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Afterlight

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Dark sand sticking and sifting between toes. Hushing waves as steady as beating hearts. Shining sun and eyes.

Yeah, they could stay like this forever. Their own little form of immortality, not that they felt the need to possess the pale faces’ curse-disguised-as-a-blessing. Because this — all this love, these bonds, this family — this was a real blessing. Maybe even heaven.

Umber eyes followed the dancing, gamboling frames of friends splashing in the coastline with elated abandon. One of the boys turned toward the shore with purposeful slowness, soaking up the blissful scenes around them. He caught the eyes that watched him oh-so protectively and lovingly, a dazzling smile pulling on his lips.

Jacob’s breath hitched, caught up in the butterflies fluttering around in his chest. He was rooted in the spot he sat as that dazzling smile sauntered closer.

“Enjoying yourself over here?” he called out.

“You have no idea, Alessio,” Jacob’s smile grew to match the mirth of the boy dropping down next to him. “I just don’t want to forget any of this for even one second,” he breathed.

The paler boy tilted his head, eyes squinting at Jacob like he was some kind of work of art to be mesmerized by. “Even if you do forget one second,” he began softly, “you’ll have plenty of days filled with moments just as good to take its place.” Jacob threaded his fingers through the boy’s hair and pulled him in until their lips met.

 

 

Each of the Swan kids had a miniature potted cactus in hand and a duffel bag of other belongings slung over their shoulders. They had agreed it would be for the best to stay with Charlie for a while — Renee deserved the freedom, and it had been too long since they spent quality time with Dad, or at least that’s the conclusion they had come to together.

“I haven’t really touched your rooms other than to keep them clean — they should pretty much be intact how you last left them…” Charlie rambled off. Bella nodded distractedly, following her father and brother’s lead into the house. “I guess I’ll let you two get settled in.” He took his leave as his kids refamiliarized themselves with the house.
They ambled towards their parallel bedrooms at the top of the stairs. A nod from one twin to the other and each turned toward their respective doors.

“A L E X A N D E R” in wonky faded cursive was still taped to the door. Alex reminded himself to take that down later.

His room was… the same. Light teal walls, ginger colored comforter, dark wooden desk to the right of the door. All the same. Alex didn’t know what he expected, Charlie had said the rooms went untouched, but he didn’t expect to feel accustomed to his old bedroom so immediately. It was as if he was just here, like no time had passed. But it had, a whole childhood had.

 

“Alex! Bella! Come on out here I got a surprise for you,” Charlie's voice rang out from downstairs. Both twins trailed out of the house after Charlie to see a beast of a truck parked in the brick driveway.

“Is this...the surprise,” Bella gaped, eyes wide with disbelief.

“Part of it.”

Alexander’s brow furrowed. “What’s the other part—?”

“Surprise!”

Bella and Alex startled as a long haired boy lept from behind the truck followed by an older man in a wheelchair.

“You remember Billy and Jacob Black don’t you—”

Alex had already realized who stood in front of them before Charlie could get his sentence out. “Jacob!” he laughed and threw his arms around the darker boy with enough force to make him stumble back a step.

“Hey Alex, missed you too,” Jacob tittered. Alex pulled away first, only marginally red and embarrassed, and allowed Bella her turn to hug their childhood friend.

 

 

Catching up was effortless. Fast words and faster heartbeats racing with the excitement of a long ago deserved reunion. Jacob lounged on the bed as Alex unpacked his bags and his life in Phoenix, readily filling in his once best friend on the past several years and vice versa, eating up every word Jacob would share; they never skipped a beat.

“Have you really let Bella be the same shut in as she is right now or is that just when I’m around,” Jacob couldn’t help but chuckle a little.

Alex giggled in return. “Listen, I’ve tried desperately to drag her into my nonsense but there's only so much a brother can do. She is the elder sibling by over an hour after all, so I get no authority,” he feigned defeat.

Jacob’s laugh was a melody ringing in his ears. This felt right, Alex decided. No awkward small talk, just them joking and teasing as if nothing had changed, except for the fact that they had grown up. As kids there was always a competition over who was a centimeter taller than the other — mark it on the wall with a wobbly pencil line, compare, try again, maybe tiptoe a little this time. After all these years it would seem that Alex was finally in the lead.

