Author's Notes: Written for twilight_santa last December. Originally posted with a fanmix and the recipe Bella uses for bread, but the story reads fine without them.


Four Ways to Apologize

Jacob is gone for six months. Bella knows because she's been counting off each day with a tally mark like a prisoner scraping endlessly at the walls of her cell. For a while, it was the only thing keeping her sane; but then somewhere, she lost count, and now the little marks on the back of an outdated wedding invitation mean nothing, nothing at all. (But she keeps counting, even if the numbers are wrong. The mechanical little flick of her pencil on that stiff, white paper each morning after she wakes up is ingrained in her routine like the hearts carved into the unsuspecting flesh of trees.)

Jacob is gone for six months. Edward has been gone for five. The second count is an afterthought, based on the first: one month after Jacob left, she fell apart again, and Edward couldn't fix her. But she was stronger this time, and she told Edward not to come back. She had enough waiting to do, someone else to wait for.

(She doesn't keep a second tally for Edward, just a blank space on her finger where her engagement ring used to be.)

Bella likes to think she's learned from her past, from her mistakes and seemingly limited triumphs, but like the tally, this thought is a false comfort. A year ago, she closed in on herself like a flower refusing to meet the sun. Nine months ago, she told herself she was better now, that she knew better, that she would be better, and never leave herself so far behind.

In the dawn of another December, she is ending where she began. Ending, because it has been six months, and Jacob is home. Bella is awakening. She is uncurling her selfish petals at the hints of familiar light peeking through the trees.

It's Charlie who tells her, cautiously at first, as if afraid to frighten her further into the darkness. (As if she could retreat anymore, pushed up as she is against the bottom, the walls, the end of wherever she is.) He's been quieter with her the last month, and the hushed conversations into the phone have increased; she passes the kitchen sometimes, and sees him clinging to the receiver like a lifeline. It is all he has left.

One day, he hangs up, and looks at her watching him from the doorway.

"Hey Bells," he says, voice softened not with kindness but desperation.

Bella hears it as a summons, and she takes a few steps into the room. Her feet – bare, cold – are so noiseless on the wood, that if she were invisible, no one would know she is here. (She almost closes her eyes then, just to see if she can really disappear.)

"I got some news today," Charlie says. Bella's half-lidded eyes slowly open. "From Billy." Now her heart is fluttering; maybe instead of turning invisible, she will become a butterfly. The thought fascinates her.

Charlie waits for a moment, watching her carefully. Something about her reaction emboldens him, and so he rushes into it next, letting it out like a gust of wind that has been waiting outside a closed window: "He says Jacob came back last night."

She tries to keep steady, and is surprised to find that she can. "Can I see him?" she hears herself asking.

Charlie hesitates. After what feels like a long time, he says, "I think maybe you oughta call first before you go heading down there. Just... Just in case."

"...Oh."

Charlie puts an awkward hand on her shoulder, unused as he is to touch. Regardless, Bella finds herself leaning into it like a child. At least she isn't crying.

"I'm sure he'll be okay with seeing you soon enough, Bells. You just gotta give him some time."

"I gave him six months." The words are muffled into the plaid of Charlie's shirt, but they can both hear them, and the roots of franticness they are mired in. Six months should have been enough. Charlie's chest rises and falls against her cheek as he sighs.

"Then maybe he just needs to know you're sorry, honey. That's all I can really tell you." He smoothes her hair, once. "He's had his heart broken, and that's something that takes a long time to forgive."

"I was so stupid," she mumbles.

"Then that's what you tell him. When he's ready to hear it."

He doesn't tell her when exactly that will be.

::

Apologizing for herself is easy, when it's for trivial things. Sorry for getting in your way. Sorry for being late. Sorry, sorry, I really didn't mean to.An awkward dip of her head, maybe a smile that's too nervous to reach her eyes, and everything is forgotten. Bella is used to making mistakes, but not ones like this. Maybe she should be. But she isn't. She doesn't know how to fix someone else's life, because she never could figure out how to fix her own.

