My mother had always hated Forks. She expressed it both directly and as a series of constant, subtle digs. She couldn't wait to leave, and there was no doubt in my mind that she would never come back. The entire time she was here for my father's funeral and to help sort through his things I could feel her physically pulling away, withdrawing as much as she was able from the zip code in which she now found herself.
She required an exciting, high-stimulus environment that could keep up with her almost total lack of attention span, and both my father and the Olympic Peninsula could never hope to provide that for her. Not only that, but her sunny disposition did best when the weather matched it. Phoenix, for example, with its arid brightness and sprawling occupation, had been perfect. Forks's relative isolation and near constant overcast gloom, not so much.
"There's three kinds of weather in Forks," Mom would say. "Raining, just finished raining, and just about to rain." This was her biting condemnation hidden with the confines of a folksy colloquialism.
She was right about the weather, of course. But unlike my mother, however, I found myself quite partial to the local climate. It was a refreshing change from Arizona, where the dry air and scorching heat left my skin feeling like crepe paper and the direct sunlight caused my nose and shoulders to turn red and peel no matter how many gallons of sun block I slathered on. I liked the rain too; it smelled nice and left everything around me lush and green. Forks seemed quite literally cleaner than Phoenix.
It might have been this attitude that made me to disregard the weather that Saturday morning, the gentle threat that the light drizzle presented against my day. Or it might have been that I was simply too preoccupied to really notice. Things were looking up with Edward – the most they had so far – and we even had loose plans for some kind of "date" that evening after he and Jazz were done at La Push. I was at my most foolishly optimistic.
Even La Push, with its dirt-gradually-turning-into-mud and rain-smeared or otherwise dilapidated houses, held a certain beauty for me that morning when we arrived just after 10am. We were in Alice's car, because once she'd heard that the three of us were taking a day trip she would not be left out. She was driving, with Jazz beside her in the passenger seat poking and prodding everything within arm's reach. He seemed especially fascinated by the stereo and the way that Alice's iPod was hooked up to it, and the rest of us were subjected to a different song every ten to thirty seconds.
At the opposite side of the back seat, Edward was slouched down and reclined with his eyes closed and a frown on his face. I wondered whether the cacophonous music changes were giving him a headache.
"I think I broke it," Jazz announced worriedly, holding up the iPod for inspection.
I directed my attention forward and saw that he'd unclipped the hot pink hard plastic protective case from its exterior and was now attempting to reattach it inexpertly. Alice glanced over and burst into giggles at Jazz's fretful concentration. Relaxed by this reaction, Jazz grinned and shrugged. He dumped the entire thing into its resting place in the center console and dramatically folding his arms to his body. Alice reached over and ruffled his hair, and Jazz responded by snatching her hand and kissing it.
Envy shot through me at the gesture. Jazz and Alice were so happy; too happy. Everything about their incongruous existences fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces. I secretly resented them for it. Edward was now tapping his fingers against his knee in mild agitation, his eyes still closed. What would he do if I reached out to him, attempted to take his hand in mine I was so nervous of a negative reaction that I dared not try. I wouldn't even offer him aspirin, in the event that doing so would spur a lecture on how bad said analgesic was for the human body.
What was with that, anyway? Okay, I got that maybe my diet wasn't exactly ideal, but it was hardly a travesty. Wasn't eating junk food part of what being young and living on your own for the first time was all about? I didn't smoke, I barely drank, and I didn't do drugs. Surely the occasional Dr Pepper and box of "cheez" crackers weren't peeling years off of my life or inflicting any serious, lasting damage to my body. Apparently Edward disagreed.
There had been several lectures about food and drink aimed my way in the past few days, and it seemed to me as though Edward might be getting worse about his diet. Whenever he'd get picky about his food (and "picky" was an understatement on par with calling a colonoscopy "unpleasant") Jazz would either acknowledge it with a placating smile and a suggested alternative or else ignore it entirely. I, who was less used to it, had a more difficult time accommodating it.
