I do not own Twilight.
On The Right Path
It's two weeks until the wedding and Bella is awash in a sea of colours and flowers and gowns. Not that she really needs to think about these things because Alice has it all sorted out anyway.
Alice has already seen the wedding and it's going to be perfect.
Bella lets Alice get on with it.
It's fine. She doesn't care that much anyway.
All she wants is to be with Edward. Edward is all that matters.
She looks up as he enters the sitting room of the Cullen house, smiling at the sight of her.
"Sweetheart, is Alice boring you?"
"No, of course not." Bella is a terrible liar and Alice rolls her eyes prettily, scooping up the magazines.
"Go away, both of you. I'll sort it out. Bella, you'll have to taste some cakes for us though, because they all taste terrible to me."
Bella agrees and allows herself to be carried up to Edward's room. Walking is too slow and she smiles as he lowers her onto the bed, pressing his cold, hard lips to hers.
"I love you." He whispers and she smiles again.
It was going to be so simple.
Marry Edward, disappear, get turned, live happily ever after.
Bella was concentrating on those four things but it all went wrong because of four people.
The first was Charlie.
She gets a phone call at lunchtime on her shift at Newton's and Alice stiffens. Edward straightens up and reaches for Bella's ringing cell.
"Bella, let me."
"That's Deputy Mark's number." Bella ignores his order and lifts the cell to her ear.
Charlie has been in an accident. He's been in a car crash. He's at the hospital.
Bella's heart beats wildly and Jasper vanishes. Edward takes her hand and leads her to the door as quickly as possible.
The ride to the hospital is silent, although Alice murmurs that she can see Charlie and that it's not life-threatening.
Bella can't reply.
Carlisle is treating Charlie and allows Edward to accompany Bella into the room. Charlie is sleeping and Bella is silent, not wanting to wake him. His left leg is encased in plaster and his body is battered and bruised.
But Bella stares at her father and realises how fragile he is and how much she really does love him, because he's her dad. Even if he hasn't been the most actively present parent, he has always cared and Bella feels a lump in her throat, tears pricking at her eyes.
"Please go." She whispers to Edward, wanting to say something less harsh sounding but unable to for fear of bursting into tears. Edward touches her hand and it's like an electric shock and she jerks her fingers away.
He, Carlisle and Alice all turn and leave although they can probably hear her.
Bella cries when she's angry.
Now she cries because she was scared that her dad was going to die. She sits on the edge of the bed, smoothing his hair out of his face, thick brown hair like hers.
She holds his hand, the one without the needle in it, and murmurs softly to him that it's OK, that she's there, that she'll take care of him.
She strokes his hand and kisses his forehead and whispers.
After about forty minutes, his eyes flicker open and he gives a soft grunt.
"Should be at work."
"I should be here. I'm looking after you." She tells him and he closes his eyes.
"I'm here. I'm taking care of you." She insists.
Charlie is allowed to go home the next day. Bella skips work again and goes to collect him in the morning, insisting that she doesn't need Edward to come with her.
"He'll be in a bad enough mood as it is. He doesn't need more than one person fussing over him." She tells him, although secretly she just needs the space. Charlie is her father, her responsibility and no, she doesn't want Edward to hire a nurse to care for him.
She's his daughter, she can care for him better than anyone.
When she gets to Charlie's rooms, he has a pair of crutches and Billy Black at his side. Billy gives Bella that look. That you're still marrying that vampire, eh? look.
"Bella. Here to take this troublemaker home?"
"He's a handful." Bella agrees and Charlie scowls at them both.
"Out of the three of us, who's been in this hospital the least number of times?"
"Let's get you home, Dad."
A nurse brings a wheelchair and pushes Billy to the front door while Bella pushes Charlie. Sue Clearwater is waiting at the door and she gives Bella that look too.
Bella is awfully tired of that look.
"When is that boy of yours getting back?" Charlie asks Billy and Bella's heart skips a beat.
"Whenever his sister kicks him out, I guess. I think he likes Seattle." Billy shrugs, "I'll see if Quil can drive me down some evening to see how you're doing."
