Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I just borrow bits and pieces.
In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. / Albert Einstein
Like any other day, Bella sat cross-legged upon the bench, a brown paper bag perched next to her and a notepad on her lap. Right now she doodled, as her mind wasn't its usually introverted self—though, were that the case, it wasn't in a withdrawn or sullen manner. Instead she was watching a group of guys throwing a ball around on the lawn sprawled out in front of the high school. Unlike most girls her age—that would be sixteen—Bella's reason for observing the ball in play had nothing to do with being interested in its players.
She simply liked to observe.
Later she would sit down at her desk, in the quiet calm of her own room, and write about it. Be it a random drabble or a poem; it was never a conscious decision. She just wrote whatever flowed through her wrist and hand and onto the paper.
That being said, she did chance her eyes to linger on a pretty face if she saw one, if she could be certain the subject wouldn't find her looking. The reason being that she had an affinity for vibrant blushing. She didn't like it. Not one bit. Even less did she appreciate it being pointed out, which, were she to be caught watching, would no doubt happen. Too many times had she felt her face burn just that little bit extra when a guy commented on her embarrassing flaw.
So, mostly, she just observed, and at other times kept her eyes downcast.
Unless spoken to, of course. She wasn't anti-social. Even though that was probably the general belief—not that anyone paid her much mind in a high school with over 1700 students—it didn't bother her. She did have a couple of good friends; although, her family was number one, and she preferred their company and conversation much more than the random discussions that would pop up with her peers.
Renée Swan—Bella's mom—wasn't only her best friend, but also the kindest person she had ever known. Once, as a joke—possibly a bad one, she concluded—she had referred to her mom as a heart on legs. This had caused Renée to protest with a round of heart-warming laughter. Bella knew that no matter what she said—or did—nothing condescending would ever pass her mom's lips.
There wasn't one bad bone in her body.
It could partially be proven simply by the fact that Renée's arms weren't only open to Bella, but to children who had none offered to them. For a few years now, the Swans had had foster kids living with them.
It all started not long after Bella's thirteenth birthday. Clumsy by nature, she had run her bicycle down a slope by accident—her eyes had been everywhere but forward—and ended up breaking her arm. It had been more embarrassing than anything else, though it had hurt.
Renée had left work, which at the time had been as a receptionist at Phoenix Baptist Hospital, when Bella called her from her cell phone to tell her she thought her arm might be broken. Bella's dad, Charlie, the supervisor at a power plant in West Phoenix, wasn't able to leave work other than in extremely urgent situations or emergencies.
Those happened, too, but not as often.
While in the ER getting patched up, Bella's mom had run into her friend from high school, Jennifer Arnold, who was a social worker.
That was the first time they met Jacob, and his big sister Rachel, who they were sure were on the run from something or someone. This girl had been tight-lipped and wary of anything or anyone, so they still, to this day, couldn't say from what or where the siblings had run. On a good day it would be a strike of sheer luck to get more than a few sentences out of Jacob, too.
The talk Renée had with Jennifer that day, and meeting Jacob, was the reason the Swans decided to become foster parents. (Renée decided and coaxed Charlie into it, more accurately.)
The process had been a lengthy one, and not only due to the training, which both Renée and Charlie had to pass. There was also interviewing and background checks, referrals and just the general turning of the Swans' lives upside down and inside out to make sure they were suitable. (They even had to sign a no-spank agreement, to Renée's shock – who would hit a child? she'd questioned, but happily signed.)
Not long after the Swans were officially entered into the system as foster parents they received a call—actually it was late in the night—from Jennifer. Jacob, the boy they'd met at the hospital, had had his former placement disrupted due to issues with running away—they'd just had him brought in off the street and he needed a place to go ASAP.
There hadn't been the slightest pause or doubt, and Charlie and Renée had welcomed him with open arms when Jennifer brought him to their home. Bella had hung back, watching curiously from her open door.
He had been thirteen at the time, and silent as a mouse.
And just about as social as one, too.
That was three years ago now, and while he still tried—and succeeded on a couple of occasions—to run away, he always returned.
Today there were three foster kids living with the Swans, including Jacob, who was the oldest out of the bunch. Then came Ashley Ray, a loud but bubbly girl of eight, and Jesse Hart, a slightly eccentric boy of five.
