A.N: I know, I know. All this hemming and hawing. It's not me, it's Bella! Blame her!
A big tank you to JJ Twi1ight for detecting errors and generally making sense :)
Icky, little boys
It was seriously getting cold out. Autumn had come to a point when the sky was constantly gray, it was windy all night, and the pavement was covered in a thick blanket of leaves. There was a constant dribbling from rain on the windows, and a constant pair of woolen socks at the end of my feet.
The day after my birthday, I slept until noon for the first time since Jacob moved in. In truth, that had much to do with the fact that I had been awake half the night, listening to the wind howling and trying not to replay the horror movie in my bedroom. When I finally got up and peeked out into the hallway, my stomach was more prickly than it had been in a long while. Though Jacob had lived here for weeks, he had never kissed my cheek before (Our first encounter didn't count. I was actively trying to erase that from my memory all together. Let's just pretend that never happened). And he had said I was great, too. And he had been so close. We'd had a moment. He must have noticed that. This time, he must've noticed.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, I entered the kitchen only to find it empty. He wasn't in the living room either. I peeked in behind the wrap-up doors dividing the room. He was not sleeping on the sofa-bed either. I shrugged. He must have left, then. Maybe he'd had some plans or something. I couldn't decide whether to be disappointed or relived, so I went to take a shower instead.
I must have showered for half an hour or something, because all the warm water was somehow up. Oh well. I got out, wrapping a towel around me. I was just thinking about how the day felt completely wasted from sleeping this late, when I realized I had forgot my clean clothes in my bedroom. Oh.
I listened. It was quiet. Maybe Jacob wasn't back yet. But what if he was and I ran into him in the hallway? I could have wished for a less awkward encounter. Taking our history of awkward moments into account, it seemed to be the only thing missing. Me, dressed only in an ugly bath towel, running into him in the hallway, looking gorgeous. Just what I needed.
I cracked the door opened and peeked out. The hallway was empty. Quietly I placed a naked foot on the cold floor and tip toed down the hallway, hoping I wouldn't bump into him. I reached my room, almost too quickly, and closed the door behind me. I let out a deep breath. He was still out. The only other creature here was Edward, who was sitting in my bed and looking relaxed and pleasant. I ruffled though his disheveled, white fur on my way past him, and he purred.
"You like it now, don't you?" I asked him as I got dressed. "Now that he isn't here and you can have me to yourself?"
Edward just licked his paw and acted like he had no idea what I was talking about, sending me an affectionate look every now and then. How Jacob couldn't adore him was a mystery to me.
Jessica called later that day, as I was spelunking in the fridge (scary how much more food we had now that Jacob lived here – much more exciting). She declared she and Angela were picking me up to go for a cup of coffee, and so we did. They arrived before Jacob returned – from wherever he was – and so I didn't see him at all that morning. I tried not to feel disappointed.
Comfortably installed in one of the better coffee shops, they got down to business. "So Bella," Jessica started. They sent each other one of those looks. "Did you have a nice time yesterday?"
"No, nothing happened," I answered her inquiring eyebrow.
Angela squealed in a not-very her way. "She's lying! Look, she's blushing."
I buried my face in my hands. "Fine. He kissed my cheek. Are you happy now? It was all very cute and kindergarten-ish."
Jessica snorted. "Robert Watson never tried to kiss you in kindergarden, so don't come here and talk about cute. He had peanut butter all over his mouth, and there was absolutely nothing cute about it. Just icky."
Angela waved her hand. "You're digressing again. So, what else?" She turned to me, expectant.
"I can see you're lying."
I sighed. "He said I was great. And that's it, I swear."
"I don't believe you," Jessica squinted her eyes. "You two were mashed together on that couch all evening. Are you telling me you didn't make out just a little-"
She rested her head on one hand. "But he loves you."
"No, he doesn't. That you keep saying it doesn't make it true."
Now Angela was the one squinting. "There's more," she said. "What else is it you aren't telling?"
"Nothing happened," I repeated, looking down in my cappuccino. Cappuccino was okay. Much better than plain black coffee.
"Then what is it? There's something else. You're thinking about it now, I can tell."
This time I sighed. She knew me too well. "Okay, fine. He kind of … No, it's stupid."
I should have known that such an ending would be protested heavily.
"Okay, okay," I finally said, interrupting their objections. "He kind of … well, it's silly really, I don't even think he notices … But he- sometimes he calls me 'Bells'. It's cute."
I also should have known such an ending would produce much more squeals and loud noises than appropriate in a small coffee shop.
