A/N: This was my contest entry to The Canon Tour: New Moon round. It was significantly edited in order to limbo under the maximum word limit. Here you have the director's cut, with no commercial interruptions. Hope you enjoy it!
In this story, the werewolf gene has passed Jacob by, leaving him a normal teenager. What will happen now that he can no longer protect Bella?
Many, many thanks to my glorious beta, katmom, who rocks the words and cures my grammar ills. If you haven't yet, check out her entry to TheCanonTour: New Moon – "Letters from Esme". And for a special treat, check out her Canon Tour: Pre-Twilight Winner: "EAC – The Journal of Edward Cullen". You won't be sorry!
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all the characters, I'm just playing with them. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter 1 - Distractions
Jacob and I stood on a lonely, dirt road surrounded by the green, moist woods. I was astride my small, elderly motorcycle, while Jake steadied the bike, holding the handlebars, and bracing the front wheel against his knee. Though it wasn't very large, it felt pretty big to me, and I had to stand on tiptoe to reach the ground. Idling, the old motorcycle sputtered as it sent a thin stream of exhaust into the chilly air.
"Okay, Bella, just like we practiced. Grab hold of the clutch," Jake directed.
I blew the errant strands of hair out of my mouth, reached out and squeezed the left lever, holding it closed. I could feel the butterflies taking a loop around my stomach, but I was also hopefully eager. This was the culmination of a month's worth of work and Jacob's sweat. If he really knew what I wanted out of it, would he have agreed to help me? What sane person did something stupid and reckless just to hear a voice in their head?
"Now, put it in gear and give it some gas. Don't let go of the clutch!"
The engine's growl increased as I twisted the throttle back with my right hand. I nudged the shifter with my foot and it clicked into place.
"Good. Now I want you to let go of the clutch just a little until – there! Feel it?" The noise of the engine subsided slightly as the clutch began to engage. "Play with it a little; get the idea where it catches."
I flexed my left hand, and felt the nudge of the bike as the clutch engaged and disengaged. I nodded a little nervously. "Okay, Jake. I think I'm ready."
I wasn't sure if I heard right, but there seemed to be a second growl that didn't come from the motorbike, in a voice I hadn't heard since that evening in Port Angeles with Jessica. The corner of my mouth twitched, but Jacob didn't seem to notice – the smile or the sound.
I set my feet more steadily to take the weight of the bike and Jacob let go of the handlebars. Then cautiously, I released the clutch until I felt it catch and the bike began to move forward. Little by little I let it go some more and picked up a little speed, wobbling slightly as I found my balance. Once moving, I let it go completely and bumped and bobbled down the rough dirt road. Still upright, but moving slowly, I gave the throttle more of a twist; the bike obliged with a lurch forward. The bike twitched but stayed upright as we hit the bumps in the road with increasing speed.
Bella, stop! Edward's voice surprised me, shouting close by my head. Don't do this!
It was exactly what I had hoped for, but to actually hear it still surprised me. I stomped on the brake pedal, hoping to slow down so I could hear it better. Unfortunately, the bike took offense, and the rear wheel began sliding back and forth until one final, violent swing threw the back end around and launched me from the saddle. As I flew through the air, I belatedly thought a helmet would have been a good idea. That was all that went through my head until I hit the ground with a thump and tumbled, not knowing which way was up.
Briefly stunned, I became aware of a numbing pressure on my chest, as I fought to pull a full breath into my lungs. I gradually realized I was lying on my back with my head on the ground, and the weight on my chest was the motorcycle lying on top of me. As I lay there, I tried to sense how bad it was and a cursory survey told me…this was manageable. I'd had far worse.
One broken leg, two broken ribs, a fractured skull and a gash in my scalp needing ten stitches to close. Bruises and strains all over my body from being thrown into walls, and a crescent-shaped gash on my wrist that healed strangely. My encounter with James had resulted in the worst physical pain I had ever experienced in my life, and considering my extensive history with emergency rooms, that was saying something. It had taken a month of convalescence before I could breathe normally. The fractured skull left me with headaches and dizziness for about the same amount of time, and I had to keep my leg elevated or the throbbing would drive me crazy. Even after two months, my leg was still in a cast when we went to prom.
