“So this is Lima? I admit I expected better.”
Rachel glanced at Bella, buried in a hoodie that was too big and wearing sweats with bleach stains on the knees, and it hit her again that her sister was with her. After seven years of video calls, letters, and flying back and forth over the summer, they were on her side of the country for once. “Lima isn’t that bad. The further we get into the town, the better it looks, and you’ll see why I said it’s got charisma. And when compared to Forks, Lima is a bustling metropolis.” Bella shot her an unimpressed look, and Rachel giggled. “Look, you’re the one that wanted to come back with me,” she added.
“I figured it was fair since you stayed with me.”
“And it had nothing to do with Charlie retiring and moving to Portland?”
“He is a grown man. He can do what and whoever he wants,” Bella said.
Rachel stopped at a light and stared at her.
“Wow. I almost believed you.”
Bella groaned and hid her face in her hoodie. Rachel turned when it was her time to go and waited. Soon enough, Bella pulled her hoodie down and pouted.
“I’m happy for him. I am. I had no idea he was thinking of retiring until he shows up one afternoon with this look on his face. I’m thinking he’s sending me back to Renee, you know? But he just tells me he’s in love. In love! He’s like a hundred in Dad years, you know? How can he be in love?” Bella scoffed and folded her arms. “And as much as I want to be angry with him, I’m not. Because he deserves it. Liz is an amazing woman, and she makes him happy. And if her love convinced him to finally hang up the gun and live the life he was supposed to live, then I’m glad. Plus, I’m the screwup that can’t even fucking graduate on time, so who am I to tell him he can’t leave?”
“No, come on. You know I’m right. It’s not fair for me to be upset when he spent an entire year of his life making sure I didn’t waste away because of a bad breakup. If Charlie wants to retire and move to another city for this woman so she can make an honest man out of him, then I’m all for it.” Bella ran a hand through her shortened hair and added, “And look, I’m the one that didn’t catch up with my credits. I hated the idea of making him think that he needed to put his life on hold longer than he already had when happiness was right there in his face. Twelve months could’ve changed so much for him, and I didn’t want to risk it. Thankfully, my long-lost sister recovered from her mental breakdown and gave me the opening I needed.”
“One, I wasn’t lost. I just didn’t know you existed. Two, I did not have a mental breakdown.”
“What else would you call waking up one morning and driving a tiny ass Prius across the country without telling anyone? Mr. B almost sent out a national search party before Charlie called and told him you weren’t dead, just in an entirely new time zone.”
“At least I didn’t spend almost ten months in a depressive episode hoping that my sparkly, narcissistic, and traditionalist boyfriend comes back to tell me he didn’t mean all those horrible words he said in the middle of the woods before leaving me to freeze to death.”
“Oh, ho, ho, are we comparing bad boyfriends? Because you spent the entire summer before your sophomore year doing your best Elizabeth Barrett Browning impression all because Finn Hudson said you were pretty. And what happened? Your so-called ‘Leading Man’ cheated on you twice, consistently forgot that you were a vegan, and called you an obsessive, drama queen with an obnoxious personality.”
“Touché,” Rachel muttered.
“Exactly. You can’t use Edward as an argument when Finn Hudson is your rebuttal.” Rachel tightened her grip on the wheel, and Bella reached over, untangling her fingers before intertwining them with her own. “Okay, look, I’m sorry. But it’s not like we both didn’t do stupid things based on our emotions. The great thing about it is that we had these experiences so we could learn from them and see that we deserve much, much better.”
Rachel arched an eyebrow and said, “I see those late-night talks with Sue were enlightening. Did you have them before or after you screwed her daughter?”
Bella smacked her teeth and dropped Rachel’s hand.
“Jesus, Rae. That was crude, even for you,” she said. “You’ve spent far too much time with me. But Leah and I never did things like that with Sue in the house. Most of our time was spent at the beach or the house whenever Charlie worked late.”
“Oh, that’s romantic.”
“Nothing about our relationship was romantic,” Bella pointed out.
“Right. It was just sex.” Rachel grinned and side-eyed her sister. “And is that why you cried when Leah found her imprint?” she teased.
