I parked my truck off to the side of the Blacks' house, close to the trees. We had to be somewhere that would make it easier to sneak the bikes out, since Jacob's call had made it clear that they were ready for a test-drive. My hands shook as I bounded toward the shed, knowing Jacob would be waiting there with our treasures.
I laughed when I saw them; a ribbon tied around each of the handlebars, and Jacob standing proudly behind, his arms extended like a presenter on a game show. "Ready?" he asked in a low voice, his eyes sparkling.
"You know it." I said, trying to imagine myself on the motorcycle, trying to imagine the feeling of it.
"I know the perfect spot." Jacob said, loading the bikes carefully into the bed of my truck with apparent ease. "Somewhere no one will catch us."
At Jacob's instruction, I drove south of town. The dirt road wove in and out of the forest – sometimes there was nothing to see but trees, and then there would suddenly be a stark glimpse of the Pacific, dark grey under the hanging clouds. We were above the shore, on top of the cliffs that bordered the beach.
Jacob talked endlessly about finishing the bikes, though his descriptions were too technical for me to easily follow. Every once in a while I'd ask him what something meant, which would send him into a tangent that was both long and confusing. After a few times, I just let him talk, letting my gaze drift toward the ocean.
That was when I noticed four figures standing on a rocky ledge, much too close to the precipice. Despite the chill in the air today, they seemed to be wearing only shorts, which made me think they were men. As I watched, the broadest of them stepped toward the brink, and threw himself over the edge.
"Jacob!" I shouted, stomping on the break.
"What?!" Jacob's tone matched mine reflexively.
"Someone just jumped off the cliff! Why are they just standing there? We have to call someone!" I stopped the truck and started to crawl out, searching my pockets for my phone. My fingers shook and I blinked, wide-eyed toward the rocky area where the remaining men stood. They seemed to have heard my commotion and were looking in our direction.
Jacob's hands appeared on my shoulders, warm and gentle. He was trying to guide me back into the truck. "They're just cliff-diving, Bella," he said softly. "Come on, they're looking at us. They probably think we're nuts."
I allowed him to direct me back into my seat, and I didn't say anything for a long moment. "Cliff diving." I repeated.
"La Push doesn't have a mall, you know." His voice seemed strangely irritated. "Most of us jump from lower down, there's a ledge about halfway. Those guys are just showing off, it's dangerous to do it from there. Not to mention it's freezing, today."
"You do - do that?"
"Sure." He shrugged. "It's fun, you know. A rush."
I watched as the men on the cliff lost interest in the commotion they must have heard from me. Another of them was pacing the edge, preparing to jump. I'd never witnessed anything so reckless in all my life.
I smiled. "Jake, you have to take me cliff diving."
Jacob gave a short laugh, shaking his head at my sudden change in opinion. "Not today. We have something else to do, remember? Something we've been working on for weeks?"
I gave him a guilty smile. "Right." I said. I pulled my seat belt on and we started down the road again. "So who were those guys? You know them?"
Jacob turned his eyes away from me, running his fingertips gently against the cool glass of the passenger side window. "Yeah, sort of." He said. "The kids have started calling them 'the La Push gang'."
"La Push has a gang?"
He laughed shortly. "Not like that. They're not criminals or anything. The opposite, actually, like hall monitors gone wild. There was this guy from up somewhere by the Makah rez, big guy, was selling meth to people round here. Sam Uley and his crew ran them off our land. They're all about our land and tribe pride and that. As if we don't all hear enough of it from the council."
Something about Jacob's tone was strange to me, as if he was trying to hide how much he disliked the group. "I thought you were pretty proud of your heritage," I said.
"I am," Jake said quickly. "No, it's just… I don't know. Embry says the council actually meets with Sam. It's weird. And Leah Clearwater said that they call themselves 'protectors' or something like that." His hands were tight fists, and his eyes were trained on the treeline as we drove.
"You don't like them," I said.
"Does it show?" He asked, giving me a vague grin.
"I guess they're not doing anything bad, though. They just sound a little presumptuous, you know, with the 'protectors' thing and all."
