Chapter 10

Playlist selection:  Nothing Compares (To You) - by Sinead O'Connor

Bella POV

Three weeks after the memorial service - post Hell day number forty-five - Charlie tells us that the Apache County Sheriff's Department has finally closed the case on the Masens and ruled all of their deaths an 'accidental homicide by animal'.  Accidental, my ass.  He notifies the Phoenix police department and they organize a proper service for Ed, complete with a gun salute and folded flag for Renee and Charlie to bring home.


They've never recovered Edward's body - thank God the finger wasn't his - but since his blood was found at the scene, and there were only fragments left of Liz and Ed's corpses, they assumed Edward's body had been taken by the animal, too.

The Masens didn't have much family.  Liz had a cousin in Iowa, but she was never close to her.  Ed was adopted as a child, and after he revolted during his teenage years, he didn't keep in touch with his family.  Other than a few casual friends, my parents were the only thing Liz and Ed had for family. That's apparently why they left all their worldly possessions to them.  Well, if Edward was still alive, it would have all been left to him, but since he's gone too, it was willed to Renee and Charlie as the secondary beneficiaries.

Ed liked to dabble in the stock market, and from time to time, he made a little bit of money and stashed it away for a comfortable retirement.  It's been enough to pay off their debt, but not the mortgage.  All that is left is enough to cover the next few years worth of the payments and the upkeep.  Charlie is determined to sell their house right away, but thankfully, Renee is on my side and refuses to put it on the market so quickly.  She says she can't stand the thought of someone else living in Liz's house and ruining her beautiful lawn.  I tell them that I want to stay in the house while I'm in college.  Again, Charlie tries to shoot the idea down, but I cry to my mom and play the sentimental card with her.  She then turns on my dad, heavily guilting him in to acquiescing, and finally Charlie agrees as long as I can take care of the house.

So, now the agreement stands that I can remain in the house as long as I can keep up with the housework, yard work, my course work, and I'll have to get a part-time job to help with my gas money and auto repair bills.  Edward's crappy truck was included in the entire estate package, and knowing we wouldn't make any money by selling it for scrap metal, I played the sentimental card again to keep it.  It meant so much to him, Daddy, I begged.  I just can't part with it.

Next thing I know, I'm sitting at the DMV getting my driver's license.  I still have my learner's permit, since Edward always drove me wherever I needed to go.  He tried to give me driving pointers, but Edward's definition of proper road etiquette didn't exactly line up with the law.  Now, Officer Swan is teaching me how to obey the rules of the road while attempting to drive that piece of shit.  Well, I guess it's my piece of shit now. Needless to say, it's been an interesting few weeks. 

The rest of the summer passes by slowly. My emotions remain on a continuous roller coaster with no signs of stopping, especially as my first fall semester of college starts.

Angela and Peter invite me to live with them during the week at their apartment in Tucson, but I turn down the offer, not wanting to leave my 'hobbit hole' as Charlie refers to it.  Edward's room - my safe haven, my home, my Fortress of Solitude.  I keep up with my end of the bargain: vacuuming the floors, dusting the shelves, mowing the grass.  Hell, I even try to tend to Liz's flower gardens, but unfortunately, I don't have much of a green thumb, and more than a few plants croak.  I tell myself that she would be turning over in her grave at my gardening skills if it weren't for the fact that she's eternally resting in a metal urn on the mantle.

During my first semester of college, I stick to myself most of the time, focusing on my studies and occasionally hanging out with Ang and Pete.  In the blink of an eye, the semester is over, and the Christmas holiday break without Edward is one of the most horrible times of my life.  I spend those two weeks in Edward's room, crying inconsolably until I fall asleep in his/my bed every night. 


A few days before Christmas, Charlie climbs into the attic and finds an old, artificial Christmas tree and decorations.  Renee, Angela, and Pete help me hang the lights and ornaments one evening while my dad's at work.  Most of the ornaments don't affect me much, but when I discover the three stockings with their names written in glitter, I cry so hard that I have dry heaves.  Angela and Pete hang the stockings on the stairway banister while Renee holds me, and together we cry into each other's shoulders.


