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Of Safety and Sorrow

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Bella had thought that she would be less anxious once she finally made it back home, but she feels like she has more nervous energy than she ever has as she pulls up to the house she shares with her dad. Bella had lived in Forks her whole life, a result of Charlie fighting hard for her when she was a baby, after her mom had walked out on him. It was a hard one battle but Charlie had proven to be the more stable of the pair, with an established career path, home, and the ability to provide for Bella better than Renee could have, at least according to the courts. Every time Bella saw her mother, Renee tried to convince her that there was a better life waiting for her outside of Forks. Bella had seen that better life, she had never been to the same house twice when visiting her mother and she didn’t expect that to change even now that she was married again. Bella liked Phil well enough, but she hardly knew him and her relationship with her mother was somewhat strained. It was telling that Bella was happy to give up half of her allotted two weeks with Renee every summer so that her mother could go on her honeymoon. 

Bella had felt oddly out of sorts since she had left Forks a week ago. She had thought it was nervous energy born from having to spend a week pretending that she was overly happy for her mother, not to mention dress shopping and attending the wedding too. Renee had always been just a little outside Bella's comfort zone and it wasn't unusual for Bella to feel a bit off when she was around her mother. Usually, the feeling would disappear once Bella made it back home, but this time was different. Even as Charlie pulls up to the house, Bella has to force herself to be calm and steady. 

“Good to be home?” Charlie asks when he notices Bella taking a deep breath, enjoying the clean, rain-heavy scent of her hometown. 

“So good.” Bella climbed from the car, glad that Charlie had opted to drive her truck to the airport instead of his cruiser. Charlie had been the chief of police since Bella was seven years old, but getting a ride in the police cruiser had gotten exceptionally less cool as she had gotten older. Bella is bouncing on the balls of her feet as she gathers her luggage from the bed of the truck, the single suitcase she had packed seeming lighter than it had been when she’d loaded it up in Phoenix. 

Charlie watches as Bella lugs the bag over the bed of the truck, grinning slightly when the bag moves in a wide arc that he can tell is accidental. Bella nearly throws herself off her feet in her bid to correct the motion and Charlie can’t help but be amused. 

“How are you clumsy when you get a bag out of a truck but not on the basketball court?” 

“The world may never know,” Bella shrugged. “Speaking of, I didn’t keep up with any workouts in Phoenix so do you mind if I go for a run before dinner?” 

“Knock yourself out, kid,” Charlie says, gesturing for Bella to lead the way into the house. “Which route are you going to take?” 

“Probably the woods route,” Bella lugged her bag through the front door, turning to head up the stairs. “I can meet you at the diner when I’m done? I don’t feel like cooking.” 

“Sounds good.” Charlie moved into the living room while Bella headed up to her room. 

Bella’s bedroom hadn’t changed much over the years. She’s got a bigger bed now, and a desk with a chair and a computer perched on top, a few pictures of her and her friends up on the walls. Bella could walk around the room with her eyes closed and still pick out where everything is from memory alone. The journey to her dresser is made in quick strides, Bella reaching first for a pair of running shorts and then a top, the phone holder she wears on her arm coming out of the same drawer as her socks and sports bra. The clothes she wore on the plane are thrown into the hamper beside her dresser and Bella dresses quickly. 

She ties her hair up as she walks back down stairs, thankfully not tripping on her way down. She finds her running shoes next to the door and her earbuds resting in the bowl on the little table. With a shout to Charlie, Bella makes sure her phone is secure and her usual running music is queued up as she walks out the door. 

The woods trail, a route that the cross country team takes every year during their home meet, is in the mid range of Bella’s usual running routes. The actual route begins a few blocks from Bella’s house and she walks there, using the time to stretch and warm up. A few people out on the streets greet her and Bella smiles warmly at the familiar faces. Once she gets to the start of the trail, Bella sets off at an easy jog and lets her mind wander as her feet carry across the well worn path. 

It had been nice, Bella mused, to see her mother. Despite her startling inability to be a parent, Renee was decent to be around in small doses. While Bella didn’t appreciate her mother trying to act like the two of them were best friends and got along like a house on fire, she was happy that her mother had found love again. Renee was officially someone else’s problem. 

When Bella came to a stop outside the diner, her mind was much more settled but her limbs were still buzzing with energy. The run did nothing to lessen her energy levels, which seemed to have only risen, but it did help her work up an appetite. She checks the parking lot and, after seeing her father’s police cruiser, walks into the diner. She finds her dad back at their regular table, sipping his drink and perusing the menu even though she knows he’s going to order the same thing he always does. 

“Good run?” Charlie asks when Bella joins him. Bella nods quickly. 

“Feel like I could go for another one, actually.” Bella pulls the glass of water Charlie ordered for her closer and downs the liquid quickly. 

“It’s a little late to run the woods trail again.” Charlie says, glancing out towards the darkening sky. 

