I don't own Twilight. I just play in this sandbox.

Thanks to Sherry for beta services and to Sri for helping me with some details. This chapter has been a long time coming. I couldn't get it right. I've also had a crap year so my main focus has been on getting my mental health back. Thanks to everyone who has stood by my side through all this - Duckie, Deb, Sherry, Sri, Kym... I can't name you all but you know who you are.

Trigger warnings: mentions of abuse, implied abuse, threatening.

I think Natasha Bedingfield's version of The Scientist goes well with this chapter.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for not giving up on me.

As I wait for my sense of panic, of desperation to calm down, I look around me. Five things I can see, I think. Name five things. I see Esme, looking concerned. I see Edward, just as worried. I see my feet, the worn sneakers covered in dust from this filthy place. I see the nightstand, filled with clutter.

The fifth thing my eyes land on is the closet. I can look right into it, since it's open. Another memory surfaces, surrounding my senses.


There is shouting again. I'm in the bedroom, playing with my doll. I'm not making a sound though, because mommy told me to be quiet.

When the voices come closer, I hide behind the bed. The bedroom door opens and mommy runs in. She doesn't look right. Her cheeks are wet and her eyes are red. She looks around the room until she sees me behind the bed.

She comes to me and picks me up. I wrap my arms around her and hide my face in her neck. She smells different than normal. There is something sharp and it comes through the scent of her perfume. Her neck is a bit sticky, but I don't care. I press myself closer and she rocks me back and forth.

"I love you, Bellarina. No matter what happens, always remember that I love you."

"I love you too, mommy," I say, and she holds me tighter.

She sniffles. Maybe she has a cold or something. But maybe she's crying. She has been crying a lot.

"Do you remember what I told you, sweetheart? About the man I met, my special friend?"

I nod into her neck. It's a secret she and I have. Mommy has met a man, and she's going to run away with me, to live with him. She says he will take care of us, and we will have a better life than we have now. I don't know what it means, but I like that she smiles when she talks about him.

Suddenly, there is a roar outside the room. I cling to mommy. I am scared. Grandpa is angry again. He always says it is mommy's fault, but I don't think that's true.

The door rattles, but doesn't open. Mommy stiffens and I know she is looking at the door over my shoulder.

Then the door bursts open and I am so startled by the noise that I start to cry. I don't want to cry, I want to be a big girl, but I can't help it. A wail escapes me, and grandpa shouts at me to shut up.

Mommy bounces me a little, but I'm still so shocked I can't stop crying.

"Tell your spawn to stop it!" grandpa says.

"Ssh, Bella, sweetie, it's all right," mommy whispers into my hair.

But then she screams and I feel a hand pulling on my arm. I cry out, scared, and cling to mommy as hard as I can.

"Do not touch my child," mommy hisses, pulling me from his grasp. It hurts where he gripped me.

"Your child?" he says, and I don't like the tone of his voice.

Mommy steps back, and she is shaking. "My child," she repeats. "Keep your filthy paws off of her."

He laughs, and I don't understand it because I don't know what's funny.

"Very well," he says and then all of a sudden he's pulling me from mommy's arms and throwing me into the closet.

I shriek, scared and upset and dizzy and hurt. The door closes and everything is dark.


"Not a peep out of you or you will never come out again, do you hear me?" grandpa says through the door.

I hold my breath to make myself stop crying. I don't want to be here forever!

I close my eyes and pretend it's not dark around me, and cover my ears until I can't hear the sounds of mommy crying. I close my eyes and pretend I'm grown up, and wearing pretty dresses and dancing with a nice man, just like the man mommy is going to run away to with me.

I must have fallen asleep, because when I open my eyes again, I am in bed. Mommy is packing bags.

I sit up, wondering what she is doing. When she sees me she presses her finger to her lips.

I nod. I can be quiet. I sit and wait and watch how she puts all sorts of things into bags. I get my favorite stuffed animal and wait for her to be done.

