She's never met Charlie before, but he smiles at her when he greets her by baggage claim. Doesn't try to hug her, and she's glad. Neither of them knew the other existed two weeks ago- no need to pretend, here.
The house is quiet.
Renee calls and tells Bella about the movers packing up the house- she does her best to remind herself that this isn't her house anymore. She'd been sent away, simply on virtue off convenience, and nothing that used to be hers feels the same.
She calls Renee by her first name in her head, because referring to her as “her mother” feels foreign now. There's very little that feels maternal about sending your daughter away with barely any warning simply because this is the easiest option for Renee.
On Monday, Charlie drives her to school and walks her into the office. He knows the receptionist, which Bella can chalk up to the “small town charm” that Renee had mentioned about Forks, not that said charm had been able to keep Renee in town long enough to tell her fiance that she was pregnant before she left.
“Didn't know you had a kid,” the receptionist says and Charlie chuckles back nervously, and pats Bella's shoulder. When he drives off to work, she prints off a schedule and offers to walk Bella to class, but she insists that she can handle it.
Classes are nothing special. The classmates aren't, either.
An overeager boy and a pretty girl take seats next to her in the cafeteria. She'd met them in classes, but they finally can ask her the invasive questions everyone wants to ask the girl who moved in the middle of the year.
She mumbles back answers, and the girl frowns at her in pity. “Let me see that,” she says, and pulls the schedule from the front cover of Bella's binder. “Skip bio. The nurse will give you a pass if you say you've got cramps, and we can drive to the Wendy's. You need a break.”
Bella picks at her cafeteria lunch and then nods. Might as well.
The overeager boy comes too.
Charlie makes chicken and vegetables that night and it's burnt but she smiles at the effort. They're almost about to move past useless small talk when there's a knock at the door. Charlie sighs. “I got you something,” he says, and gets up to let the pair of people in.
Jacob makes himself a plate of food without being offered and his father chastises him but the teenager protests that it's fine. Charlie laughs and agrees.
Bella can appreciate that Charlie is comfortable with these people. Her father looks less terrified than she's ever seen him, and the realization that she leaves her father in a state of general fear is unsettling but unsurprising.
Billy and Jacob Black are loud and boisterous and they fill the house in a way that's comfortable. Jacob ushers her out to see the present- a beat up truck- and offers his number. She tells him that he needs to come back around. She knows she'll miss this version of Charlie that is at ease around his friend when Billy leaves.
Jacob agrees eagerly and when their guests leave, she hugs him.
She falls asleep that night in wonder that she'd made three friends in one day.
In the morning, she smiles at Jess in the hall and chats with Mike in class. She arrives in bio and apologizes to the teacher about the day before and receives a seat assignment.
The boy next to her hates her.
That's fine with her. She has three whole friends.
On Friday, Jacob and Billy come back over for dinner. Jacob is a year younger than her but she likes the way he listens to her and she sits close to him in the cab of the truck when he suggests a joyride.
She calls Renee and hears all about the first hotel she's in. Bella never offers a word about her first week of school because it never comes up.
Her enemy in bio class thaws on Monday, smiling at her and apologizing for not introducing himself earlier. Bella shakes his hand and rolls her eyes.
She goes from three friends to many, and a month later on the phone Renee asks how school is going like she always does on their Saturday call and doesn't cut off Bella's answer like every other time. She's surprised to hear how well it's going, Bella can tell. Or surprised at how good she's pretending. She follows up to ask about Charlie and Bella wonders if there's a touch of jealousy there when she says that it's going well, too.
But it is going well.
She doesn't have to invite Billy and Jacob over anymore to ease the tension between them. It's easy- closer to roommates than father and daughter, but Bella doubts that will ever change. They take turns cooking, but they eat together most nights in the living room while Charlie reads and Bella does homework. He makes breakfast on Saturdays and they watch a sitcom.
It's more stable than anything with Renee ever had been.
She still invites Jacob and Billy over.
She sits close to Jacob on the couch when they watch TV and pretends not to notice the look that passes between Charlie and Billy.
One of the boys she knows through Mike finds her in the parking lot one icy morning.
Asks her to a dance she didn't plan on going to - Jacob comes over Fridays, why miss that for a dance she would never dance at- and she's nearly hit by a skidding car.
The enemy from her bio class saves her, somehow.
He leaves a dent in the offending car.
She shakes it off.
When she catches him staring that day in bio, she scowls down at her worksheet. “If you're looking for fawning gratitude, you won't get it,” she says softly.
He looks surprised.
Jess hears about that, somehow, and is aghast that she could be so rude to him.
“What, do you like him?” Jess’s face is enough to answer the question. Bella smiles at her across the lunch table. “I'll see what I can do.”
When she asks him later that day if he's interested in anyone at the school, he gets a surprised look again.
She likes that she can knock him off balance.
His face hardens when she suggests that he ask Jess to the upcoming dance.
“If I was going to that,” he says with an amount of distaste at the thought of the dance that shocks even her, “I'd ask someone else.”
She doesn't need to ask who that would be. She turns back to her worksheet.
When they're in Seattle for dress shopping, she breaks off from the group to go to an auto body shop that had confirmed over the phone that they had a certain part Jacob had been looking for.
When the pack of men follows her after she has the expensive twist of metal in a paper bag, she doesn't feel relief but more confused panic when her enemy from bio pulls up in his familiar Volvo and commands that she gets in. She still does.
