SLASH BACKSLASH ONE-SHOT CONTEST
Story Name: A Split Second of Indecision
Pen name: Dahlia J Black
Pairing: Jacob and Seth
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer created the wonderful world of Twi, but I bet she never thought of putting these two together.
To see other entries in the "SLASH BACKSLASH" contest, please visit the C2:http ://www. fanfiction. net/c2/74941/3/0/1/
A/N: Thank you to Hopeful Wager, whose beta skills made this better, and to my preview girls for general awesomery and snuggles when I needed them.
Today was my wedding day, and for some reason I was scared shitless- which scared me even more, because it wasn't normal to feel like this on your wedding day, right? It wasn't that I never thought the day would arrive- I'd been pretty sure that I was going to get married for at least eight of my twenty-four years. I also knew exactly who it would be: Bella Swan, the only girl I've ever loved, my high school sweetheart, my best friend. Okay, joint best friend. She shared the title with Seth Clearwater.
My first memory in life was of Seth. We couldn't have been more than 3 years old at the time, playing in the sand at La Push beach, chasing each other with driftwood and seaweed. Our fathers had grown up together and were thrilled when their wives gave birth two weeks apart. Seth had just always been there, since forever.
Bella had been there since almost-forever. She had been born in Forks, a few months before Seth and me, but her parents had broken up when she was still a baby. Renée had taken her and moved back with her parents in Arizona, but soon realized she couldn't cope with being barely twenty and having a newborn to take care of. She left Bella with her grandparents and undertook the great American roadtrip with some obscure band from the 80's who no one remembered anymore. Both Bella's grandparents had died by the time she was 6 when she came to live with Charlie.
Bella, Seth and I were the perfect trio of evil doers. From the moment we had laid our eyes on each other, we had been inseparable. If any one of us was ever seen alone, the whereabouts of the other two would also be enquired after. Bella, Jake and Seth. Seth, Jake and Bella. It was like we had mutated into some kind of three-headed entity, and we loved it.
Our friendship didn't die down during elementary school, even when it was gross for girls and boys to be friends. It didn't die down in middle school when Bella liked Hanson, and Seth and I teased her mercilessly for it. It didn't die down in our junior year of high school, when Bella and I started to date each other, or senior year of high school when Seth dropped the bomb that he was gay. We remained friends throughout college, when Seth and I shared a dorm room, much to our continuous ridicule, and Bella lived on the floor above us with her roommate, Angela.
And here we were, two decades of friendship between us, the three of us standing under a lily-sheathed trellis, on a flat cliff overlooking the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Bella and I were getting married, and Seth was our best man. Angela stood to Bella's left, "for balance," our wedding planner, Alice, had insisted.
Bella handed her bouquet to Angela after Charlie had finished fiercely hugging her and shooting warning glances at me. She turned to me, her soft features hidden behind the light film of her veil. My hands trembled as I lifted the material off her face to reveal her blushing cheeks and teary eyes. I heard Seth's chuckle behind me at the same time my own nervous chuckle escaped my lips. Of course Bella would be crying- the girl was like a leaky faucet.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned my head to see the handkerchief that Seth was holding out to me. "Excellent best man skills," I whispered, relieved, winking at him. He beamed back at me, his wide, familiar grin calming the crazy butterflies in my stomach to some extent. The butterflies had been omnipresent for a year now, since everyone in my life had finally convinced me to "get it over with and ask her already," as they had so fondly put it, and had been getting progressively worse as the wedding drew nearer.
I dabbed the moisture from Bella's cheek with a trembling hand, gratefully suspecting that Alice had plied her with waterproof mascara before the ceremony. I tried unsuccessfully to stuff the handkerchief in the pocket of my suit pants with my fumbling hand. I felt Seth's warm fingertips brush against my hand and released it into his grasp. Thank God someone had it together.
Bella took a deep, quivering breath as I took her small hand in mine and turned to face Angela's father, Reverend Weber, who was officiating the ceremony.
"You two ready?" he whispered kindly, to which Bella and I responded with matching weak grins.
He stood up straighter, clearing his throat softly. "Afternoon, friends. Isn't it a perfect day for these two beautiful young people to be getting married?" He gestured to the miraculously clear La Push skyline. It was one of the sunniest days in the history of the Olympic Peninsula. I barely recognized it. If it wasn't for the handful of dark yet fluffy clouds that hung in the sky, I could've sworn we'd been transported to Southern California. It was hot and muggy and I was sweating in a dangerous way. Or, maybe it was just me, because Bella's tiny hand was cool in mine and I couldn't see a drop of sweat Reverend Weber's face either. Weird.
"I remember the first time I set my eyes on Bella and Jacob together," he continued, "and I can't remember seeing them apart since. Of course, Seth wasn't far behind." A few light chuckles drifted through the air towards us.
I remembered the day that Reverend Weber was referring to.
