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LadySharkey1 rocks my world by being the most amazing, kick-ass beta I could ever imagine.
"Dad?" Pausing on the stairs, Bella took a moment to let her eyes cross over all the pictures hanging there. Collectively they were a document of her life in the small town she called home, starting with a sad little eight year old and ending with the proud high school Valedictorian. Deep down inside, she still had trouble believing that was her; boasting the highest Grade Point Average of her graduating class, and she was newly accepted into Columbia University, with a full scholarship, as well.
It was a dream come true, even if the thought of the huge shift her life was undertaking scared the shit out of her.
"Dad?" she repeated, dumping her carry-on bag on top of the suitcases she and her father had already lugged down the stairs that morning. She smiled as her eyes fell on her father; a strong man even in spite of the seemingly miserable figure she found waiting on her. "I think I'm ready now."
Charlie Swan, meanwhile, was having the worst day of his life. That was saying something given the fact that he'd been widowed at the age of thirty and made a job out of dealing with the unsavory corners of society, as chief of police in their little dot-on-a-map town in Washington state.
The pain of losing his wife had been so quick and sudden that shock had prevailed. One moment, she'd been there, and the next she was gone forever. The pain of losing his daughter, in comparison, had been years in the making. In his heart, of course, he'd always known his daughter would go far in life, but in all his expectations of his little baby girl, he never believed she'd go quite as far as the other side of the country.
"I'll go start the car then." He sighed, his heart bleeding as he looked at the two big suitcases, carrying most of his only child's earthly possessions. Taking the handle of one of them, he looked up, catching her gaze. "Are you sure you still want to go?"
Bella smiled sadly, remembering the countless times they'd had the very same conversation over the past couple of months. "Absolutely positive, Dad."
Charlie nodded. Like his daughter he was of the pragmatic, quiet kind that didn't like to speak three words when two would do, or talk about feelings in general. He knew his daughter didn't like their separation any more than he did but he also knew that the offer she had on the table was too good to pass up on.
Especially for a girl with her talents.
Not even if it meant breaking her daddy's heart.
"Your mom would have been proud of you," he finally huffed. Gruffness was his default setting, which meant that even when he was happy, or at the very least slightly optimistic, his words always came out as a huff. This time, though, his chagrin kind of fell flat as his lips pulled into a small smile. Both the memory of his beloved wife and the sight of his little girl would do that. "Our little girl grown up and heading off to the big city." He pouted, letting his eyes wander over his baby girl, wondering when in God's name she grew up so fast. And why. "Did it have to be New York, though?"
Bella merely rolled her eyes. This, too, was a conversation they'd had before and though she really respected her dad's adversity towards big cities—hell, she pretty much felt the same about it after having been a witness when her mother fell victim to big city crime—she knew that hiding away in a small, sleepy town, wasn't the answer. "I would have ended up in the city anyway. At least right now you know that I'll be living in a nice, relatively secure campus dorm instead of some rat infested apartment with junkies running the streets below."
That, at least, shut her father up long enough to get to the car, fill the trunk with her luggage and, after a final goodbye, out of the driveway and past Forks' city limits.
Her fear was nothing compared to that one, terrible night, but it was still severe. As was her excitement.
Their journey up to SeaTac was peaceful, or at least a peaceful as a journey of two people stressing out for similar, as well as completely different reasons, could get. What remained undisputed, though, was that it was a very quiet journey. Lost in their thoughts, neither father nor daughter spoke; the quiet in the car only pierced by the soft noise of the radio.
"Carlisle and Esme will look after you," her dad finally spoke, lifting her luggage out of the trunk of the car as he dropped her off at the airport. "If there's anything, anything at all, call me. Day or night. If it's something I can't fix from my end of the country, tell Carlisle."
"I will." She could feel her bottom lip tremble as she tried to keep it together.
"Got your mace?" Her dad's face was stern, every inch the badass cop he was at heart as he tried to assure himself of the fact that his daughter was prepared for everything the big city could throw at her.
"It's in my suitcase," Bella answered, desperately trying to keep it together. "I can't have it on the plane with me."
"Unpack it as soon as you land. You can never be too careful," her father insisted. "And when in doubt, use it. It's better to have some innocent fool writhe around on the ground with a couple of sore eyes than to have my baby girl end up in hospital or worse."
"I know," Bella smirked, recounting the lessons her dad had instilled in her from as early as he possibly could. "It's better to be safe than sorry."
"Good girl." Charlie dawdled before finally pulling his baby girl in for a hug. It was brief, neither of them willing to make their goodbye into a tear-filled soppy display of emotions. So after a while he pushed her back, patted her shoulder and sent her off. "Now go, before you miss your plane."
Bella nodded, biting her lip to ward off the tears. "I'll miss you, Dad."
"So will I, Bells." He nodded, waving awkwardly as he saw his daughter—his life's pride and joy—turn around and awkwardly struggle into the terminal with her two suitcases and carry-on bag.
The first thing he did as she disappeared out of sight was call his friend. Before he'd go on his way back to the cold empty place that used to be home, he needed to be assured one last time that they would be waiting for her.
As her father made his way back home, Bella was soaring thousands of feet above the earth, her heart pounding in her throat as she tried to organize what little she knew of the new life that awaited her.
