TIME PASSES. EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE. EVEN when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly, in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does. Even for me.
CHARLIE’S FIST CAME DOWN ON THE TABLE. “THAT’S IT, Bella! I’m sending you home.”
I looked up from my cereal, which I was pondering rather than eating, and stared at Charlie in shock. I hadn’t been following the conversation—actually, I hadn’t been aware that we were having a conversation—and I wasn’t sure what he meant.
“I am home,” I mumbled, confused.
“I’m sending you to Renee, to Jacksonville,” he clarified.
Charlie watched with exasperation as I slowly grasped the meaning of his words.
“What did I do?” I felt my face crumple. It was so unfair. My behavior had been above reproach for the past four months. After that first week, which neither of us ever mentioned, I hadn’t missed a day of school or work. My grades were perfect. I never broke curfew—I never went anywhere from which to break curfew in the first place. I only very rarely served leftovers.
Charlie was scowling.
“You didn’t do anything. That’s the problem. You never do anything.”
“You want me to get into trouble?” I wondered, my eyebrows pulling together in mystification. I made an effort to pay attention. It wasn’t easy. I was so used to tuning everything out, my ears felt stopped up.
“Trouble would be better than this… this moping around all the time!”
That stung a bit. I’d been careful to avoid all forms of moroseness, moping included.
“I am not moping around.”
“Wrong word,” he grudgingly conceded. “Moping would be better—that would be doing something . You’re just… lifeless, Bella. I think that’s the word I want.”
This accusation struck home. I sighed and tried to put some animation into my response.
“I’m sorry, Dad.” My apology sounded a little flat, even to me. I’d thought I’d been fooling him. Keeping Charlie from suffering was the whole point of all this effort. How depressing to think that the effort had been wasted.
“I don’t want you to apologize.”
I sighed. “Then tell me what you do want me to do.”
“Bella,” he hesitated, scrutinizing my reaction to his next words. “Honey, you’re not the first person to go through this kind of thing, you know.”
“I know that.” My accompanying grimace was limp and unimpressive.
“Listen, honey. I think that—that maybe you need some help.”
He paused, searching for the words again. “When your mother left,” he began, frowning, “and took you with her.” He inhaled deeply. “Well, that was a really bad time for me.”
“I know, Dad,” I mumbled.
“But I handled it,” he pointed out. “Honey, you’re not handling it. I waited, I hoped it would get better.” He stared at me and I looked down quickly. “I think we both know it’s not getting better.”
He ignored me. “Maybe, well, maybe if you talked to someone about it. A professional.”
“You want me to see a shrink?” My voice was a shade sharper as I realized what he was getting at.
“Maybe it would help.”
“And maybe it wouldn’t help one little bit.”
I didn’t know much about psychoanalysis, but I was pretty sure that it didn’t work unless the subject was relatively honest. Sure, I could tell the truth—if I wanted to spend the rest of my life in a padded cell.
He examined my obstinate expression, and switched to another line of attack.
“It’s beyond me, Bella. Maybe your mother—”
“Look,” I said in a flat voice. “I’ll go out tonight, if you want. I’ll call Jess or Angela.”
“That’s not what I want,” he argued, frustrated. “I don’t think I can live through seeing you try harder . I’ve never seen anyone trying so hard. It hurts to watch.”
I pretended to be dense, looking down at the table. “I don’t understand, Dad. First you’re mad because I’m not doing anything, and then you say you don’t want me to go out.”
“I want you to be happy—no, not even that much. I just want you not to be miserable. I think you’ll have a better chance if you get out of Forks.”
My eyes flashed up with the first small spark of feeling I’d had in too long to contemplate.
“I’m not leaving,” I said.
“Why not?” he demanded.
“I’m in my last semester of school—it would screw everything up.”
“You’re a good student—you’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t want to crowd Mom and Phil.”
“Your mother’s been dying to have you back.”
“Florida is too hot.”
His fist came down on the table again. “We both know what’s really going on here, Bella, and it’s not good for you.” He took a deep breath. “It’s been months. No calls, no letters, no contact. You can’t keep waiting for him.”
I glowered at him. The heat almost, but not quite, reached my face. It had been a long time since I’d blushed with any emotion.
