A/N: Thank you to TwilightMundi, who so graciously helped me clean this up a bit.
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A fucking reboot, that's what life handed me.
Charlie's funeral was befitting a small town Police Chief. Of course Jacob was there with Billy. And Mike. They weren't holding hands or anything, but still, you'd think he would have had enough respect, if not for me, than for Charlie, to leave his new love at home. I guess not. Mental note: If I ever date again, respect and class are near the top of the list of requirements.
Ah, dating again. One great thing I'd decided about the whole "life reboot" was that I just got to start over, and I really got to figure out what it was that I liked and what I didn't. What I wanted. What I needed. In a way, it was refreshing. No longer was I going to live under the burden of my previous life.
I already hated Mondays, but this one was taking on a new form of Bella Torture. The texts began shortly after I woke up.
Bella, pls let me try 2 xplain. -j
I began to wonder what I ever saw in Jacob. I mean, shit, he couldn't even form a coherent text message. Is it really that difficult to type out "please"? Especially when you're trying to apologize, don't you think you could go the extra mile? Apparently not.
Dartmouth was in my future now. I wanted to be an editor, so I was taking basic classes for my Bachelor's degree in English.
I made an appointment with my high school counselor to discuss the last two weeks and graduation. Someone, probably a kind hearted teacher, was worried about me since both of my parents were now gone, so the front office asked me to schedule a visit. I guess they thought I'd skip out on school or fall into the wrong crowd. Funny, if only they knew how wrong the crowd I was in had been. On the outside, I suppose Jacob seemed like a great guy.
"Bella? Bella, are you listening?"
"Sorry, Mrs. Cope, I wasn't listening."
"Mr. Jenks will see you now, dear," she offered, motioning to the school counselor's door.
I walked in, expecting the worst.
"Bella, how are you doing? Have a seat."
I sat and stared back at the stranger who was clearly hoping that I would suddenly decide to confess all of my problems to him.
"I'm fine, Mr. Jenks."
"I know you've been through a lot, Bella. I won't waste your time and make you sit here for an hour, but I want you to know that my door is open for you. If you just need to talk or bounce something off an adult, please feel free to visit me. I can only imagine how hard the last year has been for you. Everyone here wants to make sure that you leave on the best note possible so that you can fully appreciate your college experience."
"Thank you, I genuinely appreciate the concern. If I find myself in need of an ear, I will certainly keep you in mind."
"You're welcome, Bella. See you at graduation, then."
He tried to offer his best smile. The smile that said 'everything will be okay, kid!' but he had no fucking clue. Maybe everything wouldn't be okay.
I spent the day thinking about which of my teachers might have alerted the school and asked them to check up on me. I was pretty sure it was my Honors English teacher; she always kept a close eye on me and knew about my desire to get into the publishing world. I really did appreciate her concern, even if I felt it was a teeny bit misplaced. It wasn't a stretch to understand that a 17-year-old girl would need to talk to someone after losing both of her parents (I didn't think anyone knew yet about Jacob), but she should have known by then that I wasn't the type to complain or talk to strangers about my life.
Around lunch time, I got another text.
B – call me, pls, babe, need2talk. -j
Fuck. Does he not get it? I decided I'd have to spell it out for him.
Jacob – leave me the fuck alone. We don't need to talk – you said all you needed to with your actions. Have a nice life – I plan to. -Bella
Hopefully that was obvious enough for him. You would think the constant ignoring I was doing would be sufficient, but I guess he felt he had something to say to me. Whatever.
The rest of the day dragged. I had plans to start packing when I got home. I still needed to reserve a car and map my route. I wasn't afraid to be making the trip alone, but it would have been nice to have company. Jacob had planned to go with me, but there was no way in hell I was going to let him near me anymore.
I started to wonder if maybe we only dated because our fathers were so close. I flagged that one for later consideration, letting it stew in the back of my brain. I had to get through a few mundane tasks before I could get down to "mental breakdown" on my to-do list for the day.
