I completed this story over 12 years ago, and it was originally titled "All in the Family" when I'd first published it. I'd pulled all my work for a while, but I've had many requests to repost this story, so here it is. This will be the only longish author's note for the whole thing, so...you're welcome. All Twilight characters belong to Stephenie Meyer, I'm just borrowing for a bit.

This story is an AH, HEA, SFW tale with a few "moral of the story" points. Not really looking for review count, just trying to fulfill some requests. Anyway, thanks in advance for those who do chose to kindly share their ideas and opinions.

I'm open to sincere feedback and constructive criticism, but nasty guest reviews that are only meant to be hurtful or unhelpful will be moderated and not be allowed to post, so don't waste your time. I won't even read the whole thing. We all are experiencing enough negativity in the world right now, no one needs more. If you've got a beef with me or my writing, PM me and we can discuss it like adults.

As of this date, January 29th, 2022, it's looking like the world is potentially about to enter some seriously dark times, with rumors of war and lots of upheavals of all kinds on the horizon. Prayers that we all will come out well and whole on the other side...

Prologue – All in the Family

I could already tell today was going to be more than just the start of a new life for my mom and me. This whole thing was complicating my world, and it was just one more example of how my not-so-long-yet life would never be simple. Somehow, my lot seemed to regularly require me to "fasten my seatbelts" tightly, like on a bad airplane ride over rough terrain. Unsurprisingly to me, today was no different.

As I stood next to my mom, holding her bouquet while trying not to cry, I couldn't help but wonder about what new and terrifying flight path my life was about to take. From the looks on the five faces I felt scowling at me from the pews of the church, I would say I was in for some serious turbulence, and soon.

The minister blessed the union of my mom and the latest man she had just promised to love for all time, and then the minister presented them to the small congregation.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Elliott Alexander Masen. Elliott and Renee, may you have many years of love and happiness together."

Mom looked happier than I had ever seen her, and her new husband smiled down at her with a look in his eyes that said he would happily give everything he owned if he could have the rest of time with her in his arms.

My mom's romance with widower Elliott Masen had been a bit of a long-distance relationship up until now. She had met him when he had come into town on business a few months back. He had stopped in at the same bookstore she was shopping in to pick up something to read on the plane trip back home to St. Louis. He'd apparently seen her come around the corner and had literally dropped the magazine from his hands, as they came face to face and froze, staring at each other like deer caught in headlights.

And who said love at first sight wasn't real?

He was in town a few days every week after that, doing an investigation and helping with a trial, and they spent every possible moment together while he was here on that case. Unfortunately, I was always sent to bed or to a friend's house for a sleepover before he arrived at our apartment, so we had yet to spend any time together, and I hadn't gotten to know anything about him or his kids before today. It made me feel like my mom was denying my existence for some reason. So far, what I had learned about his kids today had my trouble sensing abilities on high alert. They were going to cause problems for me, I could already tell.

The rapid progression of my mom and Elliott's relationship didn't surprise me much, given my mom's track record. Her last marriage had been in Las Vegas to a guy named Wayne, and thankfully, it had only lasted two weeks. Every time my mom turned her back, he seemed to think I needed to be spanked, a lot, even though I'd never done anything to deserve it. He had turned out to be a real creep and a pervert. After him, there had been a steady succession of men who had promised her the world, but none of them had lasted very long.

My mom was strikingly beautiful, and men were naturally drawn to her, but her inability to focus on one man kept her on the move. However, I think celebrating her thirtieth birthday had made her re-evaluate her situation, and so when she met Elliott, things seemed to change for her. I only hoped it was for real this time, and I hoped even more that her past relationship issues would be just that: in the past. I was more than ready for some stability.

My mom and my biological father, Charlie Swan, had divorced when I was only an infant. I came into the world the Labor Day weekend after they had graduated from high school, the product of a drunken holiday party the prior winter. They both had barely turned eighteen during the spring before I was born and had gone to the courthouse and gotten married, instead of partying over the summer then heading off to college with their friends. I had been born on September 3rd, the day they would have started their college freshman year.

Being overwhelmed with a new baby and marriage all at once had been more than my too-young-and-immature mother could handle, though, so when I was only four months old, she left me with my dad and my Grandma Swan and went off to find herself and finish growing up at college.

My dad got an associate degree in criminal justice and then went into the police academy, while Grandma Swan babysat with me. After dad graduated the academy, he worked as a private bodyguard for a couple of years before he was offered a really good job as a police investigator in Portland. He took the job and moved Grandma Swan and me up there with him. My mom wasn't happy about it, but she knew I was better off with them at the time, since she was in graduate school by then. She did call a lot and came several times a year to see me, though, so I knew she still loved and missed me.

