Chapter 3 – Freedom Calls


Morning, everyone!

So a reader asked me about mates in this story. For those of you wondering about it, here’s what I told them- I like to put a different spin on the whole mating concept in every story I write. In Choices and Consequences, the bond is activated by touch. In this story, a mating bond takes more work than that. It’s more of a human connection than a mystical one- you call your partner, the person you fall in love with, your mate. It’s possible for a mating bond to break down in this one. It’s also possible to find a new mate if it does. It just rarely ever happens because vampires are typically unchanging creatures. And the few times they do change and grow, their mates usually change with them. Jasper’s changing, he’s growing, and Alice obviously isn’t. The same is true for Bella and Edward. Edward’s pretty much just destroyed whatever bond they have and now Bella’s changing. Eventually, the person Jasper becomes will be a match for the one that Bella does.

Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight, that honor belongs to Stephanie Meyer. I’m just a fan who wants to jailbreak Bella. Run, Bella, run!

Bella is heartily sick of crying by the time she manages to pull herself out of bed the next morning. There’s a hollow ache in her chest and she’s sick of that too. She wishes she held on more tightly to her anger, that she’d wrapped that fury around herself and worn it like a shield, because anger is so much easier to handle than the emptiness she now has to contend with.

She knows before she even opens her eyes that she’s alone in the house. Charlie’s already left for work and Rosalie warned her last night that she planned to leave at daybreak. Though Bella’s surprised the blonde was willing to stay for as long as she did, she finds herself grateful for it. She suspects that sleep would’ve eluded her entirely if Rosalie hadn’t chosen to spend the night with her. With such a fierce companion keeping watch, she doubts Edward got anywhere near her house, let alone her bedroom.

As Bella gets ready for the day, she comes to a decision. She’s done crying over Alice and Edward. Although a huge part of her wants nothing more than to crawl back into bed and wallow in her misery, she won’t allow herself to indulge in that desire. They’ve dictated so much of her life already, stolen so much of her time, and she refuses to give them a second more. She tells herself that they just aren’t worth it. They don’t deserve her tears.

Her resolve lasts until she opens the front door and sees her heartbreak reflected in Esme’s fragile smile.

Bella bursts into tears and the motherly vampire steps forward to wrap her up in a comforting embrace. Dejected, Esme holds her until her sobs run their course and her heartbeat finally calms. It takes her significantly less time to get a hold of herself than it did the night before and the knowledge gives Bella hope. Though it isn’t much, she’ll take her victories where she can.

Puffy eyed, the struggling brunette retreats a few steps, feeling the need for space. Wiping at her cheeks, she asks miserably, “Esme, how far is Jasper’s range?”

Bella desperately wants to trust what she’s feeling, but Jasper’s actions have made that impossible. While she thinks she genuinely loves Esme, she can no longer be certain that’s how she truly feels.

Esme studies her with careful eyes, an expression of heartbreaking understanding on her face. Brow creased in thought, she confesses, “I don’t actually know, Bella, but I believe it’s less than half a mile.”

In the turmoil of last night, Bella has completely forgotten what happened the last time Jasper tried to control her emotional state. She doesn’t realize that she has the power to block him whenever she desires. Jasper hasn’t mentioned his own revelation about the extent of her ability to the family, which means no one can reassure Bella that his gift is no longer a threat to her.

“And where is he now?” Bella presses. She’s relieved to know that Jasper likely only managed her feelings when she was at school and the Cullens’ house, but it’s not enough. She needs to be absolutely certain that he isn’t influencing her anymore.

Idly, she wonders if it’s really possible that she never thought about Jasper at home over the last few months. Then she realizes that it doesn’t matter if she did, because the indifference Jasper forced on her would’ve made her forget her curiosity the second she saw him again.

“At home,” Esme assures her and the tension in Bella’s frame finally eases. The Cullens live far enough away that Jasper can’t affect her now. “He won’t do it again, Bella. Carlisle made certain of that last night.”

