BELLA'S GUITAR

Set during NM after Edward leaves. Jake has not phased yet. Canon date would be Jan. 24, 2006.


Author's Note:

Welcome.

Bella's Guitar is a full-length novel. The plot: Bella falls for Jacob. Who wouldn't?

But that's not all. This novel comes complete with themes and symbolism, multi-generational plot arcs, at least three sub-plots, a portrait of a town, and a bunch of irreverent literary allusions to make book nerds like myself laugh. Oh, and there are comically angsty songs that Bella writes on her guitar. What I'm saying is that this is a piece of writing I have worked seriously hard on because I want to provide you with kick-ass reading material.

Full disclosure: there will be no hot werewolf sex in Jacob's garage by Chapter Two. Sorry. Not that there's anything wrong with hot werewolf sex in Jacob's garage. In any garage, really. Mmm, mmm. I'm just saying that this novel takes its time letting the characters build strong connections with each other.

So if you're looking for a novel (a pretty fucking funny one, if I do say so), then you might like this one. Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, its recognizable situations, and its characters. I am not profiting from this work of fan fiction. Rated M for language, themes, and sexual situations.


Bella's Guitar

Chapter One

"The Gift"

One Saturday toward the end of January, as Bella was chewing her way through an obligatory bowl of cereal—gotta eat something, she supposed—Charlie took a seat across from her and pushed his coffee cup from side to side for a bit. Behind him, through the window, snow fell wetly in the yard and melted in the soggy grass. It was cold, but not cold enough for the snow to stick.

"Harrumph," said Charlie. He flipped the paper open, then back to the front page. He made a few more throat-clearing sounds. It was early still, and since he'd had the day off from work yesterday, he really hadn't used his voice in almost thirty-six hours. "Hawphhh..."

Bella kept chewing. She ate because Charlie would notice if she didn't. Mechanically lifting the spoon to her lips, she watched the red and black square pattern on her plaid, wool shirt cuff approach and recede. Up and down went the shirt. Big and small went the squares. Huh, she thought, it's like my arm is feeding my body even though my mind doesn't care. Stupid arm.

"So," began Charlie at last. He spoke quietly, in the kind of voice hikers use to avoid startling flighty wildlife. "You, uh, gonna be hanging out with Jacob again today?"

Bella looked up. "Huh?"

"Jacob. You gonna see him today?"

"Oh," said Bella. "Yeah. Yeah, I am." For a moment there, she wondered if her father was on to her. Had he somehow found out about the motorcycles? She and Jake had been working on them for over a week now.

"Well, that's real good," Charlie continued. "You seem a little better lately."

"I guess." It seems he wasn't about to ground her. What was this about then?

"So," Charlie began again, then stopped. He looked at her bowl of cereal. "You about done?"

She looked down. How long had the bowl been empty? Had she been shoveling air into her mouth for the past five minutes?

"Yeah," she blinked. "Done."

Charlie took her bowl and put it in the sink. "Come 'ere," he said, and strode into the living room. Reaching beside his recliner, he lifted up a scuffed brown guitar with a green plastic bow around the fretboard. "Merry Christmas," he said. He held it out to her, but his eyes were trained on the coffee table, as if he didn't want to see her reaction.

She stood there with a little pucker in her brow. "Ch—Dad, it's January."

He looked at her.

"I mean, um, thanks?" She grasped the instrument around the neck like she might have held a dead goose and sat down on the couch with it.

"I know it's January, Bells." He ran a hand through his closely cropped hair. "I gave this to you for Christmas, but you—well, I thought it might help with—I guess you weren't ready."

Christmas... Bella thought. I think I forgot about that. Did I give him a present? Oh, crud...

Bella picked at the bow with her fingernails. It made a whispery, scratchy sound against the strings. "I don't know how to play the guitar, Dad."

"Neither did I," said Charlie.

He turned away for a moment, and in the wintry light that highlighted his profile as he looked out the window, Bella noted that there were a few more white hairs in his mustache than she remembered from before. Before Edw—before he left. She gripped her stomach as the pain snarled within her.

