I've been working on this fan fiction for about a month I suppose and I've been posting it on Fan Fiction.Net. It's called The Twilight Saga - Solar Flare. It's basically the story of what would have happened if Jacob and Bella had kissed in New Moon without that phone call interrupting them. It's the story of what would happen if Jacob and Edward's roles were reversed. I've already got 3 chapters made and I'm working on chapter 4 now. I thought I might as well post them here as well.
The story begins right when they're about to kiss.
"Bella," Jacob whispered.
I was frozen.
No! I hadn't made this decision yet. I didn't know if I could do this, and now I was out of time to think. But I would have been a fool if I thought rejecting him now would have no consequences.
Maybe it would feel nice. Maybe it wouldn't feel like a betrayal. True love was forever lost, so who was I betraying? Only myself.
Keeping his eyes on mine, Jacob began to bend his face toward me. The closer he got, the more unsure I became. Was I really going to do this? How badly would this end up? Would this end badly? He held my face still and closed his eyes as his lips met mine, my eyes shut as well, a little too tight.
As his mouth had discovered my passive resistance, he moved his right hand to the back of my head and his left gently around my waist, pulling me closer now. The closer I became, the more my lips would resist. I wasn't trying to pull away, but wouldn't respond back, I couldn't. Jacob could see this now, he started to rub the back of neck trying to get a response out of me; I just couldn't.
That's when Jacob stopped, his right hand slowly releasing my neck, his left unwrapping around my waist, and his lips fading away. I didn't need to look at Jacob to see the hurt, I could feel it, and his pain was my pain. Something in me broke free just then and I couldn't hold it back. My hands reacted before I could realize it, my left arm wrapping around his waist, my right hand grabbing the back of his head, pulling him closer to me now. Just as I could feel his pain, I could feel his joy now too. Jacob responded almost instantly; he wrapped his arms around me and began kissing me back, his warm lips gentle. I couldn't tell how long we were kissing, it felt like forever, and I didn't want it to stop.
That's when it hit me; I'd been wrong all this time, I'd been lying to myself. Jacob was more than just my friend, he was more than someone I could rely on to make me feel better. I knew I needed him more than I needed most people, but I had no idea just how much until now. I've never felt happier before, after being so abnormal for so long, it's like a breath of air after being underwater for hours. The hole in my chest is completely gone now, I didn't think it were possible, but Jacob cured everything. He is everything to me, I was in love with him. I'd loved him all this time, but I was too afraid to get it through my thick skull. I was too afraid of betrayal, too afraid of him. I wonder if I'll ever hear his voice again, not that it mattered anymore.
Suddenly I felt Jacob stiffen up, he jerked away from me and released his arms. I opened my eyes, ready to pull him back, but he was shaking again. The expression on his face was half angry and half horrified.
He jetted for the front door, grabbing the handle with a little too much force. I stumbled after him with my arm out in front of me.
"No!" I shouted. It was a reflex.
Jacob stopped then, releasing the handle. He looked at me distraught, still standing right next to the door. He took a quick glance at the door handle and back at me, like he was deciding something. I didn't want him to leave, now more than ever. Did he have to leave now? If he did leave, would I go with him? What about Alice?
Jacob turned his entire body in my direction. He slowly walked toward me, wrapped his one arm around my waist, and positioned himself in front of me, as if trying to protect me.
Protect me from what, was Victoria nearby? Did she get past Embry and Jared? Was she attracted her by Alice? That's when it hit me, Alice, of course. Alice came through the back door and walked gracefully into the kitchen, resting her arms onto the kitchen table. Jacob backed us away toward the sink, he was shaking again and his teeth were clenched. Alice's face did not look approving either.
"I see you two get along well," Alice judged, staring directly at Jacob.
I nodded gently, a little embarrassed. Jacob pulled me closer to him.
"Alice this is Jacob. Jacob, Alice," I said, blushing now.
Jacob stabbed me a disgusted look and growled. Alice rolled her eyes at me.
"Bella, I think it's time I left."
Jacob gave a brief sigh of relief, while still holding me tight.
"No!" I shouted. Jacob stabbed another look at me, a look of betrayal.
"Really though, Bella, I think it's time I left. If Edward finds out I'm here…" Alice explained, looking a bit nervous, "He can get really angry sometimes."
I flinched a little and Jacob growled again.
"Do you have to go now? Just a few more weeks, please?" I begged.
"I'm really sorry Bella, but it has to be tonight," She said, looking truly sorry.
"Tonight. Good," Jacob muttered under his breath. Alice seemed to hear that and glared at him again. She looked back at me, suddenly cheerful.
"How about we spend the entire day doing whatever you want together. We could drive around, catch a movie, go to the mall, I'll buy you whatever you want. We won't separate for a second," She said, smiling wide.
I nodded sadly. "Yeah, that sounds good."
"You don't look very happy."
"No, I am. Really."
Alice pouted. "It's the best I can do. All the clothes you want, on me."
Jacob's shaking began to increase, his teeth clenched, and his eyes shut tight. I embraced him, it was almost instinctual.
"Jake, please. Calm," I whispered.