And yet, that too, was nothing – a scratch. A mere inconvenience compared to the crippling, paralyzing wounds Ed– God, I couldn't even think his name – he had left in his wake. It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed, to endure yet another day without him. Four whole months had passed from which I could recall nothing of significance. The hole in my chest never went away; it only got pushed aside if something necessary needed to be done, and gave me enough energy to trudge through.
"Bella!" Jake's panicked shout brought me back to my present situation. Another motorcycle roared to life and the sound began to draw closer. I raised my hands and tried to push the bike off but I had no strength in my arms.
The sound of the motorbike stopped and suddenly Jake's worried face came into my view. "Bella! Are you okay?"
Although disoriented and winded, I felt rather bemused, because the voice of my angel had come back to me. I gave Jacob a weak nod and a giddy smile, but he didn't seem to be relieved.
"Hang on; I'll get that off you." He moved and got his hands on my bike, grunted and heaved, but to no effect. Shifting his position, I heard him growling in the back of his throat as he strained and slowly lifted the motorbike off. I took a full breath and tried to get up, but a wave of dizziness hit me.
"Whoa." I settled back down as the scenery shifted around me.
"Yeah, give me a second." Jacob helped prop me up to a sitting position, and after a while my head settled back down to normal. I glanced up at him, my smile widening.
"Let's do that again!" The vestiges of his voice still reverberated in my memory, and I was eager to hear him once more.
Jacob's frown deepened, and he gave me that you-must-be-crazy look. "Are you sure? You wiped out pretty good."
"Well, that was my first time. I won't get better if I give up now." I wasn't about to stop now that I'd heard his voice again.
Jake shook his head. "Okay, but remember not to stomp on the rear brake like that. It makes the bike fish-tail. Your front brake is your friend."
"Got it." He helped me to my feet, and together we picked my bike up. While Jake steadied it, I climbed aboard, stood, and kicked the starter several times until it roared to life. The bike seemed unharmed from the spill, and growled in response. Grasping the handlebars, I glanced at Jacob; his enthusiastic grin had returned with my apparent return to normal.
"When you try to stop, take it easy with the brake," he reminded me. "Just like your truck, you don't stomp on it when you want to slow down."
I nodded my assent. Taking a deep breath, I set out again, this time with a little more success. I tried a few more easy runs while Jake watched from the middle of the road. My balance and stability were still shaky, but I was starting to get an idea of what to do. Better yet, Edward's voice came back each time, chiding me for my stupidity and recklessness.
The thrilling feeling of apprehension and adrenaline, combined with the sensation of flying down the road, started to feel good. Following Jacob's instructions, I shifted the bike into a higher gear and the wind began to whip through my hair in earnest.
Are you trying to kill yourself? the voice screamed in my ear, still velvet smooth for all the volume.
"Would you care if I did?" I answered a question with a question, but the wind stole my words.
There was a bend in the road where I'd been stopping on my previous tries, but I reached it faster than I expected this time. I yanked on the handlebars to turn the bike and just at that moment, the tire hit a large rock and the front wheel turned sideways.
My launch must have been truly spectacular this time, and I had enough presence of mind to put my arms up over my head as I flew, but that didn't prevent the shock of impact or the blaze of light that exploded behind my eyes.
"Bella!" Jacob's voice seemed to come from far away, and my head felt one size too large. The roar of the bike prefaced Jacob's arrival; he leaned over me, frowning in concern.
"Geez, you're bleeding." Jacob's voice matched his face, and he quickly pulled his jacket and t-shirt off. Folding the shirt, he pressed it against my head and placed my hand on it. "Sorry, this is the cleanest thing I've got. Hold this, and press if you can," he muttered. "Does anywhere else hurt?"
"No, just my head."
"Okay, just lie still, I'm gonna get the truck." He shrugged back into his jacket and stood quickly.
Lying on the moist earth, I heard him get back on his bike, kick it to life and roar back up the road towards my truck.