Renée had quit her job to stay at home and look after the kids and to be there for them, to support them and to take them wherever they needed to go. All three went to therapy, both individual and group orientated. Jacob was the only one who didn't seem to benefit much from it... so far.
Bella had a theory on this, as she did like to observe. Her conclusion was that he was simply proud. Also, according to her frequent visits to both the library and researching online, a Native American boy and-slash-or man had different values and views on the world around him than those she went to school with.
Loyalty to his people—to his family—only one of many.
As far as she was concerned, he had good reasons for not talking, as he was probably protecting his sister. Although it was a little late for that; she'd had her guardian rights questioned once they had found needle pricks in her arms—those had been old, though, but it had still caused concern. Of course it had.
Since Jacob was Native American, slightly different rules had applied. Usually the children would be placed with someone of their own, but when they hadn't been able to determine where he and his sister had come from—one of the many things Rachel had held onto as if their lives depended on it—in the end, after much paperwork and court appearances, together with a whole lot of other things Bella couldn't keep track of, Jacob had been separated from his sister.
Rachel hadn't fought much to keep her brother with her, if anything—as divulged by Jennifer—she'd appeared eager to have the state place him in foster care. According to Rachel, their parents were no longer alive and they had no other living relatives to look after Jacob. No records were ever found to support or contradict her story, so based on that, CPS (Child Protection Services) had Jacob placed with the family previous to the Swans. In the end they hadn't managed too well with the running away, but Renée couldn't find it in her to feel too sad about that. She was more than happy to have Jacob with them, regardless of the runaway spells.
There was that cloud of uncertainty hanging over them, though, seeing as if the day ever came, and they found out where he came from, there was a big chance he'd be relocated to wherever the tribe decided.
After three years that uncertainty hadn't dimmed, and they'd had their fair share of scares the times they'd woken to find his room empty. Whatever he did while gone, or for what reason he ran away in the first place, he never explained. He was always picked up fairly quickly and brought back without protest. There had been cause for concern however, and Jacob had been questioned. Had something happened that made him not want to be with the Swans? Did they treat him fairly? But there was nothing. Jacob would just shrug it off, saying he needed fresh air.
Bella had tried to make a joke about this once, suggesting he clear out his dirty socks more often if he had trouble with the lack of fresh air. She wasn't well known for possessing a great sense of humor, and Jacob didn't laugh much, but at this the corner of his mouth had hiked up, even if just a tiny fraction. It had been enough to neutralize the stuffy atmosphere for the time being.
Coming home on Fridays were one of Bella's favorite times of the week. Not so much due to the weekend having arrived, but because of the little conference they held to plan the grocery shopping. Everyone, apart from Charlie, would gather in the kitchen to go through the pantry and fridge to see what needed restocking.
Bella slipped her bag off the shoulder as she came into the kitchen.
"There you are, sweetie," Renée said as she looked up from where she stood hunched over a blank slip of paper. "Can you get Jacob?"
"Sure," Bella replied and started down the hallway. "I doubt he'll agree though," she added before leaning in through her door to toss her bag on the bed. She then turned across the hallway to knock on Jacob's door. "Family conference," she called out.
She rolled her eyes just as the door opened, but Jacob retreated back into his room while pulling a shirt over his head. Bella wrinkled her nose and then caught the sight of his weights on the floor while leaning against the doorframe. "Going to join us?" she asked.
Jacob didn't look at her but gave a non-committal shrug. "Guess so," he replied. His voice had matured a lot lately, she noted; though it was still scratchy and husky.
"Really?" she wondered, surprised. "Cool."
His dark eyes flitted to meet hers for the briefest moment, silently asking her to step aside so he could get past. She held her hands up while pressing her back into the wooden frame. Jacob didn't like being touched, which in this house could cause problems from time to time.
The Swans were the hugging kind.
"Jake Jake Jake," Jesse chanted when they came into the kitchen, but Jacob was so used to the little boy that it didn't faze him.
"Ugh, Jesse, stop!" Ashley ordered with folded arms, squinting her blue eyes at the blond mop of hair that bounced up and down as he kept circling the kitchen, repeating Jake Jake Jake.
"So how was school, Bella?" Renée asked
"Good. We're doing this family collage in English—"
She was cut off by Jacob who had pulled the fridge open to look through it, out loud listing, "Milk, cheese, butter, uh..." He paused and hunched down to shove a few things to the side. "This is gross," he said and pulled out a plastic bag with—
"What is that!" Ashley said with a gasp.
