Her room felt like a foreign country. Bella found herself running her hands over each piece of furniture, the spine of each book, committing it to memory for…
She fought down the nausea that threatened to overcome her, and tried to focus on the task at hand. She was supposed to be packing, but the remainder of her clothes lay in a heap at the foot of her bed, her suitcase, empty and open like a gaping wound, taunted her. She kicked it gently, and the top fell shut like the lid of a coffin. She flopped down on the edge of her mattress, on her too small bed, and stared at the space around her. Edward had the fake apartment in Juneau all picked out, all Bella had to do was move her things there, and then walk out of her family's life forever. It all seemed so much simpler in the confines of her mind, or when explained in Edward's melodic voice. In reality the whole plan seemed so much more devastating. Bella tried not to linger on the unpleasant thoughts too long.
The wedding dress hung in its plastic bag, suspended on the closet door within eyeshot no matter where she looked. The lace, the high neck, the corseted body, had seemed so charming just three months ago. Now every time she looked at the ensemble, all she saw were funeral robes. The white lace might as well have been black as pitch, charcoal, night.
What had happened?
The digital clock on her desk beeped softly, alerting her to the change in hour. One hour closer to her wedding. Sixty minutes closer to her own death. Even Bella couldn't ignore the irony of the way that thought twisted her stomach in knots. How many times had she faced death since coming to Forks? And yet the only time it made her fall to pieces was when it was the path she'd chosen for herself. Silently she wondered if all brides faced their wedding days so fatalistically?
A knock at her door pulled her from her stupor.
"C'min, Charlie," she muttered, quickly making herself look busy. She didn't want to stare at him, look him in the eyes knowing that oh, so soon she would be breaking his heart to spare his life. Knowing that she may never see him again, and that even if she did she would be merely a shadow of the girl who had once been his daughter. A demon standing in Bella's shoes. She stacked books aimlessly as shoes crossed the threshold. Big shoes, too large for Charlie she noted out of the corner of her eye.
"Um, hi." The voice was husky and deep, timid and yet strangely confident, and all too familiar.
"Jake?" Bella asked in disbelief, looking up. Yet there he stood, one hand on her doorknob and a hesitant smile on his face. He looked prepared to beat a hasty retreat if his presence was unwelcome, but Bella wasn't having any of that. "Jake!" She dropped the pile of books in her hands and tried to leap into his arms. Instead she tripped over a half filled box and fell against him. Hard. His waiting hands quickly caught her and kept her from tumbling to the ground.
"And I thought I knew how to make an entrance," he muttered, pulling her upright, and then into one of his trademark, chest-crushing hugs. Bella found that she didn't mind the suffocation this time around. "It's good to see you, Bells," he breathed into her hair, his lips lightly brushing the top of her head. His voice echoed in relief. When he finally released her (it seemed like hours) Bella inhaled and looked up into his eager face.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded eagerly. Pulling him into the cluttered room far enough to shut the door, Bella led him carefully through the miscellaneous junk pilled everywhere and cleared off her rocking chair. Jake took the hint and sat down.
"I hope you don't mind," he said sheepishly, collapsing into the rickety chair and taking off his prop walking cast. "Charlie let me in."
"Of course I don't mind," Bella said with a little too much enthusiasm. Jake cocked and eyebrow at her, glaring at her quizzically before his slightly strained expression returned.
"I wanted…I didn't want to leave things the way they were," he whispered softly, staring at his folded hands instead of meeting her eyes. "I wanted to see you one last time. But I'll be good, I promise." A sad smiled flickered across his lips, a pathetic imitation of his usually happy grin. "I didn't come here to cause any problems or anything. I've made my concession speech and everything. I just wanted to chill with my best friend before she ties the knot is all." Finally he peered up at Bella's face where she stood beside him, frozen, a pile of folded sheets in her hands. "That's okay, right? If it's not I'll leave…"
"No," Bella cut him off, placing one hand against his chest to keep him seated. "No, of course it's alright. I'm gla…it's good to see you Jake. I've missed you." Bella was surprised to find her voice saturated with more emotion than expected. Jake retuned her gentle smile.
"I missed you too." Their eyes said so much more than their voices ever could, Bella's apologizing for not loving him when she had the chance, and Jacob's for not being everything that she ever needed, wanted. It was a sigh that broke their silent exchange, through it was impossible to tell which set of lips it came from.
"So," Jake said. "I'm at your beck and call. What do you want to do?" Bella looked around her room in dismay before thrusting the pile of clothes into his chest.
"You can help me pack." He grinned.
"So where is…you know?" Jake let the question hang as he organized books into stacks according to size, propped up against the edge of Bella's desk. "I was afraid that I might run into him, showing up so late." Bella sighed. She knew sooner or later that they would reach the subject of Edward, but she'd hoped that maybe, just maybe they could steer clear of the topic. Still, there was no malice in Jacob's carefully controlled voice. No telltale shuddering. It was simply a question.