He drops her back with her friends, barely a word passing between them once he's confirmed that she's okay. The question of what is he doing here feels wrong to Bella. No need to examine that particular mercy right now.
She reaches over to grab his hand when he pulls up to the curb to let her out, and his hand is as icy and hard as it ever is when they bump in class.
Jacob's face lights up to see the twist of metal for his car.
She doesn't tell him what happened in Seattle but she swaps out the story to say that she'd gotten a ride home in the Volvo after school. The part about his cold hands is the same. The part about his eyes, darkening, isthe same. The way he was so strong and unhurt the morning of the near-catastrophe in the parking lot is the same.
He shrugs. “They're just weird.”
“Yeah, the Cullens.”
Bella hadn't said his name. When she points that out, he laughs it off, but she presses him. He tells her about the legends of wolves and blood sucking monsters.
“Those are old stories,” she tells him. It adds up in ways that make her terrified. Jacob shrugs.
During bio, she leans over to him and tells him that they need to talk after school. He meets her in the cab of her truck after the last class.
She tells him that he's a vampire and he doesn't react like she expects.
“Is that so?” He asks, a smile on his lips.
“Whether it is or not, you need to stay away from me.” She doesn't need a mystery in her life, she wants stability and normalcy. He's intriguing and she's grateful that he's saved her life twice, but she doesn't owe him anything.
He nods and gets out of the truck. The next bio class, she's been moved to the back lab table with Lee.
Alice, the sister, finds her in the hall one day and tells her that her top is cute. Bella isn't sure exactly what haired happens next but somehow she's hugging Alice and agreeing to a shopping trip that Friday.
She brings Jess for moral support and Alice doesn't appear to mind, just happily chats as they drive to Seattle. Alice picks out a dress and so does Jess and Bella didn't see even a hint of the Volvo.
To make up for missing Friday night, she goes to the reservation to see Jacob the next day and sits with him as he fixes his pet project engine.
Life settles into a routine that she never could have, when she was babysitting her mother, and never expected she could have, once she had moved in with a stranger that shares her DNA.
Alice is everpresent in her life, and that's fine. The sweetest of that family giggles when Bella talks about the confusing tension between her and Jacob, or the drunken kisses she shares with Mike when they go to parties. Jess sulks about it, but Bella still talks to her.
Charlie remains a roommate, but a good one. Billy's weekly visits keep things light and manageable, and Jacob's presence there gives Bella someone to focus on. He focuses on her so intensely and it's flattering but overwhelming and when he tries to kiss her at the end of her junior year, she turns her head to kiss his cheek instead.
She flies to see Renee in New York over the summer, in an Airbnb near times square. They act like tourists and watch a play and see the obligatory sights. “You've grown up,” Renee says, as they look over the city from the empire State building. There's no need to tell her that it's by no doing of her mother- it's clear that the fact is already understood- and Bella just smiles and nods.
Senior year is idyllic.
She has friends, she has all the family she needs, and she has passing grades.
After graduation, Alice stays the night. Bella asks if they were only ever friends because she'd figured out the family's secret.
After Alice tells her that yes, it started that way, she looks Bella in the eye and assures her that she really does feel affection for Bella now.
They kiss, hesitantly, with Bella moving in first. Kissing Alice is like kissing a marble statue, she thinks idly, but it's tender and needy on both of their parts. Alice's icy hand on her forearm provides a counterpoint, a way to ground herself to remember the reality of the situation.
“I'll never tell,” she says, when she hugs Alice goodbye.
She doesn't see the short woman again.
The Friday before she's due to fly to Pennsylvania, Jacob and Billy arrive like usual. They pretend it's not happening til Billy asks if she's excited, if she's packed, and she flushes and says yes to both.
Jacob corners her in the kitchen when she's doing dishes and offers her a bracelet with a carved wolf charm. “Don't forget about me,” he asks, and she gives him a kiss on the cheek and says that she could never.
She never would have picked a college where she knew nobody, but she could make friends. She could succeed, Forks had taught her that. And with Renee's husband footing the bill, she'd been free to pick anything. She thrives in Pittsburgh and texts Jess every few days, comparing their freshman years.
She spends Thanksgiving in Forks, never had any other plan in mind. Jacob hugs her tightly when he sees her, touches the bracelet with a smile, and blushes when Billy makes a joke about his pretty girlfriend at school.
Every holiday goes like that- she sees Billy and Jacob, sees Jess and Mike when they're visiting too, and lets Charlie cook for her.
Her junior year over Christmas is the first time she and Jacob are both single. He comes over when Charlie is at work and they sit close on the couch, watching a movie, and that's familiar, and then every high school curiosity she'd had comes surging up and she shifts on the couch and kisses him.
He's surprised but kisses her back.
Later, they're lying over her covers and cooling off and her head is pillowed on his chest. “You should leave this town,” she says, and can feel him tense up under her. “Not forever. Just… see the world. There's more to it than this place.”
They act the same as airways always that Friday when Jacob drives Billy over and they nestle against each other on the couch.
He's not there when she returns the following Thanksgiving.
When she's old, her daughter asks for a story and Bella wonders for a moment what her life could have been if she'd let herself be sucked into the enemy from bio's world. She spins out a tale for her teenager of love and loss and high stakes and vampire mafias, and her daughter rolls her eyes in response.