Bella looked towards the sky and saw the menacing clouds rushing from the west. She knew that she had to hurry before the storm hit. The weather could get really bad, very quickly, and she still had several blocks to go before she reached home. Home. The one place she should feel eager to get to. But home hadn't brought her any comfort since her father's death two years ago.
Bella adjusted the straps of her bag to center the weight and forced herself to walk faster. Her overstuffed backpack was heavier than usual. Finals were coming up, and she had spent an extra hour after school trying to absorb some knowledge that might help her in the coming weeks. She had one month left of school and then she was done. Bella began to think of graduation and what her plans were. Or rather, her lack of plans. All of her classmates had spent the last few months comparing planned majors and bragging about the various colleges that they had been accepted into. Bella had not been accepted into any colleges. Mainly, because she hadn't applied.
Bella had been a good student at one time. That was before the accident changed everything. She had been in advanced placement classes and had dreams of being a pediatrician. A lot had changed in the last two years. Now she only just got by. Her teachers ignored her. Most of the students followed the teachers' lead and let her exist, not paying her any attention; she was just a warm body filling a desk.
Bella sighed as the first of the rain drops struck her cheek, and she raised her eyes towards the sky. The storm was moving faster then she had originally thought. Bella should have been used to this. It rained constantly in Forks. It wasn't anything to be concerned about.
"Damn," she muttered. She pulled the hood of the black fleece over her head and almost ran the last two blocks to her home. She paid little attention to the homes she passed. Forks was not a large town but the homes in this area were crowded together, only separated by tall rows to red pines.
She slowed as she reached the porch and looked at the peeling white paint on the small two story home. It may have cute once, but the years of neglect were taking over. The house was a modest, three bedroom, square symbol of what her family's life had turned in to. Three steps led up to the porch that extended the entire width of the house. In the corner was a swing. The chain on one of the corners had broken away. Not that the swing was used anymore. It was just like everything in Bella's life. Broken.
Bella glanced longingly at the old red fifty seven Chevy pickup truck permanently parked along the driveway. The truck had breathed its last breath a few months ago and she still missed the loud roar of the engine. Not able to afford a new vehicle, Bella had resorted to walking back and forth to school each day.
Grabbing the house key out of the pocket of her pants, Bella let herself into the quiet house. She knew that nobody would be home. Jessica, Bella's younger sister would be at cheerleading practice, and it would be a surprise to see her before nine o'clock p.m. that night. Bella also knew that by the time her sister did get home, she would use the need to finish her homework to hide her bloodshot eyes and the ever hanging stench of stale beer and marijuana smoke from their mother. Bella really didn't like the choices that Jessica made, but she knew that there was nothing that she could do to change them.
Bella dropped her backpack at the door and walked into the kitchen. She wasn't really hungry, but she couldn't ignore the overpowering need to stare into the empty refrigerator. There was never any food in the fridge. Her mom refused to cook anymore. She said that she was at work all day, had a life, and that they were old enough to fend for themselves after school. It hadn't take Bella long to figure out that when her mom said that she wasn't going to cook, it also meant that she would stop shopping too.
Her mom had quit almost everything. In addition to not cooking, she had stopped cleaning, shopping, and talking to her daughters for more than five minutes at a time. She was always either at work, out with friends, or perched on the couch in front of the TV. This suited Jessica just fine, but Bella missed her mom and wished she would be the mother she was before the accident. Closing the refrigerator with a sigh, she reached into the yellow cupboard above the sink and found the box of granola bars she had hidden last week behind several boxes of cereal. Grabbing one, she retrieved her backpack and headed to her bedroom.
Bella walked up the stairs and in to her bedroom in less than a minute. Even though she was alone in the house, Bella closed her door. This room was the only place in the house that didn't have layers of dust accumulated on every surface, and this brought her a measure of comfort. By nature, Bella was a neat person. Clutter made her uncomfortable and nervous and she made a point to keep her room spotless.
Bella set her backpack on her bed and went to her mirrored dresser to find a hair tie to pull her long brown hair into a pony tail. As she did this, she found herself staring at her reflection. At one time, she had been pretty, in a plain way. In a sense, she still was. She had wide brown eyes and long lashes that never needed mascara and she had been blessed with flawless skin. Her eyes were sad though and, in a way, appeared aged for an eighteen year old that made them appear dull and lifeless.
Her skin was too pale as. Not that pale skin was an oddity in Forks, but it had a washed out look. Here skin looked like it should have had a bit of color and just a little bit would have done her an immense amount of good.
