A/N: It's been a rainy weekend and I'm feeling incredibly emotional. (Why do I always mention hearts in the titles of my stories? Like...) Also, anything you recognize isn't mine. And as always, I hope you enjoy this little one-shot. The song it's inspired by - inspired, not my own - is wonderful.
Heart Under Pressure
I feel like my heart is stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic / I'm under pressure
'Cause I can't have you the way that I want / Let's just go back to the way it was
Ariana Grande, "Honeymoon Avenue"
"The only bad part about the rain around here," Charlie Swan had told his daughter, Bella, last night, at the dinner table, "is that nobody knows how to drive in it."
"What do you mean, Dad? Everyone's lived her for their entire lives. What makes you think no one knows how to drive in the rain?"
"Because they don't. You've lived here long enough. You're a responsible driver, even if you're almost too responsible. People don't know how to drive in the rain around here. They go too slow, for one thing. And they get scared—they get so scared that they lose all their knowledge. I don't want you to be scared, Bells. You've got a sturdy truck. I'm not telling you to be reckless, but I'll tell you this: don't go around the entire place, you hear me? Go through it. You're not gonna get anywhere avoiding everything. Just drive."
Bella Swan had never been one to have road rage.
Bella Swan was never one to have any rage, period. Today was not that day to change, but it could be the day to consider it. Like her dear father said, people in Forks didn't know how to drive in the rain, like how, by some miraculous discovery, fish couldn't swim in water. Like humans couldn't breathe and blink involuntarily. Involuntary. That was the way things should have been around here. But again, like Charlie said, nobody knew how to drive in the rain. All the knowledge had flown out the window.
Bella had time, though. She had plenty of it, even if she didn't. She could always make more—or less—out of what she actually had. That was the thing with her: she couldn't just drive with things; she had to alter it to fit her. She went around things—never straight through. It was selfish, she could admit, but it was so true. She was the ultimate catalyst, changing others before even considering changing herself.
So she didn't have much time, but she could make it like so if she wanted to. She could have all the time in the world, and she did. She could choose to get married in two weeks, or a month, and she would. But alas, her wedding, which would be thrown on August thirteenth, would be in a week from today. If she was correct, it was almost five o'clock in the evening. In one week from now, she'd be walking down the aisle to her future—Edward, vampirism, immortality. She hadn't been able to walk straight into that one; naturally, she'd altered things and got what she wanted. It was a lovely, tragic thing.
She was almost exactly a month shy (a week shy of being a month shy, perhaps? Bella knew a whole not about shyness) of her nineteenth birthday, only she didn't feel more mature; she still felt unsure, and much, much more useless. The worst thing about it was that it was starting to get to her, this instant. As she sat in her truck, driving five miles per hour under the advised speed limit, she was suddenly feeling hindered by the rain. If she hadn't been useless just minutes before, she was plenty useless now.
It wasn't just her, though. People in general didn't know how to drive in the rain here, for sure. It couldn't have been just her.
Bella had initially fled her little hidey-hole bedroom to get gas for her truck. She'd been doing a lot of driving around in the little moments she'd left her house for the past few weeks, and the truck was in its last days, she could tell. It wheezed and creaked more than usual; it took longer to start up; and it had somehow managed to get even slower. Oh, yes, the infamous pickup truck was living in its Golden Ages, when everyday was a holiday.
She'd never thought about this before, but as the outside world was slower and her mind was more her own, she realized that her truck was the closest thing she'd ever had to an old pet, and she'd never had any pets. Renee, her mother, hadn't allowed it after five test trials with goldfish that had ended in only one place: the toilet. Bella had never had any pets, but surely, the truck could have been an old one. It had the "old" part down perfectly, it hated her, she loved it, and they had memories. Not the kind of memories one could have with another person or a real pet, but memories nevertheless. That mattered to her. It was stupid and flighty, but it mattered now. It did. A part of her—a little part, albeit, though it was part of her everyday life—was dying. It wasn't nice when things died.
I guess I'm not that nice, then.
Bella sighed and shook her head. She wasn't a nice person; that was easy enough to admit. She'd been told she wasn't a nice person; she'd never been told that she was a nice person. It was even on both sides. If she were a nice person, she wouldn't be seeing all these missing person flyers with her former best friend's face on them around town. If she were a nice person, she wouldn't be feeling all this regret. Nice girls didn't finish last to her. It paid to be nice, somehow, but she'd never fully know because she just wasn't nice.