Bella is superficial. She knows that maybe sorry would work on her – knows that it did, when Edward came back, and all she wanted so desperately, selfishly, was validation that she could be loved – but she doesn't think it's enough for Jacob. He's too good, too deep for sorry to mend anything important. Sorry is Scotch tape on a house that has fallen to the ground.

There aren't words for this.

Or –

Maybe there are words. They just aren't hers, in the sense that she didn't write them; but they are hers so much, because if she could just reach into her heart and pull out what she's feeling, they are what she would have cupped in her pale hands.

She spends hours searching through her music, not because her computer is so old and slow it seems to exhale dust and used time, but because she has to find the songs that are perfect. Perfect, from the place in her heart. She rediscovers old songs, and finds new ones that she didn't realize she had. She listens to each, though, and the ones that resonate within her chest are the ones she chooses – the ones that choose her. In twenty minutes of words that are not her own, Bella can explain herself; she can apologize; and she can bring him back.

At least, she hopes.

She finds a blank CD in a drawer somewhere, and while the songs are burning onto it, each apology whirring away, she extends her search to hunt for an empty case. There isn't one. She tears apart every other drawer, and the ones she's already looked through, but there's nothing. So she sighs, and grabs a blank piece of binder paper, and waits.

She's better at waiting now.

And when the CD is done, ejected from her computer with a tired sound, she carefully folds the paper up around it. Safe. This is safe.

Safe enough that, when she drives to Jacob's house and leaves it on his front porch, she doesn't even run into anyone. Except for that folded paper, there's no evidence of her ever being there. Maybe this isn't quite the distance Charlie has implied she needs to keep, but it's a compromise, she thinks. She's always been good at compromising.

::

The next morning, she finds it wedged underneath her window, damp on the side that still reaches for the open air. There's a note that couldn't quite fit into the small space with the CD case, and so it's crumpled, a perfect complement to the twisted, sinking knot of her stomach. She tugs it inside.

I don't care what he has to say, the note reads.

She doesn't get it at first. But then she realizes what it means, and the truth is like a stabbing pain in her chest. It's not what she's trying to say, but how. Because it doesn't matter if she's apologizing if she's doing it like Edward would. Edward said so much with music, and it worked – for him. Floundering, Bella has grasped onto this and failed. She cannot be like Edward. Not with Jacob, not with herself.

She stares at the note a long time before she slowly slides open the window. Before she can catch it, the CD topples backward and out of sight. She thinks she can hear it breaking – but then again, maybe that's something else.

::

Three days pass, and they are excruciating – but Bella forces herself through them, through the waiting, because she has promised time to Jacob and to her father, because she is better at waiting, now, she has to be. For three days, she waits for ideas, waits for the perfect words that are her own, but she doesn't have them. She has what she told Charlie, but she already knows they are not enough.

It can't be about the words, she decides on the second day.

So on the third day, she remembers a piece of herself.

Back before she became a zombie, she used to be self-sufficient; she used to take care of herself, but only after she had taken care of her parents, because they had needed her, each one. She had cooked them dinner, surprised them with treats, though she had never apologized with anything she had made. Then she thinks of Emily, the wolf girl who loves to bake and bakes to love. Perhaps this is the werewolf way, when there are boys starving for food, not music, where feelings are tangible, edible.

Bella will bake Jacob bread – Braided Cranberry Bread, the recipe she finds says. The picture looks more beautiful than anything she has ever made, and she knows that when all is said and done, her loaf will look nothing like it. That's the way with pictures in recipe books: they are unreal, a goal that no one can achieve. They look so warm, when really, they have probably been sitting on a countertop for hours, cold and waiting to be photographed with all the other beautiful things. (Or maybe that isn't the way, but it's what she's always imagined.)

