When We Were Young: Part 1
"Ladies and Gentleman, as we prepare for landing, please return your seats and tray tables to their upright and locked position, and make sure that your seatbelt is securely fastened. We should be landing in Seattle momentarily..."
I've heard that several times before, but now it's different. I know this time that he won't be waiting for me back in Forks.
He won't step out onto his father's porch and lean against the old swing we sat on when we were kids. He won't say "Hey, Bella, how's it hanging?" like he always did. I won't be able to hug him and feel his warm arms around my shoulders, like the best blanket I've ever known. Well, almost the best. He was my best friend but he wasn't my boyfriend. That title was reserved for someone else who isn't in Forks anymore either.
I pull out the newspaper clipping my mother sent me. It arrived earlier today, just before I left Chicago. It's already crinkled and worn from how many times I've pulled it out to read it. Still doesn't seem real, seeing his name typed across the top in bold letters.
He'd made me promise we'd come back here for his funeral. All of us. Even though we all lost touch and fell apart, lost what we used to be, I couldn't break that promise. When we were young, things were different. Less complicated. Right now, I'd give anything to go back to being seventeen if it meant having him back.
As we land, I tuck the paper back into my bag and gather my things.
My dad picks me up in his cruiser and we're silent for most of the ride back to our house. Until we reach the diner and his name is etched in the sign.
Rest in Peace, Jacob.
"How is Billy holding up?" I ask.
"He's doing alright." He sighs. "You know he was sick for so long, as bad as it is, I think he's...content with the fact that he's not in pain anymore."
"I wish I could have visited more often." Guilt swallows my entire chest, so heavy I can barely speak. I should have visited more often, but I think deep down if I didn't see it, the sickness and what it did to him, it wouldn't be real. God, does it feel real now.
"You know Jacob, he probably wouldn't have wanted you to spend your time in that hospital room as much as he had to. You were his best friend, Bella, he wanted good things for you."
Good things. I guess I had those. Good job. Good apartment. Good friends. Good life back in Chicago. Good boyfriend, until recently.
As soon as we pull in the driveway, my mom envelops me in a hug and pushes me through the door, offering me every kind of food imaginable and talking a million miles an hour.
That night, I lay awake in bed unable to sleep. It's nearly 1am and I'm exhausted from traveling, but my mind won't shut up. I go over and over again what I'm going to say to Jacob's dad, Billy. His other friends. Our friends. I haven't seen them in years, some of them not since high school graduation.
I lean over the edge of the bed and pull out my yearbook from senior year. Five pages in, nestled in the middle of the "Student Life" section, is a photo of our crew. Rosalie, in her cheerleading uniform, draped over Emmett, who is laying on the ground with that know it all smirk of his. Alice and Jasper are too caught up in each other to notice that there's even a picture being taken. Mike has a laughing Jacob in a headlock, while Edward and I look on smiling. I focus on us, me and him, his arm around my waist and my hand on his chest. We were happy, then.
I check the clock again, counting out the hours to figure out what time it is in London. He's not coming to the funeral, I'm sure. Is he? Would he?
Edward Masen wasn't a regular student at Forks High. He was an exchange student, straight from the United Kingdom with dimples for days and an accent that made every girl in school melt into a puddle of goo. Myself included.
We had a wonderful two years together, and then he left because his program was up and he had to. He was going to Oxford and I was already accepted into Northwestern. We said that we'd keep in touch, that we'd visit. But we were eighteen and young and naive. This picture captured it all. Then, real life set in. No matter how much we loved each other, it was too hard. Even knowing that, sometimes I find myself wondering how things would be different if those things were different.
I fall asleep with the yearbook open over my chest, covering the scar on my heart that Edward left.
Mom wakes me hours later, offering me breakfast. I'm not very hungry, but I eat to make her happy. I can tell she's trying to make me feel better and I don't want her to think I don't appreciate it.
