Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight.

WARNING: This story will contain violence, drinking, sexual situations, and sensitive subject matter in later chapters.

Also, I'm only going to say this once. The Bella in this story is not the kind you're used to. I know this is fiction, but we're going to be a little realistic here. If a Bella that is timid, weak, and doesn't stand up for herself for part of the story is something that bothers you, then you don't want to read this story.

Not every girl is strong and independent, and the Bella in this story does not start off as such.

So, if you're going to read anyway, please understand WHY the characters are the way that they are. The story is less about who they are and more about HOW they overcome and become stronger.

So, please, if you're going to flounce because of how "weak/pathetic/timid/stupid" Bella is, don't say I didn't warn you.

Keep in mind that characters, even when they're fictional, are the way that they are for a reason.


Chapter 1 - The Way

They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking

But where were they going
Without ever knowing the way?

The children woke up
And they couldn't find 'em
They Left before the sun came up that day

They just drove off
And left it all behind 'em
But Where were they going Without ever knowing the way?

The Way- Fastball

Bella POV

Friday, July 6, 2006

I'd like to say that this day was an ordinary day. I'd like to say that it was another boring, useless, uneventful day of a summer vacation as blank as an uninspired artist's canvas.

I'd love to say that this day didn't change my life in any way whatsoever.

But if what happened on that day never happened, if it never left me broken, there wouldn't be a story to tell.

I was fourteen and full of life. My cheeks were naturally flushed with the exuberance of a blooming adolescence.

I stood at my mirror, pulling a brush through my chestnut brown locks, and humming to myself tunelessly. It was something I often did subconsciously.

The smell of pancakes drifted up the stairs from the kitchen and into my room, causing my stomach to growl. I sighed and set the brush down, ready to head downstairs and start another ordinary day.

Or so I thought.

Ordinary. I was ordinary, my life was ordinary, and my family was ordinary.

Ordinary- A word I used to frown upon soon became something I desperately wished for.

I would kill for ordinary again.

I skipped down the stairs, almost tripping on the last step as usual, and made my way into the kitchen. My mother Renee stood at the stove flipping pancakes whilst my dad, Charlie, sat at the small kitchen table, reading a newspaper and sipping coffee. It was an ideal sight.

And the last time I'd ever see it.

In fact, the sight was so cliché that I stood in the kitchen doorway and giggled.

"Morning Bella," Renee said without looking up from the pan. "What's funny?" I shook my head, even though she wasn't looking my way. She held out a plate of pancakes for me, still concentrating on the frying bacon. Her gray eyes were focused and her light brown hair hung in her eyes. I took the plate of pancakes from her and gave her a funny look, because both of my parents seemed distracted this morning. I walked over to the kitchen table and took a seat across from Charlie.

It was strange to see my father so deeply immersed in the Forks newspaper with his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Nothing remotely interesting ever happened in this rainy little town, so my curiosity was peaked as to what could have gotten him so into the paper. Being the police Chief, he would already know everything, wouldn't he?

"What're you reading there, Dad?" I asked, stabbing some pancake with my fork. "Someone got shot? Murdered?"

I couldn't help the morbid excitement in my voice. It really would be major news if something like that happened around here, but I highly doubted it ever would.

Maybe once every century.

Charlie noticed my excitement and glanced up from the paper to give me a brief, but stern, look.

"There's nothing exciting about shootings and murder, Bella," he said. With that, he shook the paper straight and went back to reading it as though I hadn't spoken, and without even answering my question.

"Oh give her a break, Charlie." Renee said tiredly. She walked over to the table to put down a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him before walking back to the stove. "She's just bored. I would be too if I were cooped up at home the first few weeks of summer vacation."

"Yeah well, you've got friends." Charlie said to me, gnawing on some bacon but keeping his eyes on the paper. "Do something. Go to the beach like all the other kids around here."

I raised my eyebrows at him. He knew I actually had little to no 'friends'. I'd always been a withdrawn, shy person, and the few friends I did have were all pretty much out of state doing something fun, unlike me. As for the beach, it was either always too chilly around here, even in July, or the sun wasn't treating me very kindly. My porcelain skin burns easily, so the beach was easily out of the question.