"You know, after your mother left...with you...I was pretty messed up," said Charlie. "For a long time." He heaved a sigh and flicked a finger toward the mantle. Among the many framed photos there, including almost all of Bella's school pictures since kindergarten, Bella saw the picture of the people she knew were Charlie's parents. Two gray-haired people on the porch steps of a single story brick house. "You remember your grandma?" Charlie continued. "She gave me this." And he gestured to the guitar now balanced awkwardly across Bella's lap.

"This was Grandma's?"

"Yeah, she wasn't a big singer, just played some stuff for the kids in Sunday school before she got sick. Said she wanted me to have it after things ended with Renee."

He took a sip of his coffee.

Bella still wasn't sure how this applied to her.

"I wrote some songs," Charlie continued. "God, they were horrible. Horrible songs. But after a while, I felt better about things. I thought maybe you could, you know..." He waved at the guitar again while Bella stared at him.

"You wrote songs?" she finally asked.

"Yeah."

"About Mom?"

"Yeah, some of them. Okay, most of them. It was cathartic."

She kept staring.

"Cathartic," said Charlie again. "It means—"

"I know what it means, Dad. I just—you think I should write songs?"

Charlie got up and walked into the hallway. She could hear the quiet clicks as he secured his gun holster to his side. When he returned, he was stuffing his arms into his uniform parka. His face was red. "Okay," he said, "bad idea, maybe. I just thought it might help." He turned toward the door. "I'll be back around six tonight."

Bella stood up then and followed him to the front of the house. She held the guitar stiffly at her side. "Wait," she said.

He turned to her, his hand on the doorknob.

"Um, thanks."

Charlie may have smiled a bit beneath his mustache. "You're welcome," he said, and stepped out into the cold.

Bella carried Charlie's coffee mug to the sink and rinsed it out. Then she squirted some dish soap onto a rag and washed the mug, her cereal bowl, and her spoon. She set them in the drying rack and wiped her hands on an old yellow towel that had probably been there, she thought, since Renee.

Back in the living room, she picked up the guitar. She turned it over; she turned it from left to right. Which hand held the neck part, she wondered, and which hand did the strumming? She passed her fingers over the wiry strings.

Twang.

Tring.

Twaiiiiinnnggg.

This guitar sounded awful.

Of course it was awful. She was awful. She was so awful that Edward had had to go away and leave her. The pain in her stomach started up again. No way was she going to sing about what had happened to her. Every song on the radio sent her into a tailspin of heartache. Her fingers began to shake, so she set the guitar back down on the couch and clutched her sides.

How can it be as if he never existed, she thought, when every moment reminds me of his loss? Each breath felt like sand filling her lungs. She pulled her legs up under her and curled against the arm of the couch.

Eventually, the ringing of the phone prompted her to get up.

She shuffled into the kitchen, snagging the toe of her sock on the corner of the refrigerator. As she kicked her foot loose, she knocked her knee into the cabinet with a loud thump.

"Augh!" she gasped as she lifted the receiver. "Er, hello?" she spoke again.

"Bella?" said a familiar voice.

"Yes, this is Bella. Wait—Mike?"

"Bella, aren't you coming in to work today?"

Oh, no! Bella's eyes shot to the calendar, and then the clock. She was already twenty minutes late.

"Oh, Mike, I'm so sorry. I lost track of time."

"Well, hurry up!" Mike said. "I've already told my mom you were in the stock room, and then in the bathroom. I don't think I can cover for you much longer."

"Shoot! I'm sorry. I'll be there in ten minutes!"

She scrambled upstairs to brush her teeth. As she rushed back through the living room to grab her keys, she avoided looking at the guitar on the couch.


Bella parked her red beast of a truck half a block away from Newton's Outfitters so the rumbling of the engine wouldn't tip Mrs. Newton off to her late arrival. She ran past the pizza place and over the grubby asphalt lot of the outfitter store. It would have seemed that she could get through the parking lot unscathed—she knew she had to keep her eyes peeled for tripping hazards since she was running so fast—but nevertheless she seemed to splash through the deepest parts of every puddle along the way. By the time she jogged up to the back door, her flat-soled Converse low-tops had soaked through, leaving her feet, ankles, socks, and the bottoms of her jeans a muddy, chilled mess.

