But enough of my rambling. Here you go—chapter one of “The Blue Hour”, the revamp that we’d originally set out to do. Remember to tell us what you think!
The road stripe flashed by as the car veered onto the exit ramp. Yellow morning sunshine filled the car and was warm on her bare arms.
Hard to believe that in a matter of hours she’d be under cold rainy skies and bundled up in a jacket and scarf.
Bella blinked and forced her eyes to focus, turning away from the skyline of Phoenix as they descended from the freeway and down into the airport. She would probably be sorry that she had worn short sleeves by this evening, but it was with a wry nod to melodrama that she’d put on her favorite light blouse today in a sort of poetic farewell to the warmth and sun of Arizona (poetic in only the broadest sense of the term; this bit of angst could be likened a haiku at best—one with that didn’t have the right number of syllables).
Renee had been uncharacteristically quiet this morning. She typically seemed to regard Bella’s usual silence as a void in the air that needed to be filled with as many words as possible, but after her usual cheerful morning greeting, she’d fallen quiet, not saying much beyond checking to make sure that Bella had remembered to pack everything—a bit of a role reversal for the woman who had to be reminded to bring her toothbrush on every trip she’d ever taken as far back as Bella could remember.
She needn’t have worried; Bella had been packed for nearly a week, the bulk of her clothes neatly folded and compressed into the ancient luggage that she’d rescued from Goodwill while she’d lived in the week’s worth of clothes that she’d packed away this morning. The few larger things she’d wanted to keep—mostly books and whatnot—had been shipped ahead and were waiting for her up in Forks. Everything else was staying, her room waiting for her when she came to visit Arizona in the summers from her home in Washington, rather than the other way around.
The wrench she’d felt upon leaving all of her childhood knickknacks had been surprisingly small. Probably because there hadn’t been very many, and most of them were more to Renee’s tastes, rather than her own.
The bright light of morning faded to cool shade as they coasted into the parking garage, and out of habit Bella looked at the different license plates’ states as she scanned for an open space. They didn’t find one until the fourth level, but it was near the elevator at least.
At last Renee couldn’t stand it any more; as they got out and started unloading Bella’s luggage, she started talking. “Now, are you sure you have everything, sweetie?” she asked, tugging pointlessly at the zipper pulls and straps and tags on the outside of the bags. “I’m so afraid that you’ve forgotten something and I’ll be out of town when you realize you need it.”
Bella quirked a smile at her. “If I haven’t remembered it by now, it must not be too important, so I wouldn’t worry.” She set her luggage down on its squeaky wheels and pulled out the handle, hefting her suitcase in her other hand and schooling her face into what she hoped was a sufficiently enthusiastic expression.
Renee smiled back at her; apparently she’d succeeded. “Oh, don’t mind me—just motherly anxiety, I guess. I know I shouldn’t—you’ve never had any trouble taking care of yourself before.” She turned and headed towards the elevator, listing a little under the weight of the duffel she carried, and Bella trailed along behind her.
“So it turns out that Phil will be in Texas for the next few weeks—which is a bit of a relief, really—I wasn’t looking forward to spending the winter in Nebraska. Can you imagine how cold and wet and awful it would have been there?”
Oh, yes. She could. Bella made the appropriate noise of agreement.
“And it’s that much closer to home, too—if he stays there permanently, then it would be so much easier for me to spend more time in Phoenix, and you could come down more often. Really, I wouldn’t mind just settling there—I can’t abide the cold, and San Antonio is such a lovely town—you’d love it, Bella.”
She had no doubt that she would—but somehow she didn’t think that she’d be going there for any sort of permanent arrangement. It was a strange sensation, being a third wheel to her mother’s romance, but there it was. It was certainly no less disconcerting than the idea of her 37-year-old mother having a 26-year-old husband—which was definitely disconcerting. But it was still well within the bounds of imagination; Renee had never looked her age. Her naturally golden hair, bright blue eyes, and sun-kissed skin would have been at home on any California beach beauty, and her endless rounds of health food and fitness manias had kept her fit and trim—she could easily pass for 30, if not younger.
Bella wished she had such a graceful aging to look forward to, but if her father was anything to go by, it wasn’t likely, and she was his spit and image: brown-eyed, brown haired, and pasty-white, with a square jaw, round shoulders, wide hips, and a perpetual slouch. She’d probably start going gray early, too—fitting for the girl who was actually carded the wrong way when she was ten, accused of being too old when she tried to get into the pool on the kids-under-eleven admission.
But, despite the opinion of Bella and anyone else who looked at her, over the past few years, Renee had clearly been finding signs of her age—and she hadn’t taken it well. So it really wasn’t any surprise that she’d found a younger man to help her recapture what she saw to be her fading youth. Bella just hoped that she stuck with this craze longer than her typical mania—her short first marriage to Bella’s father included.
Like with any of her new fads, Renee now centered her life around Phil with a single-minded devotion that would do a Trekkie proud. And as usual, it was Bella who stood to the side and did her best to accommodate her as she immersed herself in her latest obsession.
Even if that meant moving across the country.
Phil Dwyer, Renee’s new husband of eight months, was a minor-league baseball player trying to get himself a contract with a team; he hadn’t managed yet, and as such he was shuttling all over the country playing games and hoping to catch they eye of a talent scout of something. That meant that he and Renee really hadn’t spent too much time together since their whirlwind romance and wedding and honeymoon in Baja, and Bella could tell that she was unhappy.
And so when Phil said that things looked good for him settling in San Antonio—at least for a good three months, if not permanently—and wanted Renee (and Bella, of course) to join him, Bella had seen her mother’s obvious conflict and had made an executive decision.
Renee wanted to travel with Phil. Phil wanted his wife with him. And so Bella offered to go live with her dad up in Washington so Renee wouldn’t be tied to Phoenix and could go where she pleased.
