Here's the latest chapter for you all. I hope you like it and thanks for continuing to read this story. As usual, I must add that I do not own Twilight.
They sat in silence for a good five minutes. Leah wasn't really sure what to say to Bella if anything at all, and the other girl seemed quite happy to just have company without feeling the need to talk. In one way it was incredibly relaxing for Leah to be around someone who didn't want anything from her. In another way though, it was stressful just waiting for the ball to drop and for Bella to start talking to her.
Struggling to know what to do, Leah grabbed the bag of chips that Quil had abandoned and stuffed a handful in her mouth. Keeping her eyes firmly away from the other group down the beach, she stared blankly out towards the ocean where her brother and his friends were playing about.
"It's nice to see them looking so relaxed, isn't it?"
Leah turned to find Bella also watching the boys in the water, a wistful smile on her face.
"They spend all of their time on edge, just waiting for the next disaster, that it's easy to forget that they're just teenagers sometimes," the other girl continued.
Leah frowned. "You make it sound like you're ancient by comparison."
Bella laughed. "I feel like it sometimes, like being with Edward aged me prematurely. Jake, despite everything he's seen and done, still acts his age." She smiled as with a yell, Embry and Jake managed to wrestle Quil underwater. "Case in point." She gestured towards the boys.
Finishing the chips, Leah crumpled the pack up and shoved it back in the bag.
Looking at Bella's smiling face, she nearly didn't ask her next question, but Leah had never been able to back away from painful subjects in the past and her curiosity got the better of her.
"Why did you stay with the leech for so long?"
Bella stiffened, the smile dropping from her face.
"I mean, Jake's loved you practically his whole life, but none of us thought you would ever choose him. We all just assumed that you were stringing him along. So...what made you change your mind?"
She had put her foot in it, Leah could tell straight away. Bella shoulders were practically around her ears and the group of wolves at the other end of the beach had fallen silent, perhaps waiting for her answer too.
"No, it's fine," the younger girl suddenly said, shaking her head.
Her words didn't make any sense, particularly given what Leah had asked, but as she looked at Bella, she saw that the girl wasn't speaking to her, but out towards the water. Following the direction of her gaze, Leah noticed that Jacob had begun wading back towards the beach, a fierce look on his face. Bella's words had stopped him in his tracks.
Jake's mouth didn't move, but it was almost like he and Bella were having a silent conversation that nobody else could hear.
"We're just talking. I'm okay. Go hang out."
Jacob paused for a minute longer and then he turned abruptly and dived underwater, appearing seconds later next to the surfboard that the younger wolves were playing around on.
Bella blushed when she realised the attention she was getting from Leah and the other wolves.
"He just worries about me," she half-explained.
Leah blinked. "How did you do that? He didn't even talk."
The red sheen to Bella face didn't disappear. "We're just...close." She sighed and then shuffled a little closer to Leah.
The other occupants of the beach seemed to get the message because the volume in that direction suddenly picked up again.
Leah kept her focus on Bella. Something told her that the younger girl didn't talk about this subject so often and that she was being taken into her confidence. It was a scary thought and one that Leah wasn't entirely sure she was ready for yet, but then she remembered how desperate she had been at times for someone friendly to talk to, who wouldn't judge.
It was a little surprising for her to find that maybe Bella was in the same position.
"Jake and I were best friends before we were together," Bella explained. "And it's like...he knows what I need and I know what he needs. We don't really have to talk about it a lot. So when you asked... He worries about me, especially when it comes to Edward and the wolves." Bella glanced along the beach. "I'm not really the most welcome person around here because of my relationship with the Cullens. Even though Jake and I have made our peace with the situation," she paused, and then shook her head, "I don't know."
"You think the rest of us don't understand?" Leah asked.
Bella pursed her lips in thought. "I think that living through something is very different from seeing the consequences in someone else's head."
That was something that Leah could understand.
Her and Sam's break-up, his relationship with Emily and her anger and heartbreak had all been played out under the microscope of wolf telepathy. Everyone knew what had happened, all the dirty, secret little details and thoughts, and everyone had an opinion on how the situation could have been handled differently. Honestly, she didn't see how she could have reacted any differently without rolling over and letting Sam and Emily walk all over her.
So she got it, almost.
That didn't mean she wasn't surprised though when Bella answered her earlier question.