By New Years Eve, all of the decorations are put away in the attic, and I spend a quiet evening at Charlie and Renee's house.  We watch the celebrations on TV, and I silently curse every minute that brings us closer to midnight.  I feel like I should be letting go of this past year and focusing all my attention on the future.  What do you do if your entire future is taken away from you?  What is there to look forward to? 


When February rolls around, I try to ignore Valentine's Day.  I've gotten a job at a small bistro, and I practically beg my manager to schedule me for a double shift, knowing it can serve two purposes; one, I can get tons of tips since we will be insanely busy, and two, if I'm really swamped, then I don't have time to dwell on the fact that Edward isn't here to be my valentine anymore.


The next several months continue on as the last ones have.  I gladly make the nearly two hour drive to and from school several days a week and work a few evenings and most weekends at the bistro.  The house is kept clean and the yard manicured.  I try to keep Edward's truck maintained because I'm not emotionally or financially ready to allow it to die on me.  I refuse to let it rust away in the driveway, and I sure as hell can't afford a car payment on my measly salary.


I spend an occasional night with Angela and Pete in Tuscon, usually when I have a late study group or when I'm too drunk to drive.  Those nights don't happen very often - usually when Pete comes home during the week and steals more liquor and beer from his father's secret stash.  Charlie would skin me alive if he knew I was partaking in underage drinking, but fuck, I'm in college.  It's what college kids do.


I rebel like most young coeds: underage drinking, a tattoo, a body piercing.  I even cut my hair and add bright red color streaks for a more dramatic effect.  Renee seems to think that my emo attitude and sudden change in hair style is a small cry for help.  Maybe it is... Help bring my love back to me!  Thank fuck she can't see my tattoo or piercing.  If she knew about those, she'd probably send me to therapy.   


My second year without Edward is much the same as the first, but with a few less tears shed.  My heart is still shattered in a million pieces, but I don't cry myself to sleep every night anymore.  I laugh more and cry less. 


From time to time, I get that eerie feeling that I'm being watched.  Sometimes while I'm at school, sometimes at work.  Hell, even a few times at home.  It's not a comforting feeling - like maybe it's Edward watching over me, making sure I'm  okay.  No, this is a creepy, hair-raising, bone chilling, fight or flight kind of sensation... and it's very unsettling. 


On post Hell day number six hundred and thirteen there's a change in my world.  I arrive at work, figuring it will be a normal day, but I'm surprised to be asked to train a new waiter named Riley.  Not that training a new employee is unusual.  I've been working at the bistro for over a year, and I'm frequently assigned to orient a newbie, but what shocks me is my response to Riley.  He's friendly and polite, unlike most of the typical college boys I've met, and very handsome too.  I actually get a little nervous and giddy during our close interactions throughout the day.  We finish our tasks for closing the bistro and say goodnight to each other as we walk toward the employee parking lot.  I smile and wave at him as I merge out into traffic, heading the short distance back to my house.  As I pull up to a stoplight, I burst into tears, suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that I'm cheating on Edward.  I'm attracted to Riley and his beautiful blue-green eyes and brown hair, and in a way, he reminds me of Edward.  But he's not Edward.  No one could ever replace him.


I call Angela as soon as I get home and sob into the phone, retelling her the events of the evening and the uncontrollable feelings that ensued.  She listens intently, offering her thoughts and encouragement on the situation.


"But, Ang, I feel like I'm cheating on Edward.  How can I do that to him?" I cry, hiccuping into the phone.


"Bella, you are not disrespecting him.  Do you think he'd want you to be sad and alone for the rest of your life?  He's not coming back, sweetie."


I cry even harder at her comment, but I know it's the truth.  Sometimes the truth hurts, right?


"I know that," I snap.


"Just... be happy."


It takes a few months for Angela's words to sink in.  I know Edward wouldn't want me to be lonely forever.  I'm young, relatively attractive, and would really like to have someone to spend some time with.  But with the traumatic loss of Edward, I'm scared to get involved with another man. I'm afraid he'll wind up dead, too. 


On post-Hell day number eight hundred and seven - just at the start of my junior year of college - I give myself a pep talk on my way to work, trying to convince my brain that this will be a good idea.  It's time... for me... to move on.  God, I can't believe I just thought that!


I arrive at the bistro, enter the restaurant, and for the first time in a few years, I attempt to wrangle the butterflies in my stomach.


"Hi, Bella!" Riley says, smiling brightly.


