Author's Note:

Dear Readers,

Bella's Guitar won a third place prize for Charlie as a Best Supporting Character in the 2014 Fandom Choice Awards! Yay! I want to thank everyone who voted, and especially thank the person who nominated this story. Who are you?! Oh, how I want to thank you. I didn't even know about the contest, much less that this story was in it, until someone told me. And I mis-remembered the deadline and forgot to ask you all to please vote. So, wow, I am so pleased that the story won the award despite my absent-mindedness! Thank you again, everybody! That is very special to me.

Also, dear readers, in this chapter Jacob describes a journey. It's real! But I changed the destination for Jake's journey in the summer of 2005. I gave him the 2004 destination. Better trip.

I hope you will enjoy this chapter.


Bella's Guitar

Chapter Twenty-Five

"Not a Date"

Sunlight. It set the white curtains at her window aglow and crept over the hardwood as the morning brightened. It was only eight o'clock, but for Bella, accustomed for years to waking before the dawn, hurrying through unfinished homework or scrambling downstairs to make breakfast for Renee, eight o'clock was sleeping in. She rolled to her side, pulling her quilts over her shoulders, and watched the pink sky pale to white, then blue.

Last night, the temperature had dropped and the wind died down. The air had been still and cold. Now the panes of window were etched with a brittle lacework of frost. The roads might be icy, which would affect her plans with Jacob. She snuggled further under her quilts, thinking.

Charlie had liked the meatloaf she'd made for dinner last night. He seemed kind of surprised, actually, which made her wonder when the last time she'd cooked him a decent meal had been. September? She'd have to rectify that, not because she needed to, but because she wanted to. She thought again that a caring, hardworking guy like her father deserved a little happiness. Not a magical-evenings-with-Quil's-mom kind of happiness, but a perfectly adequate your-daughter-cooked-you-a-meatloaf kind of happiness. Surely that would be sufficient for any father. She had boiled potatoes and swept the floor and laid the table with a beautiful cloth, embroidered with blue flowers, that she'd found in the upstairs linen closet. She guessed it came from her grandmother. Charlie seemed pleased to see it, and as they ate she told him about what had happened at Dowling's.

"You should arrest him," she said. "Or at least make him sell Quil the van."

"It's not illegal to be a jerk. I'd have to arrest half this town."

"He's a—" Her face flushed as she realized what bothered her most about this. "He's a racist jerk."

"Probably." Charlie dipped a bite of meatloaf in his tomato sauce. "But there's no way I can get involved with that sale."

"Why not?"

"Because of Quil's father."

Outside, the pines at the edge of the yard no longer tossed their branches in the wind. It was growing colder, and a purple dusk was settling over them. She was glad to be indoors—and she hoped Dowling wasn't. She sawed her meatloaf into squares, spinning them to even off the sides, and arranged them in three orderly, indignant little rows. Racist jerk.

"His father was my friend," Charlie continued. "He wouldn't want his boy to come crying to anybody, and it's worse with me. If you had a problem, would you want Joy to fix it for you?"

Her mashed potatoes seemed very interesting, all of a sudden.

"Thought so." His eyes were crinkled at the corners, but his smile was a little sad. "You had to know him."

Big Quil, he said, had been big in a lot of ways. He'd been a tree-trunk kind of man, wide and solid and tall. But he'd also been big in his presence, in his laughter, in the way he made a room come alive. He was big on Christmas, stuffing the most ridiculously large tree he could manage into his house, and big on practical jokes. He would have loved that stunt they pulled on Jacob's birthday. He could balance like a cat, slipping around on the gunwales of his boat, over the ropes on the docks, with a casual, uncanny swiftness, which made his death all the more staggering, and he could whistle. Any tune. Right on pitch. He was loud and stubborn and a little wild, but also patient, loyal, forgiving, and a lot smarter than he let on. He had been gone four years now.

"He could filet a trout better than anybody I ever saw. Slid the spine out in one piece. And the salmon. He'd wade right out in the river, haul in a drift boat half full from the nets, and then stand there for hours, smoking it real slow, over cedar shanks. Harry still burns his shit to pieces; he can't wait for nothing. And that pisses off Sue, who looks at Joy, and then those two are off at their own fire, Sue sneaking Harry's fish over there because Joy knows how it ought to be done."

"Huh?"

"The point is that we miss him. We miss him a lot. I loved that guy, and the least I can do for his son is nothing."

Bella wasn't sure she understood that, but Charlie didn't want to talk about it anymore.

Now, watching the sunlight soften the frost on her window, she wished again that she could think of some way to help Quil. But all she could come up with was a way to help Jacob. And that seemed more pressing.

Jacob needed out. You're the only one I can tell, he'd said. Well, maybe she was the only one who could help. She would not let him down. In fact, she hadn't felt so energetic about something in a long time. Suddenly planning his escape, even if just for one day, seemed like an important project, and she threw herself into it with fierce purpose. She watched the sunrise, thinking about what to pack, what to say to their fathers, where to go. It would be fun and stupid. She felt a strange tingling near her eyes and realized that she, too, needed this. They would be stupid together.

But not, of course, stupid enough to race down the icy 101 on the bikes. Oh, heavens no. They would take her truck, and if that seemed lame, then so be it. After all, there was irresponsible, and then there was dead. Even a few weeks ago, she wouldn't have cared about that. But now... Things were different. Charlie, Angela, Mike, Quil, Seth, Leah. Even Mrs. Kranz, in a weird way. And Vera. She had them, and they had her.

Jacob had her, too. She would show him.

When the sun cleared the pine tops she smiled and rolled out of bed. Today was going to be great. Her bare feet padded over the yellow wood to the window, where she breathed on the glass. She watched her reflection disappear where it fogged up and then return. Me. I'm coming back. She blew again on the glass and traced a heart with her finger. The tingling near her eyes started up again. Me. I'm going to be okay.

Impulsively, she spun around and shoved her desk away from the window, closer to the door. Then she crawled across her bed and planted her feet on the floor. She shoved hard, once, twice, and then the bed was sliding. She pushed until it hit the wall beside the window. Every day, she thought. Every day I'm going to get up like this, right next to the sun. She pushed her bedside table to the window, too, and smiled shakily at the picture of her grandmother, wiping a hand across her eyes. Then she turned to her closet to get dressed.

That's when it happened.

She barely noticed it, and it wouldn't be until much, much later that she would fully understand its import. All she felt was a little pull. A tug. An odd sensation that made her pause, just for a second, as she crossed the floor where her bed had been. It was like gravity, or vertigo, or a faint hint of nausea. Her head felt funny. But she shook it off, attributing her hesitation to indecision about what to wear, and stepped over a strangely heavy spot on the floor.

Downstairs, she called Jake and told him to do his homework.

