Paws & Art

Title: Loss to Love & Shadow to Light

Penname: exquisitelyugly

Banner: #3

Rating: M

Summary: After a devastating loss, Bella returns to Forks to live with her father, Charlie. She reconnects with childhood friend Jacob Black, but can he help her through the resulting pain and show her how to live again?

To see all the stories that are a part of this contest please visit: http:/printingpawss[dot]blogspot[dot]com

The first time I saw Isabella Swan, since we were kids playing with mud pies, she was too skinny, too pale, and too sad. Her long brown hair had lost the luster it had in the pictures I had seen of her. Her deep, chocolate eyes had lost the light that was in them. Her once full lips were pressed into a thin line, and she bit them nervously. What had happened to the pretty girl in the pictures that Billy had shown me?

Then Billy told me and I understood.

Bella's mom had died and that was why she was back in Forks.

I had lost my mom, too, and I thought maybe I could help her. Charlie rarely let her out of his sight, but occasionally I saw her at the grocery store, picking out healthy items such as fruits and vegetables, snacks like butter-less popcorn, and the leanest cuts of meat. She drifted through the store aimlessly, like a buoy set free in the ocean. Her pretty smile was non-existent and her eyes held a glazed look that I recognized all too well.

The one day I saw her in the store, I finally approached her. "Bella?" I said hesitantly.

She turned toward me, blank confusion on her face. Then realization dawned on her. "Jake," she replied. "Um... hi. How are you?"

"Okay," I replied, scrutinizing her. I had to be careful not to mention anything that could hurt her; she looked too fragile. Maybe talking about something else would be a needed distraction for her.

"I saw you here a couple times and thought I'd come over and see if you want to hang out on the reservation tomorrow? I'm not doing anything special, but..."

She looked surprised when she nodded in agreement. I gave her a big smile, told her where to turn off in La Push, and headed for home after picking up my dad's prescription and some steaks for us to eat that night.

The following morning, I cleaned up my garage. I kicked Quil and Embry out and paced nervously. I wanted to make Bella feel better and wasn't sure if I could. When I heard the rumble of the truck I had fixed - which I hadn't known was for her until recently - I went outside to meet her. She looked so drawn and miserable. I couldn't help myself and wrapped her in a hug. She hesitated for a moment, probably wondering why the hell I was hugging her, but then she slid those thin arms around me and hugged me back.

"What do you want to do today?" I asked her, taking her hand in mine and warming it up with my own. "We can watch TV, we can go to the beach, or I could show you the car I'm building..."

Her eyebrows raised in surprise. "You're building a car?"

I nodded and led her to my garage. "It's not much..." I started to say, but she interrupted me.

"It's perfect." She settled down on the small sofa that Embry, Quil, and I had scavenged and cleaned for the garage.

I smiled, pointing out the various things I had done on the car, the parts I had found at junkyards, and went to work fiddling under the car since Bella seemed content to watch me work. She didn't talk much, so I told her about Quil and Embry, school, and whatever else came to mind. She would occasionally interject with a question or comment which showed me she was paying attention to me.

When I came out from under the car, I bit my lip. She wasn't complaining, but it didn't seem fair to keep her cooped up in here. "Do you feel like going for a walk on the beach?" I asked her.

She glanced up from the wrenches she was examining, and I was struck by how tired she looked. There were dark circles under her eyes and the soft brown of them was mixed with the redness of lack of sleep. Her eyelids looked heavy, but she nodded in assent. We walked down to the beach, digging our toes in the sand. She was so mesmerized by the swoop of the gulls that she barely noticed me taking her hand. She was still really cold.

I wanted to ask her if she was okay, but I remembered how I hated that question. No, I hadn't been okay, and I knew Bella wasn't. So, I continued to walk on the beach with her, both of us quiet as the waves lapped over our feet and then receded. "Why don't we go back and watch some television?" I finally suggested.

"Okay," she said agreeably. Her hand tightened around mine, and I took that as a good sign.

Back at the house, we sat on the couch and watched Ghost Hunters. Bella seemed comfortable pretty quickly with me, which I liked, so I put my arm around her. Billy came out of his room, eyebrows raised at me, and I shrugged slightly. Bella had fallen asleep with her head on my shoulder. I pulled the blanket off the top of the couch and carefully covered her.

"I'll call Charlie," Billy said quietly. "Maybe he'll come down for dinner since Bella is still here."

Charlie had agreed and it wasn't much later when he arrived. He came into the house, his face pinched in worry until he saw Bella fast asleep on me. "This is the first time she's really slept," he said quietly. "I don't know what you did, Jacob, but thank you."

Billy frowned slightly and glanced over at me. "We were going to ask you if you would talk to her, Jake. She's been through a lot with this and unfortunately you have that in common. I'm glad you asked her to spend some time with you; I think she needed that."

I was glad I decided to ask Bella before they asked me to.

"She doesn't want to talk," I said. "I didn't ask her, but I know. I didn't want to either. When she's ready, she will. And I'll help her because I want to, not because I was asked to." I knew they both had her best interests at heart, but I wasn't going to push her into something that could cause real damage to her. She needed to continue processing on her own.

They both looked as if they wanted to argue that point, but let it go when I refused to budge on the subject. Charlie nodded, and said, "Okay, Jacob, but if there's anything serious, will you please tell me?"

I nodded, understanding he had a right to know that.

They ordered a bunch of pizzas for dinner, one whole-wheat with all veggies, the rest regular with the works. I woke Bella up to eat and she looked at me groggily, not really aware of what was going on.