Jacob was such a good friend. This last month had been almost bearable thanks to him. He had been very surprised to see me when I drove up to his house, the bed of my truck filled with dead motorcycles. I hadn't expected any more than his practical opinion that I turn around and take them to the dump. Instead, he had surpassed my expectations, restored them to working condition and was teaching me how to ride – which I did in my fashion. My reward for my pain was glorious – I heard his velvet voice again. I never thought I could feel such a sense of relief and ease while perched on a roaring, bucking assembly of scrap metal hurtling down a rough dirt road. Although he yelled at me, I didn't care. At least he was talking to me again, without me having to think of all the ways he used to show me that he loved me…
I had to stop thinking like that. It didn't hurt when he came to me, but I couldn't think of him without a stab of pain. Jake might already wonder why I always held my arms around my chest, or winced and turned away like I had a nervous tic. He'd been doing his level best to cheer me up, and I wouldn't want him to think I was crazy or something.
The tortured roar of my truck announced Jake's arrival. At the cost of a spinning head, I looked up to see him emerge from the cab with the first aid kit he had thought to bring along.
"Didn't I tell you?" His voice joked but his brow was still furrowed.
"Yeah," I groaned. "It's not if you'll fall, but when."
"With you it's absolutely guaranteed," Jacob grumbled as he knelt and took the shirt from me and, holding the back of my head, applied compression. His jacket fell open exposing his bare chest. I screwed my eyes shut, unable to stop comparing the image of another, more mature chest from rising in my mind. Jacob must have taken my response for pain, and apologized.
"I guess your sisters never did anything like this, huh?" I asked.
Jake shrugged. "Too busy doing girly stuff."
Falling silent at that, I wondered what that said about my lack of girlishness. I suppose getting hurt while learning to ride a motorcycle wasn't something that his sisters Rachel or Rebecca might have done. I couldn't imagine them hanging out with Jake in his garage either.
After several minutes, Jake checked my head again, and his frown deepened. He replaced his shirt with a bandage and wrapped it snugly around my head with gauze.
"I think you're going to need some stitches. Can you get up? I gotta get you to emergency."
I tested my head, which didn't swim so much, and nodded. He helped me up to my feet and over to the truck. With a groan, I climbed into the passenger side and he closed the door. Jake came around and climbed behind the wheel, starting the truck.
"I'll get one of the guys to help me get the bikes, later," Jacob told me as the truck started bouncing down the road.
"Thanks, Jake." I meant that. Now that I had found the key to his voice, I wasn't about to give it up.
Jacob turned the heat up in the truck and pulled out onto the paved highway heading back into town. Every so often he would glance at me worriedly.
"How do you feel?" he finally asked.
"S'okay," I mumbled. "Still kinda dizzy."
"We'll be there soon." He pushed the gas pedal down harder, to the complaints of my ancient vehicle.
When we arrived at the emergency room, Jacob stood by while the admissions nurse checked me in, and stayed in the waiting area when they ushered me through the doors and into an examination room. A nurse helped me get out of my dirty clothes and into a hospital gown.
Thankfully, it was Dr. Snow and not Dr. Gerandy who came to examine me. Dr. Gerandy knew Charlie better, and would be more likely to give him a call about my visit to the ER. I fed Dr. Snow a story of losing my footing while hiking with Jake. He glanced at the condition of my clothing and it seemed to make sense to him. He shook his head and advised me to be more careful, checking the response of my pupils with a small flashlight. Then he got to work on my head. Some numbing ointment, and three stitches later, he was done. He handed me a vial of pain medication.
"You may have a slight concussion," he informed me. "If you feel increased dizziness or nausea, have your father bring you back in."
"Thanks, Dr. Snow."
"You're welcome, Bella. You can go now." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. "Your boyfriend has been in the waiting room all this time."
"Oh. Um, he's not my boyfriend." I felt the blush climb up my face and it made the recently stitched area throb.
"Ah. My mistake," Dr. Snow apologized and left the room so I could change.
The deep look of sympathy that came over Dr. Snow made me wonder. Did everybody in this town know that my…boyfriend had left me? Probably. Just what I needed – to be the subject of more talk. Bad enough that I had more stories circulating about me courtesy of Jessica, after our outing to Port Angeles.
Jacob stood up as I entered the waiting area; he looked more relieved than when I had gone in.
"Hey," I greeted him.
"How do you feel?" His eyes went to the bandage on my head. I considered it a small blessing that the gash was below the hairline, and they hadn't had to cut off any hair to stitch me up.
