Disclaimer: Twilight isn't mine.
Warnings: This is dark mind-fuckery. AG read and she said so. But maybe you like that sorta stuff. (I do.) Beta'd by the amazing ElleCC.
Jacob asked her the question that everyone kept asking, except unlike every other stern-face in Forks, he didn't ask it in a way that grated. "Now you're a graduate and stuff. Got a plan? College student? Seattle heroin addict? Dewy Decimal expert? "
Bella uncrossed her hands in her black polyester lap. She was in her graduation gown, bunched up to her waist so that her jeans and battered dress flats stretched out beneath.
They were sitting on their favorite dead tree on the La Push beach. From where they sat, the surf rolled loud beneath the late afternoon fog. Gulls flew like moth-shadows through the low cloud. The west wind sent sand bits tickling across her ankles.
It should have been beautiful or peaceful, but it wasn't. Rather, Bella felt ill at ease as she swirled her black cap around on her thumb, watching the waves while Jacob devoured a pack of peanuts. He was pinching the shells so that the nuts went flying a good four-five-six feet in the air before disappearing with a snap of teeth into his awaiting mouth. Jacob could never sit still.
"I'm accepted to UW, but I don't think… I don't know." She shrugged. "Nothing, I suppose. I don't have a plan."
It felt good to say, because it was true. Nothing, not even Jacob had really changed that. She'd thought at one point that maybe… but then the wolves had killed Victoria. They'd killed the final threat, and the voice that whispered in the dark of her mind had faded, but instead of feeling stronger, more free, she'd felt more alone. On most days her chest ached liked she'd been shot, and when it didn't—that was worse. Even Jacob's warm grip on her had started to numb. She missed the pain.
"Don't feel like leaving. Don't feel like staying."
Jacob smiled at her, a weak smile. She didn't smile back. Not today. She returned to twirling her cap. If anything, his presence made it worse because she didn't really feel like leaving him, either. That would hurt.
"Hmmm…" Jacob tapped his lips. He was being goofy, but not. She knew it tore him up when she got this way, far-eyed and quiet, so blatantly in love with another.
"Hmm-what?" She stopped twirling her cap.
"You sound like a depressed person."
"I know." She nodded.
"You know, Bella"—Jake bit his bottom lip—"it's something of a bad thing when the depressed person is okay with being depressed."
"I know." She didn't see the point of arguing about it.
"Well, you've got your whole life ahead of you. Gonna do something about it?" His voice was Dr. Phil again or a high school sports coach in a G-rated Disney flick. He was worried. He cared.
Bella didn't care. Rather, she stared down the shore, tracing the dark geometry of the wave-stained sand. She thought about him. She thought about his voice. His hands. The feeling of being smashed into the meadow grass with his cool hands connecting the dots with kisses from belly button and nipple and nose. She thought, and the thoughts hurt, and she held on to the pain.
She thought the thoughts that she shouldn't think. Especially not on graduation day. Yet, a year ago she'd thought she'd be graduating to something else.
Bella thought about making her way down the beach to that coffee-brown line, crossing it, and stepping into the water. She wasn't a good swimmer. She'd probably make it as far as the third line of white breakers before the undertow won the battle against the twigs she called her arms and legs. As she was sucked into the murk, she knew she would hear it. His voice. One sullen argument, almost like a bad pop song: You promised. - So did you. - You promised. - But now we're through. She started humming. The stupid words were soothing as she repeated them in her head, but they were certain—once her toes dipped into the water, she would hear the protest. She knew she would.
"Earth to Bella." Jacob was waving his hand in front of her.
Jacob would never let her do that. She shouldn't want to do that.
"We should go," she said, and she stood, turning her back to the fog, to the ocean. To the line in the sand.
She loved the feel of riding the motorcycle. It was sexual. After all, your legs were stretched over the ribs of the leather cushion. A fast-moving engine rumbled and jerked as your thighs squeezed to keep you steady. The wind fucked your hair, your cheeks, and your face as you forced your way through it. Besides, it was engine and wheels and seat. You were in control. It couldn't run away without taking you with it.
It was a simple thing. They were riding back to her house when it happened, when the sky cleared. They'd just crested one of the long hills that descend from the ocean bluffs near the reservation. Bella's hair had come untied beneath her helmet, and it was bothering her, smacking at her cheeks. She was spitting a strand out of her mouth when the clouds opened up. The sun hit them.
It was blinding. She winced and had to squint to see, had to blink and let her eyes water and tear up and slow down her speed. At her side, Jake was doing the same. There was something about the light, something so warm yet too hot. It hurt. Bella had to grip the handles hard.
They reached the peak the top of the next hill, and the light disappeared.
The scream was internal, and Bella pumped the gas, and the bike roared ahead. She was going fifty, maybe sixty mile-per-hour around turns that should be taken at thirty-five. She could hear Jacob fading away behind her. He was afraid to keep up.
Why wasn't she afraid?
Bella's bike came over the top of the next hill, and for the first time, Bella went airborne, both tires lifting off. Gravity was damned. The rise in the air felt like an upward slide, and it was in that moment that the light reappeared again, catching her and the bike in its arms. The rays burned down her throat and chest, rippling and stinging like a gentle whipping—if there was such a thing, because it made her want to throw her arms out, catch the fleeting song-made-light, smash it to her chest, chain it to her. The dreary musicality disappeared, switching like the conductor gone mad—"Für Elise" transforming to "Ode to Joy"—some deaf master beating the shit out of the air with his stick.
