Bella had never really been big on anniversaries. She'd spent the past year dreading her birthday, and most holidays had seemed fairly unimportant in the face of all the crazy things that went on in her life. When you're worrying about a vengeful vampire coming to kill you, or running off to Italy to save your boyfriend from committing suicide at the hands of vampire aristocrats, things like Valentine's Day or Christmas seem a bit inconsequential.
But things had slowed down a lot since then. Three months ago today, she and Jacob had graduated from best friends to something much more; she'd finally admitted her feelings for him, and vowed- to him, to Edward, and to herself- to give them a real chance to be together. Since then, things had settled into a nice pattern. She wasn't in danger anymore. She spent a lot of time on the Rez, hanging out with Jacob's pack, and it had been weeks since she'd dreamed about becoming a vampire. Slowly, the idea was repulsing her more and more. Maybe because she was enjoying being alive so much.
All of this had come about because, of all things, Jacob had been betrothed as a child and the bride was looking to finally tie the knot. Bella had been forced to admit that she didn't want to lose him to another woman, and had followed him across an international border to stop him from leaving La Push- and her- forever. She had been surprised to actually grow to really like Jacob's fiancée, a girl named Iniabi, or Abi, who ruled over a whole community of werewolves in the Canadian mountains. Through Abi's generosity and kindness she had been able to admit her feelings for Jacob, and once she had there had been no going back. She learned that she could love two people at once, but in the end she had chosen to pursue a relationship with Jacob because, mainly, she didn't want to die always wondering what she might have had with him.
It had been a difficult adjustment for Edward, and still was really, though Bella had insisted on remaining friends. But it was hard. He still thought of her as much more than a friend, and she knew part of him felt that he was just waiting on the sidelines for her and Jacob to fail, and that after they did he would be back as her boyfriend. If Edward was anything, it was patient, but she knew it was hard on him. He didn't like her going on the reservation, he didn't trust the werewolves in the slightest, and he didn't believe she was safe with Jacob. Bella felt badly for him, but she couldn't live her life like that. She had to do what her heart told her, and so far, things were going really well.
Three months was a big deal to Jacob, and he'd insisted on a date. Usually their dates were laid back and casual, hanging out at one of their houses watching television, doing homework together, or taking a hike through the woods. But Jacob had promised her something special tonight, though he wouldn't say what. Bella didn't really like surprises, but it seemed so important to him that she didn't push. Instead she simply promised to be waiting at seven o'clock sharp for… something.
At 6:50, she was brushing her hair when she felt a familiar presence behind her. She turned toward Edward. He'd been gone for just under a month now on an extended hunting trip, and at first she'd worried that their strained lunches at school and occasional drives together had become too much for him and he wouldn't come back. Even now, she feared his abandonment more than almost anything. But she'd made him swear, and here he was, as good as his word. She smiled softly at him as he sat on her bed, gazing at her with that level gaze of his.
"You look beautiful," he said, smiling at her in that way he had of making her feel like she was the only person on earth.
"Thanks," she said. "I'm going on a mystery date, so I don't even know if I'm dressed appropriately." She had opted for casual dressy- dark jeans and a nice top, and figured she couldn't go wrong with that.
"A mystery date?" Edward repeated, smiling a little. "What is that, like a blind date?"
She knew what he was really asking. "No," she answered gently. "I'm still with Jake… he has some big surprise planned."
"Oh," Edward said. "Right. I guess it's three months today, isn't it?"
She was both surprised and not surprised that he knew that. "Yeah."
"So how are... things?" he asked.
She felt bad for him. She could only imagine how hard it was for him to watch her make what he thought was a huge mistake, and she appreciated the effort he made to understand her choice. "Things are good," she answered vaguely. She rarely spoke to him about Jake, and he and Jacob hadn't spoken to one another since they were in Canada. She didn't even know if Edward knew that she and Jake were sleeping together, and she had no intention of telling him, since she knew exactly how he would feel about it.
"That's good," he said after a moment. He stood up. "Well. I just wanted to see that you were okay."
She smiled at him. "I'm fine," she promised.
"So you're going on the reservation tonight?" he asked.
"Actually I have no idea," she admitted. "But probably, yes." She knew it pained him that she spent so much time in a place where he couldn't even set foot. She knew he worried for her safety, and his own inability to protect her there, even if she also knew that she didn't need protection. On the Rez, she had it in spades. Bella let him reach out and take her hand. He was freezing; the more time she spent with Jacob, the more she got used to being warm. But she hid her discomfort, not wanting to hurt Edward's feelings.
