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Facade

Summary:
A series of short stories from those friends and family Bella was forced to leave behind. How is everyone coping with her absense? And how are their lives progressing without her?


Notes:


1. Ben and Angela: Part 1

Rating 5/5   Word Count 5654   Review this Chapter

Façade: Chapter 1
Angela and Ben (Part 1)
Warui-Usagi



x x x



‘Deceiving others...That is what the world calls a romance.'

--Oscar Wilde

x x x

It was pouring the day Ben and I caught a taxi to the Seattle airport, the rain coming down so hard on the windshield that I didn't know how the cab driver was able to find his way along the winding roads. Somehow, though, we made it. We were dropped off at the curb of the departures lounge with our luggage, and so we made our way inside quickly - where it was substantially warmer - and headed for the check-in counter. Ben was muttering the whole time under his breath about how stifling the rain was, and I couldn't help but laugh. The rain never bothered me, and I knew why. It always reminded me of home. When it rained in Seattle, I was never homesick. When I saw ‘Port Angeles' roll lazily across the departures board, I couldn't help but smile.

Ben noticed. "Someone's happy to be going home," he said with an easy grin.

"Of course," I replied, beaming at the thought. "I haven't seen my parents and friends in almost a year. Aren't you excited to be seeing everyone again?"

"Yes," he agreed. "But with reservations. I think you remember how overbearing my parents can be at times, Ang." He winced slightly as he thought about that, chuckling despite himself.

I tried to give him what I hoped was a sympathetic look in return. I did remember. Sometimes Ben's mother and father did forget that their son was legally an adult now, and did baby him about often, but I always thought that was just because they cared about him so much - he was there only son, after all - and didn't want him getting into any kind of trouble. They were some of the nicest people I'd ever known, and they were always so kind to me.

"It'll be interesting to see who else has come home for the summer," Ben continued as we loaded our luggage onto the conveyer belts and collected our tickets. "I wonder how everyone's doing?"

I had to think about it for a moment. "I know Jessica, Lauren, Tyler and Eric are going to be there. They emailed me last week to let me know. Mike's been helping his parents out with their shop, so he's still in Forks. I haven't heard from anyone else." I frowned when I remembered exactly who it was that I would have liked to hear from the most. I hadn't seen or heard anything from Bella and the Cullen's since they all packed up and left after Edward and Bella's wedding almost a year ago. I didn't have her phone number, and every time I tried to send her an email, it bounced back.

"Did you ever hear anything from the Cullen's?" Ben asked, echoing my thoughts.

I shook my head, and I could feel my frown deepening. "No, not a thing."

"That's a little strange," he continued, looking confused. "I know the Cullen's weren't particularly social, but Bella doesn't seem like the kind of person who would just disappear."

"That's what I think," I said, nodding. "But it doesn't matter. I'm sure she's just been so preoccupied with college and Edward that she's just forgotten to let us know she's okay. And besides, Chief Swan will know where she is."

"You're right," Ben agreed, wrapping his arm around me and giving me a quick peck on the cheek. I automatically flushed. "In fact, Bella and the Cullen's are probably on their way home just like the rest of us are."

It wasn't a long flight to Forks and as soon as the plane landed, the mild excitement I'd been feeling about going home for the summer suddenly exploded inside my chest. I'd get to see my mom, dad and the twins again! I couldn't believe how strange it actually felt to be coming home. I thought that perhaps it had something to do with having lived in a city for so long...coming back to a small, isolated country town - even if this was my home - seemed a little arbitrary. I felt bad for thinking it as soon as we disembarked and I saw my family waiting for me off to one side in the arrival's lounge.

"Mom! Dad!" I almost screamed, throwing myself eagerly into their waiting arms. I felt the twins wrap their arms tightly around my waist.

"Hi, sweetie," my dad said in his usual quiet voice. "How was your time in the city?"

"Great!" It was difficult to talk. The twins were already jumping up and down and pulling at my clothes, clamouring for my attention. I smiled reassuringly at my mom just before she was about to tell them to calm down, and then I turned around and swooped them both up into my arms and hugged them as hard as I could. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Ben had found his parents, too. He met my gaze with a visible cringe, and I smiled ruefully back. At least his mother was happy to see him - she was crying so much that Ben's father, Mark, actually had to sit her down for a few minutes until she calmed down.