"I'm doing it with you, dweeb. What's your irresponsible plan?"

"No, not the essay. All the rest of it. Do it this morning because I'm picking you up at one, and we're going to be out all day."

"Should I be scared?"

"Maybe," she said. Then she hung up on him.

Wow, that felt wild and crazy!

Charlie, sitting at the kitchen table reading the Forks Forum, raised an eyebrow at her. She told him she was going to take Jacob to the library. Then she dumped all of her school books out of her backpack onto the floor.

Rustling through the cupboards, she found the supplies she needed and stuffed them into her pack. A spoon. Salt. Scissors. She trotted upstairs again and grabbed a bar of soap and a few more things from the bathroom cupboards. Then she slipped across the hall to Charlie's room, where she pulled open his dresser drawers until she found some of his thick, wool socks.

"Get out of my room," he hollered.

Fine. Mister Grumpy. She took three pairs, just in case. Down in the kitchen again, she opened the refrigerator, and selected a large hunk of Swiss cheese. It was kind of old, and it smelled a little funny, but it would do.

"So," said Charlie, as she was sealing it in a little plastic bag, "you're going to the library."

"Yep."

"Going to the library with cheese."

"Yep."

Swirling her red coat around her shoulders, she fastened its black buttons and tied the strings of her red gnome hat, the new one Mike had given her, under her chin. She would wear it to work this morning to show him she appreciated it. And it would come in handy for her afternoon with Jacob, too. She hitched the backpack onto her shoulders, testing its weight.

Charlie took a sip of his coffee. "This library wouldn't happen to be in the woods, now, would it?"

"No. Of course not."

He stared at her hard enough that she felt she ought to explain a little.

"Jacob's stressed out. I'm taking him for a surprise later."

More staring.

"It's a surprise."

Setting down his mug, Charlie rapped the edges of his newspaper on the table and folded it up. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. She knew he was taking the day off, for once, with Matt Hathaway in charge at the station. He wore jeans and a blue flannel shirt; his face was bright and his eyes looked a little more alive. Part of it, she realized, was because of the change in herself. This was more than making him a meatloaf.

"You know," he said, "I always thought he'd be a good friend for you. Nice to see you return the favor."

She smiled at him. "Well, sure."

"Just don't get him drunk."

"Dad!"

"I'm kidding." He waved her toward the door. "Go. Have a good time."


When she arrived at work, Mrs. Newton handed her a bucket and asked her to clean the customer restroom. Once again, it had not been cleaned since she'd done it herself last weekend. Apologetically, Mike escorted her to her duty, murmuring that he was very sorry about it, but she'd probably want to wear gloves. Yesterday morning, the Outfitters had been visited by a VW busload of aging hippies on their way to Vancouver Island.

"Some of them looked like Jerry Garcia," he said. "Some of them looked like Jerry Garcia's grandparents."

Delightful.

When she was done with her chore, she found Mike in the hiking section, cataloguing a new shipment of long underwear. She knelt beside him as he sorted the pants and shirts and matched SKU numbers against the tags his mother had made. As he worked, he asked her if Charlie had said anything about bears lately.

"No. Why?"

"I thought with those missing hikers, at least with the one who died, you know, maybe it was a bear." He added that the hippies had said they were camping last night along the Queets—

"Last night? It was thirty degrees."

"They didn't look like they could afford a motel room." And anyway, he said, they smelled like more than one kind of smoke, so they must have had at least a campfire burning. Some of them seemed a little freaked out, asking about bear canisters and whether or not there were grizzlies around here.

"Only black bears," she said. Even she knew that.

"Yeah. That's what I told them." He hung up a few pairs of the pants, separating them by men's and women's, whites and blues. "They said they'd seen a huge gray bear running across the river."

"Bears aren't gray."

"Maybe it's a sick bear. Mange. Rabies. I don't know. Maybe some giant bear got that hiker."

Somehow, the thought of a humongous, mangy, rabid bear in the woods seemed better than what she feared was out there. In fact, when it came right down to it, Bella realized she was a big fan of rabid bears. Maybe, Mike said, the hippies had been too high to see straight; maybe they imagined it. But Bella hoped not. Right now, a VW busload of relief was rolling north on the 101. Thank you, hippies.

She leaned over the box of and removed the packing slip. In addition to the long underwear, at least six kinds of socks were enclosed. Wool, cotton, alpaca. Nylon and other synthetic blends. Bamboo. And wind-powered bamboo.

"What's this?" she said, holding up a pair of green-striped knee socks.

"This is a brilliant idea," said Mike, "and a huge mistake." He flipped over the socks to read the label on the back. "'Bamboo: Nature's Most Renewable Resource.' Great, right? Windmills wove these socks. But look at this." He pointed to the price tag. "Bamboo: Newton's Most Expensive Footwear."

"Eighteen dollar socks?"

"And my mom thinks I don't know what will sell."

That remark earned a rather snappish reproof from the direction of the register.

She and Mike spent the rest of the morning on tedious organizational tasks. Refolding shirts. Tagging hats. And Mrs. Newton wanted them to shift their entire inventory of fishing supplies from the left to the right side of a long aisle that ran down the length of the side wall. Bella could hear grocery shoppers talking about cereal just a few feet away, and she thought again how lucky she was that Mrs. Newton hadn't spotted her yesterday morning. "I got cookies in my truck for you," she hissed to Mike.

Now and then customers would stop by, and Mike would help them. Bella, naturally reserved, could admit that she wasn't so good with the customer service aspect of customer service. Watching Mike, she felt a little jealous of the ease with which he greeted people, got them smiling, and pointed them in the right direction. It was the kind of job Jacob would be good at. Instead, she gathered spools of fishing line in her arms and sorted them carefully. She knew, from living with Charlie, that it was very, very important not to get fifty pound test line mixed up with those of lesser weight. That was how the ones that got away got away in the first place. As for the lures, she left those entirely up to Mike. They were flimsy, flashy, feathery, and strung with hooks, barbed and double-barbed. She hadn't injured herself since Thursday, and she intended to keep it that way.

As they worked, Mike talked about Jessica. He'd called her up Friday night to ask her out for waffles at the diner some time this weekend. After their recent breakups (twice, he said, since November), he thought maybe this could be a casual way to start seeing each other again. He didn't want to pressure her. But he didn't want her to forget about him, either. And he wanted her to know that being friends was cool, too, as long as they could actually be friends.

"She won't even talk to me some days. I don't know what to do."

There would be no waffles. She had shot him down pretty firmly. And worse, she had hinted that she'd be spending time with someone else this weekend. He figured she meant the guys from Peninsula College she and Lauren had met.

"College men," he scoffed. "Bunch of losers who don't have their shit together enough to go to a real college."

