I have given up. Chapters will be whatever length they are. Thank you all for reading, and for so much positive feedback! I'm glad you're enjoying this nugget of sweetness.
Chapter 4: Poker Face
It was stupid. I knew it was stupid. This wasn't some sort of wild animal show where people baited spots wired with trail cams in hopes to catch a glimpse of forest predators. This was real life-albeit a supernatural one.
The thing was, I just knew they were out there. Embry and Quil, that is. Even though the pack wasn't watching over me anymore, the two of them had been by my house. I saw them. Why, I wasn't exactly sure. Maybe it was to show Jacob I was still alive. Or maybe, they were spoiling for a fight with the Cullens.
Whatever the case, I missed them almost as much as I missed Jacob.
I never realized what a lonely existence was until the pack had unceremoniously removed itself from my life. Not that I blamed them. Under the circumstances, it wasn't just necessary. It was no better than I deserved.
Spending time around them was like being part of one big family. A loud, obnoxious, nosy but well-intentioned family. Something I'd never had before. They hugged, yelled, fought, laughed, and made me feel like I was part of it all. Esme and Carlisle were welcoming, but it wasn't the same. Everything was so stiff and cold with them. I wanted more. I wanted mismatched harmony and mischief.
The truth was, I missed the pack. I missed hiding in Jacob's garage while my dad and Billy drank and played poker. I missed Embry and Quil barging in, big as life and twice as loud. Quil, always the practical joker, and Em, pulling the rug out from under him on the sly. Jacob, waving a wrench, threatening to kick both their asses. Then the three of them deciding it was time to eat, all on their knees making puppy dog eyes and begging me to cook something because 'wolves can't survive on muffins alone'.
I missed the camaraderie.
It was why I'd woken up so early, and started pulling ingredients from the cupboards in a frenzy. Even if they wouldn't sit down at a table for me, it didn't mean that I couldn't still feed them. While a breakfast casserole cooked in the oven, I flipped pancakes on the stove-top, piling them high and slathering them with butter until the countertop started to resemble some kind of pioneer breakfast.
When everything was cooked, and the refrigerator was all but empty, I carried it all to the edge of the forest, wading in just deep enough where prying eyes couldn't see. Then I went back to the house and waited. For what I wasn't sure. Eventually, I left. The house was devoid of groceries, and sitting around wasn't going to pass the time any faster.
When I got home, the empty pans were sitting on the back porch, licked clean.
My tears melted into the dishwater.
Bella - September 2006
Awake with the dawn, Jacob lay still as a mouse. Draped halfway across his chest was the girl he'd loved since age fifteen, although if he thought about it, that had started on the day he was was born. If ever two people in the world were meant to be together, it was he and Bella Swan. By his way of thinking, her ending up in his bar wasn't some sort of fluke accident. Destiny was giving them a wake up call. It had been inevitable. Their paths would continue to cross, until one day, the timing would finally be right. Why couldn't that now? Why not here in this place? There was nothing and nobody to stop it from happening.
It was sheer luck that landed her in his bed last night. Jacob had guided the sleepy girl up the stairs, directly into his room. 'I hope this is okay. There's no spare set up, and the loveseat is too small for either one of us. I promise not to be the big bad wolf, Little Red.' If Bella had any reservations, it didn't show. Laughing, she collapsed on the bed and and asked if he'd forgotten how cold her toes could be.
Jacob hadn't. In fact, he was counting on it.
The wolf inside him was curled contentedly, as if this were the way things should be. There was a rightness to Bella being snug beneath his arm, the slow, even beat of her heart fluttering lightly against his chest. It crossed Jacob's mind to go back to sleep, but he wanted to live in this moment, absorb every detail, and commit it to memory, in case a tomorrow for them would never come.
On the other side of the coin, that same wolf, which he had suppressed for so many years now, was clawing at the surface to get out. It wanted to mate, and the tent his dick had created with the bed sheets would be an embarrassing way to say 'Good Morning'.