Mike held open the door for her, looking back over his shoulder. "Damn, girl," he whisper-hissed. "You took forever." He handed her a green smock and helped her tie it on.

"Thanks, Mike, you're the be—Eek!" Bella squealed as Mike slapped a wet paper towel over her face. "What the heck?"

"I told my mom you were sick in the bathroom. You should look sweaty."

"Okay?"

"Here, shelve these." Mike thrust a heavy cardboard box full of Olympic Peninsula trail guide booklets into her arms and skittered through the curtain out onto the sales floor.

Bella followed, hoisting the box onto her hip as best she could and walking a bit sideways under its weight. She slumped on the floor in the book section and tried to figure out where to place the trail guides. Did these things have an author? Should I file under "O" for Olympic Peninsula? A quick scan of the shelves proved unhelpful. Crud. Every one of these books is about the Olympic Peninsula, and this whole bookcase is "O." Bella leaned over the box and dug toward the bottom. Maybe a packing slip would give her some kind of store-display clue.

"Oh, sweetie, don't barf in the box!" hollered Mrs. Newton. Bella looked up to see her striding toward her from the cash registers.

"What? No, I'm fine," mumbled Bella.

"Mike told me you were sick." Mrs. Newton knelt beside her and put a hand on Bella's forehead. "Well, you don't have a temperature," she said, "but your skin's really clammy. Are you sure you feel well enough to work?" Mrs. Newton cocked her head to one side, peering into Bella's eyes.

She looks like a curious chicken, thought Bella. And she's always pecking at me. Bella tried to figure out if Mrs. Newton was asking because she was concerned about her health, or concerned about having a reliable worker. Probably option B, she thought.

"I'm fine," she said again. "Really, I'm fine." Bella stretched the corners of her mouth back into what she hoped looked like a smile. It had been so long since she made a real one, at least outside of Jacob's garage.

Mrs. Newton nodded and stood up. "Alright then. Let me unpack these books. I'd like you to go back to the registers and find some posters that I left on the counter. Hang them in the front window, please, and then go clean the bathroom where you were sick. And make sure to scrub behind the toilet, sweetie. Whoever usually cleans the bathroom always seems to miss that spot."

Yeah, that would be me. Bella groaned inwardly as she trudged to the counter. She rustled through the drawers until she found some Scotch tape and then carted the posters toward the plate glass window up front.

Cold seeped through the glass. The window was a joke of a barrier between Bella and the endless winter outside. It was always warm in Phoenix. She remembered scooping some dusty, rocky soil into a tiny pot with an even tinier cactus on her last day at her old home. She had held it on her lap on the plane, a little piece of sun and home. It died. Just like her heart had bloomed and died here in Forks under the perpetual, drizzly gray light.

She unrolled the first poster: a picture of a mossy hiking trail, disappearing in the distance in a shady vale of ferns. Like the trail where he left me. She taped it to the cold, cold glass with trembling fingers.

A man walked through the door then, shaking the sloppy snow from his jacket, and inquired about flashlights. The air he brought in with him swirled around her soggy, shivering ankles. Her voice caught in her throat, but she managed to direct him toward Mike.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she tried to get some oxygen past the tightness in her chest and unrolled the next poster: a picture of the spreading, big leaf maples, their canopies shot through with the waning yellow light of late afternoon. Like the time when he said, "Walk with me..." Her stomach began to feel hollow, suddenly and violently hollow.

The next one showed a silhouette of the pine tops at sunset, like the time Edward had carried her to the most extraordinary views imaginable, and all the land was spread out before her like the fairy tale of the future that had almost been hers. Then there was a picture of the gnarled roots of an ancient tree sheltering a spotted fawn. She remembered spending the night on the ground, curled tight, clenching every muscle in her body in an effort to deny the reality of her loss, to NOT let it wash over her. She had lost her shoes, and her feet were cold and bleeding, and she lay there in the dirt smelling the rust of her self that had once seemed so special to him, but which had lost its appeal in the end. Night had poured over her like a flood.

