Chapter 3: Life Starts Now

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And now it's your chance to move on
Change the way you've lived for so long
You find the strength you've had inside all along

'Cause life starts now

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Life Starts Now by Three Days Grace

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Bella sat, chewing on her bottom lip as Alice snipped and clipped her hair, then applied the darker color. Her eyes were drawn to the large pile of light blonde hair scattered on the floor, a symbol of her previous life being cut away.

She had been apprehensive the moment Alice and Rose dragged her upstairs into a large bathroom. She was pushed onto a seat in front of an oak vanity and her eyes were immediately captivated by her reflection in the mirror. Dark circles formed half-moons under her eyes and her cheeks were a bit thin, almost sallow. She closed her eyes as one of them draped a towel around her shoulders before leading her over to tub to wash her hair, before cutting it. Ten inches later, her hair hung just below her shoulders and was the shortest that she could remember since before moving to L.A.

As they waited for the color to process, Alice sat on the counter, swinging her legs. She began asking Bella random questions about her life while Rose rolled her eyes good-naturedly at her friend.

"So, what's Justin Bieber like?" she asked excitedly.

Rose groaned. "Not this again," she mumbled.

Bella looked back and forth between her new friends. "What? What am I missing?"

"Allie has a crush on the Bieb."

Alice huffed and crossed her arms. "I do not. He's just such a cute kid! And don't get me started on how the boy can sing!"

Rose snorted unattractively. "You're just a few years away from being a cougar, Allie."

Alice shrieked and threw a bar of soap at the Amazon, causing Bella to laugh. Both women stopped and turned to look at her.

Bella's eye widened. "What now?"

Rose smiled softly and shook her head. "Nothing. You just have a really pretty laugh."

Bella's cheeks heated up and she smiled. "Thanks. There hasn't been much to laugh at for a while now."

Rose winked and grinned. "Well, that changes now. You won't go a day without busting a gut over something around here, especially with Emmett around."

Bella smiled. "Oh, I can imagine. He was always pulling some crap and getting us in trouble, just because he thought it'd be funny."

The alarm on Alice's phone beeped and she hopped off the counter. "Okay, let's wash this stuff out and see the new you, Bella!" She chirped cheerfully. As she adjusted the water temperature, she turned to Bella and gave her a cheeky smile.

"So, really. What's Justin like?"

She blinked and shrugged. "He's a talented kid, but pretty annoying."

Rose let out a guffaw as Alice's face fell. "I told you he was Satan, Allie."

Bella rolled her eyes this time. "He's a child, Rose. Annoying and disgustingly chipper aside, he's still just a kid."

Rose made a motion with her hand, as if acquiescing to Bella's point. As soon as the color was washed out and Bella's hair blown dry, Alice broke the silence.

"Sooo," Alice drawled out as she brushed and styled the girl's hair. "What about Eminem?"

Rose perked up and nodded eagerly. Bella sighed and held in a laugh. "He's kind of nice, in a dickish way."

"Is he as hot in real life?" Alice inquired.

Bella bit her lip and smirked. "Hotter."

Rose sighed. "He is so bangable."

"I know, right?" Bella chimed in, causing Rose to arch a perfectly shaped brow.

"Have you?" she asked deviously.

Bella blinked and feigned ignorance. "Have I what?"

Rose rolled her eyes once again. "Banged Eminem."

Bella laughed and shook her head. "No. From what I've heard, he prefers his women a little dirtier than me."

"Have you had any famous hook-ups at all?"

Bella pursed her lips and nodded. "Just a couple. Most of the guys that I've dated are behind the scenes types."

"What about James Tillman?" Alice piped in.

Bella sighed, her mind filling with thoughts of her closest friend. "James is... complicated," she trailed off, refusing to take the bait and share any unnecessary details of their relationship. His privacy and trust was not something that she was willing to compromise for the sake of "girl talk", no matter how much fun it could be to take part in. She'd never had the opportunity to have any girlfriends before. Going from being Emmett's best friend to be surrounded by producers and tutors left much to be desired in that particular area.

Alice whipped the towel off her shoulders and shouted, "Ta-da!"

Bella turned to gaze in the mirror, astounded by the sight that greeted her: a girl who was completely unrecognizable to herself. Her hair was a deep brownish auburn with some of the blonde left as highlights. She swung her head around slightly, moving her now shoulder-length hair. The new coloring brought out a warm gold tone to her eyes that she loved immediately.

This is me. This is who I am, who I always should've been.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, before nodding to Alice and giving her a bright smile.

"It's perfect, Alice. No trace of Izzy Dwyer in sight."

