Author's Notes: Written for the fic exchange at theair_thesun on LiveJournal. My recipient requested the following three things: 1) "Are you afraid that I'm getting too much attention?" / "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to hurt somebody." 2) Quembry, incriminating scene, "This isn't what it looks like." 3) "You will not distract me with your feminine wiles. Begone, temptress." She also requested there be no zombie!Bella, and no Breaking Dawn. This ought to fit the bill.
Quiet summers in Jacob's garage are never as quiet as they seem.
The Lodgepole Pines no longer scream with monsters and magic, sighing now only with cool June breezes in their needles; and the too-small house in the woods hasn't heard any shouting since the last Mariners game. Everyone sleeps without worry, without fear, without any sense of the urgency of a timer running out that had become all too familiar for different reasons. They have reached the lull, now, that comes after school has let out, after the immediate rush of need for frenzied activity to fill the newfound freedom has suddenly, bewilderingly, been satisfied.
Billy Black thinks that this summer is going to be the quietest of all, because even with the TV muted, he hasn't heard the sounds of car engines or relaxed chatter through the single-pane windows of the living room.
This is because Jacob secretly spent his senior year soundproofing the garage. It was the only project involved enough—there wasn't even any drywall—to keep his mind off of Bella, who was away at college and waiting for him to hurry up and graduate high school so that he could join her.
They have the summer first, though, as they always do.
Quiet summers are never as quiet as they seem, because while Bella hasn't had a nightmare in years, she laughs every single day that Jacob is around, and even on the days he isn't. Sometimes, she's surprised that people don't hear them cackling together all the way in Forks, and come to take them away, because no one who sounds that happy can possibly be sane—even though she's never felt more sane in her life, her mind and senses entirely unclouded and the world in a crisp, natural imperfection that pleases her.
Then she remembers the drywall, and God only knows what else Jacob has tacked up around the garage. She had eyed it suspiciously at first, her lips twisting to hold back the first thought that had popped into her head, until he told her, "I was bored, Bells. I wasn't, y'know, implying that we're going to need it, or anything."
This had been exactly what Bella had been thinking, though she's not planning on telling him about it until the end of the summer. They're taking things slow, ever since she discovered there was more monster in the magic, and magic in the monster. Sometimes it feels like all they ever do is wait for each other, only the waiting doesn't hurt anymore, not like it used to.
They had both blushed, and Jacob had begun a vigorous search for a missing wrench.
"Of course we're going to need it," Bella had called out, a beat too late, over the sounds of metal tools clinking together as they were shoved aside. She had been glad there was still a little bit of werewolf left in him—a little bit of something that made him tougher than he should be—because whatever it was that he dropped on his foot looked like it would have seriously injured a normal person.
"For all our epic games of Scrabble and Pictionary," she clarified innocently, with a smile to match. "I know how competitive you and Quil get when there are stick-figure cats on the line."
"Right," he'd said, a little shakily, a little dryly, a little bit excuse-me-while-I-pop-my-eyeballs-back-into-my-head. "Right, Bells. That's exactly what we're going to need it for."
She catches him looking at her sometimes like he knows what she's planning, but then again, he probably does.
Then again, she doesn't mind. It's the natural path, after all, which she's determined to take at a reasonable pace instead of a frenzied sprint.
Quiet summers are never as quiet as they seem, because two years of college haven't made Bella anymore graceful than she'd been in high school. Two years of college have simply made her curses more imaginative as she trips over something, or skids across a puddle of oil that nobody—nobody!—else would ever have a problem avoiding because it's so small.
Just because it's small, though, doesn't mean it isn't messy. Even Jacob can concede to that. Oil is like tree sap, clinging to your skin after a single drop, spreading from your fingertip to your entire hand before you know it, if only to remind you where you have been, what you have done. The scents of both will linger for days, if you let them. The garage has smelled like wood and sap ever since May, and even though he's gotten used to the scent, it's difficult not to notice it once he's stepped outside and discovered it's still lingering on his hair, his clothes, his skin. Bella spends at least three days a week in Jacob's garage, and usually more. A part of him hopes she'll keep smelling like sap and oil forever.
A part of him thinks that she'll start smelling that way because she'll fall into some random open pit at the gas station and almost drown, and then she'll run into a tree. Repeatedly. Bella never does anything the easy way, though Jacob always admires her for it—at least, when the hard way isn't the one that will kill her.
