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This fic was written for the Jacob/Bella Big Bang on livejournal. It is a two-shot. Both chapters will be over 10,000 words.
Love pull your sore ribs in
I will pull your tangles out
In the back of your car I feel like
I have travelled nowhere
- Tegan and Sara, Not Tonight
The syllables left Jacob's lips seconds apart, like they were struggling to remain separate, like they couldn't bear to be associated with one another, like they were terrified of being the word that meant Let's do this.
But they were.
And Bella nodded.
And the deal was sealed.
They were running away. Just Jacob and Bella - tonight, now.
She started planning instantly, running through lists of necessities with quick mutterings and hands in her sleep-tangled hair, thinking back to all the times she had packed her own bags for camp growing up and how this shouldn't be too hard really, child's play for a grown-up like her.
He started panicking instantly, his breath slipping too quickly between his lips, brow prickling, a surging in his stomach, the word No exploding behind closed eyes; he was fireworks and fizzling, and it seemed like the window was walking to him when she grabbed his wrist and said "What are you doing?"
Jacob shook his head.
"I'm going to put some things in a bag," she said quietly, with a careful evenness even as her grip tightened. "And then we're going to go to your place and put your things in a bag and take the Rabbit to - "
Jacob shook his head again, his eyes wide, his wrist shaking under her fingers. He opened his mouth to speak and as he did his throat closed, and so he closed his mouth, he breathed, somehow, even though it seemed like he couldn't, he wheezed through clenched teeth "I can't go back there."
Bella stared up at him, her forehead creasing, and she thought What the hell am I getting the middle of?, and she said "Okay… it's just… your stuff… And it's gonna be… Hmm…"
Jacob took a slow breath through his nose, let it shudder out the same way. His fingers curled up into Bella's and he closed his eyes, pressed against her skin, opened his mouth and whispered "If we're going to do this we have to do it now. Do not pass go…"
Bella wanted to finish for him, she wanted to make a joke about how two hundred dollars could come in handy, and how she certainly hoped the plan wasn't to end up in jail. She wanted to ask questions. She wanted to say Why and Can't you just and It would be easier if.
But when she looked up Jacob's eyes were open and on hers and she saw that it would be useless.
So she just said "Okay. Stay here. Don't move."
Jacob half-nodded. His gaze flitted to the window as he did so, and Bella whispered "I'm serious," and "Please," and she squeezed his hand as tightly as she could.
He looked back at her and syllables pushed their way past his lips, as disconnected and as desperate as the ones that had meant they were really doing this.
Bella breathed out, released him, smiled, and as she backed away she held up her hands and said "Just… stand still, look pretty. Okay?"
Jacob tried to smile back, but it was too hard, it took too much strength, and he had none; he felt as though there was no might in his tall, broad body, and she'd already turned around anyway so he stopped trying to smile, concentrated on keeping the window at bay.
Bella went to the laundry, thanked God that the door was already open, pushed it wider and cringed at the creaking sound - even if Charlie had made an art out of sleeping through screaming, this whole operation felt like it was taking place on the head of a pin, and there was an ocean below, with sharks circling, and if she got the slightest thing wrong...
She stepped inside, leaned against the wall, waited for her heart to stop beating so fast, thought.
In the dim light she could just make out the laundry basket.
There wouldn't be much in there. All the good stuff was in Charlie's room. But it wasn't like she would want to take the good stuff because that would just be rude, and it wouldn't fit Jacob anyway, she realized – he'd always been tall and he'd been taller than Charlie for a while, but now suddenly he was huge, and she was pretty sure most of Charlie's pants would be more like shorts on him. Very tight shorts, she thought, her nose wrinkling.
This could only be a temporary measure, she decided, and on the heels of that thought came another: Temporary? As opposed to permanent? Will there be permanent clothes when we're miles away from here?
For a moment, the enormity of what she was doing swelled against her and she was afraid.
But she thought of Jacob's face and the questions she knew it was useless to ask, and she stood tall, bent down, opened the laundry basket with new resolve and dug out Charlie's sweats. They were his favorite pair, she thought guiltily, but she wasn't sure that meant they counted as the good stuff. They were his favorite precisely because they were well-worn and losing their elasticity at the waist, and, more importantly, they were ridiculously long - he walked around on the ends of them all the time, she would laugh when he did, call them his flipper-pants…
They would probably still be too short for Jacob, and they weren't exactly clean, but there'd be a Laundromat at… wherever they were going, right?
They would have to do, she decided, and she folded them up in a haphazard way she would normally deplore, tucked them under her arm along with an oversized wifebeater, odd socks, an old-man cardigan that belonged in the trash as far as she was concerned, whatever she could get her hands on, with the exception of unclean boxer shorts; these were desperate times, sure, but there was a difference between desperate and disgusting and come on.
She carried it all back to her room, was relieved to find that Jacob was still there – only just, perhaps. He was standing by the window looking out, and he didn't even turn around when she came in, and he was… shaking.
She dropped the clothes in a pile on her bed and asked him if he was cold.
He almost laughed, and Bella knew why when she took his hand again, took in the heat of his palm, the tiny beads forming on slim shave of his hairline.
She towed him back to the center of the room.
Bella got her own clothes together quickly. She grabbed whatever was closest, stopping only to make sure she wasn't going to wind up with all tops or all bottoms, because whenever Jacob looked toward her open window she felt like she was running out of time.
She grabbed a notebook and two pens, because she never ever packed a bag without putting a notebook and two pens in it, then the rainy day cash she had stashed inside her old copy of Romeo and Juliet – she never looked there anymore.
She shoved everything into a rucksack from a ski trip Renee had dragged her on the first Christmas she and Phil had been together, and she was just pulling the buckles tight when she stopped, turned back to look at Jacob, then toward her bedroom door… and the hallway it hid… and beyond that, another door… her father's room.
She hurriedly undid the rucksack, felt around for her pens and the notebook, tore a page out and wrote:
I'm going away for a bit. I love you and I'll be back, I promise.
She paused, turned and glanced at Jacob again, who was breathing heavily, his eyes lidded, his skin almost pale in the moonlight.
She resumed with:
Can you please tell Billy that Jacob loves him too? And that he's coming back too? We just need to get out of here right now.
I'm sorry – try not to tell mom if you can.
She hesitated again, peered at the paper in darkness, wrote:
I'll take care of myself, I promise,
Her hand shook when she signed her name. She gripped the pen tightly, picked up the paper with her other hand and stared at the last words, thought of their echo, their original…
Don't do anything reckless or stupid… I'm thinking of Charlie, of course… Take care of yourself – for him.
She set the note down, weighted it with the mouse from her ancient computer.
Then she threw her notebook and pens in the rucksack, buckled it again, picked it up and turned around, shoulders squared.
There was a dilemma as to how to leave the house. Bella was fairly sure that if Charlie had managed to tune out screaming these past months, he wouldn't hear the door opening and closing. But fairly sure wasn't sure, and if he did hear they'd be screwed – Bella knew they wouldn't get far if he was on their tail, even if her old truck were able to go above sixty-five miles an hour.