This whole subject was utterly forbidden, as he was well aware.
“I’m not waiting for anything. I don’t expect anything,” I said in a low monotone.
“Bella—,” Charlie began, his voice thick.
“I have to get to school,” I interrupted, standing up and yanking my untouched breakfast from the table. I dumped my bowl in the sink without pausing to wash it out. I couldn’t deal with any more conversation.
“I’ll make plans with Jessica,” I called over my shoulder as I strapped on my school bag, not meeting his eyes. “Maybe I won’t be home for dinner. We’ll go to Port Angeles and watch a movie.”
I was out the front door before he could react.
In my haste to get away from Charlie, I ended up being one of the first ones to school. The plus side was that I got a really good parking spot. The downside was that I had free time on my hands, and I tried to avoid free time at all costs.
Quickly, before I could start thinking about Charlie’s accusations, I pulled out my Calculus book. I flipped it open to the section we should be starting today, and tried to make sense of it. Reading math was even worse than listening to it, but I was getting better at it. In the last several months, I’d spent ten times the amount of time on Calculus than I’d ever spent on math before. As a result, I was managing to keep in the range of a low A. I knew Mr. Varner felt my improvement was all due to his superior teaching methods. And if that made him happy, I wasn’t going to burst his bubble.
I forced myself to keep at it until the parking lot was full, and I ended up rushing to English. We were working on Animal Farm , an easy subject matter. I didn’t mind communism; it was a welcome change from the exhausting romances that made up most of the curriculum. I settled into my seat, pleased by the distraction of Mr. Berty’s lecture.
Time moved easily while I was in school. The bell rang all too soon. I started repacking my bag.
I recognized Mike’s voice, and I knew what his next words would be before he said them.
“Are you working tomorrow?”
I looked up. He was leaning across the aisle with an anxious expression. Every Friday he asked me the same question. Never mind that I hadn’t taken so much as a sick day. Well, with one exception, months ago. But he had no reason to look at me with such concern. I was a model employee.
“Tomorrow is Saturday, isn’t it?” I said. Having just had it pointed out to me by Charlie, I realized how lifeless my voice really sounded.
“Yeah, it is,” he agreed. “See you in Spanish.” He waved once before turning his back. He didn’t bother walking me to class anymore.
I trudged off to Calculus with a grim expression. This was the class where I sat next to Jessica.
It had been weeks, maybe months, since Jess had even greeted me when I passed her in the hall. I knew I had offended her with my antisocial behavior, and she was sulking. It wasn’t going to be easy to talk to her now—especially to ask her to do me a favor. I weighed my options carefully as I loitered outside the classroom, procrastinating.
I wasn’t about to face Charlie again without some kind of social interaction to report. I knew I couldn’t lie, though the thought of driving to Port Angeles and back alone—being sure my odometer reflected the correct mileage, just in case he checked—was very tempting. Jessica’s mom was the biggest gossip in town, and Charlie was bound to run into Mrs. Stanley sooner rather than later. When he did, he would no doubt mention the trip. Lying was out.
With a sigh, I shoved the door open.
Mr. Varner gave me a dark look—he’d already started the lecture. I hurried to my seat. Jessica didn’t look up as I sat next to her. I was glad that I had fifty minutes to mentally prepare myself.
This class flew by even faster than English. A small part of that speed was due to my goody-goody preparation this morning in the truck—but mostly it stemmed from the fact that time always sped up when I was looking forward to something unpleasant.
I grimaced when Mr. Varner dismissed the class five minutes early. He smiled like he was being nice.
“Jess?” My nose wrinkled as I cringed, waiting for her to turn on me.
She twisted in her seat to face me, eyeing me incredulously. “Are you talking to me , Bella?”
“Of course.” I widened my eyes to suggest innocence.
“What? Do you need help with Calculus?” Her tone was a tad sour.
“No.” I shook my head. “Actually, I wanted to know if you would… go to the movies with me tonight? I really need a girls’ night out.” The words sounded stiff, like badly delivered lines, and she looked suspicious.
“Why are you asking me ?” she asked, still unfriendly.
“You’re the first person I think of when I want girl time.” I smiled, and I hoped the smile looked genuine. It was probably true. She was at least the first person I thought of when I wanted to avoid Charlie. It amounted to the same thing.