"Yeah, presumptuous, that's what it is. And they're always showing off. Like the cliff thing. They act like tough guys. I was hanging out at the store with Embry and Quil once, and Sam came by with his friends Jared and Paul. Quil said something, you know how he has a big mouth, and it pissed Paul off. His eyes got all dark and he sort of smiled with all these teeth, and it was actually really scary. I was sure he was going to attack Quil. But Sam put his hand on Paul, and I swear, it was like Sam was holding him back. Like a bad western!" He rubbed his hand against his jaw, his eyes far away. "You know, Sam's a pretty big guy. He's twenty. And Paul's just sixteen, shorter than me and not as beefy as Quil. I think any of us could take him. He didn't seem to think so, though."
"Tough guys," I agreed. "Isn't Sam a little old for that kind of thing? And hanging out with guys your age, that's kind of strange, isn't it?"
"Yeah. He was supposed to go to college, but he stayed. And no one gave him any crap about it, either. The whole council pitched a fit when my sister tuned down a partial scholarship and got married. But not Sam…" His face had shifted. He looked outraged.
"Jake, it sounds really strange, but… I don't see why you're taking it so personally."
His face was suddenly calm, and he turned to stare out the side window. "You missed the turn." He said.
"Thanks for the heads-up," I muttered as I managed a very wide U-turn, nearly hitting a tree.
"Sorry. I wasn't paying attention."
I said nothing, feeling as if I'd offended Jacob without meaning to. I shot a glance at his face, but he wasn't looking at me. "You can stop anywhere along here."
I pulled over and cut the engine. My ears rang as silence took the place of the roar of the truck. We both got out, and Jacob headed around to get the bikes. I could tell he was still bothered by our discussion, and I knew I'd somehow hit a nerve.
He smiled halfheartedly as he pushed the red bike to my side. "Happy belated birthday. Are you ready for this?"
I grinned broadly back at him. "Are you kidding? Absolutely." But my heart was beating against my ears. The bike suddenly looked enormous and unconquerable. I tried not to let on, but Jacob could read me so easily.
"We'll take it slow," he promised. I gingerly leaned the motorcycle against the truck's fender while he went to get his.
"Jake," I hesitated as he returned.
"What's really bothering you? About the Sam thing, I mean. Is there something else?"
He looked at the dirt and kicked his shoe against the front tire of his bike again and again, like he was keeping time. Finally, he sighed. "It's just… the way they treat me. It creeps me out." The words started to tumble out of him, like he hadn't shared his feelings with anyone and was relieved to finally be able to talk about it. "You know, the council is supposed to be made up of equals, but if there was a leader it would be my dad. It took me a long time to figure out why people treat him the way they do, like his opinion counts most. It's because of his father and his father's father. My great-grandpa was the last chief we had, and they still listen to Dad, maybe because of that. But I'm just like everyone else. Nobody has ever treated me special, until now."
"Sam treats you special?"
"Yeah." He turned troubled eyes towards me. "He looks at me like he's waiting for something. Like I'm going to join up with him someday. He pays more attention to me than anyone else on the reservation. Anytime he sees me, he comes over to talk to me. He never actually says anything important, just asks me how school's going, how my dad is, that sort of thing. But the way he looks at me, it's like he's trying to read my mind or something. And a lot of times, I feel almost like… like he didn't just run into me accidentally. It feels like he was actually looking for me. I hate it."
"Listen, you don't have to join anything. He can't force you to hang around with him." I said. I was concerned… Jacob was someone who had good instincts. I trusted his reactions, and even though I didn't know Sam, I couldn't distrust Jacob's feelings about him.
"I know." He said, his foot keeping its rhythm against the tire.
"There's more, isn't there?"
He shrugged. "It's just other stuff," he said. His eyebrows pulled upward, arching in worry. "It's Embry. He's been avoiding me lately."
"You've been hanging out with me a lot," I said, feeling suddenly selfish. Was I monopolizing him?
"No, that's not it. It's not just me – it's Quil, too. Everyone. Embry missed an entire week of school, but he was never home when we tried to visit. His Mom was weird when we asked about it, she just said he wasn't there, and then when we asked more questions she'd tell us to come back later. Quil and me went three or four times trying to get hold of him, just to talk to him. His Dad finally told us not to come back. He said Embry had mono, and that the doctor didn't want him to have visitors, because he was worried they would catch it. Quil and I said we didn't care if we caught it, we just wanted to say hello. Then he changed his story, he said that Embry's mono was so bad he was at his grandmother's house, because she has better central heating."