"I can bring Charlie to you, it'll be easier. The cast should only be on for six weeks. I can take care of him." Bella says and they all look at her and she remembers.
She's supposed to be getting married in two weeks.
On Saturday, Bella drops Charlie off at Billy's and then goes to the Cullen house. Edward and Alice are waiting. Esme flitters around the kitchen.
"We can't get married in two weeks." Bella knows that they aware of this already, that Alice will have seen it, but they pretend to acknowledge her decision.
"We'll wait until Charlie's better. It doesn't matter, love." Edward reassures her and holds out his arm but Bella doesn't step into them straight away.
Her mind is racing.
When Charlie is better, she will marry Edward and run away with him, be turned into a vampire and never be allowed to see Charlie, Renee or Jake again.
The reality of this looms over her as cold arms encircle her. She leans her head against Edward's chest and her eyes flicker to Alice's.
Alice is staring at her.
Charlie grumbles, Billy mocks, Alice plans, Edward loves and Bella thinks.
She thinks as she drives to work, as she takes Charlie to his hospital appointments, as she drops him at the station to fill in his paperwork.
She thinks as Alice suggests different dates.
She thinks as she sits on La Push beach, the only place that she has to herself.
How can she leave this?
The tree trunk beneath her is so hard that it makes her backside ache. She runs her fingers over the rough bark and smells the sea salt air as it rushes against her face and she can taste it when she licks her lips.
How can she leave Charlie?
She feels a tiny surge of hatred towards the Bella of three weeks ago, who was so eager to give all of this up. Give up her parents, her friends, the feeling of bare wood under her fingers.
She is cold.
She doesn't like the cold.
Bella stands and starts walking back towards the truck, hoping that the football or baseball or basketball game is over by now.
She cooks dinner for Charlie four weeks later. He sits at the kitchen table, rereading that morning's newspaper and clears his throat, indicating that he'd like to talk. She looks over her shoulder as she stirs the casserole.
"So… this wedding… got a new date?"
"No. Not yet… no." She says, opening the cabinet for the plates. He nods.
"Your mom will want to know so that she can sort out her flights."
Bella dishes up dinner and sits down. Charlie glances at her as he sprinkles his casserole with pepper.
"You alright, Bella?"
"Yeah." She is staring at the huge engagement ring and as she tries to spoon up her dinner, it catches on the table.
She slips it off and puts it in her pocket. It doesn't seem to fit right anymore.
Charlie watches but doesn't say anything.
Bella sits at her computer that night, killing time until Edward arrives. She reads the online news and clears out her inbox. There is an email from one of the many universities that Edward put her name down to look at.
She clicks on the link and finds a 'getting to know you' survey, clearly designed to try and sway her into visiting them.
Bella stares at the empty boxes, waiting for her answers and realises that she doesn't have any. She doesn't know who Bella Swan is.
She turns the computer off and climbs into bed, closing her eyes tightly, barely waking up to notice when Edward slips into the bed beside her.
Charlie's leg heals and Alice starts to ask about wedding dates again.
Bella can't think straight and she calls Edward, telling him that she'll drive over the Cullen house, that they need to talk and Bella fully intends to go to the Cullen house.
She ends up in La Push.
She sits in her truck, overlooking La Push beach and ignoring the ringing of her cell, eventually turning it off altogether.
"Thank god, I was about to smash that thing." Leah Clearwater yanks open the door to the truck and climbs into the empty seat beside Bella, "What are you doing here?"
Bella shakes her head. She turns the engagement ring over and over in her hands and Leah spots it.
"I'm leaving." Leah tells her, "I'm going to Seattle. I got a scholarship to U-dub."
"Why are you telling me this?" Bella doesn't meant to be rude but Leah has barely said two words to her before, and those two words usually had four letters.
"Because you look like you want to run away as much as I do." She says bluntly, "I'm sick of this place. I'm sick of vampires and werewolves and I'm making my own decisions now. I'm leaving tomorrow and if you promise not to be too much of a whiny bitch about it, you can come too."
