Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any of its characters.
"Love is photogenic, it needs darkness to develop."
This is not a love story, but it is about love. About those who give in to it, and the price they pay. And those who run away from it, because they are afraid, or because they do not believe they're worthy of it. She ran away. He gave in.
~Original Sin, 2001.
"I'm going to miss this smell."
Jake walked out of the make-shift tin garage carrying the last box of tools. "Only you could actually miss the smell of decaying wood and moldy foliage, Bella."
Bella rolled her eyes.
She looked back toward Jake's house with uncertainty. A month ago, Bella was moving 1,000 miles away to Southern California, all by herself. A week ago, Jake half-heartedly contemplated packing up and going with her, even calling up a family friend in Los Angeles to get the scoop on the job market down there.
Now the two were a mere ten minutes from the fresh start Bella had desperately longed for all summer. It was intimidating.
The reality of it all was starting to sink in.
Setting the box in the bed of Bella's rusted red '55 Ford pickup, Jake saw her breath hitch unevenly, and he poked her in the rib teasingly. She gave him a half-smile, leaning into his chest for a hug.
"C'mon little sister, it's going to be okay. This will be a great adventure." Jake grinned, wrapping his long arms around Bella and giving her a comforting squeeze.
"I'm two months older than you," she reminded Jake.
"And a foot shorter. Little sister." Bella stuck out her tongue and Jake winked back.
"You think we got everything?" Arms wrapped tightly around her waist, Bella's anxious eyes were fixed on the bed of her beat-up truck. Jake's motorcycle, tools, and mattress took up the center of the bed. Shoved around that, and piled high, were a lamp and coffee table from Charlie and a few dozen boxes of clothes and personal effects. It was all secured haphazardly with nylon rope and bungee cords and blanketed with a blue vinyl tarp.
"I sure as hell hope so, Bells," Jake chuckled. He placed his hands on Bella's shoulders briefly before turning his gaze to the house. He wouldn't let Bella see, but he was just as anxious about this journey as she was. Forks was all he'd ever known. He'd lived in the same place, in the same house, his entire life.
He walked up to the porch where Billy, his father, sat pensively. Bella followed.
"All set?" Billy asked.
Jake nodded, peering into his father's russet-colored face, trying to memorize every line and mark. He knew he would not be able to afford to come home for some time, and Billy's health was not good enough to be making 20-hour car trips to come see him.
He would miss his father. He hoped that he would be able to make him proud.
Billy reached out and grasped Jake's large hand in both of his. "Drive careful, son. You call me or Charlie when you stop tonight, let us know where you are."
"Bella, don't you take any crap from this boy."
"I never do," she winked, leaning in to embrace Billy in his wheelchair.
Bella's father, Charlie, and Billy were life-long friends. Bella and Jake grew up together; fishing every Saturday, spending holidays together, making mud pies in the backyard while Billy and Charlie watched a Mariner's game and knocked back a case of beer.
As kids, they had fought like cats and dogs. When they were seven, Jake had tossed Bella into Dickey Lake for saying that baseball was the stupidest sport ever. When they were twelve, Bella caught Jake trying to catch a peek at her as she changed out of her swimsuit, and she punched him in the eye.
But after Jake's mom died, their relationship changed. Bella and Charlie had been abandoned by her mother, Renee, when she was just a toddler, so she knew what it was like not to have a mother. Their shared loss strengthened their relationship. The two eventually became as close as siblings – maybe closer. Jake knew Bella's menstrual cycle by heart. Bella knew where Jake hid his porn.
And which one was his favorite.
It was this level of intimacy that left people unsure about what to make of the two of them. They definitely didn't look like siblings. Bella was short, thin, quiet, and awkward. She had ivory skin, pouty pink lips, and long chestnut hair. On the other hand, Jake was tall, dark and handsome, with russet skin, strong shoulders, six-pack abs, a used car salesman's smile, and a deep, powerful voice that contradicted his naturally cheerful disposition. But that's how Billy and Charlie treated them, and what they came to call each other – brother and sister. They were like a Tim Burton version of the Berenstain Bears, minus the overalls and polka dots – dark but wholesome, sweet but odd, easy but complex, and never what people expected.
An old loft was waiting for them over the garage Jake had been hired at. Billy's long-time friend, Quil, owned an auto repair shop in Culver City and was in need of a mechanic with motorcycle experience. Above his shop was 700 square feet of office space currently going unused, except for a few boxes of old invoices and business documents. Quil described it as one open room with a sink, fridge, shower, toilet, and a closet. He also said they could have it for $400 a month, utilities included.
