Disclaimer: Twilight and all recognizable characters belong to SM.
Christina, I know that this is a day late (and a dollar short?) but … better late than never, right? It isn't much but when I found it that your birthday was coming up last week, I wanted to do something nice for you. I hope that you enjoy this little drabble story and, even though I "sang" for you yesterday, Happy Birthday!
Looking forward, not behind
Everybody's got to cross that line
Free me now to give me a place,
Keep me caged and free the beast
Falling faster, time goes by,
Fear is not seen through these eyes
What there was will never be
- 3 Doors Down, Life of my Own
I had been a ward of the state since the age of three. Being bounced from one foster home to another wasn't ideal for a child.
Regardless, though, it was my life.
I'd kept out of trouble and done my best to remain beneath the radar.
That wasn't always easy. In fact, my attempts at being the model child were often misinterpreted as being sneaky or otherwise underhanded.
The result of these unfortunate misgivings tended to leave me huddled over in a too small bed as tears and cries of pain were soaked up by my pillow.
I wanted out.
My chance came, eventually.
I was seventeen and, by some miracle, the state had finally found a relative living in the Pacific Northwest.
In Forks, Washington to be precise, where my father had been living and where I'd been born and whisked away from before my mother had died.
I wasn't sure what I should expect, unaccustomed as I was to being treated like a normal human being.
Charlie Swan was the well-respected Police Chief and, as far as I could tell; an all-around upstanding man of uniform.
It was the first time, in fourteen years, that I felt safe.
I grabbed my chance to start anew by the reins and reveled in the newfound comfort that living with Charlie provided.
Though there were still moments where the old me would surface – a raised voice or the sound of a door slamming the catalyst for the way I cringed and hid – the scared Bella that had marked my formative years had changed.
For the better.
I knew that I wasn't suddenly and miraculously fixed and the things I'd endured would continue to haunt me until I learned how to deal with it.
But I was stronger now; ready to try.
Months passed and the seasons changed – from fall to winter and then from winter to spring before bleeding into summer.
It'd been almost a year since I'd moved here, to this nowhere town hidden amidst the encroaching forests that surrounded it.
Yet, somehow, I'd found happiness again.
Or, rather, happiness had found me in the form of a classmate: Edward Anthony Masen-Cullen.
As far as boyfriends went, Edward was the pick of the litter: attentive, caring, protective, loyal.
Like Charlie, Edward was content to let things happen at my pace, in my time.
Most importantly, though, he loved me.
By the start of my senior year at Forks High School, I was ready for something more – something better.
While I'd only briefly considered attending college before moving with Charlie – only to later write it off as unattainable – circumstances had changed.
It was no longer a pipe dream.
Edward and I worked tirelessly.
We researched different colleges around the country and, even though he could have gotten into any Ivy League school he wanted, Edward was insistent.
As much as I wanted him to have the best education money could buy, I was relieved.
Wherever I went, so would he.
Once we'd submitted our applications to the schools that we'd mutually decided would be a good fit for us, it became a waiting game.
Every day for weeks on end, our first stop after we'd gotten out of school was the mailbox – both mine and his.
My nails had been bitten down, completely ruined, by the time the letters started to arrive.
They all started the same way: Congratulations …
I was overjoyed beyond words – until it came down to making a decision and choosing between the schools that wanted us.
We changed our minds nearly every day.
It was impossible.
In a completely uncharacteristic move for Edward, our final decision came down to a name drawn out of a hat.
Our families planned a large graduation party for both of us.
The entire town was invited and there was no doubt that they'd all show up. RSVP's came in by the handfuls, their marks pressed into the thick cardstock they'd been printed on.
Every inch of the house was covered with decorations in Columbia's colors and a banner that had been special ordered hung from the front steps.
I was overcome with emotion at the outpouring of support.
We left for New York at the beginning of August. The entire family came with us.
I wasn't yet ready to try dorm life so our parents decided that an apartment near the university would be best.
Hunting for one was exhausting.
Our first week in the Big Apple was spent on that task alone. Though I knew that an apartment in such a big city would come with a sizable price tag, I hadn't been prepared for just how high it could be.
Several panic attacks later, Carlisle, Esme and Charlie decided to split that bill three ways.
Two weeks and one fully furnished apartment later, everyone but Edward and I returned to Forks.
We'd seen them off at the airport.
Charlie embraced me on the sidewalk beside the idling cab. I'd cried while a multitude of cars passed us by, tail lights disappearing into the distance.
Long minutes passed before Edward separated us, his arms wrapping around me from behind; his chin resting atop my shoulder.
"We'll visit often," he'd whispered while waving at their retreating figures. "And I'm sure they'll visit more."
Though I knew he was right, the tears continued to fall until sunrise the following morning.
With so little time remaining of summer break, Edward and I decided to explore the city as much as possible before the beginning of term.
We visited all the typical tourist attractions and purchased far too many souvenirs to send back home than was entirely appropriate.
I was thankful, as we toured New York, that Edward knew his way around well enough. It eliminated the worry of getting lost and allowed me the opportunity to really take in my new home.
My eyes were wide open, bright with surprise and awe over the new discoveries that I'd – we'd – made, together.
The sights and sounds that New York had to offer, though overwhelming, amazed me.
It was like I'd fallen asleep and woken up in an entirely different time and place. I loved it and loved that destiny had decided to place us here.
I felt like Alice after she'd fallen down the rabbit hole and found herself in Wonderland, surrounded by such interesting characters.
We may have been clear across the country from the people that loved us, the people that we both missed, but that didn't make the situation any less ideal.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
The beginning of the semester was upon us sooner than I'd expected.
My initial excitement had been replaced with fear and anxiety as Edward and I collected our books and schedules before getting acquainted with the campus.
Our schedules didn't overlap as much as either of us would have liked and, on the first day of classes, I spent the entire morning locked in the bathroom.
The nerves that had assaulted me made it nearly impossible for me to even consider eating.
Even when I tried, nothing – not even something as bland as water – stayed down.
Still, I soldiered on.
As the days and months passed, I grew more comfortable in our new surroundings. I even managed to make a few new friends – classmates of mine and the girl that lived down the hall from us.
Our weekends were spent getting to know these new people, spending time with them and going out.
It was nice.
A stark contrast to the life that I'd once led – the one in which I'd kept to myself, shying away from everyone in an attempt at protecting my already damaged psyche.
The demons that haunted me, though still present, were no longer as prevalent.
"Have you checked your grades yet?" Edward asked as he entered the room.
I shook my head, smiling sheepishly. "I was waiting for you." My anxieties were palpable, filling the air around us. I'd struggled more than I'd expected and the goals that I'd set for myself because of that were low.
It was the end of our senior year and it was still hard to believe how far we'd come.
Pulling up a chair, Edward logged in to the schools website.
"Not bad." Edward angled the screen so that I could see it.
My jaw dropped at the sight.
I smiled widely as I crossed the stage. This was the moment that I'd spent the past four years working toward.
The fact that it had finally arrived, though, had me both excited and nervous.
There was still so much out there to experience, to see, and – in the big scheme of things – receiving my degree was a minuscule achievement.
But, it was still a move forward, further away from a past riddled with pain and fear.
I knew, though, that there were people that would always be there for me, supporting me, and that made everything bearable.