1. Just Ordinary
The wind was blowing strong as she approached the edge of the cliff. The breeze rustled the tops of the trees, lifted the scent of earth off the ground, and pushed her hair wildly around her face. Most people would try to tame the feral strands, bound them neat and proper, tucked behind her ears. But she already knew; you can't contain what is meant to be free.
The gusts pushed her like a playful friend, goading her to test her limits. She stepped forward. The tension slowly left her shoulders. She stepped forward. Her body relaxed and her eyes closed; she trusted the pull to lead her where she was meant to go. She steadied herself by digging her feet sturdily into the rich soil and then jumped metaphorically, mentally, physically, into the beautiful, dangerous, and wild unknown.
Bella executed a perfect dive into the ocean. With barely a splash, she entered the chilly murky depths. She let herself float suspended in the water for a few seconds enjoying the weightlessness and silence before emerging to the surface greeted by the hoots and hollers of her friends.
"And the judges scores?" called a bikini clad girl floating on a lounger.
Three guys held three sets of tens in the air with their fingers.
"A perfect score! Ladies and gentlemen we have our cliff diving winner! Bring her the 6 pack of beer trophy!"
Bella did a few mock bows appeasing the rambunctious crowd. It was a warm summer day in mid-August. Even with the brisk breeze, the water felt refreshing in contrast to the heat. She soaked up all the water and rays she could get. It would be a while before she had the chance to come back. Bella and her fellow classmates were enjoying the last free weekend before starting classes again at the local college.
Bella, in her mind, was extremely average. While she was well liked by her peers, she wasn't popular. Some had called her beautiful in the past, but she always felt more comfortable being considered pretty. She was intelligent, but didn't really see any reason to apply herself more than a satisfactory level. All in all, just normal.
But sometimes, normal wasn't quite enough for her. Bella would get an itch. It would start at her finger tips leaving a tingling feeling spreading through her arms, it would reach her brain and she felt like she received a dose of pure oxygen, it would disperse through her legs and she felt like she could float right off the ground. For just a few precious moments, Bella thought she could achieve the extraordinary, that there was more to life than just believing you had to coast your way through.
And then reality hit her with a strong dose. She remembered she was just ordinary.
Bella swam away from the drop zone as she saw people begin to queue up on top of the cliff to jump into the ocean.
She lazily breast stroked towards her group. Jessica tossed her a floating ring as she approached. She gracefully dove underneath the ring and popped up in the middle then splayed the top half of her body on the flotation device.
"That was quite a dive, Swan," Tyler observed with a hint of jealousy. There was nothing graceful about Tyler's belly flop. His stomach was still sore from the impact.
"Bask in the presence of greatness my friend, a little of it might rub off on you," Bella smugly responded.
"Ha ha ha, well I can still pound a beer faster than any of you fools!" he threw back triumphantly while grabbing one of Bella's trophy beers.
"Tyler, everyone knows who the true fool of the group is," Jessica said.
"Speaking of drinking," Angela interrupted before the bickering began, "Bell's 21st birthday is coming up soon! What's the plan?!"
"The plan is to ignore it's my birthday and instead spend the whole day in bed with Netflix and Trader Joe's microwave food," Bella responded.
"Absolutely not!" Jessica cried, offended at the suggestion. "We will be going out, dresses, heels and all!"
"Well, you'll have to give me some time to find my heels. Haven't worn them in a while," Eric joked.
"Take as much time as you need, I wouldn't want those shapely legs in heels," Bella laughed.
The group floated the afternoon away. Jessica continued to try to plan extravagant things for Bella's birthday, Bella shot down every idea. Eric tried flirted with Angela. Tyler flirted with everyone. All in all, a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
When the sun started setting and the water began to turn cold, they reluctantly dragged themselves out of the ocean.
