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Porque ya tú no me quieres

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Blood pooled aggressively beneath her. Her breaths shortened in urgency to prevent the building pain from worsening. 

She fought the clouded vision in the effort to remain conscious. It was a brave fight until hazel eyes shut gently, but just for a moment. 

Peace settled over her form as her heart slowed its thudding. 

Her short breath evened out, and relief flooded her system.

She just needed some rest. That's all.

Chapter Text

The threat her dad posed almost seemed like a sweet release from her monotonous grief, but she couldn't do that to him. Bella couldn't just leave him behind. Flawed as she was, she didn't abandon by choice. 

 

Although her dad appeared pained every time he brought it up, he eventually grew tired of pushing for her to get better. Carlos was exhausted, seeing his daughter revert to her old closed-off personality.

 

Once more, seeing the conversation beginning to resurface, Bella would actively look away when the same guilty look crossed his features. 

 

The sensation of never truly resolving her distress manifested itself in the form of unhealthy relationships. 

 

Her friends fell off to the sides, and Bella could only stand captive to her depression, watching this lifeless creature destroy everything good in her life. Days turned into weeks of unreturned messages and phone calls. 

 

Bella didn't even know where to begin. She spent weeks just understanding Emmett left her and that she left alongside him. 

 

She never thought heartbreak could be that bad until she realized it wasn't heartbreak that left people devastated, but instead, it was the gaping hole left behind in the absence of love, the void missing a heart. Her inability to emote made it more challenging to comprehend the feelings threatening to burst at the seams. 

 

Hell, even tears left her without a word of when they'd return. Almost as if they knew Bella's existence based itself on her undesirability. 

 

God, she wished she could cry, but when her chest heaved and breaths gasped without sobs, not a single tear wound up on her cheeks. She couldn't even wallow correctly. 

 

"Nena," Bella fought back the urge to wince and braced herself in her seat. She barely noticed her dad's grimace as he realized his mistake in using her nickname, "Bella, maybe it's time you revisit Pheonix. Your mom may not be there, but you need to start thinking of schools, and maybe, visiting old friends will help?" 

 

Oh, she relaxed into the seat. Slumped down, she hadn't heard that proposal yet. 

 

Bella just stared at him and looked down as he shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. 

 

"Okay."

 

"Okay," he quickly double-backed, "de veras, you'll go visit your friends?" He wiped his mouth free of crumbs and visibly settled down from his excited outburst. "Your friend thought you were mad after you never answered their message." Bella's brows furrowed, and she wondered what friend they were referencing. "At least that's what your mom said."

 

"Are you talking about Jesse?" 

 

When her dad nodded, she grew even more confused. 

 

She'd sent him a message months ago, and he never answered. He never even bothered calling her or saying not interested. 

 

"Hmm, I didn't know." 

 

"Well, your Mom and I can pitch in, and we can buy you a ticket to visit a couple of schools." He reached across the table and clasped his hand over hers. "Let me know how we can help. I want you to be alright." 

 

She wanted to be alright too. Honest to God, or whatever there is out there, she tried her best. It pained her that she couldn't just erase the family from her memories. Bella didn't so much as look in their direction. 

 

She went to school. She read the same books. She even tried to take up hobbies, but she found it pointless as quickly as she took up a new one. 

 

It's just not the same anymore. Even the vibrant colors of early fall morphed into dull and muted blobs of grey. And no matter how hard she tried, it never improved. 

 

Bella fought to the best of her abilities to move on through catharsis, but it seemed to worsen. 

 

Whether it was the looming presence of Cullen's left behind or the parental concern from her dad, she expedited the process as best she could without upsetting people. By shoving her feelings down her throat and into a gurgling mess of anxiety in her intestines. 

 

On days like today, she wished the entire family left her behind in the dust so she could breakdown and rise from the ashes reborn. If only because the watchful amber eyes that trailed after her added insult to injury. Whether they were unable or unwilling to let her out of their sight, Bella detested their surveillance. 

 

Bella ignored her guilt as she all but ghosted their establishment to work at Newton's sporting goods. She couldn't get herself to face the family that all but reminded her of her shortcomings. Her inability to keep a relationship alive with-

 

She sighed, slamming her book closed on the countertop of the front desk. Mike jolted from his trance straight onto the floor off his seat. Bella ignored the glare and huff from her companion as she put away her items. 

 

"Sorry, Mike." She muttered to him and helped him from the floor. His frown instantly turned into a wide smile. He moved to ruffle her head endearingly but stopped halfway, thinking better of it. 

 

"It's okay." He shrugged and sat back down. "You know..." he shifted in his chair to face her. "You can make it up to me." 

 

Bella's brows furrowed in question at his change in demeanor. "Is that so?" She waited patiently. 

 

"Let's go to the beach with the gang?" He nervously ran a hand along his pant leg. "We know the summer started off rough, but let's start the school year with a good time?" His blond brow twitched nervously, and she had to stop herself from comparing the shade she ingrained into her memory. "We're seniors now. We only get that experience once."

 

She folded into herself and left her shift without so much as a glance at her friend. 

 

On the walk home, Bella glossed over her interactions with her friends over the summer. 

 

Every one of them was too scared to bring up the apparent singlehood and sadness in her person. All because she left herself wallow in self-pity. Bella cursed herself for allowing one girl to hold so much power over her, but in doing so, she realized how much she missed her. 

 

All of them. 

 

Even the ones left behind. 

 

Fed up with the guilt she felt for trying to distract herself. She bit her cheek in determination as she texted an apology to Mike. 

 

Without another thought, Bella dialed Jess. 

 

"Bella? " She winced at the poorly hidden shock in her best friend's voice. 

 

"Am I stupid?" The silence, on the other end, grew louder with each step she took. Bella almost hung up in fear and regret of reaching out without warning, but the response interrupted her mid-thought. 

 

"No, you're not ." She heard a small chuckle.  "But it is dumb to wait this long to reach out, though. I missed you. We all missed you." 

 

Bella slumped on the exhale, the full weight of her actions crashing down on her. "We-" "I-" She couldn't do it. 

 

"We don't have to talk about it."  Bella felt tears taunt her, threatening to fall, but never flooding her face. " We can pick you up if you want? Bella, we really did miss you."

 

"Tomorrow." She kicked a rock on her path. "We can plan tomorrow." 

 

The walk back felt good. Great even. Bella shook off the trancelike cloud from her vision as her limbs lost their numbness. 

 

As Bella walked home, she shrugged off the sensation of someone watching her, knowing full well, it was very likely the case. That she left her family partially behind to ensure her safety without considering Bella's opinion, undermined didn't even begin to explain her feelings every time the family would appear conveniently near her. At least they never engaged with her over the summer and so far the new school year, choosing to watch from a distance. 

 

At that moment, Bella squared her shoulders and set her mind. She couldn't erase them from her memory, but she could willingly forget. Hand gripping her bookbag, she set about conditioning herself to remove them from her life. 

 

" Fuck off ." She mumbled into the empty road, knowing thoroughly well it worked when the sensation of eyes on her receded too. 

 

A smirk spread on her lips, a dark feeling brewed in her stomach at the victory. Bella could get used to this feeling. 

 

Satisfaction sat on her tongue, equal parts pleasure, and pain. 

 

Naturally, it only made sense for her power trip to result in consequences. What consequences? Oh, like running into your--exes mother at the grocery store the following day. 

 

Bella felt heat rush up to her neck, and a familiar feeling of deja vu settled on her mind. The run-in encounter at the grocery store, but this time Bella couldn't be bothered with appearances. She nodded respectfully in greeting because her parents didn't raise a  malcriada

 

"Bella," she froze in place, her hand on the box of graham cracker, "it's nice to see you." She fought back her scoff at her act. Bella nearly believed her, but she knew better. The family hadn't left her alone the entire time. "You don't come around anymore." 

 

She wanted to scream, yell, even curse her out, but when she turned to face the woman, the fight died on her lips. Esme's heart-shaped face typically pulled into a smile, looked devastated. Her discomfort grew as she realized Esme hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, she wanted her family unified more than anything. Even if they didn't care for her like she once believed, Bella knew Esme probably hurt more than she let on. 

 

"I know." She winced when her voice cracked. "Sorry I've just been busy with school and college applications." It wasn't entirely a lie. Even consumed in her misery, she spent most of her focus on getting the hell out of the town where her heart disappeared. "Well, I hope you're doing okay." She hated that she cared. It made her feel week for giving in without hesitation while also making her hyperaware of her flaw. 

 

"Listen, Ro--" Bella retracted physically, knocking into another customer's cart harshly. She groaned as her side throbbed and glared at the man who shot her a look. When she really wanted to kiss him in gratitude for providing an interruption from looking into pitying glances. 

 

Seeing the pause, she shot out, "I gotta go." Bella waved as she fled from the isle and decided on purchasing the smores ingredients with Leah later. 

 

In the car, she dialed her friend notifying her of the new plan before heading off in her direction. The steering wheel tightly gripped in her hands. The brunette gave into the liberating mindlessness of driving—no music or voices.

 

The road, her only company, facilitated peace. 

 

The white and yellow lines blurred on the winding asphalt, along with the canopy of trees. 

 

For the first time in a while, she didn't think of  her  or Emmett. Bella just existed without them, and she basked in the emptiness of it all. 

 

Soon, she reasoned with herself as she parked the car in front of Leah's. Soon she'll forget about them, whether willingly or unconsciously, but until then, maybe distractions will help.  