“I wish I could be confident of that,” she politely disagrees, “but I’ve felt how subtle his gift is, Esme. He could do it to all of us at any time and we would never even notice.”

Esme purses her lips, saddened to realize that Jasper’s actions have made Bella paranoid. It’s an understandable reaction, given what her children have put the girl through, but it brings her no joy to see it.

“That’s not entirely true,” Esme states and fishes her car keys out of her purse, “and I’ll tell you why on the way to the diner.” Glancing at Bella’s red-rimmed eyes, she hesitates, “If you’d still like to have lunch with me, that is?”

Bella smiles tremulously. When it comes down to it, she’s spent so much time with the Cullens that she doesn’t have a life outside of them. Turning down lunch means spending the day alone and the last thing Bella wants is to be left alone with her thoughts. She doesn’t even have a hobby to take her mind off things. It’s something that she knows she needs to fix.

Curious about what Esme has to say, she hesitantly grabs her bag and follows her out the door. She’s grateful that it’s raining or lunch wouldn’t be an option. Normally, the cloud cover would annoy Bella, but today she finds the weather suits her. It matches her sour mood.

Esme waits until they’re backing out of the driveway before she begins to explain, “Alice and Jasper got into an argument after you left. It seems Alice believes that Jasper intentionally slipped up last night, that he deliberately allowed you to figure out he was using his gift on you.” Glancing at Bella, she admits, “You’re right about the subtlety of his gift, Bella. No one ever notices Jasper’s influence unless he wants them to.”

“And did he?” Bella asks, her brow puckered in confusion. “Want me to?”

His reaction yesterday leads her to believe that he didn’t. She remembers how uneasy he looked when she first noticed his presence in the Cullens’ living room. If Jasper really wanted her to piece it together, then why did he look a breath away from panicking when she did?

“He claims that he didn’t,” Esme replies, confirming Bella’s thoughts. “Jasper told her that you ‘woke yourself up,’ which means you are the first and only person to ever free yourself from Jasper’s control.” She gives Bella a meaningful look and asks, “Do you understand what that means, Bella? You caught Jasper influencing you last night. You worry that he could use his gift at any time and we wouldn’t even notice? Well, that’s not true anymore. You would notice.”

Bella falls silent for a moment as she attempts to absorb that. Coming to terms with the fact that she’s the only person Jasper’s ever met to break free from his influence is not a simple matter. She doesn’t understand why she could, but in the end she doesn’t care to know. What she cares about is whether she’ll notice a second time, especially since it took so long to do it the first.

At least now she understands why he was so alarmed the night before. While she’s not quite sure just how old the empath is, she knows he’s older than Edward. That means no one’s ever caught him manipulating their emotions in at least a hundred years.

In a quiet voice, she uneasily points out, “It took me months to do that, Esme.”

“It doesn’t matter how long it took you, Bella,” Esme gently chides. “What matters is the possibility that you can do it again. He won’t take that risk.” Pausing to glance at her, she adds softly, “But he would never try it again regardless. Jasper felt everything you did last night. He knows how much he hurt you, how much all three of them hurt you, and regrets what he’s done. He’s very remorseful, Bella.”

Jaw clenching, Bella looks away, focusing her gaze on the world outside her window. It doesn’t escape her attention that Esme only mentioned Jasper’s remorse. If Alice accused him of deliberately slipping up, then clearly the only thing her ex best friend regrets is getting caught. Knowing Edward like she does, she has a feeling he’s of the same mind. She’d bet her life that he even tried to convince Carlisle to move after he got home last night.

Deciding to give Bella a moment to think, Esme keeps quiet for the rest of the short drive. She parks the car in front of the diner and the two quietly get out. The parking lot looks surprisingly full for a Tuesday afternoon and Esme suspects the local high school kids have turned it into their summer hangout. Pensively glancing at Bella, she wonders if they should’ve driven to Port Angeles for lunch, where they’ll draw less attention.