They wound up going out the window. Jacob exited with the same freakish grace with which he'd entered, and Bella knew that she did not share his sudden (and suspicious) agility, so she was more than a little scared when she threw the bags down to him and realized she would be throwing herself soon after.
She looked down at Jacob, at his back that was to her, and thought how he seemed… ready to run? To just run and leave her behind. Would he really do that? If he ran right now, she'd never catch him, especially if she chickened out of jumping and tried to get out the front door after all; there'd be all the stairs, and it was dark and she was clumsy, and what if she took too long, she'd never catch him, he'd be long gone before she was even in the yard and…
Bella threw her backpack down and Jacob caught it, and a second later he caught her.
And in that moment, despite everything, despite the fact that his back had been turned, despite Go home, Bella and I can't hang out with you anymore, despite the begging and the promises about changing her heart she hadn't been sure she could keep, despite him walking away from her anyway and the fresh tear it had made in her chest… in this moment, despite all that, she wondered why she'd ever thought he wouldn't – catch her, that is.
She smiled at the thought, then shrugged out of his arms quickly.
Being near to Jacob had always been comforting. His arms around her had always been a relief, often a guilty one, but a relief nonetheless… But right now the furious pulse of his heartbeat, the way the sweat that slid between their skin practically burned… it terrified her, and she pulled away quickly, nodded toward the truck, started walking, glancing back with each step to check that he was following, because the sound of her sneakers colliding with the wet grass crackled in her ears, but his bare feet were silent.
"I'm going to put it in neutral," she whispered, once they'd reached the truck. "You push."
She swung her backpack in the bed hastily, cringed at the soft thud it made, hurried around to the driver's side door, slid the key into the lock with excruciating slowness, opened the door with excruciating creakiness, got in, changed the gear, waited.
When she looked back a moment later she saw that Jacob was standing a foot away from the back of the truck. He was just standing there, his fists clenched, staring into the empty street.
"What are you…" she whispered. He didn't hear her, and she got out of the truck with a frustrated huffing sound, hurried over to him.
"You want me to push?" she asked.
Jacob turned his head slowly, tipped it to one side, his brow furrowing, his eyes pleading.
"Seriously?" Bella whispered, looking back at the truck, which suddenly seemed as big as a mountain range. "I'm like half your size and you want me to do the pushing?!"
Jacob stared at her a moment longer, lifted his fists, groaned softly and finally said "No. Fuck. I'm such an asshole."
"You're not an asshole," Bella said quickly, though really, in any other set of circumstances, this whole making her push the truck thing would have been pretty asshole-ish, she had to admit.
Jacob was shaking his head. "I'm an asshole," he muttered again, and then he walked past Bella to the open door, put one hand on the wheel, the other on the frame of the truck, and just as his back tensed, as his hands gripped tightly and his feet dug into the ground… he collapsed against the door, both arms wrapped over it, his face pressed against the glass, his head still shaking slightly.
Bella glanced up at the house. It was still dark, peaceful and unknowing. She hurried toward Jacob, and before she could ask him what was wrong, he let go of the door, turned to her and said "I can't do it, Bells. I'm sorry. I just..." His eyes left hers and he whispered quickly "I can't push the truck."
Bella stared at him for a moment, at the miserable slope of his shoulders, at the lines bunching between his eyes, at his hands that were still shaking, his head too, the sheen of the sweat that was like fire.
She said "I'm taking you home."
Jacob looked up. "Really?" he asked in a voice that belonged to a much smaller version of himself.
Bella nodded slowly, held his gaze. "You're tired and stressed out, so I'm going to take you back to the res."
"Back to the res," Jacob echoed thinly, his eyes a confusion, grateful and defeated at the same time.
Bella nodded again. "I just don't want to get in trouble with Charlie for being out so late. So I need you to push the truck out onto the road so he won't hear. So I can take you home."
"Back to the res," Jacob said again, his gaze slipping from hers.
"Yes," she whispered.
Jacob resumed his position, and before Bella could say it would be easier if she got in and took the wheel and he pushed from behind, the truck was moving.
She wanted to be impressed, or amazed at least.
But she thought of his aching eyes and his burning body, the sorrow in his shoulders, the secrets in his shaking hands, and all she could be was terrified.
When they reached the turn off toward La Push, Bella hung a right and Jacob thought he was going to throw up.
"Bella what the - " he spluttered, and "You missed – you were supposed – It's - "
Bella was about to smile triumphantly, to spell out what she was sure a part of him had already known: that she'd never been going to take him to the damn reservation, because if they were going to do this and they were, they could not pass go, they could not collect his underwear or his toothbrush or the Rabbit, which was a shame, actually, because it would have been a whole lot less conspicuous as a getaway vehicle than her huge, red, hunk of truck.
She was about to say all of that, when Jacob opened the door and she screamed because they were going fifty-five miles an hour on a dark road and Holy crow!
She veered into the opposite lane, took a hand off the wheel before she'd even made it back to the other side, grabbed his arm and screamed again, this time a word: "PLEASE!"
She was in the right lane again, going forty now, and Jacob was still in the car, but the door was still open, and she said again, three or four times at varying volumes "Please," trying to look at him to see if he was even listening, trying to look at the road to make sure they didn't wind up dead, even if it seemed like that was what Jacob wanted, holy crow!
"Jake, please," she said again, and her fingernails dug into his skin, tears slid quickly from her eyes and she couldn't breathe and she couldn't see and…
The door closed.
Jacob took her hand from his arm and held it in his, and then, a moment later, he leaned over, pulled himself into the middle seat, pressed his face to her neck, let her hand go and grabbed onto her knee, breathed in, breathed out, whispered "Bells…"
She put her hand back on the steering wheel, blinked as the road cleared. She shuddered at the heat of him, leaned closer even though it frightened her, pressed her cheek against his all but shaven head.
Then she pressed down on the accelerator and said resolutely "We are getting the hell out of here."
They drove for six hours straight in one direction. Well, Bella drove. Jacob alternated between sleeping like a baby and white-knuckling against the passenger side door.
Bella had made him lock it. She'd watched, warily.
She only stopped once, about an hour out of town, to get gas and withdraw as much cash from her college savings account as her daily limit allowed. She got those jobs done as early as possible at the first gas station she saw that was open at this ungodly hour, at the first ATM her eyes picked out of the gloom - she knew Charlie would be able to trace the transactions, and the earlier it happened, the more time she put between them.
It was dark at the ATM, the only light the hazy blue and orange glow from the screen. There was broken glass glinting redly on the asphalt, and she could have sworn she'd seen someone run around the corner of the closed mini-mart just as she'd pulled up, and as she keyed in her pin, she had to admit to herself that even if she'd faced worse things, like, say, a vampire who was hell-bent on eating her, she was a little afraid.
She'd thought about asking Jacob to come with her, but had decided against it.
He'd been sweating again, clutching the back of his seat, pressing his face against the leather.
She'd gotten out of the truck, held her finger up before she'd closed the door and said sternly "Stay," like he was a naughty puppy.
Jacob had smiled despite himself.
Bella got her gas, Bella got her money.
And then she drove.