Angela, Jessica, Eric, and Tyler climbed into a black Honda CRV and said their goodbyes to Bella as they made their way back to the apartments. Bella drove separately. She wanted to visit her dad before classes started again and the drive would be cut in half if she left directly from the beach.
She dried herself off as best she could and placed a sun dress over her swimsuit before getting into her blue Ford Focus and beginning the drive. The sun set faster than expected, and it wasn't long till the moon was out and darkness settled.
The drive to her dad's house took a quiet, windy road through mountain-like terrain. As a police officer, he preferred seclusion and a place where he could sit on his porch, beer in hand, and be able to listen to the sounds of nature instead of cars rushing by on a freeway.
The plant life around the highway became wilder and more untamed; it was how Bella knew she was close to home. She had the radio playing, but once you reached this high in elevation, radio stations had a harder time coming through. Once the music started skipping with intermittent static, she decided to switch over to her iPod. On a flat piece of road, Bella took her eyes of the road for a quick second to grab it from her purse. Once she had it in hand, she looked back to the road.
Out of nowhere, Bella's headlights reflected off a large deer directly in the middle of the road only 100 feet away. The highway could barely fit the two lanes; there was no ditch, just a small barrier and edge of a cliff. She didn't swerve, there was no room. She couldn't drive to the other side of the road; the deer was smack dab in the middle. She couldn't avoid it nor had enough time to brake; she was going to hit it.
'How silly,' she thought, 'to die by deer.'
She took her foot off the accelerator, closed her eyes, and braced for impact. Her body began to feel like it was humming, her blood itching, pulsing.
She opened her eyes again. She slammed on the brakes and her car came to a screeching halt. The humming feeling was gone, but replaced by the panic of almost being in an accident. Both of her hands were clutching the wheel tightly, iPod dropped and forgotten somewhere on the floor of the car. She took a deep breath and slowly opened her car door. She got out and stood on the side of the empty road. She looked back and in the dark could see the two glowing eyes of the deer still standing directly in the middle of the road, almost as if it didn't move at all.
But it had to have moved. If it stayed still she would have hit it, no doubt about it. It must have been an extremely fast deer, to move to the side to avoid being hit and then taking up the same exact position as before. It was a deer with a death wish.
Bella waited till her heart beat at a normal pace, before getting back in the car and finishing the drive to her Dad's, staying extremely vigilant for any other kamikaze animals in the night.
Bella pulled up behind her Dad's police cruiser on the rocky driveway. The motion sensor light on top of the garage door turned on and illuminated her car. She got out and did a quick circuit around her car, checking for damage or evidence that maybe she side swiped the deer. There was nothing. She was still shaking her head as she climbed up the stairs to her dad's house.
She let herself inside with a spare key.
"Hi Bells, good timing, I just finished with dinner. What's up, you look confused?"
Bella walked over to her dad's kitchen and gave him a quick kiss on the check.
"I just had a strange experience on the road, that's all. What's for dinner?"
"Cream of mushroom chicken with rice. Set the table?"
"Sure." She walked over to the cabinet and picked out a few bright blue dishes to set up on the 4 person dining room table.
The house was a very small, comfortable home. The first floor had a modest size family room, kitchen, and dining room. Nothing was extremely pristine or clean. You could tell it had been lived in, but in all the best ways. Near the window, you could see where a young Bella had taken markers to the wall to create her masterpiece. A layer of paint was hastily spread over it, but over time the white faded so you could still see all the squiggles underneath. Adjacent to the frame of the bathroom doorway had been the markings of Bella's height through the year, a timeless tradition she still continued even in her 20's. And everywhere were small touches of her mother, the flower patterns stitched into the sheer window curtains, the light scent of a vanilla and pear candles Charlie bought without fail every two months because it was her favorite smell, and the hideously tacky couch throw pillows of kittens playing in a Christmas sled Renee absolutely had to have when she passed by them at a local flea market. But the most treasured piece of all was a photo on the mantle of the fireplace of Charlie, Renee, and a five year old Bella, all three in huge smiles and giggles pictured on the porch of the house.