After I help her clean up, I get dressed and head out to the garage. My old truck sits abandoned, looking as decrepit as it did when I first got it. I shiver as my hand brushes over the door handle, and it has nothing to do with the autumn chill. Lots of memories in this truck...in the back of this truck. I blush, like someone was reading my thoughts.
As I slide inside, I pray it still works. My dad says he starts it every once in awhile to make sure it runs and that must have kept the thing operational. It protests as it rumbles to life, but it's alive regardless. I put the gear in drive and speed out of our driveway, the red, orange, and yellow leaves in a flurry behind me.
I drive the familiar route to Billy's house, the one I took several times a week since I was sixteen years old. Even a little before then, but don't tell my dad that.
Billy's driveway is far from empty. I immediately spot Sue Clearwater's car, as well as her son's. Sue and Billy were close, like brother and sister. It doesn't surprise me to find them here.
I pause after I park, preparing myself for what I was about to walk into. I was going to be at Jacob's house, but he won't be there. I don't know if it's possible to prepare for that. I would never be ready to be in a world without my best friend.
After a few minutes, I force myself to go inside. I don't knock. I never did.
Soft voices float down the hallway from the living room, and pans clatter in the kitchen. I take a deep breath and step into the living room. Three tear-stained faces stare back at me. Seth and Leah, Sue's kids, sit on the couch. And Billy is in his favorite chair.
"Bella." He smiles sadly.
"Hey, Billy." I'm surprised I don't lose it then, but I manage to hold myself together. I lean down to give him a hug, but I don't know what else to say except for "I'm sorry."
He tries to make small talk, asks me when I got in and how long I planned on staying. Sue peeks her head in from the kitchen and says hello before she rushes back to check on whatever food she's cooking. The smell radiates through the house and even though I just ate, it makes my stomach rumble.
The conversations lulls, and I slowly move away from the group, up the stairs lined with Jacob's school photos, and to his room. The door is ajar. I imagine this is one of those times like before, where I'd walk in and find him playing video games from his bed.
That bed is empty now, made up neatly and so perfect. The opposite of what it ever was when Jacob was alive. You were lucky enough if there was a spot for you to sit. But I suppose that was a long time ago, when we were kids and our rooms were always messy. Jacob got older, and so did I. His game counsel was replaced with a simple DVD player; the action figures on his desk are gone, now nothing more than a lamp and a few stray pencils.
The light is on in his closet, so I open the door and smile. There he is. The action figures in boxes on the shelf. Clothes in a messy heap on the floor. The next thing I know, I'm on the floor with them. Sobbing and crying so hard that I can hardly breathe. He's here. His smell, his memories, his everything. I cling to one of his shirts, my tears staining it a darker color navy.
I don't know how long I laid there, but I heard someone come up the stairs and walk into his room. That same someone opened the closet door further and knelt down behind me, scooping me up.
"Bella," Emmett says, setting me down on Jacob's bed and enveloping me in a hug. I haven't seen him in years, but I still cry in his arms. Such a strange hello, but I don't know any other way. It's all I can manage, at least for now.
After I can't cry anymore, we just sit in silence for a few minutes. When I finally muster the energy to speak, I do.
"What are you doing here?" I ask.
"I've been coming out at least once a week to help Billy with his lawn since Jacob's been sick. I saw your truck outside and when I didn't see you downstairs, I figured you were up here."
I let out a shaky breath and sit up. "That's nice of you. To do that for Billy. I'm sure Jacob appreciated it."
Emmett nods. "How long are you in town for?"
"I leave the day after tomorrow. Just in town for the funeral."
"We're going to the cabin this weekend. You know it was part of the deal." He smiles a little and playfully elbows me in the ribs.
My heart skips a beat. Does he really mean everyone? Or everyone but Edward?
"You don't go back to work until next week anyway, right?" Emmett asks. "You can still join us, if you want."
He's right. I'm not due back in the office until the middle of next week. My boss was insistent that I take some time off to "cope with my loss." But I had planned to do that in my apartment, alone. Not at a cabin with a group of people I haven't really talked to since high school.
