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An Illusion, a Shadow, a Story

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1. The End


Spring break always started with the best parties, planned months in advance and well stocked with all things alcoholic. Most kids would leave town for the week, but everyone who was anyone always stuck around long enough for that first Friday night. This year the party was at Mike Newton’s, which was extra-lucky for me. Not only did Dad think that my three best friends and I were already on our way to Sequim, but Mike’s house was just outside the city limits. That meant Dad and his men had no jurisdiction there, and my chances of getting caught dropped significantly.

Lauren Mallory was sort of our fearless leader. She always had plenty of money, no parental supervision, and the best ideas for fun. She could be a bitch sometimes, but our lives would have been so boring without her. She claimed to have dated most of the football team, something I wouldn’t have been bragging about if I were her, and she was my go-to girl when it came to questions about boys. If it was humanly possible, she had done it, and she had no qualms about sharing details, even if she did treat me like I was stupid for not knowing.

Jessica Stanley was our tag-along. She was willing to do just about anything we suggested, and the few times we came close to getting caught sneaking out, drinking, or skipping class, Jessica was always made to take the fall. She was so desperate for friends, though, that she never complained, and even though she was a little annoying, we didn’t mind her following us around. Plus, she was dating Mike, and that guaranteed us invitations to all his parties.

My true best friend, though, was Angela Weber. We were kind of in the same boat when it came to parent issues. Her dad was the pastor at the biggest church in town, and my dad was the Chief of Police. It was hard to get away with anything before we started hanging out together, but once we did, we had it made. Dad trusted me if I was hanging out with the pastor’s kid, and vice versa. Apparently we were supposed to be good influences on each other, but the truth was that we were just normal girls. We gossiped, dated, stayed out past curfew, and covered for each other when needed.

Having a cop for a dad wasn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, but it didn't make high school easy. In the beginning, I'd hear whispers of parties or pranks, but no one would tell me anything. Apparently they thought I’d go to Chief Dad. And boys didn’t come near me for fear of being shot. It wasn't until I snuck out with Lauren one night, crashed a party in LaPush, and got so drunk that I made a complete ass of myself that people finally realized I was just a normal high schooler. And I realized that tequila was made of evil.

Lauren’s grandparents had a beach house in Sequim, and somehow she convinced them to let us use it for Spring Break. It wasn’t going to be anything like Cancun or Daytona—the weather in Washington would never have allowed for that. But at least it was sunny there, and we’d have access to a giant hot tub and a liquor store that was known for never checking IDs. In just a couple of months, we’d all be graduating and going our separate ways, so we were determined to make it a spring break to remember.


It was coming up on two in the morning, and though several underclassmen had already passed out or simply wandered off, the party was still going strong. Lauren was sitting on Eric Yorkie’s lap and playing quarters, a wasted Jessica had turned into an epileptic dancing fool, and Angela was nowhere to be seen…probably off making out with Ben somewhere.

“Wanna go upstairs?” Tyler yelled above the music.

I just grinned and grabbed his hand, following as he cut through the crowd and up the stairs.

Tyler and I had been dating since just before Thanksgiving. I wasn’t in love with him or anything, but I liked him a lot, and I was happy. He was moderately popular, always up for a good practical joke, and could kiss like nobody’s business. He was simply a good guy and, unlike most of the guys at school, he didn’t care that I was the police chief’s daughter.

The Newton house was enormous, and I was pretty sure whoever planned it had actually started out designing mazes. It was the only explanation for all the dead end corridors, bathrooms tucked under stairways, and the bookcase-slash-secret door in the study. I'd been there often enough with Jessica that I didn't get so lost anymore, but I always felt a little like we were traipsing around the house from Clue. I half expected to open a door and find a dead body in a dumbwaiter. Or a man wielding a candlestick.

The stairs we'd just climbed were ones I'd never been up before, so my guess was that this was the part of the house where Mr and Mrs Newton's bedroom was. The first two rooms we tried were occupied by the usual partially dressed teens, and the third one was simply locked. Tyler knocked and we both put our ears to the door, wondering if anyone was actually in there, but I couldn't hear anything.

“Wait,” I said as Tyler tried to tug me farther down the hallway.

“That one’s taken,” he shrugged.

“Or maybe it's his parents' room," I said.

“Ohhhh,” he said, realization dawning as a smirk crept across his face.

We looked around for a second, checking under a nearby ficus plant, in a side table drawer, under the runner…

“Jackpot!” Tyler exclaimed, holding the key up triumphantly.

Within seconds we were cuddled up on the silky comforter atop the largest bed I had ever seen.

“I love you,” he said, reaching his hand up my shirt.

“You just want to get in my pants,” I giggled.

“That, too,” he laughed.

My fingers flew down to my shirt, fumbling with the buttons as he started sucking on my neck.

“No hickeys,” I warned him. The last time he'd given me one I'd had to borrow Lauren's weird green foundation to cover it up and wear my hair down for a week. Besides, hickeys were ugly, and I really didn’t want to be that girl.

I finally got most of the buttons undone, and he pushed my shirt partway open and off my shoulders. He groaned and pressed me back against the mattress, his mouth headed straight for my breasts. Lauren was right. The lacy red bra was a hit.

But just as he pulled one strap down, the noise from downstairs suddenly became much louder. Not surprisingly, we had an intruder.

“We’re a little busy here,” Tyler said, barely raising his lips from my skin to run whoever it was off.

“We can see that.”

Wes? “Shit!” I yelped, instantly recognizing the voice. I pushed against Tyler chest. “Get off me!”

Tyler looked completely confused, and I kind of felt bad for him. But not bad enough to stop and explain. I just sat up and spun to face the wall, yanking my bra strap back up and desperately trying to button my shirt quickly. I was in so much trouble.

“I said we’re—Oh! I…uh…we weren’t doing anything, I swear,” Tyler stammered.

“Get out, son,” Wes sighed.

I finally got the last button and then just sat there, staring at the wall, as if not turning around would somehow prevent the shit from hitting the fan.

Lieutenant Wesley Franklin was Dad’s best friend and employee. He was also like a second father to me, having been there for everything from my first day of school to my first...well…my first time getting caught rounding bases as things stood now. I didn’t know what I'd face when I worked up the nerve to turn around, but I knew it was going to be awful.

“You decent now?” Wes asked.

I nodded my head and turned around, expecting the worst. But instead of just embarrassment, I was utterly mortified. Not only was Franklin there, but standing to his left was Angela’s dad, Pastor Lloyd Weber. Well, fuck me.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I said, shaking my head. “I wasn’t doing anything that half the people here haven’t done!” It was a stupid excuse, and I knew it, but when someone you love looks at you like you’re the saddest disappointment they’ve ever witnessed, you say dumb things trying to make it stop. When neither of them said anything, I kept going. “This is normal. You know what? Tell Dad. I don’t even care. I’m eighteen! I can do what I want!”

“Bella,” Pastor Weber said softly as he sat on the edge of the bed, “Why don’t we sit down for a minute?”

Great. Now I was going to get some talk about sex and morals from the religious right. Just what I was hoping to do on spring break.

I sighed and sat down, focusing on the silk woven flowers of the comforter and wondering if this little chat was going to be enough or if they were still going to report back to Dad. What I should have been wondering was why Wes was at a party outside his jurisdiction, looking so sad, and with a minister in tow.

“Darlin’, I have some bad news,” Wes began, and what he said next ripped my world apart.

I knew he was talking, trying to explain what happened, trying to lessen the blow. His lips were moving, but the pain was so loud that I couldn’t hear him. My father was dead. Dad, the only family I really had, was gone, and I was…what?

I screamed. I screamed and yelled and told Wes I hated him. I called him every horrible name I could think of, not even caring that Pastor Weber was there. And when he let me yell, let me say those awful things, let me hit him and demand that he take it back and tell me the truth…that’s when I started begging. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go home to my dad and be grounded for the rest of my life and tell him I loved him and I was sorry for calling him cheap when he wouldn’t buy me a car and I didn’t even need a car and…I just needed him.

I don’t remember leaving the party or the ride home. I only remember standing outside the door, too scared to go in. If I just stood outside, if I never walked through that door, Dad might still be there. He’d be sitting in his recliner, yelling at some athlete or coach on TV and drinking a beer. But if I went inside, and he was gone, this nightmare would be real. So I stood there, refusing to budge until Wes finally picked me up and carried me inside as I cried.


