I showered as quickly as I could. Showering was not safe.
Nothing was safe.
Not long after the water had warmed up nicely I was turning the taps off, hurrying to the towel-rail, trying not to wonder if everyone I cared about had died in those five long minutes I'd been gone.
I pulled on sweat pants and a tank top, rushed back to my room, feeling cleaner than you would think given the brevity of the shower, rubbing a towel violently over my wet hair and frowning.
Jacob was at the window, stooping a little to look out. He felt me come in, turned around, swallowed thickly.
"What is it?" I asked, letting my arms drop, immediately aware of the tension in the room. "Is it her?"
I didn't need to say the name, which was good because the sound of it nauseated me.
Even the dull echo of it in my mind brought bile to my throat.
I hoped I never met anyone I really liked who was unfortunate enough to have that name. I hoped I lived long enough to meet new people at all.
Jacob smiled a little and he looked so horribly exhausted that I wondered how he even managed to move his lips. He shook his head, said "It's nothing..." added quietly, "It's sort of you."
I made a show of furrowing my brow, attacked my head with the towel again. "Huh," I said, like I didn't know where those words had come from - thinking how really I didn't.
My arms started to ache from the exertion. I busied myself hanging the towel neatly over the edge of my bed.
When I stopped moving I shivered a little. It was cold and my still-damp hair wasn't helping, but I didn't want to use the hairdryer. It was so loud and I got nervous when I couldn't hear anything. Terrified actually. After all I was nervous all the time.
My eyes darted left and right, trying to locate my sweater, not wanting to cross into Jacob's side of the room.
Jacob's side of the room? What is this, the Brady Bunch?
By the time I remembered I'd left the sweater in the bathroom, Jacob was stepping toward me, boldly crossing my imaginary line, putting his hand on my bare upper arm.
"Are you cold?"
Was I cold?
Heat spread through me at an alarming rate, rippling out from the vast patch of skin his hand was coating.
I should have been thinking on my feet, planning, finding the right thing to say, the right way to deal with this moment. But my mind was like a scratched disc, a robotic loop of Step forward, step back Step forward, step back Step forward, step back -
All I could do was stare up at him and shake my head a little.
Jacob smiled softly, but there was something dangerous in his weary eyes. He brought his other hand to my cheek and suddenly I was filled with so much fear that I expected to hear Edward's voice, beautiful and sharp, telling me No, Bella, this is reckless and foolish and -
But there was nothing beyond the interminable Step forward, step back, pointless now because he'd already closed the gap, leaned down from impossibly high above, pressed his lips gently to mine.
My eyes closed. I couldn't move, couldn't even breathe.
One of his lips slipped in between mine and the sheer heat of him spilled into me for just a second.
Just a second and then he pulled away.
My eyes opened and felt wide. His face slowly came back into focus.
Every muscle in my body was taut, my fists were clenched.
"I'm sorry," he said, his hands safely back at his sides, looking away.
"It's cool," I mumbled stupidly, moving quickly to the other side of the room, trying not to process what had just happened.
The only real kisses I'd ever had were from Edward and those felt like forever ago. The last time I'd felt lips that warm on mine was literally forever ago. It would have been strange even if it hadn't been so unexpected, so unwanted.
And yet... And yet I did want Jacob. Or I needed him at least. There was a difference, wasn't there? There had to be.
The confusion was absolute and emptying and sometimes it seemed like losing Edward had actually scrambled my brain, not just my heart.
Sometimes? You're only hearing voices for God's sake.
I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, trying to force the thoughts from my mind. Then I picked up my watch off the desk. It was nearly 6 o'clock. Charlie would be home soon, wanting dinner.
I glanced surreptitiously over at Jacob, who was at the window, his back to me again. I dreaded what I'd see in his face when he turned around. He'd be embarrassed, or worse, angry, hurt.
Or defeated, ready to give you up and go away.
My chest constricted painfully at the thought of not having him anymore, and then something in me twisted again because it was wrong, so wrong to try to keep him.
But I needed to keep him. There was no way around that. Just a little longer, that was all.
Just a little longer.
"I'm going to go start dinner." I said, so quietly I wondered if he'd hear. Carefully I added, "You can stay, if you like."
He turned to me, smiled, and it was the same smile, the one I knew. The relief was so overwhelming it was almost uncomfortable. "Thanks Bells, but I should go." He gestured to the window. "It's ok, Embry's outside now, you'll be safe."
"Ah, the changing of the guard," I quipped, before adding softly "You should sleep, Jake."
His eyes were cloudy and purple circles tried to pull them down his russet cheeks. For days he had done nothing but watch me and hunt her. I thought idly how much more convenient crises like this one must be for vampires, whose bodies didn't need to recharge.
Jacob nodded, stared over at me hazily, swayed a little. For a second I thought he was going to drop right there. But his eyebrows shot up suddenly and he was alert again, heading for the door with long confident strides, so quiet yet so solid, footsteps that seemed to tell me I didn't need to worry (even though I knew I did).