We were eight when the Webers moved to Forks. Old Reverend McCarty had grown too old to tend to the small parish of Forks Methodist Church, and Reverend Weber, his wife and three small children had moved to Forks to replace them.
We were playing in Bella's front yard when we saw the bright yellow moving truck drive past. It was a rare sighting. Hardly anyone ever moved to Forks.
Like the curious kids we were, we charged down the street, after the truck, which turned left at the bottom.
"Faster, before we lose it!" I urged, dragging Bella along with me, Seth holding his own on my other side.
"I'm trying," Bella whined through strained breaths.
"Slow down," Seth warned, "before she tri-"
Seth couldn't even finish his sentence before Bella's legs tangled in mine and we crashed into the pavement in a knotted mess of limbs.
I felt Seth lift Bella up, away from me, but I just lay there, feeling a strange tingling in my left arm. I squinted up to see Bella and Seth's horrified-looking faces.
"What?" I asked, silent terror seeping through me.
"Your… your arm," Seth grimaced. Bella buried her head in Seth's shoulder, possibly in an attempt to spare me the distress on her face.
I looked down to find my arm twisted in a grossly unnatural way. My stomach turned slightly at the sight.
"You kids alright over there?" an unfamiliar male voice asked.
The three of us turned our heads to find the tallest man we had ever seen standing a few houses down. He looked kind and concerned.
"I think he broke his arm," Seth said, obviously terrified, while Bella just shook slightly, gasping out a few quiet sobs.
The man walked toward us and bent down to examine my contorted arm, which was turning a sickly mix of green and blue. I winced when he touched it lightly.
"Definitely broken," he declared with a firm nod.
Reverend Weber took the three of us back to Bella's house, where Charlie, Billy and Harry were watching football together. The three of them laughed heartily at the realization that Bella's clumsiness had become so rampant that it was starting to injure people besides herself.
My arm was in a cast for most of the summer, tantamount to the apocalypse for an eight-year-old boy. Not that it had kept me from climbing trees and going swimming in the shallow pools at First Beach. My cast had looked like some kind of mummified bandage by the end of it, but I had fought stubbornly to keep it after they took it off, because Seth had drawn a picture of the three of us as the Power Rangers on it. After a week's worth of arguments my mom had agreed, on the condition that she would cut the picture out and frame it for me. I had reluctantly compromised, and today the picture was still proudly displayed in the living room of the apartment that Bella and I shared.
The sound of intermingled laughter snapped me out of my memory.
"I was horrified when their fathers laughed at poor Jake's broken arm," Reverend Weber was saying, "until they told me how often they had to rush Bella to the emergency room. Having to take Jake was a refreshing change for them."
Bella squeezed my hand and peered sideways at me with an apologetic smile. I smiled back at her and glanced at Seth, who was rolling his eyes at the memory. It was slightly overwhelming to think that my history was so completely interwoven with the lives of my best friends. We were all about our history, almost like it defined who we were. We hadn't really started existing independently until after college, although we were still very close friends. Seth ate dinner at our place at least once a week and his apartment was only two blocks away.
"I got to know Jacob and the rest of the Black family well during his mother's illness." Reverend Weber's words immediately caused a pang in my chest. "He was exceptionally mature at the age of sixteen. He never acted out in anger at his mother's death and truly became a rock in his father's life while his sisters were away at college. I'm sure that his mother would have been thrilled to know of his blossoming relationship with Bella, whom she was always very fond of."
Bella gripped my hand tighter, indicating her understanding. I had been devastated when my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Reverend Weber had been wrong about the not acting out part.
I had been plenty angry, but only dared to show it to Seth. I hadn't wanted to burden Bella with my rages, too. My mother had been the closest thing to a mother Bella had ever had, and she had kept a near-constant vigil at her bedside during her last days.
After my dad drove me and Seth home one night when visiting hours were over, only to return to the hospital to spend the rest of the night in her room, I finally broke down. I ripped my workshop apart while Seth watched quietly from the corner. He stood there, letting me vent my frustration until I tried to grab the stripped-down engine that was perched on cinder blocks. He grabbed my arms roughly from behind and restrained me as I thrashed violently against him.
"Jake, dude, chill," he urged in my ear. "Destroying everything in here isn't gonna change anything. You'll just have to replace everything you've broken."
I stopped resisting his restraint, but my body was still rigid and livid. "Fuck!" I spat out, angry tears welling in the corners of my eyes. "Everything's such a fucking mess. Rebecca and Rachel are off at college, they have no fucking clue how bad it is and my dad refuses to tell them the truth. He's in total denial too, sitting there with that idiotic smile on his face all day. And Bella-" I took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to calm myself, "Bella just has this completely lost look all the time. Her heart is breaking and it's breaking my heart and there isn't a fucking thing I can do about it!"
"Jake." Seth's voice was calm and level. I could feel it soothing the edges of my pain already. "There is a fucking thing you can do about it."
He released me from his grip and I turned to face him. We had gone through equal growth spurts and our eyes were almost perfectly level, although I always insisted that I was an inch taller. I had never seen this look on his face before. His eyes were soft and melty. His jaw was set, his brow serious.
