Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise, I just use their creations to have my wicked way with them. No copyright infringement is intended.
Many thanks to Jadsmama and Ladysharkey1 for their amazing pre-reader- and beta-skills. Without the two of them, I would be nothing.
"I can recognize any one by the teeth, with whom I have talked. I always watch the lips and mouth: they tell what the tongue and eyes try to conceal."
"Are you ready?"
Bella nodded mutely in response to Carmen's question, her hands clammy and shaking as the Masen family town car slid to a halt in front of the lavish, downtown hotel, her feet shaky when they touched the ground.
This is a mistake…I know it.
"Let's do this!" Apparently Carmen, unlike Bella who was just scared shitless, was in fighting spirit, her hand cool and comforting against Bella's insecurity as they finished their progress to the lobby.
The lobby of Alec Harrison's hotel.
Looking back on it, Bella knew that she'd already made her decision not to go into business with Alec before the man had even finished making his offer but still, she'd held off until a week ago when she realized that her indecisiveness had been one of the contributing factors to the stress that might hurt her baby; their little not-so-bean.
What made her consider the deal was a combination of things: there was the possibility of making a career out of writing even though she knew she was a long way off from being a wordsmith of the kind she looked up to – a Jane Austen, Umberto Eco or George Orwell; people who not only had amazing stories to tell but had mastered the fine art of weaving words into something more powerful than just letters on paper. She longed to do that too, and this might just be the chance to make it happen.
And then, of course, there was the benefit it would bring to her own recovery to commit all of the misfortune and every single bit of pain inflicted on her to paper in order to literally close the book on it and let the weight of all that pain and misfortune slip off her shoulders. It was an idea her therapist had been very enthusiastic about, when Bella had mentioned her struggle with Alec's proposal to her during one of her first sessions.
She had agreed, however, that perhaps handing that story – her own life – over to Alec might not have been the best way to move on from her past, considering his last name and Bella's history with his family. Besides, he still gave Bella the jitters and she didn't want to work with a creep, no matter how scarce he had promised he'd make himself.
She really didn't want to be standing on the doorstep of his hotel room, waiting for him to answer the door.
But she had no other option; she knew that, even if she was here by her choice after all.
As soon as she had made her decision, she knew that she had to be the one to deliver the news. Sure, it might have been more comfortable for her if she'd merely had Peter deliver the news as her legal man or if she'd just called him to tell him of her decision over the phone but those two options, safe though they might have been, had felt off. After all the trouble he'd gone through on her behalf, she felt the least she could do was 'break up with him in person'. And since he was in town on business anyway, which made it so much easier for her to do so than if she'd had to go all the way over to Boston. Not that Edward would have ever let her do that. Hell, she wouldn't have even let herself do such a thing!
In the end, setting up a meeting with him had been almost impossible. Over the past few days she'd made what must have been a dozen calls to his secretary and his home numbers but he was always busy, away or unable to pick up his phone. That was, until his secretary finally gave up and let it slip that the Harrison family were in fact on Bella's turf as Alec had some business to do with one of his Chicago clients.
From that point on, it was so easy to just go up to the hotel, have someone call up and surprise Alec with the very meeting he'd been trying so hard to avoid.
Still, the idea of going to his hotel alone had sent shivers of dread down her spine and even being there, inches away from his door, she couldn't be sure whether it was a good idea that would finally free her from his interference in her life, or the biggest mistake she could ever make. At least she'd brought some pretty strong backup. After all, nobody who'd ever seen a pissed off Carmen Masen would ever fear another enemy.
Carmen had spent a solid five minutes cursing (or at least Bella thought it was cursing since she still didn't really understand that much Spanish) at Alec and his interference in Bella's already stressful life, before she demanded to tag along on Bella's mission, claiming that while they were going to go downtown, they'd better make an awesome day out of it.
Which, of course, meant that her little bean would probably end up with a whole lot of new outfits before the day was done.
In the end even Alice was sad she couldn't tag along, though her frustration at not being able to join them had a completely different reason than that of Edward and Peter, who had both had pressing engagements that kept them from taking the day off.
"Bella!" Alec was at the door way too soon, causing Bella to swallow hard before she was able to finally summon her courage and shake his outstretched hand.
