Isabella Marie Swan doesn’t believe in monsters.
Forks, Washington is freezing in November. The wind a frozen backhand to the ripening cheek of a four year-old girl dressed only in woolen tights and a polyester puffy coat. There had to have been a tulle skirt or a pair of cotton shorts at one point, but between the missed calls pinging back to the landline and the steam rising off her father’s newly appointed khaki vest, the poor things had been discarded. She had a sticky strand of dirty brown hair by the cut of her lip glossed mouth, a candy necklace filling the gap where her front teeth should’ve been.
She had never been happier.
Daddy hadn’t turned into Charlie yet, the sway of his uncut hair was loose and playful in front of his eyes, the buzzed sides creating an unfortunate mullet just behind his ears. There was a bounce to his unsure step. He smiled like he was dying, all teeth and tongue. He smelled like peppermint. Gun oil. Cotton candy. A short mule of a woman left him warm potato casseroles for him at the station every Thursday night to share with Isabella without refusal. His mustache was just barely growing in. Her grubby little hands tugged at any chance she could. When her mother let her.
Renee hadn’t picked up the phone since last Wednesday, or maybe the week before that or maybe, he hadn’t even tried to dial her number before the ring went silent in his dogged ear. Maybe he threw the receiver hard enough against the ugly green linoleum so it would never make noise again. Maybe he was done begging.
But, that wouldn’t have been good for his-- their baby. So of course, all Deputy Charlie Swan did was shoot off his last salt rounds into the sunken forest behind the home that used to be his father’s. Felt the cool metal of a sawed off in his left hand. Muffled Isabella’s ears with plastic sponges. Pretended it was a game between the two of them, how many trees can daddy hit before the snow fills up your yellow rain boots. How many times can the mother of your child pretend she isn’t a mother at all.
She was supposed to be coloring at the dining room table. He had laid out the crayons in rainbow order like she wanted, uncapped the markers Lucy from the diner had given her last summer, and smoothed out the dryer-hot printer paper right in front of her chair. She has already stopped babbling at this age, a progression he had clenched his front teeth at when Renee told him, smiling at their now silent daughter.
The table should be creaking, at least. Right?
Snow in the north was glistening and beautiful. It looked almost wet, the ice refracting with smiling crystals. The hemlock branches were bending and breaking, reaching down with thin hands, beaconing the toddler forward. Isabella loved to climb.
She was better at falling.
Foot after rubber foot scaled the beast of fauna, water dripping into her ill-fitted coat from the wrists down. It trailed in glossy clear rivets. Highway dividers. Geese flying down for the winter. Freezing.
From a sky view the sparrows watched the small girl, her rudolph cheeks bursting with new blood, the heat of her skinny body leaching from her bones. She was slowing down with each thin branch, each prick of a wayward needle. Sticky golden sap collecting on the webs of her knuckles. It smelled like grapefruit. She smelled like grapefruit. Ripe and delicious. Full of wonder. And terrified.
The height was farther from the ground than she had thought in her haste to see the sky, a good six feet between her and the snow lining the forest floor. She couldn’t make out the faint wisp of ocean that settled low on the ground as she had when she first snuck out to gather snowflakes. There was nothing but green and white and awfully sticky sweet gunk stuck to her clothes and skin.
Isabella gritted her teeth to scream for the furious help of her father when a hand poked the sole of her slipping boot. She just barely stomached looking down.
“Do you need help, little miss?” All that he let her see was a brilliantly white half smile, pitted skin, long lean fingers, ivory nail beds. Fur covered everything else.
A headful of pin-straight chestnut nodded without hesitation, her fear for the wrath of a kind man stronger than whatever awaited her in the hidden man’s hands.
Charlie has a shotgun strapped underneath his armpit when he finds her, fast asleep, head tucked into the stripped trunk of a pine tree. A fur coat wrapped around her tiny form like a blanket. He prays to God for the first time in a decade when she wakes in front of their tiny white oven, preheated to warm the room, talking of a golden haired angel with the saddest skin.
Izzy Marie Swan does not have time to believe in monsters.
The not-so-much-girl-anymore marched through the foyer on a mission that August morning, her first Bronte soft spine clasped between forefinger and thumb, dry toast between dryer lips. Her t-shirt doesn’t fill out like the other girls swear theirs do and her jeans slide off her nonexistent hips like they’re mocking her. At ten years old she looks exactly like Charlie Swan did at that age, boy scout skin without a switchblade to her name, crooked teeth and straight-out tongue held silent. She is too skinny and too tall and exactly what her mother picks on when she opens her teenage girl magazines. Her eyes are shit brown, a word she just learned, and to everyone else around her, she is adorable. Beautiful the way a child should be, without pretense or cause. A songbird held in an oak cage. Her father’s most precious gift.
