Usual disclaimer: Nothing Twilight belongs to me.
A/N: I don't want to make any excuses, but I'm sorry this chapter took so long, and I promise the next chapter will be up soon! Thank you for your support!
For those who missed her, Leah's back!
"What an incredible run!"
"Jacob, that was an amazing game!"
"What were you thinking as you took on the Wildcats' defence?"
My heart thumped wildly as a throng of reporters descended on Jacob, ambushing him with their microphones. He thanked them, sweat beading down his jaw. The pads on his shoulders rose and fell as he paused to catch his breath. Exhausted, he still managed a polite smile. "Honestly, the only thing on my mind was the thirty yards to the end zone."
How I wished I were there! If only I could teleport myself to Tucson and give him a well-deserved hug. I knew full well how much football meant to Jacob, and the last thing I wanted was for us to turn into one of those couples joined at the hip, but the twenty four hours till we saw each other again was getting unbearable. Something changed since his confession; I missed him in an almost physical way, and it was like nothing I ever felt before. What was going on? And because we agreed to keep our relationship just between the two of us for now, there was no one I could turn to.
My inner monologue ran riot as clips of Jacob's game-winning play flashed across the screen. Exuding sheer strength, he muscled past two stout defenders to break free for a touchdown. Shortly after, the team rushed onto the field to celebrate their victory.
"Two pretty big plays in your first two outings for the Huskies. Simply incredible!"
Handling the reporter's praises with aplomb, Jacob deflected credit to the team and his coach. He came across as modest, charming, and somewhat bashful. Before turning to the locker room, he grinned, flashing a thumbs-up at the camera. Around me, the crowd at Artie's broke out in cheers and loud applause.
All of a sudden, Jacob was a media darling. He was a natural in front of the cameras, and they loved him. Returning from Arizona, he was mobbed by the press corps who wanted to know every detail about him from his pre-game rituals to his favourite food-and "for all those screaming female fans dying to know, can you tell us if you are available?"
"Well, I'm single. But unavailable." Despite his coy response, the gossip mill went into overdrive. Maybe I was paranoid, but I started noticing hushed whispers in the dining hall, unnerving stares during lectures. Were they directed at me? Our relationship was still at a tender stage, and the idea of "coming out" made me intensely uncomfortable. I was overwhelmed by the flood of new emotions and changes in my life, but to my complete and utter gratitude, Jacob understood, and I loved him all the more because of that.
But our budding romance came at a cost.
The weekend Jacob was away in Arizona, I made up my mind to talk to Leah. It was our long awaited girl-bonding time, a day out in the city filled with shopping, ice-cream and Seattle's sights. We started out at Pike Place in the morning, visiting the market and sampling various gastronomical treats as we went from stall to stall in the arcade. The smell of the sea with Elliott Bay at our feet reminded me of home, relaxing my inhibitions. I felt ready to talk as we settled onto a bench, spreading our finds between us, which included Oprah's favourite Mac n' Cheese, a bag of warm cinnamon sugar doughnuts, and of course, the famous Pike Place chowder in a bread bowl. But Leah took me completely by surprise.
"So, you and Jake got something on tonight?" Leah cradled the bread bowl in her hand, lifting a spoon of chowder to her mouth.
It seemed an innocent question, but the distant look in her eyes gave the lie to her words—as if my answer didn't matter. Or maybe she did care but was determined not to let it show.
I didn't respond, and she continued to probe. "Come on, how long were you two planning to hide?" My throat constricted. What was she saying? Had she guessed?
"I knew it. Something's up. At first I thought you fought. But he's at your dorm every night." She reasoned aloud. Jacob had taken to dropping by my room after practice or work since it was about the only genuine one-on-one time we could steal during the week. But Leah lived on the other side of campus. How on earth did she know that?
"You're blushing." I raised my hand to my cheek and felt the truth of her statement. "So, it's true?"
"What?" Her stare made me uncomfortable. I wasn't used to keeping things from Leah. But what was she really getting at behind her questions?
"Do you really think I'm dumb or what?"
"We … I wanted to talk to you today."
Leah didn't respond. Breaking off part of her bowl, she dipped it in the chowder and munched, a distant look in her eyes as she cast her gaze on the water. For a while the crunch of bread was the only sound between us.
"Hey … " I couldn't take the silence anymore. It was foreign to our friendship. "We weren't trying to hide. It's just that … things happened so fast. To be honest, I'm not even sure … " I reached for her wrist hoping she would understand what I found so hard to say in words.
She raised a hand to stop me. "It's okay. I get it." Placing her half-empty bowl on the bench, she got to her feet, hands in the pockets of her windbreaker as she walked to the edge of the pier. Leaning against the railing, her head lifted slightly as if she was taking in the smell of the sea. She rose on her toes, short hair flying wildly, a shudder rolling from her shoulders down her back as the heels of her sneakers slowly touched the ground again. She looked like a baby eagle about to take flight.