Renee wouldn’t hear of it at first. At least, she put up a good front of pretending not to approve of the arrangement. But it didn’t take long for her to start mentioning the idea now and again, pondering out loud that it wouldn’t be permanent, that it would just be until she and Phil got settled somewhere new, and then Bella could join them—it would be like a big extended vacation, really—and you know how happy your father would be to have you, honey—
Bella suggested the idea in early September; it was official at the end of October.
Renee had been in a tizzy—clearly excited over the prospect of traveling cross-country with Phil, but guilty over sending Bella up to Forks. Renee hated Forks, and so sending anyone there was tantamount to a prison sentence, as far as she was concerned. But Bella had patiently insisted that she wanted to go (she didn’t), and that Forks really wasn’t so bad (it was), and that she wanted Renee and Phil to be happy (that one she meant).
Bella had approached the change with a more pragmatic outlook, with an eye towards the myriad of details that needed to be sorted before she left; she’d had to see to withdrawing from her high school here in Phoenix and getting herself enrolled in Forks HS, had to beef up her winter wardrobe (Renee had dipped into the petty cash to help her out, and so she had a nice warm coat and plenty of sweatshirts), and had to arrange to have the water and electricity and the cable turned off when Renee left Phoenix for San Antonio, because Renee would forget as sure as shooting. She just hoped Phil would be able to keep track of her credit card bills and remember to get them paid.
They crossed the street and the shuttle and valet parking lanes to enter the airport, meandering down to the Southwest Airlines desk (odd, really, when she was flying northwest). “Oh, good—the line isn’t too long, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your boarding pass,” Renee said.
“I already have it, Mom,” Bella answered, rummaging in her purse for a moment before coming up with a sheet of paper and brandishing it at her mother. “I printed it out last night.”
“Oh, okay, good—”
“But I’ll still need to check my luggage—you can wait here, I’ll just be a minute.”
Bella heaved the duffel out of her mother’s grasp and manhandled her luggage over to the desk, checking it all, her stiff fingers very happy to see the last of it for a while. It didn’t take long; she got her claim ticket and made her way back over to her mother and led her in the direction of security. Craning her neck, she could see that the line there was short, too, which was good, because if it was long, it would just stretch out the goodbyes. She would miss her mother, yes, but she didn’t want to make a scene—better it was just quick.
She stopped a few yards away from the entrance to the little maze of barriers and turned to her mother. “Well,” she said unnecessarily, “here I am.”
Even though she’d braced herself for it, she was still dismayed when Renee burst into tears. Bella obligingly put her arms around her mother, and dammit, she felt her eyes getting a bit misty too.
“Oh, baby—I’m going to miss you!”
“I’ll miss you too, Mom—but you’ll see me soon, don’t worry.”
“Are you sure you want to do this, honey? You don’t have to go—it’ll be all right if you want to stay—”
“No, no, Mom—I want to go, and I know you want to go with Phil,” Bella soothed, doing her best to keep her voice level and to blink back the tear that was trying to escape the corner of her right eye.
“But I just feel like I’m just tossing you aside—”
“I know you’re not, and you know you’re not, so it’s okay.” She reached around and pawed blindly in the purse hanging on her arm and managed to find the wad of tissues she’d stuffed in there this morning for just this eventuality. She pulled away, extricating herself from the embrace to give them to Renee, who took them gratefully and mopped at her soggy face.
It gave Bella time to compose herself, and so it was a bright and dry smile that she flashed her mother, who mustered a watery one of her own. And then she was hugging her again, tight, and Bella hugged her back. “I’ll miss you, baby. Call me first thing when you get in—and I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
Bella let her hold her and snuffle on her for a moment more, but then she pulled away—if she didn’t go now, then Renee would never let her leave. She gave her one last, big smile, and then gathered up the jacket that she’d dropped on the ground, set her shoulders, and made her way to the line to enter the concourse.
Renee didn’t leave immediately, but stood tearfully to the side and waited for Bella to pass out of sight. Bella watched her and kept smiling all the way to the gate, and with one last wave she passed through the doorway and towards security.
Whew. Well, one hurdle down, she thought to herself as she handed her boarding pass and her driver’s license to the guard at the little podium and watched as she ticked off her name with a marker before giving them back and directing her to the next open scanner.
Bella meandered over to one of the conveyor belts and grabbed one of the plastic tubs; in went her shoes and her coat, and she fought with her purse for a moment, putting her license away but taking out her orthopedics card before tossing it in as well and shoving it onto the belt and into the X-ray machine. Then she waited patiently in line behind the suited man who was next through the scanner; she really did hope she didn’t set the stupid thing off this time.
The security guy on the other side waved her through and she stepped forward—
Damn. Most plates didn’t set the thing off, her doctor had told her, but she had decided since then that he lied—she could only remember two times of the last eight that she hadn’t been pulled to the side at airport security since she got the thing.
The guard was already gesturing her to go back through, his expression annoyed. Bella gave what she hoped was an unsuspicious but apologetic smile and proffered her card, which stated that she had an orthopedic implant—a metal plate screwed into her skull near her right temple, courtesy of a car accident three years ago.
The guard glanced at it and then waved her on to the glass-walled area on the side. Bella sighed but went along gamely enough as she was obliged to hold her arms out and let them run the wand over her. She made an effort to be accommodating and told them what and where her plate was, and the wand helpfully went off in her ear when they passed it over her head, and so all in all it only took an extra few minutes before she was hustled out to go collect her shoes and her carryons.
Two hurdles. Now she just had to find her gate, and then she should be set until she landed in Seattle.
The thought was not entirely a comforting one—because even now she could theoretically make her escape, could run out and find her mom and stay here. But once she was in the air, she was stuck—and would be stuck in Forks for at least the next year and a half.
She plodded through the terminal; she hadn’t had breakfast, so she treated herself to a bagel from the coffee shop she passed but opted out of any caffeine—she was hoping to sleep through most of the three-and-a-half hour flight.