With great reluctance, and massive self-restraint, Jacob crawled wearily from the bed.
About an hour later, Bella appeared. Framed by the white doorway, she cut a pretty picture, all legs, wearing his shirt, hair a messy halo of tangled curls. Bare feet, tipped in pretty pink, padded across the old checkerboard floor. Jacob's heart skipped a beat when Bella's arms wrapped tightly around his waist, resting one cheek against his chest, practically melting into his flesh.
Eyes closed, a soft smile and weak yawn parted her lips. "I smelled coffee."
"Mmmhmm. You'll have to wait for breakfast though."
"That's okay. I need the fork to prop my eyelids open."
"We stayed up late" he offered by way of an excuse.
"It's not just that. All the driving yesterday ..." Yawning again, mid-sentence, reluctantly letting go of Jacob, the need for caffeine taking precedence. "I was on the road by four in the morning," she explained, zeroing in on the coffee pot like a homing beacon.
"Speaking of, I called over to E&D to see about your Jeep," he informed her, while dropping slices of bread into the toaster. "They'll be here in a bit for your keys. I asked for the lock to be shimmied and your suitcase delivered. Hope you don't mind."
"You're the best. Thanks," she said, "for saving my ass. Again."
The toaster popped, and Jacob waved a butter knife at her in response, as though rescues were no big thing when breakfast was waiting. "You're welcome. Again."
Greedily inhaling the thick coffee, Bella was thankful for the comfortable silence while trying to shake the mental fog clouding her brain. Jacob seemed to be just as content with the situation, buttering slices of toast in between hefty gulps from his own oversize mug of joe. Whatever chasm which might have existed between them in past vanished with the storm. But, it had always been their way to lay it on the table, and for better or worse, move on.
It felt good to be sitting at the little round table. The kitchen was a little worn, having a lived in feel, and it was obvious that some of the tile work had been installed back in the nineteen-fifties, yet, it had charm. Bella could almost see it restored to its original polish, right down to a chrome bedecked stove and refrigerator. It was obvious that Jacob had been slowly making over the house, but this room reminded her of home. Of days spent in both the Swan and Black kitchens, cooking to feed the men in her young life.
"Jake, how far off the map am I?"
The question nearly made him drop the butter knife. Bella had just reappeared in his life, and he'd already been mentally calculating all the ways to make her stick around a while. "Not as much as you'd think," he answered slow and cautious. "You can make it to Forks in a day, depending on how many hours you're willing to log behind the wheel."
Before there was time to consider it, a loud clamor echoed on the porch, and a familiar voice called through the house.
"Hey Jake! I grabbed that stuff like you said. Funny thing, I could have sworn it smelled like ..."
The intruder froze for a second, stunned as if he'd seen a ghost. "Bella?"
"Embry!" Bella flew from her seat, knocking over a chair in the process. "Oh my God! Em!" She shouted, leaping at the man. Her little arms wrapped around his chest, somehow making their way up around his neck, giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase, 'climb him like a tree'.
Much like his friend the night before, Embry froze in place, tensing until the unmistakable human warmth of her body flooded his senses. With profound relief and gladness, the once shape-shifting wolf embraced the girl, swinging her around in a tight hug. With the backdrop of Jacob's kitchen, and trees in the distance, it was almost like being home again.
After recovering his wits, Embry held his old friend out at arm's length, assessing and approving the way time had changed a young girl into a woman. "What the devil are you doing here?"
"Running out of gas in a storm on my way to Forks." Bella waved one arm in a sweeping gesture. "You know, the usual. Damsel in distress. Having you two save my ass again."
"Charlie's birthday bash?" he asked.
"Fifty-years-old, but hell if he'll admit it."
"Sounds about right. Damn it's good to see you!" he reiterated, still disbelieving after all this time she stood in front of them ...heart still beating.