"Hello, Mr. Harrison," she finally managed with a voice that sounded far firmer than she felt at that moment. In fact, she kind of felt like throwing up.
"It's a pleasure to see you again," Alec prattled on, his smile a little too wide and his eyes calculating as he sized her up. "And you've brought the lovely Mrs. Masen too!"
"We couldn't let her come all the way here on her own in the delicate condition she's in, now could we?" Carmen replied to his overstated flattery, her smile just as fake as his as she played the passive-aggressiveness game perfectly.
Bella guessed she'd had ample training, navigating her way through Chicago's high society with an adversary as ruthless and magnificent as Elizabeth.
Having Carmen next to her, though, made her feel strong and able to face him. "Let's get down to business, shall we?"
Alec's face registered a moment's worth of uncertainty, empowering Bella as she felt her strength growing, before it was back to its calm, composed state. "Of course," he spoke, in his usual suave manner. If he'd known or suspected what it was that she'd decided, he didn't let on as he preceded them into a large suite, the living area overflowing with shopping bags and the small desk in the corner of the room overflowing with business-related paperwork.
"You'll have to excuse the mess," Alec explained, noting how both Carmen and Bella were sizing up their surroundings. "If I'd have known you were coming, I would have cleaned up…or at least made my wife and daughter put their new acquisitions away. They are here as well, you see…though they have gone out on yet another shopping trip."
"Okay," Bella nodded, gingerly sitting down on the sofa far away from the plush chair Alec had sat down in. "But first of all if you didn't want me to come by unannounced, then why didn't you call me back after I left all those messages for you?" She'd blurted out the words just like that, when she'd spent the past days agonizing over how to get them out or how to word her demand for clarification.
If I'd have known it would be this easy…
Carmen nodded proudly, sitting close as if to lend Bella even more strength purely by her being there alone; which wasn't so far from the truth.
"Make no mistake, Isabella," Alec started cautiously, taking Bella completely aback as, for the first time, he dropped all pretenses and looked her straight in the eye, "I know why you're here and, as much as I regret not having you on board, I understand."
Bella cocked her head, quite unsure of herself in this strange turn of events. "You do?"
"I don't know the particulars but I know you've had enough interaction with my family to know what they are truly like." He chuckled wryly, wringing his hands. "I can imagine it must have been quite off-putting."
"That's the understatement of the year," Bella muttered, flushing crimson when she realized she'd actually spoken out loud.
"I hope that, perhaps by giving you some more time and, perhaps, meeting you in less formal settings a few times you would have been able to see what I'm really like; to show you that I'm not like those two…that I'm not made up of the same despicable fabric that turned my father and sister into the people they are," he went on, nervously shifting in his seat as he folded, then unfolded his hands in his lap. "Even though the businessman and publishing agent in me just had to grab this amazing opportunity and offer you to sign with us, my intention has always been to do right by you and by allowing you to tell your story, I thought I was doing so."
"But you have to admit that by pressuring Bella to go along with your scheme and then avoiding her when she does call, you're not exactly helping to bring the image of yourself as a selfless philanthropist across very well," Carmen chimed in when Bella sat completely baffled and unsure of how to react.
"A desperate man has to resort to grand gestures and strange requests sometimes," Alec answered with an ambivalent chuckle. "As I said: I am most anxious to work with you, Bella, both as a publisher who sees an amazing opportunity as well as a son who, though reluctantly, is dying to know more about his father's final years."
At the last part, Bella looked up; Alec's words striking a cord within her that brought some memories of the old days back to the surface. "He loved you, you know, and even to the end he kept on hoping to reconcile with you even though he understood-"
"I was so angry." Even now, Alec's anger was palpable in the balling of his fists as he fought to remain in control of himself. Knowing what she did about the way his father had dealt with his children, Bella could understand his anger very well even if it kind of scared her. "I still am. I mean…how could I not be, knowing what he did to my family?" He was still picking up steam, his eyes on fire as he went on. "I had to watch my mother slowly wilt away and finally die heartbroken and alone because he was too proud to admit to the fact that he was sick and dying and too arrogant to let his loved ones care for him, but that isn't even the worst of it…The worst is part knowing that I passed this possible death sentence over to another generation."