She forced her gaze away from the reflection. She couldn't stand to look at herself for very long anymore. Whenever she did, all she saw was the small, two inch scar on her right temple. A souvenir of the accident. The mark to remind her that her dad had died because of her.
Bella kicked off her shoes before she sat down on her bed. Curling her legs under her, and grabbed her senior biology book from her backpack. She opened the book to chapter twenty and tried to throw herself into studying.
"Isabella." It was a whispery, male voice.
She jerked her head up. She was just as startled by someone using her full name as she was to hear the voice in general. The sudden movement made the book tumble noisily to the floor. Someone had called her. Bella got up and went to her door, opening it just a crack. There were no sounds coming from the house, no signs of life. The rain had picked up, and she could hear the drops pelting the roof of the house, but no sounds inside.
She stood there for a moment longer before closing the door again and returning to her studies. No body would have been outside in this weather.
"I'm imagining things," she mumbled to herself.
Bella couldn't focus on biology anymore. She didn't feel like studying at all. She had no college plans, so she didn't think it really mattered how well she did on her finals. She only needed to pass to graduate, and the teachers would pass her just to get her off of their hands so they wouldn't have to pity her any longer. The time spent in the library after school had been more an excuse not to come home than a real concern for her academic future.
She laid back down on the bed and concentrated on the sound of the rain. The storm had picked up now, and she heard the mysterious and eerie sound of the wind blowing against the house. The din of the storm had a strange, comforting effect, and she found herself relaxing. Bella had never liked the rain or storms, but she felt comforted by the sounds of this one; she wasn't sure why. She closed her eyes and just listened.
"What do you want to do today?" His eyes twinkled as he looked at his oldest daughter. It was just the two of them. Mom had taken Jessica shopping in Olympia for school clothes. Jessica and mom loved clothes shopping and somehow managed to make, what Bella thought was a waste of time, into an event that would span the entire weekend.
"I dunno. Whatever. I'll probably just hang out and watch TV, and I also have a paper due on Monday that I should really start on it," Bella replied. She knew that look that was in his eye; he was planning something. Bella knew he would let her in on his plans, whatever they were, when he was ready. She just had to play his game and string it along.
"Come on," he said finally. He didn't have the patience to contain his excitement and wait. "I've got something to show you."
Bella followed her dad through the kitchen to the side entrance. He was the only one who chose to use this door; he said it always felt better to come home and be in the kitchen immediately. Bella loved her dad's oddities.
As they left the house, he locked the door and pointed to the car. Doing as she was told, she got in the passenger side and buckled her seat belt as her dad slid into the driver's side.
"So…what's up?" she asked, only half expecting an answer; he wouldn't want to ruin the surprise.
Her dad just smiled, started the car, and pulled out of the driveway.
It was a beautiful day. There were so few sunny days in the Olympic Peninsula and it seemed a shame to miss it. The leaves were just beginning to lose some of their vibrant green color as they did every year before they turned the various shades or red, gold and brown. The color that lined the small town roads reminded Bella of sour apple lollipops . Everything was green in Forks. Green, squishy, and normally wet.
Her dad had the radio tuned to the oldies channel and hummed along to most of the songs. He liked to drive to music instead of conversation. He really wasn't one for a lot of useless chatter. Neither was Bella. They were both comfortable in the silence.
They had driven for about fifteen minutes when Bella realized that she didn't know where they were going. Her dad had taken several back roads, and Bella had lost track of where they were almost as soon as they were out of town. The only thing to see out the car window were that lush acres of hardwoods that were broken up by a solitary home every few miles.
"Are you going to tell me where we're going?" Bella's voice held a trace of a giggle; her dad had often taken her on long drives. 'Just to get out,' he would often say. But there was always a purpose for her dad's outings. Usually a beautiful view, and unusually shaped tree, a whirlpool. It was fruitless to try and guess what his plans were. Bella didn't try.
Her dad looked at her, smiled and replied, "Just be patient. I told you that I have something to show you."
"Easier said than done, Dad." She did not pride herself on patience. It was not a trait that she had inherited form him.
They drove for about another ten minutes when he took a right turn into a large clearing that looked as if at one time there was a farm crop there, but it had been overtaken by the various grasses and pretty wildflowers, in a multitude of colors, of the area. It was a peaceful place, and Bella thought that it would make a nice picnic location and made a note to herself to suggest it. He put the car in park and got out without shutting off the engine.
"Come on, Bella," he said, walking around to the bonnet of the car. "Come over here."
Bella quickly undid her seatbelt and scrambled over to her father on the other side. He was standing with the car door open, waiting for her.
"Come on, get in. You're learning to drive."
