IV.Jacob and Billy have been out of town for three days visiting Rachel and her husband while Bella was too sick to feel like going. Over three hours after Jacob was supposed to be back, the phone rings and she runs half-dressed from the bedroom where she was in the middle of changing clothes to grab it. Her husband's voice, sounding strained and shell-shocked, says quickly some words that later she cannot quite remember clearly.
"I'm sorry, I know I'm late — No, don't...worry. Well. I'm kind of okay. It's fucked up. Something...happened. I don't have time to — I'm using somebody's phone and it's going to die — but I'll be back today. I don't know whe—"
He never gets an "I love you" or "I miss you" in there before his voice cuts off and leaves her alone with a dead silence. She remembers that well as she stays alone in the house all afternoon trying to dissect and pull apart this half-conversation she had with him on the phone. Something happened something happened. While he has been out there. Going to see where his sister lives now for the first time since she knew him.
It is the way he sounded more than anything he said that makes the fear poison her like slowing, digested black tar. The words he said mean nothing next to what he didn't say.
It doesn't mean anything, she tries to tell herself. He barely had the chance to get anything out before the phone died. He didn't get to explain.
But still there is a cold conviction taking over her gut the longer she waits and he still isn't back and still hasn't tried to call again. She cannot think about anything else or occupy herself with anything until she knows for sure, but all the while she thinks she is sure, like she can feel it. He is going to come home today, but he has something to tell her. It seems like there can be no other explanation, nothing else so serious that he wouldn't be able to just tell her about it over the phone. He isn't hers anymore.
And there is nothing she can do. Nothing he can do, and that is almost worse than anything because she knows he will never forgive himself for having to abandon her. There is nothing to be done, and she does not even cry as she sits paralyzed with the fear. She just tries to prepare herself to have to keep herself together when he tells her in order to make it not so hard for him. She just waits.
She is sitting at the kitchen table completely still when she finally hears him come in. Colors and shapes swirl around her and she becomes dimly aware of the shadow of his figure standing above her.
"Hey," he says, sounding exhausted and lightly running his hand through her hair to get her attention; she is staring vacantly into the air as if she doesn't hear him there. She lifts her eyes up to him and sees some kind of dark hopelessness in his face that just makes the fear clutch painfully in her stomach more than ever. "Sorry I didn't get the chance to say much when I called. Are you feeling better?"
There is something in his voice that makes the question sound merely polite, like it is really the last thing he can spare much thought to worry about at this time.
But she nods. "Yeah," she answers, her tone blank. "I've been a lot better."
"Good," he sighs. He puts his hand to the back of her neck and leans over to kiss her. But she is awkward, suddenly acting as if she is with a stranger, and starts saying something softly once his face is inches from hers, stopping him.
"Muffler got out again." She crosses her arms over her chest, looking oddly nervous.
He stands back upright, looking out the back window as if he'll be able to see him. "How?"
"He slipped past me while I was answering the door. You know I'd be hopeless trying to run after him."
"Well, he'll come back. He always comes back. If not, I can go find him later tonight."
He looks down at her with worried eyes, taking out a chair to sit next to her at the table. Maybe he is intentionally avoiding getting to the point. Maybe she is very willing to help him do that.
"How are Rachel and Jeff?" she asks, still sounding blank.
Instead of answering, he keeps staring at her face with obvious concern. "What is it? Honey, you know Muffler's a smart dog. Nothing's going to happen to him."
"I haven't been worried about the damn dog," she says in a hard voice. "At one point I was pretty sure he was going to come back before you did."
He sighs. "I'm really sorry if I worried you. And that I took so long to call. It was insane. Some crazy asshole hit us while they were driving us to the airport. Jeff got hurt really bad, and for a while it looked like he might not be okay..."
A little bit of color slowly comes back into her face, life and expression returning to her. She can barely process it properly and it takes her a moment in her disorientation to realize the magnitude of what he said. "But...is everybody okay?"
"Yeah. He's going to be fine. Nobody else in our car was hurt much. I was just fine shortly afterwards, of course, and I got some weird looks from doctors for it. My dad just broke an arm and his collarbone. He's going to stay there for now...Bell?"
She has started breathing loudly as if going into panic. He looks at her questioningly and puts his hand on her shoulder, and as he touches her she collapses, her head falling into her hands and her back shaking suddenly with light sobs she has been keeping in for hours.
"Bella?" Now he is the one panicking, frantically trying to move her hands away from her face to look at her. When she shows her face he starts quickly brushing her tears away. "My God, are you okay? What's wrong?"
"It wouldn't have taken you a minute to tell me that much!" she says, stopping him when she grabs his wrists tightly. "Why didn't you just call me again once you had the chance?"
"I was going to," he says, "but I was worried about waking you up if you'd gone to sleep."
"You — you —!" Her breath heaves, the last of the pent-up emotion breaking loose and finally subsiding. She wipes her eyes with shaking hands as she finally gains control of herself again. "Didn't you realize what I might assume had happened?"