"I'll give you some of last night's lasagna to take home to Billy," I offered, following him out of the room. "Hey how did you guys even eat before me?"
"Oh give me a break, we can cook." He grinned back at me. "We just prefer it when you do."
We were joking. Jokes and teasing again. Was I really going to get off this lightly?
I hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen, pulled the lasagna out of the fridge and starting spooning it into tupperware.
Jake paced, I suspected to keep himself awake.
Then I was at the top of the porch steps, he was at the bottom and it was a strange perspective. Freakishly tall Jacob Black looking up at little me.
"I really am sorry about before." He shook his head, let his tired eyes fall to the ground. "I'm an idiot."
"No you're not," I said too loudly, before I could stop myself, before I could think of something more non-committal to say.
Jake just looked back up at me shyly, didn't say a word.
Then he was gone.
I took the steaks out of the fridge, started mixing up a salad dressing. Relief that things hadn't changed with Jacob seemed to have made my mood light in spite of the always crippling anxiety.
I had an urge to make a cup of instant coffee for Embry, like he was a builder or a gardener or the guy who cleaned the pool we didn't have. Then I remembered he'd probably be a wolf right now and not have much need for coffee, wondered ridiculously if I should buy some dog food or something, laughed a bit.
I tip-toed out onto the porch, keeping an eye out for Charlie's car.
"Embry," I hissed.
There was a rustling in the trees across the road, huge shadows melted into nothing. A second later Embry - the boy, not the wolf - was standing on the porch with me, the bottom half of his body mercifully clothed.
"What?" he asked, peering into the house behind me, eyes sharp, searching.
"Nothing, I just wanted to see if you wanted some coffee or... something." I almost laughed again, yawned instead.
"Coffee? Why would I want coffee?" He seemed slightly irritated that I'd made him shift and come over here.
"Um... because it's nice. And warm?"
He rolled his eyes. "I'm nice and warm." He started to head back to the trees.
"And it keeps you awake!" I called weakly after him.
Embry stopped, turned around, considering. "Well the bitch bloodsucker does have us burning the candle at both ends."
I sighed. "She really does." Then I felt myself brighten, glad that I could do something to help, however trivial it may be. "Wait there," I said, walked into the house to turn the kettle on, frowned, turned around and stuck my head back out the door, said "I mean, come in. Obviously."
We were sitting at the kitchen table with mugs of hot coffee, Embry adding another spoonful of sugar every time he took a sip. He was telling me about a dance the high school in La Push was holding that weekend, and how he'd sort of accidentally asked someone to go with him and couldn't see a way out now.
"It's going to be painful. Streamers in the community centre, shit music, un-spiked punch." He shook his head and the misery on his face was almost comical.
I smiled. "I feel your pain. Not much of a prom girl myself."
"Oh this will be way worse than prom. And I don't even really like this girl." He sighed.
"And you invited her why?"
"That's the thing! We were talking and somehow... I don't even get how it happened. She's tricky."
I laughed. "Maybe she used witchcraft on you."
Embry looked at me, said totally deadpan, "You know I was just thinking that too."
I smiled, broke it when I sipped my coffee. "Jake's not going?" The question was light.
Embry rolled his eyes at me. "Oh please. No Bella, if Jake hasn't asked you, then he is not going." He smirked knowingly. "Honestly, you kids."
I tried not to blush. Why did Embry always have to be so damn open about these things? "Whatever, I was just wondering," I said, keeping my tone casual.
"Right." He was clearly unconvinced. "Anyway it's not like we could all go. Not unless we get the bloodsucker between now and then."
"Right," I echoed softly.
My grip on the mug tightened as her name flashed sickeningly through my mind.
When Charlie walked in I shot up, far too abruptly.
"Ch- Dad!" I smiled.
"Bella," he said in response, looking puzzled. "You're jumpy."
Embry stood up.
"Dad, this is Embry. He's a friend of Jake's."
Charlie shrugged out of his jacket. "Yeah we've met before. Round at Sam Uley's." He smiled, slapped Embry affectionately on the shoulder. "How you doing, son? Are you staying for dinner?"
Embry eyed the steaks on the counter enviously. "Uh, no. Thanks. I have things I should be doing." He glanced meaningfully at me and I nodded slightly.
When he was gone, Charlie turned to me. "You're not seeing Embry Call are you, Bella?"
I dropped the salad tongs. "What?!"
"I mean don't get me wrong, he's a good kid," Charlie continued, "I just don't think it would be fair to-"
"Dad." I interrupted, my face hideously hot now. Was he insane? "He just came by to see if Jake was here. And I made coffee, because I'm well brought up. Okay?"
Charlie chuckled a little, held his hands up in surrender. "Okay. What's for dinner?"
I picked up the tongs, started tossing the salad again, reached over and turned the heat on under the pan. "It's right in front of you," I said, a little too curtly.
Charlie just chuckled again, walked into the living room, flipped on the TV.
I put the steaks in the pan and stared into them as they started to sizzle, trying not to think about Charlie's unfinished sentence.
I just don't think it would be fair to Jake.