Every image she unrolled seemed designed to stab her; she tried to avert her eyes as she plastered the reminders of her magical time with one timeless, magical boy to the icy window. Before her were the lush photos of spring and summer in the forest of her love, and beyond the transparent divider of glass was the reality of her life in Forks now: the gray asphalt, the gray skies, the salty wind that tore at her hair and thrust her breath back down her throat.

The last poster, naturally, was the worst: a field of wildflowers, blue lupine and tiny white lilies. She remembered the diamond rainbow of Edward's skin, his secret radiance that he shared with her. They had pressed their foreheads together, breathing the same air, and the love between them had become real.

That particular poster was rather messily taped to the window as the hole in her chest flared like a super nova and she hurried to the restroom, locking the door behind her.

Why? Why? Why! She slid down the wall and keeled over on the cold tiles. Her whole body shook, and her mouth stretched and gnashed with soundless wailing. Why...? Her face began to slide a little on the tile as she trembled, and she realized that tears and snot were pooling beneath her.

This wouldn't be happening, she managed to think, if I hadn't seen Edward in Port Angeles. Ever since that night when she'd seen a vision of him as she streaked through the wet streets on the back of some strange man's motorcycle, she'd been crazed with the hope of seeing him again. And opening her eyes to look for his likeness meant letting in other sights, too—sights she'd looked past or through for months during her zombie stage. Those cruel nature posters had floored her, literally, because she'd been stupid enough to look at them.

Her consciousness had unfurled from the shell of her half-broken mind and inhabited her senses again. She was starting to feel again, and it hurt so bad. Maybe this was what soldiers felt when they've been carried from a battlefield unconscious and they wake up in a hospital tent to find that their legs have been blown off—only in her case, it was her heart that had been shot to hell.

A long time later, she got up and cleaned the bathroom. She scrubbed behind the toilet. Then she splashed some water on her face and looked in the mirror. I look like a vampire, she thought. Her skin was too pale, her eyes sunken and rimmed with red. Somehow, the image of herself like this sustained her. It was a small satisfaction after everything that had happened. She unlocked the door and headed out.

Mike was waiting for her in the hallway. "You've been in there a while, are you—" he stopped. "Shit, Bella, you look like a corpse."

She froze—did he know?—while Mike jabbered on about how she must really be sick. When he ducked into the employee break room, she finally let out a breath. Mike came back with their jackets. Tossing hers to her, he explained that they were both free to go since business was pretty slow. "I clocked you out," he said. "Come on."

Bella tried to put on her jacket, but her arms wouldn't go in the sleeves. She realized it was because she was shivering so bad.

Mike grabbed her hand and led her back to the sales floor. "Geez, your fingers are like ice," he complained. "You know what's wrong with you?"

Uh, my soulmate told me our love was dead and abandoned me in the woods, and now the only thing that keeps me going is the hope that I'll have another hallucination of his face and voice, and if that makes me insane, then I'm ready to embrace mental illness? Of course, she didn't say that out loud.

"Your problem is that you still don't know how to dress for Forks. You've been here, what, a year? And you don't even have a decent hat. Look at this."

He rustled through a bin on the clearance shelf and pulled out something that looked like it belonged on a gnome. "Try this," he said, stuffing it onto her head. Then he spun her toward the mirror.

The felted wool cap had a ridiculous tassel on top. It was red, and it had two long, braided wool cords that tied under her chin.

"I don't know, Mike," she began, but he wouldn't listen.

"It looks good," he said. "You should wear something bright. And something warm," he emphasized.

"But—"

"It's already on clearance, and with your employee discount it's another twenty percent off. That's like, four dollars, really."

"Well..."

"Or you could get one of these." Mike pulled his own hat out of the inner pocket of his parka and jammed it on his head. It looked like a baseball cap, but with faux fur lining and huge ear flaps. "Nice, eh?"

"You look like you've got a dead platypus on your head."

Mike laughed. "Bella Swan, did you just crack a joke?"

She smiled a little, a real smile.

"Mom, Bella is taking this hat!" Mike hollered as they headed for the door. Mrs. Newton waved them out.

Mike walked her to her truck, even though it was half a block away and the air had cooled enough now for the snow to start piling up on the ground.