Even just driving my truck pissed me off lately. What the hell was Charlie thinking getting this for me? I knew I'd be selling or junking it soon; I was pretty sure I wouldn't need a car at college. I pulled up to the house and got out of my truck.
Turning the key in the lock, I opened the door. Empty. That's what this house was now. That's what I was. I missed having someone to share dinner with, and I could feel the sadness taking over again.
Brain, did you not get the memo? Leave me the fuck alone for the next few hours. I promise, you'll get your turn to wallow later.
Walking up to my room, I flipped on my computer and ordered my rental car. I got a mid-size car, just big enough to fit a few boxes into. Sure, I could have flown, but I decided it might be nice to spend some time driving out there. I wasn't in a rush. Once I graduated, I wanted to put Charlie's house up for sale and then I'd have the whole summer to make my way East.
Thankfully, I knew a local real estate agent who was willing to help me out. She said all I needed to do was move out, I could leave the things I didn't want and she would have a crew come in and remove the rest. It was a relief to know that I wasn't going to have to sort through Charlie's belongings any more than necessary. I had already helped Phil do that once, but I was so close to Renee, it never really felt like a violation; with Charlie, I would have felt I was looking into his life more than he wanted me to.
Looking at a map, I tried to plot various routes from Forks to New Hampshire. It was useless; my stomach was grumbling, my head throbbing, tears squeezing out against my every wish.
Getting up from the computer, I laid on my bed, fully clothed, and let the wracking sobs take over. What did I ever do to deserve this? Just as my pity party had gone into full swing, my phone chirped again.
B, i dont love him i love u. pls can i come c u?
Jesus Christ on a pogo stick. What was it going to take to get through to him? Seriously, wasn't what I was already going through enough? If he truly loved me, he'd just back the fuck off and leave me alone for a few days.
No, Jacob, you can't come see me. I don't want to see your face right now. For the last time, leave me alone.
Okay, so I'd left it open with the "right now," but I was hoping maybe at some point he'd explain and we could be friends. I resumed the pity party on my bed and fell asleep fully clothed that night.
The next day after school, I made sure to stop at the box store on the way home and began to pack my things; I never got around to that the day before, what with all the partying.
I spent each night packing a little more, trying to figure out my route, and avoiding more annoying texts from Jacob. Finally, graduation was upon us. It was so bittersweet, as each graduate walked to get their diploma and their family would cheer. Who would cheer for me? I wondered, before it was my turn.
I wore a simple blue knit wrap dress under my graduation gown. Phil had given me a few pieces of jewelry from Renee and I wore a plain silver band on my right hand, to keep her with me that day. Now and then, I would wrap the fingers of my left hand around it and twist, the smooth, cool metal turning against my skin.
More cheering. How had I gone to school with these people for the last year and managed to not really get to know even one of them? One more thing to add to my list – stop being such a fucking hermit.
Then, I realized there was one person clapping. Great. Probably the one person I really didn't want to see today.
I walked across the small stage, taking my diploma from the Principal, Mr. Greene. On my way back to my seat, I looked out into the small audience to see if I could identify who had clapped for me. The truth was, if I wasn't sure it was the absolutely wrong thing to do, I would have skipped walking.
I couldn't see anyone standing anymore, so I sat back down and waited for the ceremony to finish. I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Bella, I'm Eric, Eric Yorkie. I think we've met a few times, right?" Yes, I wanted to say. And your dad delivered the news to me that my dad was dead. Good times. "Anyway, I just wanted to invite you to my graduation party after we're done here. It should be fun."
"Thanks, Eric," I said. "I can't make it, I have some last minute things to wrap up before I leave on the big trek to Dartmouth, but I appreciate the invitation. I'm sure it will be a fun party."
I'm sure it will be a fun party? How much more lame can you get, Swan.
Hopping back into my truck, I made the short drive to the house. He was already out front on the porch, waiting for me, flowers in hand.
"Jacob, you can't make this all go away with flowers. I'm glad you're here, though, I have something for you."
He looked optimistic for a moment. If only he knew.
