A/N: This is a collaboration between Grrlinterrupted, who wrote Jake's POV, and me (I wrote Bella's POV). It's all-human and takes place in an AU wherein the Cullens never returned to Forks and neither did Bella. There will be ten chapters with the POVs alternating, and will update twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. Rest assured, it's finished, so you don't have to worry about us giving up just as her hand slides into his pants. Ahem.
Twilight and all its recognizable situations belong to Stephenie Meyer. Thanks to HoochieMomma for beta'ing, and WolfGirlAtHeart and audreyii-fic for pre-reading.
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Return to Sender
Chapter 1 - Jake's POV
Dad wheeled himself into our TV room at double speed, knocking the lamp off the side table and gesticulating wildly, like an angry, disabled cat.
"Shove that crap in your maw! We're going to be late to see Charlie!"
I stuffed the last third of my Supreme Sausage pizza roll into my mouth. It wasn't my fault he'd fallen asleep in front of Wheel of Fortune. I possibly should have woken him up, but my mind had been somewhat preoccupied with drooling on the new US Tool catalog. Mmm... heavy-duty hand rivet squeezers.
"Come on, son, we've got to get to the hospital. His daughter won't be here till tomorrow and visiting hours are fixed. Move your ass!"
"Do they know who shot him yet?" I asked, cursing myself yet again for buying porn instead of that home fingerprinting kit from QVC. I bet I could have snuck around the cordon and done some investigating of my own. Possibly wielding my new hand rivet squeezer for defense.
"I don't goddamn know!" Dad seemed pissed as I pulled on some socks and a hoodie. "Just get the truck started and let's go!"
To emphasize the "go" he ran over my foot with his wheel. I bellowed in pain, and hopped around for a while rubbing my poor toes as he shrugged and grabbed his coat. I limped in an exaggerated manner all the way out to the Chevy, muttering "gangrene" and "crush injury" and "only son."
It was only when we were on the main road to Forks that what he'd said hit home. Charlie's daughter was coming tomorrow. Isabella. She was coming home. Fuck.
I'd been fantasizing about Isabella Swan since the last time I saw her in person. She was fifteen, I was thirteen and I'll admit it wasn't my best age. I was a lanky dickhead in a Metallica t-shirt (Sam Uley was educating me in hair metal at the time); she was five feet, four inches of perfection, from her long, soft, shiny brown hair right down to her baseball shoes. Everything about her seemed to give me an unwanted hard-on that summer, and I spent most of the start of it dodging behind crotch-level furniture.
Once I'd managed to persuade Little Jake to CALM-THE-FUCK-DOWN, however, I started attempting to hang out with her. To begin with, this was a hit-and-miss process. As a young teenage boy I was shocked to learn that carving woodland creatures and playing Ultimate Frisbee were not highly desirable activities. I was hoping to bowl her over with my underleg catch, designed to subtly draw attention to the groinal area; that failed when she looked at my disc like it had just shit on her shoes.
With my characteristic teenage exuberance, though - imagine a Labrador puppy with acne and you're pretty close - I managed to ingratiate myself and over the summer we got really close.
At first it was just little things. I found out about her penchant for stupid high school movies, so I let her educate me in the joys of Heathers (Winona's ass stopped me from falling asleep), Clueless (Billie Holiday isn't a man. It's true!), The Breakfast Club (jerked off to redheads for a month after)and Mean Girls (see previous comment) while I tried to teach her how to catch popcorn in her mouth (hopeless).
We went for walks on the beach and caught crabs (sadly not from each other) by fishing with bits of chicken tied to twine. More than once, we stole beer from our dads and got drunk in the garage. Bella would tease me about the car/hulk of unrecognizable promise I was working on, and my Anthrax albums.
"Jake... this car is stupid. It looks like David Hasselhoff's car. And what is this noise? Did you kick Quembry in the nuts and then record it?"
I would protest and she'd giggle so infectiously we'd both throw up foam.
By the time her six weeks were over, I was in love. And she went home.
She promised to write to me, or email, but after I sent a slew of letters and got no response I was persuaded to give up trying.
