Edward was watching her chew.
Bella pretended to notice something interesting on the floor so she could look down and let her hair fall around her face, shielding her from his intense gaze.
He was so clinical about it. Bella imagined him sitting behind a two-way mirror, scribbling on a clipboard while wearing a white lab coat. He would watch her chew on the other side, his unblinking eyes the color of a moonless night sky.
"Bella," he said patiently. "What should we do?"
She gulped down the bite of sandwich. "About what? Sorry."
His smile was stunning; several girls turned around in their seats to flip their hair over their shoulders and stare openly. Like the awkwardness of eating around somebody who didn't, it was just something she'd gotten used to.
"The schedule, Bella. We're not in the same World Religions class."
"Oh, yeah. I can switch mine for the 11:00 slot."
"I could probably arrange that."
She knew he could.
"Let's try to do it legitimately, please. You can't go around dazzling everyone. People might notice if I get everything I want."
Well, almost everything. If she really got everything she wanted, she would currently be fighting the urge to drain her peers of blood. For the hundredth time, Bella tried to imagine what it would be like once she was turned. Her movements would be impossibly graceful, moving silently through the world, seeing and hearing and smelling tiny things that moved beneath the grass. She would be a Cullen. She wouldn't need that quick pat of moisturizer in the morning and she wouldn't have to brush her teeth before going to sleep. In fact, she wouldn't sleep at all...
"Besides, wasn't the deadline for schedule changes yesterday?" she added, coming abruptly back to the conversation.
"Bella, I almost get the feeling you don't want to take it with me," he said, resting his cold hand on top of hers. The feeling of his smooth, pale skin against hers made her blush.
"No, I do. I just don't want to cause any trouble."
Bella walked into the classroom alone and took an empty seat near the window. She'd picked her least favorite notebook for this class. It was black and had cost 15 cents. The thin metal spirals were already bent.
Everyone called her religion teacher Mr. G because his last name was so long, but oddly, the abbreviation seemed to fit him better.
He was writing a single word on the board in a looping script: Meditation.
Bella wrote it down, her mind wandering before she was done.
Charlie wasn't supposed to be working late, so she should have dinner ready by 6:30...
There was half a jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge from the previous night's baked ziti. Maybe she could make chicken parmesan. Or would that be too repetitive? Not that Charlie would care, of course. To him, food was food.
Guys and food, she thought shaking her head slightly.
Speaking of guys with a fondness for food...
Why was Jacob avoiding her? He was never home when she called. At least, that's what Billy told her and it was what she told herself. Obviously Jacob wasn't happy that she had gone back to Edward. He didn't understand. He was just a kid, she reminded herself.
"...and it's our breath that anchors us. It connects the internal world and the outside, it connects us with other people and animals and plants. The..."
Breathing? Wouldn't blinking work just as well? It was just a reflex.
Suddenly, she was struck by the strange thought that people move through life blinking and breathing and swallowing without even noticing. It was just what human bodies did to stay alive. Surely she wouldn't notice the loss once she was turned. She had never even thought about breathing except during those long minutes underwater...
"I encourage all of you to take a few moments to try a simple breathing meditation."
Bella wrote down the suggestions anyway, because she figured that she was the kind of person who took notes.
The music in the Volvo was quiet and soothing. They were parked in front of Bella's house.
"Bella, I have been putting it off for far too long. It's becoming... difficult." His smile didn't reach his dark eyes.
She heaved a sigh and looked out her window. She hated this part. While it wasn't a surprise, the ache of his absence never dulled.
"You haven't seen Victoria in a few days?"
"No, there's been no sign of her for over a week," Edward said. "You will be protected at all times, Bella."
She nodded and leaned over to kiss him. He gripped her shoulder, stopping her.
"I haven't fed in a very long time, Bella," he whispered and she nodded again. A small part of her understoon how dangerous this was, but she drowned out the protest with her words.
"I'm not afraid." Keeping her eyes on his, she lifted her chin up slightly, exposing more of her neck. She knew her pulse was racing, and that he could see the fluttering movement and smell her blood.
Edward turned away quickly and rolled down his window. Bella was oddly embarrassed by the rejection.
Seducing Edward had never been one of her strengths, anyway, she reasoned. When she tried to get too close to him, he held her away. If she ever tried to kiss him like she wanted to, they had to stop. They were probably very lucky he couldn't read her mind, or she would have to control her thoughts too.
After a few minutes of silence, he spoke.
"Promise me one thing, Bella."
She waited. Promises generally meant one of two things: she would be unable to partake in some marginally risky but completely mundane activity, or she was forbidden from doing something so outrageous that it would have never occurred to her had Edward not mentioned it.
"Promise me that you will not go to La Push."
La Push? Surprise swept over her and she leaned back into her seat. This didn't really fall into either category.
Edward looked straight ahead, his face revealing nothing. Choosing his words carefully, he said, "Werewolves are incredibly dangerous, Bella. They cannot master their impulses, especially when they're young. Particularly when they're tracking a vampire." His expression darkened. "If... if anything ever happened to you..."
"Nothing is going to happen to me. Jacob is my best friend and he can control himself." Edward was speaking from experience, which he had in spades, but she knew Jacob. If she could be safe with Edward, why should being around Jacob be any more dangerous?
"Promise me, Bella." The words were stern, a gentle order.
Protesting was pointless. "I won't go to La Push while you're gone," she said steadily.
Charlie was working late and the only lights on were the ones in her room.
She capped her highlighter and closed the notebook before she remembered the informal assignment for World Religions. While it wasn't a particularly interesting prospect, she was trying to stay busy. Anything to keep her mind off the fact that she would be sleeping alone for the next few nights.
So Bella threw a pillow onto her bedroom floor with a sigh and sat down on it, trying to fold up her legs comfortably. She arranged her body like her teacher had mentioned- back, hands, eyes, tongue, jaw, feet, legs. Then she waited.
What was supposed to happen? All she could do was think about making dinner, where Edward might be, how her mom was doing, why Jacob wasn't talking to her...
Songs were playing in her head, images stuck.
Finally, she pushed her way through to what she was supposed to be noticing: her breath. Bella assumed it had been there the whole time, since she wasn't gasping for air.
She remembered the feeling of her lungs filling with frigid water and inhaled deeply. She knew she wasn't supposed to control her breath, just observe it. But it felt labored, like it knew it was being watched.
Besides, wasn't she always controlling it, even if it was subconscious? Her brain kept her lungs expanding and contracting constantly. But wasn't she her brain? How could she possibly think about a reflex without knowing she was observing?
She sighed. This was a waste of time.
Bella got to her feet unsteadily, and went downstairs to rinse, boil, chop, stir, simmer. She played music so she could hear a beat different from the one pounding in her chest.
Had it always been that loud?