"Hey, Riley.  How was your exam the other day?"  I clock in and grab an apron, tying it around my waist.


"It was a breeze.  Thanks for your help.  I might need to keep you as my biology tutor."


I smile and blush at his praise, and I realize that if I don't do this now, I will definitely chicken out later.


"So, uh, Riley?  I was wondering if you'd like to grab a bite with me after our shift tonight?  Maybe hit the diner down the street?"  I turn away from him to glance at the staff schedule, too nervous to look him in the eye.


He's quiet for a few seconds, and I wonder if he's already headed to the front of the restaurant and I've been talking to the dust motes until he touches me lightly on the arm.  "I'd love to go out with you tonight, Bella."


A few months ago, I told Riley about Edward and his family, and that I'm living in their house.  He asked me if I was ready to start dating again, and at the time, I told him that I wasn't.  I'm not even sure I'm ready now, but I don't have any plans of falling into a serious relationship in the near future.  Maybe just a few flirty evenings out with a nice guy to help ease me into the dating scene.  


We manage to have a few easy dates - dinner, bowling, a movie after class one afternoon. And when we spend time together, we both seem to have a blast.  We laugh and talk about our friends and families.  We even manage to schedule a triple date with Peter and Charlotte and Angela and Ben at a pool hall for billiards and darts.  Things seem to be slowly progressing in our friendship.  By springtime the following year, we finally graduate to innocent touches and chaste goodnight kisses.  He knows I'm not ready to move things forward, and I appreciate his patience with me. 


As spring turns into summer, I notice that things between Riley and me begin to shift.  During each date, things get more intense, more intimate.  We've hardly made it past first base, but there is a new spark between us, and it both scares and excites me.  Riley is a lot like Edward in many ways.  They share the same sense of humor and passion for wildlife, but in other ways, they are very different.  Edward was more outgoing than Riley, and although Riley's kisses are sweet and tender, they will never hold a candle to Edward's. Nothing will ever compare to him.  But I know it's not fair to Riley; I shouldn't be comparing the two of them.  Edward isn't here anymore... Riley is.      




The weird, unsettling feeling comes and goes from time to time, but I notice that the time span between the occurrences is less and less.  I notice it more when I'm in Phoenix than at school in Tucson.  It seems to come more frequently at work than at home, but the times are so erratic, it's hard to nail down a pattern.  I keep a diary of the amount of caffeine and spicy foods I eat, thinking that may be a cause of an overactive imagination.  My doors are always locked and the blinds are closed most of the time.  A few times I've even notice Carrumba squawking loudly and flapping her wings in a panic at the same time I get that sensation.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm becoming paranoid, or if I'm imagining it altogether. Somehow, I don't think either of those is the case.


The summer before my senior year of college has been the most trying.  I've been working extra hours at the bistro, hoping to bank a little bit of cash for grad school next year. Renee and Charlie have been pressuring me to continue my education in Arizona, but I'm not sure I want to stay here.  I consider a few universities out of state that could offer me a diverse education to enhance my current track, a Bachelor's in Natural Resources, but I haven't made any final decisions yet. 


My parents gave me a hard time when I finally selected a major.  They said that I was still holding onto Edward and doing something that I would probably regret later in life.  It isn't a field I'm particularly interested in, but it means a lot to me to continue a little bit of Edward's legacy - even if it doesn't deal with insects directly.  Edward loved the outdoors, especially the beautiful landscapes of the White Mountains, and had always mentioned he wanted to visit other parts of the country.  I think he would be proud of me for choosing this field of study as my major, and that alone has made me never think twice about it.  I mean... I love the idea of helping to save the environment.


The first day of my final year of undergrad, I make plans to meet up with Angela at our favorite sports bar across the street from campus to gossip about our professors and daunting course outlines.  After my final class of the day, I stride out to the parking lot, hop in my truck, slide the key into the ignition and... and... nothing.




I pop the hood latch and exit the cab.  Climbing up onto the front bumper, I slide my fingers under the large, heavy metal hood and peer at the engine as if it will speak up and tell me what its problem is.  As I'm poking around the wires and belts, I'm interrupted by a throat clearing.


"Car trouble?"


With my head still under the hood, I roll my eyes at the redundant question and then turn to face my visitor.