"He's with his brothers tonight. They're…" she hesitated. "They're hunting before the we-, before tomorrow, and giving the girls time to decorate. The reception is that their house and Alice has big plans."
"Heh." Jake snickered, catching the distain dripping from Bella's voice as she thought of Alice and decorations. "If it's half as flamboyant as that graduation fiasco then you should be in for the time of your life." Bella buried her head in her duvet cover. She'd seen Alice sketching something with Esme one afternoon, managing to glimpse a tent that would've looked appropriate with a Barnum and Baileys sign on it before Alice had secreted the paper away.
"I hate parties," she mumbled into the cotton.
Desperate for more space to move, Jacob pushed some boxes aside, accidentally sending one small one tumbling to the ground. The top flew off and the contents spilled out, eliciting a low whistle from Jake. Bella peeked cautiously over her bedspread to see what he had destroyed, only to discover the he was holding one of her shoes between two of his massive fingers, regarding it the way one might look at road kill or something else dead or distasteful.
"That's funny," he chuckled lightly. "I always pictured you getting married…well, barefoot." His eyes locked on to the ridiculously high, needle sharp heel, the paper thin straps, the ribbon lace. He was running through the various disastrous scenarios in his head, just like Bella had since Alice had first shown her the shoes.
"Why barefoot?" Bella asked, playing along
"I don't know. Maybe for the safety of you and everyone else in the wedding party…and in the audience. There's nothing romantic about a broken ankle, Bella," he chided her gently, before righting the box and placing the offending piece of footwear back inside.
"It'll be alright," she replied softly, reassuring herself more than anyone. "All I have to do is stand still in them. I hang onto Charlie walking up, and Edward walking back. I'll be fine."
"Yeah, fine." There was an awkward pause as they both skirted around the marriage topic in their minds, trying to find neutral territory. Trying to find a way around it. Searching for Switzerland. Finally Jacob opened his mouth.
"Speaking of Charlie, I smelled someone else when I was coming through the door, distinctively female. Was Renee here? In this house?"
"She was indeed," Bella said, doing her best impression of Jessica on a gossip binge. Jacob gasped in a dramatic way. "As was Phil."
"Completely. They came back here after dinner for coffee." Charlie had decided that the occasion called for a family dinner, meaning the entire family eating a meal that Bella hadn't cooked. Phil and Renee, who flew into town the night before, had agreed, and they'd even splurged on an Italian meal in Port Angeles. The result had been both awkward and incredibly sweet. Phil and Charlie, having never met before, made inconsequential small talk over soup and salad. Their mutual love of all things athletic made for plenty of angles of interest, and watching them out of the corner of her eye, Bella couldn't help but wonder if they'd have been friends under different circumstances, in some other place and time. She'd pictured Billy, Charlie, and Phil crowded around the archaic television in the living room, drinking Heinekens and swapping cock n' bull stories over cooling pizza. The image seemed to fit.
Renee had talked through the entire meal, skipping lightly from one topic to the next. She tried to avoid the wedding altogether, instead appearing to pretend that the gathering was nothing more than some big old blended family reunion. She's described, at length, all of her students for the coming term, and how excited she was to have a bigger class this year. She made subtle jabs about Bella's similarity in age to that of her kindergartners, mostly implying that she was too young. Bella laughed and poked at her rigatoni, fighting the urge to agree with her mother. But mostly she just spent the meal letting the voices of those people she cared about wash over her. Renee asked about college, and she and Charlie glowered, both wanting to foot the bill for the meal. It wasn't perfect, it never had been. But it was Bella's, and it was human, and for 17 years it had been all she'd ever known.
"Bella?" It wasn't until Jacob spoke her name that she awoke from her stupor.
"I…," she stammered, pausing when she felt something wet trickle down her cheek. With numb fingers she brushed at the stray tear.
"Are you crying?" He gingerly stepped over the stacks of books and piles of clothes and wiggled into what little space remained next to her on the bed.
"No, I just, I…" Bella felt a wave of constriction rise in her throat. "I'm fine," she whispered.
"You don't look like it." Jake started to put his arm around her, then though the better of it, settling the offending limb awkwardly in his lap. "I didn't mean to upset you, I was just making small talk and -."
"It wasn't you," she replied in a tiny voice, cutting him off with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'm just…a little scared right now, alright?" With all her might Bella willed herself to believe it was merely pre-wedding jitters. Her defenses rose, and she tied to lock all that fear behind a wall. Tried, but then Jacob stuck his foot in the proverbial door.
"What are you afraid of?" he asked in a harsh whisper. But there was no easy answer. Bella had been asking her self that same question for months, but the solution never presented itself. Inside her head she struggled to put into words what was pulsing through her veins, threatening to break out and destroy her.