I never got Bella Swan out of my head, though. Every time dad and I went round to Charlie's for football games, or cookouts, or fish fries, there seemed to be a new picture of her looking more beautiful than the last. I think Charlie noticed me staring, because I caught the stink-eye off him a few times before I made my ogling a lot more subtle. Stealth spank banking, as it were.
Of course, the only people who knew all of this were Quil and Embry. But if she was going to be here, tomorrow... in the flesh... God only knew what was going to happen. I might spontaneously combust in a shower of entrails, fluffy hearts and come. Probably a bit melodramatic. Still, we were five minutes from the hospital now and I had to try and get it together. I was already torturing myself wondering how long she was staying.
I wheeled Dad in through the front doors once we'd parked - he liked pretending to be sicker than he was in hospitals because it "gets me the nurse tail." This was apparently a Black Family Lesson I ought not to ignore. He scowled once he saw the large, older woman behind the tall reception counter, though, so I took over.
"We're here to see Chief Swan, ma'am, brought in with a gunshot wound? He called and said he could have visitors now."
She smiled at me sweetly and gave me directions to his room.
"Any stairs on the way?" I gestured to my dad, who was now making faces at a little girl on the other side of the waiting room. She'd stuck out her tongue at him, so he'd pulled down his eyelids and pouted out his lips. The man was fifty-four. Just saying.
"Oh, I see dear," the receptionist replied. "No, you should be fine. You can just take your grandfather up in the elevator."
I snorted, and grabbed the handles on dad's chair to make a swift getaway, tossing a quick "thank you, ma'am!" over my shoulder as we rounded the desk. As I'd expected Dad was... a little pissed.
"YOU TAKE ME BACK TO THAT OLD BAG RIGHT THIS MINUTE, SON. I'LL SHOW HER WHAT AGE BILLY BLACK IS!"
He began lunging out of his chair, attempting to grab passing objects to slow us down, including a bench, an elderly gentleman on crutches, a trash can and, finally, successfully, a display of sexual health literature aimed at women of the night. The display wobbled once, twice, and then crashed with an almighty sound, covering us in informative leaflets entitled YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HE HAS. They were decorated with pictures of unused condoms littered in a public bathroom. One flapped about before landing on Dad's head, like an informative, deceased pigeon.
I collapsed, leaning over his chair and howling with laughter as Dad tried to claim it wasn't his fault, while pushing the leaflets off his lap and onto the floor. Still attempting to breathe, I crouched down and began picking up the papers, which had flown like folded planes into the air and down the corridor.
Yeah, this would be a memorable day. I almost felt like slipping one of the leaflets into my back pocket as a memento.
Sadly, it was there that the funny stopped and the please-kill-me-now began. Because walking down the corridor towards Billy and I, with a dark eyebrow arched and an amused smirk on her lovely, unevenly bowed lips... was Bella Swan. Fuck.
I paused in what I was doing and stood up as she approached, carrying a plastic grocery bag.
"This isn't what it looks like, officer," I began. "I was just helping Mr. Black here learn about the dangers of -" I scanned the brochure's contents, "-genital herpes."
My dad gave a grumbling sound, batted the paper from my hands and held out his arms with a sweet smile. "Hello, Bella."
"Don't trust a word he says." I warned, as she leaned to put her bag down and give the lucky bastard a kiss on the cheek. "He's been a menace all morning. Injured his only son, verbally assaulted a member of the nursing staff, and willfully destroyed hospital property... I'm ashamed, right now, to call him 'dad.'"
I pretended to sniff and turn away. Bella straightened up.
"Hey Jacob," she said, softly, amusement welling up in her tone.
All I noticed as she rose to press her mouth against my cheek was my dad's stupid gurning face - maybe he'd found another bored kid? - which somewhat ruined the moment. I was frozen, surrounded by a cloud of her cinnamon sugar smell and the feel of her hands as they held onto my arms.
Her kiss was short, but ball-achingly good. As she pulled her lips away, however, I felt her stop and turn slightly. Then start to giggle. She reached behind my head, her nose now level with my mouth and our eyes locked. I swallowed. Our bodies were less than an inch apart and it seemed like I could feel the warmth of her through my clothes. Her big, brown eyes went a little wider as they met mine, and she glanced down shyly. I wanted to tell her there was no reason to do that. But then I wanted to throw her onto the nearest bench and...