"It's a decent school." She made a face, thinking about her grades from fall semester. "A school where I might end up," she mumbled.

"You'll get into Evergreen. You, me, Ange. But Jessica's going to Stanford, Berkeley, some place like that. What's she doing with a guy from PA?"

Bella kept her eyes on the floor. If she was doing what Angela figured Lauren was doing, then... She felt her cheeks go pink.

"Aw, shit, no!" said Mike. "You think?"

Bella could only shake her head.

"Why?" He looked he wanted to tear his hair out. The fishing lures in his hands, dangling from their tags, made tiny jiggling noises as he stuffed them onto their new display rods. In his haste, he'd tangled them, but she didn't want to point that out. His eyebrows were pinched together, his blue eyes glittering. Cursing, he tossed the rest of the lures onto a shelf. "I don't know what to do. I don't know how to talk to her anymore, or how she—" He turned to Bella with a desperate, almost accusatory look. "You're a girl! What the fuck is she thinking?"

She said she didn't know. Some of the lures had fallen off the shelf. They lay mixed up on the floor, red and blue and green. A few of them looked like dragonflies. She was starting to feel kind of twitchy.

Mike shoved his hands through his hair.

"Maybe she's not," said Bella. She began to pick through the lures, very carefully, with the tip of her shoe. "Maybe she's just... hanging out with them."

He groaned. "She's been acting weird ever since— Oh, my God, it's you."

"What?" She looked up, a tiny plastic worm caught on the shoelace of her red Chuck.

"Tell her you don't like me."

"But I do," she said, shaking her foot.

"Tell her I don't like you."

"I never even talk to her. She hates me."

"Yeah, well, now I know why." He groaned again, pacing in the aisle. "It started last year. You moved here—"

"Not my fault."

"—and then there was the dance—"

"You asked me!"

He flung his hands in the air. "Fucking Student Body President over here! I was being welcoming!" Stripping another bracket of its lures, he threw them on the floor. They clinked together, hooks tangled. "And then there was that dickhead Cullen, and Jess was fine, and then he left, and now she's all—"

"Michael!" snapped the voice from the register.

"Agh!" He made a strangled noise and tossed a few spools of fishing line on the floor, too.

Bella knelt to pick them up. When she'd replaced them on the shelf, she began toeing through the lures, red ones here, green ones there, but they didn't look right. Perhaps she should organize them by size. Or shape. She pulled a display rod from its bracket on the wall and poked at them as if they were embers in a fire.

"I should break up with you," said Mike.

"But we're not dating."

"I should dump your ass in the cafeteria."

"That's mean! I would never dump you that way." She did not feel like getting dumped by not-boyfriends twice in the same weekend. Had she ever had a relationship with a guy who didn't dump her? Gosh, darn it. This was not cool. "Nobody's dumping anybody around here!"

"Ah, you're right. Shit." Mike kicked the lures into a tangle again.

It was too much to bear. Red, blue, green, yellow, pink, plastic, wooden, metal, feathered, plain, big, small, minnow, dragonfly, chum, fin, flashy, spotted, and striped, all horribly jumbled. Something senseless snapped in her head and she plunged both hands into the mess. Moments later, she was in the employee break room with Mike and a can of antiseptic spray. She wept silently as he worked a barbed hook all the way through the skin between her thumb and first finger.

"Stupid lures," he said. "Everyone who's anyone around here knows you fish with salmon roe."


Driving along the La Push Road, Bella rubbed gingerly at the white gauze taped around her left hand. It was getting even harder to tally her injuries.

Nine stitches on her forehead from her first bike crash, January 25. Check.

Hideous road rash on the back of her thigh from the second bike crash, January 29. Check.

Sliced left index finger from using the box cutter at Newton's, February 4. Check.

Swollen lump on her forehead from trying to escape antiseptic spray in Newton's break room on that same day. Check.

Scabbed knees and elbows from tumbling down the steps at the Hoquiam library, February 5. Check.

And today's achievement, two pierce wounds on her hand and one scratch on her ankle from the pink worm lure that had stuck to her shoe, February 8. Check, check, and check.

What the heck is wrong with me?

Maybe it was best not to answer that question.

If she had been anyone else's daughter, she might have hoped to outgrow her clumsiness, but in Renee's most recent email, there had been an account of how she'd sprained her hand reading to her kindergarten class. It hurt Bella's head to try to imagine how that could have happened.

On her way out of town, she'd filled her truck with gas, withdrawn some money from her account at the ATM, and stopped by the library. The internet access there was so much better than at home, so she could quickly check the directions to a few places in Port Angeles. She also checked her email.

Renee's messages had been piling up. She wrote to Bella almost every day, just little things, about going to the grocery store, buying a sweater, teaching her students. Her class was working on the letter O, and Renee had created a dance to go with a phonics character called Olive Octopus. It was a good mnemonic device for the kids, and they loved waving their arms, twirling around the classroom. "Ahhhhh..." said the kids, making the short "o" vowel sound. "Ahhhhhc-to-pus." Two kids, a table, and Renee's knees had somehow resulted in the sprain. Renee had attached a photo of Phil's hand holding her sprained hand: "Love," was the caption. She talked about how Phil's spring training would be starting up soon, and how they had decided to get a second cat. There was also, to her surprise, a message from Phil.

Hi, Bella, how are you? it read. Haven't heard from you in a while. Hope you are doing okay. Please write to your mother or call. She misses you very much. —Phil.

Tears had sprung to her eyes.

She didn't know at all what to do about that, or why it had happened. She'd just logged out and skittered outside to her truck. That hurt; it made her stomach hurt, and she didn't know why. When she tugged on the door handle, she saw that her fingers were shaking. Drive, she told herself. Drive and breathe.

The stinging in her left hand was a good distraction. She wished she had known, before reaching into that pile of fish hooks, that once you've gotten a couple stuck in your hand, there's no choice but to work the barbs all the way through. Mike kept her from blubbering too bad by talking about, of all things, bait. Every fall, he said, his dad would slit the belly of a salmon or two and freeze the eggs. The roe. The mess looked like a thousand red pearls. And when the steelhead ran in the spring, he'd thaw some of it for bait.

"That's what we should sell," said Mike. "Little boxes. With tiny compartments, or maybe a mesh bag for a wet paper towel."

"Mm, hmm," she'd sniffed.

"You have to keep the eggs moist."

She gritted her teeth as he snipped the ends of the hooks with tiny wire cutters and soaked her hand with antiseptic spray.

"What, no cussing?" he'd joked.

She thumped her forehead on the table in reply. When he'd gotten her bandaged up, he squeezed her good hand, looking at their fingers together.

"Why don't you just tell her how you feel?" she whispered.

"She knows." He kept his eyes down. "And I'm not going to beg."