The second person is Leah Clearwater.
Bella left a note for Charlie, packed the bare essentials with assurance in the letter that she would be back for the rest.
Leah had a tiny apartment to move into and Bella would be sleeping on the sofa.
("I can't live in dorms. I haven't quite perfected this non-phasing thing yet and if I'm going to turn into a wolf, I can't risk having a roommate walk in on me.")
Bella takes her truck to La Push and calls the one Cullen number in her phone that she has never called.
"Bella? Where are you? Edward and Alice are going out of their minds." Rosalie's tone is biting and Bella's breath catches in her throat.
"I don't want to be a vampire, Rosalie."
The words tumble out and Rosalie is silent. Bella swallows hard, feeling tears prick at her eyes because she still loves Edward, she does, and she loves all of the Cullens too, but she doesn't want it anymore.
"I don't know who I am, Rosalie. I don't know what I want to do with my life but I want to… I want to live. I don't want to get married and get turned into a vampire. I don't know what to say to him."
"He'll know as soon I get within ear range of him."
"I know. I love him, I do, I love him so much but I can't… I don't want to be a china doll that he has to keep safe. I want to be able to see my parents. I want to go to college and eat food and breath and…"
Bella's scrambled explanations gives way to gasping sobs and Rosalie gives a soft sigh.
"I'm glad you realised this."
"That's why I called you." Bella whispers, "Because you get it. You warned me and… the others would try to convince me to come back and I can't."
"Where are you going? No, don't tell me."
"I love him. I love all of you, but I don't belong with you."
Rosalie is silent. So is Bella. Leah appears by the truck door, carrying three large duffel bags that should be too heavy for her.
Bella takes a shuddering breath.
"The ring is on my dresser. Tell him I'm sorry, I really am. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be, Bella. Go and live your life, the way you're supposed to."
It might well be the only nice thing Rosalie has ever said to her. Bella doesn't say anything more. She hangs up and Leah switches on the radio.
"Let's get out of here."
The apartment has one bedroom, one bathroom and a living area. The couch is a foldout and Bella thinks that it doesn't look too bad. Leah goes to throw her clothes in the closet before they go and find a supermarket to stock up on food.
Bella has been saving up for a long time (she's just naturally sensible like that) and so has Leah (you don't get out of La Push without cash), so they sit down and decide how to split everything. Bella doesn't have college, so she goes hunting for a fulltime job.
She finds one in a diner, forty hours a week.
After that, she goes to the bank and closes her accounts. She opens another one in another bank. It probably won't take long for the Cullens to track her through her bank account.
But maybe they won't.
Maybe they'll hate her now.
The thought makes Bella crawl onto her sofa bed and cry herself to sleep.
She calls Charlie the next day, having left her cell phone off.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Charlie so angry and Bella cries again (will she ever stop?) but Charlie listens to her stammered explanations of not loving Edward the way that she's supposed to be and that she doesn't want to get married and she wants to live her life before she makes these kinds of decisions.
Charlie is silently accepting when she tells him that she is with Leah Clearwater, that she's working and that she'll come back and see him soon.
They part with an uncomfortable I love you.
Leah starts school and loves it.
They've lived in the apartment for nearly two months when she phases. One minute Bella was cooking pasta and the next she was curled up on the kitchen surface, watching as the enormous wolf grunted and growled, pacing the tiny living room as much as it could in such a confined space.
It only took fifteen minutes for Leah to change back and Bella selfishly thinks about how Alice can't see her as long as Leah phases.
The diner is busy. Bella sweats and her feet ache and she loves it because aching means living, her muscles are still her own, completely human.
A couple of guys from the university eat in there most mornings and Bella gets to know them, amongst her own regulars. One is Neil and the other Dan. They tip pretty well and tease her about being the prettiest waitress in Seattle, enjoying her blush.
Leah sits down beside them one day and tells them to shut their faces because Bella is her lesbian lover.
Bella's face almost explodes.
"Why did you invite me? You hated me."
