Mortality makes life extreme. The fact that you could keel over dead at any second makes pain agonizing and pleasure euphoric. I know this better than most people because my life has been on the extreme side of extreme, even for a mortal. Take my clumsiness for example. I've probably taken more trips to the hospital due to being a klutz in my nineteen years than most people do in their lifetime. Extremely bad, right? Well, just last year I decided to take a few martial arts classes in an attempt to sort that out. It was actually a pretty effective strategy and came in handy a couple months later when I had to mess up my roommate's boyfriend when he tried to beat on her. Also extremely bad. But the point is, if I hadn't been so clumsy, I probably would never have taken the classes in the first place. So that's actually extremely good. See what I mean?
That's just a tiny portion of the extremity of my life, though. When I was seventeen, I moved to Forks, Washington and fell absolutely, all-consumingly in love with a boy in my biology class and he loved me back. He was beautiful, rich, athletic, intelligent, musical, romantic, thoughtful - perfect. His family welcomed me with open arms and his sister was my best friend in the world. Extremely, extremely good, but for one little thing.
He, they all, were vampires.
Extremely, extremely bad.
I told them I didn't care, though, and for a while we were ecstatically happy together. I should have known that it could never last.
A coven of nomadic vampires crossed town and decided that I would make for fun prey to hunt. You know, just for shits and giggles. They nearly managed it, but luckily Edward got to the leader in time, causing the others to disperse. I was left with a broken leg, a scar in the shape of human bite marks, and a new appreciation for being alive. This was the beginning of the end for me and the Cullens, but the real clincher was a few months later.
At my eighteenth birthday party my usual clumsiness led me to cut my finger, exposing blood in a room full of creatures who rely on just that for sustenance.
It all turned out for the best, but a few days later, Edward broke up with me, claiming he didn't want me anymore. Looking back, I'm not sure whether or not he was telling the truth or lying so that he could keep his distance and thereby keep me safe. Thing is, I'll never get the chance to find out because that night they left Forks without a word or phone number and never once looked back.
So I'm left with nothing, no family, no friend, no lover, no life, nothing, nothing.
At least, that's what I thought.
After grieving for all that I'd lost for three months straight, I became reacquainted with my old friend Jacob Black who lived at the neighbouring reservation. He was cheerful and funny and genuine and didn't treat me like I was made of glass. And I realized that even though the life I once thought I would have was now out of reach, it didn't mean that I couldn't forge a new path for myself. So that's what I did.
It wasn't as easy as all that, of course. There were still nightmares and tears and bursts of temper and loneliness and hurt. But over the next few weeks and months, I pulled myself together. I threw myself into school. I applied to all sorts of colleges, and I learned how to heal my heart.
Jake and I spent all of our spare time together fixing up these two broken down motorcycles and hanging out in his garage. He taught me my way around an engine and later how to ride my bike. We went cliff jumping together and drank warm soda out of the cans. He was my only friend.
And then one week he disappeared. He wouldn't see me, wouldn't take my calls. He left me and I was beyond pissed because this was the second time in six months that I'd been abandoned by the ones I was closest to and I just didn't deserve that shit. So I drove down to La Push to kick his ass and when I saw him, I knew that something was seriously, horribly wrong. Jake had grown about a foot and packed on muscle like a weight lifter. His skin was burning hot and he kept saying that he couldn't talk to me anymore. Couldn't, not wouldn't.
Now, people often underestimate me because I'm sort, slight, clumsy and shy. But being quiet and unnoticeable can sometimes be a good thing.
I watch people.
Not in a creepy, stalkerish way, it's just that I notice things. Like the way that I found out that the Cullens were vampires. I watched them that first day in Forks and I noticed things. Like their skin as pale as snow, the unusual gold colour of their eyes, the purple bags under their eyes, the grace with which they moved and most of all, their inhuman beauty. As time passed I added other things to the list, like cold skin, superhuman senses, speed, and strength. At any rate, I knew that there was something different about them but it was actually Jake who put it all together for me. He told me one of the legends of his tribe, of the Cold Ones, or vampires.
It was this legend that came back to me that day after I'd gone home from confronting Jake. And now that I'd witnessed the supernatural for real, I was better at recognizing it. So I thought back to that legend and remembered one other detail - that the mortal enemies of the Cold Ones were the La Push tribe's ancestors.
So I freaked out a bit about being surrounded by fairy tale creatures and when I was done I looked up everything I could find about wolves. I found out that packs have an alpha and I guessed that whatever the alpha says, the other wolves have got to do. I figured that's why Jake couldn't talk to me, because the alpha told him not to. And rumours had been going around about Sam Uley leading a gang of enormous boy do-gooders. Bingo.
So the next day I drove my dilapidated truck down to the reserve, got directions to Sam Uley's house and walked right in like I owned the place. Hey, just because I'm on the quieter side doesn't mean I don't have a temper or know how to kick some ass when I deserve to.
So I stormed in there and told this colossal hulk of a guy right to his face that he was a jackass for telling Jake that he couldn't be my friend, and that no furry-assed half labrador was going to get in my way. And that's when I noticed that the entire gang of monster-sized boys were sitting around the kitchen table being served breakfast by Sam's girlfriend. Major oops.