The deaf master. Edward. She realized it was him. He was screaming: No. Bella. No. Slow. Slow down. Screaming and beating the inside of her brain like he wanted to tear it open.
You can't stop me. Give me a reason, she hummed to the voice. A good one.
It's not safe—you'll—
You know that's not the reason.
The voice had no reply, and the symphony stormed on as the conductor snapped his stick over his knee. She knew he wouldn't sway her. He'd already given her all his reasons. Because Bella was nothing but dancing hubris and Hercules in ascension, and her lungs were full and the sky held a pot of gold at the summit of the dawn.
She landed perfectly. She half wished she hadn't.
She was gliding down the next hill again, when a large, lupine shape shot out from her left. She almost swerved at it, blocked it, but then it was at her side, and the eyes… It was the eyes that got her. Pleading, soft black. The jaws, however, caught her handle bar, grabbing hold, keeping pace and bit by bit, slowing her down.
When they came to a stop, Bella wasn't steering at all. She was leaning back on the seat, gripping the sides of the bike with her thighs, arms crossed. The light had faded once again.
Jacob growled, and when she didn't quit her scowl, he whined at her.
"Sorry," she replied. She reached out to scruff his ear.
He pulled back, giving her a severe lupine look.
Bella fashioned a smile on her face, attempting to appear meek. "I don't know why I did that. Felt amazing, though."
Jacob huffed a short growl.
"We should get your bike…" she said, throwing her head back up the road.
She hummed as they rode back.
Ode to Joy.
They were sitting on her porch when she asked him. He had one of her enchiladas stuffed in his mouth, and she was sipping at a cup of stale coffee. "Hey, Jake," she said, "I know this might sound stupid, but… I think I want to go on a trip. A road trip."
Jacob cocked his head to the left.
"With our bikes."
She didn't answer him, just emphasized, "With you."
He paused and peered into her eyes, like he was looking for something. His search didn't faze her. It didn't matter what he found. She knew he'd say yes.
Jacob wasn't the person to ask those questions. How do we pay? Where do we sleep? What happens when it rains?
That wasn't what happened. What happened was that Bella went up to her room and packed a duffle. She went into the kitchen and grabbed a box of granola and wrote Charlie a note. Jake and I are headed out for a trip. I'll call. Bella. In the storage shed on the side of the house, Bella found some bungee cords, a sleeping bag, and hidden behind some fishing poles, an old hand gun, still oiled but with no bullets. She wondered if Charlie would notice the gun's absence (probably), but maybe not. As she secured the duffle to the back of the bike with the cords, she told herself she had to bring it for just-in-case. She knew where Charlie kept his bullets, and she felt no need to touch them. She could buy bullets along the way though, if needed.
No. You won't, Bella.
Yes, I will, Edward, she hummed back.
She rode to meet Jake at the gas station on the edge of town. He wasn't there yet, so she drank water and went to pee. The bathroom was gross, smelled like urine and mildew and coal dust. A man cleaned this place, clearly, she thought.
She wondered then what this trip was going to be like. If it was going to be all stained tiles, cracked basins, and waiting, or if it would be open air, flight, and sunlight. Both, she decided. Both. Shit and Light and fucking waiting for something that never was coming back.
She was washing her hands she heard the window creak.
The squeak was loud, and deliberate, and the bathroom was so quiet. There's no wind, so why…? She waited for another sound, a reason to turn around.
After a minute, she had to make herself turn and look. The window was high, at least nine feet up on the olive-tiled wall, and the glass was narrow and crystallized with that 1950's bubbling.
She was about to turn back around, when her nostrils caught the scent. She gasped. She choked it down. She sniffed like a blood hound, because there was a smell, one too sweet for the reek of the room. One that was familiar and painful and made her drive her knuckles into her chest. She swallowed it down, not caring about the polluting mixture of the surrounding latrine.
"Edward," she whispered.
Then she waited.
She jumped when she heard the knock on the door, followed by Jacob's voice. "Bella, you in there? The guy at the register said you were, but he didn't seem all there, so…" He trailed off on the other side of the door. "Uh, if you're not Bella, sorry for interrupting…?"
"Just a minute," she called, and then she took a steadying breath, but still she was panicked. She needed to do something. She needed to respond. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a pen. It was an old Bic, almost empty, and then she tried to be clever. To say something that would convey… She shook her head. She wasn't clever—she was Bella. She could be blunt. Therefore, when she traced out her message, it was faint and uneven, and she had to retrace certain spots until the message was clear.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Cheesy, but it wasn't like she has the whole play memorized…
She wrinkled her nose as she looked at her addition to the wall. Compared to the Mary P. Loves Peter J. and Anna Fielderson is a whore and This Place Smells, hers was an odd form of graffiti. She shrugged, figured someone, someday would add "…fucking Suzie" or something equally colorful, and then her message would fit in. Returning her pen to her pocket, Bella unlocked the door and stepped out to see Jacob leaning against a fence post, chewing gum and tapping his fingers in a neat rhythm.
