Twilight character names belong to Stephenie Meyer. I own Dodge and Burn.

Much love and thanks to Pre-readers BtwntheStacks and Lemonmartinis and Beta-MsKathy


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Dodge and Burn / Chapter Thirty-Two / Step to Forever

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Bella sits on the shore, running her right hand back and forth over the sand, clutching her bottle of pills with her left. She gazes up over the horizon as the sun warms her, reflecting on the extraordinary journey that's brought her here.

She thinks of the words she wrote to Jacob earlier, telling him how proud she is of him and how excited she is to see what his future will be. She may not have been the perfect mother, but she has loved him with her whole heart. Hopefully one day he will come to understand the motivations and decisions that she made, even if he doesn't agree with them.

As for Edward, she imagines that their powerful love will span lifetimes beyond this one. He has completely given her his heart and she knows he deserves the same. They are joined now and forever.

She closes her eyes, says a silent prayer, and gives thanks for the wonder of her life. She says a prayer for her future…that she will be brave no matter what she has to face.

She stands up, pulls off her cover-up, and drops it to the sand before taking her first step to forever.

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..~*~..

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When the 10 Freeway merges into the 405, the traffic slows to a crawl and Edward lets his inner rage loose. "Mother fucking freeway!" he yells to no one in particular. He aggressively works his way over to the carpool lane and illegally cuts into it, breaking every law as he does it. He immediately knows that if a cop tries to pull him over, he's going to just keep going, so he hopes to hell that doesn't happen.

Once the traffic passes the airport mess the speed picks up again, and he floors the gas until he's going near ninety. He gets to Hermosa Beach in record time and as he pulls off the freeway he frantically tries to remember where the Green Store's street is since that's where Bella always parks. He's only been there at night and everything looks so different in the daytime.

He gets all the way to the pier before he realizes that he must've missed the street, so he quickly circles back. From this new direction he spots the store easily and makes a sharp right turn onto the little side street. There's an empty spot two spaces behind where Bella's parked. He pulls into the space and jumps out of the car without putting change in the meter.

It's comforting and horrifying to him to see her car parked there. For one, he knows his instincts were right that she's there, but on the other hand, she could already be…

His mind shuts down as he starts to run toward the sand.

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..~*~..

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Bella steps into the swirling tide, the cold water shocking against her warm skin. She gasps with every step deeper into the water. However, by the time she's in up to her waist, she starts to feel acclimated and ready to take the plunge. She wraps her fingers tightly around the bottle of pills and dives under, taking longer, slow strokes as she moves further and further from the shore.

When she surfaces, she looks up into the bright sky and feels content, she knows she's exactly where she should be. She glides effortlessly, close to the water's surface. It's as if she could swim forever. When she stops and finally looks back to the shore, she realizes that she's gone far enough. It's time.

Treading water, she unscrews the cap to the bottle, takes a deep breath, and shakes the contents free into the water. She watches the pills float away like little pearls off to find their oysters.

She only has a brief moment of regret where she wants to scoop them back up, but then she thinks of Edward and Jacob and feels at peace again. Once the pills have all drifted out of her reach from the gentle movement of the water, she rocks her legs forward and relaxes until she's floating on the surface. She closes her eyes and peacefully becomes one with the ocean.

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..~*~..

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As Edward sprints across the sand, he tries to form a plan of action. If the lifeguard's on duty he'll alert them before he goes after her. Meanwhile, he scans the sand from the distance looking for any sign of Bella. As each step draws him closer, his heart sinks to see the deserted shoreline. Even the ocean before him is empty but for two teenage boys with boogie boards far to his left. Where can she be?

He's breathless by the time he gets to the waterfront, and he bends forward trying to catch his breath as he continues to study the water. Nothing. Looking back over his shoulder, he decides to check out the lifeguard stand and hurries up the plank. By the time he's on deck, he can see that the station is empty despite the window guards being open. He slaps his hand on the locked door and spins around to face the ocean again.

With the advantage of the higher angle this time as he squints, he sees something off in the distance. Once he shadows his eyes with his hand the shape takes form…a body floating on the water.

"Isabella," he gasps, horrific panic overcoming him. In a swift move, he grabs the lifeguard's bright-red rescue can by the handle and drops his phone and car keys in front of the station's door. He runs down the plank straight into the ocean, clothes and all.