I still had yet to discern the origin behind that particular quirk. Really, it was only one example of the ways in which Edward was somewhat, well, neurotic. I would not have expected that of someone of his background, and his insistence upon organic whole grains and kosher meat seemed wholly incongruous with a guy like Edward. I wasn't sure why it didn't fit – it just didn't. My mental picture of those with a criminal background was dictated not only by the media but also by my father's chosen profession and the people he came into contact with on a regular basis.
Other than that, though, Edward was really being a lot better. He'd voluntarily sought me out at school, and it wasn't until later that I found out he'd stopped at the house and asked Rosalie my whereabouts. I was dying to know how that conversation between the two of them had gone, considering Edward's prior reactions to Rose and the unmistakable fact that she was less than impressed with him, but neither of them had divulged. I was left to speculate and to worry, hoping that Rosalie had behaved herself but simultaneously certain she had not.
Not only that, but Edward was coming over with Jazz every afternoon or evening to hang out and watch television. He still wasn't spending the night, but I accepted that we were going to have to work on that. The important thing was that he was making the effort to be social and, well, more normal. I appreciated that. I told myself that maybe he was beginning to open up a little. I was slowly wearing through his defenses. Hey, any progress was still progress.
The familiarity with which Jazz directed Alice through La Push, up Ocean Front Drive and onto the side street where Jake and his dad lived, startled me. I knew they'd been coming here every weekend, and yet I thought of this as my own turf in some way. And when Jazz and Edward hopped out of the car and greeted Jake with casual friendliness, I realized that two separate spheres of my life had merged considerably.
"You should put this on. Your sweater's not waterproof."
It was Edward who spoke to me, now shrugging out of his jacket with determination.
"Then you'll be cold," I pointed out, nevertheless pleased at the gesture.
Edward's expression offered no room for argument as he passed the garment my way, and I indulged myself a girlish inhale of his scent as I pulled it on. One thing about Edward – his clothes were always clean and lightely scented with detergent. I recalled Jazz's previous passing reference to Edward's tidiness. The state of his room bore this mark. Apparently, it extended onto his laundering habits as well. That must have taken effort, considering the nearest Laundromat to their house would have been in Forks or Port Angeles. I made a mental note to, at a later time, somehow communicate to Edward that he was welcome to do his laundry at our house. Maybe Rose would be more inclined toward him after seeing indicators of his domesticity.
Jazz proudly introduced my best friend to Jake before I got the chance to, and then he and Edward were off to Sue Clearwater's to get started on their work. The rain was heavier here on the coast than it had been back in Port Angeles, but that was typical so I thought nothing of it. We'd all be inside, anyway: Edward and Jazz in the Clearwater's garage, and Alice and I standing around awkwardly with Jake.
I didn't know when things had become somewhat "off" between Jake and me. When we'd been very young, we'd been playmates. At the start of my adolescence he was still my closest compatriot in Forks, and when I'd moved in with my father permanently Jake had been my only friend for a long time while I adjusted to my new school and unfamiliar classmates. Somewhere around his sixteenth birthday, however, it felt as though we'd begun to drift apart.
I'd sought advice from my dad, and to him the answer was obvious. He let me know that he was pretty sure Jake had "a thing" for me, meaning feelings of the I-want-to-kiss-you kind. I had no such feelings toward Jake in return, so I did my best to make that clear when we were together. I would have hoped that he'd simply get a girlfriend of his own and move on, but that hadn't happened. Three and a half years later, here was Jake: nineteen, perpetually single, working on his car and hanging out with the older boys on the Rez.
Alice, of course, was not aware of the delicacy of the situation. She launched right in as soon as she was certain Jazz and Edward were out of earshot.
"He gave you his coat!" she teased. "How gentlemanly!"
"Who gave you his coat?" Jake wanted to know right away.