"Uh, yeah," I reply sarcastically to the nice looking guy, in his mid-twenties, with sandy blond hair and dark blue eyes smirking at me.


"Mind if I take a look, princess?"


I bristle at that term, but I need a hand with the truck, so I let it slide.  I step off the bumper and wave my hand in a 'go ahead' gesture.  He winks at me and climbs against the front grill, checking wires and other trucky kind of stuff inside.  Cocky prick.


"When was the last time you had your spark plugs changed?" he asks, his head deep inside the engine.


"No clue." I shrug my shoulders even though he can't see me do it.


After a few minutes, he straightens up and hops off the bumper, holding some small part of my engine in his hand. "I think this is your problem. I might actually have a replacement for it in my truck."  He nods toward an auto parts delivery van parked a few spaces away.


When he returns, he's smirking at me again.  His eyes travel down my body slowly and back up again, spending longer than appropriate on my chest.


"So... What's your name, beautiful?"


I spit and sputter, caught off guard by his blatant attempt at flirting, "I, er, I'm, uh, Bella."  


"Bella..." he whispers, as if committing it to memory. "I'm Jay."


"Okay. Hi, Jay."  I smile tightly, not wanting to seem overly friendly.  He winks again and turns to climb up into the engine, installing the new part.


When he steps down and closes the hood, he smiles at me and waves toward the cab of the truck. "Why don't you start it up, Bella."


I nod and dart to the open driver's side door and slide against the leather seat.  I crank the ignition and - VROOM! - it starts immediately, rumbling loudly in the parking garage of the college.  Smiling like a fool, I hop out of the cab and approach Jay near the front end.


"Thanks so much for helping me. How much do I owe ya?"


"A drink."


"Huh?" I look at him with furrowed brows, confused by his reply.


"You can repay me by having a drink with me." He raises his eyebrows and nods his head toward the same sports bar across the street.  


"Oh. Uh, actually, I'm meeting my friend for dinner in a little bit.  Maybe some other time?" I offer, hoping to let him down gently.


"No time like the present, Bella.  Besides, I promise this way is a better deal for you.  The part for your truck would set you back about a hundred and twenty bucks," he purrs as he slowly approaches me and rests his elbow on the door frame of the truck.  


"Well, uh..."


"Just one little drink."


I debate silently in my head, trying to convince myself to take the deal and get it over with.  I only have my check book with me, and I don't want to have to write one for the part, and for Jay to get my address from it.  Something about him just rubs me the wrong way.


"Okay, but just one drink."


I send a quick text to Ang, letting her know that I'm bringing a guest.  Jay smiles like a Cheshire cat as we cross the busy street toward the sports bar.  He tries to wrap his arm around my shoulders, but I step away from him quickly, pretending to look around the sidewalks for my friend.  Once inside, I tell him to just grab a high-top table at the bar, and I excuse myself to the restroom. When I get back to the dining room, I spot Angela at the hostess stand... with Ben.




I'm happy as shit that they are here, but now our numbers are even and this makes me feel more uneasy, like it's a double date.  Ugh.


Jay is already seated in a booth near the bar, and he smiles broadly when I approach. But not in a damn-she's-beautiful kind of way, but more like a I'm-going-to-devour-this-little-girl kind of sneer.  Of course Ben and Angela slide into the seat across from Jay, leaving me the spot next to him.  I smile lightly, gently sliding into the booth as Jay stretches his arm across the back of the bench and angles his body towards me.  I keep my arms tucked against my sides and sit on my hands, so as to not give him the impression that I want to touch him.


Angela raises her eyebrows at me, silently asking why I'm out with Jay, and not Riley. I roll my eyes quickly and shake my head, telling her not to question me about it.


We order a round of drinks as I introduce everybody to one another.  I'm hoping Jay finishes his beer quickly and excuses himself, but of course that doesn't happen.  He strikes up a heated conversation about sports with Ben and orders some appetizers. 


I try to ignore the repetitive light touches against the back of my head and the gentle tugs at the ends of my hair.  He's just being flirty, I tell myself. 


The next thing I know, Angela is asking about when I work my next shift at the diner, and I can see Jay's ears perk up in attention. He asks where I work, and I try to brush off his question, telling him that I work at a little place near downtown Phoenix. 


