Bella had left Forks only a year prior, but so much had changed since she left the rainy and lush town. When she had graduated she had relatively no friends. The only one who she kept in contact from FHS was Angela, and a large part of that was due to them going to the same college. Angela's parents had been upset about that as she was the one to typically watch her little brothers while her parents worked or were away, but Angela was determined to do something for her.
"This is the start of my life, Bella; I need to do it right for me. Not for anyone else." Angela's eyes had been set upon Bella's face with the upmost serious expression. "I want to find what's out there," She motioned to the sky before motioning to her chest, "And what's in here."
So that night they decided to room together at the University of Arizona. The very next day they set it up. Bella would go for Anthropology with a minor in Writing; Angela would go for Physics with a double minor in Astronomy and Photography. The two spent the summer getting ready for the big move. They went shopping together for their dorm things, saw movies, and went to First Beach occasionally but took care as to not run into Jacob Black or his crew. Angela was always on the lookout for that, half wanting to protect Bella, half wanting to see him so she could give him a piece of her mind. Luckily, they seemed to always miss the younger boy.
As the summer progressed Bella started to come back to herself, and part of that was watching Angela go through her own break up. It was like Bella hadn't been able to do anything for herself, but as soon as her friend got hurt she was able to help both of them process their breakups.
"He's not worth your tears, Angie." Bella had hugged the taller girl a few weeks after Angela had caught Ben in a lip lock with some junior from FHS. "You aren't the one who did anything wrong. He didn't respect you or your boundaries. He was the one with the issues and, instead of talking it out with you like a mature person, took the choice of deciding what the future held for you both away. He fucked up and he's the one who's missing out on seeing you become an even better version of yourself."
Angela had let out a watery laugh and smiled at Bella, "Thanks, and it may not be the same circumstances, Bella, but don't you think these words also apply to you?"
That afternoon changed the both of them. Bella's nightmares diminished, but were still there since she knew that there was a homicidal vampire somewhere out there after her. Time passed differently for vampires, Emmett had told her so once upon a time, and so she wasn't sure when Victoria would show. The anxiety that induced was almost too much some days, but Bella knew she wouldn't be able to outrun the vampire.
It was a month or so later— the morning after their parents had left the two to their own devices— in Tucson that she decided to live each day to the fullest. She had had a nightmare about Victoria finding her and Angela listened to what Bella felt she was able to share in her emotional, post nightmare haze. It had been like she couldn't contain it any longer.
"My dad doesn't know any of this and, well, I don't want him knowing." Angela had frowned, but said nothing, letting Bella continue without saying anything. "I'm serious, Angie."
After a minute of Angela looking into Bella's eyes, she could see the fear and the resolve; she let out a deep breath. "Alright, Bella, I don't like the sound of this but I will keep your secret."
"The thing you need to know is that part of the real reason Alice was adopted was she had this man after her," Bella looked down to her hands feeling like she needed to say what she could to get Angela to realize the risk hanging out with her would entail. "The man was, well, awful. Truly sadistic. He enjoyed torture. He made a game out of it."
Angela stayed quiet, watching as Bella rubbed at the scar on her wrist she had gotten after crashing through a window. They had said it was due to her accidentally biting down on her wrist, but that had always seemed strange to her. Bella quickly continued.
"Well, he found the Cullen's in Forks when I was with them. He picked me out as the weakest link and his game moved from Alice to me. He eventually was taken out of the picture, I was too out of it to know how and Edward always kept important shit from me, but his girlfriend wasn't gone. She kind of just vanished from their radar. She's still after me, continuing his game, and won't stop until I'm well… miserable and ultimately dead. I don't— I don't want her to get to you because of me."
"Holy shit, Bella, no wonder you have nightmares!" Then a beat, "Fuck the Cullen's for leaving you with this mess! What assholes! I swear that if there are signs of trouble then we will figure something out. We'll stage, like, a fight or whatever, but still stay in contact or something. But, Bells, are you sure that we can't tell Charlie? This seems like something he should know… Hell, shouldn't you be in like Witness Protection or something?"
"I don't want him involved, Victoria is too dangerous." Bella's breathing grew shallow as her mind raced, "I shouldn't have even said anything to you, oh god what if she followed me here and now you're in danger for knowing and –"
Angela slowly put her hands on Bella's shoulders, "Look at me Bella, that's it, now breath with me." The two girls breathed together until Bella's panic subsided. "You're my best friend Bella, my only true friend, and I would do anything for you. I hope you feel the same."
Bella let out a little sob and nodded her head quickly, "of course."
"Then we are in this together. We live to the fullest, and if danger comes we talk about it and decide what to do together. No regrets. No holding back. Remember, two heads are better than one, Bella."
Holding onto each other for a little longer until they both calmed down Bella soon felt a sense of peace fill her. Just knowing that she had someone in her corner who wouldn't leave— even though it was dangerous and was given the option— helped calm her in a way she didn't know she had needed.
"You're right, Angela. Thank you so much for being you. Thank you for being in my life; I don't know what I would do without you."
"Oh, Bella, I feel the same! Now come on, enough serious stuff. Let's walk around the campus and maybe find something to eat? I heard of this place called Robert's Restaurant from my orientation leader and I guess they have great waffles?"
"Alright, I could go for some waffles, let's get dressed and find out for ourselves."
