The following morning, Bella was awake at five-thirty. For the first time since Edward left, she had gotten a whole night of uninterrupted sleep. Before last night, she had been waking up with terrible nightmares, and her father would have to come in the room and sit with her.
Bella realized her poor father hadn't had a whole night's sleep since Edward abandoned her in the woods, but he patiently sat with her night after night without expecting anything in return. That was unconditional love, not the fake crap Edward and his family professed. No, her father's patience with her was love. She thought about what she could do for him. She still had time before school started. She decided to make him a full breakfast.
By the time Charlie Swan woke up at six am, bacon was sizzling on the stove, and there was a full plate of pancakes on the table. "Good morning, Dad!" Bella chirped as she turned off the stove and handed him a dish of scrambled eggs. She plated the bacon and laid it out on the table. "Are you ready for breakfast?"
Charlie stared at his daughter, pleasantly surprised at her happy demeanor. He prayed last night's visit from her friends would help turn her mood around, and so far, so good—Bella seemed to be doing much better. As far as he was concerned, eavesdropping on his daughter and her friends had been the best thing he'd ever done. He had been worried about her. She hadn't been sleeping well, and she'd been ignoring her health and hygiene. He had been one step away from calling his ex-wife Renee for help, but yesterday changed all of that. Obviously, a full confession is what she needed to do. He was grateful to Angela and Lauren for getting the truth from her, and now that he knew, he vowed to be a more attentive parent. As for Edward Cullen, if he ever showed his arrogant mug in town again, he'd make sure he regretted it. As it was, Tyler Crowley was going to get slapped with a traffic violation as soon as football practice ended today. The kid was continually speeding around town in his little Nissan, which his parents had bought for him after he nearly killed Bella with his van. He should have given the ticket then. No more. After what he had done to Lauren, the kid was going down.
"This is great! I haven't had a full breakfast in ages." He sat down and dug into the bacon, thanking God that Bella got her cooking skills from him instead of her mother. "What do you have planned for after school?"
"Nothing. I didn't join any clubs or anything because I was too caught up in Edward." Bella sighed and looked up at her father. She needed to make things right between them, and to do that, she had to apologize. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused—all the stupid things I did by being involved with a v…" She almost said vampire and was about to correct herself, but her father beat her to it.
"With a boy?"
"Bella, after hearing the things he said to you, I'm not surprised you were so depressed. No one ever has the right to disparage you the way he did. It was cruel, unconscionable, and inhumane." He smiled at her. "And part of growing up is experiencing love and heartache—to feel is the most human thing ever."
Her father was right. She was human, and part of the beauty of being human was the ability to feel deeply and grow through experience. She vowed to get over the heartache of losing Edward because it was for the best when she really thought about it.
"Did I ever tell you how much I love you?"
He turned to her daughter with a look of sheer joy. "I love you, too, kiddo. Always have, always will."
And that was unconditional love.
On the way to school, Angela and Lauren were finally able to bring up the topic of the medicine woman and the proposed reading.
"Wait, wait, wait… So, wait a second. What is the purpose of getting this reading done? I really don't want to be messing with some sort of strange, supernatural mojo."
"Supernatural mojo? Come on, Bella! It's just a reading from a medicine woman. She's like a psychic, really."
Bella's jaw dropped. She really didn't want to meet another psychic. Alice Cullen, Edward's sister, was a psychic, and she wanted nothing to do with the annoying future-seeing twit.
"Um… The medicine woman is human, right?" Bella questioned warily.
"Of course, she's human. Why wouldn't she be? She was growing her own vegetables in her garden and everything," Angela informed her."
"And does she eat the vegetables?"
"I'm sure she does."
"But you didn't see her eating?"
"Bella, why are you asking all these weird questions?"
"No reason." Bella shrugged her shoulders and wrung her hands together in an attempt to keep her mind off of the possibility the so-called medicine woman was a vampire.
"Anyway, we want her to do a reading and would like to invite you to come along."
"What's the reading on?"
"We all have different goals, but basically, we want to know if we'll ever find our one true love."
"That doesn't sound so harmful," Bella admitted before pausing to think. Being Renee Higgenbotham Swan Dwyer's daughter meant being exposed to an unnatural amount of New Age garbage, especially growing up in Phoenix, which was just a two-hour drive from the New Age enclave of Sedona. She had met with all sorts of practitioners, including gurus, medicine women, mediums, psychics, shamans, spirit whisperers, and witches, to name a few. She'd been to channeling sessions, cleansings, readings, regressions, and seances. She could say with absolute clarity that while these professed practitioners temporarily made people feel good—they were, without a doubt—frauds.