She didn't know what to say after that.

Now, driving along the La Push Road, she squinted through the rain as her windshield wipers pushed the water back and forth, back and forth. They could never seem to push it away completely. The trees and fields flickered past, a hundred different kinds of green and a hundred different kinds of wet and cold. She wondered if love would suck this bad in a place with better weather.

And with that thought, she turned into Billy's driveway.


The daffodils beside Billy's ramp had been killed by last night's frost, their petals limp and stringy, and despite the fire crackling in the wood stove, the air inside the Blacks' house was only slightly less chilly than the air outside. Bella stood on the mat by the door, blowing on her hands, as Jacob thumped around in his room.

"He'll be right out," said Billy. Sitting at the dining room table with a topographic map of the peninsula spread out before him, he lowered his reading glasses to the end of his nose and looked her up and down. "Where are you going?"

"It's a surprise," she said.

He pressed his lips together the way Jacob did and looked at the map again. "Sol Duc?"

She shook her head.

"Bogachiel?"

No again.

"How about you just tell me?"

She glanced down the hall. Jacob had slipped into the bathroom, so she crossed the room and set her finger on the map at Port Angeles. Billy sat back in his chair.

"All right, then. Sit, sweetie."

She wasn't too sure about that. The last time she'd had any one-on-one time with Billy, it hadn't been so nice for her. She backed toward the door.

"Oh, for Pete's sake," sighed Billy. He cocked his head to the side and looked at her long and hard enough that she began to feel ridiculous. Slowly, she withdrew one of the chairs at the far end of the table and perched on the edge of it. He smiled as if he found that awfully amusing, and in a conspiratorial whisper, he hissed, "You're looking a little better."

She allowed herself to smile back at him. Just a bit.

"Charlie thinks so, too."

"I'm trying," she whispered.

"You're stronger than you think, eh? Going to be okay?"

She nodded. She forgot, sometimes, that Billy was the only one who knew the truth. Maybe someday, when she was ready, she could talk to him about it. It was strange to think that Jacob, just down the hall, scoffed at his father's superstitions while she and Billy held a terrible secret between the two of them.

Last winter, on the beach, she had flattered the information out of Jacob. That time seemed so far away now. He'd been younger and doubting, and she'd been on the cusp of her great love and the loss that had changed her forever. She felt a million years old. This winter, as she was pulling herself out of the hole where she'd nearly drowned, she felt herself coming full circle with Jacob. Younger. Doubting. Whole. She'd never tell him. Never pull him into what she and Billy shared. His father's eyes were blacker and blacker, sunk deep in the lines of his face.

"Hurry up in there," Billy called. To Bella, he said, "He's primping."

"Heard that," said Jacob. "I'm just brushing my teeth."

"Primping," said Billy. "For his date."

Jacob came down the hall, shrugging into his green jacket. "It's not a date. Never were any dates. Never going to be any dates. In fact—" He opened the refrigerator. Rustled in an old pizza box there. "This is the one with the garlic, right? This one?" He stuffed an enormous bite into his mouth and talked through his food. "We broh uh. I noh prih-ing. Noh looh-ing gooh. Noh e'en showah'd." He swallowed. "Smell me."

"Get out of here, boy." Billy shoo-ed them away. "I bet she got tired of you. I bet you never took her anywhere, lazy bum."

Bella's face was red, but Jacob just rolled his eyes as he closed the door behind them. "He's especially obnoxious today, crusty fart."

"Heard that," came a muffled voice through the wood. "I'd break up with you, too, smart-ass—"

Bella opened the door again. "Technically, we're not broken up. We were never dating. It's not—"

"We broke up," said Jacob, and he closed the door with a bang.

Buckling up beside her in the truck, he pushed his hair behind his ears and settled her backpack across his lap. "Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise," she groaned, for the millionth time. Waving her hand in front of her nose, she added, "Was the garlic really necessary?"

"Maybe not," he grinned. "But delicious."

She backed out of the driveway, switching on her windshield wipers again as she headed east out of town. When the heater warmed up, she took off her hat and smoothed her hand over her hair, brushing the staticky strands away from her face. She asked him why Billy was in such a good mood.

He sighed. "I think it's because I came home."

Friday night, he'd slept on Embry's floor. Last night, he'd intended to sleep on Quil's floor, but his grandfather kicked him out. Said he ought to go home and be a man about it. "He's got a stick. I went home." But that didn't mean he wasn't still angry.

There didn't seem to be anything more to say about what had happened with Tiffany. At least, nothing they hadn't already said, and nothing that wouldn't make both of them more upset. And nothing, of course, that would change anything. It hurt to imagine not knowing Embry, yet he couldn't reconcile that with the way it had come about. He kept thinking of his mother.

"I hope to God she never knew. But Emb thinks she did."

Bella had no experience with this kind of problem. She could only recommend the course of action that seemed to help most with her own problems: "Try not to think about it."

The road to Port Angeles was the only road north out of Forks. It didn't take too long for Jacob to guess where they were going. "Darn it," said Bella. Nevertheless, as they drove, she was thankful that the supplies she'd brought still harbored some mystery. Jacob unzipped the backpack and shook his head at the contents.

"A spatula?"

She refused to tell him what that was for.

"String? Socks?" He rustled in the bottom. "Shampoo?"

She smiled to herself. This was the best surprise she had ever planned. And it was the cheese, really, that was her stroke of genius. He looked at that for five miles or so, quizzing her for clues. Every now and then, on a long, flat, straight stretch of road with little or no other traffic, she risked a sideways glance at him. His cheeks were pink. He was smiling, too, digging through her stuff. The dark, wet forest flashed past the windows, and she thought that it made her happy to see him like this. Sunny again. She wondered how long she could make it last. All the way to town? All afternoon? He was blinking, holding a scarf and a package of spaghetti. Longer?

"Man, I give up. What are we— Wait, sunscreen? Are you kidding me?"

"It's a surprise," she insisted.

"Shaving cream?" He pulled out a tall can with red and white stripes swirled around it like a barber pole. Extra Strength, it was labeled. For a Silky Smooth Shave on Even the Most Stubborn Beards. "This is yours?"

"No!" The truck swerved a little as she tried to stuff it into the pack again. "It's Charlie's."

"It's yours."

"Is not. Geez."

"Your face is all red. Looking guilty to me."

She was pretty sure he was teasing her, so she frowned at the road in what she hoped was a dignified manner.

"Bella the Bear. Who knew?"

"Shut up. I am a perfectly smooth person."

"Thanks to this nasty stuff."

He wouldn't let up until she gave him some clues about her plans. With a little prodding, he recognized that all of her supplies began with the same letter. With a little more prodding, he tried guessing some things in Port Angeles that also began with S.