Bella meandered her way through the crowd, keeping her chin up and her eyes front, looking like she had a purpose, until she found her gate. It was fairly busy, but she managed to find an out-of-the-way seat tucked in a corner next to a harried looking woman who was jabbering into her cell phone while tapping away at her laptop keyboard with only the occasional pause for breath and a slug of her coffee—clearly needed to keep up her frantic pace. Bella thought it might help if she dialed her pacemaker down a few notches from the hummingbird setting.
She plonked down in the empty seat and ignored the occasional elbow to her side, tuning out the noise around her as she gnawed on her bagel and looked glumly out the wide windows. It was beautiful out—mocking her, no doubt. The winter had been exceptionally pretty this year. Between seventy and eighty degrees and sunny almost every day—her kind of weather. The sky was the wide, faded desert blue that it always was, with only a few white puffs of cloud skating across it.
Forks averaged over a hundred inches of rain a year—she’d done her research. It was cold and wet and rainy, and it was like that all the time. And here she was already fishbelly pale even living in Arizona—her eyes would probably start to evolve away after an extended stay in Forks.
From the Valley of the Sun to the Peninsula of the Rain. Somehow the latter just didn’t have the same ring to it.
Bella was jolted from her self-pitying thoughts and her contemplation of the planes on the tarmac by the boarding call for her flight. She took a deep breath and stood, wiping away any crumbs on her lap and balling up the wax paper from her breakfast and tossing it in a nearby can. She took a deep breath, and then insinuated herself in the line that was forming.
She hated boarding; she always felt like she had to be as quick as possible, so as not to hold everyone up behind her, and she always just knew she was going to trip because of it, and once she had, right down the incline of the gate in front of everybody, and it was horrible. At least this time she didn’t have any bulky carryon luggage, so she wouldn’t have to hang her big behind out in the aisle and block traffic while she tried to wrestle it into the overhead bins on the plane.
The ticket-taker was chirpily cheerful, and Bella did her best to return her smile as she handed over her boarding pass, but she had the feeling that it was rather more than a little wan. Squaring her shoulders, she marched down into the maw of the gate.
She didn’t trip, either on the inclined floor or between the gate and the plane, and she found a seat quick enough—a window, thank heavens—and crammed herself in it.
And so she was here. She was on the plane. And she was going to Forks, for what at the moment felt like the rest of her natural life.
And here she’d always been under the impression that you needed happy thoughts to fly.
She concentrated on looking out the window at the passing planes and the baggage handlers, ignoring the crick starting in her neck from craning at the awkward angle. The stewardess announced that flight was full, and so she was resignedly expecting to have to sit right next to someone. And she did; a young couple who didn’t seem aware of much other than themselves slid into the seats next to her, trapping her in place.
Boarding didn’t take too terribly long; it was a packed flight, probably because it was non-stop. And she already had the feeling that it was going to be a very long flight, at least for her, because the couple next to her were so wrapped up in each other that they were practically sharing a seat. Bella just looked out the window, disgruntled, until the attendant’s voice suddenly announced that it was time for departure as the plane suddenly began to taxi towards the runway.
It was their job to give the safety spiel, and Bella somehow always felt obligated to at least pretend to pay attention as the attendants ran down the laundry list of things to do in an emergency. Yes, yes, seatbelts, the oxygen masks, and the cushion is a floatation device. She wanted the plane to hurry up and take off—she always rather enjoyed it. Her mother hated it—as did most people, as she understood it—but she loved the acceleration.
Finally—she wasn’t sure how much more of the cloying talk from next door she could handle—the plane started to move. Faster and faster, until it was hurtling down the gray blur of the runway, the engines roaring, and she was pushed back into her seat as she watched the flaps on the wings shift—and then they were airborne.
The brief burst of rollercoaster-like elation fizzled out quickly as they began to level off, because now she was trapped in the air next to the cuddle-couple and well and truly on her way to Forks, Washington, USA. Her previously glum mood settled back down on her shoulders like a shroud, and it was with great relief that the pilot finally announced that the passengers could turn on their electronics. Bella reached into her jacket pocket and came back with her MP3 player, popping the headphones in her ears. She spared one last irritated glance for her seatmates, who didn’t notice (but they probably wouldn’t have noticed anything but their mutual petting), and then turned to look out the window, thumbing her music past the inappropriately cheerful Thompson Twins and Cyndi Lauper and a few depressingly angstful piano sonatas, finally settling on the Firebird, which she always liked to listen to when in the air, to watch the clouds go by.
Okay. That’s that, I guess, she thought to herself. I’m going to Forks. She stared out at the receding desert vista below. It hadn’t felt real, somehow—even after all the planning leading up to it, it still felt like some sort of vaguely unpleasant dream that she hadn’t quite forgotten upon waking. That it wasn’t really going to happen.
But it had. It was happening, and right now. In less than four hours, she was going to be in Washington, and this time, it wasn’t just for the three months of summer vacation.
Bella pressed her forehead against the glass of the window. She hated change—she just wanted to maintain the status quo and just rock along. But maybe this was good for her, in the long run—in a year and a half, she would be going to college. That was going to be a big change—she should just look at this as a trial run, a good-sized disruption to her schedule as a prelude to the really big one that was looming on the horizon.
She sighed again, her eyes sliding out of focus as the earth flew by beneath her. She must have been more tense over this trip than she’d thought; with the steady rumble of the engines in the background and the strings of Stravinsky ears, it didn’t take long for her to drift off to sleep.
The trees flashed by, melting together in the falling darkness before her unfocused eyes into a leafy green blur. Bella concentrated on the trails of the raindrops on her window rather than the rumbling of her stomach.
Her plane had arrived in Seattle a bit behind schedule; she’d had to dash to catch the twelve o’clock shuttle to Port Angeles; between tearing through the concourse and collecting her luggage, she hadn’t had time to nab anything for lunch. Her bagel was long gone, and so she’d had to endure the long, four-hour ride across Washington with her stomach throttling her backbone. She’d been bored enough that she’d thankfully managed to fall asleep for part of the way, but now, on the last leg of her journey—one last hour of bus ride to Forks—she was starving. The Coke and little bag of peanuts from the vending machine in Port Angeles weren’t helping. She’d have to get something once she got to Forks.