They let it go eventually (as they had no choice, they had to let me go when they dropped me off outside my house), and of course, neither of them could resist ending every goodbye and see you with 'Bells' in a loving tone. I would so pay them back later.
He was home. His shoes were in the hallway, and I could smell food.
"Hey," he said absentmindedly as I entered the kitchen.
I slung my bag down in a corner, and sat down. He was across the room, stirring in a casserole. "Hi."
"How's it going?" he asked.
"Good. Been out drinking coffee."
He turned. "You drinking coffee?"
I looked down. "Cappuccino," I mumbled.
"Hah!" He laughed. "Then I get it. That's just sugar."
"And milk," I argued. He sent me a grin over his shoulder and returned to stir in the casserole. Just like normal.
Clearly, he did not remember any moment. Nothing special, no late night yesterday kiss-on-the-cheek and 'you're great' moment. Clearly, that was just how he did things. Maybe he always kissed people's cheeks on their birthdays and told them they were great. No big deal. We were the way we'd always been (maybe not always, we'd definitely been worse), nothing special about it. Just friends. Room mates. That was all. I tried not to be disappointed.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful. We kept to ourselves mostly and didn't speak a whole lot. But later that night, when I had just finished drying the dishes (I didn't have a dishwasher – dishwashers were expensive) Jacob entered the kitchen.
"Bella," he said, and I turned, only to find something flying towards my face. I dropped the towel and just managed to catch the keys he'd thrown in my direction.
"Hey!" I protested, still surprised and kind of upset (they could've hit me in the eye!), but he just laughed.
"Want to test-drive it now?" he asked.
Oh, of course. My shared second birthday present which he insisted on me driving. I smiled. "Okay fine. But it doesn't change anything. I'm not going to drive your car. I mean, apart from this one time."
He just grinned. "We'll see," he said, before disappearing back into the hallway. "I'll just wait here."
I rolled my eyes and went to retrieve the kitchen-towel from the floor. When I didn't follow immediately, his head popped back into the doorway. "You're coming, right?" he assured.
His face disappeared before it had even made contact with the towel.
"I have a feeling you're not going to like me much by the time we're back." I wasn't even fishing for a compliment.
I had only just coughed out of the driveway, and Jacob was already wringing his hands. Really, the car was just coughing, it wasn't my fault.
"You need to go more easy in the beginning," Jacob lectured. "Can't you hear she's struggling in that gear? You need to take it down a notch."
"You know you just called it 'she', right?"
He looked at me cluelessly. "Huh?"
"Gearstick!" He yelled.
"Okay okay, fine, I'm doing it now, see?"
I took the car for a whole tour around the neighborhood, and Jacob didn't stop wringing his hands once. Not until I had finished the route, and parked the car back in front of the house.
He looked at me. "What are you doing? We haven't even been out five minutes."
"I'm parking the car so you won't get a stroke," I said calmly, very gently killing the engine. "I think this is enough for one day, don't you?"
"Oh, come on!"
I raised my hands to calm him. "Shoo now, don't get too excited. She is fine, see?" I gestured at the dashboard. "Now lets just go inside and everyone will be happy."
Jacob looked at me for a second as if I had gone crazy, before he started laughing. "You sound exactly like when you tried to talk me out of playing hide and seek with you at home. You were terrified I would go and tell mom, so that she would make you."
Oh. Childhood. Right.
"But you were so icky," I argued, wrinkling my face up. "You had jam all over your face."
"I did not. When did I have that?"
"Always." I might have been exaggerating a tad.
He knew that. "Pfft. I did not."
We smiled at each other, and it became quiet for a moment. I averted my eyes and tried to think of something to say. When I looked back up at him, he was still looking at me, still smiling. It was one of those moments, and I became very aware of how loud my heart suddenly seemed in the quiet space between us. Then Jacob looked down, frowning, something clearly on his mind.
I looked at him, frowning too. "What is it?" I wondered, when he didn't say anything. He looked serious all of a sudden, staring at his own hands. My heart noticed too, and it's speed seemed to double. Then, unexpectedly, Jacob smiled, a serious smile, still looking down at his hands.
"I had the hugest crush on you, you know."
My heartbeat went crazy, and for a few seconds, the world stood still. I couldn't think, couldn't process the meaning of his words, just stared at him, frozen. Jacob … Crush … on me?
"I used to really look forward to the summer when you would be coming over," he said, still smiling down at his own hands. "That was the highlight of the whole summer."
I felt a pang in my stomach as I listened, and noticed his past tense. Oh. Childhood. Right. He didn't mean now at all. He meant then.