"Shipyards? Oh, boy, I always wanted to hang out in a shipyard."

They passed Lake Crescent, a long, blue expanse curving beside the road for several miles. The mountains on the far side were obscured by rain and mist; low clouds hung over the dark water. Nearer to them, though, the water looked a little brighter, the color of slate, and a few tourists' cars were parked by the roadside, heavily jacketed people braving the soupy weather for a better view. It was impressive, she remembered, and a brilliant peacock blue on a clear day.

"Shopping?" guessed Jacob. He looked torn, like he wouldn't enjoy that at all but didn't want to criticize her plans.

"Nope."

He puffed the air out of his cheeks. "Sailing? Singing? Oh, please, no karaoke."

She kept him guessing until they rolled down the hilly streets to the Port Angeles waterfront, where she parked a couple blocks above the pier, and they walked down to a low, steel-sided, blue building. Feiro Marine Life Center, said the sign. There was a statue of an octopus out front.

"Sea creatures!" she said.

It was a far cry from the world-class zoo in Victoria, but on the website it had looked fun. Inside were open tanks of sea water on low tables and representatives of animals found in the Straits. Starfish. Scallops. Even a sea cucumber. These had been her inspiration for the S supplies in her pack. A older gentleman in a green smock, volunteering as a docent, walked them through the exhibit. "Go on," he said. "You can touch them."

The water was cold. She watched Jacob run his fingers over the rough sides of an orange starfish. He knew, she was surprised to learn, almost as much as the docent about the animals here. He said he'd seen them plenty of times on the rocks offshore at Second Beach, but it was still neat to be able to hold them, turn them over—and show them to her. He talked her into touching an anemone. Like a wild, watery flower, it fanned its arms in the current pumped through the tank. Its sides were purple, flecked with sand, and the center of its body blossomed blue and green. One of its tiny tentacles latched onto her finger.

She waited there, listening, as he talked with the docent about some little things stuck to a rock in one of the other tanks. He looked happy. Relaxed. He stood towering over the little old man, cupping a tiny brown fish in his huge hands, smiling at it like a little kid. In the tank before her, she watched the anemone explore her finger, tugging with its soft, animal suction. Jacob disappeared down a hallway, the docent talking about whale migration.

Bella watched the anemone. Beautiful and strange. Cold and silent. When she had left Newton's, Mike walked her out to her truck. It had been drizzling again, as usual, but he said he didn't mind. As she gave him the cookies, she asked him, almost against her better judgement, if he'd meant what he said about Edward. The name he had called him. It took him a moment to remember, and she stood there cringing, braced.

"Oh, that." Mike shrugged. "Yeah. Sorry. I know you liked him, but he never really talked to anybody else. Too good for us or something. Pasty prick."

She'd never thought much about the way he might have looked to other people. It didn't feel very good. Wasn't he handsome, perfect, stunning? Yes. Golden eyes. Artfully messy bronze hair. She thought about his skin, like white marble, and the sweet scent of his neck where she had liked to nestle her head. Freesia. Wisteria. Something else she could never place. His hands had been those of a pianist, fine and delicate, and when he played for her she'd close her eyes. She'd let the sound fill her with the idea of him. The idea of being in love.

Was that all it had been? On his side? Why would he have left if it had been real for him?

It had been real for her. And so had the pain.

She stood there in the parking lot with Mike, one hand on her truck's door handle, blinking in the drizzle. Her head felt strangely light and hollow, like a balloon. Too good for us. Six months ago, even one month ago, she would have said yes, he was too good for them. Radiant god. White angel. The angel she saw now was the pale stone that perched in the cemetery near her grandparents' grave. Wasn't he— Wasn't Edward more than that?

Mike had nudged her toe with his boot, and she shook her head to clear it. "Got any other ideas about Jessica?" he said.

"No." Even her voice felt hollow. "I guess I'm not— I'm not very good at love."

Now she looked into the water at the anemone. It was eyeless. It sensed her through its feathered appendages, wrapped around her finger. In fact—

"Jacob?"

In fact, it was pulling on her hand.

"Uh, sir?"

How could such a squishy little thing be so strong? It was pulling her finger toward its green mouth, and her skin felt puckered, scoured raw. She tugged against it, but it only wrapped more tentacles around her. Would it be wrong to pull this thing off of its rock? Probably. But it was starting to really hurt.

"Jake?"

He returned before the tears could start spilling down her face, and the docent used a pen to distract the animal.

"When I said you could touch it," he smiled, handing her a Band-aid, "I didn't mean leave your finger there and let it chew on you."

Jacob seemed to find her distress adorable. He wrapped the Band-aid around her finger and put an arm over her shoulders as they walked outside. It had stopped raining, but the wind was blowing cold. The waters of the Strait were a deep, hard blue, and the mist prevented her from seeing the other shore. Taking her hand, Jacob said, "Awwww. You hurt your other hand, too!" as if that were the cutest thing ever. She snatched it back, telling him about what happened at work. "Yeah, those fishhooks," he said. "Gotta watch out. They move fast."

Was there no one who respected her difficulties? She frowned at him. And she did not give back her hand. It was the one James had bitten, and she'd rather keep her strange, shiny scar to herself, anyway.

They walked beside the water. There was a paved path through a park that looked like the kind of place that would be good for a picnic, during the three or four weeks out of the summer when it wasn't forty degrees and/or raining around here. The green lawn was populated by a few geese. Above the park, on one of the blocks leading down to the marina, he pointed out the little cafe where Sue had taken him and his sisters last weekend. She could see a pink awning over the door and remembered Rebecca's description of the pink plates and tiny forks. It was nice, he said, but he didn't recommend the fare. Too sweet. Too small. "Kind of like you," he teased. He also pointed out a broad stretch of sandy beach near the pier. It was called Hollywood Beach, he said, but its significance was far older than its ridiculous name.

"I was here," he said, with great finality and import.

She looked at the sand.

"Last summer," he added grandly. "I was right there."

The strip of beach looked no more remarkable than any other she had seen around here. The sand was a dark brown, and the rocks at the high side, at the edge of the path, were gray and rough looking, splotched with dark reddish algae. The beach was sheltered from the rough waters of the Strait by a long, thin peninsula that curved eastward, creating a small bay, called Ediz Hook. He pointed that out, too, then returned to gazing at the beach.

She stuffed her hands in her pockets. It had stopped sprinkling, thank goodness, but it was still quite cold.

He stood there for what seemed like a long time, a tiny smile hiding in the corners of his mouth, his eyes half shut. She waited, which seemed best with him. After a while, he began to tell her the most astounding tale of an adventure she had never imagined anyone might undertake, at least, not now. It was the kind of thing she'd only heard of people doing a hundred years ago.