"Maybe I still do and this is a cunning plot to get you alone and maul you." Leah said dryly, scribbling notes from a textbook.
Bella smiles, rubbing her coffee mug with a dishtowel. She likes to get her all of her breakfast things ready the night before.
Leah realises that she's still waiting for an answer and drops her pencil, stretching her arms over her head. Bella can hear her spine cracking.
"We needed each other."
"Mom would have freaked out if I ran off to the Big Bad City by myself and I didn't want her to worry. You're the most responsible person I know, which is kind of sad since you're only eighteen. And you needed me because you didn't want to get married and you're using the fact that I'm a wolf to hide from the leeches."
Bella puts the mug in the cupboard as Leah taps her pencil against the table. Bella looks over at her.
"You're OK with that explanation?"
"I guess so. But what you're doing is so much better than what I am. You wanted to leave so that you could get an education and better yourself. I left because I was a coward."
"You're not a coward, dumbass. You just realised that what you wanted was stupid. You wanted to die."
"I wanted him."
"Did you?" Leah's eyes are piercing, "Because if that was true, wouldn't you still be there?"
She did want him.
Bell was quite certain of that.
She had loved Edward, completely.
She still did, but when she thought of him, it was almost nostalgic.
An almost, not a certainty.
Could you love someone that you couldn't give yourself to entirely? Would Bella have felt differently in five years, ten? Would she have been ready for the change then?
She stretches out her toes as Leah sprawls on the couch beside her, watching the television.
Bella stares at her feet. They have callouses now, from spending all day on her feet. She has a new burn scar across one thumb, the same hand that had the ice-cold scar from James' bite.
Hot and cold.
Jacob and Edward.
She has tried not to think of Jacob, it was almost harder than thinking of Edward.
No, it is harder, because at least she has had some kind of closure with Edward, had known for sure.
She will never know with Jacob.
Bella has been living in Seattle for over a year. She is twenty now.
She is walking home from the diner one night after her late shift. Normally the chef, Carl, locks up and walks her part of the way home but he had to leave early tonight and let her lock up by herself.
Bella feels like she is being watched.
She pauses to cross a street and glance surreptitiously over her shoulder. She doesn't expect to see anyone because the things that she knows can watch from the darkness would never allow her to see them.
She moves to step into the road and is immediately pulled back by an ice-cold hand as a card hurtles past.
Bella gasps and turns quickly, staring into the golden eyes of Jasper.
Alice appears by his side, looking delighted, frustrated and sorrowful all at once.
Bella stares at them and feels like a little child that has run away from home and is about to be scolded.
She doesn't invite them back to the apartment. Leah would not appreciate it and besides, Bella doesn't like the idea of them knowing where she is all the time, even though they could just follow her home and she'd never know.
They sit in a 24-hour diner (the coffee isn't as good as at Bella's diner) and no one talks for a long time. Eventually Alice sighs.
"This is so annoying. I can't see anything."
"Good." The world slips out of Bella before she can stop it. Jasper smirks and Alice scowls.
"Bella, I've been so worried. We miss you so much."
Bella's hands tighten into fists and she puts them in her lap. Alice blinks at her.
"You love us, Bella. Rosalie told us, that you love us and you love Edward. I understand that you're not ready to be one of us and maybe you never will be but you could still be with us."
Bella looks at Jasper. Jasper looks back and Bella knows that he gets it.
"I don't want to be your human pet."
"Yes, I am." Bella tries to explain without sounding too exasperated, "I love you, yes. And I love Edward. I probably always will but I can't be me around him. I'll always be trying to pretend that I'm something I'm not. I've changed in a year, Alice. Who knows what I'll want in ten years' time?"
Alice is silent and Bella blinks back hot tears.
"Please don't hate me, Alice."
"You hid from me. You're with a wolf, aren't you? Is it Jacob?"
"No." His name is like a searing hot poker in her chest, "I haven't seen him… since he left."
Jasper frowns and Bella catches his eye again. He tilts his head and gives a soft smile.
"I felt that."
"Felt what?" Alice asks and Jasper looks down at her, his arm around her shoulders.
