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Finished. Six years after Breaking Dawn, a brutal murder is committed near Forks. When called in the middle of the night, Charlie Swan rushes off to do his civic duty and protect the public. Three hours later, he returns home with a new ward: the only survivor of the double homicide. From the beginning, it is clear that the poor thing needs a new start, a new life- and someone to save her from her old one, especially when ghosts from the past resurface. And, with Nessie determined to overcome her own demons, the two realize that friendship can come from the strangest places.

All of this belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Duh…

8. Chapter 8

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Chapter Eight--

Her legs pumped furiously beneath her. Her bare toes squished in the mud as she ran, filling the crevices with wet, brown mud. Tears blurred her vision, falling freely out of her ray-green eyes. They ran down the curve of her cheeks, cling to her flowing raven locks. Her ind was running a mile a minute, but she could not grasp on to a single thought. It was too much work for her to think.

So…she kept running…

…and running…

…and running…

Iris kept running until her legs collapsed. She stumbled to the ground, scraping her knees against the grass and dirty rocks. Immediately, two thin arms wrapped around her. She tired to push her way out of the embrace.

“Get away!” she screamed. “Puh-lease!” Iris cried. She shoved her arms against the stony body and pounded her visits until they were bruised. “Don’t touch me! Please! Get away!”

But the person was relentless. They clung to her, using themselves as an aegis against the brutality of the world. They held her together, keeping her body from shattering on the emerald grasp. Eventually, Iris gave up her onslaught. She latched onto her savior for dear life, and for the second time that day, let loose a barrage of tears. Her head hurt from the constant pressure and her nose was chaffed from her always rubbing the snot away. She ruined the woman’s lovely pink blouse, but could not bring herself to care. All she could do was cry as her life flashed before her eyes. The facade that she fought so hard to create was falling apart. Once upon a time, it had been a beautiful masterpiece, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Now, it was cracked and fading; time had destroyed it like it had the Great Sphinx.

“Let it out, Iris,” cooed a very familiar voice. A cold hand rubbed circles on her back, clinging to her just as fiercely. “Let it out,”

It was Esme. The woman who she had insulted and hated came to her rescue yet again. Her frail arms held Iris protectively, giving her a safe haven. She somehow knew what the others didn’t; she just let her cry. For nearly an hour, she sat there and cried on the she-vampire. Kind and gentle Esme held her and soothed her. Never once did she tell Iris that it would be all right, that everything would be better. She was much too smart to do that. Iris did not know how, but she felt that Esme understood, and that she was the only one who could help.

“You’re safe now; you won’t ever be hit again. I promise. They can’t hurt you,” Emse said gravely. “It’s over,”

“You can’t know how I feel!” Iris mumbled. It was a weak attempt to distance herself from the protective woman, but she had to try. She swore off human contact and dammit, she wanted to keep that way. At least, she told herself that. Her body, it seemed, had other ideas. She found her hands slipping down but still leaning into Esme. She found herself craving physical contact, knowing that someone else was still alive, that the world had not ended yet. She needed it more than air. “You don’t understand,”

“But I do, Iris,” Esme replied quietly. “I do,”

Pulling away, Iris furiously rubbed her eyes. “How?” she sniffed.

“A long time ago, when I was still human, my husband was abusive. I lived for a long time in your situation,”

“What happened? How did you stop him?” Iris asked. “What could I have done differently Esme? I didn’t do anything to deserve it! I didn’t,” she whispered. “I swear, Esme. You have to believe me. I was a good little girl, I really tried to be. I never lied or swore or disobeyed. I was a good girl. Why didn’t it stop?”

“It isn’t your fault,” Esme told the quivering girl firmly. “You didn’t deserve to be hit, and taken advantage of. It wasn’t your fault. Do you understand that?”

Iris did not answer. She bobbed her head ever so slightly and rubbed her eyes again. Tears still frothed from them, gently dripping onto the grass. It made more mud, Iris realized with vague interest. The mud brought her back to the present, away from the pummeling fists and harsh words. She was safe, with a vampire, but safe nonetheless. Esme was right; it was over.

