Number of Photo: 32

Story Title: Three Worthless Years

Story Rating: T

Story Summary: Bella is a Civil Air Patrol cadet. She meets Jacob Black at a summer encampment at Dyess Air Force Base. They hit it off, but she has a boyfriend who's been gone a while. They write to each other, and fall in love. Her boyfriend, James, comes back and she gets pregnant. She stops her correspondence with Jacob, without telling him why. Three years later, Jacob is on her doorstep demanding an explanation.

Disclaimer: S. Meyer is the proper owner of these characters

AU, AH

Three Worthless Years

There is an attached glossary explaining military terms for those who are interested in what the hell I'm talking about.

~ OoO ~

You've been good, busier than ever

We small talk, work and the weather

Your guard is up, and I know why

Because the last time you saw me is still burned in the back of your mind

You gave me roses and I left them there to die

So this is me swallowing my pride

Standing in front of you saying I'm sorry for that night

And I go back to December all the time

It turns out freedom ain't nothing but missing you

Wishing I'd realized what I had when you were mine

I go back to December, turn around and make it alright

I go back to December all the time . . .

And then the cold came, the dark days when fear crept into my mind

You gave me all your love and all I gave you was goodbye . . .

I miss your tan skin, your sweet smile, so good to me, so right . . .

I go back to December, turn around and change my own mind

I go back to December all the time

Excerpts from Back to December, by Taylor Swift

~ OoO ~

BPOV:

The year was 1996; my cousin, Garry, talked me into joining the Civil Air Patrol in Scottsdale, Arizona. At his urging, I became a member of Squadron 311, Angel Flight.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I made a lot of friends and rose up in the ranks, rapidly. Not exactly an extrovert, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt around these people. I had never been asked out by any of the boys at my high school in Tempe, but these guys buzzed around me like flies. Not one of them held any interest for me though.

My best friend there was Mike. He helped me with all of my projects and requisites to advance my rank. He actually turned in a project that he completed himself and affixed my name to it so I could achieve my Billy Mitchell Award. My shoes were even spit- shined by him whenever he came by my house. I never asked him to do that, he just took it upon himself.

The Civil Air Patrol Encampment or SARCAP was coming up in July. I had heard about this weeklong boot camp for teens, and I was petrified down to those spit-polished shoes I was wearing. I would be a grunt at Dyess Air Force Base in Amarillo, Texas.

The day arrived for us to fly out. Mike and Ron from another squadron were the only people I knew at Phoenix Sky Harbor. We flew in an ancient C130—a troop carrier—to our destination.

~ OoO ~

Most of the week was a grueling march in the hot Texas sun from one building to another for classes in aerodynamics, navigation and survival. The one class I remember the best was a hands on experience in a mockup of a jet fighter. Needless to say, I crashed the plane straight into the ground—on its nose, no less—much to my embarrassment.

The mess hall was something else. We had potatoes with all three meals, and it made me wonder if they still enforced KP duty. Mealtimes were bad. I had a hard time eating in a rush so I could make it back in the ranks to return to wherever; there was a strict schedule for everything. The first ones out of the mess hall had it the worst—they were forced to stand at parade rest in the unrelenting heat until the last person fell in.

At night it was difficult to sleep, even though we were bone tired and sporting blistered feet. Every night before lights out, Lieutenant Scott would come around with a flashlight and check everyone's feet for blisters. Good thing she had a big supply of moleskin. But the blisters were not what kept us up at night though. It was the jet engines thundering non-stop all night long. Apparently, the mechanics had nothing better to do than rev up the engines every freakin' night. The first two nights, it didn't matter much because I cried myself to sleep anyway. I hated it here. I was homesick and disgusted with cleaning the latrines with a toothbrush, making my bed so that a stupid quarter would bounce off of it, and making sure there were two finger's breadths between the hanging uniforms in the clothes rack. The class 'B' uniforms had to be to the right of the class 'A' uniforms, then the fatigues. Blah, blah, blah. Even making the bed had a formula. The top sheet had to be folded over the blanket with a six inch cuff, which remained twelve inches down from the head of the bed. If Lt. Scott didn't like it, she ripped it all off and you had to repeat the process. My disdain for this rotten place was pretty strong. That was all about to change tomorrow.

~ OoO ~

That Tuesday, some of the cadets were allowed to visit the BX for some snacks and soft drinks. I was sitting at a table with three other girls from Angel Flight. There were a group of tables across from us where the guys from Bravo Flight were seated.

Linda, one of the girls I was sitting with, kicked me under the table. "Bella," she whispered, "that gorgeous hunk over at the other table is looking your way."

I turned my head and tried to see who it was. "Which one?"

"The one with the black hair, sitting on the right, beside the short blonde."

Maria spoke up then, "Oh, that's Jacob Black. He's from La Push, Washington. He lives on the Quileute Reservation there. He's such a sweetie with a good heart, too. Can't get a guy better than that one."

I tried not to cast my eyes in that direction again, but I secretly wanted to know if he was still staring at me. I kept my gaze trained on Maria, but even so, it was struggling to wander to the other side of the room. "How do you know all this?"

"We grew up together. I lived in La Push all my life—still do. By the way, don't look now, but he's heading over here."

We were not allowed to fraternize with the boys outside of the BX or classes. So, it was a shock when the tall, cadet with jet-black hair, warm brown eyes and russet skin brazenly walked up and crouched down beside me. He was dressed in BDU woodland camo fatigues, brown combat boots and a smile that could chase the clouds away.