"Ready to go home, sweetheart?" my mom asked when the twins finally let me go.

"Yes."

She pulled me into the circle of her arm and kissed me on the forehead as we walked out to the car. I hugged her back with as much strength as I could muster. I could only think about one thing as my parents drove the very familiar road back to our house - the twins already fighting in the seat next to me - and helped me take my luggage up to my room...

It was so good to be home.

x x x

It was a few days later when I was organized enough to meet up with my friends from high school. Ben and I had arranged to meet Mike, Tyler, Eric, Austin, Lauren and Jessica at First Beach; a sort of nostalgic reunion, as I liked to think of it. The weather had been good lately, and we didn't want to wait too long, for fear that it would disappear if we didn't hurry. And it was already starting to disappear, I saw when I drove into the small parking lot. Huge, dark grey clouds sat ominously on the horizon, despite the sun shining overhead.

Mike still looked the same as ever; his short and spiky blonde hair was painstakingly styled into a careful disarray. He'd certainly grown since I'd last seen him - a foot at least. And he was still all smiles and jokes. Austin was busy catching up with Ben, so I didn't get to see him much, but Lauren and Jessica seemed happy to talk to me at first. Lauren had outgrown her pixie cut; her incredibly light golden hair was almost down to her shoulders now, and beautifully layered. Jessica's brown curls were as wild and long as they ever were, and personality wise, Jessica hadn't changed one bit. She was babbling at me before I was even in earshot.

"...I mean, California is totally amazing, Angela. You'd love it! The sun is shining all the time - not like here in Forks or Seattle, where it never seems to stop raining - and there was the cutest guy in my HR class. I swear to God, he was just the most wonderful person I'd ever met! He offered me a ride home after class that day, and then we had the most fantastic first date that I've ever had in my life! He took me to this beautiful restaurant..."

"Hey, Angela," Lauren greeted me, cutting Jessica off in the middle of her story. Jessica frowned at Lauren, but Lauren ignored her.

"Hey guys," I said with a tentative smile. "How have you been?"

"Pretty good," Lauren said in her nasal voice, looking around the shore of the beach. "Are we expecting anyone else?"

"Not that I know of," I said uncertainly, following her gaze. "It seems only a few of us have come home for summer."

Lauren breathed a loud sigh of relief. "That's good. I thought I'd have to endure the company of Mr and Mrs Cullen for three months," she said scathingly. "Ugh. Can you imagine anything worse, Jess? Married at eighteen! She's probably already had a baby by now." She scoffed.

Jessica made a show shuddering and pretending to be sick. They both laughed. I just walked away. I couldn't stand listening to them berate my best friends.

I didn't stay much longer after that. I checked in quickly with everyone else. Tyler was at Peninsula Community College, doing some kind of social science. I found out from Mike that Lauren was doing Journalism at some university in Phoenix, and Jessica was attending HR classes at a college in Sarentino. Eric had gotten a part-time job nearby in order to wait for Katie to graduate before they went off to College together, which I thought was incredibly sweet. Mike said business was the same as always - busy in the summer and slow the rest of the year. He asked after Bella, but I told him exactly what I'd told Ben. He seemed more disappointed than I thought he should have been, but we had a laugh and then after checking in with Ben, I left. I'd ask him about Austin later. No doubt he'd seen some awesome kung-fu movies since they'd last met up, I thought with an internal cringe.

As soon as I got in the car though, I knew I didn't feel like going home. It was only early afternoon, and the twins would be causing an uproar in the house right about now, just before they went for their nap. And the more I thought about it, the more I could see Lauren and Angela had probably brought up Edward and Bella just to get a reaction out of me. I glared at them through the windscreen, watching as they both flirted with the boys and laughed loudly at some joke.

