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Not What I Used to Be

Summary:
Victoria caught up with her as she walked from her truck to the house. Charlie wouldn't be home for hours, but Bella didn't have time to be thankful for his absence.


Notes:


4. Chapter 4 of 6

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3196   Review this Chapter

Running, like killing mountain lions, reminded Bella of Edward. And she’d really had about enough of thinking about him, so instead, she focused her attention on the lovely Kate, who ran beside her. Kate was exotically beautiful in a way Bella could never hope to be. Even dressed for hunting in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, she had a womanly figure and long legs. She reminded Bella of Rosalie, not because they looked anything alike, but because of the sheer perfection of her beauty. But Kate had a sway to her hips that even Rosalie did not possess. She had clearly not been a teenager at the time of her change, but she hadn’t been old either. She seemed to exude a sexual attractiveness that even another female couldn’t help but acknowledge and respect.

They hadn’t spoken as they ran, but when Kate slowed to a walk, Bella asked her how many sisters she had.

“Two. Tanya, and Irina.” Just then they stepped out of the trees and came in view of the house.

The house was remarkable, but Bella wasn’t surprised. In her limited experience, vampire’s houses were supposed to be remarkable. It was made of rough stones that gave it a rustic, old-world feel, but that struck her as fitting. After all, for all she knew it could have been built when people first settled this area. And it was huge. “Just the three of you?” Bella asked, taking in the size of the place. It looked like twenty people could live comfortably in the home they were approaching.

“Well, Carmen and Eleazar live with us also, when they aren’t traipsing around Europe, like now. And sometimes other friends come to visit.”

Something in Kate’s tone got Bella’s attention. She slowed even further. “Do you have company right now? Maybe it would be better if I came another time.”

Kate got no opportunity to answer. The huge front door slammed open and out came a short, dark haired girl – running at full speed. She collided with Bella and the impact resounded through the valley. Several other people appeared on the porch as a result, but Bella didn’t have time to see who because Alice was twirling her around, her feet lifted from the ground. “BELLA!” she’d shrieked. She was laughing, and Bella laughed with her, shocked, but thrilled to see her again.

Kate had taken several steps back to avoid being knocked over by Alice’s exuberance, but now she stepped toward them again. “I see you already know Alice. Jasper, Carlisle and Esme are also staying with us.” She raised a hand toward the porch where each person she’d named was watching, wide-eyed. There was one other, as well, whom Bella didn’t recognize. As she glanced at them, she realized that something was odd about all of them - their eyes seemed different than she remembered. She resolved not to look too closely. At least, not right away. Besides, she was much too excited at having her friend back.

"Oh, Alice!" Bella pulled her into a hug again. "It's so good to see you! What are you doing here?"

Alice hugged back hard, plainly enjoying the fact that she could, without hurting Bella at all. Then she put her arm around her, and waited until Bella did the same before guiding her toward the house. If she noticed that Bella was avoiding her eyes, she didn't mention it. Kate trailed after, amused. "This is where we always come to regroup when things go wrong," Alice answered, her tone abruptly sad. Bella frowned.

"Did something go wrong?" she asked quietly. Alice only squinted at her reproachfully. And then they were climbing the stone stairs to the porch, and Jasper was already reaching for her. She let him fold her into a hug, too surprised to prevent it, though of course, he still made her very nervous. He must have sensed it, because the moment he touched her, she felt calm again. Calmer than she'd been in months. Maybe calmer than she'd been all year.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered. Bella glanced at Alice, who was standing beside them, but her head was down.

"No, Jasper, I'm the one who's sorry. I had no business tempting you that way. Because of me, you and Alice ended up having to leave town. That wasn't fair to you." She pulled out of his arms. "Especially now, how can you think I would blame you? It was my fault."

Jasper shook his head, clearly disagreeing with her view of the situation, but Alice only laughed. Esme held open her arms, and Bella hurried to hug her also. "Oh, Bella. You always were too generous for your own good," she said lightly, winking at Jasper over Bella's shoulder. "How lovely it will be to call you daughter at last."

Bella tensed, and everyone seemed to realize at once that Esme had said the wrong thing. Carlisle put a hand on her shoulder quickly. "It's certainly wonderful to see you again, but how did this come to be, Bella?" he asked.

Esme released her and Bella looked up at Carlisle sadly. "It's a long story, but I guess we've got the time for it," she answered shyly.

"Indeed. First, though, you should meet Tanya." Beside him was another excrutiatingly lovely vampire, who stepped forward at the sound of her name.

"Hello, Bella," she said with an accent that matched Kate's. "I've heard a great deal about you. I'm very pleased you've come, and I hope you will feel free to stay with us as long as you'd like."

Bella took the hand Tanya offered and shook it politely. "Thank you. That's very generous of you -"

She was about to explain that she couldn't stay very long at all because she had to be waiting in the woods before Thanksgiving to see Jacob, but Alice quickly cut her off. "We should go inside. I'm sure Bella would like to clean up before she has to tell her story."