The only genuine psychic she'd ever met was Alice Cullen, and even her visions were flawed because they were dependent on the decisions made by the person or persons she was seeing. A sudden change of mind by the subject or someone or thing related to her visions could change the outcome.
"Well, do you want to do it with us?" Lauren asked.
"How much does she charge?" In her experience, New Age practitioners charged an arm and a leg. She could simply say she couldn't afford it, and this would be her out. Then again, Bella was in the territory of desperate for needing friends, and perhaps this would help cement her friendship with both Angela and, surprisingly, Lauren, whom she thought she'd never like based upon what she'd heard about her.
"Great question, Bella," Lauren agreed; turning to Angela, she continued, "You never told me."
She slapped a palm on her forehead. "Oh, yeah! I knew I forgot to mention something yesterday. I'll just tell you both now. She would like an offering."
"How much of an offering?"
"She doesn't want money. She would like an offering of food from each of us."
"Food?" Lauren asked.
"Yes, food. She said it should be well thought out and come from our hearts."
Bella thought that the reading may actually be a legitimate one for once. She might as well try it. "Sure, I'll do it. When is it, and where do we meet?"
"We have to meet at her house at twilight on Saturday. I figure we can all drive there together."
"Is it just the three of us?" Bella asked.
"Not exactly. The medicine woman insisted there had to be five people."
"And who are the other two people?"
"Jessica Stanley is one, and we don't really know the other girl. She just happened to be there seeking answers, too. Her name is Leah Clearwater."
"She's from La Push. I know her father. He hunts and fishes with Dad. He's super nice, and he's always talking about his daughter. I know she has a kid brother, too."
"Oh, good. Maybe you can help us break the ice with her."
"Sure. I've never met her, but I can try."
They arrived at school and went their separate ways to their classes—each looking forward to furthering their friendship.
During lunch, Jessica approached Angela and Lauren to ask if they persuaded Bella to go.
"Yeah, she said she'd go."
"How was she? Was she heartbroken and devastated because Edward Cullen dumped her?" Jessica snorted and shook her head. "I still can't believe he even dated her. It's not like she has anything going for her."
Lauren angrily crossed her arms in front of her chest. "She's really nice, Jess. I think it's really mean how you're talking about her behind her back, especially since she's doing us a favor by coming with us."
"You're friends with her now?" Jessica questioned incredulously.
"Yes, of course, I'm her friend. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I've always been her friend," Angela, who looked nonplussed, stated. "I've always said she's a nice girl."
"She may be nice, but she's an emo freak. If a guy ever broke up with me, I wouldn't be so devastated."
"Well, maybe some of us aren't as insensitive and shallow as you are!" Lauren took her lunch tray and walked away with Angela following. They found Bella just walking into the cafeteria.
Bella, noticing Lauren's demeanor, asked, "Is everything okay? You look upset."
"I'm fine. I just realized something I should have realized long ago." Lauren didn't want to mention how she thought Jessica was fake, selfish, and vain, just in case Bella was friends with her.
Bella, who had no idea what the other girl was talking about, replied, "Isn't it amazing when you have a moment of epiphany? It's like yesterday, after talking to you girls, I realized how selfish I had been to my father. He was trying to get through to me about Edward, and I wasn't letting him in. I should have talked to him sooner." She smiled at the two other girls. "Things are changing, though. I just got a text message from him. He said he's picking me up after school so we could spend the day together." She looked away towards an empty table. "Are we eating lunch?"
"You don't have a lunch tray," Lauren noted
"I packed a sandwich today. I wasn't about to subject myself to soggy, cafeteria burgers."
"Someone was smarter than the rest of us." Angela motioned to an empty table. "Let's sit over there."
The rest of lunch passed quickly, with the girls chatting about this or that while quickly noshing on their food. Angela and Lauren noticed Jessica Stanley was sitting with a rowdy group of kids, including Tyler Crowley. They wondered whether her friendship was genuine or not.
Charlie Swan was as good as his word to his daughter. He picked her up immediately after school and took her to the beauty salon to get her a much overdue haircut. Lauren Mallory's mom, who owned the salon, personally did her hair. Bella thought she was a sweet lady, especially after she persuaded her father to shave his mustache during his haircut.
After they got their hair done, Charlie took Bella to Sully's for some ice cream. It was there he brought up dinner plans. "Harry Clearwater invited us over for dinner at his house. Apparently, his wife is making Indian Tacos. You've probably never had them, but they're delicious. Now, before you say no…"
"Dad, you had me at Indian Tacos. I love Indian Tacos."
"When did you have them?"