I was sitting on the sofa, staring numbly at Dad’s empty recliner when Pastor Weber sat down beside me and took my hand.

“We need to call your brother,” he said softly.

“He doesn’t know?” I asked. Surely they didn’t expect me to make that call.

“We wanted to make sure you were okay first,” Wes said.

I was anything but okay. Everything about this night was so wrong. I should have still been at Mike’s, making out with my boyfriend and looking forward to a week in the hot tub at the beach house. I should have been laughing and drinking and having fun, not a care in the world. And Pastor Weber should have been telling me I was a bad influence on his daughter or some shit like that, not holding my hand and trying to help me.

“I can’t,” I whispered, shaking my head.

Pastor Weber patted my hand and got up, presumably to call Jasper and tell him Dad was dead. A thousand years went by as I sat alone, barely aware of what was happening around me.

“Here,” Wes said, nudging my hand with a mug of coffee. I took a sip and smiled a weak thanks.

“Lloyd’s still trying to get in touch with Renee,” he told me.

“Why Renee?” I asked. I hadn’t seen my mother in at least four years. She’d actually left us when I was only three, and I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen her since.

“We thought…well, she’s your mother, and you’re gonna need someone.”

“What about Jasper?” I asked.

Jasper was my brother, but I didn’t know him that well, either. He was ten years older than me and had moved out shortly after my sixth birthday. When he first left, he tried living with Renee. I don’t know what happened there, but it didn’t work out. He ended up going to college in Philadelphia, and then he moved to Seattle, just a couple of hours away from us. He was a psychiatrist or psychologist or something like that, and he worked at some rich private school, the kind that could afford a fully licensed head shrink instead of just a regular counselor. You’d think that would make us closer or something, that since he worked with kids my age he’d make more of an effort with me, but he only came around once or twice a year and he rarely called.

When I was little, I always looked forward to seeing him, but after I outgrew the piggyback rides and toys he used to bring me, we really didn’t have anything to talk about. Mostly I just told him what classes I was taking, and he tried to give me a bunch of advice I didn’t need. He talked a lot about a girlfriend he had…Abbey or Amy or something, but he never brought her with him. To be honest, I was always kind of relieved when whatever holiday he’d dropped in for was over, and Dad and I could go back to it being just us.

“What now?” I asked. It was really the only question that mattered.

“Right now you get some sleep,” Wes said, tugging me over to lean against his chest like I did when I was little. Normally I would have pulled away, insisting I was too old to be babied like that. But now it was comforting, like the last piece of home I really had.

“In the morning, we figure this out. You’re eighteen, though, so no matter what anyone says, just remember it’s up to you, Bells.”

I teared up a little when he called me that. He was one of only two men who had ever called me by that nickname. And now the other one was gone. “Are you gonna stay?” I asked. The last thing I wanted was to be alone.

“Wouldn’t dream of leaving.”


I woke up with a splitting headache. I groaned and rolled over, regretting all those drinks I had last night and hoping I could hide my hangover from Dad. Dad…

It felt like my chest was caving in. I was gasping for air and shaking as everything that had happened rolled through my brain like a bulldozer, destroying every bit of security I had. I curled up around my pillow, unable to even cry, just rocking back and forth in a pathetic effort to ride out the waves of loss and pain crashing over me. I must have been loud, though, because within seconds, the door flew open and Wes was there, looking like he hadn’t slept in years. The second he wrapped his arms around me, I broke, and he stayed there with me, letting me ruin his shirt with tears and snot and day old mascara until I was exhausted again.

 

Chapter Text

The next couple of days were a blur. There was lots of coffee, unidentifiable casseroles from well-meaning neighbors, and plenty of questions hanging over my head. Cruisers lined the street in front of the house, and there were no less than three officers present at all times. If anyone who didn’t know what was going on had simply driven by, it would have looked like my house was the target of major crime crackdown. Any other time I would have thought having a forensics van out front was funny.

Angela came over once and sat with me for a while, but the conversation was forced and awkward. In the end, she just hugged me and told me that she knew she couldn’t do anything for me, but she wished with all her heart she could. And though her father repeatedly offered to pray with me, I didn’t see the point. Charlie Swan was a good man, and God would take care of him. I really just wanted God to give him back.

Tyler came by, too, bearing my favorite ice cream and a video of Mike Newton passed out naked on his living room floor as the party at his house continued around him. Wes just rolled his eyes, but I saw a bit of a smirk there. I think he was just happy someone had finally made me laugh, even if it did sound a bit hollow. He stayed by my side, whether I was watching a movie or checking the mail. He even sat in my room, flipping through a magazine when I finally gave up on feeling gross and took a shower. I felt bad for him having to put up with me. I knew he’d had plans for spring break, and it was obvious he’d ditched them to stay near me. But he didn’t complain or act bored. He just stayed until past his curfew, and Wes called his mom to make sure he wouldn’t be in trouble for being late.

By now the whole town knew, but no one outside of Angela, Tyler, and the Forks Police Department seemed to care. Lauren had apparently dragged Jessica with her to the beach house, and everyone else was just going on with their lives as if the world hadn’t spun off its axis. Not even my own mother or brother could be bothered to notice.

Pastor Weber called them repeatedly, and Wes even sent cops to their doors, but we still had no word. Finally Wes just drove me down to the only funeral home in town and walked me through the necessary decisions. We decided on a dark pine casket, just nice enough that it was suitable, and just rustic enough that Dad would have liked it. They were even going to put a big police badge in the head panel, something I knew everyone from the station would appreciate. I didn’t know what to do for flowers, though, until Wes saved the day again, pointing out a big colorful spray that looked like it had been picked right from the clearing out by the boat dock. I wondered if Dad hadn’t have been a cop, would I have been doing it all completely alone?

I didn’t ask about finances. To be honest, I didn’t care. Wes mentioned life insurance and some kind of extra money because Dad died on the job, but most of it didn’t make any sense. I knew there wouldn’t be anything left for me anyway. Between all the medical bills for Dad’s double bypass a few years ago and the second mortgage on the house, we’d been doing well just to make ends meet.

I fell asleep downstairs every night, sometimes on the sofa, and once at the kitchen table. Every morning I woke up in my bed, still dressed from the night before and still empty inside. Wes didn’t look much better, and though I tried to get him to go home, he refused, sleeping on the sofa for a few hours when things got quiet and sipping coffee the rest of the time. If I’d had any capacity for feeling left, I’d have felt sorry for him.

I couldn’t remember a time in my life when Wes hadn’t been there. Dad had hired him when I was just a baby, and he quickly became part of the family. He was quite a bit younger than Dad, but they had fishing and sports in common, and that was enough. Wes came to everything I ever did for school, never missed a birthday, and taught me how to drive when I refused to learn from Dad (he yelled too much). Wes was even the one who helped me talk Dad into going on my first real date when I was sixteen. Of course, I had to sit through the talk from hell first, but in the end I was allowed out of the house, and not once did I see a cruiser tailing us. I didn’t remember it, but Dad told me that when Renee left him, Wes had practically lived with us for a few weeks, too. He kept Dad busy, wouldn’t let him stay down, and basically got him through it. Now he was having to do the same for me.

After a couple of days, things had calmed down considerably. I’d thought I’d be relieved when all the initial craziness was over, but the silence that replaced it sat heavily on my shoulders, mocking me and trying to breach the numbness that had set in. Wes took care of everything, consulting me as gently as he could about each decision, patiently explaining details and pointing me in the right direction. Funeral arrangements had been made, insurance money was on its way, and Dad’s meager will had been read. There was nothing left to do but find something to wear to the funeral and grieve.


I was rinsing out the coffee pot when the phone rang.

“Hello?” I answered, preparing myself to tell another concerned person that there really was nothing they could do to help.

“Bella?” It was Jasper, finally getting around to calling back.

“Yeah.”

“Lemme talk to Dad.”

I thought about hanging up on him, or at least asking him what the hell took him so long to call, but when it came down to it, I didn’t really care. I just walked the phone over to Wes and went back into the kitchen.