Behind them, someone cleared their throat. Grinning like a child caught with a secret, Embry tossed an arm around a tall, blonde woman with attractive blue eyes. "Diane, I'd like you to meet a long lost friend. This is Isabella Swan."
"The Isabella Swan?" Still smiling, Diane's lips parted in surprise. Over the years, Jacob had spoken of her so frequently, that she felt as if she already knew the strange woman standing in his kitchen.
"She's heard of me?"
"Diane knows everything," Embry replied, with emphasis. There were no secrets between them. No edict to be followed. His life was his own.
"Everything?" she questioned.
"Yup. All the dirty details. Muddy paws, leeches, imprints and vamp girls and wolf girls."
"Well, okay then," she laughed, slightly taken aback. Jacob hadn't mentioned an imprint. "Please, call me Bella, everyone does. Well, everyone except Jake, that is, and my Dad."
Diane greeted her with a welcoming embrace. "It's wonderful to finally meet you. I've been telling Em to find out where you're living so we could send you an invitation."
Bella's brow furrowed with confusion, trying to figure out what it was she'd missed.
"Our wedding," supplied Embry. "This September. I expect you to be there."
"Although I have no idea why she agreed to marry your ugly ass," Jake interjected, mournfully shaking his head while trying to suppress a smile. "I tried to talk some sense into the girl, but she just doesn't listen." He looked pointedly at Bella. "Reminds me of someone else I know."
"Black, I can't help it if the ladies love me," Embry apologized, helping himself to the toast off his buddy's plate. "Bees to honey, man. Bees to honey."
"You sound like Quil," Jacob scoffed, yanking his plate out of reach before losing what was left of his breakfast.
"More like lice clinging to fur." The insult passed her lips faster than her brain could stop it. Word vomit, popping up again. Before an apology could be made, laughter shook the kitchen ceiling.
"Bella Swan!" Embry exclaimed, grinning wickedly from ear to ear. "When did you become so well-versed in the fine art of smart-assery?
"When I started running around with wolves. Come on, did you really think I could spend that much time around Paul and pick up a thing or two?"
"Bells was always been a wise-ass," Clarified Jacob, as if it were common knowledge. "You were just too slow to pick up on it. She's Charlie's daughter. Comes by it naturally."
"Well, shit," he conceded. "I'm gonna have to get to know you all over again."
Diane, who had been silent thus far, approved of the way Bella had so wittingly put Embry in his place without batting an eye, even if it was in jest. This woman had a sense of humor, and despite rumors to the contrary, a backbone too, or so it seemed. This, coupled with the fact that intuition told her they'd be spending a lot of time together in the future, made Diane eager to get to know her.
"So Bella, how long are you in town for?"
"That depends on when these two goons decide to release my Jeep," she explained. "I only ran out of gas, but if I know these guys ..."
Sitting straight up in his seat, Embry became more businesslike than a suit in a shark tank. "I'm very sorry, ma'am, but the shop is closed. It will take at least another day after that before I can have your vehicle ready," he stated, as though she'd blown out a head-gasket or torn a hole in the gas tank.
"That long, huh?" she replied, hiding a smile behind the coffee mug.
"At a minimum."
"Just do me one favor," she pleaded. "No souping up the engine. It's a rental."
"A rental?" He spat the word as though it were anathema to his soul. "Then you're going to have to give us three days, minimum. Those agencies don't bother to check anything other than the oil and gas." Then, leaning forward as if imparting a great secret, Embry's dark eyes twinkled with mischief. "Can't have you breaking down in the middle of nowhere. There's been rumors of monsters in the woods."
Being a good sport, Bella clutched her heart in mock fear, then peered around the kitchen, eyes wide as saucers. "Oh, no! Not that!"
"I'm sure you two goons were the biggest ones," accused Diane, swatting her man upside the back of the head.
"Naturally," agreed Jacob, while pouring another cup of coffee, trying to act nonchalant about wanting her to stay. "Seriously, Bella. Pigeon Creek is a cool little town. Plus, the Founders Festival is going on today. Should have been yesterday, but severe storms put the brakes on it. Stick around. You'll have fun.
