"Ah, so today will be a good day," I thought when I saw the bright grin taking up half of my son's face as he led the girl by the hand to the garage. I tried to be happy about it, but I knew it was only a temporary fix; a flimsy band-aid on the scars that ran deep and began before she'd ever even shown her face back here. But then, what did I know? Maybe he would have been fine if she'd never returned. Maybe there were no scars from the three females who let him down before her.
He'd seemed fine. No one could ask for a better kid; he never complained, got decent grades, never got into any serious trouble except for maybe mouthing off at school now and then with his sharp, sarcastic wit. But he was blessed with that smile. That smile that could light up the whole room and dared anyone with half a heart to stay mad at him. He never showed any of the pain that I assumed he must feel; the pain that I lived with quietly and I hoped with some dignity.
He'd been so young when Sarah passed. I think it was actually much harder on the girls. They really came up to bat when my world fell apart. Rachel and Becca were always there when Jacob couldn't sleep and cried for his mom. The nights were hard; it was easy to keep him distracted in the daytime, keep him busy, but…yeah, the nights were hard. They were there to soothe him and sing him a lullaby or tell him a story and cook for him while I was mourning. I was too busy adjusting mentally and physically to never being able to walk again. I certainly wasn't much help; I was numb inside. I guess that's better than angry. I wouldn't do any of them much good if I'd let myself become bitter. Not that sad was fun to live with, but…..I sighed heavily. You do the best you can.
The girls were so good with him. But he had been an adorable little boy; so sweet and silly. Always laughing, humming, playing with his cars. Those damn cars, I used to find those Hot Wheels everywhere. He was the only kid dressed up as Speed Racer for Halloween in his kindergarten class. He'd wanted to be the Mach 5, but hell, how do you dress up as a car? His sisters and I were stumped.
I just knew he'd never outgrow his love for cars.
But then once graduation hit, Rachel and Becca were gone. I guess they felt they'd done their time. They wanted the hell out and who could blame them? They wanted to live their lives; between schoolwork and taking care of me and their little brother, they hadn't had much time for a life. I know it had to have affected Jake to have them take off so abruptly and leave him to fend for the old man. Not that I'm helpless; I bust my ass to take care of myself as much as possible. But let's face it; I can be a burden at times and he was alone to deal with it. They left him in the dust and he became solemn and quiet for a while there, which I thought was normal so I wasn't too worried. He had a couple of good friends and his cars to keep him busy and the girls were starting to pay attention - he's a good-looking kid.
He'd get over it and move on.
But then she came back.
And at first I was glad because she seemed to bring him so much joy. It was so normal and I knew it was just a matter of time before normal would be a thing of the past for him. I'd seen the signs; the instantaneous growth spurt, the way the huge muscles just filled out his lanky build and old Quil nodding his head at me. "Feel his forehead – I'll bet you could fry eggs on it."
Godammit. I rubbed my temples, trying to relieve the ache that hadn't gone away since the signs first started appearing so many months ago now.
She was Charlie's daughter; my best friend's only child. I was excited for the Chief; he was like a little kid at Christmastime getting what he'd asked Santa for all year long. She had seemed like a nice girl. So much like her father; quiet, serious; not wild and immature like her mother. If she hadn't gotten mixed up with those damn cold ones…eh, what was the point? She had. She was letting them drag her down and I'd be damned if I'd let her take Jacob down with her.
She used to come over here every day; Charlie said she fell apart on the days she was away from Jacob and Charlie was always afraid she was going to become comatose again like she had when that damn Cullen left her. But Jake was always there for her, always eager to try to put some semblance of a smile back on her face. She'd taken and taken and taken; always reeling Jacob in two steps and then shoving him back five; keeping him at arm's length.
I ran my hand through my hair. But he'd been happy.
Until the Cullens came back.
Then she had no time for Jacob and on the rare occasions she threw him a bone, she led him around by the nose like she was doing him a gigantic favor by gracing him with her presence. And I have to give him credit; he tried to stay away from her. He wouldn't take her calls and avoided any contact with her at all. I thought it would be okay. But she kept at him and kept at him all the while he was losing sleep chasing away the red-haired vampire, protecting her, while she flaunted her relationship with that pale corpse in front of God and everyone. If it wasn't for Charlie…well sometimes I'd really like to wring his selfish daughter's skinny little neck and shake some sense into her.
I tried to warn her; I was upfront from the start that I knew what she was up to. When the cold ones first came back to Washington we'd hoped it was temporary and that if they stayed off our lands and were here less than a year it wouldn't affect our boys. That genetic predisposition to phase wouldn't have time to kick in. So we held our breath and counted the days till the school year was over. And then they would leave, we told ourselves.