Looking up at me from his inferior position, he peered straight into my eyes, smiled, and simply said, "Hello."

There was a dance floor in the middle of the table arrangement, and music was playing; a silly Oldie called Sweet Pea. How appropriate.

Oh, Sweet Pea, won't you dance with me?

Won't you, won't you, won't you dance with me?

Oh, Sweet Pea, won't you be my girl?

Won't you, won't you, won't you be my girl?

He stood up to his full height—which, I admit, was a little intimidating—held out his hand, and asked, "Would you like to dance?"

Not wanting to embarrass him in front of the other guys, I said yes without thinking about it.

Taking me by the hand, he led me to the dance floor. It was chilly in the room, but Jacob's hands felt so good. They were warm and so huge that my hands got lost in them.

Jacob immediately launched into a conversation. "Hi there, beautiful. You have a name?" He cupped his hand around one ear pretending to strain at hearing my words.

"Doesn't everybody?" He cocked an eyebrow at me, looking amused. "Okay, it's Isabella Swan, but it's just Bella to my friends. I'm pretty sure you have a name, too."

"Sure, sure. It's Jacob—Jacob Black, but then you already know that, don't you?"

When I gave him a questioning look, he explained, "I've got good hearing. Maria told you.

"Now that the mystery is cleared up, where are you from, just Bella?"

Maybe he was trying to make polite conversation, but I didn't really want to divulge too much information about myself. "Are you taking up mapmaking or something? Why do you need to know that?"

"So I'll know where to send my love letters." He glanced at me to see my reaction, and grinned.

Holy cow, cocky much? I was pretty adept at being a cut down artist, so I replied, "A little bit overconfident there. Wouldn't you say?"

"Hey, don't give me that look. You can't deny the facts. You are dancing with me. Here I am holding you in my arms, right?"

A slow number started, one of my favorite songs from the eighties, Waiting for a Girl Like You, by Foreigner. He held me closer, enveloping my hand in his and pressing it to his heart. Something about him started the butterflies in my stomach, but feelings of guilt began to shove them aside. I had a boyfriend at home, but what James didn't know wouldn't hurt him would it? I hadn't heard from him in two months—did he even miss me? This guy's warmth, and that musky scent, not to mention those dark bedroom eyes were slowly mesmerizing me.

I couldn't argue with his logic. "I'm from Tempe, Arizona—home of the ASU Sundevils."

Jacob filled me in on what was going on in his squadron. He was quite a talker—and easy to talk to.

We danced silently to another slow number; his warm breath on my neck made me shiver slightly. When the music ended; my squadron got ready to leave.

Jacob escorted me back to the table, his hand at the small of my back. The other girls were already standing up ready to walk outside the BX and fall into formation. He hesitated slightly, then suddenly grabbed my hand once more.

"Wait a minute, Bella, don't go yet. I'd like to see you again." Those dark eyes of his were certainly talking louder than his words ever could.

The girls all started heading toward the door. Maria glanced my way, giving me a nod as if to say, "careful, girl." Jacob walked beside me, still clinging to my hand. For some reason, I didn't mind that he wasn't letting it go. As I got to the door, he pulled me back inside the BX .

"Wait, wait, wait!" he stammered urgently, "There's a dance this Friday. Will you go with me?" God, those eyes were making me come undone.

Why couldn't I say no to this cocky devil? So I said yes. He kissed my hand and let me go, running back to his waiting mates. I turned and watched as the rest of his squadron were all hooting and catcalling to him. Jacob was grinning from ear to ear.

~ OoO ~

Maria was beside me in formation. "Looks like you two hit it off. I have to tell you though, Jacob's like a brother to me. He's a really good guy, so please don't break his heart."

"Don't worry; I'll let him down easy. I'm only going with him to a dance. I already have a boyfriend. I'm really not in the market to shop for another one."

As we marched on to our next class, Maria asked, "By the way, you haven't said very much about your boyfriend. What's he like?"

"James Saulnier—that's his name—is a musician, a drummer, in fact. He's had a gig in Las Vegas for the last two months. I'm really not too happy with him right now. He's only written me once since he got there. I don't know, maybe I should break up with him. I don't think he really loves me. Convenience, that's all I am to him, I guess."

"Why do you stay with him then?"

I let out a long sigh. "It's a long story."

"Well, you're in luck, because I just happen to have a long attention span. So, let's have it!"

"I guess it's because he was a musician, and I wanted to impress the kids at school. The guys in my classes didn't want me, and here I was going out with the drummer of a really cool R&B band. After a while though, it became kind of a loyalty issue. My mother was adamant about that too. I think secretly she liked the idea of me going with an accomplished musician. You know, I've never even thought about cheating on him. This will be the first time in a year and a half that I've gone out with someone else. I figure I'll never see Jacob again after this Saturday, so what difference would it make. He seems like a nice guy, so I'd like to make him happy for at least one night." At least—that's what I thought.

~ OoO ~

The next day, Mike found me.

"Hi, Bella. So—what do you think about encampment?"

"Don't ask. I can't believe you talked me into coming here." I scowled my meanest scowl at him.

"Is that any way to treat your best friend? I even got you out of going to the dance this Friday with Colonel Bryant. He asked me if I thought you would go with him. There's no way I'd let him take you out. I told him no, that you already had a date for that night."