Chapter Text

It took a couple of weeks before Bella genuinely experienced any results from her effort to condition herself, but when she did get a glimpse, it was glorious. It was inconspicuous enough that Bella almost didn't' realize it.

 

Her homework finished in a breeze. Her chores and her days bled into one another, aiding her desire to speed up time before she left for good. So ahead of plan, Bella took the initiative and shot off a message to her old best friend. Her dad's words on her mind from the month before.

 

Wildly unprepared doesn't even begin to explain what happened. 

 

Submerged deep into the conversation, Bella realized someone had to have sabotaged her phone. When the screenshot came through, she wanted to scream and curse the blonde out when she realized what happened. Her digits itched to message the now-deleted name from her device, but her dad's sudden arrival stopped her mid-thought. 

 

Or at least she thought it was him until a familiar booming persona came crashing through her bedroom door. Turning around, the sight of a disheveled Leah bent over gasping for breath brought a twitch to her lips. 

 

"Get dressed." The girl held a hand up to communicate her desire to keep going without interruption. Once calm enough, Leah stood tall and stretched her arms above her head with an exaggerated groan. "We're going to a show tonight!"

 

The brunette took in her appearance and realized she looked different, happier almost. 

 

"What?" 

 

"Get off your ass," she moved to launch the girl from her window nook, "please."

 

She'd barely seen this girl since the dinner she had with Seth, Sue, and Carlos. 

 

A month before the dinner, Sam had decided to take a job that required travel. Unfortunately, Leah knew she couldn't do long distance, nor that she wanted to travel with him. The last she'd seen Leah, she looked worse than her. 

 

Hot hands gripped her cheeks, and a steady gaze brought her to the moment.

 

"We need to stop wallowing. I realized on my way over that I can't give you shit for it without being hypocritical, but I  can  get over it with you." A hopeful gleam shined through the chocolate brown eyes before her. The warmth, the smell, and the infectious energy from Leah enveloped her entire being and swept her to her feet. 

 

Bella watched her remove clothing from her closet before tossing them in her direction. The selfishness of her friend's actions crashing into her. "Thank you." 

 

"Don't say thank you yet. I don't know what your scene is, but I think you'll like this." Her voice took a more serious tone. "My mom and your dad thought it would help us both." She shrugged. "You're also a bad bitch, so it's a win-win." 

 

Laughter bubbled in her chest and traveled past her lips. The sound, alien to her ears, echoed in the room. 

 

"I think you're a bad bitch too." 

 

Dressed and ready, she let Leah lead them to her bike. A helmet in her hands, she blanked. "You've never been on a bike before?" Bella shook her head. "It's pretty simple, hug yourself to me and follow my movements, don't shimmy." 

 

Bella burrowed into Leah's warm back, cowering from the harsh wind for the first ten minutes, but around the halfway mark, her curiosity got the best of her. Gingerly, she lifted her head to peer over Leah's shoulder, only to gasp at the scene before her. 

 

Roads lightly slicked with rainwater and browned leaves stuck to the asphalt met her wide-eyed stare. It was enthralling. The sound of the water droplets splattering as the liquid met the tires on their bike and the cold wind whipping around them. 

 

The clouds overhead, looming with the weight of rain threatening to pour over them, enticed her. Bella craned her head higher with newfound confidence and balance on the bike when a soft gasp escaped her. 

 

A few droplets landed on her chin, dripping down her neck and trailing uncomfortably into her bra. She giggled at the stupidity of riding a motorcycle in the fall, not at all minding the discomfort of semi-wet clothing clinging to her skin. The conscious decision made to ignore reason and throw caution to the wind reviving her more than she thought possible. Leah's shoulders shook with a soft chortle as the adrenaline coursed through the pair through their intertwined limbs. 

 

For the first time in forever, Bella felt free. 

 

No expectations. No conflict. 

 

The pair bonded in silence at their genuine first taste of adolescence, and without another glance to their past selves, the girls shed their personas along the way. 

 

When they arrived at their destination, both girls felt lighter. Different. Euphoric. 

 

Bella giggled at Leah's helmet hair, "twins," her smile dropped at Leah's retaliation and exaggerated wink. The girl's laughter warmed her up as they walked together to the venue. 

 

When they approached the door from their place in line, Bella looked over to Leah, shuffling around in her inner pockets and pulling out her phone. Excitement bubbled in her stomach at the surprise of it all: the show and the overall spontaneity of their small excursion. 

 

"Nena," she nodded, coming out of her thoughts, "thank you for coming with me." Bella shot her a smile so grand that it hurt her face. 

 

"Of course, love you, Lee." It felt easy rolling off her tongue. And as soon as she said it, Leah pulled her in for a warm huddle. "Thanks for inviting me." Standing in line as the rain drizzled above them, trailing down their scalps to their temples, Bella's bottled thoughts came to light. 

 

"Want to take a trip with me?" Leah raised her brow for her to elaborate. "My dad and mom want me to visit schools, but I don't know. I feel like I can't even think so far into the future without freaking the fuck out." Bella barely noticed her fingers plucking at the skin on her other hand. 

 

"What did you have in mind?" 

 

"A road trip with just the two of us." She paused, thinking about the probability of Jacob tagging along. "Maybe Jake too." 

 

Leah's face broke out into a grin that Bella couldn't help but return. "I am heavily interested." The duo moved forward in line, and Bella's excitement returned full force. Who were they going to see? To be honest, Bella missed music, but music hurt her more after everything. So her excitement was also tinged in nerves. 

 

When they walked past the doors, Bella grabbed onto Leah's hand, fearful of getting separated in the crowds of people. Leah led them through the people when Bella's eye caught sight of a poster. 

 

Her stomach dropped.

 

Leah continued as if unaware of the shutdown state of her companion. Bella followed after, and as they came to a stop in the middle of the crowd. Bella had loved this band before she came to Forks, she even listened to them there, but she couldn't get herself to listen to the lyrics after the past year. 

 

Their newfound impact hit too close to the mark. 

 

She felt her throat drop in her stomach when the music started. Her hands tightened on Leah's jacket as the familiar voice and melody rang out into the excited crowd. 

 

Let's go back; let's go back to the start.

Let's begin at the end when you tore me apart.

 

It was almost comical seeing Leah's warm brown eyes widen in the realization that her kind gesture might've had negative repercussions. 

 

 

You didn't try, didn't try to make me cry.

But I bawled like a baby when you said, "goodbye."

 

Bella faced forward, refusing to look into the horrified stare of her friend. If she was here, she was going to enjoy it. One of her biggest comforts remained rooted in music, and to allow one person to ruin that meant Bella allowed someone to dictate her life beyond her will. 

 

When you said, "goodbye."

 

Teeth set she did what came naturally. 

 

Can we go back? Can we go back? Can we go back?

 

Shut her eyes and yelled the words alongside the crowd. 

 

And I've been replayin' the same song for six weeks.

Trying to figure out what you're feeling.

 

She felt her heart burst at the sound of Leah screaming her heart out beside her. Both of them wanting out of this rut. Hand in hand, the girls fought back their tears of frustration. The beauty in the unity of a crowd joined in feelings. All of them alone in their life, but not alone in their battles.

 

And I've been replayin' the same song for six weeks.

Trying to find a piece of your heartbeat.

 

Bella hardly cared if her voice would be raw for weeks to come because all she could focus on was the tingling sensation of happiness. The euphoria after concerts, and the catharsis of music. Leah clenched her hand, and Bella jumped to hug her. 

 

"You're a genius." A revelation as she realized that Leah's approach of ripping the bandaid off worked with her. She excused herself to use the restroom after they finished their set as openers.

 

"Are you sure you don't want me to go?" Leah asked loudly in her ear. 

 

"No, you're okay." She yelled back before slipping through the crowd. 

 

The line, ridiculously long, dragged on for what felt like an eternity. Bella's patience waned so bad, she even considered ducking out and peeing in the alleyway, or worse, going into the men's bathroom. 

 

She shivered at the conjured image of a destroyed bathroom. 

 

Lost in her made-up situations, she failed to notice someone saddle up beside her. Expecting Leah, she froze when she looked at someone very apparently not Leah. 

 

The women's hair shoulder length and meticulously parted met her sight. Sleek black hair with some natural waves brought her full stop. Her eyes trailed after the hair and onto her white complexion hosting her facial features: thick black brows, brown eyes, and a smirk rooted in sarcasm. 

 

Bella waited for her to say something or do something, but the sound of people yelling over the loud music remained the only noise. Agitated, she raised a temperamental brow to inquire. 

 

The smirk deepened on the girl's features, and Bella wanted to wipe it off her face. Her big fox-like eyes widened, her high cheekbones more pronounced. "Feisty, aren't you?" Bella's agitation overpowered her before she could rationalize acting differently. 

 

"Creepy, aren't you?" The girl's laugh startled her as she leaned on her for support. She tried to shake off her hand from her shoulder, only succeeding in bumping into the person in front of her and receiving a harsh glare. 

 

"Sorry for coming on too strong. I'm told by many it is borderline offputting, and today has proven that statement to be true." Confused, Bella's face crinkled at what the girl was even talking about in the first place. 

 

Fed up, she voiced it. "What are you even talking about?" 

 

"What do you mean, what am I talking about?" Her brown eyes narrowed in confusion at the question.

 

"Look, I'm just trying to use the bathroom." Bella moved to leave and decided to risk it. The men's bathroom was better than being bothered. 

 

"Well, I'm just trying to hit on you, jeez." She tripped on her step before righting herself and facing the girl. 