She can’t remember where she left her backpack.
Like she does. Every morning. Just after breakfast. Two thirty minute kitchen timers before she has to get on the bus to the underrun and underfunded Forks Elementary. She even wrote an essay about it once. On forgetfulness.
She forgot to turn it in, just as she wrote. In that essay.
Her father had put in a cement bench just beyond the grove of trees that stood as their fence line, that march or the last, whichever seemed less dreary to her wayward mother. The same woman who stood toe deep in floridan sand at that moment, unaware and unknowing of her daughter’s want to attend public school anywhere warmer, maybe somewhere, like Florida. If her mother agreed, anyway. But she didn’t. Or at least, never asked to.
The bag was a horrible shade of amber. Red and gold. Orange and green. Mud leftover from a gasoline spill, with a dash of waterproof nutmeg. It had buckles as tough as airplane parachutes. It could withstand a windstorm. Or Washington rain. Not that she tested that… every night. Just last night.
And every night in the last week.
Out it stood, like a stranded lamb, loyal and bleeting underneath the damned bench, waiting patiently for the pale girl to take a seat and rifle through it, looking for something and nothing. Her hair was twisted into a ponytail, unbrushed and bushy. It too, loyal to the sweat collecting on her neck, kissing just underneath her soft blue t-shirt. Her shoes caked in mud, stomping just loud enough to scare the rabbits away as she slouched the sacred material against her denim lap.
She decided to be Izzy Swan out here one afternoon after the heat started. A reinvention of sorts. A rat-faced nuisance of a boy had refused to call her by her full moniker on the first day of fourth grade and it stuck. Like a disease. Like hemlock sap.
The Newton boy, she remembered. Michael? Mikey?
Something like that.
She preferred Jacob Black if she was gonna force herself to endure the male species. His eyes were black like coal. Kind like the brush of soaked cotton against her skin when she sat on the beach out in La Push. Smile white and wide, covering her face in blush like soot. His sisters produced the same effect, she was sure-- she didn’t like him or anything. God no. Just… a friend. A very pretty friend. A friend with nice dark skin. Soft as peach fuzz. But if she did like him, even though she didn’t because liking boys wasn’t something she ever wanted to do, he was seven and she had just turned ten and that was icky. That's what her mother had said the last time she had called the house. That the Black boy was hardly old enough to be her friend like that. Her dimple-faced, soft eyed, friend.
Her notebook was missing. The one she used for writing practice and to keep all the half scrawled declarations of love Mr. Knightley had stuttered out in that Jane Austen movie her father had recorded for her on the big box Television.
Izzy’s hands were scrambling and damp as she rummaged through her rightfully atrocious bag again and again without success. Her eyes turned wild, frantic with fear of all her little thoughts being splashed across an unexpected doorstep. Or worse, the scabbed over desk of Mikey Newton and his black headed friend.
A clipped moss green cover twinkled in the high sun just over her covered shoulder, the fabric turning dark at the crease. Her tongue wet the pillow of her lip and she sprinted, loose legs tumbling slightly with the rush.
It had been bundled to a fallen tree trunk. With leather ribbon. Covered in what looked to be a raincoat, too expensive for her father’s utility pockets. It looked completely untouched, suspiciously dry despite its survival of the night time pacific elements, no matter its wrapping. Fingernails chipped with forbidden periwinkle nail polish untied the composition book slowly, confusion and mystery replacing fear in a stomach swooping second. Her thumb, bitten to the quick, flipped through until landing on the inside back cover, covered in a small inky note, elegant in script.
‘You shouldn’t leave things out to rot in this weather. Especially things that are irreplaceable.’
No sign off. No name. No motive. She at least expected some taunt from one of the bigger neighborhood kids that had somehow found her not so hidden work. Nothing.
Irreplaceable? Her words were… irreplaceable?
She smiled all the way to the bus stop.
Bella Marie Swan starts to believe in monsters.
Being fourteen is the world’s way of spitting in your eye and then kissing you on the mouth, except it kisses you for real, not at all the way you thought girls got to be kissed. There's clicking of teeth and a tangle of old chapped lips and too much tongue. Too cold. Too fast. No sweeping off of feet. No candle lit dinner before. Just spongy clammy fingertips in places you don't want them to be and hair in your mouth.
Bella thought freshman year in Phoenix would be warm. Sun beating down on her skin like Apollo’s shield, melanin bursting just above her boiling red blood. There was supposed to be long drawn out poetry about marigolds and vibrant pink cactus blooms. But it's all sand. In her shoes. In the crack of her ass. She would’ve taken canyons over this. Maybe even mountains. But Charlie and Renee haven’t been talking for the last two years, long enough to know the difference between ignorance and bliss, and a man younger than her father has moved into the bedroom across from hers, in a house with walls much too thin. Walls that splinter when you run a fist at them.