"Bells, Charlie and my dad ordered pizza for dinner. You should probably eat something; you haven't eaten anything all day."

She didn't look overly enthused at the idea, but she at least took a slice of the veggie pizza and retreated to the couch, tucking her legs under her as she picked at it. Charlie and my dad kept trying too hard to talk like everything was normal.

"I thought maybe we could go to that book store in Port Angeles you like, Bells, on my next day off. Grab a bite to eat?"

Bella sighed softly, so only I could hear, and shrugged a little. "Maybe," she agreed half-heartedly.

"Why don't I go with?" I volunteered suddenly. "We can go to the bookstore, get something to eat, and Quil and Embry might be into meeting up with us and we can go to a movie afterward. "

Charlie smiled a little as Bella thought about that and then nodded. "Why don't you kids' make a day of it then? The old men can stay home and do some fishing."

I knew it wasn't that Charlie didn't want to spend time with Bella; he just didn't know what to say to her and needed to reach that level of comfort with her in his own way. They had been separated for awhile, only seeing each other sporadically for a holiday or a couple weeks at a time.

"I'll call Embry and Quil. I think we can probably do it Friday," I said, smoothing a loose strand of her hair behind her ear.

"Okay, that sounds good," she said, looking at me out of the corner of her eye, and smiling shyly.

I felt Charlie and Billy eyeing me as well and after Charlie left and took Bella home, my dad stopped me before I headed for my room. "Jake? Be careful with, Bella," he said.

His dark eyes scrutinized me. "I'm not sure what you think of her exactly, but she's in a rough spot right now."

I gave him a look. "Seriously, Dad? I'm trying to be her friend. It's nothing more than that."

"I'm sorry, Jake. I know you're a good kid, but Charlie is really worried about her mental state right now, so I just needed to make that clear."

"Bella's dealing with it differently than I did. It doesn't mean she's mental; she's hurting and needs a distraction and a friend. Someone who isn't going to make her talk about things yet."

He raised his hands. "Okay, okay. I know you'll keep an eye on her, and I know you'll treat her right. He's just being a worried father."

"No problem, Dad," I said, giving him a smile before heading for bed.

Bella and I spent the next few days together just watching television and hanging out in the garage. The Friday we were going into Port Angeles, I gave a honk of my horn around ten in the morning, and watched as Bella opened the door. She carefully locked it behind her, looking around nervously, before heading to the car.

"Wow, she looks pretty beat," Quil commented.

I shot him a harsh glare, but he raised his hands. "Don't worry, man. I'm not saying that to be mean. I feel sorry for her, I know it's perfectly understandable, and I'm prepared to try and help her feel better."

I relaxed, and Bella slid into the front seat next to me. "Hey, Bella," Embry said with a friendly grin.

She turned around, nervously brushing her hair back, and smiled back hesitantly at Embry and Quil. "Hi," she replied quietly. "Good to see both of you again."

Bella was unfailingly polite and quiet in everything she did. I remembered her with a little spark of fire before and hoped she could get there again. She had been shy, too, though it seemed extra pronounced now. Quil and Embry talked easily with her, regaling her with stories of dates gone wrong, setting off fire crackers on the beach, and being chased by a dog they had scared in doing so.

I watched her as she turned to look at my friends, listening to them, and laughing softly at their antics. Her smile was so pretty, and I found myself determined to make her smile more. Once we reached Port Angeles, Quil and Embry promised to meet us at the diner in a half an hour. They wanted to go to the arcade, but I resisted and went with Bella to the bookstore.

She moved around, stumbling a little on the carpet, engrossed in the books on the shelves instead of where she was going. I found some car magazines and ended up finding a book that seemed pretty interesting. Bella finally emerged from the classic book aisle, two books in hand.

"I'm ready," she said.

We were walking toward the register when something caught her eye. She stopped suddenly, stumbling again, but this time I could see it wasn't good. I didn't know what she was looking at, but she was blinking rapidly, her lips pursed in such a way that she looked as if she were about to cry.

I laid a hand on her back in a futile attempt to comfort, and she surprised me by turning and burying her face against my chest. Hesitantly, I rubbed her back, holding her as if she were made of glass. I rested my chin on the top of her head and felt her shaking.

"Bella?" I asked softly.

She backed away, looking embarrassed. She hadn't been crying; she looked more like she had been in shock. "I'm okay. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" she mumbled.

I caught her hand before she could turn away. "There's no need to be sorry, Bella. I'm your friend, and you know I'm here for you."

She smiled weakly, relaxing a little. "Thanks, Jake," she replied.

We paid for our books, and I offered her my hand, which she took and we walked outside to meet Quil and Embry at the diner.

"Wow, Jake bought a book?" Quil looked gob-smacked, and I punched him in the shoulder. Bella giggled a little at us as we made our way into the warm, steamy diner.

"Oh, come on, Bella," Embry teased her. "Do you always eat healthy? Don't you want a nice, greasy burger?"

She bit her lip. "I usually eat healthy, but I have had some things that aren't so healthy before."

"Peer pressure!" Quil said, nudging her foot under the table.

She smiled a little and ordered a cheeseburger and fries like the rest of us. Quil and Embry cheered her on, making her laugh. It was good to see after that moment in the bookstore. We ate our food, and then headed to the movie theater to see some action flick. Bella insisted that she was fine with it; she promised she didn't need to see a "chick flick" as Quil and Embry put it.

