Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer.


They Say Hindsight is 20/20


I threw back the covers and sat up, my brain still fuzzy with sleep, and I yawned while rubbing my legs. It hadn't been this bad for weeks. When it started, a few months ago, I'd looked it up one day at the library, and while I was pretty sure I had these growing pains, as they were called, they shouldn't be hitting me now. I shouldn't be growing this fast either, but I was.

Usually it was only a crawling sensation, nothing major; if anything it was just annoying. Then, a few months ago, not long after I'd seen Bella again, I'd woken up with near-tears in my eyes because of the throbbing ache. At first I thought I'd pulled a muscle, but since I hadn't exerted myself in any way it didn't make any sense. I'd gotten out of bed and started walking around the house, rubbing my legs frantically, and that's when I'd realized that my actual bones were hurting. Luckily I hadn't had it that bad again – it had been pure hell, and sleep had been a lost cause. Not that I didn't have trouble sleeping from time to time still. Like now.

"Damn it," I whispered into the dark.

I dragged myself out of bed and pulled a pair of shorts on before walking stiffly down the hallway, continuously flexing my legs. This was ridiculous. Why did it have to happen during the night? Oh yeah – because the brain isn't focusing on all the other things you need it for, idiot, I told myself. Stupid hormones, or whatever it was.

With a bottle of water from the fridge and with sneakers on my feet I decided on the only thing I'd figured out helped: running. So, off I went again, jogging down the beach in the middle of the night. At least it was summer – this could be even more inconvenient in winter. I hoped it would be over by then. I had to stop growing at some point, or I'd end up a giant. As if I wasn't one already, at least next to Bella.

Now there was something to take my mind off the crawling in my legs: my girl. It was going to take some getting used to, thinking of her like that. Not that I minded the way my chest felt whenever I thought about it. It felt good. So good. She didn't mind it when I called her that, either. Which also was hard to believe sometimes. I must be, hands down, the luckiest guy on the planet.

It was mid July, and Bella was due to come back from Jacksonville this afternoon. She'd been gone for two and a half weeks, and I missed her so much I thought I was going to break. Naturally she called me every day, and hearing her voice was the best thing in my day – Quil and Embry gave me so much crap for it, but I didn't care. They were just jealous of Bella snagging all of my time – or my attention, was maybe more correct.

Ever since school let out, she'd been down here most days out of the week. Mostly we hung out with Quil and Embry – they couldn't complain, not really: Bella liked them, which was really cool. And now I had an extra pair of eyes ogling me while I worked on the Rabbit. This pair of eyes didn't always get the tools right that I asked for, but it was okay. She really tried to learn all that stuff, and not because she was trying to impress me, but because she was genuinely interested. We actually had a 'date' planned – I was going to teach her how to change a tire. We didn't really go on actual dates, the closest thing we'd had was prom.

That brought another thing to mind – the hot flashes, like the ones I'd had at Bella's prom. Those were a mystery to me still, and not for lack of trying to figure them out. At first I'd wondered if it had something to do with me being nervous around Bella – now that would give a whole new definition to 'having the hots for someone' – but then it happened again a few weeks later. I'd been in my garage with Quil and Embry. Now, Embry wasn't usually the one to help me with the heavier things – Quil was the one into lifting weights – but he'd been closest, and to prevent an accident that could have ended badly, Embry had jumped in. While he and I had been struggling with the engine it had hit me, like a flash. I only wore shorts and a tee, and it wasn't even a hot day, but I'd been burning either way. Unless, suddenly, I had the hots for Embry, I had to rule out that theory. After that I had remembered to check it out at the library, and I'd gone there with Bella, who wanted to borrow a new book anyway. Luckily I had been alone by the computer, or so I'd thought. The first thing that had popped up among the search results was menopause, and the hot flash I got in that moment had nothing to do with my previous ones. As if sitting in front of a computer and blushing wasn't bad enough, a few girls – probably seniors – had walked passed me in that exact moment. Their giggles made me give up and I'd made a beeline for the exit. Yeah, I'd laugh, too, if I saw a fifteen year old guy googling about menopause. If I never went back to that library it would be too soon.

When I came back from my run the sky was turning gray, the sun was on its way up, and I was way too wound up to go back to sleep. It was still early, but I opted for breakfast anyway. I was relieved that the restlessness in my legs was gone, and hoped that it would stay gone.

"What are you doing up so early, Jacob?"

I just about jumped out of my chair. "Geez, dad – mornin' to you, too."

"It's just passed four," he pointed out, while I popped a spoonful of cereal into my mouth, chewing it while watching him wheel up to the table.

"I couldn't sleep," I mumbled through the cereal.

Dad scrutinized me, then his expression changed and he looked like the cat who just ate the canary. "Ah – Bella's coming back today, isn't she," he said finally. It wasn't a question.

I answered anyway. "Yep." It wasn't the reason I woke up, but he didn't need to worry about me, he seemed to have enough on his mind these days. I bet it had something to do with Sam Uley and his stupid gang.