But she had to get involved; she had to throw a gigantic monkey wrench into the mix. She and Edward were in love. Charlie was worried; she was beyond smitten he told me, she was obsessed. And then I knew we were all in trouble. So I embarrassed my son and I'm sure I pissed her off with my not so subtle stares and my little warnings. I tried to keep it as light as I could so as not to piss Charlie off or worse, have him try to have me locked up in the nut house. But I had to let her know we were watching.
But she didn't listen. I'm sure the two of them laughed at me till the tears ran down their faces. Well, her face anyway; he has no tears - no blood, no heartbeat. Just cold, hard, dead, killer instincts. And she loves him. While my son risks his life and is sucked into a hellhole of ancestral bullshit with no escape because of their kind.
I clenched my fists in frustration. There were so many sweet, pretty girls out there. He could have practically any one of them. We go to the store, open-house at his school, the tribal festivals and dances that I chaperone and I see the way the girls react when he's in the room. They giggle, they stare, they smile shyly in his direction while elbowing their friends in the ribs. But he's oblivious to it. He only sees one girl.
The one he can't have. The one who doesn't want him. The one who will never completely let him go if there's the slightest chance she can get away with it.
Is this the legacy the Black women have cursed him with? The fate of always choosing someone who will abandon him? Chasing after the one that will slip through his fingers; the elusive ghost of the first woman who left him so swiftly like a thief in the night? Please God, no; I can't bear to watch it. I know Sarah would cry tears in Heaven for eternity if she thought her death had forced such a cruel destiny upon her son. And his sisters can't be blamed; they love him, they're young and just trying to carve out some happiness for themselves.
I wheel myself back over to the window and am just in time to see her start her truck and pull away. He watches her descent down the driveway and doesn't see me in the window as he makes his way to the porch. His jaw is hard and his smile is gone, his eyes and forehead clenched into a scowl. I knew that brief window of happiness wouldn't last long. In fact the smiles last shorter and shorter these days and come fewer and fewer in between.
"Huh," he grunts at me when he sees me in the small front room. I think that's a 'hello' but I'm not too sure.
"Hey Jacob. Bella come by to say hello?" I keep it light.
Jacob stares at me for a second like he's about to say something, like he has something he'd like to get off his chest. I hold my breath. Here it is. Finally. Let it out son, I think to myself, tell me everything. It'll make you feel better.
He hesitates a moment longer and his eyes lock on mine. They look scared, unsure; so vulnerable.
"Sure, sure," he shrugs at the last second, looking away and heading toward his room.
Now he'll sleep or some semblance of slumber. I can hear him tossing and turning in the middle of the night or early, pre-dawn hours of morning after running his patrols. He moans and cries out sometimes in tortured dreams that leave him sweaty and exhausted upon waking. Then it's back out into the wild, chasing monsters; baby soldiers fighting a war they never enlisted in. Then fulfilling the anachronistic irony of school and homework and giggling girls in search of handsome prom dates.
Charlie told me she's going to school in Alaska when summer is over. With him of course. I hope it gives Jacob the distance he needs to break away without the constant reminders that she's here, just out of reach. I would send him away to school if I could; if he didn't have his obligations here and the tenuous possibility that he could lose his temper and phase and then all hell would break loose. We just can't take that chance. Not to mention the money issue. Or lack thereof. So he's stuck here – a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit.
I keep going over and over the unfairness of it all and trying to find one positive, one spot of hope for my son and his future. And I can't. I just keep coming back to her. It all started with and revolves around her. If she had never come back, if she had never laid eyes on Cullen, if Cullen had never left her, if she had never used Jacob to ease her suffering, if she had just left Jake alone when she brought Cullen back. If, if, if.
But then sometimes at night after a particularly painful, tedious day, I go even farther back…..if only we hadn't gone out that night. If only we'd gotten the take-out and spent the night in with the kids like we'd talked about doing. If only we'd lingered a little longer at dinner, the drunk who hit us would have already passed the fated intersection he ran, hitting us head on. These are the nights I torture myself with bittersweet fantasies of that night never happening. I close my eyes and smile and pretend Sarah is lying next to me. She'll get up soon and cook everyone breakfast, pancakes for me and Jake, French toast for the girls. And then I'll get up and go out to the garage, the one that used to belong to me and is now Jacob's domain, and I'll do some wood-work and some carving. Sometimes these fantasies are all that get me through the days.
I shake my head, trying to shake away this heavy melancholy. It's not always like this; it's just been a particularly rough year. As my grandfather used to always say – this too shall pass.
The boys will catch this damn tricky cold one. The girl will leave with Cullen and his family soon for Alaska. Jake will meet some girl who will knock his socks off and make him forget all about Charlie's daughter.