 

"You're trying to hit on me?" At the nod, she looked around. "You see all the people here, right?" Again another nod. "Maybe bother someone else." She knew it was harsh, but her frustration bubbled. She tried to decipher what happened, but the girl's beauty seemed too much to justify being real. 

 

She felt eerily aware that if she possessed the same marble-like quality of skin as-- them, she could very well fit in with them. Or even red or amber eyes, but the girls' eyes looked normal. 

 

Bella watched, horrified, as a smile spread across the girl's features as if excited. 

 

"How about this. I leave you alone, but next time we run into each other, you owe me a date." She winked. "Or at the very least a phone number." Bella rolled her eyes at the attitude of the girl in front of her. 

 

"Fine." She looked forward and finally relaxed when the girl left her side. She took out her phone and texted Leah to let her know she still stood in line waiting. 

 

When they drove home, it weighed on Bella's shoulder, the events that transpired in the minutes spent apart from Leah. She tried desperately to shake it off and ignore the memories threatening to resurface, but when Bella said goodbye to her friend with a halfhearted threat to message her when she got home, it all came rushing forward. 

 

On the foot of her bed, Bella sat facing the darkness of her room. 

 

At her wit's end, she toppled over everything on her desk in search of a pen. Her other hand came in contact with a notebook holding her English notes from junior year. She ignored the pained throbbing in her chest at the little hearts on the front drawn on by them during class. 

 

On her way to storm to the bed, she crashed in the darkness and fell on her hands in knees. Her chest hiccuped, but tears wouldn't fall. She heaved for seconds before she remembered the items in her clenched fists. 

 

Bella discovered a new method for coping that night.

 

 

October 23rd--

 

I hate you. 

 

Fuck you for doing this to me.

 

I never expected this to happen. Least of all from you. 

 

God, every time I think about you, I feel stupid for fucking thinking you were different. 

 

 

Best wishes,

The Dumb Bitch that believed you

 

 

October 31st--

 

Emmett,

 

Go fuck yourself.

 

-That same Dumb Bitch

 

 

November 15th--

 

Why?

 

 

December 22nd--

 

Emmett,

 

I can't talk to anyone about this, and it's torture. Every time I feel ready to move on from the gaping hole in my life, you somehow manage to worm your way into my mind. 

 

Edward's piano plays in my ears, yet he's across the classroom staring ahead.

 

Alice's tinkling laughter reverberates through my skull, but she ignores my existence.

 

But you? Your rich timber voice plays on repeat in my mind because it's all I have left. The stupid voicemail you left when you asked me what snacks I wanted. At least she couldn't delete that from my life.

 

I still hate you. Loathe you even.  

 

Best regards,

Your favorite charity case

 

Bella does this until it doesn't quite sting the same way. Until the sudden run in encounters with the family no longer debilitate her. 

 

She noticed a breakthrough the moment her tears returned. 

 

The film, an animated story of adventure, managed to open the floodgates, and Bella couldn't be happier. Laying huddled between Lauren and Angela. She gasped when tears rolled down her cheeks. Lauren, Jess, and Angela comforted her without bringing attention to the small tremors coursing through her. 

 

The four of them sat in silence as the after credits rolled, and they patiently waited out the unexpected crying.

 

It took a few more times, but Bella felt better. As if she'd gotten over the initial shock of dating someone of another species only to be abandoned without another glance, and the reality that half of the family surveyed her at all times against her wishes. 

 

She was nowhere close to overcoming it, but at least she finally registered what took place. She finally could admit it to herself. And that's all she could ask for at that point. 

 

Life had other plans for her newfound comfort in normalcy, how typical.

Chapter Text

"I don't understand why you--No, let me correct myself. I can't understand--No, I choose not to understand why you won't."  

 

Bella stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the exasperated plea coming from her equally distraught friend. 

 

"I don't want to date," the silent and implied ' again'  spurred her to continue, "plus, I'm only eighteen, so I have time, right? No need for a dating app." A flurry of motions indicated that her friend most likely moved the computer. Bella jumped when their face came into view way closer than she'd expected. "Yet," she added for good measure.

 

"Jesse, I appreciate your offer, but I'm good." It sounded flat even to her ears, so she qualified it. "I promise, bitch." Bella tensed as the word slipped. She realized they'd never discussed in detail if her preferred term of endearment for them was still alright. Before she could backtrack and dig herself into a deeper hole, Jesse smiled at her. 

 

" I missed you, loser."  Bella struggled to maintain her composure at the change in conversation.  "It's weird how my messages didn't go through. I swear I tried to--." 

 

Bella shook her head, "Really, Jesse. It's alright and absolutely my fault for assuming the worst. I could've been more understanding, at least before I moved."

 

" How were you supposed to know I had a crush on you and also wanted you to come back to Pheonix?"  They shrugged their shoulders indifferently.  "I also am glad you didn't get the message because I seriously went full confessions and asked you out practically."  They chuckled nervously.

 

Bella nodded in understanding because they were right, as always. She had a terrible habit of ghosting people when too overwhelmed. While her mind trailed and her memory, Bella's sight landed on the clock above the stove. She stood in a panic, "fuck, I have to get to work." 

 

They waved goodbye as they blew her a kiss through the screen. "Bye, missed you, and I cannot stress this enough but the joy that face timing with you again brings me salvaged this semester."

 

Bella hung up before speeding down the steps and out of the house in a flurry of motions. She double-checked her pockets as she walked out the door, only to run smack into her dad. 

 

" Mija, watch where you're going." She gasped as the air failed to meet her lungs. 

 

"Sorry," she managed to get out, "late for work." 

 

He nodded and helped pick up her dropped granola bar from the ground. Her dad gently patted her back as if to comfort her, but it came off more sarcastic than anything. "Well, good luck, I guess." Then proceeded to step around her and shut the door behind him. She shook her head and hurried to work.

 

The holidays hurt more than people let on to believe, and in Bella's case, maybe more so considering that she tasted happiness on New Year's eve a year ago. 

 

Bella spent the holiday with her dad watching a hand-selected assortment of films. It helped a lot in distracting her and comforting her—the nonverbal love language they adopted persevering at moments like those. Her dad's affection and humor evolved more to accommodate her better. 

 

"I'm so sorry, Mike!" She called without looking up as soon as she burst through the front doors. 

 

"It's cool." Bella spun toward the voice, and a smile broke out across her face. "I covered his shift today." Lauren stood behind the counter, leaning on it for support. "And a good thing I did."

 

"Before you even say it, I'm never late." She placed her book bag on the counter and leaned in to kiss Lauren's cheek in greeting. "But I am super grateful you're here. Mike would just tease me the entire time." Lauren giggled at the comment but remained quiet on the subject. Bella glanced down and zeroed in on the ring dangling from her neck. 

 

She gasped scandalously. "What is this?" Bella caught the ring in her fingers and scanned the design. A smooth sterling silver band with slight floral additions reflected the lights beautifully. 

 

Lauren looked away shyly as she allowed Bella to examine the jewelry. "Stacey bought it for me." She shrugged nonchalantly, and Bella swallowed the knot in her throat at the blush on her friend's features. 

 

She knew that look very well. Once upon a time, Bella loved to see it on everyone, but now she wasn't sure what she felt. So she sucked it up and awed in support of her friend. Just because she suffered through a breakup doesn't mean others will too or that they deserve cynicism from her, but it didn't stop the slight sting. 

 

"Lauren, this is too damn cute." She gently let it go from her clasped fingers. Words of assurance flew from her mouth, and she tried to stop them because who were they for? "I'm so happy for you." She fought back her wince as the words rang across the small space. 

 

Although she meant them, people looked at her differently. Too afraid to show happiness or emphasizing gentleness in their PDA, Bella felt shitty. 

 

She vividly recalled a friend of her dad's journey to sobriety, how her dad and others refused to drink or even speak about alcohol in front of him. 

 

The only thing on her mind that she was that recently sober friend. 

 

Embarrassment flooded her. A break up does not equate to sobriety. So then and there, Bella decided exposure was best for her because staring at Lauren, she realized how terrible of a friend she'd been to every one. 

 

"I can't wait to meet Stacey." Lauren looked surprised. 

 

"I can ask her to join our next movie night." She asked with a slight question. Bella nodded with a genuine smile. 

 

'Fake it 'till you make it, right?' Bella thought as she helped restock the shelves. 

 

Lauren looked over her shoulder with a blinding smile, and Bella felt better. The look, almost nostalgic, eased the tension in her body—a promise of something she can hopefully attain again on her own without Leah or any person, genuine delight. 

 

The rest of their shift passed by smoothly. Bella's side hurt from their sporadic laughter, enough that all that came out towards the end sounded like wheezes. 

 

That evening when she sat down for dinner, her dad hesitantly asked her what her plans were after graduation. And she didn't have an answer because for the longest time, getting to live long enough to graduate had remained her goal. As morbid as it sounded, she'd outlived her expectations and felt grossly unprepared. 

 

Not to mention her first-ever serious relationship ended just as soon as she'd envisioned a future for them. 

 

"I'm not sure. I applied to some places." She pushed the rice around on her plate. "I'm not even sure what I want to do with my life." 

 

Her dad's look made her nervous for a moment when she suddenly understood what it meant. It was empathy, understanding that covered his aging features. "You don't need a purpose to enjoy life. Whatever you choose estoy orgulloso de ti, but don't be lazy. Please, Nena that's all I ask." 

 

A week later, Bella decided to go hiking. It came to her randomly during her routine chores when she went to take the trash outside, and she noticed the uncharacteristically nice weather for a change. She packed her bag and donned her boots. 

