Chapter 3 Reciprocal Relations
"Leah, are you sure?" Emily asked, one hand smoothing her shirt over her protruding belly. The two women sat on one of the couches in Emily's living room, tendrils of steam curling upward from the two teacups on the coffee table. Jacob had found a three-bedroom house to rent for her in Seattle and was currently residing in her basement. If Emily had any inkling that her rescue was being bankrolled by the very cold ones her almost-ex-husband had once fervently hoped to kill, if for no other reason than their existence caused him to supernaturally bond to one cousin over another…well, Emily told herself this was all a kindness from a warm-blooded friend.
"I wouldn't have suggested it if I wasn't sure," Leah answered, crossing her legs nervously. "This isn't exactly how I envisioned having a family of my own, but this baby is my blood. Better that it comes to me instead of a stranger. You wanted an open adoption, right? This way you can see the baby more than once a year and you can be sure he'll be loved."
The thought of being a mother, something she'd desired so badly in her younger days, completely terrified Leah. She'd never babysat a child under three years old until recently, she never took child development in high school, never got placed in charge of Seth until they were both old enough to make sandwiches and stay home alone without burning the house down. She had arranged her life such that she'd be connected distantly to loved ones while preserving her solitude. Of course she had held a baby before, but carrying her cousin's children with the knowledge that she'd be handing them back in a few minutes was not the same as asking to take the baby home with her at the end of the day. If she went through with this, her quiet life as a town attorney would never be the same. Goodbye to her one-bedroom apartment, her relaxation time, and her rapid career progress.
But for all her fears, for all the sacrifice, she found something stronger within, something her younger self had not possessed. She didn't want a miniature version of herself or of a lover, didn't want some idealized version of a baby that would never cry, would behave with minimal instruction, and would certainly appreciate everything its adoptive mother did for it.
Leah just wanted to love someone more than she loved herself.
"That's true," Emily murmured, looking at the family photos Claire's mother had managed to acquire for her from Sam's house. They were the only adornments she had. Despite the size of her house, Emily didn't have or want many possessions. Keep it simple was her motto. Fewer things meant less to clean, so she could focus on reading to her kids and teaching them colors and shapes. Less food and dishes, because she didn't have to feed a small army anymore, meant time to rest in the evenings after the little ones had their baths. She tried not to become too dependent on Jake's assistance with the kids, knowing that eventually he wouldn't be there to pick up toys for her or watch the children while she took a quick shower. For now it was enough that he was helping her pay for daycare and finish her facilities management degree while he tried to get his business off the ground.
Emily wondered why Jacob was the man Sam couldn't seem to be, if she would have felt differently about having a fifth child with Sam if he'd been more like Jake, and if having a supportive environment like this one would have made the PPD more bearable when Levi was born. It took her a moment to recall that neither man had been all those years ago what they were now.
"Sam will be less likely to force us into a courtroom battle if he knows the baby is with a member of the tribe," Leah continued. "And…" she reached quietly for Emily's hand. "It's probably safer this way."
"Safer…" At first, Emily suspected her cousin was worried about the possibility of Sam coming after the baby, but thought better of it. He wasn't that stupid. He tried to come see her every day for the first month after she moved to Seattle, but that settled down to once a week after a few wolfish snarls from Jacob, until finally Leah threatened to file a restraining order, something that would not look good whenever the divorce was finalized and the judge was considering child custody arrangements. Now he only came to collect the children for their agreed-upon visitation. Having four kids to himself without their mother around to deal with things like fixing lunch and uncontrollable tears and, god help him, training pants, proved to be an eye opener. No, Emily did not think Sam would be contesting custody, nor would he have a problem signing away his parental rights for Little Number Five.
"Safer in case the baby ever goes through the change," Leah clarified quietly, thinking of one of the top five worst days of her adult life. "I'll know what signs to look for, and I'll be able to handle an adolescent wolf."
The two women stared at each other in silence. There would be no reason for Emily's offspring to suffer the hell of transformation unless they were in the presence of a vampire with no other wolves nearby.
Both sets of eyes drifted to the hallway. The second door on the left led down to Jake's basement.