"Glad it was you, and not some old lady. I mean, I was pretty sure, but you never know. Not like I have x-ray vision." He shrugged with a smirk.
"Hey, Jake…?" she asked, eyes scanning the parking lot. "When you got here, did you notice anything? Smell anything?"
Jake gave her a raised brow. "We're next to a gas station bathroom. You bet I did. Gasoline and uh… well, you know." He stuck his tongue out to make an "ugh" face.
"No, I…" she said, and she almost pressed him but then dropped it. She was projecting. Just like the voice. It was her brain playing games with her. There was no other explanation. "I just need to buy some sanitizer," she said. "And then we'll be off."
Jacob nodded with vigor. "Yeah, you do not wanna know what that bathroom handle smells like."
Their journey began with sanitized hands and a giant kosher pretzel.
They rode south, leaning against the coast like a guard rail. Bella's legs grew sore after a few hours, but she ignored the stiffness, focusing on the road ahead. Saddle burns were the mark of a proper pilgrim. Or so she allowed herself, until they found themselves rolling through some tourist trap beach town, a fine mimicry of Port Angeles, and Bella saw the book store. She didn't even think of signaling Jacob. She braked and pulled a sharp right into the parking lot. She heard the squeal of Jacob's tires as he made a fast u-turn farther down, but she didn't wait for him. She grabbed her keys and charged inside.
The air outside smelled amazing, but the air inside the shop was dank. The fluorescent lighting and moldy aquarium didn't help. Sea air most likely wasn't all that great for books. But still… books. Metal shelving went to the ceiling and an old sun-spotted man sat behind the counter. He had his palm concealing the underside of the book cover as he read with his thin nose almost brushing the page. He lowered the book ever so slightly as she came in, eyes assessing her in an up-and-down perusal, before returning to his book.
"You a Virginia, Edna, or Nora?" the man murmured, returning his eyes to the page.
"Let me know if you leave the doll house and awaken in a room of your own."
Bella blinked at him. She was pretty sure he was talking about—
The man shook his head before she could respond. "You're just Bopeep then. Figures," he groused before narrowing his eyes at the top of the new page.
"Looking for a book. All the girly shit is in the back, right-hand side. Nursery rhymes are in Children's far left. Or"—he lowered his book again—"you looking for DVDs? Those are in the counter case." He banged a flat fist against the glass cabinet to his right.
Jacob chose that moment to open the door. "A book store?" he asked, looking at Bella and not seeing the man.
"And Toto," the man said so low that Bella barely heard it—except that she did.
As did Jake. Enhanced hearing and all. He gave the man a half-insulted glare.
"I just wanted to pick up something. I hope that's okay," Bella told Jake.
"Catherine, then. Poor sod," the bookkeeper muttered, turning another page.
Both Bella and Jacob shot confounded looks at the man before looking at each other with mutual expressions of alarm. "I'm just going to check on the bikes, if that's cool…" Jake trailed off.
"Yeah, I'll be out in a minute." Bella smiled at him.
With a nod, Jacob headed back out the door, and Bella turned to the bookkeeper. "I was looking for the Classics section, actually…"
The bookkeeper raised his head slowly, giving her a blank look, before standing and smacking his paperback down onto the counter. "Motorcycles and classics are a recipe for Valium, state school, majoring in philosophy, and falling in love with human-shaped tape worms."
Before she could process this statement, the man was up, marching into the shelves, not bothering to wait for Bella. Her eyes followed his path for a good few paces, before she realized she should follow. She had to jog to keep up with him.
She had just turned the corner and found herself facing empty shelves, when a loud, "Here," made her jump. She turned to see the bookkeeper standing behind her and pointing to a high row of books. "You're not tall, so tell me what you want and I'll grab it."
"Do you have Shakespeare?"
He visibly cringed. "Cack! Don't tell me…"
"Um…" Bella hesitated.
He put up a hand. "Speak not." He pulled a thin volume off the shelf and pressed it into her palm. Romeo and Juliet. The yellow copy must have hailed from the seventies.
"You shouldn't buy that." He was shaking his head with a touch of desperation and his eyes were wildly searching the surrounding shelves. "You should read something better, like this." He grabbed a book and then flopped it on top of the copy in her hands, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, "Or… this one." He leaned around a corner shelf and grabbed an even smaller The Zombie Survival Guide. "Nice books. Funny books. Not that…" He batted a hand at air above the yellowed copy in her hands.
"Are you trying to tell me something…?" Bella joked, as she was still awkwardly holding the growing pile.
"Yes," the bookkeeper said, and there was a strange way in which his sun spots on his nose seemed to swirl as she looked at him. "You're not dead yet, sweetie. Not yet."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she breathed.
He looked into her eyes, and there was a moment when their color seemed to change, to go from honey hazel to beige and then glistening ivory, and then they were normal again. Hazel and worried. The bookkeeper grabbed the top two books back from her. "Take your rotted heart screenplay. It's on the house. Just this once, and don't mind me—I'm a cooped up ole busybody." He gave her a short frown, and then he marched back down the aisle again.
Bella took slow steps back to the front of the store. The bookkeeper was back at the front desk, his book back to almost touching his nose.
"Uh, thanks." Bella raised the book by way of acknowledgment.