One week before school finished up for the summer, we overheard Jared at lunch, mouthing off about Paul and what a douche he was. Apparently they didn't hang out anymore. Quil, Embry and I thought that Jared had finally just ditched him, but then we saw Paul with Sam Uley, and a few weeks after that Jared started hanging out with them too. They even had a name for themselves, which was embarrassing: the protectors. I didn't understand what their deal was – they just pranced around, flexing their muscles, and looked pissed off half the time. What were they supposed to protect from? The kids that once in a blue moon shoplifted? Or the tourists that tried to take home a piece of driftwood as a souvenir? They could at least put some freaking clothes on, Quil had pointed out. Yeah – we always found something new to mock Sam and his crew about behind their backs.

After breakfast, I pulled a shirt on and settled in with the Rabbit. I'd worked a bit extra at the store while Bella was gone, but today was my day off, and sooner or later Quil and Embry would show up to lay into me about being anti-social. They would also be happy about Bella coming back, because it meant I would be in a better mood. I didn't mean to sulk about it, and it was pretty dumb, but I just couldn't help it. I loved this girl. It hadn't taken me long to fall, and it had definitely not been soft landing either. I was just a kid still, but I knew this love wasn't the kind I'd recover from if I ever lost it.

I didn't need experience to tell me how much it was worth. My bones did.

I had never been in love before; I hadn't even liked anyone. To me, girls were pretty, and that had been pretty much it. Of course, I had kissed one – that was a weird experience – it never really worked out either. Jen was her name, short for Jennfier, and we hung out a few times, and then I just kissed her one afternoon, while watching some dumb TV show. Not because I'd been dying to do it, but more because it just felt like something I was supposed to do. It had been sort of warm, and sticky, because she'd had some incredibly fruity-smelling stuff on her lips. It had lasted a few seconds – my mouth on hers, none of that face-sucking you see the seniors getting stuck into at lunch – and when it was over we went back to watching TV, like nothing ever happened. I hadn't even been disappointed. In my mind that was telling me something. I'd sworn I wouldn't try it again until I felt like it, until I wanted to.

Now I kind of wanted to – I felt like it. There was only one problem: it would suck if Bella rejected it. I don't think I could handle that. So now I spent a lot of time fighting that little oath of mine, since wanting and feeling had created new problems. But there was something else I kept squashing: I'd nearly slipped up once, after prom, in Bella's living room. I'd been so close to blurting out that I loved her, and if a rejected kiss would mess me up, I was pretty sure wearing my heart on my sleeve would crack me. I could see what a miserable sucker I would be to have around if I didn't take it easy, kissed her at the wrong moment, and screwed up. There was only one catch though: my heart was kind of stronger than my head, and ever since that moment I'd shared with Bella after prom, it was a huge effort to hold back. I had wanted to, so badly, but – oh man, it was so hard to think about it and tell myself 'not yet, Jake, you'll mess up'.

And then she smelled so good. Her hair, mostly. Sweet and soft – strawberries and something else. What more – having her close enough to hug her did weird things to all of me. My heart freaked out every single time; not in a bad way, but it sort of took off a bit. Then there was that very strange thing that happened in my stomach – like there was an invasion, like the clone wars. Maybe not, that would be painful, and it definitely didn't hurt. Fireflies! Buzzing around and doing their thing. Yeah. That was a better comparison, that would explain the warmth too. Man, was I glad that I didn't blurt things out – Quil and Embry would laugh their asses off at me.

Then a chorus broke out.

"Love is in the air-"

"-everywhere I look around."

"Love is in the air, in every sight and every sound!"

I closed my eyes and shook my head. Speak of the devil and he shall appear. "Quit snooping around in your moms' CD collections – geez."

"Aw, Jakey, don't stop now!" Quil wailed in a high pitch voice.

Embry tuned in too. "That's right, give us that dreamy and sweet face of yours, it's so pretty!"

I pushed back from the Rabbit and bounced the wrench in my palm. "Come here and I'll make you pretty, Call."

"You're making Quil jealous," Embry warned, winking.

"Duh." I smacked my forehead. "Go make out, and come back when you're over it."

Embry grinned. "Oho! Burn!"

Quil tossed a crate over and plopped down, doing a drum-roll on its side. "Seriously, Black – you're losin' it. Is she coming back already or how long do we have to put up with your sorry ass."

"She better not come back right now or she'll turn around and run for the hills," Embry said laughing. "Look at you."

"What!" I snapped defensively.

"Yeah, Black, he's got a point – you look like crap. Do you sleep at all?"

"Oh." I sighed. "It's my legs again," I clarified with a shrug.

"Still? Have you told your dad about it?" Quil asked.

"Nah. It's nothing I can't handle."

Embry shifted slightly, then shoved his hands in his pockets. "I eh, kind of am having the same problems," he confessed.

Quil and I looked at him.