Bella missed her mother every second of every day. Her memories of Renee might be blurry from time, but the love she had for her never dulled.
Charlie and Bella quickly fell into an easy conversation as they took their places at the dinner table. He talked about the local news he picked up from working at the police department. She glossed over the recent adventures her and her friends had before starting school again.
"I trust you're staying safe and not getting yourself into any trouble," he gave her the stern father look while taking a sip of his beer.
"Of course, Dad. Nothing dangerous, just the harmless fun undergrads get into," she conveniently forgot about mentioning the cliff diving, all the alcohol fueled ragers, and a particularly fun instance of motorcrossing through the forest.
"And you're ready for school to start again?"
"Ready? Unfortunately. Happy about it? Definitely not." She took a final bite of the creamy rice. He may not be a gourmet chef, but he sure knew how to whip up good comfort food.
"Well I know one thing you must be happy about."
"Your birthday of course. My little girl turning another year older in only a few weeks!"
"Ugh, not you too. I've been beating Jessica off with a stick all afternoon about birthday plans," Bella muffled out while chewing her food.
"Oh that Jessica, she's a quirky one, isn't she. But to her credit, it's exciting. It's not every day someone turns legal age."
"Technically someone does turn legal age every day," Bella smirked back.
"Okay, okay, smart aleck, why don't you and your college brain see if you can figure out how to do the dishes." Charlie gave a good natured chuckle while stacking his empty plate on top of hers.
Ten minutes later, Bella was drying her hands on a towel, while Charlie was bringing two gift wrapped bags down from his bedroom.
"Oh Dad, you didn't."
"Now stop with that. Of course I did. It's my only daughter's birthday. It will be a cold day in hell I don't give you a gift for your birthday. And I know I'm not going to see you for a little while, so no fuss and let this old man do what makes him happy. Sit down with me. There are a few stories that go with these gifts." He gestured to their couch, lovingly placing the kitten throw pillows on the adjacent armchair so there was enough room for both of them and the gifts.
Bella settled in on the couch, crossing her legs in front of her so she could face him.
"Now this one here is from me, no explanation necessary." He pushed a neon pink bag in her direction. Bella had a quick internal laugh. Even after years of being a father, he still struggled with the 'girl' department picking out colors and patterns Bella wouldn't choose in a million years. But his determination to continually try despite many, many failures was just one of a billon reasons why she loved him.
She pulled the frightening matching neon pink tissue paper out from on top of the bag and revealed a brand new 13'' Macbook Air.
"Oh my god, Dad!"
"Now before you work yourself up, I know you've been chugging along with that old hunk of machine you call a laptop for years. You've needed something new and modern for a while. I took a few extra shifts down at the station, so no worries about the money." He slightly blushed and looked away, his modesty was endearing as always. Bella leaped across the gifts and gave him a huge hug. She wasn't one to complain. Her dad was covering all of her college tuition, her living expenses, and his own life. She never asked for extravagance because she knew he was just making ends meet, and being able to come out of college debt free was gift enough. But her laptop was an old black brick of a PC. It has been on its last leg for years, but Bella coaxed it along too guilty to ask for something new.
"It's fantastic! You always know the right thing to get me! Thank you!" She couldn't wait to take the new machine out and play with all the features.
"Sure, sure," he mumbled back embarrassed. He pushed a second bag towards Bella, this one wrapped in a lavender bag with little butterflies on it.
"This one's from Mom."
Bella's heart started to pound a bit unevenly. She could feel the part of her soul where she kept her mother's memory alive begin to ache. Very tenderly, she peeled back the tissue paper. Inside was a large, very old, brown leather bound book. Bella grasped the book with both hands and carefully laid it out on her lap. The spine was heavily worn down showing it had been opened and closed many times. On the front cover, in gold embossed cursive, Bella's fingers ran over the words 'Familia Terrae'.