As Bella went to open the door, he sang low, almost like he was singing a song, "I'll let him know you were here. You stopped in for a b—"
She let the door swing back, and she demanded, "What did you say?"
But then the cool voice pounded in her ear drums. Don't ask him. Get out.
As it always did, the voice disoriented her, so she was clutching onto the door handle for stability when she looked up to see the bookkeeper smiling wide at her. The smile was unsettling after his previous recalcitrance. "I was singing. Music. You know the song?" He dipped his chin as if waiting for her to repeat his words.
"Have a nice day," she said, her words coming out in a tremble, and with a shake of disbelief, she pushed out the door.
"As you were, Catherine," the bookkeeper whispered low.
That first night, Bella rented them a room. It was still technically the off-season along this stretch of the coast, easy enough to afford a room in a thirty-bucks-a-night roadside fuckstop, and Bella had the money. The one thing she'd done consistently the past year was make money—and yeah, even working at Newton's eventually added up, especially when you didn't spend money on clothes or going out. When she thought about it, the only expenditure she'd made the entire year had been on the motorcycles and gas for her truck. She was satisfied with that.
If she needed to, she could buy Jake a plane ticket home.
There were in separate beds that first night. Jake stripped down to his boxers (a simple, opaque black pair) and fell asleep the moment he settled atop the covers. Bella, eying the blanket, decided to be more careful, and nabbed a sleeping bag out of her duffle. She went to sleep to the beat of Jacob's breath and something else. A faint humming.
When she woke up, Jake had a wet head of hair and a dozen-sized box of doughnuts sitting in front of him. "I saved you two." He grinned and pointed somewhat sheepishly.
"I only need one."
"You want the chocolate long john or the old fashioned glaze?"
"Nice," Jacob said, and he settled her doughnut onto a napkin before handing it to her. He waited until she bit in, and then he had the long john in his mouth. His bite was massive.
"Don't forget to breathe," Bella teased.
Jacob didn't answer but merely moaned as if at risk of dying of ecstasy and flopped back on the mattress with the long john pointing skyward. Over the next few seconds the long john disappeared, like a carrot through a food processor.
"You going to eat that?" Jacob asked when he sat up.
Bella took another bite. "Yeah," she mumbled through her chew.
"Fine then," he grumbled, but his eyes looked happy.
Bella wore flip flops into the shower, wary of the stains on the cracked porcelain floor, and waited a good three and a half minutes for the water to heat up. When it was finally putting off a faint steam, she stepped in and set to rinsing off the film of the past day's travel. Since there was no conditioner, she spent a good ten minutes detangling her hair, tangle by tangle. The logical thing to do would be to cut it, but… no. No. She picked up another tangled strand and examined its crisscrossed web. She found the end and picked it free. She started to hum as she did it—and then she didn't mind. This relaxed her.
Once the knob finished squeaking and the spigot was no longer dribbling, she stepped out.
She hadn't brought a towel. She had to wring her hair multiple times and make use of a small wash cloth. Then she set to tending the red splashes across her thighs and backside.
Butt burn, how attractive.
When she was ready to leave, she realized the mirror was still fogged. She reached out. Her finger touched the glass, and a drip of water trailed down. She started tracing.
For you and I are past our dancing days
She blinked when the voice in her head responded, How long is't now since last yourself and I were in a mask?
"Too long," Bella replied, and then she smacked her hand over her mouth.
Outside she heard the creak of the mattress. She knew Jacob had heard her. Regardless, she packed up her stuff, humming to calm herself down. Humming so that Jacob didn't come in. Didn't see the trickling branches of her letters on the mirror. Didn't pick up the streaks of finger oil.
Because Edward would.
Edward could probably smell out every line she traced. He knew her scent best of all.
The next night, they slept on the compressed dirt of an old campground somewhere in northern California. Accounting for Jacob's lupine heat, the sleeping bag, and the fact that it wasn't all that cold (thank the maritime climate for that), she had no longer a problem sleeping through the night.
She didn't feel so hot in the morning, though.
"My tongue tastes like it withered into ash."
Jacob, who was gargling aqua mouthwash, nodded and then pointed with wide eyes at the travel-sized bottle of Scope.
With a nod, she held out an open palm. "Hand it over."
She gargled until her eyes watered. She spit in the same spot that Jacob had, and then she set about untangling her hair. She had most of the front done when Jacob asked, "You've heard of a ponytail, right?"
"I have." She focused in on the current knot.
"'Cause not to be bored out of my mind or anything, but if you keep up with that, I might as well pull a Rip Van Winkle under that tree over there."
"That one? I peed there last night after you went to sleep."
"Or the next-next-next tree…"
"But you'll never be Rip Van Winkle, Jake," Bella mused. "You'd wake up and still look twenty-five."
"Only if I went to sleep as a wolf, but if I stopped changing…"
"But you won't."
Jacob didn't respond, and Bella looked up from her knot to see him frowning at her.
"But, Bella," he said. "Someday, I will die. Just like you. I don't want to live forever."
If there was a question, a deeper meaning in his words—Bella ignored it. She focused all of her attention on her knots. Her knots and her humming.
Jacob was actually asleep by the time she finished. She inspected him closely. She watched his breathing in the morning glow. When he started to snore, she was sure. She went over by the tree. The tree where she'd said she'd peed, but she hadn't. She did have to pee—no lies there, but it could wait until they made it to the next rest stop, no matter the shifting sting of her bladder.