When she pulled back, he was gazing at her with those soulful eyes of his. They were bright gold, considering the fact that he'd been hunting for the past three weeks or so, and they were so beautiful. She found it so easy to fall into those eyes.
"I miss you," he said, and she couldn't deny that his words flooded her with warmth. It felt so nice to be wanted, even if Jacob would have preferred him never to speak to her again. Jacob still believed he had the ability to cast a spell on her, but she didn't think that was true. Of course they would have a deep, special bond, given everything they'd been through together. It didn't mean he had power over her… just history.
"I miss you too," she said with a gentle smile.
There was a sudden crash of the front door opening with force, and then the pounding of footsteps coming up the stairs. Edward pushed Bella behind him so fast she barely knew what he was doing, but through the gap between his arm and chest as he took a battle stance she saw her bedroom door burst open. Embry Call stood there, his normally wide brown eyes narrowed on Edward. Immediately Bella moved out from behind him and put herself between the two boys, both of them seething with anger.
"Don't you dare barge into her bedroom like that," Edward bit out, his voice grating.
"I smelled a vampire," Embry snapped back, glaring at him. "I thought she was in danger."
"She's not in danger as long as I'm here," Edward answered.
"Okay, enough," Bella interrupted. Two sets of eyes flickered to her, then back to each other, but slowly they both relaxed their posture.
Embry opted to ignore Edward, instead giving Bella a sheepish smile. "I kind of broke your front door."
She couldn't help but smile back; over the weeks, she'd gotten quite fond of this quiet kid, fierce in his loyalty to the others but otherwise playful and good-natured. "It's okay," she said teasingly. "As long as you can fix it before Charlie sees it."
"Already on it," he answered, his eyes sliding in Edward's direction for a moment before he closed Bella's door behind him and trotted down the stairs again. She heard definite sounds of what she hoped was construction a moment later, so she turned back to look at Edward. He had calmed down, but he wasn't looking at her.
"Edward," she said softly, reaching out and touching his arm. His eyes met hers, and they seemed pained, uncomfortable and uncertain.
"This is just… a little weird for me," he admitted.
"I know," she answered.
"I hate that I can't follow you there… that I couldn't save you, if you needed me to."
"But I don't," she said gently. "I'm safe with them."
He didn't say anything for a moment. Finally he answered, "Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that. Just please… promise me you'll be careful."
"I will," she said. Edward raised his hand and touched her cheek and she shivered a little at the chill it left on her skin, closing her eyes briefly to the touch. She had wondered, while he was gone, if her response to him would fade or at least change, but even after three weeks of absence, he still made her knees weak. Maybe it would always be that way. But she would just have to learn to live with it, because she didn't want to lose him. She couldn't even stand that thought.
"Embry fixed the door," he said softly. "He's worried about being late."
She nodded. "Okay," she said, reaching for his hand and giving it a squeeze. "Pick me up for school tomorrow?"
Edward raised her hand and pressed his lips against the backs of her fingers. "I'll see you at 8:00," he promised. And then he was gone. Bella let out a soft sigh, checking herself out in the mirror one last time before leaving her bedroom.
Embry was loitering around at the bottom of the stairs, trying to pretend he wasn't waiting for her. Bella smiled at him and he returned it, though he seemed tense. "He's gone?" he said hesitantly, seeming like he was almost compelled to ask.
"Yeah," she answered. Embry eyed her for a moment, but seemed to decide against saying anything further. "What?" she asked as they left the house and started toward her truck. She handed him the car keys and Embry slid into the driver's seat, but he didn't start the engine right away.
"It's just too bad you're going to smell like vampire for your date with Jake," he said, his voice somewhat apologetic.
She frowned. "Edward's my friend. Jacob understands that."
"Yeah, but it's hard," he pointed out, putting the key in the ignition and pulling out of her driveway. Bella watched the trees going by outside her window, one tall pine after another, and let out a sigh.
"I know," she said. "I wish it was easier for them to get along… for all of you, I guess."
He grinned sideways at her, back to his old self. "Bella," he said. "We're, like, mortal enemies. What do you expect?"
Again she sighed. "Yeah," she said quietly. "I know."
"Hey, don't be sad," he said. "Jake's got something really special planned, so let's not ruin it. He seems mostly cool with your friendship with him, so I am too… it's all good, Bella."