“As for Charles,” Esme whispered. “I got pregnant and left him. I wasn’t foolish enough to think that I could change him. The alcohol had done that, already. But,” Esme moaned. Her eyes stared off into space, not really seeing anything. She too was trapped in the past, just like Iris, and she, too, would never be free. “I lost my baby. He died of the flu, and there was not a thing I could do about it. I remember holding him for hours, waiting to call the hospital. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that precious baby boy had died.

“It was my neighbor who found me. I was sitting in the rickety old rocking chair, holding him and crying. I tried to sing him one last lullaby, but couldn’t find the words. When they took him from my arms, he was stone cold. It was hours later that I threw myself off the cliff and Carlisle found me, mostly dead in the morgue.”

“I’m sorry,” Iris whispered. That was pain she could understand. Micah might haven been her brother, not her child, but the pain had to be just as deep, just as jagged. There would be no recovery, it seemed. Just an endless stretch of agony until the day she died.

“Me too, Iris,” Esme answered. “Me too,”

“How did you go on?” Iris asked her. “When everything got to be too much, how did you keep your sanity?”

“If you recall, I tried to commit suicide. I am not the one you should ask about moving on, pressing forward. I leaned on Carlisle for many, many years, and I still do. He is my rock in this world.”

“Does it ever stop hurting?” she questioned. “Will it go away eventually?”

“No,” Esme replied. “No, it won’t. It never fully goes away. Everyday, though, it gets a little bit smaller. After a while, you find that you don’t dwell on the past so much, and then it won’t hurt that much. Soon after, it fades from your mind, and you forget that you are supposed to be suffering. But…no. It never fully goes away. There is always a small part of you that knows something is missing, and that’s when it hurts again.”

“That’s not very comforting,” Iris said.

“I suppose that it isn’t,” Esme banefully agreed. “It is the best I can offer you, though. Make whatever of it you will.

“Now,” she said briskly as she stood. “Let’s get back to the house. I am sure that everyone is worried sick,”

“Esme,” Iris whispered. She looked up at the beautiful woman with tear rimmed eyes. “Thank you,”

Esme offered her a glowing smile. “That it what families are for, dear.”

“Family,” Iris repeated. “Right,”

Esme gave Iris a gentle smile. “Don’t worry. Someday, you’ll believe me,”

“Whatever you say,”

“It is good to see you in one piece,” Dr. Cullen said as Esme lead her back into the house. Bella’s old house. Chief Swan’s house. Her new one. It was disconcerting. Her life was changing rapidly. Somewhere, in the crevices of her mind, she welcomed it. A new life, a new start. If she kept her mouth shut, there would be no more hinderances, nothing holding her back. Like her favorite Disney movie said: keep moving forward. This was her time.

Iris bobbed her head. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“How are you feeling?” he pressed her. “Do you need me to look at your hands?”

“I’m fine,” Iris responded crisply.

“She just needed to talk,” Esme intervened. “That’s all,”

Dr. Cullen looked between the human and his wife. Though unsatisfied with his interrogation, he allowed Iris to hurry past him. As soon as she was you of the way, his lovely wife stepped into his embrace. They spoke in hushed whispers, concealing their conversation. Iris was past caring at that point. All she wanted to do was crawl into her bed and sleep her troubles away.

Everyone else was gathered in the living room. Seth sat on the edge of the couch, clutching a bag of ice to his face. The others crowded around him, fretting like old ladies. Not that Iris could blame them; she had most likely scared him for life. She could not believe it, but Iris actually felt the stirrings of remorse in the pit of her stomach. That was so unusual; she rarely felt regret for any of her actions. Why did that boy stir her heart so?