"That does sound weird."
"When he finally came back to school, he looked different. Edgy, you know, like he thought people were suspicious of him. And distracted. Like he couldn't pay attention to what you were saying for long enough to hold a conversation. Quil and I both tried to get him to tell us what was wrong, but he wouldn't talk to either one of us."
I bit my lip. Jacob was really frightened, and I didn't know what to say.
"Now, out of nowhere, Embry's hanging out with Sam. He was out on the cliffs, I saw him. And I mean, Paul used to trail him around the way Sam does to me. It really bugged him, he didn't want anything to do with them. Now he's their friend?"
"Have you talked to your dad about it?"
Jacob gave an empty laugh. "Yeah, that was helpful. 'It's nothing you need to worry about, Jacob. I know what's going on, I'll explain later.'"
I frowned. "That doesn't seem like him."
"It's not even the worst part." Jacob said. "Yesterday, Quil was missing all day. I called his house, and you know what his dad says?"
"'Quil has mono. He can't take any calls.'"
We both stood in silence. I heard him take a shaky breath, and looked over to see his expression shift, as though he were about to cry. I threw my arms around him instinctively, wrapping them around his waist and pressing my face against his chest. He was so big, I felt like a child hugging an adult. "It'll be okay!" I promised. "If it gets worse, you can come and live with me and my dad. You can sleep on the couch and help me make dinner. And if all else fails, you and I can ride off into the sunset on our motorcycles!"
He chuckled, sounding as though he felt better. "Thanks, Bella." He said. It was strange, being so close to someone emotionally. Not since Edward. It was good to have a friend as warm as Jacob. "If this is how you're going to react, I'll freak out more often," he teased, his voice normal again. His fingers touched my hair, soft and tentative.
I pulled away with a scolding look, though my smile ruined any sternness I could have attempted. "It's hard to believe I'm two years older than you," I said. "You make me feel like a dwarf."
"You're like a little porcelain doll," he patted my head. I rolled my eyes, taking another step away.
"Are we going to ride or what?" I asked.
"You got it!"
"Okay, where's your clutch?"
I pointed to the lever on my left handlebar. Letting go of the grip was a mistake. The heavy bike wobbled underneath me, threatening to knock me sideways. I grabbed the handle again, trying to hold it straight.
"Jacob, it won't stay up," I said.
"It will when you're moving," he promised. "Now, where's your brake?"
"Behind my right foot."
"Wrong." He grabbed my right hand and curled my fingers around the lever over the throttle.
"But you said – "
"This is the brake you want. Don't use the back brake now, that's for when you know what you're doing."
"That doesn't sound right," I said. "Aren't they both important?"
"Just – forget the back brake, okay? Here – " he wrapped his hand around mine and made me squeeze the lever down. "That's how you brake. Don't forget." He squeezed my hand down again.
"Okay." I agreed.
"Throttle?" I twisted the right grip. "Gearshift?" I nudged it with my left calf. "Good. I think you've got all the parts down. Now you just have to get it moving."
"Uh huh," I said, my adrenaline rushing back. Would I be able to manage this, really? My stomach was twisting, and my voice sounded far away. My head was tingling. I tried to tell myself that fear was pointless, I'd already faced far more harrowing situations, and in comparison with something like James trying to kill me and my mother, or Edward leaving, why should anything frighten me now? I should be able to look a motorcycle in the face and laugh!
Unfortunately, I couldn't even chuckle at the moment.
I stared down the long stretch of road. It was bordered by thick misty green, and the road was sandy and damp. Was this really the best surface to learn on? I guess it was firmer than mud, but softer than asphalt.
"Hold down the clutch," Jacob said. I did so. "Now, this is crucial, Bella. Don't let go of that, okay? Pretend I've handed you a live grenade. The pin is out and if you let go, you explode."
I held it tighter.
"Good. Do you think you can kick-start it?"
"If I move, I will fall over."
