“You know where you’re going?” Charlie asked Bella. He looked awkward, not used to company at home.
“Yeah, I got it,” she said, trying to make herself smile reassuringly.
“OK, I’ll see you close to five, alright?” He stood, grabbing his jacket and gun belt.
She nodded, putting her own dish away.
“Be careful—roads are slipperier than you’ll be used to.”
“Sure,” she mumbled, hoping his worrying wouldn’t be permanent. She’d arrived on Saturday, and as of eight AM Monday, she was growing weary of it already.
“Love you,” he added, more softly, and then turned and hustled out of the front door. Bella’s heart sort of clenched in on itself. Those had been her mother’s last words, spoken in too similar circumstances.
Nothing bad is going to happen to him, she told herself. Just relax.
She tried to, climbing into the truck he’d bought for her. Billy’s son Jacob had shown her how to run it, and she rehearsed these things now, starting up its rumbling engine.
The high school was impossible to miss, perched up on the hill overlooking the highway, and she parked in one of its far corners, trying to look, and feel inconspicuous. It was hard, with all the people staring. It was in keeping her head down, eyes focused on the ground in front of her, that was her ultimate undoing. The lip of pavement, obscured by its wetness, caught her foot, and she found herself flying, hands out, only to feel a numbing pain move up to her elbow.
“Oh geez,” someone said, coming up to her, “are you OK?”
Bella was too busy trying to get up, to assess where, and how much pain there was, to really pay attention to the face, or the name. Feeling where things hurt, she hissed out a “something’s broken.” She knew from too many times past, that there was too much pain for it be a sprain, the unnerving click of solid things in flesh confirming it for her.
There were more people now, and she had humiliation and shame to be layered over the growing heat in her arm. The crowd grew, until an authoritative adult voice dispersed them with a solid “off to class.”
“You must be Isabella,” the man’s voice continued.
“Yes,” she said, trying to breathe in a way that didn’t make things hurt more. She wasn’t very successful.
“We’re just going to get an ambulance—”
“Oh, no, I don’t need—”
“You need to go to the hospital,” the man said, now squatting where she sat. She was starting to shiver, from the wet, and the cold that seeped into her jeans.
At least, she thought, as the siren grew louder, the parking lot was almost empty.
The paramedics greeted her by name. “Swan’s kid, huh? Well, we’ll let him know you’ll be OK.”
“Thanks,” she muttered, as they helped her inside.
The ride was short, as all trips were in in Forks. It was small and contained, the sprawling wilderness around it making the town seem even smaller.
The hospital’s ER was tiny, too, and the one doctor stationed there as extraordinary a specimen of a man she’d ever seen. He looked to be in his late twenties, but operated with a demeanour that spoke of experience well beyond that. An old soul, she thought, watching him look carefully at her arm before he touched her.
“Hi Isabella,” he said gently, “I’m Dr. Cullen, your father warned me I might get to meet you sooner or later,” he murmured, smiling at her.
She tried to smile at this, but it was a weak effort.
More quietly, he said, “I’m sorry about the reasons that brought you to Forks, though.”
Bella nodded, twitching when Dr. Cullen moved her arm.
“A break in the wrist,” he said. “You’ll need a cast. But at least it’s not your dominant arm,” he added, looking at the musculature there.
“Do you have waterproof liners?” she asked.
He chuckled a little. “Yes. I can tell this is not your first experience with them.”
“Sadly, no,” she sighed. “No offense, but hopefully we won’t have to see each other much.”
“None taken. I do want an x-ray first, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything, and then we’ll get your cast going.”
X-rayed, poked some more by the sole resident at the hospital, Bella was in the process of having the cast applied when he stopped moving, abruptly, almost infinitesimally. Then his movements resumed. She wondered if he’d had a twinge in his back. Phil used to get those. He’d pause for a bit, sort of sigh and then get going again.
She swallowed the thought. All the adrenaline from the fall’s shock had left her, and she felt wobbly and tired. Susceptible.
There was a knock on the door, and two officers stood there, one Bella recognized faintly—Mark, her brain supplied. The other was a stranger. It seemed odd they were there, instead of her dad. He must be busy—
“You done, Carlisle?” Mark asked quietly.
“Not just yet,” he replied nonchalantly. “Give me a minute.” Then he flicked his gaze up to Bella’s face, and then back down.
It was quick, but she caught it. She knew the look: pity.
The officers waited, stepping back out of her line of sight.
“Do you know where my dad is?” Bella asked him.
Carlisle paused before answering. “No. I don’t.”
She nodded, watching him slip the last lip of plaster tape over her arm.
“Just a few weeks with the cast,” he said, “and then in for follow-up. I’m going to have you take two of these now for pain.”
“Thanks,” she mumbled, swallowing them.
“Officers, we’re done here,” Carlisle said, standing.
“Thanks,” Mark said, stepping inside. He looked pale. He was sweating. “Hi Bella,” he mumbled, sitting down in the chair Carlisle had vacated.