Forks. She was nearly there. Welcome to every day for the rest of your life.
Bella hated sitting around feeling sorry for herself, but stuck in the creaky, drafty bus as it jounced and jostled her closer and closer to the rainy little hole-in-the-road that was to be her home for the next year and a half, it was hard to do much else. She did not like Forks. There was nothing there, nothing to do, and it was cloudy and rainy three hundred and seventy days a year. She’d been uprooted from her boring but happily stable and familiar surroundings in sunny Arizona and was being shipped up here so that her mom could go gallivanting across the country with a man closer to Bella’s age than her own.
That wasn’t very fair, but as she’d been more than a good sport about it, she allowed herself the luxury of at least a few minutes of bitterness.
Shaking herself, she leaned her head back against the seat rest and closed her eyes, sighing a little and at least trying to think of the positives of this situation. It was something new, at least (which she generally hated, but, now, let’s not be such a downer). And even if it was wet, she didn’t necessarily think that she’d mind a little cool weather now and again, rather than the searing summertime heat. And she probably wouldn’t have to worry about getting sunburned.
She’d best keep all these positive thoughts in her head—a lighted sign had just flashed by her window.
Welcome to Forks.
Bella couldn’t help her wince when she saw it, and she turned away to glower pointlessly at the loudly snoring man two seats away. Any and all of the dreamlike quality of her sudden relocation that had kept her from dwelling on it had long since evaporated, so now there wasn’t much else for her to do but accept it and make the best of it.
It wouldn’t do to greet Charlie with a face like the clouds above her. She shook herself, calling up her “ray of sunshine” persona that she often used to deal with Renee. She knew Charlie didn’t usually need it turned up quite that high—he was as placid as herself in that regard and didn’t require a show of enthusiasm—but for her first night here, she figured that it couldn’t hurt.
Even as late as it was, she had no trouble making out the depressingly familiar (and familiarly depressing) landmarks of the town of her summers past. The same boring old restaurants, the same tired old stores, the same dreary little houses.
Well, she did hate change, after all.
It was thoroughly dark by the time that they left the highway and wound through the streets to the Forks bus stop—but despite the rain and the weak light of the only street lamp, she could still see the blocky black and white cruiser with the bubble lights on top parked nearby.
When the bus squealed to a stop, she schooled her features into a happy expression, much like the one she’d used when bidding her mother farewell, and she gathered her luggage from the racks and hauled it out into the rain.
And there was Charlie, standing at the stop, craning his neck to look in the bus. He beamed when he saw her, and the answering smile that spread across her face was quite genuine.
“Bella!” he called, waving, jogging up to the door, oblivious to the downpour, hurrying to relieve her of most of her bags and hustle her back under the awning. He dropped her luggage, and she did the same, so that she could return his hug.
“How are you, Bella?” he asked, pulling back and holding her at arms length to get a look at her.
“Great, Dad,” she said—which was only half a lie, really.
“Did you get your hair cut?” he asked, squinting.
She smiled a little and shook her head. “No—not since I saw you last.” He had, though. It was shorter at the temples—and grayer.
“Oh.” Charlie stood still for a minute, seemingly casting around for something to say, and finally settled on, “Well, let’s get this stuff in the car—” he gestured to her bags, “—and get you home.”
Bella nodded and flipped up her hood; Charlie grabbed both her heavier bags before she could say anything about it and was already charging out into the rain. She grabbed her duffle and followed, almost landing on her kiester when she slipped in a puddle but managing to right herself at the last minute
Once her bag was tossed safely in the trunk, Bella was extremely grateful to get into the still-warm cab, the smell of old coffee and stale corn chips notwithstanding. Charlie slid in beside her and obligingly fired up the heater. “Have you eaten?” he asked.
“No—and I’m starving,” she answered emphatically.
He smiled, his mustache crinkling. “I thought you might be—how about a dinner date with your old dad?”
Bella felt herself smiling back. “That’d be great.”
Bella opened her eyes and stared at the cracked ceiling above her. Three days here, and she still felt a vague sense of disorientation upon waking up. It wasn’t that her room was unfamiliar to her, it was just that she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was supposed to be in Phoenix, not here.
But here she was. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes with a fist but didn’t bother to get up yet; the rattling of the pipes in the west wall that had awakened her told her that the bathroom was occupied. But that was the only sound; there was no patter of rain on the roof, and relative brightness she could see through the curtains on her window told her that she was in for an at least partially dry day. Maybe more accurate to call it a damp day. Still better than wet, though.
Brightness outside or no, the room remained pleasantly dark, and Bella snuggled deeper into her still-warm blankets. Her new still-warm blankets. Her room had been quite a surprise when she’d arrived, still shaking off the raindrops, back at Charlie’s house after dinner that first night. Every year she’d come to visit, they’d both half-heartedly claimed that one day they were going to redo her old room, the one that had been hers as a baby and was still painted pink. But both of them knew that was never going to happen—which was why Bella had been so surprised to find that it had.
The faded pink walls were now a soft, buttery yellow, and there was a new rug on the floor. The desk in the corner was new, and while the rest of the furniture was the same, there were new pillows on the bed with and a bright purple bedspread with matching curtains. The ceiling was still cracked, but the vague brown stains of the ubiquitous Forks water-damage had been painted over white.
It wasn’t a huge gesture, she supposed, in the grand scheme of things—but for Charlie it was positively effusive, and that along with his not-so-carefully masked anxiety when he asked how she liked it told her just how painfully happy he was to have her living with him.
And she did like the room—it was a warm little haven in the gray and green of Forks outside. With only the slightest pang over the permanence of it, she’d unpacked and scattered her belongings around the room. Charlie had already set up her old computer, and with her books in the shelves and her shoes in the closet and her jewelry on the bureau, it already felt like she lived there.
Except right when she woke up—but she suspected that would fade in time.