She stepped back clutching another leaflet, and handed it to me.
"It was, um, in your hood..."
She shuffled her feet.
"Thank you." It was all I could say. My brain had ejected its smartass drive and was running solely from my testes. Anything could happen.
My dad took it upon himself at that moment to wheel through the mess of brochures and away down the corridor.
"You two have fun with that." He called back. "I'll see ya with Charlie."
I glanced over at Bella. She looked at me. We both cracked up.
When we recovered, and started grabbing leaflets, I realized what was wrong with the picture.
"How come you're here today? Charlie said you'd be arriving tomorrow."
Bella rolled her eyes. It was cute. Damn it.
"Well, he got shot three days ago, as I guess you know?" I nodded. "He wanted me to come home tomorrow - his release day - to help him move back. But I hated the thought of him in the hospital - he hates hospitals -"
I knew the reason why. I'd once bumped into him in the emergency room when I'd broken a finger with a monkey wrench. He was trying to forcibly eject a drunk from the waiting area, who was railing on the destruction of society by the Reagan Administration. The nurse had slipped with her syringe of sedative and gotten Charlie's butt instead of the drunk's, and he'd spent twenty minutes swearing loudly, trying to slap the feeling back into his ass behind a flimsy, mostly transparent curtain. He'd sworn me to secrecy about the whole episode.
"-plus I need a day or so to make the house habitable." Bella paused. "I wonder when was the last time he ate a piece of fruit..."
I grimaced. "We had a bowl of Wild Berry Skittles for the Mariners versus Cubs game the week before last?"
Now she was rolling her eyes at me. So cute. And bending forward to try and lift up the leaflet stand. I grabbed it from her straining arms and easily righted it. She frowned.
"You know, anabolic steroids make your balls shrink. To the size of Wild Berry Skittles."
I made a face and retorted with, "I'm au naturel."
"Right," she replied, slotting leaflets into the holding pockets. "What else can you do in the breaks during Shark Week than pump iron?"
I shrugged. "Well, there's my female admirers, of course. They need a substantial amount of care and attention."
She raised an eyebrow and put her hands on her hips. Fuck, she looked sexy.
"Then there's my extensive personal grooming regime. I mean, seriously, you have no idea."
I replaced the last leaflets in the stand. I could see her lips wavering as she attempting not to grin.
"A back, sack and crack takes on a whole new meaning when you've got balls as hairy and huge as my babies."
A warm blush spread across her cheeks and down her neck as she coughed back a laugh under her breath. I bit my lip, and our eyes met for a second too long. I decided to break the tension, and extended my arm in front of us. She smiled quickly at me before picking up her bag and stepping out into the hallway.
We turned up at Charlie's room a little pink, but otherwise unscathed. I'd managed to restrain myself to butt-watching only one out of every three strides, and I felt that was more than a modest achievement, especially considering the caliber of the butt in question.
Charlie looked gray, and about ten years older, although those hospital gowns hardly showed off anyone's best aspect. He was hooked up to a heart monitor, a drip and a morphine pump, but his smile when he saw Bella seemed uninfluenced by any drug. She walked over to him and kissed him on the head, then proceeded to explain how she'd come across us in the hallway on her way back from getting snacks. He begged her to stop at the part where she described the contents of the leaflet, because his ribs were aching from laughing too hard.
Billy hit his foot with a slipper, and I decided to defend the Black name with some insider knowledge.
"Yeah, Chief, you laugh it up. Say, has Nurse Trigger Happy been around at all? I just want to be careful. You know, about where I sit down."
His face turned to stone. You know, the cop face. The face that says "you say shit and I'll stick my gun in your ass so hard you'll beg for a prison bathroom."
"I don't know who you mean, son."
I nodded, and winked at him. Bella and my dad looked confused, but after a brief pause B broke the tension by producing soda cans, packets of chips and candy bars from her bag. Charlie grinned and sighed happily, popping open a coke and ripping into a bag of Cheetos. He placed one on his tongue ceremoniously and let it dissolve in a swig of soda.