I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

And so feeling rather irritated and unsatisfied with my day, I started to make my way home. I took the long route, in the hopes that by the time I walked into the house the twins would already be asleep. It was just when I was about to turn out onto the small main road back to my house that I saw the little cream-colored, two bedroom house with the 1950's Chevy truck and police cruiser sitting out in the driveway. I pulled over quickly and jumped out of my car without even thinking about it. I'd heard nothing from anyone about Bella and her new family's being in town, so that led me to assume that she hadn't come back to Forks for the summer like I'd hoped. Her truck was still there, but then I remembered she never took it with her when she left, saying she'd need it to use when she came back for holidays...

The clouds were well and truly swirling overhead now-the sure sign of a storm. A sudden gust of wind sent my hair lashing against my face, and so I quickly ducked back into my car and reached across the passenger seat for my jacket, before I dashed up onto the porch of Bella's house. As soon as I'd slipped into my jacket I knocked, anxious as I waited to see who would answer the door. Chief Swan answered it a few moments later, his rather glum looking expression softening with a smile when his eyes finally came to rest on me.

"Angela Webber!" he said, clearly surprised. "How are you, hon?"

"Pretty good, thanks, Chief Swan. I hope I'm not bothering you."

"Please, call me Charlie," he said with another easy smile. "And you're never a bother," he reassured me.

"Charlie," I said, smiling back. "Is Bella home for the summer?"

As soon as I said the words, I already knew the answer just by reading his face. His smile faded, and the sadness in his eyes intensified. "I'm sorry, sweetie. She isn't here, but why don't you come in and I'll explain everything to you over a cup of hot chocolate or something, eh? You look like you could do with a warm up."

"I'd love to." Charlie stood aside to let me through, and I made my way into the small lounge room and sat down on the couch.

It was only then I realized that I'd never been to Bella's house before in the whole two years I'd known her. It was a neat little place, and even though the furniture wasn't new, it still had a very homey feel. The shelf above the tiny little fireplace was filled with pictures - pictures I remember Bella making her father put away while she was living here. He'd obviously put them back out again now that she'd moved out, and as my eyes scanned the tiny living room, I saw some on the walls as well. The ones above the fireplace were easy enough to guess at, because my parents had mine laid out in exactly the same fashion: Bella's school photo's every year, leading right up to her graduation portrait. There were a few extra ones I spotted as well. Obviously what was Charlie's wedding photo. I'd met Bella's mother, Renee, before when she attended Bella's wedding. I had marvelled then at how much she'd looked like her daughter. Seventeen years ago, the resemblance was even stronger.

What reinforced this even more was that beside Charlie's wedding photo, hanging on the wall directly in-line with it, was his daughter's wedding photo. Bella had looked so beautiful, I remembered with a sigh...and so happy. I'd never seen someone so euphoric before. It was almost as if, over the two years they were together, they'd kept their affection for each suppressed somehow. Not that anyone who watched those two could doubt how very much in love they were but...On their wedding day, the way they looked at each other had blown everyone away. Love like that...I'd never seen it before.

"Here you go - Oh, sorry, Angela. Didn't mean to scare you." I'd jumped about a foot of the couch when his loud voice cut through the silence of the house.

"That's okay," I told him, gratefully taking my hot chocolate and eagerly wrapping my cold hands around it. "Thanks."

Charlie sat down with a grunt in the chair across from me, his expression unreadable. It was quiet for a few minutes, as he seemed to be gathering his thoughts. I looked away for a second to take a swig of hot cocoa.

"So how's life in the big city?" he asked me suddenly. "You enjoying college?"

"Life's great, and I actually really like living in the city. It's very convenient. College is going well, I suppose. Law is hard, though." I winced openly when I thought about my finals. I hope I hadn't messed them up too much.

"I'm sure you did just fine, kiddo. Your father always tells me what a bright girl you are."

"Thank you," I said nervously. I couldn't figure out what embarrassed me more; the fact that my dad talked about me to all his friends, or Charlie's compliment.

It was quiet after that, and the silence started to turn uncomfortable. I'd been waiting for Charlie to tell me about what was happening with his daughter of his own accord, but I was strangely anxious, and more than a little worried for some reason I couldn't explain.

"So, Charlie," I started, "How's Bella been doing lately?"

"She's not been too good these past few weeks," he said, starting to look just as anxious as I felt. "Seems she caught pneumonia, of all things."