The water stopped running; Bella and her mother both were terrible shower-hogs, taking far too long and using up all the hot water. Charlie, however, was a model of speed and efficiency, and tended to be in and out in five minutes. She guessed it was time to drag herself out of bed as well, then, so she got up and threw on a T-shirt and jeans and went out into the hall just in time to see Charlie’s retreating back, meaning the bathroom was free.
By the time she had brushed her teeth and scrubbed her face and wrestled her hair (limp from the humidity, a condition that she had resigned herself to indefinitely) into some semblance of order and was generally feeling more human, Charlie was already downstairs. She yawned hugely, not bothering to cover her mouth as she plodded down the stairs herself. She ambled past the Wall of Bella, where Charlie was still proudly displaying her every school picture from every year starting with pre-school and ending with her junior picture, and every grade in between, from the disastrous perm in fourth grade and the subsequent short-haired look in fifth, to the braces spanning seventh grade through her sophomore year. She as usual avoided looking at all the grinning Bellas, just as she tended to try not to look at the still prominent pictures of Renee and their wedding over the mantle. Renee had moved on a dozen times over; it depressed her to see that Charlie hadn’t.
Charlie was sitting at the breakfast table behind the Saturday paper, but he looked her way to wish her a good morning. She replied in kind, although by definition it wasn’t—Bella was not a morning person. Charlie was up at the crack of dawn every day, as she was reminded every weekday when she was rudely awaked by the ridiculously noisy pipes that shared her bedroom wall. Thankfully on weekends he waited for his shower until a more reasonable hour—around ten. And on the bright side of his weekday habits, now that she was here to stay, she’d have a built-in plumbing alarm clock, so she wouldn’t have to worry about being late to school.
But that thought rather cast a pall over her morning. It was Saturday—Forks High started back up on Monday, and Bella would start with it. Grimacing a little to herself, she poured herself a bowl of cereal—Charlie had remembered that she liked Rice Crispies, and had even bought her name brand, and bananas for it, too—and joined Charlie at the table.
“Sleep well?” Charlie asked, peering around his paper.
Bella nodded around a mouthful of cereal; Charlie gave a satisfied grunt and went back to his reading. Unlike Renee, Charlie didn’t feel the need for Sparkling Mealtime Conversation, which was something of a relief. Not that Renee had needed much input from Bella to keep a conversation going between the two of them, but still showing the proper attentiveness to her ramblings did get trying. And there was more chance for aspiration.
Mornings had always been quiet with Charlie, and today was no exception—at least on his end. Just as Bella was rinsing her bowl and tucking it away in the antiquated dishwasher, she heard the roar of an engine turn into the driveway and then cut off, followed by a two quick beeps of a horn. Turning instinctively to look toward the front door, she saw Charlie drop his paper and rise; there was a furtive smile playing ‘round the corners of his mouth. “There they are,” he said cryptically, and headed out the door.
Bella followed, vaguely apprehensive, and peered out the open door, just in time to see Charlie helping Billy Black out of an enormous old red truck.
She felt herself start to smile; Charlie, as a long time Forks resident, knew everyone in town and had a slew of avid fishermen and fellow sports fans for friends. In the few days since arriving, Bella had run into most of them at dinner at Charlie’s favorite place and was forced to endure the same recountings of her childhood antics that she had to hear every time she saw them. She went along with it, but it was no wonder then that of all her father’s friends, Billy was her favorite—he never felt the need to bring up the time she’d stuffed herself with that fantastic toffee he made, then begged him to hoist her in the air for an airplane ride and then had promptly thrown up all over his shoes afterwards—nor anything else stupid she’d done as a kid.
It was sad to see him angling himself into the collapsing wheelchair that Charlie was holding by the truck door. Billy had always seemed so huge when she was little, towering over her as he leaned down to scoop her up in his powerful but gentle arms for a hello hug when she came to visit Forks. Crammed in the little aluminum frame, confined there due to his diabetes, he always looked diminished somehow.
But she knew better than to think he was. He spotted her, and his dark weathered face creased in a grin. “Bella!”
“Hi, Billy!” she called, and trotted over. Even though she was the one who had to lean down now, the hug was still the same.
He released her and held her at arm’s length. “Pretty as ever,” he said with a wink, and she couldn’t help but smile at him despite being a bit embarrassed. “How’ve you been, kiddo?”
“Doing fine,” she replied, her eyes flicking over as another, newer pickup turned into the drive.
Billy chuckled. “Well, that’s better than most can say, that’s for sure.” He smiled up at her. “We’re glad to have you, Bella—I knew we’d make a Forksian out of you sooner or later.”
The driver’s side door on the second pickup opened, and from the cab unfolded a long, lanky apparition with lots of dark hair who loped up to stand next to Billy, moving with the uneasy fluidity of a teenaged boy who hasn’t quite grown into his miles of arms and legs. Billy looked up—way up—at him and chuckled. “I don’t suppose you remember Jacob here, do you? I know you haven’t seen him in a while, but you two used to play together when you were little.”
Jacob chuckled. “Yeah—back in that mudhole in Charlie’s back yard.”
Bella’s face split into a grin. “And you brought over your great big set of watercolors, and we painted our faces up like warpaint, and you painted your teeth green.”
Jacob’s mouth fell open, and then he grinned and slapped a palm to his forehead even as Billy brayed with laughter. “Aw, man—I’d forgotten about that!”
“I hadn’t,” said Bella, a bit smugly. “That was a formative experience of my childhood years.”
“Yeah—avoid boys at all costs,” Charlie threw out dryly.
Jacob shook his head self-deprecatingly, and then he looked up and smiled, and Bella started a little as she suddenly found herself wrapped up in a somewhat skinnier version of the big bear hugs she remembered from Billy. But she hugged him back, and was surprised to find that she meant it, and not just because he was an old childhood friend, but because no matter how tenuous the connection, she was honestly glad to know someone up here in the wilderness of Washington.
“It’s good to see you again, Bella,” he said sincerely as he pulled away and offset the hug with a manly clap on the shoulder.
