Author's Note: Unbeta'd. I've actually wanted to write this since I first heard Sugarland's "Already Gone," but I never got around to it until now. It was this line that sparked the fic: pictures, dishes, and socks, it's our whole life down to one box. I'm not too sure how I feel about this. Anyway, enjoy.
Disclaimer: Twilight. "American Gothic."
what did happen:
The door to Billy Black's house is open, its insides dark. It reminds Claire of a dying man, mouth open on that last shuddering breath. A movement in the doorway catches her eyes, and she suppresses a shiver when Quil ducks out. She pictures a dead body, a fly walking a slow line across the upper lip. Seventeen deaths in the past two months, it's only natural her thoughts are so morbid. Quil glances up at her, sets the cardboard box he's carrying down before making his way toward her.
"Hey," he greets, a tiny smile gracing his features. It doesn't reach his eyes.
"What are you doing?"
"Packing up a few things to send to Rach and Becca."
Claire catches the way Quil glances back at the box, a sad expression on his face. He sighs heavily, takes her hand in his. "Come look at this."
They settle onto the tiny porch, side by side, the cardboard box set before them on the damp ground. Quil pulls the flaps open, his hand disappearing inside it. For a moment Claire sees Quil's hand shoved deep in a woman's stomach, the skin pulled back to expose the pink of her organs. She shuts her eyes tight against the image, tries to fight down the queasy feeling rising in her chest. All those murders in the forest lining La Push are getting to her.
She blinks, looks down at the stack of photos Quil is holding. The top one is of a dark skinned boy, no older than seven. He's grinning at the camera, dressed in a pink dress. Claire doesn't know who he is, isn't sure why Quil insists on showing her these pictures.
"That's Jacob. He was one of my best friends."
"Was?" Claire asks, interest peaked. The name sounds vaguely familiar, but she can't quite put a face to it. The photo slips away, and a much older Jacob is scowling at the camera, middle finger raised.
"Oh," Claire breathes, chest tightening. This whole thing is awkward. What is she suppose to say to that? "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Quil grins, obviously sensing Claire's discomfort. He shuffles the photos until one of a pale girl smiling at the camera is on top. "It was a long time ago."
Claire shifts closer to Quil's side, leans toward the glossy picture. "Who's she?"
"Bella Swan. Charlie's daughter."
Claire's head jerks up in surprise. "I didn't know Chief Swan had a daughter."
"Yeah. She died the same day as Jake. No one really talks about it anymore."
Claire looks back down at the picture. Bella's on the beach, hair pushed back by the wind. Her eyes look sad, but she's still smiling, and there's pink in her cheeks. She reaches out, traces the round lines of her face. The next photo comes up, Bella scowling while Jacob stands beside her, head thrown back in laughter. Claire squints, takes in their clasped hands and the torn knee of Bella's jeans. She wonders what happened to them. Was it like those innocent hikers in the forest? And not so innocent, she thinks, remembering Billy.
"Did they love each other?"
Bella scowls as Alice tells her about her vision. "But why can't I just stay here?"
"Bella," Alice says, her cool hand slipping around Bella's wrist. "It's your last night of freedom, and Jessica's been planning this since she got the wedding invitation."
"We're not even friends."
"Maybe this is her way of making up for it."
Bella frowns, glares down at the tabletop. "I'd rather she didn't."
Beside her, Alice gives the tiniest of grins, makes her eyes pleading. "Please. Bella, please go. Have fun and stay away from the blonde who introduces himself as Eric."
"Oh fine," Bella sighs, rolling her eyes as Alice's hand slides down to her hand, gives her fingers the faintest of squeezes. "I'll go, but I don't understand why you won't come."
Alice gives a girlish giggle of delight. "Oh, I knew you'd agree! And I can't go, silly, it's still light out."
"Right," Bella grumbles as Alice whisks her upstairs to prepare for the day. At a quarter to twelve the doorbell of the Cullen household rings. Bella swings the door open to find Jessica and an irritated Lauren on the porch. She's disappointed when the door doesn't hit either one of them. They instantly grab hold of her, dragging her towards a familiar van, Angela sitting in the driver's seat.
"Have fun!" Alice calls from the doorway, a large smile on her face as she waves.
Hours later, when the sun has set and the girls are all a little tipsy, Bella decides it's time to head back. She craves the comfort of a warm bed and sleep. A long, deep sleep. With her forehead pressed to the cold glass of the window, she watches the dark blur of trees as they pass.
"Wait," she whispers, eyes catching sight of a large shadow in the trees. The van keeps on, and Bella's neck bends back, trying to keep it in sight, but it disappears behind her. "Wait," she repeats louder, a little frantic. "Wait. Stop. Go back, go back!"
Lauren, who took over driving duties some time around five, slams on the breaks. The occupants of the car jerk forward, seatbelts cutting into their skin.
"What the hell?" Jessica giggles, pressing a hand to the side of her neck. "Why'd we stop?"
"Bella," Angela says softly, her face concerned in the moonlight. "What is it?"