Mommy helps me to put on my coat. My toy falls to the ground, forgotten, as I watch how mommy opens the broken bedroom door to check if all is safe. And then she really suddenly picks up the bags, and me, and speeds out of the room, through the trailer, and outside.

She runs and runs with me in her arms. I start crying, because my toy is still in the trailer and I want it, I do.

"Stop crying," mommy says when we reach the road. She puts me down and dries my tears with her thumbs. "You have to be a big girl now, Bellarina. No crying over toys anymore. We're going on an adventure, and only big girls can go on adventures."

I nod, still hiccuping, but I want to be a big girl for mommy.

We don't have to wait for long, and a brown car stops at the side of the road. A man steps out and his skin is so dark! And his eyes… Something is wrong with the way he looks at me. He frightens me and I hide behind mommy. I don't want to be a big girl right now. I am tired and hungry and scared.

"You ready to go?" the man asks.

"Yes," mommy says, and she goes to the man and kisses him. He kisses her back, and I think this is the man who she has been talking about. The man who is going to take care of us.

I look at him a little closer. He is mommy's special friend.

He looks at me, too. There's something very wrong, but I don't know what it is. I don't think I like him, but if mommy likes him, I can be nice to him. I'm a big girl, and big girls are nice to people, even if they don't like them, right?

"You sure you want to bring her?" he asks, nodding at me.

Mommy steps over to me and I grip her coat.

"Yes. I won't leave her behind."

The man sighs. "Very well. Get in the car."

"She won't be a bother, Laurent, she really is a sweet girl."

"I said, get in the car," the man repeats.

He gets in and mommy puts our bags in the trunk. She puts me on the back seat, strapping the seat belt around me. Again, she presses her finger to her lips.

I nod. I can be quiet. I have to be a big girl now.


"Hey," Edward says quietly when my eyes come back into focus again. "You were pretty far away."

Holy crap. My shirt is soaked, clinging to my back and I'm shivering from the cold sweat. Just how long did I dissociate completely?

My gaze darts over to Carlisle, who is looking at me in profound concern.

*I'm okay* I sign, and he nods, though he's clearly not buying it.


I nod, too, averting my gaze.

Carlisle kneels in front of me. He's so close I imagine I can feel his warmth, but he doesn't touch me. He never does, for which I am grateful.

*Do you think he was really my father?* I sign to nobody in particular. But even Edward isn't able to decipher what I mean and maybe I didn't even get the signs right. In the end, because it's a question that's burning a hole in my brain, I get out my phone and type it down so I can show it to Esme.

"I don't know," she says. Her voice is strained. "I think it's a very good possibility, considering your mother's age when she had you."

Silence falls, and I swallow convulsively in an attempt to try and get my nausea under control. Carlisle stays in front of me the whole time, a solid anchor with kind, steady eyes.

"We're going to have to decide how we take things from here," he says after a long time. "Of course we can stay as long as you want, and we can come back tomorrow. But I don't like seeing you so distraught. You must be rattled. Is there anything you'd like to take with you right away?"

I don't know. This entire place is such a mess, and everything is so filthy I don't really want to touch anything. The toy I had to leave behind lies forgotten on the ground. I wonder if it would mean something to me, should I take it.

I look around the room again and again, taking it all in without really seeing anything. It's so weird to be back here. And after all the violence I know my mother has been through, it's even more bizarre that my grandparents would have kept her bedroom intact after she ran away. Maybe they did care for her, after all? I guess we'll never know.

It's weird to know that this has actually been a place where I've lived for a while, but it could very well be a movie set or someone else's house. I feel so little emotion when I look at all these things I remember from my childhood, yet at the same time I'm wrung out from memories, from the pain my body remembers well, the fear and the stress that came with growing up in an unsafe environment.