"Leah." She didn't turn around, but I knew she was listening. An old man walking his dog heard my voice and turned in my direction, but not finding what he thought, continued on his way. "I didn't tell you earlier because I'm scared things will change."
Setting my lunch on the bench next to hers, I took a few steps in her direction standing just a foot behind her. "You and Jake are the two most important people in my life, and nothing's gonna change that. This shouldn't change anything. It doesn't change how much I care, how much we both love you. It changes nothing at all."
She didn't respond for the longest time, so we just stood there until the water turned choppy and the sky darkened with threatening rain clouds.
"Nah, it won't." She turned around and gave me a soft smile, but it didn't reach her eyes. Warning signs should have flashed, but I desperately wanted to believe her. Wrapping my arm around her waist, we returned to our bench, as if nothing had happened. No, this wouldn't change things between the three of us.
But it did.
"You heard from her yet?" Jacob asked as I joined him at the football corner after my shift. We sat a cautious distance apart, but underneath the table his hand found mine, our fingers twining in his lap. I shook my head.
"Weird." His eyes filled with a confusion that probably mirrored mine. Blinking, he pulled out his phone and dialed her number. "I swear the crew girls were here earlier."
Leah was supposed to meet us at Artie's for a long overdue get together the night before Homecoming. But it was almost midnight and there was still no sign of her.
"No answer?" I asked as the seconds ticked by and the frown on his brow deepened. He set down his phone on the table and turned to me with a perturbed expression.
Around our table, his teammates continued their merry-making, filling the back of the restaurant with boisterous laughter. But between us, the troubled silence grew.
A loud beep from my vibrating purse startled us. It was a short message from Leah, saying she needed to crash because their coach made them 'eat dirt'. That didn't sound right. Leah loved to eat dirt.
"Did she actually say that?" Jacob leaned in to get a closer look, disbelief written all over his face. "Come on, I have a big game tomorrow, and I'm still here." I had a suspicion Jacob was planning to open up to Leah about "us" tonight, but it looked like his plans were thwarted.
Making one final gamble, I dialed her number, but my call went straight to voicemail. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong, even though I wanted desperately to believe that everything was alright.
"I think she's mad at me." Jacob pronounced with certainty as we made our way back to the dorms.
"Why would she be? I don't get it."
"Isn't it obvious?" He reached for my hand, tucking it into his jacket pocket. "I don't think she likes what happened between you and me." He gestured between the two of us.
"Then it's not about you alone." I sighed, thinking back to last Sunday's chat. I came away thinking that everything between the three of us would be fine, but he came to the opposite conclusion, and it was starting to appear that he was right.
"I wish she would talk to me."
"Have you seen her since … "
"No. We did talk a bit the night before we flew to Arizona. Shit, was that the last time we spoke?" He smacked his forehead. "Oh man, no wonder she hates me."
"Everyone was trying to call you after you came back from Tucson. I didn't even see you for more than five minutes till Wednesday." I couldn't help the note of jealousy creeping into my tone.
"Fuck, I'm losing track of time. Really?" Stopping us in our tracks, he wrapped me in his arms. "Sorry honey. This past week's been crazy" He pressed his lips to the top of my head. "Please don't be mad."
"I'm not mad."
"Yes you are."
When I didn't answer, he continued. "Sorry things with Leah are pretty shit. And we haven't been spending much time together … "
"I'm not mad." I cut him off, leaning a little closer into his chest, my hand finding its way into his.
"Well." I relented. "Maybe just a little."
"I mean." Taking a deep breath, I inhaled the smoky leather of his bomber jacket. It was an old gift from Billy, and its scent reminded me of sandy grass and bonfires in La Push. "We'll always have to share. It's not like I didn't know that getting into this."
"What are you saying?" He rested his chin on the top of my head, his arms tightening around me.
"You'll always have football, and that should come first. It's given you everything, it's your lifeline outside of La Push, your real future."
"Football's not everything." His response was fast and fierce. "And you come first to me."
Looking up to his eyes, fervent and true, my stoicism dissipated.
"You come first to me too." The words came without hesitation.
University District was thrumming with life. Alumni from generations past descended on campus by the carload and busload, filling Red Square, the Campanile, and all the major watering holes. We were expecting a bumper crowd at Artie's, and Emmett wanted all hands on board. I was to start my shift right after lunch, making me unable to attend neither the football game nor Leah's alumni race at Lake Washington. I was torn between feeling guilty and grateful that I didn't have to choose between the two.
But the first thing on my mind as I woke up was tracking down Leah. She was an early riser, and the moment my eyes opened, I dialed her number. My call was directed to voicemail again, which was absurd. Was she avoiding me? Why?
Within minutes, I was dressed and on the shuttle to her dorm on the other side of campus. Her roommate, Emily, answered the door. Peering over her shoulder, I was startled to see Leah's untouched sheets.
"She didn't come home last night?"
Emily gave me a peculiar look, as if my question sounded strange to her. "Why don't you try Pam's."
"Pamela Lopez," she answered as if that was the most obvious response. "You know, the girl from crew?"