Jake eagerly said they'd take it. He'd been on the internet researching housing in L.A. Apartments were going for three times that much. Sight unseen, he was just happy to know they had a roof to sleep under when they got there.
Bella the art geek, however, was in heaven. She didn't care if the place didn't have a roof – she just wanted to be in Los Angeles, finding and visiting every museum, art gallery, and library within a 50 mile radius.
Mostly, though, she was just happy to know she was putting 1,000 miles between herself and James Marsh. Happy to go back to being invisible. A summer's worth of whispers and speculation in their small town was more than she could stand.
It was almost 8 a.m. now, 40 degrees out and drizzling. Bella was freezing and anxious to get on the road. She'd already said her goodbyes to Charlie the night before, before he left for his first graveyard shift in nearly six months. Charlie was a Forks police officer, and after Bella's graduation, he'd refused to take an evening shift for any reason. Since Bella was moving out, he'd agreed to go back to his old schedule.
Bella said goodbye to Billy, and promised she would call when they stopped for the night. Jake rolled his eyes.
Because he was "the man", Jake insisted on driving. Bella herself had never driven any farther than Seattle, and knew if she was sitting shotgun she'd have control over the music for most of the trip, so she feigned a reluctant submission and tossed Jake her keys.
Charlie had bought the truck from Billy when Bella turned 16. It had no radio, so Jake wired a used stereo/CD player all half-assed into it shortly after she got it. As long as the beast would play music, she didn't care how it happened.
Charlie, however, did care. For her 17th birthday, he had a real stereo system installed. It even had an auxiliary jack for her iPod. The twenty hours it would take them to arrive in L.A. was starting to seem very long to her; she was suddenly very grateful for the stereo. She'd have to remember to thank Charlie again.
She dug her iPod out of her bag and plugged it into the stereo, choosing her "WAKE THE F*** UP" playlist. It was full of screaming chicks, heavy metal, and hideous but contagious popular dance tunes. Early Metallica came through the truck's speakers with force as Jake turned the key in the ignition. Jake grinned. Billy frowned. Bella clapped delightedly.
Bella's big fancy digital SLR camera rode with them in the cab. She dropped the empty black camera bag onto the floorboard as Jake backed out of the driveway. She popped the lens cap off of the camera and held it in her lap.
Jake threw the truck into drive and they were off, down the long dirt road leading to the highway, leaving behind nothing, hopefully, but memories and a long cloud of dust. Bella twisted in the seat to snap a photo of Jake's house as it faded from sight, just as she had done with her house earlier that morning.
When Jake turned left onto the highway, Bella released a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
They were officially gone.
From behind the seat of their vintage getaway vehicle, Jake suddenly produced a large, flat cardboard box. He passed it to Bella, who glanced at it once distractedly, and then a second time with a chuckle.
"Breakfast, brother?" she inquired.
"Don't throw away your pepperoni, I want it."
They split a large cold pizza as Jake headed for Highway 101. Bella peeled the circles of pepperoni off her pizza and tossed them into the box. Jake popped them in his mouth.
When they were done, they briefly debated where to stash the box. Bella wanted Jake to pull over somewhere so she could throw it away. Jake dared Bella to flip the empty box out of the truck window. She accidentally hit a man on a bicycle with the box, forcing him to swerve off the road and into a road sign.
Bella gasped and covered her face in embarrassment; Jake laughed so hard he almost drove into a tree.
About five hours later, just outside of Portland, the pair stopped for gas. Jake pumped while Bella purchased some snacks and soda from the mini-mart and strolled around the lot with her camera. She took random pictures – Jake pumping gas, the highway, a phone booth, a packet of ketchup that had exploded on the ground.
Bella controlled the iPod the entire trip, alternating between Jake's favorites and hers, surprising him with a playlist full of music they'd grown up listening to – Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, INXS. She sang nearly every song. Jake laughed, sometimes joining her at the chorus, sometimes making fun of her singing. When his ribbing got to be too much for Bella, she started throwing the soda bottles and balled up food wrappers at him.
She took pictures of road signs, 18-wheelers, and anything else that amused her as Jake drove down the interstate. They stopped again four hours later in Grants Pass, refilling the tank and then heading into a fast-food joint in the same parking lot for a quick dinner.