It turned out alright though, and apparently having figured out what they were and still wanting to be Jake's friend was a point in my favour because from then on the La Push boys were my friends.
It seemed that the trigger for turning the boys into werewolves was the presence of vampires. This didn't make sense to me, as the Cullens had left months before. That's when they told me that one of the two remaining nomads from the coven that had hunted me the previous spring was back, though they didn't know why, and was killing local hikers. They'd recognized a female with flaming red hair. James' mate. Victoria.
I guessed that she was after me for some unfathomable reason, they agreed, and that was how I came to hang out with them pretty much all the time. Being able to change into horse-sized wolves at will, they were much better suited to fighting vampires than I was.
This was also the start of my poker career.
I own at poker. No, seriously, for reals, when it comes to poker, I am made of win.
Maybe it all comes back to that watching-people thing, but I can just tell when it's time to bet high and time to fold. Charlie (that's my dad) taught me how to play when I was really young and came to visit him in the summers, but I hadn't had much opportunity to practice since.
This, more than anything, seemed to secure my reputation with the pack. Psh. Boys.
I had had practice, though, with hiding what I was thinking and feeling. The Cullens' departure had hit me harder than I was willing to admit, but I'd had school to attend and my dad to look after and I didn't want to worry anyone or let them see how hurt I was. So I hid it the best I could and was now perfectly capable of clearing myself of all emotion at will. Not as easy as it sounds, I assure you. But it was kind of like pulling up a wall. Normally I'd just pull up the wall between me and the memories of loss, for poker all I had to do was pull the wall up between me and the world. That was a actually the easier of the two, but it tended to freak people out a bit, and I couldn't hold either for long anyway, so I saved it for poker.
On top of that, my observational skills had kicked up a notch since finding out that I had a crazy blood-sucking bitch after my ass. Go figure. But I'd always be looking out for threats, and assessing dangers, and identifying exits and stuff. Call me paranoid if you want, but I'd seen what these suckers could do and I wasn't taking any chances.
The pack always had at least one wolf on patrol around town, scouting for Victoria's scent. The only problem with that plan was that they were assuming she'd be attacking on foot. In their defense, this had been the consistent pattern, but really. Come on now.
So one day after school this car pulls up in front of my house and who steps out? The third vamp from the same fucking coven, no less. By driving in he'd contained his scent and the only way the wolf on patrol would be alerted to his presence was if he happened to loop close by my house. In other words, help was short on the ground. Except I was like, fuck that, and texted Jake as quick as lightning, just the word HELP, and slipped the phone back into my pocket as the vamp approached the door and I prepared for my death. Lucky for me, Laurent was only there to scope out the lay of the land for his old buddy Victoria, for old times' sake he said, and wasn't actually thirsty at the moment. It seemed they'd gone their separate ways and Laurent had been experimenting with the 'vegetarian' lifestyle the Cullens had favoured. In fact, he'd been keeping company with their 'cousins' up in Alaska, one Irina in particular. At this point, of course, I was freaking out to all hell and back because I had no doubt that we were about to have a full pack of beasts descending on our asses at any moment courtesy of Jake, except that if they attacked Laurent now, especially when he hadn't even threatened me with immediate harm, the Denali oven might take offense, thereby starting a war. And while I trusted the pack to handle one psycho-hunter-chick just fine, I had much less faith in their abilities against a five-strong coven of vampires with centuries of experience. Yeah, not so much.
Fortunately I managed to warn Laurent of all this before they arrived and when they saw me alright and talking to him, Sam ordered them to stand down. They didn't like that one bit but Sam's not a complete idiot even if he is a jackass sometimes and he put a lot of stock in the treaty his grand-daddy had cut with the Cullens. Jake didn't like it so much but he can be a bit of a self-righteous bastard if the mood hits him, so I told him he didn't have to like it and that he'd be thanking me when his house wasn't being burned to the ground by a bunch of vengeful, venomous immortals. That shut him up real quick.
So Laurent got away safe with the warning to not come back unless his eyes were gold and even then, there would be no welcoming committee.
The wolves decided to tighten up security and had someone watching me pretty much 24/7, which was reassuring in a creepy kind of way.
Months passed and before I knew it it was graduation. My studying had paid off and I'd been accepted to Dartmouth with a scholarship. Whoopee. I was looking forward to living in New Hampshire even if it meant leaving the pack behind, and it pleased Charlie to no end to be able to tell everything that moved that his daughter was going Ivy League.
Remember what I said about extremes? Yeah, this is the point where once again the extremely good goes sour as old milk.
See, the thing the wolves weren't counting on is the sudden of influx of people in cars for the grad ceremony, mixing their scents and crowding closely into the school auditorium. That's the big disadvantage of the wolves - they can't be in attack mode around people without the park rangers being called. Also, I don't think anyone expected Victoria to bring anyone else with her. And we certainly never dreamed that he'd be so recently changed.
So I got a nasty shock when I went to the bathroom right before the ceremony was supposed to start and the door shut behind me, revealing two pale, red-eyed faces.