So she adds the yeast to the flour, something in the back of her mind a bit doubtful because she hasn't had to proof the yeast first. Then she puts the milk, the water, the sugar, the butter, the salt into a warming saucepan; she adds a splash of buttermilk, too, because the only regular milk they have in the house is skim – she has remembered to keep Charlie on a diet in little ways, at least. The butter melts completely, and she hopes it won't matter so much. Then everything goes into the bowl with an egg, and she tries to mix it with the old but sturdy handheld mixer Charlie's had tucked away in the cupboard since she was a child, but it only causes the dough to become wrapped around it, crawling up the beaters to embrace them and never let go. She turns it off, studies the mess. This is what she's felt like, sometimes.

With a hint of remorse, she scrapes off the dough. Then she flours her hands, and mixes the rest of it together using her fingers as the tool now. When there is nothing left to rely on, she must rely upon herself. And then she is kneading the dough, folding it and digging in the heels of her hands, over and over. She thinks about Jacob now, over and over, about how this process is about him, not her. Or maybe it's about both of them, separately and together. She gets confused, sometimes. Over and over.

It's too cold in Forks for the dough to rise on its own, so Bella preheats the oven for two minutes, then feels a rush of purpose when she turns it off. Quickly, she transfers the ball of dough into a greased bowl, covers it with a towel, and then deposits it into the slightly warmed oven, where it will be safe.

Bella makes the filling out of cranberries, brown sugar, pecans, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and then she waits. This is something she can wait for, because it is constructive waiting. It is not purposeless, useless. She has goals now, too.

When the rising is done, she takes out the dough, punches it down, glorying in the smell of it, the feel of it as it deflates. Then she rolls it out, lets it rise again, spreads on the melted butter with a brush that she thinks she's lucky to have found. Then on goes the filling, then there goes the rolling, the cutting, the twisting. It's twisted, she thinks, not braided; there's something about this that bothers her, but she lets it pass, because each twist brings her closer to Jacob.

The oven preheated for real now, she bakes the bread. She makes the glaze out of orange juice and powdered sugar, adding more of each until the balance is right. Like with the blank CD, she has to hunt as if her life depends upon it to find a plate large enough to put the finished bread on, but she finds one eventually, a glass party plate; it's not quite large enough, but it will do. She thinks perhaps it was her mother's, desperate to entertain someone in this desperate place, and left behind because it could not achieve what she wanted.

And at last, when the bread is baked, cooled, and glazed, she sets it on its plate, glaze running, and again leaves it on Jacob's porch like a thief in the night – a thief returning what she's stolen, in a way.

::

Jacob's note comes the next morning, this time slipped under the front door. Again, her heart lifts, and again, it falls, falls, falls.

I don't care what Emily has to say either, Bella.

She wants to scream. She wants to tear the note into a million little pieces and throw them into the wind. This is me! she wants to shout. Not Emily, me!

But she knows he's right, in a way. He's wrong, too. But that seems to matter less.

She keeps the bread, just in case.

::

The third time Bella tries to apologize, she resorts to the old ways: using Charlie as messenger. She feels childish, because, this is something she and Jacob did a year ago – two years ago? Something that didn't really work then at the same time that it did.

I'm sorry, Jacob, the note in her father's pocket reads. I'm so sorry. I made such a mistake.

The waiting this time is true agony, but she manages, just barely.

The front door creaks open, and for a half of a foolish moment, Bella's heart leaps, because she thinks that maybe it's Jacob coming through the door. But nothing is that easy. Charlie rounds the corner with a frown on his face. After an expectant glance from her, he sighs.

"Sorry Bells," he says. "No reply."

She just stares at him for a few seconds. She has tried using words now, since not using them didn't work. But this doesn't work, either. No reply. No reply?

Bella Swan will get a reply.

Angrily, she grabs her jacket off of the sofa, shaking it slightly to make sure the keys are still in the pocket. They are, and the sound seems to steel her resolve.

"Bells?" Charlie calls, but she's already out the door, already in the bright red truck she loves so much to see the boy she loves even more. This stupid, stubborn boy who is her best friend and won't listen to what she has to say.