"Dad, you know Jessica and Angela aren't even in state. Mike isn't even in the country," I said. "And the sun will roast me if I go to the beach."

"Suit yourself," he muttered.

"Your father's a bit grumpy today, Bella, in case you haven't noticed," Renee said from the stove.

"Really? I had no idea," I replied with sarcasm. Charlie grunted something incoherently but didn't acknowledge my presence after that.

The room fell silent and the air was tense. I suddenly felt awkward and started fidgeting with my fork. I really didn't know why there was any tension at all, since my parents were usually morning people. They were always energetic and talkative by day and exhausted and quiet by night. I observed them carefully, contemplating whether or not they had been fighting, though it didn't seem likely. My mom and dad always seemed like a happy couple to me, despite the fact that they had raised two kids they hadn't planned for.

Renee and Charlie got married straight out of high school and ended up having my brother Emmett nine months after their wedding. This wasn't something they intended, but it happened anyway and they struggled being teen parents, even though they were adults according to the law. They didn't want any more kids after Emmett but I came along six years after him. Renee and Charlie weren't exactly the greatest parents in the world, but they did the best they could to raise two kids they didn't see coming. When I was growing up, I felt the distance between myself and my parents. We didn't spend a lot of time together but they took care of us nonetheless, though often times it felt like they did it, not exactly out of love, but out of a sense of responsibility. As I got older I could tell they sometimes wished they could go back in time and change a few things around, possibly things that would prevent the existence of Emmett and me. But that's something I didn't like to think about.

After all, I was living my life, and they were living theirs.

Charlie looked uncomfortable at the table for some reason and kept shifting in his seat, whilst Renee was touching things unnecessarily, trying to look busy.

Something was wrong.

Before I could question them about anything, a sudden flash of red zoomed by the window to our right as the sound of speedy tires hitting gravel met our ears. Then there was the squeal of tires coming to a sudden stop in our driveway. Charlie shook his head and muttered something about "reckless" and Renee sighed.

There could only be one source for that sound: Emmett.

I shot out of my seat, tripping on the table leg but catching myself, and sprinted to the kitchen door that opened onto our deck, backyard and driveway. I threw the door open and stepped onto the deck to see Emmett open the car door as he turned off the loud rock music playing inside. I didn't know how his extremely bulky figure could even fit in that front seat but, lo and behold, he climbed out easily and with a huge grin on his face.

"Em!" I called excitedly.

"Hey kiddo!" he said in his booming voice. I sprinted down the two little steps but caught my foot in a rock and fell onto the grass, catching myself on my hands, as Emmett laughed hysterically. He helped me up, still laughing, and pulled me into the vice grip of his arms, squeezing the breath out of me.

"Ah, I forgot how graceful you are," he chuckled, still squeezing me tightly.

"You know, one of these days you're gonna crash that car right into the garage door," came my mother's voice. I pulled away from Emmett to see Renee standing in the kitchen doorway, frowning with her arms folded across her chest.

"Don't say that!" Emmett said, sounding hurt. "I would never do that to my car!"

I laughed as Renee went back inside and Emmett and I followed. He threw his heavy arm over my shoulders as we walked, and I tried to keep my balance although the weight of his arm made it difficult.

"So sis," he said. "How's life? How's your summer going?"

I groaned as we stepped into the kitchen. "Boring! I've been at home sitting on my ass for the past two weeks."

"That explains the little extra pudge," he teased, poking my cheek.

"Hey!" I protested, too excited by his presence to feel insulted. "I am not fat!"

"I didn't say that!" he retorted.

"Leave your sister alone," Renee chided as she briefly hugged him around the waist. "It is good to see you, though, Emmett."

I looked around for Charlie, but didn't see him.

"Where's dad?" Emmett asked, mirroring my thoughts.

"He went upstairs; he'll be down soon," Renee replied. I thought it was weird that Charlie would head upstairs the moment his son came home after months, but I brushed it off.

"So what're you doing here?" I asked Emmett as he grabbed three pancakes off a plate and took an enormous bite. Renee looked at him disapprovingly.

Emmett shrugged, his mouth full of pancake and said something sounding like, "I uff wafid foo fee ma guzla". Bits of pancake flew out of his mouth and I cringed away from the debris.