"Your daughter…" Bella stammered as tears welled up in her eyes as the picture started to become clear to her. He mentioned a child. Aro had told her about his children getting tested for Fatal Familial Insomnia, the same disease that had inevitably killed him. From what she remembered, Jane was in the clear but he'd never said anything about Alec's results.
And now she knew why.
"Victoria…she was an accident, I suppose you could say," Alec chuckled bitterly. "I only found out she even existed when it was too late to stop the curse from spreading. I wasn't even married to her mother yet – you could say that we bonded in our mutual grief when we finally found out – and she was living on the other side of the country. She only managed to track me down when the pregnancy had advanced too far to abort the fetus, though I somehow doubt Meg would have done it anyway, even knowing what we do now."
"She's a carrier," Carmen whispered, looking as affected by the shock of that realization as Bella was.
Alec nodded. "In hindsight of course, I know that I should have taken better care; made sure nothing like that would ever happen but back in those days, I was still too proud and naïve to think that just being careful would be enough."
His words fell like precision bombs in the eerily quiet room, the tension palpable as both women shared in the grief of a distraught father, one who had to live not only with his own rapidly approaching death but also with the knowledge that his daughter would one day share her grandfather's fate. They were still completely dumbstruck, about half an hour later, when they were back in the hotel lobby, both women needing a moment to collect their thoughts before going underway again.
"I'm afraid I might have misjudged him," Bella muttered, her hand caressing the small bump that had started to get a little more pronounced that week, much to her relief. "I feel so guilty now for not trusting him."
"You didn't know," Carmen answered, shrugging her shoulders, "and just because he's had a hard life, doesn't mean that he can be trusted. With what you've told me about his family, to be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if he simply used his own misfortunes to pull you over the edge. After all, didn't the man admit he was as shrewd a businessman as they come?"
Bella smiled, though Carmen's words had in no way diminished her guilt or taken away the sympathy she felt for the man. "What made you so distrusting?" It was a new side to Carmen, one she hadn't seen before and one Bella wasn't sure she liked.
"Experience?" Carmen smirked. "When you've been around the high and mighty of Chicago's business sharks as long as I have, looking for a double agenda starts to become a second nature."
"Well, I still feel sorry for him," Bella admitted with a sigh, sitting down in a little club chair as they waited for their car to pull up in front of the hotel. "I'm not going back on my decision – the stress would be too much right now with everything else – but I've seen what that disease can do to a person and to know that your own child…" She pressed her lips together to keep her from sobbing audibly in such a public place, her eyes filling with tears as her emotions overcame her. If it had been me…knowing I'd given something like that to my little bean…it would kill me.
"Bless you, Bella," Carmen purred, gently rubbing Bella's back as the younger woman struggled to control her emotions. "And I feel sorry for him too – honestly. Maybe you're right, maybe he can be trusted."
Bella flashed a watery smile, grateful that at least on the outside, Carmen was still willing to believe in the good of man. Casting a glance at the people crossing the lobby on their way to and from the elevators, however, all of her own hopes were quashed, a shocked gasp leaving her lips as she sat, eyes wide and body frozen, as a very familiar figure exited a car that had just pulled up to the front entrance; the person's laughter and joy drawing more looks from people in the lobby as she entered it, arm in arm with an older woman who looked just like her.
But none of those other people looked at the little scene with as much horror as Bella, as the girl danced around her mother, causing the many shopping bags in her arms to sway dangerously around her skinny, late-teen figure.
A figure that had haunted her dreams.
And then, as the man she'd just said goodbye to stepped out of the elevator to greet them with a happy smile, everything finally clicked into place.
"What is it?" Carmen asked anxiously, immediately picking up on Bella's mood shift.
"It's her," she hissed, her shoulders shaking violently as her body retreated into a state of panic. "It's the redhead from the restaurant."
"Hijo de puta!" Carmen cursed, followed by a rapid-fire of other Spanish curses Bella couldn't make out as she too recognized the young woman embracing her dad before hopping into an elevator with him and her mom. "I will give that woman a peace of my mind!"
Bella acted quickly as Carmen made to get up. "No!" she cried, her arm grabbing hold of whatever bit of Carmen she could grasp onto. "Please? I just want to get away from here."
