AN: Yes, it has taken me FOREVER to update this story. I have no excuses; but I'm back and I'm hoping that you guys enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Many thanks and a lotsa love to my beta and pre-reader, Astridt244. This would not have gotten posted without her seal of approval, so I think flowers, candy, and big wolfie hugs and kisses need to be sent her way. Let me know what you guys think!
Oh yeah! Before I forget...a little shameless plugging. My other story "It Had to Be Her" was nominated in the Non-Canon Awards for the Best Bella/Pack Member category! I'm insanely excited...this is my first nomination! So I'm asking (begging, PLEADING) that all of my fans get out there and vote, vote, VOTE! Luv you guys! *MUAH*
Bella moved frantically around her room, she had done an entire sweep of the place making sure she hadn't forgotten anything in her hasty attempt at packing. She'd been looking forward to her trip to Jacksonville. She reveled in the sweet moments of solace that planning for the trip had given her. The entire month prior had been nothing if not emotionally draining.
After her encounter with Jake, everything had gone by in a blur. Graduation had come and gone and with it Bella's resolve only grew stronger. Everywhere she turned, there were constant reminders of her breakup with Jake. As expected, the news had traveled so far north, that all of the inhabitants of Forks knew that she had been cheated on. She couldn't turn a corner in her hometown without hearing the whispers, or receiving words of encouragement, mournful stares, and even the occasional snickering from Lauren and Jessica. She cursed Jake's name, yet again, as she felt another unwanted pang of hurt and jealousy flow through her. It wasn't fair. He shouldn't have the right to continue to take up space in her heart. But how did the saying go? You always love your first, or some such bullshit? Right now, she just wished him off the face of the Earth. It would make her life that much easier if she never had to think about him again.
Truth be told, she wasn't over it. The cuts were way too deep and it was hard to forget the pain he had caused her; and then there was the pack. She had to have seen or heard from every member of the pack since Jake's assault on her mental stability. They were constantly muttering apologies and she was so tired of seeing the sorrow and pity filling their eyes. She knew it wasn't right, but she only felt contempt for mostly all of them. After all, Embry and Quil were Jake's best friends. Just how sorry could they be? She did however, form a newfound friendship with Leah. It seems as though their shared pain-filled pasts with imprinting had brought them closer together; and who wouldn't love Seth? Even if he was the walking, talking incarnation of the very person that she'd swore to loathe for the remainder of her life.
Just that in itself was enough to make her want to run and duck for cover; and if that wasn't enough, she still had to deal with her issues with Paul. With him, nothing was really cut and dry. She knew she hated Jake for what he had done and even though everything inside of her wanted desperately to hate Paul as well, she just couldn't. If anything, she was just hurt. She felt like he had manipulated her; like he had used her feelings for Jake and her confusion toward her feelings for him against her. He had let her walk right into the minefield that was Jake and Mina and he hadn't provided her with any protection other than a word: imprinting.
Bella's anger flared at the mere thought of it. Whatever wolf-spirit thought of the idea should be taken out in the middle of town and publically flogged. Her life was perfectly fine. She was happy with Jake. If there was no imprinting he wouldn't have looked twice at Mina, she would've just been another girl. They would've continued their lives together. Probably would've ended up married with kids; but then, if there was no such thing as imprinting she wouldn't have been drawn to Paul and try as she might, she could never fight her feelings for him. Where Jake was warm and compassionate, Paul was callous and unyielding, but this imprint had made him-them vulnerable to one another. No matter how much she tried to harden her heart towards him, there would always be a soft spot for Paul. She would always carry the sting of betrayal from his manipulation, but there would always be that undeniable flicker of emotion for him that threatened to consume her. Imprinting had completely fucked her over.
Bella sighed. She was an emotional wreck. Going to Jacksonville was the perfect contingency plan. She could go down for the summer, regroup, and hopefully forget about all things Jacob and Paul. She was going to give herself a do-over.
"Bells? You finished packing?"
She smiled at her father as he entered her room.
"Yeah dad. Just about."
Charlie shifted uncomfortably.
