After collecting their bags and renting a car for the trip, Alaric and Jeremy set out for the next leg of their journey. Alaric needed something more than just the bad coffee they grabbed to keep himself awake, so using the three and half hour long drive from the airport, he regaled the teenager with some stories of his brother and niece, and possibly what they might expect from her, from what he remembered.
“Bella was always a quiet kid, a bit of a klutz but had this attitude that was hiding underneath. She would sometimes come out with things that would just leave you speechless,” Alaric chuckled fondly, as he grinned to himself as he drove along the dark road. “One year, Charlie had her in a ballet program as a kid and when I went out to visit, she had a recital that in the middle of one major performance that she was included in, her accident prone nature kicked in. I don’t know what she did but she managed to take down nearly everyone on stage. She was pretty much the only kid standing, like the lone bowling pin, giving everyone a look of like what are you doing? Bella being Bella, turned around and blew a kiss to her dad in the audience and curtsied before running off the stage to him, telling him that she was bored and wanted to go home. Everyone in the auditorium just broke out laughing and the kid was completely oblivious.”
Jeremy laughed with him and shook his head. “I’m sure she outgrew that. I mean, most kids tend to be a bit unsteady…”
Ric snorted as he threw him a look that couldn’t quite be deciphered. “Right. Tell me how an eleven year old girl can capsize a boat with three grown men in it while fishing? Picture how that shouldn’t be possible – and guess, what – she did it. Again, I can’t figure out how she gets herself into those messes. She’s like a giant magnet for shit. I’m sure something entertaining will happen during this visit. I’ve never been disappointed whenever I’ve seen her.”
“How long has it been?”
He had to think about it for a moment, sobering up as it had brought up some unpleasant memories. “Oh, eight years? Give or take. I’d gotten busy with searching for Isobel and later Damon. Then got settled into life in Mystic Falls and you know that’s been never ending excitement there,” he ended with slight sarcasm.
“No shit. Well, what about Forks or the people around there? Are you familiar with that? What should we expect?” Jeremy asked as he shifted in his seat to try to get more comfortable.
“Bella, of course. Then there’s a reservation not far from town that Charlie was buds with a lot of the tribe. Billy and Harry were cool. I would go fishing with the three of them when I would come around. It’s not much different than back home to tell you the truth. A little more hick then you may be used to, but the same nosey people when strangers come around,” Alaric explained. “You’ll be fine, but of course, if you sense anything off, tell me right away. I don’t want Bella getting involved if we can avoid it. She’s been through enough in her life.”
Jeremy was quiet for a bit as he eyed him, nodding his consent to his friend’s request but it sounded strange. “Do you think something supernatural could be in the area?”
Alaric sighed as he looked out over the dark road as he thought about it, trying to piece together some of the research that he helped Isobel with over the years. “It’s pretty doubtful, but considering our history, I can’t exactly rule anything out anymore. The tribe that Charlie was friends with had some legends about wolves and vampires, but considering what we know of them and what I remember of the legends, they aren’t anything alike so…” he trailed off with a indecisive shrug.
“I’m sure if something is going on, we’ll notice it. Just worry about your family for now. How far out are we now?” he asked as he noticed the sun beginning to peek through the trees.
“Maybe half hour, forty five minutes. I want to get some food though from the diner on the way. Save Bella some extra work,” Ric answered as he pressed on the gas pedal slightly as his desire for coffee increased from the long drive.
By the time the two pulled up to a small house, they found a young woman at the front door saying goodbye to a couple large natives that Alaric assumed was from the nearby reservation. He nodded in silent greeting to them as he watched them climb into their truck before they took off. Letting out a breath, he turned his attention up to the porch where his niece stood in the doorway waiting.
“There’s Bella,” he commented quietly to Jeremy. “Come on.”
The guys were quiet as they made their way up to her, not quite sure what to say initially. Running his hand over the back of his neck, Ric was clearly uncomfortable in her presence after such a long time. “Hello Uncle Ric,” Bella greeted quietly as she wrapped her arms around herself as she looked at him a little worried. “You really didn’t have to come out here. I told you that on the phone.”
He smiled gently. “I know that Isa, but I wanted to. You don’t need to do this by yourself. I know you have your friends here, but he was my brother.”