Over the next few months Robert's Restaurant became a staple in their lives. Bella or Angela would have a craving for the homemade jalapeño bread and they would have a reprieve of the dining halls for a meal. When Bella had gotten the news that her father was set to remarry Sue, the widow of one of his best friends, she had thought it a bit too soon. When the two had actually come down during a visit, however, she changed her mind. Sue was perfect for him. Bella and Angela now lived off campus in a little apartment, and when those two looked at each other on the girls' couch it was like the room lit up with love and contentment. The two adults deserved that happiness.
Dragging the green suitcase behind her and readjusting the backpack she wore, Bella double checked that things were unplugged and that she and Angela weren't forgetting anything for the weekend they would be back in Forks, Washington. It was going to be the first time the two of them would be back since leaving. They each had internships and jobs that they couldn't get time off of during the holidays, so their families had come to them instead.
Bella hadn't been able to meet her soon-to-be step siblings, however. She would be meeting them in about 5 hours. Their trip to the airport had been full of off-key singing, minor panicking, and a lot of pictures together to document the trip. Bella had gotten used to having her picture taken for all sorts of assignments that Angela had for her photography courses, and had even okayed a few of them to go up in the apartment.
Their three hour flight to Seattle flew by for the two girls; it was the 38 minute flight to Port A. that got Bella's anxiety levels a little more prickly. Bella toyed with the hem of her short sleeve shirt, folded and refolded her cardigan, and only stilled when Angela placed her hands over Bella's.
"It'll be fine, Bella, trust me on this."
"But," Bella's voice wavered, "but what if they don't like me? I heard from Charlie that they hang with Jake and, well, what if they decide they don't really want me in their lives because of something he said? I know Charlie said that Jake was sorry, of course Jake didn't say it to me and I'm a little bitter about that, but what if—"
"Look, Bells, if that's the case then it's too bad for them, they're missing out on truly knowing a fantastic young woman. Now, take a deep breath, our row is next to get out of the plane." Angela's smile was soft and understanding.
Bella knew that so long as she had Angie she could get through the weekend. Picking up her bag from her lap Bella followed Angela out of the puddle-jumper. They made their way through the small airport to baggage claim and saw the large group waiting for them.
Angela's brothers rocketed to her, one crashing on each side of her both talking at once. The laugh she released filled Bella's heart with warmth. Her own reunion with her dad was more subdued, but the feelings were there. Sue had wrapped her arms around Bella and given her forehead a kiss.
"You look well, Bella, I'm happy to see that." It was true, since leaving Forks Bella had put some weight back on and began doing yoga, meditation, and tai chi with Angela to control the stress and anxiety that came with not only college but her life in general.
"Yeah, I'm feeling good. You look absolutely radiant, Sue." Bella smiled with sincerity. "My dad's lucky to have you in his life."
The two families left after the girls gave one last hug to each other with the promise Bella picking Angie up for the wedding the next day. This would be a bit more of a deal as Charlie had decided to rent out his place in Forks since he spent most of his time on the Res. This added income let Sue and Charlie update the Clearwater house so there was enough space for everyone. Bella was truly grateful since she had been apprehensive about sharing a room with Leah.
"Now, the Elders decided tonight there will be a big bonfire. We will be telling you some legends and more about the tribe, since you will soon be tied more deeply to the tribe. Sorry for surprising you like this, but we also figured that you wouldn't mind."
"Of course I don't mind," Bella waved it off. "This is the kind of stuff I study, so you know I'm interested, and it would just plain be an honor to listen to them. As long as I can shower and get the travel grime off before I'll be good."
With that, they went to the car and drove the hour to La Push. Sue and Charlie chattered about, asking Bella about her summer courses, and what she liked the most. Bella began talking about her Mesoamerican Archaeology course, commenting little bits of information she found interesting.
"Angie and I had this one discussion about Antonio de León y Gama the other day because he has ties to both of our studies. It's pretty neat when that happens." Bella caught her father's eyes in the rearview mirror softening up at seeing her vibrant smile.
"I'm glad you're so happy there, Bells," he gruffed out, clearing his throat at the emotion that clogged his throat over seeing her smiling with actual emotion. He had been worried about what coming back would do to her and the progress she had made. "I'm real happy you're home, though. We've missed you up here."
"I know, I know, I'm sorry I wasn't able to visit sooner." Bella looked out the window; the greenery passing by was so different from that desert red. "And I'm sorry that I can only visit for the weekend."
"It's okay, Bella," Sue turned in the passenger seat and reached her hand out for the girl in reassurance. "We understand you have commitments and not the greatest feelings about this area."
Bella squeezed Sue's hand after receiving her own, "I'm over it for the most part, I just think that what happened to me here could have been done in a less, uh, dramatic way, you know?"
This made Sue laugh, "I understand completely."
The rest of the car ride went smoothly, and soon they were pulling into an unfamiliar driveway. The house was about the same size as the one in Forks if a bit larger due to the latest addition. It was a gray color, with an invitingly worn red door. Two large figures waited on the front porch.
This is it , Bella told herself, time to meet the stepsiblings.
She took a deep breath and opened her door. She grabbed the door when her left foot got caught getting out of the car and did a little hopping before she was free and stable. Bella could feel her face flushing at the thought of the two siblings seeing that. She didn't trip as often as she used to, and had hoped that this would last up here for this meeting. Bella was sad to see this wasn't the case.
Pushing some hair behind her ear she followed Charlie and Sue to the others. Leah was gorgeous; she had beautiful short black hair, intense brown eyes, and serious air about her. Bella could feel her self-esteem take a minor hit just being around her, but quickly tried to smush that feeling. Seth, while tall, still had a child-like air around him and a large smile. He reminded her of a puppy a little bit, happy to see anyone.