"Well…uh…you know you're welcome to stay?"
"Dad, I won't be gone forever. I promise you, I'll be back."
"Yeah, I know kiddo. Your old man's just used to havin' you around is all."
Bella smiled and wrapped her arms around her father.
"I'm going to miss you too, dad."
Charlie grunted and ruffled her hair before awkwardly pulling out of her embrace. Bella smirked. That man was just not good with affection.
"So, one more shift at Newton's huh?"
Bella nodded. "Yeah. Mrs. Newton's supposed to be throwing some kind of going away party or something. I swear, everyone thinks I'm not coming back."
"I guess you have Jacob to thank for that." Charlie grumbled.
Bella sighed. "Yeah."
"I swear I could throttle that boy. He spent his whole life loving you and then he turns around and…"
"Dad, stop. Jacob is a jerk. End of story. I'm not going to let a bad breakup define me."
Charlie offered a small smile. "I'm proud of you, Bells, for being the bigger person. Even if I am ready to kick his sorry little…"
"Dad!" Bella laughed.
"All right, all right. I'm heading into the station. I'll see you later."
"Ok. I'm heading out right behind you."
Bella gave another cursory glance around her room before following her father out the door. She took in the familiarity of her father's house before finally heading out the front door, locking it behind her. Tomorrow, she was off to Florida. Bella looked back at the small house and felt several waves of emotion come over her. She couldn't believe she was actually leaving.
Mrs. Newton's going away party was a modest success. It was just a small enough gathering that it didn't feel like a party, although large enough to make Bella feel the tiniest bit uncomfortable. She had smiled her way through speeches and a vow from Charlotte, the waitress at the diner to never again serve the 'cheating SOB that broke her heart.' She never realized just how much the townspeople of Forks had come to love her; or her them. Even Mike had shown some couth by promising not to ask her out again until she had forgotten all about her heartbreak. It earned him an eye roll, but she had to laugh at his attempt to make light of her situation. She thanked everyone profusely before walking out to her truck to get some much needed space.
She exhaled loudly, holding back the tears that threatened to fall. She cursed the pack. Not only had her extended family been ripped from her, but now they were forcing her to leave her actual family behind. Just to get away from the craziness that had become her life. Bella shook her head. She wasn't going to make this about them. Even if it was their fault, she was still determined to make this trip to Florida a positive one. Bella took another couple of deep breaths, trying to clear her head, when all of a sudden, her breathing hitched.
He was here. Her temperature immediately flared at the realization that he was close; whether it was from anger or anticipation, she had no idea. Her heart was racing, her palms started to sweat, even the hairs on her neck stood on end; one would've sworn she had seen a ghost and she had yet to lay eyes on him.
She wondered momentarily where he was before she felt his breath on her neck.
"Hello, little girl." Bella gulped audibly before turning to face him.
"Paul. What are you doing here?"
He moved closer to her, inhaling deeply as he did so. He was taking in her scent. It had after all been a month since he had seen her. She watched as his eyes rolled into the back of his head. She took him in; he was just as beautiful as she remembered. She quickly took in his appearance; his broad shoulders, smooth russet skin, his slight stubble, his dark jeans and black t-shirt strapped tightly over his lithe musculature, his…Gah!
Bella willed herself to stop. She looked up into his eyes moments after he had already caught her taking him in appreciatively.
"See something you like, Bella?"
"N-no. Just…" she sighed "I'm just…why are you here?"
"I miss you. I've given you a month. Can't you just come back to me?"
She was dumbfounded. Did he just say what she thought he said?
"I don't recall having ever been with you."
He growled in frustration.
"You know what I mean Bella."
"Paul, we had this conversation already. I'm not doing this again."
He moved closer to her, causing her to back against her truck.
"Bella, you were angry the last time you saw me. You weren't thinking rationally. Let's go back to my place and talk this through."
He reached for her hand.
For a moment she allowed herself to revel in the warmth of his touch before snatching her hand back.
"I'm not coming back to your place with you, Paul. That wouldn't be a good idea."
"Because you hurt me, Paul!"