"I stayed with Edward because I was afraid of what would happen to me and Jake if I gave in and let us have a chance. Being with Edward was easy and predictable and dependable. He would love me forever and I would never have to worry about him imprinting or growing up and growing apart from me. But I wasn't in love with him, not for a long time towards the end. I just couldn't make myself admit that I'd made a mistake and that maybe Jake really was worth the risk."
"He's worth more than your leech ever was," Leah couldn't help saying.
She expected Bella to get angry with her for that remark, but the other girl just nodded placidly.
"I know. He's worth everything, and I love him so much. More than I ever though I did." A small smile crossed her face before vanishing again. "So I took a chance on him and I'm so grateful that he forgave me and took me back. But that doesn't mean that I'm still not afraid." She turned and looked Leah in the eyes. "It just means that I decided that loving him was worth more than my fear."
Jake adored Bella. Everyone knew he would die for her, do anything for her.
"What do you have to be afraid of?" Leah asked cautiously. Something told her that she wouldn't like the answer.
"The same thing you do," Bella replied. "Imprinting. Him being taken away from me." She swirled her fingers idly around in the sand. "He would try to fight it, I know he would, but I'm not 100% sure that he would be capable of it." She pinned Leah under that knowing gaze again. "Isn't that what you're worried about with Embry?"
Habit made Leah deny the question. "Embry and I aren't together. Nothing like that. We're just friends."
Bella nodded thoughtfully and then smiled brightly, nudging Leah with her shoulder. "That's a shame. I think you two would make an adorable couple."
That comment seemed to magically lift the air between them and both girls giggled a little hysterically.
"Shut up." Leah pulled a face and then pushed Bella lightly in the arm. She had to remember to hold her strength though; she didn't think her future-Alpha would appreciate it if she accidentally punched a hole in his girlfriend's arm.
It was only when she stopped laughing that Leah realised just how much better she felt. Clearly there was something to be said for having friends and someone to talk it. It was also incredibly reassuring to realise that Bella wouldn't judge her for anything she said, and with that came the desire to actually talk to someone about her confused feelings.
"I like him," she admitted. "Not like that, but more than I thought I would. He's...sweet."
"He is," Bella agreed.
Her agreement reassured Leah.
"I'm just not sure that I'm ready for anything else, or that I ever will be."
Bella made a small noise of agreement. "You don't know if you'll feel differently in the future though."
"That's it exactly. I mean, he says he wants to be friends and that's actually quite cool, but what if he wants more?"
What if he wanted her to fall in love with him? What would she do then? She wasn't even sure if she was capable of a relationship anymore.
Bella patted her hand and then pulled back. "I think that if Embry says he wants to be your friend and get to know you then you should let him. You're not uncomfortable or anything around him, are you?"
"No," Leah admitted.
"Right then." Bella nodded. "Then if you're happy being friends, just be friends. There's no pressure on either of you that way."
Leah frowned. Bella made it all sound so simple when it really wasn't.
"But what about the future?"
Bella smiled sympathetically. "I think the future if out of our control, and I've learnt not to chase trouble anymore. If Embry ever decides that he wants more from you, then he'll let you know and you can make a decision about whether you want more from him too then."
"But until then you're telling me not to freak out." Leah pulled a face.
The other girl shrugged. "Well, with my dating history I'm not sure I should be telling you anything. I'm not really the best person at taking my advice when it comes to stuff like this."
Leah stifled a laugh at that.
"What I will say though," Bella continued, "is that you don't have to start from scratch with Embry. You know him, you know about his life and his past and he knows the same about you. He's not going to judge you and he's not going to push you when he knows you're unhappy about stuff. Whatever happens in the future between you, whether it's something or nothing, he's a good friend to have."
Leah could agree with that at least. "Yeah, he is."
Silence fell between her and Bella as they watched the antics of the boys in the water and she thought about everything they had talked about. Was she making too much of what was between them? Panicking over nothing? It wouldn't be the first time.
One thing that had clarified in her mind though, was that whatever happened, she wouldn't be judged for it. The reaction of Jake, Quil and the younger wolves today was proof of that. Sure, they had been surprised to see her show up with Embry, but she would bet that they would have been equally surprised if she had shown up to hang out with Seth too. And they had been nice. They hadn't called her out on her anti-social behaviour or that she had probably insulted all of them on patrol at one time or another. They had just accepted her into the fold without word or explanation needed.