Jacob's face bunched up slightly as he spoke. "Listen, the doctor told me you might have a concussion as well as the cut on your head. Maybe we should cool it with the bike for a while. At least until you heal."
I couldn't keep the disappointment from showing, but I couldn't argue with his logic. As wobbly as I felt, it wasn't going to help staying on top of the bike. At the same time, the sense of dread rose up. It was bad enough to forgo hearing his voice, but all that slack time without anything to distract me? That didn't look to be an appealing way to spend time out of school.
"Do you feel like doing something else?" I was pathetic, hoping that he would have another idea to keep me from myself.
"Sure, what do you feel like?"
I cast about for something else to divert me. Perhaps some other way that would bring me closer to him. I'd been to the house, and that trip had been a painful disappointment. It stood, barren and alone, devoid of the spark I thought might have been there. I could only think of one other place that might be touched by his magic…
Jake still waited for a response. I placed a hand on my chin and adopted a speculative air. "There was one place in the National Park I saw once…"
"I'm not sure. It was kind of off the beaten path, so I'm not sure if I'd be able to find it again. But it was really beautiful."
"Was there a trail?"
"No, but I know where the trailhead is. Do you think you could help me find it?" I watched him hopefully. If he wasn't in for it, would I be able to find it by myself? Thankfully, Jacob did not disappoint.
"Hiking? Sure, I'm game."
"Great! Not too long, of course. We've got to get some homework done some time."
"Tomorrow, first thing after school," Jacob agreed.
= O = o = P =
At Jacob's suggestion, I used my employee discount at Newton's Outfitters to purchase a topography map of the park and a pair of hiking boots. He already had a compass, and when I went to his house the next day after school, he spread the map out on the kitchen table.
"How far do you think you went?" he asked, looking for the trailhead I had described.
"He…I think it was about five miles," I said with a slight wince.
Jake was busy with a ruler and a pencil and didn't notice. "And you went to the east?"
"I'm not sure. There was a trail, but I went in the opposite direction, off-trail."
"Hmm," Jacob frowned. "That'll make it this way then. There's a ravine, so I don't think you went through there…" He muttered, then looked up. "How did you find this thing the first time?"
I looked out the kitchen window, hugging myself, not knowing what to say without sounding too pathetic. Finally, I came up with a convenient lie. "I'd gotten lost, and was just trying to find my way when I came across it – the most perfect looking meadow, full of beautiful wildflowers and surrounded by trees. I guess I got lucky when I found my way back out."
Jake snorted. "Yeah, I'll say. With your sense of direction, you should stick to trails."
After packing some water and some snacks in a backpack, we got into Jacob's car and drove to the trailhead. Returning to the small dirt lot brought back a glimmer of memory, and I felt a slight hope that we might find what I was looking for.
"So you didn't take the trail." Jacob jerked his thumb at the trailhead sign.
"Nope. Started that side of the lot." I pointed toward a slight opening in the brush and ferns opposite the trailhead. Jake pulled out the map and consulted his compass for a moment.
"I like a challenge. Okay, let's get going," he said with a grin.
Jacob led, and I followed as best I could. He kept up a friendly commentary on general topics – school, friends, the weather being less rainy than some years he remembered. He waited patiently for me as I toiled along, and I steeled myself against the reminder of making this journey before in a happier time, with someone else. But no voice came to me, so I kept doggedly moving forward.
After about two hours of tramping through cypress and pine forests and sword ferns, Jake said we had gone a little further than five miles on our current search vector (his words) with no sign of the meadow, so it was time to cut across and head back on the return vector (his words again). I tried to hide my disappointment, but he must have noticed because he immediately promised we would try again tomorrow. With a wan smile, I agreed.
Jake would have made a great Boy Scout. Armed with only a map and compass, and no fancy electronic gear, we still came out exactly where we had entered the forest. That gave me some assurance that he knew what he was doing and we might be able to find the meadow.
We made several more forays into the backcountry, with the same results. I think even Jacob's irrepressible cheer was beginning to wear thin because he suggested we might do something else the next day instead of hiking. My blisters were starting to heal, and my muscles were getting accustomed to the daily hiking, so I wasn't too thrilled about stopping. But he was my guide, so if his heart wasn't into it, I didn't want to insist. The next day was Friday anyway, so for a treat, and to thank him for all that he'd done for me so far, I suggested a movie with a few friends. Angela had asked me some days before, and I had originally declined. I recalled one of the movie choices was a comedy, and that was something I could handle. I'd have to see if the invitation was still open.
