AN: I'm very excited to start this new journey and I thank all of you for coming along for the ride!
Rabbit Heart will follow the same posting schedule as Parachute previously did:
~ Post weekly on Fridays
~ Teasers go up on the Blog Sunday night : RabbitHeartff(dot)blogspot(dot)com
~ Reviewers get their replies & 2nd teasers on Monday/Tuesdays
Chapter 1: Rabbit Heart
Here I am, a rabbit hearted girl
Frozen in the headlights
It seems I've made the final sacrifice
I must become a lion hearted girl
Ready for a fight
Before I make the final sacrifice
Rabbit Heart by Florence + the Machine
The streets were eerily empty as the girl stealthily slipped out of the Beverly Hills house, although one could quite easily exchange the term mansion in its stead. Her shoulders were hunched as she made sure her hood was firmly covering her blond hair, her back laden with only an over-stuffed backpack and a guitar case. She needed to escape quickly, unseen, and today was the best time to make that happen. It was just after eleven pm, on Christmas Eve and there was practically no movement on Santa Monica Boulevard. She traveled on foot for almost three miles before coming across a cab running on the desolate streets.
She quickly stowed her meager possessions in the backseat before climbing inside.
"The nearest Greyhound station, please," she requested as softly as she could, but still within the driver's hearing range.
The older man glanced at her in the rear view mirror. If he thought anything was off about the way she kept her face hidden, he made no mention of it.
"Heading home for the holiday, sweetie?"
"Something like that," she murmured, staring out of the window and watching the lights pass by. They reached their destination in just under fifteen minutes and she handed him a $50 bill.
He went to hand her the change, but she waved him off. "Keep it."
Surprised, he smiled at her. "Merry Christmas, hun. Travel safe."
She gave him back as much of a smile as she could manage. "Thank you. Happy holidays."
Swinging her possessions onto her back once again, the girl made her way into the bus depot. A bored young man stood behind the counter, reading a magazine as she walked over.
"Can I get a ticket out of here, please."
"Where to?" the man asked, not looking up.
"Anywhere between here and Washington, but preferably Seattle."
The guy shifted and closed the magazine, causing the girl's breath to catch in her throat. An all-too-familiar face stared back from the cover at her with platinum hair and sapphire blue eyes. She gulped audibly and prayed the man remained unobservant as he clicked away the computer.
"There's a bus that leaves at midnight and stops in Tacoma. It'll be $150 bucks."
"Fine, I'll take it."
She dug into her pocket and pulled out two one hundred dollar bills and set them on the counter. The man didn't blink an eye at the large bills and proceeded to print the ticket.
"I'll need to see some ID, miss," he informed her, the bored tone back in his voice. She slid the fake identification out of her pocket and prayed that Jenks' skills were as good as he claimed them to be. She had only used it once before, when she went out to a club in disguise. She had been recognized within thirty minutes and never tried to attempt something like that again. The guy took one look at the photo and slid it back to her, never once looking at her face.
"Okay, Miss Swan, you're good to go. The bathrooms are over there and the buses board from that door there." He made motions in both directions with his arms, but his attention was clearly on the magazine. She murmured her thanks and took one last peek at the photo as she passed by, rolling her eyes at the headline.
Izzy Dwyer, America's Sweetheart!
"Sweetheart, my ass," she mumbled as she eased her way into the ladies room, carefully locking it behind her. She placed her bags on the floor and pulled her hood back, getting a good view of herself in the mirror. She knew that she wouldn't get far; her looks were too recognizable.
Step one: She pulled her long blond hair from its ponytail and swiftly braided it, before wrapping it into a bun. It would have to do for now.
Step two: She leaned over the sink and gently plucked out one contact lens, and then the other. Dropping them in the sink, she turned on the faucet and watched the unnatural blue swirl in the basin and then down the drain. She blinked several times and looked into the mirror, an odd feeling washing over her as she gazed into her own unfamiliar chocolate eyes.
Step three: She dug through her backpack, ignoring the wads of currency shoved in there haphazardly and pulled out an old, battered Seattle Mariners ball cap. She placed it on her head and felt tears sting her eyes as she remembered her father, the hat's previous owner. She closed her eyes and sighed.
"Watch over me, Daddy and help me get to Mac safely," she whispered into the silence.