Maybe that was just what she needed right now – to be accepted, to not feel like a nuisance or an inconvenience amongst them all. Embry's gentle encouragement had been a big part of that. So yes, maybe friendship was the way to go. She could work on that and then decide if she wanted it to go any further later.
After all, no-one was rushing her to make any key life decisions at the moment.
So she would ease herself into it all, and then maybe, just maybe...
"Leah! Bella!" Her little brother's call shook her out of her thoughts. "You guys have got to come in and try this out. It's not even cold." Seth waved frantically at them and then beckoned them towards the water. "Come on, you can't just sit there all day!"
The girls looked at each other.
"Do you want to go?" Bella asked. "'Cos I will if you will. I'm not going by myself though. Last time Quil dragged me underwater when I wasn't paying attention."
"Bella! Come on in." This time it was Jacob calling out.
Leah laughed. "And you really think I can protect you from that?"
Bella pulled a face. "Well no, but I don't have the super-strength needed to dunk him back."
Leah glanced towards the water and then back to Bella's hopeful face.
"Okay, let's go."
She stood up and brushed sand off her body before pulling her sundress over her head. Almost immediately a series of catcalls came from the group down the beach, mostly Paul, and she turned to glare at them.
"Looking good, Clearwater."
"Fuck off, Lahote," she yelled back.
Bella giggled nervously and tucked her hair behind her ears. "Looks like Paul's not the only one to notice your bikini." She gestured out towards the sea where Embry was staring unashamedly at Leah in the revealing clothing, and the she-wolf felt the uncommon urge to blush rising in her cheeks.
Trying to distract herself, so she didn't get ripped apart on the next patrol because her embarrassment, Leah tore her eyes away from Embry's appreciate gaze and immediately regretted it when she caught Sam looking at her in much the same way.
"Sam, Sam!" his imprint caught his attention once more and he turned away from her.
Leah suddenly felt very vulnerable standing out there in her bikini. All the power and beauty she had felt earlier vanished in a flash, leaving her staring at the floor and shuffling her feet, trying to ignore the stinging in her eyes.
Why did he do that?!
Every time she tried to move on or do something for her, there he was, dragging her back down again.
Hunching her shoulders, her fingers twitched back towards the sundress and she longed to be covered up and protected once more.
A small hand taking hers made her jump out of her misery and she looked up uncomprehendingly at Bella. The younger girl tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace.
"Things like that don't help, do they?"
Leah glanced around, ignoring her ex-boyfriend who was being chewed out by his annoyed current fiancée, and focused her attention on the silent group of boys out in the water. Brady, Collin and Quil all appeared worried, while both Jacob and her brother had scowls on their faces which were directed towards the group of older wolves. Only Embry was looking directly at her, capturing her eyes with his.
He raised his chin slightly, a determined set to his face and Leah realised that he was challenging her not to run like she wanted to. The glare in his eyes was daring her to ignore Sam and come down to the water, to not let her ex-lover ruin everything.
"No, they don't," she answered Bella's question. "I hate it. But I can't stay stuck like this forever, can I?"
The other girl rewarded her with a genuine smile as she tugged her down towards the shoreline, shrieking when it became apparent that Seth had lied about the warm temperature. With a wicked laugh, Jacob appeared next to them and grabbing his protesting girlfriend, hauled her over to where the others had gathered around the surfboard.
Leah followed, swimming at a more sedate pace, steeling herself to appear unaffected by anything that had happened on the beach.
"Are you alright?" Embry asked when she had reached them all.
"I'm fine. Really," she added when he didn't look convinced. "Just looking forward to seeing whether I can stand up on the board, that's all."
Seth whooped in delight and immediately pushed Brady off the surfboard. "Come on, Leah." He gave an evil grin. "I promise I won't push you off."
The others laughed at that and Leah knew she was going to end up tipped underwater at some point.
Embry was still studying her, but when she smiled at her brother, he relaxed and grinned along with the others.
"As long as you're sure."
She wasn't, not totally anyway, but she was making small steps and like Bella said, she didn't have to make any decisions just yet.
As Seth boosted her up onto the surfboard and Quil and Embry held it steady, she thought that maybe this was enough for now.