"I grew up in Arizona. We're surrounded by reservations there, and there are a few restaurants that serve Indian Tacos, too."
Charlie smiled. "And here I thought you were going to say no. I think you'll get along with Leah and Seth, too. They're great kids."
"I think it's about time I got to know more people, too, Dad," Bella declared, thinking it was kismet she was going to be meeting Leah Clearwater, who was part of the group going for the reading.
The tall, beautiful Quileute woman with sparkling eyes greeted her with a smile. "Finally! I get to meet the elusive Bella Swan! I'm Sue, Harry's wife." She surprised Bella by engulfing her in a hug. "And this is our daughter Leah and our son Seth."
"Oh, hello," Bella greeted with her hand extended. She had vowed to herself to put herself forward more. No more being shy. "I'm Bella. It's great to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you, too. My dad has told me a lot about you." Leah was a tall, gorgeous Quileute girl with beautiful, jet black straight hair and big brown eyes. She had a smile on her face, which didn't meet her eyes. Bella thought she looked unhappy about something—almost haunted. She wondered if she, herself, appeared that way to others. But no—she was going to put Edward behind her. He was not good for her at all.
"Hi, Bella!" Leah's brother Seth, on the other hand, seemed like a happy-go-lucky kid. He, too, was on the tall side. "Did you bring lasagna? Jake and my dad both said your lasagna is good. Whenever my mom makes it, it always comes out too soggy."
"They did? I can make lasagna for you at some point."
"Sure, she can," Charlie agreed. "We'll find a good day, and you can all come over. In fact, how about Saturday night?"
"NO!" Bella and Leah shouted at the same time.
"Bells?" Charlie questioned.
"Leah?" Harry asked.
"I… I've been invited to a sleepover," Leah replied.
"Where?" Sue asked suspiciously.
"At my new friend Angela's house."
"And where did you meet this Angela?"
"At… At…" Leah stood there with her mouth open as she tried to come up with a believable answer when Bella stepped in to rescue her.
"Oh! You must be the girl whose wallet she picked up on Sunday at Forks Outfitters." Bella looked into Leah's eyes and nodded very slightly, indicating to her to go with it.
Leah relaxed and smiled, "That's right. I was such a ditz. I was at Forks Outfitters, and I dropped my wallet on the way out of the store. Angela picked it up and followed me to my car to return it to me."
"She told me about you during lunch today. She wanted to know if I'd ever met you since she knew your dad and mine were friends. I told her I haven't as of yet, but I'd make it a priority to meet you." She was going to hell. She was telling a lie about a pastor's daughter.
Leah clapped her hands together. "I had no idea you knew Angela. I was surprised when she invited me to the sleepover at her house. Are you going, too?"
Was she going? Wait for a second! This was an imaginary sleepover that Leah came up with, which she had supported. Of course, she was going to go—just as soon as she told Angela she was having a sleepover at her house on Saturday.
"Of course, I'm going. I'm so excited."
"And I can assure you both that Angela is a great kid. She's Frank and Laura Weber's kid," Charlie informed the Clearwaters. "She was over at our house last night, together with her friend Lauren. They're both great girls, and I'm happy Bella is friends with them."
"I'm happy you're finally going out and about with friends instead of moping around the house pining after an immature boy," Harry said, and then turned to Bella. "That goes for you, too, young lady."
Bella's eyes snapped to glance at Harry Clearwater, who smiled at her nonchalantly. She wondered why he made that odd statement. She shrugged it off to him just being a caring guy.
"Bella, come with me. I want to show you around the reservation." Leah motioned to the front door. "Don't worry, we'll be back before dinner."
"Oh, sure. It'll be fun."
"I'll go, too," Seth announced, but his mother put her foot down.
"No, you have homework."
"Mom, this is a special occasion. Bella is visiting with Charlie," he begged.
With that, Bella and Leah left the house for their walk. They walked in silence for a bit until they reached First Beach, observing the waves for a bit. Bella decided to break the quietude by saying, "Ooh! I should text Angela and tell her we're sleeping over at her house on Saturday because she invited us to a slumber party."
Leah nodded while Bella fired off a text message to her friend.
"So, you're the fifth person going to the medicine woman?" Leah asked.
"I am. Angela and Lauren actually told me you were also participating today."
"Is that why you came all of a sudden? My parents have been inviting you to come for a visit for months."