She pulled the hood of her sweatshirt back upon her head and gathered up her belongings, before heading back to the waiting area. She settled into an uncomfortable plastic chair and removed a book from her pack, attempting to kill the time and quell her nerves.
Just over 24 hours later, the bus arrived in Tacoma. The girl stood and stretched her cramped muscles, before gathering her things and heading off the bus. She found a quiet corner and pulled out her laptop, re-checking her options for getting to Forks, about three hours away. She had grown too used to Los Angeles and the surrounding metropolitan cities. Her only options were to attempt to hitchhike her way there or rent a car. She weighed her choices heavily. If she chose the hitchhiking route, she could possibly end up dead on the side of the road. But if she tried to rent a car, it could possibly pull attention to her identity. She wasn't sure which one was more favorable at the time.
A dark haired Native American woman manned the desk at this station and the girl made her way over quietly, keeping her face hidden in her hood.
"Excuse me, ma'am," she spoke quietly. "I'm trying to get to Forks. Do you know the best way to get there?"
The woman raised her almost black eyes and appraised the newcomer. Sympathy welled up for the obviously tired girl who was traveling all alone on Christmas day. "Forks is quite out of the way, dear. If you can wait until morning, my husband and I are driving up to Port Angeles to visit my family. We'd be happy to give you a ride that far."
Tears stung the eyes of the young woman. She wasn't used to someone acting in just plain kindness anymore. "Thank you," she whispered. "I would appreciate that. Is there a motel or anything close by?"
The woman nodded. "There's a Best Western about four blocks away. I can give you directions. Just meet me back here tomorrow around nine, okay?"
The girl nodded gratefully and was soon on her way, breathing the crisp night air as she walked towards shelter. It was completely different from the L.A. air; light and fresh.
After a fitful sleep, plagued with nightmares of being found out and dragged back to California, the girl awoke before dawn. She stood at her room's window, watching the sun rise over the Tacoma Dome and the small forest in the background. Her thoughts were turbulent and she wondered, not for the first time, if her plan was a mistake.
Robert "Mac" McCarty had been her father's best friend and like a second dad to her. His son, Emmett, was two years older than her and had been like her brother from the moment she was born in that tiny Washington town. Mac owned a tavern in the middle of sleepy Forks, and her father, Charlie, was the Chief of Police. Her mother, Renee, divorced Charlie and skipped town, leaving the now single father to care for their three year old little girl. Mac's wife passed away during childbirth, so he and Charlie formed a family of sorts. Isabella Swan had never truly known what it was like to have a mother, but it was okay because her best friend hadn't known either, so they muddled through life together.
When Charlie was killed in the line of duty, right before Bella's thirteenth birthday, her mother swept in, plucking the girl from everything that she knew and loved, moving to California with her and her new husband. The first thing Renee took care of was changing her daughter's name to Izzy Dwyer, completely erasing any trace of Bella Swan and the life that she had known before. At first, Bella had been defiant, refusing to answer to her new name and acting out. Eventually, Renee used emotional blackmail and broke her daughter down.
Within a few years of living in Los Angeles, Renee had marketed her daughter as the newest teenybopper sensation, having lightened her hair and forced colored contacts in her eyes, to make them "prettier." The public quickly fell in love with Izzy's beauty and soulful voice, catapulting her into stardom. When she begged her mother to go back to Forks for a visit, Renee convinced her that no one there wanted to see her. It had been over three years and there had been no calls or letters from her "family." With her heart broken, each year that passed since her departure from home caused the rift in Bella's soul to grow deeper.
Three months after her eighteenth birthday, Renee and her husband, Phil, were killed in a car accident, leaving Bella truly all alone. Not knowing what else to do, she stayed in the life that she had come to dislike, because it was all that she knew anymore. The only bright spots were the two people that she could honestly call friends; her personal assistant, Tanya Denali, and her best friend, James Tillman, who was one of Hollywood's hottest actors. Izzy and James appeared as a couple more often than not, mostly to cover that he was bisexual and often had discreet flings with other actors. After meeting at a party one night, James was able to see that she wasn't yet jaded by the underhanded actions that some people would employ to get to the top. He took her under his wing and watched out for her as best he could, proving his loyalty and friendship on more than one occasion. She regretted not leaving a more detailed note for him and Tanya, but she couldn't take the risk of them following her. The end result of that would have turned out to be catastrophic.