"We're over half-way there," Bella mumbled as she reviewed a map of the Pacific Coast. "Redding's like two and a half hours away…we can spend the night there, if you want, and continue on in the morning."
Jake shifted his gaze from the greasy cheeseburger in his hands to Bella, a question on his face. Redding had no significance to him.
"There's this bridge I want to see," she shrugged. Jake nodded and took another giant bite of his burger. Bella eventually put the map down, picking apart her fries.
Jake swallowed loudly. "What's on your mind, sis?"
Bella shrugged again. "It finally feels like we've left. In the truck I don't think it had really hit me."
"You feeling alright about it?"
"Yeah. Yeah. I'm good. I needed this. Just weird, you know? I mean, we're like ten hours from home, either way you look at it. We're literally half-way between our old life and our new life, right now."
"What's weirder – what you're leaving behind, or what you're moving toward?" Jake asked between bites.
Bella took a long drink of her soda and picked apart a fry. She looked up to find Jake watching her face, waiting for an answer. Weird good, weird bad…which is weirder? She had no words to answer that.
Jake nodded to her tray. "You need to eat."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jake drove through Redding about 9 p.m. and checked them into a Motel 6 just off the interstate. Bella had packed a backpack with toothbrushes, deodorant, and a change of clothes for each of them, and dug it out of the truck bed.
In the room, Bella claimed the bed closest to the door as Jake turned on lights. "You sure you don't want this bed, Bells?" he asked. "You're going to freeze by that A/C tonight."
"I wanna be by the door," she mumbled, digging through the backpack for pajamas. She pulled out navy striped flannel pants, her toothbrush, and the toothpaste. She walked into the bathroom to change, passing Jake sitting on the other bed, and giving him a look that said she didn't want to talk about it.
Jake rubbed his hand over his face and followed her with his eyes until the bathroom door closed. He sighed.
She exited the bathroom in her pajama pants and the same t-shirt she'd worn all day, her bra and jeans rolled up in her right hand. Her long hair was wound in a messy bun. Jake headed for the bathroom to brush his teeth and change. Bella set the clothes on the hotel dresser, removing a small canister of pepper spray from her jeans pocket and slipping it under the pillow on the bed.
She double-checked the hotel room door to ensure it was locked, and inspected the window as well. She set the A/C on low, and folded down the bedding on her bed.
She heard the shower and realized she had a few minutes to herself. She sat on the bed cross-legged, back straight, right hand in the left hand, palms upwards, with the tips of her thumbs slightly raised and gently touching. Her eyes partially closed, Bella turned her attention to her breathing.
She did as she had learned in therapy – breathing away all disturbing thoughts and distractions with each exhale, breathing in blessings and inspiration with each inhale, focusing on nothing but her breathing and those visualizations. She did this 21 times, then opened her eyes slowly. She was surprised to see Jake standing across the room, watching her curiously. She hadn't heard the shower shut off.
"Hi," she said lamely. Jake chuckled.
"I know you do that every night, but it's just kind of trippy to watch. You get so into it, you don't notice anything else going on," he said, drying his short dark hair with a towel. He was wearing red pajama pants and nothing else. Beads of water clung to his dark, bare skin, as it had much of the summer. They had spent much time on the beach, although, unlike Jake, Bella's skin showed no evidence of it.
Bella rolled her neck and stretched her arms way over her head before crawling under the covers. Jake finished drying off, set the alarm on his cell phone for the morning, and tossed the phone to Bella. She caught it, surprised.
"You were going to call the dads, remember?" he said teasingly.
Bella called Billy first. He thanked her for calling and made her promise to call the next night when they got to L.A. The call to Charlie took longer. He wanted to know how the truck was running, where they stopped for the night, and when they were leaving in the morning.
"I miss you already, Bells."
"Eh, there's still plenty of food in the fridge," she replied dismissively. "You won't be missing me for at least four days." She smiled as she spoke, and Charlie chuckled. Bella heard him putting on his uniform jacket.
"I gotta get to work, but you call me tomorrow, okay?"
"I will, Dad. Goodnight."
Bella flipped the cell phone closed and tossed it back to Jake, who set it on the nightstand between the two beds. He had turned off all lights but the one between them.
He looked at Bella for a long moment, his forehead wrinkled in thought. "You need anything tonight, you wake me up," he finally said.