They passed road-stops and motels, turn-offs into small towns, campsites and all-night diners, and she just kept driving because there was nobody to tell her when to stop.
At 4:50 in the morning, just as a pale dawn was beginning to creep along the horizon, they drove by a hotel, a beautiful white building with tended lawns out front and a shiny silver sign saying The Emperor.
Bella tried to keep her eyes on the road ahead, couldn't help but think how much easier this whole thing might have been if she'd been with the Cullens… There'd be passports and plates that came out of nowhere, new clothes instead of Laundromats. There'd be a gold card with someone else's name on it instead of ATMs and broken glass and darkness and a huge dent in her college fund and they'd be staying in hotels with plush carpets and complimentary robes…
They'd be pulling into the Emperor right now.
There'd be someone to tell her when to stop.
There'd be Edward, she thought, and her stomach fluttered sickly as she did. She gripped the wheel and shook her head, banished that thought before it could consume her.
But she couldn't quite shake away the fact that if she were doing this with the Cullens everything that was hard would be made easy, everything that was dull would be made bright…
And yet Jake was her sun, wasn't he?
He was enough for her to be warm.
He was enough for her to know her way.
She sighed, lifted a hand from the wheel to rub at her tired eyes, realized she'd slowed to a crawl at some point, pressed down on the accelerator and forged ahead.
A couple of minutes later, they passed yet another motel, and Bella thought maybe it was special in its own way, since it was quite possibly the dingiest of the lot so far, all dull brick and sputtering neon, half of OPEN in pink, and some kind of religious rhetoric as a chaser.
She slowed down, tapped the wheel and bit her lip, thought about rats and cockroaches and all manner of other creepy crawlies that could be lurking in that building…
But as she peered down the road she realized it was the last patch of light, just about as far as she could see.
She took a deep breath, flicked the indicator, prepared to turn in.
And then, at the last second, before she even quite knew why she was doing it, she flicked the indicator the other way, looked around the dark road, made a U-turn.
Charlie would know that was the kind of place she would stop. He'd trace her as far as the station from the charge on her card and he'd find her, she knew that Chief Swan would absolutely find her in the last cheap motel for miles.
So she drove back, past the beautiful white building that had preened and beckoned for all the wrong reasons, down one side street and another, till she found some kind of wilderness, a picnic ground on the edge of a wood, parked the truck as far into the trees as she could.
They would walk back to the Emperor. Back to a hotel that would take half her cash in one night, no doubt. Charlie knew her; he knew she was thrifty by nature, and she had no real interest in luxury. He would drive right past the beautiful white building, checking every dingy motel in the area; he would never in a million years think she would waste money on a three star hotel.
Which was precisely why it wasn't a waste at all.
She hauled Jacob out of the truck and thought how it was a little absurd and a lot irritating that she pretty much had to drag him along the road. She was fairly sure that under normal circumstances the least he could have – would have, she knew – done would have been to offer her a piggy-back ride.
As it was she even had to carry the damn bag.
When they reached the hotel, finally, Bella was covered in a fine sheen of sweat that matched Jacob's. She was hot and annoyed and exhausted, and she yearned, head to toe, for a clean, soft bed and letting go of all of this.
But the hotel was closed. It was dark and locked up and nobody was around, and Bella thought, with a sourness that was rapidly becoming habitual, how one of the advantages of dingy motels was that there was always somebody around to take your money.
They would wait, because that was the only thing to do that didn't involve more walking. Bella sighed, threw her rucksack down on the ground, looked at Jacob then down at herself, and realized that she was still in her pyjamas, and that he had not magically grown a shirt and shoes while they'd been on the road.
She groaned, opened the rucksack and pulled out a change of clothes, ducked round the side of the building to put them on. It was a tricky operation, especially for someone somewhat lacking in coordination – undressing and dressing whilst seeing Jacob but not being seen by him, whilst keeping an eye out in every other direction for anyone who might call the cops and get her arrested for public indecency.
When she was done she fished around in the bag for the wifebeater she'd pilfered from the laundry basket, realized with another groan that there was absolutely no way around the shoes issue for Jacob. Still, at least he wouldn't be naked from the waist up, that was something.
It took some effort getting him to put the shirt on. He was in a bizarre state – sort of limp and yet sporadically so tense the veins in his neck stood up like the crests of green waves. In the end Bella did most of the work – and it was hard work, like dressing a five year old, she thought crossly, only a really, really huge one.
The wifebeater may have been oversized but it was still way too tight on him, and when she was done he was ridiculously clothed – but clothed nonetheless.
She was more exhausted than she'd ever thought possible. The stress of it all – worrying what the hell was going on, running away in the middle of the night, driving long distances, not to mention the fact that she hadn't been able to sleep right ever since Jake had stopped talking to her… it had all taken its toll. She was a wreck – nearly as much of a wreck as Jacob was. They were quite a pair, she thought ruefully.
And now there was nothing to do but wait.
They sat down side by side, a couple of waifs on the steps of a palace, and Jake fell asleep again, his hands clutching at the bricks beneath him as he shivered and sighed.
Bella eyed him enviously. She didn't dare give in to her own exhaustion, in case he was gone when she woke up.
Finally, the hotel opened.
The door swung out and Bella bolted to her feet, trying to swing her backpack neatly over her shoulder and drag a half-asleep Jacob up at the same time.
She succeeded only partially with both, and frankly, it was a mess.
The concierge said a polite "Hello" while he took in Bella's flustered expression, Jacob's sway-and-tremble routine, his bare feet, her cotton candy hair.
He smiled, held the door for them, offered to take the lady's bag.
The lady declined, gripped the strap tightly, followed him inside, towed Jacob behind her, who was ridiculously heavy and really needed to start pulling his own weight sometime soon.
It was close on nine, and there was a xeroxed card on the counter saying check-in was at 11am. Bella eyed it with trepidation. She was so tired. And besides, Jacob was still out of it and she suspected he was still ready to bolt the second his head cleared - she needed a room she could lock and a key she could... ugh, what would she do with the key? Put it under her pillow? Too easy - she'd roll over or Jacob would whip the pillow out from under her head in one swift movement and... Her bra! That's where she'd put it. She frowned, almost blushed when the concierge happened to catch her eye, looked sideways at her best friend and wondered whether, all things considered, he would have the decency to stay out of there.
Jacob blinked and trembled.
She bit her lip.
The concierge smiled.
His name-tag said 'Christopher', and when Bella's eyes flitted from it to the sign saying 11am, he reached out and turned it around, said "We really only enforce that rule when the hotel is very busy." He smiled again, added "We're quiet as a mouse right now."
Bella smiled back. She was about to say something helpful and innocuous like "I supposed things will pick up once the school year is out," but Jacob suddenly gripped her hand like a vice, and she almost doubled over onto the counter from the force of it. What she did say sounded more like a squeak, or at best a strangled "Uh huh."
Christopher didn't seem to notice or mind if he did. "Will you be staying long?" he asked.
Bella shook her head, shook her hand to try to loosen Jacob's grip. "Just the night."
"Twin beds or a double?" was the next question.
Bella's eyes widened and she said quickly "Twins. I mean. Twin."