"Before…" she hesitated, trying to find the right words, trying to keep her voice from cracking. "When everything was going wrong, when it was always perpetually dangerous it just seemed like a much easier decision, a more logical choice. Making the ultimate sacrifice to avoid sacrificing what was ultimately most important to me: the people I loved. Charlie, Renee, even you…when it seemed like it was a choice between my death or theirs. Or yours…there was just no contest."
"But now?" Jacob prompted. His hands hovered awkwardly in front of his body, as if he were torn between reaching out for her, or letting her finish speaking.
"But now…every time I look at Renee I feel like I'm trying to find the words to say goodbye…and I don't want to yet." On the final word her voice broke, and a crack appeared in Bella's stony mask. One single crack appeared in the damn, and the pressure behind it became more than the walls could hold. The tears poured out and there was nothing Bella could do to stop them. In silent, shaking heaves all of her fears, all of her grief, all of her terror boiled over and streamed down her face. Unknowingly, instinctively maybe, her arms wound around her chest, futilely attempting to hold herself together just ione more time/i. But all the fighting and the worry of the past years had taken their toll. Bella felt herself begin to shatter, and knew that this time her arms wouldn't be enough to hold all the broken pieces of herself together.
And that's when Jacob wrapped her up in his own.
He hauled Bella into his lap as if she weighed nothing. She offered up no resistance, curling her body against his own, and continuing to cry her silent rivers against the skin of his neck. All he knew to do, all he could think to do, was to hold her. In slow circles up and down her shoulders and against her back, his broad hands left trails. He leaned his head down and buried his nose in her hair, making comforting "shhhhh" sounds against her scalp and breathing in her scent. Neither of them knew how much time had passed. To Bella it could have been minutes or hours, but eventually she began to breathe again.
Eventually the tears began to ebb.
Eventually she managed to pry herself from the damp crook of his neck and look up. There was no hope in the eyes that looked back at her. Jacob was neither gloating nor teasing. His brows knitted together and she saw the echo of something in his gaze that she had not seen for a long time. It was the same way Jacob used to look at her in her days as a zombie, reeling from…she couldn't even bear to think his name. It was the look of the old Jacob, the real Jacob.
Her Jacob. And it made things that much harder.
"Bella," he whispered her name quietly. Absently, one finger traced a line up from her chin to the corner of her eye, catching a stray tear. A warm trail lingered in its wake. "Bella, I need you to tell me something." She couldn't form the words, or make her mouth move enough to talk, so all she did was nod against his shoulder, all the while fearing that she would only break his heart again.
"I'm your best friend, and you know I love you," he started. "But I don't know what to do here, this isn't my territory at all." His eyes threatened to spill over as well the longer he looked at her. "Tell me what you want me to for you, Bells. I came here tonight under no pretenses, and I've decided that all I want is for you to be happy. Tell me what you need from me and I'll do it. Let me help, cause seeing you like this…its killing me all over again." His arms, fiery against her own chilled skin, tightened instinctively around her, trying to hold her shattered pieces together.
"I don't know, Jake. I don't know what I want anymore. He's…he's part of me and he offered me a life and a family but…" and for a moment she was eight years old again, watching her parents glare at each other during a custody handoff. "As dysfunctional as they are, I have a family of my own and I can't just…just leave them. Just give all that up and let them go on with no closure, never knowing the truth about anything. About me. And I just can't…"
"Abandon them?" he offered softly.
Bella's breathing returned to normal, while the silence around her was punctuated by Charlie's soft snoring from down the hall, and the beat of Jacob's heart echoing against her ear. It was strange noise, and yet stranger still that it sounded odd. Out of place. She found herself breathing in time to its rhythm, synchronizing herself to his body. And as she did she felt the panic, the pain beginning to subside. As always, Jacob made it easier to breathe. She used his tee-shirt to wipe at her damp eyes, and he chuckled darkly.
"Sorry," Bella murmured.
"Don't worry about it," he consoled her. "I guess there are some benefits to wearing clothes that I hadn't thought about." That's when realization struck her.
"Wait, why're you wearing clothes. Didn't you run over here?" she asked, taking stock of his full wardrobe, including a jacket and shoes.
"No," he replied drolly. "I figured it would be inappropriate to show up on your door the night before your…wedding without a shirt on. Plus, I'm not supposed to phase, remember?" He stretched his once damaged limbs out at his sides. "Besides, I'd look funny on the back of a motorcycle with no shirt."
"You didn't hear me pull up?" Jake asked, genuinely surprised. "Those bikes you salvaged might run, but they're still pretty damn loud."
"I was distracted," Bella muttered, lost inside her head once again.
"I understand." He said it like he really did, and Bella believed him. After the things the two of them had gone through, the violence and heartbreak they had both seen, sometimes the only way to make it through the day was to shut yourself off from the world. To just turn it off and give yourself time to rationalize it, to think.
Suddenly words were balanced on the edge of Bella's tongue, sharp and dangerous. They threatened to spill out and change her world, to destroy everything that she had ever built here in Forks. But sometimes you have to destroy things when they get too damaged. Break down, rebuild.
