CHAPTER 33

Meetings

"Bella, if you peek out that window one more time, I'm tying you to a chair." Miss Emma said drily, looking up from the sofa where she had Caleb on her lap reading a storybook. "Watched pots never boil and all that pacing is making me crazy." she said. She reached up to turn on the reading lamp and the room filled with a warm light. It was barely five pm but winter was coming again and afternoons were getting darker.

"Cwazy momma!" Caleb repeated, nodding his head in emphasis.

He was growing up so fast and was a sturdy little boy. - he had started walking early and now he was already speaking short sentences. Dr. Jake said it was a sign of early development and how smart he was but we teased him that he was biased since he delivered Caleb into the world. Dr. Jake insisted it was a professional opinion, purely unbiased of course…the ruined the effect by blowinf raspberries unto Caleb's tummy earning giggles from my rambunctious son.

But Caleb WAS beautiful though - when he was a baby, people would stop me in the streets to admire him - and even though I'm his mother, I think I'm being objective about that. He had my eye color and his hair was a deep copper brown, darkening now more to my coloring as he got older, but in everything else, he was all Jacob. He had the same beautiful smile, a dimple in the left check making his smile a little lopsided - even as a toddler, you could already see he had the same strong jaw, the determined chin and the high cheekbones. His skin was a little lighter than Jacob's but darker than mine - and one look at him and anyone would know without a doubt that he had Quileute blood in him.

"...and they lived happily ever after." I heard Miss Emma finish her story.

"Caleb don't like story!" my son said emphatically, shaking his head. "Bad man kill Wolfy"

I giggled. "Were you reading Little Red Riding Hood again?" I asked Miss Emma. "You know he always gets mad at the end."

"Yep. That's what makes it fun." She replied mischievously, her eyes twinkling. "I don't really understand why but it's cute that he gets so outraged by it."

Miss Emma got up from the sofa and scooped Caleb into her arms. "Would you like a snack young man?" She asked him, giving him a small kiss.

"Cookie! An' appa juice!" He said enthusiastically.

Alrighty then." Miss Emma said balancing him on her hip and walking towards the door. "We'll be in the kitchen Bella. I need to check on dinner anyway. Let me know when your guests arrive."

Today was the day. Leah and Embry were coming to pick me up for my return to Forks...well pick me AND Caleb up. They just hadn't met him yet. I knew that I needed my friends at my side, or else I would lose all resolve to return to Forks. It had been over three years since I had left and no one other than Charlie, Sue and Renee knew about Caleb. Only Charlie and Renee had met him and all three had been sworn to secrecy.

I had often wondered if I had done the right thing, keeping Caleb from Jacob and Billy - but each time my resolve weakened, I would remember that night of the betrothal and how Jacob had cut all ties with me. How Billy had sat there, allowing this to happen. Caleb was mine - mine to love and protect.

If I had brought him to Forks, would Jacob even claim him? Could I stand to watch as my baby `was treated like an outcast? The Alpha's bastard son? Leah told me Jacob was no longer married to Aliya - but that piece of information raised more questions than answers for me. I knew at some point that I would have to bring Caleb to meet the tribe - to know who his father was, and what heritage he had. I knew this was my responsibility, that much as I would wish to think so, Caleb was not mine alone. I had spent a long sleepless night - the weight of the decision hanging heavy upon me. For totally selfish reasons I wanted to stay in Harbor forever and protect Caleb from the outside world. But how long could I keep doing this? Oregon was not that far away from Forks. And Caleb would not remain a baby forever. Would I - could I - lie to him forever? And if he ever found out, would he not hate me? And what if something happened to me? Would he ever know the truth?

With the breaking of the morning, in weak, milky light of dawn, I knew I had no real choice. I had no way to escape my responsibility – much as I hated the thought, my son had the right to know his father, to be recognized by his tribe.

The sound of crunching gravel drew my eyes to the window and dragged me from reverie. Suddenly, I was nervous. Was this the right thing to do? My eyes darted to direction of the kitchen – it wasn't too late to hide Caleb. Miss Emma would understand. She would do this for me. What if Leah and Embry didn't understand? What if they hated me for keeping this secret?

"Miss Bella? Your guests are here." Maggie said, pausing by the door. "And that's one fine young man out there." She said, with her eyes twinkling mischievously. "If he and that beautiful girl out there didn't look so much in love, I'd tell you to go for him yourself." She said.

I smiled. The staff we indefatigable in trying to fix me up. They couldn't seem to understand why I never took an interest in the opposite sex and were convinced that they would all succeed in finding my prince charming for me.