"As I'm sure most of you noticed, meditation takes practice. Believe it or not, it's like that for everybody." Mr. G casually leaned against his desk, trying to make the lecture feel like a conversation. "Even people who have been doing it for years have rough days. They get distracted and frustrated. It's difficult for many of us to 'do nothing,'" he said, making air quotes as he said the words. "But if you keep it up, you'll find that you can always try again. Wait a few hours and give it another shot if..."
Bella was looking out the window, holding her pen loosely in her hand. Edward wasn't back yet, but she knew that Emmett had been watching her house the past two nights, keeping Victoria at bay. The night before, she'd been sitting at the kitchen table when a movement near the tree line had made her heart jump into her throat. Paralyzed by fear, it took her several seconds to respond when Emmett smiled and waved to her from the growing darkness.
It was likely that the pack was guarding her house too, but she had no way of knowing. The thought of Jacob running through the trees around her house was exasperating. If he was willing to stay up all night guarding her, why couldn't he call?
Or what if that was why he never answered the phone? What if he was sleeping during the day, missing school, and not returning calls because he was awake all night with the pack, wearing paths in the soft dirt around around her house while she and Charlie slept inside?
Guilt broke through her daydreams, and she became aware of the fact that her teacher was still talking.
"...pay attention, make better decisions, and see things in a new way."
She wrote down a few words before turning her attention to drawing trees in the margins of the black notebook.
Bella had promised Edward that she wouldn't go to La Push. It was manipulative, immature, and petty to create a loophole. But if she could have a vampire for a boyfriend, she reasoned, having a werewolf for a best friend couldn't be much worse. She wasn't even breaking her promise.
So Bella called Jacob when she got home and this time, he answered.
She made a few halfhearted attempts at an apology, but she wasn't exactly sure what she was apologizing for in the first place. So instead, she invited him over.
"Hey," he said simply when she opened the door twenty minutes later. He looked tired.
"Hey." Bella stood in the doorway, shifting uncomfortably. Was she supposed to move out of the way or did she usually invite him in? She couldn't remember. The seconds stretched out until the awkwardness began to border on rudeness.
He extended his hand. "I'm Jacob Black. We used to make mud pies together when we were little."
"Um, yeah. I remember." She rolled her eyes and leaned against the door jamb, effectively blocking him. "And I think you've used that line before."
"Ok, how about this. I'm Jacob Black and as long as I've got a face, you'll have a place to sit."
Bella laughed a little before her eyes widened with comprehension. "Gross, Jake," she gasped, blushing furiously. "That's so..." Instead of finishing her sentence, she punched him in the shoulder. He laughed and squeezed his way past her and into the house.
He had an uncanny ability to make her laugh until she felt at least a little bit better about everything.
In return, she didn't mention Edward or ask about Victoria.
The following evening, Bella was doing physics homework in her room. Charlie had finished the dishes and was watching a game downstairs. Dropping her mechanical pencil onto her desk, Bella stretched, curling her tired fingers. She could use a break already.
She again tossed her pillow on the floor next to her bed and sat down on it, this time knocking her knee against the nightstand in the process.
"Oww," she muttered under her breath, rubbing the tingling area. Only a few more weeks of this clumsiness, she reminded herself.
She adjusted her body again- aligning her spine, relaxing her shoulders, letting her eyes slide out of focus...
The noise from the TV was all she could hear. Commercials always seemed to be twice as loud as the show, she thought.
While she tried to clear her mind, worries, images of Italy, motion graphs, the pain in her knee, and snippets of dreams overwhelmed her minute after minute.
What if she just couldn't do this? What if there was something wrong with her?
An inexplicable disappointment set in.
She noticed it. Flowing quietly, it took her by surprise. She held onto it and followed.
The noise, the places, the people fell away, slid over her shoulders like a silk scarf that hadn't been securely wrapped.
Her ribs expanded and air tumbled in, filling the empty space. Something in her mind snagged slightly on this but she smoothly let go.
There was just her breath, and it sparkled and swirled and pulsed.
How had she not felt it before? It was like she had lived in the same room all her life and had just now noticed the beautiful wallpaper. And now she couldn't look away.
Utterly consumed, she fell into the pattern, the depth, the color, the texture of it. What else could she do? Nothing else seemed to matter outside of the air that filled her and left her, the primordial movement of her chest. She felt oxygen shimmering along her arteries, bringing life into every curve of her body. She didn't realize it, but the corners of her mouth were turned up gently into a tiny smile. How could it be so simple? How could she feel being alive?
The sudden thought of someone making it stop filled her with jagged panic. She imagined venom replacing the oxygen, breathing as camouflage instead of a necessity.
It drove away the velvety warmth of awareness and the sounds of the TV abruptly came crashing back.
Bella felt him get into bed with her, carefully keeping the blanket between them. She flipped over to see him.
Edward was frowning in the darkness. "Thank God you're alright, Bella. I was so worried." He kissed her forehead.
She propped herself up unsteadily. "What happened?"
"Alice couldn't see you again. What were you doing?"
"Tonight? I was by myself." Her voice was scratchy and soft with sleep.
"That was assumed." It was too dark to identify his expression. "Who were you with last night?"
Bella couldn't avoid the direct question. While she hadn't done anything wrong, exactly, she knew Edward wouldn't be happy about it.
"I hung out with Jake a little. What time is it?," she asked quickly, hoping that the question would distract him.
"It's not very late." His cold, white fingers stroked her hair soothingly and his voice was like silk. He didn't sound the least bit angry.
It almost worked, but she had braced herself. "That's not what I asked." Bella knew she was irritable from being woken up, but there was something new underneath it, something calm and sure. Edward could sense it too.
"I'm sorry, you're right," he said stiffly. "It's only half-past midnight. You should go back to sleep, Bella."
"Wow, is that it?," she asked, keeping her voice sleepy so it wouldn't sound accusatory. "It feels like I've been asleep for hours." Her neck felt tight and her eyelids were heavy.
"You must have been sleeping very deeply." He kissed her chastely on the lips. "I envy you."
She smiled and stretched, saying she needed to go to the bathroom. From the hallway, she peeked into Charlie's room.
Why did she feel the need to check the time? It didn't really matter anyway, she reasoned. There was no way it was before 12:30, so either Edward had told her it was earlier than it was as some kind of small revenge for her broken promise, or he was telling the truth and she didn't trust him.
Shaking her head, she scolded herself. She was turning this into a mind game and, clearly, it wasn't. So what if Edward wanted to have a little bit of control by telling her the wrong time? It would be symbolic and harmless. Besides, maybe she deserved to be lied to. She hadn't exactly been forthcoming with him about Jacob.
The actual time was irrelevant, wasn't it? So why was her heart pounding?
In spite of herself, she glanced through the doorway at the red glowing numbers on Charlie's alarm clock.
It was three in the morning.