She seemed a little mollified. “Well, I don’t know.”
“Do you have plans?”
“No… I guess I can go with you. What do you want to see?”
“I’m not sure what’s playing,” I hedged. This was the tricky part. I racked my brain for a clue—hadn’t I heard someone talk about a movie recently? Seen a poster? “How about that one with the female president?”
She looked at me oddly. “Bella, that one’s been out of the theater forever .”
“Oh.” I frowned. “Is there anything you’d like to see?”
Jessica’s natural bubbliness started to leak out in spite of herself as she thought out loud. “Well, there’s that new romantic comedy that’s getting great reviews. I want to see that one. And my dad just saw Dead End and he really liked it.”
I grasped at the promising title. “What’s that one about?”
“Zombies or something. He said it was the scariest thing he’d seen in years.”
“That sounds perfect.” I’d rather deal with real zombies than watch a romance.
“Okay.” She seemed surprised by my response. I tried to remember if I liked scary movies, but I wasn’t sure. “Do you want me to pick you up after school?” she offered.
Jessica smiled at me with tentative friendliness before she left. My answering smile was just a little late, but I thought that she saw it.
The rest of the day passed quickly, my thoughts focused on planning for tonight. I knew from experience that once I got Jessica talking, I would be able to get away with a few mumbled responses at the appropriate moments. Only minimal interaction would be required.
The thick haze that blurred my days now was sometimes confusing. I was surprised when I found myself in my room, not clearly remembering the drive home from school or even opening the front door. But that didn’t matter. Losing track of time was the most I asked from life.
I didn’t fight the haze as I turned to my closet. The numbness was more essential in some places than in others. I barely registered what I was looking at as I slid the door aside to reveal the pile of rubbish on the left side of my closet, under the clothes I never wore.
My eyes did not stray toward the black garbage bag that held my present from that last birthday, did not see the shape of the stereo where it strained against the black plastic; I didn’t think of the bloody mess my nails had been when I’d finished clawing it out of the dashboard.
I yanked the old purse I rarely used off the nail it hung from, and shoved the door shut.
Just then I heard a horn honking. I swiftly traded my wallet from my schoolbag into the purse. I was in a hurry, as if rushing would somehow make the night pass more quickly.
I glanced at myself in the hall mirror before I opened the door, arranging my features carefully into a smile and trying to hold them there.
“Thanks for coming with me tonight,” I told Jess as I climbed into the passenger seat, trying to infuse my tone with gratitude. It had been a while since I’d really thought about what I was saying to anyone besides Charlie. Jess was harder. I wasn’t sure which were the right emotions to fake.
“Sure. So, what brought this on?” Jess wondered as she drove down my street.
“Brought what on?”
“Why did you suddenly decide… to go out?” It sounded like she changed her question halfway through.
I shrugged. “Just needed a change.”
I recognized the song on the radio then, and quickly reached for the dial. “Do you mind?” I asked.
“No, go ahead.”
I scanned through the stations until I found one that was harmless. I peeked at Jess’s expression as the new music filled the car.
Her eyes squinted. “Since when do you listen to rap?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “A while.”
“You like this?” she asked doubtfully.
It would be much too hard to interact with Jessica normally if I had to work to tune out the music, too. I nodded my head, hoping I was in time with the beat.
“Okay…” She stared out the windshield with wide eyes.
“So what’s up with you and Mike these days?” I asked quickly.
“You see him more than I do.”
The question hadn’t started her talking like I’d hoped it would.
“It’s hard to talk at work,” I mumbled, and then I tried again. “Have you been out with anyone lately?”
“Not really. I go out with Conner sometimes. I went out with Eric two weeks ago.” She rolled her eyes, and I sensed a long story. I clutched at the opportunity.
“Eric Yorkie ? Who asked who?”
She groaned, getting more animated. “He did, of course! I couldn’t think of a nice way to say no.”
“Where did he take you?” I demanded, knowing she would interpret my eagerness as interest. “Tell me all about it.”
She launched into her tale, and I settled into my seat, more comfortable now. I paid strict attention, murmuring in sympathy and gasping in horror as called for. When she was finished with her Eric story, she continued into a Conner comparison without any prodding.