And occasionally, all you need it time to make repairs.
"Jake," she whispered, her mouth suddenly parched.
"Yeah?" His own hushed voice replied. She looked up into his searching eyes, her own threatening to spill over again.
"I think I need some air. Will you take me for a ride?" Bella didn't know what his reaction would be. She was afraid to see triumph, or even hope, spelled out on Jacob's face. But his eyes only reflected understanding, and his face, his slightly knowing smile, the lines of worry creasing his forehead, only expressed concern and…something else.
Love, she decided. Of the deepest variety. The love of family, the love of friendship, the love of romance. Jake contained all three. He'd come over tonight under no pretenses, and he was leaving the same way. His words echoed the sentiment.
"Of course, if that's what you want." A warm hand pushed the hair back from her face. "Where do you want to go?" Before she had time to think of the consequences, Bella grabbed her backpack and was stuffing her already folded clothing inside it.
The nightmares came. They always came. The demons in her head were nothing if not persistent. Tonight the images of blood and carnage mixed with palpable emotions that chased her newborn self through an endless horizon of forest. Guilt. Shame. Violence.
They pursed her the same way she was stalking her prey. Her mother, with her wide cherubian face, kept shooting panicked glances back over her shoulder at the scarlet-eyed monster her daughter had become. And each time she looked back, her face fell a little, and she slowed down. She was already defeated.
In an instant Bella's lips were at her throat, and she screamed a cry of pain as the newborn screeched in bloodlust sated victory.
The real Bella just screamed in terror, thrusting her hands out, reaching for her mom. This was the usual pattern of her nights. The cold sweat, ihis/icold arms, they were always waiting at the end of the nightmare.
Except this time Bella rolled over and found herself engulfed in a pair of warm hands, being pulled up against an equally smoldering body. Through her sleep addled haze she felt a pair of lips press up against her ear.
"It's okay Bells," a drowsy voice consoled her. "You're not alone. I've got you."
"It's gonna be alright."
She awoke, quite suddenly, from a dark and dreamless sleep. Disoriented, she stared blankly at the tacky motel décor: the pastel floral wallpaper and the too scratchy sheets in the queen bed where she slept. Alone.
"Morning sleepyhead." Bella's head whipped around, and the sight of Jacob sitting at a fiberboard dinette set in the corner brought the events of the previous evening rushing back to her. A clock on the night table blinked 11:37am back at her. Her stomach curdled.
She was supposed to be getting married in less than three hours.
"Morning," she finally replied, her soft voice cracking as her dry throat was forced to function once again.
A Styrofoam container was suddenly thrust under her nose.
"I bought you breakfast, even though it's almost noon," Jake said with a grin. Bella took it from his large hand, and opened it to find a small mountain of pancakes, dusted in powered sugar. "They're blueberry. I thought you'd like that," Jacob said, grinning. He was hunched over the small, two person table, dwarfing it with his substantial height. A small mountain of scrambled eggs and a tower of toast wedges were slowly disappearing from in front of him.
"Where did you get all this?" Bella asked densely, her brain still muddles with lingering sleep. It was a strange sensation for someone so used to being pulled cruelly from rest by terrifying dreams. Jake gulped down the mouthful he'd been chewing.
"There's a greasy spoon about a half mile up the road," he choked out. "You were sleeping so hard that I didn't think you'd miss me."
"I didn't." She continued to stare at her container of food. Her brain, fixated on what day it was, told herself that food was the last thing she needed. Her stomach gurgled in response, overruling that notion.
"You need to eat, Bells," Jacob muttered on cue. Bella suspected that he'd heard her hunger rumbling from across the room. She freed a plastic spork from its napkin cocoon and began to eat, chewing slowly and deliberately. The warm blueberries popped in her mouth as she chewed. "Good, right?" he inquired.
"Yesh," she muttered through a full mouth. She began to eat with relish, realizing just how hungry she really was. "Berwy." Jake snickered at her food muffled words, and then looked at her, his expression suddenly serious.
"Look, I'm sorry about the whole one bed thing. You were half asleep on the road, and I was afraid you were gonna fall off the bike. I only had enough cash on me for a single." He flushed, a little embarrassed by his financial situation. Bella suddenly felt a rush of quilt sweep through her chest.
"How much did you spend, I'll pay you back…" she started to say, looking around the room. She spied her bag hunched over by the door and tried to remember how much money she had in her wallet. "Thank you for doing that."
"Don't worry about it," Jake muttered, popping the last bite of toast into his mouth. "It wasn't that much, I just didn't want to give that guy my credit card. I figured that…" he hesitated, deciding against whatever he was going to say. "Cash is just easier." It was a weak excuse, and Bella knew it. Jacob was really worried about leaving a trail behind. His foresight was a relief – the sudden pounding in her chest made Bella highly aware of the fact she didn't want to be found just quite yet.