Everyone seemed to agree to this, and Bella felt Alice take her hand as they followed Tanya into the house. The inside was even more impressive than the outside. Huge square wooden beams supported the floor of the second story, and the stone walls were unfinished inside. A monstrous fireplace dominated the living area, where most of the party seated themselves. Alice, however, pulled Bella up an impressive open staircase. "We'll be down in a minute!" she called. No one answered. They were already whispering among themselves. Jasper was dialing his cell phone.

"Who’s he calling?" Bella asked worriedly as Alice led her into a vacant room that had neither furniture nor carpeting, and through it to an equally bare bathroom.

"Emmett," Alice answered easily, and Bella could detect no trace of a lie in her tone. "He'll be thrilled. He and Rosalie are touring Europe with Carmen and Eleazar, but they'll be home in no time, now," she said happily. It seemed clear to Bella that she was speaking of something she had already seen.

Bella stripped and showered quickly. Alice insisted, when she reemerged from under the spray, that she be allowed to dry her hair for her. Bella gave in without complaint. Prom was lingering in the back of her mind, however, and to avoid those memories, she decided to ask questions. "So, tell me about Tanya, Kate and Irina," she said quietly, aware that anyone who lived in this house could hear them at any time.

"They're older than Carlisle," Alice supplied. "WAY older. And they've been living here just about forever. They're very sweet. I think you'll like them a lot. Especially Kate. She's the youngest. Irina's the oldest, but you'd never know it. Tanya makes most of the decisions. Especially since -"

"Since what?" Bella asked immediately when Alice paused.

She sighed. "You remember that Laurent wanted to come and stay here with them? He thought he'd enjoy being able to live in one place instead of wandering?" Bella nodded warily and Alice continued. "He and Irina got very close. I think - well, they weren't mates. But I think she'd hoped they might be, someday. And then he vanished and Victoria showed up and said he'd been killed by werewolves." Alice shuddered as though werewolves were something vile. Bella blinked at her in the mirror, glad that Alice's eyes were focused on her hair and that she didn't notice the angry expression that crossed her face before she could contain it. "She hasn't been herself since then. And Victoria left again without a word. I thought she was calming down. Certainly she was very polite to us."

Bella reached back and took the hairdryer out of Alice's hand. Alice pouted. "It isn't dry."

"It's good enough," Bella returned firmly, unplugging it and putting it into the sink. Then she turned around to face Alice and looked her in the eye properly for the first time. She'd intended to explain what a foolish thing it would be to require her to tell her story in this place, to THESE people. Instead, she gasped and stared.

Alice's eyes were transparent like colored water, and beneath the surface of them Bella could see ... Alice. Everything she knew about her - not her thoughts, but her actual self - seemed to be looking back at her. And some things she hadn’t known.

"What is it?" Alice asked in a concerned voice. And Bella could SEE the concern. She could see everything. Every trait that made up Alice's personality was represented behind her eyes.

"I don't know," Bella said shakily, looking away. Alice smiled.

"You've been through a lot. Come on, come downstairs and tell us what happened."

Bella let herself be led back downstairs, wearing her spare jeans and a shirt Alice had provided, since both of hers were a little ragged at the edges. Instead of planning what she was going to say to the Cullens and the Denali coven, she was contemplating what she'd seen in Alice's eyes. Is THAT why everyone's eyes looked so odd to her? She was about to find out. There were enough chairs in the large living area for everyone, and one to spare. Bella and Alice sat together on a couch with Jasper, while everyone else was scattered between a second couch and several comfy-looking arm chairs.

For a few moments no one said anything. Bella felt nervous, and was carefully avoiding everyone's eyes. "How did it happen, Bella?" Alice asked gently.

Bella tried to smile as she looked up. This was worse than her first day at Forks high school. "I guess I should start at the beginning," Bella said apologetically, her gaze fixed on the empty chair. "You won't like it much." Her gaze flickered to Tanya and back to the chair.

"It began with Laurent. I was hiking in the woods and he found me. He was hunting." She said this without inflection, but noticed Tanya and Carlisle exchange a glance. It was clear they understood. "We spoke and he was very civil, right up until he informed me that he intended to kill me. He told me that Victoria was after me, to take revenge on - to take revenge for James' death. He said he would kill me much less painfully, so I should be thankful. That's when the wolves appeared." Bella took a deep, unnecessary breath. She'd almost made a mistake there. She'd almost said his name. She didn't want anyone to think she was open to talking about him. She plowed on.

"At first, I was more afraid of them than Laurent. I figured it was less painful to be bit by a vampire than torn apart by wild animals. But these wolves weren't wild. They barely glanced at me. It was a few weeks before I figured it out, but one of them was my best friend, Jacob."

Bella looked up and saw the concerned expressions the Cullens wore, and the carefully blanked faces of Tanya and Kate. She didn't bother trying to smile. It was clear what they all thought of the wolves. Alice had made it clear before she'd even started speaking, so she wasn't surprised, although she was rather annoyed. Jacob had been very good to her. Better than any of the vampires in her life.

"Last April, the day before spring break, I came home from school to drop off my books before heading to La Push, but I never made it into the house. Victoria had gotten passed the wolves, and she was waiting in the trees. Jacob and Embry were tracking her, and they knocked her off of me, but I'd already been bit."