Maybe she's being irrational – she knows she's being irrational – but when she gets to Jacob's house, she doesn't knock on the door. She can't deal with Billy telling her to go away, or worse, Jacob saying it to her face, his eyes as cold as a vampire's icy skin. Instead, she flies out of her car, slams the door. And she's shouting now, so childish she doesn't care.

"Listen to me!" she cries to the silent house, to the trees and startled birds. "Listen to me!"

The rez echoes with me, me, me, and Bella's eyes widen. She clamps her hand over her mouth. Before she can stop them, there are hot tears sliding down her cheeks, over her hand. She has a special talent for making everything about herself. The tears are unlike her, but the selfishness isn't, the impatience isn't, the pushing, the prying. Maybe nobody listens to her, but does she ever really say anything?

"I'm so stupid," she chokes.

A crunch of snow nearly startles her half to death. "You're not stupid, Bells," says a voice behind her.

She whirls around, and there he is.

"Jacob," she breathes.

His hair is a little shaggier than she remembers, and there are more scars on his arms; she used to be able to count them, trace them, but there are so many she doesn't recognize that she can't see where they begin and end. The set of his jaw is a little more mature than she remembers, too.

But his eyes – oh, God. In his eyes, there is not the bitterness or the hardness she expected. In his eyes, Bella sees the young, carefree boy from the beach.

"You're back," she squeaks. No monsters, no magic, she thinks. In this moment, that's what's back. She wants to run to him, but caution holds her back. This is what she wants. What does he want? Now that she's pushed her way into his life again, she can give him space. Though he is a little bit worse for the wear, the time he spent away from her, the distance he put between them – it's obviously done him good.

"I've been trying to apologize to you," she says after a moment. She can't keep a slight hint of reproach and hurt from her voice. "But I guess you don't really want to hear it. And... I mean... I get it." He makes to speak, but she puts her hand up. "No, it's okay, I get it. I just –"

"Bella," he says, and the name sounds so good coming from him that she forgets to stop him. "I do wanna hear it. That's what I've been waiting for."

She stops. "What?"

"The music, the bread, the note – those are all you, but they're not you."

Realizing she's started crying again, she wipes her eyes hurriedly with the back of her hand. "But it's not about me," she protests, confused again. Everything is so confusing.

He chuckles. "Well, that's not something I thought I'd ever hear you say."

In spite of herself, Bella lets forth a choked laugh. He's teasing her, but there is so much truth behind what he's saying.

"But seriously, Bells," he continues after a pause. "You just need to – you need to stop relying on other people to say what you want to say. Maybe those people are a part of you, but –"

"But they're not me," she finishes with a wry smile. "Okay."

"And everybody's selfish sometimes," he adds. "You've just gotta... limit it."

"Hey!" She punches him playfully on the arm. (She hasn't realized how close she's been getting. Or maybe it's him who's moved.)

"So?" he asks.

It takes her a moment. They've slipped so seamlessly back into their easy selves, she's almost forgotten that she hasn't fixed what she's done. Not yet.

"Jacob," she says, and hesitantly, she takes his hands. Not so hesitantly, she looks into his eyes. What she finds there encourages her. "Jake, I am so, so sorry. I made the wrong choice. You're... You're such a good person. You don't deserve all the crap that's happened to you. Everything I've done to you. I was wrong."

He waits for a moment, searches her eyes. Then he smiles. "That's better."

They don't kiss. Despite the smiles and the warmth, there are still some lines Bella knows she won't be able to cross back over for a long time. She knows the forgiveness is only just starting, and that it will need to grow and blossom over time, tended carefully. But Bella knows a little bit about growing, now, about opening her petals to the sunlight. She knows that with time, Jacob will teach her to be a better person. Maybe someday, she'll even deserve him.

For now, though, Bella holds onto Jacob's hands. And Jacob holds onto hers back.