"How Bella feels about Jacob. It's not cut and dry, darling."
They are silent and Bella shakes away her thoughts of Edward and Jacob.
"This isn't about either of them." She insists, "It's about me. I want to live my life and know what I want out of it. I applied for college next year. I want to… I want to get a bad haircut and get a tattoo and kiss a boy, an actual boy and not a werewolf or a vampire and then realise that he was a mistake. I want to read books and go to movies. How can I do that if I'm Edward's wife?"
Jasper stretches his long legs under the table and kisses Alice's head.
"Alice, sweetheart, we've done what we came to do. We don't come here to bring her home. We came to make sure that she was happy."
"Are you happy?" Alice directs the question at Bella.
"I don't know. But I want to find out."
Alice and Jasper promise to tell Edward that Bella is happy and safe and that she loves him and wishes him the best.
And that he shouldn't come looking for her.
Leah makes her take a shower when she gets in because she stinks of leech.
Bella never sees the Cullens again although she's sure that they see her.
Bella goes home for Christmas that year (she went to Renee's last year). Charlie has visited her in Seattle but she hasn't been back to Forks since she got in the car with Leah and started driving.
She and Leah drive back together. She drops Leah off at the border to the reservation before driving into Forks and stopping at the store to get some things for dinner.
Bella shops quickly and leaves quickly, making sure not to make eye contact. The last thing she needs is to make small talk with someone from high school.
Christmas is quiet. Charlie invites Billy and Jacob over for leftovers to day after but Jacob has already gone. He spends a lot of time travelling these days.
Charlie says this casually but watches as Bella's eyes dart to the floor and she chews her lip.
All Bella asks is how Billy is coping without Jacob home to look after him.
He has the number of the nurse who treated Charlie at the hospital and they have been seeing each other for six months.
Bella doesn't even try to see Jacob because he doesn't deserve to be hurt and she will hurt him because that is what she does to him. She doesn't ask Billy how he is or if he knows that she's not married or that she's living with Leah in Seattle.
The best thing that she can do for Jacob is leave him alone. It's a silent warning that she can feel from Billy and Charlie.
But she wouldn't try anyway.
Bella is twenty-one today and Leah is making her drink.
"Don't be a loser. You only turn twenty-one once." Bella doesn't point out that you only turn any age once and agrees to don the short skirt and cute top that Leah has chosen.
Bella has just started at Udub. She hasn't declared a major yet but that doesn't matter. Leah is halfway through her course and loving every minute. What's more, she hasn't phased in over six months. Bella often catches her looking mirrors to see if she has any extra lines or wrinkles. Leah is looking forward to aging.
Bella finds she doesn't care as much as she used to about getting older.
She hasn't had a bad haircut yet (a few red streaks that Leah persuaded her to get but Bella quite likes them) and she hasn't got a tattoo yet but she definitely thinks that she maybe wants one, perhaps.
They go to a bar with people they both know from college and Neil and Dan (from the diner) and Leah buys a round of shots. Bella buys the next round and then they are plied with cocktails and beers.
Bella goes beyond buzzed and into drunk with the space of fifteen minutes. She thinks it might have been that eighth shot. Leah is dancing with some girls and Bella perches on a barstool, her arm around Dan's waist. Neil is hitting on some girl and Bella snorts as the girls rolls her eyes.
"Neil is striking out." She mumbles and Dan laughs, squeezing Bella's shoulder.
"You wanna dance?"
"Nope." She gets up, stumbling slightly, "I want to get a tattoo."
"This is a bad idea." Dan warns and Leah smacks his arm. Bella sticks her tongue out at him as Neil smirks.
"Why eternity?" He asks as the needle buzzes against Bella's wrist, printing the sideways eight. She swallows against the pain and gives a one-sided shrug.
"Because this is as close to eternity as I want to get. Ever. No eternity for Bella."
"You sure about that, Leech Lover?"
"Don't call me that, Wolf Girl!" Bella pulls a face.
Dan and Neil look confused.