Through discreet financial assistance from his "Canadian uncle," Jacob had enough capital to open his auto repair shop. Once, when he was a boy of fifteen, this had been his master plan for adulthood. Of course, that was before he found himself amid a mythological nightmare, but he still nursed the old wish. He'd even obtained his ASE certification before he and the Cullens moved to Vancouver Island. Nessie…Renesmee, rather, had always been supportive of Jacob's dream in theory. But he'd displayed no ambition to actively pursue it, not when he was spending all his time spoiling the object of his affection and he knew he'd have to pick up and leave every place eventually anyway. Now he found himself confronted by the unexpected possibility of permanence of location, and though he missed Renesmee terribly, he found himself filling his hours with work, his mind and body both waking up to the forgotten satisfaction of productivity.
Working on cars was far easier than the business end of running a garage. Emily often saw the beam of light from the bottom of the basement door late into the night as Jacob tried to make sense of things like purchase orders, overhead, depreciating assets, OSHA regulations, state taxes, and core fees. She brought him plates of food when he didn't come up for dinner, covered him with a blanket when he fell asleep hunched over his desk, and made sure he had clean towels in his bathroom, though she wouldn't touch his dirty clothes. He never asked her to do any of it, being of the belief that Emily was his housemate, not his housekeeper. But he relished her quiet kindness and returned with his own, taking the kids to the park or the indoor playground at the mall on the weekends they weren't with Sam. Emily had time to study, or sleep, or even watch a TV show without having to waddle to the kitchen mid-scene to fill sippy cups with apple juice.
Jake wasn't sure when Emily started sorting through the cascade of paperwork, streamlining his accounting system, or installing a new computer program she'd learned about in her business management class. He couldn't remember when he started asking her for advice, or when it began to bother him not to have dinner upstairs with her and the children, or when they started having ginger-ale-and-movie night together. He could not pinpoint the first time he checked in with Bella or Edward and didn't ask about their daughter, or went a whole twenty-four hours without thinking of long, bronze curls and an overwhelming sense of loss.
All Jacob knew for certain was that when he looked at Emily's face, the scars from Sam's paw were invisible to him. When she turned thirty, he celebrated with her by taking the whole family on a tour of Theo Chocolate Factory, something Emily had mentioned always wanting to do, and the smile she gave him was unlike anything he'd ever experienced. When he passed a flower stand on the way home from work, he brought some home just to make her smile again. When Deanne came home from kindergarten with a drawing of her family, Jake was in it. When Gina and Junior found a baby bird in the yard, they went straight to Jake for help, absolutely certain that he could fix anything. When Levi had nightmares, the tiny boy sometimes cried out "Jay! Jay!" instead of "Mama!" When Emily went into labor, Jacob shut down the garage mid-job, promised the sitter a hundred-dollar bonus to stay with the kids overnight, and let Emily try to crush his fingers in her grip for hours while he pressed a cool cloth to her forehead and whispered encouragements in her ear. When eight hours had passed—her shortest labor ever—Jacob kissed Emily without even a conscious thought.
And when she looked up at him, startled and cross-eyed and sweating and smiling, he kissed her again, but this time on purpose.
Emily and Jacob saw the baby only briefly, a purple, wax-covered, screaming thing with strong lungs and a misshapen head. The pediatric nurse examined the child quickly, washed it and swaddled it and placed it in the waiting arms of its mother.
Leah knew all about imprinting. She'd seen through many eyes the way gravity shifted, how everything fell away but the steel-cable connection from wolf to imprint when their eyes locked for the first time. Supernatural biology, as the dhampyr called it. Love forced upon the heart like shackles, masked by a sensation of glowing light.
This was nothing like that.
The moment Leah laid eyes on her little red-faced, swollen-eyed daughter, she knew life would be a series of battles, bottles, and sleepless nights, teething and tears and projectile vomit, arguments about homework and bedtime and boys, setting limits and second guessing herself as a parent. Always she would wonder if Emily would handle something differently, and if different was better or worse, if she was too harsh when she should be lenient or vice versa. There would be hard truths and harsh realities, things her collection of dog-eared parenting books couldn't prepare her for. But there would be moments of peace and love—real love—sprinkled throughout, little kisses and naps together, tickle monsters and pillow fights, arts and crafts and Christmas trees and trips to the beach, twirly dresses or tomboy overalls or both, the first day of school and graduation and maybe, just maybe, a hug and a thank you when it was all said and done. And she would be grateful for the gift of every single moment.