He continued. "But then one year you didn't come, and not the next year …" He looked up at me then, his eyes full of questions. "I never really got why?"
His eyes searched mine, wondering and demanding at the same time. I realized it was my turn now, to explain, this all of a sudden issue that I hadn't even been aware of a few minutes earlier.
But I didn't have an answer.
"Why are you asking this now?" I pressed out, the only reply I could think of. I couldn't see what had brought this on, after all we had just been joking about the car seconds earlier. My voice sounded funny, as if I hadn't spoken in months.
Jacob blinked, and looked around as if he first now became aware of the tension that had suddenly pressed down around us. He smiled again, as if to tell me it was okay, but somehow he still seemed serious.
"Oh. It's … er … it's no big deal or anything, I just came to think of it. Uhm. I guess it's just what you said yesterday, about not liking Forks. It got me thinking."
I looked down at my own hands. So I had been right. There had been something. Still looking down, I answered his question.
"I dunno. I just, never liked those weeks in Forks with Charlie. I mean," I added hastily. "I liked parts of it, of course I did. But I didn't really know anyone, and me and him never had anything to say to each other, and it was cold all the time -" I stopped myself in time, before the list got too long. "I don't know why I stopped going, I guess I just liked it better that way."
Jacob nodded again. "You say you knew no one, but you knew me, right?" he said quietly. "Even though I was annoying. And younger. And a boy," he added with a grin. Still, he meant it.
I knew what he was really saying. Wasn't I worth going back for?
I had no good reply. "Yes," I said. "I just … I dunno."
No, you wasn't.
He nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I get it."
I wanted to contradict his assumptions, but then they were true, weren't they? Jacob smiled again, clearly wanting to ease the tension. "Hey, I got over it and all, of course I did," he said. "It just sucked when I found out. I didn't get it."
I didn't know what to say, so I kept averting my eyes.
Jacob tried to catch my gaze. "Erm … I guess the reason I brought this up was that I'm pretty sure Charlie would like you to come back some time. He talks about you a lot. You could just visit for the weekend or something. We could go together. Use the Rabbit. I'm sure it wont be that horrible."
His voice was bright again, bright and sunny, but the last word told me that there was still more behind it. Maybe, in resenting Forks so much, I hurt him, too. He still couldn't quite forget.
He must have realized that his attempt to brighten the tension wasn't working much.
"Hey", he said, and this time his voice was really back to normal and genuine. "I'm sorry, I guess I just wondered why, if there was a reason for it. But then I know."
Yes, he did know. He knew that the only reason was me being selfish and thoughtless. I felt like a bug or something else terrible.
"Do you want to drive more?" he wondered quietly when I didn't reply.
I smiled quickly and shook my head, pulling myself together. "Maybe not tonight. I think you've had enough of my driving for one day. You'd still be in danger of a heart attack."
He smiled at that. "Maybe you're right. Maybe we should let her rest."
I snorted, and opened the door. Jacob chuckled behind me. We both got out.
I went to bed soon after, and we didn't really speak much. He was back to happy again, but I was not. And maybe, deep down, he wasn't either.
Jacob did not speak of his childhood crush on me for the rest of the week. I did not mention my current crush on him either. I also refused to go on another test-drive, but that was for different reasons. Heart attacks might be in his family, I wouldn't know. Better not risk one.
Maybe I had expected, even hoped, that something between us would change the following days. That he would be a little awkward after this revelation, or that something between us would be a little more strained or unusual. But it wasn't. Jacob was just as bright and happy and carefree as he used to be. Something that to me only proved that whatever feelings had once been on his side were no longer there.
One late afternoon the following week, I came home from work only to find Jacob sitting outside on the small porch-steps along with Embry. They were talking quietly, but then broke into loud cheers when they noticed me.
"I got the job!" Jacob blurted out, his face all grins. "I'll start Monday!" And then he stood up, and then he gave me a hug that was so happy and warm and bone-crunching that it put bears to shame. I even felt my feet lift slightly from the ground.
"That's great!" I beamed at him when he had put me down. "Congratulations, I'm so happy for you!" Actually it was impossible not to be happy when met by a smile like that.
He just beamed, and it was clear that the relived look on his face had already been there for a while. "Yeah, it was really lucky. I'm just glad it's all sorted out."
It was not until I had gotten inside, still smiling from his bright mood, that I realized what this might mean. I put my bag down on the chair, absentmindedly listening to the talking of the two guys still out on the porch. Did this mean he would move out now? Was this it? I knew it didn't have to mean that. We had already talked of it once, and he knew I didn't mind if he stayed. And I knew he didn't want to live with cockroaches. But as it was, he might get himself a decent place now, if he wanted that. Maybe Jacob wanted that.