After getting gas and driving around for a while, she glanced up at her rearview mirror, and there was a line of cars behind her. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. She wasn't going the right way home—she was going somewhere much further than that. She wasn't like the rest of the town; she was worse in the fact that she was such a distracted driver. Not knowing what to do and having nowhere to go but straight, she followed the missing person flyers. She followed Jacob Black. It wasn't the first time she'd done this. The line of cars nearly pressed against her truck followed her, too, so she really didn't have much of a choice here.
Her window wipers swished from side to side violently, and Bella was almost positive that she was heading on the highway to Port Angeles. It was a two-lane street of a highway, and the other lane was packed with cars, too, making a possibility for a U-turn impossible. Nobody could pass her, either. There was nothing to do but drive. And so she did, only to end up bumper-to-bumper with—
Maybe I need to call an ambulance. I can't breathe.
—a red Volkswagen Rabbit.
She braked quickly, dinking the back of the Rabbit just slightly enough. Jacob, when he behaved like her friend, would have laughed and thought it was cute, but there was the off-chance that this wasn't Jacob, friend or not, and this would definitely not be cute. The drivers in both lanes were stopped, in the rain, in the longest lines Bella had ever seen. If this man wasn't who she thought she was, this would be even more embarrassing.
Her heartbeat sped, and she could feel it as she held her breath. The driver of the Rabbit turned around to glance at Bella, and a look of surprise was on his face. Under his russet skin, it was a little hard to see him blush, but when he did, she could call it from a mile away; it was too easy with him, but then again, maybe that was Bella's talent. This could be anyone. The driver's black hair was also short and spiked, which proved, again, that this could be anyone. But then he bit his lip and turned back to the front of the road. That little piece of him was as important as his grin, and it did just the same things to Bella. Her skin got hot, so hot that she thought she would be set ablaze in only a short amount of time.
But why was he here, of all places?
The story went that Jacob had run away last July. After he had been injured by a newborn vampire just after the Cullens had fought an army of them, he'd gone home to La Push. Bella had visited him, pulled the "I love you but it's not enough" card, left him, and had continued living her life, but Edward had sent Jacob an invitation to his and Bella's wedding, so Jacob had run away from home in July. He hadn't taken his Rabbit—or anything—with him, and Charlie and Bella had freaked out, to put it mildly. Really, everyone had freaked out except Jacob's own father, Billy Black. Charlie had printed and spread missing person posters with Jacob's face on them all across Forks, Port Angeles, Sequim, Hoquiam, Aberdeen, and literally every other town in the Olympic Peninsula. Charlie cared. He showed how much he cared more than Bella did, which wasn't quite right to either of them.
Jacob hadn't taken his car, though, when he'd initially left home. And from what it looked like, based on his covered shoulders, he had taken clothes, or at least one set of them. Bella didn't understand. She was relieved he was back, but why? What had made him return to the place—or somewhere close to it—where he'd only been hurt over, and over, and over again by the same girl? He couldn't have—shouldn't have—come back for her, but a little voice in the back of Bella's mind told her that he did. He could have come back for her and then quickly decided not to, going away from Forks and towards Port Angeles.
His eyes looked up to his rearview mirror, and Bella looked down, hiding from him. You coward, she told herself. Jacob's the last person you should be hiding from.
So she looked up this time, and he wasn't looking back. She continued to stare at him, but he never acknowledged it, or he was ignoring her on purpose. The latter seemed to make a lot more sense.
Don't be like that, Bella thought. You're a nice, straightforward person. Don't hide from me. It's not in your nature to hide.
Bella pressed her foot on the gas pedal twice—just like Jacob had showed her—and dinked the back of his car again. She would have to pay for that this time, but at least it got his attention. Jacob looked to his rearview mirror again and stared at Bella in the rain.
Sorry, she mouthed. She wasn't sorry.
Won't happen again. It would probably happen again if he went back to ignoring her.
I miss you.
She wasn't deceiving him at all now.
Jacob's eyes left her again, and she honked her horn in frustration. She honked her horn loud, long, and four times. "Good God!" she yelled.
Jacob didn't look to his mirror, but turned his torso and looked at her. She couldn't hear him, but it looked as if he was saying, "What do you want?"
"I wanna know why," she said, surprised by the anger in her voice. "I wanna know why you came back when you didn't have to."