"Your mother and this book were inseparable throughout her entire life. Before bed, in between your naps, at the table in the morning with a cup of coffee, she would have this book open all the time. I would see her scribbling in it or reading constantly. I could never get a straight answer out of her what the book was about or what she was writing, but she always told me it was meant for you on your 21st birthday. I tried reading over her shoulder a few times but couldn't really make out the words. After she was gone, I tried opening the book, see what was so special, but I could never find a way to get it open. I couldn't see a lock, but it must be locked somewhere or the pages are all stuck together. Still, I don't know how many times your mother mentioned about giving you this thing. Even if we can't get it open, I knew she would want you to have it."
Bella could feel herself misting up. She ran her fingers over all of it again, this time knowing she was touching the same cover her Mom had touched.
"I did figure out what the title meant, but I had to type it into Google. It means 'Family of Earth' in Latin."
Bella wanted to speak, but didn't trust her voice quite yet. Instead she brought the book in close to her heart and gave her dad another long embrace.
"Dad…" she finally got out in an uneven voice.
"I know, Bells. I feel the same way. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart, from both of us."
Sunday morning, Bella's alarm started buzzing at the painfully early hour of 8am. How Jessica ever talked her into waking up this early on a Sunday for shopping, she would never know. And just as Bella was about to fall back asleep, a loud pounding on her door chased away all hopes of an extended nap.
"Up and at'em, Swan. I know you're going to try to sneak and fall back asleep, but not on my watch. We have only 6 hours left for the sale at the mall, and I'll be damned if I miss out on the good stuff cause you decided to sleep in."
Bella audibly groaned.
"Don't make me come in there and dress you myself," Jessica yelled through the door before walking away and turning her sights on Angela.
A reluctant half hour later, Bella found herself skimming the racks with Jessica and Angela and all the other early morning shoppers looking for a good deal.
Angela pulled out a powder blue overly ruffled top and held it against her chest.
"Thoughts?" she inquired.
"Veto, you're going to need a dip to go with all those ruffles," Jessica remarked, picking at one of the layers with disgust.
"Veto," Bella added punctuated by a large yawn.
"Come on, it's not that early. Where's the morning person I know you have hidden away," Jessica responded cheerfully.
"Buried at the bottom of a cup of coffee, maybe two." Jessica ignored her.
"You'll both thank me later. We all need a little closet refresh for the new school year. Maybe there will finally be cute boys who will transfer in this year!" She pulled out two identical dresses, one in grey and one in forest green.
"Do you think of anything other than guys? Veto the grey, keep the green." Angela nodded in agreement with Bella's opinion. Jessica draped the approved dress over her arm to bring to the dressing room and returned the rejected one to the rack.
"You could stand to do a little more thinking of boys. You've been hooking up with the same guy for how many years. What's his name? Charlie. Robert. Sam."
"Mike, and we've haven't really hooked up. It's more friendly than anything else."
"Yes, we all could see how friendly you were at that house party last spring, sitting in his lap, sucking at his face," Angela joined in with the teasing.
"Okay, friendly with a little making out. It's not a big deal," Bella deflected.
"Did anyone bother to tell him that? He follows you like a puppy dog."
Bella did try to tell him, but it never got through. After a disastrous night in the bedroom in freshman year after too much alcohol, Bella knew with certainty nothing would ever really happen with Mike. Yet, even after explaining to him, he still tried to pursue her over the years, not aggressively, but enough that every once in a while, Bella liked to indulge with a bit of kissing now and then.
"You know I did. Anyway, I've made a vow after that party not to do it anymore. I feel like I'm stringing him along even though I've talked to him more times than I care to remember."
"Great! That means officially and unofficially, Bells is on the market!"
"Now that we have made a pubic declaration of my singleness," Bella began while looking at the other shoppers staring in their direction, "can we move on to someone else, or change the subject?"