Bella ate at the kitchen table with Charlie. Edward, as always, claimed to have already eaten, so he sat in the living room with an untouched cup of coffee.
"What're you up to today?" Charlie asked while paging though the morning paper.
Realizing the opportunity at hand, Bella found that she suddenly had plans. "Uh... I was thinking about visiting Jake."
Charlie gave a short nod of approval. "Edward going too?"
Walking into the room and over to the sink, Edward set the mug on the counter to announce his presence. "Ah, no, Mr. Swan. Unfortunately I won't be able to go. My family is visiting relatives in Seattle."
Bella could see the smile hidden underneath Charlie's mustache. "That's a shame. Jacob's a good kid."
"That he is, sir," Edward said somberly while pulling his keys out of his pocket. He glanced at Bella. "Tell him I said hello."
Edward held her gaze. "We should be back by 9:30 tonight. May I call you then?" It was clear he was going to check on her, to make sure she came back in one piece.
"Sure. If I'm not back, I'll have my cell with me."
Edward said goodbye and closed the door quietly behind him.
They sat in silence until Charlie spoke.
"Sweetie, I know you like him but I just can't see what-"
She held up a hand to stop him. "I know, Dad. Anybody who's not Jacob Black is unworthy." She got up to rinse off her plate, her back to him.
"Your words, not mine." He smiled into his coffee and took a sip.
Jacob and Bella were sitting on overturned milk crates in the garage.
"I don't know how to describe it. It's really vague. He's never actually done anything." Why on earth was she telling him this? Her issues with Edward were none of his business. Jacob was already too involved.
But he was still her best friend.
"Bella." His tone made her look up at him.
"If he ever makes you feel uncomfortable or does anything to hurt you..." he paused and took a breath before continuing. "You know you can tell me, right?"
Her laugh was sharp and her voice dripped with sarcasm. "Gee, I wonder how that would end?"
He shrugged and took a long drink from the soda he was holding. When he was done, he looked at Bella again. "Please tell people who can actually help you."
"Well I can promise you that it won't be somebody who would kill him without a second thought."
Jacob smiled broadly, wickedly. "At least we agree on who would win."
As the weeks passed, Bella started to notice her breath throughout the day. She started to pay attention to the images that flitted across her mind when she was meditating. She noticed the sensation of falling asleep, the way the temperature of her skin changed, her heartbeat, the taste of her favorite foods, how she felt when she was or wasn't around certain people...
She started to notice patterns. She knew how she felt, honestly and deeply. And it wasn't what she had expected or what she thought she wanted.
At first she was angry and confused, then scared and sick.
But she came up with five things she had to do. Four of them would be easy. One would reopen an old wound that had once consumed her.
Renee picked up on the second ring.
"Hey! What the heck have you been up to, sweetie? I haven't heard from you in a few days."
"I know, I'm sorry. Just... school and stuff."
Renee launched into a detailed description of the intervening days. Finally, she had to go.
"Phil and I are going over to Amelia's house for dinner. Do you remember her? You were so young, you might not."
"I've heard you mention her. Hey, Mom?"
"I just wanted to say that I love you and miss you a lot." Her hesitation made the words bigger.
"Awww, sweetie, I love you too! You should come visit me for Christmas."
"That'd be great. I'll look into it."
"Alright." She could hear her mother's smile behind the word, dragging it out. "I'll talk to you later."
Angela was standing in front of her locker, stuffing binders into her book bag. It had been a long Wednesday and she looked exhausted. She had pulled her hair up that morning but pieces had escaped throughout the day and they hung in limp strands around her face.
Bella walked up to her, holding a folded sheet of paper. "Hey."
Angela looked surprised but recovered almost immediately.
"Hi, Bella. What's up?" She pulled her hair tie out.
"I was wondering if you want to go see a movie with me this weekend. I've got movie times." She waved the paper.
"Great!" Angela sounded enthusiastic, but there was a hesitancy and Bella understood.
"It'll... just be me."
Bella had told both Edward and Jacob that she couldn't see them for a week. Edward had nodded silently before kissing her. Jacob had picked her up and hugged her, burying his face into her neck, his breath hot against her skin.
Angela smiled in relief and expertly twirled her hair into a pile before snapping the tie around it. "That would be amazing. This week is killing me and I'd love to have something to look forward to when it's over."
Bella smiled back.
Charlie knocked on Bella's door and Edward disappeared noiselessly.
Cracking open the door, he stuck his head in. "Just wanted to let you know I got milk, so you don't need to pick any up tomorrow." He started to duck out like he always did.
He paused, looking half asleep. "Yeah?"
"I know we don't talk a lot. But... thanks for everything. You're a good dad."
He pressed his lips together and nodded sharply, clearly uncomfortable. "Thanks, Bella. You're a good kid, for the most part."
Charlie shut the door quietly. There was a small smile on either side of it.
Edward reappeared. "That was unusual."
"With Charlie. You never speak to him like that."
Bella sighed, the rush of saying what needed to be said already wearing off. "Yeah, that's the problem." She ran her fingers through her hair.
"Bella, I don't know what's gotten into you these past few weeks, but you're acting very strangely. I don't know what to make of it, honestly."
"I'm acting like myself."
"You're really not." His smile was patronizing and patient, as if Bella was a small, fickle child. Maybe she was, she thought. Or maybe she was learning. Maybe people were treated like children whenever they tried to grow up.
What if he wasn't any more of an adult than she was? What if he was less of one?
As soon as she thought it, she saw him differently, as though from a distance.
"Edward, are you saying that you know me better than I do?" She could feel something big, inevitable and irreversible spill out of her and fill the room. She knew she was latching on to this much too quickly, but she wanted to be on the other side of it.
His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. They both ignored it.
"You have to remember that vampires prey on humans, Bella. We're dangerous because we understand people so profoundly that we can predict their next move. Just because I can't hear your thoughts doesn't mean you're not readable."
"Well, then you should have seen this coming." The words snapped out of her, burning her tongue.
She pushed herself off of the bed and walked over to the window, rage and pain pumping through her legs and curling in her stomach. She threw it open and pointed out into the night. Edward followed her movements with an open mouth, temporarily stunned past the point of objection.
"Get out." Her voice was so cold it seared. There was no space left in her for sadness yet, and for that she was grateful.
"Bella, what on-"
"I said get out."
He looked at Bella, understanding spreading quietly across his face. It was followed by an unbearable sadness.
"You're not referring to your room, are you?"
She shook her head, unable to speak. The enormity of what she was doing was overwhelming. It made it hard to breathe. Everything was happening too quickly, but she didn't know how to slow it down.
"It's Jacob isn't it?"
Bella shook her head again, tears tumbling onto the hardwood floor. "It's Bella."
"But you love him, don't you?"
"That's no longer your concern." Her voice was thick.