All along the coast, from Oregon to Alaska, tribes had been building, rebuilding, and restoring ocean going canoes. Like, the kind made from one massive cedar tree. It took years, seasoning and carving them, and even finding the right tree in the first place was a serious undertaking. It had to be wide and tall, of course, and near the beach, so the carvers wouldn't have to carry it very far. The best were old-growth, which was rarer and rarer, and the very best had no branches along one wind-blown side, which meant fewer knots in the hull. The Quileute had such a vessel.

"We have a wolf on the prow. It's our thing."

She nodded. She remembered his telling her something about his tribe's legends a while ago.

Every summer, he said, the tribes would launch a canoe—or two, or three—and paddle to visit their neighbors. Hundreds of miles away.

"What?"

"Yeah. We went to Canada."

It was a convergence. A festival. A ritual. A spiritual journey. It was three weeks at sea in a twenty-foot vessel, traveling like their ancestors had travelled, except that now they had to watch out for freighters and ferries in the shipping lanes. They paddled with support boats and friends following on shore, in vans, just in case they needed help, and they camped on the beach and with neighboring tribes. The fleet built on itself, picking up steam, picking up friends, until dozens of canoes met at the mouth of some river in Canada with a name she couldn't pronounce, even though he said it to her three times, in a rainy forest that was the home of a people who had been there, like the Quileute, for a thousand years, maybe longer. It was a resurgence of an art that had nearly faded away, until the Quinault came up with this idea. A different tribe hosted each year, with thousands of people coming to see the landings and celebrate.

"Changed my life," he said simply.

Bella was seriously impressed.

The beach here in Port Angeles, he said, had been one of many stop-over points. And at each place they landed, there had been a protocol to follow. Paddles up to signal goodwill and ask permission to land. Words of welcome. And then hoisting a thousand pound canoe onto your shoulders and powering up the beach. It was hard work.

"And the paddling. Pulling. You follow the shore, but you have to get out past the breakers for smooth water. You rise up so high you think you're going to fly, or flip, and then you slop down the other side of a wave so hard you land on your knees."

He talked to her about beaches no road could reach. The caves beneath Cape Flattery. The orcas they'd seen, just off shore here. All of it had been wonderful. Grueling, but wonderful. Most of the paddlers were young, people he went to school with, but a few parents came, one as skipper, and they'd also had an elder or two ride along for a couple days. His favorite part had been just watching everyone.

"I sat in the back. Quil and Emb in front of me, partners. They're timed well. Think the same. Dig hard. And in front of them, Sam and Leah. She's a beast, you know that?"

"I can believe it."

"Kicked all our asses, every day." He said she never got tired, though she complained for miles and miles. She and Sam were unequally matched, but it ceased to matter once they were underway. She was ferociously determined, though thin, and incapable of conceding that anyone might be stronger than her, particularly the person on her left. Sam himself was stoic, enduring, calmer. Jacob thought he and Leah were silently daring each other to keep up. They'd laugh. And everyone got sunburned, but Leah would never wear a hat. Said she liked the light. Sam would be smiling, squinting into the sun, and they'd look at each other like two wild things, two bright things, like stars. "Everybody could see it. The way they felt."

She wiggled under his arm and stood closer, leaning on his side, watching the waves with him. The wind still stung her face, but she tried to imagine the water a warmer blue, the gray sky clearer. She tried to imagine Leah last summer. Kind of like herself then. Jacob had dropped his eyes; she could see the light in his face fading. "Tell me more," she nudged him.

"We ate clams."

"Ew."

"They're good. Dig 'em up; roast 'em in the sand."

That sounded horrible, but she poked at him to keep him talking. He was her project, after all, and the whole point of this was to make him feel better.

He said his favorite person to watch had been Embry. Day after day, through sun and wind and mist and salt spray and bad surf, he saw Embry smile. "He looked drunk." He just smiled all day long.

They got to Che-what-y-what (she still couldn't understand the name) and spent five days with the crowd there, about two thousand people—

"Two thousand people?"

"Yeah. About two thousand, and seventy canoes. I can't even remember all the tribes. Don't tell my dad. I think that's part of my job. But I can't remember them all. God, we ate so much, and drummed and danced and told stories, and hooked up with people—"

"No!"

"Yeah, a little. Not me." He grinned down at her. "Oh, no, I'm a good boy. But I think that's part of why Emb was smiling so much. Some Haida girl."

"You mean he—"

"No, no. He's not a sleaze. And there were like forty thousand chaperones."

She rolled her eyes at him. "For two thousand people?"

"Yes," he said dryly.

The whole thing had been awesome. And the best part, he said, was hard to describe. He tried to tell her about Old Quil, their honored figurehead, riding in the bow for a day between Neah Bay and here. He sat backward. Said from that position, he could watch the horizon all day, watch it falling away. But most of the time he had his eyes closed.

"Was he seasick?"

"No. Inside himself."

That was the thing. The best part.

"You feel yourself changing." He was quieter now, watching a flock of brown pelicans passing over the bay. Their necks were tucked tight for flight, their wingbeats slow. "You paddle six, maybe eight hours a day, and you hurt so bad. You think you're going to die."

"No."

"Sort of." At first, it had been terrifying. Heading into the open ocean with people he sat next to in school, people he knew for a fact couldn't spell, or add fractions, or even show up on time. He'd thought, more than once, that maybe this whole thing was a bad idea. "But you pull and pull, and sing and cry, and then—" He stopped, his face flushed. As if he didn't want her to look at him, he pulled her abruptly into his arms and held her head to his chest. "And then you fall in love."

The word combined with his nearness made her heart race, a vague panic suddenly swamping her. He just held tighter, misinterpreting her squirming, mumbling, "Don't laugh. And don't tell anybody else."

Beneath his arm, she could see a seagull hopping over the sidewalk; when it lifted itself up she felt sick, watching it wheel away on gray wings. But the wind felt cooling, and he didn't let her fall. Not ME, she reminded herself. He's not talking about ME.

"Sky and water, sky and water," he said. After many days, it did something to him. He came to feel that everyone in the canoe was his family. That he would do anything for them. And that he could imagine himself, more deeply than ever before, becoming what his father wanted. What everyone seemed to need him to be.

"Strong."

His heart beat beneath her cheek. He never seemed to zip up his jacket anymore, so she could feel, through his T-shirt, his warmth and the breath moving through his body. He smelled good, in a weird way. Not exactly fresh. And certainly not like flowers, not like— Like someone else. But good. She took a deep, shuddering breath as he curled around her in the wind.

He said he came to feel that his position in that canoe, in that family, was one of responsibility and work, but also of love. He loved them all. Was this how his father felt? Was this how he was supposed to feel? He didn't care. He could never go back to not feeling it.