"I hurt you? What about Jake? What he did was much worse than what I did. I wanted you to know the truth!"
"Whooptie fucking do! You could've gone about it differently; done something to warn me about what I was going into. No, not Paul! Paul had to let me go flying face first into Jake fucking some no-name chick while I thought I was just going to get some answers. You manipulated me for your own personal gain Paul! You were banking on the fact that I would hate Jake, which I do by the way, but you thought I would come flying into your arms. Life does not work that way, Paul."
Bella glanced briefly over his shoulder as her words sank in. Their little interaction was not going unnoticed.
"I did what I thought was best! You had to know what a fucking douchebag he was…"
"And in turn found out that not only was he one, you were one too!"
"I'm sorry, ok? I'm sorry I hurt you! I'm an asshole, I'm fucking selfish. I just wanted you Bella. You were supposed to be mine and Jake was…"
"I get it. Jake had something you wanted and you had to find a way to get it. So you played a game that everyone, especially me, played a part in. You thought you would walk away the victor, but guess what? We all lost."
"It wasn't like that. I didn't want to lose you."
"Well you did."
He flinched at her words.
He moved closer, officially incasing her between him and her truck. He placed his arms on either side of her head, crowding her. Being this close to him was a heady feeling. She closed her eyes as the warmth from his body seeped through to her bones. Gah, she didn't realize how much she'd missed him. It was crazy to know that he had this much of an effect on her body. He gently placed a hand against her face, causing her to automatically lean into his touch.
"You feel it Bella. You feel our connection. Every ounce of you knows that I'm supposed to be near you; that I'm the only one that makes you feel the way you do. Admit it; you want this as much as I do."
'YES!' Everything inside of her screamed for him to take control of her; for him to hold her and never let her go, but she knew she couldn't let him. She couldn't accept the imprint. Not after everything that had happened.
She pushed against his chest, glancing up at him pleadingly.
He snarled, moving away from her as though he had been slapped.
"Goddammit Bella! What's it going to take? I've apologized, I've given you space; I'm trying to do things your way, but I'm two seconds from throwing you over my fucking shoulder and taking you by force!"
Bella bristled at his outburst.
"Really, Paul? Take me by force? Haven't you done enough of that? Have you ever thought about what it is that I want? What if I don't want to be involved in this imprint bullshit at all? Did you ever think about that? I'm sick to death of having my choices taken from me and it's clearly becoming evident that no matter what the supernatural creature, be it vampire or shape shifter or whatever, I don't have a fucking say so in my own life!"'
Paul sighed dejectedly.
"I'm sorry. I know it's fucked up but that's just how imprinting works. No one gets a say. It just is what it is!"
"Well that's not good enough for me! I've gone through too much shit at the hand of imprinting to accept it so freely. I'm sorry Paul. I just can't do it."
"So that's it? You just don't want anything to do with me."
Bella nodded; ignoring the stabs of heartache she felt.
"That's it. I just want you to leave me alone."
He marched over to her in two long strides. He pulled her flush against his body and wrapped his arms around her. She let out an involuntary moan. Although she wanted to hate it, she loved the feel of his body against hers.
"Never. Do you understand me? I will never leave you alone. I can't do that. I need you, Bella; and as much as you want to deny it, you need me too. This imprint won't let us be apart."
Bella's anger flared. Fucking imprinting. She pushed against him, with all of her strength. He staggered back reluctantly, giving her some space.
"You'd better get used to us being apart Paul, because I'm leaving. I made up my mind. I've packed my shit, and I'm going to stay with my mom. I've had enough of this, do you understand? E-fucking-nough. I'm going somewhere where I don't have to think about imprints, or Jake, or the pack, or…you. I'm going somewhere to get a fresh start."
"You make it sound like you're not coming back."
"You never know. Maybe…but if this trip gives me half of the peace of mind that I'm expecting it to, then you better get used to not seeing me; because you won't ever see me again."
With that, she stormed away from him and walked back into the store. She didn't care how much seeing him crumble had killed her. She wouldn't set foot out the door until she knew he was gone.