They know the second they walk into the diner that coming there was a mistake. A hush descends and Bella swears that every person inside turns to stare at them. She hasn’t been to the diner since the first week she arrived in Forks and she knows this is probably Esme’s first time. The locals are speechless, not quite trusting their eyes. She can tell they never expected to see either one of them enter, let alone the both of them together.

A nervous giggle spills from Bella’s lips and suddenly she’s laughing so hard she can barely breathe. She bends over and wraps her arms around her aching sides, so amused by the reactions of the diner’s customers that it actually brings tears to her eyes.

Esme turns to look at her, a wide, delighted smile spreading across her face. There’s a tiny part of her that feels she should be concerned, but it’s overshadowed by the pure joy the sound of Bella’s laughter brings her. It just feels so good to see a genuine smile on the girl’s face. “Should we try Port Angeles instead?”

Eyes bright, Bella nods breathlessly and they make a hasty retreat. A rare grin is fixed on her face the entire drive to Port Angeles. Occasionally, they glance at one another, accidentally setting each other off, and the car ride is filled with random spurts of laughter. By the time they arrive in town, Bella’s smiled so much that her cheeks honestly ache.

Her good mood lasts until Esme pulls into the lot of the same little Italian restaurant that Edward once took her to. Sensing the change, Esme takes one look at her pale face and realizes, “You’ve been here with Edward.” Bella flinches and Esme immediately regrets bringing him up. Shifting the car into reverse, she says, “We’ll go somewhere-“

“No,” Bella sharply cuts her off, “no, this is fine. I love Italian.” When Esme hesitates, her hand hovering uncertainly over the gearshift, she finally feels a spark of that old anger returning. “He doesn’t get to win, Esme,” she snaps, startling the vampire. Visibly forcing herself to calm down, Bella reasons, “If I avoided every place we went to together, I wouldn’t be able to return to my own bedroom.”

Esme regards her thoughtfully for a beat before she finally shifts the car into park and turns off the engine. Relieved, Bella unbuckles her seatbelt and climbs out. Esme slowly follows her and Bella’s uncomfortably aware that she’s watching her closely. Luckily, the restaurant isn’t nearly as busy as the diner was and the hostess seats them quickly, handing them each a menu before taking her leave.

Once they’re alone, Esme sets her menu aside and leans forward, reaching across the table to gently cover Bella’s hand. With a soft, admiring look on her face, she asks, “You know I’m proud of you, right?”

Brow crinkling in confusion, Bella wonders, “For what? I haven’t done anything to be proud of, Esme.”

In fact, pride is the very last thing Bella feels. She is deeply ashamed of herself for allowing Edward and Alice to dominate her life for so long. When she first arrived in Forks, she was fiercely independent and she can’t quite pinpoint the moment that changed. All she knows is that she doesn’t like the person she’s become. She’s never been the type of girl who lets her boyfriend control her and it bothers her immensely to discover that she had. She’d given Edward that power and it’s long past time that she finally took it back.

“I disagree,” Esme laughs, leaning back in her seat. “Do you remember what I told you about my change, Bella? My first husband was emotionally and physically abusive. Standing up for yourself, ending a relationship with someone who controls you… it’s not easy.” There’s something undeniably tragic about the sorrow in her golden eyes. Shaking her head, she ruefully laments, “I’m afraid I didn’t realize just how controlling my children were until last night.”

Bella feels a knot in the pit of her stomach suddenly loosen. She never considered Esme’s history with abuse when she was trying to figure out who knew about Jasper’s manipulations. Of course Esme didn’t know. She would never help anyone try to control someone else, not when her human husband used to hurt her in such a cruel manner. She knows what it’s like to feel helpless and she would never encourage that kind of treatment.

“Neither did I, Esme,” Bella whispers, her throat tight. “If I didn’t notice, how could I expect you to?”