“I know,” Bella agrees. She’s long since learned that it wasn’t worth arguing with Charlie when it came to her safety. “I’ll just do some body weight stuff when we get home. Maybe that will burn through some of this energy.” 

Bella and Charlie ate together, talking about Bella’s trip to Phoenix and the first day of school that was coming up in a few weeks between bites. Bella ate her burger and fries, then half of Charlie's fries too before the finally called it quits and began to leave. As they stood up, the bell above the door jingled and Bella glanced up to see who had come in. 

The girl was beautiful. Bella wasn’t exaggerating when the word ‘goddess’ slipped through her thoughts. Silky blonde hair, pale skin, eyes like honey. She walked towards the counter with purpose, a crafty smile showing off perfectly white teeth. Her clothes were just as exquisite as the rest of her and when she smiled at the woman behind the counter, Bella couldn’t help but stare. At least until Charlie cleared his throat. 

“That’s one of the new kids,” Charlie said quietly. Bella could have sworn she saw the girl’s head twitch slightly towards them, but that was probably just wishful thinking. 

“New kids?” Bella asked. 

“They finally filled that position at the hospital and the doc, Cullen, he and his wife have adopted a bunch of kids. That’s one of them. She’ll be a junior this year if I remember right.” 

Bella didn’t say anything in response, only nodded her head and made an effort to look like she wasn’t staring when the girl’s eyes cast over the restaurant as she waited for her food. As Bella and Charlie made their way out of the restaurant, Bella glanced over her shoulder again when she waved at their waitress. Before she turned back, her eyes met those of the blonde. 

For one endless moment, Bella felt as though she was soaring. Her body was weightless, tethered to the ground only through the golden gaze of the girl that she had yet to properly meet. She watched as the girl’s eyebrow arched, honey-gold eyes seeming to map out every inch of Bella’s face. Then, the girl’s expression returned to one of bored neutrality and Bella snapped back into herself. 

With a racing heart, Bella followed her father out of the diner, oblivious to the eyes that tracked her every move from the bar. 

__

As the last few weeks of summer stretch on, Bella becomes increasingly more anxious. There isn’t much to do in a small town like Forks, so Bella finds herself doing what feels like endless laps around the town. She jogs the forest trails, goes to the football field to run around the track with Jessica, Angela, Mike, and Tyler. Lauren had been there as well, but Bella hadn’t made an effort to talk to her. Things were still awkward between them after Bella broke off their - thing. They hadn’t been dating, not really, but they hadn’t not been dating either and Bella had reached a point where she couldn’t stand the uncertainty of it all. Lauren hadn’t known what she wanted so Bella had decided that it would be better for them to figure things out separately. 

Aside from her now daily workouts - which was weird. Bella had always been a good athlete but she’d never been so much of an overachiever; she’d never had the energy to do it before - Bella spent some time down at La Push every day. The beaches of the Quileute reservation had been almost a second home to Bella for her entire life, and Jacob, Quill, and Embry were like the annoying little brothers she never had. It was fun and carefree and exactly what Bella wanted to be doing before what most people said her busiest year of high school would be. 

And yet, Bella never felt totally at peace. 

There was always something, an energy, burning beneath her skin. No matter how far she ran, it didn’t feel far enough, didn’t feel fast enough. She needed to go further, faster, longer. She needed to run until her lungs burned and her legs were shaking and she couldn’t take another step and even then, the buzzing in her veins was only softened. It never stopped, never went away. Like the beat of her heart, this desire for more was etched into the very essence of Bella. Her appetite increased too, and she swore she grew three inches almost overnight. While Bella didn’t mind the extra height she had suddenly gained, she was not looking forward to the shopping trip required to buy more pants now that she had outgrown all of her old ones. 

Charlie wasn’t sure how to take the sudden change in appetite and stature, Bella could tell, but he wasn’t one to try and fight against something he couldn’t control. Bella had said something about being an apparent late bloomer at dinner one night, after she ate two and half steaks and half the pot of mashed potatoes by herself, and Charlie was quick to latch on to that bit of information. 

“You get that from my side of the family,” Charlie had said. “Your Granny Swan had been a late bloomer too. Told me that she had been the shortest girl of her class until she turned 15 and then she was the tallest all of a sudden. Must have grown half a foot in two weeks.” 

“Please, no,” Bella had groaned. “I just bought more pants.” 

Charlie had laughed and then they continued on like normal, but the conversation stuck with Bella. 

Bella didn’t have many memories of her Granny. She knew that Granny had been tall, seeming to be immune to whatever it was that made old women seem so small, though she was well into her 80s when she passed. She knew that Granny had been a happy woman, most of the time, but that there were days that she simply didn’t talk about. From the time that she had left home on her own, something that was already unheard of for a woman in her time, until she had turned 25, met Bella’s granddad, and settled in Forks, no one in the family knew what she had been doing. 