The alarm on Bella's pre-paid phone chirped and she drew her gaze from the view in order to shower and change into her only other clean outfit. Her beloved iPhone was left at home for fear of it being traced. As the hot water beat against her tense back, she lost herself in her thoughts, trying to pinpoint the moment when everything went to hell. She was twenty-two and on top of the world, adored by millions. By one a little bit too much.
A few months ago, she started receiving amorous letters from an unknown fan. The notes started arriving every other week, growing in frequency and personal detail. Soon, they were including things that she had been doing or wearing that same day. Frightened and concerned, she ended up hiring extra security to keep her safe. Two burly men, named Bruno and Dillon, followed her everywhere she went and they took turns patrolling her house, but the letters still came. After attending a get-together with James on Christmas Eve, she arrived home only to find a letter awaiting her. In the middle of her bed. Her heart hammered in her chest as she picked it up and unfolded the note. A picture of her own sleeping face was nestled inside.
"Soon, my beloved Izzy. We'll be together soon."
Knowing that her stalker had not only been in her home recently, but also while she had been at her most vulnerable, she panicked. She dialed Bruno and informed him what had happened and he flew into action. By the time that he had searched every inch of the house, her course of action was set. She refused his advice of going to a hotel until more security could be set in place. Once he was gone and back at his vigilant post out front, she whirled through the house, deciding what to take and what needed to be left behind. She changed into comfortable clothes and ran to her office safe, withdrawing the $5000 dollars in cash that she kept for emergencies. She left behind all but one credit card, knowing that the cash would have to last her for however long she was on the run. The credit card would be for a dire emergency only, in case anyone would be tracking her purchases.
She scrawled a quick note to both Tanya and James, praying that they would find them and not be too upset with her decision. She stuffed a few random things into a backpack and added her laptop at the last minute, figuring that it would be safe since she had never used it for anything other than music. She grabbed an over-sized hoodie that James had left at her house previously and carefully snuck out of the house from the the back door, knowing that Bruno was watching the front.
Now here she was, riding in the back of a stranger's car, on a journey back to some place where she wasn't even sure she was welcome anymore. She stared out of the window as the endless expanse of green and brown passed by, familiarity growing in her chest. The woman, whose name she had come to find out was Sue Clearwater, turned in the passenger seat and smiled at Bella kindly, as her husband Harry pulled into a gas station.
"Do you have family in Forks, dear?"
She shook her head slowly. "Not really, no. I grew up there, but moved after my father was killed."
Harry looked directly at Bella in the rear view mirror, his eyes searching her face for any recognition. Her heart started to pound when his face lit up. She was convinced that her charade was up when the man spoke.
"Bella Swan, is that you?" he asked with awe in his tone.
She blinked in surprised. "Yes?" she answered, sound more like a question than a response.
The older man smiled and nodded. "You probably don't remember me, but Charlie was a good friend of mine. The entire town mourned when he passed."
She lowered her gaze, tears stinging her eyes and murmured her thanks. She curled up against the door and rested her forehead against the cool glass and drifted asleep quietly.
"Bella? Bella, dear," a warm voice called, drawing her out of her slumber. She rubbed her eyes and looked outside, surprised to see a familiar building and weathered signed reading "Mac's Bar & Grille."
She looked at Sue, who was smiling softly. "How did you know?"
The older woman shrugged lightly. "Everyone knew that the McCarty's were your family just as much as Charlie was. We figured that this would be your first stop."
Bella thanked the couple profusely, for not only going out of their way, but for being so generous to begin with.
"Do you need anything else? Are you okay on money?" Harry asked as he helped remove her meager belongings from the car.
She felt her heart warm and for the first time, she began to feel like she made the right choice by coming here.
"I'm fine with money, thank you. Is there anything that I can do to repay your kindness?"
Harry smiled and shook his head, before pulling her into a one-armed hug. "No, sweetheart. Don't worry your pretty head about it. Your daddy would have done the same."
She nodded and slung her backpack over her shoulders, choosing to carry the guitar case by its handle. She waved as the Clearwater's pulled away and disappeared from sight before turning to head inside of Mac's.