Needing to divert the attention away from me, I quickly change the subject and excuse myself for a moment, feigning an important call.  I escape toward the bathrooms and release a deep sigh as I lean against the wall of the corridor.  Mustering the courage to walk back out into the restaurant, I give myself a pep 0talk to approach Jay and thank him for his help with my truck.  I'm stopped short when a figure blocks the hallway exit. 


"I'm sorry, Bella, but I'm going to have to leave.  Work, you know?" Jay says, leaning against the doorjamb.


I nod and smile tightly, hoping to get this over with. "Okay. It was nice meeting you, Jay.  Thanks so much for your help today."  I hold my hand out to him, expecting a handshake.  What I get in return is a cocky grin and Jay's arm wrapping around my waist, pulling me closer toward him.


"Oh, it was my pleasure, Bella.  I'll be seeing you again soon. I promise," he whispers in my ear, squeezing my middle quickly and then brushes his hand across my ass before turning to walk toward the restaurant exit.


I stand in the bathroom corridor, mouth agape, with a surprised look on my face.  What a creep!  




By the time the holidays roll around again, my relationship with Riley has progressed.  We spend more time alone together outside of work - pizza and DVDs at his apartment, a few concerts at local pubs, and meeting up for lunch on my non-school days.  Our physical relationship is moving along too, just still at a snail's pace.  We've now managed to round third base, but that's about as far as I'm ready to go at this point. 


One day in December, the bistro is packed with holiday shoppers, stopping in for a quick lunch to fuel their shopping energy.  As I'm clearing off a table near the front windows, a familiar voice whispers in my ear, "Told you that I would see you again, baby."


A sudden chill runs down my spine, and I straighten up quickly, shocked to see Jay at my place of work. "Oh, uh, hi, Jay.  How are you?"  I try for nonchalance, but my shaky hands and trembling voice give my nervousness away.  Why does this guy make me so anxious?


"I'm better now that I've found you.  I've been looking for you ever since that day we met. It was just a matter of time before I tracked you down," he says smugly, reaching up to run his fingers along the infinity necklace around my neck. His eyes travel slowly down my body, pausing a bit too long on my breasts... and then he licks his lips.  Oh, gross.


I know I should probably just turn and walk away from the table, but I'm always one to be professional, even toward the asshole customers. I offer a tight-lipped smile and ask for his order.  He gives me his food selections and asks - if he pays double - will I sit and feed him.  Is this douchebag kidding me?  I laugh off his question and silently tell myself to have Riley or Hank bring him his order.  I don't want any of the other girls standing too close to him.


Unfortunately, his food is ready just as Hank goes on break and Riley is swamped with a ten-top table.  I quickly bring Jay's food out to him, ask him if there's anything else he will need for his meal, and I scurry away and hide out in the back until he's finished eating.  I promptly bring him the check, and he doesn't wait for me to collect it for change, just leaving the cash for the bill and an additional twenty bucks.  Hell yeah, I sure as hell deserve that just for dealing with your creepiness alone, asshole.


For the next month or two, Jay shows up at the bistro more frequently, and each time he's there, he's a total prick.  He usually asks me out for drinks after work and each time I let him down gently, not wanting to hurt his feelings for rejecting him.  Riley is really pissed that he keeps coming around, but I tell him that I'll handle Jay and I'm working on getting rid of him.


"Why don't you want to confront him and tell him to leave you alone?" Riley growls as he cuts Jay the evil-eye from across the bistro.


"I don't want to make the guy mad, Riley. It's not like I'm inviting him here," I snap.


"I know that, but you could just tell him that I'm your boyfriend, and maybe he'll take the hint and stop stalking you."


I stop rolling the silverware into napkins and whip my head around to look at Riley.  His face is flushed, angry, and his nostrils flare.  A slow smile crawls across my face, my brain replays the words he just spoke. Boyfriend. Riley's my boyfriend. I smile wider, really liking the way it sounds. A small twinge of guilt hits me suddenly, but I recover knowing that Riley is a really good guy and Edward would have liked him.  Riley looks at my face and tries to decipher my expression. I take an excited, galloping step toward him, place my hands against his cheeks and kiss him hard on the lips.  My boyfriend.