I frowned to myself in the kitchen. He might not want that at all. If he wanted that, he would have said it right away, wouldn't he? Anyway, there was no point thinking about it, I told myself. All I could do was forget about it and see if he brought it up. Maybe he wouldn't say anything at all.
Jacob and Embry returned from the porch after a while, when Embry had finished smoking, still in an above-average mood. As means of celebration I decided to bake a cake, a huge chocolate one. Which was good because the two of them had no problem finishing off the whole thing. I'm sure they ate more than five times as much as I did, and I was very full and kind of sick after finishing my piece. All in all, it was really nice.
I liked Embry a lot too; he wasn't as intimidating as Quil. And when he first got over that being-quiet part, much similar to my being-quiet part, he could be quite talkative. And he drank coffee like a spunge. Jacob had nothing on him.
"I absolutely hate them," he explained, finishing a story about the time he had accidentally discovered a nest of spiders in the basement-like apartment he had rented sometime back. "Hairy, nasty things. Worst thing in the world."
"Oh, they're not the worst," I disagreed.
Jacob chuckled. Embry raised one eyebrow.
"No? Then what is?"
That was easy.
"Tanning beds," I answered immediately. "Close spaces and bacteria. It's hell."
God must have had PMS when she created me. She had to make me the palest creature standing on the planet earth, and she gave me a neat freak-gene, claustrophobia and rain. And really tanned, really pretty friends. Great.
Embry shook his head in disagreement and emptied his twentieth cup of coffee (or something like that). "Pff. Not even close."
Jacob just chuckled. "Seriously," he turned to Embry. "They're not that bad."
He frowned. "They're pretty bad. Better candidates than what Miss OCD over here came up with."
I shrugged. Jacob smiled into his coffee.
Embry only stayed for a few hours after the cake had vanished, which wasn't so weird as it was getting really late (and I suspected he wanted to have another cigarette). After he had left, I found Jacob in the kitchen licking the wooden spoon with chocolate dough on it.
He looked up guiltily when I entered and, half as a joke, he held it out for me. "Want some?"
I wrinkled my nose and smiled. "No thanks."
I leaned against the doorway and watched as Jacob finished his chocolate. I had a weird feeling in my gut, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly. Maybe I was just expecting him to want to have a serious conversation about moving out. Jacob put the spoon down and leaned back against the counter. He smiled, and I smiled, and neither of us really knew what to say.
Maybe if he didn't get a chance to say it, he would stay.
"I think I'm just gonna go to bed," I said, squinting and trying to look tired. "Er. Goodnight." And then I turned before he even got the chance to reply. I went into my room, closed the door and sat down on the bed.
I'd thought before that it might be awkward now, and here I was, making things awkward. If he hadn't wanted to move before, I was doing a good job making him want to now.
There was a knock on the door, and I startled.
"Come in," I said, surprised.
The door opened, and Jacob peeked in. He went inside, sent me a quick smile, then walked over. He hesitated slightly before carefully sitting down on the tip of the bed beside me. This was all awfully familiar.
A few seconds passed in silence.
"Are you okay?" He finally asked. His voice was thoughtful.
I nodded. "Sure. Why?"
He shrugged. "Just wondering. I just thought you were acting a little weird earlier."
I smiled, and tried to make it genuine. "I'm fine. Really."
He nodded. "Okay. Good." He looked down at the space between our knees. "Hey," he said. "There's something I've been wanting to talk with you about."
Something tightened in my chest, in anticipation perhaps. "What is it?"
He smiled then, still looking down. "Just that … I'm sorry if I made it all weird before. You know, that time when we were out driving, and I told you about … When I asked why you didn't come back when we were kids."
So he hadn't been completely oblivious about the awkwardness, then. He continued.
"It was just that – I liked you a lot before when we were younger, like, really liked you. And there was a lot of stuff I didn't get then, when you didn't come back and all that. That's why I was acting so weird, and I'm sorry about that. It just came back I guess, talking about us, then. I liked you a lot, and I just never really got what happened. But there's a lot about you I don't know, and it's not like it's a big deal or anything. We were kids, and all that. So. Sorry if I was acting weird."
I smiled, a timid one, wishing he would stop saying how much he had liked me, then. In past tense.
"I'm sorry too," I pressed out. "I didn't know."
He grinned then, shaking his head. "No, forget about it. How could you know? It's nothing. Heck, maybe I'm just homesick. It's been a while."