Rose lifted Bella's chin with her index finger. "I know you're trying to hide, but don't lose yourself on the inside."

Bella smiled sadly. "You don't understand, Rosalie. Izzy Dwyer was one big act. I was never myself, I was her all of the time. Now, I think I'm actually going to be able to find myself again, if that makes any sense."

Rosalie thought her words over for a moment, before nodding and placing her hand on Bella's shoulder.

"Well then, we'll be there with you for the ride."

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When they were all finished, the three of them headed back downstairs. Mac grinned at Bella's transformation and held his arms open for a hug.

"You look good, girlie. Much more like yourself."

Bella beamed and wrapped her arms around the older man's waist. "Thanks, Mac."

Rosalie walked over and nudged her husband with her elbow. "How come you didn't inherit Mac Daddy's smooth moves?"

Bella giggled and snorted. "Mac Daddy?" she asked, trying not to laugh.

Rose grinned and nodded while Mac just shook his head in amusement.

Bella sighed. "I've missed this so much. It's so lonely without a family."

"Hush now," Mac murmured into her hair. "You've always been and will always be a part of this family, Bella."

She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded, squeezing him tightly. They pulled apart and she sat down on the arm of Mac's recliner as he returned to his seat. Emmett, Rose and Alice settled in on the couch across from them and everyone started talking at once. Mac held up his hand and the room went silent.

"Okay now, I know we all have questions, but one at a time. I'm the big man, so I go first."

Emmett rolled his eyes and the girls stifled giggles. Bella felt a pang at the thought that she could've had all of this sooner, if only she'd thought with her heart and not her head. It was quite easy for her to see just how much Rosalie and Alice loved and respected her surrogate father. Hopefully, this time, she'd have her family back plus the new additions.

Mac turned to look up at Bella and reached out for her hand. "I know you've been flying by the seat of your pants for the past few days, but now that you're here, have you thought of the future?"

She blinked and looked down at their entwined hands, sighing. "To be honest, no. I haven't. This has all been so surreal. I just can't wrap my head around everything. I guess my next step is to find a room to rent or something until I figure out my next move."

"You will do no such thing," Mac informed her matter-of-factly. "You can stay here. You can have the guest room that you used to stay in when you were younger. Plus, there's Emmett's old room if you want that one. He only stays there when Rosie here kicks him to the curb when he's done something stupid." Mac's eye twinkled with mirth as he winked at his daughter-in-law.

Rose grinned right back at him while Emmett shook his head. "Is this 'Pick on Em' hour?" he complained half-heartedly, attempting to cover his own amusement.

Rosalie leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek. "It's your fault for providing such ample entertainment."

He smiled and swung his arm over her shoulder, chuckling. "I can't help it, it's my nature to be the life of the party."

Mac shook his head. "I know, son. I've got the gray hairs to prove it." He turned his attention back towards Bella. "Seriously, sweetheart, the room is yours. At least until the time comes for you to take your Dad's house back."

She shot him a confused look. "I don't understand. I thought my mom sold the house?"

Mac's chest puffed out proudly as he nodded. "That she did. To me," he replied, pausing for a few moments to allow it sink in.

"You- You bought my house? Why?" she asked incredulously.

"I'm your godfather, Bella. Charlie was the closest thing that I've ever had to a brother and I wasn't about to let that woman get rid of your house. Your dad left it for you- she had no business selling it out from under your nose. I figured that, since I couldn't follow Charlie's wishes in raising you, I was going to do my damnedest to make sure that you'd have a home to come back to whenever you chose, instead."

Tears stung her eyes once again and she found herself overcome with emotion. She rested her elbows on her knees and cradled her head in her hands, allowing everything to wash over her - the anguish over losing her dad, the loneliness of being by herself, the anger at her mother for hiding everything from her. She felt Mac's hand rub her back lightly, which caused her to sit up and wipe the tears from her face. When she glanced over at the others on the couch, she found mixed looks of sympathy and sadness. She smiled at them softly.

"I'm fine," she said quietly, attempting to put everyone at ease. "I'll be fine."

Alice and Rose gave her matching warm smiles. Emmett looked into her eyes and nodded, letting her know that he understood. Bella swallowed the lump in her throat and looked down at Mac. The older man's eyes shone with unshed tears.

"So," she said, trying to sound chipper, "you own my house? Does anyone live there?"

Mac smiled and nodded. "After about five years or so, it seemed a shame to leave the house sitting empty, so we've rented it out on occasion. There have been three tenants, the latest is Ed. He's lived there for about a year now while he's been building his own house."

Bella made a surprised noise, causing Alice to laugh. "It's been my brother's dream for years to build a home with his own two hands. He has a plot of land not too far away, close to La Push. In between his carpentry/handyman work, he's made some real progress on the house."