"Look I just…I didn't want you to think I was taking advantage of your vulnerable state last night or anything. I was going to sleep on the ground but then you started screaming and…" Jake stammered. "I'm sorry." A slight shudder rippled across Bella's frame as the details of the nightmare came rushing back to her with intense clarity.
"Don't be," she reassured him. "I don't like sleeping alone…"
They drove for most of the day, the coastline stretching out along the winding trail of interstate 101. After several hours at the helm they switched places, Jacob letting Bella take over. She instantly kicked the bike into high gear. White knuckling the handlebars, she opened up the throttle and allowed the bike to devour the asphalt with ferocity. Jake's arms were warm where they wrapped around her waist, and she was grateful for his company, though relieved that the roar of the bike and the wind in their ears made conversation impossible.
She didn't know what she'd say.
As the yellow and white lines blurred into each other, Bella lost herself out on the highway and it wasn't until Jacob was shouting into her ear to pull over that she became aware of herself again. They were low on gas, so Jake took back control of the motorcycle and eased it off the highway at the nearest exit. The first town they came to hugged a portion of the coastline where the cliffs eased off into rocky outcroppings along the beach. It was a sleepy little hole, devoid of hustle, bustle, and questions. Jacob filled up the bike while Bella waked down the block to where an elderly man was selling seafood out of a roadside shack that could only charitably be called a restaurant. Bella had a sneaking suspicion that all he really did was walk out behind the building, throw a net into the ocean, and sell whatever he came up with that day. The barbecue grill smoking out back smelled fantastic, and Bella purchased four fish sandwiches and two cans of soda with the last of her cash.
She and Jacob ate on the grass out behind the shack and stared out over the ocean. The sandwiches were flaky and fresh, and Jacob devoured his three in the time in took Bella to polish off one. In a move that both regarded with melancholy, Jacob pulled the now warm cans of sofa out of their paper bag and handed one to Bella.
"Cheers," he toasted dryly.
"Cheers." They clinked the rims of the cans together.
Bella took a sip, and noted that it tasted nothing like the champagne Edward had picked out for this evening. Strangely, she was okay with that. Her head listing lightly against Jacob's leather coated shoulder, she listened to the crash of the waves beyond the cliffs, and let her mind wander to another set of cliffs, and much different circumstances. Last time she'd been abandon.
This time she was the one running away.
"You wanna go for a swim?"
"Bells, I hate to be this person," Jake said. His face looked puzzled, frantic, like he was trying to choose his words carefully and quickly. "But I have to ask: what are we doing?"
She didn't answer. Beneath her legs she felt the water of the rising tide erode the sand away, leaving tiny pockets of air when the water retreated. With each wave more and more of the grains escaped from under her body, until she was practically floating. It would be so easy, she thought, to just let the current carry her out to sea and away from all of this. The sun, sinking and melting into the ocean before them, embraced her in one final, warm hug, bathing them both in a pink and purple glow. Finally, Bella rolled over onto her stomach, and looked at Jacob.
"I think," she said slowly. "I think…I'm detoxing." Jacob said nothing as Bella played with her wet, tangled hair. She regarded him silently with her large, brown eyes, gauging his reaction, but Jake kept his face neutral so she continued. "I'm in love with Edward," she murmured, restating the painful, the obvious. "And whenever I'm around him he lights up my world. He…he dazzles me, makes it all so much brighter." She took a raspy breath and plunged her shaking fingers into the damp sand. "But after being around all that light all the time, when we're apart the world looks much darker, more sinister. Usually my day consists of times with him, when I'm happy, and time alone when I just try to survive until I'm with him again."
Jacob felt sick to his stomach, though he did his best not to show it. He knew, knew all of this. But hearing the words from between Bella's lips, lips he knew to be everlastingly sweet, made it hard for him to function. A shudder rippled across his back, but it was fleeting, gone with the next wave upon the shore.
"And it was easy for a while – but then this…this wedding thing started," she explained, her voice descending into more of a hiss on the word "wedding". "It made me so sick and scared on so many levels, that I just tried not to think about it. And Edward was a lovely distraction. But when he was gone, I found my mind going back to that looming event and what it meant for me, for us. And," she looked at him hopelessly, struggling to find the words. "Like a…like a wound, my fears about marriage and…and after, began to fester."
"Bells," Jacob interjected softly, but she pulled one delicately fingered hand out of the sand and held it up to silence him.
"Please, I need to get this out," she pleaded, her voice shaky and strained. Jacob bit down on his lip to keep from interrupting. With a shuddering breath, Bella continued.
"It went on for weeks, this anxiety. It got worse and worse until one night, despite the fact that he was…that he was with me, I had this nightmare, different from all the others." She looked at Jacob pointedly.
"The same one you had last night," he murmured. Bella's eyes lost focus, looking past him now at the sharp rocks that peppered the cliff face.