And this was just the start, wasn't it? As bad as it was here, the moment my grandpa pulled me from my mother's arms was the first and only time he touched me - at least I think so. If something more happened there and my brain has buried it for me, I'd prefer it to stay that way. It was only after we left that things started to go sour for me.

My mother took me to try and keep me safe and in turn sent me to hell.

I need air.

The others follow me when I step outside the trailer as well, and I breathe in the hot summer air. It smells of old grass, of petrol, of stale beer, of earth, and of that faint smell summer simply has sometimes when it hasn't rained in a while and the air becomes stale with the lack of a breeze. Several people have come outside and are looking at us curiously, but the hostility is clear in their gazes.

We're not from here, and we're not welcome. They don't know who I am, and they don't know who the Cullens are.

I think it's time we start thinking about leaving.

Turning to my left, I look at the neighboring trailer where Miss Stacey used to live. I wonder if she still lives there, and if so, if she remembers me. But maybe I shouldn't even try to find out. What good will it be for her to see me again?

Just at that moment, a woman steps out of the trailer, one child on her hip and one clinging to her skirt. I recognize her immediately, even if it has been so long ago.

The woman looks at us, head cocked to the side, takes one step towards us, hesitates, and then continues walking.

"Forgive me for asking," she says in her thick dialect, "but you remind me of someone I knew. You aren't Bella, are ya?"

I look at the woman. I know her face, even if it has aged twelve years. Streaks of gray at her temples show the signs of a hard-lived life. She can't be far in her thirties, but the life she's lived has made her old before her time.

But she remembers me, just like I recognized her. Her eyes are still the same kind eyes that looked at me then.

I nod once, and Stacey's face lights up, her bright smile showing a missing canine tooth.

"Wow," she says, looking me over. "Who knew you would become such a beauty! When your mom took you away from here you were an underfed little thing."

She looks at my company and reaches out her hand confidently. "How do you do, I am Stacey Linton."

She greets everyone, and then looks at me expectantly. Esme helps, thankfully.

"We're Bella's foster parents," she says by way of explanation.

"Right," Stacey says. She only falters for half a second, taking in the information. "Sounds like there's a whole story there. Want to come over for a cup of coffee? You look like you could use it."

"You know her?" Edward asks quietly behind me.

I nod. I do. I don't think I ever told him about the young woman who helped me stay safe when things got rough. Then again, my second and third home were just as awful as the first, so maybe I never got round to telling him about it. I don't even remember.

Weird. When I wasn't speaking at all, at least I didn't have to keep track of what I'd told anyone. How do people deal with that kind of extra information?

Esme looks over to me for confirmation on Stacey's invitation, and when I nod, we go to the neighboring trailer. It's still pink in there, and still sweet smelling. The white couch I remember has been replaced for a beige one. It's somehow spotless with two small kids around. Stacey puts her kid down so he can play, tells the older toddler to play along with the younger one, and busies herself in the kitchen with the coffee, chattering about how her husband is off at work and sorry about the mess.

"So you've come to see what's left of Otis' trailer then? It's not much, I wager."

"Bella is the heir, so we decided to come over here to see what we could do."

Stacey halts her movements and looks from me to Carlisle. "Hold up. Did Helen die?"


Her name is Helen.


My heart misses a beat.

I mouth the name.

Esme grips my hand, grounding me.

"No," Carlisle replies, pulling me from my suddenly chaotic thoughts. "But she can't be found."

"Oh," Stacey says with a frown. She places the mugs of coffee and tea on a tray and joins us in the tiny living area. "I must be confused. What?"

"Well," Esme starts. She chooses her words carefully. "What do you know?"

"I know that Helen ran away with Bella, with some shady little fucker called Laurent. Oh, excuse my language," she adds, a little shocked.

"So you knew him?" Esme asks.

"Just that he was dating Helen and Helen was desperate to get outta here. He was up to no good, that's for sure."

"He got arrested for fraud," Esme says.

"That don't surprise me," Stacey says, shaking her head. "You stayed with just your mom then?"