"As a matter of fact I do. I'm curious though, why would you not want me to go to the dance with him?"

Mike's eyes suddenly bulged. "Bella—the guy looks like a rhinoceros!

"So, you've already got a date, huh? Man, your guy's sure a fast worker. No one in my squad has even thought about who they'd like to take with them on Friday."

~ OoO ~

That night, Lieutenant Scott came to my bunk.

"Hey, Swan, there's some guy on the phone asking for you. I put him on hold." She glared at me with her steely gray eyes. "You have three minutes."

Who would be calling me at Dyess? "Did he say who he was?"

"Yeah, he said he met you yesterday at the BX—some guy named Jacob Black."

My stomach started to churn. I'm sure my face went paler than usual, too. I walked into the lounge and inhaled deeply. Lifting the receiver, I took it off hold.

"Hi, beautiful," I heard a voice say.

"Will you please stop saying that! I'm not beautiful, Jacob.

"Oh, yeah? What mirror have you been lookin' in?"

That cocky attitude was not garnering any points with me. "Okay, I'm hanging up now."

His voice suddenly took on a panicked tone. "No, wait, wait—don't hang up, please . . . I'm sorry, I just don't know how to talk to you. You make me so nervous."

"Could've fooled me."

"I wanted to talk to you before lights out so I could dream about you tonight. I couldn't remember what you sounded like. I had to hear your voice again. Don't be mad, okay?"

"You are too smooth." If only he could see the look on my face . . .

"How is it that you're the only guy calling a girl in Angel Flight?" How did he even get permission, I wondered?

"Maybe I'm the only guy who thinks the girl is worth it." Then he added, "Tell me something. Do you believe in love at first sight?"

"Not really. I think it grows as you get to know the person. So, I'd say no."

"Me neither, so that's why I have to see you again; to confirm my suspicions." I could almost feel his smile through the phone cord.

I was going to have to nip this in the bud fast. "Jacob, stop. I have to tell you; I have a boyfriend."

"Yeah, I know. Maria told me today."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

"That all depends. Are you engaged to him?"

"No . . ."

"Then, no—there are no guarantees in this life. Relationships break up all the time, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Right now, I'm hoping for sooner."

Boy, he was hard to discourage. "Are you saying that you'd like to fill his shoes if they get vacated?"

"Sure, sure."

"Even if I did break up with him, a long distance relationship is really hard to keep. They rarely survive."

"Well, I'm telling you right now—I'm a survivor."

"Look, Jacob, I hate to break it to you, but Lt. Scott's waving her flashlight around. I've got to go."

"Me too, I'll dream about you tonight. Will you dream about me?"

"You don't give up do you?"

"Not on your life—I told ya', I'm a survivor. I can't wait to see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Bella. Sweet dreams—I hope." He laughed.

"Goodnight, Jacob."

~OoO~

The evening of the military ball dawned and Angel Flight was in a flurry. Formal dresses were being hauled out. Makeup and hair were being done. Lt. Scott even gave us more than the three allotted minutes in the shower so we could shave our legs, and under our arms.

I got out my dress. It was a hand me down, a red chiffon cocktail dress from a rich girl whose father my mom worked with. I figured the guys wouldn't mind; they never have the least notion about fashion sense. Anyway, I always heard that red catches the eye, especially the eye of a member of the male species. The length was good too, since my only redeeming feature was my pair of legs. There was a German exchange student at my school who used to refer to me as Miss Sexy Legs—so I knew that much was true.

I was clueless as to hair styling, so Maria did my hair for me. She pinned it up and curled it prettily. Linda applied my makeup. I was all ready, waiting for my date to show up.

The bus parked at the front of our barracks, and the guys came barreling out looking for their dates. Jacob was one of the last to disembark. When he saw me, he did a double take and surrendered his face to an emerging smile. He looked pretty sharp himself in his dress blues. Several of the girls swung their heads around to get a better view. I had to admit, he nearly took my breath away.

He walked over to me and wrapped an arm about my waist. He repeated his prior observation, "Hey, beautiful. Now, don't deny it—you are . . . beautiful, tonight. I've got the most gorgeous angel from Angel Flight, and she's wrapped in my arms."

I felt the color rising in my cheeks and looked down at the floor.

He placed two fingers under my chin, and lifted my face to his. "You're blushing. Why are you blushing? I'm just telling the truth."

I peered into those warm brown eyes, and had to look away again. "I'm not used to guys talking to me the way you do. I guess you've had a lot of experience."

We started walking toward the outside door so we could climb aboard the bus, talking as we went along. "Not really, I don't date that much. I'm just a truthful guy. Some people even think I'm rude. Admit it, you thought so yourself."

"I didn't think you were rude exactly, just annoyingly confident."

He shrugged his massive shoulders. "I don't see the sense in playing games. It wastes time. I saw what I liked and went for it. Life's too short. Carpe Diem, that's my motto."

We entered the bus and walking straight to the back, took a seat.

The ride was fairly brief, only about fifteen minutes. Jacob kept me entertained, filling me in on the exploits of his life in La Push. It seemed like a totally different world from Tempe.

I shook my head, laughing as he told me about some of the stunts his two best friends had pulled. "Quil and Embry sound like a couple of characters."