“What kind of nonsense did you try dragging her into because I can’t picture her getting even close to trouble with a 10 foot pole.”

Alex smirked as he made his way to the closet with a handful of clothes. “Nothing too wild, just the occasional skipping class, sneaking out past curfew… ”

“Ooh trying to find her boy trouble, is that it?” Jacob jumped at the bait of relationship drama, ready to remember all the details to tease Bella about later.

“Hah, please, I've had plenty boy trouble for the both of us.” Alex tensed immediately once the words left his lips. He hadn’t necessarily meant to let that secret slip but he wasn’t adjusted to being back in the closet yet and it felt too natural to banter with Jacob that his brain hadn’t thought twice. He fidgeted with the shirt in his hands and peaked a side glance at Jake who momentarily raised his brows but otherwise appeared unphased.

“Maybe she needs girl trouble then if you catch my drift,” Jacob didn’t hesitate to continue on smoothly past the unintentional update. In fact, he was actually… happy upon Alex sharing that. He was thrilled to know his friend, who he had not seen in many years, trusted him enough to spill something like that — albeit accidentally.

“The thought has crossed my mind too, and while I think my sister might bat for both teams, I’m convinced she’s entirely disenchanted by the whole idea of relationships on principle,” Alex sighed. He paused then and bit his lip. “And um… if you don’t mind not mentioning to Charlie that I, uh, prefer boy ‘trouble’ yet…”

“Secret’s safe with me,” Jacob winked, and his smile was so tooth rottingly sweet it made Alex's heart swell.

 

 

“You match the truck,” Bella said the next morning as they climbed into the beastly thing.

“Yeah didn’t you hear? Old rusted truck aesthetic is all the rage with Forks high schoolers right now,” Alex grumbled back, both siblings swung the truck doors closed in sync.

“Then I guess we’ll fit in just fine,” she sighed, the lack of enthusiasm about their first day of school was apparent in the sarcasm that dripped from her voice.

She wasn't wrong though — Alex did match the truck. The faded red-orange Phoenix hoodie he donned beneath his windbreaker was remarkably close to the color of the truck. It was a last minute purchase made at the Phoenix airport in a moment of anticipatory homesickness, a final piece of Arizona to transition him from one home to the next.

“Since when do you care about fitting in?” Alex studied Bella’s twisted form looking out the rear windshield as she carefully backed them out of the rain slicked driveway.

“I don't, but that doesn't mean I want to be ogled at like some kind of cell under a microscope all day.”

He nodded in agreement, mildly distracted by the changing roadside out the window. “I mean in their defense, new kids are probably the most exciting thing that's happened to Forks High since… well, the previous new kids.”

“Probably won’t help that we’re twins, either,” Bella grumbled. “Can’t wait to get asked a million questions about being able to read each other's minds and whatever else people think we can magically do.”

Alex snorted a pessimistic laugh in response, understanding exactly what his sister was dreading. A comfortable quiet settled over them, the truck rumbled steadfastly down the small town road towards the circus ring that was any high school.

 

Exactly as Alex had expected the classes crawled along, almost more monotonously than the unwavering drizzle outside, only periodically interrupted by bell rings and student introductions. The hallways were as grey and solid as the sky outside the windows he resolutely sat by in every class he was able to — which was most considering all the classes had a surplus of unoccupied desks due to small student population. In a moment of boredom Alex’s mind wandered to the tribal school Jacob had spoken of. He mused over if it was any less dreary than here, and how hard it might be to sneak his way into their student body. Surely it would be at least a little more exciting; he knew at least one person there unlike here, and the slew of friends Jake had mentioned sounded like an entertaining crew to be around too.

Between lectures the twins would briefly spot one another in the halls or on sidewalks between buildings — a reassuring hand squeeze here, an encouraging eye contact there. It wasn’t until lunch, when Alex saw his sister looking around for him, already seated at a table of presumably new friends, did they get to meet up and catch their breaths. Bella had left a notable space open at the table for her brother and upon spotting him she waved him over with visible relief.