There was smooth grey rock, almost like an over-sized pebble beneath one of the tree's roots. That was the place. She lifted the rock and saw her message untouched and scratched out underneath:
We are west. Not east. And I am not the sun.
She put the rock back.
She went and soothed Jacob awake, shaking her head when he tried to snuggle his water bottle. When he was no longer rubbing his eyes open, they climbed onto their motorcycles. They rode off. The sun shone down on them from the east.
There was a party. Somewhere in Northern California. Bella wasn't sure where exactly, but she knew that if she asked Jacob, he could tell her. Not that she would ask. It was one of those massive parties—the kind you can hear three blocks over, where there are too many people to care about who is who—as long as you're young or hot or look the part, you're in.
Jacob didn't want to go in.
"Bella, you don't just..."
"It'll be fun."
"Fun." Sarcasm. "I'm pretty sure those are college kids."
"You look twenty-five, and I'm college-aged. Not in high school anymore, remember?"
"Oh, I remember."
"Consider it a coming of age experience," she urged, giving him something she hoped was a hopeful expression.
"What, like one of those children's stories?" His voice went high. "No, Lucy! Don't open the wardrobe—bare-chested, pedophilic fawns lurk on the other side! " And then more of a scratchy sotto. "Come, come, Little Simba. Like elephant graveyards? It's all Hakuna Matata-cool in this narrow ravine. Don't mind the crazy wildebeest tracks. Those are actually left over from Santa's reind—"
He stopped short when the girl stepped out in front of them.
First of all, Bella wanted to offer this girl her jacket—because it wasn't all that warm out, and this girl wasn't wearing much: precariously thin black heels, a grey cotton dress—one of the shoulder straps dangling off her shoulder. Second, the girl's mouth was hanging open. Way open. Her eyes looked capable of popping out of their sockets at any moment. She was focused on Jacob.
"You're like so fucking oh-my-uterus hot," scantily-glad-girl said to Jacob. She stalked up to him, leaned forward, and undeniably stuck her nose up—and sniffed him, before leaning back on her heels with a look of satisfaction.
"Um, hello?" Jacob looked to be in shock.
"His name is Jacob," Bella said, trying to help out. "He smells woodsy."
"You have a motorcycle," freaky-girl practically purred when she hit the r in the word. "I am Liliam. I like you. And motorcycles."
"Yes, the bike," Jacob gulped, before pointing a finger at Bella. "She has one, too."
Liliam spared Bella a glance. "Hello..."
"Hi. Nice to make your acquaintance. Bella. Jake should give you a ride on his bike. I'm sure he'd be delighted to. While you two are out, are there drinks up at the house? I could probably occupy myself with a drink."
By the time Bella finished her sentence, Liliam was beaming at her. "Yes. There are drinks. Ask for my brother Paulie—and get him to mix you something that isn't turpentine wash. If someone gives you shit, tell them you're one of Liliam's long lost loves—and that you deserve a hammock with palm fans and big, hot men dropping plump grapes into your waiting mouth." Liliam said the last part more to Jake than Bella.
"That's kind of you." Bella was all manners as she smiled encouragingly at Jake, and before he could really protest, she waved and skipped toward the front porch.
Behind her she could hear Liliam's voice dripping as she spoke. "You're tall."
"You're not wearing much clothing." Jacob gave a nervous chuckle.
Their voices faded as soon as Bella reached the porch. People were about in twos and threes, girls in ass-skirts with heads bent close together over giggles and the red dots of their cigarettes swaying over the railing. There was some pudgy kid in a bomber jacket doing a reenactment of god knows what for the delight of his drunken fellows. Down the hall, she passed family pictures and wiggled her hips between couples holding paper cups and wallflowers still scoping the room. Bella gave a sigh of relief when she finally made it to the kitchen.
That was when she saw him.
Some preppy-plaid shirt covered his back, like something Alice would have picked out. She could see the angle of jaw, the cock of his head as he took in the world with irony. His hair was the same though—shining and light beneath the florescent lamp above. He was leaning against the side of the counter while pouring a drink, and he was talking to this girl—which was Bella's first clue, because when the girl saw Bella looking at them, he turned, too—and—
His skin was not... His nose looked... His eyes were green. Not gold.
"Yeah, my eyes are green."
That was when Bella realized she'd spoken aloud. "Uh, I'm supposed to be looking for Paulie."
"I'm Paulie." He grinned. "Watcha need?" Behind him, the girl he'd been talking to marched off, but not before she glared at Bella.
"Liliam sent me. I'm supposed to tell something about turpentine, love, and grapes?"
Paulie laughed. "She, uh... meet some guy?"
"Awesome, and so typically my sister. What's your name?" He smiled as he said it, and even if he wasn't Edward, even if when she really looked at him, they weren't really that similar at all, Bella felt an strange warmth creep up as she looked at him.
"What...?" Paulie asked after a minute.
She'd been staring at him. "Oh, sorry—I mean, you just look like someone I used to know. Someone I lost..."
"Not that kind of loss."
"Uh, so I figure you'd like a drink?"