"Not a problem, because we have somebody else in this group who has a boy announcement," Jessica smirked at Angela. Angela instantly turned beet red.
"Is it really necessary to call it an announcement," Angela murmured embarrassed.
"Absolutely!" Bella relished Angela squirming. She was always the smart, quiet one of the group. It was great to see her not only have a possible someone in her life, but also to see her nervous when she was usually so put together.
Angela fiddled with a pair of pants for a few seconds before giving it. "Well it happened yesterday on the way home from the beach. Jess was asleep and Tyler was singing along to his awful songs like usual. Eric and I were making fun of him and then we got to talking about things, one thing led to another, and we kind of kissed."
Jessica and Bella exchanged huge grins and knowing glances. For as long as they could remember, Angela and Eric had a thing for each other, but both of them were too shy to ever make the first move. Yet they knew eventually something was going to happen.
"Finally!" Bella congratulated Angela. Angela turned redder, if that was even possible.
"Just be lucky you went to your dad's and didn't wake up to see the two of them hot and heavy in the backseat," Jessica feigned disgust.
The girls proceeded to tease each other, gossip, and shop for another hour. Bella had a nice stack of clothes in one hand and was ready to follow Jessica and Angela into the dressing room, when a black dress tucked between a tightly packed rack of clothes caught her eye.
"Go ahead of me, I'll meet you in there," she called to the other two.
Bella placed her pile of clothes to the side and pulled the black dress out. It was a simple black mini dress from the front with a modest V neck, made of a material that felt silk in her hands and shimmered like light reflecting off of water. The back of the dress was cut low with the straps coming over the shoulders, twisting together to form an intricate braided piece connecting the top of the dress to the lower back half. It was beautiful. Bella took a look at the price tag and had a small heart attack, $329.99. She made a motion to return it to the rack, but decided it was worth it to try it on, even if she wasn't going to buy it.
She placed the dress on the pile of clothes and heaved it over to the dressing rooms. Once in the room, she undressed quickly and slipped the black dress over her head. She took a look at herself in the mirror. The dress fit perfectly, hugging her thighs and waist not too tightly, but enough to suggest curves. She pulled up her hair and looked at the back of the dress. While she wasn't usually a fan of pieces cut so low, she had to admit how tall and elegant the braided strap made her look.
She could hear Jessica and Angela in the center of the dressing rooms praising each other on whatever outfit they were trying on. Bella pulled back the curtain and went to show off her piece.
"Jesus, Bells, you could give a man heart palpitations in that dress."
"Wow, holy crap that looks good on you," Angela added.
Bella looked again at the full length mirror. The dress elongated her usually stubby looking legs. It made her look mysterious and desirable.
Like a blast of cool air hit her, Bella, out of nowhere, felt a tingling run down her spine and reach the tips of her fingers and the edge of her toes. The feeling left as quickly as it came. It was strange, but Bella ignored it and resumed the dress appraisal.
"Even I love this dress, and you know how picky I am," she sighed turning back to the girls, "But I'm just trying it on for fun; there is no way I could afford something like this."
Jessica came over and looked at the price tag.
"What are you talking about?! It's $40. If you don't buy this, I swear I will." Bella was confused. She looked at the price tag again, and sure enough in a big red sticker was the word sale and the price $40.
"I swear it said $300 something when I looked at it before…" Bella trailed off. She brushed it aside as a trick of the light or delirium from shopping too long.
The girls picked through the rest of their findings before buying their favorites and moving on to the next store to begin the process again. After the end of four very tiring hours, they each had a solid haul of items they were bringing home, but everyone's favorite was Bella's dress.
Jessica used the car ride home to plan events Bella could wear it to or events for Jessica to borrow it from her to wear it to.
The girls came home and found the guys sprawled out on the couch watching some show on Comedy Central. The boys had a spare key to the girls' apartment for emergencies, but their idea of an emergency was 'we have no cable'.