"Thanks Maggie. I'll meet them outside." I looked out the window and had to grin at the sight of Embry giving Leah a big hug while Leah shook her head at him, trying to struggle out of his arms but looking up at him, clearly with love in her eyes. It was good to see my friend – and soon to be sister – happy at last.

Leah was still giggling and struggling to squeeze out of Embry's arms when I stepped out the front door of the Inn.

"Hey Call!" I shouted mockingly "Don't make me have to go over there and make you let go of the lady."

"Bella!" Embry exclaimed letting Leah slip to the ground and rushing to meet me. I was immediately lifted up in a huge bear hug – and I closed my eyes for a moment, remembering.

"Ok" Leah's laughing voice cut in, mock anger in it "That's it, let her down Embry."

"Awww Leah, you know you don't need to be jealous - you know all this hotness is yours!" Embry joked gesturing up and down at himself.

"Ok enough…" I laughed. "I'm not sure if this is better or worse than the constant bickering you guys…"

"Leah!" I said. We both reached toward each other at the same time, and as she embraced me, I felt tears slide down my cheeks. It had been too long.

"Hey.." she said, gently holding me away from her and looking me up and down. "You're looking good Swan. And is this because of the mystery man..."

But Leah never finished her sentence because at that same moment, a little brown whirlwind flew out of the house and almost knocked me down, wrapping his little arms around my legs. "Momma!" Caleb said. Then realizing there were two pairs of strange eyes looking at him…in shock?...dismay? Caleb hid behind my legs and peeked out at Embry and Leah shyly.

"Is he…." Embry finally got out the words. "I mean, he's…so obviously..I mean..he looks just like Jake." He ended awkwardly.

I nodded. Not really knowing what to say or where to start. "This is Caleb. He's two."

Leah knelt down so she was eye level with Caleb. "Hello Caleb." She said gently.

"You pwetty." Caleb said, reaching out to stroke Leah's cheek.

"He's very smooth Swan" Leah grinned up at me. "No wonder you're crazy about him."

"I'm your Auntie Leah." She introduced herself. "And that's Uncle Embry" she said, nodding in Embry's direction. Embry gave a little wave, which Caleb solemnly returned.

"I's gots cookies." Caleb announced. "wan' some Auntie Weah?"

"Sure!" she said. And proudly, Caleb led her into the inn.

I looked after them, a quiet happiness spreading through me. If only all his introductions would go this well.

"I guess…I mean…are you going to tell Jake?" Embry asked.

I was quiet – not wanting to commit to something I wasn't sure I was brave enough to do yet.

"Caleb has the right to know Bella – even if Jake doesn't." Embry said in that quiet, emphatic way he had.

And I knew he was thinking back to his own childhood. Call was his mother's maiden name. And despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that the Calls were a respected name in the tribe, his mom had never revealed who Embry's father was when she got pregnant, unmarried, at eighteen. Embry's prestigious family name never protected him from the fact that in the eyes of the tribe, he was still a bastard. Unclaimed. Paternity unknown.

"You need to do it for Caleb – not for anyone else."

I nodded. He was not telling anything I didn't already know.

"We..Leah and I…we'll be there with you." He said, his large, warm hand on my shoulder, lending me his strength and I leaned into him, wondering if by doing so, I would absorb some of his strength for the trial I knew was to come. "Whatever you need to do…you know we'll be there right?"

"I know." I started, wanting to explain. "It's just…what if…I mean, he's only half blood Embry…and Jake's family is old and Billy…"

"Does Billy know?" Embry asked.

"No. Only Charlie, Sue and my mom." I explained. "I made them promise not to tell anyone…he's mine Embry..we only had each other since he was born…what if the tribe…."

"What if what?" Embry asked sharply "Do you really think we would let anything happen to him? To you?"

"It's not that…"

"Then what is it?" He asked, his eyes piercing.

"It's not that simple!" I shouted. "He's all I have Emby….could I let them…what if they try to take him from me?"

"I don't think Charlie would let that happen Bella." Embry said "…and you're being unfair to Billy."

"Or worse…" I said, half whispering "What if they doubt who he is?"

Embry was quiet, his eyes sad.

"They only need to look at him to know Bella." He said. "I don't think there could be any doubt whose son he is."

"He's MY son. Mine." I said, tears running freely now. "I'm all he has…all he's ever had. And…"

"And what Bella?" Embry asked gently.

I turned away, wiping my tears on my sleeve.