"Hi, it's nice to finally meet you two. I'm sorry this didn't happen sooner, but I hope the next two weeks we can all hang out and get to know each other."
"I'm sure we will," Leah gave her a little once over before nodding to herself. "Alright, I stayed long enough to say hi, but I've got to jet, duty calls."
"Be safe, dear," Sue gave her daughter a kiss on the cheek before she left. It had been comical seeing the younger woman lean down so her mother could give her a kiss goodbye.
"Always," with that Leah began jogging off into the woods.
"Is Leah a forest ranger or something?" Bella secretly toyed with the cardigan in her arms.
Sue quickly glanced over Bella and smiled, "Something of the sort, yes."
"That's cool," Bella let herself be led into the home.
"I'm in the program too," Seth beamed, "so if I'm ever not around that'll be why. We have schedules but can get called in sometimes."
Nodding her head in understanding she quietly looked around the house. It was homey in a way that both her parents houses hadn't been. It definitely felt nicer than the Cullen's home. Their home was like a museum, always pristine with their history out in discreet ways. This home felt lived in. Though it was summer and the A.C. was on here there was a general warmth to the house. Sue pointed Bella in the direction of the room she would be staying in, letting her know that the bathroom was to the left of her door.
While in the shower Bella thought about the bonfire she was about to attend. When she was very little, a babe in arms, she had been to one. There was a picture on the old mantle at the Forks house; well, there had been one of Billy and Charlie in front of a large fire with Bella in her father's arms. She was excitedly holding a broken shell out with a gummy smile. It was one of her father's favorite photos of the time where she and Renee had been with him. Being invited to this bonfire now was a big deal, and oh man did she want to talk to Billy and Old Quil about the tribal histories and old artifacts. Maybe she could write a paper or research something that would help the tribe due to what the Elders told her. Within half an hour Bella was ready to go in a pair of jeans and UA tee, so they piled back into the car for the short trip to First Beach. Bella could feel the heat radiating from Seth and asked if he was okay or getting sick.
"I'm good, Bella, I went for a quick run while you were getting ready so I must still be warm from that." His smile was large and pure but Bella felt like what he said wasn't quite the case. However, she let it be. She didn't want to push anything out of her soon-to-be brother; she wanted a good relationship with him.
"Alright, just let me know if you need an ibuprofen or anything if you do start feeling ill. I always carry some."
"Good to know, if I ever need it I will come to you posthaste!" He chuckled then with a grand flourish they were parked and getting out.
Bella smiled at Seth sticking to her side while their parents went up ahead of them. He really was a sweet kid. He let Bella make the pace, and while it wasn't too noticeably slow to Seth since he wasn't yet aware of how quickly she moved Bella was definitely slower than usual. It was finally hitting her that she would be seeing Jake for the first time after over a year apart.
Gods , Bella closed her eyes for a moment. I wish Angie were here too. This would be so much easier knowing she was here for support. This is something that needs to be done though. Alright, Swan, it's Big Girl Pants time. You can do this.
"You okay, Bella?" Apparently she was taking longer than she thought.
"Yeah, Seth, just a little tired from all the traveling. No big." She patted the copper forearm lightly in reassurance before they continued on to where the crowd of people was.
Bella saw the Elders to one side of the fire, sitting down and talking with Sue and Charlie. She saw them glance at her and she waved a little. Before leaving for college she had found out that Old Quil had married her great aunt, so she decided to go over before attempting to say hi to the younger generation.
"Hey Uncle Quil, I hope you've been doing well." Bella spoke loud enough for the older man to hear, but was still considered soft.
The man looked at her, it felt like he was peering into her soul, and he smiled. "Glad you seem to be doing better, Little Swan. Are you excited to hear the histories?"
Bella nodded enthusiastically, "Absolutely!"
"Good, it is important that we pass these stories on to the next generation. If you want to hear more after tonight don't be afraid to come by."
A swell of happiness filled Bella, she had been wondering how to bring it up to him and now it wasn't an issue. "I will be sure to drop by Sunday before I leave, thank you!"
"Hello Bella," Billy Black's deep voice made her turn her head a bit to the left.
"Chief Black," Bella nodded. "It's an honor to be invited to this now that I'm old enough to understand."
Billy looked into her eyes, "Thank you for the respect, but it's always just Billy for you, Kid. Your father heard the legends and histories when he was about your age, your family shares this history, and your stepmother is an Elder on the council, it was about time this happened." He reached out his large hand for hers. "We are glad you are back here, you have been missed. Now, enough chit-chat with the old folks, go help Emily Uley in her effort to keep the food safe from my son and his friends."
Bella shifted from her left to her right foot before she hesitantly nodded. Bella made her way over to the large group that Seth had meandered to while she was talking. The boy was currently in some kind of headlock by one of the older guys. If she wasn't as nervous as she was Bella would have laughed about it. But she was nervous. Her stomach flipped and she fought back a physical gag.
Come on . Bella berated herself in her mind, don't be such a wimp.
As she began taking stronger footsteps over to the rowdy bunch the one who had Seth in a headlock, supporting some of the boys weight, looked up; he was smiling and oh what a smile it was. His bright grin was confident almost to the point of being cocky. He was clearly enjoying the perfect summer evening beach bonfire with his friends and family. His eyes widened when their eyes met and she felt almost frozen. She knew that her body was moving towards them, but it was like everything had gone away for a moment. Bella barely registered Seth dropping because the weight that had previously been there was suddenly gone. However, she did still register it and that's what had broken the spell for Bella. She rushed forward to make sure Seth was okay.
"Seth, are you okay?" Bella went to help him up, but he laughed and waved it off before he started swiping the sand off of his hands and shins.