Bella placed her keys and phone on the kitchen counter top so she had one less thing to try to balance with all the clothes in her arms. She and Jessica glanced over towards Angela's direction who already started to blush in the presence of Eric. They smirked at each other again before Bella disappeared in her room to deposit her purchases.
Bella fumbled with the door knob and opened up to a small but quaint room. Her room, as are most college apartments, was like an advertisement for Ikea furniture. Directly to her right sat a black Micke desk with her laptop and books from last quarter. On the far side of her room were matching black Hemnes bookshelves. Even her window was decorated with small Ikea lights. However, all the money saved on furniture went directly to the center piece of the room, her bed.
Bella was a firm believer in investing in a solid bed. Most people, on average, spend at least 8 hours a day sleeping. Bella spent even more time on her bed using it as a place to study or binge on TV. So why wouldn't you invest in something comfortable. Her dad helped her buy the queen size mattress and Bella saved up money from birthdays and Christmases to buy her most prized possession, a memory foam mattress topper. She never once regretted the purchase.
Bella had all the other basic items too – dresser, night stand, etc. – but other than her bed, Bella's favorite part of her room was a wall decal above the head of the bed.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible" – Walt Disney
Not like she had ever done anything labelled as 'impossible', but it was a quote that made her smile nonetheless.
Bella threw her shopping spoils in a pile on the bed, but made it a point to hang up the dress in her closet. She was excited to wear it, even though she didn't know when or where that would happen.
Bella was going to begrudgingly go through the rest of the clothes and put them away, when her mother's book, placed to left of her laptop on her desk, caught her eye. That seemed like a much more worthwhile task than sorting through clothes.
She sat down and brought the book in front of her. She ran her fingers over the lettering again and down the spine of the old worn leather. Even though it looked very used, none of the leather was split in any place or pages sticking out at odds. It was impressive for a book of its age.
"Familia Terrae." Bella spoke out loud, liking the way the Latin sounded coming from her voice.
She tried to open it, but as her father prefaced, it was tightly shut. She tried opening the book from above, from below, from the front, the back. It didn't budge at all. She inspected every inch of the book's surface to try to find a locking mechanism, but couldn't find anything. Frustrated, she tried using her brute strength to pry open the pages, but again no change.
It was irritating. She was so close to something her mother obviously held very dear to her, but could not get in. After another few minutes of moodily staring at it, as if her anger would scare it open, she placed it gently aside and decided to Google the title to see if anything useful popped up. Bella relished opening up her new laptop. It was exciting to be able to open a webpage without waiting forever for it load.
She typed in the title to the search bar. All of the suggestions from Google weren't relevant except for the first link. Bella clicked on it, and a very simple page popped up. It had a sketched rendering of books similar to the one her mother had and a few sentences beneath it one of which read:
'If you are interested in the book 'Familia Terrae', you can find additional information and similar books at the following library.'
Bella was shocked but also very pleased to see the only library listed was her college campus' library. A stroke of luck! It specified a numeric section inside the library. While staring at the laptop screen, she reached towards the edge of her desk for her phone so she could type the information for reference when she was on campus on Monday.
Bella felt a sharp but non-painful jolt at her finger tips. Bella brought her hand back and inspected it, but could find nothing out of the ordinary. She then grabbed her phone off the edge of her desk and typed in the numbers into the notepad app. When she was done, she placed it back down on the desk, but then remembered; didn't she leave her phone in the kitchen…?
"Bells, Friends is on!" Angela yelled from the couch. Bella gave one last look at her phone. There seemed to be a lot of little strange occurrences happening that she couldn't fully explain. "It's the pivot episode!"
"Coming!" She abandoned her thoughts and joined the group.
A/N: Thank you for joining me on the beginning of another adventure. I hope you enjoy the figurate and literal magic of this story as much as I enjoy writing it :)
Note: Not all Latin used are exact translations