He used to think that her life had been so hard, that it was the only thing she knew, and that was why she climbed over mountains when she could have simply gone around. But it runs deeper than that. Satisfaction for Bella doesn't come from shortcuts; it comes from trying as hard as you possibly can, all the time, so that you can know for certain that you've truly earned everything you've gained. The thing he's grateful for every day is that Bella will never, ever give up again, unless she believes it's the only option. When that option is giving up on herself, Jacob is always there with a laundry list of options ready—though usually, half of them are ludicrous suggestions he keeps around just because they'll make her smile. He remembers what it's like when Bella gives up on herself, and on everything, when the seed of her soul rattles around inside of her like a dried husk, and it's something he's made a vow never to see again.
Bella looks about ready to give up on herself right now, but not in a way that worries him. She's laughing, for one thing, or at least, about to laugh; he can see it poised in the twitch in the corner of her lips, the resigned roll of her eyes. There's oil all down the back of her shirt, a weirdly straight line of it, like someone's run her over with a wet tire in a cartoon, and parts of it wrap their black fingers around her sides like someone with messy hands is trying to slow-dance with her from behind. Her jeans are totally and completely clean, except for a few dirty handprints and streak marks she'd put there herself (and one or two that Jacob had done for her; he's got matching ones on his own shorts). How she managed to slip onto her back first is something he can only imagine (and something that, when he starts to, makes him want to hiss through clenched teeth and forget about immediately; she's less fragile than everyone gives her credit for, but still).
"I think I got oil all over your garage floor," she says.
"I think you got oil all over your shirt," he replies, matching her conversational tone and almost-straight face.
Then they both crack up like a couple of dumb kids, wildly, immaturely, irrationally, and Jacob knows that neither of them cares. At least the garage is soundproof.
"You should change," he suggests after a while.
She sticks out her bottom lip. "Aw, but I thought you liked me for who I am."
"Ha ha. Very funny."
"I crack you up," she says sagely.
"You crack me up," he agrees. "Do you have another shirt? Trust me, it's gonna suck if that starts dripping down your jeans. You'll get an oily..." He stops. His thoughts are going a place he definitely didn't mean them to, and which he wouldn't mind going to, if Bella weren't standing (or rather, sitting) right there.
"Jacob Black, are you seriously trying to feed me a cautionary tale about oily butts?"
He flashes her a grin. "Maybe."
"Well, I'll take it to heart. Though, unlike somebody I know, I don't store a whole lot of laundry in my car, so there's not really much I can do about it."
"Hey!" He crouches down beside her, providing her with a way to get up without actually doing it for her. She's a little bit embarrassed, like she always is every time she trips, and helping her too much would just make it worse. Besides—the hard way, no longer the helpless victim, et cetera, et cetera.
Bella anchors her hand on his shoulder, then pushes herself up. He looks up at her for a moment or two, the way her long brown hair starts to curl once it passes below her shoulders, the way her lips are slightly parted as if she's about to say something important, the way there's a smudge of oil on her cheek, the way her eyes have gone from bitter dark to milk chocolate to something that's even richer and sweeter that he's only ever seen on her, and thinks that this is better than a picture, because no photographer on earth could ever make her look as alive as she does right now.
Quiet summers are never as quiet as they seem, because Jacob is probably going to break something if he keeps dropping his tools.
"Holy shit, Bells."
Warmth rushes into Bella's cheeks, and she does feel slightly sheepish (if only for a moment), before steeling herself as best she can against her self-consciousness. She's been saving this for the opposite of a rainy day, and it won't do her any good to lose the courage she's been building up to for so long. Besides, it feels good to surprise Jacob. He knows her so well that surprises are almost impossible to come by.
The way he's staring at her doesn't hurt, either.
Nervously, Bella tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's all I had," she says with a shrug, and it's actually the truth. She doesn't keep clothes in her car the way Jacob does. This shirt happened to have still been in the bag she bought it in months ago. It's not even as if it's that bad, though. It's just a little skintight, and a little low-cut. Maybe a lot low-cut, actually, with little ruffles on the cap sleeves, and in a brighter color than she's ever worn in her life. But it isn't too girly (it's in a shade of blue), or too impractical (the fabric is soft and stretchy, not stiff and hard to wash); she'd actually liked it when she'd bought it, and still likes it now. It's feminine but mature, like the woman she believes she can become.
Maybe it's Jacob's expression that distracts her just enough, or simply her usual clumsiness, because when she starts across the garage to the place she likes to sit to hand Jacob things—the tools whose names she's almost entirely memorized—she trips over a lawnmower, and catches her jeans against something on the nearby workbench. A great ripping sound fills the silent garage, and for one horrified second, Bella thinks she's torn her shirt. But no; her hands search the fabric of her shirt, and it's fine, just fine.