One of the darkest times in my life was when Grandma Swan had died unexpectedly, shortly before my seventh birthday. She had been everything to me, as I had been to her, being her only grandchild. She had always called me her "baby doll," and to me, she was "Grammy Bird." We were all extremely close, and my dad took her passing very hard.

He was at a loss for dealing with his grief, settling Grandma Swan's affairs, and trying to work fulltime, all while trying to raise me alone with no help. He finally had to send me to live with my mom for what was supposed to have been only a single semester of school, while he sorted things out in Portland. It ended up being permanent.

He had decided to attend a grief counseling group for a while that was offered to the families of fallen officers, and that was where he had met Susan Hale, the widow of his fallen coworker, Roger Hale. She was the same age as my dad, and they had hit it off and were soon inseparable. His life moved on, but without me in it.

I didn't even know they had married until I'd gone up to visit during the summer before I'd turned ten and was introduced to my new stepbrother and stepsister. Susan had been only fifteen when she and an older guy she had briefly dated named Gerald Whitlock had conceived their son, Jasper, who was three years older than I was. She had later married her boyfriend, Roger Hale, during her senior year of high school, and they'd quickly had their daughter, Rosalie, who was the same age as me. I had learned one very important thing from all these adults: I was never having sex while in high school!

Even though Rose was close to me in age, we had little in common, and Jasper just seemed to despise me…for whatever reason, I didn't know. They were both incredibly attractive, just like their mother. I knew I was by no means ugly, but I felt like a troll next to them. They knew it, too, and made sure I understood I was unwanted in their house.

Visits with my dad were challenging after that, especially once they moved into their huge new house on a new, private gated street. I couldn't just take off anymore when I visited and walk down the road to the library, hiding from my tormentors until my dad got home from work. Jasper loved to prank me mercilessly, dropping things on me from the balcony and threatening to push me down the stairs. Rosalie was just downright mean, when she wasn't totally ignoring me. She refused to let me into her room, insisting I should have to sleep in the unfinished basement. She resented any time I spent with Susan and constantly tried to get me into trouble, and she was jealous of my dad and me when I visited. I knew deep down she was hurting from losing her father, but it didn't make it any easier to remember to be compassionate about her loss when she was on one of her rampages.

I was resentful toward my dad for a long while for doing this to me. He and Jasper had bonded and become fishing and football buddies, and it seemed to me that Rosalie had replaced me on his lap. However, Susan was wonderful to me and treated me like her own. I was pretty sure she and my dad were unaware of how mean her kids were to me, though, because Rose and Jasper were perfect angels when they were in front of my dad and Susan. However, they had both warned me that if I told on them, they would make sure I paid dearly and painfully for tattling. I was very small for my age, not standing a chance against them physically, and I knew as big and rotten as they both were, there was no doubt in my mind they were serious. Fearing for my safety, I kept my mouth shut.

My mom and dad had managed to remain on oddly friendly terms and were very much like close siblings now instead of exes. And once my mom and Susan met, they were like long lost sisters. Just as strange was the bond that had developed between Elliott and my dad. Elliott worked as a police homicide investigator and had played football during college, so he and my dad could talk shop and sports at the same time. They became best friends, just like my mom and Susan. Looking at them in the pews now, as Susan dabbed at her tears, while my dad patted her other hand, made me want to roll my eyes. My family was officially one of the weirdest ever.

Elliott Masen's late wife, Elizabeth, had died a few years ago, leaving him a widower to raise their triplets on his own. He had been raising his kids by himself ever since then, with the occasional help of his sister. He had two sons and a daughter who were all the same age as me, products of a multiple in-vitro pregnancy. According to what I had overheard my mom tell her friend, they were all quite smart, but they were really spoiled, probably since Elliott and his wife had had such a hard time bringing them into the world to begin with. His daughter sounded like a daddy's princess, based on how I had heard my mom describing her. Not only was she cute, tiny, and a total girly girl, but she was a freaking genius to top it off. That was great, just great…

My mom had sounded so excited about taking her shopping and doing all the girly things they could do together that I hated doing. Well, I didn't really hate it; I just didn't like my mom spending money we didn't have to spare. Girly stuff was expensive, and optional, especially when faced with the choice between the basics or beauty. I would rather have had no hunger pangs or avoided dying of heat stroke in the Atlanta summer swelter because of having no electricity, hence no air conditioning, than shopping for a new outfit any day.

