By Ethan Haas
It should be noted that Bella Swan had been wielding a knife for the last four minutes rather successfully, having kept the bloodshed down to an absolute minimum. This was a fair miracle as Bella was noted for, among other things, possessing the dexterity of a developmentally challenged toddler. She was a reasonably good cook but today, she was just making turkey sandwiches and trying not to kill anyone.
The day was, of course, still young.
"Hm?" He answered distractedly. She could say his name all day long, as far as he was concerned. All day and all night. Whenever she wanted, he was in no position to be picky.
She looked up at him, and met his gaze briefly. Bella returned her eyes to the task at hand and exhaled slowly, as though she were trying to keep her temper in check. He found it impossible not to laugh inwardly at the thought. Bella. Having a temper. If she lost her temper, she might just get annoyed. Or throw a shoe, heaven forbid. If he lost his temper, he'd put a hole in the wall of her father's kitchen. And he may or may not be responsible for disemboweling her boyfriend.
"You're staring." In her left hand was a neatly peeled avocado. In her right, a knife that Charlie had bought in the seventies, now barely sharper than a butter knife. Slip. Slip. Slip. She worked deftly, and slices fell into a pile on the cutting board below. He shifted slightly, resettling his chin in his palm. Finally alone with her, he would sooner kiss Quil than be denied the chance to enjoy and absorb every second. He settled instead for watching the rhythmic movements of her hands as they made quick work of the soft, green fruit.
He raised his gaze to meet hers once again, trying not to look too defiant or amused and knowing that he was failing dismally on both accounts.
"Stop. Or I'll only make you two sandwiches, not twelve."
"I'm a growing boy," he protested, a whine creeping into his voice.
She raised an eyebrow. Slip. Slip. Slip.
He feigned a pout, defeated. "I'll starve to death."
"Shame," she answered, rolling her eyes. She carefully arranged avocado slices on the sandwiches in front of her, topped each with another piece of bread, cut them into halves, and piled them on a plate. She took a half and pushed the rest toward him. Without so much as a word or a glance at anything on his side of the kitchen, she pulled two sodas out the refrigerator and tossed one to him. He chose to assume that her woefully inadequate toss (some three feet to his left) was unintentional. His was open and washing down a sandwich by the time she was seated once more.
"Edward can stare at you all he wants," he grumbled half-heartedly.
"Jake." He decided that he liked how she made his name sound when she was annoyed, too. Naturally, his next course of thought was to wonder how it would sound during angry make-up sex.
"What?" In an effort to derail his current train of thought, he made a mental note to ask Bella to vouch for him the next time Emily tried to whack him with a spoon over his table manners. He was fairly sure he always swallowed before speaking at Charlie's house.
"Vampire privilege," she said dismissively, waving a hand as though she had told him to take an umbrella in case it rained. "Besides, he doesn't eat me out of house and home."
Jacob opened his mouth and then closed it, momentarily stymied. Where once he could have been himself with her, alarmingly so, he found that he was terrified of shattering the achingly pleasant balance in which they existed. Terrified of saying the wrong thing and seeing the sun set on this moment in the tiny kitchen, on this friendship. Terrified of saying anything that would make the sun set on her, on them – any faster than it had to. He rarely felt like this in her presence. This feeling of gloom and uncertainty, sharpened into a fine point by an acute feeling of loss, only broke the surface in the wee hours of the morning when Billy was unknowingly supplying the booze.
It was in the way she sat up straighter the minute his name was mentioned, and in the confidence she only seemed to have when he was in her life. It was how her eyes shone more brightly when she spoke about him, and the conviction that involuntarily wound its way into her voice. She couldn't have known the way she had changed, how her very being reacted to the mere idea of him. How could she have known? She was as unaware of her changes as she was of the gravity between them –between Bella and Jacob. Spanning cultures, high schools, mythology, destiny, and kitchen tables. It left Jacob tired and riddled with puncture wounds from every time she smiled and it wasn't for him.
He sighed. Minutes ticked by in what could pass for a comfortable silence. Bella tugged at the crust of her sandwich, only ever eating that half. He didn't have much of an appetite (he ate three more to be polite) and found that teasing her had even lost its appeal. He followed her with his eyes when she got up to wash the plates and cutting board.
"Can I help?"
"Nah, you've been up all night. I think I can handle a few dishes."
He was behind her in a moment. Jacob found few things in this life as enjoyable as the shiver that slid perceptibly up her spine as she pretended not to be surprised. After a few seconds of silent but furious deliberation, he wrapped his arms around her waist in a hug. To his intense surprise, her body betrayed nothing and she simply continued to wash the dish in her hands. He couldn't help but to settle his chin on her shoulder, inhaling deeply.
