How had this happened? What had gone wrong? I don't know the answers to these questions. All I know is that I am currently in the back of an unmarked FBI car headed to their Seattle field office for questioning. My mind is a buzz with memories and theories as I try to decipher how I found myself in this place. Not just the physical car itself, but this moment.
I lean forward so that my forehead touches the cold leather of the seatback in front of me. My whole body is so overheated from the shock of what just happened that I hope the coolness will bring me some comfort, but it doesn't. My long brown hair fanned out on either side of my face blocks out everything for a moment – the Seattle waterfront scenes flying by the car window, the slight movements of the two men in the front seat, my own consciousness.
But the moment is brief and everything returns in full force. As I lean back again, I see one of the men look at me through the rearview mirror taking in my appearance. I have been told that I am attractive, but I never believe it. Yes, I am slim, but my features, hair, and brown eyes are all so very ordinary. Thanks to my new friend Alice, I dress better than I ever have in the past, but that is no consolation at this moment. Despite the sleek black pencil skirt that goes to my knees and fitted red blouse that fully covers what little cleavage I have, I feel totally exposed by the man's glare.
I almost laugh out loud when I remember that the collar of my blouse is white. How ironic. Thankfully, I don't because if I let one sound escape my lips, I know I won't be able to stop the hysteria from bubbling out. Isabella Marie Swan, daughter of the Chief of Police in a nearby town, is being accused of a federal crime. Once again, the irony is hard to miss.
The driver's voice breaks into my thoughts. "We're almost there. Once we arrive, you will be able to call a lawyer if you would like, although it is not necessary. We merely want to question you. We are not pressing charges."
The other man mumbles a "yet" under his breath.
As much as I know I need to concentrate on what is going to happen next, I can't help but dwell on the events that have just transpired. No matter how this turns out, those memories would be etched forever in my mind.
I was at my desk debugging a problem, one of many I have written since being assigned to my current client, Meyer Banking Corporation. It was an algorithm meant to sort the bank's vast databases of customers into marketing groups based on complex criteria. My eyes scanned the lines of computer code looking for the error that was preventing the program from compiling correctly.
Debugging programs is a favorite part of my job as a computer analyst for the world's premier information technology consulting company. So much of life is in the infamous gray area. I had never been good at sorting out the problems and dilemmas of my twenty-five year old existence. I always second guess my decisions, never knowing if the outcome will work out as planned. But with the initial stages of programming, you know right away if you had made the right decisions. If the code wouldn't compile at first, it becomes a cat and mouse game of tracking down the error, which was somewhat thrilling in itself.
Although not always easy to find, there was always an objective reason a program wouldn't work. And I always eventually found the error and achieved immediate and recognizable success.
Until today that is. I was still looking for my coding mistake when I heard an unfamiliar voice say my name. Although I didn't know who it was at first or why they were in my cubicle, a chill ran down my spine. I instantly knew that I had somehow made a bigger mistake in life and this was the reckoning. The realization was strange, as Alice was usually the one with the uncanny ability to predict the future. As they asked me to follow them I wondered briefly if Alice had seen this coming.
Time slowed down to almost a standstill for the next several minutes. Details of my surroundings that I had never noticed before came into sharp focus. How the tan carpet had flecks of orange in it. That the walls of the many cubicles in the open space were not all the same height, some off by several centimeters. And even the fact that the clock on the far wall of the room that was slightly crooked. Despite my distractions, my clumsiness was held in check for once, and I managed not to fall as I walked between the two figures who had identified themselves as federal agents.
Although the men who escorted me out of the banking headquarters were in suits and thankfully didn't handcuff me, I could feel the stares of both the bank employees and my own consulting co-workers as we walked down the hall towards the elevator. They knew who the men were and they thought that they knew what I was – a criminal.
Yes, a few had shocked expressions of disbelief on their faces, and others wore a mask of pity, but there were many that seemed to be elated at the drama that was breaking up the monotony of office life and thus didn't doubt my guilt as it made for a better story. I am sure they couldn't wait to get home tonight and tell their friends and family about the FBI bust at the office today. Some weren't waiting that long. As we passed by her cubicle, I could hear Lauren on the phone relaying the unfolding events to Jessica who was currently staffed at another client. She smirked at me as our eyes met, but I didn't look away.