She smiled at him. "Thanks," she said. "Now please tell me where we're going."
"And risk getting killed? No way," he joked, smirking at her. "You'll just have to be patient."
It was about a forty-minute drive to the Rez, one that Bella had now made many times. Other than her bout with a bad flu that had lasted almost a month, coming on within a couple of weeks of them returning from Canada, she'd spent at least three or four days a week in La Push. It helped that Jacob didn't go to her school; those long absences from him all day made her miss him that much more. Sometimes he came into town and they hung out at her place, but she preferred the Rez.
When she'd been sick, he'd been sweet to her, coming to her house almost every day after school bringing her chicken soup and sitting with her. At first she'd been embarrassed at him seeing her like that, but gradually she grew to rely on him. With Edward, she was always afraid of showing human weakness, but with Jacob, it seemed natural, even if it wasn't terribly romantic to have him present while she was pasty and clammy, or throwing up all the soup he'd thoughtfully made for her. Still, he'd been there for her throughout, and it had only strengthened their relationship. But now that she was better, she preferred being on the Rez to staying home.
Part of the reason for her preferring the Rez was Charlie. After Edward had broken her heart and left her, he'd made no secret about how much he disliked him, and Bella couldn't really blame him. But once she had chosen Jake, Charlie couldn't have been happier. He probably thought that his daughter dating his best friend's son was the best thing that could possibly happen, and Bella knew he thought Jacob incapable of hurting her the way Edward had. But still, his happy acceptance of their relationship could get tiring, so escaping to the Rez was as good of an excuse as any to avoid it.
A lot of their time on the Rez was spent at Emily's, who seemed to have a bottomless pantry to feed the boys' constant hunger, and Bella enjoyed her company. A few times she had even gone and hung out with Emily without anyone else, and it had been fun- the older girl was a talented artist. She made all her own jewelry, as well as dabbling in painting, drawing, woodcarving, and sculpture; she could even sing and dance. She made Bella feel both untalented and uncoordinated, but she was eager to try to teach her what she knew, and Bella enjoyed the lessons, even if she usually massacred whatever Emily put in her hands. Still, Emily's rich laugh and good sense of humour always ensured that they had a good time. Because of her time in La Push Bella had also gotten to know the other wolves; even she and Paul were now on friendly terms, though there was a definite separation between her and the rest of them. Sometimes she envied Jacob's bond with them, and sometimes she felt a bit threatened by it, but mostly she couldn't help but be taken with the true community and love between all the boys.
Well, the boys and Leah. When they'd been in Canada, living temporarily with a whole village of shapeshifters that were distantly related to the Quileute, Bella had met a girl named Mitsis who, like Alice, could see the future. She had warned Jacob that a female on the Rez would be shifting imminently and joining Sam's pack. She hadn't said who, but by the time Bella and Jacob had returned home, Leah Clearwater and her brother Seth had both joined the pack. Everyone had been shocked, as no Quileute girl had ever made the change, and just to make the situation that much stranger, Leah was Emily's cousin and Sam's ex-girlfriend. There was definite tension in that situation, and Leah pretty much always seemed like she was in a bad mood. Mostly Bella tried to stay clear of her, and she seemed perfectly content to do the same.
As they reached the Rez, Bella couldn't help but notice the sly grin that came over Embry's features.
"What?" she asked nervously.
"Nothing," he answered quickly, glancing over at her, but he couldn't seem to wipe the smile off his face. "I'm just excited."
"Oh God," she groaned. "Do I need to be scared?"
"No, no," he said. "Shut up, you're going to make me blow it all out of proportion. You know how it goes, Bella… the hive mind thing. I feel what he feels… to a point."
She blushed, since she could think of a few things she wished he and the others didn't know about, but she knew it wasn't exactly something Jacob could control. It wasn't exactly that they had free access to each other's minds, but it was difficult to censor your thoughts, and whatever popped into one of their minds, the others all saw it. It made them very close, but Bella was also aware that not everything she might say to Jacob was necessarily a secret. Mostly, though, they all seemed to take great pains not to intrude on each other's privacy, and they rarely spoke aloud about anything they'd heard via their link. Bella thought of it as both a sign of their deep friendship, but also as a kind of mutually assured destruction- if one of them let slip a secret, there was bound to be an equally embarrassing secret that could be used as retaliation. So they generally all kept pretty tight-lipped about everything.