"Really?" Bella tried to suppress her excitement. The idea of a driving a police cruiser seemed kind of cool.
"Well, you're going to be sixteen in a couple of weeks, and, honestly, I am not convinced that someone can really learn to drive in those school simulators," he said as he gently nudged Bella into the drivers side.
Bella sat down and had to adjust the seat. Her dad was a tall man, standing nearly six foot four. She had taken after her mom, small and petite. She was only five foot two. She wasn't midget-short, but her small frame gave the appearance of vulnerability and people often mistook her for being a lot younger than she was.
The seat adjusted easily, and her dad slid in the passenger side as she finished correcting all of the mirrors so she could see. He had a huge grin on his face, and Bella wondered if he thought she was funny. She had been in driver's education at school over the summer, but had yet to take any road tests. Bella had wanted to do the responsible thing and complete the entire course before tempting fate behind the wheel.
She had to admit to herself, as she sat in the cruiser's driver's seat, that she was eager to drive. Her dad had gotten her an old, red Chevy truck from a family friend that was supposed to be her sixteenth birthday present, but it was only lawn decoration until she officially obtained a driver's license.
"Where to?" Bella asked nervously. This was the first time she had ever been behind the wheel of a car with the intentions of driving it. She adjusted the mirrors several times and sat up straighter in her seat as if this would improve her driving abilities and suddenly make her more responsible.
"You can go anywhere back here. There shouldn't be much for traffic," her dad replied.
Bella put the car in drive and slowly pushed in the accelerator. Dad had turned off the radio to give her a clearer atmosphere to concentrate in, so the only noise was the purr of the engine and her rapid heartbeat pounding in her ears. She knew that she shouldn't be nervous because she had been taking the driver's education course at school; she knew what to do, but her body betrayed her.
The car pulled away smoothly as Bella directed it forward. She drove around the clearing several times, briefly regretting the paths she made through the flowers, to get the feeling of it, carefully threading the wheel through her hands when she needed to turn. After a few circuits, her dad told her to turn around and head towards the main road, and Bella obeyed. She enjoyed the feel of the leather wrapped steering wheel in her hands, and the car seemed to know exactly what she wanted it to do.
She reached the road, and for a moment, thought that her dad was going to take over. He didn't.
"Turn left," he said, perfectly calm. Calmer than she was. She was sweating bullets, afraid that she would make a mistake and hit another car, put theirs in a ditch or, at minimum, embarrass herself by doing something stupid like turning on the wipers instead of the turn signal.
Without replying, Bella eased the car onto the road and kept steady pressure on the accelerator. She had the window rolled down, and as the speed increase, the wind whipped her hair around her face. She knew she was going to have to spend hours getting the tangles out, but she didn't care. She was driving and, most importantly, having fun.
She must have had a huge smile on her face because when she glanced at her dad, he just laughed at her and told her to keep her eyes on the road.
He was certainly right about the traffic. She drove along the road without seeing any other vehicles; it was completely deserted. She must have been driving for about a hour and a half before her dad told her to pull over.
"How about some ice cream?" he asked.
"Can I drive there?" Bella asked hopefully. She knew the answer, but figured she would try anyway.
"Ahhh. No. I think you've done enough driving for today." Bella was a little disappointed and jutted out her bottom lip to show it. She wasn't a whiner to by nature, but often played the heartbroken child. He just looked at her and laughed as he slid out of the passenger side, unrelenting. Bella undid her seatbelt and jumped out of the car before he made it around to take her place.
"Jesus, kid, are you ever going to grow?" he complained with a laugh as he squeezed himself into the driver's seat and had to adjust the seat back just to pull his legs into the vehicle.
Bella just shrugged and got into the car.
The slamming of a door brought Bella back from the dream. She rubbed her eyes and realized that she must have had dozed off. Getting up, she threw her backpack and open biology book onto a chair in the corner of the room and glanced at the clock next to her bed. It was seven thirty; too early for Jessica to be home, so it had to be mom. Bella exited her room and went to the stairs.
"Mom, is that you?" she called as she walked down to the main floor of the house.
"Uh huh," was the only reply she got.
Bella went into the living room to find her mom draped across the sofa, still wearing the dirty smock from the local grocery store. Bella made a mental note to throw it into the wash with her next load of laundry.
"Where's Jessica?" her mom asked without even looking up.
"Still at practice, I think." Bella didn't have the heart to tell mom what Jessica was really like. It was easier just letting her think that her youngest child was a well-rounded young lady with a bright future.