He scrutinized the garment carefully, looking for answers. My cheeks began to heat; this was not the conversation to have in front of my erstwhile best friend.
"Edward," I mumbled, wincing as Jake's face fell. Hastening to change the subject, I went on in a brighter voice, "Jake, this is my friend Alice. Alice, this is Jake. I've talked about him, remember?" I assumed I had at some point, anyway.
Whether I had or not, Alice's features lit up with warm recognition and she thrust a hand forward to shake. Alice knew how to handle these kinds of situations tactfully.
"Oh, right, Jake! I've heard a lot about you; it's great to finally meet you!" Her enthusiasm and the implication that I'd mentioned him to other people did nothing to cheer Jake up. I hoped this wouldn't cause any sort of rift between him and Edward.
Outside, the rain was beginning to gather energy. It tapped insistently on the aluminum siding of the shed-cum-garage's and droplets blew in the open doorway. Jake looked out into the air as he wiped off his hands on a threadbare rag, then cocked is head in a way that reminded me of Edward.
"It's going to get worse," he said, more to himself than to Alice or me. "We should go back to the house. Dad's home – didn't go fishing today 'cause of the rain. He'll be happy to see you, Bella."
I heard the distasteful way Jake pronounced my name and instinctively pulled the jacket tighter around me. I'd never seen Jake display such a prominent lack of cheerfulness.
At Jake's insistence Alice and I went on ahead to the house, leaving him to put his tools away and pull the drop sheet back over his ancient car alone. Sure enough, Billy was seated in his wheelchair at the kitchen table. He had the different sections of the newspaper spread out before him and the TV blaring some kind of sports program on the counter, but when he saw us his weathered face split into a wide grin.
"Bells! Didn't expect to see company on a day like this. And who's your friend here? Nice to meet you, Young Miss; I'm Billy."
My father had once told me that when he was younger, Billy Black could have charmed the skin off a snake. It was an odd metaphor, but I understood his point. Even now, Billy had the kind of personality that made everyone want to come to him for everything. His house had become the central meeting place for much of La Push, even despite the recent addition of a community center. It was a good thing because it meant that he was almost never alone though his daughters had moved away for school and Jake never left the garage except to go to the Call's. Sue Clearwater was the most frequent guest, and I suspected she had "a thing" for Billy, to use Dad's words.
Billy was in characteristically high spirits and a chatty mood besides. When Jake came inside I helped him to get a fire going while, in the next room over, Billy paid Alice the sort of compliments older men always pay to their young waitresses and female bank tellers. He meant nothing by it, and Alice humored him with soft laughs and cheerful responses. Jake remained sullen.
"So, you and Edward, huh?" he asked, not meeting my gaze as he shoved kindling in the fireplace. "How long's that been going on? Like, a while?" He was trying to sound casual but wasn't succeeding.
"Not really," I admitted.
After all, I still wasn't sure what exactly Edward and I even had going. I'd have a better idea after our date tonight, I reasoned. It would give us a real chance to talk without, ahem, getting distracted. Jake grunted in acknowledgement.
"You don't seem like his type," was all he offered. I struggled not to take that personally.
The four of us situated ourselves in the living room, Alice and Jake on the sofa and Billy and I sitting opposing. The armchair in which I was situated had to be older than everyone in the room but Billy, and it took a good amount of shifting before I was comfortably situated. The fire crackled pleasantly at one end of the room, creating soft background music in conjunction with the rain.
"I hope Edward and Jazz are keeping dry," I worried, thinking of their plans to work on cleaning Mrs. Clearwater's garage.
"It'd probably be a lot easier if you hadn't taken Edward's coat," Jake commented unexpectedly.