"Well." I hesitate. "It was part of the agreement."
The first stipulation of Jacob's arrangement was for us to all come back for his funeral. The second was to go to Emmett's dad's cabin on the lake for a few days. We spent so many crazy weekends there in high school, maybe he figured the place would heal us.
"I'm in," I say. "Why not."
"Great! We'll pick you up at your folks' place Friday morning." He glances at the clock. "Hey, I better get going if I want to get the lawn done by dinnertime. Rose will kick my ass if I'm late."
"You two still together?"
He holds up his left hand and flashes and shiny wedding ring.
"Wow." I smile. "Congratulations, Em."
"Thanks." He kisses the top of my head. "Good to see you again, Bells. See you at the visitation tonight?"
"Yeah. See you there."
I spend some more time in Jacob's room, looking through photos and some knick-knacks from when we were young. Before I leave, Sue offers me some food and I oblige her, sitting in the living room with everyone while they talk. I thank them for the meal and head outside to leave. As I pull out of the driveway, Billy stops me.
"Bella!" He yells.
I stop and put the truck in park as he approaches.
"I'm sorry if I'm acting strange, Billy. I don't know-"
"It's okay," he interrupts. "I don't think there's any normal way to grieve. God knows I don't know how I'm getting through it all." He sighs. "I wanted to tell you something. He made me promise to tell you."
Tears burn in my eyes. Jacob wanted to tell me something.
"He said to forgive him."
"Forgive him?" I ask. "For what?"
"I don't know. That was all he said."
I look down at the steering wheel, trying to comprehend everything. What did he have to be sorry for?
"I hate that I wasn't there when he died," I mumble.
"He understood. He said you were off being fancy in that big city of yours." Billy laughs. "He loved you more than anything, Bella. You were family to him and I know it means the world to him that you're here now."
"Wouldn't be anywhere else." I nod and wave goodbye to Billy and to Emmett out in the front yard as I leave.
I take a nap when I get home because I'm emotionally exhausted. And I haven't even seen Jacob yet. I don't know how I'm going to get through the visitation tonight.
I shower and put on a black sweater dress, saving my nice dress for the funeral tomorrow. My hair falls over my shoulder in a loose braid and I refuse to put on much makeup. It wouldn't last long anyway.
"Do you want to ride with us, honey?" Mom asks, peering in my room while she puts on her earrings.
"No. I'll drive separate. I don't know how long I'll stay." I stare at myself one last time in the mirror before grabbing my bag. "Thanks, Mom."
We hold each other in the doorway for several minutes, longer than I've held another person in awhile. It reminds of the night Edward left, and I stood here crying in her arms for nearly an hour. And she just held me. Held her daughter, her little girl, as her heart was breaking. Today, it was breaking all over again over another boy.
Once I arrive at the funeral home, I sit outside in the truck for a long time before I go in. It's overwhelming, the amount of people here. Most familiar faces, eyes watching me as I walk in. Some puffy and pink with tears, others looking at me like I was a lost puppy.
I spot Emmett and Rosalie talking to Billy and I wave to both of them. Rosalie sports the tiniest baby bump and I wonder if she's the first of our group to be pregnant. I hadn't heard from Alice since college.
Speak of the Devil. I manage a smile as Alice throws her arms around me. Jasper follows quietly behind, offering me a nod.
"Emmett told me you're joining us for the weekend, that's so wonderful! You know, I thought of calling you but your dad said you were leaving right away."
"I was," I admitted. "But Emmett reminded me that it was part of the agreement."
"It was." She put her arm around my waist and we both looked on the crowd. "He would have loved it."
"Seeing everyone together again." Alice always had a way of bringing a ray of sunshine, a positive attitude to the worst situations. It was something Jacob always loved about her because he was the same way. "The gang is all here."
Not everyone, I thought.
"We'll catch up later. I want to pay my respects to Billy." She gives me a squeeze and flits off.