Bella smiled at her, feeling the warmth and pride that Alice clearly regarded Edward with.

"Okay," Bella nodded. "I'll stay here then."

Emmett leaned forward. "So, next question is how long are you planning on staying? Are you going into permanent hiding or just waiting until things cool off, before going back?"

Her brow furrowed in thought, her stomach lurching at the thought of going back to her cold and lonely house in Beverly Hills only to be surrounded by mostly fake people. She didn't want to leave, but she knew that she'd eventually have to. She had obligations and contracts, as well as people who relied on her for their jobs.

"At some point, I'll have to go back, I just don't know when." She paused, her heart breaking at the way his face fell. "But I promise that I won't cut ties like I did before. I could never leave you guys like that again."

Emmett smiled slightly and nodded, almost as if he didn't quite believe her.

Alice bounced slightly in her seat before piping up. "My turn! When you found out that you had a stalker, why didn't you go to the police?"

Bella took a deep breath in through her nose and thought out her response before speaking. "I actually did, but they blew it off. I guess they get so many complaints from celebrities that they just brush them aside sometimes. My agent, Tanya, was livid when they turned us away, so she hired some extra security. I still haven't figured out how the stalker got into my house, unless it was an inside job." She shook her head, as if dismissing that thought. "But only a handful of people are cleared to have access. I just can't believe that any of them would do something like that."

Mac ran his hand thoughtfully across his face. "Maybe it wasn't your people," he mused. "Maybe it was someone who had access to what they knew, though."

Bella pursed her lips in thought and a made a mental note to find a way to contact Tanya to check out that possibility.

"Well," Rosalie started, "now that that's out of the way, do you have any plans while you're staying in luxurious Forks?"

Bella couldn't help but return the smirk that was on the Amazon's face. "No, not really. I was thinking maybe I'd work on my tan," she replied with a straight face.

Rosalie's mouth twitched as she tried to hold back a laugh, but it was a futile effort. Giggles were soon pouring out of the ladies' mouths while Emmett watched on, joy filling his chest as he watched the two women he adored getting along like long-lost sisters.

Rose caught her breath and let out a contented sigh, before perking up with an idea. "Hey, what would you think about working at the bar?"

Bella arched a brow, the idea surprising, yet exciting to her. She had practically grown up in the bar. She smiled fondly, remembering the first time she'd stood on a stool to pour a draft beer for her dad. Mac's would always be her and Emmett's first stop on their way home from school. Mac and Charlie indulged the kids playing bartender, but always made sure they were out before Happy Hour or any crowds that showed up. Not that they got many people in the way of crowds back then.

She locked eyes with Emmett and she could literally see the wheels turning inside of his head as a devious smile worked its way across his face.

"That's a great idea, Rosie. Scrappy knows her way around the bar. That would also save me from putting an ad out in the paper like I was going to. We need another pair of hands around there, especially on the weekends, since Peninsula College opened an extension around these parts. Plus, the area's become more urbanized and the population spiked not that long ago because of some popular book that was set here." He rolled his eyes playfully.

He smiled eagerly. "So, what do you say?"

Bella grinned and nodded enthusiastically. "I'd love to!" As soon as the words left her mouth, reality crashed into her, removing the smile from her face. Working in a bar filled with college students would be testing her luck with not getting recognized.

Emmett's eyes scanned her face, confused with the sudden shift in her demeanor. "What? What's wrong?"

Bella smiled sadly. "On second thought, maybe that won't be such a good idea. I don't want to risk discovery."

Alice cocked her head to the side and glanced at Bella thoughtfully. "I think you'll be fine," she commented perkily. "You barely resemble the girl that we've seen on t.v. anymore. Plus, the lighting in the bar will be dim."

Bella chewed on her lip while she thought. On one hand, it was a risk, but on the other, she really wanted to take up the job offer.

Happily noting that not much had changed in his ability to read his little sister like a book, Emmett caught on to her hesitation.

"How about this," he offered. "You come and hang out during the slow shifts. If you change your mind, just let me know."

She nodded gratefully and smiled at her best friend. He stood up, reaching for his wife's hand to help her as well.

"How about we head back there now? It's almost Happy Hour and I'm sure that Whit can use a break."

"Whit?" Bella asked in confusion.

Alice let out a tinkling laugh. "He means my husband, Jasper Whitlock, the guy back at the bar with the sexy accent."

Bella's mouth formed an 'o' and she nodded in understanding.

As the four of them got ready to leave, Mac wrapped his arms around Bella and squeezed her tightly. "I know you'll be back later, but I'm almost scared to let you go again," he murmured into her hair.

