La Femme Bella

Chapter 4: New Life

I stared at Edward in horror.

"What do you mean, 'of course there were'?" I demanded.

"We needed to know you would be able to perform under pressure."

"So the window was a test? Just to see if I even made it out alive?"

"Yes."

"Right. Why bother with an operative that gets killed on her first mission." I mumbled, hoping that the contempt and distaste I felt were oozing from my voice.

"Yes. What you just did wasn't a mission though, just an exercise out of the box." he said coolly. I felt belittled.

"You bastard!" I launched myselfat him, planning to scratch his very eyes out. Edward took a hold of my upper arms and kept me still.

"Be. Quiet." he hissed silently, his usually cool façade cracking a little. "Listen and listen good, Isabella. Can I let go of you?"

After a moment of thought, I nodded. His tight grip eased off me, and I sat back down. Edward glanced at the driver, and took a deep breath to calm himself. I had never seen anything affect him like this, least of all little ol' me. What a strange thing to witness, I thought in passing.

"You aren't in training anymore." he said," You passed."

"What does that mean?" I whispered back at him, feeling paranoid of the driver hearing us.

"You'll see in a few minutes."

oooo

We were left standing at the entrance of an apartment complex and Edward told the van to leave without us. There were four buildings, and none of them that big. In my quick estimation the complex housed maybe sixty people. The feel of the place was welcoming, like of a nice little haven in the middle of a big city.

Edward led me to the threshold of one of the buildings and opened the door for me and we climbed to the third floor. I managed to keep up with his pace although it made my injuries hurt more. We stopped at apartment number nine and he dug out a key from his breast pocket. There was no key ring.

Once we were inside he turned and handed the key to me.

"This is your new home. You have two weeks to arrange your apartment and get used to your new life."

I looked at the key in my hand, and then at Edward. Was this for real? Was I free?

"My home," I echoed.

"You are Isabella Masen. Here are your ID, driver's license and credit cards. If anyone asks, you are a kindergarten teacher in between jobs. We will contact you via phone. Your codename will be Marie," he said and handed me a brand new Nokia phone. "Don't let anyone else touch it. We will see you back in two weeks."

I couldn't manage any words and maybe it was better that way. I sank to the armchair that was the only furniture in the room, and just breathed deep. I flinched as I suddenly felt his hand on my bare shoulder.

"There is a first aid kit in the bathroom." he said softly and left, closing the door quietly behind him.

oooo

I loved my new apartment and immersed myself fully into furnishing it. For the first time ever I had a whole apartment to myself and a couple of credit cards to fill it with. And it was nice and clean and looked and even smelled new! The walls were off white (freshly painted) and the floors were made of actual wood instead of cheap linoleum.

When I first went shopping I felt a quite nervous to be out with normal people again. I wasn't sure if I was afraid for them or for myself. It was strange to try to act like a regular person instead of what they had molded me into. Once I got over the nervousness though I was as excited as a kid in a candy store. I wasn't what you would call thrifty with my purchases but I don't think I made that much of a dent in the account they had set up for me. And if I had, I decided I deserved it after all that I had been put through. What would they do, kill me? Har har.

I went for comfort as well as the visual. Every single piece of furniture I bought was both nice to look at and heavenly to sit at or lie in. Over stuffed arm chairs, a bed with luxurious linen, beautiful kitchen ware…I made the apartment into a home, and funnily enough it looked a lot more like the home of a kindergarten teacher than a secret operative. I guess Esme and her crew really did know me well; a thought I found very unnerving.

oooo

My two weeks were almost up when one day there was a knock on the door. In hindsight it was dumb but the knock really scared me, and I mean 'scared' as in it got me nearly hysterical with my pulse racing like a NASCAR car. I knew no one, no one knew of me, and Edward had given me two whole weeks.

I creeped to the door and looked in the peephole

Okay. Life had certainly taught me that looks could be deceiving, but the young woman behind my door was anything but threatening. A lot shorter than me with black spiky hair and some sort of big, green plant in her lap that she was struggling with. The plant was nearly falling from her small grip.

I quickly yanked the door open.

"Hi." she said quickly "I'm your neighbour, Alice. I've seen you around a couple of times and wanted to come and welcome you to be building. And this is for you." she announced and presented me with the plant.

I was flabbergasted. I wasn't used to people wanting to know their neighbours because they were being nice. And Alice seemed thoroughly nice. I hardly realized I was still staring at her with my mouth agape when she started to fidget a bit.

"Look I better go. Anyway, I hope you like it here and maybe come over for coffee sometime…or not. I live in number eleven. And I'm Alice by the way."

That got my attention.

"Oh no, don't go. I'm Bella. You want to come in? Have a cup of tea? I think I have tea." I pondered aloud. "And I know I have some soda."

The woman started smiling and followed me inside with the plant.

"Where should I put this?" she asked, wavering a bit under the weight. It was a big plant.

"Hmmm. On that table near the window? It should get enough light there." I suggested.

She put the plant down and then followed me into the kitchen corner.

"I think I spoke too soon with the tea." I admitted embarrassedly, "How about soda?"

"Anything you have is fine. You seemed so nice I wanted to get to know you." she said.

I blushed, remembering that night nearly two weeks ago. She wouldn't think I was that nice if she knew the truth about me. Thenagain, if she knew the truth I'd probably have to kill her, too. I wondered if I was doing her a disservice by letting her in my apartment and getting to know me.

But I needed a friend. Most of all, I wanted a friend. I'd never had a real friend before; the closest thing to a friend I'd ever had was Billy. And that old man wanted to get into my pants. At least some of the time, I thought. It was hard to tell with him.

We sat down on the living room with our sodas. Alice told me about her work as a seamstress for an unknown fashion designer. She wanted to be able to design professionally someday but she knew she needed the experience and some connections first. I told her the crap about being a kindergarten teacher in between jobs. She had no reason to doubt me, so she believed every word. That made my gut clench guiltily, but stubbornly I tamped it down.

"Did you always want to work with kids?"

"Pretty much I guess. I love kids and oddly enough they seem to love me. Like minds, I guess." I explained, rolling my eyes for affect. I well and truly shocked myself for being able to lie like this. What I really was doing was spinning a story like Schehereschade. At the moment the words came out I almost believed them myself. At least they could be all true, if my life had turned out differently.

"That's great. They recognize a good soul when they see one. Kids are more astute than grown ups, you know."

Just give us a kid and we'll test that theory right now, I mused to myself. A good soul didn't kill, even if she wasn't given a choice other than death. I wasn't a good soul, no matter what Billy or Alice said. But I had wanted to live. I still did. I wanted a proper go at this thing called life without having to worry about living on the streets near starving and always in danger or being beaten or raped or killed or being betrayed by one of my street friends. I don't know if universe owed anyone anything, but if it did, surely I deserved this. The men I killed weren't innocent bystanders with a wife and kid safely at home. That had to count for something.

These thoughts had kept me awake at nights.