My senses are sharper in Forks than they were in Phoenix, I’ve only been here a handful of days yet everything seemed brighter, louder, more alive than my past home. There was something here for me, something that made me feel more alert than I have in years.
The sound of heavy rain slowly pulls me out of my restless sleep, an elbow is thrown across my eyes in an attempt to keep the real world at bay. It’s always raining, the mist layering the ground never abandons its post, and the chilly air seemingly lasts indefinitely. The rainy town of Forks Washington sooner resembles my personal hell than it does a sleepy old town. The forest that borders the town at each cardinal point is layered in green moss, damp dirt, and an endless supply of fresh animal tracks. I’d moved to Forks only a week ago, the sum of which was spent unpacking dreadfully thin clothing and acquainting myself with the few stores and public access areas the town has to offer.
My father, Charlie, has had little to do with this process apart from moral support and the occasional bag of fast food that he’s picked up while on shift. Charlie is the town's police chief, a job that both seems ill-needed and also unbearably boring. How much crime can be committed in a town of fewer than ten thousand citizens? Other than the odd tag on a school building or bush party, what does his shift consist of? I have yet to bring my insulting opinions on his career to his attention, and likely will never do so. He’s a good man with a heart of gold and a passion for the judicial system, which is ever-present in his TV browsing as he cruises through endless episodes of Law & Order.
I’m not a big TV person, even back home in Phoenix, I preferred reading to the television. Perhaps this was related to my mother’s endless stack of yoga DVD’s that seemed to consume our viewing; her in a downward dog position gossiping about her latest advancements at her newest club membership, me sitting on the couch finishing a craft for her so she won’t be late submitting it. My favourite of her crafts was embroidery, one month I embroidered nearly two hundred dandelions on a pair of jeans for her. She gave them to the club administrator as an apology before she quit.
Regardless, at night when the TV is blaring the intro theme to a cop show, I am curled in bed with a book under my nose and headphones in my ears. Blocking out the rain is a full-time chore.
This morning is a particularly eventful morning, not because of any specific events, but rather the events that will be set into motion because of this morning. Today is the first day of my online college courses. I’m currently enrolled in an undeclared major. My hope is that the three courses I’m taking this spring term will help me decide on what I want to do in the future.
Charlie had given me a new laptop upon my arrival in Forks, a current model with modest upgrades to “enhance my academic experience”. Or at least that’s what the box boasted. I am not entirely convinced that a larger memory will miraculously cure me of my educational despise. High school was tortuous, I had few friends and fewer interests outside of my mother’s hobbies. I had no extra-curricular activities that were not synonymous with financial responsibilities. The monthly budget book was mine to care for, as was the constant, intrusive phone calls of the bank when my mother got too engaged in a store. She’s a gullible woman if nothing else. If a store clerk tells her a blouse suits her figure, she’ll purchase ten colours in the article along with two in a size lower just in case she finally loses the ten pounds she’s been trying to shed.
My eyes have barely opened, the down of my forearm just a fraction away from my pupil when Charlie pounds against my door. You’d imagine I was fostering a fugitive in here with the noise he’s making, but this is just the way my father is, loud noises and soft voices. I wonder, idly, if perhaps he has minor hearing loss from spending so much time around guns.
“I’m up!” I call out, my voice is thin and calloused with morning sleep. I clear my throat as the knocking cuts off, “Good morning, Dad.” Charlie doesn’t like me calling him Charlie.
“Morning, Bells,” he calls back through the door, quiet enough to not be taken as aggressive yet loud enough to sound authoritative. He is a father, my father, at heart. He pauses, and it’s as if I can hear the mental gears shifting in his mind. He hasn’t had to be a father since I was a baby, after that Renee was the parent. Charlie was the summer distraction. “Don’t be late for school.” I grunt a response, reaching for the alarm clock on my nightstand and groaning at the early hour of the morning. Barely eight, class doesn’t officially start until noon. I guess there’s nothing wrong with logging in early, although I’d much rather catch up on the sleep I’ve lost to the thunderous storms we’ve been experiencing recently.
As if he could sense my intentions, Charlie knocks against my door again. “Bella, I mean it. You didn’t come here to slack off, now.” No, I think nastily, I came here for peace and quiet.
Between unpacking my belongings and touring the town, I’ve developed a routine in my new living situation. Charlie is fond of my company, enjoying having a woman in the house outside of his ex-wife, my mother and ex-roommate. Although, his fondness of my presence does not directly translate to time spent together. He makes me breakfast, occasionally placing it in the oven to keep warm, and then immediately heads off to his family that is the Forks police station. We meet again for lunch, depending on our individual plans for the day, and then reunite again just in time for dinner. Food really is the great American pastime.