She pulled back and gave him a watery smile. "I know the feeling, but I'll be back. I promise." He smiled back and let her go reluctantly. She gave him a quick wave before they walked out the front door.

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When they entered the bar, the look of relief on Jasper's face was almost comical. "Christ, Em, I thought you were coming back after dropping the girls off! I'm starving and I have to piss like a racehorse!"

He blushed and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. "Pardon my language, ladies," he apologized.

"Quit complaining and sucking up to the women, Whit."

Jasper punched Em in the bicep. "My mama taught me how to treat a lady right, you slave-driver."

Emmett rolled his eyes. "Fine, take your break. I'll be in the office finalizing some paperwork and Rosie's going to prep the kitchen."

Jasper shot him a confused look. "Then who's manning the front?"

Emmett smirked at Bella. "She is."

Jasper turned to her and raised an eyebrow. "Do you think you can handle it, little lady?"

She squared her shoulders at the challenge. "Bring it, Cowboy."

Jasper laughed. "I like you, girl. You have spunk. The hair looks nice as well," he called out as he and Alice left the building.

Rose patted her on the back and disappeared into the kitchen as Emmett familiarized her with the bar's current set up. When he was finished, he leaned back against one of the ice coolers. He gave her a happy smile and shook his head.

"I still can't believe you're standing in front of me, Scrappy."

She walked over and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I know the feeling, Shaggy."

She pulled back and looked him over, wrinkling her nose. "Though, you don't look like Shaggy anymore," she whined slightly. "I guess I'll need to start calling you Fred now."

Emmett grimaced. "Please don't. I'd rather you call me Velma."

She burst out into giggles. "Don't worry, you may look more like The Creeper these days, but you'll always be my Shaggy."

He ruffled her hair and deadpanned at her joke. "Ha-ha, very funny, smart ass. I'll be in the office. Just holler if you need me, okay?"

She saluted him and then started to check the stock levels against the list that Em had shown her. After a few quiet moments, she heard the back door open and a musky cinnamon smell wafted under her nose. She looked up and locked eyes with Edward, who was unabashedly staring at her in surprise. She smiled, causing him to break from his stare and walk over to a stool. As his long legs carried him across the room, she couldn't help but notice the way his sweat-dampened hair clung to his temples, giving it a much darker look than the rest of his reddish brown hair. His biceps bulged slightly as he sat down and propped his arms up on the bar top.

He gave her a genuine smile and she couldn't help but notice how handsome he was. His jaw was sharp and angled, with about a days worth of scruff enhancing it. His sea-green eyes were light and clear.

"Hi," he said quietly, his voice hesitant because of their last interaction.

"Hi," she replied, her voice just as soft as his had been.

He held out his hand for her to shake. "Can we start over? I'm Edward Cullen. You're Bella, right?"

She smiled widely, amused at his attempt to ease the tension with humor. She nodded and slipped her hand into his, feeling a warmth fill her chest as their palms touched.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Edward."

He released her hand and leaned onto his forearms. "You hair looks nice, by the way. It suits you much better than the blonde."

She felt her face heat up with a blush, something that she hadn't done in years. "Thanks. It feels better, too. Like, I'm more myself than I've been in years."

His eyes bore into hers intimately. "I can't even imagine. It must be stressful living a double life."

She blinked and broke eye contact by looking down at her hands. "It was stressful alright, but I wouldn't call it living a double life. I was just-" She cut herself off, grasping for the right words to convey her thoughts. "I was her, all of the time. Isabella Swan doesn't exist in that world."

Her eyes met his again, causing a jolt to her system by their green intensity.

"That's a shame. I've heard a lot about Isabella Swan and she sounds much more interesting than Izzy Dwyer."

She smiled shyly. "Well, you're in luck, sir. I just so happen to like Bella Swan more myself."

His face split into a large smile. "I'm glad that we've come to an agreement."

She sighed happily and smacked her hand onto to the bar top lightly. "So, what can I get for you, Mr. Cullen?"

He leaned back and smirked. "Since I'm off for the night, how about a draft lager?"

She winked playfully. "Coming right up."

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AN: Chapter song: Life Starts Now by Three Days Grace

Huge thanks to LaMomo & Busymommy for their fabulous Beta'ing on this chapter, as well as our awesome pre-readers!

I've made it a point not to Rec stories in my updates, it's just a personal choice and no harm is meant. That's not to say that I don't seriously appreciate when other writers do it! A few new readers came our way thanks to recs by the awesome 107yearoldvirgin's new story, FAP and AbidingByRhyme's The Perfect Space. Thanks for pimpage, ladies! *mwah*