He's too numb to think about anything but getting to her. Despite being hindered by heavy, wet clothes, each desperate stroke cuts through the water like a knife as the floating rescue can trails just behind him. He's never been so grateful for his years of swimming and lifeguard training.

He's far from the shore when he stops for a moment to check his position in the water and confirm he's on track, he prays he's not too late as he surges forward again. When he's forty or so feet from the body, he loses his form and falls into a sloppy breaststroke with his head above the water's surface. At last he's close enough to confirm it's her. Her eyes are closed and she looks positively serene as she slowly rocks with the water.

"Isabella!" he cries out, hoping for a response that tells him he isn't too late. He feels like his heart's going to explode out of his chest when she doesn't respond.

Finally when he's only several lengths away, he cries out again and she opens her eyes and looks in his direction. She's so surprised that she flails and sinks into the water.

"Isabella!" he yells. "I've got you, I've got you!"

With several more powerful strokes, he finally reaches her and pulls her up into his arms, only to have them both go under for a moment. He yanks on the rescue can's rope to draw it near and he slips it under her arm until she rises, her head and shoulders breaking the water's surface.

"What are you doing?" she asks, sputtering as she blinks away the salt water and tries to get her bearings.

"Thank God you're awake," he cries, pushing her right eyelid further open with his thumb as he holds onto the can to stay upright while treading water.

"Awake? Of course I'm awake. What's the matter with you?"

He looks back to the shore, panicked. "I've got to get you out of here. You need to listen to me, Isabella. I need your help."

"You need my help?" she asks, bewildered. "I think it's the wrong time to ask me for that."

His expression crumbles like his world's collapsed. "How can you do this to me after everything we've been through? How? "

"But I don't want to…" she starts, but he jumps in before she can answer.

"Damn it all… then don't help me. You know how much I love you. I doubt you could fuck me up and make this any harder than you already have."

"Edward!" she gasps, shocked at his words.

"Just hold onto this," he says, pressing on the rescue can. "If it's the last thing you ever do for me, so be it…but whatever you do don't let go."

"But," she cries.

"Can't you just hold on?" he roars.

She's never seen him like this. She blinks and nods silently.

He finally seems to accept her wordless gesture and he turns and pushes off, beginning their long journey back to the shore.

Their passage to get out of the water is a slow, arduous one. Edward only swims a length or so before stopping to turn back and make sure she's still with him. She remains silent, her eyes wide with the shock of it all.

When they're halfway back, she can see him fading with the exhaustion. Each time he turns back, she kicks underwater furiously to help, stopping only when he pauses to check on her. When he's close enough to shore to touch bottom, he drops his feet and pushes forward until he's waist high in the water. He suddenly yanks the rope toward himself and sweeps her up in his arms.

"Put me down, you're going to have a heart attack," she warns him as he rushes forward, almost stumbling when a small wave hits them from behind.

"Too late for that, woman," he gasps. "You've already given me one."

He runs forward and drops to his knees right in front of the lifeguard station and frantically scans side to side. He sees a jogging couple approach and he waves them over. They stop immediately, looking concerned.

"What's wrong?" the man asks, while the woman studies Bella's confused expression.

"Do you have a phone?" Edward asks frantically. "We need an ambulance. She's overdosed."

The woman gasps, immediately understanding the dire situation and why Edward came out of the ocean fully dressed, shoes and all.

"What?" Bella bellows. "I didn't overdose!"

Edward turns to the couple. "Don't listen to her, please just call nine-one-one for me. Please! I love this woman, I can't lose her," he pleads.

Suddenly everything hits Bella: Edward's crazed state, his coming after her in the ocean, he thinks she's tried to kill herself.

"Edward!" she calls out, holding out the empty pill bottle she managed to cling onto. "It's empty," she says.

He grabs her wrist and waves her hand in front of the couple. "See, see! The bottle is empty!"

"Steve, call emergency," the woman says anxiously to the man.

"No!" Bella yells. "It's empty because I dumped them in the ocean. Do you really think I could speak this coherently if I took a bottle full of pills?"

The man, who already pulled his phone out of his pocket, pauses. "She has a point, Gretchen. She seems all right and he's the one that looks unhinged."

"What the fuck!" yells Edward.

"I'm fine, really," Bella says to them calmly. "He's just freaked out because he misunderstood what I was doing."