"I'm good, Bella! No worries," He threw a thumbs up and she let out a little chuckle.
"Alright," Sparing a glance to Mr. Headlock brought a traitorous blush to her cheeks. She cleared her throat and looked about the group. They seemed to be a little shocked or shaken over something, but Bella dismissed it. "I recognize Jake, Quil, Embry and Sam, but I'm afraid I don't know the rest of you."
Seth threw an arm over her shoulders and started naming people, if she was completely honest she didn't really care, she knew she was likely to forget the names on a day where she didn't see a man as gorgeous as Mr. Headlock, but now? Forget it. The two names she didn't forget were Emily, as she was the one the Elders told her to help, and Paul. Seth had been about to say his name when the man himself interrupted.
"Paul Lahote, I work with Charlie and will also be walking you down the aisle."
"Bella," She reached her hand out for his with a blush and a shy smile at Paul before turning her gaze to the others. "It's a pleasure to meet you—all of you. Um, Emily, Billy told me that you may need my help keeping these wolves away from the food?"
Emily let out a strange laugh, "Did he?"
"Well, not those words specifically," a nervous chuckle escaped. "But the sentiment was there. I mean, it was definitely implied. So, uh, what do you need me to do?"
"I've actually got this all covered and you just got back, so don't worry about it! Go sit by the fire or take a walk if you want. If I really have to I have Sam to talk some sense into them."
Bella nodded, "Well, if you do need help with anything give a holler or send someone to grab me, I think I may take that walk."
With that Bella turned around, dropped her shoes off by the logs, and began walking towards the surf. She grabbed her phone out of her back pocket and once she deemed it far enough from the group she called Angela. She thought about just a text, but this required the actual voice of logic.
That moment with Paul was alarming now that she wasn't in his vicinity. She had gone out with a few people in college so far, one or two dates tops, maybe meeting up at a house party, but this felt like that silly romantic nonsense Renee mooned about, and that she herself had once believed in. Was she ready for that? Maybe? She never did like casual dating, and well, she had Angie to think about.
The cold water of the Pacific lapped at her feet as her thoughts raced.
"Bella? Are you okay?" Angela's worried voice came through. They had talked about this possibly happening and Angie had, of course, told her that if Bella needed her she would do whatever needed for that emotional support.
"Yes, maybe, I'm not entirely sure? There's a guy here and I swear to god, Angie, it was like a total romcom moment."
"Shut the hell up!" This exclamation let Bella know that she wasn't near her parents or little brothers. Bella heard someone asking Angela if everything was okay. She probably ran into someone they knew at the grocery store. "You're joking."
"Serious as Professor Hathway is about Shakespeare."
It had been their one shared "freshman only" classes that admissions put all incoming students in at random. Bella and Angela had ended up in a European Lit class with Professor Hathway. Their professor was a woman in her mid-forties, with bobbed brown hair and gray roots, these smaller circular glasses, and a turtleneck no matter how hot it got. She taught a travel course every year that took the class to the UK. There were pictures all around her office of her with different classes in or by The Globe Theatre and ticket stubs from the performances. People knew not to bring up Shakespeare around the professor or else they would be held for some time listening to Hathway's thoughts on The Bard. The woman had held their class enough times from her need to finish a rant about one play or other.
"I'm sorry Bells," There was a long pause after she spoke. "I literally can't think of any advice for you right now. Everything that I think doesn't sound right. I mean, what with everything. I want this to be good, because you deserve to have that feeling, that moment, and a good person in your life Bella. You deserve the chance to explore any potential love. You know you do. I know that we have something and it's getting serious, but if you need him we can talk about it. I won't control your decisions on who to see like Edward did. We'll see if we can work something out between the three of us. Maybe do something like Johnny, Allison and Nova? I just know that because you're too self-sacrificing and worried about Victoria that you'll probably close yourself off from even the potential of something working out for you in the romantic realm outside of me."
"Yeah, you're right."
"Bella," She released a deep exhale and the sound of a can hitting metal echoed into the phone.
"It's been over a year since you heard anything from her. Maybe something happened? Maybe she died or got taken to jail."
"Unlikely knowing what I know about her. I hate to sound paranoid or like some script writer," Bella knew both of their thoughts quickly flashed to one of their friends Angela had previously brought up, Johnny. "However, wouldn't that the best time to strike?"
"What am I going to do with you Bella?" the fondness leaking through the phone was thick in her voice and it warmed Bella right up as she replied.
The two laughed before Angela sighed, "You know it. Now if I know you, and I like to think I do, you've sequestered yourself away with some pretense. Go hang out. Spend more time getting to know that little brother of yours. Enjoy yourself Bella. Maybe get Mister Love Interest to take you up to the tidal pools while there's still decent light?"
"Bella you know I love you, but we both know you need more than what I can offer…"
"Fine, I'll go back over and see if anyone wants to check them out before all the food is ready. They're making enough for an army, I swear."
"Good. Call me when you're done with the bonfire, I don't care how late it is."
"Will do; have a nice dinner with your family Angie."
"You too, Bells."
With that she hung up the phone puttered around the surf little bit longer, and then measured up enough courage to go ask everyone if they wanted to check out the tidal pools. Bella almost ran into a large chest and with her little stumble back an arm shot out to help stable her. She used the offered arm and rebalanced herself before letting go. The arm that had helped her went down as well.
"You okay there, Swan?" Paul's voice sent a shiver through her and made her look up. "I was about to ask if you'd like to go to the tidal pools."