"Why are you being so nice to me?" she asked as she unlocked the cab.

Mike gave her a look that must have rubbed off on him from Jessica, a look that said, Well, duh! "We're friends, right?"

"Yeah..." Bella braced herself for some awkward flirting, maybe an oh-so-not-casual invitation to grab some waffles at the diner, but it never came.

"That's why." He smiled. "See you at school."

Bella watched him go. Friends, she thought. Wow, I have two of those. Then she started up the engine and headed for La Push to see her other one.


On the way out to La Push, Bella stopped at home to grab her backpack. Jacob had mentioned that he was falling behind in school because he spent so much time on the bikes last week. So they had planned a study session. She didn't want their fathers to limit their hang out time because of neglected homework.

Slinging her backpack onto the bench seat in the cab, Bella climbed back into her truck and swung the heavy door shut with a bang. As she pulled away from her house and headed out of town, she blasted the heater.

Sure, it was winter, but lately she felt cold all the time. Crying on the floor in Newton's bathroom hadn't helped; now she was exhausted, chilly, and probably dehydrated from all the snot she'd oozed. She had considered, when stopping for the backpack, calling Jacob to cancel their plans and then crawling into bed for a nap, but she figured she'd just shiver her way into another nightmare.

The coldness she felt wasn't like the cool, soothing balm of Edward's arms. It was a lonely cold, but the word lonely didn't even begin to describe it. She felt like one of those little piles of stones she'd seen in a National Geographic article about the tundra: a person-shaped marker along a trail where something wonderful had happened once, long ago, and now she was ready to topple over.

The snowy woods and fields rolled past. Every snowflake was an icy tear, millions and millions of them gathering on the ground. She felt like Jane Eyre must have felt running from the heartbreak of Mr. Rochester's unavailability (he was married, surprise!) over the desolate moors, only Edward had been the one to run away, and her humanity wasn't exactly a madwoman in the attic. Okay, so she felt like Mr. Rochester must have felt when he was abandoned by Jane Eyre as she ran away over the moors, except that she, Bella, was a girl and Mr. Rochester was a man, a kind of old man, which was a little creepy, except that Edward was old, too. Wait, Edward was supposed to be Jane. Okay, so she felt like Mr. Rochester and Edward was Jane Eyre, but with better hair. Yet she, Bella, was the one who was plain-looking like Jane, except that she wasn't a governess, and there really was no parallel for little Adele in this situation unless you counted Alice, who was sort of bouncy, but not the daughter of a French whore. Holy crow, my head hurts.

Before she knew it, the woods gave way to the lawns and homes of La Push. Jacob was out in his yard chopping wood with his friend Quil when she pulled up in front of the Blacks' small, red house. She slid out of the cab, backpack slung over one shoulder, and shuffled toward them over the finely dusted snow.

"Check this out, Bella," Jacob called, lifting the axe.

"Be careful," she said. She knew Jake had some kind of crush on her, but she'd feel pretty bad if he chopped his foot off putting on a show for her. That kid was almost as clumsy as she was.

He just smiled and hefted the axe a little higher. He swung it behind him, rotating his torso and rocking back on his rear foot. Following the blade's weight, his arms stretched up and his heels lifted off the ground at the apex of his swing; she watched the muscles of his shoulders flex wider, then narrow, as his body lengthened with the pull of the axe above him. Then his hands slid together at the base of the polished wood handle, and the axe head fell with a crack into the seasoned pine on the stump.

It was a clean split. Bella stared at the two halves rocking on the ground, the creamy recent growth and the soft red of the heartwood splayed open in the snow.

Jacob tossed his long hair out of his eyes and grinned at her. His chest rose and fell with his breath, puffing white in the cold air. Then Quil set another log on the stump and he did it again. And again.

Crack!

Crack!

Was this supposed to impress her? Because it was kind of working. He was suddenly...graceful. He's sort of beautiful, thought Bella. And both his feet are still attached.

"Watch this," Jake said as Quil set an even larger log on the splitting stump. "Now I'll put a little effort into it."

CRACK!

The two halves of the wood flew about ten feet apart across the yard.