He must have heard her—he had to. Then he just shook his head.
"Ugh!" Bella groaned. "Why, Jacob?! Why, why, why, why, why?" Her fists were beating down onto the steering wheel with each why she uttered. She hated him—no, it wasn't even that; she despised him. She despised him and how much she missed him and how coincidental this situation was and how she couldn't have him the way that she wanted. She especially despised the fact that she didn't know how she wanted him; she just wanted him. She needed him.
Bella felt her heart under pressure, stuck between what she was currently doing and what she could do, as tight as these cars must have been in this unnecessary, unsystematic, showery traffic jam.
She couldn't fool herself anymore; maybe this was a sign of maturity. Bella needed Jacob Black. She always had. She'd needed him all summer. She wouldn't have buried herself at home in fantasies if she hadn't needed him. She needed him like a growing plant needed the sun.
And like a growing plant needed the sun, it also needed a little water.
Bella turned off the truck, unbuckled her seatbelt, and got out of the truck. For the first time in Forks, she was honked at, as if it was so unbelievable how someone would decide to leave their car. The people of Forks were the people who took showers all the time, but ran for cover from the rain. It didn't have to be that way. People didn't have to be afraid of something they couldn't control, and Bella wasn't going to be.
Making her way to Jacob's car, Bella's long-sleeved shirt and jeans were sticking to her already, and she was starting to feel heavier. That didn't matter, though; she walked in a straight line, not making any curves or changes to suit her specifically.
She approached Jacob's window and bent forward. Jacob looked at her, and he didn't show any surprise. He didn't show any emotion whatsoever. Tears burned in Bella's eyes. "Tell me why," she told him. "Please."
He blinked, wordless.
"Tell me why," she said, "and then I'll leave you alone." She couldn't make any promises on that one.
Jacob nodded a little and said, "Get in," even though she couldn't hear him over the rain. She walked to the other side of the car and opened the unlocked door. Sliding in, she got his passenger seat all wet. After carefully shutting the door, Jacob and Bella both stared forward. Bella was lost in the rain again; she had forgotten her entire purpose.
"Thank you," she said.
"I wasn't just gonna let you freeze," he replied.
It's August, she wanted mention, but she decided not to. "Why do you still care about me?"
He turned to her, and she looked, too, leaning forward. He even leaned forward, but not very noticeably. Their faces were almost touching, but it wasn't enough. Almost was never enough, and it killed her just as bad as her need for his touch did.
"I don't know," he said, his voice low and husky. "I really don't know why I still care about you."
"Jake…" She struggled to find the words that shouldn't have been so difficult to find. "Why are you here?"
"Here?" he asked. "On the highway to Port Angeles?"
"I… I came back, for, uh, my things," he said, "and then I started to leave again. I didn't know there'd be such a traffic jam, or that people really don't know how to drive in rain around here."
He didn't come back for me, after all. Bella tried to hide her disappointment. "Oh."
"At least you know how to drive in rain," she added. You know how to do anything when you're focused.
He nodded. "Yeah."
"This is really strange," she said dazedly. "I'm sorry I started things the wrong way. How have you been?"
It was a stupid question, but he wasn't going to give a stupid answer.
"I've been all right," he said, but she knew he was lying. He'd been living in the woods, away from anyone, probably away from himself. She didn't want him to lie to her—she wanted him to be angry with her. She wanted him to be so pissed at her and make her cry, merely because she deserved it. She deserved to feel the pain she had inflicted on him. It was too bad a little glimpse of hope was still within her.
"I'm sorry" was all she could say, though.
Jacob shook his head. "You're always sorry, Bella."
"Jake, it's because I'm always messing up," she said, her voice shaking. "You… you don't deserve this from me. You know that, right?" Tears were burning in her eyes again, and she couldn't do anything to stop them from escaping. "Right?"
Jacob brought his large, warm hands up to her face and wiped her tears away with his thumbs. She hung her head and looked down, holding her hands up against him. "You don't deserve this," she repeated.
"I thought of you, you know," he told her.
Her fingers rubbed against his hands, thawing them. It was chilly for August. "Why?"
"As…" He sighed. "As hurt as I was, there was no escaping you. I couldn't do it."
"Forget about me," she told him, taking his hands away from her face, but still keeping them laced between them. She had to keep at least that. "You can do better than me. You don't need to love me. I don't want you to love me. You can drop me, Jacob." The lies left a strange feeling in her mouth.