They didn’t miss the way she hesitated before she nodded. “Of course. Yes. I’m sorry. I’ve just been dealing with a lot and tired of everyone wanting to help. I’m sure you understand,” she apologized as she stepped back to hold the door open for them. “Come on in. I don’t have much right now. I did just put a pot of coffee on for Sam and a couple of the guys checking on me from the rez.”
“It’s not a problem. We actually stopped at the diner on the way into town,” Jeremy said as he held up the box he held with the breakfast trays. “I’m Jeremy by the way.”
Bella smiled as she showed them into the kitchen and looked at her uncle confused. “Friend?”
“Yeah. Uh, my girlfriend’s nephew actually. He needed to get away from home for awhile and was more than willing to come along just to escape his sister. He’s a good kid,” Ric grinned as he mussed up the boy’s hair. He took a moment and looked around, blinking in surprise. “Wow this place hasn’t changed a bit.”
“Yeah, you know Charlie was never one for change,” she muttered with a hint of impatience as she looked out the window.
“Waiting for someone?” he asked as he went to help unpack the food.
Bella looked back at him, averting her eyes. “What? Uh, yeah. Actually. Just one of my friends from the reservation was supposed to be coming down for awhile.”
Nodding, Ric eyed her for a moment before glancing over to Jeremy who he noticed had an eyebrow raised curiously. “That’s cool. I was thinking about going down to the station after catching a nap since we took the red-eye here.”
She had moved to get drinks out for them and froze at his words. “What do you need at the station?” she asked, trying to be casual about her curiosity.
“I wanted to see if they had any information about Chuck’s death. See if they got anything on the killer yet from Seattle. I would have stopped there when we landed but I wanted to get into town here more.” He kept a careful eye on her as he spoke and watched as she closed her eyes and paled slightly. “You okay there Isa?”
She looked back at him, nodding. “Yeah, sure. I don’t like thinking about the at- break-in.”
Ric took a moment before accepting her answer but something felt off about it. Considering that she was dealing with the loss of her father, he knew she might not be in the right frame of mind but she was more cagey than she should be. “It’s fine. I can get the information from them so that you don’t have to talk about it. Maybe later we can do something? What would you like to do?”
Bella glanced back him with glassy eyes, quickly looking away again. “You guys can go out and do something. I may end up just going to the rez to hang out with Jake and check on Billy.”
“If that’s the case then, maybe Jeremy can tag along? I can drive back out to Seattle and see the investigating detective there and just stay the night. You’ve dealt with enough on your own Bella. Let me take some of your problems off your shoulders,” he said as he moved closer.
She mumbled something under her breath as she looked out the window slightly distressed. He began to wonder if perhaps she was suffering from some form of survivor’s guilt from the break-in at her apartment. “Bella?”
Closing her eyes, she knew that she couldn’t think of any decent excuse not to having her uncle’s friend tag along in some capacity. Neither of them have done anything but it would be difficult for her to be able to get around to do what she needed to with Jake and the pack. Then again, it wasn’t like she was actually capable of doing much other than play bait for a deranged vampire. Bella just didn’t want to put innocent victims in danger because someone wanted her dead. “Yeah. That’s fine. No problem Uncle Ric,” she smiled weakly. “I’ll just have to let my friends know that there will be one more joining us. Are you sure you’ll be okay to drive all the way back to Seattle?”
“Yeah,” he waved her off with his signature bravado that she seemed all too familiar with growing up. “Just going to crash on the couch after breakfast for awhile before I head out for all that stuff. You can do what you want. Show Jer here around. Remind him that home isn’t really that bad – that there are other places much more boring than Mystic Falls!”
Bella looked at the boy and raised an eyebrow. “Forks is the most boring, and rainy town in the world. Why the hell would you come here for entertainment?”
“Change of scenery?” Jeremy smiled with a shrug.
She nodded her understanding. Pointing up to the stairs, she gestured towards the bathroom. “I’ll just be right back. We can eat then head out. Sound good?”
“Great! Gives us time to warm everything up again,” he smiled as she turned to head up the stairs.
Once she was out of sight, Alaric turned to him as he leaned onto the kitchen chair, speaking quietly. “She seems a bit off, so do me a favor and stick close to her? I don’t want her doing something stupid with those kids up there. I wouldn’t put it past them to try talking her into cliff diving right now and I don’t want to be planning her funeral next.”
“Of course,” Jeremy murmured and began to get their breakfast plated for them once he figured out where everything was quickly.