"You will always be my concern, Bella Swan. I will always love you and watch over you."
He nodded once and walked over to her. She closed her eyes, let him take her hand and press his cold lips to it.
When she opened her eyes, he was gone.
Bella shut the window, letting her body slide down to the floor. She clapped her hand over her mouth and shook with silent sobs, knowing that this was just the beginning.
The hole was back. And this time, it was her fault.
She climbed into bed, but it was just a formality. It was what people did at night, so she did it.
Typically they didn't cry for six hours, but that was exactly what happened. She cried so long that she had to think of new ways to cry, new positions to cry in, just to break the monotony. She muffled her sobs with pillows so she wouldn't wake Charlie up. The next day was Saturday, so she allowed herself to drown in it all night.
This time, though, she wasn't numb and when her crying sounded mechanical and completely alien, she stopped.
What was she supposed to do now? What could she do? Life felt empty, the possibility of eternity and perfection gone. She was going to get old and die. She was going to trip and fall, bleed and cry just like she always had. She would never be perfect.
Somehow, she had managed to destroy her inevitable, infinite future with a few words and an open window. She was sure that the wreckage would take miles and years and gallons and pages to clean up.
What could possibly be left for her?
Through the haze of pain, she could only remember one thing, something that was never his.
Bella let her chest expand. Air filled the empty space, like it always did.
"Hi, is Jacob there?" Her voice was hoarse.
"Yeah, he is. Can I ask who's calling?" Billy sounded concerned.
"It's Bella." She couldn't remember the last time she had needed to say that when calling the Black residence. It felt strange, but more true than ever before. She almost wanted to say it again. It's Bella.
"I know, I'm just teasing you." His deep, booming laugh filled the receiver. Bella held it away from her ear.
"Are you sick? You sound like you've got a cold. Jacob can't come over if you're contagious, y'know," Billy said with false sternness. She heard Charlie chuckling over the sounds of the TV.
They were watching something loud and sports-related that would have woken her up had Billy come over to watch it. Had she been sleeping at all.
She felt a pang of guilt and affection.
Bella laughed raspilly. "Sorry, I just woke up."
She could hear Jacob in the background.
"Dad, come on. Leave her alone. She didn't call to talk to you."
"How do you know?" Billy responded while Charlie guffawed.
Bella heard Jacob take the phone from his dad.
"Hey, Bella. Sorry about that. Our dads are a little..."
"Unusual? Yeah, I noticed." She laughed, imagining them turning down the volume on the TV to hear Jacob.
'Whoa, you do sound bad though. Are you ok?"
She paused uncertainly. "Jake, could you maybe come over? I had a really rough night." She was embarrassed by how small she sounded, how much she would give for a hug.
"Yeah. Yeah, of course. I'll be there in a few minutes."
"No problem, Bells."
She found a forgotten pint of Ben & Jerry's in the depths of the freezer. Bella dragged a few blankets and pillows to the sofa and popped Pride & Prejudice into the DVD player. She preemptively looked for tissues, but couldn't find any, so she grabbed a huge handful of toilet paper from the bathroom.
Curled up in her blankets, attacking the Ben & Jerry's with a spoon, she leaned against one of the pillows. All she could smell was Edward.
By the time Jacob knocked, she was a mess again.
She opened the door and they looked at each other for a few seconds.
"Holy shit, Bella. What happened?" he whispered, stepping forward and gently framing her face with his hands.
Jacob looked so concerned that she started crying again. He dropped his hands to her shoulders and pulled her into a hug.
"God, not this again," he said quietly to himself. He sounded weary but resigned.
"I did this." She could hardly choke the words out. "I broke up with him." Bella wasn't sure if "broke up" was a strong enough term for what had happened, but she could no longer think.
"Ok. It's ok, Bells. You're going to be alright." He rested his chin on the top of her head and held her silently for a few minutes. "We'll talk about that later. Let's see what we're dealing with."
He glanced around the room, taking note of the empty carton of ice cream and the DVD case on the coffee table. He also noticed the wads of damp toilet paper on the pile of blankets and pillows.
"Well at least I know to get you a bed pan for Christmas."
She gave a watery laugh and released the hug.
"We don't have any tissues." His chest was wet with her tears.
"Gosh, Jacob, I'm so sorry. That's gross," she said, trying to wipe it away.
"Bells, what's gross is that you ate a pint of something called 'Chunky Monkey'." Jacob walked into the kitchen and grabbed a plastic cup from the cupboard.
She followed him and slowly climbed into one of the tall chairs by the breakfast bar.
Bella watched Jacob move around the kitchen. "It was the right thing to do," she said thoughtfully.
Jacob turned on the faucet and shrugged, his back to her. "I do stuff like that. This one time I drank a whole pack of Capri Suns in ten seconds. I didn't even use the straws."
"No, Jake, I meant..." She laughed.
"Oh," he said, laughing at himself. He walked over and handed her the cup of water.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked quietly, standing very close to her. His heat was reassuring.
She considered. Maybe it was like a crime scene and the sooner you told the cops what happened, the better. Bella didn't have the energy to embellish the story anyway.
"Yeah. I might as well get it over with."
She told Jacob everything, pausing several times when, somehow, she managed to cry again. He got her more toilet paper when she ran out.
"So... what do you think?" she asked finally, now looking up from her cup of water at him.
Jacob met her eyes and gave her a sad, hard-won smile that made him look older than he was.
"I think that I wish the right thing was always easy to do."
He stepped even closer. Standing between her knees, he hugged her. She hugged him back fiercely, squeezing him with her arms and legs, not caring that it wasn't what friends did. He let her.
She relaxed slightly after a minute.
"Let's go watch your girly movie."
She didn't let go, so he picked her up and carried her to the sofa. Bella waited for him to set her down.
The thought of actually watching it made her feel sick. Why had she picked that one? She didn't really want to.
"I don't think I want to watch this right now," she admitted. "You pick something."
"Do you promise you'll watch it?"
Suddenly, he let her go and she fell into the pile of pillows. The small panic was exhilarating and Bella was laughing too hard to be mad. He threw a blanket over her head, and her laughter was muffled.
"No peeking, Bells. Sensory deprivation is part of your therapy."
She laughed harder, wondering if she was crossing into the realm of hysteria. It felt fantastic to do something other than cry, so she kept laughing.
A few seconds later, he pulled the blanket off and sat next to her on the sofa, her hair crackling with static.
"What is it?"
A trumpet blared and Bella laughed again.
"Oh my gosh, Star Wars?"
"Yep. A New Hope. Nothing puts things into perspective like an epic battle between good and evil. And almost-incest."
His arm around her, she smiled and leaned against him.
Bella was asleep by the time Obi-Wan got Leia's message.
Charlie walked in to the house and flipped the lights on.
