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It's been a while since I've posted a new story. Lots of big changes in my RL, but I'm excited about this one. This was posted as my Age of Edward contest entry, but I always intended to continue it. Many thanks to Sunflower Fanfiction. She does an amazing job cleaning up my rambling words and encouraging me. Hope you enjoy!
Everything around us, everything I could see for miles, was flat. There were sparse trees dotting the landscape, as well as the occasional shallow ravine carved into the dry earth as a recent result of rain. Apart from the mostly sun-scorched grass and the red clay that made up the road we travelled, there was nothing remarkable about the land we would now call home.
I shifted in my seat for what had to be the fifth time in the last ten minutes, catching the attention of my Pa.
"We should be there in the next twenty minutes. Think you can hold out, or do you want to stop for a bit?"
I was shaking my head before he finished speaking, "No, let's just get there. I'm ready to be out of this wagon for good."
Pa turned his attention back to the road, leaving me, once again to my thoughts. We had been on the road for more than four weeks, slowly making our way from a small town near Atlanta to the newly opened OklahomaTerritory. Having been recently hired as the sheriff of a small, but growing town, my Pa was looking forward to a fresh start for the two of us.
My mother, Renee, had died in childbirth, leaving a grief-stricken husband to care for a tiny, newborn girl. Of course, he had no idea what to do with a baby, much less a baby girl, so I grew up being entertained by the town drunk in the holding cell, and the occasional thief or gunslinger when they were caught. These circumstances did nothing for me socially, and I became the outsider, the strange girl who spent her time in places a lady should never be.
Pa was determined to make better choices, a better life, this time around. At twenty, I was already much older than most girls when they married. I was unwavering in my commitment to make my own way in the world. I was an extremely strong young woman, in a new place where everything was changing so quickly. At least that's how I saw it, but Pa saw it as stubbornness. I knew that he was also hoping there would be more than a few eligible men who might want to court me.
That thought made me more than a little uncomfortable.
Without even realizing it, I shifted in my seat once again, causing Pa to glance over to watch me as I rubbed my hand across the back of my neck and rolled my shoulders. Clearing his throat, he tried to distract me.
"This will be good for us, Bella. Who knows, we might just find you a man."
I couldn't help but shake my head and rolled my eyes, "I'm in no rush, Pa. Mercy knows I have enough on my plate just taking care of you."
He nodded, reaching over to pat my knee, just as he had when I was a child. We rode for a few minutes in silence, both of us lost again to our own thoughts. I barely noticed when he turned and looked toward the horizon where the sun was slowly sliding toward the earth. There were still several hours of daylight, and Pa said we were close to town, so I was surprised when he shifted the reins in his hand, beginning to slow the horses. He turned to me, his face somber as he pulled the horses to a stop.
"Listen well, Bella," he whispered, "Get down and run into that grove of trees over there on the hill. Climb up and stay there. Don't make a sound, and no matter what you see or hear, don't come down unless I come for you. You hear me? You stay there!"
"Pa, what are you – "
"Don't argue, child. Go!"
Shaken by the urgency in his voice, I quickly climbed out of the seat and scrambled down the side of the wagon to the ground. Picking up my skirt, I ran to the trees just as my father had instructed, not even chancing a glance back. Finding one with a low branch, I grasped it, flinging myself up onto it, and then to the next one above. The smooth bark and slender limbs of the Cottonwood tree made it difficult to climb, and I worried that it would bow beneath my weight. Leaning against the trunk, I straddled two branches, settling into a solid perch that was hidden from view by the dense foliage. Desperately trying to slow my breathing, it was only seconds before I heard the approaching hooves of what sounded like several horses.
I could hear the sound of raucous laughter and a bit of taunting, as well as Pa's calm, but authoritative voice. There were several minutes of conversation that I couldn't hear well enough to make out, but there was one voice that stood out above the others. It was slightly slurred, almost snake-like in cadence, and caused me to shiver uncomfortably, especially when it seemed to draw closer. I could hear the words clearly now
"You got a woman, don't ya, old man? Where's she at?"
"There's no one but me," Pa's voice was firm, but the other's weren't buying it.
"You lie, old man, I see a woman's things here. Mmmm, they smell pretty, too. Haven't had me a woman in a couple days; well, not an upstanding woman, anyway. Better when ya don't have to pay 'em, right boys?"
There was silence for a moment, and I thought they might have given up. That hope was short lived as I heard a vile laugh followed by a single gunshot. In the silence that followed, my heart was pounding in my chest so hard that I worried that it could be heard for miles. Fearing that I might cry out, I covered my mouth with one hand, while holding tightly to the tree with the other. Forcing the terror to the back of my mind, I closed my eyes and waited.
The silence was broken by the sound of the voice once again. "Get that old man out of my wagon, and let's go."
Trying to maintain control of my breathing, I trembled as I tried desperately to hear my father. I could hear quiet murmuring, followed by the sound of shuffling movements. Finally, the sound of chains, and the creaking of wagon wheels moving on the dirt road.
And then silence.
There were no words to describe the terror I was feeling. I wasn't sure how much time had passed as I waited, frozen in place. I watched the sun slowly descend; making no doubt that night was near, and soon it would be dark.
I knew Pa would come for me, just like he promised, when he believed it was safe.
Pa should have come for me long ago…
If he were able ...