"Bro, that sucks," Quil said, kicking the other crate to Embry, who sank down.

"Yeah," he sighed.

I scrutinized him. "How tall are you now, Emb?"

He shrugged. "Six something."

Quil let out a snort. "Man, I'm only five eleven – freaking beanpoles," he accused sullenly.

"You should be happy, you don't want this pain in your legs," I told him.

"Or the creepy crawlies," Embry added.

"No pain, no gain," Quil stated casually.

"Speaking of pain – I'm broke," Embry declared, but he didn't look too sad about it – ah.

"You got it?" I asked.

Quil jumped up. "Show me!"

Embry smirked, then pulled the license out of his pocket and fanned himself with it. "Yup."

I high-fived him. "Swe-et!"

Quil snatched it from Embry's hand. "Yoink!"

"Hey! Give it back!"

"If you let me ride your bike," Quil bargained. "Why didn't you ride it here if you've got your license?" he added suspiciously.

"Because I'm not a show off – like you," he taunted.

Quil fanned himself with the license demonstratively. "Oh yeah, Call? How's this lookin'?"

He rolled his eyes. "Riding my bike here would've ruined the element of surprise," he said and grinned.

"You're a girl," Quil told him, disgusted, and shoved the license back at him. "I would've ripped up the driveway."

I laughed. "Yeah – and you would've ass-planted in the process."

Quil came at me but I ducked away from him with a mocking laugh. "You're both sissies," he accused.

Embry scoffed. "You're just jealous – I've got my license, Jake's got a girl – what you got, Quil?"

Next thing I knew Quil had Embry on the ground and they thrashed around, trying to fight for the upper hand.

"I've got you on the floor, that's what I got, Call," Quil said arrogantly, finally having Embry pinned down, one arm twisted around his back.

"Ow – geez, man. Let go!"

Quil climbed off Embry and dusted himself off before holding his hand out. "You asked, and I answered," he stated simply.

"Yeah, whatever." Embry let Quil pull him up.

"Jacob!" I heard my dad yell from up the house.

"Just a minute," I said and wiped my hands on a rag before running outside.

Dad was in the doorway, he didn't look happy at all. In fact, he looked... a bit scared, which made no sense. I don't know why my stomach lurched, but it did.


"Bella called, she's stuck up on the one-ten – flat tire – Jake!"

My girl was back – with a flat tire!

"Bye, dad!" I threw over my shoulder, already on my way back to the garage. I stopped in the mouth of it. "Emb, you're taking me for a drive," I told him, and his brows shot up.


"Bella's got a flat, she's stuck on the one-ten – is your car filled up?"

"Jacob Ephraim Black!" came my dad's voice behind me, all loud and serious.

I rolled my eyes at Embry and Quil, then turned. "What, dad?"

"You're not going up there alone – let me call someone to give you a ride."

"Geez." I knew exactly what he was going on about now. He needed to stop it; it was ridiculous.

"I'm serious Jacob, now don't you give me any trouble, son." He turned the wheelchair, leveling me with a stern look before wheeling himself back to the house.

"Let's go get your car," I told Embry quietly.

"Jake, man – don't piss your dad off," Embry advised.

I turned on him. "Do you know who he's going to call? Uley, that's who. I am not sitting in a car with that jerk."

"Why Uley?" Quil asked, confused.

"Because he's a protector!" I mimicked sarcastically. "Their little golden errand boy."

Embry laughed. "Yeah, I'm sure he's taking Bella's klutziness a bit far now. She's not that bad," he joked.

I smacked the back of his head.


"Didn't hurt."

"Did too!"

I sighed. "Sorry – can we split before I won't have a choice?"

Embry shrugged but walked passed me. "Let's go then."

"I'll just hang out here 'til you get back then," Quil called after us.

We ran the whole way to Embry's place, taking a few shortcuts to avoid being seen. By the time we got there Embry was out of breath, but thanks to my midnight jogs I did pretty well. Embry's car was a black 1980 Toyota Corolla and I'd helped him do some work on the engine, which it had needed.

"Your dad is going to rip you up, Jake," he told me as we buckled up.

I rolled my eyes. "No he won't – just go."

"Does she have the tools and a spare?" Embry asked suddenly.

"Uh – should do. Unless she's removed 'em. Go, go!"

"Okay, okay." Embry laughed.

Just as we passed my driveway, as I'd suspected, Sam Uley was already there. He was shouting something after us, and I flipped him the bird when he gave us that peeved look of his. Dad would probably be pretty pissed off when I got back home, but all I could care about right now was Bella. It was worth it.

On the way I got that feeling again; the fireflies were back, and their buzzing got worse for each mile. We weren't far from the turn onto one-oh-one when I spotted Bella's truck, and Embry slowed down to pull over on the shoulder. As I got out, my heart instantly kicked into overdrive when Bella's door flew open. She poked her head out, her eyes wide. Oh man – so beautiful – my poor heart.