But Christopher already had a better idea. "Perhaps a king-sized would be in order. This isn't Procrustes' house, but I'm sure your friend would appreciate the leg room."
Bella laughed as lightly as she could, tried to remember whose feet Prosomethings did or did not lop off, while Christopher typed at his computer.
"One standard room…" He looked up, smiled, lowered his voice. "…with a King-sized bed. Our nightly rate is two hundred and twenty-five dollars."
Bella nodded like that was absolutely fine, because she was pretty sure he'd just cut her a deal, but really, every fiber of her being was rebelling against the idea of spending that much money just for a place to sleep for a night.
"Alright then, how would you like to pay for that, Ms... Miss..." Christopher tried to take a look at Bella's left hand while her right was busy fumbling in her pocket, but it was wrapped too tightly in Jacob's to discern a ring or the absence of one. Jacob's left hand was bare, it seemed, but he still ventured a quiet "Mrs..." just as Bella smiled, thrust notes amounting to three hundred dollars onto the counter and said "Cash."
"Upfront?" Christopher asked, looking somewhat puzzled.
"Sure," Bella said, with an awkward shrug of her shoulders.
"Well... I may have misled you with my question. Normally... That is... usually, people pay with a credit card. So... usually we just take an imprint of the card and they can have the convenience of paying when they leave..."
Bella swallowed, concentrated on looking him in the eye, said in a small voice "I don't have... I mean... cash is okay, right? Upfront?"
"Usually we..." Christopher turned slightly, hesitated for the barest of seconds then said "Yes. I'll just have to give you this form to fill out - just your personal details, for security purposes."
He laid a piece of paper on the counter. Bella blinked. She felt Jacob's whole body shudder into her hand, she might have heard him whisper "Bells, I can't…"
She breathed in, looked his way, let go of his hand as gently and slowly as she could. She leaned over the counter, and when she picked up the pen her fingers trembled like his had.
Christopher turned slightly again, turned back and leaned forward, said in a low voice "You can sign it June and Johnny, if you like."
The joke was sharp but it wasn't cruel. Christopher the Concierge liked to be clever, but Bella was fairly sure there was nothing malicious about him.
In fact, the moment he'd basically given her permission to lie, Bella had pretty much canonized him, and as she signed her name June… Bennett, let's say, and as she listed Jacob as Jonathan, her "dependent", she thought to herself how they probably did look like that old country legend – the small brown-haired woman and the gentle, giant junky who needed her, and she reached out to him and he took her hand and he followed her…
Tomorrow, when their time playing Cullens in this fancy hotel was up… where on earth were they going to go?
Bella opened the door by putting an ordinary old-fashioned key in an ordinary old-fashioned lock and turning. She was grateful that the Emperor hadn't upgraded to those things that looked like credit cards; she wasn't sure you could use those to lock yourself and a prisoner in.
She stepped inside and Jacob followed, looked around the standard room that had to be more of a suite, that was glistening and soft, pristine white, with grey and sky blue accents, he looked around the room and when Bella set her backpack down, turned and smiled an anxious smile at him, he thought how this really should have been fun.
Scratch that, this should have been one of the greatest experiences of his young life. He was on a highly illicit road trip with Bella Swan. He was in a plush hotel room, the likes of which he'd never seen outside of a TV screen, complete with monogrammed robes and a fully stocked mini-bar and a king-sized bed that he was sharing with the girl of his dreams come true.
This should have been a dream come true.
This was a dream come true, in that it seemed like a dream and yet it was real - Bella told him when he asked, three or four times in quick succession, she promised him this was really happening.
She locked the door, he fell on the bed behind her, and she muttered something about stains and the carpet or the sheets or his shorts or a shower. When she thought he wasn't looking she tucked the key down the front of her jeans and man, it was hot, and he should have been enjoying this, he should have been making jokes and finding ways to hold her face and basking in the endless implausible possibilities this day held…
But it in the end it was all he could do to stay with her.
She checked the bathroom for windows that opened wide enough to fit a Jacob through them, was glad to find none, stood guard at the door while he cleaned up and changed into her dad's sweats.
When he came out she took off her shoes and said she needed to sleep if she was going to drive again tonight, if she was going to try to drive all day tomorrow too, that the door was locked from the inside and there was only one key and not to even bother trying to find it.
He smiled, tipped his head back, looked at the ceiling, tried to think of something hilarious and brilliant to say, found he could barely think at all.
It was later.
It was dark and quiet, even as the waking world went about its business outside.
Jacob's legs hung off the side of the first bed he'd ever lain in that was really large enough to accommodate his frame, and he was clinging to the mattress, he was feeling his heart pinch and scrape inside of him, and the voices in his head again, both of them, saying Repeat after me and No, no, no.
He was trying to anchor himself, Bella thought.
She lay in the middle of the bed. She was a small fish in a vast ocean and Jacob… Jacob was man overboard. Man overboard! Bella thought, but she thought he was holding on.
He was trying to anchor himself.
Bella blinked. Her eyes burned with the movement. She moved closer and stole his hand from its struggle.
She held onto it as they lay there, and the silence and the warmth of him tugged on her eyelids, swayed her in and out of sleep like waves... like little fish…
"I'm freaking out, Bells," Jacob whispered, just as she was submerged.
She came up for air, frowning. She'd forgotten to feel terrified by the heat, but she remembered now. His palm was searing. She moved her hand up to his wrist, his upper arm, his shoulder, felt her way to his cheek and his forehead.
"You're burning up," she whispered back. She lifted herself with a subtle groan of effort, pressed her palm flat against him, left whispers behind with "What did they do to you?"
Jacob gritted his teeth, reached up and pulled her hand quickly into his again.
"I can't talk about it," he said tightly.
Bella let her head fall back and a stinging tear shook itself loose, slid down her cheek.
She watched Jacob while he made a conscious effort to relax the muscles in his face, in his neck, in his chest, in his hand that collapsed slowly under hers.
She watched Jacob while the much smaller version of himself said, sadly, "I wish I could sleep."
She smiled, or she intended to smile – she wasn't sure her body was responding efficiently to her commands at this stage. "You can…" she assured him, her voice slow and splayed. "You were… sometimes… in the car."
Jacob shook his head and closed his eyes.
Bella nodded even if he couldn't see.
She kept his hand in hers, rested her cheek at his shoulder as his eyelids began to flutter, as his breathing dipped, deepened.
She whispered "You were… You can…" twice each, twice over, and as she did so she was reminded of the way Edward had sung to her, of soft words and lullabies, of the way he had watched over her, all night, always.
Bella whispered tunelessly to Jacob, and she realized, with a little pang, how far away her own nightmares seemed, as she fell asleep too.
When Bella woke up, Jacob wasn't next to her. She wriggled around in a drowsy attempt to sit up, was relieved to find the key was right where she'd left it, digging into her thigh in a way that was starting to be kind of painful.
And she needed to pee.
She rushed to the bathroom, and as she did she faintly noted that the room was bathed in light – morning light, she thought, which meant they had to have slept for nearly twenty four hours, twenty four hours without stirring, that was crazy and…
The room was bathed in light, which meant Jacob had pulled back the drapes.