 

Leah sent her a message detailing her excuse, but Bella rolled her eyes when she understood what it meant. Leah wanted to stay in and watch television. 

 

So boots strapped, jacket zipped, Bella drove to the trail.

 

The moss-covered roots and wildlife absorbed her within moments of entering the trail. Sounds blended, creating a song of nature. Bella lost herself in the moment. No thoughts, just existing. 

 

It was serene. 

 

The only word to describe the moment, balanced. 

 

Until she felt the familiar sensation of eyes on her, and she snapped out of her meditative like state instantly. No reservations, Bella launched into a stream of curses and pent up anger. 

 

"Honestly, fuck off! Why do you all insist on following me? I'm the worst person to follow or obsess over. There's legit nothing to see, for fucks sake."

 

Silence greeted her alongside an unnaturally stilled forest. 

 

She stifled her bitter laugh. "Hello???" Throwing her hands up, she screamed. "It's like yelling at myself and feeling stupid or crazy for knowing this is happening. Is your goal to make me lose it?" 

 

She waited a moment but signed in resignation. She moved to grab her bag and leave when a voice carried across the trail. 

 

"Who are you yelling at?" 

 

Bella's eyes widened at the unfamiliar voice from behind her. She spun on her heels and came face to face with an unknown young woman. 

 

Wait, she narrowed her eyes in concentration and gasped when she recognized the girl's familiar features. 

 

"What are you doing here?" She sputtered out after minutes of silence. 

 

The black-haired girl shrugged indifferently. "Heard a bunch of yelling. Came to see what it was before ignoring it." She smiled. "Glad I did because if I do recall, you owe me a phone number." 

 

Bella felt her hair prickle on the back of her neck. "No, what are you doing here?" She doubled down on the question; her eyes darted around to see her exit routes. Bella tried to keep her busy while she thought of a plan. "I don't even know your name." 

 

A smile formed on full lips, and Bella gasped when brown eyes turned red. Her heart dropped in horror, but also at the realization that Vampires could possess different colored eyes. 

 

And she thought she had it all down pat. 

 

Teeth glistened, and Bella zeroed in on the slightly larger canines. "Everyone calls me something different, but you?" She watched as a tongue darted out to moisten her red lips. "You can call me Maria." 

 

Bella's heart raced because she knew it was over. She couldn't outrun her or try to pretend she didn't know about vampires. 

 

Bella's voice dripped with disdain, "Okay,  Maria. Get on with it." Red eyes narrowed, taking in her visibly deflated posture. 

 

Black brows creased in confusion after a few seconds. "You're...not afraid." Maria appeared in front of her faster than she expected, but she proudly avoided flinching. "You know?" 

 

The silence, deafening in its presence, left the pair on edge. The wind ceased, and the air lacked potency. Bella waited on bated breath for her next course of action. 

 

"I knew there was something special about you." She stepped forward, closer to her. "Your eyes never strayed from me like you were analyzing me. Your body tensed, but I assumed it was a natural reaction to a stranger, but no. You know more than others." 

 

Bella, unwilling to show fear, nodded firmly. "So what?" She asked bitingly as possible. "Are you going to report me to the authorities?" Bella knew taunting a vampire with sarcasm would only bite her in the ass, but her only other option was to die without a fight. 

 

"I could, but why would I if I'm also on the run." 

 

"Wait. What?" Bella asked, genuinely caught off guard by the offhand remark.

 

Maria played with a strand of her silky black hair while visibly mulling over her next words. "Why do you smell like that?" 

 

Before Bella could muster up a response to the woman, her phone rang in her pocket. She looked to gauge her reaction. Maria waved her hand in permission. Any other time, Bella would've scoffed and rolled her eyes alongside a snide remark, but she chose to hold off on her instinctual reaction. 

 

Unavailable flashed across the screen, Bella typically never answered phone calls unless she recognized the number, but it seemed too well placed. 

 

"Hello?" Bella tentatively spoke into the phone. 

 

"They're on their way and almost there, don't panic, Bella."  The line went dead, and her mouth dropped. Alice's voice carried into her ear, and that meant some of them were coming. What that meant she didn't want to find out, not then, now, or ever. Bella frantically gathered herself to get back to her car. 

 

"I'll find you later." 

 

Bella spun back to ask her what she meant, but the vampire disappeared before that could happen. She walked in silence, schooling her emotions, and getting her story together. Sudden gusts of wind notified her of their entrance. 

 

A mess of bronze hair invaded her line of sight, but she looked forward, intending to walk through him. He had other plans, and so did the auburn-haired woman beside him. "Bella, what happened?" Edward frantically searched her for injuries or anything out of place.

 

On her right, a hand threaded through her fingers, halting her in place. The cool marble feeling upset her enough that she ripped her hand away without remorse. Even staring at the matronly figure she bonded to more than with her own mom and seeing her saddened features, she couldn't care less. 

 

"Alice said she saw a nomad--" Edward looked beyond stressed as he cut himself off from finishing. He looked around wildly, and Bella noticed his eyes a deep black color. 

 

That's when it clicked for her. Maria's eyes were bright red, which meant she held not mal intent, right? Bella wracked her memory for the tidbits of information the family granted her worthy of knowing. 

 

"Can you tell us what happened?" Esme's voice brought her out of her thoughts. "You look overwhelmed. Did they hurt you? Do you know where the vampire went?" 

 

"Esme, I can't get a scent." Edward's frantic voice cracked near the end.

 

Bella decided then to risk the off chance the woman would kill her. "There was another girl on the trail, and she left earlier..." Bella rolled her eyes for added effect. The sensation of payback felt beautiful as it rolled around her stomach. "I'm gonna go now." She moved to leave, but Edward frantically stopped her again. 

 

"Bella, I saw the vision." She avoided his stare because she knew her face would give it away. "Her eyes were red, and her appearance looked like a traditional vampire." 

 

Bella's smile took over her face before she could stop it. She looked up and stared into his eyes as her lips morphed into a smirk. "What are you talking about? Are you alright?" Bella's stomach twisted in delight at their faces. Her satisfaction building at the role reversal taking place, making them out to be making stuff up. 

 

"I'm going to go now." She said as she mustered up her best attempt at a bewildered expression.  

 

She casually strolled to her car and smirked at the feel of freedom. The lack of eyes on her person evident as she got into her car. No shivers, no hair standing, and no goosebumps, she smiled into the review mirror. 

 

Bella drove home, and the closer she reached her destination, the more unsettled she became. The veil of satisfaction receding from her body every mile. When she parked in front of her house, she realized she had not paid attention to the drive at all. The euphoric high plummetted, leaving her trembling in confusion. On autopilot, she left her car. 

 

Discarding her clothes and changing into sleepwear, Bella buried herself in the covers. Her chest heaved, and the weight of her day crashed down on her in the rapidly darkening room. She watched from an opening in the blankets as the darkness swallowed the remaining light. Every breath came and went with an infrequency that frightened her. Nausea rolled around in her abdomen.

 

She heard the loud sounds her dad made on the steps, the sound of him opening the door to check on her, and the sequential cracking of a beer from downstairs. Yet, she just rolled onto her side and brought her legs up to her chest, sinking deeper into the embrace of the mattress beneath her. A ringing in her ear started softly and gradually rose into a loud thudding in her head. 

 

Looking back, Bella should've known she'd overestimated her ability to pretend she was over it, but the aftermath helped solidify her actual emotional health. Avoiding the thought of them did, in theory, help, but in practice, it did little for her. 

 

Better, but not at all over it, Bella fell asleep hours later.

Chapter Text

The week following the incident, Bella dodged every attempt the Cullen's made to speak with her. It was not easy by any means, but Bella proudly evaded every encounter beautifully. She tried her best to act indifferent, completely normal, as she slipped away from conversations with her friends. 

 

Bella really thought she flawlessly executed her hasty exits until Jess came up to her while in line for lunch and shattered the illusion. 

 

"Are they bothering you? Do you want me to bark at them?" She casually asked while inspecting her phone case for debris. Bella swallowed her water the wrong way and coughed as dribble spilled past her lips. 

 

Bella stared at her friend, unsure what to address first before she finally asked her question. "Is it that obvious?" She felt mortified as Jess's eyes rolled instinctually at the dumb question. 

 

"You started an argument at lunch yesterday and left as soon as Edward came by to ask for notes." Jess looked up with a soft look on her features. "It's pretty obvious they ignored you when the other ones left Forks. So why start harassing you now?" 

 

Bella grabbed a bag of chips off the counter and paid the cashier for the item. She shrugged at Jess's question because she was pretty sure she knew why but couldn't say it to anyone. 

 

Walking back, she played around with her options and concluded that maybe easing off the newfound snark would better aid in hiding their secret. Words on the tip of her mouth, she stopped when the sensation of eyes on her began again. Fed up with their constant surveillance, she felt her anger rise faster than anticipated. 

 

"They probably realized I'm over it." Jess's kind eyes reflected her uncertainty, but much to Bella's delight, Jess didn't voice her skepticism. "I'm over all of them." She didn't need to turn back to know their gaze left and went back to their untouched packed lunches. 

 

Jess's fingers gently played with one of her braids in nervous tendency and never brought it up again, but Bella knew if she needed help, her friend would step in without hesitation. 

 

She confidently coasted into the weekend after one last attempt from Edward. After their shared class after lunch, he cornered her in the library, but Bella ran before he could get it out. 

 

"Wait, Bella." Edward looked panicked. "Please, listen--" 

 

Bella couldn't be bothered to wait. A feeling in her stomach unsettled her for the remainder of the school day and work shift, but with a shrug, she dove toward the weekend. 