"Looks like last weeks cucumber," Bella answered while stifling back a laugh, and then walked up to take it from Jacob who dangled it with a mild look of revulsion on his face.
Jesse was still chanting Jake Jake Jake. This was normal for him.
"Jesse?" Renée wondered. "Want to go with Bella and get the shopping baskets?"
"Bells Bells Bells..."
"Thanks, Mom," Bella said, but grinned and took Jesse's hand to head out into the garage to dig up the baskets. Renée was all about the environment, so whenever they went shopping she brought baskets to avoid mass-usage of plastic bags.
While Bella climbed up on a stool, Jesse changed from Bells Bells Bells to me me me.
"Here you go." She placed one of the woven baskets in Jesse's outstretched hands, and then grabbed the other ones and came back down.
"I'm goin' to shop now, see ya!" Jesse had somehow managed to get the handle over one shoulder and started toward the closed garage door.
"Sounds great, but um, don't you want to wait for Jake?" Bella didn't mean to be a pain in the ass, she just liked teasing. Plus, Jacob could pull some pretty funny faces sometimes when he got frustrated, but since he so rarely lost his temper, especially with Jesse, it was all just in good fun. She tried to keep the smirk off her face when they came back down the hallway; Jesse, of course, being back to chanting Jake Jake Jake.
At the questioning look from Renée, Jesse plopped the basket down on the floor next to the chair Jacob was now slouched on, and then told him proudly, "Bells said wait for Jake!"
"Traitor," Bella grumbled playfully.
Jacob looked at her fleetingly as if to say it's not funny, making her shrug and walk up to the counter. Something hit her in the back of her head, not hard, and she reached back to feel... Bella quickly withdrew her hand.
"Ew." She stared down at the tiny, wet ball of paper that had dropped to the floor now, and then snapped her head up to raise an eyebrow at Jacob who was focused on a Safeway pamphlet. "Did you just put your spit in my hair?" she demanded. Jacob didn't look up, but his mouth moved. Just enough for her to know he was guilty. "That's disgusting, you know?" Bella turned to her mom. "Seriously, that's so gross."
Renée shook her head but glanced toward Jacob with a grin. "All right—"
"Yeah. That's fine," Bella interrupted with a snort. "You're encouraging him, Mom."
"Well, it is kind of funny, sweetie." She sounded apologetic, but Bella knew she was anything but. "And it's not like you didn't have it coming." Renée winked toward the table and Bella's eyes narrowed as she turned to look at Jacob again. He was actually smiling.
"Oh... Oh, it's so on. You're gone—I'm going to get you," Bella warned.
"Goooone," Jesse drawled and poked Jacob's stomach. Renée and Bella burst out laughing at the startled expression on his face. "Goooone," he repeated, smiling from ear to ear.
"All right," Renée said. "Let's get this show on the road. Are you coming with us, Jacob?"
"Uh... can I stay home?"
"Of course, sweetheart. Would you mind hanging the washing though, when the cycle is finished?" Renée grinned when he squirmed.
"Okay," he reluctantly agreed and pushed the chair out.
"Thank you," she called after him when he disappeared down the hallway.
"Mom, that was mean. Panties hold a major cringing factor for guys, didn't you know?" Bella laughed when Renée's lips shaped into an O.
"I didn't think," she said, genuinely apologetic this time.
"Panties!" Jesse exclaimed.
"Ugh, you're such a pain," Ashley complained and gathered the fliers and pamphlets to shove them into one of the baskets. If there were coupons and specials, Renée always used them. "Jacob was eating this paper," Ashley said with a grimace, holding up one of the fliers with a corner ripped off. "He's strange," she added.
"All boys are strange, honey," Renée told her and grabbed the basket. "Let's go shopping, eh? We can have some ice cream once we're done. How's that sound?"
"Ice cream ice cream ice cream!" Jesse exclaimed, jumping up and down.
Fridays: how Bella loved them.
"Bella, honey," Renée said quietly, making Bella tear her eyes from the TV to look at her mom. Jesse was asleep with his head on her lap. "Can you go tell your dad to come inside already. He has been out there working all evening—I've got to get this rug rat to bed."