"Sure, I was just about to go over and ask if anyone wanted to that."
"Great minds," He winked and Bella knew this young man was dangerous. The kind she normally stayed away from. Something in the back of her mind told her that this wouldn't be the case with this one.
There were only two others that joined them after she and Paul had asked the group at large, Jacob and a girl named Vanessa. Vanessa had hazel eyes, a cute button nose, and ginger hair. She was from Port A., the same age as Jake, and they had met at the movie theater.
"So how's college been, Bella?" Jake asked after a pause in conversation started to feel awkward.
"It's been really good. Moving back to Arizona where the seasonal depression isn't so much of a thing was what I needed to do, I guess." Bella smiled at them then coughed when she realized she had made it awkward bringing up mental health. She had forgotten that people didn't normally talk about it. Living on and then around a college campus had definitely put her in a progressive bubble.
"Ah, but yeah," She continued. "I'm going into my first semester senior of senior year in a few weeks. It's crazy to think that I'll need to start thinking about my senior thesis research paper soon. I may ask one of the Elders for their help with that before I head back to Arizona, actually."
Jake's jaw was dropped and he made the timeout symbol with his hands after a second. "Shouldn't you only be a sophomore in college?"
"If I hadn't been a total nerd, yeah," Bella shrugged.
"So it would seem you're smart and driven, what do you major in again and why?" Paul asked as he helped Bella to the pools. "I know Charlie has talked about it at the station before but I can't remember if—"
"No worries, I'm majoring in Anthropology with a Writing Minor. Thanks for asking, Paul." The smile he gave her made her stomach flutter. At the beginning of the day she hadn't thought she would encounter these kinds of nerves, but here they are. "Since I was a kid different cultures and civilizations really interested me. I spent a lot of time in libraries so I am really good at research. It kind of just seemed like a great fit. What brought you into law enforcement?"
"When I was a kid," Bella noticed that Vanessa and Jake had distanced themselves. "My dad was not a good guy. He was an angry drunk and very abusive. One day, while I was at a friend's place he murdered my mother in a drunken rage. When they brought me back to the house and there was no one answering the door we found the spare key to get in and found the house trashed, her body, and no dad in sight. That was actually the first time I met Charlie as the FPD had been called as well to help out."
Bella felt tears pricking her eyes at the bitter yet casual way he talked about his past. "I know we just met, but can I give you a hug or something? Oh my god, I'm so sorry you've had to go through this!"
Paul opened his arms and Bella quickly filled them. The first thing she noticed was how warm and strong he was. He was maybe a little warmer than Seth had been? Was this a Quileute thing perhaps, because normal guys while warmer than her weren't this hot? She supposed if he just kept his arms around her she wouldn't need the cardigan she brought with her to keep warm.
"They eventually found him hiding in the woods and took him in. He got jumped while in prison, I guess he pissed someone off? I don't really know and I don't really care. Jared's parents took me in and they've been so good to me." Bella knew that Paul could feel the tears through his shirt when he pulled her back and wiped her eyes. "I've dealt with it, not always in the healthiest ways. But I dealt. No need for the tears, B, it's been a long time."
"Still," Bella sniffed.
"Hey now, let's just go enjoy the tidal pools." Paul glanced over to Jake helping Vanessa get a closer look at a pool and Bella realized that while he did answer the question honestly, which shocked her, he was still a guy and he probably didn't want to be labeled "emo" or something.
It's 2007 , Bella thought, it shouldn't matter, boys showing emotion by crying. It's a natural and healthy thing to do. Bottling up all that emotion never works out.
"Right, yeah, of course." With a clearing of her throat she tried to smile at him, whatever he was comfortable with, so she decided the subject needed changing. "Do you have a favorite spot here?"
He seemed grateful for the question and grabbed her hand to help lead her to a certain tidal pool. The tidal pool was deeper than some others in the area and she saw plenty of little fish and crabs moving around. It was amazing to look at. She had forgotten how much she loved the beach up here. If Bella or Angela wanted to go for a swim or be near water in Tuscan their campus had a pool for student use. This was fine for her since she didn't get to really swim up in Washington so she had preferred the situation, but now she remembered that there was something about the salt air, the sound of the waves, and seeing all the creatures which calmed her more than doing laps in a pool ever could.
Bella let Paul lead her around for a little longer and then they hear a sound almost like a howl that echoed up to them. It was clearly a signal since Jake and Paul smiled before they began to pull the girls back towards the beach. Bella could only infer that it meant food or something similar with the hurriedness. Once they reached the beach to see people eating she smiled at her ability to guess right be confirmed.
There were hot dogs and hamburgers galore and she swore her wolf analogy was right because good lord these boys were piling mountains of food on their plates. They were all physically in shape and knew that they probably needed a certain amount of calories to maintain their bodies and not like, faint or anything. But this was more than some of the biggest weight lifters she had seen in the food halls take.
"Jesus. They're like animals," Bella let slip after she was let through to take what she wanted before it was all gone. She caught one Seth and one of the boys (Brady? Bradley? Hell, maybe it was Brett…) fight over the last hot dog.
"I know. It's almost disgusting how much they can eat." Emily came up beside her with her own plate, "how were the tidal pools?"
"Oh it was great, made me remember why I like Washington so much." Bella gave Emily an almost impish smile. "I really love living in Arizona, the heat is so nice and so is being able to swim in the sunshine whenever, but it is so good to be back up here with family."
"Yeah, I know Charlie has really missed you but is so proud of you. I heard him bragging about you already being a senior? That's incredible; you must be really dedicated to your education."