"And then there was light," he mumbled before walking to the fridge to grab a beer.
Bella sat up slowly, trying to nudge a sleeping Jacob out of the way.
"Dad?" she asked quietly.
"In the kitchen."
She pushed harder against Jacob. He sighed in his sleep and rubbed his thumb against her arm. Undaunted, Bella grabbed a handful of his hair and tugged until he started moving.
He sat up and stretched. "Sorry, didn't mean to fall asleep."
"It's alright. I didn't realize it was so late." Everything seemed quiet and slow and Bella wanted him to stay.
He looked around the dark room. "Yeah, I should probably head home."
They both stood up, a little unsteady on their feet.
"Thanks, Jacob," she whispered.
He smiled sleepily and gave her hand a squeeze. "What're friends for?"
Jacob stuck his head into the kitchen. "Bye, Charlie."
Charlie nodded once and raised his beer in response. Bella wondered if she would ever figure out what that meant.
When Jacob had left, Bella joined her dad at the table.
"I like him," Charlie said finally.
Bella nodded slowly in agreement and raised her cup of water. Maybe she could learn the language.
Charlie looked at her strangely.
He cleared his throat. "I remember when he was a kid. He used to wear shirts."
Bella bit back a laugh. She couldn't remind him that that was before Jacob started turning into a massive wolf and ripping apart vampires. If she was always 109 degrees, she probably wouldn't bother with shirts either.
She focused. There was something she needed to get out of the way.
A grunt was the response. This language got stranger and stranger.
"I'm not... with Edward anymore." The words sounded surreal and far-away. She wasn't sure she'd ever get used to it.
Charlie looked at her steadily, his eyebrows knitting together, and set his beer down.
"Aw, honey, I'm sorry. If..." He stood and Bella did the same. He pulled her into a stiff, awkward hug, complete with that brand of utilitarian, paternal back-patting that was slightly painful. "If there's anything you need, let me know."
The Cullens disappeared. Again.
But this time, there were no emails sent, no lonely visits to an empty house, no rusty motorcycles rescued from the side of the road.
There was crying, baking, breathing, studying, reading, and cleaning. She was mourning, she realized. Mourning who she would have been, and understanding what he had meant to her.
Everyone at school was filled with speculation, theories, and questions. Bella refused to talk about it with anyone but Angela, who didn't pry. Instead, she invited Bella over.
They ordered pizza, watched 80s movies, and did not discuss the Cullens at all. Bella was profoundly grateful.
Renee called every day to ask if Bella was feeling alright. She always said she was, and eventually, it was true.
She pulled into Jacob's driveway. It was unseasonably warm, and the windows of her truck were rolled down.
By the time she had shut off her engine, Jacob was standing next to the truck. He stuck his head into the cab and kissed her on the cheek.
Noting the strap of her bathing suit peeking out from under her t-shirt, he looked up at her with mock horror. "Are you using me for my beach access?"
She opened her door and got out. "Um... more like your scenic cliffs. I've heard they're pretty fun if you know what you're doing." As soon as she spoke, her cheeks reddened. Hopefully, he would ignore the unintentional double entendre.
Of course, he wouldn't.
"So what you're suggesting is that you want-"
Embry and Quil appeared behind Jacob.
"Hey," Bella said before Jacob could imply something regrettable. "What's up?"
"Well," Quil said, stretching dramatically and shoving Jacob out of the way. "I started phasing a few months ago."
Bella took in his new muscles.
"I can see that. Congratulations... I guess."
Embry cut into the conversation.
"Well, I think you deserve some congratulations, too." He leaned in and wagged his eyebrows. "I heard, well saw," he corrected, glancing at Jacob, "that you're recently leechless."
Jacob cleared his throat loudly and shook his head.
Quil decided to try his luck.
"I'm... sorry for your loss," he said somberly.
"Awesome." Jacob rolled his eyes while Bella tried not to laugh. "No, seriously. You guys should work for Hallmark if this werewolf thing turns out to be less lucrative than we expected."
"Speaking of the werewolf thing..." said Embry. "There's still no sign of that redheaded bloodsucker, so Sam said all systems are go."
"The Leech Threat Advisory Level is green," Quil added in an authoritative voice and they all looked at him. "Ok, I just made that shit up. But it is safe."
Jacob and Bella stood at the top of the lower cliff.
"Remember to jump out, not down. Not like last time," Jacob added.
She ignored the jab.
She nodded sharply, hoping it looked confident and determined, but he laughed.
"Bella, it's fun. That's why we do it. Besides, you've already jumped off higher than this."
"That's true." She conceded. "I also almost died."
"Yeah, but you didn't. Plus, I'm going to jump with you this time." Jacob backed up and held his hand out.
Bella froze, unable to move. It felt like her feet were rooted to the rock beneath them.
"Sorry." She smiled apologetically, swatting at a fly with a shaky hand. "I'm still scared."
"Hey, that's okay. That's what makes it fun," he said "You've just gotta do it."
Bella briefly closed her eyes, taking several steps backward. She drew in a deep breath through her nose. The air was warm and salty, and when she opened her eyes, she was ready.
Completely skipping the traditional countdown, she took his hand and started running.
She became aware of the fact that, intellectually, she wanted to stop. But the rest of her was begging to be weightless.
And so she jumped, pulling Jacob along with her.
It felt like they hung in the air for a long moment, suspended by the exhilaration of touching nothing but each other. She imagined the hands of a clock pausing, and then moving backwards, reversed by the magic contained in those seconds before falling.
Suddenly, her body started to plummet, moving much faster than her stomach, which felt like it was hovering somewhere around her ears. The soles of her feet hurdled towards the water and she squeezed Jacob's hand as hard as she could before letting go so she could throw her arms out.
She was enveloped by water. It was so much thicker than the air, but she felt herself slice through it. Kicking her legs out to slow herself, she moved towards the surface.
He was treading water and smiling at her by the time Bella had broken the surface.
"Thanks for the help," she gasped, moving her arms quickly to stay afloat. "What if I hadn't-"
"But you did," he said simply, swimming over so she could hold onto him. "I saw you coming up on your own."
Still gulping down air, Bella rested her head against his back as he started swimming towards the beach. He was so much warmer than the water.
"That was completely terrifying," she said after a while, kicking her legs to help him. She could feel his body under her, moving with strong, sure strokes. She didn't think her kicks were really making much of a difference, but it seemed polite to help.
"You squeezed the hell out of my hand." Jacob didn't sound winded at all, despite swimming hard for several minutes.
"Well, I thought I was going to die!"
"And crushing my hand would help how?"
"I love you," she blurted out suddenly and winced after the words were out.
Ok, that wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
He stopped swimming.
Bella slid off of his back and he turned to face her, both of them treading water. This was definitely not how it was supposed to happen. They were supposed to be on land: warm, dry, and preferably fully clothed. Because, despite her bathing suit, Bella felt completely naked.