Apparently, both of Elliott's boys were heavily into sports, so Elliott, and now my mom, were their biggest fans. Both boys were handsome, but they looked totally different from each other and their sister. I could tell just by watching them that they were going to have their pick of girls at school. I also thought they were all extremely full of themselves.

So, that left me…superfluous little Bella, lurking pretty much on the outside, as usual. That was okay with me, though. It gave me more room to be me…clumsy, klutzy, mousy, nerdy, lonely, invisible me.

Life was grand…

I hugged my new stepdad and then my mom before handing her back her bouquet. We all shuffled into the vestibule, where the photographer had set up for portraits. I halted and cringed when I saw my new siblings snickering at me and whispering conspiratorially to each other. Even Elliott's tiny daughter, who appeared to be so sweet, scared the crap out of me with the look on her face right then, like she wanted to really hurt me.

The photographer grouped us for various photos, and I tried to smile, even though I didn't feel much like smiling. He made all of us squeeze together for one final shot, the big family portrait, and one of Elliott's sons, I think his name was Ego or something, reached over and pinched my butt, causing me to jerk and flail, twisting my ankle on my platform wedge sandals. At the same time, his other son reached up behind me and quickly tousled my up-styled hair roughly into a ratty, disheveled mess, as his angelic daughter discretely stomped backwards hard on my toes with her heel, causing me to gasp with my mouth open, grimacing in pain. All of this happened simultaneously and at the exact moment the photographer snapped the picture. I knew when those pictures came back that they would all look positively perfect, while I looked like the female equivalent of Quasimodo. They all shot me sinister smirks and left me standing there with a stinging butt cheek, twisted ankle, ruined hairdo, and a split and bleeding toenail.

I managed to hobble my way to the cultural hall at the back of the church, where the reception was already underway. There was a large table set up at the front with ten chairs for our new family, which included room for my dad, Susan and her two kids to sit with us, so the adults could talk. However, at the end seat, where I was supposed to have sat, all the boys had pulled off their jackets and ties and piled them in my chair, along with Alice and Rosalie's flowers and purses, and all their shoes. My dad and Elliott were deep into a conversation about some new job offer Elliott had just gotten, and my mom and Susan were equally as engaged in their conversation. So, the only ones who noticed me limping out of the hall were my five new stepsiblings, who I could hear giggling and blowing raspberries, as I silently slipped out.

I hid in the chapel and sat crying for two hours behind the pulpit, missing the whole reception. No one even noticed I was gone, as my mom and Elliott danced their first dance, cut the cake, and tossed the bouquet and garter. I'd guess I had fallen asleep, since I didn't hear any of it. That was until the bony hand of Elliott's evil son, Idiot, or whatever his name was, pinched my tender breast painfully hard, startling me awake to tell me it was time to go. He ran out of the chapel and left me sitting there, ready to start crying all over again. I limped out of the church, clutching my bruised breast, to find everyone already in the parking lot. I watched Elliott's kids climb into his car, looking back at me with snickers, whispers, and sharp glares. What I had done to them to deserve any of their abuse, I had no clue.

Elliott and his kids were staying in a hotel, so they were headed there to grab their luggage, while my mom shuffled me away quickly into our car to go back to our tiny apartment to change before they left. As we drove home, I finally broke.

"Mom, do we have to move with them to Missouri?" I asked between sniffles. She parked in front of our building and rushed me into the apartment, shoving me into my room to get out of my dress and into my old shorts and a t-shirt. "I don't want to leave Atlanta, Mom. All my friends are here!" I wailed. By now, the tears were sliding down my cheeks full force.

My mom shook her head and laughed. "Weren't you listening when Elliott told everyone our big news, Bella? We're not moving to Missouri. We're all moving to Oregon!" My eyes went wide, as my mom told me about Elliott's new job. Apparently, my dad had recommended Elliott for a position in his department as an investigator, and they were going to fly out and go house hunting in Portland as soon as they had arranged for everything to be packed up at Elliott's house in St. Louis for storage. I'd guess that was good, but it was going to be terrible at the same time. We would be closer to my dad, but instead of having to only deal with two or three stepsiblings at a time, I would be faced with all five of them, all the time.

"You should be happy, Bella. We're going to have a real house! Susan and Charlie's street is completely enclosed. It's gated and private, with all new construction, and they're building big, beautiful new custom homes there, so she's checking on lots for us on their street that are ready to be built on. I'm sure there'll be something great. It looked like Elliott's and Susan's kids hit it off right away, and they're already planning things to do together for the rest of the summer. I'm sure you'll have tons of fun with all of them. You'll have a sister to share a room with now and-"

I cut her off with a gasp. "What do mean, share a room? I can't share a room with her, Mom, she hates me!"