"Okay, I'll do it. Don't let go of the clutch." He stepped back, and slammed his foot down on the pedal. There was a ripping sound and the force of the thrust rocked the bike. I started to slip sideways, but Jacob caught me and the motorcycle before it knocked me to the ground. "Steady! Do you still have the clutch?"
"Yes, sir!" I said. He grinned.
"Plant your feet, I'm going to try again." But he put his hand on the back of the seat, I couldn't help but notice. It took four more kicks before the ignition finally caught. I could feel the bike rumbling beneath me like an angry animal. I gripped the clutch until my fingers ached. "Try the throttle," he suggested. "Very lightly. Don't let go of the clutch."
I slowly twisted the right handle. Though the movement was tiny, the bike snarled. Jacob smiled broadly, clearly pleased with his handiwork. "Do you remember how to put it into first gear?" he asked.
"Go on, then."
I took a few deep breaths, and when I could see he was about to remind me, I kicked the gearshift down one notch. I didn't want Jacob to think I couldn't remember what he'd taught me already. "Good!" He said. "Now, very gently ease up on the clutch." He stepped back from the bike.
"You want me to let go of the grenade?"
"That's how you move, Bella. Just a little."
As I began to loosen my grip, it happened. The sandy dirt road and saturated green was replaced by a wholly different place.
In an instant I absorbed the entirety of the scene:
A dimly lit room. A bed sat in the center, with dark and uninterrupted covers folded deeply over flat pillows. A generic watercolor painting of a river lay against the beige wall opposite the bed. There was a window facing a city street, framed by heavy grey drapes. It was obviously a hotel room.
And standing in front of the window, long fingers holding the drapes apart, was Edward.
He was wearing a pair of denim jeans and a white undershirt, his skin nearly as pale as the fabric. He was barefoot. His hair was shorter than I remembered it, and pushed to one side. He had a nervous habit of pushing through it with his fingers when he was anxious or stressed about something. His cheeks were flushed dark, almost like he was blushing, and his eyes were lighter than I remembered. They had lost some of their redness, instead looking like a dark shade of orange. Shifting back to the amber color I'd fallen in love with.
Then he turned, faster than seemed possible, and set his gaze on me. "Get out." He hissed.
"Oh!" I said, my hand falling from the clutch. I was back on the dirt path, back with Jake in the woods. The bike bucked under me, yanking me forward and then collapsing on the ground, half on top of me. The engine choked to a stop.
"Bella!" Jake said, lifting the heavy bike off me with ease. "Are you hurt?"
I wasn't listening, my mind reeling from whatever I had just seen. "Bella?" His voice was worried now.
"I'm fine!" I said. More than fine. Even in the angry hiss, the voice still rang in my ears. Soft, velvety echoes. Edward. "Let's try again."
My mind ran through the possibilities. Was I psychic? Was it a hallucination, a dream? I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins, and I didn't really care about the answer. Even though I knew it wouldn't change things, I had to try again. Maybe I could see Edward's face again, maybe hear his voice again. I couldn't keep myself from trying it.
"Did you hit your head?" Jacob asked, pulling me up. "Maybe you should rest for a minute,"
"No, I'm fine. I didn't damage the bike, did I?" I turned toward it again, my fingers reaching out to touch it, as if I would even be able to tell.
"You just stalled the engine," he said. "You let go of the clutch too fast."
"Let's try again."
"Are you sure?"
"I've never been surer."
This time I tried to get the kick start myself. I had to jump a little to slam down with enough force, and every time I did, the bike tried to fall over. Jacob's hands hovered over the handlebars, ready to catch me if I needed him. It took several good tries, and even more poor tries, but I did it. The engine caught and roared to life under me. Remembering to hold onto the clutch, I revved the throttle experimentally. At its snarl, my smile mirrored Jacob's.
"Go easier on the clutch," he said.
"I don't want you in here." I heard Edward's voice again, calmer but still angry, though the scenery around me didn't change. I smiled tightly. It was working. "You had no right to do it." The sheer beauty of the voice amazed me.
"Ease off slowly," Jacob said. Trying to focus this time, to not let the experience startle me again, I relaxed my hand by tiny degrees. Suddenly, the gear caught and wrenched me forward. And I was flying.