"She seems okay, really," the woman says to Edward.

"She's not okay!" he roars.

Bella shakes her head. "I am, I swear…we've just been dealing with a lot. I think it's overwhelmed him," she offers.

"Overwhelmed?" Edward yells at Bella. "You bet I'm overwhelmed. Can't everyone see that I'm desperately trying to save your life?"

"Why won't you listen to me, Edward?" Bella asks, frustrated.

The woman leans forward and speaks evenly to Edward and Bella. "You two seem like you care about each other. I know this is none of my business, but may I suggest couple's therapy? It's done wonders for us."

Edward's head drops back as he shakes it wildly looking up at the sky. "Oh good God!"

"I know this all looks positively crazy, but I swear we're fine, this is just a huge misunderstanding. Thank you for your concern though," Bella says appreciatively.

The couple doesn't look completely convinced, but after studying them for another moment they seem reassured. The woman nods to the man and then says, "Okay, then. Good luck." They move around the wet couple and continue on down the beach.

Edward looks back to her, frantic. "Now look what you've done!"

Bella drops the pill bottle in the sand and edges closer to him, placing a hand on either side of his face.

"Edward?" she asks as he looks off into the distance for someone else who can help them.

She gently shakes him. "Edward! I'm all right; you've got to believe me. Please, Edward."

She sinks to her knees in front of him and looks at him eye to eye.

His frantic eyes study hers and she realizes that he looks like he's lost his mind. It scares her, making her realize how much she needs him to be solid, not this desperate crazy man he's suddenly been reduced to.

"I'm all right, Edward. I'm all right." She pulls him into her arms and hugs him tightly.

She can feel his heart pounding like it's trying to leap out of his chest. His frantic state is frightening to her and trying to soothe him, she whispers in his ear, "I'm sorry I scared you. I'm so sorry."

He suddenly grabs onto her, buries his face in her neck and starts to sob. His emotional reaction shocks her, but more importantly, it breaks her heart. She can't believe she's caused him so much pain. She holds onto him even tighter, wanting to heal the scrapes and bruises she's marked his tender insides with.

She rocks him in her arms. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry you thought I was leaving you."

He looks up at her, his face anguished. "I can't even tell you," he says. "At first I thought you were gone already…I thought I was too late."

He's still shaken and she pulls him close again, his cheek pressed just above her heart. "Oh God, no. No, Edward. The irony is that I was doing this today for you…for us."

"Couldn't you have told me? I mean, Jesus Bella, when I went into your place today and realized the bottle was gone…"

"Oh no," she says, clearly not anticipating that would've happened.

"Were those your test results you burned in the fireplace?" he asks. "Did you look at them?"

"Yes, those were the results," she says. "And no, I didn't look at them. That's why I burned them. If they were positive I know I absolutely couldn't have handled it."

"Oh, God. So you still don't know." He rubs his hands over his eyes and turns to look into the distance.

"No," she says softly. "But wait a minute. If you were searching through my house, didn't you see the letter I wrote you? It explained everything. I wrote one to you and Jacob in my moment of clarity to make sure you understood my decision to get rid of the pills. Sometimes I don't explain things so well face to face."

"I saw it, but once I realized the pill bottle was gone I wasn't going to take time to read what I assumed was a farewell letter. The clock was ticking; I went into panic mode."

"Oh God," she moans.

"I need to get out of here," he announces suddenly.

"Okay," she says, slowly backing away and lifting herself up off the sand. "Should we go to your place, or mine?"

"I don't know," he says, shaking his head. "Just out of here."

He awkwardly rises off the sand like a pony finding his legs. He then heads up the lifeguard plank with the rescue can, while Bella waits curious but patiently at the bottom. When he returns back down, he has his phone and car keys in his hands. Everything, including Edward, is coated with sand.

He starts the slow walk back to his car and after grabbing her cover-up and car keys she trails him, finally joining him by his side. He's so distant. She's worried she's finally broken him.

As they approach their cars, she realizes that he's still quite wet and disoriented. "Are you sure you can drive?" she asks.

He nods. "I've got to get out of here. I'm never coming back to this fucking beach again, ever," he states.

"Okay," she says sadly.

"I don't know where I'm going yet," he warns her as he unlocks his car.

"All right, I'll just follow you," she says.

He nods, takes the parking ticket off his windshield, and gets inside.