Charlie was out the back, building a terrace. He always had projects going. If he didn't have something to occupy himself with he'd be lost. Bella was sure her dad didn't know how to just sit still and relax. Not counting the movie nights they had every Saturday evening.
"Looking good, Dad," Bella complimented and walked over to where Charlie stood admiring his handy work while smoking his cigar with a cup of coffee perched on the railing.
"Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" he said with a smile as he came up the steps and walked to one end of the deck. He hunched down and tilted his head. "I think it's a bit off though. This is cheap wood, but—" He took a drag on his cigar, and then puffed out the smoke. "It should last."
"All we're missing now are flowerbeds," Bella suggested and walked down to inspect the terrace from afar. "Maybe some climbing roses or something—that'd be cool, right?"
"I'll let Mom handle that. I guess she wants me to come inside, huh?"
"Yup." Bella grinned. "And I'm going to go to bed. Night, dad."
"Night, Bells," he called after her as she slipped back inside the house.
Bella woke with a start and reached out to turn the clock toward her. It was past three in the morning. Not only was the air in the room warm and stuffy, but it was raining outside, which made it a hundred times worse. She peeked through the curtains before leaving her room to go get a cold drink.
While she stood at the sink, taking a few deep gulps of the cold water, she heard the floorboards creak and swiveled to find a half naked Jacob staring at her. God, he looked horrible—even his hair was sticking to his face. Had he been outside in the rain?
"Are you okay?" she instantly wanted to know, unable to keep herself from ogling the damp sheen of his skin. "You look kind of sick," she hurried on to say and put the glass down. "Were you outside?"
Then, when she started toward him, he stiffened and quickly turned to escape back to his room, his door closing loudly.
"Okay..." She wondered if she should wake her mom or if she should try to talk to him. Suddenly she was afraid he would run away again, and quickly pushed back the voice that reminded her that he wouldn't like her barging into his room.
Bella gave the door a couple of soft knocks. "Jacob," she whispered. "I just want to know if you're okay."
Feeling slightly apprehensive, she turned the doorknob. "I'm coming in," she quietly warned into the darkness.
Jacob sat on the edge of the bed with his elbows on his knees and face in his hands. His breathing seemed a bit off, too, she noted.
"Jacob?" she persisted. "Do you want me to get mom?"
He shook his head once.
"Have you been outside?"
Again he shook his head.
"Do you want me to get you a drink?"
Jacob turned his face toward her, lifting it slightly from his hands. "I think you should go to bed," he said in a strange tone that sent a cold shiver down her spine.
She squared her shoulders. "No. I'm worried—are you going to run away again?" The words were out before she could stop them. She hadn't meant to say them, even if that was what they all feared at times.
"No," he whispered. "But you should leave my room."
Bella sighed. "Okay... but if we find your room empty tomorrow, I am coming after you, and you don't want that, 'cause I'll kick your ass."
"I doubt that," he said without so much as even a trace of humor.
Something about him made her stomach twist; she wished he would let them comfort him. At least confide in them and trust them.
"Well, I'm not kidding," she defiantly said, trying to mask the tiny trickle of discomfort his flat tone caused, and then turned to walk out.
Out of nowhere, an arm shot past her and closed the door before she could exit, and she spun to come face to face with Jacob. She could barely make out his expression in the dark, but she was under the distinct impression it wasn't too friendly. Also, she tried to keep the grimace off her face when the smell of sweat invaded her nose.
"Um, I thought you wanted me to leave your room," she questioned.
"Why won't you leave me alone?"
Bella's eyes widened in disbelief. "I'm trying to, but you kind of stopped me."
"You know what I mean."
"Fine," she grumbled. "I worry. Is that not allowed?"
She paused, not sure how to answer such a weird question. "Why not?" she retorted, but it only came out as a whisper. "You're family," she added when the silence stretched on, hoping it would be enough to answer his questions.
Jacob didn't say anything else, but Bella was so sure she felt something nearly touch her face, and she swore she saw the outline of his hand in her peripheral, but she didn't dare comment.
"Go," he asked in a tight voice.
"No problem," she replied and turned to escape, bumping into him in her rush to leave. His skin was all feverish and sticky.
Bella went to get her mom up before returning to her own bedroom.
Not even one minute later, Renée cracked Bella's door open, telling her what she'd somehow known all along. "He's gone again."