"Well, since my Jeep isn't road-worthy," she conceded, "I guess there's no choice but to attend."
"Speaking of," Diane rose from the table having noticed the time on. "I should go help with set up, and you boys need to take a run. I can see how wound up the two of you are. Besides, I'm sure the blue-haired ladies in Mabel's Diner are checking their watches, wondering why the eye-candy hasn't jogged past yet. Go give 'em their weekly thrill."
Nodding, Embry too, got up to leave, but not before he wheedled one more request out of their old friend. "Hey Bella, do you remember that breakfast casserole you used to make for me and Quil?"
"Wait, back up." Jacob who had been reaching for his running shoes, straightened up, holding out both hands motioning all to stop, calling to account this new piece of information. "You made Embry and Quil food?"
"Well, yeah. They'd been outside all night," she explained, as if it were a no-brainer. "Feeding them in the morning was the least I could do."
"You never made me a breakfast casserole," he pointed out, shoving out his lower lip like a five-year-old denied a sucker.
Bella stuck out her tongue, and smacked his stomach playfully. "Quit pouting, Black. I fed your bottomless pit plenty of times."
"If we bring all the groceries, do you think you could make it again, pretty please? With sprinkles on top."
"Beggar. Of course I will."
They'd barely gotten two blocks when Embry managed to huff out the obvious.
"So... Bella's back."
"She's not back." While it killed Jacob Black to admit this tiny fact, it was the truth. "We're not even back. This is Pigeon Creek, not LaPush."
"You know what I mean, Jake. I didn't smell any vamp stench, so I'm guessing she's been clear of them for a while." While their senses had pretty much faded to normal, they were still better than any human, and some scents left a lasting memory, like Edward-sparkledick-Cullen.
"Ten years." Even breathing heavy, Jacob managed to supply the information with a smile, which disappeared quickly with the next bit of news. "The wolf's awake."
"I can tell." Embry figured as much by the way Jake was jogging this morning. Strained, like he was holding back. The way his eyes flicked to the mountains, Embry knew it was taking everything the man had not to run for cover and prance around on four paws.
"Is she single?"
"Looks that way. I never really asked. Didn't come up, I guess."
"Uh huh, so where'd she crash last night? I didn't see any blankets on the couch, and there's only one bed in your house."
While his stone cold silence was deafening, the color rising on his cheeks was not. Stopped at an intersection, Embry cut in front of Jacob, continuing to jog in place. "I see. So ...,"
"So, nothing. Nothing happened. We slept."
"Jake, man, let me get his straight. The girl you've been sportin' a hard-on for most of your life gets between the sheets with you, and nothin' happens? Dude, you feelin' okay? If your junk ain't workin' right, they've got meds for that, y'know."
Jacob shifted uncomfortably in his seat, trying not to be obvious about the fact that his fly was about to burst open wider than the Grand Canyon. Yet the pointed looks he was getting from Embry proved it to be a failing effort.
Ever since he'd gotten back from their run, the damn wolf was ready to pounce, and for good reason. Bella had been dancing in front of the stove, singing along with the old radio, humming through the words she didn't know. Whether knowingly or not, she'd staked a claim in the kitchen.
Ours. Food. Mate. Thousands of years of animal instinct rose to the surface.
On impulse, he walked up behind her, careful not to press his sweaty chest against her clean clothes, and dropped a light kiss on her cheek.
"Good run?" she'd asked.
"Mmmhmm," he replied, trying not to be obvious that he was once more breathing her in. "Something smells good."
It wasn't the food cooking. The wolf whined, wanting to wrap itself around her fully-preferably naked-and scent her.
"Go shower. I'll have this ready in an hour."
That morning marked the coldest, longest shower in the history of mankind. It hadn't done a lick of good. Things had only gotten harder ... literally.