"Pneumonia?" I repeated in shock.

"Yeah." Charlie sighed heavily. "Carlisle assures me that she'll be alright, and that she's being looked after to the best of his family's ability, which I don't doubt. All the Cullen's seem to be very fond of Bella." His eyes darted away, to the pictures hanging on the wall. It was awhile again before he spoke. "I talked to her on the phone a couple of days ago, and she sounded horrible. Her voice was real raspy, and she kept groaning all the time. I asked her if she wanted me to come visit - I have nearly twenty years of sick leave I've never used - but she said not to worry, which was a little hard, considering how she sounded. Mind you, if I was worried, Bella's mother was almost hysterical. I was on the phone to her for almost two hours on Bella's behalf, trying to get her to calm down." He chuckled, and then sighed. "I know that Carlisle will do whatever it takes to get her better. He's probably the most selfless person on the planet." He snorted. "Don't know if I could say the same thing about his son, though."

So it was just as Bella had said when she'd told me she was engaged. I was so happy for her, but Charlie had made no secret to anyone of how he felt about his daughter's wedding. I'll admit, it was a little early, but it was impossible to doubt how those two felt about each other. I shook my head, amazed when I remembered how Edward watched her. You'd think he was a blind man seeing the world for the first time. It was incredible. I never doubted for even a second that she wouldn't be looked after.

But I did always felt like there was some secret world hidden underneath their enigmatic smiles, like there was so much more meaning to their words then everyone else thought there was...and it seemed only Bella ever really knew what they were talking about, or what was happening. The Cullen's had never sort attention of any kind, so I was more than a little surprised when they started talking to Ben and me...And while at first they seemed rather intimidating with their extraordinary beauty, I soon began to realize that I'd never met kinder people in all my life - especially Alice, I thought with a smile. They deserved none of the hostility they used to receive from everyone at school on a daily basis. The Cullen's just cherished their family's privacy above everything else, and I had always considered that a remarkable trait, because it showed just how much they all cared about each other.

"So what's Bella been studying?" I asked, hoping to steer the conversation away from Edward. It didn't seem to put Bella's father in a very good mood.

"She's been studying psychology of all things, if you can believe it," Charlie said, clearly warming to this particular topic of conversation quite quickly. His eyes brightened as he looked at me, and it was then with a sudden burst of intuition that I realized just how proud Charlie was of his daughter - how much he loved her...and as much as he'd tried to hide it earlier, how lonely he was now that Bella was gone. No matter how justified Bella's absence was, I could also see he was extremely disappointed about not having her around for the summer. I remembered that Bella had been worried about how her dad would cope after she left. She'd seemed more upset about the idea than I thought she should have been. I mean, it wasn't like she'd never see him again or anything, right?

"...Didn't think she'd been into that kind of thing," Charlie continued, oblivious of my riviere. "But then she's always managed to surprise me." He stopped for a second after that, and then continued hesitantly. "Edward's doing some kind of Medical degree. I still don't know why he wouldn't go and do it at Harvard or Dartmouth when he had the opportunity." He looked away then, and I in no way believed for even a second that he didn't know the answer to that question. It was blindingly obvious to anyone who knew him why Edward hadn't chosen an Ivy League education.

"How's Alice?" I asked eagerly.

"Good, good. The sweet little thing was accepted into some fashion design school up there in Juneau. Other than that she's the same as ever, or so I hear." He laughed. "That girl never does things halfway. I'll always be grateful to her for doing Bella's wedding. It was really...nice."

"Yeah, it was," I agreed wholeheartedly. I downed most of my hot chocolate then, sensing that the conversation was coming to a close. There were just a few more questions I wanted to ask before I left.

"Uh...Charlie, you wouldn't happen to have Bella's phone number, would you?"

"I don't believe I do," he admitted after a moment. "Bella checks in regularly, and while I would like to have a phone number, I can completely understand why the Cullen's don't have one."

When he saw my confused expression, he started to explain. "You remember what that family was like," he told me softly in his gruff voice. "Hiking all the time. From what they've told me, they always lose their cell-phones, and are always buying new ones. They've never had a permanent number where they live. Esme said she won't have one because she doesn't like people harassing Carlisle all the time; he's busy enough as it is right now. Can't say that I blame her, either," he went on, lost in the explanation. "It wouldn't surprise me if people tried to take advantage of him. He always puts everyone else before himself."