If he could …
I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind that he would not come, I just couldn't allow myself to believe it. Because, for me to believe, it meant I had to accept that he couldn't come, and that would mean …
It would be dark soon, and I knew I must climb down. I also knew what I would find once I got to where the wagon had been.
It was a struggle to get my hands to grip the branches properly, and my feet felt numb as I slid toward the ground. Once I was firmly down, only then did I turn slowly; allowing my eyes to move along the dry earth before finally shifting them toward the motionless body that lay beside the road.
I knew it the moment I touched his cheek.
He was cold; his eyes opened and fixed on the sky above. Lowering myself beside his lifeless body, I couldn't fight the tears as they came. It hurt to see the vacant stare,showing the world that life was now gone from his eyes, as well as his body. I gently pressed my fingertipsto his eyelids, closing them one final time before grasping his hand that lay limp on his blood-covered chest. As the sky grew darker, I held it against my own, letting the grief overwhelm me.
It must have been hours that passed as the night wore on. At some point, I remembered the wagon and all of our belongings it carried. All of it was gone, but truthfully, I couldn't find it in myself to care. Tired, sore, exhausted and heartbroken, I shifted my legs from under my body, lying beside Pa's still form, my head on his shoulder as I held his hand in my own. There would be no sleep for me tonight.
It was just before dawn when I heard the approaching wheels of a carriage.
Knowing I couldn't leave Pa to go for help, I knew I would have to place my trust in someone traveling by. Should the need arise; I could run and hide myself once again while it was still dark. Rising to my feet, I ran toward the road, barely visible in the pre-dawn hours. I began to shout out for help, hoping that whoever was passing by in that moment would have mercy on me.
The sound of the carriage slowing was accompanied by the faint light of a lantern burning lowly on the driver's footrest. Almost immediately after recognizing the dark, shadowy outline of the horse and carriage, I heard the driver begin to talk loudly.
"Doc. Hey, Doc! I think you might need to take a look at this!"
"Please, please, help me!" I shouted as I ran toward the carriage.
I was met immediately by a man scrambling from the interior seat of the carriage; his expression was one of horror. "Where are you injured?" he asked as he grasped my wrist gently, his eyes scanning my bloodstained clothes. I must have looked frightful with my swollen eyes and my garments in ruin. I barely heard him as he began to question me further, "Miss, can you tell me what happened to you? Are you alone out here?"
With his last few words, I felt the devastation overwhelm me as I realized I was entirely alone. Unable to voice my thoughts, I caught his hand with my own, leading him to where Pa's lifeless body lay. Dropping to my knees, I took his cold hand in my own once again, as the man behind me was met with the gruesome sight for the first time.
"Dear God! Ben, bring my bag!" He shouted to the driver, who had followed us with the lantern as we walked from the carriage. Once the lantern was placed on the ground beside me, the driver, Ben, ran back to the carriage. The man beside me knelt down, and immediately began searching for signs of life. It took him only seconds to determine that my Pa was gone.
"Is he a relation to you? You're father?"
I could only nod in response, feeling the grief overwhelm me once again. I barely noticed his hand grasping my wrist as I fought to breathe, gasping for air between the sobs that were now wracking my body.
"Miss, can you tell me your name?"
I couldn't catch my breath enough to answer, and knew I was on the verge of passing out. He reached out, cupping my chin in his hand, forcing me to meet his eyes, "Look at me, honey." When he had my attention, he continued, "I need you to breathe with me … slow and easy, okay?" It took a moment before I could focus, but eventually I was able to match his slow, deep breaths. Only then did my body begin to calm.
"Good. Okay, now, I'd like to know your name."
"Isabella Swan," I whispered, as tears continued to course down my cheeks.
He immediately looked as though he recognized the name. He gestured toward Pa, "Charles Swan?" At my nod of confirmation, the man turned toward Ben, "Will you bring the blanket from the carriage? Two, if you have them."
Ben turned and ran toward the carriage once again, as the doctor stood and pulled me to my feet, as well. "We need to get him to town, Miss Swan."
"Bella," I whispered, "You can call me Bella."
He nodded, "Okay, Bella. I'm Dr. Edward Cullen. I'm going to take you to my clinic so we can sort this out, all right?" Reaching out to grasp my wrist once again, it dawned on me that he had beendiscretely checking my heartbeat each time he did it. I realized that it was a medical concern, and not necessarily an offer of comfort. He watched me with a cautious expression for a moment, before leading me to the carriage and all but lifting me into the seat. He placed his bag at my feet before turning and jogging back to where Ben was attending Pa's body. I turned my head, unable to watch as they began wrapping the blankets around him. They were silent other than a few, quietly spoken words as they worked together to load him into the back of the carriage.
None too soon, both men climbed into the carriage, Ben in the driver's seat as the kind Dr. Cullen sat beside me. He didn't speak as he removed his coat, draping it around my shoulders. It was warm against my chilled skin, and the comforting gesture brought a fresh round of tears. He immediately placed his soft, linen handkerchief in my right hand before lifting my left hand once again, to press his fingers to my wrist.
"Thank you," I offered, just above a whisper, hoping he understood that I was more than grateful for his kindness, and not just the handkerchief. He responded with a simple nod as he covered my hand; enclosing it between both of his own as we rode in silence toward the town.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to know if you enjoyed it, or not. ;)