Bella nodded and gave him a small smile. She pulled the bedding up over her and curled up on her side. Jake turned off the lamp and rolled onto his stomach. They both fell asleep quickly.
Just before dawn, Jake awoke.
Bella had always talked in her sleep. Ever since the first time they'd had to spend the night together, when Billy and Charlie went fishing down the coast and they stayed with Billy's friend Sue Clearwater. Sometimes she'd talk and toss and turn all night. But the screaming… well, that was new.
"Bella. Bella. BELLA!" He shook her shoulders, trying to rouse her. She woke with a start, sitting straight up, eyes wide.
"Bella," Jake whispered. Bella blinked several times, feeling disoriented, and then frowned, rubbing the scar on the back right side of her scalp.
"Bells," Jake started softly. "You were having a nightmare." That tidbit of information didn't appear to clear up anything for her; she still looked confused. Jake ran one hand through his short dark hair, unsure what to do. "Uh… hotel room... on our way to L.A… you were screaming in your sleep. I woke you up." His brows furrowed, watching Bella's face, feeling completely ill-equipped to handle whatever the hell had just happened.
Bella's expression was panicked for a moment, and then the tears kicked in. Jake wanted to ask what had happened, he wanted to know what to do for her, he wanted to know what damned time it was… instead he just pulled her into his lap and wrapped his long arms around her.
It took a long time but Bella fell asleep again, in Jake's arms, cheeks still wet from crying. Still not sure what he was supposed to do, but afraid to let her go, he laid down on the bed next to her, over the covers, and fell asleep, too.
At 7 a.m., the alarm on Jake's cell phone went off. He groaned and started to roll off the bed to shut it off when he felt a hand pull him back onto the bed.
"Sleep," Bella slurred groggily. "I'm shower. Wake you up few." She rolled out of the bed, shutting off the alarm and grabbing the backpack off the dresser. Jake yanked the blankets from her side of the bed up over him and drifted back to sleep.
In the shower, Bella let the hot water run through her hair and down her back. She took her time, willing the water to calm her nerves. She dressed slowly and blow-dried her hair. Her head was throbbing, so she dug through her backpack for some aspirin, grateful to find a bottle in the very bottom of the bag. She pulled Jake's clean clothes and toiletries out of the backpack, setting them on his bed, and then packed the rest of their stuff into the backpack before waking him.
He was rolled up in the blankets, snoring softly. Bella allowed herself a small smile at the peaceful image, and then woke him the only way she'd ever woken him – with a pillow to the head. "Damn, Bella, what the hell?" He groaned.
"I'm all done in the bathroom. You're up. We're leaving in 20 minutes."
Jake rubbed his face with his right hand and yawned. "I'll be ready in five." He sat up slowly and glanced around the room. Bella had packed everything up except for a pile of clothes on the other bed. He turned on the ceiling lights in the hotel room, grabbed the clothes and went to the bathroom to change.
Bella felt tense and anxious. The dream had her mind in a bad place. She sat cross-legged on her bed and tried to meditate, but each time she closed her eyes, she felt like she was being thrown across the room. It made her dizzy. So she shifted her attention to her maps, figuring out the best way to get to Sundial Bridge.
The Sundial Bridge was an architectural masterpiece built in Redding, California in 2004. Bella had remembered reading about it on the internet and had always wanted to see it. The deck of the bridge was paved in a gorgeous, opaque, aqua-colored glass. The 217-foot pylon was a functioning sundial. And the suspension-style prevented it from impacting the local salmon breeding. Apparently that was a good thing.
Jake was not so much interested in the bridge. It was too early, he was under caffeinated, and he wasn't particularly impressed with the efforts to protect the area's salmon. He found himself a ledge to lean against and stared, uninterested, down at the Sacramento River.
But Bella… Bella had a ball. She snapped several dozen pictures of the bridge as the sun rose, throwing shadows and colors across the river. She even snapped one of Jake pulling his beanie down over his eyes, and took a severely angled self-portrait with just sky and pylon towering behind her. She rescued Jake from his boredom after a half hour, grabbing him by the arm and suggested they get on the road.
Jake got them breakfast burritos and coffee at a drive-thru on their way back to the interstate, and they were on their way to L.A. by 9 a.m.
Bella eagerly took pictures of cars, signs, and farms they passed. They stopped once at a fruit stand for snacks and drinks, and shortly after, for a bathroom break and gas at a nameless off-ramp. She had all but forgotten her dream.
Jake, however, had not.