"Oh." I'd never thought of it that way. When he said it like that, it did make sense.

"Does she have an email address?" I continued hopefully.

"As far as I know, she email's her mother. I'll see if I can get her address for you the next time she calls."

"Thanks," I said in earnest. "I'd really appreciate that." And now that I knew what was happening, I just had to hope that Bella would get better quickly and be back here in time for Thanksgiving. I really did miss her a lot. I must have looked more anxious than I thought, because Charlie seemed to pick up on it.

"I wouldn't worry about her too much, sweetie. She'll be better in no time...or at least, I hope so. I know I should be respecting Bella's wishes and staying away unless she wants me to go and visit her, no matter how much I miss her - she's married, now and has her own life. You can't hold onto them forever..." his voice suddenly became thicker. Heavier. "...But letting go is harder than I thought."

"Do you think Bella will be here for Thanksgiving and Christmas?" I asked lightly, hoping to distract him. My voice sounded incredibly fake in my own ears.

It worked though. Charlie looked back at me again, snorting. "Who knows? Like I said, that family loves travelling. From what Bella's told me, she's already seen most of America and even some of Europe." He shook his head, clearly amazed for a second before his face shifted into a more sombre expression. "Of course I would love it if she did come for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but I don't want her to feel like she has to, either. Besides, I usually work holidays." He shrugged. "Someone has to."

"Oh. Okay. Well, if Bella calls...can you tell her I said ‘hi' for me? And tell her I can't wait to see her again."

He smiled. "Sure thing."

Charlie watched and waved as I hopped into my car and drove away. I was feeling beyond relieved now that I knew Bella would be okay, and that I would see her again. I enjoyed the rest of my summer with Ben and my family, and before I knew it, I was heading back to Seattle to start another year of college.

But when Ben and I returned to Forks for Thanksgiving, Bella and the Cullen's weren't there. They didn't show up for Christmas, either. I couldn't deny how disappointed I was, because it seemed that I'd always hoped they'd be there, even when I'd told myself repeatedly not to be surprised if they weren't.

I didn't check in with Charlie this time, but news of the Cullen's absence and the reasons behind it travelled quickly in this small town. My mother told me that Bella and Edward had accelerated their studies - attending summer school and extra classes in the hopes of graduating sooner. I was happy for her - she really was working hard to get her life in order. And that completely explained why she hadn't been able to see her family. She'd been so busy, and I was also pleased to find that she'd recovered from her pneumonia as well. I was optimistic about this new information. If the Cullen's had been working this hard at their studies, then they were bound to come and spend a bit of time in Forks before they found themselves full-time jobs. I'd finally get to see them all again.

Time continued to fly by, and every year for the next three years I went home every summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas, only to find that Bella and Cullen's never came. When I checked on Chief Swan, he told me Bella's calls had become less and less frequent, and now he was lucky to hear from her every few months. Bella and Edward had found jobs straight out of college, and were living in England, now. Bella was a full-time therapist, and Edward was working as an intern in a hospital in London; following in his father's profession.

It bothered me that Bella and the Cullen's didn't seem inclined to stay in contact with anyone other than their family, but they were obviously incredibly busy, and my mother had always told me that high school friends drifted apart. It was an inevitable part of moving on with life, she'd said. It was true enough; I had a couple of great friends at university - including Ben's wonderful support-but I did still always wonder now and then how Bella was doing.

And it seemed that before I could even blink, I was graduating from college, too. The Vice Chancellor handed me my Law degree, and then everyone was clapping so loudly that I couldn't hear a thing. My parents were rushing forward to give me a hug and congratulate me and then...and then...

Ben proposed. I was engaged.

I found a job almost straight away in a medium-sized firm close to Seattle, and after the small friends-and-family-only ceremony Ben and I had for our wedding and the honeymoon in Hawaii, we bought an apartment together for easy commuting to and from work. Ben worked for an advertising agency on the other side of town, so we tried to get as close to the city as we possibly could. Our life fell quickly into a comfortable routine and we were very happy.