He just gapes at her, wide-eyed and shocked to see her reacting like this, and shakes his head. "What...what did you—?"
"You've been gone traveling somewhere you've never gone before!" she says. "Probably meeting a lot of people you've never seen before! Think about it."
His mouth falls open the moment he realizes it. "Oh, fuck me."
"Yes, fuck you!" It would sound very unusual for Bella to be using this kind of language if she actually sounded angry, but instead it comes out sounding miserable as she falls against his chest and he immediately takes her into his arms.
"Oh, Bella," he whispers sadly, holding her tight against him and smoothing his warm hands up and down her back. "I've told you. I know there's no way I can prove that it'll never happen, but I can't explain to you how I'm so sure...I just know. I can't imagine anything being strong enough to make me hurt you like that."
She is just silent pressed against him for a while, grabbing onto his shirt on his back as she holds onto him as tightly as possible, finally able to calm down as she breathes him in deeply again.
"I love you so much," she says quietly. Somehow it sounds like a completely new revelation; perhaps she never knew just how much before.
It seems like he could hear this in her voice as he lets out a contented, low sort of sigh and pulls back to take her face in his hands, peering right down into her eyes. "I'll love you until I die, Bella. I mean it."
She reaches her hands up into his hair and kisses him like they have been apart for months instead of a few days, hands grabbing his hair almost with a kind of anger, mine. They don't make it all the way to the bedroom when he carries her out of the kitchen, falling together onto the couch. He slowly, indulgingly takes off her shirt, leaving a trail of soft and warm kisses down her bare skin he unveils following every button undone. Then when she pulls his shirt off of him and starts kissing him along his collar bone, he stops her whispering, "Bella."
He leans his head down against hers, neither of them able to see each other's eyes when he asks the question. "Earlier today...did you regret that you chose me?"
She lifts her head up to look at him with her eyes full of alarm.
Before she can say anything yet he adds, "He probably would have found out somehow, you know. If he figured out that I imprinted, he could have come back..."
"Listen to me," she says with a steady, certain tone. "I've hardly thought of him at all today."
He looks vaguely surprised and even a little in awe as he gazes down at her. As inconclusive as the words might be, it is the only answer he seems to need. As they make love that night, both of them have never been more sure before that they belong completely to each other.
Somewhere still out there is a seventeen-year-old boy whose beautiful face still comes up in her mind like an unclear, smeared painting of unattainable perfection. She is twenty-six.
He will always remember how on the night she came back to him, he saw a shooting star. He knew it was the night she was supposed to be changed, but he did not tell his friends this, and they did not say anything if they noticed him being a little quiet while they were at the beach sitting around a fire they built. The reality completely set in only after they had to go home and he stayed there by himself sitting against one of the logs on the ground, feeling everything getting colder as it got dark and the fire started dying down in front of him. He sat back staring up at the sky and saw the brief, bright flash of the star falling, and he felt like maybe it signified something dying.
Suddenly it felt horrible to be alone, but at the same time he did not exactly want to go talk to anybody. The huge black ocean was making him feel small and isolated, but he did not see any good reason to move. In this moment, it was like his own life had stopped in a way, had any kind of direction and meaning taken away from it. It made him feel strangely scared.
Then she came, and when he did not hear her soft footsteps in the sand before noticing her approaching it seized his heart with fear. This was irrational, of course, because the transformation could not have been so quick and he should have realized. But everything seemed like a dream all the sudden and what he saw of her through the smoke rising from the fire looked like a distorted mirage of her former self that moved differently, her skin pale white against the dark of the night. But as she came closer the soft, flickering light from the fire made her skin appear a warmer color, and that gold in her eyes he thought he might have seen for a second was just the flames reflected in them. Those eyes looked down at him, still that deep chocolate brown that his own gaze so easily sinks into like quicksand, trapped. The same as before. Her. Bella. Still human. And not wearing a wedding ring anymore.
She looked almost like she was lost and had just been wandering to eventually find herself here. As everything was still so surreal and neither of them seemed able to find any words to say, she sat next to him against the log. He automatically put his arm around her and she settled herself comfortably against him, resting her head into his chest.
Jacob leaned his head down against the top of hers and asked softly, "How are you doing?"
She gave a slight shake of her head as if she could barely think of a way to answer. Then her voice broke as she managed only to get out, "Not good."
He held her close to him, as tightly as if she were already collapsing into a complete wreck, but she never quite cried then. He knew the reality had probably not yet settled in for her. And maybe even this right now felt as much to her like it was a dream as it did to him.
That night they did not talk about what this meant for them or even say much at all. They did not kiss each other. He knew it might be too soon for that. She needed to finish processing the past before she could look toward the future. But there would be plenty of time for that. And he had never needed to kiss her or hear anything in words to know what she felt. It had always been that way.