Jacob's eyes sparkled as he replied, "Yeah, they keep things pretty exciting on the rez. You should come visit so I can introduce you to them. You gotta watch out for Quil though. If you think I'm smooth—I'm sandpaper next to Quil. He's a chick magnet—at least he thinks he is. He's always chiding me about not having a girlfriend. But I figure, why bother going out with someone you're not interested in. It just seems pointless."

I started to feel sympathetic toward him, and absentmindedly took his hand in mine. I peered into those warm eyes and blurted, "Don't you ever get lonely?"

He smiled slightly. "I haven't got time to be lonely. I take care of my dad—he's in a wheelchair. And I keep myself pretty busy. Right now, I'm restoring an '86 Volkswagen Rabbit. I tinker around with motorcycles too.

"Hey, I just realized, I'm doing all the talking here. You know, you could interrupt a little more often. So tell me about yourself."

"I'm sorry, there's not that much to tell. I lead a fairly boring life. I graduated from high school six weeks ago, and I'm enrolled in the nursing program at ASU. I don't have many friends and the ones that I have are all in the Civil Air Patrol. I really don't get out all that much either, my parents make me come home straight from school to study and do homework. Pretty boring, huh?"

"Uh, yeah . . . but I liked watching the expression on your face while you told me. That kept me thoroughly entranced." He leaned his head in closer, narrowing his eyes. "Did you know that you bite your bottom lip when the telling gets tough?"

He traced my bottom lip with tip of his index finger. I should have batted his hand away, but I didn't. He stared at my lips and moistened his own with his tongue. My emotions were all over the place. What was going on here?

The bus stopped at our destination, and Jacob dropped his finger from my mouth. He led me by the hand through the door of the building. He kept glancing at me every few seconds, making me self conscious. I was hoping that my cheeks weren't competing with the color of my dress.

The place was decked out in red, white and blue streamers. There was a live band playing the music and a huge table displaying all kinds of food and soft drinks.

We danced together for most of the numbers. Mike cut in a couple of times, but Jacob put up with it good-naturedly. Mike outranked him anyway, so there wasn't much he could do about it.

When we sat, Jacob continued telling me all about his home. I was almost homesick for a place I hadn't even been to. He made the place and the people come alive. I was never much of a conversationalist around a person I had just met, but he made me so relaxed that I chatted as if I had known him all my life.

He then went on about what he looked for in a girl. Someone who didn't cuss like a sailor, or dress like she belonged in a brothel. Someone who was sweet and affectionate, but not easy—you know, the fast type of girl. He was looking for a girl like me? He didn't even know me yet, and I was already on a pedestal, precariously perched. I didn't want to ruin his little fantasy, so I didn't bother to comment.

The dance ended at one AM, and we were herded onto the buses to return to the barracks. The lights were off inside the bus. It was quiet except for the occasional whispering. Jacob had me pulled against him, his arm around my shoulder.

He came right out with it—"Would you mind if I kissed you?"

I couldn't stop the words from spewing out of my mouth. It was like my brain had suddenly disconnected from my lips. "I wouldn't mind at all."

He turned to me and stroked my cheek, then slowly pressed his lips to mine. My gosh, his lips were warm and soft, melding to mine. My butterflies were back, their wings fluttering a mile a minute. I never felt like this when James kissed me, but then, I wasn't really physically attracted to James. His kisses seemed flat, robotic—or maybe it was just my response to them. Jacob's kiss on the other hand was raising goose bumps on my arms.

Jacob broke the kiss. His breath whooshed out of him. "Hoooooh! I've been aching to do that all night," he murmured. The next thing I knew, his nose was nuzzling up and down my neck.

In the next minute his hands held my face as he came down on my mouth again; only this time with more urgency. I'm ashamed to say that I was an active participant in the lip locking. My arms seemingly had a mind of their own, as they somehow found their way around Jacob's neck. My fingers combed through the thick black hair at the back of his head. Good grief, it was so silky, I could ruffle through it all night.

We continued kissing all the way to the barracks.

The bus let us off, and the boys all walked their dates to the door of the building. They were all surrounding us kissing their girls goodnight. Jacob held me so tightly—I swear I could feel his heart rapidly thumping clear through his dress blues.

We picked up where we left off in the bus, and suddenly realized that we were the last couple standing outside.

My hair had fallen down due to all the dancing, and Jacob had his hands buried in it.

He was still ravishing me with those exquisitely warm lips, when the matron (our senior house chaperone) came out of the barracks. Standing on the step, she took one look at me with my disheveled hair. Jacob had his hands still tangled in it and his lips were definitely occupied with mine. She shook her head and indignantly huffed, "Miss Swan—you need to get into the dorm this instant." She probably wanted to add—you shameless hussy!"

Jacob laughed and just to annoy her, kissed me once more in defiance. He reluctantly pulled away, his smile vanishing. "Goodnight, Bella. I won't have any problem seeing you in my dreams tonight." He sighed loudly and backed away.

"Goodnight, Jacob," I uttered. As the mean old matron yanked me up the step, into the barracks, I heard the bus pull away. I guess goodbye would have been more appropriate. I knew in my heart that I would never see him again. I didn't realize at the time how wrong I was.

~OoO~

My brain wouldn't shut down that night. I couldn't stop thinking about tomorrow. We'd all get on those planes and return home, back to our real lives. James would eventually come home, and I'd settle for a loveless, mundane marriage—if I even got married.