The next day at lunch with Mike, Angela and Ben, I asked Angela if they were still going to take in a movie after school. She smiled at me and confirmed.
"Of course, I wanted to cheer you up, remember? Do you think you can make it?" I always liked how sincere she was. No fake concern or platitudes ever crossed her lips.
I tried to meet her smile. "If the invitation is still open. And is it okay for another friend to come?"
"Of course. Mike, Ben and Austin might come too." Angela's eyes held a question for me, but she didn't express it. I squeezed her shoulder and answered her.
"It's Jacob Black, an old family friend. You met him at First Beach last March."
Angela nodded but didn't press me any further. I wasn't sure but it seemed Mike frowned for a moment. Hopefully, things wouldn't get too awkward between them.
= O = o = P =
Friday after school, Mrs. Newton was using the family Suburban, so we needed to take two cars. Jacob came from the reservation and picked me up. Mike ended up in Jake's car with me, while Angela and Austen went with Ben. Jacob originally had some music on the radio, but I changed it to a news station.
"Don't like that song?" Mike asked, his eyes teasing.
I glanced out the window at the passing greenery. "Sorry, not in the mood for music," I mumbled. "Hope you don't mind?"
"No problem, whatever you like." The image of a Labrador retriever with a wagging tail came to my mind immediately.
"Bella doesn't like music," Jacob supplied helpfully.
I suppose I had dampened the mood in the car, because we passed the rest of the drive to the theatre like this – a few comments, long silences, not much witty repartee. When we arrived at the theatre, Ben and Austen opted for an action film that promised to have blood and martial arts. Angela decided to stick with Jake and me for the comedy. Mike took a moment before deciding to watch the comedy as well. As we found seats, I maneuvered myself to sit between Angela and Jacob, while Mike settled on Angela's other side.
The movie was a satire on the current zombie movie trend, and while there was some gore, it was presented in a humorous light – slapstick, not graphic. It was distracting enough that even I rolled my eyes a few times at the more corny jokes. But it ended before the action movie did. That left us standing in the lobby, chatting while we waited for Ben and Austen.
Mike sidled over to me, and spoke in a low voice. "Glad you could come out with us, Bella. You look nice."
I ducked my head, embarrassed at the attention in front of Jacob and Angela, especially since I was wearing whatever nondescript stuff I wore day-to-day. "Thanks, Mike," I mumbled.
"Did you like the movie?"
"It was kinda goofy sometimes, but okay."
"You should get out more. It's good for you." And without missing a beat, Mike said, "So, are you busy this weekend?"
I couldn't believe him. Did he ever turn it off? Feeling really uncomfortable, I blurted out way too much. "Well, you know I'm working at the store, and after that I'm going down to Jacob's place to work on homework."
Mike glanced at Jacob, giving him a frank and not very friendly appraisal. "Wait, you're a sophomore, right?"
Jake's eyes flicked at me for a moment, then he improvised. "My dad's been bugging me about my grades. Bella's dad knows mine, so she's been helping me with homework."
"Oh. So…you guys have been hanging out and doing homework?" My eyes narrowed at Mike's tone. It wasn't really any business of his and he almost seemed to be interrogating us.
Jake bristled slightly. "Yeah, and some hiking."
Mike was taller than Jacob by half a head, and he seemed to look down his nose. "Where have you been hiking? Down at the store, we heard some reports of bears that aren't afraid of people."
Jacob shrugged. "In the National Park."
"That's where the bears were spotted. There've been some hikers who had some close calls. Better not get off trail, it'd be a bad time to get lost." Mike seemed to be trying too hard to be ominous.
Before Jacob could get his back up any more, I jumped in. "He's practically a Boy Scout out in the woods. I'd have been totally lost, if not for him."
At the pleased expression on Jake's face, I felt a mixture of emotions. I jumped to his defense because I didn't want Mike to think less of him. But at the same time, I might be perpetuating the effects of that fake flirting I did when he first told me about the Quileute legends. I knew this wasn't right, because I could tell he felt a certain attraction for me. When his friends Quil and Embry teased him about his "girlfriend," Jake had gotten very embarrassed, and maybe overreacted a bit when he jumped on them in retaliation.