Carlisle clears his throat. "It's a bit of a complicated story. We shouldn't bother you with all that."

Stacey takes the information in stride and shifts her gaze to me then. "You don't say much, do you?"

I shake my head, cursing my silence.

"You were never really talkative," she continues with an easy smile. "Is the drink to your liking?"

I nod once. She gave Edward and I tea, and it's too sweet for me, but I can't do much more than take a sip anyway. I'm too stressed to do anything more.

"Sorry I don't have no cookies or nothin'. I wasn't expecting visitors, you see. And if I buy that stuff without nobody coming' I always end up eating it all myself!" She pats her stomach, which still shows some roundness from her last pregnancy.

Her gaze shifts to me.

"Anyway, not much happened here while you were gone. Never saw Helen again though, that's for sure. And you ended up in the system then somehow after that grade-A idiot was arrested?"

I nod again.

"Helen not able to take care of you after all?"

I avert my gaze. I don't know how to begin to tell her what happened. Besides. Stacey and Helen were friends, right? It wouldn't be nice to talk badly of my mom to her.

"That's awful, shucks. Shoulda come right back here, I'd have loved to take you in."

Stacey's gaze moves to Esme and Carlisle.

"Little Miss Bella here would sometimes come and spend a little time in my trailer when things got rough at her place," Stacey says.

"Thank you," Esme says sincerely.

Stacey shrugs it away. "It was the least I could do. I'd feed her, too. She was small for her age, even back then. Good for nothing, that Otis. But he's dead now, and nothin' but good from the dead, right? So what happens to the trailer now?"

"I'm not sure," Carlisle says. "I don't think it's fit to sell."

"And I can't even convince you to move back here, huh," Stacey tells me with a wink. "Nah, I think you're better off where you are now. Where do you live?"

"Forks, Washington," Edward replies.

"Really? That's a while away. It'll be hard to ask you to come babysit my kids. Wanted to name one after you but I got two boys to deal with. The oldest is Marcus, the youngest I named Benjamin. Would've loved you to babysit though. I bet you're great with kids."

"She is," Edward agrees. He sounds fond.

It pulls a smile from me. I like how Stacey is still rattling about random stuff and joking with me like she did all these years ago. Just a way to keep the palpable tension from building up. I sense she knows there is a lot more to my story than meets the eye, but she's not asking any questions.

"Anyway, I might know of some who'll be interested in the trailer, if you need help with that," she continues, looking at Carlisle and Esme. "We don't have very high standards over here when it comes to a living space, y'know. Marcus, stop teasing your brother," she adds in the same breath, not even looking away from Carlisle and Esme.

The older child looks guilty and continues playing as if nothing happened. The younger boy is trying to put blocks into a neat pile, but he's not succeeding.

Esme is visibly flustered. "We didn't mean to imply-"

"'s All right, miss," Stacey says, interrupting her. "Don't apologize. You're good money. We make do with what we have. Didn't mean it as an insult."

"We can make it more inhabitable," Carlisle says. "You can tell that to the people who might want to move into it."

Stacey smiles, but it's an empty expression. "I think they'd much rather buy it as is for a low price and fix it themselves."

"I wouldn't… Ah, hell," Carlisle says, and it's so rare of him to curse that we all look up in surprise. "There's no good answer here, is there?"

Now Stacey's smile turns genuine. "We keep to our own, sir. Best not to mess with that. You've seen the people outside. They won't take no charity from anyone."

Behind us, the kids let out a peal of laughter.

"They are adorable," Esme says, clearly eager to change the subject. "How old are they?"

"Marcus is three, and Bennie over there is thirteen months now. Third one on the way, I discovered this week."

"Congratulations," Esme says warmly.

Stacey shrugs. "Another mouth to feed. But every kid is loved in this house," she says pointedly.

Silence falls over us for a moment. I can tell Stacey has more to ask, more to say, but she's keeping quiet. The silence is heavy, tangible. I shoot a furtive glance at Carlisle, trying to guess what he's thinking.