“The sex was that good,” Bella deadpanned.
Rachel snorted and hit her on the arm.
“Alright, alright! Yes, okay? I loved Leah. I loved how she made me feel, but I knew it wouldn’t last. And so did she. I wasn’t hers to have, and I accepted that before we started that agreement.”
“Doesn’t make it hurt any less.”
“No,” Bella admitted. “It doesn’t. Plus, it wouldn’t be true to form if one of us didn’t have a heart-wrenching breakup at some point.”
“My breakup with Lauren was pretty heartbreaking,” Rachel said.
Bella did a full body shudder and said, “I still can’t get over that.”
“She wasn’t that bad.”
“You’re biased. You like bitchy cheerleaders.”
“Don’t call them that.”
“What? That’s what they were, right?”
“Moving on,” Rachel said, “I think this year is going to be good for us. You’re going to finally get your senior year experience, and we’re going to enjoy life. Deal?”
Rachel rolled her eyes and turned onto her street. She came up to her house and saw Leroy waiting on the porch. She pulled into the driveway and noticed that her Dad seemed surprised the Prius was gone, even though Rachel told him it got totaled in Washington. She didn’t tell him that a wolf landed on it, but the details didn’t matter in hindsight. Rachel turned to Bella when her sister made a weird sound.
“Finn was your third choice. You settled for him.”
“I can’t believe you said that. Actually, no, I can. I should’ve left you in Forks.”
“You’ve said that six times this trip and not once have you meant it.”
“One day, I just might.”
“Dramatic. Anyway, it’s not like I can talk. Part of me wants to see Edward again so I can tell him that I wanted his sister the entire time we were dating.”
“Ah, yes. Rosalie Hale, the one that got away,” Rachel teased.
“It felt like every time I tried to get close to her, someone would get in the way. But there was this magnetism…” Bella trailed off and sighed. “She was incredible. I saw the whole world in her eyes. She looked at me as if I had the power to break her heart. Guess I should’ve been the one worried.”
Both of Rachel’s eyebrows went up in surprise, and Bella blushed. She cleared her throat and played with her sleeves.
“What are we telling people? Are we going the sister route?”
“It’s not like it’s a lie,” Rachel said, allowing the subject to change.
“Adultery, lies, and betrayal, how two girls became sisters.”
Rachel snorted, and Bella grinned and shifted down in her seat. Leroy still waited on the porch, and Rachel’s attention was diverted when Bella let out a soft laugh.
“Charlie bought this hoodie for me online when I was twelve. I’d been talking about this band for years, and he hated their music. But on my birthday, he sent it through the mail. The site sent the wrong size, and he was so upset. But I was thrilled. That was one of the many instances where he proved to be something that Hiram never was or will be. I mean, how do you get over your wife cheating on you and pretending that her lover’s baby is yours? Most people wouldn’t be able to. But Charlie did.” Bella’s face grew serious. “DNA means nothing to me in this instance. Because in my mind, and his, I’m Charlie’s daughter.”
Rachel leaned over the armrest and laid her head on Bella’s shoulder. It was awkward and a little uncomfortable, but she managed.
“I understand. Leroy didn’t have to stay behind to take care of some kid that wasn’t his. But he did, and he tried so hard to be there for me even though he had to work more to support us after the divorce. But I appreciated him trying. That was more than I could ask for.”
“Cheers to absent and neglectful fathers.” Bella kissed the top of Rachel’s head before pushing her off. “Now, enough mushy shit, kiddo.”
Rachel turned off the car and opened the door. Bella grabbed her wrist and stopped her from getting out.
“I would’ve come back with you whether I was in high school, college, or somewhere in between,” she said. “And I’m happy to be your sister, despite how it happened. You’ve saved my life more times than I can count. I think Lima’s going to be a good, new start for me, and a good second chance for you.”
“I know you don’t like to hear it, but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
Bella made a face and squeezed Rachel’s wrist before letting go.
“You’re right. I hate hearing it, but I love you all the same.” Bella unbuckled her belt and added, “Also, there better not be any vampires or shifters here.”