"How the fuck can you say that?" I demanded, balling my fists at my sides obstinately.
He placed his hands firmly on my shoulders, his warm touch dragging me back to reality. "You can make the most of it," he said in a tone so serious in almost made me laugh.
"You sound like a fucking after school special."
"Just hear me out," he urged. "Sure, you can spend your time being angry and resentful. You can blame Billy for playing it down, or your sisters for not being here, or the cancer for…" he swallowed, "for causing this fucked up mess. Or, you can spend your time supporting Billy, and being there for your mom. This doesn't have to be a horrible time. It could be the one time in your life that you were really close to your parents."
I stubbornly wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to make some offhand comment to dismiss it- anything to make what he said sound less sensible in my mind. But he was looking at me with the most genuine compassion and sincerity I had ever seen and I couldn't brush it off. I was trying, believe me, I was trying really hard to see the flaw in his plan, but it struck me right in the gut. The angry tears from before were still welling in the corners of my eyes and I was suddenly intensely aware of the stinging sensation behind them.
Oh, hell no, you're not gonna cry right now, I ordered myself. But I was clearly beyond listening to my own demands as I felt a single traitor-tear leave a wet streak down my cheek. Seth's expression changed almost imperceptibly as he brushed the moisture away with his thumb before pulling me roughly to him. He hugged me so tight I almost felt like he was crushing me, but it felt good. It felt good to be held and the tears that were now shamelessly accompanying my quiet sobs felt good, too.
In that moment, I let myself go so completely and Seth just accepted it wordlessly, with no judgment. He held me until my tears dried up, after which we clapped each other awkwardly on the shoulder, reality settling in on our private moment.
I counted myself lucky that I had already discovered the meaning of unconditional love so early in life. Seth had been a quiet crutch for both Bella and me during my mother's illness. Even after my mom had died and Bella and I had started dating, Seth had taken the change in his stride, as he did with all things in life.
Surprisingly, my being in a romantic relationship with Bella hadn't changed the dynamic of our friendship all that much. We still spent most of our free time together, although Seth called time-outs when Bella and I got too handsy for his taste. Sometimes we got handsy on purpose to get him to leave so we could be horny teenagers in peace. I kind of missed those days. Back then I wanted to stick my dick in any orifice I could find. That flame had quietly fizzled between me and Bella, but I guess that's what happened when you had been with the same person for almost a decade.
The only knock our friendship ever took was after Seth had told us he was gay. Okay, so he hadn't told us as much as Bella and I had walked in on him making out with a boy from our Spanish class at a party early in our senior year.
I hadn't taken it as well as Bella, who was thrilled to have a gay best friend. She was going through a Will and Grace phase and had glamorized the notion of being gay. I, on the other hand, had felt betrayed and lied to. How could my best friend in the world have kept his biggest secret in the world from me? I had refused to speak to him for weeks after that, until it became all too clear how unglamorous it actually was to be gay in the real world.
Some kids on the rez had found out about the incident with Seth at the party and decided to "beat the gay out of him," as they so articulately put it. I went into one of the most wild, uncontrolled rages of my entire life when the news reached me that Seth was laid up in bed with two cracked ribs and a broken jaw.
I drove my motorcycle at full speed to the abandoned old barn where their whole gang used to hang out, and beat the shit out of all three stoner assholes.
Afterwards, I unthinkingly grabbed a stack of old comics and went to Seth's house to find him sitting in his bed, staring blankly out the window.
His jaw was swollen and wired shut, he had a black eye and his torso was bandaged. But worse than that, he looked numb- cold and hard. I had never seen his normally warm brown eyes look this icy. It sliced at my insides.
I swallowed heavily and started to chatter in an attempt to avoid the reality of the situation. "So, I found these while I was cleaning out the attic," I began, putting the stack of comics on his bedside table. "I found a bunch of old action figures, too. It reminded me of that summer we got Bella into X-Men. Remember? She took some bleach and tried to put a blonde streak in her hair, like Rogue? But then it came out yellow… and then it turned green." I knew I was rambling. My awkward chuckle hung in the air, amplifying the stark silence from his side of the room.
He wasn't smiling. But then again, his jaw was wired shut, so I guess I was expecting too much.
"What are you doing here, Jake?" he hissed through his forcibly clenched teeth. I winced, both at his harsh tone and his strained words. Anger started to rise in my chest again. I wanted to march right back there and kick the shit out of those fuckers all over again. They had ruined my best friend and my heart ached because of it.
"I thought you might need some reading material." I shrugged, but the lame tone of my voice negated any nonchalance I was trying to get across.
He raised an eyebrow at me. He was clearly unconvinced and unimpressed.
I sighed, unsure of whether I was ready for this conversation, but knowing it was unavoidable. "Can't a guy go to visit his best friend without interrogation?" My last attempt at serious conversation avoidance.
