Bella seems to attract every queer person within a ten mile radius. Vampires, werewolves... She's seen it all. But what she's missing is a human friend. And of course, Bella wouldn't be Bella unless that person was strange and possibly dangerous, too. Mythical creature expertise doesn't always help with humans.
There are a few things to say about this story : Amelia often thinks about drugs, drinking, suicide, etc. Although the actual act is never shown in my story, I suggest you don't read on if those topics make you uneasy. It's nothing major, though. I would like to thank my beta, bloodredskies for editing my work. She went through each chapter for me, and has been a great help. And lastly, I'd like to remind everyone to review. It's honestly the best gift you can give to any author, and how else could I improve if I don't know what you're thinking? Just spare me a minute once you're done.
15. Small Steps
Rating 5/5 Word Count 3692 Review this Chapter
"I don't usually talk about this with anyone. Though it's not exactly a secret, as many people already know about the whole issue, but it's painful to bring back up. Jack and my mom have tried to speak to me a few times, but I always refuse. So you can consider yourself very lucky to hear this all from me personally."
I looked up then to gauge Bella's expression. She smiled in encouragement when she saw me, and added a little nod. Her eyes, already wet from our previous conversation, glistened from the small amount of light that fell on us through the forest's canopy.
Seeing nothing in her expression that would give me a reason to stop my tale, I proceeded.
"You see, you're not the first person to ever have tolerated me. There was a time when I was actually deemed quite normal, and my behavior wasn't as… turbulent as it is now. I had a life. Imagine that."
I stopped again, this time mostly because of my own inability to continue. Stalling seemed like a perfect idea at the point, and I briefly thought about getting up and running. After all, Bella had refused to open up to me – what right did she have to expect me to tell her everything? I could bolt right now, and there was nothing she could do about it.
But when I glanced up at her face again, I was reminded of the reason I was here in the first place. Her exclamation at the end of our short squabble had hit a sore spot.
"How dare you judge me like that? You don't know me!"
"No, I don't! Because you won't let me!"
Bella had been absolutely right. I wasn't letting her know the real me.
But was Bella letting me know her? She was still a complete mystery to me.
I don't need to correct you. You can do that yourself.
Stupid ego. You were supposed to be on my side.
But of course, my inner voice was right. Though Bella still covered her little secrets from my eyesight, her hiding was entirely different from mine. She hid her secrets, but her personality shone through every cell.
I hid everything, including my own character.
It was time I opened up. Maybe it would even turn out pleasurable.
So I closed my eyes again and sank further down to the ground, trying to find a position that would hinder any trembling. Bella didn't need to see everything.
"So I was a… a… teenager. I went to school, got satisfactory grades, and enjoyed just being unchained and alive. Of course I was never quite the perfect child that parents wish for, and my social skills weren't optimal. I've always been rather shy, and never known what to say to strangers..."
Damn, there it was again – the stalling. I forced myself back to the right path.
"But like every other girl, I had a best friend. A-Alex." I swallowed, but tried my best not to let Bella know of my discomfort. "Alex was his name. We spent all our time together, thinking of stupid plans and then putting them to action. Once we hid a toad in our teacher's desk. She got quite a shock when she found it."
I waited for Bella to giggle, but she remained silent. Trying to ignore the firework of emotion in my own head, I continued.
"We were very, very close. Not a day went by when we didn't meet each other somewhere. It was the happiest period of my entire life. It's strange how humans are so easily deceived – because of how perfect my life was going at that very moment, I thought I was indestructible. That's another reason why I don't trust happiness. When you're on cloud nine, you fail to see the injustice of the world around you, and don't realize how breakable fortune is. It happens time after time again. Humans believe they're happiness is permanent.
"And like I said, so did I. I thought I'd be happy forever, and that my life would be perfect until the end of my days. I was horribly wrong.
"In a way, what happened then was good for me. I needed something to wake me up from my trance so that I could properly evaluate the world. It's harsh, but it was actually a good thing that Alex died."