Quil smirked at Bella's slack stare. "Jake's finally hit puberty," he explained.

"Shut up, Quil. You can't even lift this axe."

"No, it's true. Last week you were all complaining about Billy needing firewood, and it took you an hour to chop a few pieces, plus you banged up your shins."

Bella watched as Jake lifted the axe again.

"It's just kind of awesome to finally get the hang of it," he said.

"Yeah," said Quil. "I think you got a grip on that handle right around the time Bella started hanging out with us."

"Shut up, Quil," Jake said again. Bella wondered why his face was turning red.

"I mean, you used to have to whack that wood over and over, but since Bella came around you just need one good stroke to—"

"SHUT UP, Quil!"

"Okay, okay." Quil winked at Bella, who was pretty red now, too. "I gotta go home anyway." He ambled past her.

She kept her back to the truck as he walked by, turning to keep the front of her body toward him, because she had a bad feeling he might try to pinch her butt if she wasn't careful. He'd done that before.

"Quil's kind of a perv," she said when he had gone.

"Yeah, sorry about him. His mom pays me to be his friend."

Jacob gathered the stove lengths in his arms and inclined his head toward the house. Bella followed him inside. Ah, warmth. Jake opened the wood stove and shoved some of the wood inside the sparking, hot glow. Bella could feel the muscles in her shoulders and neck softening. She hadn't even realized how stiffly she'd been holding herself. She peeled off her coat and set her backpack on the kitchen table while Jake headed for the refrigerator. He came back with jars of peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of bread and began slapping together some sandwiches.

"I like your hat," he said.

"What? Oh, it's new."

"Well, it's nice. It's pretty." He kept his eyes on the sandwiches, but Bella was fairly sure that what he meant was, you're pretty.

She whipped off the hat and stuffed it into the bottom of her backpack. "Homework," she said.

Jacob helped her with her math and she walked him through creating an outline for his history paper. She watched him scribble notes in his too-large, sloppy handwriting and thought about how she really didn't need this crush from him. It was going to mess up their friendship, and she needed to be around him right now. He was so cheerful that he made her forget things. Forget the gaping hole in her chest. It had only been a week or so since she showed up with the motorcycles, but already she felt herself becoming dependent on him. She knew she shouldn't, because she could never return his feelings in that way, but she couldn't help herself. It was a relief not to ache all the time.

Another worrying thought was the way she'd noticed the motion of his body in the yard. How could anybody make chopping wood look so...fascinating? Yes, that's all it was. I wish I could be more coordinated like him, that's all. And why did she have to notice how glossy his hair was as it fell over his shoulder and brushed softly across the pages of his textbook? So straight and black and shiny. Surely she was only noticing this because it was unfair for a guy to have better hair than her.

Billy rolled past, nodding in her direction. "Bella," was his simple greeting. She heard him opening the fridge and rustling around.

"Jake?" he called from the kitchen. "Where's that macaroni salad Sue sent over?"

Jacob looked up sheepishly. "Sorry," he said. "I ate it this morning."

"What about the chili from last night?"

"Ate it."

"The chicken casserole?"

"Ate it."

"How about the cornbread from—"

"I ate that, too."

Billy rolled out of the kitchen and took a hard look at Jacob. "Hmm," he said.

"Want a sandwich?"

Billy just rolled into the living room.

Shoving his history homework aside, Jacob opened a notebook and a severely bent paperback copy of Hamlet. "Last assignment," he said. "Can you help me paraphrase this?"

"The soliloquy?" she asked.

"Gesundheit."

It was the soliloquy. Bella tried to explain Hamlet's state of mind.

"It's like he's hit rock bottom. He can't do it any more. So he's wondering if he should even bother, you know? He thinks maybe things would be easier if he just stopped being. That's the 'to be or not to be' part."

"Like suicide?"

"I guess."

Jake seemed horrified.

"He's lost someone he loved," she continued. "And no one understands him. It's criminal, really. I mean, some one is getting away with murder, and he can't seem to do anything about it. Everyone thinks he's crazy. Sometimes he thinks he's crazy. His weird behavior has alienated his friends and he—"

Bella started feeling cold all over again. She tried to keep talking. "He feels powerless. And scared." The pages started to swim beneath her eyes but she forced herself to focus on the part about shuffling off "this mortal coil."