It wasn’t long before Bella returned with her cellphone in hand as she eyed them for a moment, taking a seat. “The guys are looking forward to meeting you. Sam’s wife, Emily, is probably working on packing a super large lunch for us to bring. I think they’re planning on heading to the cliffs for some swimming which should be fun if you’re into that kind of thing.”
Jeremy looked up at Ric, who only smirked knowingly as he took his seat with his coffee. “Nah. I’m good. They have stuff like that back home but it never interested me.”
She only nodded as she worked on her pancakes, turning her attention to looking out the window. The rest of breakfast was rather quiet with the exception of confirming few details and plans for Alaric’s return to Seattle. Once Bella was finished, she grabbed her keys after setting the dirty plates aside. “Just leave them. I’ll get them when we get back,” she insisted, anxious to leave.
Ric watched the two drive off in Bella’s old red truck that he couldn’t believe she still had. Besides trying to get some answers about his brother’s death and helping with the funeral, he now had to worry also about his niece as he wasn’t sure she was handling the stress of everything well. He considered contacting a therapist once he got into the city to see what they might recommend for her, but he would have to wait and see for now as he could only handle one thing at a time.
The drive to the reservation was quiet as neither Bella, nor Jeremy knew quite what to say to break the awkward silence. He looked out the window at the passing scenery, seeing nothing but trees passing before he took a chance. “So, uh, you were close with your dad?”
Her hand tightened slightly on the steering wheel as she considered the question, wondering the best way to answer. “We weren’t for awhile, but after high school, yeah. I like to think we were even though I went to school in Seattle instead of staying closer to home.”
He looked at her sympathetically, smiling in understanding. “I think I know what you mean. I lost my parents not too long ago myself. Not so violently like you, granted, but it’s…hard. It’s hard to get over it and I’m still having issues. Ric helps, you know, being around since he’s dating my aunt. Kinda sucks sometimes too having to deal with your history teacher at home too.”
Bella didn’t respond as she stared out the window while she drove. Initially she wanted to dismiss the kid for not being able to understand, aside from the deranged vampire danger looming over her, but he did. “How did you handle it?” she asked, her voice wavering from the emotions she’d been trying to hold in.
Jeremy was hesitant to talk about the previous couple years. Even though he didn’t know the girl well, he liked her well enough and didn’t want her to start of with a negative opinion of him. “I don’t know,” he replied uncomfortably. “I wasn’t in a good place. Like at all. I’m doing better now, which is what’s important. I get along with my sister – sometimes. She’s still a grade A bitch sometimes, but she’s my sister. Nowadays, it’s her bringing the trouble around.”
“Maybe it’s her turn for a little help like you got?” she suggested.
“No. It’s got nothing to do with our parents like that. It’s just trouble that her boyfriend and his brother tends to bring into town. They’re okay. I don’t have a problem with them really, even if the one guy is a dick, but it’s always one thing or another with her. That’s why I wanted to get away from there for awhile.”
Bella glanced at him as she turned off the main road and onto a small one that brought them up to the cliffs where a bunch of the guys from the reservation were messing around. “We’re going to have to make sure they don’t eat everything up right away. You would think they were raised by wolves,” she said with a coy smile as she jumped out of the truck.
He watched her for a moment as she ran up to one of the larger men of the group. It was clear as they hugged, that they cared for one another deeply. They exchanged a few words before the man looked up at him. Jeremy wasn’t sure what to make of his expression. They both appeared concerned over something as she shook her head at whatever he told her before she said something that made him flinch and give her a guilty look. He couldn’t help but wonder what was going on between them as he slowly got out of the truck, not wishing to draw too much attention to himself as he was the outsider there.
“We’ll take care of it Bella,” Jeremy heard the guy tell her lowly, making her huff in response. He half expected her to come back with something with the look of indignation on her face, but she only glared at her friend as he walked away towards him. The guy gave him a bit friendlier smile as he held his hand out. “Hi there. I’m Jake. Bella said you’re in town visiting with her uncle for the funeral?”
“Yep,” he replied as he shook his hand, blinking at the guy’s alarming temperature for the climate. “Alaric is heading back to Seattle tonight to talk to the detectives, so unfortunately for Bella, she’s stuck showing me around. I have to say, it is nice out here though. Peaceful – circumstances aside.”
Jake’s smile drifted slightly as he looked back at Bella who wasn’t paying attention to them. She’d gone over to where a couple of the younger boys were trying to get at some of the food that their leader had brought with him, shooing them away before seemingly claiming guard duty over the food.