"It's always the same. I'm running so fast, chasing someone through the forest behind Charlie's house. She keeps falling and tipping and I'm catching up to her, and when I finally reach her, she turns around and screams," the last passed through her lips in a whispered hush. "And it's Renee. And then the dream shifts, and I'm seeing the world through her eyes and all I see is myself, newborn and covered in blood, before I tear out my own mother's throat…"
Neither of them spoke.
They didn't know what to say. Jacob looked at her, and Bella stared at the sand between her fingers until the bubble of silence was finally punctured by the call of a wild seabird.
"And suddenly I was afraid. Afraid of the wedding, what it would symbolize, what I would become after it." She met Jake's eyes and there was a wetness there that had nothing to do with the waves that were washing up higher and higher around them both. "I was scared."
"I understand." He said it like he really did, and Bella believed him.
"I just need some time away from…from him, from what he does to me. I need some time to think, and I can't do that when he's around. He's all I ever think about at home." Jacob got to his feet, holding out a hand to pull Bella up.
"And now?" he asked. She placed both of her hands in his larger one and allowed herself to be hauled to her feet. She eyed him coyly, the sadness fading from her face.
"Now, I'm thinking I might like a shower."
Bella had written a check to herself, and withdrawn a substantial chunk of money from her savings at the local bank – it was much more secure than using an ATM. Given their added funds, Jacob had insisted on a motel room with two beds, one of which he was lounging on when Bella emerged from the shower, wrapped in a towel with another one turbaned on her head.
"I think I brought home half the beach in my clothes," she said, and Jake laughed.
"It was your idea to go play in the sand, remember?" Unable to argue with that fact, Bella glanced at what he was watching.
"Wouldn't have pegged you for a Sports Center kinda guy, Jake."
"I live with Billy, remember. This is comforting," he teased. "It reminds me of home."
"Charlie must be worried sick by now…" Bella murmured, and a deep sigh escaped from Jacob's lips.
"I have a confession to make," he said fatalistically. "I called Billy from the gas station this morning." Bella's mouth dropped open into a little 'O'. She didn't know whether to be thankful, or upset. Before she could decide, Jacob continued. "Relax, I didn't tell him anything. Just that you needed some time to think and asked me to give you a lift. I left out and all key details other than the fact that you were alive. That way, even when he tells Charlie, which I'm sure he will…certain people won't be able to come find you and drag you from the lap of luxury I have imprisoned you in." He spread his hands wide, as if presenting Bella with the tacky motel room. It was impossible to tell if it was decorated in an art deco, 60's theme, or if it just hadn't been updated since then. Bella felt his tense muscles relax.
"Well, I guess that's one less thing to worry about…"
"Feel any better?" he asked. Despite getting a room with queen sized beds, his feet still hung off the mattress.
"Not really. There's still plenty of other things to worry about." She collapsed down on her own bed, unwrapping her hair and tossing the towel aside.
"Sure." Jake shut off the TV and reached for the lamp on the night table between their two beds. "But you can worry about the rest of it in the morning, right?"
"Right." The room when dark.
"You're not sleeping," Jake pointed out through the dark. Bella had a sneaking suspicion that he could probably see her, plain as day.
"Neither are you," she replied obviously. She groaned and rolled over, facing the sound of his voice. A car drove past on the highway, and the scorch of headlights illuminated his face briefly through the blinds. He was lying on top of the floral coverlet, his body strangely mirroring hers, before he was once again clothed in the darkness of the early morning.
"Can't dream if you aren't asleep," Bella muttered. "I'm just having trouble getting comfortable." It was too strange, the bigger bed with fewer people in it. No matter which way she rolled or how she laid down, she just felt too…utterly alone to sleep. Jacob's voice was soothing in that it reminded her that she wasn't completely on her own. "What're you doing up?"
"Thinking" he answered blithely.
"About stuff, nosey pants," he chided gently, but in a way that told Bella to drop the subject. It didn't matter, Bella was feeling compelled for a reason unknown even to herself.
"About me?" Jake sighed heavily, his toned laden with frustration. He turned his back to her, the sheets shuffling together nosily.
"It doesn't matter, Bella," he said more softly. He sounded defeated, exhausted. "None of it matters. You should get some sleep."
But it did matter. It mattered to Bella…a lot, and that surprised her. Sleep was the furthest thing from Bella's mind. Her imagination was suddenly alive with images and desires and urges that she had once, not so long ago, turned her back to. She wasn't thinking of weddings or vampires or the home she'd just run away from. Her brain was dominated with the memory of sensations: lips crushing against each other, warm arms and rough hands and the scent of pine all around. Her toes curled against the rough sheets, and she felt a flush rise in the cheeks. With the same rashness used in her decision to leave, Bella suddenly found herself making another strange decision. The hair on the back of her arms and neck stood on end, tingling in the cool air as Bella climbed out of her bed and stood up.