Bella's breath hitched, leaving me to ponder if her reaction was caused by the fact that Alex had died, or by the way I spoke of it. I decided the latter was the more probable answer.
I ignored it, and continued, now talking as fast as I could to get the words out before the waterworks started. "I wasn't there when it happened. My mom had dragged me on a weekend vacation, and I wasn't even in town when I got the news. I still resent my mother for that – how could she deny me the chance to say goodbye to my best friend?
"Once we heard what had happened, we raced back home. Alex was at the hospital in a critical condition, but at least he was still alive. That consolation wasn't worth much, though. He never woke up from the coma. We had hardly arrived at the hospital when he kicked off for good.
"Until this day, we're not completely sure of what happened. Alex had been shot twice while walking home with the groceries – it made an awfully big headline the next day. The whole city only talked about the young Alexander and how he was murdered brutally on his home street. The reporters swarmed his home, and his parents gladly gave interviews to whoever had the nerve to ask. And of course, all of them asked.
"The story was in the news papers for a few days, and during that time, the mound of flowers on the spot where Alex was killed grew daily. People didn't speak when they passed that corner. But soon the police ran out of leads, and the story grew cold. Since there were no more shocking details to reveal, nobody wanted to hear about Alex anymore.
"The flowers on the street withered, the street quieted again, and his parents went back to a subtle mourning when they lost the interest of the press. 'It all went back to normal' is what my mother would say. But it didn't.
"I couldn't understand why everyone suddenly started to hush up about the whole issue. My mom forced me to go back to school, Alex's parents started working again, and everybody lived on as if nothing had happened. Nobody talked about it anymore."
My voice drifted off as I struggled with the tears in my eyes. I wasn't ready to show Bella quite that much yet.
But no matter how hard I pushed back the crying, Bella noticed my anguish. For a second I thought she might grab my hand, but she seemed to think better of it and settled to look out into the forest with me instead.
I could tell something was pressing her mind, and that a speech was forming behind her closed lips. Thankfully, she gave me a chance to recover before she let it out.
But when she did, I wrapped my arms around my knees and lay back against the tree.
"Your parents thought it better not to talk about it. Some people just need a break when they lose somebody they truly liked, and don't want to discuss the whole matter for a while. I'm sure your parents only meant well."
I jumped up from the tree I was leaning against and threw my hands in the air, causing Bella to jump back from my outburst and stare at me wide eyed. "Some people don't want to talk about it, but that doesn't mean I didn't need to! My mom should have known me better. All my friends and family should have! But no, for the first time in my life the truth was exposed to me – humans are shallow frauds that fail to see the true colors of the people around them. My family didn't care that I had just lost my best friend. All my teachers continued like nothing had happened. My other friends never spoke about it. They should have known! But how could they have, when they had no idea?
"Beside that point, Alex's death showed me a whole lot of other things, too. The reporters, for example. They were all over the story while it was still hot. I hated them while they were still there; they wrote things about Alex that I'm sure he would have never wanted published, and some of them weren't even true. They used him for their own profit, and treated the whole news like some stupid action movie. I was disgusted by Alex's parents, and the way they seemed almost to enjoy the attention they were getting. That taught me an important lesson – even if you think you know someone, you don't. The world is made of traitors.
"And then, as soon as there was nothing new to shock people with, the reporters turn their backs! And with them, the whole city forgets about Alex. Suddenly, he's a nobody again. I don't know what I hated more – the period when he was in the evening news, or the time when he wasn't even in anyone's head. Alex was only a product to these people.
"The cops didn't care much about the case, either. Sure, they collected a few leads, but gave up as soon as they ended. Then they turned their attention to another case, hoping they'd have more luck with that one. They never found Alex's murderer. It's revolting.
"So do you understand me now? Do you see why I turned into such a hideous, cruel person? Blame my parents. When I would have needed it the most, they didn't talk about it with me. But now that I'd rather forget about everything, they want me to see a shrink and all. They always do the opposite of what I need! They have no idea what they're doing!"