Jacob was staring at her, breathing hard for the first time that afternoon.
He slid his arm around her waist, pulled her closer, and kissed her.
Their lips were wet with ocean water, hers cool, his hot. Her arms pumped rhythmically in the water, staying afloat. Bella planted a row of kisses along his jaw and down his neck.
"Oh my god," he whispered shakily, temporarily forgetting to kick. Jacob sounded like he was in shock.
Still kissing, they started moving towards the beach. She imagined that they must look ridiculous, mouths and hands moving frantically as they tried to keep their heads above the water.
As soon as Jacob could stand, he roughly grabbed her thighs and hooked her legs around him. She pressed her chest against his, feeling the way her breath made it rise and fall. Shivering from a combination of the cold water and anticipation, Bella was grateful when he wrapped his arms around her and started walking towards shore. She wasn't sure what would happen once they got there, but at the moment, she'd be up for anything.
They came splashing out of the water and tumbled onto the sand. As they gasped for air and fumbled with their bathing suits, she was vaguely aware of the fact that they were out in the open. Safe in her lust, she didn't care if someone saw. She'd never felt so wanted in her entire life, and Jacob was definitely not worried about breaking her. In fact, she seemed to be holding her own.
Not waiting for bathing suits to come off completely, she pushed Jacob onto his back and knelt beside him, her knees braced far apart. Her hands, covered in pebbly sand, ran roughly over his body and he groaned, eyes locked on hers.
Not sure where or how she could touch him, she paused with her hand on his chest.
"What do I-"
"Shit! I don't care. Do whatever you want as long as you don't stop," he said breathlessly, grabbing her hand and placing it further down his torso.
Bella blushed and closed her eyes as he slid his hand up from her hip until it was under her half-untied bikini top.
His own hips moved rhythmically, and she didn't think he was aware of it.
"You never said it back," she whispered abruptly, sitting back.
"You never said that you love me."
"Bells, you know I do." He was gasping and twisting under her fingers. "I love you so much."
"I think you'd say anything right now."
Jacob shut his eyes. "Please, Bells," he hissed. "I can't think straight. I can't- " He dipped his head down and kissed the inside of her thigh, breathing deeply.
"God, I want you," he moaned against her skin.
Bella's eyes fluttered shut as her entire body ignited. If she waited any longer, she wouldn't be able to think either.
"You have me, Jake," she said, threading her fingers between his. "But we've got to talk."
He looked at their joined hands and sighed. "You're right." Rearranging his trunks, he groaned again, but this time it was tinged with pain and frustration. "Just give me a second."
A string of curse words followed and Bella pressed her lips together to hide a sympathetic smile while she replaced her bathing suit top. She knew how he felt.
An hour later, they were walking along the water and talking. The sun was still bright and Bella's hair was mostly dry.
Jacob ran his fingers though it and smiled at her. "You're beautiful."
She smiled back. "So are you. Sort of."
He laughed and put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him and sighed happily. This felt better than she'd imagined.
Suddenly he froze. Almost immediately, he started shaking.
"Bella, don't move."
The way he said it made her blood turn to ice. She didn't turn to see what was over her shoulder, but instead watched his face. Jacob looked like he would've given anything to stop what was happening on the beach behind her, to slow it down.
"What is it?" she whispered, dreading the answer. She realized she already knew.
"Victoria," he said through gritted teeth, closing his eyes.
"How far away is she?"
A cold finger trailed up Bella's back.
"She's right behind you," said a silky, lyrical voice in Bella's ear. Jacob was shaking so hard, his teeth were chattering. He couldn't look at Bella and Victoria, and, inexplicably, it made her feel utterly alone.
How could this be happening? Hadn't they been perfectly safe a few seconds ago?
"I had planned on killing you myself," she said to Bella. "But this is even more fun."
Jacob growled. With a jolt, Bella realized that Jacob couldn't protect her without phasing.
And his arm was still around her.
He looked down with vacant eyes, not really seeing her. While she didn't know exactly what happened when he phased, talking was probably human. Keep him talking, she thought over and over, as if this was a first aid situation that she had been trained to handle years ago and all but the catchphrases had been forgotten.
"Hey, Jake. Stay with me, okay?"
He shook his head slightly, as if he was waking up. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm here."
"I love you." Her small transported them both somewhere safer, if only for a second. He grinned back and he was Jacob.
"I love you too."
"Oh, this just gets better and better." Victoria paced noiselessly around them. There was the distinct feeling of being hunted and Bella noticed that she had forgotten to breathe, as if it could make her invisible. "I loved someone once. It... didn't end well, as you may know." She glanced around dramatically. "Where is your mate, whore?"
Jacob gulped air and closed his eyes again.
"He's not here," Bella said sharply, not bothering to correct the vampire's word choice.
"That much is obvious. But why?"
"I told him to leave."
"I see," Victoria murmured. "You wanted to fuck this thing, didn't you?" she said, grabbing Jacob's hair and yanking his head back so he had to look at her. He wasn't inhaling.
"Can't say I blame you," Victoria whispered before dragging her tongue along his neck. "If I could stand the smell."
Bella's glare was steady, but she couldn't stop the hot wave of rage that washed over her. Irrationally, she imagined herself tearing Victoria apart, slicing through her bloodless veins and still heart.
I could do it, Bella thought feverishly, deluded. I'm strong enough.
Her own blood pounded in her ears and her hands longed to be balled up and crashed into something solid. She let it wash over her and crowd out the fear. She stayed silent.
Victoria's lip curled and she shoved Jacob, slamming him into Bella. They held onto each other to keep their balance.
Leering, Victoria asked, "Where are the other dogs?"
"They'll be here. Don't worry," Jacob spat, straightening and bearing his teeth.
"Oh, I'm not worried." Victoria took a slow step towards them. "But you should be."
Victoria had to do something bigger than taunting them.
One step ahead of her, Bella took Jacob's chin and looked into his eyes. "Jacob. Your name is Jacob Black!" she shouted to hide the way her voice shook. In a movement too fast to follow, Victoria had reached them and stretched Jacob's arm out behind him. Bella saw him close his eyes in resignation.
"Bella, I'm so sorry," he said thickly. "I'll never forgive myself."
"No!" she shouted, giving his chin a shake. "Look at me, damn it." When he opened his eyes, she had to blink back tears. "Your dad is Billy Black and your mom was Sarah Black. You live in a house not far from here and you drive a Rabbit. You go to school at..." Bella had started crying and Jacob was shaking harder than ever.
Victoria raised her fist above his outstretched elbow.
"Please keep going, Bells."
"Um." Her lips were trembling as she tried to hold back her sobs. This wasn't supposed to be happening. They were too young for this. "I'm... Bella Swan. I'm the daughter of Renee and Charlie." She couldn't see past the tears anymore, didn't care if she was reduced to begging. "I don't want to die."