In the movie, I laid my hand on the armrest, and felt her hand slide into mine. I smiled and gave it a squeeze. After the movie and on the way home, she dozed off in the car. I dropped Quil and Embry off, watching as they both said good bye to a sleepy Bella. She dozed off within seconds after they left, too. I drove her back to Billy's, still wanting to spend a little time with her, before she had to head home.

I parked the Rabbit and got out to open her door. She startled, giving a small cry, a flash of pain and grief in her eyes. "Bells," I said quietly. "It's okay, honey. We're back at my dad's."

Her face crumpled, but I could see her fighting the tears.

She got out of the car, and I pulled her in for a hug. She hugged me tightly around the waist, trying to stay calm. After a few moments, we went inside, and ate dinner with Billy and Charlie again. Charlie tried to casually ask her how our day was, and I have to admit she did her best to sound normal and told him she had a good time.

The relief on his face was palpable.

I worried about her all that night.

The next couple of weeks went by; Bella talked more, but I could see she was still out of it sometimes and she always looked so tired. The one night we were watching television at her house, she rather suddenly looked really upset. Her eyes were focused on the show, but her mouth shook with the effort of not crying.

"Bella?" I questioned softly. I wound my fingers with hers, trying to show her support.

"I miss her," she mumbled. "I miss my mom, Jake. We used to watch this show…"

She was crying now, burrowing into me. This was the first time she actually cried in front of me, so I didn't know what to do at first. When her breath shuddered out of her, I wrapped my arms around her thin frame, pulling her onto my lap without thought or hesitation. Her tears were soaking my shirt as I rubbed her back, pressing my cheek to her thick, wavy brown hair.

"Will it ever stop hurting?" she murmured against my shoulder. Her voice was thick with tears.

It hurt to hear how much she was hurting. I had to be honest, though.

"It never quite goes away, Bells. I still miss my mom, and I lost her about six years ago. It does get easier, I promise, but there's always a… hole, I guess? You know I'm here for you, though, honey."

She nodded, hiccupping. "Thank you, Jake. I just wish the pain would stop, but being with you helps."

I kissed her cheek, enjoying the feel of her soft skin. Her head turned slightly at the contact, her mouth brushing mine.

I backed away. "Bells, I'm sorry…"

She kissed me again. Suddenly, the girl on my lap, the girl who I had begun to think of as my best friend, was really kissing me. And I was kissing her back. She tasted salty and sweet, a combination of tears and the chocolate we had.

Her mouth opened under mine, and I did the same. Our breath mingled, and her hand fisted my t-shirt. I cupped the back of her head, angling my mouth to kiss her soft, full lower lip. She whimpered a little and her tongue darted out to taste me. In an instant, I was rock-hard, and I understood my dad's warning of being careful with Bella.

My hips pulsated slightly, without my consent, and the thought flew out of my head. I tried to bite back the moan. Bella's tongue had now worked its way into my mouth, and I couldn't stop tasting her. She was warm and silky, sweet and incredibly sexy. Our tongues stroked and slid, my teeth nipped at her pretty, pink lips, and she had herself pressed fully against me.

My common sense was trying to make itself known. It finally began to dawn on me just what was happening, so I pulled back before I couldn't, pressing my lips to the pounding pulse in her neck. My hand was still twisted in her hair, and I took the opportunity of tilting her head to the side more, so I could kiss and nuzzle her neck.

I had to stop.

"Bells," I said my voice thick and heavy with need. "What are we… doing?"

She looked a little dazed. My dick was so hard, it was nearly painful. "I… um," Bella stuttered.

"I'll be right back," I said. I wondered if she had any idea what she just did to me, but I carefully angled myself away from her to go into the bathroom.

I dropped my pants immediately, fisting myself. I rested the other hand on the counter, my right one jerking frantically. The need was building so damn fast I could barely keep up. My hips convulsed slightly as I felt my body stiffen. One last jerk, I yanked back the shower curtain, and came with a nerve-tingling rush.

"Oh shit," I gasped, biting back the cry that clawed at my throat as I continued to jerk in my hands.

Spent, I laid my forehead against the cool tile of the bathroom wall. I had started off wanting to just be Bella's friend, and now I was here in her bathroom, jerking off and praying she didn't know what I was doing. I quickly rinsed the tub, washed my hands, and went back downstairs.

Bella was in the kitchen, staring into the refrigerator. She turned when I came in, offering me a soda, looking confused. "Jake, I…"

"Bells, look…" I said at the same time.

I let her speak first, and she couldn't even look at me. "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me… but I do… really like you…" she whispered, a blush spreading over her face.

My insides nearly melted at her admission and the blush on her face just added to it. It had become obvious our feelings had developed without either of us really knowing it. I was worried about what Charlie and Billy would say, but now that I knew she felt the same way, I knew I was going to have to convince them. She would still heal; maybe us being together as more than friends could be a good thing for her.

I hugged her tightly, lifting her slightly off the ground.

The smile on her face made me happy. How could this be a bad thing?

Billy had been furious with me. Charlie had freaked out and barely stopped himself from locking Bella in her bedroom. We tried to reassure them.

"Dad, we didn't intend for this to happen," I promised. "I did – and still do – think of Bella as a friend. We just realized we like each other a little more than that. Nothing happened; all we did was kiss. But we talked about it and thought maybe we could start out slow."

If slow was getting a boner from having her tongue in my mouth and rubbing against me, I was so screwed.

"I just don't think this is a good idea, at least not right now," Charlie said. He wouldn't meet mine or Bella's eyes.

"We aren't rushing anything," I assured him as Billy gave me a hard look. "I'm not going to let anything happen to her."