“Is she normally so…” Jeremy started to say as he searched for the right words to find, but coming up short. “I don’t know. I do know Ric is worried about her.”
The young native let out a sigh as he debated internally on the amount of disclosure he was comfortable with giving to the stranger. He knew he couldn’t reveal himself or the true nature of his friend’s father’s death, but his whole tribe in general was also concerned about the girl more over the years. “Bella – is stronger than she looks at times. She’s a fighter so I know she’ll pull through this,” he said quietly. “She will probably make things difficult for you at the house but don’t let her get to you. She’ll push you, so just push back.”
The girl in question had looked up at them, narrowing her eyes as she stared each of them down suspiciously before coming back over. She eyed Jake for a moment before turning to Jeremy, “Come on. I’ll show you around and you can meet some of the other guys. I’m sure Seth would love to meet someone new. Watch the food Jacob.”
Bella practically dragged the boy off as he attempted to look back at Jake. The guy only gave him a cheeky wave before moving over to the table and watch as she pulled him from one person to another, making sure he met every single person that came to the cliffs that day. By the time she got him over to the oldest, and respectively one of the youngest, Jeremy caught on quickly to what she was doing. Whatever was going on, she was attempting to keep him distracted and from talking to any one person for too long alone, which made him wonder what he might learn.
“Hey Sam! Seth!” she greeted as they got closer, ignoring the clear look of disapproval on the older man’s face.
“Bella,” he replied, nodding towards Jeremy. “Everything okay at home?”
“Yeah. My uncle and his friend, Jeremy here, are in town. They’ll be here for the funeral,” she said in a tone that Jeremy sensed hinted to something underlying her words.
The man, Sam, nodded mutely as he gave him a weak smile. “You staying with Bella while you’re in town?”
“That’s the plan sir. I’m not sure what Alaric has in mind because he wants to get more answers about Charlie’s investigation so we might be around for a couple weeks. If it gets too crowded, I’m sure we’ll just end up moving into a motel or something,” he shrugged, glancing between each of them. Sam seemed to quickly look to Bella who appeared bewildered and slightly illed by the information he shared. The Seth kid, who wasn’t much younger than he was himself, didn’t seem bothered.
“So Jeremy, right? You play video games?” Seth asked as he attempted to break up the uncomfortable tension that begun to build in the air.
He nodded slowly as he looked away from Bella. “Yeah. I do…” he managed to get out before the boy had begun to assault him with questions about various games as he lead him away from the others some to talk.
Sam and Bella waited until the two were out of hearing range before they began to speak. “I thought you were going to talk your uncle out of coming here,” he said.
“I tried,” she whispered harshly. “I can’t exactly tell him no! It’s his brother! Tell me, if it was your family, wouldn’t you move heaven and earth to make it to pay last respects and try to find out what happened? I can’t blame Uncle Ric, but I did try to convince him that I had everything under control until the funeral itself. He showed up out of nowhere this morning with his friend.”
The pack leader grimaced as he looked out at his friends cliff jumping and the new guest on the land as he tried to think of some way of dealing with the extra people being so close. “Victoria has been running perimeters but staying a distance away. I don’t know what she is up to. She hasn’t come into town for some time though.”
“She’s letting us know she’s still around,” she said knowingly. “There is little I can do against her but you guys just be careful and just keep pushing her back. That’s all we can do until we can find a way to actually finish her. I’m still working on something for the Cullens.”
Sam looked down at her and frowned. “You still getting those packages in the mail?”
“Yep,” she answered as fire seemed to light her eyes with her fury. “More pictures. Edward will get his in time. He’s got all the time in the world. Victoria comes first. Somehow. I’ll think of something and run it by you. I can’t stay too far away from this guy though. He’s been watching me like a hawk.”
“Newsflash Bella. Since Charlie, everyone has. We’re all worried about you,” he said gently, not wanting to anger the young woman.
Smiling back at him, there was something there in her expression that he had to suppress a shudder through his body. “I’m not a child anymore. I know exactly what I’m getting myself into. More so now than ever before,” she said as she walked away, joining Jeremy and Seth.
“God help us with whatever that girl has in mind,” Sam muttered to himself as he looked up the bank where his second sat watching her as well. Jacob shared the same concerned look that he felt. Bella Swan was certainly up to no good.