Bella remembered her Granny as the pretty old lady who always had candy and told the best bedtime stories. Stories of magic and monsters and how no matter what evil came up, it could be no match for the bravery that came with love. More than that, Bella remembered her Granny’s eyes. They had been the same shade of brown as Bella’s own, the dark chocolate color that burned golden in the right light, but they had also been sad. The eyes of a woman who had seen darkness and suffering and had learned to love her life and the world anyway. 

Memories of her Granny had Bella up in the attic one day, three days before the start of her junior year. Bella was digging through the old boxes, looking for a photo album full of pictures that she and Granny had taken together on the nights that Granny had watched Bella when she was young. Most of the pictures were grainy and out of focus, but Bella still wanted to see them. She wanted to remember the good times and, strangely, the ever-present humming in her veins was softened by the effort. 

It was in the third box she checked that Bella found not only the album she’d been looking for, but a brown, leather bound journal that she had never seen before. The journal had been tucked into the album and had fallen out when Bella picked it up. Bella took both items back down to her room, setting the album down on her desk while she carried the journal over to the soft chair that she had in the corner of her room, next to the bookcases that seemed moments away from giving out from the weight of all the books on them. 

On the first page of the journal was a folded piece of paper, slightly yellowed with age. Bella unfolded the piece and recognized the neat, cursive handwriting of her granny. 

My dearest Isabella, 

I have so many hopes for your life, my little tiger. I hope that you find happiness and love, I hope that you enjoy your time on this earth for however long it may last. Time is a blessing to us all and one that cannot last long enough. My time is coming to a close now. I have accepted that I won’t be around for much longer. My body isn’t what it used to be and without the Shift, well - it doesn’t matter. I made the choice that I thought was best for both of us and no matter how this all turns out, I hope you can forgive me in the end. 

I have kept something from you for all of your life, my little tiger. A secret about you and me and our family. A secret that our family has been hunted for since the beginning. I don’t know how or why we are able to do what we can, nor do I know why it is only the women in our line. Your father isn’t able to do what I can and what you will one day, neither could my own. I learned of our ability from my great grandmother. She wasn’t around long enough to see me Shift for the first time, but I like to think she would have been proud of me. 

We are Shifters, Isabella. Our family, the women at least, have the ability to shift into an animal form. Not like werewolves. Our Shifts do not beholden to the moon or any other celestial event. We can shift at will. We are not the only line of Shifters to exist in the world. I met many on my travels, though we are the only line with a pre-determined animal form that I know of. The color is subject to be different, but whether you are orange, white, or golden, I am certain your tiger form will be just as beautiful as you are now. 

I know that you will have many questions and I am sorry that I won’t be there to answer them. I am putting this letter in the diary that I kept while traveling as a young shifter. I hope that you can find answers to your questions here or if you can’t, you’ll have some guidance on where to look. 

You must be very careful after you Shift, Isabella. With the help of an old friend, I was able to bind your Shift, delaying it for a while. I wanted to keep you safe for that much longer. It won’t be long after you Shift that the shadows will come for you, and I hope that you can avoid them as I did. 

I love you very much, my little tiger. And I am so proud of you. I may be far away from you now, but I hope that you keep a little piece of me in your heart. Perhaps, when it is time, we’ll see each other again someday. 

Live your life to the fullest, my dear. Don’t have any regrets. 

Love always, 

Granny 

Bella finished reading the letter and then read it again. A third time. A fourth. No matter how many times she read the letter, it didn’t make any more sense to her. Had Granny been crazy and Bella been too young to notice? Had she been Charlie’s only option for childcare and that’s why Bella was alway with her? How could her dad not know that his own mother sometimes paraded around as a tiger? 

Could any of it be true? 

No, there was no way. People turning into tigers? Or any other animal? That wasn’t possible. Bella was a normal, high school junior. She liked to read and she played basketball and she hung out with her friends. She tried to navigate the highs and lows and dating while in high school, admittedly made slightly more difficult by being the only openly lesbian student at Forks High, but Bella was just a regular girl. She wasn’t some crazy shifter that secretly spent half of her time lazing around as a tiger. There was no way that Granny could have been telling the truth. 

No way. 

But - Granny had promised that she’d never lie to Bella. It was one of the few full conversations that Bella actually remembered. When the custody battle had gotten ugly and Bella had been scared that she’d lose the only home she’d ever known, it was Granny who had sat her down and told her the truth. It was Granny who promised that no matter what happened, her dad would still love her and Granny would still be there for her. When Granny had said that she really wanted Bella to stay in Forks but that she didn’t know what the judge would decide, Bella had been upset but accepting. Granny hadn’t tried to sugarcoat anything. She didn’t lie. Granny always told the truth in life. Why would she lie in death? 

It didn’t seem plausible, let alone possible, but Bella had to give her Granny the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe it was. 

Setting the letter to the side, Bella opened the diary again and began to read.