 

"Mike, I will bite you so hard if you play that song one more time." Blue eyes widened in horror at the realization she wasn't joking. "Shut it off before I prove it to you." 

 

He scrambled from his seat and set a playlist on shuffle. "Happy?!!?" He mockingly shouted from a distance, much to Bella's amusement. 

 

"Immensely." She continued restocking, and before she knew it, they closed the store together. Working with her friends helped pass the time, and she couldn't be more grateful as she waved at Mike and got into her car. 

 

Bella locked her doors and shuffled around in her seat, looking for her car charger. Only to flinch when something smacked her car. Terrified, she looked up, hoping to see nothing but jumped as her eyes made contact with Maria. She honked aggressively in frustration and followed her figure as she moved from the car's hood to the passenger door. 

 

Maria's brown eyes narrowed as Bella played a waiting game to see if she would leave, but when her hand began reaching for the door handle, she caved. "Fine!" She yelled in defeat. Maria's hand didn't stop so she fumbled in the dark car to find the button to unlock the door. "Don't break it, please!" 

 

Maria continued without considering Bella's cry and opened the door a second after Bella triumphantly unlocked it. 

 

"Thank you."

 

"You're kidding." 

 

Maria adjusted herself loudly, ignoring the exasperated remark before she turned back to her. "Are you driving or what?" Irritated, Bella huffed but discreetly buckled in and started the car.

 

She nervously glanced in her periphery to catch a glimpse of the vampire. "Keep your eyes and features, or whatever the same." Maria turned to her, so she shot her stare forward. 

 

"Why?" 

 

Bella's brow furrowed when her phone began buzzing. "Umm, hold on." She searched for it but came up empty. "Mmm, oh, the vampire's that called me last time and showed up unannounced can read minds and see the future." 

 

"Huh, the coven's vegetarian diet isn't the only thing special." She chuckled as she added, "who would've thought," as more of an afterthought. 

 

Bella kept her stare on the street as she turned off the main road. "You know about them." She kept an even tone and stare. 

 

"I know one of them personally."

 

Bella waited for her to elaborate. The silence loud enough to notify her Maria did not plan on it. She grew uncomfortable with the lack of conversation when her mind flashed back to their encounter on the trail. "What did you mean when you said I smell different?"

 

Maria shifted in her seat. "Are you fishing for compliments? You smell good. Pleasant even. I don't want to eat you necessarily because your smell doesn't make me hungry."

 

Bella opened her mouth twice and closed it, unable to form words. She barely noticed Maria reach out and yank the wheel to the right onto her street and in the direction of her house, turning the car harshly. She yelped in a last-minute panic while Maria chuckled again. "That's not funny." Bella backtracked, "wait, how do you know where I live?" 

 

"I'll see you upstairs." 

 

Bella sat in her car, confused with the overall state of her life. She could dwell on it, or she could just go along with the events unfolding. With a shrug, she committed to seeing things through. She had nothing else to do.

 

After greeting her dad and waving him off, she made her way up the stairs. The only comfort in her mind, that her dad worked the night shift and wouldn't be home at risk of getting hurt. Her heart thundered in her chest, and the only sound in her head was the blood rushing into it. She paused outside the door. 

 

Bella hesitated because she wasn't sure what to do. She could call Alice, even Edward, but she refused to ask for help. Even if keeping this from them bit her in the ass, it was her choice to make. So, Bella clenched her jaw and opened the door. 

 

Maria sat on her bed, a familiar notebook in her hands, and Bella shut the door, rushing to yank it from her grip. The stupid drawings on the front made her more upset, and the apparent importance a ridiculous item had to her only added to it.  

 

She halted when Maria pulled it from her reach. "I was just getting into this." Her frustration close to bubbling over, she paused to breathe deep as Maria continued. "So you dated this girl named Rose?" 

 

Bella swallowed the emotion that threatened to topple her. 

 

It took a moment, but after it passed, Bella realized in delight that she was okay. She gave so much importance to a stupid name, and this stranger showed her within a moment how dumb she'd acted. 

 

"Yeah, I did." 

 

"So, I'm looking for Jasper." Bella listened to the girl while she stepped into the closet to search for clothes. "It seems like we both got screwed over, so to say. I don't know how much you know about the vampire world, but let me tell you, it sucks, kid." 

 

Bella bristled at the name. "Call me Bella." 

 

"Well, Bella. You're obviously not white." She moved from the bed and made her way over to the desk. "Native?" Brown eyes roamed her facial features. "No, but you are part black." 

 

Bella spun around in shock at the outward discussion of something she wasn't even comfortable discussing with herself. "Excuse me?? What does profiling me even have to do with you stalking me?" 

 

Maria looked confused before she waved her hand in dismissal. "You're right. It doesn't really matter, but it does help me understand how much I need to explain to you." She nudged something on her desk. "You obviously have identity stuff going on, so go get changed, and we can talk." 

 

Bella begrudgingly did get changed, but the entire time she dwelled on the questions Maria posed. Of course, she spent hours looking in the mirror to understand her identity, anyone who didn't look white did. She'd come to understand her background, a fusion of Puerto Rican and Mexican culture mixed together inconclusively to create her personality. Not necessarily any of her three cultures alone, but her own blend. 

 

Her race? She never focused on it because, well, she hated not knowing. College applications asked her to fill a bubble, but how could she decisively pick one when all she knew was she wasn't white.

 

Her mom refused to call herself black, headstrong on puertorriqueña, yet her features told another story.

 

Shaking her thoughts from her head, Bella walked into her room, shutting the door behind her. She exhaled as she turned to face Maria. The latter sat on the windowsill, reading the stupid notebook. "Okay, explain." Bella sat on her bed.

 

Without looking up, she began, "My name is Maria, and I am a vampire that can shapeshift." Bella nodded. She'd save all her questions until she finished. "I'm very old. I am from Mexico, the parts stolen from us. Something along the lines of Texas, now, I think. Anyway, Bella, do you know Jasper?"

 

Bella cleared her throat, fearful of it cracking. "Yeah, he isn't here anymore, though." 

 

Maria sighed, rubbing her hands across her face. "Do you know where he went?" 

 

"Listen, I dated someone from their coven, but we broke up. Jasper, Emmett, and Rose left." Bella swallowed the bitterness. "If you desperately need to get in contact with him, then ask his family." 

 

Maria pursed her lips, "does the Volturi know about them dating humans?" She finally looked up from her notebook. "Or at the very least that they exposed our existence?" 

 

Bella sat there stumped. 

 

"What?" She finally managed to ask. 

 

"The Volturi?" Bella shook her head because what was that? "They're the equivalent to the leadership of our kind, but unequal representation and all that stuff." The look on her face must've remained the same because Maria placed the pages down. 

 

"What do you know?" 

 

Bella looked down from her intent stare. Upset about the reality of her knowledge or lack thereof. "I know about their different diet." She shrugged defiantly. "Some of them have extra abilities, what the sun's exposure actually does to them, and that all if not most of them are brooding babies." 

 

Maria genuinely chuckled at the last one. "That's most of what you need to know on a small scale, but it's not always that simple." She moved to the bed where Bella sat and gestured as if asking to sit as well. "It rarely is simple." 

 

Bella moved back against the head, making more space for the woman. "Jasper helped us wage war against colonizers. Influxes of European nomads, exiles on the run from the Volturi showed up wreaking havoc on our sacred land."

 

"I'm not sure how much history you know, but I'm from a Native Mexican tribe. You probably learned about us as one of the lost civilizations." She scoffed humorlessly. "We weren't misplaced. We were murdered, pushed to vacate, and some of us afflicted with this illness. Something we'd ever experienced before led us to hurt our own people." 

 

Brown eyes flickered black. 

 

"Jasper played a crucial role in creating troops of vampires to defend any and all Native populations left within our territory." She looked up, but Bella watched as her look darkened a bit. "At that point, most of our effort was reactionary defenses. Long story short, we ended on a bad note. Recently, the Volturi sent members into our continent. Somethings happening." 

 

Bella wanted to ask something, anything really, but her mind overloaded with the information she'd heard. The only thing that came out, "You're too white. How do I know you're not a part of the problem." 

 

"That's fair." Maria looked down at her hands. "I'm the result of rape and pillage." 

 

Mortified, Bella moved to clasp her hands over hers. "I'm--That was--" she took a deep breath. "I need to think before I act more. That was uncalled for, and I'm sorry." Bella felt better when Maria's lips turned into a small smile for her assurance. "Is part of your ability to mimic body temperatures?" 

 

Maria looked confused for a moment, and it registered just as fast. "I'm a hybrid. My father, before Jasper and I killed him, used my mom for a child." 

 

Bella noticed her skin felt different too, the mannerisms a bit more human. 

 

Maria's breath came out warm and fanned across her cheek. Bella looked up, not expecting her to be as close. Brown eyes flashed with something else. "Why do you smell like that?"

 

"Like what?" Bella softly asked. 

 

"Disarmingly." Maria's gaze traveled across her features. "Your presence is soothing." 

 

Bella fought the blood from rushing into her face and darkening her complexion, but the heat grew. "You're not the first person to tell me that." Her eyes widened, "the presence, not the smell." Maria hummed as she placed her nose on her temple. 

 

Bella felt oddly at ease. 

 

They sat like that for a while until Bella's stomach rumbled. She didn't even want to disturb the quiet, peaceful moment. "Wait, can you eat?" Maria hummed in response. "I'll go fix us something to eat." She got up and looked back to see if Maria would join her.