Alex spent his first lunch period attempting to politely ignore Jessica Stanley’s fixed attention on him. She had leaned forward as she chattered on about Forks and pried about their lives in Phoenix, occasionally brushing his arm with her hand playfully despite Alex’s aloof responses. He fidgeted with the cuff of his sleeve and threw panicked glances at Bella in a silent cry for help — he didn’t want to embarrass the girl but her advances were growing more aggressive by the minute.

“You’re kind of barking up the wrong tree, Jess,” Bella said in a low voice eventually.

Alex’s heart sang with love for her for being discrete. Jessica looked back to Alex who smiled guiltily, and her face blanched as it clicked. Her cheeks flushed pink briefly before she threw herself into conversation once again, acting like nothing happened. The girl named Angela caught Alex’s eyes and smiled sweetly while Jessica snapped right back into explaining everything there was to know about Forks High and its students — the classes, the teachers, the cliques. One group in particular caught both twins’ attention.

“Who are they?” Bella asked.

“That’s Edward and Emmett Cullen, and Rosalie and Jasper Hale.” Jessica explained under her breath. “The one who left was Alice Cullen; they all live together with Dr. Cullen and his wife.”

Bella's stare lingered on them. “They are… very nice-looking.”

Alex snorted at Bella’s uncouth and blatant understatement, and Jessica dived into the gossip surrounding the family.

 

At the final bell of the day Alex beelined for the office building to hand in his slip signed by all his teachers and decided to wait for Bella outside by the truck — the fresh rainy air cleared his lungs and lifted his mood. Bella was much slower to reach the truck than him but she seemed just as eager to leave, maybe even more.

“So are you going to tell me what your problem is or will I have to guess,” Alex turned toward his twin in the driver's seat. She’d barely spoken during their drive home so far, and her continual frown had yet to budge.

“Just some prick in my biology class. One of the Cullen's. He made a scene and took off in the middle of class after I had to sit next to him. He acted like I completely revolted him or something — it was embarrassing as hell,” Bella vented. “And then the same thing happened again when I went to turn in my slip at the office. I overheard him begging to change his schedule before he realized I was there and he stormed out again.” Bella fought back the sting that sprang to her eyes as her anger resurfaced.

Alex gaped in bewilderment, brows furrowing deeper than his sister’s. After a moment he collapsed back into his seat, watching the road with Bella. “His loss,” he tossed out. “Guy doesn’t know what’s good for him. He was probably just overwhelmed by all the grace and poise you exude,” Alex teased, watching her try to fight back a smile from the corner of his eye. “Good thing it wasn’t me in that biology class — who knows what he would’ve done with the prettier twin sitting next to him,” Alex chuckled out.

“Oh shut up,” Bella finally broke, giving in and laughing along with her brother. She shoved his shoulder and he swatted her arm away, feeling content now that his other half had lightened up a bit.

Finally pulling into their driveway, Bella spoke again, “You know, it’s a shame the truck doesn’t have a cassette player — I wish we could keep some of your mixtapes in here so we didn’t have to listen to the shitty radio again.”

Alex hummed in agreement, already outlining in his head how much it might cost to acquire such a thing.

 

 

A week in and Alex had enough boy trouble for him, Bella, and then some. In his defense, boy trouble always found him — he rarely went looking for it. However his inner hopeless romantic was no match for passed notes in the back of class with the tall, dark, and handsome boy in a Spartans letterman jacket with a swaggering step. The boy, Brandon, never outright approached him — never talked to him face to face — but Alex regularly caught his gaze in class or the hall and was fascinated by the way the jock would blush or look flustered. Alex noticed the way Brandon would become louder, more boisterous and over confident in his posture when he would pass him between classes, almost as if he were showing off. He was taken aback by the flirting — he hadn’t expected to find anyone like him in such a small town.

Maybe that’s why he decided to take the bait, caught between an out of nowhere potential romance and the exhilaration of it feeling forbidden. Alex knew the jock looked like trouble, but succumbing to the rush of doing something he knew he shouldn’t was just too damn easy. He blamed the impulsive gene on his mother.

 

By the end of the week he gave one short wave and a devilish smirk to Bella and found himself skipping table talk with her friends in favor of doing what the last passed note had asked: ‘meet me behind the cafeteria building during lunch? -Brandon’.