She wonders if she’s supposed to marry him too.
She laughed when she asked Renee that. She didn’t even crack a smile.
Bella’s out on the cement back porch again, staring out at all that nothing that she’s come to love about Arizona, the stiff unnatural material of her shorts sliding uncomfortably against her freshly shaved thighs. Her mother had told her to start doing that too. Worse than kissing, she remarked. But it made her pretty like all the other desert transplant beauties, right? Like a fake plastic flower grafted onto a prickly pear. Something the grocery store would sell. Something not meant to be there.
A stagnant wind caressed her skin in flat heat. A fur coat of a blanket. She might just shove the last ice cubes in the freezer down her bra at this rate.
There are boot prints she doesn’t notice being washed away in the breeze, leading all the way up to the rocking bench chained to the overhang. Large slim diamonds lopping, lassoing around the old wood. Her eyes are closed and the sun is kind for now and there’s a chill blowing down her craned neck. It’s thin like a seabird and just as white. God the breeze is good. Chilly. Chilly?
Her chocolate eyes are molten as she snaps them open, open palm resting on her fragile collarbone. There is no longer natural air conditioning. The prints are gone. The sun no longer glitters behind her eyelids. There is no air in her lungs but her heart refuses to race, a scrunch comes to her brow as a stray object is left to wilt next to her hip, a place which once held her mother and then Phil and then. Nothing.
But now a strip of hemlock needles holding on to a thin branch for dear life is in her hands, touching her skin like a painful reminder of something she cannot remember. There weren’t hemlock trees for thousands of miles.
Nothing that green survived out here. Not even her.
There’s a wet chuckle in the wind that sounds like marred skin and southern fingers and her brain drowns itself in grey ghosts of the past. She still cannot recall. She never can quite get them right.
Bella Marie Swan presses the small twig between the heavy pages of her literature textbook and keeps it there. She gets fined fifty dollars as the school year comes to a close and steals the money out of Renee’s wallet like she has for the past three summers.
Bella Swan does not need to believe in monsters. She knows them too well.
She supposes it's the eyes that surprise her. The tilt of his lips. The spare height of his cheekbones. The rest of the picture. The missing pieces. The ones her brain has been trying and failing to fill in itself. She had been wrong. So goddamn wrong.
She’s been seventeen for one hundred and twenty-three days. One hundred and twenty-three days of back and forth arguments with the woman who was once her mother and the man she let live her in bed when he wasn’t stalking the hallways, watching roads pass by in minor league themed blurs, wishing for an empty house once more. The sun hers and hers alone. She discovered and burned three CDs made by a boy who didn’t know her full name or the way her mouth tasted when she woke up and had forgotten to brush her teeth. She nearly burned down a hotel room with a candle she didn’t quite understand how to strike a match for, ran so hard she broke a pair of drug store running shoes, and tried to climb the lone tree in her deserted front yard just to say she still could. She got all the way to the top before realizing she had never gotten herself down before, not to her knowledge. Not to her father’s.
She had shoved everything she owned in a steel gray trunk and sat through the plane ride of her nightmares. Screaming children, water that tasted like a musty creek bed. No empty breathing room she so desperately prayed for. She was suffocating. She had suffocated.
And then. Him. The one hundred and twenty-third day. Closed in like a pack of old salmon chunks, held tight to a table of people that were sure that they had once known her, the cafeteria door had swung open. She should've been freezing this well into January, but all she knew was fire. The kind of heat that traveled from hypothermic limbs, the body’s way of tricking the brain into thinking everything will be alright while striking all the warning bells. She was sure he wasn’t breathing, all alone, the last boy to walk through the doors. A pariah. A martyr. God or Judas or Abel. Renee had never made her go to Sunday school and now she was cursing the woman over and over in her mind, just under her jaw.
The memories had unfurled.
The pretty girl next to her was going on about the grey skinned pseudo-family and all of it could’ve been written on cardstock and thrown at her in a heaping boulder and Bella wouldn’t have noticed. Not then. Not when his eyes were absolutely nowhere but exactly where they had never allowed themselves to be. The curve of her nose. The soft swell of her bottom lip as she tugged her teeth into it. The thin presence of her eyebrows. The fan of lashes, plucked, protecting the watery flesh that held his attention. His fists were hidden by the layer of denim that was his too light jacket but it didn’t matter, she knew what she would’ve seen.
Long lean fingers, ivory nail beds.
Now in front of her, hand stretching out, everyone staring.
“Do you need help, little miss?”
The best kind of monster.