"You haven't spoken to me in two weeks," he stated bluntly. His eyes were still dead.
"I'm speaking to you now," I offered hopefully.
I didn't know how to form the sentence. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn't seem to push if over the edge.
"What?" Seth barked, wincing and rubbing his swollen jaw immediately after.
"I was wrong," I said simply.
He didn't respond. He wasn't going to let me off easily.
"I was a giant asshole. I was unfair to you. I had no right to be angry at you. I'm sorry."
He sat up abruptly, clenching the sheets at his sides. "You got that fucking right. How the fuck can you judge me for being the way I am? Fuck you, Jake. Fuck you. I had no idea you were such a fucking bigot."
His words shamed me.. I couldn't blame him for getting the wrong impression when I had acted so irrationally. I felt my throat beginning to burn with emotion as I took him in, his eyes flashing in rage, his words so much more severe through the restraint of the wires around his jaw.
"That's not what it's about."
"Don't lie for my benefit," he spat back.
"It's not!" I cried out indignantly. "It doesn't matter to me if you like guys or girls or midgets or llamas!"
My last comment had chipped the first bit of stone away from his stoic features. "Llamas? Seriously? That's what you're going with?" he asked incredulously.
I rolled my eyes dramatically. "My point is," I continued stubbornly, "that who you like doesn't change who you are. That isn't why I was angry."
"Why, then?" he asked, frowning.
"Because you didn't tell me," I stated simply.
That seemed to silence him. His features softened as his mind seemed to process my confession. I stared down at my beaten up sneakers and torn jeans. There were specks of blood on my thighs from the earlier fight. The knuckles on my right hand were cracked and swollen, caked with dried blood.
Seth seemed to notice it at the same moment I did. "What happened?"
"Nothing," I mumbled.
"Did you beat someone up?" he demanded, leaning forward in his bed and clutching his bandaged ribs when he leaned over too far.
I simply nodded. I raised my eyes to meet his and he instantly understood.
"You… beat up… them?" he stammered.
I nodded again, fingering the frayed edges of the hole on my knee.
After another moment Seth broke the thick silence between us. "Charlie's gonna kill you -- after Billy kicks your ass and Bella bites your head off."
"I know," I responded with a wry smile.
It was simple but powerful. One word was enough to heal our wounded friendship.
If I hadn't been dating the police chief's daughter, things probably would've ended worse for me. But given the situation with Seth and the fact that no one really believed that I had taken the three of them myself, I was sent to an anger management seminar while those filthy hatemongers were sentenced to way less community service than they deserved.
"…and here they stand today- two successful, bright young professionals, ready to embark on their brand new lives as man and wife."
I hadn't heard a word of anything Reverend Weber had said for the past few minutes. My head was spinning and I felt faint from the heat. My thoughts were rampant, flashing to random memories from my childhood. I swallowed heavily. How could a person's mind not be completely present at their own wedding? I hadn't done this before, obviously, but I was pretty sure that you were supposed to feel happy, excited butterflies… not what I could only assume to be a swarm of bats attacking my gut from the inside. I felt like I was going to be sick.
Since the moment I woke up this morning, something felt off. Honestly, things had been feeling off for weeks, ever since our wedding plans had started to become a wedding reality, I had been on the verge of vomiting almost constantly, and when you piled on a heap of guilt over feeling this way, you got to the state I was in. I barely ate anything. I hadn't slept well in weeks. Alice, to my horror, had to apply make up to the darkened shadows under my eyes that morning to conceal my zombie-like appearance.
Things had been tense between Bella and me as well. We hadn't been fighting as much as we had been bickering and snapping at each other. I had heard that weddings put a strain on relationships, but I thought that was supposed to disappear when you saw your bride standing at the bottom of the aisle? Not me. The moment Bella had appeared at the edge of the carpet that had been rolled out over the grass between the two groups of seats, looking more beautiful than I had seen her, my heart had dropped out of my chest.
All I could think was: wrong.
And I knew exactly why it felt wrong. My subconscious had been trying to suppress it, but even my flagrant denial wasn't going to make it go away. My constant feeling of doom as the wedding approached had been vague until two nights ago. Until two nights ago, I could've easily told myself that I was being irrational and unreasonable- normal pre-wedding jitters. Until two nights ago, I had myself convinced that Bella was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
I was wrong.
Two nights before
I sat perched atop a rickety old bar stool next to Seth, staring down the spout of my empty beer bottle. I was trying my best to even pretend to be enjoying my bachelor party, but Seth saw right through me. I felt like a horrible, traitorous friend after he had gone to the trouble of getting us backstage passes to a Killers concert, courtesy of his work contacts. I suspected that the concert had been amazing. My body was on auto pilot, transporting me to where I needed to be, but my mind… Well, I had no fucking clue where my mind was.
"You're worrying me," Seth announced, his voice invading my troubled mind.
I peered to my right to find him leaning back against the bar, beer in hand, eyeing me with an expression that combined worry and suspicion in a way only Seth could pull off without looking ridiculous.