In a few short months, she would be starting college and moving into her dorm room. Though technically she'd still be attending school, just like she did in Forks, she knew that in reality, the two different types of education couldn't have been more different. In Forks, she had always been the undisputed champion of the classroom; her grades as near perfection as a student could get. In the very competitive environment of an Ivy League college, though, she already knew, or at the very least suspected, she would have a lot more trouble maintaining a good average. Let alone rise above her peers.
And then, of course, there were the months that bridged the gap between the start of the academic year and her departure from Forks; months that would be spent being a babysitter to two kids and that way earning a bit of spending money to supplement her scholarship. It would give her just that bit of luxury that would allow her to make a better use of the metropolis she would soon find herself a citizen of.
The kids in question, twelve year old Jasper and ten year old Rosalie, belonged to one of her father's oldest and closest friends. Carlisle Cullen and he had met in college—both fresh from some small town and sharing a dorm room. Though their lives couldn't have taken more different courses if they tried, their friendship had always remained. Over the years, they'd made a habit of going on extended hikes together (one week in Spring, and one week in Fall) trekking across large parts of the Appalachian trail together as well as doing some other famous hikes around the country. It had been the only weeks in her life that Bella had been shipped off to some relative for sleepovers. But she'd been more than happy to do so.
As familiar as her father was with his best friend, to Bella, Carlisle and his pretty younger wife, Esme, were almost strangers. She'd seen them a few times and, of course, heard the many stories her dad had shared about his best friends over the years but that was about as far as her acquaintance with them went.
Living with them at their beach house in the Hamptons for two months would be like jumping into the deep end.
It was early evening by the time her plane touched down at JFK; both the flight as well as the retrieval of her luggage going as smooth as these things could go, her mouth dry with nerves as she exited the baggage claim area and checked for familiar faces.
"Bella!" The woman waving a dainty, perfectly manicured hand up in the air was even prettier in life than she had been in the pictures she'd seen of her; waves of caramel colored hair fell onto her shoulders as a heart-shaped face framed a pair of friendly eyes that resembled almonds both in shape and in coloring.
Bella wasn't allowed to gawk for long, though, because all too soon—and much to her own shock—she was enveloped in one of the wealthiest hugs she'd received in her life. That was, if her senses didn't deceive her.
"I'm so happy you're here!" Esme gushed. "Did you have a pleasant flight? Your father must have called us a dozen times while you were in the air."
"I know." Bella snickered, recalling the short conversation she'd had with her father while she was waiting for her bags. "He actually asked me to apologize for him."
"Pshh! I know that if it had been one of my kids, I would have done the same." Esme waved the apologies away, chuckling as, much to Bella's surprise, a man in a suit stepped forward to take her bags. It was a good thing he identified himself as the driver of the Cullen family's town car or Bella would have found herself forced to deploy her mace already.
After all, it was better to be safe than sorry.
Esme shepherded her through the airport and into the awaiting town car, her never-ending stream of words difficult to keep up with as Bella scrambled to sort the things she heard into need-to-remember and won't-cause-embarrassment-if-I-forget sections of her memory.
"The kids will be in bed by the time we arrive," Esme spoke, her voice ringing out clearly over the low rumble of the car engine as the airport gave way to the expressway. "And Carlisle has a thing he needs to go to for work so he'll be staying in town tonight. You'll have to make do with me I'm afraid—have you eaten, by the way?"
"Just airplane food," Bella clarified.
"Just to warn you, I can't cook to save my life, but I'm sure that, between the two of us, we'll be able to whip up a grilled cheese sandwich or a salad or something," Esme was quick to assure her. "And you'll be able to meet my little hell raisers in the morning. They've been so excited to have you stay with us!"
"What are they like?" Bella inquired, trying desperately to fill the as of yet blank image she had with as much information as she could so as to make their introduction run as smoothly as possible.
"Jasper is the quiet one," Esme started. "He mostly stays up in his room, reading and playing music. And he completely worships his uncle…" her voice trailed off wistfully as Bella blushed, suddenly remembering that Esme was the sister of one of the hottest, most talented artists of her generation. One who also seemed to be determined to throw away his life and was currently in jail, at least if the tabloids were to be believed, serving out a sentence for distributing drugs to some of his fans. "Anyway…" Esme pulled herself back out of her thoughts, "Rose couldn't be more different. She's very outgoing and, thanks to her dad giving her everything she wants, pretty spoiled. I guess you could say she's your average Park Avenue Princess, even though we actually live on Fifth."
The street names were dazzling. She only knew them from books and television and that had been enough to let her know that the world she'd just stepped into was completely different from what she'd left behind. Her dad had been by no means poor; being the police chief of a small town hadn't made him wealthy but had left him with enough to put a roof over their head, food in their stomachs and clothes on their bodies. Bella had never been one to ask for much more.
This life, however, was one where people had drivers and two homes which were probably about as large as her former school building. Her suspicion was confirmed when, finally, the car pulled up in front of a magnificent, three story wooden beach house, rising up in all its magnificence from the sandy dunes. It was beautiful in a crazy, out-of-this-world fashion.
And it made her feel more and more like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, realizing she was about as far away from home as a girl could get.