I suppose the funeral was nice. That’s what everyone kept telling me, but I really had nothing to compare it to. All the guys were in uniform, and except for when they had to stand in some kind of line, they were surrounding me like my own personal army. A million people I recognized --- and a million more I didn’t --- told me how sorry they were, what a good man Dad was, and that I could call them if I needed anything. I just wanted ask them how they could possibly think I needed anything more than my father back.

Jasper sat next to me during the service, and I could tell he wanted to say something to me, but he just seemed so uncomfortable that I avoided him. No one seemed to know who he was, either. They were all shaking my hand or hugging me, and then they’d turn to Jasper, mumble “Sorry for your loss,” and move on. I rushed over to Wes as soon as I could.

“Hanging in there?” Wes asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, my sweet baby!” Renee cried, rushing up to pull me into a too-tight hug. ‘Oh, sweetheart, what are you gonna do now?” she asked.

Like I had a clue.

“We haven’t decided on that yet,” Wes answered for me.

“Well, you know I’d love to have you stay with me, but I just don’t see how it would work,” she said. “My job just takes me everywhere now, and…well, I suppose you’re old enough to get your own place, right?”

Renee’s “job” was travelling all over the world, looking for charity causes to sponsor, and then abandoning them when she got bored. Mostly she just spent her new husband’s money and pretended she had a heart. 

“Mom, I don’t think now’s the time,” Jasper interrupted. It was the first time I’d heard him speak since he arrived.

“Well, honey, I just wanted to make sure she has a plan. I have to catch a plane in a couple of hours, and I can’t leave knowing my baby girl isn’t being taken care of.”

“Renee---” Wes began, sounding irritated.

“I’ll take care of her, Mom,” Jasper said. “Just go.”

Renee spent the next several minutes gushing about how grown up I was before Wes offered to personally drive her to the airport. I just stood there, not saying anything, while the woman who left me behind all those years ago hugged me once more and then abandoned me all over again.

“I guess we should go get you packed,” Jasper said to me after she left.

“What?” I asked, surprised.

“You can live with me and Alice in Seattle. You’ll like it there. Lots more to do than this little town.”

I couldn’t even form a coherent sentence. He just expected me to leave? Pack up and go with him now? I didn’t even know him, and I certainly wasn’t moving to Seattle. Yes, I knew I had to sell the house, and yes, I knew I had nowhere to go, and yes, I knew I had no job and precious little savings. But move away?

“Son,” Wes said in a tone I knew he usually reserved for doing his job. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“You got a better one?” Jasper asked sharply.

“If you pull her out of school now, she’ll have to repeat the semester and she won’t graduate with her class.”

“What choice do I have? Dad’s dead and Mom’s gone, and Bella can’t take care of herself.”

I let out a choked sob before I could stop myself, and Jasper looked at me strangely. Wes put his arm around me and pulled me into a hug. At least he cared. At least he didn’t see me as some kind of burden that couldn’t be shirked.

“Can he move here?” I asked Wes, my words muffled against his chest.

“I can’t leave my job,” Jasper insisted.

“Don’t worry about it,” Wes replied. “We’ll take care of her.”

“We?”

“Me and the guys. I’ve got an extra room and I’d love to have her.”

“Oh, I bet you would,” Jasper spat accusingly. “No. No way. She should be with family.”

“This is my family!” I yelled, pulling away from Wes and ready to rip Jasper a new one.

Officer Miller grabbed my arm and pulled me aside, whispering to me that Wes and Jasper needed to “talk” this out.
If you asked me, Jasper looked just stupid enough to throw a punch, and I kind of hoped he would. Wes had at least six inches and probably a hundred pounds on him, and he’d make sure Jasper regretted trying to push me around.


I cautiously lifted crimped-on foil, peeking at the contents of the various dishes crammed in the refrigerator. I suspected the town was now experiencing a shortage in cream of mushroom soup and jell-o, as it seemed everything we had received contained at least one of those ingredients. And there was one particularly disturbing concoction that I was sure included both. I turned it over in the sink and washed the contents down the garbage disposal before anyone was unfortunate enough to try it. “Lela Mallory” was scrawled across a piece of masking tape on the bottom. Figures.

“You hungry?” Wes asked, startling me. I didn’t realize he was home.

“Not really,” I said as I dried the dish. “I was just…bored. I decided to play Name That Casserole.”

I heard an unfamiliar laugh and turned to see Jasper standing in the doorway behind Wes.

“Why don’t we go over to Shirley’s?” Wes asked. “You look like you could use a milkshake.”

Shirley’s was a run down café just up the street from the station, and Dad and Wes had been taking me there for years. Shirley was about a thousand years old, but she refused to retire. I agreed, realizing this was probably going to be my last visit to the old woman.

The ride over was quiet, and I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy sticking Jasper with the backseat. A part of me wished we could just leave him back there behind the glass and go on as if he’d never shown up threatening to take me away from everything I knew and loved.

I headed straight for our usual booth, leaving Jasper and Wes to take care of ordering at the counter, and looked around sadly. On the wall next to me was a picture of Dad from before I was born. And next to it was a picture of me when I was about four. Shirley was as wrinkled then as she was now, and she had me sitting on top of the counter eating a huge cookie as she worked the register. The discolored wallpaper was covered in pictures of half the town, and I could name every one of them.

“So Wes and I talked about your living arrangements,” Jasper said, sitting down across from me and sliding a milkshake in my direction.

Wes slipped in beside me and put his arm around me. If he thought that was going to make this any easier, he was horribly mistaken. I didn’t even look at Jasper.

“So…I hear your grades are good,” he said.

Seriously? We were going to talk about my grades?

“And I guess it would be best if you could graduate with your class.”

I looked up at him, half shocked and half terrified. If he was going to hint at my staying and then just take it all back, I was going to smash my glass right into his face.

“So you’ll stay with Wes---” he began, only to pause as Wes cleared his throat. “I mean…if you want to, you can stay with Wes until you graduate. He tells me you were accepted at UDub?”

It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t possibly be this happy and excited just hours after burying my father. But the second Jasper said I could stay with Wes, it was like the sun had come out and the world looked a little like I remembered it.

“Yes,” I said, sneaking a glance over at Wes. I saw a hint of a smile on his lips as he squeezed my shoulder.

“Okay, then I was thinking after you graduate, you can move in with me and Alice. It’s cheaper than living in a dorm, and you’ll have more room.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

“I mean, you can stay in the dorms if you want…” he said.

“No, that’s not…I mean…I’m not going to college.”

“What?!” both Wes and Jasper said at the same time.

“Last I checked, it takes money to go to college,” I spat at Jasper. Wes, I could overlook. Jasper, not so much.

It’s not that I was suddenly destitute, but I knew I didn’t have enough money to pay for classes, let alone everything else I needed. Dad had talked to Renee about it a while back, but although she claimed to want to help, she insisted she couldn’t afford it. Of course, the next week I’d received a postcard from her. She was vacationing in Greece. Without any help from my poor excuse for a mother, it was up to Dad and me. If I’d had half a brain, I would have put in scholarship and loan applications ages ago, but I’d procrastinated and missed most of the deadlines. And so we discussed and plotted and finally reached a solution that would prevent my having to delay college. I would work full time at the station, doing filing work and other menial tasks all summer. Dad was going to take some side jobs, security type stuff, and between the two of us and student loans, there would be just enough to pay for my first two semesters. I’d just have to stay on top of all the deadlines next time. Now, though, with Dad gone…

“What about student loans?” Wes asked.

“I don’t think it’ll be enough,” I said. “I mean, there’s registration fees and books and labs…and what about food and rent? I don’t even have a car!” I really didn’t want to tell them that my own laziness was what had gotten me into this mess.

“You don’t have to pay rent, Bella,” Jasper sighed.

“Well how was I supposed to know that?” I snapped.

“And I think I can afford to feed you,” he said condescendingly.

“I am not a charity case, Jasper!”

“Bella,” Wes said softly, obviously wanting me to calm down.

“No, you’re not a charity case,” Jasper replied angrily. “You’re my little sister. I happen to have plenty of room, a good salary, and a chance to finally do something decent for you. Now quit being stupid and just take it.”

Did he just call me stupid? Who the hell does he think he is? I started to speak, intent on telling him exactly where he could shove his cushy salary, but Wes’s hand clamped over my mouth so fast I just ended up making some garbled comment into his palm.

