The phone rang four times before Charlie stumbled down the stairs to answer it.
"Jeez, Bella, mind helping me out a little bit?"
Bella had been sitting in a kitchen chair, watching the phone blankly. Charlie had obviously just woken from a nap, his disheveled hair sticking out in clumps. Bella stared, unseeing.
Charlie's face softened a bit. The poor kid had come back from Italy to go chasing after that Cullen boy. She'd come home in a trance. The only words she'd spoken in weeks were "He's gone." Charlie had harbored a grudge against Edward ever since he left the first time. Apparently he'd rejected her again.
Charlie seemed relieve as he handed the phone to Bella. "It's Jake. He wants to talk to you."
After a few seconds it registered to Bella that she'd been addressed. She stared at Charlie dumbly until he shook the phone in front of her face. She numbly reached out her hand. She couldn't make her mouth form the world "hello".
"Bella," came the husky voice from the other end. "Bella, I need to see you."
Bella's mouth opened and closed. She willed herself to say "No, I'm alright" but no sound came from her throat.
"Look, I'm coming to get you right now whether you want me to or not. Be there in 10."
The line disconnected and Bella handed the phone back to her father.
"This'll be good for you, Bells. Jake's a good kid. He's good for you. Get out of the house for a while, go do something fun to get your mind off… things."
Charlie patted the top of her head awkwardly and headed back upstairs.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the front door. Bella hadn't moved from her chair. She barely heard the creak of the door opening before Jacob was at her side, kneeling on the floor at her eye level.
"Bella," he breathed. His hand cupped her face. The heat seeped through her skin and brought her back to reality. "I heard what happened."
For a split second Bella snapped back to reality. The pain threatened to explode through her chest but she swallowed it back. She slipped back into her daze.
"I don't care if you never speak again. I can't begin to imagine what you're going through right now. But I'm never going anywhere, do you understand?"
Without a word he scooped her out of the chair into his arms and out the door. He gently placed her in the passenger seat of her pickup and drove her to his house.
"I told Charlie I'd take you out to do something fun," he explained. "But really I was just planning on bringing you here."
Bella didn't respond. Jacob sighed and walked around the truck to get her door. She slid out of the seat and struggled to stand. She could barely remember how to walk. He picked her up again and brought her inside the house.
Billy wasn't home. Jacob explained that he'd gone fishing. Bella nodded absently.
"I have to go check in with Sam, but I'll only be gone an hour at the most. Sorry to bring you here and run off like this. I swear I'll be back," Jacob said. He looked guilty.
Unable to speak, Bella just nodded again. Jacob took her face in his hand again for a moment then he was out the door in a blink.
Bella looked around the small house. She remembered the times she'd come here, when… he… had left. She looked out the window toward the small garage where she and Jake had spent hours working on their bikes. Suddenly Bella felt heavy, like her soul was made of stone. She sat down on the couch and folded her hands in her lap. She forced herself to think, to keep herself from slipping back into the abyss.
She was back in Italy.
Edward had been so happy to see her. For a few brief moments it felt as if they'd never been apart. And then, the Volturi. They had taken Edward. The last memory she had of him was the heavy wooden door being shut in her face, seeing his wide eyes as they dragged him into the darkness.
Alice had had to tear her away from the door. Bella had clawed at it until her fingernails were bloody and broken. Alice had flown them back to Forks. The Cullens offered to come back and stay with Bella, but she had just shaken her head. The pain was too much. She couldn't look at them every day without seeing him. It hurt Bella every time Charlie spoke negatively about Edward. He'd assumed Edward had told her he didn't want her again.
"Hey, I'm back," Jacob called suddenly, ripping Bella from her memories. "I got… oh."
Jacob walked into the living room and found Bella curled on the couch, heaving sobs racking her body. Jacob tossed the pizza box he'd carried with him onto the table and hurried to her side. He rubbed her back and tried to wipe the tears from her cheeks.
"It's okay," he soothed. "I'm here. I'll always be here."
Bella grabbed his shoulders and pulled him to her. He was shirtless and his skin was on fire. She placed her damp cheek against his chest and used the pounding of his heart to calm her hysterics.