Alice and I both turned to him in surprise, but Jake merely got up to poke at the fire and add more wood. Alice caught my attention and gave me a meaningful look, which I returned with a helpless shrug of my own. If Jake was jealous of Edward, there was simply nothing I could do about it. That was his prerogative, though I'd have hoped he would handle it like an adult. After all, he'd never been like this about Mike. Then again, he'd also never met Mike in person, and I'd come by La Push a lot less frequently in that period following my dad's death.
I was interrupted in my musing by a gentle knock that still managed to rattle the rickety screen door in the kitchen. It swung open and clattered closed again, and then Sue Clearwater was standing before us in a fleece jacket and hat.
"Cats and dogs, isn't it?" she asked rhetorically, shrugging out of her scarf. "I'm lucky my Leah's such a talented knitter. Look what she made me!"
Sue proudly displayed the damp scarf in her hands for Alice's and my inspection, and we "ooh"ed and "aww"ed appropriately. After this, Sue returned to the kitchen and began rummaging around the cupboards with the familiarity of someone who came to this house often.
"Who wants tea?" she called out, receiving a round of replies in the affirmative.
"Are Edward and Jazz still working on the garage?" I asked her when she'd put the kettle on and come to sit with us.
Sue smiled benevolently and nodded. Behind her at the fireplace, Jake shot me an unhappy almost-glare which I ignored.
It was impossible not to like Sue Clearwater, was my theory. The woman exuded maternalality, if there was any such word, in unparalleled amounts, and was inexhaustibly cheery besides.
"That boy is a hard worker," she informed us proudly, and I could only assume she meant Edward. Not that Jazz was totally lazy, but I hardly would have called him industrious. From what I could tell he was more interested in Alice and having a good time than in manual labor of any kind.
"I bet they're making a lot of progress," Billy contributed, just for something to say. Sue nodded.
"I tried to tell them they didn't need to worry about it, but Edward insisted that since they'd already driven all the way out here they might as well. Then I asked if they wouldn't rather find something inside the house to do – the back office closet is a mess with all of Harry's fishing gear and things – but Edward didn't want to. I suppose he's one of those people who, once he's got a plan, just can't bring himself to deviate from it. Does that make sense?"
It did make sense, and I found that to be both an unusual and entirely apt way of describing Edward. It was strange, talking about him like this when he wasn't present. Sure, Alice and I had gone on about Edward on more than one occasion. Sometimes with Jazz. Sue saw a different side of Edward, though, at least from the sound of things. I was jealous, but I also wondered how much, exactly, she knew about him.
The kettle whistled, signaling the water's readiness, and Sue dispensed mugs of English Breakfast Tea to everyone in the living room. For a while we talked about those idle, pleasant topics that one discusses when one is not overly familiar with the company. Billy's fishing was going well, though he needed to do some work on his boat before he could take it out again, so in the meantime he was taking his trips with Mr. Ateara, a man I didn't know very well. Sue expressed her opinion that Billy shouldn't be going out on his own in his "condition" anyway, but Billy shrugged her off. After a while Billy asked Jake to help him upstairs for a nap, leaving Sue to collect our tea mugs.
The rain was hammering relentless against the house now, loudest at the windows and enough that we had to raise our voices to be heard over it. Jake clattered down the stairs after a few minutes and stoked the fire. Sue offered to make more tea.
"Jake, dear," she called to him from the kitchen. "Why don't you run over to my place and fetch the boys. It has to be freezing in that garage."
I started to get to my feet while simultaneously opening my mouth to tell Jake that I'd go, but I was met with his challenging gaze.
"I'll be right back," he answered Sue loudly, not taking his eyes off of me.
Startled, I sank back down into the lumpy cushions. Jake threw on his coat and was clattering out the back door without another look in my direction. I sighed.
"Well, that's awkward," I grumbled.
"No kidding," Alice agreed.
"If Jake was a dog and I were a tree, he'd be lifting his leg right about now," I mused.
"You think Jake's jealous of Edward because of you?" Alice asked, disbelieving.