The space between their beds felt like a mile to Bella's bare feet. She took each step with cautious deliberation. She knew what it would mean, crossing the invisible line that separated them, both physically and emotionally.
She wasn't sure she was ready, but then she knew that no one ever really was. Life was nothing more than a series of gambles, inexplicably linked by love, lust, or need. And right now, she felt all three for Jacob.
"What are you doing?" he asked softly, so softly, hearing her gentle footsteps. He rolled over in bed and his eyes traced her through the darkness. Bella took one step, then another. She could feel his radiating warmth the nearer she got.
Her fingers brushed the edge of the mattress.
"Bells," his voice pleaded. On her hands and knees she crawled to him, her fingers brushing across his leg in the darkness. He pulled it away from her, but she was already there, mere inches separating them in the dark. Slowly, she laid down beside him, her hands clasped to her chest. Her eyes began to adjust, and she could just barely make out his high cheekbones, his liquid pitch eyes piercing into her own. With noticeably shaking fingers she reached for him, brushing the tips against his warm shoulder. Jacob shuddered beneath her touch, his eyes closed, his breathing quickened.
"I know you're hurting, Bells, but this isn't what you want," his voice cracked. But when he opened his eyes, his expression betrayed the fact that he longed to hear her say otherwise. "Please, don't do this to yourself. Don't do this to me…"
Bella's breath caught sharply in her throat. He was right, it wasn't fair to use him like this. To use him to numb her confusion. To inflict her own pain onto him. She started to draw away.
"Jake," Bella murmured, her stomach twisting with guilt. All of a sudden his fingers were around her wrist, holding her hand against his burning skin.
"Just…let me pretend for a moment." His eyes were closed again, but the lines creased in his forehead betrayed the battle taking place inside his head. Neither of them breathed until finally, Jacob let Bella's hand slip from his fingers. She let it drop onto the mattress, onto the invisible barrier between their two bodies.
"I'm so sorry, Jake," she breathed into the darkness. He didn't reply, his eyes still squinted shut. With a sigh Bella rolled away and started to crawl off the bed, feeling sheepish and mean. Mike Newton had been right, girls really were cruel, and she was the worst of them all. Jake had done everything he could – saved her, healed her, and now run away with her, and all she could think to do in return was to peel off the scabs, reopen his wounds, and grind salt into them. She stepped off the bed.
"Wait." A hand shot out of the darkness and entangled its fingers with her own. "Stay," Jacob's voice pleaded in a low moan.
Bella didn't dare turn around to look at him. "Are you sure?"
"No," he admitted, a dark chuckle escaping from his chest. "But I…it's okay…if you want to..." She did want to, and it had nothing to do with simply not wanting to sleep alone. Bella found herself aching to relive the previous night – his warm body and low voice. She wasn't craving anybody. She wanted Jacob.
Bella collapsed into his arms, her back curving against his chest. And Jacob curled around her, wrapping her safely in the cocoon of his arms, resting his chin in the crook of her shoulder. His soft breathing calmed the pounding of her heart, threatening to burst through her chest with desperation and confusion and sadness and longing.
"I'm sorry," she whispered again, into the dark. "For everything." But what she meant was that she was sorry for having broken his heart in the first place, for having allowed him to fall in love with her, for loving him back and making it harder.
"It's okay, Bells," he breathed into her ear.
What he meant was that it had all been worth it.
Bella awoke suddenly in the darkness. This was nothing new, and yet it was different from all the times before. There was no piercing scream, no sudden wrenching from the throws of the nightmare. Only a gasp escaped her mouth. A bead of cold sweat crawled down her forehead and mingled with the tears she wasn't even aware of crying. Her knees were pulled tightly to her chest, her body folded into the fetal position. This wasn't the result of fear.
This was despair.
The ghosts of the dream, this new dream, lingered and taunted her. They were more persistent than the nightmares were, more damaging. They clung to her in the blackness, the images replaying over and over in her mind. Their haunting laughter echoed in Bella's ears. She closed her eyes to them, but they became more vivid still. A small moan escaped her from between her parched lips.
"Please…" The ghosts didn't listen, but the room instantly became much quieter. Snores that had been so soft, so constant that Bella hadn't even been aware of them, disappeared.
"Bells?" Jacob asked, his arms tightening around her shoulders. "Bella, are you alright?" His voice was deep and dry, evidence of his much more peaceful slumber. Bella tried to answer him, rolled over in the bed to face him, but couldn't make her sob chocked throat form the words. The sound that emerged was more of a hiccup than any discernable reply.
"What was it, what did you see?" he asked. "This one was different, it's written all over your face." He unwound one arm from her body and, with his thumb, gently brushed each of her cheeks, smearing away the lingering remnants of tears. The warmth that he radiated seeped through her tee shirt, into her skin and muscles and cells and it began to feel as if she could breathe again. Inhaling and exhaling in short, shallow bursts, Bella looked up at her best friend, studied his face. There was patience there, and love, and concern, all hidden beneath worried expression and knitted brows.