She flushed the toilet, hurriedly washed her hands, opened the bathroom door and…
He was still there. Jacob, like the key, was right where she had left him, fingers clinging to the mattress, business as usual. He was just the same only he was sitting up with his back to her, to where she'd been lying sleeping a moment ago, his shoulders yielding to gravity, a broad, dark slope down to the ground. He turned his head when he heard her come back into the room, said in a voice that was heavy as it was even "This was a bad idea. I think we should go home before anyone notices we're gone. We could probably still come up with a cover story at this point. I'm sorry."
"No," Bella said quickly. She scrambled onto the bed and shuffled toward him on her knees, and she said "No," again, because suddenly, no matter how crazy this was, no matter how much she was risking, no matter how scared she'd been at the ATM, or how much it had sucked that Jacob hadn't given her a piggyback, or how much she really had no idea where on earth they were going to go from here… she really didn't want to go home.
The truth was that ever since they'd passed Forks' city limits she'd felt lighter, unburdened, more free.
She'd felt more herself.
The truth was that Jacob had trembled and keened against her last night and she had held tight to his hand and she had slept soundly for the first time in months.
She looked him in the eye and said firmly "No. I'm not letting you just go back there and get sucked into this whole thing again."
Jacob shook his head. "I'm already in it, Bella. I mean, I'm still in it, aren't I? I'll always be… You don't… I can't…" He sighed, let his whole upper body collapse, his head fall into his hands, said again "We should go home."
Bella nudged his leg with her knee. "Jacob," she said, in her best commanding voice. "Look at me."
He sat up slowly, let his hands fall away from his face to his lap, and then he was looking at her, eyes unblinking and wide and so miserable, and she said "I don't care whether we should or we shouldn't. I don't…"
She stopped herself, smiled, started again with quick breaths and a certainty that was dizzying.
"I don't want to go home."
"Oh," Jacob said, and he sat up straight like that changed everything. Before he could decide whether it was appropriate or not he'd said "Thank you," and he looked so weathered and so much like a child at the same time that Bella had an overwhelming urge, an urge she did not bother to deny, to reach out and pull him into her arms, bury her fingers in the absence of his beautiful hair, and whisper "I'm going to help you, you know." She smiled, added "It's payback."
He just sighed, held her tightly to his body, whispered "Honey", felt torn up inside and happier than he had in weeks.
Christopher wasn't there when they checked out. There was a woman, youngish, rather ironically called June, and she made a big, sunny deal out of their matching names, chattered on about the area and their trip – Where were they from, where were they going to, did they know there was a diner around the corner that served the best peach pie in the United States, it was actually famous for it, and truth be told even though she really shouldn't be telling it, it was better than anything on the dessert menu in the hotel restaurant...
Jacob fielded her questions, nodded at her suggestions. He was charming and alert. He'd taken the stairs, and two at a time, the backpack slung over his shoulder, Bella's hand in his. He was his old self, Bella thought, even if she could tell by the way his thumb was digging into her palm, that it was an effort to be him.
They didn't stop for peach pie. They didn't need to – apparently a buffet breakfast had been included in the still somewhat upsetting price of the room, and nevermind the fact that there were only four other people in the dining room, the chef still wound up having to make a second batch of eggs. Jacob had been hungry. Bella had been too, but two pieces of toast and four different types of jam later, she was ready to drive.
Or to walk, rather.
She'd forgotten for one shining moment that the truck was half a mile down the road in the camping ground. Well, at least it would be a downhill journey this time.
And Jacob seemed like he was going to be alright to carry the bag, even if she did still have to drag him a little.
She eyed him suspiciously, locked her fingers more tightly around his.
When they found the truck, there were a bunch of kids playing hide and seek in, on, and around it.
Bella groaned. "I guess I didn't camouflage it half as well as I thought."
Jacob blinked, turned to her, his face entirely straight when he said "You parked the large red truck next to a tree. No wait!" He held up a finger just as Bella rolled her eyes. "Two trees. I don't know how the plan failed, Bells."
"Hush, you," Bella said. "And make yourself useful getting these tiny people off my truck."
Jacob was ready to leap into the fray, probably just to initiate another round, knowing him – Knowing his old self, Bella thought…
But the kids were already scattering, their little feet scuffing their way along the hood, legs scrambling out from under the bed – female voices were calling out "Aches!" and Bella thought how her back was kind of sore, because she'd slept at a weird angle trying to hold onto Jake all day and all night, and then she thought Cupcakes, oh, and they made their way to the truck.
Their hands untangled as they approached.
She watched as Jacob climbed in the passenger side door, paused for a moment before opening the driver's side, stroked the flaky powder-red paint job, murmured "Sorry old fella."
Trading the truck in was not a pleasant experience for Bella.
It's just too conspicuous, she told herself, and You're a practical girl, right?
It was, and she was, but it still hurt in some sad, silly, gnawing way to think of someone else riding around in her truck.
The deal wasn't great – a beat-up Toyota Tercel in return for a vehicle Bella liked to call 'good as new' whenever someone at school snickered in its direction - but they were in a hurry; this wasn't the time to be shopping around, and apparently the Tercel was all Jeremy – or 'Jem', as the sign said – had on hand at short notice.
Bella looked up with wary eyes at the fat, tattooed man she'd just failed to negotiate with. "This is… confidential, right?" she asked. "I mean… it's between us. Right?"
Jem eyed her thoughtfully, rubbed at his belly where the seam of his shirt parted from the waistband of his pants in a way that was somewhat unsettling. "Sure thing, sweetheart," he said with a smile. "You throw in three hundred bucks and we'll be fine and dandy."
Bella sighed, pulled the last of her bills out of her purse, said in a small voice. "Can we make it two eighty? That's everything I have right now."
"Bells… I don't know how to say this, but I'm pretty sure we were sort of – "
"Ripped off, I know," Bella finished for him, shoving the key in the Tercel's ignition and throwing her bag in the back.
"I wish we'd been able to take the Rabbit instead," Jacob said softly. He lifted one hand from his seat belt, reached out and trailed his finger along her shoulder.
Bella made a huffing sound in response, and another one as she pulled out of the gas station – the car had practically been running on empty, of course.
She was cross. Really cross. What were the stages of grief again? What was the order? Whatever it was, she knew which one she was at right now: anger. And so she wanted to say "Me too," or worse, start rattling off a list of all the other things she wouldn't have to pay for with her college fund if Jacob hadn't refused to go back to the res before they'd left.
But when she flicked the indicator to turn right, she caught sight of him in the passenger seat – Jacob, with his chin almost at his chest, clinging onto the seatbelt with a desperation that was almost becoming commonplace…
"No, I'm glad," she said, with a small sigh. "It would have been worse if we'd had to ditch the Rabbit. I mean… I loved the truck, because... But the Rabbit is yours… I mean it's you. I mean…" She shook her head; something that seemed so obvious to her shouldn't be this hard to put into words. "You basically made it," she said finally. "That's not something you can replace."
Jacob leaned forward so she'd see him smile out of the corner of her eye.