"Jacob Black, Jacob Black, Jacob Black," he whispered under his breath, looking into Bella's eyes like there was an anchor at the bottom of them.
Victoria brought her fist down with an echoing crack.
Jacob shook so fast that the outline of his body began to blur.
This is it. It's over. Bella was revolted at the relief she felt. Would it really be this easy? She could just let him... No, it's not over, she told herself. Everyone's still here.
Bella pressed her hand to Jacob's chest. "You're ok, Jake. You're still breathing. You're still you."
His heart drummed against her hand and she thought it was the most beautiful song she had ever heard. He smiled at her.
"Hey," he said as if she had just opened her front door or pulled into his driveway. The word was so out of place, so easy, that Bella felt herself relax, even as Victoria studied their every move. He lazily rolled a lock of her wind-swept hair between his fingers and leaned forward, kissing her gently like they had just woken up next to each other on a sunny Saturday morning. Bella knew it was a thank you, but she felt like it might be more. Maybe they were trying to live it all before it was over.
Jacob's eyes hardened as he turned to look at Victoria, spat the words. "Fuck you."
Victoria screamed and was suddenly behind Bella.
"I will make you regret that, dog," she hissed dangerously and Bella remembered that they were completely outmatched. It wasn't even a contest.
"Truthfully," Victoria began again, almost conversationally, "I don't want to do this. It's just that I have to. Imagine what you would do if somebody killed him," she said, pointing to Jacob.
Against her better judgment, Bella let her guard down. What harm could come from talking to Victoria, figuring out why she was doing this? If she was going to die, she'd at least like to understand the motive.
"But I'm not with Edward anymore."
"Which I find fascinating. Why did you leave your mate? It's completely unheard of for our kind."
There was no point lying. It didn't even matter now and Victoria would be able to tell. "I didn't want what I thought I wanted," Bella said finally.
Immediately, a long silence stretched out and Bella tried to figure out what she had said to cause it. A breeze tossed their hair as Bella and Victoria stared at each other.
"You don't want to live forever?" Victoria asked Bella with a terrifying dispassion. The question sounded casual and offhand, but she was unable to hide her triumph.
Bella looked at Jacob as the horror of what she'd just said swept over them. She reached out for him.
"God, Jake, don't let her!" Bella begged as Victoria gently pushed the hair away from Bella's neck and hummed an unfamiliar lullaby. Bella was shivering, wishing with every cell that she could take back her words. "Please, Jake! Don't let me be that."
Victoria clicked her tongue sympathetically. "It's only scary at first," she assured Bella. "You'll feel a slight pinch and then you'll wake up."
Bella was gasping for air. It was going to hurt. It was going to kill her and then rip her apart. Images of what she would be, what she would do after she turned flashed across her mind. Jacob leaving flowers at a grave he knew was empty. Charlie lying lifeless and bloodless on the kitchen floor. Renee calling frantically while Bella's room sat abandoned and dusty. Friends' names and faces blurring and fading into the past, along with the memory of Bella Swan.
She couldn't swallow. It felt like her body was already shutting down so she wouldn't have to feel it.
"Jacob, you have to do it."
He looked at her, but she wasn't sure he understood. Maybe he needed her to say it out loud.
"Jake. You have to kill me." The words were so impossible and cold that Bella wished it was all over. She wished there was nothing, because it would be infinitely better than seeing Jacob like this, backing away from her. She wished he was doing anything else besides what he was doing now.
He looked out at the water, staring blankly.
"God fucking damn it." He grabbed his hair and sank to his knees. "Fuck! Can't I just have one thing in my fucking life work out?" he shouted across the silent water, throwing a handful of sand in the same direction, letting rage take over, saving the grief for later. "Every single person I love fucking dies!"
Victoria seemed to be enjoying the show, and she stood silently, wrapping her arms around Bella in a mockery of maternal comfort. Everybody knew that she could kill Bella before Jacob had even phased.
Too weary to care, Bella slumped against her.
"Jake, please," Bella sobbed and Jacob turned around and walked over to her.
Illogically hoping that Victoria wouldn't hear, she whispered, "I'm scared."
Jacob was blinking rapidly, keeping tears back. "Bella, I'm not strong enough to do this."
She nodded. "Ok." Brushing a hand over her tear-streaked cheek, she looked at him. Jacob. My Jacob.
"I just want you to be the last thing I feel. I know it's selfish."
He looked down at the pebbly sand beneath their feet. It was the same sand they had walked on when Bella had showed up at La Push for the first time in years, flirting and asking questions. The same sand they had been rolling in an hour ago. He almost smiled at the far away memories but instead, he made up his mind.
He could be selfless one last time. For her.
"Okay, Bells," he said. "But I have to do it fast, before I can think about it."
Her tears flowed freely now. "Thank you."
His outline blurred, but she could still see his sad smile. He was crying. "As long as my heart's beating, I'll love you, Bells. Always have, always will."
She couldn't say those three tiny words. Saying it like this meant it was over.
But it was over.
She'd never see Charlie or Renee again. She'd never go to college or get married or retire or die in her sleep.
She would never breathe again.
"Oh my God," Bella sobbed, finally letting fear consume her. She squeezed her eyes shut.
The bone-chilling sound of a wolf tearing her apart would be the last thing she ever heard. And it would be Jacob.
Someone was screaming. But it wasn't coming from her.
She opened her eyes to see a grey blur slam into Victoria and pull her to the ground. Black, silver, and several shades of brown streaked by, following the small grey wolf, which was currently in the process of ripping the mass that had once been Victoria into to pieces.
What a strange thing to imagine while I die, she thought.
Not consciously moving, Bella stumbled backwards and into Jacob. She recognized his smell, but was too confused to figure out if he was a wolf or a person, even as he wrapped his arms around her, his skin hot against hers.
"I've got you, Bells" he said. "You're alright. You're alive." He sounded like he was trying to convince both of them. "You're alive."
She took a step back and immediately threw up.
"You got some serious air on that jump, Leah," Quil said admiringly later that night. "I mean, yeah, you used that ridge, but still. You took that leech down."
She shrugged. "Whatever. I give it about a week before you guys are total dicks to me again."
Jacob and Bella sat quietly on the sofa, too tired to do more than grin in response to the banter.
Paul laughed obnoxiously in Leah's face and took the slice of pizza out of her hand. "I'm getting a head start."
"Go for it, douche. It's the only kind of head you get," she shot back. Loud laughter filled the small house.
Bella leaned heavily against Jacob, who was picking the olives off of her pizza. They hadn't spoken much that night, and the shock was just beginning to wear off. His arm had already healed.
Emily walked over and crouched beside them. Bella couldn't help but stare at her scars.
"Can I get you anything?"