"What if we take a walk?" Esme asks. "I think I saw a garden centre a few miles back."

Carlisle looks at her, brows shooting up high. "A garden centre? Really?"

Esme looks wholly unimpressed. "I think we should let Bella and Mrs. Linton here have some time together to catch up." Her words are spoken kindly, but their meaning is unmistakeable. "I take it this is something you might like?" Esme asks me, and I nod immediately. "If Mrs. Linton has time, of course."

"All the time in the world," Stacey says happily. "I'd love to catch up."


They leave almost immediately, promising to be back in an hour, and then the trailer is quiet but for the sounds of two playing children. Stacey gets up to make us some more tea. She's oddly quiet now, lost in thought perhaps.

I glance around me, trying to find some paper and a pen to write on. Shit. I didn't think this through.

Stacey comes back with two mugs of tea. "I got some snacks for the kids if you want to munch on somethin'?" she asks.

I shake my head. Wouldn't be able to eat, anyway.

"I'd say, please eat somethin' 'cause you look like you're going to fall over any second, but I'm just going to hazard a guess that eatin' is problematic?"

I nod. She's perceptive.

Stacey sits back and exhales, biting her lip. "I'm so sorry for what happened to you. Can't you speak or won't you speak?"

I hold up two fingers, hoping she'll understand.

Stacey nods, a thoughtful look on he face. Then she pulls open the drawer in her coffee table and takes out a tiny notepad with a pen.

"So you lived with Laurent for a while then? How long have you been with this family? They seem nice."

They are, I write down. Very much.

She peers at me. "How come you stopped talkin'?"

I shrug. Writing down my answer seems like so much effort suddenly that I don't even want to bother. I swallow and brace myself, hoping I'll be able to make a little sound at least.

"Nobody listened." It's just a croak, but Stacey seems to understand.

"Did he… hurt you? Laurent?"

I swallow again, my mouth dry, and nod once.

"That fucker," she curses. "I never trusted him. But he got arrested for fraud, you say? No… other charges pressed?"

I shrug. I don't know how I managed to slip through the system so many times, be unnoticed when the state could've made an easy case against him. It's the anger that threatens to rise sometimes, when I think back to everything that happened, not just the pain of the abuse, but the pain of a system that never noticed me. Of school teachers who shrugged and let me be because I got good grades and didn't make any trouble. Of social workers who were too overworked and underpaid to look further than the facade, if they ever bothered to visit.

"Well, damn," she says, cursing again. Her kids are going to have foul mouths if she doesn't learn to keep it clean soon. "Is he out now?"

"Don't know," I whisper. I can't tell her how I thought I saw his car and how we're looking into it. Maybe I should ask Esme if she has any news from her lawyer, but I'm not actually sure I can deal with more potential bad news right now.

"Oh hon," she says. Strangely enough I'm not irritated by her pity. "Can you tell me what happened though? Because I know Helen took you away from here to keep you safe from Otis, but Laurent still managed to…" She can't get the words out and I can see the emotion wash over her face. Her hands clench into fists.

"She left," I say after too long a silence. "When I tried to tell her about Laurent." So much for my plan not to talk badly about my mother then.

Stacey goes pale and tears fill her eyes. "What?"

I don't repeat my words. I've been clear enough and it hurts to say them out loud. I touch the scar in the palm of my hand.

"How could she?" Stacey says quietly, more to herself than to me. "How long were you alone with him?"

"I was fourteen when he got arrested I think."

The sound that escapes her is one of pain. "And then you went to your current family?"

I shake my head. "Phoenix. They were nice at first."

"You were moved out of state?"

I never really realized that was weird until Stacey's reaction. Guess the universe fucked up even more for me then. Not exactly a surprise.

"When did you get to your current family?"

"Last year." My voice cracks, then stops working altogether. I suppress the sudden urge to cough.

