, thanking his lucky stars that Emmett had followed his father's example and treated his littlest sister with gentleness.
Alice, being so close in age, had not been granted as much.
"Promise?" asked Bella sadly, eying Renee's calendar on the wall.
"Pinkie promise," said Emmett solemnly, offering Bella his little finger. The two entwined their digits and shook hands enthusiastically as Alice began to talk of all the anticipated camp activities.
"Love you, Boo," said Emmett, once he had let Bella's hand go. He pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and she flushed bright red, tossing her plump arms around his neck. Emmett stood up straight, taking his tiny sister with him. He held her around the middle as he carried her closer to the door, releasing her amidst a torrent of girlish giggles. Bella smiled up at him and smoothed her flyaway hair.
"There's the bus," said Renee quickly, spotting the big yellow bus pulling to a stop outside their house. Alice gave a little jump of excitement as she grabbed her pink backpack and suitcase, rushing to the door.
"Bye Bell!" she cried. "See you in a few weeks!" She kissed both of her parents before planting a similar one on Bella's cheek, taking off through the door.
"Bye sweetheart!" called Renee, laughing. Emmett hugged his father and kissed his mother before turning back to Bella, grinning.
"Fourteen sleeps, Boo. Count them."
And with that, he was gone, loping excitedly towards the big bus. Bella watched them both go through the kitchen window, jealousy and disappointment coursing through her very soul.
How she wished she was old enough to go too.
July 2, 2000
Bella sat on the floor of the living room, a vast array of Legos scattered around her. Her mother had told her that she could take them from her brother's room, even though she knew Emmett didn't like sharing his blocks. Emmett needs to learn to share, Renee had said. Go ahead. Play!
And so she did. She stacked the blocks and created a castle. She imagined the sole pink block (one of Alice's that had lost its way) to be the princess while Emmett's fire block (from a fireman set) was the dragon. Bella's toy pony served as a gallant knight to rescue the princess from the dragon's keep, just like in Sleeping Beauty. Bella loved that movie. She wanted to be a princess too.
"Come here, sweetheart, mommy's got something to ask you," said Renee softly, peeking her smiling face into the living room. Bella grinned and jumped up, chasing after her. She found her mother in the kitchen, surrounded by dishes and Tupperware. She even saw the old blanket that the dryer had ruined on the table.
"What do you say to a picnic?" asked her mother jubilantly. "We can make up some sandwiches and things and wait until daddy gets home and eat supper in the back yard!"
"Yeah!" cried Bella excitedly. Emmett and Alice might have got to go to camp, but she would get her very own picnic!
"Wonderful," said Renee. "Why don't you go and finish your blocks while I get ready? Dad should be back in about an hour." Bella nodded eagerly and returned to her blocks with renewed vigor. When Renee next poked her head in, Bella had finished the final lopsided turret that made up the elaborate castle. By the time Charlie came home. Bella's pony knight was midway through slaying the dragon.
"Come on, Bell!" called Renee from the back yard. "We're all ready!"
"Almost!" called Bella. "Just a minute! The dragon's almost dead!"
"Quick!" called Renee. "It'll rain soon!"
"I'm almost done!" cried Bella again, ramming her horse into the blocks.
"Bella! Come on!" Renee was laughing now.
"I don't want to!" cried Bella crossly. Just a few more minutes…
Her mother appeared in the doorway just then, smiling. She had donned her favourite yellow dress and her wide-brimmed sunhat, looking very ready for a special picnic.
"Come on, Bell, daddy's waiting for our picnic," she said enticingly. Bella hadn't seen her daddy all day, since he left early for work, and she glanced up eagerly.
Dragon or daddy?
"Emmett and Alice will be home next week, and you want them to know you were good, right?" Emmett always pouted when his mother reminded him of his baby sister's good behaviour in the face of his own misdeeds.
"Fine!" said Bella, finally, tossing her toy aside. She ran to her mother and wrapped her arms around her middle, giving Renee a tight squeeze. She felt her mother's hands on her back as she chuckled, returning the embrace. Bella let her mother take her hand and lead the way through the house, moving to the open back patio door.
"Hey baby," said her daddy softly, and Bella felt her heart jolt. "Come sit with me."
Bella bolted forward, a wide grin on her face at the sight of her daddy waiting for her on the dryer-ruined checkered blanket. Bella loved her daddy, and she hugged him tight when her knees made contact with the ground next to him, snuggling in close the way Emmett liked to do on movie nights. Her mother seated herself across from them in the dainty way Alice had mastered, but Bella had never quite gotten the hang of.
"Did you have a good day, Bell?" asked Charlie.
"Yes!" chirped Bella. "We made breakfast sandwiches, and then I played on Jamie's trampoline, then I watched Sleeping Beauty, then I played with Emmett's Legos!"
"Did you catch bad guys?" she asked her father suddenly. "Did you throw 'em in the slammer?"
"Not today," he said gently. "Just filled out paperwork, I'm afraid."
"Here, hon," said Renee, handing Bella a sandwich wedge. She took an eager bite, not having noticed how hungry she was during her dragon slaying play time.
"Sweetheart?" asked Charlie gently, prodding Bella in the tummy as she swallowed her bite.
"Tickles!" Bella squealed, squirming away from the offending finger. Her daddy had a mischievous look on his face as he wiggled it again.
"Mom!" she cried, scuttling to Renee's side of the blanket. She warded her daddy's tickling finger off with the last bit of her sandwich, giggling with the mustardy crust slid over it.
"You're going to be a good girl tonight, right?" asked Charlie suddenly, lounging back on the grass.
"Yeah…" said Bella, watching him warily.
Daddy only told her to be good when he wasn't going to be there.
"You remember what's happening tonight, right?" asked Renee. "You remember where you're going?"
And then it all came back to her, and Bella did remember.
"At Mrs. Finchley's house," said Bella quickly. "You and dad got a party."
"Good girl," said Renee. "We'll just be a phone call away if you need us. You remember daddy's work number? We're going to be at the station."
Bella recited the number in a confident, chipper voice and Charlie smiled. He had made sure that all of his children, from as early on as possible, had known both his work and home numbers. Over the course of his career, he had seen far too many children lost and without a way to contact their frantic parents, and he'd made damn sure that his kids would never end up in that situation.
"Can I bring a stuffy to Mrs. Finchley's house?" asked Bella sweetly.
"Just one," said Renee.
Bella would have liked more, but she knew her mother well enough to know that she wouldn't budge.
"Can I bring a story?"
"Can I bring Where the Wild Things Are?" she asked.
"What do you say to some fishing this weekend?" asked Charlie suddenly. "Uncle Billy's bringing Rachel this time, and I know she'd like a friend."
"Oh yes, daddy!" cried Bella, positively beaming. Alice had been right after all. "Can I wear my hat? The fishing one?"
"I'd expect nothing less," grinned Charlie. Bella leaned over and kissed his cheek with a loud smack, jumping in surprise when she saw a bright flash of light. Bella saw her mother holding the camera.
"Can I try, mom? Please?" she squealed, reaching both hands out to take it.
"Sure," said Renee. "Take one of daddy and I."
The two squished together, Renee grabbing onto Charlie to keep from falling over as she tripped. Bella aimed the camera with her eye in the peep hole, and pressed the button, delighted when the camera flashed, capturing the pair of them on film.
Then she spotted a buttercup.
A thieving picnic ant.
Flash, flash, flash, until the camera flashed one last time, and the film ran out.