“Thank you, Jasper,” Wes said, ignoring my glare. “I’m sure what Bella’s spitting into my hand right now is her thanks as well.”

Chapter Text

How is it that your suitcase weighs twice as much as it did when we left?" I asked.

Alice rolled her eyes. "Oh, Jazz, quit being such a baby."

If I didn't know for certain that Alice would die before giving up even an inch of wardrobe space, I'd have thought she ditched the clothes and was now smuggling a body in her luggage. I waited as she unlocked the door, and then I stepped back into the familiar smell of home.

We'd spent nearly a week in Kentucky, where I was forced to spend quality time with Alice's fucked up, inbred family because her cousin was getting married. I wish I could say my opinion of them was based on some sort of prejudice about simple country people. In truth, simple country people would have been nice. Alice barely spoke to her family, but she insisted we go anyway. After having faced the kind of people that contributed to every terrible, overdone stereotype about the south, I was now determined to never repeat that mistake. What should have been a chance to get to know my girlfriend's family and experience some legendary southern cooking was instead closer to living through the beginning of every horror movie that starts with a group of teens taking a wrong turn down a dead end road.

For six days, her whore of a mother came on to me, even managing to slip her room key into my pocket while we were dancing at the reception. It initially struck me as odd that she would give me the key to the room she was currently sharing with her husband, but then I decided I was just better off not knowing. And the way Alice's father looked all the women, including those in his own family, was downright creepy. When he'd placed a drunken, sloppy kiss on Alice' neck and demanded a dance with his "pretty girl," I'd had enough. Alice and I were packed up and on the next flight out of there in no time.
A
Alice and I had a very uncomfortable, but ultimately relieving conversation on the drive home from the airport. She'd always struck me as well-adjusted, despite what little upbringing those hillbillies gave her. But after seeing them for myself, I had to wonder if she had suffered through anything she hadn't admitted to me yet. I threw all my training out the window and just asked her point blank if her father had molested her. To my surprise, she simply smiled. I expected anger and denial, or even a tearful confession. What I got was Alice's assurance that while her father did certainly looked like he might be a candidate for To Catch a Predator, the worst he'd ever done was leer. It was still disgusting, but at least now I wouldn't have to make a return trip just to kill him.


I dropped the thousand pound bag by the door and headed straight for the fridge to grab a beer while Alice checked voicemail.

"That bad?"

I jumped at the unexpected voice and came close to banging my head on the refrigerator door.

"Don't you knock?" I asked the hulking mass that stood in our home.

Emmett was our neighbor and permanent dinner guest. He lived in the two-story next door with his girlfriend Rosalie and his cousin Edward. Unlike us, they owned their house. Well, Edward did. Actually, Edward owned most of the houses on the street, including ours, having once had a notion to invest in rentals and pad his ridiculously large bank account.

We'd been living here for eight months when Alice and Rosalie met...to put it mildly. It was Rosalie's twenty-fifth birthday, and their guests were parked all over the street, in our driveway, and even on our lawn. There were names, insults, and death threats, and the next thing I knew they were best friends. Women. It was only natural that with Rosalie came Emmett, and with Emmett came Edward. And so there were five. Ever since then, the three of them had been walking into our house like they owned the place. Well…I guess Edward actually did.

Rosalie was a photographer, and not the cool kind. She did portraits at JC Penny. Really. I asked her once if she aspired to do something more creative, and that was one mistake I would never make again, assuming I liked having my nuts attached to my body. I really wasn't trying to put her down or belittle her livelihood. I'd just assumed that someone with her confidence and love for all things artistic would want to do more. Emmett later confided in me that she was working on a portfolio, but that no one but he had ever seen it. Apparently she was so afraid of failure that she settled for taking pictures of screaming kids and their too-proud parents, all wearing matching shirts and forced smiles.

Emmett was a big guy, and when the NFL didn't call, he started his own business doing landscaping. But even though he was the most sought after landscaper in town, he wasn't exactly profiting from it. He had a bad habit of either trading his services or cutting his prices just to be nice. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and on the upside he got hooked up with just about everything for free, but it did mean he and Rosalie were stuck rooming with Edward when they could have been buying their own. Then again, Rosalie probably wouldn't have gone for it even if Emmett had run out and paid cash for a house. In just the time we'd known them, Emmett had proposed three times, and every time Rosalie turned him down. Emmett swore it was because she was holding out for a more romantic proposal or a bigger ring, and every so often I'd catch him plotting his next one. I wondered how long it would take him to realize that her fear of failure extended beyond her profession.

Edward was…well…he wasn't really anything. He didn't talk about it much, and Emmett couldn't be persuaded to share any secrets, but I knew that Edward's parents had been killed when he was eleven, and that he'd been formally adopted by his aunt and uncle, Emmett's parents. When Edward turned twenty-one, he'd gotten access a massive trust fund his parents left, and even though he seemed like a smart enough guy, he hadn't worked a day since.

Emmett had tried for the past couple of years to get a peek at Edward's bank balance, but so far he hadn't had any luck. All we knew for certain was that Edward had enough money to do anything he wanted. And from the looks of it, what he wanted to do nothing. He stayed out too late, slept past noon, and avoided any real kind of responsibility. We'd seen him with plenty of women, but never for longer than one night, and outside our little group, he really didn't seem to have any friends. He could have lived anywhere...in a penthouse, on his own private island, in a giant custom cabin in the woods. Instead he chose to live in a modest three bedroom, with two roommates, in an average neighborhood. If you asked him, it was because he didn't like flaunting his money. If you asked me, it was because he didn't want to be alone.

Emmett stepped around me to grab a beer for himself and then shut the refrigerator door. He leaned back against it, taking a long swig and tossing the bottle cap in the general direction of the trash can. He missed.

"What's the point of knocking? You're just gonna let me in. I'm saving you a step."

"That's your reasoning?"

"I'm all about efficiency," he grinned.

"Jasper, I think you should hear this," Alice said, holding the phone out to me. Something in her voice was off.

I took the phone and pressed a button to repeat the voicemail while she watched me with concern.

"Jasper? Ah…this is Lieutenant Franklin with the Forks Police Department. I work with your dad…ah…Charlie. I need you to call me, son. Soon as you get this. I'll be at the house."

The message ended with a click. The house? Did he mean Dad's house? I had to guess that was it, and I wondered if maybe Dad was having more heart trouble. I really didn't know if I could deal with anything serious right now. We'd just gotten home, and I hadn't had five seconds to relax. But I knew if I didn't at least call and find out what was going on, I'd regret it.

"Hello?"The voice that answered sounded a little like Bella, but older. And tired.

"Bella?" I asked, wanting to be sure I had the right number.

"Yeah."

"Lemme talk to Dad," I said. I heard a quiet gasp followed by complete silence. "Hello?" No response. "Bella?"I was about to hang up when I heard a man's voice.

"Lieutenant Franklin speaking,"he said.

"This is Jasper Whitlock," I replied. "Hello?" I said again when there was no reply. Didn't anyone in Forks understand how to use a phone?

"Jasper…"

"Yes?" I asked impatiently.

"Ah…I have some news, son."

"Okay." I wished he'd just spit it out. And while he was at it, he could quit calling me "son." To say I had issues with that word would be putting it mildly.

Lieutenant Franklin had just been Officer Franklin, or Wes, as he insisted we call him, when I lived in Forks. It was pretty clear even then that he was going to move up in rank, based on his friendship with Dad if nothing else. He was a nice guy, always going fishing with Dad, coming over to watch a game… Some people thought he was a kiss ass, but I think he just really looked up to Dad.

When Mom first left, Wes had taken over, keeping Dad occupied and making me do my homework. Looking back, I had to appreciate his efforts. I didn't like him telling me what to do at the time, but Dad was in no shape to take care of me, much less a three year old Bella. And when Dad had his heart attack a couple of years ago, Wes had pretty much saved my job by stepping up to take care of things again. I'd only been employed at the Hayward Academy for three weeks when it happened, and if I'd left, I would have had to start job-hunting all over again. I did get to visit over the weekend, and I was glad to see Wes had everything under control. As much as I may have wanted to help, I was in no position to do so.

"Look, I don't like doing this sort of thing over the phone, but… Is someone there with you?" he asked.