When her sobs had turned to chokes and gasps, she looked up into Jacob's eyes. His face was a blur from the streaming tears, but she saw concern etched into his features.
Bella tried to force herself to breathe normally. "Don't do that," Jacob said sharply. "Don't try to pretend like you're not falling apart. Grieve, Bella. It's alright. I'm here."
A small gasp escaped Bella's lips and she allowed the pain to flood her mind. The ache ripped through her heart and she cried so fiercely that for a few moments, no sound escaped her mouth. Then the cries of agony came and she made no attempt to stop them. She squeezed her hands into fists as she finally allowed her soul to release its pent up suffering. She cried until she felt numbness slowly leaking into her consciousness.
Edward was standing in a familiar meadow, his hand outstretched. Jacob stood beside him. There was no animosity between them. They both seemed at peace.
Bella ran to Edward and flung herself into his arms. He inhaled her scent deeply.
"I miss you," Bella whispered into his shirt collar.
"I know," Edward said quietly. "I loved you so much, Bella."
Bella gripped his shirt until Edward gently pulled her hands away. He held them to his chest for a long moment. Then he turned, and smiled serenely at Jacob. Jacob nodded solemnly once, and reached out his hands.
"No..." Bella protested weakly as Edward placed her hands in Jacob's. "Edward…"
"It's okay, Bella," Jacob said as he pressed their hands to his chest. The thrum of his heart filled her ears. "I love you."
Bella whipped her head around to find Edward, but he was gone. She looked back into Jacob's eyes and he met her gaze.
"I'm here," he said.
Bella awoke with a start. She didn't remember falling asleep. Then everything flooded her memory at once. The loss, the pain, the grief. Her eyes were swollen and puffy and her head was throbbing. She looked around and saw that Jacob had brought her into his bedroom. She was in his bed, tangled in his sheets. She saw him wedged into a small recliner in the corner. His sleeping face looked weary and drawn.
Bella was astonished to find that though the crushing grief still threatened to envelop her, allowing herself to cry had relieved some of the agony. She tried to remember what she had dreamt that had made her feel somehow… more whole.
Jacob heard her getting up from the bed and immediately snapped awake. From the tired look in his eyes, he hadn't slept much. "How do you feel?" he asked, concerned.
"I…" Bella started. Jacob gasped hurried to sit beside her on the bed. He nodded encouragingly. Bella hadn't spoken since…
"I…" Bella said again. Her voice sounded strange in her own ears. It was foreign and hoarse. "Jake." she said simply.
Bella felt an overwhelming rush of emotion fill her. It was so deep it almost, almost made her forget the pain. Jacob had been her sun when Edward had left her the first time. He had understood that she could never be whole without Edward, and yet he still wanted her. He had rescued her from the darkness and brought her into the light. And Bella knew he would do it again and again, anytime he saw her falling. Because he loved her.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. Gratitude erupted in her heart. "Jake," she said again.
"I'm here, Bella," he said. Concern colored his voice. "Do you need anything? Are you hungry? Cold?..." he trailed off.
She pulled back and looked into his face for what felt like the first time. She really looked at him. She memorized every feature. Bella felt a desperate need to be close to him.
She used his t-shirt to pull herself flat against him. His warmth flooded her body and a gasp escaped her throat. She had never felt so glad to have Jacob as a friend.
Bella could tell Jacob was confused by the way he sat stiffly. He patted her back hesitantly.
"Hold me, Jake," she pleaded roughly. At once Jacob wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. She could feel his heart rate quicken. Bella wondered how many times he'd dreamt of holding her this way.
Bella had never imagined wanting anyone but Edward. She still felt a stab of pain every time she thought about him, but when she felt the darkness closing in around her, she imagined Jacob, and her world brightened. She knew in her heart he would never leave her. She could almost hear Edward telling her this is what he wanted, for her to be happy.
She pulled away from Jacob and again and he put his hand to her cheek. A tear escaped her eye and he wiped it away with his thumb.
"I thought I'd lost you," he said sadly.
Bella tried to smile to reassure him, but she knew it was too soon. She didn't know if she was capable of smiling anymore. But she promised herself she would try to relearn how to live. For Edward.