My mother offered to roll up the windows of the car and turn on the air-conditioning a million times as we drove towards the airport, but I refused. I couldn't let her-couldn't let this last chance to see my hometown slip away.
It was my last chance. I could hear that in the wind whipping my hair back and snapping it around my ears, in the hiss of tires against sun-baked asphalt, in the hum of the traffic whizzing down the streets around me. It was my last chance stare through the open window up at the sky and see it this particular shade of blue-the way it got darker by the mountains, almost white circling the blazing sun. My last chance to look around at towering skyscrapers with their mirrored windows glittering in the sun and the blazing cement structures sprawling through the grass and the sparse trees. My last chance to let the sunlight beat down against my face and breathe air that wouldn't make me feel like I was drowning in it.
Last chance, last chance, last chance.
Last chance before I boarded the first of two planes that would eventually bring me to a car waiting to ferry me to Forks, Washington; a little-known tiny town, but nevertheless uncontestably deserving of the Guinness Record for the rainiest place on the continent-and it could give the Amazon a run for its money across the planet.
Last chance before I moved away from the sunny, clear-skied home of my bubbly wilderness-guide mother and her brand-new girlfriend full of painting techniques and warmth, to live with my decidedly single father in the gloomy raincloud of a town where he was police chief.
We squealed to a stop at a traffic light, (my friend Gavin had offered to fix the brakes a million times, but my mother kept insisting that they were fine), and my mom took it as an opportunity to let go of the steering wheel and grab my wrist as tight as she could.
"You really don't have to do this, Bella. It's not too late to change your mind, I promise."
Reluctantly, I pulled my head back in from the window, and turned to face her. My forgetfully energetic mother, with her sun-streaked bun held in place by a pencil and her T-shirt sleeves rolled up, (she was oddly phobic of weird tan lines), her blue eyes wide and pleading.
"I know," I told her, laying my other hand on top of hers. (She was so tan-apparently my inability to be anything but white, ever, was inherited from my dad.) "I want to go to Forks, mom, I swear. It'll be fun to see Charlie again-get to see where I grew up, right?"
(I was gagging inside, but she didn't need to know that.)
She pursed her lips-our facial expressions and inability to lie were similarly transparent, and I could tell she didn't believe me.
"I don't know why you're doing this," she exhaled, "but if you're sure you aren't going to change your mind…"
I could tell that the trailed-off sentence was an invitation for me to speak, to say what she obviously already knew-that I'd been back to Forks for awkward summer visits and hated it, that I'd thrown such a temper tantrum the year I turned 11 that Charlie, my father had had to come visit me instead ever since-and I knew, too, that if I said that I wanted to turn around now, she would drive me back, no questions asked, no explanations needed, and let me stay with her and Phillipa until they moved down to Florida for the gallery that Phillipa was opening with one or another of her cousins, and they would let me go along then too.
But I couldn't. I'd seen how hesitant it made my mother whenever I was around, and how obligated she felt to take care of me. It was sweet, and touching, but I was a junior in high school-17 years old, and perfectly capable of taking care of myself, and she deserved some time to herself without trying to be super-mom all the time. (And besides, better the horrible new state that I knew. I'd read Gone with the Wind a few times too many to be ecstatic about moving anywhere in the south, and a little rain was preferable to a hurricane.)
"It's alright, mom. I'll be fine, I promise. Really."
I expected her to let go of my wrist at that-especially since I could see the other stoplight shifting from green to yellow out of the corner of my eye-but instead she just tensed, peering at me harder.
"Listen, Bella, this-this isn't because of me and Phil, is it?" Her voice was hesitant, concerned.
"Mom, no!" I almost laughed the words instead of speaking them. "You know I couldn't care less if you have a girlfriend." She should, at least-coming out to her had been one of the hardest parts of my sophomore year, and if she thought I was that hypocritical…
She shifted nervously. "Well, I know, but I just…maybe it was different for you that it was your mother…"
"Mom." I gripped her hand tighter. "Listen to me. I wouldn't care if you were dating five different people at once. As long as you're happy. I just want to try something different, alright? Get to know my father a little bit too."
The light was green now, but my mother didn't even appear to notice. I gave up on my pointed stare at the stoplight, and glanced back to her-there were tears welling in her eyes, her lips trembling.
"Alright," she whispered. "Alright-I just-it's hard to let go of my baby. You have to promise to visit me, alright, Bells?"
"And email you every day, I swear," I answered, too caught up in the moment to care about the stoplight anymore.
She grinned weakly. "That might be excessive. Just-I love you, okay, baby?"
I smiled back at her-and the impatient horn of the car behind us blared, startling us both back to life. My mom slammed the car back into gear, and we screeched through the light. Five blocks away, still speeding, we glanced over at each other and burst into identical laughter.
Five and a half hours later, I walked off of a plane in Port Angeles, Washington, into a wall of humidity and bored commuters who had forgotten that the country's capital was Washington D.C., followed my father through a misty gray deluge to a parked police car, hopped in for an hour-long drive to the town where I had just sentenced myself to spend the rest of my high school career-
And changed my life forever.