He didn't expect that. He laughed. He had a light-light-light sprinkling of freckles on the tip of his nose. Even if he wasn't Edward, he was beautiful. And he was so alive. When she reached for her drink, she let her elbow graze his arm.
When she tipped back her drink, it was cold and it made her cough. "What's in this?" she asked.
"Girly stuff... and a dash of whiskey." Paulie grinned.
"What are you drinking?"
"Hmmm... why don't you pick a drink mix for me?" He waved his hand at the mass of bottles on the counter.
She smiled at him. "That's probably an awful idea."
"My caveat will be that it has to have some sort of juice—you can't taste most liquors when the drink's that sour."
"Okay," Bella agreed, and then she pointed. "That bottle, and that one."
"Wait. You really don't drink much do you? Or know anything about liquor."
"A bit about beer. Mostly that it tastes like ass?"
He was giving her a mockingly hurt look as he poured the first bottle. "Oh god, you clearly haven't had good beer either. Okay..." He bit his bottom lip as he examined the mixture in the glass. "Now you're going to have to help me." He was looking down as he said it, and that was when she saw him holding both the lemon and the knife. He cut it right on the counter, not bothering to search out a cutting board, and then he handed it to her.
"Bite it," he said, "like this." And that was when he put the lemon half into his mouth, flesh-side out, and steadied himself over his glass. His eyes were wicked until he bit down, and then they puckered shut as the pale yellow fluid dribbled out and into the glass waiting below.
"Can't you just squeeze it?"
He shook his head, using the back of his hand to wipe off his lips while he continued to wince-smile-pucker. "You waste juice that way. This way is the absolute most efficient. Gets every last drop out. Now, your turn. You chose the poison for this foul potion, and now you have to help me make it drinkable. Fresh citrus is a miracle worker."
She shrugged. "Why not?"
She opened her mouth wide and pushed the lemon half in, and then she bent over and bit down. First, she tasted the angry bite of the rind across her tongue and then she felt the squish of the fruit and sweeter but mostly sour burn of the juice.
When she pulled back, Paulie said, "Nice bite."
He picked up the glass in front of her. "Cheers?"
Five minutes later, they were side by side on the back porch, and Paulie had an arm around her waist, and Bella was giggling. "That's fucking awful," she said after sipping Paulie's drink. "It tastes like gasoline and lemon Kool-aid." She was giggling much longer than she normally would.
Then again, she didn't normally drink. Ever.
She was not drunk. But she was not sober.
"Watermelon gin, and shit scotch. It's my fault for giving you the choice when you have no fucking clue. Zip. Zero. Null. None. Nothing. Neg-a-tive."
"Psh. I bit a lemon for you, and I barely know you."
"Mmm," he hummed, looking in her direction with his bottom lip jutting out. "I don't feel that way. I feel like I know you."
"You do?" Her voice cracked.
"Yeah—you weren't even drinking, and I was comfortable with you. Normally at one of these"—he waved his hand out at the various partygoers—"I feel like I have to drink myself into a near-coma before I can relax."
"You mean you don't like these?"
He shrugged. "They're not too bad. I do get to coax girls into biting fruit..." He dodged away like she might hit him, but she was content to shake her head at him.
"So, that's what you do with all the girls?"
"No. You said something about grapes. We were out of that particular fruit, so I had to make do."
"I see." She leaned forward, digging her fingertips into the top of her knees.
"I don't think you do."
She wasn't looking at him when he said it, but she felt it when his fingers pushed her hair over her shoulder. By the time his fingers were beneath her ear, and his thumb was along her jaw, she was facing him. She was staring, looking into his green eyes, and feeling the warm burn from below traveling up, up, and higher.
"Can I?" he whispered, and his face was so close. She noticed the way his lips were parted.
She leaned forward, lifted the untucked flap of his shirt, and looked into his eyes.
That was how she answered his question.
When his lips were on hers, he tasted like the drink, fermented and too sweet and sour lemon. She could feel the stubble on his chin as his lips brushed against hers, soft at first, but then she felt teeth and the brief moist flick of tongue.
It was so unlike Edward.
When she let go of whatever she'd been chained to, she may have gone a little crazy. She knew she grabbed at him. It didn't matter where. She knew that her fingernails were digging into skin, and that she was closer, closer, closer until she was in his lap. His hands weren't like hers; they were gentle, even if they were so much stronger. His mouth was rough against hers, though—when she bit his tongue, he bit hers back, and the way his moist scruff cut into her chin stung, but she wasn't going to stop that. She grappled for more. She pulled their faces together harder.
They froze when they heard the whistle. Followed by a hooted catcall.
Paulie buried himself into her hair, laughing softly. "Get out of here?" he whispered, low and with a light pant.
They were in the woods. It was almost like they'd moved from tree trunk to tree trunk, smashing each other's backs into the sharper and thinner sets of bark. Bella was vaguely aware her back had a scratch or ten—but Paulie kept whispering, "Just a little farther. Farther away."
She let him take her.
She could see the train tracks when they finally stopped, and by that point she was covered in sweat, dirt and sap streaked in dark lines across her forearms. Her lips stung and she probably had bruises all over her hips, and yet she didn't want to stop. Every time he asked her, "This okay?" she'd reply, "More." That was how her shirt got unbuttoned, how her jeans got unzipped, and how she was pushed into the grass with a much heavier body over her.