"I was always a good student, but after the whole mess of the break ups and whatever it was like this switch flipped. I just focused on doing the best I could to get into a college back in Arizona or somewhere sunny. I had been in almost all accelerated classes back in phoenix, and then Forks had those college credit classes that I took senior year," Bella shrugged. "It all just worked out, and my best friend and roommate Angela definitely helped keep me going."
"Oh, I'm glad that things have worked out for you, Bella! My Sam had been the one to find you and, well, I was always wondering how you were doing."
Bella rubbed at the back of her neck, "Thanks for the concern, Emily. I, um, I never got to thank Sam for finding me that night. I hope he knows I'm grateful, but I would like to thank him with some sort of baked good while I'm here. Does he have a favorite sweet or if he's not into sweets his favorite food? It took me a while to process everything, but I want to thank him for saving my life. If he hadn't found me I would've died, and honestly at the time I didn't really care because I was a mess."
"Bella…" Emily's eyes showed concern, and internally Bella was screaming. She wouldn't normally be this open, but these people were soon to be a part of her life and she didn't want to hide how she was. Angela had definitely helped her realize that it was hurting her, holding herself back from letting her thoughts and feelings known.
"Hey it was what it was. But yeah, now I do want to live and I understand that his actions were major, can you just tell me how to thank him for it?"
"I'm glad you want to live now and if you ever want to talk my door is always open. I'll have muffins waiting and everything!" Bella smiled at the kind words. "Sam is a big pie guy, but I'm terrible at making his favorite pecan pie."
"Thank you, luckily I'm pretty good at making that one. Renee, my mom, her husband absolutely loves pecan pie. I actually made it for dessert the first time she brought him over for a dinner."
Emily looked impressed with Bella, "I always burn that caramel sauce. I don't know what it is, but every single time something goes wrong."
Bella nodded in understanding, "That was the hardest part for me too when I started making it. It just takes a careful eye and not heating it up too quickly."
The two had moved over to the logs were people were sitting in front of the fire chatting and enjoying the spread. Sam was sitting next to Paul and Jared and the three seemed to be discussing something sensitive since the girls noticed that they stopped talking and brought their attention to the girls coming over. Paul waved her next to him and Bella acquiesced while Emily sat close to her husband. It was sweet to see the love in his eyes for his wife, how his arm wrapped around hers and gently squeezed causing them to take a moment to just smile and enjoy being around one another. Bella knew that she wanted something like that; something terribly sweet that would rot the teeth of everyone looking on.
She was worried, however. She didn't really get close to a lot of people due to the threat of Victoria. Sure she had told Angela and while it was nice she knew it, so they had an almost completely open relationship, it was only because Bella hadn't been in the right state of mind. She must have had a serious face on because she felt a pat on her head, which she turned and found that Paul had placed his hand there.
"You good, Swan? You're on break; don't need to be thinking too hard here." The warmth from his hand radiated down to her scalp.
Bella could feel her body relaxing and her eyes softening. It was like he knew just what to do to help her. Feelings of deep appreciation, fondness, and fear simultaneously hit her. Wasn't it too soon to feel like this about him? She wasn't even sure if this wasn't how he behaved around all his female friends. Bella would have to investigate this further before she let herself go down this rabbit hole. He also worked with her dad, and the topic of Victoria was one that she would rather not be brought up to regular law enforcement.
Charlie'd never let her leave his sight, or have someone follow her. A small part of her briefly considered if that were the case would Paul be the one to go down, but quickly squashed the thought. Charlie would endanger his life and possibly others if we went to try and find Victoria. He wouldn't know that the person after his daughter would be undead and have him beat on essentially every level. She refused to sign her father's life over like hers had been just because the Cullen's were too stupid and arrogant to deal with all three nomads.
"Yeah, I'm fine," She reassured. "Do you know when they'll start telling the histories and legends?"
Paul nodded and looked across the fire to where the Elders sat. "Once the sun begins to set they will begin with the oral histories. We have maybe another half hour before that I'd say."
"Sounds good," Bella brought her attention back to her food and quickly finished her plate. Once the food was gone Paul grabbed her plate and took both of their empty plates over to the quickly filling trash bag. When he sat back down Bella thanked him.
It seemed like not much time had passed, she had been enjoying mindless chatter with Emily, Paul, and Seth when he came over from where his friends were, when the attention was brought to Billy and Old Quil. As the sun began to set their voices seemed to strengthen and come alive while they told the tribes history. They spoke of the Spirit warriors, of the Cold Ones—the Cullen's had been brought up and she had felt her father's gaze settle on her during that, there was a moment during that tale of the previous pack meeting them which had Bella rubbing at the scar on her wrist in remembrance of the large coven. The movement had caught Paul's attention, not that she was aware. She was fully enraptured by what she was hearing as the fire cracked and roared as the sky darkened and stars began to pop into her awareness.
"These are our histories which we must listen to and take heed of. We must protect our histories as we protect our people." She and Old Quil locked eyes before he spoke again, this time keeping his gaze only on Charlie. "Our words tonight were all true, as everyone apart from you already knows."
Bella felt herself quickly pale. This had not been what she was expecting. Her father of course began to look around, he had felt the energy around the fire at Old Quil's words, and seeing Bella's face was enough for him to know that they were not lying about this. Bella was such a shitty liar, and the truth of these stories made him consider her last year with him before she went off to college. Bella saw this and knew that her and her father would be having a discussion.
"I know that Bella believes this to be true— and that certainly helps the validity of this, but I am a man who requires proof." Charlie's gruff voice filled the blanket of quiet that had settled.