She wanted to feel safe again - far away from the Harrisons and all of their mind games. They were both quiet they walked outside, just as their car came rolling up to the front door; their silence lingering as they went underway to their next stop; a visit to a day Spa for a nice, relaxing massage that Bella was in need of now more than ever. As much as Bella wanted to go home, to her own safe place, she'd agreed with Carmen that they needed to end their day together on a much happier note, which again she had to agree, no amount of sitting at home with nothing but her thoughts and fears to keep her company would ever bring her.
"Do you think she left those notes?" Bella asked as they sat together while having their nails painted, her body refreshed after a quick treatment but her mind still hard at work trying to digest everything that had just played out. "We don't even know for sure if she is Alec's daughter."
"That's a question we can answer easily enough," Carmen offered, pulling her iPad out of her purse, making a few flighty swipes over the screen before offering it to Bella. "There! She is his daughter! That little bitch!"
Sure enough, on the society page of some magazine was a picture of the Harrisons at the launch party of one of Aro's books; all of them looking younger but still unmistakably recognizable. "It's her," Bella whispered. "It is her; I don't understand…"
"It's all a ploy to get you to do whatever they want," Carmen reasoned. "Scare you into submission? It's a good thing we have had Peter on board from day one or I'm sure they would have taken you to the cleaners."
Peter. Once again he had been the one safeguarding her hopes and dreams without her even knowing it. Bella closed her eyes, grasping the wave of relief that washed through her and riding it for all its worth. "I have to contact him – Edward!" Suddenly her brain shot back into gear, her trembling hands already fishing her phone out of her purse, selecting the number and waiting anxiously until his soothing voice sounded in her ear.
She only had just enough time to bring him up to speed until the manicurist had to get to work on her fingernails, Edward staying on the line with her, even though he was supposed to be working, until he was called back into the OR.
"Did it help?" Carmen smiled as she looked at Bella. "Talking to him?"
Bella nodded. "Though I don't think I will lose this icky feeling until I'm home again." She shook her head as angry tears of betrayal welled up in her eyes. "I actually felt sorry for them!"
"They are a pitiable bunch," Carmen answered, "but that doesn't automatically lodge them in with the 'good guys'. I think you'd better give Peter a call as soon as you're home. He'll want to take another good look at the contract you've signed."
"I'd better fill in the police as well," Bella added. "If the redhead really was the one who sent me those notes…" It was strange and unsettling to know that Alec might have been involved in the whole note scheme but some part of Bella found it all pretty hard to believe.
Intimidate her a little? Yes, she saw him perfectly capable of doing that. But stalking her with all of those awful notes? It seemed like something entirely too dangerous and close to a criminal offense for someone who was raised by a man as shrewd as James Harrison.
Alec didn't seem like the man who would take a risk like that.
But what did she know?
She hoped their discovery would put a definite end to the notes, though. They might have dried up as soon as they had gotten the police involved – which also happened to be around the same time that Alec made his first physical appearance in her life, now that she thought of it – but that didn't mean they had been from her completely. There was still someone out there who was – or had been – stalking her and leaving notes.
She wanted whoever that was gone. Permanently.
It didn't take long for a reaction to Bella's discovery to pop up. It was only a couple of days after she'd made her suspicions known to detective Anderson that Bella found another neatly folded slip up paper underneath her windshield wiper.
Not again. Her shoulders slumped with defeat the minute she spotted it, before tensing up with a familiar fear as she stealthily looked around to see if she was being watched.
"What's that?" Seth asked, having followed her outside after their class was done for the day. He and Leah were going to join her for lunch at a little diner close by.
"Remember when I told you about that creep leaving me notes a few weeks ago?" Bella asked, debating on whether or not to tug it free from the wiper or wait until she'd called the police. Having watched a CSI marathon with Edward the weekend before, she knew there might be fingerprints or – if she was really lucky – DNA sticking to that little piece of offensive paper.
"That's from him?" Seth hollered, immediately snapping into action, his chest puffing out and his body becoming dangerous-looking as he hovered next to her like a bodyguard.
"Or her," Bella nodded. "That's how it usually goes; they leave notes when they know I'm not watching, I read them, I freak out…job well done."
"Call the police," Seth urged, chuckling and shaking his head as he realized what he'd just said. "Wow, I never thought I'd say those words."