My chest heaved from my erratic breathing. The tears had now escaped from their places in my eyes, and my whole face burned bright red. I knew what a sight I must have been.
I knew how dangerous I must have looked.
Once I'd caught my breath again I wished to continue my rant, but Bella cut me off by rising to her feet. She stood in front of me, spreading her arms out as if to assure me that she wasn't going to hurt me. Her eyes were wet.
My whole body quivered as I waited for her to explain.
"I meant to say, I see why you're angry. You have a load of undigested issues building up in your chest, and nobody to talk to. But you can't blame your parents."
I was about to protest, but Bella raised a finger and continued before I had the chance to start screaming. "You're right – they had no idea what they were doing. They thought they were doing the right thing by letting you handle the situation yourself. They were unsure of what to do, so they decided to go with the easiest solution.
"But you're wrong about the now part. You say you don't need to talk about it anymore. I say you do."
I shook my head furiously, now seriously considering just running away. I had only told Bella all of this because I'd promised, and didn't want her to play the psychologist again.
You didn't have to talk to her. But you wanted to.
I bit my lip down in frustration.
Bella continued when she saw that I'd calmed down. "This proves it, don't you think? You're still angry about everything. Maybe you should talk to someone, if even just a little bit in the beginning. You can't live on like this."
She paused before talking again in a shaky voice, looking like she might burst into tears at any moment. "I don't think you're a hideous person. You just had to experience some real injustice at a very early stage of your life. You saw all these people – the press, Alex's family, and your own parents – react the only way they knew how. But you shouldn't scorn these people, Amelia. It's just the way the world functions. Your reaction was different to theirs, but not any more correct."
I shook my head again, trying to free myself from the ridiculous thought that Bella might be right. She hadn't been in my position; she knew nothing of what she was talking about. Nothing.
But was an outsider's opinion more accurate? There's a huge difference between experiencing something yourself and hearing someone else assess it. I was blinded by my own hatred, and couldn't think clearly enough to properly judge the situation. Bella wasn't in the state of near panic that I had been in back then, a state that I still hung to with all my might.
Could I be the one to blame?
I sank to the ground again, staring ahead of me with blank eyes. I didn't want to believe Bella; I didn't want to believe myself. I desperately clung to the notion that I was in panic right now. That was why I was having these thoughts.
It's not your fault, it's not your fault, it's not your fault….
Bella joined me on the ground and leaned against the familiar tree behind us. She, too, stared out into the space, still crying tears that didn't make any sense to me.
"Of course I can't know exactly what you were feeling, but I can imagine. When Edward left me –"
She sighed. "Yes. He temporarily left me after we'd been together for a few months. He led me to believe that he didn't love me anymore, when in truth that was exactly his reason for leaving. His… misjudgment caused the both of us a lot of pain, but now that I have him again, I'm starting to realize just how inevitable it was. Being apart for so long opened our eyes, and it would have happened sooner or later, no matter what. We needed the separation to see how much we truly needed each other.
"Anyhow, what I was going to say before you interrupted me was that when he was gone, I felt so alone and out of place in my own world. I had nobody to talk to, and I refused to bring the subject up with anyone. I locked it all in my mind, and that only caused it to eat on my insides more and more each day. I was ruined. Don't do the same mistake."
"I'm ruined." Now Bella had finally comprehended that simple fact. Of course I had known it all along, but hearing it out of my only friend's mouth wounded me deeply.
Realizing what she had just said, Bella quickly started explaining herself. "No, no, I didn't mean it like that! You're not ruined, at least not yet. With ruined, I mean you're hiding your true personality and thoughts from your surroundings. You push back all these feelings and leave them to rot. It might be easier at first not to remember, but eventually, it'll consume you. Then there'll be nothing left of you. When I now reflect back to the time when Edward was gone, I notice how many mistakes I made. I probably should have talked to someone, but it hurt too much, so I didn't. I still don't think I'd be able to talk about it if he left me again… But you're stronger than me. You can do it. You have to."