As she trails him, he drives under the speed limit the entire way back to their neighborhood. She's surprised when he drives to her place instead of his own. He was so upset she assumed he wouldn't want to come to her place where all this trouble started.

They park and head slowly up the walkway until she silently opens the front door. After they step inside, she starts to head to the kitchen, then she looks back and notices him lingering by the door.

"What, Edward?"

"I can't do this crazy stuff, Isabella," he says, shaking his head.

"What do you mean?" she says softly, trying to stay calm.

"Do you understand? I thought you were dead," he says, frustrated.

"But I'm not," she says, her arms extended out, trying to reason with him.

"I thought you were dead!" he yells. "That fucking bottle of pills was missing. What was I to think?"

"Dead? What bottle of pills?" Asks an unexpected voice.

Both Bella and Edward turn suddenly to realize that Jacob has joined them from the family room. He's the most unsettling sight, not just for the obvious reason, but because he's barefoot, yet wearing a tuxedo. It's fully buttoned with the bow tie still dangling untied from his neck.

It's just all too much. "What are you doing here?" Bella screeches to Jacob.

He steps back, alarmed. "I thought you knew I was taking Carly to that wedding," he says. "She told me that Angela talked to you about it. Besides, I sent you an email with my flight information." He shakes his head and chuckles. "I guess that explains why you didn't pick me up at the airport."

"Airport? But the wedding is next weekend," she insists.

"No, Mom. It's this weekend. Did you even read my email?"

"Oh, my God," she cries out, sinking down into the nearest chair. "I'm losing my damn mind!"

Jacob takes a moment to study the two of them. "Hello, Edward," he says, raising his eyebrows as Edward combs his hair back with his fingers. Edward's suddenly realized that he's still wet and covered with sand.

"Jacob," he responds, nodding his head.

"You two look like fucking hell. Why are you yelling at Mom, and what is this about a pill bottle?" Jacob asks, folding his arms over his chest.

"Oh, God," Bella cries out again, trying to brush the sand off her cover-up.

"Your mom and I are having a little disagreement," Edward explains.

"Yeah, I've gathered that," Jacob says. "But it doesn't seem so little to me. Did you guys have a rumble in a sandbox or something? What the hell?"

"Jacob Swan," Bella warns.

"What? I thought this dude was sticking around, Mom. And I thought you made up in Italy, but now I'm not so sure."

"I'm sticking around," Edward says quietly.

"Are you?" asks Bella.

They look at each other intently as Jacob steps further into the living room and approaches the mantle. "Oh shit, you're talking about that pill bottle? Where is it?"

"What?" screeches Bella.

"The pill bottle you keep hidden here. Where the fuck is it?" Jacob asks.

"You know about that?" Edward asks, baffled.

"Yeah, I found it a couple of years ago," Jacob says matter-of-factly.

"What?" cries Bella.

"Don't worry, Mom," he says gently. "I understood why you did that. It made perfect sense to me."

"What the hell?" asks Edward.

"Yeah, I got it why she did that. That disease is a fucking nightmare, Edward. Of course, I would never let her off herself like that."

"So why'd you leave it up there?" asks Edward.

"I figured she just needed the comfort of knowing it was there. I knew she wouldn't actually take them and leave me like that. But just in case, I switched the real shit out for sugar pills…just in case, you know."

Edward throws back his head and laughs with a touch of hysteria. "I can't believe it!" They were fucking sugar pills! You're brilliant, Jacob!"

"Hey, thanks," Jacob responds, looking pleased.

Bella seems to finally wake from her shocked stupor. "Sugar pills?" she yells. "Sugar pills!"

"Yup," Jacob says, nodding. "The worst that could happen if you downed them all at once is a huge sugar rush."

Bella rocks forward in the chair, her face in her hands. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God," she chants. "My son switched out my pills. Oh, my God."

"Where were you two anyway?" Jacob asks Edward. "You guys seriously look like shit."

"Hermosa Beach," Edward responds. "I dragged your mom out of the ocean against her will. I thought she'd taken the pills. I didn't know she emptied them in the ocean."

"So that's when you thought she was dead? Fuck," Jacob says, shaking his head. "She's a handful. But surely you know that by now."

Edward shrugs. "Yeah. But I still like her, despite that."