The movie was playing early, so Jess thought we should hit the twilight showing and eat later. I was happy to go along with whatever she wanted; after all, I was getting what I wanted—Charlie off my back.
I kept Jess talking through the previews, so I could ignore them more easily. But I got nervous when the movie started. A young couple was walking along a beach, swinging hands and discussing their mutual affection with gooey falseness. I resisted the urge to cover my ears and start humming. I had not bargained for a romance.
“I thought we picked the zombie movie,” I hissed to Jessica.
“This is the zombie movie.”
“Then why isn’t anyone getting eaten?” I asked desperately.
She looked at me with wide eyes that were almost alarmed. “I’m sure that part’s coming,” she whispered.
“I’m getting popcorn. Do you want any?”
Someone shushed us from behind.
I took my time at the concession counter, watching the clock and debating what percentage of a ninety-minute movie could be spent on romantic exposition. I decided ten minutes was more than enough, but I paused just inside the theater doors to be sure. I could hear horrified screams blaring from the speakers, so I knew I’d waited long enough.
“You missed everything,” Jess murmured when I slid back into my seat. “Almost everyone is a zombie now.”
“Long line.” I offered her some popcorn. She took a handful.
The rest of the movie was comprised of gruesome zombie attacks and endless screaming from the handful of people left alive, their numbers dwindling quickly. I would have thought there was nothing in that to disturb me. But I felt uneasy, and I wasn’t sure why at first.
It wasn’t until almost the very end, as I watched a haggard zombie shambling after the last shrieking survivor, that I realized what the problem was. The scene kept cutting between the horrified face of the heroine, and the dead, emotionless face of her pursuer, back and forth as it closed the distance.
And I realized which one resembled me the most.
I stood up.
“Where are you going? There’s, like, two minutes left,” Jess hissed.
“I need a drink,” I muttered as I raced for the exit.
I sat down on the bench outside the theater door and tried very hard not to think of the irony. But it was ironic, all things considered, that, in the end, I would wind up as a zombie . I hadn’t seen that one coming.
Not that I hadn’t dreamed of becoming a mythical monster once—just never a grotesque, animated corpse. I shook my head to dislodge that train of thought, feeling panicky. I couldn’t afford to think about what I’d once dreamed of.
It was depressing to realize that I wasn’t the heroine anymore, that my story was over.
Jessica came out of the theater doors and hesitated, probably wondering where the best place was to search for me. When she saw me, she looked relieved, but only for a moment. Then she looked irritated.
“Was the movie too scary for you?” she wondered.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I guess I’m just a coward.”
“That’s funny.” She frowned. “I didn’t think you were scared—I was screaming all the time, but I didn’t hear you scream once. So I didn’t know why you left.”
I shrugged. “Just scared.”
She relaxed a little. “That was the scariest movie I think I’ve ever seen. I’ll bet we’re going to have nightmares tonight.”
“No doubt about that,” I said, trying to keep my voice normal. It was inevitable that I would have nightmares, but they wouldn’t be about zombies. Her eyes flashed to my face and away. Maybe I hadn’t succeeded with the normal voice.
“Where do you want to eat?” Jess asked.
“I don’t care.”
Jess started talking about the male lead in the movie as we walked. I nodded as she gushed over his hotness, unable to remember seeing a non-zombie man at all.
I didn’t watch where Jessica was leading me. I was only vaguely aware that it was dark and quieter now. It took me longer than it should have to realize why it was quiet. Jessica had stopped babbling. I looked at her apologetically, hoping I hadn’t hurt her feelings.
Jessica wasn’t looking at me. Her face was tense; she stared straight ahead and walked fast. As I watched, her eyes darted quickly to the right, across the road, and back again.
I glanced around myself for the first time.
We were on a short stretch of unlit sidewalk. The little shops lining the street were all locked up for the night, windows black. Half a block ahead, the streetlights started up again, and I could see, farther down, the bright golden arches of the McDonald’s she was heading for.
Across the street there was one open business. The windows were covered from inside and there were neon signs, advertisements for different brands of beer, glowing in front of them. The biggest sign, in brilliant green, was the name of the bar—One-Eyed Pete’s. I wondered if there was some pirate theme not visible from outside. The metal door was propped open; it was dimly lit inside, and the low murmur of many voices and the sound of ice clinking in glasses floated across the street. Lounging against the wall beside the door were four men.