I tear my eyes away from Riley's stunned face and glance out into the restaurant.  Jay is staring at us, his hands gripped tightly into fists on the table and a evil sneer tugging at his lips.  In a flash, he slams cash on the table and storms out of the bistro.


I look back at Riley and smile. "Problem solved!"


The weekend of Valentine's Day, Angela begs me to come out to a night club with her.  I try to claim being too exhausted from my busy shift and having to work again the next day, but she doesn't want to hear it.  She shows up at my house a little before 10pm, hoochie-mama'd out in a short mini dress and stiletto boots.


"What the fuck are you wearing?" I ask as she steps into the living room and flings her makeup bag on the coffee table, startling Carrumba.


"Well, don't laugh, okay?  Ben has had this fantasy of picking up a hot, slutty chick from the club and fucking her in the alley behind it."


I can't help but to laugh.  Ben is such a weirdo.  Gesturing to her outfit, I inquire, "So, uh, this is the hot, slutty chick costume?"  She blushes and tries to bite her lip to prevent herself from laughing with me. "Is he coming with us?"


She shakes her head 'no' and tells me that he's coming later with a few of his friends.  I make a quick call to Riley, asking if he wants to join us, but he says he's wiped out from the insanely busy shift tonight and tells me to have a great time and be careful going home.  I tell him that I will text him when I leave and when I arrive at home, and he agrees that would be great.  He blows me kisses through the phone and I giggle, returning smooches back to him and tell him goodnight.


Two cosmos later, Angela and I are shaking our asses on the dance floor.  She's nearly twisted her ankle a few times in the damn boots, but has managed to stay upright.  We are laughing and teasing each other about our corny dancing styles when a warm hand comes to wrap around my waist and a firm body presses against me.


I smile, thinking it's Riley and that he's come to the club to surprise me, but when I turn around, I'm facing the intense glower of Jay.


"Hey, beautiful.  Where's your boy-toy tonight?"


I lie, "He's around here somewhere."  The music is loud, the deep bass pounding through my chest, and it masks the shakiness in my voice.


"I've been watching you all night and haven't seen him at all.  Are you sure he's here?"  He leans in closely to my ear, and reaches up with his other hand to secure my head against his cheek. "You sure do look very sexy tonight, Bella.  One would think that you would only dress this way for your boyfriend, but," he trails of for a moment to look around the dance floor again before pressing his lips against my ear as he continues, "since he's not here, I could fill in for him tonight. I promise you'll be very... satisfied... with my abilities."


Maybe it's the liquid courage, or maybe it's that I've finally had enough of his bullshit, but I finally snap and tell him to leave me alone.  He smirks at me like he was hoping to get that kind of response out of me.  So what does he do next?  He pulls his arms tighter around my waist and then palms my ass.  Mother. Fucker.  I whirl around him and slap his face as hard as I can manage and turn to storm off, but not before I hear him mutter, "I like you feisty."  


Angela grabs my hand and pulls me further away from Jay and over toward Ben and his friends.  The guys shift their seats and make room for us in the middle between the four of them.  At least if Jay tries to get handsy again, there's more protection.  Jesus, he's a fucking creep!


We stay at the club for about an hour or two more, and for the first little bit, Jay is staring holes through me from across the bar.  I try not to look at him, but I can't help but keep a close eye on his location and proximity to me.  That was something my dad always taught me - to always be aware of your surroundings.  After a while, I notice him talking to a woman at the bar, and immediately I am relieved.  I don't mind a little attention, but his stalker tendencies are way over the top of my comfort zone. 


That disturbing sensation is back and I can't help the uncontrollable shiver that runs through me.  I'll have to remember to add alcohol and Jay to my list of possible triggers.


Ben gains my attention back from Jay and asks me about grad school.  I tell him about being accepted at three universities, but I haven't made my decision yet.  My prospective colleges are in different corners of the country; however, to appease my parents, I also applied to the University of Arizona.  Daring to take another look for Jay's location, I lift my martini glass to my lips and scan the bar area quickly.  He's not there.  Shit! I try for nonchalance, bobbing my head to the music and slowly taking inventory of the people on the dance floor.  Finally, I find him grinding against some skanky redhead near the corner.  What a douchebag.