"Like? You assume the very worst, rush all the way to the beach and then drag me out of the ocean because you like me?" Bella says indignantly, just as the doorbell rings. They all look at each other for a moment, then Edward takes a step back and opens the door. A beautiful young woman stands on the front step.

"Is Jacob home?" she asks, studying him with a curious expression.

Edward nods and waves her in. Bella spreads her fingers hiding her face so she can look out at the visitor. The moment she realizes who it is, she drops her hands and sits up tall. Before she can greet the young woman, Jacob steps forward.

"Carly," he says softly, his voice full of awe.

She pauses next to Edward and looks taken aback at the vision of Jacob in a tux. Or maybe the tux has nothing to do with it, Bella wonders. Maybe it's just Jacob.

"Wow," she says, and smiles shyly at him.

Jacob's eyes glow, full of light. "Wow back, Carly" he replies. "Those Facebook pictures just don't do you justice. You're even more beautiful now."

Her responding smile shines brightly. "Yours either," she says.

He walks over and pulls her into a hug, then gently kisses her on the cheek. "It's sure great to see you," he says happily. "I've really missed you."

"Me too," she replies. She takes his hand in hers before looking up at Bella and Edward. "Hi, Bella. Did I interrupt something?" she asks.

Bella waves and smiles weakly at her.

"Nah," Jacob says. "This is Edward, my mom's boyfriend."

"Hello," Carly says, extending her hand so Edward can shake it.

"Nice to meet you, Carly," Edward says graciously.

"They just had a big fight at the beach," Jacob explains. "That's why they look like hell."

"A fight?" Carly asks, looking worried.

"Oh, it's okay. They do that a lot. It's sort of their thing," Jacob says.

"It's not our thing!" Bella cries, frustrated. "Why would you say that, Jacob?"

"Well, pardon me, but every time I talk to one of you there's some kind of drama. Have you not realized that?"

The doorbell rings again, and Edward groans.

"What now?" Bella asks.

Edward steps back and opens the door once again. This time, he doesn't look happy about the visitor. "What are you doing here?" he demands angrily.

"I need to see Bella," the visitor says.

"See what I mean?" Jacob says to Carly. She nods in agreement, her eyes darting from Bella to Edward to the front door.

"Oh, God." Bella sighs, recognizing the visitor's voice. "This is all we need." She shakes her head, frustrated.

"Shall I send him away?" Edward asks, anchoring his arm to the door jamb protectively and sounding very pleased by the prospect.

"Excuse me, but I've come a long way," says the visitor.

Bella twists her hands nervously. "Let me talk to him outside," she says to Edward. But she's barely out of her chair when Leo forces his way inside.

"I'm sorry, Bella, but I really need to talk to you about Jacob…" The moment he spots Jacob, he freezes in his tracks.

"Talk to my mom about me?" Jacob asks. "Why? Who are you?"

Leo looks over to Bella, panicked, and she glares at him furiously.

He looks back at Jacob, but this time he can't take his eyes off him. He marvels at this astounding young man…his son.

"Jacob," he says quietly, his eyes wide with wonder as he places his hand on his chest. "I am Leo." His gaze shifts to the girl Jacob is holding hands with. "And you must be Carly," he says, remembering their prom picture that Bella left with him. He studied Jacob's album backward and forward numerous times, so he's confident that this is Carly.

Jacob turns to Bella. "Who is this guy, and how does he know Carly?"

She's dumbstruck and looks to Edward, who shakes his head in disbelief at the turn of events.

"We met Leo in Italy," Bella finally explains nervously, trying to throw him off course.

"What does that mean?" Jacob asks, frustrated. "Why would he know who Carly and I are?"

"Your mother showed me an album with your pictures in it," explains Leo.

"Here we go," says Edward, rolling his eyes. "Maybe you should sit down, Jacob."

"Edward," Bella warns.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute! Jacob asks. "You took an album to Italy with pictures of me and Carly and showed them to this random dude?"

"Dude?" Leo asks. "What is this, dude?"

"That means just some guy," Edward explains.

Leo looks affronted and stands tall. "I'm not just some dude, Jacob."

Everyone turns to look at Leo while he ignores Bella frantically waving at him. He speaks with an authority that silences the room.

"Jacob, I am your father."

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Oh my...I did the cliffie thing again, didn't I!

I'd love to hear what you think about all of this...

xoxo
abbie

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