Then my thoughts turned to Jacob, and how he made me feel. His touch made me tingle; his infectious smile warmed my heart. I loved listening to his stories. His face was so animated as he told them, a fire burning in those intense brown eyes. I had hardly spent more than a day with him, and yet, I felt like half of my soul would be flying out of my life in less than eight hours. Why couldn't I have met him before James ruined my life?

I tossed and turned all night long. Morning came and everyone was packing, saying our goodbyes and smiling—everyone but me.

Maria noticed my depressed expression and walking up, put her arm around my shoulder. "Things will work out, Bella, you'll see. Oh, by the way, can I have your email address? I'd like to keep in touch."

"I'll give you my street address; I hardly ever check my email since my computer crashed. My mom says she'll get me a new one for Christmas." I scribbled out my name and address on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to her. "I'll miss you, Maria. Have fun in College."

"You too, Bella." She walked away and tucked the address into her backpack.

~ OoO ~

The buses were all lined up ready for us to embark. The attendant was stowing the luggage in a compartment in the side of my vehicle. While we were standing there waiting in line, I heard my name being called. I turned in time to see Jacob running at breakneck speed toward me.

"What are you doing here?" I cried. "You're going to miss your flight!"

His grin was threatening to break his face apart. "You think I care?" He panted, trying to catch his breath. "I didn't want to miss seeing you one last time. I had to get in another goodbye kiss."

The crowd of cadets clapped and hooted as Jacob grabbed me around the waist and smothered me with his all consuming lips. I was left shocked and breathless—and admittedly yearning for more.

He pulled away and gazed into my eyes, "I can't leave you here until you give me your address. I told you I need to know so I can send you my love letters."

"I can't, Jacob. I already told you, so you know why."

His eyes dimmed, "What—are you saying we can't even be friends? What's it gonna hurt if we write to each other."

I looked down at my feet for a few seconds, not wanting to see his reaction. "I'm sorry, I just can't." I was more sorry than he would ever know.

I raised my head just in time to see his expression. His face had fallen. It was torture gazing at him, knowing that I was the cause of his pain. I wanted so badly to hug him and make it all better, but a clean break would hurt less in the long run.

At that moment, Maria stepped up beside him, "Hurry up, stupid, the bus is waiting for you."

He entreated me with pleading eyes as he answered her. "I was just trying to get Bella's address."

"Hey, don't worry; I've got it in my backpack. Now come on, before the bus leaves without us."

I rolled my eyes. I should have known she would share it with him.

Jacob was on me again in a second flat delivering another assault on my mouth. "I'm not giving up, beautiful," he said as he winked at me.

I watched as he and Maria ran back to their assigned bus. One thought filled my head—

life sucks!

~ OoO ~

Three days after I got home, there was a letter waiting for me in the mailbox from La Push, Washington. The boy didn't waste any time—I'll say that for him. From that day on, I had a hard time responding to all his letters because there'd be one at least every two to three days. Some of them were six pages long!

His letters were so entertaining—full of the antics of his friends and what was going on in his life, how Civil Air Patrol was doing, etc. I tried to answer each and every one, but kept the content friendly. Soon, however his letters would complain about the girls he knew that weren't the sort of girls he wanted to associate with. He kept telling me how I was so sweet, and virtuous, not like those girls. He described what he liked about me, how beautiful I was, how my long brown hair swayed when I walked. I nearly swooned when he told me how he felt the minute his lips touched mine, and how his heart broke as his bus departed from the parking lot that day. He described my eye color and the shape of my lips; nothing seemed to diminish his memories.

It got to the point that I would run to the mailbox after the mailman left to see if there was something left there for me. My heart would beat rapidly in my chest as I pulled each one out of its envelope. His letters were so beautiful—I could read them over and over, never tiring of them.

After a while, he began decorating the pages in the margins and along the bottom with hand drawn bells and that's when he started addressing me as such. Even though I knew I was falling in love with Jacob, I did not encourage him in any way. Despite my seeming indifference, his letters slowly began to contain his declarations of love. In each succeeding letter, he would bare his soul, pouring out his heart to me. I still tried to keep my thoughts neutral—at least on paper—almost ignoring his outbursts of affection for me. That didn't seem to deter him at all.

The last week of August, James came back to Phoenix, and that's when my life turned upside down.

~ OoO ~

If I had just seen the light sooner, maybe I could have saved myself a lot of heartache. Why is hindsight 20/20?

My life was so lonely before I met James. I was the quiet studious type, always getting good grades. Maybe my intellect scared the guys away, I don't know. As I said earlier, not one single guy from my school had asked me out—.'.Guy.

I met him at a friend's home. He was rehearsing with a band there. He started calling me up, and coming around to the house. So even though I had no real feelings for him, I agreed to be his girl. At first it was fun going to jam sessions and watching as he rehearsed with his band. But soon, he began pushing me to put out. I was a religious person, and I didn't think it was right, so I held off as long as I could. It wasn't like I was dying to have sex, in fact it was just the opposite. I was not physically attracted to him at all. Truthfully, my mother had used scare tactics with me concerning guys, and I was afraid, especially afraid to even think about sex.

James kept pressing me and we would end up fighting about it. On several occasions, he would pick me up for our date and five minutes later, would drop me back off at my house again. My academic brain was so sharp, but my common sense along with low self esteem negated all of that. I guess I just got tired of fighting with him; it was too exhausting. Against my better judgment I gave up. The night I lost my virginity, I cried myself to sleep. I felt like I had given up my birthright for a measly mess of pottage.