All three girls are looking at her, their expression curious. Their gazes make Bella warm, and she gasps for air. Her heart starts a deep throbbing, and she can feel the beginnings of a pounding headache at the base of her head. She reaches out to grasp the door handle, holds it as tight as she can.
"I want to go to the beach."
Lauren breaks into a loud cackle, Jessica soon joining her as the van continues onward, the front of it now pointing in the direction of First Beach. Angela doesn't spare them a glance, just reaches across the backseat and laces her fingers with Bella's. She doesn't say a word about the way Bella's hand shakes.
When they pass the invisible treaty line she lets out a loud sigh of relief, feels the tightening of her chest slowly fade. Soon they're on the beach. They stumble along the sand, grabbing blindly at each other for support. The night is quiet save for their laughter and the rumble of the Pacific. They sit in a crooked like on the shore, waves rolling up to brush bare toes.
"What are we doing here?" Angel asks, after nearly an hour has passed.
"I'm not getting married tomorrow."
"Did he come back for her?" Claire asks, fingering a postcard. She flips the thick paper over, reads:
I had a dream about you last night. We were on First Beach and you were wearing the ugliest rain boots I've ever seen. You kicked them off, peeled off your socks, and let me touch the pale bone of your ankle. I miss you, Bella, all the time.
"Of course he did." Quil answers, handing her a new postcard. "He waited three months though. He wanted to be sure she meant it."
I stood on the beach, where land meets the mighty Atlantic. It felt like the edge of the world, and when I closed my eyes I saw you. I'll never see anyone else, Bella, only you.
"Yes," Quil sighs, pulling out a tiny blue velvet box from the cardboard. He flips the lid open, a simple white gold band lies nestled on a cream cushion. "It was hard for them. All those old, ugly scars. All those people who disapproved. They kept at it though. I don't think I've ever seen a happier couple."
Claire watches Quil pull the ring out. It looks impossibly tiny resting on his open palm. She glances up to find him watching her, a soft smile on his lips. He takes hold of her hand, slips the band onto the ring finger of her left hand. She holds her breath as the cool metal makes its way to the base of her finger. It's too big, but she like the way it looks there, the weight if it.
"Someday, huh?" Quil grins. Claire's heart beats a little faster, her head feels filled with helium.
"Someday," she agrees, tilting her head back to accept Quil's kiss.
After they pull apart he takes the ring back, places it back where it belongs. The next item to come out of the cardboard box is a small blue photo album. Quil passes it to Claire, and she silently flips through it. It's full of wedding photos. A beach wedding, the groom shirtless and the bride wearing a big green Dartmouth sweatshirt. They're both wearing large grins, and if Claire had any doubt that they loved each other it disappears as she flips through the photos.
"The reception was at Emily's," Quil explains, pointing to a photograph of a scowling Leah sitting cross armed on a couch. "We barbecued, and Charlie didn't put up too much of a protest when someone broke out the alcohol. The whole thing, it was just…the love was so thick in the air, Claire, it was crazy."
Claire closes the album, picks up a stack of photos tied together with red ribbon. She has a little trouble undoing the knot, but finally manages. The first photo shows a somber Bella and Jacob, who has a paint roller in hand. They look like some warped version of "American Gothic." It makes Claire laugh, and she hands the picture over for Quil to inspect.
Quil laughs. "This was at their first house. They had this big painting party. Bella was determined to get it all done in one day. Things kind of got out of hand though."
"Hm." Claire smirks, holding up a photo of a drowsy looking Embry covered in yellow paint. "Did any paint get on the walls?"
Quil furrows his brows, pretends to think long and hard. "I think we got the bathroom done," he answers finally.
Claire rolls her eyes, finishes going through the stack. Once she's done she ties them back together, has Quil set his finger down while she ties a bow.
"Where they happy together? I mean, was it worth it?"
Quil squints out at the street, shrugs. "Yeah. They were. It was."
"Hey," Jacob whispers. Beside him Bella stirs, blinks awake. "Are you awake?"
She rolls over to face him, raises a hand to cover a yawn. "I am now."
They both lie still, watching one another in the dark. It feels like an eternity has passed before Jacob finally reaches across the gap between them, traces the pale curve of Bella's shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he says, voice dipping low. Bella's heart flutters as his fingers trail a warm path up the side of her neck, trace the shell of her ear. "I shouldn't have gotten that mad at you. I shouldn't have walked out."
"It's okay," Bella answers, lids falling shut as the hot pads of Jacob's fingers flit back down her neck, blaze across her collar bone. "I was kind of being a bitch."
She swallows thickly, pushes forward to kiss Jacob. The kiss is soft, slow and sleepy. She feels Jacob sigh against her mouth, takes the opportunity to run the tip of her tongue over his bottom lip. The move elicits a moan from Jacob, and nervous warmth bundles deep within Bella as he pulls her body closer to his, sheets rustling. They break apart, breathing heavy.
"Are you happy?" Jacob asks as Bella slips a leg between his. "With me, I mean."
"Yes," Bella breathes, leaning up to kiss the underside of his jaw. She feels his body shiver, his heart jump. "Are you happy? With me?"
