Yikes! I leave on my vacation in… um… about seven hours! Yay, procrastination!
I can't say enough how much it meant to read all of your wonderful feedback for chapter 5. I hope this final bit succeeds in rounding everything off nicely. I added a bit of a twist just to set it apart from the actual body of the story.
"Yeah it's your starter all right... gotta be replaced. I can probably get you a new one and have it installed it in three days, four tops."
God, I loved the sound of my own confident words. So professional… so… grown up. Mr. Fix It to the rescue. I don't care how arrogant that sounds. At this moment, on this day there was absolutely nothing that could take the wind out of my sails. I was invincible.
She'd said she needed me, not two hours ago. Those very words had actually come out of her mouth: I. Need. You.
…And not just for fixing the big red hunk of junk, either.
I carefully removed my rapidly-swelling head from the mouth of the beast, extracting my grease-covered fingers from the Chevy's inner workings and rubbing them together, distractedly wondering where the hell she'd put that shirt that I'd gotten rid of. I wiped my fingers on my arm instead, absently continuing my prognosis: "You're lucky we caught this before the damn thing completely bit the dust. I mean, the truck'll be out of commission for the next couple days, but at least you didn't end up stranded somewhere, right? Anyways, you can take the Rabbit for now, I'll just use the bike to…"
I suddenly got the impression that I was directing my spiel at no one; she hadn't spoken a word in what seemed like forever.
"Earth to Bells… are you even listening to me?"
All that met my ears in response was a miserable moan.
I rolled my eyes, circling the pickup's front end and leaning my hip against the grill, staring her down amusedly. She was still standing hunched over by the car, head slanted adorably to one side, smoothing her careful little fingers across the now-inverted driver's side door.
"Jake… you must want to kill me right now."
She turned around and there it was… the look that I'd only seen about a bazillion times: the 'why do you continue to endure me when I constantly ruin just about everything in your life?' look.
I hated that look.
"It's just a dent, Bells. No biggie. Actually it's quite small, really. I can fix it later."
It wasn't, and I couldn't. At least not without doing some serious Googling and possibly shelling out a decent-sized wad of cash for some tools first. I knew next to nothing about bodywork.
I knew I should've at least tried to convince her to let me back the truck in.
There had been plenty of room for two vehicles in the garage, but somehow Bella had managed to kindly introduce her rear fender to the only other object of any remote value in here... my newest most prized possession, the Rabbit's eventual replacement.
I hadn't thought that any overbearing supervision would be necessary. All she had to do was ease the monster inside…
It hadn't occurred to me that her clumsiness wasn't limited to walking and running.
Still, the good news was that the truck was completely unharmed. The bad news was… I didn't give a shit about the aesthetic quality of the truck.
If it were anyone else you'd rip off their arms and sell them on the black market for collision repair funds. Go on and just admit it, you think it's fucking cute that she accidentally wounded your car. Hell, she could run YOU over and you'd probably just apologize for getting in her way and then politely ask her to maybe, if it's not too much trouble, move her tire off your sternum. You're pitiful, man.
La, la, la, la. Not listening.
Her still-remorseful voice temporarily suppressed my conscience's self-humiliation tactic, snapping my mind back into the moment, "Yeah, but Jacob, it's going to take you a while to fix this…" She fingered the chipped paint once more before turning to face me and closing her eyes, scrunching her entire face up in regret and frustration. For once in my life I didn't want to know what she was thinking.
"Come here, Bells."
Slowly, cynically, her eyes eased open, her mouth still fixed in a scrunched-up sulk.
"Bella, come HERE… or I'll make you learn how to fix your own starter."
She shuffled her sneakers feebly across the concrete until we were face to… well, chest. Her chin didn't tilt back even one inch as she grumpily flicked her eyes up to connect with mine, clearly unimpressed with my oh-so-difficult-to-comply-with demands.
I cheerily exposed my teeth, gripping her head in both hands like a basketball and placing my thumbs over both corners of her lips, forcing them upwards.
"Smile, Bella. For the love of God, the two of us have done nothing but wallow for an entire week. As of right now I'm making it illegal to be miserable." She scoffed, twisting her head in a hilariously futile attempt to escape.