I thought that giving it up would make James calm down a little. I was so wrong, if anything he became more insistent. He was like some sex-crazed beast. Never complaining, I was nonetheless, beginning to feel resentful. Was that all he wanted me for? Actually, the sex was lousy due to his serious lack of technique; it always hurt like hell for me. He always got his, and I got nothing in return but pain and remorse. I felt lower than a whore. Looking back, I can't believe I put up with it for that long. When he got that gig in Las Vegas, it was a relief.

Meeting Jacob made me realize what I was missing—love, honor, respect, attraction, and friendship. Jacob wouldn't even want me now if he knew that I wasn't this virtuous woman he had envisioned in his mind. I was his own personally manufactured fantasy—

a fantasy that I could never live up to—not now at any rate.

When James got back, it was like he was making up for lost time. I know I should have called him on it, but he refused to wear condoms. Confrontation wasn't my forte, so being the wuss that I was, I kept quiet and endured his lack of respect for me. In retrospect, my own safety didn't seem to register in my mind, and apparently not in his either. It wasn't long before I realized my worst nightmare. I was pregnant.

James wasn't exactly thrilled when I gave him the news. "Are you sure it's mine? This isn't Mike's baby, is it?"

I swallowed my tears after his insensitive remark. He knew darn well that Mike was just a good friend. "It's yours—I've never been with anyone else."

He looked at me, like I was crazy, his hazel eyes flashing. "Well, can't you get rid of it?"

Get rid of it! IT? Like it was a piece of garbage? This was a tiny life growing inside of me. It was my own flesh and blood. I would rather cut off an arm or a leg. This baby had no say in the matter. He didn't ask to come into this world. James and I had sent out an invitation, and now we were unprepared to accept the RSVP. He deserved two parents who would love and cherish him. I could see by James negative reaction that he would not step into the role of that other parent.

Surprising myself, I countered with, "I'm keeping this baby, with or without you."

James frowned and replied, "Suit yourself, Bella. You always were such a martyr."

He dropped me off at the house. My emotional bank was empty; I couldn't even cry. I was empty, alone and afraid.

~ OoO ~

James stayed away a few weeks after our little discussion, and meanwhile, Jacob kept writing to me. One letter in particular got me worried. He wrote:

10 Nov. 96

Dear Bells,

I raise pen to hand to finally reply and comment on your letter. I guess you've forgotten me by now, or at least figured that I've forgotten you. I haven't forgotten you, Bells, I think of you continually (tho' you may not believe it), and if you're looking for my excuse for not writing, I have none , except anger, oh, not really anger, because the feeling is rather passive; it's mostly just plain stubbornness. I kept telling myself, 'Jake, if she liked you at all, she would have written you sooner". But I can see why you wouldn't have enough time to write, so I'm over my whatever you want to call it.

I just hope now that you aren't mad at me. You have every right to be, (if you are still speaking to me at all). I have nothing to say except this: I'm deeply and humbly sorry. I offer apologies around the universe twice. Bells, please forgive me and be patient. You must understand that I was very badly and very sincerely hurt. I acted like a lost kid for weeks; whenever I saw a map of Arizona, I'd almost break down.

It was too much for a while, and I was so sure that when I got your letter, it was goodbye, after I read it (twice), I was all kinds of happy, ecstatic, and eight kinds of joyous. You were still with me.

In CAP, I've applied for my C.P. and gotten it kicked back. There was one test I hadn't passed, Operation Countdown. I thought I'd flunked. I did. So I've reordered the test and I'll take it Thursday. I hope to be an officer by Christmas. The young, hero-officer image. Oh, well.

I've got a job out at the officer's club on Sandia Base here. Busboy, 13:00 $13.00

(Get that. Hoo, Boy!) an hour. It's one way to get money. If you answer my letter and tell me you'd like for me to, I'll try to get out there Christmas. Promise. Okay?

It's that time, so I better close before I fall over. Thanx for your letter, Bells. Thanx more than anything. It gave me a boost. I may not show it, but I honestly still do have deep feelings and loads of affection for you. Write soon, please.

Lots o' love,

Jake

I wrote back with a lame excuse that he shouldn't trade off this special time with his family just to see me. The truth of the matter was I would be four months pregnant and showing by then. I just couldn't face him. What would he think of me? My pride won out, so no matter how much I longed to see him, he had to stay in Washington. In the back of my mind, I was scared to death that his impulsiveness would bring him to Tempe against my wishes, and then what?

James had told his mother our little secret. She was ecstatic beyond belief and set things up for us to go to the Justice of the Peace and get married. I never told my parents about the plan, and everything fell apart at the last minute. It was probably for the best; I didn't know if I could actually go through with it anyway. James and I never entertained the thought again.

One day in mid November, my mother, Renee, finally confronted me about my writing to Jacob. She stood with her hands on her hips in my bedroom doorway, a scowl playing across her face.

"I don't want you leading that boy on, Bella. You need to stop writing to him. You have a boyfriend. I don't like the idea of my daughter cheating like this."

"I'm not cheating, Mom, we're only friends," That was a lie—my heart felt differently.

She held her ground. "Does James know that you've been writing to this boy?"

I didn't answer but the crimson curtain rapidly closing about my face, disclosed the truth. Ashamed, I looked away from her accusing blue eyes.

"I didn't think so. Now either you stop writing to him, or James is going to hear about this—from me!"