I frowned. What was she implying? That I was nothing to be jealous over? Ouch. Sure, I was no blonde bombshell or epitome of petite vibrancy, but I also wasn't some hideously deformed ogre. I could attract men.
"Well, yeah. I mean, look how he's acting. You don't know him, but I have never known Jake to be so cranky. He's the most upbeat person in the world, next to Jazz. We've always been close, and he's kind of had this thing for me for a while. Clearly, seeing me with someone else is putting him in a bad mood."
Alice smirked at me, indicating that I was missing the joke. When my frowned deepened, my eyes narrowing, she laughed.
"You need to get your gaydar checked, Bella," she informed me seriously.
My jaw dropped. What exactly was Alice implying? That Jake… was…? Jake? No, that couldn't be possible. I would have noticed; I would have known. Liberace was gay. That guy from American Idol with the eyeliner and the glitter was gay. Jake was… gay?
There was almost no time to fully absorb Alice's words before Sue came back in and smiled at us as she took her seat. She cast a quick look in the direction of the stairs to the second floor before leaning in conspiratorially.
"So," she said to me.
It was an invitation to speak; to dish about the young men currently occupied in cleaning out her garage. Was she thinking the same thing that Jake had vocalized earlier, that Edward was not my type and vice versa? Another, unrelated question that sprang to my mind was, if Jake was gay, did Sue know or at least suspect? Was this yet another thing I had been totally oblivious about? And was Edward a lot friendlier with Mrs. Clearwater than he was with me? It sure sounded like it. What about with Jake? There were plenty of things I could say and questions I could ask now that I'd been provided with this new opportunity. Taking advantage of our newfound privacy, I turned to Sue.
"Does Edward eat your cooking?" I asked carefully.
Alice cupped her hand over her mouth and Sue raised her eyebrows.
Yeah, because that was a question that didn't carry any insulting implications with it. Way to go, Bella. Not like there would be room for anyone's cooking in my mouth, what with my foot taking up recent residence. I cleared my throat and prepared to dislodge said appendage from my gullet. Hastening to clarify, I explained about Edward's strict self-imposed dietary habits that would make even an Orthodox Jew raise an eyebrow. Sue listened carefully. When I finished, she let out a thoughtful hum over the rim of her tea mug.
"That's very interesting," was her only comment.
"Isn't it?" Alice agreed with energy, as though she'd been just waiting for someone else to express this opinion so that she could be free to agree with it.
"What do you think it means?" was my next query.
"I don't know," Sue admitted. "I'm afraid I don't know much about Edward other than the fact that he'd very polite and rather quiet."
On the couch, Alice snorted. I gave Sue a very condense, rather sanitized version of Edward's history as I currently knew it. It wouldn't strike me until later that it was very much like something Jazz might have conjured. In fact, it bore a strong resemblance to what he'd told Alice and me that night when the three of us and gone drinking. Way to barely scratch the surface, Jazz.
"Oh," Sue said when she'd heard what was not even close to everything. "Well, then, that makes sense."
"Imagine your entire life was in a constant state of upheaval, Bella," Sue explained, anticipating my confusion. "Wouldn't you try to create some sort of order for yourself?"
Would I? Well, sure I would. When my mother had moved us to Arizona, I'd pitched a massive fit about my new bedroom not being set up exactly the same way my old one had been. It'd taken a fresh paint job, new curtains, rearranging the furniture, and my father shipping a giant box of bedding and stuffed animals before my five-year-old self had been satisfied. As an adult, of course, I recognized that my real problem wasn't with my room but with the idea of my life changing in general. I didn't want to move to Phoenix. I didn't want my parents to split up.
Even now it was the same. I had not touched a single thing in my father's house since he'd died. I'd moved out and preserved everything exactly as it was, this collection of everything that had been important to him in his life. I technically owned an entire home, yet paid rent on a room in another house a few towns away.