Within five minutes of Embry and Diane's arrival, Jacob wanted to see their departure. With every shaking laugh came the subtle scent of perfume. The reach of an arm for salt and pepper made the neckline of her shirt dip. It wasn't enough to sit there with one arm slung casually around Bella's shoulders. When one delicate hand came to rest on Jacob's thigh, he thought he'd explode. Which part of him, wolf or dick, he wasn't certain. Maybe both.
"We need to head out soon," he'd declared, unable to take any more. "You girls go freshen up. We'll clean up the mess."
As soon as both women were out of earshot, were out of earshot, Embry shot his best friend a shit-eating grin. "Having a hard time, Black?
Compared the one before it, the day was beautiful. Blue skies, and the air coming off the mountains was still cool in early summer. Mild enough for jeans, but warm enough for a t-shirt. While the town was small enough town that a body could walk from one end to the other in a short amount of time, Jacob didn't feel like walking. Instead, he'd opted to drive them over on the motorcycle. The look on Bella's face had been worth it, when he backed the monster out of the garage. It wasn't the old Sprint of their youth. That was still back in his father's shed, likely rusting away from lack of care. The one he rode now had been a gift to himself after the bar took off and was doing well. Something to cruise comfortably around the mountains on.
It was also an excuse to have her pressed against him.
The main street of Pigeon Creek was wider than normal roads, its original purpose having been for driving cattle through the mountain valley. Today, the cobbled road was filled with people, and it seemed Jacob knew most of them. Every few feet, Bella was being introduced to somebody or another, smiling for all she was worth, thankful she needn't remember all their names.
Much to Bella's surprise, she found the town charming. The downtown area complete contrast to the single stoplight and menagerie of gas stations Forks offered up. Flag themed bunting hung from old-fashioned storefronts, most of which dated back to the early days of the town. There was a sense of permanence to the place, which she found refreshing compared to the constant big city construction of Chicago.
All around was a crush of color, set against aged red-brick and wood. Pies and cookies adorned old-fashioned checked tablecloths, and bright-faced children raced around with balloons in one hand and coronets of ice cream in the other. It was the kind of small town for which songs were written. America at its finest. Everyone knew their neighbors and nobody had to lock their doors. Church bells rang on Sundays, holidays, for weddings and funerals. Any moment now, Sheriff Andy Taylor could walk around the corner holding a strawberry soda-pop in one hand and fishing pole in the other. It was impossible not to join in on the merriment.
"I wish I'd brought a camera!" she told Diane, having caught up with her and Embry near the beer tent. "This place is amazing."
"Don't worry about it. You'll have plenty of opportunity this fall when you come back to photograph our wedding."
Grinning at the prospect, she was already planning for the event, and considering locations. "Sounds like I'll be clearing some time in my schedule."
"Seriously, we'd love to have you." Now that Bella had reappeared in their lives, Embry couldn't imagine not having her there. She'd always been a good sort, well, at least when Edward Cullen and his creepy oija board sister weren't around. That duo had managed to extinguish whatever fire she had in one fell swoop. But now, this woman sitting across from them, all pink-cheeked and vibrant... seeing her made all the fighting and supernatural bullshit worthwhile. At least in Embry's mind it did. Not everyone back home felt the same way. I hope the pack isn't shitty while she's in Forks. The thought crossed his mind that things would be easier if he or Jacob tagged along, but that was an impossible visit for either man to make.
Ten minutes had passed since Jacob volunteered to grab a round, and Bella was feeling antsy. A cursory glance found him standing under the tent, knee-deep in conversation with an incredibly beautiful woman. Bella couldn't help but notice the intimate way in which his hand rested on her shoulder, just as much as she couldn't help the jealousy rising in her breast when when he leaned in to drop a kiss on the same woman's cheek. Yet, it was the smile which did it. When Jacob gave away that million watt signature smile to another girl, like a two-year-old she wanted to stomp and scream, 'Hey, that's mine!'