~ oOO ~

Hard is not the word for the job of trying to write to Jacob on the sneak. My mother was like a bloodhound following me around the house. Needless to say, my responses to his letters were fewer because of it.

I finished writing one on a wintry morning, and snuck out of the house to deposit it in the mailbox for pickup. As I was walking back to the house, I noticed a curtain being pushed back into position, no doubt my mother spying on me. Did she see the envelope in my hand?

The next day when I returned from ASU, I found the stack of Jacob's letters missing from my dresser where I had hidden them. There was only one left, the most recent he had written, that I had stashed in the bottom of my nightstand.

I walked into the living room. Mom was seated on the couch looking at a newspaper.

"What did you do with my letters?" I asked quietly.

She pulled the newspaper down so that I could see her face. Showing no emotion whatsoever, she matter-of-factly stated, "You don't need to worry about those anymore. They're right where they belong."

My breathing hitched. "Please tell me you didn't."

"I'm not denying it, I did. I tore them up and threw them in the trash." She pulled the paper up to cover her face again.

"How could you?" I cried. "Those were private. You had no right to go through my things!" I started to run to the recycle bin at the back of the house.

Without putting the newspaper down, she snorted, "It won't do you any good; the recycling's already been picked up. Just a friend, right," she muttered under her breath.

I went to my room and lay on my bed crying. All those heartfelt words and feelings would be recycled into paper bags and cardboard boxes. I couldn't believe it—my own mother . . . I vowed I would never do that to any child of mine.

~ OoO ~

That night my thoughts were all about Jacob. Maybe this was for the best. I should forget about him. I wasn't the girl he thought I was. He deserved so much better. I had fallen off the pedestal; the virginal beauty was just an ordinary girl after all—a stupid, stupid, girl. I was pregnant by a man I didn't love and who obviously didn't love me. I would probably live alone for the rest of my life, never marrying, never having another child.

I stopped writing letters to Jacob, and I never explained why. I couldn't bring myself to tell him that I was pregnant. I knew it would break his heart, as it was already breaking mine. His last words brought the tears back to my eyes once more:

15 Dec. 96

Dear Bells,

You've made it clear that we're finished. I would have written sooner but I didn't and don't know quite what to say. There are so many things . . .

If I could dislike you, it would be easy to write you off as another cheap little broad. The trouble is, you're not, and I still, well, I don't love you, I just can't say that anymore, but I still like you extremely much.

Bells, why are you putting me thru this? I've spent the days soul-searching, praying for your answer; there has been none. It's subtle torture. And the worst of it is, I'm helpless; I can't do anything about it.

Why, Bells? Why haven't you written to me? Please give me the answer; tell me what has happened. I have to know. I just can't figure out what I've said or done that brought this on.

If you continue this silence, I guess it will be final. It's hard to grasp; all the things you said, false. It's hard to accept the fact that I was taken in by you. You sounded so sincere. I thought you were the one, Bells, but I was wrong. So, here I am, left with a scar across my heart that will take much time to heal. You know how I know this? Because every time I see a map of the U.S., I look first at Arizona, whenever I see a map of Arizona, my eyes water, whenever someone mentions Phoenix or encampment or you, I actually choke on words.

Even tho I feel made a fool of, I would take you back, Bells. I value you that much; I actually respect you that much. I've never wanted any other girl back after she left me, but you're very special. Please come back to me, Bells. And write. I pray God for you.

Love, Jake

~ OoO~

The day came when I could no longer hide my pregnancy from my parents. James stayed away from then on, since Charlie promised to shoot him on sight.

.

That May, I had a baby boy whom I named Michel Rene. I was mean enough to give the little guy an ambiguous name so James would never know whether he had fathered a girl or a boy. He didn't ever attempt to see him, and I refused to contact him to ask for any child support. I continued living with my parents, and despite it all went to ASU without missing a class.

~ OoO ~

Six months after Michel was born; I got a letter from Maria.

Dear Bella,

I know it's none of my business but Jacob took it hard when you stopped writing to him. I'm not going to ask why, because you probably have your reasons. I just wanted to let you know that he is now serving a tour in Iraq, as a helicopter pilot. He was so torn up; I guess he figured that would be one way to try to forget you. I don't expect a reply to this letter, but I thought you ought to know.

Your friend,

Maria

I answered, thanking her for the information. I skirted the issue of why I quit my correspondence to Jacob, but I told her that I thought about him often, and that I would always have fond memories of him. I told her I was still living with my parents and continuing my education at ASU.

Occasionally, I would receive a note or two from her. And we would share our newest experiences—well, she would. I left out the parts about my child and the fact that I led a very lonely life.

.

~ OoO ~

Two Years Later:

It was Saturday afternoon. I was washing up the lunch dishes, when I heard knocking at the door. Renee was with Charlie at the station, helping to organize his files, because heaven knows he needed the help—badly.

I quickly dried my hands on a towel and went to the door. There was a tall young man standing on our threshold, dressed in ABU desert camo fatigues, his cap in his hand. At first I didn't recognize him, but that shock of black hair and russet skin was a dead giveaway.

My heart flatlined in my chest, and my words stuck in my throat. We both stood there frozen, just staring at each other. Michel ran up to me pulling at my jeans. I lifted him up positioning him on my hip.

I nodded my head. "Jacob . . ." I finally uttered, softly.

"Hi, beautiful."

He shook Michel's hand, then gazing at me once more, murmured, "Yours?"