Pacing in the damp grass, butterflies growing in his stomach, Alex stuck in his earbuds to distract from his thundering heart that threatened to break out of his chest. This was a bad idea, his mind raced. Why was he doing this again? Brandon was so far in the closet he’d probably chicken out and not even show.

A pair of hands spun Alex around by his waist, his music ripped from his ears in the process.

“Why so jumpy?” Brandon smiled coyly. He pulled Alex in so they were nose to nose while his hands ghosted over his hips, making Alex’s breath stutter.

They both hesitated. Alex had no intention of being out in Forks, not yet anyway, but as he studied Brandon he noticed the boy’s thinly veiled anxiety which somehow settled his own. An unspoken agreement was reached when they locked eyes.

Brandon bit his lip and asked “Can I kiss you before the bell rings or what?”

 

Half an hour later he flopped down in his desk with a few seconds to spare with swollen lips and a giddy smile.

Bella scoffed at him on their drive home. “You can’t keep a boy off of you and I manage to make one go into hiding for a week.”

“It’s hardly that extreme,” Alex watched the green blur outside his window. “It’s literally been one time, and I get the feeling he’s just begun to figure out he likes boys,” he reassured her. “I seriously doubt either of us want to do anything as tactless as skipping every lunch period to meet up.”

“Speaking of lunch, we were invited to a trip to First Beach with Mike and the others in a couple of weeks — I said we’d go. If you don’t want to you’re going anyways as punishment for your idiocy,” Bella huffed and rolled her eyes.

“Looking for your brain back there?” Alex laughed.

She fought the urge to roll her eyes a second time. “Even without a single brain cell I’d still be the smarter twin compared to you,” Bella muttered. “I would at least be careful enough to not walk away with any hickeys…” She side-eyed him, a dangerously smug look forming on her face.

Alex’s cheeks bloomed hot pink. He immediately snapped down the sun visor mirror and pushed the edge of his flannel around, inspecting his neck. Sure enough a bright magenta bruise had blossomed a hair’s width below where the collar rested on his left side. Bella’s self-satisfied laughter yanked him out of his panic. He flipped the collar up and adjusted where it laid against his neck until he felt secure enough that it wouldn’t expose his misfortune. Slumped into the passenger seat, Alex did his absolute best to ignore his sister’s pompous grin.

 

 

The next day was Saturday, and while Bella decided to laze around the house doing homework and laundry, Alex had agreed to see Jacob again. Leaving his sister with the house to herself, Alex took the truck and followed the directions Jake had given him to his house on the reservation.

As soon as the roaring engine came into earshot, Jacob raced out his front door to see the familiar faded red truck pulling into his muddy driveway. He forced himself to tone down his excitement, not wanting to embarrass himself.

“Where to?” Alex chipped after he hopped out of the truck.

Jacob laughed breathily at Alex’s enthusiasm and began to make his way in the direction of his garage. “You mentioned wanting to see what I’m working on, right?”

“Absolutely,” Alex’s toothy smile was blinding. He slung an arm around Jacob’s shoulders and matched his pace. “Lead the way.”

“So,” Jake began and loosely wrapped his arm around Alex’s waist, watching their feet as they fell into step with the same foot forward, “is this good mood because of a decent first week at Forks, or because it’s been a terrible week and you’re relieved the weekend is finally here?”

“A bit of both, I suppose…” he answered and looked away.

“Oh come on, you’ve got to give me more than that,” Jacob pried, his curiosity piqued by Alex’s vagueness. “Have you made any friends yet?”

A faint blush crept up Alex’s neck and onto his cheeks as he replied. “I’m not entirely sure if ‘friend’ is the right word to call him…” he trailed off, avoiding Jacob’s scrutinizing gaze still.

“Oh my god,” he stopped dead in his tracks and gaped at Alex. “How the hell did you manage to find ‘boy trouble’ already?” Jacob scolded.

“It finds me, I swear!” he vouched and kept walking, breaking away from Jake and entering the garage. He meandered around, taking in all the tools and parts laid on tables and shelves.

“Have you at least made any other friends, ones that aren’t trouble?” Jacob teased.

“Sort of — they’re more of Bella’s friends that I happen to sit with at lunch,” Alex replied absentmindedly. “But enough about me right now, I want to hear about what you’re working on, remember?”