I glanced back at Jessica. Her eyes were fixed on the path ahead and she moved briskly. She didn’t look frightened—just wary, trying to not attract attention to herself.
I paused without thinking, looking back at the four men with a strong sense of déjà vu. This was a different road, a different night, but the scene was so much the same. One of them was even short and dark. As I stopped and turned toward them, that one looked up in interest.
I stared back at him, frozen on the sidewalk.
“Bella?” Jess whispered. “What are you doing?”
I shook my head, not sure myself. “I think I know them…” I muttered.
What was I doing? I should be running from this memory as fast as I could, blocking the image of the four lounging men from my mind, protecting myself with the numbness I couldn’t function without. Why was I stepping, dazed, into the street?
It seemed too coincidental that I should be in Port Angeles with Jessica, on a dark street even. My eyes focused on the short one, trying to match the features to my memory of the man who had threatened me that night almost a year ago. I wondered if there was any way I would recognize the man, if it was really him. That particular part of that particular evening was just a blur. My body remembered it better than my mind did; the tension in my legs as I tried to decide whether to run or to stand my ground, the dryness in my throat as I struggled to build a decent scream, the tight stretch of skin across my knuckles as I clenched my hands into fists, the chills on the back of my neck when the dark-haired man called me “sugar.”…
There was an indefinite, implied kind of menace to these men that had nothing to do with that other night. It sprung from the fact that they were strangers, and it was dark here, and they outnumbered us—nothing more specific than that. But it was enough that Jessica’s voice cracked in panic as she called after me.
“Bella, come on !”
I ignored her, walking slowly forward without ever making the conscious decision to move my feet. I didn’t understand why, but the nebulous threat the men presented drew me toward them. It was a senseless impulse, but I hadn’t felt any kind of impulse in so long… I followed it.
Something unfamiliar beat through my veins. Adrenaline, I realized, long absent from my system, drumming my pulse faster and fighting against the lack of sensation. It was strange—why the adrenaline when there was no fear? It was almost as if it were an echo of the last time I’d stood like this, on a dark street in Port Angeles with strangers.
I saw no reason for fear. I couldn’t imagine anything in the world that there was left to be afraid of, not physically at least. One of the few advantages of losing everything.
I was halfway across the street when Jess caught up to me and grabbed my arm.
“Bella! You can’t go in a bar!” she hissed.
“I’m not going in,” I said absently, shaking her hand off. “I just want to see something…”
“Are you crazy?” she whispered. “Are you suicidal?”
That question caught my attention, and my eyes focused on her.
“No, I’m not.” My voice sounded defensive, but it was true. I wasn’t suicidal. Even in the beginning, when death unquestionably would have been a relief, I didn’t consider it. I owed too much to Charlie. I felt too responsible for Renee. I had to think of them.
And I’d made a promise not to do anything stupid or reckless. For all those reasons, I was still breathing.
Remembering that promise. I felt a twinge of guilt.
but what I was doing fight now didn’t really count. It wasn’t like I was taking a blade to my wrists.
Jess’s eyes were round, her mouth hung open. Her question about suicide had been rhetorical, I realized too late.
“Go eat,” I encouraged her, waving toward the fast food. I didn’t like the way she looked at me. “I’ll catch up in a minute.”
I turned away from her, back to the men who were watching us with amused, curious eyes.
“Bella, stop this right now!”
My muscles locked into place, froze me where I stood. Because it wasn’t Jessica’s voice that rebuked me now. It was a furious voice, a familiar voice, a beautiful voice—soft like velvet even though it was irate.
It was his voice—I was exceptionally careful not to think his name—and I was surprised that the sound of it did not knock me to my knees, did not curl me onto the pavement in a torture of loss. But there was no pain, none at all.
In the instant that I heard his voice, everything was very clear. Like my head had suddenly surfaced out of some dark pool. I was more aware of everything—sight, sound, the feel of the cold air that I hadn’t noticed was blowing sharply against my face, the smells coming from the open bar door.
I looked around myself in shock.
“Go back to Jessica,” the lovely voice ordered, still angry. “You promised—nothing stupid.”