Her jeans are not. After steadying herself with one hand on the workbench, she peers down at her legs, to see one an enormous slash in her jeans, right across the thigh. The skin underneath is unscathed, only slightly red. She lifts her leg to inspect the hole further, but that only makes the hole even wider.
"Holy shit, Bells," Jacob repeats, but this time sounding awed for a different reason. "You've decapitated your pants."
"Almost decapitated," she corrects. "There's a solid two inches on the back that hasn't ripped."
"And let me guess. That shirt really was the only extra clothing you had in your car."
Jacob wipes his hands on a spare cloth tucked into his pocket. "Rachel and Rebecca probably have some of their old clothes in their room. We can go look, if you want."
Bella shakes her head. "It's fine, really. I'll just..." She ponders the rip, how it makes almost an entire leg of her jeans flap uselessly every time she takes another step. That won't do. She begins to tug on the unripped part. "I'll just finish what I started."
Except it makes it a bit difficult to stay upright.
"Whoa, there," Jacob says. "At least sit down."
Bella considers it, then realizes it's probably for the best. Positioned with her back against the workbench, it'll give her a better angle for ripping and tearing. When she's on the ground, she digs her keys out of her pocket and uses them to hack at the strip of fabric connecting the near-severed leg of her jeans. Jacob squats down in front of her, watching her with amusement.
"What are you doing?" he asks when she starts stabbing at the other leg of her jeans. She wishes he wouldn't sound so alarmed—she's not going to hurt herself. Probably not, at least.
"I have to match, don't I?"
"I guess. You would look kinda weird if you went out looking like this."
Bella saws at her jeans a bit more. "It'd make me off-balance."
Jacob chuckles. "Hate to break it to ya, Bells, but you already are off-balance. It's how you got here in the first place."
"You mean, on the floor of your garage with one decapitated pant-leg and another being fruitlessly stabbed to death with my car keys?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
Bella frowns as she resumes her work. It's difficult for her to back down once she sets her mind to something, but the angle is still all wrong, and she feels stupid; she should've asked for a pair of scissors. If she were the sort who always carried one, she'd probably keep a pair in her purse, but of course, she isn't and doesn't. Bella will carry a purse when it's practical to do so, and it will never be when going to Jacob's house. She isn't sure why, only that maybe there's no reason to hide things away, here, to jumble them all together to be forgotten.
"Um," she starts. "Jake, can you maybe... help me?"
He takes the key hesitantly when she holds it out to him, and then weighs it in his palm, as if she has just handed him some fascinating specimen, rather than a tool to destroy one of her favorite pairs of jeans.
"Um," he says right back at her. "I can't really..."
She looks to where he's looking, and her blush matches his.
"Right," she says, shifting her legs so that he can get to her pant-leg more easily. He lowers himself to his knees and sits, scooting forward until he's as barely between her legs as he can be. Key in hand, he leans forward, face intent. As he works, Bella can feel his breath seeping through the slash in her jeans, the warmth of his palm spread unconsciously on her thigh to steady his workspace. Jacob handles her delicately when he needs to, but that isn't all the time, and she will always, always appreciate that more than she will ever say. This, however, is a time when gentleness is important—when Bella wouldn't have it any other way, how he touches and breathes and tries his hardest not to free her from the embarrassment of lopsided jeans, but to help her complete the task she's decided she must do.
The moment when Bella closes her eyes is, of course, the moment Quil and Embry burst into the garage.
"Hey Jake!" Quil calls brightly. Bella's eyes fly open. "We figured we'd find you out—"
He stops dead.
"Oh my God," says Embry, taking nervous steps backward as he speaks—though never, Bella notes wryly, tripping over anything. "We are so, so going to be knocking next time."
Having sat up abruptly at Quil and Embry's arrival, Jacob smacks his forehead. "This isn't what it looks like, I swear," he groans. Bella covers her mouth in mortification.
"Right," Quil says, looking unconvinced, though there's a sly grin starting across his face. "You mean, you weren't just—"
"Bye," Embry interrupts, and grabs the collar of Quil's shirt to drag him backward toward the exit. Quil tries to break free of his hold.
"Hang on!" he protests. "We came here for a reason!" He stops with his arms mid-struggle. "Rachel says to tell you that you two lovesick freaks—hey man, her words, not mine—were supposed to be on the beach twenty minutes ago, and that we've started the barbecue without you, because everyone is starving. She would also like you to note that it's your own fault if you don't get any hot dogs."
"Well." Jacob coughs. "Message received."
With that, Quil shoots a glance at Embry's I-would-love-to-be-anywhere-but-here-please-God-please expression, nods at Jacob, winks at Bella, and lets himself be dragged out of the garage.
