"You know I'll miss you, Bells," Charlie said in the gruff voice that I knew he only uses when he's trying to cover up emotion. "It's been really great, having you with me for the past year and a half."
We were standing in the middle of the William R. Fairchild airport, my backpack over my shoulder and my heart suddenly in my throat. When I had applied to and, to my surprise, been accepted to Syracuse University in New York, I hadn't seriously considered their offer - the tuition alone had rivaled that of Charlie's annual salary. Yet, a few weeks later, I had received a letter in the mail that informed me that I was the recipient of a scholarship, not through the university, but a private corporation that awarded me full tuition to Syracuse.
Naturally, this had come as a shock. Charlie, after sitting down with a beer to calm his nerves, had asked if I remembered applying for the scholarship. "It's funny," he had remarked, rereading the embossed letter, "I've never heard of Acne Ice Lull, Inc. Is it some sort of facial wash?"
We had called the number printed on the letter that was provided if we had any questions, and after an hour on the phone Charlie had hung up and admitted that the offer was indeed legitimate. "This is a real opportunity, Bells," he had said, in an almost disbelieving way. "And after everything you've been through, you definitely deserve an opportunity like this."
That was how I came to be waiting to board a five-hour flight from Washington to New York, to leave behind the tiny town that I had come to call home. I knew that I would miss Charlie and his silent affection, and that I would miss friends like Angela, who had already left for the University of Washington, and Jacob, who had given me a dream-catcher that he had fashioned himself to hang up in my dorm room and a sad kiss on the cheek the last time I had visited him on the reservation. Both of us had decided a while ago, that in my state it was better that we remain friends.
"I'll miss you too, Dad," I said, looking into the brown eyes that were so similar to my own. "And I don't know if I've ever expressed this to you, but . . . despite everything, I'll never regret my decision to come live in Forks. I wouldn't have spent my last couple years of high school any other way."
Yet, I knew that there were a lot of things I wouldn't miss, and all of them were things that reminded me of him and our time together: the rocking chair in my room, the Biology room at the high school, the forest that I had been lost in the night he left me.
Yes, I decided, looking around the gate and the other passengers, a change of scenery will be good for me.
"Flight 667 from Port Angeles to Syracuse, now boarding," announced a bored voice over the intercom.
I turned to Charlie. "I guess that's me," I said, surprised at the tears I heard in my own voice. "I'll call as soon as I land, okay?"
"You better," he said, blinking rapidly before pulling me in for a tight hug. I wrapped my arms around him, taking in his flannel shirt and familiar smell of Old Spice. We both pulled away at the same time, and, with a final smile, I got onto the plane that would take me across the country.
When I de-boarded the plane in Syracuse's airport, I felt right at home - the sky outside was overcast and there was a slight chill in the air despite the fact that it was nearing the end of July. My distaste for excess had led me to pack only two large duffel bags to accompany me to the East Coast. Yet, I had felt overwhelmed when Charlie had handed me a check for a substantial amount of money with instructions to use it to buy anything I needed for my dorm room once I reached New York.
"Since I really haven't had to pay for much more than your plane ticket, it's the least I can do," he had gruffly responded to my profuse thanks.
Now I wandered around the airport, wondering how I was going to find a way to get to the University - was there public transportation, or should I call a taxi? I was just about to ask an airport official when something - or rather someone - orange bumped into me.
"So sorry!" they said, hurriedly bending down to pick up some of the bags that they had dropped. I bent down to help and noticed that the offender was a girl with light brown hair in a messy ponytail and an oversized Syracuse sweatshirt.
"You wouldn't be here for freshman orientation at Syracuse, would you?" I asked hopefully, standing up at the same time she did and handing her a rather heavy knapsack.
"Why yes, I am," the girl said, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear and smiling. "I'm Emma, by the way. Really sorry for bumping into you like that - it isn't that easy, flying all this stuff from Michigan."
"I know how you feel; I'm from Washington," I laughed. "My name's Bella Swan. Any possibility that you know how you're actually getting to the campus?"
Emma, as it turned out, was familiar with public transportation, and she got us on a bus heading to the campus in no time. We chatted on the way there, and I learned that she lived in Michigan and graduated valedictorian of her class. "My parents expected me to go to U of M, of course," she said cheerfully with a hint of a Midwestern accent. "But I told them that I didn't take all of those AP classes for nothing." I also found out that she had a passion for architecture, which is why she had chosen Syracuse. "I also got accepted to Cornell," she laughed, "But I liked the vibe here better."
Soon the bus was driving through the campus, and I was treated to Emma's knowledgeable identifications of the types of buildings we saw. "That right there, that's Romanesque - see the semicircular arches? And that contemporary building over there was actually designed by an architect named I.M. Pei. He's the same man who designed the pyramid that's in front of the Louvre Museum."
I was lucky that Emma seemed to know where we were going, so that when we got off the bus, laden with baggage, she turned to me and asked, "Do you know what dorm you're in?"
"Watson, I believe," I said, thinking back to the pile of information, all stored in one thick, orange envelope that the University had sent to me.
"No way!" Emma exclaimed, smiling brightly while simultaneously adjusting one of her many bags more comfortably on her shoulders. "So am I." As we walked along the sidewalk in the part of the University that Emma referred to as North Campus, I felt lighter than I had in months - in fact, lighter than I had in almost a year. Although the sun wasn't exactly shining, I was all the way across the country and about to start my freshman year at a college that I had never dreamed possible for myself.
And I realized, with both happiness and sadness, that for the past few hours I hadn't even thought of him.