Jacob scoffed at his evasiveness. “You can’t just tease me with vague details like that then change the subject,” he said and flipped on the lights.

Alex’s earlier blush returned as he chuckled, eyes skipping to and from Jacob. “Fine, fine. I’ll tell you all about it… as soon as you tell me about this.” He placed his hands on the tarp covering the half constructed car, his eyes sparkling slyly.

“Deal.” Jacob pulled the tarp off of his latest project. “I’ve been working on this Volkswagen Rabbit for a while now. I’m missing a handful of parts, they’re a little hard to find in good enough condition considering it’s from the 80’s.” He watched for Alex’s reaction as he tossed the tarp onto a table nearby.

He studied the car with rapt attention, astonished by Jacob’s handiwork. “What year exactly?” Alex asked while Jacob busied himself with opening the hood.

“1986, why?”

“Just curious,” Alex walked around to the front of the car to stand next to Jacob. “I was born in ‘87 — kind of have a thing for that decade,” he explained with a shrug, looking down at the partial engine. “You really did all this, Jake? You’re amazing,” he beamed.

Jacob felt himself stand straighter with pride at Alex’s praise. “You act surprised — you do know I kept that tank of a truck running for years before Charlie bought it off of us, right?” he teased.

“Yeah, I know. Thanks again for the truck by the way, it runs great.” Alex leaned a hip against the Rabbit.

“Could run better,” Jacob made a face as he thought about it, “Have you tried going over sixty?”

Alex rolled his eyes but was smiling nonetheless. “It runs great,” he repeated pointedly. “I love the truck. Only thing that could make me love it more is if the radio included a cassette player,” he sighed.

“You use cassettes?” Jacob asked with a glint in his eyes, studying Alex closely. When Alex nodded he gestured for him to follow him to one of the tables on the other side of the garage. At the back of the table behind miscellaneous car parts and tools sat a stereo radio, tape compartment empty and waiting. “You wouldn’t happen to have any with you, would you?”

Alex grinned back at him. “I’ll be right back,” he quipped and raced out of the garage to the truck where he knew he had left his bookbag yesterday. After rummaging around papers and books, he uncovered the cassette player Charlie had passed down to him when he vacationed with Bella and Alex in California years ago. Alex took the mixtape from it and hurried back to the garage.

Jacob laughed at Alex’s flushed face and breeze swept hair as he made his way over to the stereo, hesitating just before pressing play.

“I make no promises that you’ll like my music,” Alex disclaimed, suddenly feeling self conscious as the music began to spill from the speakers.

Jacob smirked, something mischievous about his smile. “Then how about we focus on something else,” he said as he directed them back over to the car, finding a stool for Alex to sit on while he leaned over the Rabbit to fiddle with the engine. “Like boy trouble — for instance,” he grinned deviously.

Alex chuckled and shook his head as he delved into his encounter with Brandon while the music floated around them. Jake’s giddy smile made Alex’s slight embarrassment almost worth it.

Hours passed like minutes, and when the sky finally started to grow dark Jacob walked Alex back to his truck. He watched the way Alex fidgeted with the collar of his red-orange hoodie, keeping it pulled close around the base of his neck. The secret meet up with the boy came to his mind — Jake reached over and pulled at the collar of Alex’s hoodie before he could dodge out of the away.

“Ah ha,” he laughed in triumph. “I knew you were still hiding something.”

Alex swatted his hand away and lightly pushed him in an act of mock anger. “So he accidentally gave me a hickey, big deal,” he blushed bright red despite his nonchalant words. “It’ll be gone in a couple of days.”

Jake shook his head and continued to laugh at him, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “For someone trying to keep their sexuality a secret, you’re being quite reckless, you know.”

Hearing the subtle concern creep into his friend’s voice, Alex sobered. “I know, trust me, I’ve already had this talk with Bella,” he said as they reached the truck. Alex rested his hand on the door handle, not ready to leave yet.

“Just — try to stay out of trouble, okay?” Jacob dug at the dirt with his toe and buried his hands in his pockets. “Maybe make some other kinds of friends too?”