Leah wants to keep partying and Neil is looking at Leah's ass, so they part ways after the tattoo is finished. Bella can't stop staring at her wrist and walking into lamp posts, so Dan offers to walk her home.
She links her arm through his and talks about how she can't believe she got a tattoo and how crazy was that and god she hopes she doesn't regret it in the morning but how can she because this is exactly what she said she wanted to Alice and Jasper-
"Who are Alice and Jasper?" Dan interrupts and Bella is suddenly silent.
"Friends from high school. Alice's brother was my boyfriend."
"You've never mentioned him."
"We were supposed to get married." Bella says quietly, leaning into him, "And I changed my mind."
"Do you regret it?"
"Do you still love him?" Dan isn't so sure that he wants to hear the answer.
"Always, probably. But not the way I used to. Ever been so in love that you'd jump off a cliff? I did that once. I jumped off a cliff but it was OK because Jake-"
She falls silent again, let's go of Dan's arm and stumbles over to some steps that lead up into an apartment block.
Dan sits down next to her.
"Who is Jake?"
He's my sun.
Bella doesn't want to get burned. She looks up at Dan. He's kind of handsome in a very conventional way. He has a thin face and dimples and floppy brown hair and bright blue eyes and a kind smile. He's extraordinarily ordinary.
Bella kisses him and is surprised at how average he feels, how he is neither hot nor cold but the same as her. He pulls her closer on the cold stoop and he doesn't have to be too careful in case he crushes her.
It's new and strange and ordinary and human.
Bella takes Dan home and they have fumbling, awkward, giggling sex (most of the giggling is from Bella). Dan kisses her again and again and she wraps herself around him.
In the morning, Dan stretches lazily and Bella drinks a bottle of water. He laughs at her.
"Was last night a drunken mistake?" He asks and she looks down at her bandaged wrist, sore and aching.
"Kind of. I mean… I wanted to but…"
"But it doesn't mean anything more."
Dan is easy to deal with. He promises to come in and see her at the diner later in the week.
Leah gives Bella a sly look as Dan leaves. Bella rolls her eyes and goes back to bed.
Dan and Bella sleep together a few more times before Dan meets Sarah. Bella doesn't mind at all. Leah doesn't believe her and buys Bella a vibrator.
Winter passes. So does spring and as they enter June and the end of Bella's first year of college, she contemplates her choices for the summer.
"Go back to Forks, go to Florida or stay here…" She murmurs to herself. Leah shrugs.
"Go to Florida. At least it's hot there." Leah notices the cold again now that she doesn't run hot anymore.
"I promised Mom I'd see her at Christmas. I should go and see Charlie. Maybe just for a week, I don't want to use too much vacation time from the diner. How much time can you get off from the bar?"
"Two weeks max." Leah had started working at a bar to bring in some extra cash. Her attitude ensured tips, "Look, let's go down together then you can come back after a week and I'll come back when I have to. I promised Mom we'd spend time together."
Bella plays the dutiful daughter and sees more of Leah then she expected in Forks because it turns out that Charlie and Sue are dating. Seth is enthusiastic about the pairing, Leah less so. She watches quietly before catching Bella's eye and turning away with a shrug.
Bella offers to drive Charlie over to the Black house for some kind of sporting event and then come and get him the next morning. She drops Charlie off and then pauses before climbing into the truck again.
She moves towards the garage and hesitates in the doorway. It is empty. No car, no Jacob. The tools are tucked away in their boxes and the room is cold.
Bella misses Jacob.
She misses Edward and the Cullens. She misses her mom. She misses Charlie.
But she misses Jacob.
Maybe it's because she knows that the others are merely a phone call away. If she wants to see the Cullens, she just has to wish it and Alice will see it happen and make arrangements.
But she doesn't know where Jacob is and she's pretty sure that no one on the reservation would tell her where to find him. He was theirs and she left him for a vampire.
Bella returns to Seattle after a week. She is working fulltime at the diner during the summer to save up for the rest of the year when she can only work part time. She and Leah finally moved into a two bedroom apartment a few months ago, when Bella's spine began to protest vehemently against the couch bed.