"Alice doesn't hate you, Bella. You girls just don't know each other yet. I'm sure you'll be best friends before long."

"They all hate me, Mom! Even Jasper and Rosalie hate me. What am I going to do, having to be around all of them, all the time?" I panicked. "Oh crap, they're going to kill me!" I was sobbing now, close to hyperventilating. Then, there it was. The look. I knew there was no further arguing with her when she gave me the look. The decision had already been made. Sometimes, I hated being a kid.

"Oh, stop being so dramatic, Isabella Marie, you'll adjust quickly, you always do. You're my little trouper, and besides, I know you. You'll make the best of the situation, get buried in your books in a quiet corner somewhere, and you won't even notice the difference. Elliott is the greatest guy I've ever loved…since your dad, of course. I want us to all be happy together, and you know I deserve this." She sighed deeply and leveled me with another one of her looks. "I've waited a long time for this, Isabella. At thirty years old, I'm not getting any younger. I need this."

I dried my tears and pulled myself together. It didn't look like it mattered what I needed. My mom did deserve to be happy, but I feared what my life was going to be like from now on. I took a deep breath and nodded okay, drying my useless tears. If I had to endure being the constant target of torture by the five new banes of my existence…well, I was going to do it with my head held high. Besides, what could I do now, anyway?

"Bella, I know you're only twelve, almost thirteen, but you're very smart and mature way beyond your years. You're level-headed, and you know how to handle things, so I'm counting on you with this move. All the paperwork is already taken care of, all you need to do is be ready. Lakeisha will be there to watch over the movers, too, so everything should go smoothly. I've paid her extra to get you to the airport on time and onto your flight, and then we'll meet you in Portland in two weeks."

I still had two weeks of school left, so I was going to be staying with Lakeisha Washington, my mom's former coworker, and her husband, Tyrrell. I didn't even know them. Elliott's kids were flying back to Missouri with him and my mom, leaving me here by myself with strangers. I was positively terrified.

The movers were coming at the end of the last week of school to pack up our apartment, so my mom "put me in charge" of that. At least, she'd said I was in charge, but I knew what she was up to. It was likely an attempt to stop me from telling Elliott about my fear of being left behind and begging him to take me out of school early and with them to St. Louis, too. I was pretty sure mom would have liked to have left his kids here with me as well for their honeymoon, but I didn't see Elliott letting that happen. As it was, his kids would be staying mostly with his sister, while mom and Elliott arranged for their stuff to be packed and shipped to Portland amidst their honeymooning.

This whole moving to Portland thing was going to be insane. We were staying with my dad and Susan in their house there until our house was all done, which could take a while, depending on how far along the construction was on the house they chose. I just hoped I survived my new siblings. I definitely planned to sleep with one eye open.

Elliott picked us up, and I was squished into the backseat of the van alone, wedged in between all their piles of luggage. He drove across town into an area I didn't know, pulling up in front of Lakeisha's apartment complex that looked kind of spooky. Mom just had me climb out with my bag, telling me what building and apartment number to look for.

"Shouldn't you walk her up?" Elliott asked, looking concerned.

"Lakeisha is expecting her, so she'll be fine. We have to get going, we're cutting it close as it is!" she said, telling him to step on it.

Elliott looked at me dubiously, but he didn't argue with her and pulled away. I guessed she really was worried about being late, because she didn't get out and hug me goodbye or even wave, as I stood there staring after the van.

I was really feeling sorry for myself, unwanted and unloved, totally discarded at that point, as I made my way through the apartment buildings, looking for the right one. I was glad to see my mom so happy, though, despite how miserable I felt, so I held my head up and tried hard not to cry. However, the memory of the three glaring faces that had stared at me from the back of the van as they drove away brought on the tears and had me questioning whether I would ever be happy again. Would they ever accept me or love me? Was I ever going to be able to be civil with even one of them? Was I ever going to be something more than an outsider to them? From the looks of things, I wasn't holding out much hope.

The dirty looks Jasper and Rosalie had shot at me as they had left earlier were the same as the ones I had just seen - complete with stuck-out tongues - and they had told me in no uncertain terms, again, that I wasn't going to be welcome in their house, as usual.