"Jacob?" she called out in question. "Jake!"

It was impossible not to smile. "Bella!"

I saw her stumble out of the truck, as I rounded the front of Embry's car. On her way across the road she tripped again, but she just laughed it off, and came up to me, sneaking her arms around my waist. She hugged me so hard I thought my heart would explode, and I wrapped my arms around her, then dipped my nose into her hair and inhaled deeply, feeling dizzy.

"Hey, Bells," I breathed into her hair. "S'pose you missed me, huh?"

She was nodding into my chest, and I was so sure my heart was going to bound right out of me. "Yes," she whispered, "very much."

I chuckled quietly, and she pulled back a little to look up at me. Her cheeks were pink and she had hair all over her face, which I tried to brush away.

"I crazy-missed you, honey," I told her, smiling so hard my cheeks hurt. It wasn't possible but she blushed more, and her own smile grew.

I couldn't keep myself from touching her face, and the buzzing in my stomach was insane as her soft, brown eyes held mine. Don't say it, don't say it, don't say it! I shook my head, just smiling, while my thumbs stroked her cheeks and my fingers felt the soft skin on her neck. Then my eyes dropped to her lips – I was done for, and in a beat mine touched hers. My heart skipped unevenly, as I stood completely still, waiting for her reaction. When she leaned into me, and her soft, warm lips pressed into mine, my whole body burst with warmth; it was incredible. Then her lips moved against mine... hello! Mine followed, exploring hers a little, and it totally pulled me in. . . .

"Dude!" Embry protested. Bella froze – I was going to smack him, and pulled back, turning to give him a death-stare. He held his hands up, but kept his mouth closed. Good for him.

"Um, I'll get the jack out," Bella said quietly and slipped away from me before I could stop her.

"You're in it – deep," I warned him.

Embry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah."

We'd just gotten the truck jacked up, when someone spoke.

"Do you need a hand with that?" a weird, and way too smooth, male voice called out, and all three of us turned.

Down the road, pacing back and forth, while looking in our direction, was a guy. He was sickly pale, and looked kind of ill; the fact that he was wearing sunglasses on a gloomy day like this told me he was probably a junkie – the sun didn't even play peek-a-boo.

"We're cool. Thanks anyway," I replied evenly.

Where had he come from anyway?

"All right. Your call." He tilted his head, like he was listening to something, while he continued walking back and forth. Nah – he was stalking, like those big wildcats in tall grass, calculating their angle before pouncing.

I glanced at Embry, and I knew he felt it too. There was something not right here; I didn't know what, but my gut was telling me to get Bella out of here – now – and I wasn't one to ignore such things. So I grabbed Bella's hand, while giving Embry a pointed look, and led her toward the Corolla. Inwardly I was grateful she didn't protest or ask questions. She probably felt it too.

"Aw – where are you going?" the guy wondered in playful mockery. I was so not going to play games with a crackhead.

Embry had his door pulled open when the guy moved forward, like he was going to leap on Embry, but then he jerked to a halt, before turning to look behind him. Embry didn't waste any time, and dove into the drivers seat.

"Get in already!" he snapped.

I shoved Bella into the backseat, jumping in after her and slammed the door. "Go, go." I tapped Embry's seat impatiently, my eyes on the stranger. He turned his head and leered at us, but didn't do anything.

"Man, where the hell did he come from?" Embry sputtered, pushing the car way passed the speed limit.

"Bro, slow down," I told him calmly, even if my heart was racing.

"Are you okay?" Bella asked, and squeezed my hand.

"Huh – yeah, I'm good. I just had a really bad feeling."

Bella stiffened. "You don't think..." she trailed off, and I turned to look at her worried expression.


"Well, they haven't found out who killed that girl from Hoquiam yet. I just – he looked sort of creepy."

I shrugged. "I wouldn't put it passed a junkie to kill someone, but he'd get his hands on a gun though... wasn't that girl like, mauled or something?"

"Um, yeah. But Charlie says that if it were a bear there should've been signs of struggle. That girl hadn't been um, putting up a fight."

"So she was drugged?" Embry asked, sounding clinically intrigued. There he went again. He needed to stop watching crime shows with his mom.

"I don't know – I didn't ask. She could have been, I guess," Bella said thoughtfully. "It definitely would explain why she didn't fight."

My stomach lurched. "That dude back there looked like a serious crackhead," I stated distractedly, then leaned back.

Bella pulled something out of her pocket.

"Bells – you're not going to get a signal here," I told her when I noticed she'd gotten her cell phone out.

"Oh – right," she said, frowning at the face, "I was going to call Charlie – they should check it out, shouldn't they? I mean, just in case."

I reached over her, grabbing her seat belt. "If you're worried about people's safety, buckle up first," I told her and winked.

"Thanks," Embry threw over his shoulder, "I know how to drive."

Bella sighed. "Ugh. Sorry, Embry, I should have realized – congrats on your license!"