Bella sagged against his chest, smiling now. Was there no end to this boy? He was the sweetest, dearest thing in the world. Something huge and wonderful beat inside him, shining out to all his people. He would be a good chief. Someday, she was sure, he could do that. In the meantime, she was so, so glad he had called it all off between them yesterday. That thing inside him—mere inches away, behind a flimsy cotton shirt—was frighteningly powerful.

"Does this sound weird?" he was saying. His chin bobbed on the top of her head. "This is weird, right? Oh, why am I telling you all this?"

This was her chance, she thought. To do what a friend would do. She squeezed her arms around him. "It's okay," she said. "You can tell me anything." She meant it, and she felt a small, strange thrill inside her chest. It was a foreign sensation.

"Same here." He left his chin on her head.

Probably it would have been logical for them to step apart at this point, but they didn't. That was okay, she figured. He was nice and warm. Reasonably okay smelling. She was conscious of the fact that she hadn't washed her hair that morning, but that didn't seem to matter. He was going to keep his nose out of it from now on.

After a while, he said, "Emb's not happy anymore."

"Hmm?"

"From the summer. It's gone." And the change, he figured, was not just something that happened a few weeks ago. It had been brewing, indirectly, since August. That's when Sam turned into a jerk.

"Sam disappeared for a couple weeks. People were freaking out. Not even his mom knew where he was. Now we figure he was in Neah Bay. He comes back, and he looks like a truck hit him. He's all huge and pissed off, hopped up on something, and he won't talk to anybody but Quil's grandpa for some reason, for days and days. Then Leah's cousin comes by and he starts following her around like a sick dog. He breaks up with Leah. And people start taking sides."

She didn't have to look up at him to see how much this bothered him.

"Not like a game," he continued. "Dead serious. It was like he wanted to hurt her. Like he left her for the person he knew would hurt the most. Dickhead Jared takes his side. He's not that smart, sorry to say it, so we all thought, whatever. But then Paul, and now Emb. Why?"

She didn't know. And she didn't like the way it was affecting him. "Come on," she said, tugging on his hand.

They began the climb up the hill toward her truck. Jacob was quiet for a block or two. He ran a hand through his wind-tangled hair and took one of his ever-present rubber bands from his pocket, pulling his hair into a ponytail at the base of his neck. It would have been smart, thought Bella, for her to bring one of those, too. As it was, she just put her hat back on. When they reached her truck, she unlocked the door for him. From their position on the hill, they could see the marina clearly. She started the engine, and while it was warming up, she shifted on the seat to face him.

"It sounds awesome," she said. "Traveling like that. Being with everybody."

"It was."

"You'll do it again? This summer?"

"I don't know." He was looking out over the water, at the white masted sailboats moored there. "Seth wants to go. His mom thinks he's too young, but I think he could do it. We could go; we all could go, but—"

His face darkened, and she knew this was what bothered him the most.

"—I don't think we can. It would never be the same." He snorted. "Guess who was my partner."

She shrugged.

"Paul. Yeah. Fucking perfect together. I'm strong; he's stubborn. Same height, same weight. He follows me. Keeps up with me. He never lets me rest, and I never let him get distracted. His head's all over the place, let me tell you. Can't sit through class some days; he's slipping out to run. Worse lately, but he's always been like that."

She nodded.

"Quil's grandpa, he says to me, 'You hold onto him.' What's that mean? I don't know, but I did it. He was a monster."

She could hardly imagine Paul cooperating with anyone.

"Now he's a total dick to me. To Leah. To Quil, to Seth, to you."

She nodded again.

"We were friends. Yeah, we were. But the one I really hate is Sam. He broke us up, not just Leah. He broke up that whole canoe, and I never wanted to hit anybody before, but I swear to God, I think I'm going to tear him up some day."

He looked at his hands. Big. She knew, if he were a different kind of person, that he could do a lot of damage with those hands. He curled them to fists and opened them again, looking at his wide, brown palms.

Very quietly: "I never wanted to hit anybody before."

She placed her own small hand in one of his and folded his fingers around it. "Dinner," she said. "Something unhealthy. I got forty dollars. Let's blow it all."


As Bella soon discovered, Port Angeles had one restaurant where forty dollars would have been blown on the salad course, and a lot of others where they'd have to put a little effort into it. "How about there?" Jacob said, as they passed an Italian restaurant. "Look, it has your name on it."

"No, thanks," she replied. She wasn't sure if she wanted to avoid that place because it would make her cry, or because it would make her cry a lot. Would Elizabeth Barrett Browning have dined there, if Robert had run out on her? How do you hurt me? Let me count the ways... Certainly not.

They ended up in a pizza parlor fancy enough to have white tablecloths. It was next door to the cafe where Angela had taken her after their coat shopping expedition, and close to Peninsula College. Sliding into a booth across from him, she thought that this seemed like a pretty nice place. It was quiet with only a few other diners in the back, and the tables were decorated with tiny white vases holding red carnations and baby's breath, tiny candles in cut glass dishes, and tiny placards with pictures of desserts. Jacob picked that up immediately and perused the cheesecake selection while she rearranged the sugar packets in their plastic holder. She had heard once that all restaurants had to place the sugar, Sweet-n-Low, and Equal sugar alternatives in the same order, every time, to be kind to blind patrons. She checked the arrangement of the packets on another table and reshuffled the ones on hers. When that was done, she lined up the salt and pepper shakers.

"What are you doing?" asked Jacob.

"Nothing."

They ordered a medium pizza that was half cheese and half meat-bomb. At least, that's what Bella called it. Jacob called it a snack. He said that all four of the major food groups were represented. Cheese, Pepperoni, Bacon, and Sausage. There was nothing, he claimed, that couldn't be improved by adding cheese or bacon. Maybe both.

"How about pasta?" she said.

"Easy. With cheese."

"French toast?"

"Bacon." He added that she wasn't offering him much of a challenge.

"Soup."

"What kind? Potato and cheese? Bean and bacon?"

"Fine. Ice cream."

"I'm gonna go with bacon."

"Oh, you would not."

"Saw it at the state fair. Last year."

"Sounds disgusting."

"Ate it at the state fair. Fucking amazing."

One of the waitresses, an older lady passing in the aisle, looked at him darkly, and Bella kicked him under the table. "Shh! I thought you had good manners."

"Only in front of your dad."

He said something else, too, but she couldn't tell what it was because of the pizza he'd stuffed in his mouth. Something like, "I'm Mr. Perfect." Or maybe, "I can act perfect." Probably the latter. He'd lied to Charlie pretty smoothly about the first time she wiped out on the bike. And he'd told the whole town how proud he was of Billy last weekend. She wasn't sure if she should admire him for his ability to dissemble or not. Maybe it needed neither commendation nor condemnation. Maybe it needed something else.