“It finds me, remember,” Alex teased quietly. “But I’ll try, I promise,” he reassured him. “And speaking of other friends, Bella’s friends I mentioned are planning a trip to First Beach in a couple weekends and Bella is forcing me to go with her — you wouldn’t happen to want to make a miraculous appearance and rescue me, would you?” He smiled mischievously, though his genuineness was not far beneath. Alex climbed into the truck. Fat drops of icy water dropped on to the windshield.

Jake laughed breathily. “I’ll see what I can do… But regardless, we’re still on for next weekend, right?” It struck him as he watched Alex fasten his seatbelt that he truly enjoyed his company, more than just as childhood friends catching up.

“Of course we are,” Alex nodded.

Jake nodded back and a smile pulled at the corners of his lips. “Good, now get going before the roads get too wet,” he said and pushed the driver’s door closed.

He watched Alex drive off, pulling his jacket hood over his head when the drops fell faster, waiting until the truck was out of sight before jogging back inside, out of the approaching rain.

 

 

Between classes on Monday the chilly rain from the weekend had turned into thick fluffy snowflakes. The ground was dusted white already and people were racing around, flinging snowballs at each other and shouting excitedly. Alex walked with Bella and Mike on the way to his next class since their buildings were near one another’s. He grinned as Bella visibly deflated when she saw the snow.

It wasn’t all that bad, he thought to himself as Bella complained about it to Mike — the snow may be cold and wet but it was pretty at least. The untouched white sheets shimmered on the ground in a picturesque way that made him wish he had a camera or paint with him, and the cottony flakes contrasted beautifully against dark hair and lashes they clung to.

Alex briefly wondered if Jacob liked the snow.

He said his goodbyes to Bella and Mike when he neared his building, keeping a careful eye on the people playing in the snow ahead of him before he noticed Brandon surrounded by his varsity jacket bearing friends, leaning against the building just to the right of the door. At first Alex thought nothing of it — they shared the class that was about to start so it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to see Brandon outside of this building — until it dawned on him that they were cornering Brandon. He was backed against the wall, the four friends crowded around him. Alex forced himself to look away as he got closer, not wanting to be caught spying. He overheard their hushed, hissing tones. It sounded heated. Alex’s eyes flickered over instinctively as he passed by and saw Brandon’s defensive posture. Just as Alex walked through the door he heard Brandon huff out, "I’m not like that, man." But that’s all he caught before the door closed behind him.

Alex seated himself at his usual desk at the back of the class by the window, wondering idly about what he had just witnessed. Brandon walked in right as the bell rang with his head down and shoulders hunched. He dropped into a desk at the front of the classroom instead of his usual seat diagonally in front of Alex’s.

As the teacher started up her lecture Brandon glanced over his shoulder towards Alex, but wrenched his eyes away when he saw Alex looking back, brows drawn together with befuddlement. He didn’t look back again, although Alex let his gaze slip over to him periodically, more out of curiosity than concern. Brandon all but dashed out of the room when the bell rang. Alex slowly collected his things, in no rush to get to lunch nor to accidentally bump into Brandon on his way there.

Once at the table Alex had reached the conclusion to not share this recent development with Bella yet. He was far from hurt by Brandon ignoring him, they had only talked in person one time for christ sake, but he was surprised by the sudden change — so he kept quiet, not wanting to give the impression that he cared more than he did.

Besides, Bella was far away, absentmindedly sipping her soda and trying in vain to steal a subtle glance at the Cullen’s table. He looked back and forth between her and their table, waiting for something to break his sister’s growing tension. Eventually Edward Cullen looked over and Bella snapped her head down so fast he thought she’d have whiplash.

“Shut up,” she muttered when Alex snorted.

 

On his way to the last class of the day, Alex mindlessly made his way through the hall of students — cassette in his pocket and earbuds in — when a solid shoulder collided with his, forcing his textbooks out of his hands and onto the floor.

“Watch it faggot,” Brandon hissed.

Alex felt like fire was licking its way up his neck and cheeks. Brandon had spoken loud enough for everyone immediately around them to hear. He continued on past Alex, a few of his jock friends snickering as they followed suit. One of them kicked a stack of papers out of Alex’s reach when he knelt to pick them up. They scattered everywhere. Alex kept his eyes glued to the floor, on his hands picking up his papers, anything but the people stopped in the hall staring at him like a zoo animal. A knot was beginning to tie itself in his throat and his eyes were starting to burn.