"It's like, it's like..." She had to take a deep breath. Crap. That feeling she'd had in Newton's bathroom was coming back. This is not about HIM. I'm not thinking about HIM. She made herself concentrate. "He feels like mortality is constricting, like a coil, or a fist, squeezing you. And he wants to shake it off. But then there's the 'undiscovered country,' and the fear of the unknown has him frozen between the choice of living, which is so hard—" her voice squeaked—get a grip, Bella— "and dying, which is scary..."

Her words trailed off as she noticed Billy had come around the corner and was looking at her oddly. Jake, too.

"Bella," he said softly, "he can't just give up."

"But he feels really bad," she insisted. Why couldn't she breathe?

"No," Jake said, leaning toward her.

"Yes!" She practically shrieked. Jake was making her upset. Why was he sitting so close? "He lost someone he loved! No one understands!" Oh God, this was not happening. She grabbed a pencil and started to underscore the important lines in Jake's book. Breathe. Move the pencil. Breathe. Pencil.

"I understand," said Jake.

"No one can understand. That's why Shakespeare wrote it this way, it's why he's talking to himself and not some other character." Breathe. Move the pencil. Eyes on the book.

"I lost my mom," he said. "I understand. It's okay."

Bella felt, rather than understood, that something big was coming at her. She shot out of her chair so fast it clattered on the tile. "I—water," she said, and dashed into the kitchen. She leaned her head against a cupboard and realized that the weird shape she had sensed coming toward her had been Jacob, trying to hug her. With shaky hands, she filled a glass of water from the sink. She willed herself to swallow some of it. Her throat felt so tight. Then she just tried to breathe in and out, slower and slower, and she looked out the window at the falling snow. Some of it was gathering on the hood of her truck now.

Jake had hugged her before. It was nice. She...liked...his hugs. He was always so nice and warm. But she could not let him, could not let anyone, touch her right now, or she would come apart. She rubbed a hand across her cheek. It was wet.

She had seen Edward in Port Angeles and now all this, this feeling was happening to her again. She thought about his face, the sad way he had looked at her in the foggy night. It helped a little. If she was going to feel, to see, then she would think of him.

When she was able to leave the kitchen, she saw that Jacob had put away all their homework and was now flopped on the couch in the living room with Billy. "Want to watch Iron Chef?" he called.

Bella sank gratefully onto the couch beside him. How did he always know what she needed?

It was dark outside when the ringing of the phone woke her. She lifted her face from Jacob's shoulder as he smiled down at her. How did I get here? she wondered. And had that been his hand in my hair? His hands were at his sides now, innocently enough.

"Bella?" Billy called. "Your dad's on the phone."

"Oh, crud," she said, stumbling around the coffee table. "What time is it?"

"It's six-thirty," Billy said.

She must have slept for a couple hours. With no nightmares... But now Charlie would be wondering about dinner. She picked up the receiver.

"Dad?"

Charlie told her not to worry about dinner, that he'd called in a couple of pizzas and would be bringing them over to the Blacks' house. Then he asked her to put Billy back on the phone. She could hear one end of the conversation as she returned to the couch.

"Yeah," Billy said. "Bring it with you."

While his dad was on the phone, Jake took the opportunity to whisper with her about the bikes.

"Almost ready," he said into her ear. "Maybe tomorrow."

"Really?" she looked up at him, half-hoping, half-dreading that he would lean close to her again and whisper more.

But he just nodded. He got up to help Billy set the table, and a short while later, Bella looked up at the sound of the door opening.

"It's really coming down out there!" said Charlie, knocking the snow from his boots onto the mat. He balanced two boxes of pizza in his right hand, and, to Bella's horror, he held that brown guitar in his left.


Author's Note:

Thanks for reading. Please leave a review and share your opinion. I appreciate all comments and will write to thank you. Dude, and not just one of those "Hi, thanks," notes. I care. And I get a lot of awesome ideas and critiques from readers, so you all are like a team I write with. Thank you!