I had to stay strong. The wall holding up the landslide of emotions that threaten to drown me was barely intact. And even though I knew I shouldn't if I wanted to keep that wall in place a little longer, I couldn't help but turn my head towards the office at the end of the next hallway that the stone-faced men and I walked by. Just as I knew he would be, Edward was there to watch my downfall.
He had stepped out of his office, but seemed frozen in place as he stood just beyond the doorway. Had he wanted to come to me, to intervene somehow, but stopped himself? I slowly let my eyes wander up the body I had memorized over the last months until I met his piercing stare. I couldn't read all the emotions that flashed across his green eyes in rapid succession – confusion, pain, anger. Was that last one resignation?
I looked deeper desperate to see the one emotion that would hold me together during the trying events that were most certainly in my immediate future, but if Edward Cullen did love me, he didn't let it show before the connection was broken forcefully. The elevator doors had closed on the life I had tried to build here in Seattle, the hope that my future could be brighter than my past, and the man that I had carelessly given my heart to even though he didn't ask for it and, as I finally realized with absolute certainty, didn't want.
Chapter One: Bella's Back Story
3 Months Earlier - June 22, 2009
I studied my reflection in the full length mirror propped in the corner of my small bedroom. Or more specifically, I stared at the two different shoes on my feet. The trendy black heels were tempting as I wanted to make a good impression my first day at work, but I decided to go with the short pumps as it was more important to minimize the very likely chances of tripping and falling on my face during orientation.
After settling the Great Shoe Debate, I smoothed down the front of my new slacks and put the finishing touches on my make-up. The latter action only took about thirty seconds since my regiment consists of just mascara, powder, and lip gloss. Although I wanted to look nice, I also wanted to be taken seriously. Plus, adding mascara was already more than I usually do.
The ringing of a telephone interrupted the solitude of my morning routine. I grabbed the shiny Blackberry, a recent gift to myself, from its place on my bedside table not needing to check the caller id. No one but my parents had my new cell number, and dad would never call unexpectedly. Jake of course had asked for the number, but I was putting off defining the terms of our new relationship for now.
"Bella, dear. Sorry to call so early but I had to tell you about an amazing job opportunity Sue from yoga class mentioned this morning. It sounds like a perfect fit for you…"
I had to cut her off before she got farther with the sales spiel. We had already had this conversation so many times since I finished grad school at Arizona State in May, and both my heart and mind were seriously protesting a repeat performance.
"Mom, please don't do this. You know I am starting my job here in Seattle today. Be happy for me. I need your well wishes on this day especially." I didn't want to admit it to Renee, but I was scared about starting over here. Worried that I had made the wrong decision. Again.
Renee couldn't accept that I was no longer living near her in Phoenix. Although I had stayed close for college, I knew now was the time to spread my wings so to speak. It wasn't that I felt I needed to start taking care of myself instead of letting Renee mother me. Just the opposite in fact. I had always been the adult in the relationship. When I went home for the weekend, I did her laundry, not the other way around. No, I just needed a fresh start, and Seattle seemed like the perfect place.
That wasn't always the plan though. I had originally interviewed for a position with the Phoenix office of Volterra Consulting. I had known I wanted to work for Volterra since my undergraduate days at ASU. Well, at least after I had a wake-up call senior year about what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
When I started college, I decided to get a degree in English Literature. With my love of reading and the classics, it seemed like the most obvious choice. I honestly didn't give much thought to what I would do with myself after college. Maybe write or teach like Renee.
Jake liked the fact that I was an English major. We met at a party in the spring of our sophomore year. I didn't have much of a social life back then; my roommate at the time dragged me there. Her usual "wing woman" was out of town, so she said she needed my support and guilted me into going. What I hadn't fully realized was that my role required me to keep an eye on her while she made out with the first guy who showed interest.