It was true. The Rabbit wasn't something he could ever replace. But it wasn't as though trucks exactly the same as Bella's were a dime a dozen these days either, so he began making plans right away. Maybe it would be soon, maybe it would be later - everything was up in the air right now - but at some point he would go back to Jem's Trades on thirty fourth street and he would remind him who he was, maybe punch him a couple of times, track the truck down, buy it back and fix it up, just like he had before she'd come back to town, he would fix it for her again and it would be hers, for as long as she wanted it.
"I've decided I'm glad I ripped the stereo out in a fit of crippling depression," Bella said with a short laugh, muttering afterward "At least Jem won't get his mitts on that."
Jacob leaned back in his seat, turned his head to look at her. It was strange for Bella to be so candid about such things, even with her best friend, who wasn't ignorant of the fact that he made her feel freer and more at ease than anyone else in her life did. It was stranger still that she would be so candid about such things with a smile on her face. A wistful smile, but a smile nonetheless.
Jacob's own was buoyed by hers.
Bella reached out on a quick impulse, jabbed at the buttons on the radio. "How does it turn on?" she asked frustratedly, trying to watch where she was going while investigating.
Jacob leaned forward to help her. Once he'd tried all the likely combinations twice and received only a mild crackle followed by silence in response, he sat back and pronounced the stereo dead.
Bella rolled her eyes. "Of course."
"Hey wait a minute…" Jacob leaned forward again. "You wanted to listen to music?" he asked, half casual, half incredulous.
Bella glanced his way briefly. Then she took a deep breath and said loudly "Yes", laughed to herself, tapped the steering wheel and sat back in her seat with a sigh.
"SHOT THROUGH THE HEART!"
She lurched forward in her seat, turned to look at Jacob before attempting to focus on the road again.
"AND YOU'RE TO BLAME!" managed to catch her by surprise too, even though she knew the song well enough to know what came....
"DARLIN YOU GIVE LOOOOVE A BAD NAAME!"
Bella collapsed into giggles, clutched at the wheel, wheezed "What the hell was that?"
Jacob smiled, tried and failed to stretch his arms up in the confined space. "Your music, Miss Swan."
He carried on as best he could, mostly wailing with the guitar parts, accompanying himself on his very own imaginary instrument.
Bella burst out laughing again.
"Jacob," she spluttered, "Stop it or I'll crash this car and I'll kill us both. Possibly not by accident."
She was laughing so hard there were tears on her cheeks and her whole body shook like the radio was actually on, like it was on and the volume was at maximum and the whole car was thrumming, and Jacob shut up, because his job was done.
When he sat back again, he realized he hadn't been holding onto the seatbelt while he'd been entertaining Bella.
He grabbed hold of it again, looked out the window.
That night they slept under the stars. Bella had to withdraw more cash to buy blankets, food and water, and it made her edgy, so, again, she took out as much as her daily limit would allow, and they drove for another four hours in darkness, back the way they'd come. Finally they found a secluded area that appeared to be all nature, no man, and set up camp.
Camp was a blanket – two for Bella, Jacob didn't want his, which made Bella frown and think about things that scared her - and a bag of Cheetos.
Bella counted seventeen mosquito bites the next day – all on her, of course. Jacob could barely resist making a joke about how apparently bloodsuckers of all shapes and sizes were into her.
He did though – resist. He told himself to grow up, that he was more himself now, not more a complete dick.
They drove for three days after that, three and a half, really four all up. They only stopped for food and water, and they slept, whenever possible, out in the open – armed with mosquito repellent on hand though, Bella had learned her lesson.
They paid one visit to a bank, so that Bella could withdraw everything in her savings account at once. She had to present her ID, and wait while they checked and verified all sorts of things she knew nothing about. It was a nerve-wracking experience. On the way back to the car, a police vehicle passed them on the street. It slowed. Bella nearly had a heart attack.
That evening they doubled back again, drove six hours in the direction of home before bed.
They stopped in San Francisco, because Bella was tired of being on the road and not knowing when to stop, and she decided that San Francisco was as good a place as any to go unnoticed.
Their apartment was a one bedroom, and coincidentally, that bedroom doubled as a living room, and actually, it was one of those kitchen-dining deals, so really it was more one room than one bedroom. Bella figured she should just thank her lucky stars the bathroom got a door.
The place was dark and dingy, in the wrong part of town with no security, four flights up without an elevator, no heat - which she supposed didn't matter too much since it was summer, but still - no furniture, a leaky faucet on the sink and dust bunnies the size of much larger mammals in every corner.
Jacob declared it to be an absolute shithole. Bella rolled her eyes and curtly explained to him that that was the point.
She looked out uneasily as she pulled the door closed, caught another glimpse of the parade of empty bottles in the hallway, one of which contained what she was fairly sure was a syringe, muttered to herself "Charlie would never think I'd be this much of an idiot."
Then she locked the door, leaned against it and sighed.
The place really was a shithole. And to add insult to injury, she'd wound up getting ripped off again, of course. Bella was worried it was starting to become a pattern.
In a fair world they would have gotten a cut price, since the whole transaction was under the table and therefore the landlord was saving on any and all fees associated with renting the place out. But, like Jem, who could have been his younger, slightly less revolting, considerably friendlier brother, he'd smelled their desperation.
"Bond's eight hundred," he'd said with a sniffle and an irritated glance out the grimy window.
"What?" Bella had asked. "I mean… sorry, I just didn't catch that. Your accent is - "
"Don't speak the Queen's English?" He'd chuckled mirthlessly, looked out the window again, repeated in the same thick drawl Bella couldn't quite place "Bond's eight hundred."
She'd blinked. Jacob had nudged her and said "I think he means - "
Bella had already gotten it. "You mean the security deposit," she'd said quickly, looking around the room and thinking Eight hundred dollars? What in the…
"I mean the bond," the landlord had said, with a sulkiness of tone neither Jacob nor Bella had never heard from a man of his age.
The conversation had carried on much in the same stony vein, and by the time Bella had the keys in her hand, she'd told Jacob to shut up fifteen times, and had given this fat, surly, maybe-British man a truly horrific amount of her money – for the bond, of course, then a month's rent, and, at the last minute, a five hundred dollar 'service charge'… all of this to keep things quiet.
The place really was a shithole and the landlord really was a shithead. His name was Marko – he'd spelled it out for Bella with a scowl, and she'd pretended to write it down, because that had seemed to be what he'd wanted her to do – and she thought to herself now What is it with stupid people who screw me over and their stupid names?
Bella's anger had dissipated somewhat by that afternoon when they went shopping for almost nothing – the bare minimum was more than they could afford if they were going to be responsible with what money they had left, and they were, Bella insisted.
On the list: the biggest air mattress they could find for a reasonable price. Two bowls, two knives, two forks, a saucepan and a baking dish. Cleaning products. Toilet paper, which would have to double as kleenex. Two pairs of pants, two tee-shirts, boxers, and supermarket sneakers that were a little tight for Jacob. A toothbrush. A razor. Rice. Chicken thighs. Tinned peas. Spam. Jacob eyed all of this sceptically, lingered so long by the steak Bella was adamant they would not be purchasing that she had to nudge him with the shopping cart to get him to move along.