"Oh." Her mom grabbed the remote for the TV and turned it on. She began flipping through the channels and settled on some movie that Bella didn't recognize. It was in black and white and Bella thought briefly that man looked a lot like Cary Grant. She turned up the volume a couple of notches, and Bella knew that this was her dismissal; her mom didn't want her around or to talk to her.
Bella sighed and walked back up to her bedroom, wondering why she even bothered anymore.
Shutting the door, she looked around her room. It was relatively plain. A single bed in the middle was the main focus. It was covered with a purple and grey comforter that her grandma had given her for her thirteenth birthday. She had never bothered hanging up any pictures and the walls were a naked pale blue. In the far corner were a pile of scruffy paperback books. She looked past them, not wanting to bother with them, and towards the window. She walked over to stare outside; there wasn't much to see. The storm had leveled out to a steady drizzle, and the last of the daylight was fading quickly.
Her window faced the backyard and there was a row of trees that sheltered their yard from any of the neighbors. Not that there was anything to look at. Most of the neighbors were elderly couples that sat on their porch during nice weather and still insisted that she was such a 'cute, little girl'. They hadn't realized that she had grown up.
A flash of movement caught her eye. She looked again toward the line of trees expecting to see a stray dog or cat seeking shelter from the rain. However, she knew that there were other, wilder and more sinister, animals that dared to come this close to town and hoped that was not what was there. Bella focused her eyes to the area, but she couldn't make out any animal shape. Actually, she couldn't make out anything. There were nothing but shadows. Bella wondered if maybe her eyes were just playing tricks on her, but just as she turned to go, she saw it again.
Yes, there was certainly something there; she had definitely seen it move this time. Bella squinted her eyes, as if that could improve her focus. There was something there, but she couldn't see enough to make out any details because of the fading light. It wasn't that she could see anything as much as she felt that something was in the back yard. Some unknown tingling sense was telling her that something was there.
Bella forced herself to look away for a moment, shaking her head; was she going crazy? The voice that she had thought she had heard call her name popped ominously back into her mind.
"That was only my imagination," Bella said out loud trying to convince herself that it was true. She peeked out the window again at the same place that she had seen the flash of movement. There was nothing but darkness there. She stared out into the empty yard, rested her forehead against the glass, and daydreamed.
"This is silly," she mumbled to herself, disgruntled. It must be the rain.
Bella backed away, closed the curtains, and glanced at the clock. It was nine thirty. She had been standing at the window for almost two hours. Bella rubbed her forehead, felt the cold circular mark that the window pane had left, and tried to remember what she had been thinking of for so long and how she could have stood there without feeling the time. Annoyed that she had wasted so much time on silly daydreams, she went and sat on her bed.
A soft knock on her bedroom door interrupted her thoughts of her pending insanity.
"Yeah?" Bella said to whomever was on the other side.
Jessica opened the door, quickly walked in, and plopped down on the bed next to her sister. Bella caught a whiff of the cigarettes that she usually smoked, but for once she appeared to be alcohol and pot free. Bella was surprised that Jessica had skipped her nightly rituals of indulgence and thought that maybe she had seen the light and decided to play it straight for awhile.
"Guess what? Mike Newton asked me out! Can you believe it? I mean, what am I going to wear?" Jessica babbled. She had had a crush on Mike Newton for the last year. He was the star of almost every sport offered at Forks High School and the object of desire for the majority of the female population in attendance. He was a senior, and Bella had seen him around, but was never impressed. He was good looking. He had spiked blond hair, blue eyes and was the classic 'All American Boy', but he was arrogant and had no problems making his very active personal life a source of constant gossip.
"Whatever, Jessica." Bella replied, stretching and still trying to work out where the time had gone. "I don't know why you like him anyway. He's an ass."
Not that Jessica had ever concerned herself with Bella's opinion of her taste, but she felt like she had an obligation, as an older sister, to attempt to guide her to make better decisions.
"He is not," Jessica snapped defensively, making a face that resembled a toddler eating sour lemons for the first time, "He's just misunderstood, that's all…"
She kept prattling on about the injustice of the high school gossip regarding Mike. Bella quit listening. Instead, she wondered how many people Jessica had to sleep with to get a reputation that would attract the notice of Mike Newton. Bella realized that this train of thought was wrong and malicious. Jessica was a cute girl. She wasn't tall, but she had a slender, athletic figure and long, curly dark hair and was popular. She had soft features and had learned very young how to accent them with perfectly applied make-up. Jessica had her pick of boys and being a cheerleader helped.
"Bella? Are you even listening to me?" Her younger sister's voice punctured her thoughts. "What should I wear?" Jessica's whining startled Bella, who was clearly not paying attention.
"Uh…what?" Bella asked quietly. She tried to focus back on what Jessica had said.