"What? Yes," I replied. Why did that matter? "Can you just tell me what's going on? Or let me talk to my dad?" I was again treated to a strange silence. "Hello?" I asked.

"It's about your dad, Jasper," he said somberly.

It felt like there was a giant weight dragging my heart down into my churning stomach. For the first time in my life, I hoped that "dad" meant that miserable excuse that had knocked Mom up when she was in high school, not the man who raised me and earned that name.

"He…ah…well…" he stammered, increasing my anxiety. "Charlie's gone, son."

Gone. The way he said it told me what he really meant. Dad wasn't just missing. He was dead. Gone.

"What? How? No, no that's…I… What happened?" I finally managed to ask.

I dropped back against the counter, sliding down to sit on the kitchen floor. I could feel Emmett and Alice watching me, but I was too busy listening to Wes to pay any attention to them.

"He was responding to a two-eleven," he said, as if that made any sense. "We had the guy, but then his partner…no one knew he had a gun. I'm sorry," he said, his voice cracking with what I knew was genuine grief. "He didn't make it."

How was that even possible? Dad was going to die of a heart attack. I'd always known that. He was addicted to fried fish, beer, and sitting on his ass in a small town where the worst crime was hunting out of season. But shot? This couldn't be real.

"Hello? Jasper?"

His voice sounded far away, and I realized I had lowered the phone. I brought it back up to my ear, responding to him almost automatically. "Yeah, I'm here."

"The funeral's gonna be tomorrow at ten. We couldn't reach you so…" he trailed off.

"Fine," I said. "That'll be fine. I'll be there."

I don't think I even said goodbye. I just handed the phone to Alice, who spoke to him briefly and then came and sat down beside me. She really was perfect.

She was sympathetic and understanding, and she took care of all the details while I sat there in my daze. I finally thought to call Mom, but then I remembered she was on a cruise. At least Alice thought to leave a message with the cruise line. They promised to get a message to the ship as soon as they could.

What was I supposed to do now? I'd need to check and see if there was any life insurance. I would probably have a lot of bills to pay, and I'd be more comfortable knowing what I was up against and whether I'd need to take out a loan. I wondered how the funeral was arranged, and if I was going to get hit with that bill, too. Probably. There was so much to think about, so much to take care of, and I was too busy reeling to make any sense of it. I supposed I'd have to arrange for the sale of the house. The house… What was going to happen to Bella?


Alice offered to go with me, but I really needed to do this alone. There was so much to be taken care of, so many decisions left to make, and I knew that worrying about Alice the whole time would only make that more difficult. It really wasn't fair to her, though. If anyone understood bad family dynamics, it was Alice, although my story was nothing compared to hers.

It wasn't that Dad and I necessarily had a bad relationship. We just didn't have much of a relationship at all. I'd moved out when I was sixteen, telling him I was going to find my "real" father. I succeeded, if you could call it that. David Whitlock opened his door, looked at me like I was something he needed to scrape off the bottom of his shoe, and wrote me a big fat check to go away.

After my disastrous reunion with Deadbeat Dave, I tracked down Mom. She let me stay with her, but that was about all she did. It didn't take me long to realize that leaving me in Forks with the only decent parent I had was probably the best thing she could have done for me. Too bad I'd burned that bridge on the way out of town. Not that Charlie ever held that against me. But I definitely held a grudge against my ungrateful, idiot teenage self.

Eventually, I made my way to college, cashing in my bribery money, and that's where I met Alice. She was working in a little café near campus, and when I stopped in for coffee one morning, she walked right up to me, asked me if I wanted a booth or a table, and told me she'd been waiting her whole life for me. Of course, I did what any rational man would do. I left without my coffee, went straight back home, and Googled restraining orders. But without her name, any real information about her, or so much as a threat, I was shit out of luck.

A week later, I was up late studying & decided to order a pizza. I opened the door and came face to face with the crazy girl again. I paid her, told her to keep the change, and seriously considered moving. When I didn't see her again for two months, I assumed it was because I'd written off pizza and coffee. But it seemed no matter what I did, I always found my way back to Alice. She was behind the register at the student bookstore, bagging groceries at the supermarket, and taking registrations at the annual blood drive. When I finally just accused her of stalking me, she pointed out that I was the one who kept finding her, and it was only a matter of time before I realized it was fate.

And then seven months passed without seeing her. At first, I was relieved, hoping she'd moved on to scare the shit out of some other poor guy. But after a while, I found myself looking forward to it, to seeing her pop up in strange places, always with that knowing smile on her face. And when it didn't happen, I found myself missing her. It didn't make any sense, missing a girl I didn't even know. But I did. Maybe it wasfate.

It had been nearly a year since I'd last seen her when I headed out to a movie with some friends. Paul was dawdling at the ticket booth, flirting with whatever poor girl was safely encased in glass when I'd finally had enough. I stepped up to apologize to her, drag him away, and get a good seat when I saw that smile. All she said to me was, "You see it now, don't you?"


I'd been angry and rebellious when I left home, but I'd had plenty of time to get over it by the time Alice and I moved to Seattle. We'd been living together for a few years, and things were finally turning out the way I'd always wanted them to. Alice still had a different job every week, but I'd learned that was just part of who she was. I, on the other hand, had finally finished every requirement I needed to start my own practice. Oddly enough, that's exactly what didn't happen. Instead, I received an offer from a private prep school, and because the money was good and steady, I took it.

I got back in touch with Dad once we were settled in, and I even visited a few times, determined to have him in my life again. He was as welcoming as he was capable of being, never having been a very emotional man, but I still felt like I'd somehow failed him. Every time I visited, I planned on bringing Alice with me, and every time I chickened out. I was a psychologist. I was supposed to have my shit together. But I couldn't even talk to the man who raised me, not like I should have been able to. I didn't want Alice to see that.

And Bella… God, Bella was just a whole different level of fucked up. Well, shewasn't the one who was fucked up-I hoped. It was all me. That little girl had worshipped me. She'd followed me around, mimicking everything I did, and I'd just left her. She had started school, and she was so proud of that. Every day she'd come home, determined to read to me, and every day I sat there listening to that tiny voice reciting lines from some thin little elementary school book. She was in an advanced reading group in her class, which at that age just meant she could actually read. That was what I missed most after I left, that time we spent every day while she stumbled over words and read me stories about balloons and animals and kids who learned to eat their vegetables.

She was a completely different person by the time I came back. I hadn't even recognized her when I first saw her, though I should have known those eyes anywhere. But she was older, less easily entertained, and not the least bit interested in anything I had to say. I tried to talk to her about school, stupidly trying to recreate the days when she'd tell me about everything she did in class, but she'd just give me one word answers and go back to whatever she was doing. The only thing that hadn't really changed was that she always had a book with her.

And now what would happen to her? She hadn't graduated yet: I knew that much because the invitation was hanging from my refrigerator door. I supposed she wanted to go to college… Shit. Who was supposed to pay for that? I guessed as long as she wasn't planning on Harvard or anything, I could cover tuition. God, I was such a horrible brother. I didn't know the first thing about my own sister. And what about before college? Where was she supposed to live until then?

 

Chapter Text

The entire town was shut down. My plane had been delayed, but I flew like a bat out of hell in that crappy little rental car, arriving at the Forks city line with little time to spare. There were no cars on the streets, no people on the sidewalks, and nothing but "closed" signs in the windows and doors of all the local businesses. The only sign of life I saw was some guy locking the door at a little gas station. He turned to look as I drove by and gave me a small wave. He, too, was dressed in a suit, and knew he'd probably be only a few steps behind me walking into the funeral.

I pulled into the closest parking spot I could find, which just happened to be several blocks away from the church, and I had to sprint to get there in time. A few people turned to look when I walked in, but thankfully the service hadn't begun yet, and I had a couple of minutes to catch my breath. It looked to be standing room only, and even the choir loft was filled, making my walk to the front before scrutinous eyes all the more uncomfortable. I tried to ignore the curious stares as I shuffled past what looked to be the entire town, and I quietly took my place in the front pew reserved for family.

By all rights, it should have just been Bella and me in that pew, although I guess I could understand why Wes was there. Instead, it was filled with uniformed officers, and it was with a sick feeling that I realized they probably had more business being in those seats than I did. I immediately regretted leaving Alice at home. I was completely out of place, and having her at my side would have been an enormous comfort.