He beamed. "Thanks, Bella."

"You're welcome." She grinned.

"I've still got six months left," I said unhappily. "The Rabbit will be finished long before then."

"Do you need a new project?" Bella poked me playfully.

"Hmm." I looked up, thoughtful, then grinned at her. "I'm sure I'll come up with something."

She watched her own fingers tracing my hand that had found hers, then she looked up suddenly, her eyes hesitant.

"Are you working this weekend?"

I smiled widely. "Nope." I let go of her hand and put my arm around her. "All yours."

"Please," Embry complained.

"Be quiet and drive," I told him, rolling my eyes.

"Yeah, yeah."

I turned back to Bella. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, I don't have any work either. So, I guess I'm all yours too then, huh?"

Embry whistled, making Bella's cheeks turn pink. I couldn't really smack him for it – I loved that color on her face.

When we got back to my house, Embry disappeared into the garage to see if Quil was still there. I'd completely forgotten about my dad, who came out of the house just as I was about to open my mouth.

"Jacob," was all he said, but with heavy authority, and I shook my head.

Bella gave me a questioning look.

"Just a minute," I told her, and walked up the ramp, noting the deep frown on dad's face.

Here we go.

I closed the door behind me, then folded my arms.

"Sit down, son," he said, and I rolled my eyes but sat down at the table. "Now," he began in a grave voice, "I know that you think that your old man is loopy, and I'm sorry I can't explain everything to you, Jacob. But I will not tolerate you taking off like that. I mean it. If you think about doing it again, consider yourself grounded."

I stared at him. Was he serious? I couldn't remember the last time I'd been grounded – I don't think I'd ever been. Whatever. I had to try pressuring him about Sam and his crew; it was beyond embarrassing now.

"What's the deal, dad? What's so special about Sam? And Hoskie hangs out with him now too, and Jared – Paul Hoskie, dad! Come on! Can't you see there's something fishy going on?"

He got that look on his face, telling me he was holding back on a ton of stuff, but for some reason he wouldn't tell me. It was starting to piss me off.

"Sam is a good kid, he's just had it rough," dad defended, and that was it. I'd had it.

"Good kid? Yeah? Geez, dad – I guess you haven't seen the way he looks at me. It isn't in a good 'hey, let's hang out' kind of way. I won't take off again, 'kay? But Sam's an ass and I don't want him babysitting me! Ground me right now if you're planning on forcing him on me again." I glared at him.


"What?" I snapped.

"Don't judge Sam, you don't know-"

I shot up from the chair. "Because you won't freaking tell me, dad!"

"Sit down," he ordered in a calm voice.

"Sheez!" I slumped back down with a heavy sigh.

"I want to ask you something," he hedged, wary now, and my eyes narrowed in suspicion. This should be interesting, judging from the guilty expression on his face, "and only an honest answer, son – I'll know if you're lying to me."

I rolled my eyes and waited.

"How are you feeling?"

This was a joke! "I feel pretty good," I told him honestly. "Pissed off, but good."

Dad was skeptic. "You look tired, son," he pointed out in a serious tone.

"Maybe 'cause I am. I didn't sleep much last night."

"Well – okay then." He sighed, and looked tired himself. "That was all – no running off. Clear?"

"Crystal," I said and got up to escape.

I could appreciate that dad was worried about me, but that part didn't make me mad, it was the secrecy behind it. The cryptic meaning between the lines, which I couldn't make sense of. It wasn't getting any better, and I wasn't sure how much longer I'd be able to just leave the issue be. At some point dad was going to have to spill the beans. Normally I was fairly level headed, and I didn't get mad easily, but something about all this crap was rubbing me up the wrong way. Dad could embarrass me, and it would be a little annoying at times, but normally I just sulked about it. Lately it made me mad. That part irritated the hell out of me, because I didn't like feeling this way. It sucked.

On my way to the garage I took a few deep breaths, trying to clear my nasty mood. I'd been dying for Bella to come back, and the last thing I wanted was to be a drag.

Quil was in the middle of an animated discussion with Embry, while Bella sat on a crate with her legs crossed, grinning.

"... and – bam! He was gone." Quil finished.

"Who?" I asked, walking over to the Rabbit to pull the door open and sit down on the passenger seat.

"Jared," Embry said. "Quil was-"

"Hey, I'm tellin' the story," Quil interrupted, and Embry rolled his eyes.

Bella was looking at me, and she had a little crease between her brows as she studied me. She dragged the crate over, then rested her arm over my legs before taking my hand.

"You okay, Jake?"

I smiled at her. "Yeah. I'm good."

One of her brows rose skeptically and I laughed. "I can see that," she allowed, not convinced, but she didn't push it. I didn't want to talk about it right now, and she could tell. How did I get so lucky?

"Bro, are you listening?"

"Huh? Yeah – go on."