Tonight was just the same as every other night. I'd gotten caught up in my work again until well after 9pm, and just like it always was in Seattle, it was pouring rain outside. I packed up as soon as I finished, and locked up the building. The sudden roar of the rain was strangely comforting after the dead silence of my office and as soon as I found my umbrella, I began the five-block walk back to the apartment. The street was oddly quiet, tonight; the only thing I could hear was the sound of the rain slamming against the pavement, and as I rounded the corner and started heading past the huge, forest-like park, the rain was suddenly engulfed by the trees and crickets, becoming only background noise. The look of the forest in the dark always made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and so I hurried past as quickly as I could, finally allowing myself to relax a little when my apartment was within site.

The feeling didn't last long, though. A huge, booming laugh sliced through the uncomfortably quiet night. I instinctively gasped at the noise...and instantly knew that it was too loud. The laugh cut off abruptly into a low, quick hiss. I knew then that it wasn't just one person. It was a group; a few other voices joined in the harsh whispering, though I couldn't understand w word of it over the roar of the rain. I started walking much faster, then; I was almost running in my desperation to get out of there. It wasn't easy in the heels I was wearing - I almost tripped several times - and while they didn't appear to be following me, I didn't want to be taking any chances.

"Watch out!" one of them called suddenly - a girl - and before I could even look around to see what she meant, my feet slipped on the wet pavement and I lost my balance. I fell sideways, my arms reaching out instinctively to catch my fall, the umbrella in my hand forgotten. I felt the snap as soon as my palm hit the cement, and cried out as the pain shot its way up my right arm. It had to be broken. As I struggled to my feet in the pouring rain, I tried to wipe the soaked hair from my face so I could find my handbag and my phone.

I couldn't find it anywhere.

The indistinguishable muttering behind me started again, sending my heart thudding erratically against my rib cage. What were they going to do to me now that I was hurt? Would they take the opportunity to mug me, or would they leave me alone? A little voice in my head told me that people standing around in parks at this hour usually weren't after money, and probably wanted something much, much worse.

I was so terrified of all the possible scenarios, that when one of them of them appeared suddenly in front of me, my automatic response was to scream.

"Shhh, it's okay," she said in a very soothing, velvety voice, bending down on her knees to meet me face to face. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help. Your apartment is just up here, right?"

"Y-yes," I stammered, trying unsuccessfully to make the woman's expression out. It was covered by a dark hood with her long and wet dark hair plastered to the sides of her face. She kept her eyes hidden in the shadow of her cloak. It was the same girl who had called out after me before I fell, I assumed. The only thing I could see clearly under the lamplight was that she had very pale skin - her arms were as white as snow.

"Can you get up by yourself?" she asked in that melodic voice again. When she spoke like that, it made it impossible to be afraid of her.

"No. I think my wrist is broken," I murmured.

I didn't know how she heard me over the roar of the rain, but she replied easily enough. "Alright then. Let me help you up."

I watched as she reached out toward me, her arms curling around my torso and lifting me effortlessly to my feet. I shivered violently underneath her touch - her hands were colder than the rain.

"Th...Thank-you," I stuttered when I could stand straight. I shuddered again.

"I'm sorry," she said, though I couldn't imagine what for. She almost sounded angry for some reason. "You're freezing because of me. Hear -" In one fluid movement she slid out of her full length hood and cloak and wrapped it tightly around my shoulders. At first, I didn't notice anything else other than the fact that inside the coat - though it was dry - was just as cold as her hands had been. I was even colder than I was before. It wasn't until a few moments later when I started to warm up that I actually looked at the face I couldn't see before.

It had to be a dream.

My mouth fell open with a little popping sound when I recognised who it was. Standing there under the lamplight, looking more like she was a model posing for a fashion add with her now-soaked chocolate hair hanging beautifully around her sharply defined and incredibly pale face, was the girl who had been my very best friend through all of high school. She looked so different and yet still the same. She looked exactly like...but I didn't know how that was possible.

"Bella?"

She smiled at me, flashing some very white teeth. Impulsively, I took a few steps back.

"Hello, Angela."