"Hospital food tastes like the ass of a mule owned by a lonely redneck."
"Dad!" Bella said, flushing.
Billy slapped his thigh in amusement, and I couldn't help but grin. Bella turned to Billy and me.
"What would you two like? We got Coke, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, and Doritos, Cheetos and Pringles. Or there's candy bars, too."
Billy went to reach for a Coke, but Bella handed him the Diet. He grumbled, then relented when she let him have the Pringles. I picked up the can of Mountain Dew I'd been eyeing.
"So, how'd you end up as this hot mess, Chief?" There was too much little boy playing cop in me not to ask. Charlie rolled his eyes. Clearly it was a family trait. Less cute on him.
"I've told this damn story a hundred times. Bells, you tell it."
Bella sat down on the edge of Charlie's bed, and I leaned against the wall and crossed my ankles, sipping from my can and waiting for her to begin.
"As far as I remember," she looked pointedly at her father, "Dad got a call in to say there was a robbery in progress at this grocery store in town - McHenry's? You know where I mean, on Spartan Avenue?" Dad and I nodded, so she continued.
"Well, Dad called for backup and drove over there with his lights and sirens. When he arrived, they were still inside, so he positioned his car at the entrance to the store, to assess the situation. From what he could see, two white men in tracksuits and ski masks were holding up the cashier with a .22. It practically looked like an air rifle, and they looked like there weren't out of middle school so, the Marlboro man lying here decided to pull some Raylan Givens crap and busted into the store, ready to arrest these kids.
"Unfortunately, the cashier, who always keeps a .45 under the counter but just hadn't been quick enough to get to it before, used the surprise to grab his gun and try to shoot the robbers. The bullet ricocheted off a metal supporting column in the shop and sunk right into Charlie's left lung."
My dad whistled. "That is some bad karma you got to get that one, Chief."
"Then," Bella continued, "my dad and the cashier proceeded to hold the two kids - who actually turned out to just be short, skinny, thirty-five year old brothers who were 'known to the authorities'" - she did the air quotes. It was very cute. - "for the next fifteen minutes till the cavalry arrived. They're sitting in lock-up right now, giving blow jobs for phone cards."
"Isabella!" Her dad's jaw had hit the floor, and Billy's wasn't far behind. I tried to disguise my snort of laughter. I'd forgotten how funny Bella was.
"What? You're allowed to say shit like that and I'm not?" She took a swig of soda and stuck her tongue out at him, clearly trying to dismantle any kind of overbearing father schtick he wanted to pull from the beginning.
He made a face and huffed through his teeth. I grinned at Bella. I loved her playful, teasing side, and I loved that college seemed to have brought out a little bit of a rougher edge to Bella Swan, who'd always been such a sweet, sheltered kid.
"Anyway," she hopped off the bed, "he's coming home tomorrow, so I need to get to the grocery store."
She kissed her dad on his forehead, before continuing.
"I'll come back later with dinner. Don't eat more than one candy bar or you'll ruin it."
He squeezed her hand and nodded, clearly and openly lying. Bella said goodbye to my dad and me - Billy got petted on the shoulder, but I just got a shy smile - then she walked out of the room and was gone.
I felt like running after her. My boots twitched on the linoleum floor, trying to drag me out, but I clung to the doorjamb, anchoring myself to the spot. Billy and Charlie were talking about fishing with Harry Clearwater as a form of recuperation therapy. I settled on staring longingly down the corridor, the way Bella had left.
I was quiet in the truck on the drive home, quiet through dinner and cards and TV, but Billy didn't ask what was wrong. He probably knew. He did tell me, though, that while Bella and I were cleaning up the leaflets Charlie had let slip she was staying till he recovered; he figured three months.
When I finally got to bed, I lay on my back and stared at the dimly moonlit ceiling. My heart wouldn't slow down, and neither would my breathing. Every time I closed my eyes I could almost feel her lips on my skin and her body so very, tantalizingly close to touching mine...
So, it was true, then. Bella was back for quite a long while.
And I wanted her more than ever.