"He's my piece of forever – all I had left of Jake… " I tried to explain. "When I left Forks that last night..I knew I was pregnant. I couldn't tell anyone because I knew you would all try to stop me…"

"So you let everyone believe you ran off with Edward?"

"If that was what they chose to believe…" I said sadly. "I haven't seen Edward..or any of the Cullens…not since that night."

"I wish you had let us know." Embry continued. "We could have been here for you." His arm wrapped around shoulders and for a moment, they felt like...his. The warmth, the solid strength. And then I pushed away, not wanting the memories to come back – memories I had struggled two years to put away. But seeing Embry and Leah…especially Embry…the memories had broken through like water bursting through a dam, rushing through me in torrents.

"I didn't want to complicate things." I tried to explain. "How could I tell him Embry?" I asked, "..he had just announced his joining to Aliya…and..then the bonfire…"

He nodded. "But we would have understood Bella – Leah, Quill, Seth and I – we would have been there for you."

"I know that. I knew that" I said, grasping both his hands in mine. I looked up and his handsome face was troubled. "I just didn't want to cause even more trouble for you and the pack…"

Embry shook his head. "The pack? The "pack" stopped being the pack you knew after you left Bella." He explained. "Quill, Leah, Seth and I – well we were pack but we weren't you know? And Jake, he just himself away from all of us..until…"

"Until what?" I asked, knowing there was more.

"Look…Leah and I we don't know this personally…I mean we were in Washington State when it happened…but one night Seth called us. It was after Aliya had had her baby – and Jake, he faced down the council…told them it wasn't his baby..and then asked…no…told them..he was getting annulment." He explained in a rush, looking at me from the corner of his eyes, gauging my reaction.

"Not..not his..not his baby?" I managed to ask. My heart seemed like it was in my throat.

"That's what Seth said…apparently, no one except Jake and Aliya's families had seen him.."

"Him. Jake..he had..it was a boy too?"

"Bella…listen to me." Embry, both hands on my shoulders, turning me to face him. "It ws a boy. But he wasn't Jake's son."

"Where.."

"They're gone. My Uncle Andrew got some cushy job down in Florida and Alia moved down there with the baby. They've been gone over a year."

I nodded. Not quite sure how to process the information or what to do with it. And at the same time, trying to control the rapid beating of my heart.

"Look…I know Jake made mistakes…lots of them…but Bella, he's still the same Jake you loved. He made some bad choices, but don't we all?" Embry asked softly. "And there's more to this…I don't know what..I haven't spoken to Jake…I mean not really…but I know there has to be more."

"And the imprint?"

"We asked Seth about that – Bella, Aliya imprinted on Jake but he never imprinted back…it was all her."

I nodded again, not knowing what to say.

"I know this is hard Bella. And I know Leah has been trying to tell you but you wouldn't listen. But I need to ask you something…and I've never asked you for anything right?"

I looked up and my old friend was smiling his lopsided smile at me, and I remembered all the times he had been there for me. My eyes were questioning.

"All I ask is this…will you just hear him out?"

Just then and before I could answer, Miss Emma appeared at the doorway. "Where are your manners Bella?" she chided me teasingly. "Bring the boy in out of the cold – dinner's almost ready and Caleb's looking for you."

I turned to look at Embry and he hadn't moved. Waiting.

"For you." I said. And then I led him into the house where Caleb waited.

For the next few hours, all serious talk was forgotten as Caleb worked his usual charm – Leah and Embry falling in love with him with each minute they spent.

"All set?" Miss Emma asked as I loaded the last bag into the car. It was still dawn, barely light and Caleb, still half asleep, snuggled deeper into her arms.

I nodded, my voice having seemed to desert me.

"It'll be ok Bella." She assured me, leaning her forehead against mine, Caleb a warm sleepy bundle between us. "You know you don't have to stay…it's just a few days..for Charlie." But there was a false note of reassurance in her voice – we both knew it was more than that.

"Time to go Bella." Embry's voice broke the moment of silence, and giving Caleb a kiss on the top of his head, Miss Emma handed him over to Leah who strapped him to the car seat.

And as the sun's first weak light traced the horizon, my journey home began. I looked back once. Miss Emma was a dwindling figure in the distance. I remembered that trip home years ago with Charlie and how frightened I had been and how at the end of the trip, happiness...more happiness than I had ever hoped for had waited for me.

I looked over at Caleb, fast asleep. His tattered toy wolf clasped tightly in his hand, his cheek rested on the side of the car seat. With each even breath he drew, I swore that whatever awaited us in Forks, I would die rather than have him hurt the way I had been.