"Bells, I don't want to."
She was silent.
"I'm not gonna forget about you because I don't want to and I can't. I refuse to. I need you, Bella. I always have, and I always will."
Bella felt her heart plummeting down, down, down to the pits of her stomach, and what had initially been in the pit in her stomach was giving her a funny feeling.
"I don't think I believe you, but I love you, Jacob." It felt better to say it here, than the first time. There was a first time for everything, but that didn't mean it was the best time. She tried out the words again. "I love you, Jacob," she repeated. "I know you don't need me to tell you this all the time, but I always will. I love you so, so much."
"I've always loved you, Bella," he replied. "There's no denying it. Not anymore. Do you believe me now?"
More tears flooded from her eyes as she nodded. "I do, Jacob. I do."
She put her lips to his, not quite as nervously as the last time, but not as angrily as she could have been. It was just right; it was the only thing right about them now. His soft lips colliding with hers didn't feel strange or awkward, and her engagement ring didn't feel like anything at all.
He took one hand away from hers and put it to the small of her back, and she took one hand—her left hand—away from his to put it in his hair. He slid back a bit and she followed, rocking the car to the side for a second. They chuckled together. "Oops," she whispered.
Once Jacob had gotten somewhat enough of her lips, he then brought his lips down to her throat, sucking amorously. Her breathing hitched when his hand traced her bottom, and she dug her fingers into his shoulders. She panted, steam forming against the window.
"I—," Jacob stammered against her skin. "I came back for you. I didn't come for my stuff at first. I came back here for you. I just… I can't believe we almost knew what love really was."
She knew it. She totally knew it. "Almost," Bella panted, "is never enough."
"Is this enough?" he asked uneasily.
She slid down and put her face to his. She kissed the corner of his mouth, then the other corner, teasing, and said, "Yes. Enough for now." Then she kissed him on the lips and stayed there. He tasted so good despite the woodsy smell.
After exploring her body with his hands—and her permission—and exchanging a few moans and sighs of pleasure, Jacob looked at her with a sad look in his eyes. "The traffic jam's ending," he said.
Bella looked through the windshield. It was still pouring rain, but cars ahead of them were starting to move forward, and cars behind them were starting to honk. People around here got so impatient; it was a bit of a surprise.
"I love you, Jake."
"I love you, Bells."
"And I'm sorry. Again."
"I know. I'm sorry we almost made something new between us."
That one phrase, something new, punched her in the stomach. That one word, almost, haunted her, echoing in her ears. "Almost is never enough," she murmured.
He shook his head. "Nope."
Refusing to separate the damp layers of her clothes from his, she held his hands. "Will I see you around?" It was a stupid question again, but he wouldn't give a stupid answer. He would give an honest one. He looked down at the shiny engagement ring on her left hand. "No," he told her.
She pouted, but tears weren't present again. "I love you," she said. "No matter what it may seem like, I do."
"I love you so damn much, Bells. I can't even begin to tell you."
She nodded. "So I guess this is goodbye?"
He nodded, too. "Goodbye, Bella." He lost the solidity that made him him, and his voice broke. She couldn't blame him, but she admired him for trusting her enough to not follow him to wherever he would be going after this—the last parts of them—were over.
"Goodbye, Jacob," she whispered.
She climbed out of the Rabbit without looking at him again, but when she was back in the truck, she couldn't avoid seeing him quickly wipe his face. She swallowed deeply, adjusted her shirt so that the cup of her bra and top of her shoulder were no longer showing, and started up the truck like nothing had happened in the first place.
She didn't follow the Rabbit once they were off the freeway. She and Jacob were both going the wrong way home; the right way would have been with each other, but some things just didn't work out easily enough. She also didn't follow the posters once they were in her sight again. Bella just drove, her mind to herself. She drove far, far away, not afraid of or handicapped by the rain again. She stopped once, just outside Bremerton, to get more gas after driving over a hundred and twenty miles from Forks, and as she waited for the tank to fill up with the overpriced product it needed, she stared down at her engagement ring.
Look at you, she told herself. You're almost married. You shouldn't have done that.
She slid her ring off and dropped it to the wet ground. Hopefully someone who needed the money would find it and sell it. She sure wouldn't need it anymore. Jacob's signature on her lips couldn't coexist with Edward's signature on her finger. She'd been almost married, but again, almost was never enough, and she accepted it. It would be the last thing she did.