So, this was to be my life from now on. Whether I was at my mom's new house or my dad's, I was always going to be on the outside looking in, not really wanted at either place. I felt kind of like Cinderella, times two. At least she only had one household to deal with, and just two rotten stepsisters. Not only did I get those, but I also got three nasty stepbrothers to go with it, without any rescue by a fairy godmother. Heck, I would have settled for a few friendly mice around the house just to have someone to play with who liked me.

At twelve, life had never looked so bleak.

Chapter 1 – Doormat to Diva

Five years later…

The last five years had passed quickly since Elliott had married my mom, and a lot had happened in that time. Once in Portland, Elliott had made my mom very happy by purchasing a huge, beautiful new home. The original buyers who had contracted the build hadn't been able to go through with the mortgage, so that left the house available for purchase. It was already almost complete, located at the head of the cul-de-sac of my dad and Susan's gated street. It put us as neighbors, which was nice for me in a way, having both of my parents close by.

It turned out that Elliott and his sister, Esme, were heirs to quite a substantial legacy from their father, who had founded a highly successful corporation back in St. Louis. To say they were loaded was an understatement.

"Bella! I'm leaving in twenty. If you aren't ready, you'll have to ride the bus or beg a ride from Edward or Alice!" Emmett bellowed down the hall.

I had heard that same line every school morning of last year since my siblings had gotten their brand-new cars for their birthdays. I had been offered a new car myself, but I had opted to ride the bus or hitch a ride with friends most of the time. I had asked instead that my parents build an enclosed pool house with a heated swimming pool with what they would have spent on my new car. It ended up costing quite a bit more than the car would have, but the whole family got to enjoy it year-round.

"I'm getting a ride with Jake today!" I yelled back around the huge basket of laundry with which I was struggling. I passed a half-asleep Alice, who was just getting up and heading into the bathroom, before ducking sideways to keep from running headlong into Edward and Emmett in their dash for breakfast. I glared at their backs. None of them offered to help me do anything, ever. I had already been downstairs and started another load of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, and taken out the overflowing trash Emmett was supposed to have taken out last night. I'd then made our little sister, Esryl, her toast and oatmeal, cooked bacon, eggs and toast for mom and Elliott, and kissed my mom goodbye for the day, as I handed her the lunch I'd packed for her last night. My siblings were clueless as to what all I did before they ever got up, not to mention they were lazy as crap and wouldn't have cared, regardless.

I quickly put away the clothes in my arms and straightened up the bedrooms to kill time before I went to see if Alice was done. She had finally gotten out of the bathroom, allowing me my few minutes. It was a good thing I had learned to shower at night and primp in less than ten minutes, because that was usually about all the time I had in the morning in the bathroom after she had finished. I think she spent a large part of that time standing in the shower just trying to wake up.

The bathroom was technically mine, since it was an ensuite to my bedroom, but they had installed a door into the hallway, so Alice could share it with me without having to come through my room. She had been furious and pouted for a month when I'd called dibs on the bigger bedroom, but she just hadn't been fast enough. I'd enjoyed that temper tantrum immensely. At least we had our own separate bedrooms now. I would have killed her in her sleep by now if we didn't.

We had ended up having to share a sofa bed in the game room at my dad and Susan's house for a while until our house was finished. It was a major exercise in patience, seeing as how I was a neat freak, and Alice wasn't even close to being concerned with cleanliness or order. It was embarrassing to have Susan come up there and try to clean up after her, so I just did it to keep Susan from getting mad at the both of us, me by association.

It took a long time, but Alice and I finally came to an understanding. She didn't try to make me do things I didn't want to do and stayed out of my stuff, and I let her live. It had been rough going at first, as we barely tolerated each other's presence in the same house. But as we grew up, we'd learned to get along somewhat, and we mostly acted civil now. We didn't hang out together, though. She ran with Rosalie and her crowd, with whom I did not associate, because they had made it very clear early on that I was not welcome in their inner circle.

It was now our last year of public school. Finally, seniors! The first day was always my least and most favorite day of the school year. Least favorite because it meant summer was over too soon, especially since school started in early August here, instead of after Labor Day. Plus, I would have to endure all the stares and whispers of my new classmates, learn a new schedule, find my new classrooms, and deal with the morning fight for the bathroom. It was also my most favorite because I was back together every day of the school week with all the people I really wanted to be with most - my friends, the SHAGNICs.