“Iris!” Nessie cried. Relief swept over her expression, making her lovely face sparkle. She stood up to greet the dark girl. Her eyes were warm and inviting, having forgiven any transgression long ago. “Thank goodness. We were so worried,”

But they weren’t. Iris could see it in their guarded eyes. They hated her for hurting one of their own, for daring to stain her hands with pure blood. Shockingly, she felt regret. She suddenly craved their acceptance. She wanted these strange creatures to like her and Iris had no idea why. Head hung, she allowed her ebony hair form a curtain between her and the rest of the world. She didn’t need them, she told herself. She was fine without them. She managed for fifteen years without them, and she could continue to do so.

They were not worth her time. Head hung but shoulders squared defiantly, she ignored Nessie’s calls to join them. They didn’t want her around, and Iris was far too proud to force herself on them. She ran as fast as she could up the stairs and to her room. The door slammed shut with a deafening blow. The hinges rattled from the force.

Downstairs, the entire family winced. Carlisle glared at his children, silently admonishing them. His beautiful wife was not so quiet with her reprimands. “How dare you look at her like that,” she hissed at them. “Such blatant loathing!”

“She sliced Seth’s face open!” Jacob snarled. “How do you expect us to react?”

“She’s troubled, Jacob!” Esme hissed. “You cannot even begin to understand how devastating abuse is. It consumes you. All you do, all you see, it is all in response to what might happen. You live constantly in fear and you assume that the entire world is against you. In her mind, Iris’s fear of Seth, of all of us, is completely rational. She doesn’t know us, and even if she did, she could never fully be herself. She is always on alert, and any sudden movement triggers her defense.”

Jacob flinched. He sympathized with the girl, but that did not mean what she did was excusable. He glared at the floor like a sullen child.

“What she needs,” Carlisle intervened, “is to talk to about it with someone she trusts. It will be best for the entire family she tells us exactly what happened so that we might be able to put this behind us and move on.”

“You keep saying family,” Bella noted to the head of the coven. “Why is that? I mean, I love Iris and all, but she isn’t part of the family. She knows the secret, yes, but that does not mean she is a permanent addition. I highly doubt that she will ask to become a vampire or anything of the sort,”

Carlisle sighed lamentably. “If only things were that simple, Bella, but I fear that Iris has become a critical part of Charlie’s life.”

Bella frowned at the statement; the family shared a look. They all had known that something was off with Iris. Carlisle had been shifty and uncomfortable around her ever since he met her at the hospital. He looked flummoxed, like there was something hanging on the tip of his tongue, just waiting to be said. Only he never said it, preferring to leave the family in quiet curiosity.

“Carlisle,” Esme said, speaking for the entire family. She lay her hand on his wrist, “What is going on? Something about Iris has you acting strangely, and I must say, it is quite disturbing.”

“Perhaps I am just bothered by the fact that your stories are so similar,” Carlisle suggested. His eyes, however, told a different story. They had lost their calming glow, and now churned with angst. His head was bowed low, obscuring those treacherous eyes from sight. He clasped his hands together in attempt to keep them from fidgeting. The rest of his body still jerked subtly, belaying his agitation.

She looked at him with confusion. “That isn’t it, Carlisle,” she whispered. “That might have originally been what put you in this dour mood just now, but something else is put you there in the first place. Despite your genius, you could not possibly have known of her past. She was very good at hiding it.

“No. It is something else entirely. Please,” she whispered. “Tell me. I want to help you with this burden. We all want to help you,” she said as she gestured to the family gathered around the patron. They all gave him their support, silently agreeing with Esme.

Carlisle sighed. “You won’t like what you hear. Honestly, most of you won’t believe it,” he warned them.

“Just tell us,” Esme cooed.

“Iris––” Carlisle breathed out stiffly, “Bella, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. It should right be Charlie, but I doubt he ever will. He is a proud man,”

“What is it, Carlisle?” Bella pressed her figurative father urgently. She did not bother to hide the agitation or the fear in her voice. Edward and Nessie leaned forward as well, afraid for their own kin.

“You are not an only child, Bella.” Carlisle confessed. “Cinnamon Iris Potter should in fact be named, Cinnamon Iris Swan, for Charlie is her father.”