After a particularly long shift, Bella crawls home and peels off the grimy uniform. She is sweaty and desperate for a hot bath. Wearing only a t-shirt and her underwear, she starts the water running and returns to her room.
She is tying her hair back into a bun when she hears the front door open.
No one speaks.
It is not Leah, who would have called out when she heard the bath running.
Bella seizes the baseball bat from the side of her bed and tiptoes towards her bedroom door. She can't hear anything, no footsteps, no talking. Whoever is on the other side of the door is by themselves.
She opens the door a crack, holding the baseball bat firmly. Oh god. What if it's a vampire? What if it's the Volturi, caught up with her at last? If it was, the baseball bat may as well be made out of bubbles…
The door is tugged open and Bella swings.
The bat splinters and the tall man in front of her blinks as it shatters against his shoulder.
Jacob stares back.
The third person is Jacob Black.
Bella is suddenly very aware that she is only aware of the fact that she is only wearing her panties and a t-shirt.
Jacob stares down at her.
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry." Bella gasps, dropping the handle of the bat, "Are you OK?"
Jacob looks down at the shattered remains of the bat and gives a sheepish grin.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Your bath is gonna flow over."
Bella runs to the bathroom and turns off the water. She goes back into the living room.
Jacob is in her apartment. He practically fills it, he's so tall and wide. His hair is shaggy but not long enough to tie back. His eyes are fixed on her and she reaches for a large hoodie, one of Leah's and pulls it over her. It comes down to mid-thigh and offers a little more modesty.
She and Jacob stare at each other for a few more minutes.
"I thought… Leah might be here." He said and Bella looks away, fighting the twinge in her belly at his words.
Of course… of course he hadn't come to see her.
"I mean, I wanted to see both of you. But… oh, shit." He sinks onto the sofa, rubbing a hand through his hair.
"Where have you been?" Bella whispers and he looks up at her, suddenly looking older and more tired than she has ever seen him.
"Sometimes with Dad. Sometimes running. Just… lost, I guess."
"Are you hungry?"
"Always." He smiles and he looks like a boy again.
Bella can get food. She can do that for him.
She orders pizza and Chinese and Thai. Jacob eats everything. Bella nibbles at a slice of pizza, her legs tucked under her as she watches him chew and swallow, his mind completely fixated on refuelling.
"Are the others still phasing?" She asks.
"Some of the younger ones. Paul stopped. So did Sam because Emily is pregnant."
She is silent again.
He burps softly and wipes his mouth with a serviette. He looks tired and Bella looks at the couch. It's far too small.
"You should sleep."
"I can go find a hotel."
"Don't be silly. We haven't…" Haven't talked. Haven't said why he is here. Haven't even touched….
She flushes and he looks at her curiously. She gestures towards her bedroom door.
"Take my bed. I'll sleep in Leah's room. I don't like to give hers away when she isn't here. And no," She stops his protests, "The couch is too small for you, you're not sleeping there."
"OK." He's as easy as ever and follows her to her bedroom. Bella picks up her pyjamas and some clothes for the morning.
His arm twitches towards her as though to pull her into a hug and Bella longs for it, longs for his touches and warmth.
She moves a little closer and he looks down at her. She cradles the clothing in her arms and meets his gaze. He is staring at her and despite the fact that he has just eaten three meals, his gaze is hungry.
She swallows and moves forward, leaning her forehead against his chest. His arms wrap around her gently. For ages, for ever, they stand in each other's arms and Bella wants to cry.
"Good night." She whispers and slips away.
As she curls up in Leah's bed, her phone buzzes and she opens it see a text from Leah.
U can thank me with cookies.
He appears when he smells the bacon that she is frying. There are scrambled eggs and toast too. There is coffee brewing and orange juice.
Jacob looks at her for a moment and Bella turns to put his plate on the table. He moves forward and catches her wrist. He lifts the tattoo to examine it.
"Eight? What's eight? When did you get a tattoo?"
"On my birthday. And… it's not eight. It means infinity. Eternity."