The interior of the tavern was dark and devoid of human life. A long bar resided along the left side of the room and a small stage was off to the right, as well a pair of pool tables by the far wall. Tables and chairs littered the spaces in between. She heard a noise from behind the bar and stepped closer. A tall man, about 6'4", backed his way out of another room, carrying a few cases of beer. When he turned and saw her, his blue eyes widened in surprise.
"Hey there," he drawled with a slightly southern accent. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting darlin', I didn't hear you come in. What can I get for ya?"
She swallowed nervously and sat her things on the floor, before taking a seat. "I'll just have a soda for now, thanks. Do you have a food menu?"
He leaned against the bar and smiled widely. "Sure thing, ma'am. The food might be a few minutes. My cousin, Rose, is the cook here and she's out on an errand at the moment, but I can definitely help you out with the soda. What's your pleasure?"
She ran her fingers over the old, familiar grooves in the bar top and smiled absentmindedly, recalling the countless times that she and Emmett had sat in the very same spot.
"Root Beer," she replied without thinking.
The bartender smiled and walked over to the other side of the bar. He returned just a few moments later with an ice cold glass of the soda. She lifted the glass to her lips, closing her eyes as the sweet smell hit her nose. She took a small sip, savoring a taste that she hadn't experienced in almost ten years. When she sat the glass down and opened her eyes, she noticed the bartender watching her closely. Surprised at how quickly she had let her guard down, she leaned forward on her elbows, allowing her hood to discreetly hide her face more.
"You passing through these parts, darlin'?" he asked, his voice laced with curiosity.
She shrugged. "I don't know what my plans are actually. I'm kind of flying by the seat of my pants here."
He let out a chuckle and held out his hand. "The name's Jasper."
She tentatively reached out and shook his hand. If Mac trusted him enough to man the bar, then he couldn't be so bad. At least that's what she desperately tried to convince herself of.
Purposefully, omitting her own introduction, she cleared her throat. "Do you know when Mac will be around?"
Jasper narrowed his eyes in suspicion. The girl's face had seemed strikingly familiar, but he couldn't place ever seeing her before. It was obvious by her body language that she was hiding something.
"Mac's been retired for about three years now. His son runs the place."
She nodded, her heart racing at the hopes of seeing her best friend again. "Well, then, do you know when Emmett will be around?"
Jasper folded his arms over his chest, wondering what her story was. He was just about to answer her when the door opened. He looked down at her and smirked, noticing that she had stiffened in her seat.
"Looks like you don't have to wait for long, ma'am. Here's Em now."
"What's going on, Jazz? Is someone looking for me?"
Bella felt a jolt of nervousness shoot through her at the sound of his voice. It was deeper and more manly than it had been at fourteen, but it was still definably Emmett. She turned in her seat slowly and looked over toward the new comers. Four people stood just inside the entrance: two men and two women. The women were polar opposites: one barely over five feet with short, dark hair and the other closer to six feet with long, blonde hair. Behind the women was a tall, lanky man with bronze hair. Leading the group, front and center, was her Emmett, no longer the scrawny kid with braces. He was now tall and muscular, his resemblance similar to a linebacker.
"This young lady here was asking for you or your dad, Em," Jasper replied, watching the scene unfurl with intense fascination.
The tall blonde woman stiffened and shot the stranger a menacing look, as if trying to mark her territory. Without hesitation, Bella slid off of the stool and walked closer to Emmett, pulling back her hood and removing the baseball cap.
'This is it,' she thought. 'All or nothing.'
She reached behind her head and undid her braid, running a hand through her hair and shaking it free. The women gasped and covered their mouths in surprise. Emmett narrowed his eyes until his face went slack.
"Izzy Dwyer?" he asked in shock. "Why are you looking for me or my dad? I don't understand."
She swallowed and bit her lip, before looking him directly in the eye. She saw the moment that he began to recognize his long lost friend.
"No," he whispered. "No fucking way."
"Hi, Shaggy," she replied, her voice quavering with emotion, tears stinging her eyes.
"Scrappy," he sobbed brokenly, before pulling Bella to his chest.
She automatically wrapped her arms around his waist, squeezing him with all of her strength.
"Emmett," she cried. "I've missed you so much."
As she clung to her pseudo brother for dear life, Bella Swan felt like she was finally home after all of these years.
AN: Chapter song: Rabbit Heart by Florence + The Machine