I assumed my best mock-stern glare, "Don't make me take you downtown. I happen to know the Chief of police."
That did it. The muscles in her face relaxed and she started to giggle.
Thank you, God.
She brought her hands up and clamped them over my wrists, yanking them out to the sides and away from her face.
"At least let me pay you for it-"
Jeez… couldn't she take a hint? Let it go.
"You can pay me by helping me pass my math final next month…"
This counteroffer was a no-brainer for me... there were two benefits: spend time with Bella, and keep Billy from disowning me for being an idiot slacker.
"Jaaaake… come on I feel really bad about this. Just let me pay you-"
"No, Bells! You think I'm kidding about the math but I'm not! I'm only at, like, thirty percent or something." I turned my attention back to the inside of the truck, sliding out the dipstick – may as well check that too while I was in here.
"Don't exaggerate, Jacob. The only morons who do that bad in class are the ones who don't even show up…"
I turned my head slightly away from her unconvinced face and angled my gaze upwards, suddenly enthralled with a tangle of cobwebs hanging from the ceiling in the corner, "Yeah, ummm...."
"What!? This week sucked. Besides, I only skipped the boring classes." She was frowning at me, clearly displeased. I moodily flopped my head backwards, the base of my skull bumping against the top of my spine, my mouth lolling open as I griped sourly, "Come onnnnn, Bells. I had better things to do anyways." I gestured towards the car in the corner.
This immediately halted her reprimanding. Guilt once again splashed across her features as she took a step back to fully scrutinize her victim. "Speaking of which, what is this thing?" she muttered.
"This…" I aimed the dipstick at it, sauntering pompously over to the passenger's side opposite her, "…is a 1984 Mustang GT turbo." I have to admit I must have looked like a bit of a knob… like I was teaching a class for the mechanically-challenged…
…Good afternoon everyone, I'm Professor Black and welcome to Automotive Appreciation 101…
She scrunched up her nose, "This thing? For real? Doesn't look like any Mustang I've ever seen."
"It's third generation." I tapped the hood three times, a few drops of finely-aged motor oil transferring from the thin strip of metal in my hand onto the faded, slightly-oxidized surface.
She still appeared nonplussed, "That means absolutely nothing to me. It looks like a crappy version of that thing from Back to the Future… only without all the time-travel stuff attached to it."
I let out a sharp, air-horn blast of laughter, astounded by her blatant obliviousness. "What!? Aw… no! Are you high, Bells? It looks absolutely NOTHING like a De Lorean… Those things are total novelty items, plus they only get, like, a hundred and thirty horsepower on a 2.8-liter eng-"
Uuuuuugghhh…" She waved her hands around her head like she was trying to get rid of an angry hornet. "Never mind! Forget I asked!" I pouted shamelessly, but she didn't let up, "Puh-leeeease, Jake, I can't take it anymore! I've been forced to endure your endless car jargon ever since I mentioned the damned starter… an hour and a half ago! "
I didn't waver. I wiped the three small drops of oil off the hood with my hand, once again flicking my thumb across my now-even-dirtier fingertips in an unsuccessful attempt to clean them off.
"Seriously Bella, you've wounded me. This 'crappy thing' is going to be my greatest achievement to date. You can't judge it from the outside right now, it's what's on the inside that counts." I flashed her my most alluring smile and grasped my chest dramatically with the palm of my hand. "I just started working on it this week. It's been my… distraction. I bought it from a guy in Port Angeles who's had it sitting in his front yard for almost a year. A hundred and fifty bucks! I robbed him blind!"
I was glowing.
The look on her face suggested that she wasn't convinced I'd come off better in this arrangement.
"Where'd you get all this money from anyways?"
"Quil and I have been clearing these massive, dying cedar hedges out of his uncle's backyard. We chopped the trees down for a hundred, then he paid us another hundred to truck all that crap away, and he gave us forty bucks for gas, AND we're selling the firewood to Billy for another hundred." I grinned broadly, nodding my head with unabashed self-pride.
"You're becoming quite the little entrepreneur there aren't you?" she ribbed me.
"Entrepreneur slash mechanic slash gargantuan wolfman. I ordered those business cards last week, they should be arriving any day now."
I meandered back over to the truck and replaced the dipstick.
