Nicffwhisperer - thanks for the shout out at the Lemonade Stand
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Mina Rivera - thanks for the lovely banner to go with that recommendation
Sri - thanks for your support and your help on this chapter. I'm really hoping to get another one out for your birthday.
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Where we left off: "After a while it became ridiculous. I had to say goodbye to my Peter Pan fetish and grow up. I couldn't spend my life pining after seventeen year old boys."
I could be the man that you need
The words died on his lips.
Could he? Did he know the kind of man Bella needed? Could he be a man? Her man?
He remained silent while he thought of Rosalie's advice. He was a shell of a boy. He had less to offer Bella than he did a decade ago. She always felt below him even though he had put her on a pedestal; but truly, they had been equals. They were learning to fall in love together, to grow together. But he couldn't see it at the time. All he knew was that she was fragile and human and he could destroy her at any moment they were together. And then he destroyed the both of them by deciding to be always apart.
But that wasn't even true.
He had destroyed himself. He had destroyed them. But he hadn't destroyed her. He had listened, really listened this time, to what she had to say to him. She had felt just like he did in the beginning. But she picked herself up and moved forward. In front of him was a woman he recognized, but he didn't know.
"Hmmmm?" He was still contemplating how to reconcile this epiphany: this woman was still his everything and he was a nothing but a boy.
"You're lost in thought."
"I'm lost. Yes." Rosalie was right. He needed to come back. Really come back.
"Yes?" This time he looked at her. She was standing up. When did that happen?
"I think maybe that's it for tonight. We've said quite a bit. Maybe we understand each other a little more now." She looked towards the window, "I need to get home."
"Yes, home. I need to come home - go home - too." He corrected himself. "Sorry, I'm still," he paused and waved his fingers around his head, "in here. Thank you for tonight. I'd like to be able to talk to you again. I think there's more to say to each other. Maybe," he hesitated once again, "we could become friends?"
"Maybe." She gestured to the window. "For now, I need to lock up." She kept her distance as she followed him to the window, stopping when he did, leaving a large space between them. It was a deliberate calculation; being near him had always been when things fell apart. They had made progress tonight and she didn't want to undo it.
He was just about to jump, both feet were on the window sill. He leaned back inside.
"Same time next week. I'll leave the window open."
Despite all the things he heard tonight that broke his heart, her invitation left him hopeful.
A quiet morning in the library had left Bella with time to think. Once she arrived home the night before, she was able to let go of the conversation with Edward. Mike was a good distraction. A clear head and a quiet space the following morning allowed for contemplation. By noon Bella had a list of questions she needed answers to immediately. A quick word with her supervisor, and she had secured the afternoon off, agreeing to stay the full day instead of just tomorrow morning.
By one Bella was standing on a porch she hadn't been on in a long time, being hugged by a very pregnant friend. "Bella! Long time no see!"
"Hi Vanessa, is your husband around? I checked the main garage and it was closed, I wondered if he was home for lunch."
"He's here. We're expecting this little one any day now." She beamed as she placed both hands on her belly. "He figured he'd take some time off, get things ready. And this way he figured he'd be nearby if I needed anything."
"Like someone to answer the door?" Bella joked.
Vanessa leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "Between you and me I think he wanted to be nearby in case your old friends had a change of diet."
"I can hear you two in here you know! Send her down! I'll put her to work."
"You came on the wrong day Bella, he's painting the nursery. He won't let me in there. He's not kidding when he says he's putting you to work."
Bella looked down at her white blouse and pale blue skirt. "Do you mind if I pull him away for a couple of minutes? I'm not really dressed for manual labour."
"Can you take him out of the house? I could do without him singing along to the radio for a while. Jake honey!" Vanessa turned away from Bella to yell in the house, "Grab a couple of beers from the fridge and take Bella for a walk."
"Already on it." Jake appeared behind his wife. She tilted her head up as he went by and they exchanged the kind of kiss choreographed simply by time spent together. He handed Bella a beer as they started walking to his garage.
"Dude it's one in the afternoon."
"Bella, I've been working on my baby's room all day. It's beer o'clock. If you don't want it, I'll take it."
"No, I think I'm going to need this one too." She took a swig to prove her point. "You're glowing by the way."
"You've got that pregnancy glow. I've never seen you so happy."
"Thanks." He bent over to lift up his garage door and the two walked to the plastic chairs he had set up in his minimal man cave. In reality it only existed as a meeting point for the wolves. He had a general aversion to being away from his wife. Once Bella sat down Jacob grabbed a chair to sit facing her. The cheap plastic bowed as he sat. They remained in comfortable silence while Jacob drained his beer. Bella laughed as his left hand pulled a new bottle from his pocket as his right deposited the empty bottle on the cold concrete. "I told you - beer o'clock." He winked. "So, you should be at work, but you are here indulging in afternoon brews with me. What's going on?"
"What really happened with Victoria?"
"Holy shit Bella, way to beat around the bush."
She gave a light shrug as she took another sip and maintained eye contact.
"So you've been talking to the Cullens huh?" Jacob shifted, knocking the empty bottle. As it clattered to the ground, Bella knew by his restlessness that she had made him uncomfortable. And that meant he had been hiding something.
"Yes. Apparently she showed up that February, Edward was right behind her. He tracked her for months, before finally killing her in Seattle."
"He tracked her? He did a shitty job, she hardly left the state, and he wasn't around while we were keeping you safe."
"What?" This wasn't what Bella was expecting to hear.
"She was stalking you." He leaned forward to pick up the empty bottle. "I didn't know at first. When I changed Sam told me what was going on. Why do you think I was crawling through your window every night?"