Or he could imprint. A few of the other boys have. I don't wish that for Jake; it can be messy and too all-encompassing. He already has that. I'd like him to play the field, have some fun, enjoy himself. Nothing too intense.
I jump when the silence is broken as he cries out from his room down the hall. The wheels on my chair ka-thunk, ka-thunk softly over the wood floor as I head toward his door and quietly push it open.
"Jake?" I murmur.
He's sprawled on his back, spread out over the sides of his small bed; one leg hanging off the edge and practically touching the floor, the other bent at an angle, resting on the other side of the mattress. Even in sleep his brows are knit in a semi-frown.
I close his door and go back to the window, looking out as if I might find the answers in the rain falling over the grass and the woods beyond.
Jacob thinks I don't know what she plans to do after graduation. But of course I do. Sam came to the tribal elders weeks ago when he'd seen what Jacob so desperately tried not to let anyone see in the pack mind. But there's nothing we can do. As long as the deed is done outside of the treaty lines, outside of state, and she is consenting…..Consenting, I snort to myself. Hell, she's begging. Poor Charlie; he has no idea that in a few months time his daughter is leaving for school and he'll never see her again. There will be some "accident" or "illness". Who knows?
I don't know whether to tell Jacob I know or just keep all mention of her to a minimum. It's not like there's anything he can do. He's tried. If she's hell-bent on killing herself I really don't know what any of us can do. But that's still a few months away I tell myself, pushing it back, delaying the inevitable for now.
But if the redhead were to get ahold of her…..I hate to even think it, but…at least it would not make such a mockery of her death. Either way it will be a heavy load for Charlie, but at least it will be real. It will be true. And no one would bear any guilt. Not the boys, not the elders for doing nothing, not my son. Not even Cullen if he's capable of the emotion. I try to shake these thoughts out of my head. And then the Cullens would leave because there'd be nothing to hold them here; they're going to start talk soon seeing as how they're not aging; especially the doctor. If the redhead attained her goal and felt her mate's death was avenged, when it was done, she would hightail it out of here. I'm sure she's getting tired of the cat and mouse game with the wolves. Charlie would grieve, but he'd get over it. And Jacob would grieve as well, but without the guilt and the fortitude of knowing he did all that he could, he would get over it eventually too. I frown and shake my head as I realize what I'm thinking. I force myself to stop.
The rain is coming down harder outside now. I can hear it pelting the roof and see it almost bouncing off the ground as it cascades with force from the heavens.
It'll be fine. This too shall pass.
Jacob will find a nice girl. One who adores him. One who appreciates his fierce loyalty and good looks. And as time goes on his quick smile and easy laugh will come back and she'll appreciate them too. And she'll stay no matter what. She'll ground him and give him the permanence he so desperately needs and deserves. She'll take care of him and coddle him with a good dose of keeping him on his toes thrown in for good measure. She'll learn early that he can be a cocky bugger so she'd best be able to hold her own. Sweet, but a little sassy. That's what he needs. Someone like him, I grin to myself. It's about time this house contained some comfort, warmth and youthful energy again.
I head toward the kitchen to see what there is to throw together for dinner as I'm feeling a little better now.
"Damn kid," I mutter under my breath going for a towel to wipe up the mud covering the floor by the door where he's kicked his shoes off. I bend over and clean up the mud and toss the dirty towel into the hamper as I roll past my room. Score!
I've succeeded again I think as I look through the bare fridge and see it's time to get to town and do some shopping again. I've successfully talked myself out of the hole. Mark another day off the calendar. I'm getting good at it. Falling into the depths of despair and worry and ending it on a note of hope for the future.
I check the date on the hamburger I pulled from the freezer yesterday and then open the cupboard to make sure there's still some bread; you never know around here. One thing that hasn't been affected by all the turmoil this last year is the boy's appetite.
I hear myself chuckle softly. I've got myself smiling again. It'll be fine; my mantra.
I place the heavy skillet on the stove's burner and turn the heat to high. I hope Jake wakes up before I'm done frying the cheeseburgers. I hate to wake him up. But Sam's going to need him back out there within the next hour. And he needs to eat something before he leaves for the night. I hope he did his homework before he spent time with the girl this afternoon.
I keep my thoughts busy with these mundane thoughts and setting the table and seasoning the meat. I slice a few thick slabs of cheese for the burgers and put out a couple of cans of soda. I've learned that keeping busy makes it easier and keeps the worrying at bay.
But I don't even try to kid myself about the last words that will go through my mind before falling into a hopefully dreamless sleep tonight and will be there immediately upon waking in the morning. The thing that would make this life we're living right now so much different. So much easier. So much better.
If only she'd never come back.