Leah named her daughter Grace.
Deanne was the only one of Emily's children who understood that someone was missing. When Mommy and Jay-jay came home from the hospital, her brothers and sisters all toddled to them, hungry for mama-kisses, but Deanne asked, "Where's the baby?"
She had a talk with her mommy that day about how the baby was going to be her cousin, not her sister. This made no sense to her, because she knew sisters and brothers came from her mommy's tummy, not cousins. Her mother used a funny word, "uh-doction," and said it meant the baby would have a different mommy.
"But Mommy, she came from you."
"Yes, honey," Emily sighed, a tear finding its way to the corner of her eye, both from emotional and physical pain. "But mommy is getting too sick to take care of any more babies." Afraid of becoming so debilitated by another round of PPD that she couldn't be bothered to get up and shower, let alone feed the kids, Emily took massive precautions to ensure this would never again be a possibility. Not only did she ask the OB/GYN that her fallopian tubes be tied, she requested they be severed and cauterized.
Deanne became upset. "If you get even sicker, are you going to give me away, too?"
"No!" Emily clutched her daughter, horrified. "No, I would never give away you or Junior or Gina or Levi! I love you, and you're mine."
"But the new baby is yours too, Mommy."
With a long sigh, Emily carded her fingers through her eldest daughter's hair. "No, sweetheart. I had that baby for Cousin Leah. It's her baby, and she loves her. Just like I love you."
Deanne took some time to think about this, hugging her mother and enjoying the pleasant sensation of having her scalp stroked.
"Will I get to see the baby?"
Emily pressed a kiss onto the top of her daughter's head, wanting to hide her face. Giving her infant to Leah was the right decision, and she had no regrets. But signing her name on the paperwork was not as easy as she'd expected it to be, and even with new anti-depressants, post-partum hormones intensified Emily's needless guilt. "Not for a while yet. But yes, one day you will. Just remember, you can't tell her she's adopted. That's a secret for her mommy to tell her."
"When can I see her?" Deanne wanted to know.
"I'm not sure yet," Emily sniffed, wiping her face quickly before pulling back to look at her child. "We need to give Cousin Leah some time to get used to being a mom, and I need some time to get well, too. But I think maybe in a few months, when the baby is bigger, we can have a play date."
"Will that make you sad, Mommy?" Deanne hated anything that made her mother cry. She hated those movies that made Emily sad, she hated broken glass when a picture of her family fell off the wall, and above all, she hated her father.
"I think maybe a little bit, at first," Emily admitted, understanding her daughter's thought process. "But it would make me sadder if we never got to see little Grace. She's your cousin, and we're supposed to love her just like we do Leah. She's family."
Confused, Deanne frowned. This really was a lot for a six-year-old to take in, and some of it still didn't make much sense. Her mother promised her that things would be okay, though, and said that she could talk about it with her family therapist if she liked. Mommy also said she would talk to Jay-jay about taking all the kids to visit little Cousin Gracie at least once a month, even if Mommy felt too sick to go. Mommy and Jay-jay said it was very important for all of them to spend time with Gracie. She heard Jacob use another funny word: Westermarck.
"Mommy," Deanne whispered, waiting to speak until after Jacob picked up her brothers' toys and smiled at them both before he left the room, "are you going to marry Jay-jay?"
Emily was not as surprised by this question as one might think. Her daughter had always been exceptionally observant. And although Jacob's kiss had come at the strangest of moments, Emily had been unconsciously waiting for it for several months.
"I don't know," Emily murmured back, well aware that Jacob could hear every word. "Maybe someday, if he ever asks me."
Standing perfectly still in the boys' bedroom, a stuffed blue dinosaur still in his hand, Jacob felt himself grin.