An angry, but restrained voice broke in, and everyone turned to see Irina standing half way down the stairs. Like her sisters, she was a timeless beauty, but her hair was disheveled, and her clothes slightly rumpled. "And the wolves let YOU live, but not her? Not him?" Bella could see the distress etched onto Irina's flawless face, even without looking into her eyes.

"Yes." She felt compelled to answer. Now that she knew of Irina's attachment, she thought perhaps the woman deserved to know what had happened to Laurent. Her charitable feelings lasted all of three more seconds, until Irina launched herself toward Bella from the stairs with a furious snarl. Bella stood, her body instinctively preparing to fight. Like the bloodlust, it seemed to be something that was ingrained within her, now. Not something she ever would have done as a human.

Jasper and Carlisle were out of their seats in an instant. Jasper caught Irina out of the air, and they both fell to the floor with an earsplitting crash. Carlisle quickly helped her to her feet and captured both her hands, and her attention. "He was hunting humans, Irina," Carlisle said, trying to be diplomatic. "The werewolves were only doing what they were meant to do."

But she was inconsolable. "I DON'T CARE! I HATE THEM! AND I HATE HER." She cast a venomous look in Bella's direction. Tanya and Kate both put themselves between Bella and Irina at this point, trying to calm her, but it was Bella who spoke, straightening from the half-crouched position that she’d never intended to assume.

"I'm very sorry for your loss. I never felt any enmity for Laurent. He was very understanding when the whole situation with James first began. I never meant for this to happen." She spoke quietly, and kept her eyes on the floor. This seemed to have an effect. Irina looked ashamed of herself for a moment before a haughty expression came over her face.

"Thank you for your sympathy," she said with quiet dignity. Then she looked around the room as if to include everyone in her next statement. "I apologize for my outburst. I shall be upstairs."

Carlisle released her hands in surprise and watched as she made her way back to her room.

Tanya turned back to Bella. "I'm very sorry. This has been a difficult time for my sister."

"I understand," Bella said with more feeling than she intended. "I wish things could have worked out differently." Tanya smiled and grasped her hand for a moment as she made her way back to her chair, and Bella sat, aware that Alice and Jasper had exchanged yet another meaningful glance after her comment.

"Please," Carlisle said, resuming his seat, "continue."

"There’s not much more to tell. Jacob carried me as far from civilization as possible, and he's been visiting whenever he can to bring me clothes and books. But," she added sadly, "school is starting again now and I won't see him until Thanksgiving break."

No one responded to this, but Bella could well imagine what they were thinking. Jasper had an expression of distaste on his face, as if her loneliness for Jacob's company was a personal affront to him. Alice and Esme looked worried, and that puzzled her, but the blank expressions Tanya and her sister wore clearly indicated they disapproved of Jacob entirely, but were too polite to be obvious about it.

"Well," Kate said after a moment. "I'm certainly glad I found you. Living in the forest since April! We'll have to make you up a room, of course. Who's up for some internet shopping?"

Predictably, Alice clapped her hands and stood. Apparently she and Kate shared a favorite pastime. Bella thought this was wonderful, as she wasn't particularly fond of shopping, herself, and Alice needed an outlet. "But, do humans make deliveries here?" she asked hesitantly. She didn't want to spoil their fun, but this was important. "I'm afraid my self control is ...." she cringed, remembering how it had felt to lose herself to the bloodlust. "Nonexistant," she finished, embarrassed.

"We'll have the items delivered to a storage facility and someone will pick them up from there," Esme assured her quickly. "No one will come within miles of the house."

No one asked if she had learned of the problem with her self control because she'd killed someone, or if it was just an assumption on her part, and she felt no desire to tell them, since the story featured Jacob so prominently. She followed Alice and Kate to an upstairs room where Kate sat down in front of a flat screen monitor and opened a web browser. She noticed Jasper had tagged along as well, and thought it odd. Quickly, she answered questions about what colors she liked, and she couldn't get away before they found a slew of quilts in those colors, so she chose one. She drew the line at draperies. "Whatever you think will look good with the quilt."

Jasper chuckled at her reluctance, and she turned her attention to him. "Did you get in touch with Emmett?" she asked carefully, fishing to see if Alice had told her the truth earlier.

"Yes. They were planning to return next month, but they’re cutting the trip short by a few weeks. They're anxious to see you again."

Bella thought it unlikely that Rosalie cared one way or another if she ever saw Bella again, and her disbelief must have shown in her expression, or perhaps Jasper just felt it. "Even Rosalie is pleased to hear you're unbreakable," he added. Bella laughed a little at the thought that the only thing Rosalie Hale had disliked about her was that she was human. She thought that very fair, really, since the only thing Rosalie had bothered to learn about Bella was that she was human.

She was a little concerned at who, all, was traipsing around Europe with Rosalie and Emmett. The missing members of the Denali coven had been mentioned. But everyone was so very careful not to mention Edward. She was grateful for that but frustrated as well. If he was coming here, she wanted to know. So that she could leave in time.