I dress in jeans and a light blue sweater that smells mysteriously of mildew although it’s a recent purchase and has yet to be worn outdoors. I suppose the rain permeates every available space, closed windows be damned. My socks are tall and I have to roll my jeans up at the bottoms to accommodate for the thick, high fabric of them. It’s a trick Charlie taught me for wearing rain boots, the higher the socks the less likely they are to run down to your toes as you walk. Immediately after that trick was taught I went to the nearest hiking store and purchased a pair of rain boots. My first pair of rain boots at nineteen years of age. Unfathomable yet ironic considering my lineage marks back to the wettest town in the continental US. My ancestors roll in their graves every time I step outdoors and forget a jacket or umbrella, I’m sure of it.
Charlie is waiting for me downstairs, both a surprise and unwelcome presence. I had a battered copy of Dorian Gray under my arm, I was expecting philosophy and moral ambiguity, not idle conversation. Before the chief notices my book, I slide it over the back of the couch and enter the kitchen with a polite smile. There’s bacon frying on the stovetop, the police chief is dressed in uniform already, but has a stained white apron tied around his neck. “Dad?”
“Oh,” he turns around and gives me a tight smile, “Excited for your big day?” You’d imagine it’s my first day of preschool with the amount of enthusiasm he’s trying to keep hidden from me, not my first day of online school. I don’t say anything to dampen his mood, I’m glad he’s excited about something. His life is repetitive, if my existence here proves to be no more useful than just disrupting his schedule, it will still be a success.
“Yeah, I guess.” He turns back to the bacon and shifts it around quickly, the grease snapping up at him. If it burns him he doesn’t show it, just maintains the stiff-backed posture of a respectable police officer cooking his daughter breakfast. “I’ve gotta ask, what’s up with the apron?” I stifle a giggle behind a bite of the toast that’s sitting in the middle of the small table. He shakes his head in faux annoyance.
Charlie takes the pan off the hot element, sliding the bacon onto two plates and pouring the grease into an open can. The second trick he taught me since arriving here: never pour grease down the drain.
“I’m in uniform, it would be disrespectful to the badge to stain it.” He slides a plate of bacon in front of me, sitting down in his designated seat across the table. “Besides,” he takes a sip of coffee from his to-go mug. “Can you imagine walking into a police station smelling of fried pig?”
Breakfast ends quickly. We each eat a piece of toast, Charlie stuffing a second piece into a plastic bag “for later” and heading out the door. I still have half a plate of bacon in front of me after he leaves, the maple glaze filling the small kitchen with its smell.
After my Mom and Charlie got married, Renee redecorated much of the house. Her lace curtains still hang in the master bedroom window, constantly drawn closed. The rest of the house has been minorly updated with age, the TV got bigger, the couch more comfortable, new bed linens and even newer rocking chairs on the porch. I had asked Charlie if they were Moms when I first came up to the house a week ago.
They were rocking gently in the wind, the wood seemed to be polished as it shined in what little light filtered through the depressive clouds. They were sitting side by side, matching pillows on them both, a coffee table in the middle with a stack of coasters. It was an old person's porch, where husband and wife would sit all grey and wrinkled, waving at the neighbourhood kids as the bus dropped them off from school. I could almost picture Charlie and Renee sitting there, her knitting a scarf and him content to just watch her and the scenery.
He informed me that they were relatively new, a purchase from a shop down on the Reservation. We haven’t spoken about them since, but I wonder if perhaps he wishes he had someone to sit out there with him.
I spend the morning before class doing odd chores around the house. It’s nice living at Charlie’s, nicer than I had expected it to be. I’m not a fan of the weather or the fact that I currently have no social life, but it’s nice to just sit. I throw my laundry in the wash and manage to get the kitchen cleaned up with just enough time left over to sit on the couch and read a chapter of my book before class.
School has never been my strong suit. That’s not to say I get poor marks or intentionally skip classes, I just never found it as fulfilling as my peers seemed to. I never woke up and looked forward to the social or academic aspect of high school. Perhaps this contributed to me postponing my college experience and only starting it now when I should already be a year into my program.
When I log into my schools online database and click on my first class, Social Psychology 1001, I’m immediately transported to a screen filled with windows and the faces of my classmates. “Hello, class!” The professor's voice calls out over my computer. Perhaps online school won’t be my strong suit either.