The waiter stops by to take their order and they put their conversation on hold until after he leaves. The silence between them grows awkward and Esme uncharacteristically fidgets in her seat. Staring at her hands, she wonders how to best approach the subject of Edward. She doesn’t like the way Bella flinched in the car and it makes her hesitant to discuss him. Perhaps it’s best to do it swiftly, she muses, like ripping off a BandAid. Though it may sting at first, the sensation will quickly fade.

Sighing softly, she finally meets Bella’s eyes and confides, “Edward will be volunteering at the women’s shelter three days a week until graduation.”

To Esme’s surprise, Bella chokes on a laugh, “What?”

Eyes twinkling with humor, she explains, “It’s the punishment Carlisle gave him last night. The others were punished too. He told Alice that they’ll be discussing her visions nightly from now on, until he can trust her to use better judgment. Jasper will be wearing something with your scent until he can curb his bloodlust and none of them are allowed to actively use their gifts on the family anymore.” Smile growing, she says almost dreamily, “Carlisle can be rather creative when the desire strikes him.”

Speechless, Bella isn’t sure how to respond. She didn’t know that Carlisle was planning to punish the others when he left her house last night. The only part she was aware of was his intention to help Jasper adjust to her scent and his chosen method surprises her. She wasn’t expecting him to make Jasper actually don her clothing.

Imagining Edward’s reaction to that particular punishment, Bella giggles. The giggle becomes a genuine laugh when she pictures Alice’s horrified face. The petite vampire threatened to burn those shirts on more than one occasion and now her husband has to wear them. “Jasper’s really wearing my clothes? Alice must be mortified.”

“She’s learning to pick her battles,” Esme replies, her lips twitching in amusement. It relieves her that Bella’s chosen to focus on the part that she finds funny. There’s a genuine risk that she could fall into a depression if they aren’t careful and Esme’s glad to see her focusing on something that makes her laugh.

Recalling the conversation she had with Carlisle in her bedroom, Bella realizes that this is what he must’ve meant when he swore he’d fix it. His decision to stick up for her makes something in Bella’s chest grow warm and tender. For the first time since she met the Cullens, she feels like a real member of his family. It amazes her that he’s punishing vampires that he’s lived with for decades on her behalf.

Reading her expression, Esme says softly, “I know we didn’t raise you, Bella, but Carlisle and I have come to think of you as a daughter. It doesn’t matter if you’re with Edward, you are still a member of our family.”

Bella’s eyes sting for one precarious moment before she manages to push past it. “Thank you, Esme.”

They’re interrupted by the waiter, who drops off their meals, before Bella decides that she’s done talking about last night and her three least favorite Cullens. The honest truth of the matter is that she never really wanted to talk about them to begin with. She rarely gets the chance to spend alone time with Esme and she intends to make the most of it.

“Let’s talk about something else,” she suggests. “I realized this morning that I need a hobby. You’re really creative, aren’t you? Do you know anything about photography?”

Surprised by the topic, Esme smiles brightly and reveals that she does. To Bella’s delight, she promises to teach her how to develop her own black and white photographs. They make a quick stop to a thrift shop after they leave the restaurant, where Esme insists on buying her a decent secondhand camera. On the car ride back to Forks, she even manages to convince Esme to pull out her old portfolio and bring it over to show her later in the week.

Bella’s pleasantly surprised by just how much she enjoys the outing. With how it began, she didn’t expect her lunch with Esme to end on such a positive note. The small trip to Port Angeles brightens her day considerably and she plans to spend more time exploring it in the future.

Rosalie and Emmett are unexpectedly waiting on her porch when Esme finally drops her off at home. Emmett’s already grinning at her by the time she steps out of the car. He lets out a wolf whistle as she walks up the drive and teasingly calls out, “There’s my favorite, little ball breaker!”