"Unnecessary expense," was her phrase of the day. She must have said it thirty times in the space of one shopping trip.
In the evening Bella cleaned like a madwoman, bossed Jacob around plenty, but when everything that could be done had been done, the place was still an absolute shithole, there was no way around it.
Bella tipped peas into their new bowls. Jacob ate a whole can of Spam.
He inflated the air mattress and they slept.
The next day was a big one. It was time to buy new identities.
The mission brought them to a huge dilapidated building, a warehouse or something, where syringes weren't tucked away in the maybe-maybe-not gleam of sticky glass, but scattered around like fairy lights shaken down from trees.
Bella decided maybe they hadn't looked hard enough for the worst part of town when choosing their apartment, and she wondered, not for the first time that day, not for the first time that week, how on earth Jacob seemed to know where to find everything and everyone.
"Word on the street," he said, when she asked.
She sighed, nodded her head, protested half-heartedly when he told her to wait outside.
Nearly an hour passed. It was getting dark.
Bella began to panic. What if Jacob had decided to make a break for it? Sure, he seemed like he was doing better. He was more himself more of the time, and ever since the third morning on the road when he'd offered to drive for a while, she'd felt safer – she'd felt as though he was safer. She looked down at her feet and the fairy lights, out at the city that sparkled and pulsed with life too.
He was doing better. She hadn't even needed to hold onto him all night last night; she'd felt her grip slacken, even in sleep, and she'd felt him breathe beside her, turn his head and stay right where he was, and in the morning he'd been there, he'd been fine, but Oh, maybe that was it, maybe she'd let her grip slacken and right now he was…
Bella was grateful that he came out of the building a moment later - a moment before she could start hyperventilating.
He smiled, said sorry for the wait, handed her a neat plastic square.
She looked down at her shiny new driver's license, thought A little too shiny, maybe, caught sight of her shiny new date of birth, frowned.
"I'm eighteen. Yesterday."
Jacob grinned, started walking the long, shadowy path to the car. "Well," he called back. "I wanted to make sure you were of age in case we decide to cross the border."
Bella hurried to catch up with him, spoke hurriedly too. "I am of age. I'm a hell of a lot more of age than eighteen yesterday!"
Jacob grinned again, shrugged his shoulders. "Okay, so you may have lost a few months. No biggie."
He was walking fast, spinning his own plastic square between his thumb and forefinger.
Bella's eyes narrowed. "Let me see that," she snapped, and she lunged, almost stumbled, yanked his license out of his hand.
Jacob was laughing before she even looked.
"You're twenty-nine?" she squealed. "What the hell is that about?"
Jacob shook his head, still laughing, pretended to have trouble snatching his driver's license back out of Bella's hands. "Wellllll…" he said, trying his best to keep a straight face. "By rights I should be forty-five and you should be eleven and three quarters… but I figured we don't need to draw that kind of attention to ourselves."
"Oh haha" was all the response he got.
Bella sighed, tucked her license into her pocket. The precision of eighteen yesterday was obnoxious, no doubt about it, but on a general level, she supposed the age gap was fair enough. Maybe. Only because Jacob really did look older than her these days, a lot older, actually, because he was so tall now and muscular enough to have a secret gym membership or something, and she'd always been short and kind of girlish even though her cheeks weren't chubby anymore, and, wait, no, it was not fair enough! There was no reason he had to – and Wait a minute.
"Wait a minute," she said out loud, her forehead creasing. "I was fifteen last time I checked. What gives?"
Jacob leaned her way with a wicked smile. "Well, you ran away from home, see. Not very mature, Bells."
Bella stopped abruptly, grabbed hold of Jacob's arm. He turned to face her, but didn't dare look directly at her for fear his barely contained mirth would turn into laughter.
"You're running away!" she corrected finally, once her mouth had stopped opening and closing in disbelief. "I'm just along for the ride."
"Hmm… nice try, but I distinctly remember the whole thing being your idea."
"Oh please," Bella huffed. She looked down, put her hands on her hips, looked up at him and said, nose in the air, "Well I think you should lose at least three years right now for the invoking the 'She started it' defence."
Jacob laughed heartily at that, but nodded, because he would probably have to give her that. He shook her hand from his arm, took it in his. "You're right, I know. But come on. I do look like I could be your cool, young, Native step-dad. It's a matter of being practical, Bells."
"I still think you could have made the gap a little narrower, " she grumbled. "I mean, you couldn't have done any of this without me. Who financed this little adventure? Who knew that you don't go through an agent to rent a place when you're on the run, genius. I mean come on."
Jacob laughed again, thought how he hadn't laughed this much in weeks, since before everything, since he'd been in the garage, telling Bella stupid stories that Quil embellished along the way and Embry tore down ironically at every turn.
She tugged on his hand and said "Seriously!", and he pulled her into his arms.
"It's true, I admit it," he said. He placed a palm against her cheek, smiled and added "I'd be lost without you, honey."
There was a moment after the words tripped from his lips. Bella trembled, because it was a little cold and his hand was hot and because there was a close moment, one filled with awkward breathlessness and a sweet, unsettling sense of impending…
"Hey, I'll tell you what," Jacob said, with a soft voice and a wry smile. "Next time I buy us fake IDs from a couple of sketchy guys in a disused power station, I'll get you a seniors card to go with."
He laughed, leaned down, kissed her cheek, took her hand again and towed her along the road, back to the car.
Day three was job-day.
Bella spent eight hours going door to door – diners, coffee stands, stores of all descriptions… but she didn't have a shiny, fake resume to go with her shiny, fake driver's license. Add to that the fact that jeans and a tee-shirt weren't really a best-foot-forward look, and Bella wasn't surprised when she came back to the apartment that evening as unemployed as when she'd left it.
She wasn't surprised, but she was depressed.
She sat on the air mattress, because there was nowhere else to sit, thought about going and buying a consolatory can of soda, glanced at the bulge in her backpack where the contents of her bank account were stored, bit her nails, stayed where she was.
Jacob came home a few minutes later, knocked several times while Bella hauled herself to her feet and hunted around for the only set of keys they had.
When she opened the door he was smiling wide and holding a wad of cash under her nose.
"You have money," Bella said, in a monotone that was born of exhaustion.
Jacob's smile faded slightly. He reached out with his free hand and touched his fingers to her cheek. "I have money," he said. "You look tired."
Bella shrugged, Jacob let his hand fall to his side, turned and closed the door behind him.
"Don't forget to lock it," Bella said as she walked back to the mattress and flopped down on it. Jacob went into the kitchen; she could hear him rummaging around in there and wondered sadly if they had any peas left.
Then she sat up, frowned, called out to him, and when he turned, eyebrows raised, cup full of tap water in hand, she said "Jake… would you please go out and buy me a soda?"
He smiled. He was out the door.
Over sodas and a slice of chocolate and raspberry mud cake that Bella didn't have the heart or the desire to chastise Jacob for buying, he cheerfully told her that he'd found a couple of auto repair shops on the outskirts of town that were only too pleased to work him to the bone for minimum wage, no questions asked. And she didn't need to feel too jealous of his brilliant career, he said, because he was pretty sure he'd found a place that would be happy to exploit her too.