Bella picked at the tablecloth and muttered, "Can we stop talking about me as if I'm a child? I'm sorry, Dad, but I want to be with Jake. I want to give this a try. I know you're concerned, but being near Jake, talking to him, being his best friend has helped a great deal."

Everyone was quiet, and I took her hand under the table, giving it a light squeeze.

Charlie sighed. "I'm grateful to you, Jacob, and because you've been a huge help while Bella deals with... you know... I'll allow it if Billy is okay with it, too."

Billy nodded, though he seemed a little reluctant.

As we got up, Billy said, "Be careful."

I wasn't entirely sure what he meant, and I wasn't sure I wanted to find out. Outside, in the garage, Bella and I snuggled together on the small couch. I kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her eyelids, and finally her mouth. Her head tilted back and her lips parted for me, so I took the opportunity to taste her. When her fingers undid my ponytail and her body pressed closer, I eased back. I wasn't quite ready for a repeat of what had happened the previous day… at least not yet.

"I'm really glad they both agreed, but we shouldn't push it, Bells."

She smiled. "I like the way you kiss," she told me. She looked a little embarrassed. "Your lips are perfect and they're really warm. You taste good, too."

I felt my ego nearly shoot right off the charts, but all I did was grin like a fool. "I like kissing you, too. You always taste of something sweet and you're really soft."

She curled into me, and we both sat there, content just to hold each other.

I knew Bella had a long road ahead of her in adjusting to what had happened to her. I knew I might have to be patient, to deal with some rough spots, but I felt strongly that Bella was worth the time. Falling in love with her would be as easy as breathing.

That evening, I was restless and couldn't sleep. I slipped easily out of my window, and drove to Bella's house. I wasn't planning on being gone very long – I just wanted to see her window and know she was in there – but I caught the faint sound of her crying.

I bit my lip, but I had to go in there. I climbed the big tree by her window, inching out over the thick branch. Thankfully, my growth spurt allowed me to snag her windowsill; I easily swung myself in as it was wide open. Bella was on her back under the covers, one bare leg sticking out.

Her dark hair was spread over the pillow, one pale, slim arm flung up over her head. The pose would have been incredibly sexy if it wasn't for the sad and pained look on her face. She whimpered, her head tossing slightly in sleep. I could see the tell-tale tear tracks on her cheeks.

I sat on the edge of the bed, gently stroking a hand down her bare arm. She twitched and muttered before blinking her eyes open. She started, surprised to see me, but relaxed against me when I wrapped my arms around her.

"Bells, has this been happening for awhile?" I asked, smoothing her hair back. She looked exhausted and now I knew why.

She nodded against my chest, not even lifting her head up.

"Have you told Charlie? I'm sure you could go to the doctor and get a prescription for sleeping pills."

She shook her head vigorously. "He got me a prescription for them already from my doctor, knowing I might need help sleeping, but all it does is keep me under when I'm trying to wake from the nightmares. It doesn't stop them..."

She was crying again, and I wrapped my arms even tighter around her until the tears ebbed.

"How did you get in here?" she sniffled.

"I climbed the tree and came in your window."

She eyed me in alarm. "Jake, you could've fallen! Why would you do that? Don't ever do that again; if you fell and got yourself..." She stopped, the tears starting up again.

I kissed her temple. "It's okay, I'm fine. I'll sneak up to your room if I have to, then. I'll even skip the ninth stair."

She gave a watery giggle, both of us aware that was the step that creaked loudly. "Why are you here?" she asked softly.

I shrugged. "I wanted to see you. I just felt kind of worried about you, so I thought I'd sneak out and come over just to make sure. Good thing I did."

"I'm used to it," she mumbled.

I eased her back down in bed, stretching out next to her. "How about I stay here until you fall back to sleep?"

She agreed, so I wrapped my arms around her. "Thanks, Jake," she murmured. "Being with you, holding you, smelling you; it just... helps."

I smiled as she snuggled into me and within minutes was fast asleep. I stayed as long as I thought I could get away with. I wanted to stay longer, but I didn't want to risk not being able to see Bella if I was caught when we had just gotten them to agree to let us be together. I stayed for a good two hours, at least hoping the hours I was here would help her sleep better.

I hated leaving her, but I pressed a kiss to her lips. I pulled my t-shirt off, leaving it so my scent would still linger and quietly slipped down the steps - avoiding the squeaky one - and eased out the door.

The next few days I was busy working in my garage. I wanted to save up a little more money so I could take Bella on an actual date. So, when one Friday rolled around and I had made enough money, I called her and told her we were driving into Port Angeles.

When I picked her up, she was wearing a knee-length cotton skirt and a soft, silky-looking blouse. She got into the Rabbit and smiled at me. "You've been so busy, I've been wondering what was going on."

"Sorry, Bells, but I took a few extra cars to work on because I really wanted to take you out."

"I'm not that hard to impress," she said. "I like homemade gifts and pizza, but I think it's really sweet you're doing this."

I held her hand on the way into the city. Once there, I took her to a seafood place right on the water. It was a nice place, but not too fancy. I was told they had good seafood here, and I thought Bella might like a change from the usual.

We ordered littleneck clams to split and both of us ordered salmon for the main meal. Bella told me she had been invited to a party and didn't look like she wanted to go.

"You should go," I told her. "You might have fun."

She shrugged as I paid the check. We walked around the marina, enjoying the fact that there was no rain. "I just don't think I'm ready for it. I was never one for parties."

"You don't have to go if you don't want to," I said, swinging her hand. "But it might be something you want to consider."