Sam nodded over to Paul and the warmth that had been at her side vanished. The cool summer night suddenly breezed against her and she shivered at the sudden chill. Her mind was going in overtime wondering what was about to happen. Bella had a feeling but she was kind of hoping that it was wrong. Of course, when where Paul once stood instead stood a supersized silver wolf, well. Of course she would start laughing, because of course the only beings she had any serious feelings over would be supernatural. Really, what else would she expect of her life. She was constantly drawn to the supernatural. She wouldn't be surprised if next Angela came out as a witch in all honesty.
Her brain had quickly pushed forth the story of imprinting and obviously she knew that's what had happened earlier today with Paul. She wasn't stupid. She's dealt with the supernatural before. This now meant that she had a way to address her fears about Victoria. The Protectors of the tribe would be able to help her.
"Can I say something real quick, now that we all know this is real and everything?" Bella didn't realize she was speaking until she was almost done. She had earlier wanted her father unaware of all of this but with the wolves on the table, well, that changed things.
"Of course, Bella," Old Quil gestured for her to begin her piece and she took a deep settling breath. She barely registered Paul coming out of the woods from where he went to change back into his human form.
Here goes nothing.
"I have a homicidal vampire after me and I'd like to share my story of how that came about." She suddenly heard the sound of clothes tearing and swung her head in the direction of the sound. Clothes fluttered to the ground and in Paul's place was his wolf. "Ah, right. Okay, well, I guess I should start at the beginning with my first day at Forks High?"
Bella got some nods so she cleared her throat and continued on, "I met Edward in my biology class and at first I just thought he was weird. Turns out he was trying not to kill me from how good I smelled. Well, he refused to be 'a true monster' and went up to Alaska to get over his blood-lust. When he returned he eventually saved me from that car accident and another incident in Port A. I was curious about them and through various avenues came to the conclusion that he was a vampire— a Cold One."
Bella looked at her father with embarrassment, "It kind of took off from there. Once he knew I knew what he was, he shared his life and his family with me. Gave me a taste of what it was like to have a large family where I didn't have to be the responsible one. It was all very intense and at the time I didn't realize that their pheromones which were usually used to lure prey had been surrounding me almost 24/7. We were addicted to each other. He was right when he said I was like his heroin, but he was also mine. I digress, one night, the night I said I couldn't live with you anymore Charlie— and I'm sorry I had to say that, but it was necessary in the moment— he and his family took me to watch them play baseball."
The image of the overcast clearing flashed through her mind, the scent of rain on the breeze with the leaves rustling. The fear that filled her as she was called "a snack" and the fear she had for her father's safety.
"Those animal attacks weren't animal attacks. It was really three nomads causing all the deaths. Laurent, James and Victoria were their names, and they were completely different from the Cullen's. Their eyes were vibrant red indicating they drank from humans unlike the Cullen's. James, the coven leader, was a tracker. Some vampires bring into their new lives powers. Carlisle always thought that it was their strongest traits as humans brought forth. They actually thought I was a shield since Edward couldn't read my mind."
Bella quickly moved forward after she saw all the raised brows.
"Anyway, James had the ability to track anything and he found a new prize: Me. I eventually made a plan with the Cullen's to lead them away from Forks. The Cullen's split up into a few groups and I went down to Phoenix with Alice who could see future decisions, and Jasper who could manipulate emotions. It had all been working until I thought James had Renee. I got away from the Cullen's at an airport, using all the scents of other people and the bathroom to mask my plan, I didn't really think about anything and I got into a taxi. I made it to where he told me to go and ran to where I heard my mom, only it was a home movie. He tricked me and began to torture me. He took a bite out me, so I was a bit hazy from the burn of his venom. It was sucked out of me by Edward, which honestly was a stupid decision by Dr. Cullen because he knew his son had an issue around my blood."
Bella could feel herself wanting to start a rant, but knew that now at the bonfire wasn't exactly the time to do it. "Long story short, James was destroyed, Laurent went up North to meet the Denali Coven, and Victoria was left mate-less and with a vendetta. She clearly didn't get the memo that I'm not important to the Cullen's who were the ones to actually kill her mate. But I guess because I was his last hunt she wants to finish it. I don't really know a crazed vampires reasoning. I haven't heard anything about her since Laurent almost killed me a year ago. I now realize it was the pack that saved me, again, and I'd like to formally give my thanks to you guys for that."
As she spoke her thanks she looked at all the boys around the fire, since she was unsure of which wolves were there at that time. During her recount of 2006 Paul had placed himself by her and she had run her fingers through his thick silver fur. It had helped her get through it. The feeling of his coat keeping her grounded.
"I haven't seen a glimpse of her red hair in over a year, so I don't know if she's just lying low or if anything happened." At the mention of red hair it seemed like the aura of smugness radiated from Paul and Seth; some of the others too, but it wasn't as noticeable as those two. Paul's tail began to wag even! Bella would have laughed if the feeling of fear, anxiety, and a hint of disbelief weren't battling in her.
"Little Swan," Old Quil spoke into the quiet; her father still seemed to be trying to process everything. "You'll be happy to know that the Red Head is gone. Our boys took care of her almost half a year ago."
It all seemed to be too much of a relief because Bella quickly lost consciousness as the rush of being free to live in peace hit her. She came to relatively quickly it seemed to her, but it was enough time for Paul to be human and in clothes once more. She was in his lap and as she came to she saw the worry deep in his eyes.
"Bells!" Her father's voice rang with relief. "Don't scare me like that."