Raising my eyebrows, I turned to look at Bella questioningly. Her tears were still rolling down her cheeks, joining my ones on the forest ground. "I'm stronger than you? Right. Good joke."
"Really, you are," Bella answered my sarcasm with a slightly more even voice "If you have the strength to play the role of a Goth for so long, you also have enough to talk about the reasons of your change. You only need to focus your energy on that instead of pretending."
A silent moment followed. Bella tried to wipe away her tears, but her red face stayed wet despite all her efforts. Eventually, she just gave up and settled to concentrate on her breathing.
I lay completely still, and considered Bella's words. I didn't agree with everything she said; for the first time during our friendship, I could honestly say that she was wrong in some points.
But then again, she was right in many others.
I didn't believe that I was stronger than her. It simply wasn't true. If Bella could take one look in my mind, she would see the insecurity and weakness that my thoughts often fell back to. It wasn't difficult to pretend to be something you weren't; many years of experience had taught me that.
But maybe, just maybe, I could find the energy to talk about Alex with someone. Heck, wasn't I doing it right now? I had never been so open about the subject in my entire life, and thought I would rather be anywhere else at the very moment, I felt an odd relief to have freed my heart from this burden.
A sudden reminder of the reason of our talk crept back into my mind. "You said something back at the house that confuses me."
Bella, startled by my sudden comment, had to blink a few times before catching up with the content of what I'd said. "What exactly?"
"You said I wasn't letting you know me. I wanted to know what you meant with that."
"I meant just what I said." Bella seemed more in control now, her eyes not watering as much as earlier. "By playing your role, you're not letting anyone into your life. I think this is the first time that I truly feel like I'm talking to you, and not the Amelia that you created yourself."
Once again, Bella had hit the spot perfectly.
How could I expect her to be my friend if she couldn't be with me, but with a clone that I'd constructed?
"You know what? I'll promise you something, if you promise me something back."
Bella became weary as soon as the words left my mouth, but nodded.
"I promise to talk about this with someone, but only if you'll let me come to your wedding."
It took a few seconds for Bella's brain to asses the request, but once it did, she chuckled. "Sure. You were invited anyway. Just remember to keep your side of the deal."
I bit my lip, not quite sure of what I had just promised to do. I was evidently suicidal.
"Don't expect me to make a drastic change from one moment to the other, though, all right? I'll need some time."
Bella chuckled again, and took my hand without thinking. I jumped back from the touch, but decided to leave her palm on top of mine.
It felt too warm to push away.
"Sure, Amelia. Small steps are enough. Just never take a step back."
I then smiled for the first time during our conversation.
After we'd both cleared away all traces of crying, Bella and I returned to the house, ready to face the intruding eyes of the rest of the Cullens. I knew I'd have to make peace with them if I wanted to be at Bella's wedding, so I bit my tongue roughly down to make sure I didn't slip.
But to my great relief, the house was silent and vacant again when we arrived. Bella and I continued talking, now about less serious themes, and eventually it was time for me to return home. When I was getting into Bella's truck so she could drive me back, Edward appeared on the porch, staring at the both of us with concerned eyes.
Bella turned back to look at him for a few seconds, and was smiling by the time she got into the car next to me. I, too, gazed at Edward, trying to decipher his thoughts from his expression. I wondered if he already knew I'd be attending their wedding.
He nodded once when he met my eyes. I nodded back.
That was when I knew he knew.
The ride back home was almost as usual. Though Bella and I were both still shaken from our previous conversation, we were able to talk about our typical themes with a fair amount of humor and glee. By the time she dropped me off at my house, I was more or less in my normal state of mind.
Jack's cruiser caught my eye when I walked through the driveway, bringing me to an idea.
I took a deep breath before opening the front door.
As I'd expected, Jack was waiting for me on the other side.
He was about to start lecturing me for having left so abruptly earlier that morning, but I cut him off before he could start.
"Can I talk to you about something?"
Small steps are all it takes.
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