"My date. With Mike. Clothes. What should I have on?" Jessica was annoyed that Bella had not been paying attention. In Jessica's world, everything she did and said was newsworthy, and she did not handle being ignored, for any reason. For her, figuring out what shirt would best emphasize her assets or what girls was crushing on her latest boyfriend were the only major concerns in her life.
"How would I know?" she sighed in exasperation. Bella was not really interested, but she tried to make an effort. Her pathetic effort was unsuccessful.
"You know what? Forget it. I don't want your help!" Jessica snapped, dramatically standing up, and she wished out the door. Bella just rolled her eyes; that was Jessica, the drama queen. She wondered sometimes if they even came from the same gene pool.
With a long sigh, Bella kicked off her jeans and crawled into bed. She wasn't really sleepy but she thought that if she laid there long enough, she'd succumb. She concentrated on the gentle rhythmic sound of rain on the roof. She heard the TV downstairs. Her mom would fall asleep in front of the thing, as she did every night she wasn't out with her friends. Mom had slept in the living room ever since the accident.
Bella wondered when her thoughts would stop leading there. It had been two years and she knew that it was well past time to move on, but she couldn't stop blaming herself; and thinking that she should have done things differently.
Jessica was in her bedroom. Bella could hear her cackling away to one of her girl friends on the phone. She was probably going on and on about her upcoming date. Bella wished Jessica's friends had a no-phone calls after nine p.m. rule so the rest of the normal world could sleep.
Flopping over to her stomach, Bella tried to focus on the sound of the rain. It had slowed down to a steady drizzle.
"Isabella." Bella jumped up. She was sure she didn't imagine the male voice this time. It had come from the window. She walked over to it and looked out into the dark determined to discover who was calling her.
Nothing caught her eye at first. Then she saw it. Right in the shadow she was watching before, she saw something; it wasn't much, but she definitely saw it. Now that the rain had let up a little, she could almost make out his form. There was a man standing in the shadows cast by the large trees. Even in the dim light, she could see he was facing her.
She held in her breath in suspense and anticipation, and contemplated running downstairs, shaking her mom awake, and calling the police. For some reason, though, she did not feel any fear. She only felt a strange urge to go to this man. The feeling was like thousands of invisible strings pulling her from the center of her body.
He took a step forward. This one step brought him into to view, into the soft glow of light cast by the living room lights and television. He was clearly looking up at her, and her heart skipped several beats as he raised his arm, motioned, beckoning her to come down to him.
Bella debated with herself. She knew better than to go out and meet a man she did not know, even if it was in her backyard. He could be anything, a rapist, a kidnapper, or even worse. She knew that she should scream for help, run downstairs and arm herself with a baseball bat, and make the calls that would have squad cars and sirens surrounding the house within minutes to chase him off or haul him away.
But she couldn't. She wanted to go down to him and see who this strange man was and what he wanted. She wanted to be near him. She wanted to touch him.
Without looking away, she quickly pulled on her crumpled jeans, slipped on her shoes, and grabbed her black fleece. She moved before she had a chance to clear her mind and make a rational decision. Bella slowly opened her door and peeked into the hallway. It was quiet. Jessica was in her room with the door shut, still blabbing away. She stepped out her room slowly and closed the door behind her. If Jessica came out to go to the bathroom or to go downstairs, she wouldn't think it was unusual for her door to be shut.
Bella walked silently to the stairs. She knew how to get down the steps quietly, but she was worried that her mom would still be awake and would question what she was doing. She paused a few steps from the bottom, and tried to crane her neck to see, but the wall was in the way, and the sofa was blocked from view. She decided to risk it. She thought quickly, trying to come up with a believable story about why she was heading outside at this time of night and in the rain. She came up with nothing, she just hoped she was asleep.
Bella held her breath as she tiptoed down the remainder of the stairs. With a breath of relief, she saw that she had not needed to fear her mom's questions. She was fast asleep on the living room couch and Bella knew that she would be out for hours.
She walked quickly to the front door, opened it, and stepped outside. She took a deep breath of cool night air in relief and silently closed the door behind her.
The rain was little more than a soft mist now. She carefully walked down the porch steps, and around the side of the house, to the gate that led to the backyard. She hesitated for a moment with her hand on the gate latch. For a moment, she seemed to realize that leaving the house was not one of her best ideas, but curiosity got the best of her as she lifted the latch.
"Here goes," Bella mumbled to herself as she pushed the gate open, and walked into the open back yard keeping her head down to avoid getting wet from the rain. She walked to the corner where she had seen the man standing and looked up.