Oh! Realisation spread across my face as I remembered meeting Pam a few weeks ago at Artie's-a striking, dark-haired girl who didn't speak much but had a mischievous glint in her eyes. I didn't think Leah knew her that well. "Is she on this floor?" I asked.
"No, she's in the block across from us." Emily nudged in the direction of the window. "Third floor, maybe? Sorry I don't remember which unit though."
Leah lived in a community of low-rise dorm housing on the west side of campus that was reserved for female students in science and engineering. It was fixed up with the most modern amenities, and everything was glass, sleek lines and neatly manicured, unlike my and Jacob's dorms which were grey, concrete, and functional. I returned to the ground floor and crossed the lawn. Exiting on the third floor, I wandered down the carpeted hallway, trying to figure out which room was Pamela's.
Her voice hit me like a bolt of thunder on a colorless night.
"Fuck, you know that's not what I mean." Leah? My feet froze to the ground and I couldn't stop listening.
"Oh yeah? I know exactly what you mean. This means nothing to you." This? What on earth was 'this'?
"Stop fucking with me." Leah's voice was seething with anger, but I had no clue why.
"Right." Pamela's voice was charged with bitterness, rising in volume as she continued. "That's why you came looking for me last night? Instead of her, huh?" If her meant me, I was just as keen to hear Leah's response. I shuffled ever closer to the doorframe.
A noise startled me from across the hallway, and I jumped. An Asian girl clad in a bathrobe was standing in the opposite doorway, eyes wide as she took me in. As quick as my feet could move, I stepped away, avoiding her gaze as I tried to conceal the guilty look on my face.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"I ... uh ... I think I've got the wrong floor." My feet motored towards the elevator, hoping to clear out of danger as fast as possible.
Leah's words rumbled through my head as I returned to my dorm room. She sounded troubled. But why was she running to this stranger, someone she knew for less than a few months, instead of Jacob or me? Were we not her best friends? Why did her conversation, or at least what I heard of it, contain so much hurt and anger? Was I completely missing something?
In a moment of desperation, I dialed Jacob's number. It wasn't the best time to call: he needed his full focus on the game. It rang continuously, but no one picked up. Dejected, I sunk into my chair, tossing my cell on the bed. For the first time since arriving in Seattle, I felt alone and despondent. I didn't know how long I sat at my desk, unable to move, until the sound of the door slamming startled me, and my tornado of a roommate reminded me to get to work.
Alice and her band were playing at Artie's, so we hitched a ride with her boyfriend and their bassist, Jasper. Like me, he seemed reserved and content to let Alice do most of the talking. During the five minute ride, she launched into a vicious tirade against Florence, her brother's on-again, off-again girlfriend, whom she accused of living off him and being a total loser. Was she more pissed because Florence was staying at Edward's place, or because she was performing with him on stage again? With diva Alice, my bet was on the latter.
"God, you'd think after the horrible mess last year he would have gotten rid of her. But she keeps clawing her way back into his life." She threw a vehement punch into the air in exclamation, which Jasper calmly caught, bringing her back down to earth.
"What mess?" I asked, finally managing to get a word in.
"Edward had this best friend, Alex. So the two of them and Flo, they were bestest buddies at Yale. Sooo apparently my gentleman of a brother never made a move on her then because Alex had the biggest thing for Flo. God knows why. But years later, Edward ran into Flo in New York, and they got together. Well, Alex found out last year and boy, did shit hit the fan.
"He ambushed Ed outside a club one night and beat the crap out of him. After that, he never spoke to either of them again, and it ruined Ed's relationship with Flo."
"What?" What Alice described could have come straight out of a soap opera.
"Well, at least something positive came out of it." Alice sounded almost delirious with glee.
But something in Edward's story struck a much deeper chord, and I found it difficult to speak. Were there any parallels with my friendship with Jacob and Leah? A visual struck me—the kiss that Jacob and Leah shared at prom, not so many months ago. It certainly seemed real at that time. Could she have been harboring a secret crush on him all this while?
The question troubled me as I changed into my Artie's uniform and started my shift. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about the signs I might have missed. I was so deep in thought I almost didn't hear Emmett calling until he was right beside me.
"Someone called for you up front." It was Emmett. He passed me a piece of notepaper with a number and a name which looked vaguely familiar. "She said it was urgent." Hurrying to the back of house, I made the call which was picked up almost immediately.
"Hi, I'm looking for a Lynn Baumann?" My stomach was hit with unease as I remembered Lynn—she was the women's crew coach.
"Is that Bella?" The voice on the other end of the line was brusque and harried. "You need to get yourself down to the hospital right away. Leah's been in an accident."
Author's Note: Reviews make me write faster!
All love and eternal gratitude to my heroine and beta, Leelator. By the way, I'm now on Twitter—my handle is xtewigx. Come say hi!
Shameless self-promotion: If you have a spare minute, please read my little oneshot, Wrong. It's something very different from Three's a Crowd. www()fanfiction()net/s/8335907/1/Wrong (replace () with a dot)