 

"I'm going to use your bathroom, and I'll see you down there." Bella nodded, amazed at the difference between a born vampire versus a made one. She made her way downstairs, saw a container of fresh fruit her dad had cut in the fridge and stopped in her tracks. 

 

Bella realized that she'd failed to eat fruit within the past few months as if she'd developed an aversion. She chewed on her cheek. Emmett could fuck off for all she cared. She reached for the container when a knock on the door interrupted her. 

 

Confused, she glanced at the clock. She ignored it, but the person began knocking more aggressively right before they rang the bell. 

 

"For fucks, sake." She mumbled under her breath as she yanked the door open. 

 

Standing right on her porch, staring at her through the glassdoor, stood Emmett in all his glory. Beside him, Jasper, and from above his shoulder a blonde head of hair she refused to consider for a moment. 

 

Maria's voice carried over from the stairs as she descended. "Damn, you're cooking me a meal. I wonder what I'd get if I spent the night." 

 

Three sets of black eyes snapped beside Bella and onto the hybrid. 

 

"What's up, kid?" Maria greeted Jasper as she leaned against her. "You know, Bella too, huh, small world." 

Chapter Text

Looking back, Bella really lacked foresight. 

 

Not only had she left her phone in the car, she completely disregarded the threat Alice posed if she'd seen her in the car with Maria. Of course, they showed up at her doorstep. They most likely took her radio silence as imminent death. 

 

Stuck between an amused hybrid and three equally furious looking vampires, she shut the door on the latter. 

 

Maria let out a chortle at the action but quickly cut off when Bella's scathing look turned onto her. "Not a word." Bella snapped at her. 

 

Maria's mouth opened, prepared to issue a response when the door slammed open, and Bella watched in shock as Jasper's feral features came into view. 

 

She'd never had a reason to fear the coven because she'd considered them normal. Adorable to a fault even and flawed in a humanizing manner. Bella never truly put the two identities together because they just existed alongside one another. However, with Jasper's features twisted into something so animalistic, her stomach dropped. The Cullen's are vampires hit a lot different than The Cullen's are vampires. 

 

His eyes, black as night, met her wide eyes. 

 

Bella feared what they would do and reacted on instinct. She clutched onto Maria's elbow as the woman came in front of her. Successfully blocking her from view, Maria rubbed her hand in reassurance when regret hit Bella so hard like a ton of bricks, she nearly doubled over. 

 

"That's enough, Jasper." Maria hissed in a tone Bella never expected to hear from the hybrid. "We get it. You feel bad for scaring her. Now, drop the stance, and come inside to talk or stay out there." Once it became clear, Jasper lost control of his gift. He ducked his head in shame.

 

Bella heard two distinct growls, and Jasper's soft voice rang out. "Rose and Em, if you can't control yourselves, then leave." Maria turned to her and gently led her toward the kitchen as their conversation continued in a modicum of privacy. 

 

Bella leaned against the counter, and her mind detached from her current state. Not necessarily an out of body experience, but a surreal realization that her life couldn't be further from average. Typically, a sleepover with friends is normal for a weekend, but not a standoff between vampires. 

 

A cool hand on her forearm brought her from her absence of presence. "Are you alright?" Bella looked at the hand, refusing to look up, while her blood ran cold. 

 

"Don't fucking touch me." She watched as his hand left hers, tempted to look him in the face, she followed the hand up the arm only to stop interrupted. 

 

"Step away from her big guy." Maria's voice sounded from the kitchen entry. "She's mine." Bella's gaze snapped up at the claim, and she shot the woman a questioning look. 

 

She could feel Emmett's upset before he spoke. "Bella's not a possession." 

 

Maria's lips lifted into a smirk. "I know, but she's one of mine. Go ahead and ask her. She's welcome in my coven." It was news to Bella. She hadn't expected it, but she knew very well it fit. How Maria mellowed in her presence, and she didn't seem to mind when the woman spoke for her. She couldn't explain it, but the woman's company explained itself at that moment. 

 

"Bella?" 

 

She turned to Emmett. Her first true look at him in months. She wanted to glare at him, but her eyes watered in anger at the impact her had on her. Emmett's stupidly kind eyes, the warmth to his beautiful black complexion, and the ridiculous grave expression on his face all but spat salt in her open wounds that barely began to heal.

 

"She's right." Bella looked away before her tears spilled over. 

 

Maria's eyes roamed across Emmett's distraught features. "You're welcome too, Adonis. You don't look like the traditional bloodsucker." Invested, she leaned more onto the counter, chin perched on her hands. "Who changed you?" 

 

Bella watched Emmett get caught off guard, grasping for words. 

 

"Well, the invitation stands." As if on queue, Jasper came back into the room disheveled and caked in mud. "I'm always looking for friends to join me." She winked at Emmett. 

 

"Bella," Jasper started, "we'll leave you and Emmett here for a moment. Rose is indisposed right now, but she'd prefer if we continued this at our residence." 

 

Bella scoffed loudly as her newfound confidence propelled her forward into her anger. "I'm with Maria." The hybrid walked around the small island and saddled up beside her. Bella leaned on Maria's slightly shorter body. 

 

"Nows, not the time, Bella. Rose is really volatile." Jasper looked genuinely concerned, and Bella's stomach churned uncomfortably. She blamed it on his empath abilities, but in reality, they weren't related. 

 

Maria tilted her head, and the playful look on her face told Bella all she needed to know. Rose remained outside but well within listening distance. "Oh? I was under the impression you left a human alone with no intention to turn them. Am I wrong?" Maria met Bella's stare. "She's adorable, and there's something about her." She shrugged. "Who knows, I was looking for a new companion." Bella's eyes widened a bit. 

 

"Regardless, she runs with me." 

 

Maria's nose skimmed her temple again, taking a whiff. "So please go on with the conversation. My coven member was going to make us dinner before..." She trailed off, and Bella looked ahead toward Jasper. Taking note of Emmett's eyes narrowed on Maria. 

 

"We were hunting a nomad. She slipped numerous times--"

 

Maria rolled her eyes and groaned theatrically. "Yes, the redhead. She's gone. I dealt with her around two months ago." She tore the lid off the container and popped a piece of pineapple in her mouth. "You're bad at that too. Heightened survival skills and all that. It didn't matter when you baited her, so I baited her." She spoke around her mouthful. 

 

Two sets of dark eyes stared in disbelief. 

 

"You're shitting me," Emmett spoke first. 

 

Bella wanted to grab a chunk and thought about it while the hybrid uprooted their lives right before them. Maria must've noticed her gaze because Maria brought up and pushed a piece against her lips. Bella retracted before she gingerly accepted the offered food and calmed her hunger. 

 

"Why would I joke about this?" She looked around for a response. "I mean, it's not entirely your fault. You're all practically a bunch of babies and new at this, so it's expected." 

 

"What are you doing here?" Jasper asked firmly. 

 

"I came to reconcile." Maria softly said. 

 

Silence filled the home, and Maria continued to eat and sporadically feed Bella bites. "Listen, I'd love to stand around, but I have stuff I need to get done and no one but myself to do it." She wiped her hands on Bella's shirt, and she huffed when Bella smacked the offending hands. "You've slighted my coven member, so if you'd like to know what's happening, she'll tell you. Obviously, you've got some groveling to do, maybe it'll work who knows, but I trust her. So if she thinks you should know, she'll relay my information." 

 

Maria soundly kissed Bella's cheek and smacked her butt harder than necessary. Not that striking it in the first place was required. "Sorry, I forgot my strength." Bella watched as Maria left the room, and Jasper, followed by Emmett, flitted out of sight. 

 

What could she possibly say to them? Maria barely discussed anything in detail. 

 

With a sigh, she moved toward the fridge to see if she could reheat leftovers when she heard it. 

 

A small crinkle. 

 

A smile spread across her lips as her fingers clasped around the small slip of paper tucked into the waistband of her sweats. She pulled it and read the number written with a little heart at the end. She rolled her eyes at the almost childish behavior of the hybrid. Bella just assumed most vampires had a stick up their ass.

 

Her excitement was short-lived. 

 

A throat cleared from the doorframe, and she stopped in place. However, after a brief pause, she reasoned that if she refused to acknowledge the entrance or the terrible attempt to get her attention, maybe the person would leave. Bella mechanically moved to put the lid on the container, turning to place the item back inside the fridge. 

 

But they didn't budge from their place in the doorway, so Bella spoke up. "What do you want?" She fought back a wince at her indifferent tone mixed with defeat. Bella knew she couldn't hold a flame of her raw feelings up against the source of her discontent. She turned to face the blonde in all her glory, the root of her turmoil.

 

Her blonde hair tangled around chunks of dirt in loose waves but still managed to look bright in the stupid orange glow of the kitchen. Pale skin smudged with soil, and pink bowed lips pursed together. Bella hated her even more after the revelation from moments before because she knew Rosalie had the choice to remain, but she left instead. 

 

"From what Jasper told us, she's not someone you should trust." Rosalie stepped forward, and Bella smacked into the fridge on her step back. She ignored the torn look on Rosalie's features as she thought about going to bed and avoiding all of this. 

 

"Don't worry about it." Bella shrugged as she cleaned up the sticky fruit juice from the counter where Maria ate. "Did you need something else?" She asked without sparing a glance at the girl. 

 

And when she managed to look up, Rosalie looked upset, distraught even, and Bella felt...conflicted. She'd imagined every scenario to go the same, she'd thrive as Rosalie burned beneath the reciprocated apathy she'd dealt her toward the end of their relationship, but Bella didn't feel that at all. In fact, she weighed heavy with exhaustion, burdened.