Right now, she wished Embry wasn't honouring their code quite so earnestly. "Can't you at least give me a hint?" she asked hopefully as they passed out the giant forest of the Olympic National Park and onto the reservation itself, entering via the only road that went in or out.
He glanced sideways at her and grinned. "It's on the Rez," he told her.
"Wow," she answered with a small giggle. "Thanks, Embry… I think I might have already figured that one out."
She soon realized they were going towards Emily's house. Embry turned the truck toward First Beach, following the streets that would lead them to Emily's small but inviting home, which was nested right into the woods just off the sandy beach itself. But then Embry took a turn just before they would have reached Emily's place, and shortly after that, the road stopped. Without ceremony or signage, it simply vanished into the woods. Embry turned off the engine and grinned at her.
"Okay, here we are," he said. Bella looked around. There was nothing. Just forest and darkness. She eyed Embry suspiciously but got out of the car when he did and followed him down a little trail towards the beach. She could smell the salt air and soon she heard the breakwaters on the sand ahead. They soon broke out of the tree line and Bella expected to see Jacob standing there, but the beach was deserted.
Then she caught sight of the island. James Island, a little horseshoe-shaped pocket of land just off the mainland where the river met the ocean. According to Emily it had once been connected fully, but when the river was diverted it had been cut off from the beach forever. But it wasn't the island that caught her eye, but the little sparks of light that adorned one whole side of the cliff face. At first she wasn't sure what she was looking at- it looked like a huge chunk of the island's face was covered in little pinpoints of light, like stars. Even a couple of the trees had been hung with lights, as if it was Christmas time. The whole picture was breathtaking.
Embry was grinning at her as she took in the scene, and then he gestured towards the shoreline. She saw a small boat there, basically a rowboat with a little outboard motor on the back. It was similarly laden in lights, but she saw no sign of Jacob.
"Your carriage awaits, m'lady,' Embry said, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Please tell me you're driving this," she said nervously as she approached the rickety thing.
"Of course," Embry said, rolling his big brown eyes at her. "As if I'd let you drown yourself."
She made a face at him but followed him to the boat; the glowing strands were rows and rows of tiny Christmas lights, and she also saw a cushioned seat had been placed in the boat so she would be comfortable. She climbed in and Embry took old of the boat, shoving it out into the water and slogging in up to his knees as though it was nothing. Bella knew she herself would freeze if she did that, but she suspected that Embry's high body temperature made the icy water a welcome change. He climbed into the boat behind her and started the motor, and slowly they puttered out toward the island, skirting the edge and going behind, where the horseshoe opened to reveal a quiet bay. Embry beached the boat, hauled it in far enough that it couldn't escape, and then offered her a hand onto dry land once again.
Now she saw Jake. On the beach, not quite at the tree line, he had draped the trees in lights around a small table where a single candle burned between plates covered by domed warmers. It was incredibly romantic.
"Well," Embry said with a grin. "I'll leave you two alone." With that, he shifted into wolf form and bounded into the sea, where she watched him dogpaddle out and around the point. She laughed, and then turned as she heard Jacob's footsteps approaching.
"Too much?" he asked nervously as he watched her take it all in.
She smiled at him. "No, it's perfect," she said. He smiled, and brought his hand up to stroke her cheek, touching his lips to hers in a light kiss that was, in itself, a promise. He seemed to grow tense for a moment and she knew he could smell Edward on her, but she was relieved when he let it go without even a comment.
Bella's heart fluttered as he took her by the hand and let her to the table, offering her one of his own sweaters that ne never wore anymore so she wouldn't get chilly in the cool night air. Bella pulled it on, and Jacob took off the plate warmers to reveal a delicious dinner of steak and vegetables. It smelled amazing.
"Courtesy of Emily," he said, sitting down across from her. "She was more than happy to help me make this night special."
"You're not going to get in trouble for defacing the island with those lights?" she teased.
He smiled, shrugging sheepishly. "Let's just say there are a few perks to being the village protectors… we have a lot of sway with the tribal council."
"Well, good… it's beautiful," she said sincerely. "I love it."
"You're beautiful," he countered. "And I love you."
She had to grin. Maybe she wasn't normally one to make a big deal out of anniversaries, but she had to admit that this felt pretty nice. She couldn't help but wonder how he was going to top this at six months, or a year. With Jacob, it seemed like there were always surprises around the corner.