"What?" I mumbled, gesturing to the bartender for a refill.
"You haven't been Jake for weeks," he complained. "Months," he corrected himself.
"Planning a wedding is stressful," I regurgitated my standard generic explanation on cue.
"Yeah, I'm sure Alice and Bella are stressed out of their minds," he retorted sarcastically, "but you don't have the same excuse. You aren't doing a thing except writing checks and nodding in all the right places."
"Carpal tunnel and whiplash," I joked lightly, attempting play the conversation down.
"Jacob." His serious tone made my head snap towards him involuntarily. The first, last and only time he had called me Jacob, was when he had come to tell me that Billy had phoned from the hospital to let us know my mom had died. He had to be incredibly concerned to be addressing me this way.
I remained silent, but couldn't tear myself away from his searching eyes. My rational mind told me to look away, to close my eyes, to hide the truth from him. But my subconscious wanted him to find out, needed him to know.
He reached his hand out to touch my cheek, but withdrew it a moment later, clearly thinking better of it and resting his hand on the bar instead. "Tell me," he pleaded.
I attempted to swallow but the muscles of my throat seemed to be paralyzed. I took a deep breath, and with all the conviction I could muster said, "Nothing to tell."
Seth was undeterred. "We promised."
He was referring to the promise we had made to each other after our one and only fight, to always be honest with each other, no limits, no judgment, no consequences. My heart was burning, screaming to tell him, to admit it all, but my teeth stayed firmly clamped. I said nothing.
He stood up next to me and put his hand on my shoulder, nudging me towards him. I relented and turned to face him. He took my head firmly in his hands, resting his forearms on my shoulders. "Whenever you're ready, your best man will be here." He pressed his forehead to mine softly and whispered, "I love you, you silly llama."
He would never let me forget that one.
I cracked a smile despite myself, feeling the relaxing warmth of being near Seth seep through me. I gave in to it, pulling him into a crushing hug with a sigh and squeezing my eyes shut tightly. I was about to let it last the allowed three seconds before clapping him on the shoulder and pulling away, but his lean, muscular body felt comforting against mine and I couldn't bring myself to release him.
He didn't make a move to pull back either. Instead, he gripped the back of my neck with his warm hand and pulled me closer. I breathed him in deeply. His woodsy scent had to be some kind of tranquilizer, because the fluttering in my gut calmed for the first time since it had appeared. It felt so good. I couldn't imagine letting go, but I did, although I wasn't sure why. My cheek brushed against his as he released me, followed by a strange tingling sensation that I told myself had to be his stubble.
His brown eyes were softer than I was used to, more milk chocolate than dark. I recognized it, though, because I had seen that affection in his eyes many times before, if only for a split second. This time it felt like it meant something more, but my mind didn't have time to process it before Seth turned to grab his beer from behind him. He clinked it against mine that was waiting on the bar, and the tenderness instantly disappeared.
I couldn't stop thinking about it since then, the feelings and sensations and smells and the thoughts that were getting too loud to ignore any longer. It wasn't a good place to be in before your nuptials. Every moment my brain wasn't occupied with arrangements for the wedding, it drifted back to that night, and every moment my brain was occupied, the latent thoughts floated very close to the surface. I fought against them every moment. It had to be a reaction to the wedding stress, there was no other explanation. You don't just live your whole life one way and then suddenly change it in one moment of indecision. There was just no way that was possible… unless it wasn't just that one moment. Unless it had been a build up of years of suppressed moments…
"Bella and Jacob have prepared a set of vows which I will read out loud."
I had completely forgotten about the vows that Bella and I had worked on weeks before. My mind had been in such a haze for so long, just going along with everyone, not even attempting to be an active participant in my own life. I could barely remember what we had decided on, but I was about to find out. I sickened myself. How could I be about to commit myself to this woman for eternity if I couldn't even recall our vows?
"Bella, listen to these vows, and answer truthfully when I ask you to do so," Reverend Weber instructed and Bella nodded solemnly.
"Do you, Isabella Marie Swan, choose Jacob Black as your best friend, your love for life? Do you promise to give him the best of yourself and to ask of him no more than he can give? Do you promise to accept him the way he is and to respect him as a person with his own interests, desires, and needs, and to realize that those are sometimes different, but no less important than your own? Do you promise to remain faithful to him for better or worse, in times of sickness and health, in good times as well as bad, until death finally parts you?"
My heart was hammering in my chest in a way I had never experienced before. There was a high pitched screeching in my ears and all I could see in my mind were images of my future with Bella as my wife.
I imagined our marriage to be a continuation of our current situation: cohabitation. Sure, we laughed and joked. It was comfortable and familiar, but it was like we had been married for fifty years, not engaged for one. There was no passion or excitement, or even any kind of want. I didn't expect it to be like it was when we had just gotten together all those years ago, but I was sure that there still had to be some kind of desire for one another.