Jasper gives me a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'm sorry for your loss, Bella. I know he was like family."
"Thanks, Jas. Good to see you."
I round the corner and see the spot up front, where the crowd separates. Must be where the casket is.
I fumble around in my purse for the packet of tissues Mom bought me earlier. I didn't want to cry here, but I didn't know if I was going to be able to avoid it.
There were several rows of chairs on either side of the aisle and people chatting in small groups. The casket sat at the front, surrounded by photos and flowers. He was dressed in his favorite team's jersey, which was so Jacob. He wouldn't have wanted to be in something too formal.
I know everyone says that it looks like they're just sleeping, but I didn't buy it. No matter how much they tried, they couldn't capture Jacob's essence because he wasn't there anymore. And it tore me apart.
I place my hand on the edge of the casket, hoping it will help steady me. This boy, the one I grew up with, the one I used to climb trees with, the one I scraped my knees up with, the one I cried to when my first "boyfriend" broke up with me in 7th grade. He's gone.
I close my eyes, hoping when I open them again this will be a nightmare. I bite my lip so hard that I swear I taste blood.
Someone steps up beside me to pay their respects and something pulls me back to the land of reality. A buzz roaring through my body like a static shock. It feels so different from the numbness of the past few days that it makes me jump.
"I didn't mean to scare you."
I freeze. I know that voice. The sweet, smooth voice of a boy I once knew. Only now, I can hear the years in his tone. The deeper rumble of the man he's grown into.
I turn, unable to breathe or speak. Edward stands beside me, in a black jacket and tie. His hair is a far cry from the messy mop of his teenage years. Trimmed and shorter, makes him look older. He is older, I have to remind myself. We both are.
I don't know if he knew it was me before he approached and I don't stay to ask him. Panic sets in. Shock. Terror. Heartbreak. Before I know it, I'm stuttering something incoherent and rushing away so quickly that I practically leave a dust cloud.
If Jacob were alive, I would bet he'd be laughing at this whole scene.
I find a corner behind a large group for cover, and sit in one of the chairs sipping a glass of water.
My parents eventually find me and ask if I want to join them for dinner at the diner. Behind them, I catch a glimpse of him heading for the door, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.
"I think I'm going to stay," I manage to say, half dazed. After they leave, I find myself heading for the door, the same one Edward left through moments ago.
I check the area outside, where some have gathered talking before they leave, but I don't see him. A small cloud of smoke snakes around the corner of the building, and I know he's there.
I stand at the corner for a minute, weighing the pros and cons. In the end, "might as well get it over with" wins out and I round the building.
He's down a few steps, leaning against the side with his head back. A lit cigarette rests between his long fingers, a small trail of smoke rising from the end.
"Still smoking, I see," I say. I cross my arms and lean against the cool brick beside him.
"Still complaining about it, I see." He smirks and takes a long drag.
"Can I have one?" I'm not a smoker, besides that small stint in college, but the stress of today is starting to get to me. And it will give me something to do except say something I'll regret.
"Bella Swan smoking cigarettes?" He teases, pulling one out. He lights it with his own and hands it to me.
I take a long drag and try not to cough.
"I'm sorry," I say. "For running away back there, I wasn't expecting you to be here."
"I made the same promise you did."
We all made promises then, but this seems to be the only one that stuck.
"How was Oxford?" I ask.
"It was fine. How was Northwestern?"
"It was fine."
I don't know what to say to him. After all these years, everything between us and everything lost, and all we can manage is small talk.
He puts his cigarette out on the building. "You know something funny, I stopped smoking years ago."
"I bought a pack just before I drove here for emergencies."
"Like seeing one of your best friends like that."
"Like seeing you."
"Bella!" Alice yells from around the front of the building. "Bella Swan!"
I don't have time to feel embarrassed or awkward or anything else I should be feeling, because Alice barrels around the side and interrupts.
"Billy said he saw you come out here." She smiles at Edward and I realize they all knew he was going to be here. I hate them a little for not warning me, not that they owe me anything now. "Should have known you two would find each other."