Someone dropped down next to him and began scooping up papers. Alex looked up and saw one of Bella’s friends, Angela. Her mouth was set in a downturned frown and her usually timid demeanor was nowhere to be found.

She glanced up and saw Alex frozen, watching her. “I’m sorry they did that to you,” she flitted her eyes away, a hint of familiar reticence peaking through. “You deserve better,” Angela spoke so lowly that Alex might have missed it if he hadn’t seen her mouth move.

Angela handed him back his papers and helped him stand. Alex swallowed thickly. “Thank you, so much more than you know,” he whispered back. Angela smiled with a subtle nod and they each carried on to their respective classes.

Maybe she wasn’t just Bella’s friend, maybe she was his too he realized.

 

On the drive home Alex was unresponsive as Bella gushed about Edward Cullen, who had finally made an appearance again. She eventually halted all details about their conversation in bio and demanded: “What is going on, Alex? Something has been up since we left school, but you won’t share. So spill before we get home and I make you talk about whatever’s wrong at dinner in front of Charlie.”

The corner of Alex’s mouth turned up the slightest bit at that before falling again as he revealed to Bella what had happened in the hallway, fighting back that damn knot in his throat again with every syllable. Bella slammed on the brakes when she heard, stopping the truck in the empty tree-surrounded road. She regarded her twin, face scrunched up with a hundred emotions. Finally she settled on anguish and pulled Alex into an aggressive hug so tight it knocked the breath out of him for a moment. It was as if Bella thought she could squeeze all the heartache out of her brother, or as if she thought she could shield him from anymore pain so long as she held onto him tight enough.

Neither of the Swans shared that they had a feeling this was just the beginning, but they both would have been right.

 

Charlie had left the station early that day after the snow had started to fall in order to stop by the automotive store, and he was now reclining on the couch watching a sports game. When he heard the front door scrape open he turned and witnessed Alex escaping upstairs followed by the soft click of his bedroom door shutting. Charlie looked inquisitively to Bella who lingered by the door, taking time to remove her damp coat and slip off her wet sneakers.

“Bad day,” she informed him.

“Should I… go say something…?” Charlie’s brow furrowed as Bella gently shook her head. “Well, I’m guessing we won’t see much of him tonight then,” he sighed and grasped for ideas on consoling his son despite Bella’s dissent.

Alex meanwhile draped himself across his bed staring at the dulled white ceiling. The knot in his throat tightened and his vision blurred as hot angry tears rolled down his cheeks. He pressed his hands against his face and let the knot untie itself in the form of silent sobs. Why did he always have to cry when he got overwhelmed or angry? The curse ran in the family — Renee and Bella were the same way.

The burn of humiliation passed just to be replaced by an unjustified shame, and somewhere deep beneath all the contempt a seed of bitter indignation was planted.

 

 

The Swan household awoke the next morning to chilly hardwood floors and frosted window panes, the cloudy sky pale and looming. When the family of three made their way to their respective rides in the driveway Charlie motioned to the truck’s tires.

“I put snow chains on them last night so you don’t have to worry about the ice,” he explained. And as if on queue, Bella slipped on a patch of ice and landed on her backside. Immediately she heard Alex’s airy cackling behind her as she struggled to stand back up and saw Charlie shake his head and sigh. After he was thoroughly satisfied with himself, Alex lent Bella an arm to help balance her while she stood.

“Thank you, Dad,” Alex couldn’t help but smile when he looked at the tires. It’s nice to feel looked after, Alex thought; he was used to it being Bella and him against the world when they lived with Renee — having to learn to parent each other from early on because of their mother’s slightly chaotic nature.

Charlie shuffled to his car and paused to look at his twins climbing into the truck. “Let me know how they drive, if I need to fix them at all…”

“We’ll be alright, don’t worry, Dad,” Bella assured him before they headed off.

From the moment their drive to school started Alex noticed his sister’s persistent fidgeting — shifting in her seat, drumming her fingers against the wheel, leg bouncing up and down. Alex decided to wait her out to see how long she could go on like that. After an especially heavy sigh Bella asked, “What are you going to do if Brandon tries to mess with you again?”