She was all for the make out session. She just wanted me to make sure the guy was a "gentleman" as the night progressed. Luckily his eyes eventually wandered to another girl with a larger chest so I didn't have to drag her away from anyone when it was time to head back to our dorm.
It was earlier while I stood in a corner trying to go unnoticed that Jake had approached me. Although he was a member of the fraternity, he seemed just as out of place as me. The two of us started talking and I realized we had a lot in common. I also couldn't help but notice his looks, over six feet talk with russet skin, thick black hair, and chiseled features.
From an instant friendship, our relationship quickly morphed and it wasn't long before Jake was introducing me as his girlfriend. Although we had never discussed it, I didn't mind. It was nice to feel like I was the one being taken care of for a change. He pushed our physical relationship quicker than I was always comfortable with, but he made me laugh and I felt a kinship with him that I had never known with anyone before. If my body was the payment for the comfort and convenience of Jake, then I was a willing buyer. I knew I loved him even if it wasn't with the passion and fire I had read about in books. I had already figured out that real life rarely matches what fiction offers as the norm.
By the summer before senior year, Jake had started talking about our future, but in reality, it was his future. His job opportunities. His long-term plans. His needs. Suddenly, I didn't appreciate that he assumed an English major had little career aspirations of her own, although it was largely true at the time. I had always been proud that Renee was a teacher, but I was starting to realize that I wanted something different for my own life.
The real wake-up call was when I overheard my boyfriend talking to his father on the phone. Jake was suggesting to Billy that maybe I could work at the campus bookstore "to have something to do" while he completed our school's MBA program. They went on to discuss how I would make the perfect society wife and stay-at-home mom once Jake established himself in the business world. Did I want that though?
I had taken a computer programming class on a whim during second semester junior year, wanting a break from analyzing plot structure and character development. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the class, and more so, that I was good at it. Since I had already fulfilled the core requirements for my degree thanks to high school AP credit, I decided to take several more programming and database classes during my final year as an undergraduate. I even enrolled in an information systems course offered through the business school that Jake has taken the year before.
Jake was amused by my new interest at first, but later started to get concerned, especially when I received a higher grade than he had in the IS class. The balance in our relationship had started to shift.
The more Jake pushed me to drop my "flitting obsession," as he liked to call it, the more determined I became to discover if my professional future was to be found in the world of technology. I completed an internship with a local software company during the spring of my senior year and somehow managed to get accepted into Arizona State's Master of Computing Studies program. Apparently they like to have students from a diverse background of undergraduate majors.
Jake seemed somewhat resigned to the situation, but we still began to drift apart while completing our respective graduate programs. The future started to become less clear for us as a couple, although we had decided together to stay in the Phoenix area after school.
As graduation approached, I accepted the local position with Volterra Consulting, thrilled to have gotten an offer. Not long afterwards though, Jake casually mentioned that he had just accepted a job with an investment firm in New York so I should call my Volterra recruiter to have my offer transferred to the company's Manhattan office.
The term angry does not do justice to how I felt at the time. I was mad that Jake would accept an out-of-state offer without discussing it with me first, but I was more upset about his motives as I knew he was testing me. Jake still wanted me to be the shy, insecure girl he had met at a fraternity party four years prior. A girl who would unquestionably follow him as he pursued his own career goals. Someone who would put his needs first. But I wasn't that girl anymore.
I did call my Volterra recruiter about transferring my offer to another office, but my new location preference was Seattle. I was born in a town on the Washington coast, and my father was there still. We weren't close, but I was hoping that might change. Seattle would help connect me to my past while also allowing for a fresh start.
But my choice had not gone over well with my mother. Her voice brought me back from my reveries.
"Bella, you know I support you," she continued with an exasperated voice, "but I feel that the only reason you moved to Seattle was to punish Jacob Black. Can't you see that you are really just making life harder for yourself? Come back home."
"Mom, this is my home now."
And it was true even if several of my boxes were still unpacked and no pictures were hanging yet on the walls of my small apartment in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.
I had to make this work. I had already made so many bad decisions in my short life. I couldn't afford another one.