“No, just your usual homophobia and racism.”
Bella dry-heaved, and they both got out of the car. Leroy finally stepped off the porch and made his way to them. Once he was close, Leroy paused mid-stride once he saw Rachel. Even in the setting sun, there was light enough that he could see the changes. He shook his head and continued his walk. Rachel ran a hand through her hair and glanced at Bella, who leaned against the hood and folded her arms. Her Dad came up to her and looked her over.
“Hey, Dad,” she greeted nervously.
It’d been almost six months since they saw each other last, and Rachel was starting to think maybe things weren’t that okay. But then he smiled and opened his arms. Rachel sagged in relief and fell into his arms.
“I thought you were still mad,” she muttered.
“No, not anymore. I’m happy you’re back.”
Leroy held her tighter, and Rachel released the tension she’d been holding.
“You two have a good drive?” he asked, pulling back.
“Bella tried to kill me a few times, but other than that, it was fine.”
Leroy grinned and looked over his shoulder. Bella was staring at the sky, pretending not to hear the conversation, and Rachel smiled. Leroy sighed dramatically and ran a hand through Rachel’s hair.
“It feels like you left a little girl and came back a woman,” he said.
“That feels like an exaggeration. I just dyed my hair.”
“And changed your entire wardrobe to look like you’re seventeen and not seven.” Leroy and Rachel turned in unison to stare at Bella, who shrugged and pushed off the car. “I’m just saying the animal sweaters and tights were infantile and part of why no one here took you seriously,” she said.
“Thank you, Isabella, for your insight,” Leroy drawled.
“You’re welcome, Mr. B.”
“I thought I told you to call me Leroy. Come here.” Bella moved closer, and Leroy gave her a one-armed hug. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said.
“Me too,” Bella admitted before stepping back. “I’m going to start taking stuff into the house, is that alright?”
“You are living here now.”
Leroy gave her a strange look and said, “Your room is upstairs, the second door on the right.”
“Cool. I’ll see you guys inside.”
“Don’t you need help?” Rachel asked.
“I’ll be alright. These smaller boxes aren’t too bad.”
“Are you sure?”
“One hundred percent,” Bella grunted, yanking the first box out of the car.
She walked away, and Leroy turned to Rachel.
“Is she alright?”
“School?” Rachel nodded, and Leroy hummed in response. “Having her here is going to be an adventure,” he said. Then he paused awkwardly and added, “But I could’ve sworn she was two years older than you.”
“She is. But Bella had to drop out of school her freshman year in Phoenix due to some health issues, which pushed her back. And then some other stuff happened, so she had to redo her junior year. This is the first time she’s on track to graduate.”
Leroy glanced over his shoulder as Bella came back. She’d found her earphones and whistled along to whatever she was listening to as she made her way to the car with her head down.
“It’s strange. You two look nothing alike but I can see him in her.”
Bella grabbed another box and lugged it into her arms, not once looking at Rachel or Leroy as she went back to the house.
“Genetics,” Rachel said mildly.
“I didn’t mean that negatively. I think you two represent the parts of him that I used to love,” he said, looking away from Bella. “But the other part of me always wonders how Charlie and I, two people who were hurt the most in this scenario, ended up being the ones who stepped up.”
“Because you’re good men,” Rachel said. “And Renee, Shelby, and Hiram couldn’t handle the pressure of being a parent. But I’d say you’ve done a pretty decent job.”
“Says the girl who spent almost two years away from me.”
“I’m sorry. That’s – I can’t say enough how sorry I am for how I handled that. I should’ve told you what was going on, but I thought I could handle it. And then Bella started dodging my calls and texts, and something just felt wrong. You know all of this. But I didn’t think of the consequences.”
“No, you didn’t. I know I said I’m not angry anymore. But that leaves the hurt and disappointment. When you left like that, it made me feel like I failed. I wanted to know what I did wrong, and…” he trailed off. “Seeing you in Forks, seeing how hard you laughed with Charlie and Bella and just seeing how easy it was for you to smile and tell me about your life put things in perspective,” he finished. “And I think that’s what hurt the most. That I didn’t know my daughter was suffering, and she had to find herself thousands of miles away.”