I lowered my eyes. "Yes." It came out as an apology.

Sighing, he looked down at his suede boots. "You're married then."

Pushing a stray lock of hair behind my ear, I finally choked out one syllable "No." I swallowed thickly, wondering what he was thinking.

Looking up into my eyes, he asked, "You didn't marry the father of your child?"

"I couldn't, Jacob."

He straightened up, readjusting his duffle bag on his shoulder "I don't understand, why the hell not?"

My tear ducts betrayed me and the tears started. "I couldn't marry one man, when I was still in love with another."

Jacob let out a rush of air, and announced, "That's it, Bells, We've gotta talk. Can I come in?"

I held the door open and he stepped inside. Putting Michel down, I motioned for Jacob to sit beside me on the couch. He placed his duffel bag on the floor near the coffee table, and sat down. Michel ran off to play in his room.

Jacob cleared his throat nervously. He turned his head looking straight at me; his eyes filled with pain. "I was at a training session at Fort Huachuca and decided to see if I could find you. Maria wrote me a few times and said you were still living with your parents." He hesitated and leaned forward, peering at his hands. One hand then traveled to his forehead, two of his fingers rubbed a trail across his brow. His sudden outburst— although warranted, nevertheless surprised me. "Why, Bells, why? You just stopped writing with no apology—and no explanation. I need to know what the hell happened. I was in love with you, for God's sake. What did I do to deserve that?

"For three years, I've struggled trying to forget, but I can't. It's like you're burned into the back of my mind. Even Iraq couldn't erase you from my memory. So here I am, begging you—waiting for an explanation."

Fidgeting with my fingers, I timidly tried to offer him my reason for the abrupt silence. "Isn't it obvious? I couldn't write to you anymore because, I wasn't who you thought I was. You had this idea of me as a virgin queen, and I . . . I wasn't. Then I got pregnant and I knew you wouldn't want me anymore. I just couldn't tell you the truth; I was too ashamed, disappointing you like that. So I just stopped writing, hoping that you'd forget about me."

He looked at me, angry now. "Do you think for one minute that I would have given a rat's ass about that? But, no—you made the decision for me. You never even asked for my opinion. You could have explained to me. I would have understood. We could have been happy for the last three years.

"Hell, I've been around nieces and nephews for years. I love them like they're my own. I didn't think I'd ever get married, so I even toyed with the idea of adopting one day. I love kids!"

Jacob buried his face in his hands. "Tell me something, Bells. Did you even think about how I would feel? Did you even think about me at all?"

He looked up, those dark eyes accusing me, as I answered. "Every day for the last three years. I wished that I could go back to that December and make everything all right. I go back to December all the time."

Choking on my words, I said, "I didn't think you'd want me after having a child. It changes you physically. You need to know that, Jacob—my body's not the same." I lifted my blouse slightly and showed him my stretch marks. Instead of turning away, he leaned toward me and caressed the marks with the side of his nose and left a few soft kisses there.

He proceeded to unbutton his fatigues and pulled his tee shirt to one side exposing several large battle scars near his collarbone. "And that's not even all of them," he muttered. I gasped at the sight, and reciprocated, brushing my lips along the scars.

"I'm sorry—I'm so, so sorry," I groaned.

"You're sorry." His eyes blazed as they bore into mine. "Those years are gone, Bells. Three long, worthless years—all gone!"

"I can't do anything about that now," I sniffled.

"I can't either," he huffed, "except for this."

He pulled me to him with his muscular arms, squeezing the breath out of me. His lips were in a fevered rush as they glided over mine. I hadn't been touched by a man for three years, and my body responded explosively. I got up on my knees, pressing closer to him. With one hand I reached around to the side of his head, the other curling at the back of his neck, twisting strands of his black hair between my fingers. Jacob placed an arm at my waist, and held my shoulders still with the other. I never wanted him to let me go. I was feeling alive for the first time in years.

He broke off and with his voice cracking with emotion, said, "If you still want me, I'm yours. Tell me now, because if not, I'm going back to La Push.

"I don't care what happened in the past. I've never stopped loving you, Bells—and I don't think I ever will. Can you honestly say now that you feel that way about me, too?"

"Yes," I whispered.

"Then say it out loud." He cupped his hand around his ear, "I can't hear you. Please . . . I need to hear you say it!" He closed his eyes as he waited breathlessly.

"I love you, Jacob Black."

His eyes opened and he sighed loudly. "I waited three long, worthless years to hear those words come from your lips. Let's not waste anymore time. Let's make the next years really count from now on. We can't make up for what we've lost, but I'm telling you right now—I am never losing you again."

And he never did.

The End

A/N: For those not used to military terms, here is a glossary:

BDU is an abbreviation for battle dress uniform or fatigues. Woodland camouflage is the green, brown and tan splotched uniform that is used in the forested areas.

ABU is an abbreviation for Air Force battle uniform, which now is a tiger striped fatigue with blue, white and light green streaks.

KP means kitchen patrol or kitchen police. KP duty entails lots of potato peeling.

SARCAP is an acronym for Search and Rescue Civil Air Patrol Exercise.

Class A uniforms are your dress up uniforms, usually blue. Class B uniforms are your everyday uniforms, usually khaki. Fatigues are for rough stuff.

Parade Rest is a military stance; arms behind your back with hands crossed. Shoulders are pulled back and legs are separated, shoulder width apart

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