Bella blushes, the corners of her lips turning up unwillingly. The second she comes within arm’s reach, Emmett scoops her up into a hug and gushes excitedly, “You were awesome yesterday!” Pulling back, he plants his large hands on her shoulders and informs her, “Edward’s sulking and Jasper’s walking around like a kicked puppy. Alice won’t even come out of her room.”

Bella’s mood immediately plummets at the mention of what she has secretly dubbed the Unholy Trinity. Scowling, she steps back and turns to unlock her front door, “I don’t want to talk about them.”

First Esme, now Emmett… why does everyone assume she wants to talk about last night?

“You need to,” Rosalie says sharply. Bella’s hackles rise at the perceived order and she turns to look at the blonde rebelliously. She falters when she sees the concern in her golden eyes, abruptly realizing that it’s not a demand. Not really. Rosalie is genuinely worried about her. She just wants to make sure that she doesn’t keep all that pain bottled up. “They hurt you, Bella. Badly. If you avoid speaking about it, that wound will only fester. Trust me, I know.”

Bella wants to ask Rosalie what she means by that, but decides not to press the issue. Somehow, she already knows that Rosalie faced a devastating betrayal of her own. If the gorgeous blonde wants Bella to know about it, she’ll tell her when she’s ready.

Softening, Bella opens her door and gestures for them to enter. She follows them inside as she wonders, “What exactly am I supposed to say, Rosal-“

“Rose,” the blonde interrupts and Emmett looks at his mate fondly. Unbeknownst to Bella, it was Rose’s idea to come check on her today. After last night, her respect for Bella has grown immensely. It seems his wife has unexpectedly developed a soft spot for his human, little sister.

“What exactly am I supposed to say, Rose?” Bella tries again, taking the blonde’s unofficial acceptance in stride. “That I’m angry? I’m pretty sure I’ve already made that more than clear. That I’m hurt? Covered that too.” Shutting the door with her heel, she crosses her arms and admits, “The truth is that I’m just done. I don’t care what they’re doing. Caring means they still have power over me and I will never give them that kind of power again.”

Taken aback, Emmett blinks at her and looks at Rose, who pensively points out, “That might be true for Alice and Edward, but you didn’t give Jasper power, Bella. He took it.”

Lowering her gaze to the floor, Bella frowns at it for a moment and asks quietly, “Didn’t I?”

Rose stares at her in confusion and Bella slowly raises her head, meeting her eyes. After giving the matter a lot of thought, she’s come to the brutal realization that she’s partly to blame for it all. As hard as it is to admit, Jasper isn’t the only one who’s made mistakes.

“I never stood up for myself with Edward and Alice, Rose,” she explains, setting her bags down on the coffee table. “I allowed them to make decisions for me. And I let Alice dictate so much of my life with her visions. She constantly used her gift to monitor my future and I set no boundaries between us. By failing to do that, I unintentionally encouraged Jasper to believe that he could use his gift on me too. How could he know that I would react so badly when I didn’t seem to mind when Alice did it?”

Rose frowns unhappily. She doesn’t like the path that Bella’s mind has chosen to wander. While she can see her point, it reminds her too much of victims of abuse who believe that it’s their fault when someone hurts them. “He still did it without your consent.”

“Jasper isn’t the only one who didn’t have my consent,” Bella reminds her, taking a seat on the couch. Absently toying with the armrest, she points out, “I never consented to letting Edward seize control of my life either. And I certainly never consented to the many times Alice altered my future. I’m not saying what any of them did was right, Rose. It wasn’t and I don’t forgive them for it… All I’m saying is that I can understand why Jasper felt he could get away with it. If I’d made my objections known to the other two, maybe Jasper would’ve left my emotions alone.”

Bella loses steam when she realizes that she can’t really be sure of that, not when Jasper thought her curiosity rivaled James’. Trying to be honest with herself, she silently wonders what she would’ve done if she had the chance to alter that tracker’s emotions before he started hunting her. With his ability, would she have done what Jasper did? Forced indifference on him? Then she wonders if it’s even a fair comparison. She wants to believe that she wasn’t obsessive like James was, but Bella doesn’t honestly know for sure. How can she? Jasper never let her feel it.