Instead, we were like roommates who just happened to share a bed. I could barely remember the last time we had slept together. I couldn't even remember the last time we had touched each other in a way that was sensual, much less sexual.
When Bella looked at me lately, all I could see was some kind of numb complacency. It was like getting the air punched out of me every time. It felt like Bella and I had resigned ourselves to a life together- we hadn't chosen it. Being with the same person for so long was very dangerous, because every moment more you spent with them seemed to be another moment that made it more impossible to live without them. And it wasn't because of love or desire or choice, it was because you didn't know any different or any better.
My mind flashed to milk chocolate eyes, to warmth and tranquility, to desire. A desire I hadn't allowed myself to acknowledge for years. Because, if I was being entirely honest with myself, I had acknowledged it once before, when I was 16 years old, lying in bed, stroking myself and thinking about the strong arms wrapped around me, comforting me when I needed it most. I had allowed myself that one night of acknowledgement and never again.
Until two nights ago, when it came exploding to the surface.
The constant guilt of this realization was burning through me, consuming me. How could I stand here and pledge my eternal commitment to my best friend, when I knew that a life together wouldn't make either of us happy, when I knew every fiber of my being was aching to be with someone else?
But how could I let a relationship that spanned all of our adult lives go to waste? How could I disappoint all the friends and family who were sitting behind us, dabbing their wet cheeks, smiling innocently at our "beautiful love".
How could I vow to Bella that I would give the best of myself to her, when I knew I wasn't capable of it?
I was a coward. I was a jerk. I was a horrible human being. I was a sick fucking bastard who was having delusions in a moment of doubt.
Bella spoke softly, "I promise."
Her voice was trembling with emotion and I could see another tear rolling down her cheek. My heart was crumbling at the sight of it. How could I destroy our relationship? How could I destroy my best friend, my only lover? How could I steal away her life, her youth, her chance at happiness with someone else? Could I truly be this cowardly? Could I keep my mouth shut and let the rest of my life just happen to me without having a choice in the matter?
"Please repeat after me, Bella," Reverend Weber said. "Jacob, you are my best friend and I will love and respect you always. All these things I give to you today, and all the days of our life."
Bella paused for a moment, sucking in a shaky breath and glancing over at me. When her eyes met mine, I felt sheer terror. It seemed that she was looking to me for some sort of confirmation and encouragement. Her eyes were wide and stormy, her bottom lip was trembling and her hand that was still nestled in mine was quivering beneath my grasp.
Her eyes were pleading, tugging at the edges of my troubled heart, but I couldn't bring myself to make any kind of movement or gesture of reassurance. I couldn't betray her like this. I couldn't make her throw her life away for me, when I knew in my heart that, no matter how deeply I had kept it buried for how long, I didn't love her like I should. I didn't love her in the way a man should love a woman. I loved her more than almost anyone else on this earth, but I didn't love her as my lover.
Bella shot me a quizzical frown, seeming to give up on her quest to gather reassurance from me, speaking quietly, "Jacob, you are my best friend and I will love and respect you always." Her voice cracked with emotion and I felt my own tears start to spill. "All these things I give to you today, and all the days of our life."
She was squeezing my hands tighter than I had ever felt, seemingly pouring all her strength and conviction into her words, almost like she was trying to convince herself, too.
Reverend Weber cleared his throat. "Jacob, please repeat after me. Bella, you are my best friend and I will love and respect you always. All these things I give to you today, and all the days of our life." I jerked my head towards him abruptly, panic assaulting my consciousness from every direction.
You can't do this, you can't do this, I quietly screamed to myself.
I looked down at Bella, whose eyes were sparkling with tears and anticipation. A fresh wave of nausea washed over me. I wasn't sure for how long I had known it, but it was now spilling from my subconscious into my conscious mind and I couldn't deny it one moment more.
The reality was, that I was standing in front of the altar, on my wedding day, between my best friend and the love of my life, but I wasn't marrying the love of my life, and I knew it was wrong. It was wrong for both of us.
The realization exploded in my mind. It was like being vaguely aware that a dam was about to burst and drowning in the deadly flow of the water when it finally did.
I was completely surprised when my decision managed to struggle its way through the chaos in my mind.
I knew exactly what I needed to do.
"Bella," I began, my voice trembling audibly, tears streaming down my face, "you are my best friend and I will always love and respect you." I took a deep breath, begging her with my eyes to believe me, to accept my words as the truth, which I knew they were. "But I can't marry you."
The crowd behind us gasped in unison. Bella's hands dropped from my grasp and she stumbled back a step. I couldn't gauge her expression. I saw hurt and anger and humiliation, but there was something more, bubbling beneath the surface.
"What?" Bella stammered. "I don't understand?"
"I…" I couldn't bring myself to say anything more. The frantic whispers behind us were overwhelming me and I could barely see through my tears. I took a step towards Bella, whose mouth was agape, her own tears flowing silently down her cheeks. "I'm sorry," I mouthed to her.