It's several minutes before either Jacob or Bella speaks.
"Um," says Bella. "Do you have any scissors? I think I can take it from here if you do."
Quiet summers are never as quiet as they seem, because for once, Bella is dressed rather too appropriately for the unseasonably warm summer weather. Jacob blames himself for not thinking of the scissors sooner.
"Are you afraid that I'm getting too much attention?" Bella asks him with a smirk, after Quil takes one look at her and dramatically screeches something about distractions, feminine wiles, and begone, temptress, and Seth has to wave his hand in front of more than one set of eyes to stop them from staring.
"I'm afraid that I'm going to have to hurt somebody," Jacob mutters.
"I can't believe you gave me short-shorts!" She bumps one short-short-clad hip against his leg (it used to be that when she did that, she'd bump his hip, too; he's been taller than her for a long time, though).
"Excuse me? You gave yourself short-shorts. I was just trying to match your handiwork."
"Uh huh. Then why did I have to fix the side I did after you'd finished?"
"Because you did that side with your car key?"
"Huh. Fair enough."
"And I had absolutely nothing to do with that shirt." The shirt that would make her look unbearably sexy even if it weren't so low-cut.
Bella looks up to smirk at him again, and his stomach clenches. The smirk is a highly pleased, that's-what-you-think smirk, he's sure of it—though he really isn't sure if that means what he thinks it means.
It's a little bit funny, and a little bit amazing, but the Bella he knew in high school would probably have been kind of hiding behind him by now, clinging to his side like a carpet of moss (not that he would have minded, deep down). She could always be herself in front of him—always as bold as she pleased—but she would turn shy sometimes if she drew too much notice to herself, if she realized the way other people looked at her. College-Bella, however, smirks and even sways her hips at Quil once, shocking Quil and Jacob both, laughing at their expressions, blushing prettily at the attention, but not shrinking from it. She's enjoying it, not preening in it, but it's like she's leaning her face into the sun after forcibly keeping it in the shade, finally learning to let herself be.
Even if, a few minutes after swaying her hips at Quil, she ducks her head into Jacob's shoulder and mutters, "Oh, God, did I seriously just do that?"
Jacob snorts. "You're kind of ruining the effect here, Bells."
"That's okay. I am attracting too much attention."
He slips his hands around hers, still so much bigger than hers, still a perfect fit. "Nah," he says. "And anyway, you're loving it."
She blushes. "I kind of am, actually. It's... different."
"Psh." He releases one of her hands to brush a lock of hair from her face. "This isn't as different as you think. You just happen to be noticing it for once. And. Well. Short-shorts."
"Oh, God," she repeats, ducking her head into him again, but she's smiling and unapologetic, and he wonders briefly whose fault the short-shorts actually are. They've been taking things slow, but he's just now realizing that it gives Bella plenty of time to plan.
The sand is warm beneath their feet, though the ocean is cool as the evening breezes begin to roll from it. The lull in activity that had occurred when he and had Bella stepped onto the beach has returned to its steady flow, frisbees flying, chatter swelling with the crashing waves. The scent of the roasting hot dogs wafts through the air to meld with the oil-and-sap smell coming from Bella, pressed against his chest (comfortably, but not hiding, not anymore). She can probably hear his heart beating; he can feel hers, alive and fluttering. Everything is so quiet in comparison.
"Hey," he whispers. "Wanna really get their attention?"
She leans back. "If this involves a repeat of earlier..."
"Nah," he says again, and is faintly proud of himself for not sounding embarrassed. "No repeats. Repeats get boring."
"Repeats, like repeatedly spending all day in your garage this summer?"
He shakes his head. "That's not a repeat. That's a lifestyle choice."
Bella puts her hands on her hips. "Well, thanks for clearing that up. I'd hate to think I was boring."
"Never boring," he promises.
"I know," she says, "and I can prove it."
Jacob frowns. "You know you don't have to, you know—"
She puts her finger to his lips, and lets it trail down along his chin. "I know," she tells him. "I'm trying to make a lifestyle choice right now to make out with you until we can't breathe and everyone stares at us because we're so obnoxious, but you're kind of ruining the effect here."
"Ah." He grins at her. "Then I now renounce any and all of my effect-ruining ways, so that you can carry on with your brilliant scheme without anything to stop you."
"Excellent," she says.
Quiet summers are never as quiet as they seem, not while Bella Swan is around to stay. But really, Jacob thinks at the feel of her lips against his, the comfortable pressure of her arms around his neck, the strong and steady beat of her heart against his chest, there are worse things.