He dragged his teeth down her stomach, let them catch on her naval, on her hip, on the dent where her thigh started. He only stopped using teeth because he had his tongue... down there—between her thighs—which had Bella in a state of precious awe—because even if she knew what he was doing, she'd never really contemplated it before. When she'd flipped through what she considered "randy" magazine tips, it was always to focus on Edward, on how to seduce him—where to touch, where to unleash control, how to not be some weak human.
As the world blurred and her hips trembled, and moans escaped her lips, her head slumped to the left and she dazedly looked out toward the train tracks. The air around them was so calm, almost misty—and not just because of the fact that she was having trouble focusing her eyes, but because there was a low fog. She could make out the trees though—mostly birch with branches reaching out like skeleton arms—and then farther out, she thought she saw something—a shape—but then—
Her body took control and she couldn't look anymore because her back arched and she was hissing out through clenched teeth, and Paulie—yes, Paulie—had his thumb on her clit, and was whispering profanities and urging her on as she felt her brain and body simultaneously dissolve into one angry, perfect fizzle.
She lay there, let herself be kissed, and she was relaxed and her chest felt light even though it was nighttime and the stars were bright above.
She tensed when she heard the jingle of his zipper, and then his face was level with hers, and she could feel his bunched jeans against her bunched jeans. She opened her mouth to say something, but he cut her off, "Yeah, I have a condom. Safe and all." He smiled at her, and she wanted to smile back, but his dick was on her thigh, and she thought she should be hearing something: a voice screaming in her head.
But it was silent. As quiet as this night.
"More," she whispered, because that was her mantra, and because she didn't care anymore, not if the voice was silent—she didn't want the silence—and because she liked this boy because he looked like something she wanted to remember, and he was sweet and he tasted like lemon candies now when she licked his molars.
Bella looked away when she felt him press up on his right arm. She bent her knees up, and when she felt ragged breath on her temple, she looked out at the woods again.
That was when she saw the dark profile again.
Not a tree. Not a tree.
And she was still looking when she saw the flash of twin butts of amber.
She pushed at Paulie. She pushed and shoved him off her, and there was shock and questions on his face, but then there was the roar—she looked toward the woods, expecting to see a snarling monster looking down at her in judgment, but instead there was the charge of the steam engine on the tracks, followed by the scream of the horn, and the chugging of the subsequent box cars.
She grabbed her jeans, covered herself with them, and watched as the cars rumble by.
"You're tense," Paulie said, loud enough for her to hear over the train's noise.
She didn't wait for him to try again. She pushed him over to the closest tree. He almost looked confused; he tried to swing her with him, but then she dropped to her knees, let her fingers crawl up the bunched fabric of his jeans, and then she had a grip on him. He groaned and nodded, and she actually put her magazine knowledge to use. She took him in her mouth, finding herself half-surprised as he groaned and clutched at the trunk and let his head slump back.
It was strange, she thought.
She was expecting to die at any moment. She expected a sudden snap of iced fingers across her neck. A snarl of betrayal. Some filthy insults hurled at her. She meant nothing. She meant nothing.
It was cruel, too—she expected that Paulie would die, too, but then she considered that there were probably worse ways for a guy to die.
But there was no attack. Not a movement in the trees.
Her mouth was getting sore. This was taking forever. She couldn't help but slow down—even when she was sure she was supposed to be going faster. The muscles in her mouth were starting to get numb. She pulled away. She was breathing hard, apologetic. Paulie took it in stride. He grabbed himself and gripped and stroked with a clenched face.
Bella didn't blink when his back shook and his hips shot forward, and then the white liquid shot out and went all over her face. She didn't even try to get out of the way.
Paulie was muttering apologies, something about needing a napkin.
Bella was sitting there. She could feel a creamy drop ready to fall from her nose.
"I'd like a napkin," she said, and she was vaguely aware of him standing.
"I'll grab one from the house, and I'll be right back."
She nodded and leaned back against the tree.
She watched him go. She watched the forest, too. Listening.
When there was nothing—no sound—not even a bird chirping, no insects buzzing, she ran a finger down her face, picking up the trail of sticky coating. She was humming as she pressed her finger pad down and into the dirt.
Is Love a Tender thing?
. . .
It Pricks Like a Thorn.
She wiped her face with her shirt, and then she started back toward the house. She needed to get the fuck out of there.
It was only when she was on her bike that the voice started screaming again.
When Bella stopped, she was along a low mountain. There were redwoods there, and the morning light was pleasant. She stopped to stretch her legs and rest, and because she was compelled to, she opened the old copy of Romeo and Juliet. She hadn't opened it since the bookshop, so when she flipped the pages, she froze when she saw the message on the back flap.
It was a note in neat handwriting, a script that Bella recognized. Go home. Don't do it, the message said.
"You can't tell me what to do anymore," Bella spoke aloud and glared at the words.
After that she went to the next town; she stopped when she saw a young guy in orange camo with a rat-tail in the back. He grinned when he told her, laughed even. "You gonna shoot Bambi in leather?" he leered, eyebrows raised.
"Something like that."
"Have at it," he said.
She bought a full box from the store. Buying just one bullet seemed suspicious.
She was in a diner when he found her again.