When we got back to Forks, I parked in front of Charlie's. He was still at work, so I took advantage of that by going inside with her. We ended up on the couch, kissing. Bella was half-sprawled on top of me, her lips moving over my neck, my hands cupping her backside.

I slid my hand under her blouse, spanning the length of her back. She felt silky to the touch. Her leg crooked over mine, and I leaned down to trace the outline of her mouth with my tongue.

"Mmm…" she hummed. I kissed her over and over, needing to pull away before I embarrassed myself.

We heard the cruiser pull up, and we sat up quickly, adjusted clothing, smoothed hair, and sat close, but not too close. When Charlie came in he eyed us for a moment, shrugged, and went into the kitchen to heat up a leftover chicken and rice casserole. I feigned a yawn.

"Well, I should be going now, I guess. I had fun tonight, Bells."

She smiled. "Me too. Thanks, Jake. Talk to you tomorrow."

I leaned down and gave her a light peck, called a goodnight to Charlie, and headed home with a contented smile curling my lips.

I bit my lip, leg jiggling up and down, as I waited for Bella's phone call. She had finally decided to go to that party and it was the night of, and I couldn't help worrying about her. She didn't have many friends and social situations were even harder for her now. I was proud of her for going, but I'd feel better when she called me and I had her here at my dad's with me. Quil and Embry were sprawled on my living room floor, arguing over a video game, and who killed who.

I sighed.

The phone rang, and I leaped for it, nearly stepping on Quil in the process. "Damn, Jake, calm down," he said, shaking his head at me.

I ignored him and answered the phone. "Um... is this... Jacob?" asked an unfamiliar female voice.

I paused, wondering who the hell I was talking to. "Yes. Who is this?"

"My name's Angela Weber. I'm with Bella and she's, uh, kind of... indisposed. She asked that I call you, though, to come and pick her up.

Worry speared through me. "Is she okay?" I demanded.

"Physically, yes. She's not hurt or anything."

I hung up. Quil and Embry were already behind me, having heard the whole exchange. I decided I wouldn't mind the back-up, so the three of us piled into my car. I treated the roads of Forks as if it was my own personal racetrack and got to the party in record time. I could see a brown-haired girl with glasses, dressed in jeans and a blouse.

She and a girl with big, curled hair, short skirt, and high heels were standing with Bella. They saw me coming and looked first surprised and then relieved. One look at Bella, and I realized the problem. Bella was a bit drunk.

"What the hell happened?" I demanded.

Angela bit her lip. "The girl who threw the party – Lauren – thought it would be fun to play a drinking game. I swear, we both tried to talk Bella out of it, but Lauren isn't exactly the nicest person. I think she was getting Bella upset, so she made a decision to go for it."

Jess leant Bella her arm so she was a little steadier. "We didn't really know what to do," she confessed. "After a couple drinks, we tried again, but she insisted on having another. That's when she asked us to call you, and we jumped on that chance immediately."

I sighed and was glad that at least these two girls had Bella's best interests at heart. I wasn't so sure about anyone else in her class due to severe lack of interest in how she was feeling.

"I'm glad you did. Thank you both for keeping an eye on her."

Angela paused before they turned to head toward their cars. "When she's a little more coherent, would you tell her we hope she feels better? I know she's been having a rough time with… everything. She's hard to get to know, though she's a sweet person. Tell her we'll call her tomorrow."

I smiled at her. "I will."

I maneuvered Bella into my car, leaving Quil and Embry to support her, and drove her back to my house. I didn't want Charlie to see her like this. She didn't say anything until I got her back to the house. My friends left once we were inside, and I realized Billy was already asleep. Grateful for small favors, I got Bella a bottle of water and an Advil.

"Here, honey, drink this. Hopefully this curbs the headache you'll get in the morning."

I watched her drink down the pill and led her into the living room. "Bells, what were you thinking?"

She hiccupped. "My mom always told me I should go an' have fun at parties, so I decided to try. Lauren said I was being a She wasn't very nice."

I wrapped my arms around her, feeling guilty for telling her she should go. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have told you to go…"

Bella kissed my neck, climbing clumsily onto my lap. "S'okay," she mumbled. "It wasn't all bad."

"Drinking won't help either," I told her, worried that she might consider that again. "It's not a good way to try and forget."

She giggled. "Think I'll turn into a drunk? You drank before, right?"

I felt her lips brush against my jaw, and I tilted her back so I could see her face. "Yeah, I've tried it, but I just don't want you to even consider it. You can barely walk sober," I said, trying to lighten the mood and tease her.

She giggled again and leaned in to kiss me. I finally kissed her back, rubbing my hands up her back, warming her up. She sighed contentedly and worked her cold, little hands under my shirt. I let her explore, tracing her fingers over the muscles of my stomach and chest.

"Hmmm," she sighed. Her tongue darted into my mouth, and I pulled her in even closer, tangling my tongue with hers. She tasted like a sweet wine, and I knew it was the alcohol she drank.

Her hips rocked slightly over mine, and I hardened instantly. Before I realized what she was doing, her hands were clumsily lifting her shirt over her head. My mouth went dry, and I couldn't take my eyes off her breasts. They were pale and small, but a perfect handful.

Her simple lacy bra showcased a slight swell of cleavage, and I couldn't resist leaning down to brush my lips over the bared skin. I heard her intake of breath and her fingers tightened in my hair as I rubbed my thumbs over the sides of her breasts, brushing them lightly over her covered nipples.