“You too,” she agreed. She eyed him critically. “Didn’t you used to be shorter than me?”
He snorted. “I guess I had to do enough growing for both of us, since you’re still a midget,” he teased, and Bella made a face at him. He smirked back, and then looked over Billy’s head. “Well—what do you think?” he asked.
She looked at him blankly. “Of your welcome home present,” Billy clarified.
She turned to Charlie, perplexed, only to find him smiling back at her, a trifle shyly. “Well, Billy told me last week that he was planning on getting rid of his old truck here,” he said, gesturing to the big red beast beside them, “so I figured, since you’d be needing some wheels, that I’d buy it for you.”
Bella’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?” she managed after a moment.
“Yup,” said Charlie, pleased. “It’s all yours—I figured you wouldn’t want to be showing up to school in the police chief’s cruiser every day.”
Bella was speechless. She’d been saving money from her summer jobs and the occasional babysitting duties for the Whittier’s next door back in Phoenix, and was hoping to buy a car soon, but this…after staring for a moment, the most she could manage was, “Wow. I—wow!”
Charlie ducked his head a bit, embarrassed but still smiling, and Billy gave that booming laugh of his again, and Bella said, “I—thanks, Dad, I—I don’t even know what to say! This is great!”
Billy held aloft a key ring, and then tossed it to her. She missed, of course, but was still grinning from ear to ear as she scooped it up from the gravel of the drive. She positively skipped to the door and hauled it open—it weighed a ton—and she slid inside and slammed the door shut, sitting behind the wheel and savoring it—her truck.
With a thump, Jacob opened the passenger side and clambered in next to her. “It’s a 1963 Chevy C10,” he said without preamble. “Dad got it back before I was born, but it hasn’t let us down once since then.”
“It’s awesome,” Bella said, checking out the dash, the instruments, the ancient radio—everything.
“It’s a piece of crap,” said Jacob cheerfully, “but it runs.”
“If not, I’m holding you responsible,” she informed him.
“Well, you wouldn’t be half wrong—since I’m the one who kept it running all these years.” When Bella looked up, he quirked a smile at her. “That’s how I know it’ll still run. Can you drive a stick?” he asked.
Bella shrugged. “I learned to drive in one—took my test in an automatic, though. I’ll get used to it. Does this thing work?” she asked, tapping the dilapidated old radio poking out from the console.
“Yeah—tape deck and radio,” he said. “I scrounged it up from some old junker that my friend’s dad had lying around. No CD player, though, sorry.”
“That’s no problem. How’s the gas mileage?”
“Awful, but you’re not exactly in a big city, so it shouldn’t be a problem either,” he said.
“May I advise you not to go into business as a car salesman?” Bella remarked dryly as she crammed in the key and cranked it
The engine roared to furious life, but she could still hear Jacob laugh over it. “Oh yeah? I managed to sell this one to you, didn’t I?”
Bella paused, and then conceded. “Touché,” she said, but then she stuck her tongue out at him and then went back adjusting her seat and mirrors. “I look pretty good in this thing,” she remarked to the cab, tossing her hair in the rearview mirror. “I’ll get me a car-kit for my MP3 player, and me and Michael Jackson will just moonwalk all over this town.”
“Oh, yeah—you’ll be the envy of all you survey,” Jacob replied. “The whole school will hear you coming from a mile off.”
“Urgh—let’s not talk about school,” she grunted, looking down at the odometer; the truck had an obscene number of miles on it.
“Not looking forward to being the new kid on the block?” he asked sympathetically.
“Not in the slightest,” she said glumly. She cranked the biggest knob on the radio and was rewarded with a burst of static; she turned it down quickly and tried running through the FM, asking, “You’re—what? Not a freshman?”
Jacob looked affronted. “Hell no—sophomore,” he said with mock severity.
“Oh, sorry—my mistake,” she said, with an obsequious bow of her head as she turned off the radio. But then she brightened. “Well, no classes together, but I’ll still see you around, right?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nope—I go to school out on the reservation,” he replied.
“Oh.” Bella’s stomach dropped at that, and she looked away and started adjusting her seat. “That sucks.”
“Hey, now—what’s wrong with my school?
“Oh, no—I didn’t mean that,” she hurried to clarify. “It’s just—” she shrugged casually. “I guess it just would have been nice to know someone, is all.”
Understanding sparked in Jacob’s dark eyes, and then he smiled he said, “Aw, I wouldn’t worry—with a hot-rod like this, I’m sure the boys will be climbing all over themselves to get to you.” At Bella’s helpless snort, he added, “Or maybe we can talk our dads into sending you out to the rez school—bring you out to La Push and get you a real education, not that whiteboy BS.”
“Red man’s burden?” she asked dryly.
“Hey—somebody’s gotta teach you palefaces how to survive in the New World,” he said with a wink and a grin, and she found herself smiling back at him despite her disappointment.
Bella went back to her new acquisition, revving the engine a little and listening to its rumble rise to a roar before shutting it off and then sliding back out of the cab and into the feeble light of the cloudy day. “Well—is there anything in particular I should know about this guy? Any little built in surprises?” she asked Jacob over the hood as he clambered out.
He scratched his head. “Nothing that’s that big of a deal—it doesn’t care for the cold, but I don’t think it’s ever really gotten cold enough to be a serious problem around here. If you just give it gas and crank it over hard, it’ll usually start up with no problem.” He leaned on the fender. “It does use a bit of oil—it’s not too bad, but you should keep an eye on it—you’ll probably need to top it off now and again between changes. Oh, and you might want to watch the spark plugs—I think the timing’s a bit off. They sort of wear down faster than they should.”
Bella pursed her lips and nodded. “That’s okay,” she said, moving around to pop the hood open and peek underneath. “I can manage all that on my own, I think.”
“You know cars?” Jacob asked, coming around to lean against the nose and she looked at the trucks innards.