"Have you had your oil changed at all since I gave you this old beater?"
"Um… no. Should I have?"
I sighed audibly, crossing the floor in two long strides and snatching a clean rag off the workbench, "I'll do it now."
"Fine, but I'm not gonna sit here and watch, as riveting as it's sure to be. Can I maybe use your bathroom?"
"Hell no. Go in the bushes." Her eyelids constricted angrily. I laughed. "Well, why do you feel the need to ask me?"
"It's called common courtesy, Jacob. You should look into it some time. It involves things like noticing that I get bored out of my tree when you start blathering on and on and ON about starter drives and wheel alignment and… garberator gaskets-"
"Carburetor," I interrupted, "C-A-R……B… uhhh…" I chewed distractedly on my right thumbnail, a nervous habit that I adopted every time I knew I was fighting a losing battle, "…E?" God Damn it. "Um…R…? Uhhhhh… shit."
"Maybe I will help you with that homework after all," she said, pulling the rag from my hand and reaching up, swabbing it over my mouth a few times to remove the engine grease I'd just inadvertently deposited there. I held my breath as she placed it back in my hand and swiped her thumb across my upper lip one last time for good measure. She patted the side of my arm twice before spinning around and strolling breezily out the door leaving me frozen, completely immobile, looking like I'd just been shot in the chest.
I'm not going to lie; it took me a good minute or two to get my bearings back, and even then I had to study the cloth in my hand dreamily for a few seconds before I remembered what I'd been planning to do in the first place.
Right. Socket wrench.
I rotated slowly, allowing my eyes to jump from the workbench to the wall, to the other wall, to the other wall, to…
Wait… where the hell-?
My muscles seized. I wanted to hurt something.
I barged into the house, pissed off and trying to convince myself that it was okay to use Billy's old set… if they were indeed still tossed in that decrepit box in the laundry room.
As I blazed past my half-opened bedroom door I caught a glimpse of… Bella? What the?
She was standing sort of inside my closet, staring into space but not moving. I leaned against the doorframe amusedly.
"I think everything in there's too big for you."
I startled the crap out of her.
"Christ, Jake. Warn me next time." She clutched at her chest. "Wait… are you done already?"
My head clunked noisily onto the door frame, "No," I spat, "some stupid punk stole my entire green tool case right out of the garage today. It was there yesterday. Those damned socket wrenches alone cost me like two hundred bucks… well, they cost Billy two hundred bucks."
"Oh right…" she looked a little shamefaced, "it's right there." She pointed at the wall below my window.
I eyed her worriedly, like she'd just told me she was planning to go live out the rest of her days in a rainbow-coloured cardboard box on the moon.
"…No, see you're thinking of my invisible wrenches. I meant the real ones."
She gave me a derisive grin, "Other side of the wall, Jake," and swished past me out the door.
I went over to my window, pushing it wide open and jutting my neck out over the ledge. Sure enough, there it was. I couldn't have been more confused.
"Is there something you'd like to tell me-"
And then I turned around and realized why she'd been in my closet.
Tacked up on the inside of the door right at my eye level – she must have stretched up and stuck it there on purpose – was a postcard or… no wait, a photo…
I squinted my eyes and moved closer, a smile spreading across my face, increasing in size as I gained proximity.
Holy shit. No way.
I laughed, shaking my head. No wonder she sometimes found me so annoying. It had been engrained in me since childhood.
The picture pretty much encapsulated the two of us. Even though Bella's face bore the slightly disturbed expression of an obsessive-compulsive neat-freak sizing up an overlooked speck of dust, she nonetheless didn't look angry or upset. She just looked… surprised that I was even there.
If the photo had shown the two of us just standing next to each other smiling politely it wouldn't have been nearly this good.
…This was us.
We weren't perfect... not by a long shot, but we were here. Together. That was enough for now.
"I thought it was cute."
I flinched, not noticing right away that she was standing in the doorway, our positions precisely reversed from two minutes ago. Her flushed cheeks were raised upwards in an impeccable smile that was all at once peaceful, hopeful, and affectionate.
I sniffed casually, regarding the image again with a genuine smile of my own.
"Damned straight it is."
Wow, writing from Jake's POV is… different. Maybe I'll try it again some time… hopefully soon!