“What is it, Bella?” Rose asks in concern, sensing the dark turn in her mood. She takes a seat next to Bella on the couch, a puzzled expression on her face. Looking equally confused, Emmett follows her lead, sitting down in Charlie’s recliner.

Bella glances at her and hesitates, doubting she’s really prepared for Rose’s brutally honest opinion on the matter. She knows the blonde will answer her truthfully, whether it hurts her to hear it or not.

Rose waits her out, understanding Bella’s reluctance. It’s no surprise to her that trusting no longer comes easily to Bella, even with the assurances that she gave her last night.

She’s undeniably pleased when the girl decides to confide in her anyway.

“Jasper compared me to James,” she says quietly. Emmett growls at the reminder and Bella briefly glances at him before she explains, “He said I felt the same level of curiosity towards him that James felt towards me. James was obsessive, Rose. Do you think I was too?”

“Towards Jasper?” Rose clarifies, surprised by the comparison. Thanks to the empath’s efforts, the ungifted members of the coven thought Bella was indifferent to him. This fascination that Jasper’s hinted at is something they’ve never seen. “You tell me.”

Throwing her hands up in frustration, Bella laughs miserably, “I don’t know. He didn’t let me feel it, Rose. That’s the problem.”

The blonde grimaces and Emmett fidgets restlessly, gearing up to open his mouth. Silencing him with a warning look, Rose tilts her head thoughtfully and wonders, “What about now? Are you still curious?”

Bella takes a moment to assess her own feelings, growing incredibly angry with herself when it dawns on her that she is. It’s not an insatiable curiosity like Jasper described, but she’s curious about him nonetheless.

She doesn’t want to be, of course, not after last night. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that she is. Jasper is hands down the most mysterious member of the Cullens and Bella has always been too curious for her own good. Her need to figure out what the Cullens were is proof of that.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Bella hasn’t learned from her mistakes. She has no intentions of pursuing that curiosity. Her need to unearth Edward’s secret ended terribly for her and Bella isn’t willing to face that kind of hurt again. This particular rabbit hole is one she intends to avoid.

Rose studies her with an unreadable gaze. She can see the struggle in Bella’s eyes and understands why her lingering curiosity frustrates her. She thinks it’s a shame, really. There’s an undeniable aura of danger that clings to Jasper and it frightens most people away. He rarely meets anyone who’s willing to brave it long enough to try to get to know him. Bella would’ve, had Jasper only allowed her to. It will be a long time before the brunette tries again, if she ever does.

She’s surprised to realize that it saddens her. Bella, she’s beginning to see, is worth getting to know. She doesn’t want Jasper to miss out on that. While Rose may be angry with her faux twin for his recent actions, she still loves the moron. She wants him to be happy and now he’s more miserable than ever. He’s driven a wedge between himself and a girl who once wanted nothing more than an opportunity to befriend him.

“You’re nothing like James, Bells!” Emmett finally explodes, looking at her in pure exasperation. Bella eyes him uncertainly and he insists, “You’re not. You have the kindest heart I’ve ever known. Who cares if you felt something at the same intensity as James? It doesn’t mean the two of you are alike in any way.”

Rose bites her lip to hide a smile. Emmett’s never had much patience and she knew it was only a matter of time before he made his objections known. He’s adopted Bella as a little sister and it irks him to see her questioning herself. Her low self esteem has always troubled him.

Emmett wants Bella to see herself as he does, to recognize how special she is. Bella possesses a goodness so rare that it humbles him. Her compassion rivals Carlisle’s, the girl is so accepting. There are very few people in the world who would look past the fact that most of them are murderers and decide to love them anyway.