Bella shrugged. “Not really—not enough to do the work you’ve done here, anyway” she added, taking in the myriad of obviously newer parts. “But one of my mom’s old boyfriends did, though—and since my mom doesn’t know anything about cars, I figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to pick up a few things so she wouldn’t kill hers by driving it without any oil or something. So I can do the oil and fluids, lube, jump or change a battery, change out the spark plugs—just standard maintenance stuff.” Her mouth twisted. “I guess that does constitute ‘knowing cars’ for a girl.”
Jacob bounced his eyebrows and nodded in agreement. “As far as my sisters were concerned, no one without a Y-chromosome should even look under the hood.” He dropped his voice conspiratorially, leaning in. “But you can do your own maintenance if you want—it’ll be our little secret.” He rocked back and grinned. “Seriously, though—sounds like you know just about every thing you’ll need to keep on top of this beast.”
“Cool beans.” Bella poked around a little, looking to see where to check and add the oil and any other fluids the car would need, and then gingerly lowered the massive hood, letting it drop shut with a bang and then coming back around to where Charlie and Billy were talking beside the other truck. They looked up as they approached.
Suddenly shy, Bella sidled up to Charlie and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, Bells,” he answered, his voice a bit gruff, but Bella could tell that he meant it.
“You take good care of that truck now, hear?” said Billy. “It’s my oldest son.” At Bella’s smile and Jacob’s eyeroll, he added, “And if anything goes wrong, you just give us a buzz—it comes with a warranty.”
“Will do,” Bella said, and Billy’s eyes crinkled back at her.
“So, what are your big plans for tomorrow? Dad-and-daughter Day, or something?” he asked, flicking his eyes to Charlie, who blinked and then began to look uncomfortable.
“I didn’t know we had any,” Bella said.
“Oh—sorry, did I spoil a surprise?”
“No—nothing—I’m just staying home,” said Charlie.
“From what?” Bella asked, her brow furrowed.
“Charlie here bowed out of his usual Sunday fishing trip with Harry and Waylon—I’d figured you two must have been up to something for him to alter the schedule that he’s kept for the last God knows how many years—‘cept when you were here in the summers, of course,” Billy said easily.
Charlie was looking discomfited, but he stoutly said all the same, “No—it’s just that Bella’s here now, so I should be home more on the weekends.”
“What?” Bella demanded. “Dad—no—I’m fine—you go ahead. Really.”
Charlie shook his head firmly. “No—Billy said it, I’ve been going fishing every Sunday since—for near sixteen years, so changing things up isn’t going to hurt me at all. And you just got here—I don’t need to be gallivantin’ off to the lake first thing.”
“Dad—this isn’t summer vacation,” she said. “It’s not like I’m leaving in two months. I—I live here now. You’ll still be seeing plenty of me, every day, and I’ll be fine here. I don’t want to sweep in here and mess up your routine. Please—go fishing.”
Charlie looked torn. Billy glanced at Bella. “Charlie—it isn’t every guy who can say the woman of the house wants him to run off and go fishing,” he said, his voice laced with mock reverence. “You’d better take advantage of it just so you can record it for posterity.”
“More like posterior,” muttered Jacob, and Bella muffled a snort.
If Billy heard his son’s comment, he chose not to dignify it with a response, but just kept talking to Charlie, but he looked at Bella when he said, “And if you manage to haul us in a big catch, there will definitely be a big fish-fry in our future.” He grinned slyly up at her, and Bella grinned back; Billy’s fish fry was the stuff of legend, and she had been known to go to great lengths to get it.
“Well, I—I’d feel bad about running off and leaving you here all by yourself, Bella,” said Charlie, sounding plaintive.
Bella shook her head, smiling. “Don’t. I’m used to entertaining myself on weekends—that’s when Renee’s always off on her latest fad. And anyway—I have plenty to do. I have to get used to driving my new truck,” she said, flashing him a bright smile, which he tentatively returned, “and I want to go to the store and pick up a few things—no offense, Dad, but you’ve got a bachelor’s kitchen, and I gotta do something about that.”
Jacob gave a great bark of laughter. “Oh—so not only does she want you to go fishing, but she’s gonna stay home in the kitchen where she belongs while you do—this is too good to be true! You sure managed to train this one right!”
Jacob was clearly begging to be punched in the arm, and so Bella obliged him before turning back to Charlie. “Really, Dad—go have fun. I’ll be fine.”
“Well—if you’ll be all right—”
“I will,” she said earnestly, and then added, “Witch’s Honor,” forking her fingers under her eyes like on “Bewitched,” like she used to when she was little, when she’d promise not to tell Renee that Charlie had let her stay up watching Nick at Nite in the summers, and Charlie laughed.
“All right, Bells—you’ve convinced me,” he chuckled.
“Just catch me a big one—and then you’d better keep your end of the bargain and fry it for me,” she said, rounding on Billy.
“Oh, you got it, girly-o—it will be a feast to remember,” he said ponderously, and then grinned. Looking at his watch, he said, “I know it’s a bit early, but do you two want to grab some lunch? Catch up a bit—I have to hear about all the trouble you’ve been in,” he said to Bella, tapping her with an elbow.
“Yeah, me too—research,” said Jacob with a wink.
Charlie raised a mock-warning eyebrow at him, but said, “Sure—it is a bit early, though, you’re right—you want to come in and sit for a bit before we head out?”
Billy glanced at Jacob and then nodded. “Lead the way, Chief Swan—before I roll you down.”
“I’d like to see you try it, tipped over in the ditch,” he sneered back, and then they both headed back in, and on the way Billy ran over the backs of his heels on purpose.
Bella quirked an eyebrow up at Jacob. “Are they always that silly, and I’ve just now noticed?” she asked, moving towards the door.
“Nope—they’ve only gotten worse in their old age.” He grinned down at her, his eyes crinkling in the corners the way Billy’s always did when he smiled. “I guess that’s what we have to look forward to—so you’d better move before I run you down!”