Their roles had been reversed. Suddenly, feeling quite small in her size sixes, she knew exactly how it must have been for Jacob to see her with Edward.
I'm the past, she reminded herself. There are bound to be women-lots of women-who want his attention. This is his world. I'm just a visitor.
Wondering what had caused her to suddenly look crestfallen, Embry and Diane followed her eyes to where Jacob was talking with Tally, his seasonal bartender. Both wanted to smack him upside the head. They, along with everyone else in the vicinity knew the gesture was completely innocent, but being an outsider, Bella Swan did not. Furthermore, the cheeky little-kiss-kiss after a morning of blatant flirting made him look like a player.
It's none of my business, Bella thought. He's attractive, and young. So what if he acted all flirty with me? That's just the way we are together. Even if all those things were true, it still stung.
Closing her eyes for a brief second to center herself, and pasting on the biggest smile she could muster, Bella focused all of her attention on the future Mr. & Mrs. Call. They deserved joy, not her heartache. "I wouldn't miss it for the world! However, take a look at some samples first. Make sure my style is what you want. If it is, then consider it a wedding gift. Either way, I'm bringing my dancing shoes."
"Uh oh." A shadow fell across the table, in the form of Jacob Black, arms loaded down with beers for everyone.
"What do you mean, uh oh?" Bella had the decency to be indignant, but the ugly bruise on her thigh from falling into a puddle the night before screamed that her middle name definitely wasn't Grace. Across the table, Embry was snickering and Diane looked perplexed.
"We'll need an ambulance on standby," he cautioned, unable to resist the urge to tease. "Little Miss. Swan here, is extremely uncoordinated. This is an accident looking for a place."
Bella hooked one brow, squared up her shoulders and fixed a hard glare across her face. "I'll have you know that I'm a hella of a good dancer."
"Yeah?" Jacob challenged this by way of holding out one hand as invitation. "Prove it."
But instead of taking it, she reached for Embry instead. "Come on, cupcake, let's go cut a rug."
The pair flitted off, he doing an exaggerated version of the Uptown Funk with so much aplomb it should be outlawed, dragging shrieking Bella behind him.
It was part of why Diane both loved and agreed to marry him. The man had an enormous propensity for hilarity with absolutely no shame or embarrassment. Whether it was shaking that fine ass, or dragging her out the door at five in the morning for 'adventures', as he called them, Embry Call had an zest for life that was unmatched. How could she not love a man like that? Or have infinite patience for his antics.
On the other hand, whatever patience she had for Jake had just run out.
"What did I do?" he exclaimed, clueless as to why Diane had gone from jubilant to menacing in two seconds flat. The evil eye she was handing out was more unnerving than all the bloodthirsty red ones he'd encountered as a wolf.
"Black, you're a damn idiot." When the statement was received with nothing but a blank stare, she elaborated. "Bella saw you with Tally."
"So?" Shrug. More confusion, earning a well-deserved eyeroll.
"So, she doesn't know that Tally is married."
"You mean she was jealous?"
Diane clucked in sheer exasperation. "It's no wonder! Oh, Tal! You're so wonderful! Let me smooch you on the cheek! Mwah, mwah!'"
Laughing at the impression depicting him as as Pigeon Creek's resident Don Juan, Jacob thought Diane was overreacting. Bella couldn't be jealous. That was always his role in their weird love triangle. It was absurd. If there was one thing Bella knew, it was that he loved her. Always. End of story. Even if he hadn't recently expressed his undying devotion, it was a given.
"Look, the rest of us might be used to seeing how all the women act as if they're vying for the rose ceremony on The Bachelor, but Bella isn't. By the way you two have been flirting with each other all morning, I'd say that girl has every right to be jealous." Diane wagged another finger at him in disgust. "Oh, and don't think I haven't noticed that you wanted to go all 'Captain Caveman' earlier and drag her into the bedroom. If it were me, I'd be mad enough to club you over the head to knock some sense into that thick skull."