"Jasper?"

I glanced up at the sound of my name to find myself looking at a much older Pastor Weber. I was so busy noticing the gray hair and crow's feet that had appeared in my absence that I didn't even respond.

"Wouldn't you rather sit with Bella?" he asked quietly, although not so quietly that the officers blocking her from me didn't hear. Several of them turned, looked at me as if they couldn't believe their eyes, and then they began to shuffle around until there was just enough room for me to squeeze in.

She didn't even look at me. Her gaze was fixed on the casket, and her knuckles were white, one clenched around the edge of the pew while the other had Wes's hand in a death grip. She was wearing a simple black dress and low heels, and her only jewelry was a string of small pearls that Dad had given her at Christmas a couple of years ago. She looked tired and shell-shocked, but she had a quiet dignity about her, reminding me of those pictures you see in the paper -- the ones of slain officers' widows surrounded by men in blue. Only her eyes betrayed her as a frightened little girl.

I glanced over at her a few times during the service, but it was like I wasn't even there. Wes whispered something to her once, and she nodded her head, but that was it. Aside from the occasional use of a tissue, she didn't move until Pastor Weber called her up.

It was heartbreaking. Bella stood there in front of the entire town, occasionally looking to Wes, and talking about Dad...good cop, great man, loving father. Her voice broke, and her tears ran freely, but she never faltered, and I felt my throat closing as I realized just how much I had missed. When Bella was finished, Wes stepped up, regaling the mourners with stories of holidays and fishing trips and pranks played at the station. He shocked everyone by saying, "And no matter what old Weber here tells you, don't you for one second believe Charlie's here with us today. There's no way he'd be sitting in a church with a bunch of crying folks when he could be fishing." Of course, at the mention of fishing, the shock dissipated, and a quiet laughter filled the church. Pastor Weber gave me an inquiring look when Wes stepped down, and I shook my head as subtly as I could. I appreciated the gesture, but there was no way I was going to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and let them see just how little I knew about my own family.

When the service was over, I turned to speak to Bella, only to find her gone. I looked around for her, stopping every few seconds to shake someone's hand and nod at their sympathetic words. It was clear they didn't know who I was, but my seat in the front pew made them feel obligated to say something. It was impossible to spot Bella over the heads in the crowd, though, so I made the journey back out to my car and headed to the cemetery.

Folding chairs were arranged in front of the grave, but I stood in the back this time. Prayers were said, the coffin was lowered, and a line of sympathetic townspeople made their way into the protective circle of cops to offer Bella their condolences. Only Pastor Weber had any for me.

After several long minutes, the crowd thinned a little, and Bella's armed guards split off to talk amongst themselves. Only Wes and another officer that I recognized, but whose name I couldn't remember, remained at her side. They seemed so intimate and comfortable, and I hated to intrude, but she was my sister, and I couldn't just leave her here. I steeled myself for the inevitable awkwardness and took a step toward them, only to be knocked backward by some woman rushing past. Her cloud of expensive perfume triggered something, and I did a doubletake. Black pencil skirt, black fitted jacket, black gloves, and one of those old fashioned hats with the little black netted veil. Mom in all her theatrical glory.

"Oh, my sweet baby!" she cried as she pulled Bella into her arms. To anyone else, she might have briefly appeared to be the perfect concerned mother. But that assumption would have been corrected when she next opened her inconsiderate mouth. "Oh, sweetheart, what are you gonna do now?"

Wes spoke up first, subtly pulling Bella out of Mom's clutches stepping in between them. "We haven't decided on that yet," he said.

"Well, you know I'd love to have you stay with me, but I just don't see how it would work…" she babbled.

I didn't bother listening to her excuses. I'd heard them all before, and had even edited a few for my own use back in the day. But Mom's selfishness and feigned concern really wasn't something Bella needed to deal with right now.

"Mom, I don't think now's the time," I said.

She turned to me, her irritation evident for just a second before she pulled it back under that ridiculously fake mask. "Well, honey, I just wanted to make sure she has a plan," she said. "I have to catch a plane in a couple of hours, and I can't leave knowing my baby girl isn't being taken care of."

I had to cough to cover up a bitter laugh. To be honest, I was surprised she'd even bothered to show up. She didn't give a damn about Dad, and any maternal instincts she once had were probably liposuctioned, botoxed, and facelifted right out of her. I was tempted to point out a non-existent wrinkle just to see how fast she'd be in her car and off to the plastic surgeon's office, but Wes spoke up first.

"Renee-" he started, but she didn't even spare him a glance. I knew how she felt about "those civil servants," and I knew if I didn't speak up now, Mom was going to show off her true demonic colors to the whole town. I briefly considered letting her, half-hoping one of those cops would just shoot her, but Bella never was one to handle blood very well.

"I'll take care of her, Mom," I sighed. "Just go."

Mom tried to give me a dismissive look, but I could see the victory in her eyes. She had come, she had played the part, and now she could leave dreary little Forks behind and inflict her "charity" on some other poor soul. But eventually she did leave, and I found myself back where I'd started, uncomfortably trying to connect with Bella.

"I guess we should go get you packed," I said.

"What?" she almost shrieked at me.

"You can live with me and Alice in Seattle. You'll like it there. Lots more to do than this little town," I said. It's not like she could stay in Dad's house. I knew that thing was probably mortgaged into eternity, and I honestly thought I was offering her something better.

"Son, I don't think that's such a good idea," Wes said, and I knew from his tone I was in for a fight.

"You got a better one?" I asked.

"If you pull her out of school now, she'll have to repeat the semester, and she won't graduate with her class."

Way to argue, Captain Obvious. "What choice do I have?" I asked. "Dad's dead and Mom's gone, and Bella can't take care of herself."

The second the words left my mouth I regretted them. Wes looked like he might hit me, and I knew I deserved it. Bella let out the saddest cry I'd ever heard, and he pulled her into a protective hug, glaring at me the entire time.

Bella mumbled something into his shirt that sounded a lot like, "Can he move here?"

"I can't leave my job," I said. It's not that I wouldn't have done it if I could have, but Forks wasn't exactly the kind of town where a psychologist could make a decent living. The people here would never view me as a "real" doctor because I wasn't an M.D., and good luck getting small town folks to try therapy. God knows they probably needed it.

"Don't worry about it," Wes said, still glaring at me. "We'll take care of her."

"We?" I asked. I really hoped he'd gotten married or taken in a gay lover in the time I was gone because there was no way I was letting my teenage sister move into some bachelor pad. Wes wasn't all that much older than me, and Bella was..well, she was a pretty girl and probably easily taken advantage of in her current state.

"Me and the guys," he said. "I've got an extra room and I'd love to have her."

Oh, hell no. "Oh, I bet you would," I said. "No," I shook my head. "No way. She should be with family."

"This is my family!" Bella shouted.

Before I could say a word, another officer was pulling her away, and I found myself in a stand-off with a very pissed, very big, very armed man. Shit.

"Look, Wes, I know you mean well, but the fact is that I'm the only decent family Bella's got left, and that makes me the only option," I said, trying to stand my ground.

"Right now you're not looking too decent, son," he said.

"Well, you can't expect me to just leave her with a bunch of men I don't know the first thing about," I argued.

"I can, and I do," he replied, stepping forward and right into my personal space. "You don't know the first thing about us because you left and never looked back."

"That's not true! I came back-"

"For holidays?" he finished for me, daring me to contradict him. "Fact is Bella's eighteen, needs to graduate, and needs somebody looking out for her more than a couple days a year."

"You think I don't know that?" He was really starting to piss me off.

"Now, I can appreciate you wanting to take her in. I'll even admit that's a hell of a lot more than I would have expected from you, but if you think pulling her out of school and making her graduate late is the best thing for her, that fancy degree you got is going to waste. Bella's legally an adult, and she gets to decide for herself what she does."

He had me there. I could argue all I wanted, but she was an adult, if only in age, and as much as I wanted to just shove her in the car and take her home with me, I was pretty sure they called that kidnapping.