"Eternity." His voice is quiet and she tries to pull her hand away but he doesn't let her.
"To remind myself." She says quietly and Jacob traces the pattern. His hot finger tickles her skin.
"Of what you wanted?"
"Of what I never want."
He stares at the tattoo. Her free hand clenches by her side and he lifts his head to stare at her.
"You didn't marry him." His voice is hoarse.
"You knew that already."
"You don't love him." She hesitates at that and he frowns but she shakes her head.
"I love him like a seventeen year old girl loves her high school sweetheart. I don't love him like a twenty-one year old woman."
"And what about me?"
"I don't know you anymore." Bella can't think straight because his hands are on her wrists and he is pulling her so close that her front bumps against his chest, "You're twenty now. You're not a boy anymore."
"I haven't changed." He says , leaning down to press his hot forehead against hers, "I'm still Jake. I still fix cars and drink warm soda and I'm still in love with you. I thought I wasn't, I came here to prove it to myself and even when you're trying to beat me with a baseball bat, I am in love with you."
Bella's heart is beating out of her chest and she's sure he can hear it, but he is staring at her so intently that her throat dries out.
He is in love with her. Still, after all these years, he still loves her. He's been trying so hard to get over her.
But he still loves her and his face is so close to hers.
She swallows hard.
His breath is warm against her face and she half-closes her eyes.
His hands loosen around her wrists and it is her choice, to step back and put space between them or to move closer, go that final mile, that final inch and decide once and for all.
Bella's phone buzzes and she jumps. Jacob can't help grinning as her face flushes and she opens the text from Leah to give herself time to recover.
Don't do it in my bed. Condoms are under the sink.
Bella chokes and Jacob sips a glass of orange juice. She throws her phone onto the counter and looks back at Jacob. He is still smiling.
"So, anything you want to say?"
Bella takes a deep breath and moves to the stove.
"How do you like your bacon?"
They don't talk about his confession. They talk about the difficult things. They talk about Edward and how things ended. They talk about college. They talk about how Jacob wants to enrol at the Peninsula College, getting a qualification in business so he can open his own garage.
They talk about the passing years.
"You ended things with Cullen because you wanted to live your life. Have you done that?"
"I'm twenty-one, Jacob." She says dryly as they sit on the couch together. Jacob's large hand is close to her knee, "I'm hardly over the hill yet. I'm going to finish my degree in… something. I'm going to travel. I want to go to New Zealand and England and other random places. I want to buy a house. I want to write a book. Every day I live, something new goes on the list."
"Can I go on the list?"
Bella meets his eye. He smiles.
"There's a lot of things on the list. Some of those things might never happen. Some of them definitely will. But if it's on the list, it means that you're considering it, so I want to go on the list."
"It's a mental list."
Bella shifts and moves so that her head is lying on his shoulder. Jacob's arms lift around her.
"You've always been on my list." She tells him quietly.
He pulls her onto his lap and she laughs softly as his lips find hers because she knows now. She knows better than her seventeen year old self knew, that Jacob is the right one. If she had been seventeen still, she might not have ever known, she might have wondered forever.
But here, now, with Jacob beneath her and his mouth on hers and his hands on her hips, her waist, pulling her closer, Bella knows that Jacob is what she was heading towards.
The fourth person is Bella Swan
By the time Bella has finished her degree (in accounting, she eventually decided), she and Jacob are living in the apartment. Leah still has the other bedroom but spends most of her time at Neil's place. Their arrangement had eventually transcended from the occasional hook-up to something resembling a relationship.
They have a plan, Bell and Jacob.
They're going to open a garage. Jacob will handle the business side and Bella will deal with the money. They've already asked Quil and Embry to train and become mechanics. All three have started to stop phasing.
Bella found the perfect place, halfway between Forks and Seattle, between their family and Leah.
Jacob is happy to be wherever Bella is.
Bella is happy because she is where she wants to be.
Bella Swan is happy to be Bella Swan.
A/N: I'm not usually a J/B writer, but I started writing for the sake of writing and this came out.