"Bella! I could fucking kill you!" Jacob fumed as he raced toward her, sliding across the booth seat and slamming his arms around in her in what was a rather painful hug.
"Bacon?" she offered, her voice a tight squeeze between Jacob's chest and armpit.
"No. Not bacon. You! Where were you?"
"Wanted to chill out—figured you were busy for the night..."
"As were you—fucking hell. Oh my—was that it? Did that fucker hurt you before he—?"
"Did—he—hurt—you?" Jacob demanded.
"Okay." Jacob heaved a sigh. He believed her. He didn't look particularly relieved though.
"Did something happen?"
Jacob didn't say anything, but he lifted his palm and smacked what appeared to be a roll of newspaper onto the center of the table. Bella took it, carefully unfurled it, and then search the headlines. The top one was something about the economy being a bunghole, but the next headline, the local one, read, "Teens Die in Gruesome Car Accident. No Survivors."
"I thought you were dead," Jake whispered.
"You thought I was..." But then she read the names listed in the article: Ari Weston, Montgomery Sanders, and Paulie Cardenbaum.
The voice inside her head cackled.
Bella looked up at Jacob.
"Bacon?" she asked again. Her voice trembled, but it wasn't from fear or disgust.
She had to make herself not hum.
When Bella dreamed, she dreamed of geometric lines in the sand. She dreamed of waves with claws that pull you down.
She dreamed of a bullet spinning in a barrel, spinning and spinning, and it was taking so long that Bella was thinking of monkeys in a barrel, and started to hum, "no more monkeys jumping on the bed." Then the spinning stopped, and the bang woke her up.
She dreamed of being on her bike, of riding on a flat plane. She rode so fast the machine started to shake. Wolves raced behind her, trying to catch her handlebars, trying to stop her, but Bella and the motorcycle could not be caught. She rode until there was a keening slice like a bomb going off, and then the metal and leather fell apart beneath her—except beneath her was air moving at over one-hundred miles an hour, and when she hit the ground, she was splitting open, rolling and snapping in cursive letter loops across the open plain: These violent delights have violent ends. It was spelled out in a trail of flesh and blood across the grass and dirt.
She was looking down on the scene, as if from a helicopter. The red spray glowed in the afternoon sun. The wolves howled with no moon.
When she awoke, Bella thought and thought about her thoughts like they were decisions already made. She wanted to broadcast them like a radio.
She stole out at three a.m. She rolled the motorcycle down the street until she reached the corner, and then she started the engine as quietly as she could.
When the sun started to rise, Bella rose with it. She was in the Sierra Nevada, and there was such a thing as altitude here, so she pressed the pedal to the floor, letting adrenaline soothe her trembling limbs. The drops were steeper; the sun, closer. She clung to the bike, and she clicked through the gears with her sweaty hand.
In her head, he was singing loudly. That's how she knew he wasn't really there. She was humming along with him. She allowed her inaccurate steering to threaten guard rails along the steep ravines. She almost blew out a wheel after landing a six-foot jump. When she crossed the bridge, she pivoted among the cars like a hockey puck—right to left, back and forward. You can't catch Bella. No one can.
Bella saw things as she rode: bright flashes in the corners of her eye and churning in the clouds overhead, faces forming in the coming storm, almost like a dream. But Bella was not dreaming—not as she rode, although she was tired. She knew that if she lay down, she'd be tired enough to sleep—but she had to keep going.
She felt it when the light disappeared. She looked up at the sky, and she saw all his bullshit, and she saw the cumulonimbus rising up like a titan, and heard it thunder, and what's more—it had started to rain. It made her laugh because it was so stupid. Rain and a motorcycle. "A death recipe for dumb teens," as Charlie would say.
She drove faster as the bike went down into the valley. The east side of the valley was blackened on one side, charred trunks and blackened rocks mixing in stark contrast with the late spring buds that carpeted the now open hill. On her west side, though, the wall was steep, deep brown rocks forming a sharp cliff face.
She was playing his words through her head as the wheels slid as much as drove on the road:
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
It became an argument in her head.
With him. With herself.
She was still in control of the bike when it curved up from the bottom of the hill. The motorcycle rumbled harder and started to slow, so she lowered the gear, gave it more gas, and it jerked forward. Black and green and deep brown blurred into streaks on her right and left. There was just the white above. Up and forward.
The rain fell harder, and Bella couldn't really see. She was picking up speed as she charged uphill, and she realized she was sopping. Drenched. Yet, in spite of the weather, she could discern the grey hole at the top of the mountain. She told herself that was where his soul lurked, the one he pretended didn't exist.
The engine was screaming as the summit leveled out. The road curved. The broken guardrail curved to the right—but Bella could feel the absence of traction under the wheels. The bike would not turn out of the hydroplane. She knew she couldn't make the turn even if she dared to try.
She wouldn't try, though. No curve for her. Her road was straight.
She kissed the air. Thus with a kiss I die.
She let go of the handlebars. I talk of dreams… children of an idle brain, begot of nothing but vain fantasy.
She felt the bike start to fall, felt guilt. Goodbye, dear father.
In the final seconds, she told herself that if she could—if she were able to move her fingers when she hit the ground—she would write a final message:
My only love sprung from my only hate; too early unknown and known too late.
She would write it in blood.