It just wasn't the same. He was one of the oldest friends I had here in Forks, but that's all. He would always be Rachel and Rebecca Black's kid brother to me. He was okay looking with the strong brow, kind face and the heavy shock of black hair reaching to his shoulders. But the attraction just wasn't there; he looked like he'd be 140 pounds soaking wet, maybe 150. He was pretty wiry from working with his hands on heavy machinery, but once you'd seen Michelangelo's David come to life…it just wasn't the same.
I felt a little guilty that I couldn't do what was right, and stop hanging onto him like a security blanket. It's just that I felt so fragile these days. He was always happy-go-lucky and didn't seem to mind that I don't say much, allowing him to fill the silences with his random musings. It did cheer me up to be around him, but in the way that having a puppy would.
The action movie ended and Ben and Austen joined us at that point, saving me from more testosterone drama. The group planned to grab a burger but I needed to get home to cook for Charlie. Mike decided to catch a ride with Ben, so Jake took me home. As he pulled up in front of my house, he asked what I wanted to do tomorrow.
"It's Saturday tomorrow, Bells. What do you feel like doing after work? Biking? Hiking? Mad science experiments in the garage?"
My head was back to feeling normal now, but I was determined to find the meadow now that we'd started. "You okay with hiking?"
"Sure." Jake fidgeted with the gear shift for a moment. His sudden question caught me off guard. "Um, do you like that guy?"
"Who, Mike?" I stuttered. "No, he's just a school friend. The group of us hang out at lunch, and I have a class with him."
"Well, he seems to like you, though."
I shrugged. "He's just a friend," I repeated.
"He's right though," Jake continued and brought his gaze up to mine. "It's good for you to get out again. Are you…feeling any better these days?"
I felt I should reassure him so he's wouldn't be concerned. "Yeah, a little bit."
"I mean, you haven't really been out much since…they left."
I squeezed myself tighter at the sudden twinge, and shook my head. "No, I haven't."
"Don't you think you're better off?" Jake didn't seem to notice my distress and continued on. "If it was me, I'd be pissed if somebody just up and left me. You deserve better than that. I mean, who does he think he is?"
I screwed my eyes shut as each comment twisted the knife in deeper. Jake was saying other, unflattering things but I couldn't register them. Finally I couldn't take any more.
"Jake, please stop," I begged. "I can't talk about that, right now."
"Oh. Sorry, Bella." Jake fell uncharacteristically silent, his brows drawn together in concern.
"Um, I should go." I grabbed my backpack and fumbled for the door handle.
"Do you…still want to go look for your meadow tomorrow?" he asked, his face apologetic. "We can give it a rest if you want."
I tried to give him a wan smile, but failed. "I'll be fine. See you tomorrow."
I stumbled my way into the house, and up the stairs. Charlie would be home soon, and I needed to get myself together in time to make dinner. Dropping my backpack in my room, I headed to the bathroom for a quick shower. Leaning my head against the tiles with the hot water raining down, I felt the tension in me ease somewhat.
After the dishes were washed and put away, I bid Charlie goodnight and went upstairs to get ready for bed. Jacob thought that I should be angry. I was no longer too numb to feel anything, so it was possible I could be angry. Hate was the opposite of love, and I didn't think I could feel hate where he was concerned. I wouldn't want to feel hate if it would drive away the love that I felt. But where love existed, so could hate, both being passionate emotions.
I had spent the last several months cuddling my pain to my chest like a puppy, not wanting to let go for fear of losing the memories of the best year I had ever experienced. At the same time, I was continually seared by the emptiness, yearning for something that was so sweet, I welcomed the agony because it reminded me it really must have happened. What would it take to let go? Would I want to be able to let go? It would be healthier to do so. The thought of becoming a wizened old crone, alone and still pining for someone who didn't want me anymore made me shudder. As the tears crept down to soak my pillow, I lay awake longer than usual before I finally fell asleep, and the familiar nightmares descended.
= O = o = P =
To be continued...
I hope you've enjoyed the uncut version. Please review, I'd like to know what you think!