Her soft moan was highly encouraging, and I sought out her mouth again. I brushed my lips over hers again and again until she darted her tongue out. I caught it between my lips, suckling on her, loving how warm and moist her mouth was and how good she tasted.

Her hands were moving lower between us, and I could feel her start unbuttoning my jeans. "Whoa, honey," I said, catching hold of her hand. "We should probably stop."

Bella looked at me in surprise, and I was sort of surprised myself. "I want to, Jake. I want to make love to you…"

It took supreme effort, but I kept her hands in my grip. "Oh, Bells. I can't believe I'm saying this – because I want you so badly – but I don't want our first time to be when you're drunk and sad. I want it to be just about the two of us, wanting to love each other for that reason solely."

She sniffled, coming down a little from her drunken high.

I sighed. "Not to mention this really isn't the right place. My dad's asleep just down the hall."

She wouldn't meet my eyes, so I tipped her chin up. "Bells? Don't be embarrassed. It's been kind of obvious for a little while now, but I've fallen in love with you. Even when things are difficult, I love you. So, I want this to be the right time and place; I think you do, too."

She smiled a little. "I love you, too. Thanks, Jake," she whispered.

I pulled her shirt back on, holding her as she sniffled a little more. Finally, she leaned back and I kissed her lightly.

"How about I take you home now? It's almost your curfew time."

She agreed, cleaned herself up a little, and I drove back to Charlie's with her hand wrapped firmly in mine. When I parked, I pulled her in for a bear hug.

"Jake, thank you. For stopping me and for being the way you are. Oh, and for sobering me up a little.

I smiled against her hair. "I must be the craziest sixteen year old guy ever…" I sighed and she giggled.

"No, I think you're the best sixteen year old guy ever."

There had been a lot of ups and downs with Bella, with her still trying to move on with regular life. Since I had found out about her issue of sleeping, we talked often late at night to help give her good memories before she went to sleep. I always supplied her with a shirt that had my scent on it as well because that seemed to help.

I was glad that Angela and Jessica called her and tried to draw her out of her shell a bit. It took a little time, but she opened up to them more each time. I knew that she was most comfortable with me - and I thrilled at that inwardly - but I also knew she needed other friends.

Quil and Embry accepted her easily, but the three of us were so close that they just knew to try and accept her. It had happened seamlessly because they truly liked her immediately, and she them, so it worked out for everyone.

Our make-out sessions didn't change much from what they had been before the night of the party. I was careful to not let things go too far, even while craving more. I knew that typical sixteen-year old guys' masturbated, but damn, I felt as if I set a new record.

Until the day when the time was finally right.

Bella's tears and reminders had lessened, and I had taken her bowling that night. She thought that was highly amusing because of her being so uncoordinated. I didn't know the last time I laughed so hard at her attempting to throw a bowling ball down the lane. I began to help her, giving her pointers, drawing the ball back with her to roll it.

"We're going to need to work on your muscle tone," I teased her, giving her little bicep a squeeze.

She stuck her elbow in my stomach and rolled her eyes at me. I laughed as I helped her draw back and release the ball. The motion of it had me pressing against her from behind. Wow.

It never really took me long to get hard, but because it was about Bella, it was instantaneous. She turned with a wide grin on her face, having knocked down some pins.

It was adorable. It didn't matter that I had helped her; she was excited.

It was our last game, so I totaled up the scores and handed it over to her. "Well, I knew I wouldn't win, but I'm getting better, right?" she asked.

I loved her enthusiasm. "You definitely are, honey. Once we beef you up, you'll be like the Empress of Bowling."

She giggled. It was a sound I'd never get tired of hearing; things had been really rough at first and there had been instances and probably still would be instances where she had trouble dealing. So, hearing her laugh and seeing her smile come back more regularly made me happy.

We drove back to her house. Charlie was working a late shift so we had some time to spend together.

We snuggled on the couch together and watched television. I had my arms wrapped around her as she reclined against my chest.

"You know, my mom would have liked you," Bella said softly out of the blue.

I glanced down at her, judging her expression. She looked sad - and the pain was still so fresh on her face - but she didn't look as if she were going to collapse. So, I took her hand in mine, kissed the top of her head, and said, "She would have?"

Bella nodded, her eyes unfocused as she remembered something. Her smile was small, but it was there. "She always tried to convince me to start dating, but I didn't like anyone enough in Phoenix. She liked to talk about boys and she'd tell me I had to give her the details when I had my first kiss."

Bella's smile faltered. "I never got to tell her it was perfect. She won't ever get to meet you, to see who got my first kiss, and who I'm in love with."

I tilted her chin up and kissed her lightly. "Honey, I'm sure your mom is happy for you. I have no doubt she's looking over you. I also have no doubt that my mom would have loved you, too. She was quiet, loving, and I know you would have been pretty close to perfect in her eyes. In fact, you remind me of her in a way; you both have the same type of personality."

She smiled at that. "And you're a little more outgoing and will talk about anything, kind of like how my mom was."

She turned and kissed me again. It didn't take long for us to end up wrapped together under the blanket, kissing and touching. I tickled my fingers along Bella's stomach, feeling her body quiver at the touch. Her hand met mine under the blanket, guiding it distinctly lower. Surprised, but thrilled, I obliged her by stroking my fingers between her legs. It didn't matter she was wearing jeans; her hips still bucked at my touch.

"Jake, I want to make love to you," she said on a gasp. "Will you take me to bed?"

The lust that shot straight to my groin collided with the portion of my brain that struggled to be logical. I looked closely at her; all I saw was desire and love. There was no pain, no desire to forget. She wanted me, just me, and that was what I had been waiting for. I sat up abruptly, picking her up still wrapped in the blanket, and carried her upstairs.