 

Rosalie's eyes darkened with a swirl of emotions. "You look good." Bella scoffed at the comment, but If Bella were telling the truth, if she'd heard that from Rosalie's mouth a few months ago, she would've run into her arms without a moment to waste.

 

That was before Bella snapped out of her funk, but she'd just began to heal. It felt intentional, and she felt slighted, so she lashed out.

 

"Tell your family to stop stalking me. I don't care what your intentions were, but it's pretty shitty you didn't ask me what I wanted." She stopped her rant moments before it spiraled. With a shake of her head, she started again, "Alice and Edward need to stay the hell away from me at school because it's turning heads. Do they want the Volturi to find out you guys broke the law?" Bella had no idea where her speech was going, and she certainly didn't expect to pull something so new to her out of her back pocket. 

 

The reaction Rosalie gave her was enough of an indication to Bella that Maria didn't lie. 

 

"Please." Rose stepped forward again, tensed in visible frustration. "You can't trust some random--"

 

"I can't? I wish I knew that before I moved here." She didn't care that it was a low blow. 

 

"You--I don't understand." Rosalie analyzed Bella's face with the grief clear as day displayed on hers. 

 

A calm settled around them. She could've yelled or cried, but Bella felt heavy with the emotional burden. Completely taxed and incapable of conversing, she spoke softly. "What did you expect, Rosalie?" 

 

Her eyes trailed across the marble features frozen in place. Rosalie stood there, shocked by her forwardness. "Did you really think I'd be happy? Welcome you with open arms?" Bella let out a humorless laugh. 

 

The blonde vampire leaned back onto the frame as if looking for balance. Bella choked down her sobs, threatening to claw their way up. She shot her gaze in the opposite direction, anything to avoid her guilt. Faced with Rosalie, Bella knew she cared for the blonde, and it only upset Bella more. She opened the fridge once more and decided going to bed hungry was her best bet. 

 

"I asked for a break, Bella." Rose ran a hand through her hair in exasperation. "Not that I ever thought less of you. I left for reasons beyond your control—something you didn't have to worry about." Bella tensed at the direction the conversation was heading. 

 

"I can't do this right now--"

 

"Do you not care--?"

 

"Please, not now--"

 

"I love--" 

 

Bella abruptly slammed the door on the fridge and stood upright. "Get out." She managed to speak, but it came out a whisper. 

 

"What?" Rose sounded near tears, but Bella knew she imagined it. If only because vampires couldn't cry, but also that she left her, not the other way around. 

 

"Get out, now." Bella walked around her and shut off all the lights. She made her way up the steps and into her room. She shut the door, locking it, and fell into her bed with tears streaming down her face. She muffled her cries of anger into the comforter. She feared accidental asphyxiation at some points, but her sobs only grew louder when the moment passed. 

 

~~

 

Down the steps, Rose didn't fare any better. The blonde listened to the sounds coming from the room, and her chest tightened. Rosalie's remorse stung her more than she anticipated. It ate away at her because of her stupidity in her impulsivity to leave and give Bella space. She'd composed every scenario in her mind, combed through all of them. Settling on one where Bella dated someone else and got over her, but standing there in the pitch-black kitchen, Rose knew she fucked up. She killed her own chance at happiness—no one else to blame.

 

She barely noticed Emmett's appearance beside her as he led her out of the house. Rose avoided looking into his severe features. She didn't need another reminder of her mistake. 

 

"It'll be okay." He sounded uncertain. "She's just angry. It means she cares so we can fix this, Rosie." Emmett sighed, "We just have to give her time and make it up to her." 

 

He trailed ahead in the direction of their home. Rose didn't have the heart or the will to correct his optimism. So, she let him go on without worry, well, beyond the concern he already held. 

 

Rosalie filled to the brim with dread because of his words. The realization that Bella appeared defeated, over it, and not at all angry. 

 

She went in without a plan, and with Bella's words, Rosalie realized she'd assumed the girl would just welcome her. Rosalie stopped when the house came into view. Her legs gave out beneath her as her body shook with contained sobs. She fell backward onto the ground and looked up into the sky. 

 

A terrible feeling covered her as she laid in the clearing where they first kissed, all alone and desperately in love with the person missing from the moment. Head turned, she vividly recalled the delighted features, full lips, and vibrant personality as she learned more about her brightness.

 

Rosalie welcomed the morning without moving. 

Chapter Text

"I'm not sure I fully understand," Bella said softly into the phone as she changed her recently washed pillowcases. She stacked them back in their respective place, trying to avoid the events from the night before. 

 

"Well, I'm a proponent of Kitchen Table Polyamory." Bella could hear the exaggerated eye roll through the silence.  "I'm pretty sure I've explained this to you before." 

 

"No, you haven't, but you're right. I can google stuff, but continue your story." Bella checked the sheets for any tear stains from the night before, and upon further inspection, she failed to see residue. "You said Alex got upset and left the dinner with you and Toni." 

 

"Yeah, and now I feel like the world's biggest asshole. How was I supposed to know they dated? Alex heard me talk about her multiple times. They had time to communicate their reservations about my relationship to Toni." 

 

Bella hummed in response as Jesse continued retelling their evening from the day before. It helped ease Bella's own stress of her life. Although she felt for her friend, it was more of a relief that she wasn't alone in that area of life. Sure, maybe most people couldn't identify with her involvement in supernatural politics, but hearing Jesse's stories helped distract her from the woes of her life. 

 

When she hung up the phone with a promise to call them the same time next week, Bella placed her phone on her bed. Thankful she didn't tell Jesse about her unexpected day off (more like truancy from work), she fell back into the covers, and the absence of smell in the fabric relaxed her. Face turned into the covers. She almost fell asleep. 

 

Eyes close to shutting snapped open when her phone rang loudly. She hated the ringtone for many reasons. It woke her up, it blared obnoxiously no matter the volume, and at that moment, it interrupted the peaceful quiet of the home. 

 

Her hand shot out and searched blindly for the phone. Fingers clasped around the device. She swiped on the screen without glancing at it. "Hello?"

 

"Nena," her dad's gravelly voice carried through the tiny speakers, "want me to bring us some lunch or breakfast?" Bella shuffled around in thought. 

 

"If you're tired, come back and sleep first, then I'll get us something to eat." Bella left the bed. "You're not supposed to eat right before you sleep, c'mon dad, you know that." She smiled at the contemplative hum from him in return. "Come home, get some sleep, and I'll see you for dinner." 

 

She picked up the keys from the table on her way out. As she locked the door, Bella shivered at the gust of wind from nowhere and the feeling of someone beside her. Although she expected Maria or someone of the same kind, she still managed to freak a bit at the sight of the former. 

 

Her black hair windswept to one side, cheeks flushed from the air on her face, and pupils, blown from excitement. "I'm glad you're alive." Bella stepped down the steps with the hybrid in tow. "I'm also not sure what's going on, but so far, you've been honest about everything." She looked into Maria's brown eyes as she spoke. "I trust you, but this can't happen again. We can't have these meetings close to my family and friends. That means my home is off-limits."

 

Maria nodded, and although typically her features always mirrored lightheartedness, her eyes conveyed their seriousness. Bella relaxed a bit after the reassurance. 

 

"Let's get some coffee first, and then I'll take you to my place. Show you a couple of things." Bella nodded as she slid into the driver's seat, Maria buckled her seatbelt without Bella asking, and they drove to the nearest quiet shop out of town and sat outside.

 

Coffee in front of them, Bella drank in the woman in front of her for the first time in daylight, although she appeared no older than her early to mid-twenties, calling her a girl did not feel right. Maria's presence alone exuded power of age, experience. Even in something as simple as lifting the mug to her lips, the permanent smirk prominently displayed took her focus from the conversation. 

 

"How does eighteen feel?" Maria asked to break the comfortable silence. 

 

Bella shrugged as the scalding bitter fluid hit her tongue. "Shitty. One more year closer to death, and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life." She laughed. "Well, with what sliver of life I have left before I'm murdered or something." 

 

Maria looked upset about the cavalier way in which she brought up her mortality. "I took care of the redhead. Is there someone else threatening you?" Bella's confusion grew at her question. 

 

"I thought you said your leaders would kill me since I wasn't turned or something." Bella took a soothing sip and fought back the slight tremors of pleasure as the caffeine entered her system. A stark contrast from the hot beverage settling in her stomach as the crisp air nipped at her fingers. 

 

"Gods no, babe." Maria chuckled from her mug. "I would change you before they got a chance. Of course, if you wanted me to."

 

"Huh," Bella never expected to answer that question. Even last spring, when the nomads changed her life, Emmett assumed she'd want to join them. "I'm not sure." She said honestly. Her dad needed her, Bella's relationship with her mother too damaged to leave unrepaired, and her anxiety about mortality also applied to immortality. 

 

Another truth blared before her, Rosalie's initial reaction to Emmett's proposal. The blonde's apparent horror and her inability to look at Bella after she discovered vampire relationships differed from humankind's. 

 

"Well, think about it." She leaned forward in her chair. "I was telling the truth when I said I like you, Bella." 

 

Her curiosity bubbled to the surface and spilled past her lips. "What are mates?" 

 

Maria's expression remained the same for the most part, but Bella knew where to look. Her brow gave her Pokerface away without a moment to spare. "So they really left you in the dark?" Maria leaned back and spoke as if reminding herself of an afterthought. "To be fair, they're incredibly kind and probably caught up playing human." 