I didn't know where I was going, I just knew I had to get out of there. I turned and felt a strong hand on my arm. I didn't trust myself to look at Seth. I could only deal with one emotional turmoil at a time, and right now, running out of my own wedding was it. Being in love with my best friend would have to wait for now.
I jerked my hand from his grasp and ran back down the aisle, not letting my eyes focus on anything or anyone. I knew I didn't have car keys, so I just kept on running, veering down a trail that I knew led down to the beach. I stumbled as I ran, my suit getting caught on branches on the way down the steep trail.
When I reached the soft sand of the beach, I took my shoes off mid-run, discarding my jacket and tie in the process as well. I felt like I was suffocating in my clothes and I tore my shirt open, hoping that the air rushing past me as I ran would cool me down. I kept running down the beach, my feet guiding me towards a place I didn't recognize until I was there. I clambered over the slippery boulders to a secluded place I hadn't been in years, the spray of the crashing waves bringing me the cooling relief I needed.
My heart stuttered slightly as I took in the startlingly familiar surroundings. I had been there dozens of times before, the last time being the day of my mother's funeral. It was nothing more than a small patch of grass nestled between a few tall boulders at the very edge of the beach, but it held many memories for me. Bella, Seth and I always came here to hide when we were young. Sometimes together, sometimes alone, but it worked without fail. No one ever found us there unless we wanted to be found.
I sank back against the ragged side of the huge rock, settling down to the soft grass below. The waves roared on either side of me, but never reached me. I took a deep breath, buried my face in my hands and started to cry. Only, I wouldn't call it crying so much as sobbing. The horrified look on Bella's face was burned into the back of my eyelids. I had never seen her look so hurt and confused in the almost two decades that I had known her. I ripped at my insides to know I had caused that much anguish to someone I loved so much.
I felt like a rotten bastard for just leaving her there without an explanation, but I couldn't stay there a moment longer knowing what I knew. I hoped that Bella would give me the opportunity to explain myself once we'd all calmed down.
I knew I had done the right thing. Bella deserved to be spared the pain of a divorce, which was where we surely would've been heading if we had gone through with things. Even more so, we both deserved to be spared the pain of bringing children into an unhappy relationship.
You did the right thing, I chanted over and over in my head.
"You did do the right thing." Seth's voice startled me. I didn't realize that I had been talking out loud. It took a moment to register that he was actually there with me. I felt him settle down on the grass next to me. He didn't say anything further.
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and asked, "How did you know where to find me?"
"How could I not know you'd come here?"
Of course Seth would know. He always knew. He even knew the things that I wouldn't admit to myself. I swallowed heavily, thinking of the thing I was finally admitting to myself. I seriously doubted whether he could know that.
We sat there silently for a moment before my mind filtered through what he had said initially. "How do you know I did the right thing?"
"Jake, you and Bella are my best friends, but you're also each other's best friends. I've seen the way you look at each other. Sure, there's a lot of love there, but it doesn't translate beyond friendship. It hasn't for a very long time."
His matter-of-fact tone rattled me. I didn't know it was that obvious. "You could've told me sooner," I deadpanned.
"It wasn't my place to judge. You make your own choices on how you want to live your lives. If you could live with it, I wasn't going to mess with it."
I hadn't looked at him yet. I knew that if I did, it would make it real. His warmth next to me and his soothing voice was intoxicating me, cutting through my pain and shock and comforting me without even touching me.
But despite finally admitting my feelings to myself, I was still scared. I had just ruined one friendship and I wasn't sure whether I was ready to destroy another. Seth had never given me any indication that he felt anything more than friendship for me. We had shared a dorm room for 3 years and an apartment for another 2, and he had never so much looked at me while I was getting dressed. Not that I knew of anyway.
"Is Bella okay?" I asked quietly, staring down at my hands.
"Hell no," Seth replied, making me wince. "She's definitely in shock. When Angela led her back to the car she was kinda just staring into space."
"What a fucking mess," I muttered.
"Realizing sooner definitely would've worked better," Seth agreed, a playful tone in his voice.
"Can we just stay here until someone else creates a bigger scandal and forgets about the runaway groom?" I joked lamely.
"I'm not going anywhere unless you make me. You need someone to keep an eye on you. Who knows where you'll run to next?" He nudged my shoulder with his, leaving a tingling sensation behind.
We sat in silence for several minutes. Seth had always known exactly what I needed. He shut up when I needed to vent and gave advice when I needed solutions. Although I would never be as intuitive as he was, I tried my best to give him what he needed, too. He never went into detail, but he felt comfortable enough to tell me about his relationships in general, though there weren't very many of them. While Seth was very open about his sexual orientation, he was still conservative. I had listened to him complain numerous times about how he wanted a meaningful, loving relationship, while the greater gay community just wanted to whore around. It frustrated his romantic soul, which in turn frustrated me, because I wanted to see my best friend happy.