I had actually done better than I'd thought I would with making new friends in Portland. My friend, Angela, was a godsend, and a lot like me on the outside. She was quiet and shy on the surface, but unlike me, behind the meek exterior, she was a closet party girl. The same went for Jake, my male "BFF" and resident hall horse. He regularly threw me up on his back and let me ride him to class, galloping through the halls like a wild stallion, while I was holding onto his long black hair like reins. I would swear his arms were as long as his legs! I got to ride on him frequently, unless he had our friend, Vanessa, in that coveted spot. I think he really liked her a lot more than he let on. Meeting them had made Portland a much brighter place for me.

Vanessa and Angela were two of my closest friends, as well as Beccah, Clarissa, and Summer. Together with them, Jake, Ben, Paul, Colin, and Seth, the eleven of us made up the Stanford High Apes, Geeks, Nerds, and Intellects Club, or the SHAGNICs, as we amusedly called ourselves. All the guys were huge and built like gorillas, hence the ape reference. They were all gorgeous, too, at least to us SHAGNIC girls, and buff, but they chose not to play football, much to the disappointment of the school's football coach. Instead, they started their own Outdoor Adventures group and spent their spare time hunting, fishing, camping, and planting trees in areas where logging and weather had damaged the landscape. We also had our own bowling team and bowled in a league one night a week. We were a tight-knit group and had each other's backs, which was more than I could say for my siblings, even after five years.

"Bella, Esme called. She said to wear the red shirt today, whatever that means," Elliott called out to me. That made me giggle. Esme had said that shirt was going to cause havoc today. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

Esme and Carlisle turned out to be two of my most favorite people ever. They'd ended up buying a lot and building a house of their own across the street from Susan and my dad's shortly after we'd moved to Portland. They moved here because they liked the cooler weather so much in the summertime, not to mention the beauty of the area. Most of all, I think Esme just wanted to be nearer to family. The fact that Carlisle was an OB/GYN proved useful, too, when Esryl Andrea Masen joined our family almost three years after mom and Elliott had married. For a short while after Esryl was born, I'd felt even more cast aside, but she and I bonded very quickly, and so I finally had a sibling who liked me.

I took over a lot of Esryl's care soon after my mom went back to work when Esryl was just a month old. I was captivated by her tininess and the fact that she looked so much like me, and every sound she made fascinated me, especially when she would get so excited to see me. That was something I wasn't used to seeing from a sibling. It was no wonder I completely fell in love with her.

Mom chose not to breastfeed, but she didn't realize until Esryl was almost a year old that she hadn't really started sleeping through the night at four weeks old. It was because I had been sneaking up to feed and change her myself. I became a very light sleeper, since my bedroom was right across from the nursery, and she always woke me up when she fussed. I would quickly have her in the kitchen with a bottle, feeding her before she could start crying loud enough to wake anyone else. On nights when she was extra fussy, I would take her up to my attic room, where she would usually quiet down quickly and curl up in my arms to sleep.

It was Esme who had helped me learn how to care for Esryl, and she became my mentor. I spent every spare moment I could get with Carlisle and her, usually with Esryl in tow. I was always welcome at their house, and Esme and I had a lot in common. We both loved to cook, crochet, sew on old treadle sewing machines, were avid readers, loved non-mainstream music, and we just needed each other.

I needed Esme a lot, because my mom was usually busy with work, or running around to the boys' games and being the perfect team mom. She didn't neglect me, exactly, but I needed more than she had time for, so Esme filled the role perfectly. She helped me get over my severe shyness and come out of my shell. Sometimes, I still felt invisible in my family, but never when I was with Carlisle and Esme, or taking care of Esryl. They'd helped me to realize, especially over this past summer, that I was just as attractive, important and worthwhile as all my siblings, and that I had someone who depended on me and looked up to me like no other, and for that, I would be eternally grateful to them.

Esme seemed like she really needed me, too, and that made me feel special. She and Carlisle had lost a baby girl right before mom and Elliott had gotten married. The baby had been stillborn, and they had not been able to conceive again. Esme had given up on being able to have more children, so I became like her own. She was still young, three years younger than my mom, but she seemed to have infinite wisdom. She treated me like a princess when I was with her, and we went and did things together we both liked. I actually learned to like being a girl with her help. She didn't try to take over caring for Esryl, either, like she might have done given her circumstances. Instead, she taught me everything she knew about how to care for a baby, saying that someday the knowledge would serve me well. At least, she hoped it would. She understood me, and she encouraged me to be true to myself. She always showed me by example how to be a lady without being pretentious.

Esme and Carlisle were both musically talented, and so Esme had taught me how to play the piano, while Carlisle had given me lessons on the old guitar he had learned on that he had passed on to me. They wanted Edward to have someone to give him some competition in music. He had been given lessons since he was small, and according to Esme, he thought he was hot stuff, since his talent was substantial. She said he needed to be humbled, and I was just the girl to do it. I studied hard and practiced every spare moment, and my skill level on both instruments now rivaled Edward's.