Quil smirked, then he got into the story again, starting over for my benefit. He was hanging out with Jared's sister lately, and Jared wasn't too happy about it. Quil had been over to their place yesterday, and he and Amanda had played some game on the PlayStation. Quil being Quil decided he'd move a bit closer, I guess he was all into pushing his luck too, but it had backfired when Jared had come home. Apparently he'd flipped out, and told Quil to leave. Amanda got bent out of shape, and threw a tantrum, which in turn had pissed Jared off. Quil told us that he'd been so mad his hands were shaking, and next thing they knew he'd taken off. Amanda explained to Quil that her brother was going through a phase right now and he had been a bit temperamental lately.

"That's what he gets for hanging out with Hoskie," I told them. "Seriously. It was bound to happen."

"He's worse these days," Embry said, sounding glum. "Paul, I mean. Now he's angry all the time – I think it's Sam's fault. Man, I hate that guy."

A dull but still noticeable sound came from Quil. "Oh man."

Bella stiffened next to me.

"Geez, man. What the hell?"

"Sorry," he apologized casually.

"Dude, you could at least ask permission before you desecrate my garage," I told him, unimpressed.

"Never bothered you before!"

Embry stared at him. "Well, duh... it's a bit different now, isn't it?" he said, and gestured toward Bella who didn't know where to look.

Quil shrugged. "Better out than in, my dad always says."

I shook my head.

"Aw, c'mon." Quil rolled his eyes. "Man! Fine – sorry, Bella."

Bella gave a slight shrug. "Um, don't worry about it," she mumbled quietly.

"Oh yeah! Now there's a cool chick!"

"Okay, I'm out of here before you drop another one." I got up, holding my hand out to Bella who readily took it.

"I'm all outta ammo," Quil called after me.

"Yeah, I can smell it," Embry told him.

Bella and I were already out of the garage and on our way up to the house. She made a funny noise through her nose, like she was laughing, and I raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry," she said, "but it was kind of funny. Gross, but funny."

"Uh huh." I smirked.

"I bet my being here changes a lot of things," she said almost apologetically, "I mean, with how you hang out and stuff."

I shrugged. "It's cool, Bells. They don't mind – Quil's just... well, Quil."

"Yeah, I get that. He's okay though... gases and all."

I busted out laughing, and she grinned at me.

The familiar rumble of Bella's truck made us look up and my smile was instantly wiped off my face. I think I went all rigid too, because Bella squeezed my hand, like she was trying to hold me back.

"You're not serious."

"Jake – he brought my truck back. It's okay."

Sam got out and came up to us, holding the keys out for her, and she took them, giving him a polite smile.

"Thanks," she said.

"No problem." His scrutiny was unnervingly intense.

"You can leave now," I told him flatly.

His jaw tensed. "Don't pull that again," he warned me, and I stepped toward him; soon he wouldn't be too big for me to take on – where the hell did that come from? Suddenly I didn't feel so small. I was a kid but when he stared me down like this I didn't feel like one.

"Don't come around here, and I won't," I replied.

"Jake," Bella whispered.

Sam's eyes narrowed, then shifted to Bella. "Bella," he said, "I want to talk to Jacob for a bit. Alone."

I stared at him.

"Um, okay," she said quietly, and I tightened my grip on her hand when she started pulling away. I looked down at her concerned face.

"Bells, you don't have to go anywhere, okay?" I turned back to Sam. "Who do you think you are?" I fired at him.

Bella tried to withdraw her hand. "It's okay, Jake, just – please don't fight."

"I'm not fighting, I'm just wondering where this guy gets off," I told her.

"Let her go, Jacob. We need to talk. It'll just take a minute."

"We nothing," I snapped. "You don't tell me what to do."

"Please," Bella whispered pleadingly.

I took a deep breath and released her hand, glaring at Sam. "You've got one minute, then I want you off my dad's land, got it?"

"You got it," he agreed.

From the corner of my eye I saw Bella hurrying into my house. This guy was pushing all my buttons. It was going to come to a head if he didn't knock it off.

"Talk," I demanded.

"Your dad asked me to talk to you," he started and I scoffed.

"Don't involve my dad in this. Spit it out, then leave."

This should be interesting.

"How's the pains?" he asked, taking me by surprise. "And the creeping in your bones – how about the hotflashes? You've got those too, don't you?"

What did he know about that? I'd only told Quil and Embry.

I eyed him, squinting suspiciously. "What's it to you?"

"Do you have them?" he pressed, ignoring my question.

"You just told me I did, so why do you ask all of a sudden?"

Sam's eyes tightened. "I'm not here to play games with you, Jacob. I'm serious."

"So am I."

What was it with this guy that got me acting like this? The sooner he talked the better, I didn't want to fight with him, even if some part of me couldn't help but feel challenged. It was just dumb.

"I want to warn you, give you what I didn't get: a heads up. At some point you're going to get pissed off, way worse than you are right now. It's going to consume you. The fury will change you into something you already know about – you remember the legends, don't you, Jacob?"