The world was silent. No birds chirped. No bugs buzzed irkingly. All of creation stopped to hear the vampire’s confession. Not one being, living or dead, could find a way to respond properly. And then the world erupted into chaos.

“What the hell?”

“Carlisle, there’s no way––”

“What are you smoking?”

“Holy shit!”

“WHAT?” Bella’s cry was the loudest, easily drowning out the rest. The entire family winced. All eyes zoomed in on her pretty face. Her mouth hung ope and her breath was rapid as she tried to process what the doctor said. “No,” she shook her head vehemently. “That’s impossible. There’s––there’s no way that Charlie is Iris’s father,” she hissed out the word like it was profanity.

“I know you’re smart Carlisle, but this time, you’re wrong. It’s…it’s…it’s impossible, that’s what it is. Charlie was married to Renee. He was faithful. She isn’t my sister,” Bella declared with a weak voice.

Carlisle shook his head regretfully. “I am telling you the truth, Bella,” he said. “I would not lie to you about this.”

“How?” Bella yelled. “How do you know?”

“From the hospital,” he answered. “When we were doing blood work, I noticed that there was more in common between her and Charlie besides their blood type. Their DNA structure is remarkably close, even for family. When including other similarities like physical appearance and food allergies, I suspected a link between the two of them. A quick look at Iris’s birth certificate told me all I needed to know. Despite the fact that she was a married woman at the time, there was no mention of the father’s name.

“I questioned your father, and he confessed that Iris was in fact his child. He was rightfully embarrassed about it, and asked that I keep the information to myself. I intended to uphold the promise, but today’s events made me question my judgement.”

Bella looked at the man before her. His eyes were solemn, but open. She knew deep in her soul that he was being completely honest with her. Her heart broke in two. All these years, she had believed she was an only child, as mistake her parents had been forced to live with. She had always craved a sister, a sibling…anything to take away her loneliness. The answer to her prayers had been an hour’s drive away, and she had never known…

“Does Iris know?” Esme whispered.

Edward shook his head. “No. She has no idea that her mother was unfaithful. She believes that she is every bit Brent Potter’s child. To tell her might be more than she can handle right now,”

Esme pursed her lips but nodded. She understood the fragility of the girl’s mind.

“Grandpa?” Nessie whispered, distraught.

“Do not misjudge him, Nessie,” Carlisle said gravely. “Mr. Potter was serving his first tour in Iraq when Charlie met Karin Potter. They slowly became friends, and not lovers. When Karin Potter received news that her husband had been captured and was most likely dead, it was in his arms that she found comfort. There was never any intent on either end to have a romantic relationship. It happened once, and accidentally.

“Unfortunately, one time was all fate needed. Iris was conceived days before the army shipped a wounded Brent Potter home to the open but unfaithful arms of his wife. I don’t know if she ever told him but one thing is certain: she told Charlie, and they agreed to keep the secret. No one else knows, it seems,”

“I can’t believe it,” Bella whispered. “Charlie…what did you do?”

“Nothing wrong or worthy of condemnation,” Carlisle replied. “You must not reveal to either that you know of this. Only Charlie has the right to tell Iris the truth. No matter how much it pains you, we must not interfere this time.”

The family slowly nodded. They understood. Now was the time to do what was best for the rejected girl.

Without warning, Seth pushed himself up off the couch.

“Where are you going?” Esme asked the blood soaked youth.

“To Iris,” was his curt reply as he made his way over to the stairs.

“Did you not hear what Carlisle just said?” Edward asked the normally friendly boy incredulously.

“I did,” Seth replied stiffly. “Unlike the rest of you all, I don’t care who her parents were. All I know is that she is still hurting from this morning, and someone needs to make sure that she’s okay. Since you all seem incapable, I’m going to do it.”

“Don’t judge us,” Nessie snapped at the werewolf.

“I’m not judging you,” Seth responded. “I’m thinking of Iris for a change.”

With that he walked up the remaining stairs and down the hallway. Taking a deep breath, he rapped on the flimsy door with a knuckle.