For the first time I saw something that Edward and I might have in common, even if it was something rather small and tangential. To compare the difficulties in my own life to those in Edward's was bordering on the farcical, but there was some kind of empathy being formed there now where before I had only felt a mixture of wonder, confusion, and pity. It was a strange yet pleasing change, and I was still musing over it, tuning out Alice and Sue's continued chatter, when the guys returned.
All three of them trooped into the living room, soaking wet from their walk over. Jazz and Jake were comfortably swaddled in their jackets, Jazz shaking out droplets of water from his hair the way a dog might. Edward's thermal was soaked through and clinging to his chest and abs like wet newspaper. I may have gawked. Okay, there was definitely gawking. But only until I realized he was shivering and pangs of guilt and concern shot through me. Not only that, but was it my imagination or had Edward lost weight since the last time I'd seen him shirtless? His eyes shifted uncomfortably back and forth between Sue and me, and I wanted to know what was bothering him.
"The rain's only going to get worse," Jazz said, sucking on the corner of his cheek in a display of his thoughtfulness. "I think we should probably cut out soon, yeah?"
"Jake, do you have a dry shirt Edward could borrow?" Sue asked. She then turned her head to Edward and added, "Poor thing, you look like a drowned rat." My guilt mounted.
Without answering, Jake lumbered upstairs. At the top he had to duck in order to avoid the slope in the ceiling. Jeez, when had he gotten so big? He'd really grown a lot in the past few years, and without my noticing. Had Jake and I really become such strangers? I resolved then and there to come back to La Push more often; to be a better friend.
"I'm fine," Edward protested.
Unfortunately for him, no one turned down Sue Clearwater's hospitality even when it was by proxy. Jake came back bearing both a t-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt, looking smug about the latter garment. Edward accepted them gracelessly but with a mumbled thanks. Jake kicked his toe against the carpet and shrugged. Well, I'd be darned.
Everyone agreed with Jazz's assessment that it was time to head home. The only problem was, when we got to Alice's car, we found it firmly lodged in the mud that had formed around it during our stay. Alice put it in neutral so the guys could try to push it loose, but it was no use. In frustration Alice slammed on the gas pedal, sending mud spraying everywhere but not moving the car an inch.
We stood around the vehicle, wondering just what the hell we were supposed to do, when Edward slapped the top of the car loudly. He bent down and stared at the wheels for a moment before straightening up and turning to face Jake, who had come out to help with the pushing.
"You got any wooden boards?"
In fact, Jake did. And after lodging two-by-sixes under both of the front tires, Edward was able to slowly drive the car up onto them and out of the small ditch we'd managed to create with our efforts. They pushed the car the rest of the way back onto the road and we were just getting ready to climb in when Sue came rushing out of the Black house toward us.
"Hang on!" she called, breathless. "They've just said on the radio. The highway is completely flooded at Lake Crescent and at Beaver Lake on the one-thirteen. You're not going to be able to get back to Port Angeles today."
There were precisely two routes between where we now stood and Port Angeles. The faster route, the one we'd taken here, was the Olympic Highway. That was also where Jazz's house sat in the woods, a few miles on the other side of Lake Crescent. The other way would have been to take the one-thirteen to the one-twelve along the bay, which was a crappy drive anyway. It didn't matter now, though, since that wasn't a possibility either. With a proverbial collective groan, the mild elation created by our victory in freeing the car quickly deflated.
"What're we s'posed to do?" Jazz wondered aloud. "Chill here?"
What started out as a very promising day had now totally devolved and crumbled. I closed my eyes briefly, mentally kissing good bye the idea of what would have been my first real, official date with Edward.
"No," I said slowly, redirecting everyone's attention toward me. "We can stay at my place."
Edward and Jazz frowned, while Alice and Jake both gave me wide eyes. Still thinking about what Sue had said early about change and order, I gave them all a carefully affected shrug. For the first time since my mother had left after the funeral and I'd moved to Port Angeles, I would be going home.