I finally found the courage to glance sideways at Seth. My heart jumped slightly as I took him in, pulling at the grass below him, seemingly distracted. His dark, shaggy hair brushed softly against his golden brown cheeks. His strong jaw was clean-shaven for once, a change from the normal scruff he sported. A slight frown creased his brow and his full lips were drawn into a slight pout of concentration.
I had never allowed myself to examine him in this way.
He was beautiful.
He caught me staring from the corner of his eye and his milk chocolate gaze met mine a moment later. He studied me intently for a moment before saying, "Bella will forgive you, Jake. You did the best thing for both of you. She may not know it now, but she will eventually."
"I hope you're right." I smiled a wry smile.
"Are you kidding me? I'm always right." He flashed a grin at me full on and my heart leapt again. All I wanted was to reach out and touch him. Having denied my thoughts and feelings for so long, I suddenly felt that I couldn't go another moment without him. I knew instinctively that being near to him would soothe my pain. I knew I was being selfish, but the reckless urge to make myself feel better hit me out of nowhere. Without another thought I reached my hand out to touch his arm.
"Seth, I-" I started but a raindrop suddenly collided with my nose, interrupting me.
"I know you wanted to hide out here, but can we hide out somewhere that isn't going to be flooded in five minutes?" he asked jokingly, pushing himself up from the grass. He stretched out to his full height and I noticed that he wasn't wearing his jacket or shoes either. His tie hung loosely around his next and the top few buttons of his shirt were undone. My breath hitched as I let my eyes travel up his lean, muscular legs, to the shirt that clung slightly to his arms.
I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to get some kind of grip on reality. It was like the floodgates had opened. Once I allowed myself to think of Seth in this way, I couldn't stop. It was like seeing him for the first time and it was enthralling. I couldn't tear my eyes off of him.
He reached out his hand to me and I took it, letting him pull me up from my sitting position. I rose to my feet, meeting his eyes full on and not letting go of his hand, burning in mine. He wasn't letting go either, even though the raindrops were starting to splash down insistently. We just stood there, refusing to look away or move an inch.
"Seth," I finally whispered. His lips were inches from mine.
"Yeah," he replied, his warm breath tickling my face.
"I…" I hesitated, unsure of whether I could find the right words to express what I was feeling. I felt equally terrified and insolent, but it was all overshadowed by the overwhelming urge I felt to just press my lips to Seth's perfectly soft mouth.
It wasn't a conscious action, but the next moment my lips were on his and I was on fire. It was exploding out of me, years and years of denial and pent up frustration. I wanted him, needed him, had to have all of him.
He stiffened beneath my grasp and my heart suddenly plummeted.
He doesn't feel the same. It echoed tauntingly in my mind.
I pulled away abruptly, mumbling an apology. I couldn't believe I had fucked this one up, too.
"What are you doing?" Seth demanded incredulously.
I was about to make some kind of lame excuse about being confused and in shock, but my rational mind was refusing to let me. I hadn't come to this point of acknowledgement and acceptance just to chicken out the first chance I got.
"I'm doing what I should've done eight years ago."
His eyes grew wide but he didn't say anything. The rain was now falling relentlessly, soaking us through, but neither of us moved.
"I wish I could go back and tell that fucking scared little teenager to be as brave as his best friend, to speak the fuck up and not bury it so deep that he could barely find it again eight years later."
"Jake, what are you saying?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'm saying that it's you," I said, taking his face in my hands. "It's always been you, but I was just too fucked up to admit it." I took one last determined breath, gripping his face tighter still. "I've wasted all of my adult life not being with you and I can't waste another minute. It's okay if you don't feel the same, but you should know, I love you, Seth. I want you."
Raindrops were streaming down his face causing his dark hair to fall into his eyes. He seemed to let out the breath he was holding and crashed his lips down onto mine forcefully. I dug my hands into his hair and pushed my body flush against his, feeling like I would pass out from the incredible sensation of his arms pulling me towards him and his tongue sinking into my mouth. I had never experienced anything like it. It was like every nerve ending in my body was igniting with pleasure. I couldn't get enough of him. His mouth was insistent on mine, our tongues fighting feverishly.
He pushed me back into the rock roughly and I could feel his hard length against my thigh, which in turn caused me to grow even harder against him. We were gasping for air, tugging and clawing at each other, when he pulled back abruptly.
"Eight fucking years," he gasped, "you've been keeping this from me for eight fucking years?"
"Believe me, if I'd known, I wouldn't have waited so long," I wheezed back.
He brought his mouth to me again, sweeping his tongue across mine teasingly before placing a softer kiss on my lips and resting his forehead against mine. "I always thought I'd just have to keep looking until I found someone who could compare to you," he whispered against my lips. "I never thought I'd actually have you." I tasted salt on my lips and realized that his own warm tears had started to mingle with the rain.
"You… feel it too?" I stammered, my heart soaring with hope.
"It's always been you, too."
I brushed my lips to his softly before whispering, "Is it too soon to say perfect?"