I was alone. Jessica stood a few feet from me, staring at me with frightened eyes. Against the wall, the strangers watched, confused, wondering what I was doing, standing there motionless in the middle of the street.
I shook my head, trying to understand. I knew he wasn’t there, and yet, he felt improbably close, close for the first time since… since the end. The anger in his voice was concern, the same anger that was once very familiar—something I hadn’t heard in what felt like a lifetime.
“Keep your promise.” The voice was slipping away, as if the volume was being turned down on a radio.
I began to suspect that I was having some kind of hallucination. Triggered, no doubt, by the memory—the deja vu, the strange familiarity of the situation.
I ran through the possibilities quickly in my head.
Option one: I was crazy. That was the layman’s term for people who heard voices in their heads.
Option two: My subconscious mind was giving me what it thought I wanted. This was wish fulfillment—a momentary relief from pain by embracing the incorrect idea that he cared whether I lived or died. Projecting what he would have said if A) he were here, and B) he would be in any way bothered by something bad happening to me.
I could see no option three, so I hoped it was the second option and this was just my subconscious running amuck, rather than something I would need to be hospitalized for.
My reaction was hardly sane, though—I was grateful . The sound of his voice was something that I’d feared I was losing, and so, more than anything else, I felt overwhelming gratitude that my unconscious mind had held onto that sound better than my conscious one had.
I was not allowed to think of him. That was something I tried to be very strict about. Of course I slipped; I was only human. But I was getting better, and so the pain was something I could avoid for days at a time now. The tradeoff was the never-ending numbness. Between pain and nothing, I’d chosen nothing.
I waited for the pain now. I was not numb—my senses felt unusually intense after so many months of the haze—but the normal pain held off. The only ache was the disappointment that his voice was fading.
There was a second of choice.
The wise thing would be to run away from this potentially destructive—and certainly mentally unstable—development. It would be stupid to encourage hallucinations.
But his voice was fading.
I took another step forward, testing.
“Bella, turn around,” he growled.
I sighed in relief. The anger was what I wanted to hear—false, fabricated evidence that he cared, a dubious gift from my subconscious.
Very few seconds had passed while I sorted this all out. My little audience watched, curious. It probably looked like I was just dithering over whether or not I was going to approach them. How could they guess that I was standing there enjoying an unexpected moment of insanity?
“Hi,” one of the men called, his tone both confident and a bit sarcastic. He was fair-skinned and fair-haired, and he stood with the assurance of someone who thought of himself as quite good-looking. I couldn’t tell whether he was or not. I was prejudiced.
The voice in my head answered with an exquisite snarl. I smiled, and the confident man seemed to take that as encouragement.
“Can I help you with something? You look lost.” He grinned and winked.
I stepped carefully over the gutter, running with water that was black in the darkness.
“No. I’m not lost.”
Now that I was closer—and my eyes felt oddly in focus—I analyzed the short, dark man’s face. It was not familiar in any way. I suffered a curious sensation of disappointment that this was not the terrible man who had tried to hurt me almost a year ago.
The voice in my head was quiet now.
The short man noticed my stare. “Can I buy you a drink?” he offered, nervous, seeming flattered that I’d singled him out to stare at.
“I’m too young,” I answered automatically.
He was baffled—wondering why I had approached them. I felt compelled to explain.
“From across the street, you looked like someone I knew. Sorry, my mistake.”
The threat that had pulled me across the street had evaporated. These were not the dangerous men I remembered. They were probably nice guys. Safe. I lost interest.
“That’s okay,” the confident blonde said. “Stay and hang out with us.”
“Thanks, but I can’t.” Jessica was hesitating in the middle of the street, her eyes wide with outrage and betrayal.
“Oh, just a few minutes.”
I shook my head, and turned to rejoin Jessica.
“Let’s go eat,” I suggested, barely glancing at her. Though I appeared to be, for the moment, freed of the zombie abstraction, I was just as distant. My mind was preoccupied. The safe, numb deadness did not come back, and I got more anxious with every minute that passed without its return.
“What were you thinking?” Jessica snapped. “You don’t know them—they could have been psychopaths!”
I shrugged, wishing she would let it go. “I just thought I knew the one guy.”