Unlocking the door, I walked inside, then motioned for him to sit on the couch. Walking upstairs to my room, I pulled out the promise ring Jacob had given me from my top desk drawer. We both knew we were too young to get engaged, but Jacob seemed to be running at turbo speed after our first date, ready to proclaim to the world that I was his.
I held the gold band in my hand and replayed the memory of him giving it to me in my head.
We were sitting down on First Beach, the water lapping at our feet. We'd finished eating dinner a few minutes earlier and went down to the shore for a quick walk. We were sitting next to each other, bodies touching. Jake turned to me and I raised an eyebrow.
"Bella, you know I love you. I want to make you mine in every way possible, but I know that you'll say no if I ask you to marry me right now. I'm giving you this promise ring to let you know that whenever you're ready, I'm here for you. I want to spend the rest of my life loving you."
I accepted it and we spent a little more time on the beach, kissing and touching. Jacob was my first everything: first kiss, first touch, first sex.
That night, I went home and called Renee, on the verge of tears. She was my best friend and she would certainly know what to do. She knew Jake and I were so close because of Charlie and Billy. For once, she wasn't full of advice and information. She was quiet, withdrawn, sad? When was Renee ever sad, I wondered. That should have been my first clue that something was wrong, but I brushed it off.
Walking back down the stairs, I took them slowly, one-by-one. All I need now is to fall down the stairs and break some bones on my way out of this life.
"Jake, I can't keep this. It was the promise of a life that neither of us wants anymore."
Placing the ring in his hand, I sat next to him.
He looked at me with tears in his eyes and I could see his internal struggle. He clearly still thought he was in love with me, but I could also see that he was slightly grateful that I was letting him off the hook. That flash of appreciation disappeared quickly though, and he was back to being resolved that I'd be his once again.
"Bella, don't be so quick to give this back. You know I love you. I don't know what's going on with Mike, I really don't. I'm so confused."
"Jake, it doesn't matter. I don't love you. I'm not sure I ever did. I'm done lying to you, and I'm done lying to myself. This is the new Bella; you can either be my friend or you can get out of my life. It's your choice, Jake, but I won't tolerate you disrespecting me anymore by ignoring my feelings."
"I... I don't know what to say, Bella. I thought we'd be together forever."
"We still can be, Jacob, as friends. We've been through too much to just forget our friendship."
He thought about it, sitting quietly next to me, never looking me in the eyes.
"I suppose you're right, Bells. Will you be okay with me emailing you, once you leave? What about getting to New Hampshire? I'd still love to go with you, if you want me to?"
"Yes, you can email me once I'm gone. And, No, Jake, you can't make the drive with me. I've been thinking a lot about this trip and it's something I need to do on my own. I'm going to take the whole summer to make my way out there. I want to explore and see things I've never seen before."
"Bella, I'm not sure it's safe. Will you promise to call me or text me often, so that I know you're okay?"
"I promise, Jake, but I'll be fine. I have AAA in case I break down. I have a cell phone, and I'll carry a little cash in case I need it. I've been working on a route and I'm actually excited about it. For once, I'm in control of my life, and it's nice."
He finally looked up at me and smiled.
"It's all going to work out, right Bells?"
"Yep, Jake, it is."
The last call I made from the house was to the realtor to let her know that I was ready. She was confident it would sell fast; I wasn't asking much, I just wanted to be rid of it, honestly.
I'd picked up my rental car earlier in the day and Jake and Mike (talk about awkward) came to help me load it up. I only had six boxes (four were books, one was clothes, one was miscellaneous junk), so it wasn't very difficult, but the books were heavy, so I was glad to have their help.
I was basically going from the north west corner of the US to the north east corner, but I wanted to take my time.
I drove south to California. I had clam chowder on the wharf, and an ice cream sundae at Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco. I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping at a photo spot for a few good shots of the fog as it rolled across the bay. I walked on the beaches in San Diego.