"Fuck." Jacob wanted Bella in his life. The last twenty-four hours had proved that the torch he carried for her still burned bright. She'd even flirted today, crossing every invisible line drawn since Cullen dick-sparkled his way into their budding romance eleven years ago.
"How do I fix this?" Relationships definitely weren't his area of expertise, and even at twenty-seven, women remained a mystery yet to be solved.
"First of all, you're going to dance with her and find some way to explain. Second, you need to do something special for that girl. The two of you may not be dating, but it's obvious to anyone in a fifty-mile radius that you're in a relationship." Diane adored Jacob Black, she really did, but if he screwed this up ... from what Embry had told her, the man wouldn't be fit to live with for months. Maybe it was just their established familiarity, she didn't know. Whatever it was, clearly they both needed to at the very least, give things a try.
He looked so much like a lovesick puppy that she softened a bit. "I've known you from the first day you sent foot in this town. If there is one thing I have learned about you over the years, it's how much you care for that woman. Even if I didn't know the story, it would still be written all over your face ... and hers, for that matter. For whatever divine reason, Bella Swan ran out of gas and turned up in your bar. That means something. If you let this chance slip through your fingers, you might as well kiss her goodbye."
Having always worn his heart on his sleeve when it came to Bells, Jacob decided to go all in. There was no point in running a bluff. Life wasn't a game of poker. Then, the corners of his mouth tugged in a grin. "You really think she was jealous?"
"Try not to look so smug about it."
The wolf preened, and the teenage boy inside fist pumped.
Bella was laughing. She couldn't help it. Embry's enthusiasm was infectious. The band had launched into a medley of oldies but goodies, and it seemed as if he knew every dance. Embry swam, twisted and mashed potatoed until she couldn't take it anymore. It was like a sock-hop on acid. Any minute now he was liable to line everyone up and break-out in The Madison.
Blessing the band for finally slowing the tempo, Bella relaxed a little. Then, out of the corner of her eye, caught a glimpse of the woman Jacob had been talking to earlier. "Em, who's that girl?"
Embry didn't bother to look. Didn't need to. "He still only sees you, Bella. Even after all these years." Then, whispering softly, he spoke from experience. "It's no accident that you're here. Some things are meant to be."
The steps of the dance changed, and twirling around, she all but smacked into Jacob's chest. Stepping into his embrace was automatic. Moving her feet was not. Bella could sum up her emotions in one word. Nervous. Suddenly feeling incredibly self-conscious, she was reduced to the awkward swaying found in high school gyms around the world. At any moment, she was sure to step on his toes or trip over air.
"Bells, look at me." It was such a soft request, but somewhere was the undertone of a command, forcing her to look upon his face. "Don't leave tomorrow." When she didn't respond, he inclined his head toward the makeshift bar. "Tally. She agreed to pick up extra hours for me this week."
"I ... Dad ..."
Jacob smiled at her inability to get the words out, knowing he still affected her just as much as she affected him.
"When I was fifteen, I fell in love with a girl. She was all I wanted. All I dreamed of."
Jacob's voice was thick and unabashed with raw emotion, entreating her not to leave ... not even to move from the very spot in which they swayed quietly to the music. Whatever thoughts Bella might have had about going anywhere anytime soon, floated away on the breeze. In that moment, there was nothing she'd deny him.
"Bells ... ." A current of electricity. A thousand tiny sparks. Bella felt each one when Jacob's fingers tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
For the first time in ten long years, Bella looked deep into eyes of hope. Cafe Noir. Richer than heartwood, stronger than time, and she was lost. They drew her in, just as surely as his touch.
His lips brushed against her cheek, and then, in the softest whisper. "You're still all I see. It's always been you."
Jacob kissed her, achingly slow, long and tender, with all the devotion of a lost love coming home.
Bella knew she wouldn't be leaving. Not for several days.
Yes, I know. You're wondering why neither of them will go back to Washington. I'll get to it, I promise.