"I didn't really mean that literally," she muttered.

"It beats you tripping up the steps and possibly hurting yourself before we even do the deed," I said, trying to make light of the fact that I was about to have sex with Bella.

She rolled her eyes at me, but I could see a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

I laid her on her bed, moving over top of her, as I disposed of my shirt. My heart was banging in my chest as I leaned down to press kisses to every bit of skin exposed. The soft fluttering of her released breath brushed over my mouth as I kissed her. My hands shook as I stroked them down her neck, over her shoulders, and down her sides to the bottom of her shirt.

She lifted her arms as I pulled her shirt up and over her head. I was again mesmerized by her pretty breasts encased in soft lace. I leaned down, kissing my way over the swells, dipping between them, and breathing in her scent of vanilla and strawberries.

My fingers shook a little as I fumbled to open her bra.

"God, you're so pretty," I said when they lay bare before me.

She blushed, looking as if she wanted to cover up at first, but I held her hands away from her body. I made a feast of her pale, rosebud-tipped breasts, drawing them into my mouth experimentally. Her soft whimpers and moans spurred me on until she began tugging at my pants.

"Jake, take them off," she ordered. I loved this bossy side of her.

I unbuttoned my pants eagerly, gauging Bella's reaction when I removed them. Her eyes had widened a little and had me grinning from ear to ear. Her hand reached out to touch me, and I nearly jerked in response. Her fingers explored, rubbing the tip, and encircling my dick. I squeezed my eyes shut as my body throbbed in response to the light touch.

"Bells, you have to stop or I'll go crazy," I told her quietly. "I want to be inside you."

She turned red again. Smiling, she arched her hips up and began removing her pants. I eagerly helped her, sliding them down, and hooking my fingers into her little cotton panties. The soft mound of curls was before me, and I swallowed hard. I traced my fingers over the insides of her thighs, edging closer and closer.

Bella was squirming under me until my fingers finally delved between the soft folds. My heart felt like it had stopped beating when I felt how warm and wet she was. Her hips rocked up, trying to get closer to me.

"Jake," she begged. "I want you…"

I pressed a kiss to the side of her knee, to the softness of her inner thigh, and heard her give a quiet, breathless squeal when I kissed between her thighs. I wanted to linger, to taste her more, but I was on a mission.

Bella was tantalizing without any clothes on, and I couldn't stop myself from touching every inch of her. When she started doing the same to me, I could feel my vision go blurry from lack of oxygen. She giggled and told me to breathe.

Smiling, I crooked her knee so she had one leg around my waist as I moved up to kiss her pink, parted lips. The kiss was wet, as were my fingers as I kept them engaged in touching her. She was squirming under me, her nails biting into my shoulders.

It dawned on me then that I hadn't thought to bring any protection. Bella saw the look on my face, deduced what the problem was, and reached out for the drawer in her night stand.

"Here," she said shyly, pulling out a strip of condoms.

My eyes widened as her blush deepened to encompass not just her face but her chest as well. "Been thinking about this for awhile?" I couldn't resist teasing her as I ripped off a square and opened it.

Fumbling, I managed to unroll it onto myself with Bella's help. I leaned down, lightly licked her lips, and whispered, "Tell me to stop if it hurts too much, okay?"

She nodded, and I got myself situated, and began to push as carefully as I could into her. The heat and the feel of her gripping me was nearly my undoing, but I struggled to hold back. She winced, and her body tightened.

"Bells?" I questioned.

"Just a minute," she murmured. "It hurts."

I bit my lip, worried, ready to back off when she wound her arms around me. "Don't," she said. "It's okay, just go slow."

I continued and soon was fully inside of her. I gave her a minute to adjust and then the slight crease of pain on her face eased and she tightened her legs around my waist. I carefully pulled back and moved forward again; the friction was unbelievable, and I was afraid I was going to explode any minute. I kissed her and carefully rolled us over so she was on top. She looked surprised, but I rubbed a thumb over her nipple.

"Maybe it's better if you have control, honey," I told her. "You'll know when you need to back off."

She began to move slowly, uncertain of the new position, and I could see her wince a little. She found a rhythm, though, and the sight of her moving on top of me had me transfixed.

"Bella, I'm not going to last," I gasped, gripping her hips as she slid back down onto me.

Her mouth brushed mine. "It's okay, Jake. You don't have to try and hold back."

With one more thrust up into her, I held onto her, kissing her breasts while I orgasmed. I reached down to help her along, a little embarrassed I couldn't hold out, and whispered, "Tell me what you want."

Her hand covered mine, guiding me down to the right spot. It only took a few strokes and pinches. She had her head back and a small cry escaped her as I took pride in bringing her to climax. I gently lifted her off me; she settled next to me, head on my chest, and I wrapped my arms around her waist and slid them up her back to hold her as close as possible.

"Thank you," she murmured against my neck. "You made that pretty amazing, Jake. I love you."

Her lips found mine, and I cupped her face. "You did that, too, honey. We were pretty fucking hot," I said.

She laughed, draping an arm over me. We stayed there until Charlie came home, and I slipped out before he discovered me. On the way home, I couldn't keep the smile off my face. I was starving, too, so I made a sandwich and grabbed a slice of leftover pizza when I heard my dad wheel into the kitchen.

"Jake?" he sounded suspicious.

When I turned to look at him, a huge wedge of sandwich in my mouth, he sighed. "Oh, Jake, you didn't. Please tell me you were safe."

