Not What I Used to Be
Victoria caught up with her as she walked from her truck to the house. Charlie wouldn't be home for hours, but Bella didn't have time to be thankful for his absence.
5. Chapter 5 of 6
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It was a comfort because she knew for certain that, at least while they were home, not a single person was talking about Edward. It was an annoyance because the conversations that were taking place registered as a constant hum in her ears while she was trying to think.
Thinking came naturally to her after so long by herself. In fact, each of the Cullens had, at one point or another in those first few days, commented that she was much less talkative than they remembered. She supposed this was natural after having spent so much time alone. And she did have quite a lot to think about. For one thing, she had come to the conclusion that what she was seeing in everyone’s eyes was – had to be – some sort of supernatural talent that she’d gained with her transformation. Like Alice’s visions. She had tried to subtly study each of them in turn, and slowly she was realizing something that she found astounding. She had come to believe that she was looking into their souls.
There was really only one person she could discuss it with and, conveniently, she happened to be sharing a house with him. She knocked on the door to Carlisle’s study while Alice and Kate were making yet another trip to town to pick up rugs and a painting she had tried to talk them out of purchasing. He invited her in warmly, and she wondered if he’d been expecting her.
Bella felt suddenly shy, but she came in and seated herself in a chair in front of Carlisle’s desk. The room looked a great deal like his office had looked in Forks. All the same pictures hung on the walls. All the same books took up space on the shelves. It was unnerving, considering how hard she worked to keep from remembering anything from that time period. Still, the books called to her. She'd had so little to read, lately. “What can I do for you today, Bella?” he asked pleasantly. Bella looked up into his eyes and was silent for a moment. Carlisle was capable of more compassion and understanding than anyone she’d yet seen.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about our last conversation,” she began carefully, ignoring the dull ache in her chest. Their last conversation, oddly enough, had taken place almost a year ago – on her birthday – whilst he sewed up a gash in her arm. Carlisle, of course, remembered it perfectly. He nodded.
“You said that I was the only one who shared your opinion that vampires aren't soulless monsters. I think I know why we agreed.” She paused, and Carlisle blinked and leaned forward.
“Am I about to learn what your gift is?” he asked, and Bella thought he sounded excited. She wondered if this was something he’d given some thought to already.
“When I look into someone’s eyes, I can see – I can see everything. All the things that make them who they are. Not thoughts, exactly,” she hurried to clarify, wincing, “ but ... the personality traits that explain their thoughts.”
Carlisle was smiling. “You can see our souls?” he asked, and he sounded satisfied. Bella could tell by looking into his eyes that this was just the sort of confirmation he’d desired for many, many years.
“I think so, yes,” she replied.
Carlisle leaned back, serious again. Her tone of voice concerned him. “Does that make it uncomfortable for you to be around us?”
“Surprisingly, no. It’s actually been really nice to be around people again. I think I was starting to go a little crazy in the woods,” she admitted. But truthfully, this was the sort of place that could drive her a little crazy, too. Irina had not come out of her room since the day Bella arrived, and Tanya had been scarce also, as a result. Kate had been on edge, and between her nervousness, and Irina’s anger and pain, Jasper was on edge as well. That kept Alice distracted more often than not. Carlisle and Esme, however, seemed as serene as always. Sitting in his office, surrounded by books, Bella felt more at home than she had since Edward had disappeared.
But as soon as that thought popped into her head, she frowned, and shoved it aside. It wouldn’t do to get too comfortable here, no matter how alluring those books were. Eventually, Edward was going to show up, and she would have to go. Carlisle, however, seemed oblivious to this fundamental fact.
“I know Tanya enjoys having you, but - It will be several months before we’re ready to relocate. But when we do, I hope you’ll consider coming with us.”
Bella was silent for a moment. She already knew she couldn’t do that, but she also didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of staying with Tanya and her sisters once the Cullens left. Carlisle was clearly waiting for a response.
“Carlisle, I’ve been confused about something ever since I arrived here. Actually, I've been confused about it all year. Maybe you can help me understand?” Some of the pain she remembered from the months after Edward had left seemed to reach out of the confinements she’d carefully forced it into so long ago, and she resisted the urge to wrap her arms around her chest to contain it. Instead, she kept her hands clasped in her lap and leaned forward.