"Ah, sorry the shock of it kinda just slammed me. Gosh, the news that Ange and I have been like on the lookout for no reason I guess kind of just—." Her eyes widened and her hands flew to cover her mouth as she said too much again. "Oh shit."
"Angela knew before I did?!" Charlie's voice rose as he spoke, "Isabella Marie Swan we will be having a talk later tonight. I expect Miss Weber to be there as well."
"Only the homicidal person after me, not all the supernatural stuff," Bella whispered to her father. She winced at the look he gave her. "Right, not any better."
Oh, this is not good , she thought as she sunk even further into Paul's warm lap. When Charlie replied that he would be letting Angela know she closed her eyes. Not good at all.
Bella slowly got to her feet and some people started to leave the bonfire. It had gotten late and people needed to be up early tomorrow to get everything set up and the cook the foods that still needed to be done. The wedding luckily wouldn't be held until later in the afternoon, so this gave some people plenty of time to get platter of food they were bringing to the reception done. Bella was actually planning on making dumplings with Angela. She thought to text her friend, but it was too late Charlie was already on his phone calling her.
"Hello Miss Weber," He paused, clearly listening to her response. "Yes, it would seem that you and Bella kept something important from me and we three are going to have a little talk later tonight. Yes, let's say 45 minutes. I'll send you the address in a follow up text message. See you soon, Angela."
"Don't be too hard on her dad," Bella wanted to cry. There were too many emotions she was feeling, but she had to make sure he knew this was on her. "Angela wanted to tell you but I didn't want you to know in case you tried to go after Victoria. It wouldn't have ended in your favor."
She could tell that Charlie was thinking about this. He knew she was operating out of a place of love and concern. It was the only reason he began to calm down. This was Bella and she always had a reason for doing something. Ever since she was a little girl she had been that way. He took a couple of deep breaths before they walked to the car. Seth and the rest of the wolves had to stay back for something, but, as Bella was still in distress and their bond was new, Sam let Paul go with her and Charlie.
The drive back to the Clearwater-Swan house was quiet. Paul and Bella sat in the back together, holding hands which offered her comfort. It felt natural to them to do which was so strange to her, just how easy it was to be affectionate with him no matter the situation. The last time she had been thought of as a mate everything had been so hard, and she knew now that it was an indication of just how wrong she and Edward were for each other, but 20/20 and all that.
Angela arrived at the house soon after they themselves reached it, Bella let Angela in before giving a quick hug and a "sorry" that had the taller girl shushing the shorter. This was what Angela figured would happen somewhere down the line. She had been prepared for this eventuality. She just didn't realize that the eventuality would come so soon after arriving back home. She should have though; Bella had a terrible poker face and— unless it was a secret of another person— could not lie to save her life. It was something Angela found charming about the other girl.
They found themselves in the living room on the couch, and when Bella sat close to the tall native Angela raised her brow quickly while sucking her lips in to contain an explicative. This wasn't the time to squeal at how natural they looked together or how it seemed like that last bit of tension Bella always carried vanished, sure it seemed a little left field for her Bells, but she would get the details later and all that mattered to her was that Bella seemed truly happy for once. When she met the eye of the guy though oddly enough she felt that moment Bella had mentioned earlier. Paul's mouth dropped and Bella looked between the two with wide eyes.
"Good lord, what's going on now?" Charlie muttered, and Sue answered with a simple.
"Well, it appears that Paul has also imprinted on Bella's girlfriend." Bella's eyes widened even further, almost bugging out, and she spluttered some nonsense.
"Please dear, you told no one but her about having a homicidal maniac after you and she kept that secret from law enforcement just because you asked. That screams something more serious than just friendship to me. Also, the couple photos around the apartment don't help if you're trying to keep it from people."
Angela moved to sit next to Bella, grabbed her left hand, and spoke softly to Bella, "Okay, wow, so not how I thought this was going to go."
Bella nodded her agreement.
"Apart from us apparently being less discrete than we thought, what's this 'imprinting' then?" Angie questioned the room at large next.
Sue and Paul then began to explain everything to her: the wolves, the Cullen's, the fact that the person after Bella was actually a vampire and that Paul with the pack had taken care of it about 6 months ago. Angela elbowed Bella in the ribs since that was about the time they actually decided to act on their feelings during a night in. Angela hadn't needed to ask for proof telling Bella that she figured something was off a long while back, she just never pushed.
Sue and Charlie eventually went up to bed, wanting to be well rested for the next day. The kids stayed in the living room getting to know more about one another and hash out how the relationship would work for them. It seemed they wanted the relationship to happen as naturally as possible, and he was more than okay with that response. Paul let the girls know that things were pretty quiet with the pack now, so he was sure that Sam would give him the okay to go down to Arizona with them so they could finish their degrees. He was also pretty sure that Charlie would feel more comfortable with Paul down there for the girl's protection as cities usually had higher rates of vampires.
Soon enough Angela was going out and grabbing two bags from her car before she was led into Bella's room. Angela had called her parents and given the excuse of wanting to give Bella one less thing to do before the wedding, they understood and told her they'd prefer her not driving this late at night anyway. Paul couldn't get away with staying the night, so he eventually left to get some sleep before having to help prepare for the wedding as well.
"I still can't believe this is all real." Bella laughed at Angela's sleepy whisper as they cuddled together.
"Yeah, you sure you aren't a witch?" This time Angie giggled.
"Not to my knowledge, Bumblebee." They shifted a little bit to get more comfortable in the bed. They pulled the purple duvet up closer to their shoulders and smiled at each other before giving each other a kiss goodnight. "I'm just happy that it's all gonna work out for us."