She leaned back slightly, ever so slightly, into his omnipresent warmth.
"I miss you, you know." His voice was low, a rumble she could feel against her spine.
She was tempted to remind him that it simply wouldn't do to miss her now. There would be a lot more missing to be done, and a lot more of her to miss soon. Instead, she sighed quietly, tracing her fingertips lightly over the pattern that the small bones of his fingers formed. "I'm right here," she answered softly. A slight stiffening of her posture told him that the subject was closed.
Jacob turned his head slightly, speaking against the skin of her neck and letting his lips rest there. "How was your day at work?" He asked, changing the topic and his tactics in one fell swoop.
It was there, in Charlie's too-small kitchen, that she saw it more clearly than ever. She saw the simple strapless white wedding dress, hung in the back of a closet in a modest house nestled into the outskirts of Forks. She could see herself chasing after a little boy who was startlingly like his father: dark haired, fearless, and radiant. She could see herself at the gate of Forks Elementary, holding the hand of a fair-haired girl who was bursting with jealousy as they watched her brother walk into his kindergarten classroom for the first time. She could see them, some years later, laughing and crying for joy at her thirty-first birthday dinner when her husband's astute ears picked up a second heartbeat. A family of five! She thought, barely able to stifle a gasp. She could see herself settled comfortably into their bay window, reading to their youngest – a daughter with Renee's eyes. She could see a minivan, camping trips, Charlie's pride, piano lessons, and Christmas parties with the pack – her family, her friends. She could see, above all else, the family that she didn't even know she longed to create: the one with a mother and a father, the one she and Jacob both lacked. But it was like driving down an endlessly long highway when you notice the fascinating landmark too late, and you only ever have seconds to try to take it all in before some miles-long curve in the road takes you far away, leaving you with nothing to look at but the oncoming diamond bright trails of headlights. The images rushed past in a great blur with Rosalie's words ringing clearly in her mind, the previously alien notion of grandchildren suddenly that much more tangible. She saw her husband, lined and stooped with age, holding her hand on their porch that faced a sunset glowing ruby red in the west.
"W-What?" she asked breathlessly, dizzy and still reeling.
"Did you hear me? Or were you daydreaming about Mike Newton?"
She laughed, the sound high and false even to her own ears. "Oh, you know me. I've just got a thing for guys in orange vests." She gently freed herself from his embrace – startled at how the contact seemed to scorch. She put as much distance as was politely possible between them, averting her eyes as she fussed over the spotless counter, wiping away invisible crumbs.
"Is something wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost." The smile that she once called Sam's twisted his face. "Or a Cullen."
"I just…" she trailed off, wondering absurdly if her heart could possibly be as loud in his ears as it was in hers. "I just remembered a monstrous amount of Physiology homework, that's all," she finished lamely. The image of his face some sixty years from now seemed permanently etched on the inside of her skull.
"Oh, alright. Well," he tried for a genuine smile, swallowing his offer to help ("I'd be glad to help you study anatomy…") and with it, any hope he'd had for the rest of the evening. "I'll let you get to it."
"Thanks," she said as sincerely as she could, her relief that he'd taken the hint written all over her face in thick, red ink. She tried to meet his eyes, willing the truth into her lie, but only succeeded in feeling as though she'd missed a step going down the stairs. Her treacherous brain had chosen that moment to remind her that her son – their son – had freckles dusted across his cheeks and nose.
Bella turned toward the front door and inclined her head slightly, hoping he wouldn't notice the steadying hand she had placed on the counter. He obliged her and crossed the kitchen and living room in a few short strides. She followed and stopped a few feet away from him, resisting the urge to throw the door open and shove him through it.
"Thank you for having me," he said quietly, suddenly ill at ease and oddly formal.
"Oh, anytime," she answered, never meeting his eyes. He noticed that she was looking at some point above his shoulder, twisting the ring on her left hand around and around. Her hands were soft, and small, and smelled like the kind of lotion that doesn't smell like anything at all. They were the hands he wanted to have on his face and in his hair; the hands he wanted to fall asleep holding. He reached for her right hand, the one reserved for the bracelet that held two charms – a wolf, and a heart.
Her face only registered mild surprise when he used their clasped hands to pull her into a brief, final hug. He offered a small smile and then he was climbing onto his motorcycle, the engine deafening after their quiet afternoon.
"I'll call you later, okay?" She found herself on the front porch, suddenly desperate to know that she hadn't let on all that she'd felt. He nodded once, eased down the driveway, and was gone.
She was almost to her front door when she heard the murmur of a very expensive car idling in her driveway. The gentle whir of the window sliding down was audible over the purring engine.
"Care for a ride, Bella?"