At the request of everyone involved, Edward and Bella flew into Seattle, checking into the Doubletree Hotel near Sea-Tac and spending a few quiet hours together before making their way to the designated stretch of Puget Sound coastline. Ever since Bella and Jasper had slain Chelsea, keeper of emotional bonds, during a thwarted assassination attempt, the Volturi and their guard had been squabbling amongst themselves, and Marcus left the coven entirely, making life much less worrisome for the Cullen clan. Their nervousness today had nothing to do with external threats but everything to do with family bindings.
"Are you sure about this?" Edward asked again. He hauled an armchair to the window, exploring the tactile sensation of the plush upholstery as he sat.
"No more than you are," his wife replied from the bathroom. Her sharp eyes examined the myriad colors in the granite countertop, searching for fractal patterns. "But she asked for this in good faith, and he agreed. I think we should be there."
"I don't like it," Edward muttered, staring out the window, watching the traffic move and crawl as the buzz of thoughts rose up from the thirteen floors worth of guest rooms below him. He preferred top floor hotel rooms, not out of a desire for penthouse luxury, but because he hated the sensation of hundreds of minds pressing down on him from above. "I'm afraid it will start all over again. They would both lose so much."
"They're aware," Bella reminded him, ghosting to her husband's side and resting her hand on his shoulder. "They're not children anymore, Edward."
"I know," Edward whispered, covering his love's hand with his own. "But they can still get hurt, and a number of innocent people along with them."
Ideally this would have looked more convincing as a family reunion and less like a clandestine drug deal if everyone met at a nice restaurant, or even at the hotel, but no one wanted to deal with food smells and enclosed spaces on top of all the combined scents of prey, mates, natural enemies, and allies. So away they went to the cleansing wind and the scent of brackish water, arriving exactly on time, thirty minutes after sunset. It did not take long for Edward to locate the rapid mental voice of the girl he most wanted to see.
Daddy, we're over here.
He smiled so brightly, his wife was certain the humans some fifty meters away would see it. But just as he took his first human-paced step, Edward heard another voice from his left.
Edward, I'm here but…I can't…
Jacob stood as far away from everyone as his hearing would allow, his hands fidgeting with the keys and coins in his pockets. He still kept in touch with the Cullens, but he hadn't seen or spoken to Renesmee in five long years, and it would have been an unbelievable lie to say he had not missed her. Misunderstandings aside, they'd once been close, and losing that relationship had cost Jacob a part of himself. So when she contacted him out of the blue and said she missed him too and wanted to see him again, he automatically jumped at the chance. Now he was regretting the impulsive decision to meet. Being impetuous had its occasional merits, but in conjunction with the Cullens, it had only ever led to heartbreak. I don't think this was a good idea after all.
"Probably not," Edward answered in a human volume, mentally confirming that his old friend had heard him. He looked over and noticed that Jacob was alone, his shoulders sagging. "Where is…?"
She didn't want to come. Old prejudices are difficult to break. I also think…she's afraid of what I might do, and she doesn't want to witness it.
"A legitimate concern," Edward nodded. "I'm surprised you didn't listen to her."
At the moment, Jacob was contemplating that very question. Emily had never steered him wrong before, nor had she ever done anything she knew would hurt him. His relationship with her was not one of constant agreement, but this wasn't an argument about pizza toppings or whether Deanne was old enough for her own wrist-phone. This was something major, and he suddenly felt the magnitude of his foolishness for not realizing it sooner. They hadn't fought about him coming here tonight, but he should have recognized Emily's stoicism for what it was: a mask. What am I doing?
"Mom?" Renesmee called, pretending she wasn't perfectly aware of the subtext of her father's audible end of the conversation. She really had missed Jacob all these years, the way they joked and played and hunted, the easy camaraderie and fierce loyalty from the days of old. But she was a grown woman now, still a bit young but not the spoiled little girl she'd once been, and she knew things were too different between them to ever go back to her carefree childhood. Part of the reason she'd never had direct contact with him was out of respect for the life he was trying so hard to build without her. This visit was an indulgence, but it held a purpose as well.
Renesmee stretched out a hand, and Bella jogged over to her thirteen-year-old daughter, ever mindful of human eyes. To anyone watching, it looked as though Bella was running to an elder friend and pulling her into a hug. "Momma, I missed you."