I rolled my eyes, groaning in frustration. "Please. What are you trying to do?" I mocked. "Think you can scare me with all that vampire crap? I'm too old to be intimidated by scary stories, Sam."

"The legends are real, Jacob. I'm trying to help you."

"If you want to help, then get the hell off our land!" I threatened, stepping closer. It was taking me a bit off guard how stupid I was acting. Sure, I was catching up to him, but he was a lot beefier than I was. Soon, though.

Sam looked peeved now, and his eyes were getting darker. "I understand that you can't believe it, but know this: we're here. We're waiting. You won't be alone."

"That sounds an awful lot like a threat more than a comfort," I spat. "Just take off, will you? And stop hounding my dad, he doesn't need your crap!"

Sam was getting agitated, I recognized the look on his face, like he wanted to punch my lights out. The feeling is mutual, asshole.

"I've got my eye on you," he told me in a strained voice, before backing off.

"Yeah? Take it, and shove it up your ass!" I turned quickly and walked away before I threw the punch I was holding back on. It's like he wanted me to snap. The guy was obviously just hankering for a fight. Well, I wasn't going to give it to him. No wonder Paul had bigger anger-issues these days. Embry was right: this was definitely Sam's fault.

When I came in through the kitchen, dad watched me over his newspaper, and I knew it was just a prop because the international section didn't interest him. I just rolled my eyes at him and continued for the living room where Bella sat, curled up against the armrest on the sofa, her chin resting in her hand, and her eyes glued to the TV.

"Hey," she said and glanced over at me where I slumped down on the sofa.

"Hey," I said back, giving her a wry smile. "Sorry 'bout that."

She shifted, and came to rest her head against my shoulder while curling into my side. "It's fine, Jake," she assured me, "are you okay?"

I took a look to see if dad was eavesdropping, then, convinced he wasn't, shrugged. "I'll be okay. Sam just," I took a deep breath, "annoys me," I finished with a sigh. "I bet he's trying to make me mad. Not that I know why, and not that I think he needs a reason. He's just – a jerk."

Bella tilted her head to look at me. "What did he want?"

"Tell me he's keeping an eye on me," I told her ominously, shaking my head. "He tried to scare me with all that vampire and wolf stuff – man, it's so stupid."

Her brows pulled together. "Why's he keeping an eye on you?" she wondered, puzzled.

"I seriously don't know; he's been eyeballing me since January, and it's getting worse..." I sneaked my arm around her, and squeezed her a little.

Bella pulled her knees up, still looking at me. "You don't think he's trying to get you to join his gang, do you?"

I laughed mockingly. "Yeah, he can try, but – nah. Don't worry about that," I reassured her.

She was quiet for a long while, then she straightened up, her face determined. "Think about it," she started quietly, but in a serious way. "Paul and Jared were probably as big as you are now, back at that bonfire, remember? Well, what if he's um, like... recruiting all these big, tough guys for his gang? Jake, you're getting really big – and I mean, really big. Maybe he wants you to join him, and he's trying to get to you?"

"Big, tough guys, huh?" I teased with a smirk, winking at her.

Bella blushed but smacked my shoulder. "Jake," she sighed, and I chuckled.

"Are you saying I'm a tough guy?" I grinned widely.

"Ugh." She rolled her eyes. "I'm not talking to you if you don't take me seriously," she said, pouting, and I reached up to rub the area between her brows.

"You take it seriously enough for the both of us," I told her, smiling.

She just looked at me. "Thanks so much." She sat back a little, hugging her knees.

"Aw – don't be like that." I scooted after her and threw my arm around her shoulders. "I'm not joining a gang, okay? Don't worry about it."

"You looked really upset, of course I worry," she said, but I barely heard her, totally distracted all of a sudden. I had the clearest view straight down Bella's shirt.

Duh. . . .

"Jake – are you listening?"

"Uh... huh? Oh. Sure, sure."

She turned her head and looked up at me. I gave her a sheepish grin, which made her raise a brow. "I asked you something..." Her eyes were expectant.



"I asked: have you eaten yet? I could cook something," she suggested.

I wanted to smack myself.

"Nope. Haven't eaten – let's go to the store and pick something up," I suggested quickly, trying not to peek again – fail. Snoopy was on her bra!

On the way to the store, a couple of messages slipped through the all but non-existent cell network; it was Jessica, and she was annoyed that Bella hadn't answered her. There would be a carnival in Port Angeles this coming weekend, and she wanted us to go with her and company. Dad would be paranoid about it, I just knew it. Did he expect me to be stuck on the reservation all the time? It annoyed the hell out of me that we rarely made it up to Forks, even if Bella was happy coming down to La Push. It just sucked that she had to do all the driving around. I hoped dad would be over it by the time I got my license, because I wanted to do my part, and I still wanted to take her on a date. Worst case scenario: I'd have to accept a grounding; dad wasn't going to stop me from taking my girl to a movie.

