Jake pressed his warm cheek against the top of my hair.
If I turned my face to the side – if I pressed my lips against his bare shoulder…I knew without any doubt exactly what would follow. It would be very easy. There would be no need for explanations tonight.
But could I do it? Could I betray my absent heart to save my pathetic life?
Butterflies assaulted my stomach as I thought about turning my head.
And then, as clearly as if I were in immediate danger, Edward's velvet voice whispered in my ear.
"Be happy," he told me.
Jacob felt me stiffen and released me automatically, reaching for the door.
Wait, I wanted to say, just a minute. But I was still locked in place, listening to the echo of Edward's voice in my head.
Storm-cooled air blew through the cab of the truck.
I shivered involuntarily as the cool air hit the skin where Jacob's warmth had just been and reached for him before my brain could tell me exactly what the right course of action should be.
"Bella," Jacob's husky voice said uncertainly, turning to gather me in his arms once again. I could tell he was holding his breath, and if it were possible, he felt even hotter against me. I waited, listening for Edward's voice again, but there was nothing.
After a moment Jacob exhaled. The sigh sounded so sad. I felt a twinge of sadness too. He needed me just as much as I needed him, and I felt ashamed at how much I had taken without giving anything in return. But what can an incomplete person possibly have to give?
At that moment, I felt a hot drop fall on my ear and I quickly pushed away from Jacob in utter surprise. I gazed at him in alarm. Jacob was crying? I truly was a wretched person – this had to be entirely my fault.
His jaw was clenched and I could tell he was trying to hold back the emotion that had just made itself known. At that moment he looked so much like my Jacob that my heart skipped.
"Leah and Seth, they're practically the same age as me," he said fiercely, fighting the drops that threatened to fall from his eyes. "I was so young when my mom died, I don't think I ever really understood the loss. But to lose their dad…I just can't imagine what they're…" His voice trailed off and a single tear slid down his cheek.
I didn't think. I didn't need to. My Jacob was hurting and I couldn't stand it. Before I realized what I was doing, my hands were on his shoulders and my lips were stopping the tear from falling any further down his skin. I heard him gasp and suddenly his hands were in my hair. He turned his head and I was kissing him. His lips were an urgent flame against mine, slightly parted so I could taste the sweetness of his mouth. The sweetness was tinged with the salt from his tear.
My brain screamed at me to stop, that something wasn't right, but it took my lips another few seconds before they cooperated.
"Jacob!" I gasped, not sure exactly what I had just started. I dropped my head, feeling my face growing red and something – was it shame? – taking over my senses. I felt wild, like I wasn't in control. Did I just kiss Jacob Black?
"Oh, Bells," he breathed, leaning in to nuzzle my neck. I couldn't push him away quickly enough. He pulled back, puzzled. I looked up at him, horrified.
"I'm so sorry," I whispered. "I don't know why I did that…I mean, I…we can't, I can't…oh, Jacob." I couldn't explain my actions, but as I looked at him, he started to smile.
"Don't be sorry, Bella," he said, wiping his eyes. "You just proved what I've known all along – you do have feelings for me, and I think you're starting to realize it too." His red-rimmed eyes looked almost smug. "You've been broken ever since Edward left, but you're finally starting to allow yourself to really live again," he emphasized his name and watched my reaction.
I flinched and hugged my arms across myself and was taken aback when the hole didn't open as much as I expected. Instead, another unpleasant feeling nagged at me and I realized it was guilt. I was betraying Edward.
Although, Edward had made it clear that he didn't want me. The guilt dulled slightly.
I felt my mouth agape and I quickly closed it. Looking at him and filling my voice with as much conviction as I could, I muttered, "That can't happen again." And I opened my door and walked into my house, holding my head high even while my body trembled. Closing the door, I leaned against it and sank to the floor. Outside, it took nearly a minute before I heard Jacob exit my truck. I imagined him walking into the woods to phase with that superior smile on his face and I shook my head, trying to free my mind of the image.
The internal argument I had waged in the truck had become a war. How could I do this to him? Jacob couldn't settle for being second-best — he was too wonderful for that. He needed someone with a whole heart. And Edward...I cringed slightly but again, was surprised that thinking of him didn't pain me as much as I was anticipating. Was I being disloyal to the voice in my head, the wound in my core? Could I follow what he had told me just moments before? Be happy.
How could I be happy? It was too dangerous. I had been happy before, and look what happened. Yes, happiness was hazardous for me in the long run.
But when have you shied away from danger? I asked myself. You dated a vampire, for goodness sake!
I spent the next half hour on the floor in one spot, completely still. I gave myself up to the debate, opening my mind and heart to remembering. I remembered how I first felt when Edward would talk to me, how my heart reacted. It beat loudly now, feeling stronger than it had in months. I realized that I felt some of those same pleasant twinges when Jacob and I conversed in his garage. I remembered my discovery of Edward's vampire identity; how I had made the decision that it didn't matter because I needed him, no matter how unworthy of him I was.
I sat up, feeling as though someone had punched me in the gut. "Oh!" I exclaimed. How had I never realized how similar the situations between Edward and Jacob really were? Could I convince my heart and head that what I felt for Edward didn't matter because I needed Jacob, even if I didn't deserve him?
Could I really allow myself to surrender the pain, my only reminder of Edward? Thinking of Jacob's tear-filled eyes, I realized I wanted to try, for Jacob's sake more than my own.
Charlie arrived home from the Clearwater's a few hours later, and dinner was waiting for him. My internal struggle hadn't made me forget that my father would be home soon, hungry and hurting. Before he had a chance to sit, I stopped to give him a quick hug. He grunted his thanks, but didn't need to say anything else. Dinner was quieter than usual.
I stole glances at him as we ate. There were no signs of tears on his face, but Charlie looked tired, older. I appreciated him and remembered with a pang that there was a time when I was going to give him up for all eternity. It made me angry, for some reason.
"Done?" I heard him ask. I nodded and he rose to clear the table. He cleared his throat and added, "I'll be down at Sue Clearwater's most of tomorrow. She's going to need help, you know…with the arrangements."
"Do you mind if I come along?" I asked. "Jacob seemed upset today, and I wanted to make sure he's okay. And Seth and Leah too," I added hastily.
Charlie raised his eyebrows and the slightest smile erased the sorrow from his face. "Of course, Bella. As long as you don't mind being stuck there while I'm helping Sue."
I shook my head, and couldn't help feeling a tremor of nervousness to see Jacob again. I promised myself I would try…starting tomorrow I would take it one day at a time and see if my broken self could manage to love like that again.
I went to bed that night worried how my dreams would play out. I was used to the screaming, the nights of waking in a panic — in a way it was comforting because I knew what to expect. After my mini-revelation, I didn't know how my subconscious would respond.
At five in the morning, I awoke gasping, my throat rasping with the reminder of my near-drowning experience. In my dream I had been embraced by soft arms, first ice cold, and then red hot. They were both pleasant. But as I enjoyed the sensation, they began to squeeze, competing with each other for more and more of my skin. Soon I was being suffocated by the strong binds that were freezing and burning. I couldn't handle them both.