"I missed you too, sweetheart," Bella gushed. Her eyes ran over her child, noticing that Ness's hair had grown out again, her face was rosy as if she'd fed recently, and beneath her calculated black clothing, her body was not as slim as Bella remembered. "Renesmee Carlie Cullen," Bella gasped in surprise. "Why didn't you—?"
"Shh," Renesmee breathed; she and her mate focused intensely on "Jabberwocky" and the Hammurabi Code (in French), respectively.
Immediately Bella turned to the male beside her. "Nahuel," she beamed, grasping the warm-blooded dhampyr by the shoulder and pulling him into a familiar embrace. "It's so good to see you again."
"Likewise," the olive-skinned man replied, giving Bella a small kiss on the cheek in greeting. It was how he always said hello to her; it was how he wished he could greet his long-dead mother. "It's been too long, Senhora Bella." He gazed at the dark-haired man standing upwind who was staring at his mate. Renesmee had assured Nahuel that there was no danger in this visit, that everyone would be on friendly terms. Judging by her father's conflicted expression, Nahuel guessed things were not as simple as his amada Nessa had anticipated.
While mother caught up with daughter, Edward strode over to Jacob, his unforgetting eyes looking for changes. "You look tired, Jake," he said genially, clasping hands with the earth-scented man he had spent so many years with. Edward thought he spotted a wrinkle in the corner of one eye, something that should not be there at all. Unless Jacob had intentionally stopped phasing—Edward could only think of one reason for his friend to do that. "Not sleeping?"
"Long hours at the garage this week," Jacob replied. "I need to hire another mechanic soon. Emily is doing her best to pick up the slack at home, but Sam hasn't been able to take the kids this month because of work."
Sam still remained devoted to Emily in his own way—that was something he couldn't change about himself, and the knowledge had been a constant thorn in Jacob's side for years. But Sam channeled that devotion into a specific focus now; the best way to take care of his imprint was to see to it that she didn't struggle financially in her effort to raise his children without his presence. No longer bearing the excuse of having to defend anyone from vampires, Sam acquired a stable, more lucrative job, one that demanded a serious time commitment and frequent travel. The upside was that Emily and her children reaped the benefits of bigger child support checks. The downside was an unreliable visitation schedule.
"It's taxing for her," Jacob continued, the creases in his forehead deepening, "working so hard and not getting much of a break. I hate leaving her by herself so long with the kids…" He looked down at the sand, one hand massaging the back of his neck. Jake's greatest fear was that Emily would succumb to depression again, that all his efforts to be the man she needed would be in vain. Always he watched for signs, and every evening he tried to give her at least fifteen minutes of time to herself, no matter what. What he did not realize, mostly because he was too busy worrying about her, was that Emily feared for Jake just as much, afraid he might feel overworked and undervalued. After she took her fifteen minutes of peaceful quiet, she gave him a shoulder rub, or sent him down to the basement for a little while (his man-cave, where he still worked on the occasional wood carving), or put the kids to bed early so they could have time with only each other, whether it was to make love or just sit and talk. "It's rough on all of us right now, but we're doing our best."
Edward nodded in sympathy. He couldn't remember physical exhaustion, nor financial stress. He'd never had aching joints or sore muscles. But he knew what it was to be away from his wife when he'd rather be home, to struggle with a child testing her limits, to be forced to interact with a despised, would-be rival, and to wish things could be easier. Beside him stood a completely different person than the one who so childishly insisted on getting his own way. This was Jacob, fully realized. "It's hard being a man, isn't it?"
Jacob smiled. Only Edward could get away with being seventeen and complimenting someone approaching thirty on his success at adulthood. "Yes, it is. But it's worth it." He did his best not to look, but Jake knew exactly where Renesmee was standing, and the temptation to see her again was overwhelming, even more now than when she'd made her transatlantic phone call from Cape Verde. He'd thought, when he spoke to her on the phone, that everything would be okay, that his choice was stronger than his connection to the girl he once inaccurately referred to as mate. Jacob was a husband now, and a father. Technically he was a step-father, but he was still the one who gave piggy back rides and applied cartoon bandages to boo-boos, taught Junior and Levi the secret to Alice's famous curveball, built trebuchets out of PVC pipe for extreme snowball fights, and answered to "Dad." He loved Emily and the children with all his heart. Surely that would be enough.