He chewed his lip and took a deep breath. “I’m not sure exactly, but I’m not going to let anything that asshole does get to me again,” he said firmly, his jaw clenched tight.

“I swear to god, if I see them try to start shit I am not afraid to step in between you and them,” Bella huffed, “I don’t care how big they are…”

Alex broke into a toothy grin at that. “I’d love to see you go all Mama Bear on them — you’re kind of terrifying when you’re like that.” He smiled even wider when Bella bit her lip to suppress a laugh. They exchanged fond glances and settled into an easy silence.

As soon as the truck pulled into a parking space Alex hopped out, saying he wanted to get to class early to avoid as much interaction with people as possible. Bella nodded in understanding and told her brother she'd catch him later then.

By the time it dawned on Alex that he’d forgotten his cassette player in the truck he was already several cars away. When he turned around to back track he noticed the Cullen's gathered around their silver Volvo as he passed by and briefly thought back to Bella telling him about her and Edward’s talk in bio. Alex thought he saw from the corner of his eye Edward look over at him, but a gut wrenching screech broke through his thoughts. Alex’s eyes snapped to a van sliding out of control and it all clicked into place in slow motion as it barreled right towards the truck with Bella between them. Panic rippled through his whole body like lightning, he heard his own voice scream his sisters name. He watched her shrink away as the trucks collided.

Voices erupted in startled screams and confused shouting as people circled around the accident while Alex was already running toward his twin, his shaking hands shoving people out of his way. Edward’s holding Bella when he got to them, cradling her in his arms on the ground. Alex dropped to his knees and held his sister at arms length, Edward having moved out of his warpath. Somewhere in the back of his mind an alarm went off but his anxious thoughts pushed it away for later.

“Are you okay?” Alex’s eyes scanned over her, searching for blood or bones bent at the wrong angle. Her eyes began to focus on him and she shook her head yes, though her mouth was still agape. Alex flung his arms around her and tried to collect himself. As Alex hugged Bella fiercely he saw over her shoulder the unscathed body of the truck. He felt a rock drop in his stomach when he also noticed an unwarranted dent in the bumper of the van. If he didn’t know any better, it would’ve looked like a perfect contour of a shoulder that had forced the van to a stop. The alarm flickered to life in the back of his mind again.

 

At the hospital Alex sat with Bella while she reassured Tyler, the boy who had lost control of the van, that she was alright. It wasn’t long before Dr. Carlisle Cullen came in and introduced himself. Alex watched him closely as he checked Bella for signs of injury.

“I’m lucky Edward happened to be standing next to me,” Bella tried to catch Dr. Cullen's eyes but he was suddenly preoccupied with the paperwork in his hands. She didn’t miss his shifting eyes and neither did Alex.

After being given a clean bill of health, Bella excused herself and Alex decided to check the waiting room to see if Charlie had arrived yet. He was headed toward the doors when he stopped abruptly. He didn’t intend to spy, but he didn’t back away when he overheard his sister’s and Edward’s hushed voices either. Alex strained to hear them around the corner; they were arguing about what had really happened in the parking lot.

“Nobody will believe that, you know.” He couldn't miss the edge in Edward’s voice.

After a few more heated banterings Alex heard footsteps receding and moments later Bella turned the corner, startling when she ran face first into Alex.

 

Later that night, a pajama clad Alex leaned against Bella’s door frame while she climbed under her covers.

“I believe you,” he told her. And he also told her how he had just passed the Cullen's when the van went out of control. “I could have sworn I saw Edward there with them.”

Bella looked away, falling deep into thought. “Thank you, Alex,” she said briefly breaking out of her reverie.

“Of course,” he smiled tightly. “Goodnight, Bells, get some rest.” He turned and shut her door behind him.

Laying down to sleep was fruitless when Alex couldn’t even relax, so for a second night in a row he laid in bed and dazed at the ceiling. Everything felt like it was spiraling out of control as his mind began swirling with the events of the day, the accident, the unexplained dent in the van, Edward’s mysterious claims. It was too much, he was beginning to feel crazy.

Eventually Alex drifted off into an unrestful sleep, briefly thinking that Jacob would probably believe him and Bella. He could trust him.