The room grew very quiet and Bella realized that the thing that hummed around them all was concern.
"Could I maybe get another drink?" Bella asked softly and started to stand. Really, she just needed to get out of the room for a second, maybe get some fresh air.
"Easy there, tiger," said Leah from across the room as she stood up and walked over. She patted Emily on the shoulder as something unspoken passed between them. "I've got this."
Leah hooked her arm around Bella's waist and helped her out to the garage. She closed the door behind them, shutting them off from the others.
"So what'll it be?" She popped open the refrigerator. "They've got Coke, ginger ale-"
Instead of answering, Bella stared at her.
"That was you?"
Leah continued to look into the the open fridge, but her expression changed. "Yeah."
Although they barely knew each other, Bella could tell that she wasn't the type of person who hugged so she restrained herself.
"I know it's not enough, but... thank you."
Leah roughly closed the refrigerator, and the gritty garage was one again lit only by a flickering fluorescent light.
"It's what we do. Don't thank me for doing my duty. I didn't have much of a choice."
Bella shrugged. "No matter how you look at it, you saved my life. All of you did."
Leah smiled nostalgically. "If vampires didn't taste like a combination of roadkill in July and ass, that would be the single most fun thing I've ever done." She tapped Bella on the forehead. "Saving you was an afterthought."
They both knew she was lying about that last part.
"I'll have a Coke."
Leah took one out of the fridge and held it out to her, suddenly serious.
"You're tougher than you look."
Bella shook her head, but stopped when it started to swim. "I was completely terrified. I won't be able to sleep alone for months."
Leah shrugged and opened the door. "Can't be tough unless you're scared."
Jacob was talking quietly to a silent but attentive room when they came back. He stopped when he heard them.
Bella took her seat next to Jacob and rested her hand on his before she noticed the empty plate on the coffee table in front of her.
"Where's my pizza?"
"Uhhh..." Jacob began uncertainly. Quil and Embry were laughing. "It started with the olives. Then some cheese came off and it was all downhill from there. I'll get you another one."
Unbelievable, she thought to herself.
"No, it's fine. I had a piece before that." She could barely stifle a yawn, wishing there was a legal way she could put off sleeping for a few days. Caffeine wasn't cutting it anymore.
Emily appeared with a folded down comforter. "You should sleep. There's a bed in the guest room," she said softly.
Bella's eyes widened in terror at the thought of being alone. "Can I stay here? I can't... "
Emily had to look away as she blinked back tears and stroked Bella's hair gently. "Of course."
Bella wrapped herself in the fluffy red comforter, covering her head so nobody could see her. It made a soft crinkling sound whenever she moved.
She curled up, resting her feet on Jacob's leg beside her. He was laughing at her, but she didn't care.
"Jeez, Bells. Make yourself at home." His voice sounded muffled and distant, and the teasing was surprisingly easy, in spite of everything.
"Thanks, I think I will." She slipped her hand out from under the blanket and grabbed her Coke, pulling it in with her. She took a long sip and looked around her makeshift den. It was getting pretty warm already, so she made a tiny air vent by the edge of the sofa.
It also smelled like laundry detergent. It wasn't the same brand she used at home, or what Jacob used, but it was familiar. She took a deep breath.
It was amazing that she was safe. She was comfy and warm, wearing some of Emily's clothes: pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt. Bella tugged on it to get a good look at the design on the front, but she couldn't discern anything beyond beautiful swirls.
She could smell the soap she had used earlier. It had all been a blur, but she vaguely remembered standing in outside in her bathing suit with Jacob and the others while Emily hosed them off. Had there been soap? She remembered passing a sniff test before she was wrapped in several towels and brought into the house.
Bella threw the comforter off her head and glanced around the room. Everyone stopped talking and looked at her expectantly.
"Did we all take a shower together?"
Paul and Quil laughed loudly while Embry nodded.
"Yeah, but it wasn't nearly as hot as it sounds," he said, leaning back in his chair.
"You were all covered in vampire," Emily explained to Bella. "A lot of vampire."
Bella's stomach heaved as she covered her head again. Her imagination filled in the gaps.
After a few minutes, Jacob picked up the corner of the blanket.
"Hey, can I come in?"
Bella laughed and nodded.
"Nice place," he said, sliding closer to her. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Want a sip?" she tipped her Coke towards him.
"Yeah." He took a drink and handed it back to her. "Do you wanna talk about...?" He didn't say it. What was he going to say? 'Remember how you wanted me to kill you so you couldn't be turned into a vampire?'
Bella knew that in the future, they would have long conversations about what had happened and what had almost happened. But that was for later. Right now she needed to sleep.
"I've never been this tired in my life," Bella said as she set her soda down.
"Same here. You should try to sleep. I'm not going anywhere."
She smiled at him. "I know."
He stretched out next to her, barely fitting on the sofa, even with his legs hanging off of the other end.
They were both asleep in minutes.
Bella woke with a start. The room was empty, but, from the sound of it, everyone in the kitchen. The smell of warm muffins filled the house and Bella wondered if that had been what had woken her up. More than likely, though, it was that horrible dream she'd had...
Reality set in as she understood that the encounter with Victoria had actually happened. That's why she was at Sam and Emily's house in the first place, with Jacob's head resting on her chest and his arm thrown over her.
She twirled her fingers through his hair.
"Love you, Bells," he said, mostly asleep.
"Love you too, Jake," she whispered back.
There was too much to think about and it hurt too much, so instead, Bella thought about mundane things.
The dishwasher at home was full of clean dishes, so she'd have to unload it. She was running low on clean underwear, so laundry would have to get done somehow.
She wondered what Charlie had eaten for supper. More than likely, Billy had gone over to her house to keep Charlie busy, so it could be safely assumed that they had eaten leftovers and washed it down with cheap domestic beer.
Bella really wanted to see her mother. She decided that she'd take Renee up on her offer and visit her for Christmas. She wanted to bring Jacob.
Even as she thought through these things, Bella knew it was just a way to distract herself. That was all in the future, and thinking about the past made her feel sick. The euphoria that came with escaping death still hadn't worn off, but she knew it would.
So she focused on where she was. How her body was tangled up with Jacob's.
There was a lot that Bella didn't know. She had no idea what would happen, what curveballs life would throw her.
But she did know herself. She knew that she wanted life and mistakes and love and imperfection. She wanted the skinned knees, the hot tears, the speeding tickets, and the shouting matches. She wanted the roof to leak and the check engine light to come on. She wanted good books and clean sheets, late night talks and tearful goodbyes.
She knew that she would sometimes get caught up in the day to day stuff and lose sight of the big picture. And that would be alright. It would be human and it would be beautiful and a little tragic.
That was life, and that was what she wanted.
She wanted this.
She let all of her wild thoughts fall away.
And Bella breathed.