“This wasn’t on you, Dad,” Rachel said. “I was the one that felt like I had failed you. You raised me to be strong and resilient, but I was falling apart so easily. And I knew you would’ve wanted to fix it, but I hated the idea of being a failure to another parent. So I ran somewhere they didn’t know me or know how broken I was because it was easier than staying here and not being good enough for you.”
“Hey, no. Never. Never.” Leroy grabbed her face and bent down to look her in the eyes. “Rachel, you have always been more than enough. That has not and will never change. Ever.” He kissed her forehead and sighed. “I should tell you that Charlie and I talked the last night after you two went to sleep. He told me Bella had been in a bad place and having you there was bringing life back to her. I knew then that you two needed one another more than you needed either of us.”
“Now you know why I spent so long there. We were putting each other back together. I can breathe again because of her, Dad.”
“I know. I can see it in your eyes. You’re not my little Rachel anymore.”
“Hardly. I’m always going to be little.”
“You know what I meant.” Leroy stepped back and patted her on the shoulders. “Alright, enough of the angst. You’re home, and we should be celebrating. Which is why you two are grounded until I’m sure you’re not going to go to Miami for a weekend trip,” he said. “School and back, that’s it.”
“That’s fair. Charlie grounded me too and gave me the riot act.”
“Was it a lot scarier coming from a cop?”
“I thought I was going to prison,” she muttered. Leroy chuckled, and Rachel added, “I can’t thank you enough again for letting me stay.”
“Thank Charlie. Had we not had that talk, I would’ve asked you to come home.”
“Remind me to send him a housewarming gift.”
“Oh, so he and Liz made it official?”
“He left a day before we did. We had to stay back to make sure the realtor had the right information for the house.”
“So responsible.” Leroy gestured to her hair. “Now, what brought this on? You used to cry whenever I discussed cutting or altering your hair in any way.”
“Life-changing events usually involve hair dye.” Rachel and Leroy jumped, and Bella held up her hands when they glared at her. “Sorry, I thought you heard me,” she said.
“It’s fine. But I might put a bell on you,” Leroy said.
“Does Charlie know about these archaic child-rearing techniques?”
Leroy looked at Rachel, who waved it off, and said, “Nothing she says is serious.”
“Lies, I can be serious. But not now. Also, I need your help with the books. You brought too many.”
“Most of those are yours!” Rachel argued.
“No one told you to add your collection on top.”
“Go to hell.”
“Been there, been back, and I have the scar to prove it,” she said pointedly.
Leroy pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered, “Lord knows that if I have to deal with this for a year, I might become an alcoholic.”
“Plenty of programs for you.”
Leroy rolled his eyes and said, “Since you two have time before school starts, I’m thinking we go to Columbus tomorrow and get some things so you two can renovate your rooms.”
“Great because Rachel’s room looks like a pixie died in it,” Bella said.
“Why were you in my room?”
“I got lost. But the bright pink disaster you used to sleep in illuminated the way.”
Rachel narrowed her eyes, and Leroy snorted.
“Yeah, I need a drink. I’m ordering pizza for tonight. Rae, you want your usual?”
“Bella, are you okay with meat?”
“Please. Rachel’s veganism was slowly killing me in Forks.”
“She’s got a point, honey. Shopping for you is a disaster.”
“I’m just saying. Don’t stay out here too long, girls.”
Leroy shrugged and went back inside. Bella threw her arm around Rachel’s shoulder.
“What’s the plan for the last week of freedom?”
“Dad says we’re grounded, which means we have a few days of being housebound before he gives up and tells us we’re fine as long we don’t leave the state again. So I’m going to call Mike –
“That’s your best friend from your dance class, right?” Bella asked.
“Yes. He’s also the only one who knows where I’ve been and that I came back with you. He knows just as much about my intolerable big sister as you know about him. Anyway, I’m thinking we have until Thursday before my Dad lets up, and then I’ll call Mike and see if we can hang out or something.”
“Sounds doable. Now come on, help me with these books so we can face plant on the couch.”