"Emmett!" Renee cried, smacking his bicep lightly with a spatula. "Don't talk with your mouth full! Do they discourage manners at college?"

Emmett was a junior at Seattle Pacific University, and majoring in physical education to be a physical therapist or something. He still lived in state but his college was a long drive from Forks. He only visited every few months and when he did, he stayed for a few days. Emmett and I were really close, even though we were six years apart in age. We used to do everything together before he left for college and he was pretty much my best friend.

"What?" I laughed. "I need you to say that again, I don't speak pancake."

Emmett swallowed with a gulp. "I was saying that I just wanted to see my klutzilla."

I narrowed my eyes at him. He had been calling me that since we were kids, always finding it hilarious that I wasn't the most coordinated person in the world. It still drove me insane, and he knew it. He grinned at me wickedly.

"I'm just kidding!" he said, nudging me with his elbow playfully. "No, but really, I just came to see everyone."

"Are you staying?" I asked hopefully.

"Yup!" he said, shoving what was left of the three pancakes in his mouth, and I smiled widely. Having my brother around for a few days would definitely make up for the weeks of boredom that had just passed.

Charlie shuffled into the kitchen then to greet his son, and the next few minutes were spent standing in the kitchen and chatting aimlessly about what Emmett had been up to since school let out. I had finally finished my breakfast and was putting plates in the sink when I heard my mom say, "Thanks for coming Emmett. I'm glad you could babysit for us tonight."

I whirled around, puzzled. Was she talking about me, a teenager, needing a babysitter?

"Aw, you know I can't refuse when mommy calls and requests something," Emmett said sweetly.

"Wait!" I said. "Mom, you called Emmett to come babysit me?" Renee glanced at me for what may have been the first time that morning, but turned away to start washing the dishes.

"I just thought you'd like some company while your father and I go on a little date tonight," she said simply.

"I don't need a babysitter!" I cried, offended.

"Who said you need a babysitter?" Emmett asked confusedly.

"Mom did." I turned to my mother. "I don't need Emmett to babysit."

"Fine," Emmett muttered, pretending to sound hurt. "I'll leave."

"No," I said quickly. "You can stay; I'm just insulted that you guys think I need to be babysat. I'm fourteen."

"That's not what I meant," Renee said. Her voice was gentle. "I was just asking Emmett if he would stay here with you while we were gone."

"Of course I would!" Emmett said, hugging me tightly with one arm and ruffling my hair. "I don't want my baby sister home alone all night. There are creeps in this town." He whispered the last part loudly and we all laughed as I pushed away from him.

Charlie had been standing there quietly the whole time.

Emmett and I spent the rest of the day out. Being a fitness buff, he wouldn't allow me to sit at home any more than I had already been doing. He said I needed to be more active, so I was dragged to the park to throw a Frisbee around. Football was not for me, so he settled for the next best thing, as long as he was allowed to throw something. Of course, the Frisbee kept flying over my head, making it impossible for me to catch. Sometimes I thought Emmett played sports with me just to watch me embarrass myself.

Soon we gave up on the possibility of me catching the damn thing (the Frisbee hitting me in the face and me grabbing it afterwards didn't count), so we just walked around the park and chatted. One of the best things about Emmett was that we could talk for hours about any and everything. He could make any lame topic and twist it around to be interesting and funny. It was great having him around, and I felt my spirits lift greatly.

We planned on having a movie night that night since my parents were going out, and Emmett was shocked at the lack of junk food in our house. He felt that was a crime, especially for a movie night, so after the park we headed to the grocery store to stock up on unhealthy stuff. He filled the cart with every type of potato chips, cookies, soda, and candy he could get his hands on. I thought it was funny that he had insisted we be active that morning, yet he also insisted on buying an excessive amount of junk food. When I pointed this contradiction out to him he just said, "You need some meat on those bones, kid."

Around six that evening, Emmett and I sat in the living room arguing about what movies to watch. The living room had a flat screen TV embedded in the wall above the mantelpiece where a mirror used to be before Charlie won some money in a lottery. My parents were getting ready to go out so it would be just Emmett and I hanging out all night.

I sat on the couch across from the TV, as Emmett looked through the DVDs that were shelved under the coffee table that I had my feet rested on.

Emmett wanted to watch something one hundred percent action whereas I desired something more romantic. Not a chick flick but something fantastical.