As soon as we got back from the store we got started on dinner. While Bella worked with the shallots and arranged the chicken fillets, I sliced the apples. We were making apple and thyme chicken; she was always into trying these new recipes, and I didn't mind at all. With Bella it was fun to do this stuff.

"This is definitely safer than onions," I told her, and she grinned up at me. I hadn't forgotten how much it hurt to get the fumes in my eyes.

"You're higher up now, I think you might be in the clear."

"Unlike you – ground zero and all," I teased.

She smacked my arm, and I laughed. Of course, she was correct. I was up higher, which wasn't that bad, when I really thought about it. The things I could see from up here were pretty nice.

Then again... it was hazardous to not pay attention when handling a knife.

"Ow! Oh man – ouch! Damn it!" I dropped the knife and shook my hand.

"Jake!" Bella's hands grabbed a hold of mine. "Oh no." She turned, her eyes darting around the kitchen. "Do you have like um, band-aids somewhere?"

I snatched up the kitchen towel and wrapped it around my fingers. "There."

She shook her head. "You've got to clean it, Jake – seriously, did it cut deep?"

"Nah, I don't think so."

"Let me look," she demanded and took a deep breath before taking my hand.

"Bells, it's okay. It's nothing. I can handle it."

She ignored me and started unwrapping the towel, and I watched the look of sheer determination on her face. Blood made her sick, but she was so stubborn. Man I loved her.

"Look, this needs to be cleaned," she accused.

I shook my head and smiled. "You're cute," I told her, and she rolled her eyes before pulling me toward the sink to turn the tap on. When she put my finger under the water, I flinched. Okay, so that didn't feel so great. I tried to focus on her face instead, but ended up lower. Nice. I could get used to this. Hey! If I grabbed that towel on the bench I could accidentally sneak in a little touch. ...Duh. My brain wasn't functioning properly. But I still wanted to touch.

"Jake," Bella said in a weird way, and I unglued my eyes.

Uh oh. She was looking at me. Busted.

"What's up?" I asked casually, and noticed her cheeks were pink. Aw man. This wasn't fair.

"What um... are you doing?"

Think quick. Diversion. Anything.

I leaned in and kissed her, and she froze. Maybe not the best move... o-kay! Her lips moved, and she was definitely kissing me back, so I moved my free hand to the back of her neck, and got my fingers tangled up in her hair. The buzzing in my stomach made me warm all over, and my heart went a bit crazy. I starting getting a little dizzy and decided to pull back a little, while looking at her in awe.

"Is this okay?" I asked, breathless.

Bella nodded, then she put her lips on mine again, and stepped closer. I swear the fireflies just electrocuted me, and it did things to my body. Nice, but also sort of embarrassing things. . . .

No. Not now. Go away!

I ignored it as best I could, and tried to find the will to end the kiss, to get physical distance, but her lips were too soft, too enthusiastic and it was just too nice all around. Until finally, Bella pulled back, her face pink, and she sucked in a shaky breath. I thought she was going to say something – her lips moved, like she was about to – but instead she just stared at me, looking a bit dazed.

"Yeah," I whispered, and touched my lips to hers quickly before dropping my hand to wrap my arm around her. Her hand was still around mine and I looked down at my finger. It wasn't bleeding anymore, so I dared to put my other arm around her.

"Jake?" she said after a few moments.

"Yeah?" I mumbled into her hair distractedly, rubbing my nose over the soft strands. Man, her hair was amazing.

"You were looking down my shirt before, weren't you?"

I stiffened. So busted.

"Uh... I s'pose I was – am I in trouble now?" I asked, worried.

There was a brief silence, and I think I was possibly freaking out a bit.

"Um, maybe," she said finally.

Uh oh. "I'm uh... sorry, Bells – I just-" She was shaking. Crap! Was she crying? I pulled back quickly, looking down at her carefully. She was... laughing at me! "Geez!"

"Sorry," she sputtered, chortling. "Your face."

"Oh yeah? You think that's funny do you?" I raised an eyebrow.

"Well," she said, regaining her composure. "Yes."

I smirked. "Uh huh." Demonstratively I let my eyes drop to her chest, then back to her eyes, winking. Instantly I earned myself a smack, and her cheeks turned pink. I chuckled.


"At least I'm not groping you, honey," I pointed out.

Her eyes widened, and her whole face burst into color. "Jacob Black!" she gasped.

I laughed. "Aw, Bells – c'mon. I wouldn't do that. I was just saying, y'know?"

"So – you don't want to?" she challenged and pulled back, folding her arms across her chest, which made me look at them again. "Jake!"

"Huh? Oh. Uh..." Man. Was it getting hot in here?


I swallowed. "Eh... I guess," I shrugged, giving her half a grin.

"Huh." She studied me, then she turned back to the chicken. "Guess we'll find out how that works out for you, won't we?"

I sputtered. Huh?

The apples were definitely very interesting suddenly, and I took great care slicing them.