"I saw it," she whispered up to him. "I felt it all."
"I saw us. I saw our life…together." Jake's expression suddenly changed, shifted to something between amusement and physical pain. He brushed her cheek again, and his eyes drifted away from hers.
"And that made you cry?" he asked softly, his tone injured.
"No, I saw it leaving me. I saw it running away, slipping through my fingers. I saw it all, just like when we kissed, but this time I tried to hang on to it…and I lost it." She burrowed her head into his chest. "I lost us! That's why I'm upset..."
"Oh, Bella." Jake stroked her hair, pulling her body closer against his. "Please…will you tell me what it looked like?" Slowly she peeled herself out of his grip, far enough away from his body so that she could look up at his face. The salt trails of teas still stained her cheeks, and she saw what looked like a few stray ones on Jacob's face as well.
"You…I won't do that to you," she stammered out. In the dark she blindly searched for his hand with her own. "Won't that just make it worse? I don't…God knows I don't want to hurt you and…" Jake felt her frantic searching in the sheets, and swiftly grabbed her hand. Gently, he guided it up to his chest, where he placed Bella's palm over his heart. She could feel it pulsing faintly beneath the skin.
"I'm tough," he assured her. "Hell, maybe it'll make things harder. But I want to know, all the same." He kept Bella's hand pressed to his chest, and the pounding of his pulse seemed to give her strength. The words were spilling from her lips before she could stop them. An avalanche of emotion crumbling down so fast that Bella's mouth could barely form the words.
"I saw you and me…together. I saw Charlie and Billy and Renee and Emily and the guys and Angela. I saw a house with red bricks and a garage and the Rabbit and the motorcycles. I saw La Push and First Beach and…and a barefoot wedding…" Bella couldn't make her throat expel the final, painful image. The words were too big for her, too hard.
"Please…" Jake urged her on. His blood pulsed beneath her fingertips.
"I saw a little boy and a little girl playing in the trees, and they had your beautiful hair and he had Charlie's eyes and she was taller and she took his hand and they looked back at me, and they smiled and then ran off into the forest. And I lost them and they were gone." He eyes were wild, crazy. "I tried to catch them but they vanished just like my family, just like my friends…just like you." She stared at him, the panic fresh in her voice.
"I lost you, Jake. No matter what I do, I'm always losing you…" Her arms were around his neck before either of them realized what was going on. Bella threw all of her weight behind the force of her hug, and it would have choked a lesser man. Instead all Jacob could so was sit there and be surprised as Bella wrapped her long arms around him and pressed her cheek against Jake's stubbly face. Pale lips, poised right beside his ear, finally expressed what Bella had been feeling in her heart all along.
"…And I don't want to lose you ever again." Bella's lips pressed against his cheek, lightly, emphasizing her words.
The contact was electric; it sent a pulse through them both, a blinding flash that dissolved all the pretense and external factors and 'maybes' and 'what ifs' in one, fell swoop. Bella's internal voice, the small one that had cried for Jacob so hard on the day when she had walked out his door, sang in joy as Bella's lips explored his cheek, his neck, his jaw line, and finally found purchase on his lips. Jacob's hands tangled in her hair and forced her up beside his body. His lips parted to allow her in, and their tongues traced each other fervently with the energy of passions finally unleashed.
It was all warmth, all joy, all the promise of a future that had not become as impossible as it seemed. It was all love. Jake's arms locked Bella against himself and yet she still tired, with all her strength, to pull him closer, tighter. The atoms that separated their two bodies were still far too dividing. It blurred, it soared, it screamed, and when it finally ended neither was certain what had happened.
Bella was gasping for air, sucking it down into her screaming lungs, and yet oxygen seemed so unnecessary when all her body wanted was another taste.
"Wow," Jake breathed, leaning against her, cheek to cheek. His heart was pounding in time with Bella's. "You kissed me."
"I don't know what this means yet," she confessed, brushing a strand of hair out of her face, then doing the same for him. Jacob kissed her forehead, gently, fleeting. A brush of lips on skin. Goosebumps shot down Bella's arm at the slightest sensation of his smoldering skin on hers. She blushed brightly.
"It's okay, we'll figure it out." His face was flushed too, a sheen of sweat on his brow. But his smile was genuine. Her Jacob. "We've got all the time in the world." He was right.
And Bella believed him.
Stray rays of sunlight were starting to peak through the spaces in the blinds, and the beginning of the new day didn't seem nearly as daunting to Bella anymore. She reached out, stroking Jacob's cheek absently as they watched the glow increase with the passing minutes.
"Where do you want to go today?" Jake murmured, his mouth brushing against Bella's cheek. Her lips ached, and she turned her head, kissing him back, slowly this time. She leaned into the gesture, into Jacob, letting her body fit against his. And it felt natural. Right. Bella smiled.