"I was just bumming a cigarette," I say, creating some distance between Edward and me.
"Do you guys want to go to the corner pub? Mike just got here and we were thinking about having a couple of drinks," she asks.
Edward and I immediately look at each other, like we're waiting for the other to answer.
"I'm in," he says.
"I think I'm just going to go home. I'm tired and not really feeling up to it." I offer a smile and start inside to pay my respects to Billy again before I leave.
"Bella!" Edward catches up with me. "Don't not go because of me."
"It's not because of you. It's been a long day, Edward. Make sure to pour a shot for Jake." I walk a little faster and disappear into the crowd.
I talk to Billy and Sue for a few minutes before I leave. The group appears to have already left, Rose's car is gone and I assume she's the designated driver for the evening. Now that I think about it, Edward is probably staying with Emmett. And from what my dad told me Emmett bought the house down at the end of our road. Which means Edward was and is staying a few houses down from my house. Great.
When I get home, the house is deserted. Mom and Dad must still be out to eat.
I fall asleep relatively quickly, but wake hours later to loud voices and laughter outside. I get out of bed and shuffle to the window. Down on the sidewalk, coming toward the house, is Emmett, Jasper, and Edward. It's apparent they've been drinking, especially Emmett. Maybe they had one too many shots for Jake.
Jasper and Emmett are a few steps ahead, half walking, half wrestling, while Edward looks on laughing. A big, beautiful belly laugh that takes me back a million years. I find myself smiling, until he slowly comes to a stop and looks up at my house. At my window. At me.
It's too late to look away now, he knows I see him. Jasper and Emmett hit the next block and keep walking.
I sigh, open my window, and stick my head out.
"Good evening," he says.
I glance at the clock. "More like Good Morning."
"This is quite familiar, hmm?" He kicks a few stray rocks. His tie is loose, hanging down a long ways from his neck. The top few buttons of his shirt are undone and in the moonlight I can see a few thin tufts of hair peaking out.
"Last time we did this, I think you were asking me to Prom."
"Well you did say yes, didn't you?" He rocks back and forth, a little unsteady.
"Have fun at the bar?"
"Rose got so annoyed with us on the drive home, she dropped us off two blocks back and her and Alice drove the rest of the way." He laughs again.
The front door of my house opens and my dad steps out onto the porch, hands on his hips and half asleep.
"Can we continue this conversation tomorrow...when people aren't sleeping?" He looks at Edward and looks up at me. "Edward." He acknowledges him.
"Sir." Edward nods and quickly begins to walk away, looking back at my window as he does.
"Goodnight, Bella," Dad says, not bothering to look up as he walks back inside.
"Night, Dad." I linger at the window, thinking about the times I would leave it open for Edward to climb through. We used to have this huge tree just outside and I swear my dad cut it down to prevent him from climbing it.
Without another thought, and even though I know it doesn't mean anything, I walk away from the open window, letting the cool air of the night and the memories of what used to be inside.
A/N: Hi all! So this was kind of unexpected. I had this plot bunny awhile ago while I was listening to Adele's When We Were Young. I swear writers should not be allowed to listen to that woman, it's like plot bunnies galore with her music. Anyway, I got to a point where I was feeling frustrated with myself and not feeling like I had any mojo while I was trying to get the last chunk of Born of Ash and Fire done, so I kind of let myself play around with some new ideas to hopefully get things flowing again. Good news, it helped for BoAF. And even better news, it spawned this story that I am so in love with.
This was originally meant to be a one shot, but as it kept going and going and not getting too far in the "outline" of the story, I realized if I kept it a one shot it would probably be incredibly long and possibly overwhelming to sit down and read all in one go. So the plan is to have probably 3 parts, and to have it finished up and completed fairly quickly.
Hope you enjoy it, I'd love to hear what your thoughts are. I love "going home", rekindled romances, and long lost best friends, so those elements are all very strong in the story. :)