Carlisle was just outside the door, scribbling notes onto a clipboard.
“I’m Officer Mark Barclay.”
“I remember,” Bella said, “you know where my dad is?”
“That’s why I’m here, Bella.”
Then the blood drained out of her face.
This was not good. This was never good, to have police show up, in a pair, in person.
She told herself to not panic, to not think the worst. Just because Renee and Phil—
“I have some bad news.”
Suddenly the air felt thin.
“Your father died this morning.”
Now there just wasn’t enough of it for her lungs.
The doctor was back in the room, trying to talk to her, but the words just slid by her, things she couldn’t recognize, hiccoughing and breathing too quickly.
When his words failed, he pulled a paper bag from a drawer and had her breathe into that.
No one said anything for a while.
“How?” she finally choked out.
Mark’s face lost its shape for a bit, struggling to keep it professional. “An animal attack,” he said. “He went out on a call. Someone had seen something, and when he didn’t call back to check in we went looking.”
She cringed, imagining that ending, and how long it would’ve been.
There were more words that Bella lost between his lips and her ears.
“What?” she finally said, when Mark’s hand touched hers.
“I was saying, I called your dad’s friends, the Blacks. They’re coming here.”
“Do you have any other family, Bella, that we can call?”
She shook her head.
“Cousins, distant or otherwise?”
More head shaking. There was no one. Her parents had been only children. If there were other family members, she didn’t know of them.
“How old are you Bella?”
“Seventeen,” she mumbled.
“I’ll need to notify social services on your behalf. Do you want to stay with the Blacks, for now?”
The utter, life-shifting reality that Charlie’s death had brought was hitting her. “Yeah,” she rasped out. “I can stay with them for a bit, I think.”
“Billy was like family to your Dad, Bella. I’m sure they’ll have a place for you.”
There were tears waiting for escape, and she nodded, trying to hold them in.
Mark and his unnamed colleague waited, speaking to Billy when he arrived, Jacob pushing his chair.
Billy, fortunately, did not make any demands with words, only opening his arms for Bella, where she accepted his hug.
Jacob’s embrace was fierce, his immense size dwarfing her petite one.
“You ready to go?” he asked her, accepting her nod.
“Let’s stop by the house, and get what you need for tonight, hey? We’ll come back tomorrow to get more.” Billy said, once they were in the car.
The next days were a familiarly uneasy haze, this time Billy, instead of Renee’s friend Pam, busy with phone calls and paperwork. He was stolid, working through what was needed methodically.
On Thursday morning, Bella found him at the table, swearing at the phone, trying to talk with the life insurance company. He wound up slamming down the receiver.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, “I’ll be eighteen soon enough. Most of this will keep ‘til then.”
Billy snorted. “Don’t mind me. I’m just grumpy dealing with phone calls.”
“So don’t. I’ll be fine.”
“Bella,” Billy chided her, “I’d be some friend, leaving you to this mess. When Sarah died,” he sighed, “it was bad enough to have to do it, let alone on top of the grief. Let me spare you that.”
Bella chewed on her words before speaking. “We’re strangers, really, Billy. I know you were my Dad’s friend—”
“Oh no, kid. Family isn’t just made by blood. You—”
“I’m not family, Billy, but I appreciate your help. I’ll handle it though, when I’m eighteen.”
Billy looked at her before replying. “If that’s what you want, Bella.”
The funeral was on the Saturday. She slept-walked through most of it, accepting the many condolences from strangers who had called Charlie friend.
It was tougher work, rising to the surface of her shock on the Monday, calling social services. Mark had put off the social worker, explaining Bella had a place to stay.
Billy was shocked when she told him the social worker would be coming by to see her.
“Why?” he asked, keeping his voice low. Jake was sleeping. He’d seemed to do nothing but, almost the entire week she’d been there.
“They’ll need to arrange a placement for me,” she said.
His voice was incredulous. “Bella, you have a place here. I know it’s not the nicest—”
“It’s not that,” she said quickly, “and I can’t thank you enough, for all your help, for taking me in like this—”
“There’s no time limit on that. You’re welcome here for as long as you want.”
“Thank you,” she said, but knew he only said it out of loyalty for her father. She didn’t want to test that obligation, be a burden to a family that didn’t really want her. Better to go to a placement. It wouldn't even be for a year. She could get a job in the summer, save some money, get her own place. The will and the life insurance would take some time to settle, but she’d be able to start school by January or the next school term.
“If I’m going to school in Seattle in the fall, it would be better if I was there, getting settled, and,” she moved her hand around the space in front of her, “it’s hard...to be here.”
Billy nodded, sighing. She could see he understood.
“You’re always welcome here, Bella. Always.”
Her eyebrows flexed together, and instead of words, she dipped her head in the air.
A/N for 2018-08-28:
I hadn't planned on writing this story, but it seems to have been sired by my typical pre-school jitters / procrastination, and the last remnants of my free time. While set at the beginning of Twilight, the timeline will be shifted a bit.
As always, thank you for your three R's: reading, reacting, and reviewing!
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