“I’d just like to see you try face down in the ditch,” she warned, shaking a pathetically tiny fist up at his lofty chin; he looked at her and then at it, and then smirked at her as he completely engulfed her entire fist in his own huge paw. She scowled, and he dropped her hand and laughed, and so did she as they followed their fathers inside.
Bella stared up at the ceiling, wide awake in the darkness as she listened to the rain beat its tiny fists on the rooftop. True to form, because she had to wake up early tomorrow, she couldn’t sleep.
The weekend had passed with distressing speed. Saturday had been great; Bella had always liked Billy, who was one of the bright spots in her dreary summer vacations in Forks. And Jacob—she remembered a skinny little runt waving a branch like a sword or a ray gun when they would play pretend, and now he was a giant. But she still recognized him, in part because he had his father’s smile and laugh and way of setting people at ease, and in part because she occasionally spotted that manic little space-faring knight errant peeking out of that mile-high body.
They’d gone out to Charlie’s usual haunt for lunch and ended up staying there for most of the afternoon, just sitting and talking and telling stories, with Jacob stealing bites of everyone’s pie. Turned out since Charlie had bought himself his new big flat screen TV last year, weekends were game nights at his place, and while Bella wasn’t much of a sports fan, it seemed the trend would continue. And football and basketball and whatever else aside, she thought that filling the quiet little house with noise and laughter was a good idea, and was looking forward to it.
But then Billy and Jacob left, and Charlie went to bed early after dinner so as to get up early the next day for his fishing trip (and wake Bella up just as early with his shower), and he was gone when she woke up for the second time, and it was just her in the house. She hadn’t lied, though—she’d been fine. She’d spent what remained of her morning tooling around town in her truck. She killed it no fewer than four times in trying to relearn a stick, but in the end she was managing with only a little jerkiness on stops and starts (okay, maybe more than “a little” on hills). She lurched back home around one for a late lunch and to make a shopping list.
So that afternoon she drove to the store and stocked up on non-bachelor food, splurging a little for her first homemade dinner for tonight when Charlie came home. While she was out, she picked up any extra school supplies she’d need (which was almost a treat in and of itself—she was nerdy enough to enjoy shopping for fresh paper and pencils and notebooks and stuff, and getting to do it in the middle of the year was geekily satisfying).
By the time she got home, it was time to get the meatloaf started, and while it cooked she spent a while organizing her new school things in her backpack, and then Charlie was home. He had caught her a big one as promised, and he popped it in the freezer for the next weekend, and then it was time for dinner. He’d been quite pleased with her efforts, being able to come home to a hot, non-take out meal after a long rainy day on the river; if Bella said so herself, she wasn’t half bad in the kitchen. It must have skipped a generation—both generations—because neither Charlie nor Renee were any great hands in that particular arena. There, at least, Charlie and Renee were a perfect match—the two of them both lived out of either a restaurant or a can. Bella had learned at a young age that if she wanted something real to eat, it was up to her to make it.
The evening was mostly quiet; Renee called, and so Bella retreated up to her room to say “yes” and “mmhmm” while Renee chattered in what Bella was sure she thought was a reassuring fashion about starting a new school. But she sounded very happy, though, which was the point of all this mess, which was what counted. By the time she had exhausted her fount of talk, it was past ten, and so Bella said goodnight to Charlie and showered and went to bed.
But sleep wouldn’t come. She sighed and flopped over on her side, curling her arm beneath her and staring at the wall. She really, really didn’t want to go to school tomorrow. She wouldn’t know anybody, she’d be behind in all of her classes, she’d have to sit all alone at lunch like some kind of leper, she’d get lost on her way to classes and get marked late, her teachers wouldn’t like her, she’d forget her locker combination and wouldn’t be able to get it unlocked and would have to haul fifty pounds of books around on her back, and it would be wet.
Here in the dark, all her stress and worries about starting a new school that she’d been carefully repressing were now clamoring to the surface. She was being ridiculous, she knew—people moved to new places every day and dealt with all the changes just fine. She at least had the good fortune to be coming in at semester, rather than in the middle of the year or something. And while the people of Forks were a bit insular, they weren’t unfriendly. And she hadn’t had any really close friends down in Phoenix; she didn’t doubt that given time, she’d meet people she could talk to much as she had back home.
And she wasn’t stupid, had always been a good student—she’d just have to work extra hard to catch up in her classes (if she was behind at all), and she was sure she could manage to both catch up and keep up, and keep her GPA up where it should be for college. And she was quiet and didn’t cause trouble—she’d never had any trouble keeping her teachers happy. Not to mention that she’d already gone up to the school last week; the offices had been open on Friday, so she’d gotten her schedule and her ID and had taken a quick look around the buildings. She may have to wander around with her nose in her schedule like some stupid freshman, but she was pretty sure she knew where all her classes were and wouldn’t get lost.
And even if it was wet and she had to carry all her books, she would deal with it.
But even all her logical arguments and reasoning couldn’t quell the unpleasant tightness in her belly—nerves didn’t listen to logic. She wished she knew where she’d be in classes, so she’d be ready. She wished Jacob would be in school with her, so she’d know somebody.
She wished she was back in Phoenix, so she wouldn’t have to worry about any of this at all.
But their house in Phoenix was dark and cold; Renee and Phil were down in Texas, and she was up here. And that’s the way things were, so there was no point in angsting over it.
She just wished she could fall asleep. The last thing she needed was to be dealing with a new school and all her worries and fears on top of exhaustion.
I’ll be fine. She repeated those words in her head like a mantra. I’ll be fine. She wasn’t the first person in the world to start a new school, and she wouldn’t be the last. Her worries were trivial in the grand scheme of things—the most she had to really worry about was getting to school on time and not getting eaten by a rampaging banana slug.
She was pretty sure she could manage that much, at least.
The patter of the rain on the roof was hypnotic, a sound that she had always enjoyed but heard far too rarely back in Phoenix. She closed her eyes and listened, breathing slowly through her nose, and felt herself relaxing, slowly starting to drift off.
I’ll be fine.