Bella felt bad. She knew what Leah said was true, and she had no reasonable answer except, "I know. I was in a terrible place. I became involved with a guy. I thought I was in love, but then he broke up with me without any warning at all—any at all! He…" Bella paused to wipe her tears with her sleeve. She took a few deep breaths to calm down. "He disappeared for three days, then brought me out into the woods to break up with me. Before he did that, he tore me to shreds—telling me that he let the relationship drag on for too long and that he didn't want me anymore. And then his whole family moved away from the neighborhood—apparently, his father had been offered a job he couldn't refuse.
Leah abruptly moved in and gave her a hug, letting Bella cry on her shoulder. She wanted to be supportive but couldn't stop her own tears from falling.
Bella noticed Leah was crying and calmed herself down. "Leah, Leah, what's wrong? Tell me what's wrong."
"Your story—your story was so similar to mine. I dated a guy through most of the high school, we
were in love—engaged to be married, and then all of a sudden, he disappeared for two weeks. To this day, I have no idea where he was or what he was doing during those two weeks. All I know is, he came back with a tattoo and decided he didn't want me anymore. He is now engaged to my cousin Emily."
Bella turned to Leah, her hands balled up to fists, and her expression one of pure rage. "That jackass! What he did to you was worse than what Edward did to me—I was only with him for a few months before he dumped me. The guy you were dating gets the award for an evil monster! You were with him for years…"
Leah nodded. "Three and a half years."
"You were with him for three and a half years, you were engaged, and he had the nerve to dump you for your cousin. And what the hell happened to family loyalty and all? Does it not exist anymore?" Bella stomped her foot angrily. "Where do these guys get the temerity to use us and dump us as if we were yesterday's trash? Are we going to ever meet any quality men who will love us unconditionally?"
"That's why we're going to the medicine woman, isn't it? We need answers. We deserve them." Leah took Bella's hand at squeezed it. "I'm so happy you decided to finally come over to our house. I could really use a friend."
The girls gave each other a hug, knowing that their friendship would be lifelong. How could it not be, especially after they had poured their hearts out to each other the way they had.
After school on Thursday, the girls met at Lauren's house to discuss the upcoming reading and to figure out what they should bring as offerings. Angela agreed to host Bella, Lauren, and Leah on Saturday evening. Jessica declined to the sleepover, admitting she preferred to sleep in her own bed.
"I don't understand why she needs five people, though," Jessica complained. "How can five offer protection?"
"She's probably invoking the protection offered by the elements of a pentagram," Bella replied.
"How do you know that?" Jessica scowled at her as if she had horns growing out of her skull.
"I just know stuff. My mom is into New Age mysticism."
"Weird," Jessica mouthed, glancing at everyone else, expecting them to agree with her.
"I think it's so cool how open your mom is," Leah stated, glaring at Jessica. She could see right through the fake bitch. She didn't like her at all.
"Anyway, what do you think we should bring as an offering?" Lauren asked.
"I don't think it really matters," Jessica said impatiently; she glanced at the time on her phone. "Listen, I have to get going. I have somewhere I need to be."
"Where are you going?" Lauren asked curiously.
"Um, I promised my mom I'd be home early. Can we just agree to meet at five-thirty where we parked the last time so we can hike to the psychic's hut together?"
"Don't you want to discuss what your offering is going to be before you leave?" Angela asked.
"Nah, I'll figure it out on my own." She dismissed them with a wave of her hand and quickly left. She seemed to be in a real rush. Somehow, all four girls thought she had been lying when she said she had to be home early.
"I guess Jessica is all set," Angela, who generally thought well of everyone, concluded. She was beginning to have real doubts about Jessica's sincerity. "What should we do about the offering?"
"What were her exact words?" Bella questioned.
"Well, when I asked about the price, she said the money had no meaning in the ritual and that she would take an offering of food from each of us instead. She also said it should come from our hearts and be well thought out," Angela stated.
"She said each individual offering should come from our hearts freely and wholeheartedly, manifesting the intent of our souls," Leah added. "Like Angela said, the offerings need to be well thought out, but there has to be another hidden meaning, which is why I thought we should all hash this out together."
"Oh, boy. This is complicated!" Lauren stated.
"No, it isn't. She simply means that each offering should be a clear reflection of how committed we are to seeking answers. It has to come from our hearts, but also show how much we are willing to give to find answers," Bella explained.
"Wow! You're brilliant!"
"Not really. If you've been around mysticism as much as I have, you learn to unravel the meaning of certain phrases."
"I hope she's not a fraud," Leah said.
"She may actually be the real thing. She's not making money off of the reading," Bella pointed out. "But enough of this. Have you figured out what to offer?"
Rather than proposing ideas, each girl sat deep in thought until Lauren announced she was hungry from continually thinking about food. The girls decided to go home and think independently since they weren't discussing it together anyway.