I smiled at his comment, for real this time. "It has?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "But then I'm going home for Christmas, it's not that far away." He looked up at me, a testing look on his face. "Maybe you could come?" He grinned then, and I wasn't completely sure if he was serious or not. "We'll drive half each. Make a trip out of it."
I clenched the nervous feeling in my stomach. He was probably just kidding. "Like you would let me drive on the highway," I mumbled.
Jacob laughed at that, and mysteriously didn't answer. I smiled to myself. Guess he hadn't thought about that.
He looked down, his gaze landing on my hands placed in my lap. Then he looked down at his own hands, bigger, darker. "You know," he said. "If you're eager to get your apartment back, you can have it."
I knew it was coming. I nodded again, not sure what else to do.
"You mean because you're moving out?"
He looked up then, his face serious. "I do if you want me to."
I measured his words for a moment. "What do you want?"
"I don't want to move out," he said, looking straight at me.
My stomach warmed all over by his words. It might have been the warmth in his voice, or the look in his eyes, or a combination of both, but I couldn't help but thinking that I didn't want him to move out either, not at all, not ever. He looked at me, and I swallowed, and my stomach tingled, and I loved him.
"I don't want you to, either," I whispered. My voice was lost somewhere, but that was okay.
I could see that my words made him happy, even though he didn't smile. But his eyes brightened, and they kept gazing into mine, and I could neither blink nor look away.
"I'll stay a bit longer then," he said, his voice nearly as quiet as a whisper, too. And for a second, just for a second, I let myself hope. He looked at me as if he liked me, and he talked as if he liked me. Maybe there was more? Or just a tiny possibility of something more?
We didn't break eye contact, and I wondered briefly why on earth this was so difficult. Compared with the first time we met, when I had basically thrown myself at him, now getting a coherent sentence out of my system seemed like an effort.
His eyes were dark brown, and they were bright and happy. Everything about him were always so happy. And maybe, just now, his eyes seemed also slightly nervous.
"Bells," he said, looking down as if he was, in fact, nervous. "Look, there's something that I've wanted to say to you for a while now … But I don't know if I should."
He looked up briefly, hesitating. I blinked, as if I had been staring at the sun for too long and someone had shaken me back to reality. It certainly felt like that, anyway.
"You're really great," he said and looked at me, and for a second there I was right back staring into bright light. My stomach tingled again, and I had to concentrate breathing. "And I'm really glad we can be friends. Again," he added with a smile. His smile was short-lived though, replaced by that nervous look.
He looked into my eyes, and I drowned again. It didn't matter what he was going to say, and at the same time I was desperate to hear it. I was on thin ice. I had allowed myself to hope again. And I felt all warm, and his eyes were so bright, and his smile suddenly shy, and had I just had the guts to lean forward I could imagine his lips would taste like chocolate dough.
"I love you," I heard myself mumble.
Jacob froze in front of me, his eyes abruptly unsure. About the same time, I realized I was not dreaming, that what had come out of my mouth was not a figment of my imagination, that this was neither a daydream nor my own thoughts, but that it was real and I had just said that out loud. I felt my eyes widen in horror of my own blunder.
"I mean," I hurried to say. "I love that too. That we are friends again. Of course I don't love you, of course not. I mean, that would be weird. Ha ha. I don't do that. It just came out wrong, I don't know why that happened. Of course I don't, no, of course not. Sorry. He he."
I heard myself laugh nervously, the uncomfortable laughter I always saved for family reunions and Renees' old aunts when they asked me what I was going to do with my life.
Jacob seemed frozen for just another moment, before he smiled, and produced a nervous little laughter himself. "Sure. Yeah. Of course. No problem," he said.
Oh my god. What had I done?
"So, what were you about to say?" I wondered, my voice higher than normal.
Jacob pressed his lips together for a second, shaking his head slightly. "Really, it was nothing important. Just that, I'm glad we're friends and that I can stay here, basically. I was just going to say thanks."
This seemed weird, as he had already told me this several times before, and the tone of his voice told me that it might not be entirely true. But who was I to talk, I couldn't blame him for lying. I'd just proved to him I was crazy – by saying I loved him – and insulted him – by then marking him as unlovable. Totally inappropriate.
"Okay," I said, voice still unusual. "No problem."
There was a pause.
"Well, goodnight then. I guess I should let you sleep." He stood up.
I did too. "Okay."
He smiled. I smiled. He left the room, closing the door behind him.
I fell back on the bed, wondering when I had become such a screw-up.