“You are so odd, Bella Swan. I feel like I don’t know who you are.”
“Sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say to that.
We walked to McDonald’s in silence. I’d bet that she was wishing we’d taken her car instead of walking the short distance from the theater, so that she could use the drive-through. She was just as anxious now for this evening to be over as I had been from the beginning.
I tried to start a conversation a few times while we ate, but Jessica was not cooperative. I must have really offended her.
When we go back in the car, she tuned the stereo back to her favorite station and turned the volume too loud to allow easy conversation.
I didn’t have to struggle as hard as usual to ignore the music. Even though my mind, for once, was not carefully numb and empty, I had too much to think about to hear the lyrics.
I waited for the numbness to return, or the pain. Because the pain must be coming. I’d broken my personal rules. Instead of shying away from the memories, I’d walked forward and greeted them. I’d heard his voice, so clearly, in my head. That was going to cost me, I was sure of it. Especially if I couldn’t reclaim the haze to protect myself. I felt too alert, and that frightened me.
But relief was still the strongest emotion in my body—relief that came from the very core of my being.
As much as I struggled not to think of him, I did not struggle to forget . I worried—late in the night, when the exhaustion of sleep deprivation broke down my defenses—that it was all slipping away. That my mind was a sieve, and I would someday not be able to remember the precise color of his eyes, the feel of his cool skin, or the texture of his voice. I could not think of them, but I must remember them.
Because there was just one thing that I had to believe to be able to live—I had to know that he existed. That was all. Everything else I could endure. So long as he existed.
That’s why I was more trapped in Forks than I ever had been before, why I’d fought with Charlie when he suggested a change. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter; no one was ever coming back here.
But if I were to go to Jacksonville, or anywhere else bright and unfamiliar, how could I be sure he was real? In a place where I could never imagine him, the conviction might fade… and that I could not live through.
Forbidden to remember, terrified to forget; it was a hard line to walk.
I was surprised when Jessica stopped the car in front of my house. The ride had not taken long, but, short as it seemed, I wouldn’t have thought that Jessica could go that long without speaking.
“Thanks for going out with me, Jess,” I said as I opened my door. “That was…fun.” I hoped that fun was the appropriate word.
“Sure,” she muttered.
“I’m sorry about… after the movie.”
“Whatever, Bella.” She glared out the windshield instead of looking at me. She seemed to be growing angrier rather than getting over it.
“See you Monday?”
I gave up and shut the door. She drove away, still without looking at me.
I’d forgotten her by the time I was inside.
Charlie was waiting for me in the middle of the hall, his arms folded tight over his chest with his hands balled into fists.
“Hey, Dad,” I said absentmindedly as I ducked around Charlie, heading for the stairs. I’d been thinking about him for too long, and I wanted to be upstairs before it caught up with me.
“Where have you been?” Charlie demanded.
I looked at my dad, surprised. “I went to a movie in Port Angeles with Jessica. Like I told you this morning.”
“Humph,” he grunted.
“Is that okay?”
He studied my face, his eyes widening as if he saw something unexpected. “Yeah, that’s fine. Did you have fun?”
“Sure,” I said. “We watched zombies eat people. It was great.”
His eyes narrowed.
He let me pass. I hurried to my room.
I lay in my bed a few minutes later, resigned as the pain finally made its appearance.
It was a crippling thing, this sensation that a huge hole had been punched through my chest, excising my most vital organs and leaving ragged, unhealed gashes around the edges that continued to throb and bleed despite the passage of time. Rationally, I knew my lungs must still be intact, yet I gasped for air and my head spun like my efforts yielded me nothing. My heart must have been beating, too, but I couldn’t hear the sound of my pulse in my ears; my hands felt blue with cold. I curled inward, hugging my ribs to hold myself together. I scrambled for my numbness, my denial, but it evaded me.
And yet, I found I could survive. I was alert, I felt the pain—the aching loss that radiated out from my chest, sending wracking waves of hurt through my limbs and head—but it was manageable. I could live through it. It didn’t feel like the pain had weakened over time, rather that I’d grown strong enough to bear it.
Whatever it was that had happened tonight—and whether it was the zombies, the adrenaline, or the hallucinations that were responsible—it had woken me up.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t know what to expect in the morning.