“Sometimes the emotions Jasper senses blind him,” Rose admits, her urge to smile fading. “You’re not a predator like James was and I think our brother forgets that. Vampires fixate when something sparks their interest, Bella. Ennui is a genuine issue among our kind and when something intrigues us… well, we do strange things to satisfy our curiosity. I think Jasper was expecting you to react like a vampire would.”

Bella tilts her head, a look of understanding warming her face. James definitely fixated on her. He got so caught up in the thrill of the chase and the challenge of catching her that he disregarded the dangers of provoking such a large coven. Edward, too, fixated on her. She’s reluctant to admit it, but he practically stalked her before they started dating. He even followed her to Port Angeles and entered her bedroom while she was sleeping.

A shiver races down her spine and she silently wonders why she ever thought that was okay. The fact that he violated her personal space long before she invited him into her home should’ve been a red flag. She should’ve known then that Edward doesn’t understand the concept of boundaries. Why would he? He’s never encountered a mind that can keep him out, not until the day he met her.

Suddenly, she wonders if his total lack of regard for people’s privacy is the real reason that he can read minds. The more she considers it, the more convinced she becomes that it is. He claims his gift developed because he used to read people so well as a human, but her experience with him leads her to doubt that theory. He’s failed to read her countless times and she’s not exactly difficult. Her mother, Renee, often likes to say that her face is an open book.

It bothers Bella to think that Jasper expected her to fixate on him like they did. She’s always been a private person and respects the limits others set. Her terse relationship with Charlie is proof enough of that.

“You’re also the first human we’ve ever invited in,” Emmett reminds her. “Jazz is used to dealing with people whose natures are much darker than yours.”

Assuming that he’s talking about vampires, Bella doesn’t ask him to clarify that statement. Emmett can see it, that lack of comprehension, and grimly realizes that Edward kept Jasper’s history from her. She has no idea just how dangerous Jasper really is. She confronted one of the most infamous vampires in their world last night and she doesn’t even know it.

For a moment, he’s incredibly tempted to fill her in, to tell her all about Jasper’s history and his sire, Maria. Then maybe she’ll understand what he means by people with darker natures. He knows it’s not his story to tell, but that just makes it even harder to resist. After all, why should he respect Jasper’s privacy after he infringed upon Bella’s free will? It amuses him to imagine how Jasper would react if someone else sated the curiosity he was so determined to curtail.

In the end, Emmett decides to hold his tongue. He doesn’t do it out of respect for his brother, though. He’s still too angry with Jasper for that. No, Emmett just refuses to sink to his level.

“That’s true,” Rose agrees and looks at Bella. “I love that idiot, but he’s not like Carlisle, Bella. Jasper expects the worst of people. It took a long time for him to trust our family. Years, really. We had to prove we weren’t like other vampires he’s encountered.”

It’s one of the reasons he gets along so well with Rosalie. They’re both distrustful creatures and it’s difficult to put that distrust aside when they encounter someone new. And it’s not really their fault. Their introductions into the vampire world were traumatic and shaped them into the people they are today.

Resting her chin on her hand, Bella mulls that over and a sad, bitter smile sweeps across her face. She never realized Jasper trusted her so little. It bothers her, because she realizes now that she trusted him too much. She trusted all of the Cullens too much.

How sad it is that only four of them have proven themselves actually worthy of it.

Disliking her expression, Emmett decides it’s time to change the subject. It upsets him to see that she’s taken Jasper’s words to heart and he doesn’t want her to dwell on them.

“You know what you need? A distraction,” he suggests and Bella immediately perks up. “We should go do something.” He looks at his favorite human with a certain gleam in his eyes and prompts, “What do you want to do, Bells?”

“Do?” Bella hesitantly repeats. “Like what?”

Emmett’s expression takes on such an uncharacteristic seriousness that it unnerves her. Shaking his head, he says sternly, “No, don’t ask me. You choose, Bella. Alice and Edward don’t get to tell you no anymore. You can do whatever the hell you want.” He rubs his hands together excitedly. “Tell me something that you’ve always wanted to try,” he coaxes. “We’ll help you do it!”