"Okay if you don't want action, let's do horror," he suggested.

"Fine, but it has to have vampires," I said, and Emmett groaned. Finally he pulled out a DVD.

"30 Days of Night?" he suggested. "It's got action, a little romance, and chicks think that main dude is hot."

"He is," I smiled. "I vote yes."

"Speaking of hot dudes, what about you?" he asked has he turned the DVD player on. "Any scumbags you like around here that I need to scare off?"

I laughed. Emmett had always been overprotective when it came to me and boys. When I was 4 and he was 10, we were at the park and Mike Newton gave me a kiss on the cheek. I thought he had cooties so I tried to push him away but he kept trying to kiss me. It was all in good fun, but Emmett saw and threw a handball at Mike's face.

Yeah, he got in some trouble for that.

"No," I assured my brother. "No one around here."

Honestly, I secretly wished there was. I was a hopeless romantic at heart, as well as a huge fan of romance novels and films. One of the things I wanted most in life was just to fall in love and have someone love me back. I really wished I had someone to call my own, especially since I had been pretty lonely lately. Guys in middle school really didn't give me any attention, so I hoped I would find a nice guy in high school, which I would start attending that September. Not that I would ever tell Emmett that I wanted a boyfriend. Emmett's body was a neon sign that read FEAR ME.

"That's good," Emmett muttered. "I'd hate to hunt down and mess up some hormonal little twerp on my first day here."

I rolled my eyes and stood up to go make some popcorn when Renee and Charlie came down the stairs and into the living room. Charlie wore a suit with no tie and Renee had on a simple black dress with a matching shawl thrown over her shoulders.

"Aww, you guys look great!" I said, grinning.

"Lookin' good!" Emmett agreed. Charlie looked uncomfortable and Renee smiled.

The smiled didn't reach her eyes.

"Thank you," Renee said. "We're going to head out now. We should be back around 11, midnight at the latest."

Suddenly, she hugged me. I honestly could not remember the last time she did that. Renee and Charlie weren't very emotional people, and seldom said or showed what they felt. They weren't the type of parents to tell their kids how much they loved them on a daily basis.

My mom let go of me and didn't look at me as she walked over to Emmett, hugging him too. The look on his face showed that he was a bit surprised as well.

"You kids have fun," she said. With that, she walked to the front door and left.

"Okay. . ." Emmett said uneasily. He cocked an eyebrow at me and I shrugged. Charlie, who had been standing there silently, cleared his throat and nodded at us both before following Renee out.

Emmett and I stared at each other when the front door closed, its click echoing in the room. It was quiet for a moment before Emmett finally mumbled, "That was . . . awkward."

I just stood there and nodded. It had been extremely awkward, and the discomfort was gnawing at me. Something was very, very off today.

The silence was becoming unbearable and Emmett shook his head jerkily, like he was trying to get rid of a thought.

"Anyway," he said. "Let's get this DVD player working. I wanna see some gore!" He went back to mess with it as I headed into the kitchen to make the popcorn.

The rest of the night was spent watching the film and commenting on things here and there. Emmett had a joke to crack about everything and didn't go out of his way to make fun of Josh Hartnett, just because I had a thing for him. Even though I had seen the film before, I still jumped at the scary parts, and even screamed once, which put Emmett into hysterics. He even scared the hell out of me on purpose when he went to the bathroom and then snuck up behind me on his way back. I dropped the whole bowl of popcorn when I jumped and told him he had to clean them up.

He stomped on them all.

After 30 Days of Night was over, we decided to settle on a comedy. We watched Shaun of the Dead, just because it contradicted the last film. It was around 11:30pm when my head started to nod off from exhaustion, my eyelids getting heavy and closing. We had planned on staying awake until my parents came home, but I had risen earlier than usual that day and was tired, especially from being at the park. I would have fallen asleep if Emmett hadn't been throwing popcorn at my face every two seconds from the armchair he sat in. His aim was flawless and I was too tired to even tell him to stop anymore.

"Go to bed!" he finally said, laughing. "I think every piece of popcorn from the floor has been on your face and back."

I just hummed in response, my eyes almost completely closed.