 

Her brown eyes burned into her hazel gaze. "What do you know about mates?" Bella looked away from the intensity of her stare. 

 

Eyes downcast on the table, she sifted through her memories, but nothing came up. "I kind of remember something about a makers bond and mates, concerning the redhead." She cupped her mug with both hands in fear that her nervous habits would give her away. 

 

"Listen," Bella looked up and into Maria's eyes, "I can't assume what your ex wants or doesn't want, but what I tell you is completely true. That being said, don't assume one thing or another because unless the girl tells you herself, this is unrelated." Bella nodded as heat rushed up to her neck and cheeks. 

 

"A mate is not permanent per se, but it can be based on the couple." Maria's eyes lost some focus as if in another place. "I didn't believe in soulmates, other halves, twin flames, at all until I met him. He completed me in every sense of the word, and to me? That made him my mate." 

 

"After he was murdered, it was challenging to come to terms with it. I spent years, a generation, wallowing in self-pity. Marcos left me empty and lost." Her eyes gained focus again. "The problem, I now realize, stems from the Maker's bond. Only two years older than me, he helped me. We fell in love growing up, but I stopped growing and changed him in a panic when I saw him age beyond." 

 

Bella listened intently at the emotion bursting from Maria's voice. "We loved each other, unhealthily to a point. It didn't help that when I changed him, Marcos lost his autonomy almost. The inability for him to displease me even at the cost of his well being. We caught it quick and established boundaries." Maria cleared her throat and drank from her rapidly cooling beverage. 

 

"A mate is someone you cannot help but have an attraction to even if you try your hardest. At one point, people believed you only had one, but c'mon over the globe, one person is meant for you? It doesn't make sense. You can have more than one, but the Maker's bond complicates things. If used in an intended manner, the Maker can dictate the victim." 

 

Bella tried to hide the horrified look from her features, but she couldn't mask it. Maria attempted to placate her. "It's more complex than that. It only works if the person changed has an inclination to in the first place or a desire to bend." 

 

Bella's mind reeled. 

 

Every time something made sense, another question arose. Bella could only sit there and try to decipher what she managed to comprehend. Maria eyed her muffin so much, Bella just shoved the plate toward her. The woman picked the food up, biting into it. She moaned around her mouthful. 

 

"So if for whatever reason you did change me, what would that look like?" 

 

Maria held her finger up as she chewed her food. When she finally swallowed and dabbed her mouth, Maria spoke. "I need help with protecting the marginalized. I also need help dealing with an issue involving the Volturi. If you did choose to join my coven permanently, I would never abuse my position so we wouldn't have to test the bond." Maria paused to wiggle her brows, "unless you asked me to during sex." 

 

Bella glared at the woman and urged her to hurry up and take another bite before taking the muffin back. "I'm so glad you didn't want anything besides coffee." She muttered under her breath only to yelp as Maria pinched her thigh beneath the table. 

 

Maria frowned as Bella scarfed the muffin before she could take it back. "Why did you ask?" 

 

Bella choked on her mouthful at the direct question. "Excuse me," she managed to get out after a few panicked moments of swallowing the lodged crumbs. 

 

"Did Rosalie call you her mate?" 

 

Bella thought back to the night and shook her head with a little more severity than necessary. "Nope, Emmett did, and she freaked the fuck out. So, obviously, we are not mates." She gestured to herself. "She ran fast as hell from me as soon as she could." 

 

Maria smirked, and that time felt different, like when she knew Rosalie could hear them from outside, "Have you slept with anyone yet?" Bella paused, struck by the forwardness of the question. 

 

She fought back the rising heat and powerful flush with focus. "I didn't think there was a rush." Bella wanted to choke the smirking woman before her, but in reality, she should thank her. She should plan ahead, considering she may die one way or another. "Why, are you offering?"

 

Maria's smile grew, and she practically beamed with delight. "We'll continue this discussion in private." Bella wondered what the change in her conversation meant when the sound of branches crashing sounded. Still curious, she watched Maria tap her phone.

 

Bella discreetly took her phone out and read the message on display. 

 

Maria: Your ex is extra mad today. I can hear all the things she's calling me, lol. 

 

Maria: Should I push it? Blink if yes, and don't blink if no. 

 

Maria leaned forward again, "Seriously though, babe, if you want to, I can always show you the ropes. From one hot friend to another hot friend." Maria's wink, cut short by the sound of her phone ringing on the tabletop. 

 

A photo of Leah biting into her burger flashed across the screen, and Bella's smile spread across her features without thought. She vividly recalled the rush of running late to their movie and Leah's urgency to stuff the food down before they went inside. 

 

"Do you need to take it?" The hybrid asked as she curiously took in the photo. A sly grin, "a girlfriend, perhaps?" 

 

Bella rolled her eyes, "why is everyone so intense about eroticizing everything." She looked into brown eyes, "have you ever had a nonsexual relationship with anyone?" Maria's face scrunched, and Bella answered the call while her companion remained deep in thought. 

 

Leah invited her to a small get together. She would've attended without hesitation, but her desire to go home and sleep until school on Monday burned brighter. She hung up with the promise of next time, "Alright, love you, bitch." She hung up, ignoring Maria's renewed playfulness.

 

They cleared their table and walked back to the car. The sensation of eyes never strayed once from her back. Maria looked hesitant, solemn almost before she finally appeared to find the words. 

 

"I have to meet with the Cullen's." She noticed Maria turn and project the sentence toward the trees. "Even though they have kindly followed me nonstop over the last few hours." She turned back to Bella. "Would you like to join me?" 

 

Bella nodded as they approached the car. She looked at Maria in question when she stood beside her without an inch of space between them. "Can I help you?" 

 

Maria stood there unbothered as she shook her head. "Lemme drive." 

 

"You're out of your mind." 

 

They left after a brief scuffle over who would drive, but Bella came up victorious after a perfectly timed threat. Not her proudest moment, yet definitely not embarrassed about it, she smirked openly the entire time Maria sulked in her seat. 

 

Bella mulled over their discussion and stressed. Whether it came from the imminent choice to be made regarding her mortality or if she even considered Rosalie her soulmate, Bella felt overwhelmed. Maria's unbothered and lax attitude didn't help keep Bella's fears at bay. 

 

Bella decided it was best to accompany Maria for the wellbeing of her mental state. Otherwise, she'd feel more unaware and always on the verge of catching up, but never quite on the same page.

 

So when they drove from the dingy little apartment Maria called her temporary home, Bella asked a question she'd put off for far too long after hanging up on her dad to let him know she wouldn't be home for dinner.  

 

"Maria," the hybrid inclined her head as an indication of her listening, "can I ask you something, and you promise you'll tell the truth?" Maria's hand continued drawing figures on the condensation of the fogged windows. 

 

"What would I get out of lying to you?" She huffed out more than necessary, trying to get the windows to fog up again. "I wasn't lying when I said that for some reason, you could snap your little fingers, and I doubt I'd say no or anyone could say no for that matter." She side-eyed her with curiosity, "it'll make for a hell of a gift when you're changed," she corrected herself, "if you choose to." 

 

Bella rolled her eyes playfully but turned her gaze forward. "Do you kill people?" Her hands tightened unconsciously on the wheel, anticipating a devastating blow to her perception of Maria. She was prepared for the gruesome truth, the reality of her new friend, anything really, but she wasn't expecting Maria's answer. 

 

"No, I'm a hybrid, so I need a blend of blood, food, and water. If I ignore the blood, though, I'm more prone to attacks." Maria hyperfocused on one area of her drawing while she spoke. "I haven't killed anyone for some time now. I'd say around the sixties when blood banks started popping up."

 

Bella pulled off to the side of the road to fully digest the information. "Wait," she said after a lengthy pause, "can everyone live off of donations?" 

 

Maria's brows furrowed in focus at the window. "Um, not really. I'm a half-assed vampire, so that means I don't need to go in for the kill. We have more control of our baser instincts." 

 

Bella wanted to ask more, but the lack of focus from the hybrid irked her, not to mention the clock displayed on the dashboard let her know they were running behind to their meeting with the family. 

 

In a spur of the moment decision, she leaned across the center console and swiped her palm across the detailed image on the window. At Maria's devastating cry, she spoke up, "stop smudging them. It's not my car, and it'll show up when I don't want it to." 

 

Maria sat in silence with her arms crossed and faced toward the passenger door as Bella shifted the car into drive. They drove in silence for a couple of minutes before Maria caved to the building discomfort over the prolonged silence. "It's just a vulva." 

 

"I know what a fucking vulva is, but I don't want it drawn on my dad's car window." Bella couldn't process the conversation as she drove, once again caught off guard with how different Maria's behavior was to the others. She shook her head, ignoring the hybrid's vision burning into her face. "I'm not mad."

 

Maria visibly relaxed, "Oh, thank gods. I thought you were going to kick my ass." 

 

Bella's face scrunched up in confusion, "you would kick my ass easily before I could even fight you." 

 

Maria looked at her blankly, "I would give you a headstart." 

 

Bella would've asked her the logistics of her plan, but they pulled onto the winding road leading up to the house she'd long forgotten. She swallowed the rising nerves as she felt the familiar feeling of the first time she arrived at the intimidating home. 

 

Once parked, she didn't budge, couldn't move, really. 

 

Maria placed a hand on hers over the gear jolting her from her introspective state. 

 

"Hey, it's okay." 

 

Her breath burned on the intake but evened out after a moment, and that's when she realized Maria helped prevent her from spiraling. 

 

She looked into Maria's kind brown eyes, "I'm good."