"Yeah," he answers thickly. He can feel Bella smile against his shoulder. She places a tiny kiss on the skin stretched there, pulls back to look at him.
Jacob ducks down, kisses her. They're both awake now, no longer clinging to those faint wisps of sleep. Bella shifts onto her back, breath hitching as Jacob presses fully against her.
They make love in the dark, bodies moving with a slow ease beneath the sheets. Bella's small hands cling to Jacob's back as he rocks steadily into her, and she can feel the pull and give of his muscles there. It's a slow burn, and she meets her release with a breathy "Jake, love you."
When it's over, the sheets soaked and their bodies spent, Jacob pulls her close. She tucks her head into his chest, mumbles a sleepy "You big softie."
He chuckles, the rumble of it shaking Bella. His grip on her tightens, as he promises "I'll try to stop walking out when we fight."
"Hm." Bella shifts against him, sighs into his skin. "I'll try to stop being such a witch to you."
Bella's half asleep when Jake slowly pulls her back towards consciousness, his hand gently brushing against the soft swell of her stomach.
"Whad?" She slurs, looking up at him through the thick fringe of her lashes.
"There's really a baby in there?"
She grins, rolls her eyes. "That's what they tell me."
"Wow," Jacob breathes, amazed, a smile on his face. "I guess I should really learn to stop fighting with you now, huh? We don't want to raise one of those problem kids, do we?"
Bella laughs, shifts closer to him. "Go to sleep, Jake."
Claire pulls out a black and white photocopy of a sonogram. "Oh god," she breathes, hand rising up to cover her mouth. "There's a kid out there who doesn't have its parents?"
Quil turns to look at Claire, expression sorrowful. He gives a shake of his head. "No. The poor kid never got a chance to live. Bella died pregnant."
Claire feels sick, her stomach rolling uncomfortably. She feels like crying. She's gotten lost in all these bits and pieces of Jacob and Bella's life, forgotten that their story doesn't have a happy ending.
Quil's face darkens, a tremor rolling down his spine. Claire watches as he grits his teeth, let out a low growl. She reaches out, places a comforting hand on one of his balled fists, squeezes gently.
"You don't have to say if you don't want Quil. I don't want you to do anything that'll upset you."
He merely shakes his head, his trembling subsiding.
"The guy Bella was engage to, remember him?"
Claire nods, brows furrowing. Edward, she recalls, wondering what he has to do with all this.
"He was a vampire."
"Christ," Claire gasps, looking down at the sonogram.
"Yeah. He and Bella used to date before her and Jake became friends, then one day he dumps her out in the forest. She was a wreck after that. Depressed. Her dad used to call Billy up in a panic all the time. She and Jake became friends, and she started to get better…but she was still pretty torn up over this guy. There was this whole thing with the little mind reading one. Alice, I think."
"Apparently she saw Bella cliff diving and thought she'd actually killed herself. Well, she almost did, but Jake saved her. Again." Quil stops, sighs heavily and twines his fingers with Claire's. "Here is where I don't know too much. After Edward caught wind of Bella's supposed death he took off for Italy where the top vampires live. The Volturi."
"The same ones who are here now?"
"Yeah." Quil answers, glancing over Claire's head to stare into the surrounding forest. Finding no threat, he continues. "Bella went after Edward, determined to stop him. I guess the Volturi were really interested in Bella, wanted her to become a vamp. And she was set on becoming one, you know, so the Volturi let her and Edward go. But they promised to check in on her, and it wasn't that big of a deal at the time. I mean, they work on a completely different timescale. It could have been a hundred years before they decided to pay a visit."
"But she didn't turn."
"No, she didn't."
Claire breathes heavily, focus on the baby in the photocopy. Poor baby, she thinks, tracing over the curve of its head. "So they killed them?"
"I'm sorry," Claire says, the sonogram slipping from her grip as she pulls Quil's body towards hers. They stay like that for a moment, limbs tangled, before Quil pulls back with a sigh. Standing, he holds a hand out to Claire.
"Help me finish?"
what didn't happen:
The door to the hospital room is open, the sounds of the busy hallway seem far off. On the bed closest to the window, Bella lies with her back propped up by a pile of pillows. Her hair is tangled, pulled back into a lopsided bun atop her head. She heaves a heavy sigh, tired and content.
"She perfect," Jacob breathes, staring down at the tiny pink bundle in his arms with something between disbelief and wonder.
"Ten toes and fingers," Bella grins, wiping exhaustion from the corners of her eyes.
Jacob steps closer to the bed, sits next to Bella. The mattress slopes, and her body falls towards his, curves into his side. All of her is warm with affection and love. Her head tilts, rests on Jacob's massive shoulder.
"Baby Anna," she coos gently, pale fingers waving in the baby's face. "Do you know how much we love you?"
Anna's brown eyes follow the wiggling pads of Bella's fingers, her tiny mouth open. Bella lets out a sleepy giggle, traces the cupid's bow of Anna's upper lip.
"We made a pretty good kid, didn't we?" Jacob teases, smiling down at Bella. In his arms, Anna's lids shut, her mouth falling open in a yawn, pink tongue curling up like a cat's.
"Yeah, we did."