Carlisle was a few years older than Esme, but he was as warm and caring a man as I had ever known. His love of learning and compassion as a doctor inspired me to consider medicine as a career, possibly as a speech pathologist or a therapist. That was kind of ironic, because Edward was aspiring to be a doctor as well. I didn't think he had any clue that I was considering the same career path, which was fine with me. He was bad enough as it was without giving him yet another reason to be hateful to me.

For the first couple of years after we'd moved to Portland, Edward was a total jerk to me. He took delight in pinching me whenever he could catch me off guard, falling into me to knock me down and landing on top of me, pulling my hair, digging his fingers into my sides, and slapping my rear end…generally, being a pain. He never took the role of a brother with me. Instead, he was always more of a rival. Over the past two years, though, he had taken to just staring at me whenever we were around each other, that was when he wasn't hidden off in his room doing heaven only knew what, or hogging practice time on the piano in the family room.

Thankfully, I had gotten a full-sized professional quality keyboard for Christmas last year from Carlisle and Esme, and I had my own space in my attic room to play undisturbed. I'd gotten to claim the partially finished attic as my own domain after I'd spent an entire summer cleaning it out all by myself and fixing it up, with no help from my siblings. Elliott had recognized that it was just wasted space and offered it to all of us if we would work on it, but none of the others were interested, so it was all mine.

Since it was built over another bathroom, convincing Elliott to install a small bathroom with just a shower stall up there had been easy, and a little closet had been added as well, in which I kept stashed a few clothes and some of my old toys and mementoes from my early childhood. No one dared go up there without my invitation, per Elliott's orders, since I'd done all the cleaning and most of the work by myself. I had given up my entire summer of sleeping in, swimming and hanging out with my friends to do it, so I had earned it fair and square.

It was a great room, very bright and inviting, with a large round window at each end. It was really long, but it was kind of narrow. It had dark oak flooring, which I'd installed with a little help from Esme. She'd also helped me finish and texture the walls and then paint. I'd paid for the flooring and painting supplies myself by saving my allowance, doing lots of extra chores for my dad and Susan, doing yardwork for Carlisle and Esme, and washing cars for friends and neighbors. It had taken me the whole summer to do it all, but when it was finished, it looked amazing.

Although the room was narrow, it was wide enough for Grandma Swan's old antique iron bed to sit under the front window, pushed into the corner. My dad had given it to me, and I'd happily set it up and dressed it with her vintage rose sheets and one of her ancient handmade cotton quilts. He had also kept the rocking chair and crib she had used when I was a baby, and I had set them against the wall opposite from the bed. Her old antique wooden vanity dresser with the round mirror he had given me was in another corner. My Great-Grandmother Amelia's old treadle sewing machine sat under the back window next to my piano. It was my sanctuary when I needed time away from everyone, especially Edward.

Emmett had pretty much done the same things to torment me as Edward for a while, but after an intense evening of Xbox, where we had finally bonded as I'd schooled him in his favorite fighting game, we became more like real siblings. We were the same age, but the minute he hit his growth spurt, he didn't slow down until he was well over six feet tall and built like a brick wall. The title of big brother definitely applied then. Of course, as I always figured, both Emmett and Edward were popular with the girls. Both had more dates than I cared to think about, especially Edward. Emmett had found his permanent match in Rosalie two summers ago, and they had been a steady item ever since. I guessed there was no accounting for taste.

I stepped up on the stool in front of the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready before I headed downstairs. Being so short could be challenging at times! Even though the boys had shot up and become quite tall and well built, Alice and I had stayed small, Alice almost to the extreme. Although I was still very petite myself, unlike Alice, I'd gotten all the curves I was supposed to, plus quite a bit extra in the bust over this past summer. I didn't think anyone had ever realized I was now sporting a very healthy pair of triple D's, since all I'd worn were sports bras that banded them down and hid them under my oversized t-shirts, with my long hair hanging loose, which covered up my figure. I'd also made sure I only went into the pool in a swimsuit when my older siblings weren't in the pool house with me. I just didn't want to hear their teasing.

I'd had to get all new bras for the start of school because I had completely outgrown all my old ones. Esme made sure I got fitted properly, and she suggested I get the kind that, as she put it, "Did the girls justice." I was uncomfortable being stared at, though, so I usually wore my long, spiraling chestnut curls pulled over to the front to hide that area. However, this school year, I was determined to own the body God had given me and not be embarrassed by it, and so I planned to wear my hair however I wanted, up or down. The teasing and staring jerks could just stuff it.