Emily, however, was not so sure. When Jacob told her he was going to see the half-vampire girl, Emily was afraid, and with good reason. She was a realist, and had always been heedful of what a burden it was for Jake to raise four kids not his own, in spite of his insistence to the contrary. She tried to retain as much of her independence as she could, working at Seattle Municipal Tower when she could have stayed home. For years she'd been quietly putting away money into a rainy day fund should Jacob ever decide he didn't want to be obligated to her anymore, or that he wanted a woman who could provide sons to bear the Black family name. But rain clouds come in many shapes. Emily knew in her heart that Sam still loved her in his own way, regardless of how she felt, so she was well aware of the danger that lay in Jacob's imprinting, no matter what he said about some kind of reverse imprinting phenomenon. Despite his promises and assurances, the man she loved and married might not be coming back tonight except to pack his things. If that happened, she knew she'd be helpless to stop it, but she wasn't going to watch.
"How is everyone else?" Edward asked, distracting Jacob from his worries. "Leah and the baby?"
"They're wonderful," Jacob said, abruptly shifting to a new round of thoughts and appreciating Edward for the subject change. Motherhood was a challenge for Jacob's friend, but she rose to it with joy and determination, and found much to be happy about. Grace flourished under her mother's love and care, and Leah was completely transformed in the best of ways. "Leah's going back to work full time now that Gracie's in preschool. My sisters and my pack brothers are okay, their families are healthy—Quil and Kara just had their first baby. Seth finished his residency at Seattle Children's Hospital a few months ago. We're good, Edward. Really. Things are actually kind of…" The end of that sentence caught him by surprise. "Normal."
Normal, except that my feet want to go one way, but my head wants to flee in the opposite direction.
"Maybe you should leave, Jacob," Edward muttered, stepping in front of his old friend in an attempt to protect him. "We'll all understand. Go home to your wife."
"Yeah," Jacob mouthed, though his neck was craning around Edward's form as his body gravitated toward the bronze-haired girl.
"Jake, don't—" Edward started. It did no good. Jacob's legs were propelling him forward, dragging him in spite of his own mental protest to the center of the known universe, until without his permission he was standing two feet away from her, with only Bella's tiny, cold body between them, her fierce expression an unwanted reminder of the year he turned sixteen and the world as he knew it went to hell in a hand basket.
"No, Jacob," Bella whispered, absolutely certain now that her husband had been right all along.
"It's all right, Mom," Renesmee whispered, one arm wrapped around Nahuel's waist and the other tapping Bella's neck. Let him look at me.
Irritated with her daughter for her apparent naivety and selfishness, Bella growled low in her throat and tried to block the way, but it didn't matter. Jacob the man pictured Emily's face and thought of the summer days when he took his children swimming, but his arm reached over to touch Renesmee's wrist, his base, supernatural animal instinct telling him he must be anything she needed.
But the moment he met her soft, brown eyes, a perfect replica of her mother's and grandfather's, he saw his tiny Nessie, the little one he helped raise, all grown up with a family of her own.
Jacob stepped back.
"It's wonderful to see you again, Ness," he told her, smiling. "But I really need to get home. My wife is waiting, and it's my turn to read bedtime stories to the kids."
"Of course, Jake," the young woman replied, grinning at him. "Give Emily my best."
They clasped hands in a gesture of farewell, and Jacob did not hear the message Renesmee had intended to send, did not receive her palm pressed to his face, as she so often did when she was little, did not need her to absolve him or release him. He nodded a polite goodbye to her mate, briefly embraced Bella, shook hands with Edward, and turned away, leaving Renesmee's words unthought, unheard, and unnecessary:
Life is good, Jacob. I don't need anything. Go home and be happy.
It was already all he ever wanted to do.
Senhora Bella: Mrs. Bella, or Madame Bella
amada Nessa: beloved Nessa, Nahuel's pet name for Renesmee
Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. Happy Holidays!