"Want me to carry you?" he suddenly asked. There was an amused quality to his tone, and I did not like the sound of that. It was usually present when he was planning on doing something mischievous.

"Whatever you're thinking, don't - " Before I could finish he roared and my eyes flew open as he charged at me, lifting me up and throwing me over his shoulder.

"Emmett!" I cried, wide awake now. "What the hell! Let me down!" I punched at his back, only hurting myself in the process, as he charged towards the stairs, laughing. He ran up the stairs, flew down the hallway, and kicked my bedroom door open. He then proceeded to throw me on my bed, where I bounced off the mattress and nearly hit the floor.

I sat up on my elbows and glared at him while he was bent over, still laughing like a madman.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" I snapped.

He was trying to catch his breath as he gasped, "Man, I think you gained more than a little extra pudge."

I got off my bed and pushed at his chest angrily.

"Get out," I demanded. I did not like what he did, as fun as it may have been for him. My brother was funny and all, but sometimes he just went way overboard. I pushed against his chest again, and he backed up towards the open door, doing what I said for once.

"Oh come on, you know that was fun!" he said, grinning. Once he was over the threshold, I slammed the door in his face and locked it.

"Bells, really? Did that really piss you off?" he called through the door. I went to my dresser and pulled out my pajamas, the exhaustion getting back to me.

"I'm sorry!" he said, but I could hear a smile on his face.

"Whatever," I snapped, loud enough for him to hear me. I forgave him. He was just being his annoying, silly self and that's what I loved about my brother. It wasn't fair for me to get mad at him on his first day here. The sleepiness was clearly getting to my head.

"You wanna finish the movie?" he asked, obviously still standing outside.

"No," I called back. "I think I'm gonna go to bed."

"'Kay. I'll be downstairs if you need me. Love ya, sis."

I sighed. Emmett could be annoying as hell, but he could also be really sweet.

"Love you too," I said, and I heard his heavy footsteps thump down the hallway and back downstairs.

I awoke with a start in the middle of the night. I looked around my dark room, disoriented with sleep, and glanced at the large red numbers of the alarm clock. It was almost four-thirty in the morning. I yawned and climbed out of bed, the several Cokes I drank finally catching up with my body.

I stepped into the dark hallway and was heading towards the bathroom when I passed by my parents' bedroom, seeing that their door was slightly ajar. They always closed the door completely at night when they went to bed, so I found it odd. Normally I would have ignored such a thing but I felt the sudden urge to peek in.

I held the doorknob and pushed the door open just a little bit more so I could glance inside.

Their bedroom was dark, illuminated slightly by the streetlights outside.

Their bed was made but they weren't in it.

I pushed the door open completely and stared at the bed, confused. It was four in the morning; wouldn't they be home by now? They promised midnight at the latest. . .

Another thing I noticed was that the drawers of their dresser and the closet doors were also slightly open. I slowly walked over to the closet and glanced inside.

It was empty, the hangers on the rack bare. The gnawing feeling I had had all night at the back of my head was beginning to surface.

I flew over to the dresser and yanked the drawers open all the way. Every single one of them was full of nothing but air. The panic began to settle in as I got on my knees and crawled over to the bed. Underneath it should have been the empty suitcases that were stored there for vacations. But when I peeked under the bed, the only thing I found was dust bunnies.

They couldn't have. . .

Freaking out a bit, I went into the hallway and towards the window at the top of the stairs. It had the same view as the kitchen windows, showing the deck, backyard, and part of the driveway. I could see the shiny red tint of Emmett's sports car, but the tree that grew in our driveway obstructed my view from seeing if my parents' beat-up old car was behind it. I went to the guest bedroom, which used to be Emmett's old room and where he stayed when he came over, and saw that he wasn't in his bed either.

Fully beginning to panic now, I stumbled down the stairs and back into the living room.

The place was a mess. Popcorn was still all over the floor and couch, eight Coke cans sat on the coffee table, and bags of chips, cookies, and candy were also lying here and there. The TV screen was on, but blue, and the lights were dimmed from when we had started the movies. The kitchen light, as well as the dining room light, was off.

The biggest relief to me was seeing Emmett's massive form lying on the couch and snoring. His feet hung off the end and his arm dangled off to the side. He clearly didn't fit but he was sleeping like a baby. He had an afghan thrown over himself, but it only covered his torso and thighs. He had obviously been too lazy to drag himself upstairs.