What was happening to her sunny Jacob? Something dark was moving around him. Something was changing. She didn't like that at all. It made her want to fight, made her want to wheel around with a wild swipe of something solid, like when she'd held off those people with the crutch on the night she smashed the truck. Maybe her Jacob project would have to last longer than today.

When they finished the pizza, they still had twenty-four dollars left to spend, so they ordered an assortment of cheesecake. Key Lime, Caramel Turtle, and White Chocolate Raspberry. It made her stomach hurt to eat all of that, but it was far too good to leave on the plate, and wasn't it irresponsible to give oneself a stomachache? She pointed that out to Jacob, who raised his hand to request another slice of the Turtle cake.

"What are you doing after school tomorrow?" she asked him.

"Rabbit. You?"

"I have to visit Vera."

She told him a little more about her history project. The information she'd discovered in Hoquiam was so shockingly awful that it made her want to spend more time with Vera. She didn't know what she could possibly say to her about all that, or even if she should bring it up. Albertine had said that Vera didn't like to talk about it, so silent sympathy might be best. And she had promised to find another book to read to her. Preferably something without romance.

"How about Hamlet?" Jacob suggested. "Revenge. Insanity. I liked it."

She shook her head. "Ophelia. Pond."

"Oh." He thought for a second. "Call of the Wild. I read that in junior high. Dogs, wolves, snow. Cool stuff."

She said she'd consider it. It sounded far better than anything else she had come up with.

Jacob said he thought it was sweet that she was spending so much time with an old lady whom she didn't really know. A person who wasn't her relative. Someone with no real claim on her.

"I have to. It's for school."

"But you don't have to read to her. It's nice, Bella. I think it's really nice of you."

"You do?"

"Yeah." He set down his fork and reached for her hand across the table. "You're— You're good at listening. And you know when people feel sad. And you just— You know, it's nice sometimes just to have somebody next to you." He said some other things like that, and how he liked that about her, but she could hardly hear him. Something dizzy was blossoming inside her. She felt her cheeks getting pinker. It had been a long time since anybody said something like that to her. A long time since she felt very good about herself. She felt her eyes getting teary again, and she wished she could stop feeling so fragile, but he wasn't looking at her eyes anyway; he was holding her hand, looking at his napkin, really, but telling her all these nice things and—

And then it all started to come apart.

She realized that they were sitting in a nice restaurant with flowers and candles on the table. They had enjoyed a special meal and an awful lot of dessert together. As evening fell, someone in the restaurant had dimmed the lighting and piped Frank Sinatra tunes over the stereo, and now Jacob was stroking his thumb over the back of her hand. The pleasantly dizzy feeling in her head changed to a buzzing, blank horror. He felt the shift in her breathing, and when he looked up, she knew her face must have gone fish-belly white.

"Bells?"

"This is not a date," she spluttered.

"What?"

"This." She pulled her hand away and waved it over the table. "This stuff. You. Me. Date. Not." She couldn't seem to make a full sentence come out, but she was pretty sure he got the idea. His face darkened, hardened.

"Am I so horrible?"

"No, it's just—"

"You're hurting my feelings. You've already made that clear, very clear—"

"I'm sorry."

"—and I told you my priorities." He waved his hand over the table in angry imitation. "You, me, date, not, thanks a lot."

She didn't like the way his eyes glittered.

"You, me," he continued. "Friends. That's it. What do I have to—"

"Oh, Jake, I—"

"You invited me here. Your idea. And what's this?" He indicated the little white candle, glowing in its glass dish. "The flame of our passion?" Very deliberately, he lifted his water glass and poured it over the candle, never taking his eyes from her own, until her tears spilled over. At that point he sighed and sat back with his arms folded over his chest. "Don't cry. I can't take it."

She smudged her hands over her cheeks.

"You make me crazy, you know that?"

"I make myself crazy," she admitted, looking at the wet tablecloth. "Maybe I am. I just can't— I can't— You know I like you, don't you? So much."

He looked away.

"There's no one more important to me. You." She didn't know how to explain any more. Crumpling up her napkin, she wiped it over her eyes and nose.

"You know what's important to me?" he said quietly. "Getting rid of everything that hurts you." She watched as he took the red flower from its vase and smeared its petals over the white cloth. "If there was something to kill, I would kill it for you."

"Jacob."

"No. I would." He set his hand on the table, palm up. "Can I touch you?"

She put her hand in his. It made her fingers stop shaking.

"This is enough."

They paid their bill. The waitress was none too pleased about what they had done to the tablecloth. Bella left a large tip that was probably more about easing her conscience than pleasing their server, and they stepped out into the cold street.

"I'm sorry," she said again.

"Walk with me."

Block after block. It didn't matter where they went. The air grew colder and the night came down. They walked until her feet hurt, and then they walked more. After a while, she realized they were doing it to make him tired. When he had had enough, they returned to the truck.

"I'll drive," he said.

The road home was long and cold. She didn't know what to say to make things better. They followed the road through the dark, between the tall, black pines, until they got to La Push. She got out with him when he parked in his driveway.

"Tuesday," she said. "After school. I'll come to see you."

"That would be nice." He pulled her into his arms and held her until she stopped sniffling. "It's okay," he said. "It's okay."

At home again, she hung her coat in the front closet with barely a word for Charlie. He watched her ascend the steps to her room and close the door. Once in there, she peeled off all her clothes, as if she could take off the mistakes she had made. She had ruined their day. She had wanted to make him happy, and she had ruined everything. Why, why? She thought she might cry on her bed, but instead she felt drawn to that spot on the floor where she had hesitated that morning, her head feeling strange, her feet feeling heavy. There she collapsed. She had been so close. She had almost made herself happy, too.


Author's Note:

Dear readers, Have faith. Have faith in my Jake and Bells.

Little Questions.

1. Do you think Charlie should help Quil with the van problem?

2. What do you think Mike should do about Jessica?

3. I tried to develop Jacob's character here a little more. What impressions do you get of him from the way he talked about the canoe journey?

Big Questions.

1. What's up with the heavy spot on B's floor?

2. Your thoughts on J and B's "not date"?

Thank you. I hope you will share your opinions on this chapter. Remember I treasure your words. Previews to reviewers. Hugs and Gratitude to all!

P.S. Just curious. If you like, could you tell me what state or country you live in, if you choose to review? I just think it's amazing that the Twi FF world spans the globe, literally. I have met people in France, Sweden, Indonesia, Canada, England, Australia, Dubai, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois... hmmm... Am I leaving anyone out? Let me know!

P.P.S. Where's my peeps?! I haven't heard from many of you after this chapter... Are you still out there? "Please write to your [author] or call. She misses you very much."