Thankfully, Angela starts rubbing up on Ben and letting him finger the tops of her thigh-high boots.  Time to go!  I thank Angela for inviting me and tell her I will call her tomorrow.  She nods her head slightly as Ben is nibbling his way across her neck in the middle of the booth.  The other guys take the hint to leave them alone, and agree to make sure I get to my truck safely.   


The next morning I wake up to overcast skies and a sharp chill in the air. Arizona doesn't usually get down to freezing in the winter time, but today seems to be one of those rare days.  I send Riley a 'good morning' text and head straight for the kitchen.  Thankfully I'm not hungover, but I definitely don't want to be up quite this early.  I make a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage, knowing I'll need the energy for the Valentine's rush today.  Pulling my work pants from the dryer, I make a mental note to pick up some cologne or something for Riley.  It's been a while since I had a boyfriend for Valentine's Day, but I know he'll appreciate the gift no matter what it is.


I climb into the truck, crank the engine, and cringe when brain-piercingly loud music fills the car.  I always forget that your hearing is impaired for a while after you leave the club.  I turn down the volume and back out the driveway, heading to work.  Riley hasn't returned my texts yet, but I'll see him later when his shift starts at noon.


But Riley doesn't show up. 


No calls, no texts, no carrier pigeons, no LED signs... nothing.  That's not like him.  At the end of my shift, I decide to drive to his apartment to see if he's okay and was possibly too sick to call in.  When I pull up at his building, I notice his car in the parking lot.  But he doesn't answer his door.


And he doesn't show up the next day - Monday.  He hasn't called or texted.  Oh, I definitely don't like this feeling of deja vu.


I head straight over to his place again after my shift, but that's when I'm confronted with an all too familiar scene of police cars and a coroner van in front of the building. 




I bolt from the truck, fighting my way to the apartment building entrance, when I'm stopped by a police officer.


"I'm sorry, Miss.  I need some identification that you live in this building or I won't be able to let you in." He grabs my arm as I try to push past him, frantic to find Riley's door.


"I need to find Riley," I shriek. "Where is he? Is he okay?"  I try to pull away from the officer, tears forming in my eyes.  


"Are you friends with Riley Morgan, Miss?"


"Y-Yes," I croak, the overwhelming feeling of dread hitting me square in the chest.


Just as he starts asking me about the last time I had seen Riley, two burly men stomp down the stairs, carrying a gurney - a white body bag lying on top.


Oh, God!  




I'm crying against my mother's shoulder as she rocks our bodies back and forth. "Shhh, baby," she coos. "I'm so sorry this has happened."


Sorry?  Sorry!?  What is she sorry for?  It's apparent that something out there wants to destroy me by killing the men in my life.  First Edward, and now Riley... Who's next? Charlie? Peter?  I can't risk losing them too. I'm going to have to leave. 


As my sobs quiet, Renee leaves me on the couch in their living room to make me some tea.  She says it will help calm me down.  Nothing is going to help calm me down.  My entire world was blown apart when Edward died, and so slowly, I started to patch my life back together again.  But now Riley... sweet, caring Riley... has been murdered.  I don't feel safe.  That freaky feeling has been more and more frequent and it's really starting to scare me, plus there's a creepy guy stalking me, and I can't take this shit anymore!  I can't take Phoenix anymore.  I can't take the fucking Southwest anymore.  I have to go.  I need to go somewhere. Any-fucking-where.


Renee returns with my chamomile tea and sits the mug on the coffee table. "We'll help you through this, baby."  I stare blankly at the ceramic cup, lost in my own thoughts and barely registering Renee's words of encouragement. "At least you"ll be moving back home with us for grad school, saving your father and me some money."  She mumbles the last part and I turn to look at her, confused.


"Why would I move back home?  I already have a home. And what do you mean 'saving you money'? I can get loans or maybe a scholarship for school, and what happened to all the money from Ed's investments?"


She gets an oh-shit-I've-said-too-much expression on her face, and starts fumbling with her hands. She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. "Honey... I was going to make your father tell you this, because he's convinced that we have no other options."


I swallow nervously, anxious about what more bad news I was going to have to deal with.  She shifts her body toward mine and grabs my hands, squeezing them lightly.


"We have to sell the Masens' house." 


My brain battles for a response, an argument, a fucking song to sing, anything, but I blurt out the first thing that pops into my head. "Yeah? Well, I'm moving to Washington."   


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