I headed into the kitchen and towards the back door, the dread in me getting stronger. If Renee and Charlie had come home, they would surely have made Emmett go to bed and not sleep on the couch. What was the delay?

I opened up the back door and a gust of freezing cold wind blew in. I shivered and felt myself get goose bumps, but stepped outside still barefoot. It was drizzling lightly and the patio lights, which were motion sensitive, turned on as I leaned over the banister and peeked down the driveway.

Other than Emmett's car, it was completely empty.

I ran back inside, not bothering to close the door, and went back to the living room.

I grabbed Emmett's foot and shook it, trying to wake him.

"Emmett!" I hissed. "Wake up!" He stirred but kept on snoring. "Emmett!" I grabbed his massive leg and tugged, hard. He woke with a start and lifted his head to see me at the foot of the couch. Jumping, he pulled the afghan up to his neck, looking scared.

"Shit! Jeez, Bella, what are you doing? You scared the shit out of me." His voice was thick with sleep. He took in my expression, which must have looked terrified, and his brows furrowed with concern.

"What is it?" he asked, sitting up. "What's wrong?"

"Mom and Dad didn't come home." My voice was shaky. Emmett stared at me before he shook his head, trying to understand something.

"They said they'd be home by midnight," he said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"It's almost five in the morning," I clarified. "Their closet and their drawers are empty, their bed is made, and their suitcases are gone." I spoke quickly, the words jumbling together because of my fear. Emmett blinked at me before standing up quickly and pulling his phone out of his pocket.

"I'll call Dad, you call Mom," he ordered. I wildly looked around for my phone, spotting it on the coffee table and grabbing it. I found my mom's number in my contacts and hit send.

"The number you are trying to reach is unavailable. Please try ag-" I groaned and pressed the end button, then the send button again.

"The number you are trying to reach is-" I slammed my thumb into the end button again and repeated the whole process at least five times. My heart was beating fast, and my breathing was on the verge of turning into hyperventilation.

Emmett cussed, his back to me, and violently pressed some buttons on his phone as well.

"No luck?" I asked, my voice cracking. Emmett shook his head and glanced at me briefly, but not briefly enough for me to miss the panic and fear in his eyes.

"I don't get it," he mumbled, pacing back and forth. "How is the number unavailable? There's perfect reception here and it should take me to voicemail even if the battery died or some shit. Nothing with Mom, either?"

I shook my head no, my eyes beginning to water. I was absolutely terrified. What would make them just pack up and leave? Did they hate us that much? Sure, this wasn't the life they wanted, but did they really dislike it so much that they would abandon everything? Abandon years of memories, and all the friends they had in this town?

Abandon me?

Did they really have it that bad? We hadn't had a perfect relationship but I still loved them to pieces. As distant as they were emotionally, they were still there for me when I needed them.

I could have sworn they loved me.

Tears spilled over and a sob escaped me.

"Hey," Emmett said softly, walking over to me and pulling me into his arms. "Don't cry. It's going to be okay, they'll come home."

He hugged me tight and I felt safe where I was but I wasn't concerned about my safety at the moment. I tried to choke back my sobs but it wasn't working and before I knew it, I started to cry into his chest as he stroked my hair. The sense of abandonment was overwhelming me, my mind unable to understand anything.

"Shhh," Emmett soothed. "There's nothing to cry about, kiddo. Maybe they didn't want to tell us they were going on vacation to avoid us getting jealous or something." His assumption sounded silly to me. I could tell he was just making up some bullshit theories to try and make me feel better.

"Maybe they're staying in a motel or something for a while," he continued."Must have been a hot date." He was trying to be reassuring but there was a panicky edge to his voice that made me sure he was trying to comfort himself as much as he was me.

"It's going to be okay," he said again.

I wanted to believe him. How desperately I wanted to believe every word he told me.

I must have scared him with my hysterical sobs, but I just couldn't hold them back. That gnawing feeling was making itself known in the form of tears, and I had to let it out.

Because as much as I would hate to say it out loud and as much as I wished I could deny the possibility, I knew.

I knew they weren't going to come home, not tonight, maybe not ever.

I was right.