Even though I couldn't gamble, I went to Las Vegas and watched the lights at night, saw the pirates fight in front of Treasure Island, and was mesmerized by the water show at Bellagio. I longed for someone to share it with, but instead of being sad, I tried to be hopeful; maybe someday I would explore with someone. I wiped tears as the last notes of beautiful music fell in time with the water.
I went to New Mexico and experienced the opposite of Forks – days so full of sunshine it was almost unimaginable. I watched and felt the sun against my skin and relished it, enjoying every second.
My real estate agent called while I was on the road. Charlie's house had several offers, so we accepted the highest one and began the paperwork. Escrow would close in 30 days if all went well, and the money would be deposited into an account for me. I was grateful for my agent's help.
I listened to live music in Austin at Stubb's. I had barbecue from pits built into gas stations and then compared it to barbecue in North Carolina.
In New Orleans, I saw hurricane damage, witnessed the kindness of strangers and southern hospitality. I had grits, sweet tea, and cried at the beauty of the sunset over the water.
I went to Jupiter Island in Florida and cried at sunrise. I went to Orlando and played at Disney World. I ached at all of the families there. I always thought I didn't want kids, but seeing them so joyful and seeing most of the parents just as joyful was eye opening. Granted, some parents were just assholes, but then, so were some kids. Who knows what the hell I want anymore.
I traveled around the world in an afternoon at Epcot.
Dollywood and Nashville were two stops along my way north.
Next, I went to Washington D.C. and toured the capital, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Memorial.
In New York, I went to The Met and MoMA. I walked through Central Park thinking about Jake, seeing couples in love. I had a hot dog and pretzel from a street vendor. I saw Wicked on Broadway. I had dessert at Baked in Red Hook. I bought a stuffed animal at the FAO Schwartz in Times Square, and a silver engraved keychain at Tiffany.
In Massachusetts, I went to Cape Cod and walked along the beach, marveling at my coast-to-coast journey.
All throughout the country, I lost bits of myself and found bits of myself. It was everything I never knew I needed and more. I said goodbye to Renee, goodbye to Charlie, goodbye to Jacob, and eventually, goodbye to myself.
Finally, I got to campus with a few days to spare.
My room was a triple and I was the first to arrive. Old Bella would have taken a bed in the room with two twins. New Bella? She happily took the room with one twin bed. The private room. The nicer room.
There was a small desk, dresser, and bookshelf in my room, so I unloaded a few boxes of books and all of my clothes. I went to the student store on campus and got a MacBook. I got my class schedule and purchased the books I needed. Locating the closest coffee spot, I memorized the path there, sitting and enjoying an excellently made latte.
I returned my rental car and I waited.
Two days before classes began, my roommates showed up. The door to my room was closed, me inside, when I heard them let themselves into the suite.
Opening the door to chat with them, I was greeted by a tall, statuesque blonde who introduced herself as Rosalie, and a short girl with spiked black hair who introduced herself as Alice.
Rose and Alice.
I almost apologized for taking the single room, then I remembered – New Bella.
These two girls had more belongings with them than the whole floor, it seemed. I watched as an attractive older man unloaded box after box into their room.
After they began to unpack, I wandered into their room for some chatting. New Bella wanted to get to know people.
They'd moved from Alaska. They were sisters. Rose was one year older, and Alice had skipped a grade, so they were beginning college at the same time. They were both single and loved to shop. We made plans, we gabbed, we didn't dig too deep. I liked them both instantly, even though Rosalie seemed a little cold on the surface. I was sure people thought that about me, too, sometimes.
Somewhere around dinner time, we all walked down to the dining hall together and ate. We were nervous about our first day, but excited.
We agreed our first weekend together would be spent as a trio, most likely shopping, but definitely doing something fun and girly. I'd never had good friends that were girls before; I was already enjoying it.
They asked me questions I couldn't answer. What was my favorite color? What did I enjoy doing in my spare time? Who were my best friends? What kind of person was I attracted to? Did I enjoy shopping?
I didn't know these things about myself yet, but I sure as hell intended to find out.