Needless to say, when Jessica Stanley came in, preparing to rip me a new one for not being in line when my name was about to be called to accept my diploma, the entire silent auditorium heard her blood-curdling screams. Too bad Victoria and Riley had already split, they lived for that dramatic shit. The fuckers didn't even let me walk across the stage and wave to my dad. Pair of fuckin' psychos.
The only silver lining in that bitch of a night was that Jared was the one on patrol and he doesn't miss shit, that one. He managed to delay them long enough that the rest of the pack could phase and get there to burn those sons of bitches to the ground.
Of course, for me this was all just a bit too little, too late. I was unconscious for five days and didn't get out of hospital for another week after that. They said that I took so long to wake up because it was my body's way of protecting me and taking the time to heal. What they didn't know was that I was doing the exact same thing with my mind.
For two months I never spoke a word. I would respond to yes or no questions with nods and follow order when it came to taking care of myself, but that was it. Charlie broke down after only a few days of this and I was quickly sent down to Jacksonville, Florida, to live with my mother Renee and her husband Phil. It was just as well because that way I could avoid the whispers of 'poor girl' and looks of pity that followed me around Forks. Instead, I sat on the beach and stared out at the waves, soaking up the sunshine and thinking.
I thought about what had happened and what it meant for me and my life now. I thought about Jake and Edward and the pack and the Cullens and Charlie and Renee and the whole supernatural world. And I realized that it was a world that had touched me, scarred me deeper than the tooth marks left by James on my left hand could testify to. But in the end, it was not a world which I could realistically belong to. I was obviously outclassed in every sense and though I would never forget what had happened, ever, that to seek out further contact with that world was not something I could do and continue living. And I desperately wanted to live, I realized to my surprise. I would not fear death or shrink from it when it claimed me, but neither would I seek it out.
I cried for a week.
When I was done, I made myself two vows. One, that I would never shed another tear over what I had lost. I would live in the now and not look back, enjoying what I had for what it was. The other, that I would never involve myself in the supernatural again.
If I had known how soon both these promises would lie broken at my feet like shattered glass, I might not have felt quite so peaceful.
But I didn't, and so I locked up my memories and my hurt and sealed them away with my secrets and my heart, packed up all my worldly belongings and shipped myself off to Dartmouth to start living. Because of one thing I was absolutely certain. The Cullen family may have broken my heart and the nomadic clan may have broken my body, but no one, no one, could break my spirit. I was Bella fucking Swan. And I was indestructible.
I was just nineteen when I started my English Lit degree, but that didn't stop me from having the full 'college experience'. The scholarship I was on allowed me to afford to share a small flat not far off campus with another girl. Janet was a graduate student from Canada and bound and determined to show me a good time. Tenacious but kind, she seemed to get that there was a lot going on underneath the snarky front I put up and brushed by my underagedness with pure Janet class - she snuck me in everywhere. By day I worked my scrawny ass off in the library and the martial arts center and by night we danced and drank until we could hardly stumble home leaning on each other. Janet's boyfriend was a class-A son of a bitch, as I've said, but the one good thing he did was get pneumonia in November. While that in itself was something I would never feel bad about, it benefitted me more than just by getting rid of him for a few weeks. Donny was a bit of a gambler and had entered himself into the biggest local poker tournament he could find. When he was in hospital, all Janet heard was moans and groans about how he'd wasted his entry fee, on and on. If only to get him off of Janet's back and by association my own, I volunteered to pay him back the fee if he let me take his place and keep any winnings I got. He agreed instantly, obviously thinking I'd bomb.
My winnings got me a few new outfits and some fantastic Christmas gifts for Charlie, Renee, Jake and especially Janet, because I felt kind of bad for taking advantage of her boyfriend like that. Of course, soon after, I caught him as he slapped her just as I walked in the door, so I put my martial arts classes to good use and whipped his sorry ass, and Janet took me out to dinner. She was a little shaken by the experience and I felt bad enough for her that when she told me she'd entered me into another, bigger poker tournament over the Christmas holidays, I agreed with minimal fuss. Not a lot I could've done anyway, and I'm pretty sure she knew that she was playing up the guilt card, but that's Janet. So I hopped down to Arizona and my hometown Phoenix and did not do so bad if I do say so myself. After stopping by my Dad's for a couple of days I flew back to New Hampshire, gave Janet a big hug and a new pair of leather boots and bought myself a little car. She promptly entered me into another tournament over reading break.
She really loved those boots.
The year finished quickly and when exams were over, I sat down and planned myself a summer schedule of poker tournaments all over the country. I figured I'd better play to my strengths, and had no desire to wait tables for four months besides.
What followed was a series of parties, dinners, galas and serious poker games that all blurred into one another. I was making some genuine cash and got to spend my days reading at hotel pool sides, sight seeing all over the country, and working out as much as possible. The parties and clubs weren't nearly as much fun without Janet, but we called each other nearly everyday and I was now comfortable enough with myself to join a group going out somewhere or refuse if I didn't feel like it. I felt like I was finally getting some control back in my life and was loving it.
Of course, I knew that this extreme goodness in my life could not last and was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I did not have to wait long.