"She's lost her father, and she's about to lose the only home she's ever known. You take her away from what little she has left, and no amount of counseling or therapy or whatever the hell it is you do is gonna be able to repair the damage. Now, I'm offering her a place to stay until college," he continued, giving me a pointed look when I opened my mouth to argue. "She'll have a roof over her head, a place to call home, and a man around to scare off those horny little punks that keep chasing her."

"But-"

"But nothing. She's going to UDub in the fall, and if you wanna step in and help her out then, that's fine. She could probably use it. But you even think of putting her through any more shit right now…" he trailed off, shaking his head in warning, and leaving me to imagine all the different ways he might dispose of my body.

"Can you at least see why I'd have a problem letting her move in with a bunch of men?" I asked.

"It's just me," he said, rolling his eyes. "I got a nice place all to myself, and she'll have her own room."

Well, that wasn't ideal, but at least it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. "Okay, but what if she doesn't want to?" I asked. With the way my day was going, I wondered if she had some twenty-year old boyfriend whose crappy studio apartment she'd want to move into.

"Then it's her choice," he said.

"Why are you doing this?" I had to ask. I knew he was close to my dad, but taking in Bella was a huge responsibility. I couldn't say I was fully prepared for it, but I was willing to do it…for Bella.

"Because I don't know how not to," he said, the look in his eyes much less threatening than the look on his face.

He had me there.

 

Chapter Text

Having learned my lesson the hard way, I chose to keep the rental car and drive back to Seattle rather than fly.  With the drive from Forks to Port Angeles, the ferry from Port Angeles to Vancouver, and the ridiculously long lines at airport security, driving was just about as fast as flying, only without the condescending flight attendants and nauseating turbulence.  I called Alice from the road, telling her to meet me at the rental car drop off instead of the terminal, but in all my planning I completely forgot to tell her I was alone.

Alice was waiting inside the rental office and flipping through a magazine when I walked in.  I gave her a quick kiss and dropped the keys on the counter.  Frank, as his nametag indicated, barely glanced at me as he grabbed the keys and started typing away, mumbling to himself as he searched his computer for God knows what.

“Where’s Bella?” Alice asked, peering out the window expectantly.

Her question caught me off guard.  Honestly, I was just used to Alice just somehow knowing everything, and so I stared at her blankly for a second.

“Bella,” she repeated, raising an eyebrow at me impatiently.  “You know.  Your little sister?  Don’t tell me you forgot her.”

I rolled my eyes.  “No, I didn’t forget her,” I replied.  “She’s staying in Forks.”

“What?” she screeched loudly enough that poor Frank actually winced.  “You can’t leave her there, Jazz!  She’s just a kid.  She needs an adult, some stability---“

“Apparently she’s got the whole police force,” I cut her off, sounding more irritated than I intended to. “And she is an adult, at least according to them,” I added, softening my tone.   

Alice looked livid, and I knew this was in some way related to her own fucked up family, so I scrambled to explain myself and head off whatever storm was brewing.  “It’s just temporary, Alice,” I said.  “She wanted to graduate with her class, so she’s staying until school’s out.”

“Alone?” she said, still giving me that ‘I can’t believe you’re so stupid’ look.

“No, with a cop,” I told her as Frank had me sign something. “It’s not like I had a lot of say in it.” 

 

“Well, good then,” she said, her words contradicting the look of suspicion still on her face.  “At least she’ll have a family looking out for her.”  

I tried not to take her judgmental tone personally, knowing it wasn’t necessarily aimed at me.  And as much as I wanted to remind her that a bunch of cops weren’t family, I knew better.  Alice and Bella had never even met, and yet here Alice stood, telling me exactly what I knew Bella would have said. Alice liked to act like she had it all together, but her family had really done a number on her.  I had the feeling she was going to overcompensate with Bella, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

“It’s not like that, Ali,” I said, trying to reason with her.  “I tried to get her to come with me, but she refused, doesn’t want to repeat the semester.  She’s staying with my dad’s friend, a lieutenant on the force, until she graduates.  And then she’s coming here I guess.”

I actually hadn’t had much time to work out much in the way of details.  I mean, I knew Bella would stay with Wes through the end of the school year, but would she move here right after graduation? Would she want to spend the summer in Forks?  In all my worrying about whether or not it was appropriate for her to move in with a man I barely knew, I hadn’t even thought about asking how this was all going to work.   

“You guess?” Alice asked, her eyes narrowing again at my poor choice of words.

“I don’t need you giving me a hard time about this, Alice,” I sighed, grabbing my bags and walking past her to go to our car.

“It’s not about what you need,” she said, her heels clicking quickly along the pavement behind me. “It’s about what Bella needs.”

“I know that,” I snapped as I tossed my stuff in the backseat.  Crap.  Why was I taking it all out on Alice?  I took a deep breath and turned to face her.  “I just…I don’t know what I’m doing,” I confessed. “I barely know her.   What if I…what if I’m like your family?”  There.  I said it.  All my insecurities, uncertainties, fears…they were all summed up in that stammered statement, and if Alice didn’t understand that, I didn’t know what else to do. 

But of course she understood.  Her fears probably matched mine.  After all, she hadn’t signed up to foster a teenage girl, and her parents hadn’t exactly set the best example.  Frankly, I was a little surprised that she hadn’t packed up and run while I was away.  But then, that wouldn’t have been Alice.

“You won’t be,” she said, smiling sweetly at me, all traces of annoyance and judgment gone.  “You have me to help you get it right.”


While I was filled with uncertainty, Alice was actually excited about Bella’s eventual arrival.  The second we got home, she hopped online to make her shopping plans, and in just a couple of days she’d purchased everything a girl could possibly need---and a few things she probably didn’t.  I almost felt a little useless, watching her run around, readying a place for Bella.  I mean, I was Bella’s brother for Christ’s sake, and I didn’t have a clue. 

“Jasper’s sister’s moving in with us!” Alice said excitedly the next night as we were all sitting around after work.

“Is she hot?” Emmett asked, earning a hell of a slap from Rosalie.

“Hey,” he shrugged, rubbing at the back of his head and pretending it didn’t hurt.  “Just looking out for my man Eddie here.  He’s running out of available women.”

“No, she is not hot,” I said.  “She is in high school, and she’s moving here when she graduates in a few months.” I turned to glare at Edward.  “If you so much as touch her…” I warned.

“Don’t look at me,” he said, shaking his head.    

“Seriously, man,” I told him.  “She’s just a kid.  And probably a pretty screwed up one now.”

“What the hell, Jasper?” he asked, looking convincingly offended.  “You honestly think I’d do that?”

“You do everyone else,” Rose sneered.

“Thanks, Rose,” he grumbled.  “I can always count on you.”

“Nothing personal, Edward, but you don’t have the best track record,” I said.  I knew he was insulted, but I wasn’t going to apologize for my worry.  Edward had a habit of charming the pants off women---literally---and he was never in it for the long term.

“So we’re getting a little sister?” Emmett asked, changing the subject while Edward scowled.  “Cool! It’ll be like Three Men & a Baby — without the diapers.”

The next several minutes devolved into a heated discussion about who got to be Tom Sellek and Ted Danson.  Apparently none of us felt like a Steve Guttenberg.  It was only when Emmett and Edward nearly came to blows over it that Rosalie grabbed them both by the ears and tugged them out the front door.  Yeah, we had no business trying to set a good example for Bella.


As the days passed, Alice managed to cover all the little things that Bella might need to feel at home. Her room was outfitted with everything from odd shaped little pillows on the bed to a closet filled with clothes.  There was a laptop and makeup, and a bunch of strange appliances shoved under the bathroom sink.  She enlisted Rose to help her paint the bedroom and completely redo the bathroom, and when I wasn’t looking, Emmett had hauled all our old junk off to storage so Alice could replace it with a new bed and desk.  She even remembered the few times I mentioned Bella and her books, and as a result, I spent the better part of a day anchoring floor to ceiling bookshelves to the walls.  When it was all done, it was truly amazing.  And the second I stepped back and really took in the transformation she’d pulled off, I knew I was going to marry that woman. 

 

Chapter Text

I would imagine losing a parent is hard at any age, but I think teenagers have it the worst. If I'd been in my thirties, I could say Dad lived a good long life, even if I thought he should have had more good years ahead of him. My coworkers would all sign a sympathy card, a friend would come over and help with whatever arrangements needed to be made, and even though I'd be devastated, I'd still be the same person. I wouldn't have been uprooted from my home and left wondering how I was supposed to make it through my entire adult life without someone to give me a hard time or advice I'd probably ignore. I would have a place of my own, somewhere I belonged, a familiarity to which I could return to once everything was over.