Rose smiles softly at her husband, fully supporting the idea. More than anything, Bella needs a chance to spread her wings and make her own decisions. It would be a genuine pleasure to watch the brunette do something purely because she wants to.

With a little luck, maybe it will even be something completely and utterly selfish.

“Anything?” Bella tests, recalling the game her burly brother was playing before she discovered what Jasper was up to. Eyes fixed on her, Emmett nods eagerly. “You may not approve of what I have in mind.”

“So? Who cares if I approve?” he dares her, secretly thrilled that she’s considering something she worries he’ll object to. It reminds him of the Bella that he met last night, the one who fearlessly confronted a vampire with one of the darkest reputations. He likes that version of her. The submissive, little doll that his siblings played with isn’t nearly as fun as the Bella Jasper accidentally set loose. “It’s dealer’s choice and you hold all the cards.”

Nodding in encouragement, Rose decides to nudge her in the right direction, “Didn’t you tell Edward that you would live your life the way you choose from now on?” She raises an expectant eyebrow and challenges, “Time to put your money where your mouth is, Swan.”

Bella’s breath hitches, her heart slamming excitedly against her ribcage. Taking notice, Emmett leans forward in anticipation. He honestly has no idea what she plans to do with her newfound freedom, but her body’s reaction to the offer tells him that it will be something exhilarating. Privately, he wonders what she can possibly want to try so badly that it actually makes her pulse race.

“Emmett,” she says slowly and something tantalizing sparks to life in the depths of her dark eyes, “have you ever been to a shooting range?”

Silence blankets the room and Rose glances at her husband in astonishment. She certainly wasn’t expecting that to come out of Bella’s mouth. Neither was Emmett, whose shock is so great that it shows. His eyes look so wide that it nearly draws a laugh from her.

Taking a moment to fully consider the idea, Rose deems it an understandable request. Given how vulnerable the other three made Bella feel the night before, of course learning how to protect herself would rank high on her list of desires. A bullet won’t stop a vampire, but Rose suspects that’s not really the point. Feeling like she can defend herself in some small way will make Bella feel more secure, more in control… whether it works against supernatural threats or not. Any kind of security will appeal to the brunette immensely at this point.

Then Rose catches herself, remembering what Emmett asked of her. He begged Bella to tell him something that she’s always wanted to try. This isn’t a new desire of hers and that surprises Rose, because it means that Bella hasn’t merely outgrown their brother. If this is something that she’s always wanted to do, then she was never Edward’s perfect match. The mindreader is much too tame a creature for a girl who wants to hold danger in her hands.

“You want to learn how to fire a gun?” Rose checks, trying to hide her delight. A slow grin creeps across her face when Bella nods. She has no doubt that Alice has already seen Bella’s chosen distraction, which means her arrogant, prick of a brother has too. It greatly amuses the blonde to picture the tantrums they’re likely throwing. Neither one of them would ever put a weapon in Bella’s hand. To them, it’s a far too risky endeavor.

They’re not entirely wrong. By their standards, Bella is fragile. She isn’t just human, she’s inherently clumsy. It’s entirely possible that the girl will accidentally kill herself if she isn’t careful, but it’s still her decision to make. If this is what Bella really wants to do, then it’s not their place to tell her no.

The more Rose thinks about it, the more amused she grows. She knows the protests of her meddling siblings will fall on deaf ears. Their disapproval is meaningless now, it holds no sway. Carlisle made it painfully clear last night that Bella can do as she pleases and he will not permit them to interfere. None of them will.

The rest of their family will not allow them to control her anymore.

Eyes sparkling with mischief, Emmett lets out a fairly devious sounding chuckle. “Bella, Bella, Bella…” he teases and shakes his head, a wide, dimpled smile spreading across his face, “have I ever told you that you are my favorite sibling?”

One thought on “Chapter 3 – Freedom Calls

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