The look I was sporting today was completely new for me, courtesy of a total makeover of my school clothes in a marathon shopping trip with Esme. I wasn't in my usual school attire of grungy, oversized sweatpants, baggy sweatshirts or raggedy t-shirts. I didn't even own any of those anymore. Esme had helped me see that I had been using the ratty clothes as a way to not stand out. It had worked very well. I'd been so surprised at how different, good even, that I'd looked in the first outfit we'd bought that it hadn't taken Esme much to convince me that my entire school wardrobe needed to be replaced. I was sure Esme was the only person who could have ever gotten through to me. I respected her opinion, so I would gladly do anything she recommended.

I was now wearing my dark, low-rise skinny jeans with a studded wide belt, along with the clingy red stretch top Esme had suggested this morning, and my new black ankle boots. My curves were definitely no longer hidden. I pulled back part of my hair and clipped it up, leaving a few spirals to frame my face, the rest cascading in its usual natural ringlets behind my shoulders and down past my rear. I was tempted to pull my hair over the front to cover my chest, but I scowled at myself in the mirror and left it back.

With makeup finished, earrings and watch on, and a quick shot of the new perfume Esme had gotten me, I reached for the finishing piece; a beautiful sapphire and diamond pendant Carlisle had given me as an early birthday gift. I looked pretty good, definitely different than I ever had before for school, and I had a feeling this year, my last year of high school, was going to be interesting, if nothing else. I stopped to grab my bag and then headed for the kitchen.

Everyone was sitting around the table eating breakfast when I walked in, picking up dirty dishes and putting away things as I went. I stopped to kiss Esryl on the top of her head while dodging a sticky hand. She was my miniature shadow, and I loved her dearly, but right now, I didn't need a tiny, jam-studded handprint on my chest. She smiled a toothy toddler grin at me and squealed, "Pwetty, Bewa!"

I didn't notice at first that Emmett's friend and teammate, James, had stopped by and was eating cereal with the boys. When they looked up to see what Esryl was talking about, all three froze mid-shovel, staring at me with their mouths open.

"When did that happen?" James muttered, as he slowly lowered his spoon, still staring at me.

Elliott looked at me and then at the boys and grinned. "Close 'em up, gents, you're attracting flies." Esryl thought that was hysterical and started giggling.

"Hey, quit staring at my sister like that!" Alice growled, slapping all three of them on their heads, as she came around them to drop her dishes in the sink, and then she stood in front of me with her hands on her hips.

"I knew it! I knew you had a banging figure hidden under all that curly hair and those god-awful baggy shirts!" she screeched, as she reached out and cupped my breasts and bounced them in her hands, leaving me stunned. "Oh, my gosh, this bra isn't padded, this is all you! Holy crap, Bella, your boobs are glorious! And you look incredible!" She slipped her finger into the lower-cut neckline of my shirt and pulled down slightly to reveal my red lace demi bra. "Ooh, very sexy indeed! Red lace is always a good choice. Did you get the matching panties, too?" I just nodded, not sure what to do otherwise.

She grabbed my waist with her tiny hands and started running them up and down my sides and over my stomach. "I love this shirt! Look at how it clings to every curve. I have to get one of these. Where did you find it?" Before I could answer, she spun me around and grabbed my rear, making me jump. "Bella, these jeans are to die for on you! Look at what they do for your butt and hips!" she moaned, as she wrapped her arms around me from behind and ran her hands all over the front and sides of my hips. "Please, don't ever wear sweats again! It's a crime that you've been hiding all of this all this time!"

By now, I was completely flabbergasted. I had just been totally felt up and molested by my sister! Alice shot me a discrete smirk and winked before she headed off to collect her things for school. I turned around to see all three boys still staring at me, looking completely dumbfounded, and Elliott had his hand over his mouth, trying to stifle his laughter. Alice truly was an evil little thing!

I shook my head, as I grabbed a granola bar and a bottle of juice from the fridge and shoved them into my bag before getting a wet cloth to clean up Esryl. I carried her to her room and got her dressed for the day, bringing her back into the kitchen. Elliott was taking her to daycare today, since mom had already left. I was headed for the door when someone knocked. I opened it to find my dad standing there, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

When Charlie Swan grinned like that, it worried me, because it usually meant he was up to something, which could either embarrass me or make me do something to embarrass myself.

Neither one was usually very pretty.