If I'd been a little kid, maybe five years old, it probably would have taken a while to sink in. I'd have questions, and some well meaning adult would provide overly simplistic answers filled with images of pearly gates and a reunion someday. I'd be satisfied with that and ask for a cookie or something. I would have gone to live with a distant relative, hopefully not my stupid mom, and within a few days I'd be back on the playground, thinking boys were gross and wishing recess lasted longer. I'd have a new home, a new family, someone to wake me up too early on Christmas morning and help me through growing up. Sure I'd probably need therapy or something, and knowing me, I'd develop some kind of behavioral problem, but again I'd still be me.

At eighteen, however, and as a senior in high school, none of that logic applies. Apparently I was now something to be avoided, someone to be whispered about, and no longer Bella Swan, okay student and sometimes partier. There were no cookies or sympathy cards, no supportive coworkers or newly responsible relatives. And there was no going back. I was now Bella Swan, orphan and social pariah.

The guys from the station helped me move out of the only home I'd ever known, sorting through what I should take with me and packing several boxes of things I shouldn't have to part with into Wes's storage unit. It was tedious and awful and happening way too quickly, but it was happening nonetheless. A month ago, I'd been looking forward to the day I'd move out, away, off to a new life in a real city. Now I would have given anything to just stay there in that old house with flaking paint and windows that would stick in the winter. As boxes and belongings were carried out the door I tried to drink in every last detail, my mind clinging to the vision of the outdated yellow countertops and scuffed linoleum of what had once been our kitchen. The refrigerator was oddly silent, empty and unplugged after years of shuddering and humming, and the kitchen table, scratched and marked with countless water rings was missing from its rightful place, leaving a gaping empty space that seemed to embody the sense of loss that now permeated every aspect of my life.

I wondered who would move in there, if it would be someone I knew or someone new to the area. Would it be someone with a family? Some young couple just starting out? Some old widow seeking solitude in the dim quiet of the Olympic Peninsula? Whoever it would be, they would ruin it. They would taint the memories that the old house held and change it into something unrecognizable. The house wasn't even on the market yet, and I already hated the new owners. In the meantime, my suitcases and I crowded into Wes's spare bedroom-slash-study, and I tried like hell to just get through it.

Wes, of course, was amazing, and through it all I silently thanked my dad for his ability to always know the good in people. The people of Forks had initially speculated about the nature of their friendship, first making snide comments that Wes was just kissing ass to benefit his career, and later suggesting that the simple male bonding was something more sordid. But by the time I was old enough to understand the nastiness behind those rumors, the majority of the town simply laughed them off, and the only people who gave any credence to them were old, blue-haired women with too many cats and dusty mesh curtains through which they spied on the outside world. Perhaps the more sensible townsfolk had watched Wes take care of us when Renee left, look out for me when Jasper left, and clean enough fish with Dad to warrant his constant presence in our lives. Or perhaps they'd finally realized that as much as they wished for drama and scandal, Forks was too sleepy and docile to fuel anything more than the occasional divorce or drunken fight.

Going back to school was like one of those nightmares where you show up naked in front of a crowd of people and everyone just stares at you. I did remember to put on all my clothing, but the sideways glances and hushed conversations hinted otherwise. Jessica and Lauren sat with me at lunch for a couple of days, but that didn't last long. I think they just felt bad talking about boys and movies and all the things that had filled our conversations before, and they didn't know how to deal with me now that I was somehow different. At least I hope that was the reason. Otherwise they were never really my friends in the first place, and I didn't even want to consider that. I'd had enough upheaval for one lifetime.

Angela was nice, though, and a part of me wondered if her dad didn't put her up to it. Christian charity and all. But she seemed sincere, and I couldn't really afford to be choosy, seeing as how everyone else was acting like I had leprosy. She gabbed about Ben and worried about finding the perfect prom dress, and basically just acted like she always had. It was actually kind of nice, the chance to be normal for a few minutes each day, instead of just being the girl whose dad died. Of course, even for all of Angela's attempts at normalcy, I knew she felt bad for me. In the end, I chose to ignore the sympathy in her eyes, not because I didn't need it, but really just because I didn't know how to respond.

Tyler was just as attentive as he'd always been for the first couple of weeks, but as time went on we spent less and less time together. I didn't mind as much as I thought I would, though. He was still really sweet to me, but I knew I wasn't making it easy for him. I tried being as "normal" as I could be, but it was hard to go back to the carefree girl I'd been before when everything I really cared about was gone.

Wes was surprisingly understanding, too. I mean, I knew he was a good guy, and he was the closest thing to family I had, but I'd expected him to be stricter about things. Whereas Dad had always been easy to fool, Wes had a keener sense for when I was lying or trying to get away with something. And the last thing I expected was for him to encourage me to go out and have fun. Oddly enough, when I resisted, he invited Tyler over, and he even left us alone one night so we could watch a movie we'd rented. Of course, we'd paid attention to the movie for about five seconds before we decided to take advantage of our alone time, but it just wasn't the same. wasn't the same. And I really needed to do something about that.


"Any plans this weekend?" Wes asked as he finished off some leftovers I'd heated up for him. He'd been taking on some extra shifts lately, and that usually meant I'd eaten before he got home.

"Not really," I said. "Might see a movie with Angela tomorrow."

Of course, I had no intention of seeing a movie-unless it happened to be playing on the flat screen at Eric's house while everyone got their drunk on. Angela was worried that maybe I wasn't ready to jump right back into Forks's limited teen social scene, but I was determined to get my life back in any way that I could. And fortunately for me, Wes was scheduled to work an overnight shift, so I wasn't worried about stumbling in at three in the morning and getting caught. The closest theater was in Port Angeles, too, so there was the added benefit of knowing that he couldn't exactly drive by and check up on me.

"What movie?" he asked.

"I don't know," I shrugged. "There's not really anything I'm dying to see, so it's up to Angela."

"I see," he mumbled, narrowing his eyes and fixing me with that interrogator stare he probably used when questioning drunks and petty thieves. "You mean to tell me you weren't invited to the party?"

Shit. He was a lot worse that Dad. "What party?" I stupidly asked.

"C'mon, Bells. I'm not that old," he laughed.

I couldn't stop the blood from rushing to my face, and I opened my mouth to respond, but I knew it was hopeless. I sighed in defeat and got up to call Angela. We were busted.

"Not so fast," Wes said.

"What?" I asked, annoyed and defeated as I plopped back into my chair.

"You're not old enough to drink," Wes said as I fought the instinct to roll my eyes. "But...as a legal adult, you should be making your own decisions. Responsible ones," he added.

"Does that mean I can go?" I asked, waiting for the catch.

"It means that I expect you to make smart decisions, Bells," he said. "Even when the people around you aren't."

`"So I can go to the party?" I asked, "Just as long as I don't do anything stupid?"

"I'm a cop, honey. I can't condone a beerfest attended by teens," he replied, shaking his head. "But...I suppose if it would make you happy-"

He didn't get a chance to finish his thought before I was squealing and hugging him. I was so excited that I didn't even mind that I'd bashed my knee against the table in my haste to get up.


This party was no different than any other. A group of freshmen girls huddled in the corner, trying to look cool and failing miserably. The jocks were drinking, bellowing, and generally making asses of themselves. Couples were trying - and failing-to be sneaky as they found their way into closets and bedrooms and wherever they could get some alone time. I, on the other hand, was very different.

"Come on, Babe," Tyler urged, tugging on my hand as he eyed a dark hallway.

"What?" I asked, snapping at him even though I really didn't mean to.

He just stared at me for a second or two and then dropped my hand, shaking his head. "You know," he said, "I've tried to be cool about all this. I know everything's shit for you right now, and I can't really blame you for that. But damn, Bella." He paused and looked around the room. "I just...I can't do this."

And with that he walked away.

Oddly enough, I wasn't heartbroken. I should have been. I should have been hurt a little, at least. Maybe just insulted? No. I was none of those things. What I was, though, was done with this party. Hell, I was done with Forks.