I nearly choked on my sandwich. After I swallowed, I stared at him. He knew I slept with Bella? How?

"Of… of course I was."

He rolled his eyes at my look of stupefaction. "Jake, I'm your father. I know you almost as well as you know yourself. So, yes, I'm aware. Are you sure that was such a good idea, Jake?"

I felt kind of awkward, but I told him the truth. "Dad, I was the one to put it off until I knew for certain it was about us, not about Bella wanting to feel better or to forget something that hurt her. It was about us, that's all. I love her."

A small smile curled his mouth. "You did that? I'm proud of you, son. I'm sorry, I just worry about this situation, but according to what you just told me, that shows me you do love her. That's pretty impressive for a sixteen year old."

I smiled back, feeling heat in my own face this time. "Thanks," I murmured. "I'm not just in this for one thing only. I really care about her."

His face softened. "I can see that. I can also see she cares a great deal about you. I don't want you to think I don't like Bella; I really do."

I nodded. "I get it, dad. But, um, you aren't going to tell Charlie… are you?"

He snorted. "Please. Hell no. He'll not only kill you, but probably me as well."

We both laughed, and I shook my head as I headed to my bedroom. I went to bed with a huge smile on my face.

One autumn morning, I woke with a feeling that there was something important going on. I rolled over in bed, reaching for Bella and about to doze off again, when I realized what it was. It was the year anniversary of Bella's mom's death.

Charlie and Billy had finally relented and let us occasionally share a room at one of their houses as long as the door was wide open, but Bella wasn't in bed with me at the moment. I didn't hear her out in the kitchen either. I sat up, realized it was almost nine in the morning. I padded out into the kitchen to see a plate ready for warming on the stove with three pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and a piece of toast with the butter and jelly jar right next to it.

I shook my head, smiling, as I picked up her note. She told me to eat first, so I warmed it up and ate quickly. I filled two thermoses with heated milk and two packs of instant hot chocolate. A note on the table for my dad, and I was out the door.

I drove to the Forks cemetery, knowing that's where Bella would be.

I picked up the bag in which I had a small container, water, and flowers in and trekked through the well-tended cemetery. Bella's mom was buried in Phoenix, but we all had the same thought of setting up a memorial stone in her honor in Forks since she had lived here, and had given birth to Bella here. It just seemed fitting and it helped Bella to have somewhere to go when she wanted to visit with her mom.

As I wound my way around the headstones, the red, orange, and yellow leaves continued to float down off the trees in the light breeze and coat the ground. I breathed in deep and caught the faint whiff of wood-smoke. It was a really pretty spot; surrounded by the forest and well-tended lawns and off the beaten path. Bella was sitting in the grass, knees drawn up to her chest, when I reached her.

I rested a hand on her shoulder, kneeling next to her and handing her a thermos. She leaned against my side as we sat there in silence.

"I can't believe it's been a year," she said quietly. "It still feels like yesterday." Her lips quivered and a tear trickled down her cheek.

I breathed out a quiet sigh, rubbing her back. "Like I told you when we first started spending time together, it never really goes away. It does get better, and the first year is always the hardest. It's the first everything without them."

She sniffled, and I handed her a tissue. "I never thought about it like that," she mumbled. "The holidays were hard this year, my birthday... so many little things, too, but you're right, I got through them. God, I miss her so much. I'm so grateful I had you - and Charlie, my friends, and yours - to help me. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Jacob Black."

I smiled, winding our fingers together. My smile widened a little when I saw Charlie and Billy at the entrance to the cemetery, along with Quil, Embry, Angela, and Jessica.

"I probably am," I said, making her smile, "but I can't take all the credit."

I turned her toward the entrance and heard her gasp softly. "They..." she couldn't finish her sentence.

She threw herself into Charlie's arms and he hugged her tightly. "You're here," she stated.

"Of course we are, honey. I miss talking to your mom, and it made me so sad to lose the woman who gave me you, the woman I had loved. And she meant the world to you, so of course I would be here."

Quil, Embry, Jessica, and Angela had asked me if it was okay to show up; them showing up all at once was just coincidence. They all hugged Bella, offering kind words to her and to the memory of her mother, and we all stood by the head stone, lost in thought and supporting Bella.

They made their exit shortly after, leaving the two of us alone again. I pulled out the container and the flowers, bright red and orange ones, and showed them to her. The tears started again, but I knew they were cathartic tears, so I just held her while she wept. It made me think of my mom, and I felt tears gather in my own eyes as we mourned and missed the loss of two women who gave us life and so much more.

"Thank you," she whispered hoarsely.

She took the flowers, carefully separated them into two bundles, and handed me the one. Smiling through her tears, she said, "I want to go to the La Push cemetery and share these flowers with your mom. I think they should share the same bouquet."

I swallowed with difficulty as I held them. I stared down at Bella and felt a tear make its way down my cheek.

"Jake? Thank you for being you. Thank you for helping me through all this; it's more than I could have asked for especially considering how young we still are. You are an amazing person, and I'm grateful to have you, to love you."

She bit her lip to try and keep the quivering under control. "After it happened, and still on occasion, I feel like I'm looking at the world through a veil and everything looks gray… but when I'm with you, you're like the sun, a bright splash of color in my life and you help draw me out of the shadows."

"I love you," I said softly, handing her a single, bright-red rose.

She smiled and we gazed at the glistening color of it. "I love you, too."

We stood there together, wrapped in each other's arms, as the gray clouds lightened and the soft blue sky shone down. As long as we had each other, we would handle life as it came.