There was a lot of nothing involved in being on the run.
It was strange, Bella thought. She'd always been used to being busy with one thing or another. Before Forks schoolwork had taken up most of her time, and when classes had gotten a little too easy, advanced placement had been there to keep her up at night. And there'd been her mom, who couldn't cook to save herself. Then Forks, and Charlie, who couldn't cook to save himself either. And then Edward. And once there had been Edward, whether anybody cooked or not had ceased to be a priority… Bella had often felt as though everything had ceased to be a priority except being near him.
And then Edward had left and everything had just ceased…
It was strange to have nothing to do, nothing she really could do, except work at the deli where they didn't care what your name even was. It was about as boring as working at Newton's had been; nobody ever came in and Bella spent most of her day reading the headlines on the paper, the latest celebrity it-couple shock confession, five words or less on the cover of Star.
Jacob was busier than she was and when they were both at the apartment they were both tired and too often cranky, and Bella wished every day that she'd brought her books with her, tried to write things herself and read them back but it wasn't the same.
She sighed, stared at the wall and counted her money.
The last thing she had expected running away to be was boring.
Ten days passed in which nothing happened. Police vehicles did not slow on the sidewalk, the next great American novel was not written.
Bella was lonely and miserable and it seemed like the greatest thing on earth when Jacob finally took a day off, on Saturday, when the owner's teenage son took care of the deli, and they drove to the good part of town just for fun.
And it was fun.
They spent the whole afternoon wandering around the Saturday markets being happy and trying not to spend money. They wound up with a pair of chipped plates, which counted as a necessity, a dog-eared 1970s copy of The Wings Of The Dove, which, Bella reasoned, at approximately point two of a cent per page, was such good value that it would be embarrassing not to buy it, and an old green glass vase.
The last item didn't come with justifications, and Jacob laughed and teased, reminded Bella about her unnecessary expense policy and the steaks.
She folded her arms, pointed out that the vase cost a dollar ninety five, whereas the steaks had been nine dollars a piece and anyway he should shut the hell up because it was her savings that had kept him in Spam and peas for the last couple of weeks.
"Besides," she said, "we should at least have something pretty in that apartment."
Jacob bit his tongue to avoid going to the cheesy place with Well you're in it sometimes, isn't that enough?
He smiled at the ground instead, glanced up again, conceded. "Okay, so your vase is a bargain. But how exactly are you planning on keeping us in cut flowers? Need me to rob some front yards on the way home?"
Bella rolled her eyes. "I'll manage, thank you Jacob Black."
And she did, for now; she bought the cheapest, most bedraggled bunch of flowers she could find – six white carnations, their petals scuttling to the ground even as she handed over the money.
Then, just as they were walking home, Jacob carrying the vase and the two chipped plates in a plastic bag, Bella holding onto her book and her carnations, the incident happened.
Jacob had made a joke Bella would forget all about in a second. But for now she was laughing, and she turned and looked up at him, mouth wide, eyes dancing, and he looked down at her like she was the loveliest thing in the world.
Unbeknownst to them, in the lead-up to the punch-line, a small, balding man had been darting through the crowd toward them, and at that moment, at that entirely insignificant throwaway stop on a road to nowhere, that moment when Bella laughed and looked up and Jacob looked down and was entirely adoring…
Bella turned first. Jacob a split-second later.
The man said hello, his name was Terence. He said it was a beautiful day, the light was beautiful and they were a beautiful couple. And then he commenced waving a Polaroid in their faces and asking for ten dollars repeatedly.
Bella just stood there, looking at the ground. She found she couldn't smile politely and politely decline. All she could do was stand there while her cheeks burned and tears filled her eyes. Somehow, for some reason, she hated this man. He had ruined her day. He had ruined the trip to the market and her book and her vase and the carnations that he was currently congratulating Jacob on having bought for her, and she wanted to yell: "I bought them for myself, you nosy jerk!" and stomp off on her own.
Meanwhile Jacob had decided to be charming or something, and he stepped forward, shook the guy's hand and admired the photo, and Bella shuffled to the left and turned her back to them and waited and seethed.
Finally, Jacob was done. He came up behind Bella, nudged her shoulder lightly, and they set off toward their apartment for the second time.
"Why did you have to go talk to him?" Bella asked, once the silence between them had dampened the mood sufficiently.
Jacob turned away to roll his eyes, turned back and held the Polaroid up in front of her.
Bella looked to the side. Her grip on the carnations tightened; if her hands weren't so weak and girly she was sure she would have been snipping them off their stems. "Why?" she asked again, through gritted teeth.
"Why not?" Jacob retorted with a wide smile, like he was determined to be playful even if she was fire and brimstone.
"Because it's an unnecessary expense," Bella snapped.
Jacob couldn't help but smirk. "Like your book and your flowers and your vase," Jacob reminded her.
"Yes. Like them. Except mine were value for money. Yours is as overpriced as the damn steaks."
"Oh come on," Jacob said, with exaggerated exasperation, stepping in front of her and walking backwards, holding the photo up again. "It's a cute picture, Bells."
Bella looked at it briefly, immediately wished she hadn't.
She saw the light in her eyes, the depth in Jake's…
She looked away, scowled, picked up the pace. And just as she passed Jacob she saw his fist close around the photo, his face fall. And he said: "You don't know the half of the overpriced. I had to give the guy three times what he was charging for the photo to get him to delete the file on his camera."
Bella stopped, turned, understood.
"Oh," she said.
"Yeah," Jacob replied softly, with a shake of his head and a small smile that wasn't about happiness.
He took two steps to the right, dropped the crumpled up photo in a trashcan that was all too ready to swallow it up.
Bella felt restless for the rest of the walk back to the car, even more so during the short drive. She felt like someone had poured the contents of her chest into a cocktail shaker and was… shaking.
When they got back to the apartment, she waited until Jacob was busy not looking at her, which didn't take long seeing as how their eyes hadn't met since they'd walked by that trashcan, she waited until he was in the bathroom avoiding her and poured two thirds of a carton of perfectly good milk down the drain. It was a horrible waste and Bella hated horrible wastes, but she was still restless, she was shaken, she was itchy in her skin, and she wanted an excuse to go out again.
Jacob eyed her strangely, because he'd had milk at breakfast and it had been fine. But he let her go without saying anything. He figured, maybe, she just didn't want to be around him. That would make sense, he supposed.
Bella got in the car and drove. She drove past a supermarket and a deli and two grocery stores and she parked her car in the good part of town and bought her milk there. And on the way back to the car, no, out of the way, she found the trashcan she was looking for, and she tore through chewing gum, half a taco, a ton of tissue paper, several lottery tickets that had ended in disappointment, until finally she realized that this wasn't the trashcan, that the photo was in another one further up, and it was crumpled and creased and right at the top where Jacob had left it.
She pulled it gingerly out of darkness, smoothed it out as best she could and touched her fingers to their faces.
She felt like crying. She didn't. She didn't want to have puffy eyes, because puffy eyes would mean talking about it.
She just folded the Polaroid up, put it in her pocket, walked briskly back to the car.