"You couldn't stay in Phoenix?"

I think of Stefan and Irina, mentally crazed Irina, and how I felt when everybody went away and I was left behind with him.

"I ran away," I say. My voice is barely audible and I reach to my throat unconsciously, where the bruises took so long to fade.

Stacey might not have had excellent education, but she's quick to connect the dots and she gasps. "Doll, I hate to ask you, but are you safe now?"

The smile that tugs at the corner of my mouth is faint, but it's there. "Absolutely."

We sit in silence then, the sounds of the children playing filling the room. I look at the boys, focusing on them to prevent the memories from taking over again.

"I did a course once," Stacey says at last. "On psychology. I never finished it. It was one of these home schooling things? Paid way too much for it."

I listen to her as she rattles. Her hand lands on her belly while she speaks, the movement unconscious and protective.

"Part of that course was about victims of abuse. About the things that happen after. It was so awful that I stopped. I am so, so sorry that this all happened to you. I should've done more to stop it."

I shake my head. Nothing she could've done, or could've known.

She looks at her kids then, a faraway look in her eyes. "Your mom was so scared of Otis. My daddy was rarely home but if he was around, he always brought candy and kisses, y'know? I'm glad I can trust John. He'd never lay a finger on them. I've seen so much hurt around me, seen families here fall apart at the seams. I was sixteen when I met John. He's twelve years older'n me, did you know?"

I shake my head. I never knew. Stacy had always been so grown up in my eyes, but she can't have been much older than twenty when she took me in. And John had already been around then, I know, though he was rarely there when I was in Stacey's trailer.

She gets up for more drinks, lemonade this time. She says nothing as she pours my now cold tea down the drain. It takes a while before she speaks again. "Your mother really did love you, Bella. She just didn't know how to deal with everything."

I can only nod, my throat constricting with unshed tears. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to forgive my mother for what she did.

"Do you think…" I ask, but I can't continue.

"What?" Stacey asks kindly. "You can ask me anything."

"Otis. Was he… Was he my…"

I don't have to finish my sentence. Stacey's face is my answer.

"Helen did a lot of stupid things, but she wasn't a dumb girl. She hadn't had a boyfriend until she met Laurent. She rarely went out. So as far as educated guesses go, I'd guess that you were conceived in that there trailer."

We're silent after that. Having it confirmed does not raise an anxiety attack again, thankfully.

We've just finished our drinks - I'm thirsty enough to finally have some sips - when I hear Carlisle's car outside.

"That'll be them," Stacey says. "Coming back for you just like they promised. They seem good people."

"They are."

Stacey smiles. "I'd give you a hug but you look like you'd freak out. It's just… It's good to see you, Bella. I'm glad you found a good place even if it took forever to get there."

A knock on the door saves me an answer, and Stacey goes to open it. Carlisle, Esme and Edward trail back inside.

"Ready to go?" Carlisle asks me.

I nod.

At the door, Carlisle digs out his card for Stacey. "Call me whenever, about anything."

"My, you're a doc?"

"A good one," Edward says proudly.

"Good to know," she says lightly. "So will you be back tomorrow?"

"Probably," Esme says. "We'll need to make arrangements for everything."

"All right. Well, it was good to see you, Bella. If I can be of any help tomorrow, just let me know."

Stacey smiles at me and goes back into her trailer, already cooing at her kids.

"She was nice," Esme murmurs when we walk back to the trailer that belongs to me now.

"She helped me. Before."

"I'm glad you had someone who was looking out for you," Esme says.

Back into the dirty trailer, I want to be out again immediately. Carlisle senses my unease and proposes we go back to the hotel for now, and come back tomorrow to see what we want to keep and what we will do with the rest.

And just like this trailer is like a snapshot from forgotten times, I find myself wishing I could fast forward to when we're back home, and the confrontation with this shitty start of my life is done.

Would you be interested in an outtake from Bella's mother's point of view?