Class ends and the next one starts, and I get through all three classes and an hour's worth of homework by the time Charlie pops in for dinner.
“Hey, Bells,” He calls as he opens the front door. I can hear him from where I sit in the kitchen, hanging his gun belt up by the front door and kicking his boots off into a heap on the floor. I imagine Mom back in Phoenix, walking into the house with arms full of bags and tossing her flip flops onto her pile of shoes beside the coatrack she used for purses. Some things won’t ever change.
“How was work?” I ask. He pauses to poke his head into the kitchen, moustache moving as he chews on his lip. I can’t remember when Charlie initially grew out his moustache, just that one summer I arrived and thought could he look more like a cop?
“Good, good, just some meetings. New family moving into town, all foster kids around your age.” He takes pause, staring off into some middle ground in the hallway as if deep in thought. His eyebrows furrow, “Don’t want any trouble makers coming in, but the father seems nice. Respectable.”
“That’s nice,” I contribute conversationally. Charlie and I rarely have material conversations, always just idle talk of the weather or what's for dinner. I’m not entirely sure how to approach this topic, which clearly seems to be occupying his mind.
“Yeah, he’s a doctor.” He grins at this, toothy and a little crooked to the right side. A pang of embarrassment settles in my chest before he speaks, as if knowing where this will turn. “Perfect for you, considering how often your clumsiness-”
I wave a hand over my face, grimacing at his words. “Don’t speak it into existence,” I mutter with a half-hearted plea underlying my words. He chuckles, disappearing up the stairs.
I hear the shower turn on after a few minutes of him fumbling around, presumably trying to get undressed. I’m sure once he’s showered and in sweatpants it’ll be twenty questions about my day of school. I’m not sure I have the heart to break the truth to him: it absolutely sucked.
The material was interesting enough, psychology has always been close to my heart. I loved the idea of people being more than their actions and thoughts, that there was something making them say that or something making them act that way. Perhaps this was yet another symptom of having Renee for a mother.
I sit at the kitchen table for a moment longer, my computer is closed in front of me and my pencil case- dreadfully unnecessary with school being online-sits closed and untouched. I haven’t made any friends in my classes, not that I had expected to. Twelve years of public school and no friend group to show for it, just a few texts every couple of weeks. Why would I have believed college, and an online college at that, would be any better?
Having enough with my thoughts, I get up from the table and pack my things into my bag. I’ve completed enough work for today, the rest of the evening I’ll spend either with Charlie or in my room. I’d rather not be nose deep in pdf textbooks and youtube videos constituting as follow-up lectures, I’ve had enough of that today.
As if sensing the immediacy of my departure from the kitchen, the shower cuts off and I hear the bathroom door squeak open. For a man who, until recently, lived alone with too much free time, you’d imagine he’d have taken better care of the house. Nearly every door, except my own, creaks open and closed. I made sure to oil my hinges nearly immediately after moving in, I didn’t want Charlie to wake up every time I sneak downstairs for a comfort snack or warm glass of milk to help me sleep. He’s lived alone for nearly twenty years, he doesn’t need his sleep schedule disrupted now.
“The game is on in-” Charlie pauses as if double-checking the times mentally, “- an hour and a half. Are you interested?” He’s calling from up the stairs. I wonder if he truly wants me to watch the game with him, whatever sport it may be, or if he’s only being polite.
“Uh, I was just going to organize my room right now and then maybe make something for dinner,” I say in response. The floors don’t make a noise and I know he’s heard me, but he doesn’t respond. A lump forms in my throat, perhaps he really did want to watch with me.
“That’s fine, but if you want we can order in?” The lump passes and I convince myself that there is no reason to avoid the TV. It’s not like I’ll be a disruption, if I get bored I can read on the couch. I’ve only watched TV with Charlie on a few occasions since my move here, and each time I strategically saved my questions for the commercial breaks.
“Sure! That works.” The floorboards creak and I hear him retreat into his room, the door closing with a pitiful squeak.
We eat pizza on the couch, a large meat-lover for the carnivorous father and a small vegetarian with extra mushrooms for the daughter who cares about her cardiovascular health. We eat slowly, occasionally Charlie will make a face at the television or mumble something under his breath, but other than that we’re quiet. The sport turns out to be baseball and I recall a few of the basic rules from the tragic gym classes of my past. It’s not disastrous in any way, and surprisingly I don’t get bored. There is something relaxing about the repetitive nature of the game.
After the game ends we box up the remaining slices and put them in the fridge to be eaten tomorrow, say good night, and go our separate ways at the top of the stairs.