"Because we were dating and I sucked at setting boundaries with my boyfriends. Are you serious?"
He shifted again, this time to slide the bottle into the pocket that stored his second beer. "Sorry Bella. We didn't tell you because we didn't want you to freak out, or do something stupid."
"Do something stupid?"
"Admit it Bella, you were a bit of lose cannon back in the day. You're the one who told me about showing up to a vampire fight armed with a lighter." As he leaned back the chair creaked in warning. He stood up and kicked the chair away. "Fucking piece of shit." Bella didn't know if he was referring to the chair or a vampire.
"She was around all that time?"
Then it clicked for her. "Is that why you changed?"
"Yeah. I always wondered why you never asked about that. You knew the Cullens being back brought the shifting on. You never once asked me why I shifted."
"I thought it was me!"
At that Jacob laughed and leaned against the wall. "You! Why would you make me change?"
"The bite. You told me I smelled like vampire, I thought that's what did it."
"Bella, you have the faintest trace of vampire scent on your wrist. It's probably just from the damaged tissue. Maybe you have a minute trace of venom in there. Trust me, it's not enough to cause me to turn. You really thought that you caused me to change?" He laughed again and took a long swig of his beer.
"Don't laugh at me. You encouraged me. You told me I smelled like one of them all the time!"
At this he had the grace to look sheepish. "I was a dumb kid. I was being an asshole. I know you were trying with me, but you were still so in love with him. I was just being a jealous dick. And I'm still pissed off that happened to you, I'll never understand how you ended up alone with a vampire. A not-Cullen vampire. Explain that to me again."
Bella wasn't going to let Jake side-track her. "I've spent the past ten years of my life thinking that bite was a big deal. That it changed something about me. And now you're telling me it's nothing!"
"Bella, you were bit by a fucking vampire! I'm not saying it's nothing. I do think it messed with you. I agree with you on that. The few minutes it was in your system the change started. But when he pulled it out the change stopped. You're human, there's nothing vampire about you. Did you think you were some sort of hybrid?" He laughed again.
"Don't make fun of me! I've spent a decade building theories on what this could mean, and now you're telling me it's not what I thought. And you're laughing at me!"
"Sorry, Bella. I just had no idea that's what you thought. It's in the past now, what's the problem?"
"Every decision I made since that summer has been based on a jealous lie? And you are asking me why you think it's a big deal?"
"No, Bella. I'm asking you why this matters."
At this, Bella said nothing.
"You never take time off work. What's got you so rattled?"
She sighed and pressed the bottle to her lips. She meant to take a sip, but instead she let it pour down her throat as she arranged her thoughts. Being mad at Jacob was foreign and exhausting. Was she mad at him, or just overwhelmed with everything?
It was definitely both.
"My life right now feels like it's falling apart. The business was tanking, and now maybe it's not. Now that the library expansion is finished I'm not sure how long I'll have a job there. I don't know what the Cullens are doing hanging around. And now I find out you were no better than him. You told me you hated the way he treated me; making decisions for the both of us and not respecting my feelings and opinions. But you did the same thing. I feel like I'm losing my mind and there's no one I can talk to about this."
"You have me. I'm being honest now."
"No. It doesn't fucking matter now. I can't trust you because you're so biased what you say doesn't even matter anymore."
"Come on Bella, don't do this." Jake spoke softly, he knew how to coax her around.
"I'm angry with you. I get to be angry about this." She stood up and moved to leave.
"Fair enough. I've got to ask you though, who told you about Victoria?" He moved away from the wall to follow her to the car. He nearly collided into her as she stopped and turned around.
"How's that going?" He looked down at her with disbelief.
"How's what going?" She looked down to peel at the label.
"What are you implying?" She kept peeling and the words came out casually. Jacob wasn't fooled.
"Well, I figure if I'm in the dog house already I may as well keep going. What's happening with Mike now that Edward's back in town?"
"I'll ask again, what are you implying?" This time she looked at him through slightly narrowed eyes.
"I know you Bella. I know you like no one else. I saw through that 'I'm over it' act when we were together. You think I don't know why you chose the schools you did? Who really occupied your mind, your heart, when we were together? I saw you trying really hard with Mike. Harder than you tried with me, that's for sure. I was convinced you were over it. But here you are in my garage and we're talking vampires, and it's like we've gone back in time."
"Go fuck yourself." She tapped the neck of his beer to his chest. "You have your imprinted mate -pregnant - 100 feet from us. You don't get to be jealous anymore."
"If I'm wrong, why are you so defensive? Why does it matter what I said ten years ago? We both went on to find our," his finger moved from the neck of his beer to make air quotes, "soul mates -"
Jacob sniffed and took a long swig of beer. "Sorry. For before. And for that just now. I just didn't want you hurt."
"Jesus fucking Christ! I'm not going to get hurt. Edward being back changes nothing with Mike. Don't worry about that. You just worry about taking care of Vanessa and that baby. I'll be fine. Finish this." She handed him her half empty beer.
Well, she pushed it into his chest.
"Come on Bella, I don't want to end this conversation this way, come inside for a visit."
"Jacob, I'm still mad. I'll get over it. But I don't feel like pretending everything's fine right now. You think you are being honest with me, but you're still being a dick." At that she turned and walked to her car.
"Whatever Bella!" He called after her, but didn't bother to follow. "When you need someone to talk to, I'm still going to be here for you. And I'll be honest. Even if you think that means I'm being a dick because no one's been honest with you before."
At that Bella turned around and narrowed her eyes.
"Someone has to be honest with you. If it's not going to be Edward, or Mike, or you, it may as well be me."
Bella turned away as she flipped him off.