Bella grinned, though it was a bit of a forced grin as she rifled through her list of contacts for the 'A' for Anderson. He was there in a record time, Edward still screaming in her ear as he vented his anger with whoever was leaving the notes and Seth laughing at him in the other as the sleek but unassuming sedan pulled up.
"Did you disturb the note in any way?" Was his first question after both he and Bella had gotten off the phone.
Bella shook her head. "I left it exactly as it was, though I have to say I'm anxious to find out what he wrote this time."
The detective nodded his head, though his face remained stern and professional as he fished a pair of latex gloves from the pocket of his jacket and gently tugged the little slip of paper from where it had been stuck to the windshield.
Bella's breath became shallow, one hand protectively on her stomach as the other clutched her heart, the tips of her fingers vibrating with its violent beatings as she watched the detective unfold the paper achingly slow.
You may think you can run.
You may think you can get away from me.
You will never succeed.
I am still here, Isabella Swan.
And I'm always watching.
"What the fuck?" Seth voiced Bella's own feelings perfectly, though the accompanying emotions for Bella was fear whereas Seth merely seemed pissed off and ready to pounce on whomever left the threat.
"Did you see anyone out here when you entered the lot?" the detective, remaining calm and in control, asked as he slid the paper into a small plastic evidence bag.
"Just a few other students," Bella muttered, wishing she could be far, far away from the cold, dreary place. "Nobody was near my car, though. The note must have been there already."
"No CCTV in this corner," Anderson mused, his eyes scanning the lot, "though getting in, I did notice a few over the gate; maybe we can catch something on those." His eyes narrowed, gliding from one empty car to the next. "And you didn't notice anything strange when you parked here this morning? Or before that even?"
"Nothing," Bella replied. "I thought…I hoped the whole business with the notes would be over permanently now that I've ended all further dealings with Alec."
"Yes, well, it seems like perhaps his family may not be the source of those notes after all," detective Anderson spoke, only adding to Bella's anxiety. "After our chat with you, the other day, we went out in search for the Harrisons to question them, but it turned out they'd already left Chicago by then. My partner flew out to Boston today after we'd set up and appointment with the family and… and he was with them – both Victoria and her father – all morning."
"So it couldn't have been her," Bella gasped, the uncertainty even worse than the realization that Alec might have been behind it had been.
"We can't rule out that a third party is involved, acting on their behalf," Anderson went on, "but for now it seems like we are back to square one."
"What does that mean?" Bella forced out, her throat constricting further with fear with just about every word she heard.
"We'll step up our surveillance," the detective tried to reassure her. "You already have an excellent security system in your home but I'll have an unmarked car sit on your street for the next couple of days in the hopes of catching our perp if he tries to leave another note at your home again."
Releasing a small breath, Bella tried to hold on to the safety of having a cop nearby to come to her rescue. "Will it be safe for me to go out?"
"As long as you're careful, you should be fine," Anderson soothed. "So far, they haven't tried to make any direct contact with you apart from the notes he left and his latest missive doesn't indicate that he will change his behavior any time soon. I would advise you, though, to keep your phone on you at all times and avoid dark and solitary places." He chuckled, and then added, "Which is something you probably already do in the first place."
"Yeah," Bella smirked, trying to summon whatever humor she could find to face this situation. "I've never been fond of those kinds of places." She had lived amidst the very dark woods surrounding Forks for years with only an old, ailing man for company, though.
After answering a few more of the detective's questions and assuring him they'd be available for further questioning if he needed them, Anderson set off for the college, trying to get a copy of the CCTV footage as Bella dawdled by her car.
"Do you want me to tag along?" Seth was quick to ask. "We could finish our homework together while we wait for your man to come back home?"
There was nothing Bella wanted more than immediately take him up on his offer; the prospect of having to be alone in the house, waiting until Edward was done with his final procedure for the day, about as appealing as open-heart surgery. Still, she didn't want to be a bother. "Are you sure Felix won't be mad? You have work today, don't you?"
Seth shrugged. "I'm sure that if I ask him, Felix would agree that saving a damsel from distress –" he chuckled at his own clever rewording of the saying, "would trump the hell out of tinkering with run-down cars."