“I’ve been making use of my talent ever since I arrived. I’m sure you’ve noticed.” He nodded, but maintained eye contact. “I’ve been looking for a way to explain how a whole family of people I cared about could just desert me without a word,” she continued, trying to keep her voice even, but failing. She watched the regret dawn over Carlisle's expression. “But I can’t find it. I can’t see how you and Esme could have left me like that. Alice, I understand, had to be with Jasper. He was upset. But she never came back. Never even wrote a letter.....” Her attempt to sound indifferent had failed utterly by this time. She was whispering. “I just don’t understand.”
Carlisle continued to meet her eyes, and she could see that he was the sort of person who would feel awful about hurting someone that way. They ALL were kind hearted, and she simply couldn't comprehend what had caused them to behave so callously. She waited while he formed his response. It didn't take long, in human terms, but considering how fast she knew his mind worked, any pause meant he was giving it a great deal of thought.
"Bella, we left for the same reasons Edward did," he said finally. He was about to continue but she cut him off.
"You're lying. You aren't even capable of that sort of change of heart." Her voice was cold. Even if she was right, and he was lying, it had hurt to hear him say it. The thought that the whole family had simply grown bored with 'playing human' for her sake, and decided to leave to escape her was painful.
Carlisle's eyebrows drew together. "Bella, didn't Edward explain why he was leaving?"
"Yes. He explained," she said shortly, and her voice was more bitter than she expected. She closed her eyes and chuckled humorlessly. She opened her eyes, and gazed evenly at Carlisle. He seemed confused, but she could see nothing but complete sincerity behind his eyes. Maybe he wasn't lying. Maybe he just honestly didn't want her, either. But that seemed so at odds with the person she knew him to be. And why would he have offered to let her go with them when they moved away? She shook her head and stood, the pain in her chest clawing at her until she couldn't make herself think about it anymore. "If his reasons were also yours, then there isn't anything else to be said between us. I thought of you as a father. Goodbye, Carlisle." She was thankful that she was no longer capable of tears.
She was out the door and had retrieved her bag from her half-furnished room before anyone had time to react. Esme, having caught the end of their conversation, tried to stop her on the stairs, but Bella brushed by her. She was fast. The strength of her first year in this life was still with her. No one would have a hope of catching her. In moments she was out of sight of the house.
Bella had returned to the pine grove by the time Alice and Kate were able to get back from town. Alice, of course, had seen the whole thing and they'd come as fast as they could. They found Esme and Carlisle in his office puzzling over what had gone wrong. They were only able to come up with one possible explanation. Alice confirmed it. "He must have lied to her," she said angrily. No wonder he'd asked her not to try and see him saying goodbye. Jasper appeared a few moments later, having felt her emotions from the third floor.
Carlisle was the only one who managed to remain calm, though inwardly he was able to admit his disappointment in Edward. "We have to find out what he said. Have you had any luck?"
Alice shook her head. For the last four days (and sporadically previous to that as well) they'd all tried, unsuccessfully, to get Edward to answer his phone. Today she'd checked with their provider to make sure his phone wasn't broken, and that it was on. They told her it was. "No. He's still not answering. While I was there, I got Bella a phone," she said sadly, pulling the box out of her shopping bag. They all looked at the box for a minute before Jasper chuckled.
"Did you get it under her name, on our plan?" he asked slyly.
Alice's eyes unfocused for a moment before she was grinning. "Yes! And he'll pick up! But he'll just hang up when it's not her." She paused, thoughtful again.
"If I tell him Bella's a vampire right off?" Jasper asked. Alice grinned again and opened the box. She had the phone together in three seconds flat, battery and all. She plugged it in behind Jasper and handed it to him.
"Here goes," he said, dialing. Carlisle looked down for a moment as Esme grabbed his hand. She was very anxious that this go well. She wanted Edward and Bella both home with them where they belonged.
When the phone stopped ringing, Jasper spoke quickly, knowing Edward probably wouldn't speak first. "Bella's a vampire, don't hang up!"
"Jasper?" Edward asked, his voice held the same miserable tone it had when he'd explained that he needed 'time to himself' and disappeared nine months previous.