There was wind that wasn't there before, blowing my skin against my bones and flinging my hair behind me. I'd left my stomach behind, the adrenaline taking its place and roaring through me. The trees were a smear of green and grey, and over it all I could begin to see the outline of the other place, the room where Edward stood.
I realized that I could see both places at once. In part of my mind, I was with Edward. But my body could still see the path, the trees, the world flying past me. My mind had expanded somehow.
"You had no right, Rosalie. No right. To call her – talk to her – how dare you!" Edward turned toward me.
I realized that I was seeing as if from where Rosalie stood. Did Rosalie have some sort of vampire ability, too? Edward could read minds, could she project her thoughts? I didn't think so, Edward had never said that any of them had abilities but himself and Alice and Jasper. But I was only a human, so how could I access Rosalie's mind like this?
"You didn't see her, Edward. She looked like hell. You could have done something, been easier on her with it all. I had to make sure she was okay."
"You didn't have to do anything. It's none of your business! Going to see her, calling her on the phone! You'll only make it worse."
The vision was getting stronger, and I paid less and less attention to the road, letting myself see and hear and feel the room that Edward and Rosalie stood in. I could even smell it.
The clean smell of the bathroom, the dusty scent of a place where people never stayed for long. And the smell of him.
"I think you're wrong. Just like I thought you were wrong then."
"None of your business."
"Actually, it's none of yours. I only told you about it because I thought you should know what you'd done. But when you broke it off with her, you gave up any right to the relationship. It's my business what I do, it's your business what you do, and it's Bella's business what she does. Whether Bella and I talk has nothing to do with you. You hold no claim there."
I was so absorbed with what I was hearing from Edward and Rosalie, I was caught by surprise when I realized that the road was starting a slow curve to the left, and I was still going straight. I couldn't think of how to turn.
"Brakes, brakes!" I said to myself, and I instinctively slammed down with my right foot, like I would in my truck.
The bike was abruptly unstable, shivering to one side and then the other. It dragged me toward the green of the trees, and I was flying. I tried to turn the handlebar the other direction, my heart in my throat and my panic such that my mind felt separated from my body. The sudden shift of my weight pushed the bike toward the ground, spinning toward the trees. The roar of the motorcycle seemed strangely far away, but the sound of hitting the wet sand and the slurp of my body through the grass and moss was right on top of me. I realized that I had hit something stationary. The bike was heavy against my torso, holding me down. Disoriented, I tried to lift my head, but something was in the way. Something else was making noise, but I couldn't pick up on it.
"Bella!" Jacob shouted, and I heard the roar of the other bike cut off. Oh. The other bike.
Then my bike was gone, pulled away from me, and I breathed. All the growling had gone away.
"Woah." I murmured. Adrenaline and danger, was that what caused the hallucination? Could I make it happen again? I was sure I could. It had to be possible.
"Bella, are you alive?" Jacob was crouching over me.
"I'm great!" I shouted, too loudly. My own voice rang in my ears, and I tried to stand up. I veered to one side, but Jacob caught me around the arms, holding me steady. "Let's try again!"
"I don't think so," Jacob said. "I'm driving you to the hospital."
"No, I'm fine!"
"Bella, you have a huge cut on your forehead and it's gushing blood. I'm taking you to the hospital."
I clapped my hand over my head, letting him guide me. Sure enough, it was wet and sticky. I could smell nothing but the smell of the grass and moss that the bike had propelled me through, and I was certain it was that alone that kept the nausea away. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Jacob!" I pushed hard against the gash, trying to slow the blood.
"Why are you apologizing for bleeding?" He wondered as he took the keys from my hand. He got me into the car, then pulled off his t-shirt and pressed it against my head. He put my hand against it, and I held it there obediently. He ran to get the motorcycles, looking athletic and professional as he drove them back to the truck. I was sure I hadn't looked like that when I'd ridden, but I didn't have the energy to be annoyed about it. He loaded them into the bed with incredible speed and sprinted to the driver's side.
"So. We need a cover story," I said as he turned the ignition. The roar of the engine drowned out his relieved laugh.