"Then yes," Bella cautiously accepted his offer, feeling some of the tension finally slip away from her shoulders. "I'd love for you to come over, as long as it's not a bother."
"Deal!" Seth grinned, throwing his arm around her shoulder as he walked her back to the driver's side door. "And if you feel guilty, you could always make me another batch of those oatmeal cookies you brought to class the other day."
Bella smiled, getting behind the wheel. It was just like Seth to be thinking about cookies in the middle of a crisis situation.
Between Seth's company, Edward's safety and the presence of an unmarked cop car sitting just off their front lawn, everything went back to normal all too soon; the creepy note-writing falling back into his or her former capricious ways and assuming radio silence again until the note was all but a distant memory.
Though for Bella, coming down each morning and walking past the front door or walking out towards her car after class still made her shoulders tense and her heart beat like a drum until she'd made sure the coast was clear.
Apart from those moments and the regular phone-calls from detective Anderson to keep her and Edward up to date, her mind didn't wander that often to the note-writer; her life too busy between Edward, the baby, their new house and the demands of school and her final days of working at the library to linger on anything long.
It seemed like just a day until her two weeks' notice was up and Bella found herself pulling up in front of the library for the final time, her heart heavy as she pushed her weight against the heavy, old-school front door to open it, her nose assaulted by the heady smell of books, knowledge and adventures held inside.
She'd miss it; that was for sure.
But even still, she would never regret her reason for stepping down. Smiling she rubbed her stomach as she hung up her coat before making her way over to the front desk where Sasha was already waiting for her.
"Bella, my dear!" she smiled, quickly finishing up with one of the library patrons before heading over to the younger woman and folding her into a loving embrace. "It seems like only yesterday that you became a part of our family and now we have to say goodbye to you again."
"I know!" Bella sniffed. "It hardly seems fair, doesn't it?"
"Life rarely is," Sasha remarked, patting Bella on the back before stepping away as she composed herself, Bella noting that the older woman had to stealthily wipe away a tear of her own. "But look at you? You've come a long way, Bella, and we both know that you did the right thing by leaving us."
"And I will be back for the kids reading club this summer," Bella nodded, the anticipation of being back there to help kids who struggled with the English language. It was one of Carmen's projects and she was really eager to help out, even if she would have to find the time somehow.
"So what are we even talking about?" Sasha chuckled, getting all business-like. "Go!" she shooed. "Get to work. We've got a whole list of chores for you, seeing as we'll be missing our little gopher tomorrow."
Bella chuckled, heading back to the staffroom in search of the list which, as she already knew, wasn't so bad. In fact, she might even be able to squeeze in some time to make the rounds through the library and say a proper goodbye to all the shelves and books before she headed out.
Her heart felt heavy as she put the final book into place, a couple of hours later, knowing that not only her workday but her complete job at the library was done.
"Farewell, my friends," she whispered, running her hands along the book covers as she slowly walked to the back of the library, letting herself get lost in the maze of bookcases and little study nooks as the tears slowly fell from her eyes.
She would miss this place, even though there was nothing stopping her from returning.
It was, after all, a public library.
Just as she was getting ready to turn around again and say her goodbyes to Sasha, a strange sensation washed over her.
She was being watched.
She just knew it.
She felt it.
Standing at a T-junction, she pressed her back against the shelves, her eyes shooting from side to side and in front of her but finding only empty space.
But someone's here…
I know it.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed forward, knowing that whatever happened, it was only a short way back to the front desk and that she was only one scream away from having people come to her aide if whomever had been watching her was who she feared it was.
Forcing her feet forward as fast as possible she journeyed back through the maze of stacks, her heart hammering in her throat as she counted the steps to safety, allowing herself to start to believe this had all been just a figment of her imagination until the crunch of heavy steps behind her made her worst fears come to life.
She felt paralyzed; unable to move or scream as she battled to force herself forward…to safety….she had to be safe.
She had to protect Bean.
"Sasha!" She finally managed to make her voice work, the cry not nearly as loud as she had anticipated and she picked up some speed but stumbled, her hands catching on to the bookcases and protecting her body from crashing to the ground but they were unable to stop Bella's pursuer from catching up to her.
"Isabella Swan." The voice behind her sounded strange, but the intonation was exactly the same as it had been all along. On paper. "We meet at last."