"Yes. We're in Alaska and Kate found her -"
"If you're lying to me...." Edward warned, angrily.
"I'm not. Kate found her sobbing uncontrollably over a dead mountain lion and you need to get your ass home, now." Jasper waited for a response while Edward processed this information, grinning unrepentantly at the frown on Esme's face. She hated to hear her boys swear, but if it ever was justified, Jasper felt that this was the occasion.
"I'll be on the next flight," Edward said finally, sounding a bit more animated. Jasper could feel the surge of hope from everyone in the room at that pronouncement.
"Emmett and Rosalie are on their way home soon, too. We'll -" he stopped. Edward had hung up. Apparently he was in a hurry. Jasper flipped the phone closed, smiling. "He's coming home," he said, though clearly everyone had already heard.
Alice and Kate finished putting together Bella's room, sure that once Edward arrived everything would be fine. Alice had seen that Bella wasn't going to listen to anyone but Edward, and she refused to tell anyone where she was, knowing that Carlisle felt so bad he'd probably go looking for her and cause more trouble than if they waited.
Bella, of course, was oblivious to all of this. She had instinctively returned to the fir tree where Jacob had comforted her during her transformation. But once she'd arrived, she realized she didn't really want to be there. She dropped her backpack and went back towards the valley, making her way to the lake. She liked the lake. She had never once been to a lake with any of the Cullens. She kicked off her shoes and socks and waded in.
The silt at the bottom was deep, and she tried not to disturb it too much. She wanted to be able to see, and mucking up the water would ruin it.
Bella had walked the bottom of the lake many times in the last few months as she'd waited for Jacob to come back. She pretended now that it was Jake she was waiting for, keeping her mind off anyone else who might be coming for her. Though, honestly, she saw no reason why the Cullens would pursue her. They didn't want her, after all. None of them wanted her. She sobbed unexpectedly, and water took the place of the breath she'd been holding, but it made no difference. She could breathe water as easily as air. She shook her head and her arms came up to clamp around her torso protectively, though if her heart really could fall out of her chest it wouldn't be nearly as damaging these days as it would have been when she was human. She stopped walking and waited. She knew, if she was still enough, that the fish would eventually begin to trust her. They would swim right passed her. It reminded her of the tide pools of La Push, viewing the fish up close. She was still for a very long time.
There was enough water between Bella and the sun that it was difficult to tell what time of day it was. She wasn't sure how much time had passed when the fish began to come. She watched them. Sometimes their silver scales caught and reflected what little sunlight penetrated so deeply. They were pretty. She concentrated on them as hard as she could to prevent her mind wandering. But eventually she grew bored. When she finally turned to head back to the shore, she startled an entire school of fish. They turned tail so quickly that even if she'd wanted to, she probably couldn't have caught one.
When she walked back onto the grass the forest around her seemed still. She thought maybe she should hunt, but she couldn't muster the energy. Although she wasn't tired - would never be tired again - she didn't feel like doing much of anything. She looked down at her soaked clothes, and then looked around herself. The chances of anyone stumbling upon her out here were nil, and Jake wasn't coming back for the better part of three months. She grimaced at that thought, but pulled off her shirt, and peeled her jeans off as well, laying both out on a rock in the sunshine. She kept her panties out of habit alone.
Bella thought about going back to her bag for the replacements, but truly it would only be a few hours before these were dry, and she really didn't feel like running. Reminds me too much of him. She pursed her lips and tried to think of nothing at all.
She went back into the lake, but that was dull. She swam for a while, but there wasn't really any challenge in it. She swam the whole length of the lake and found herself facing the cliff face from which she'd once dived. It only took her a second to decide to climb it. This was frustratingly simple as well.
She hadn't taken a breath since exiting the lake, as her lungs were filled with water, so when she reached the out cropping, she stretched out on her back, and hung her head over the edge, viewing the world upside down. This had the additional benefit of letting the water in her lungs run out. She opened her mouth and thought of the pictures of Gothic gargoyles she'd seen in her art class back in Phoenix. She spent a moment marveling that she was able to recall such a thing when so many other, more important things were difficult to remember.
But Phoenix was mostly safe. She filled her mind with whatever she could remember of her school days in Phoenix, before life had become so complicated.