"Right…calm," He whispered back, his body going stiff now with only his hands shaking.
"We can go as soon as you put the dog out," Alice said critically. Jacob began to shake again.
"Calm," I reminded. His shaking only slowed down this time. He released me and started to back away.
"Don't worry, leech. I was just going," He hissed. He looked at me, his expression broken, "Bye, Bella."
Jacob began to walk towards the front door. I wrapped me arms around him, trying to get him to stop. "No, please. Stay. Please," I begged.
Jacob turned to look at me. "Bella, I have to go. I was only supposed to come here and get information. I have to report back."
My face fell, of course he was right. He was a werewolf, she was a vampire, and Jacob had responsibilities. But I didn't want to let him go, it was either go with Jacob and abandon Alice or go with Alice and leave Jacob betrayed. Stupid conflict. Why couldn't they just get along?
"Can't you just tell Embry and Jared, and then come back?" I insisted.
Jacob made a disgusted sound. "I don't think so, Bella. Besides, we've been neglecting treaty lines enough as it is."
Alice sighed. "Well, I'm the only Cullen here. So I guess if I say it's okay for now, than there shouldn't be a problem. For now." She grumbled.
My face lit up giving Alice a look of thanks. Jacob looked at her half angry, half confused, and back at me.
"You seriously want me around her? Remember what I said earlier, Bella."
I hadn't forgotten. This could end badly, very badly. By the end of the day, both of them might end up… I couldn't even think about it. I'm not going to let my selfishness hurt them both. I had to choose.
Before I could say a thing, Jacob wiped a tear from my eye. I was crying, I hadn't realized. He stood there for a few seconds, once again distraught. He then grabbed my arms and freed himself from my embrace. He stomped out the front, slamming the door behind him. My legs started to shake.
Alice made her way next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. "Sorry." She mouthed the word.
I rested my cheek on her head trying to fight back the tears that were welling up. This was for the best, right? I can manage to be away from Jacob for today, couldn't I? Just then, Alice groaned and released her arm from around me, folding them over her chest.
"Great. Just wonderful," She said with heavy sarcasm.
"What? What's wrong?" I asked, my voice breaking.
"The dog's tagging along."
I gasped, my eyes widened at the thought. I then heard a shout coming from outside, followed by angry and irritated voices. Were they arguing? My eyes were locked on the front door now. After a minute, I heard the sound of an engine starting up, followed by the squeal of the tires driving off, all a little too quickly. My eyes were still locked onto the door, my heart was racing.
The door slowly opened and Jacob came through. He looked at me and smiled, I smiled back wiping the tears that had escaped my efforts. Jacob glared at Alice, eyes very distrustful. Alice stared back at him with the same eyes.
"You better watch yourself," Jacob warned.
"Oh please, I should be saying that to you." Alice turned toward me, changing her expression to cheerful again. "So, where to first?"
"Really, you should decide. I'm sure you have better ideas than me."
"Oh, but I'm doing this for you."
"I think your last day here," I grimaced at the words, "Should be exactly what you want."
"Hmm…" Alice looked far off in concentration. Jacob put his arm around me again and backed away from Alice.
"It's okay," I whispered to him.
"Don't wanna take any chances," He whispered back through his teeth.
Alice groaned loudly, suddenly very irritated. She glared at Jacob.
"This would be so much easier if I could see our plans and go by those." She put extra emphasis on 'see'.
Jacob raised one eyebrow in confusion, but his face quickly lightened into one of understanding. He laughed once mockingly. "What? The future to blurry for you?"
Alice's mouth fell open for a split second, she gave me an accusing look. I let my head fall, looking up at her with apologetic eyes.
Alice sighed. "Yes, because you're around."
Jacob's eyes widened in surprise. "You can't see the future when I'm around?" That's great!"
Alice let a growl escape her teeth. I changed the subject. "Why don't we go see a movie first? Sound like a plan?"
"Sure," Alice agreed, "As long as we take Carlisle's car."
Alice headed out the front door leaving it wide open. Jacob hesitated to move, I tried nudging him with my elbow, no effect. Alice came back into view, seeing her clearly through the open door, she gave Jacob a mocking smile.
"Scared?" She called back.
Jacob rolled his eyes, but it seemed to do the trick. Jacob kept his arm securely around me and headed out the door slowly. Alice had already gotten in the driver's seat and the car door to the backseats was already open. Alice must have guessed that we'd want to sit together. Jacob walked up to the car at the same pace and hesitantly got in with me alongside him. I closed the door.
"Ugh, it stinks," Jacob groaned silently.
Alice turned the keys in the ignition and drove off immediately. Alice drove fast, almost as fast as Edward did; to think that I was frightened by the speed of the motorcycles. Jacob was very restless the whole way. He fidgeted, shifting his body from side to side and re-adjusted his arm around me. This was ridiculous, the point of this was to have fun with Alice, have fun while she's still here. How are we suppose to have fun when she and Jacob will be at each other's throats the whole time, it defeats the purpose. Maybe this is what I deserve, for being so selfish.
We were almost there, took no time at all, Jacob groaned and started staring at the car floor. He then, to my surprise, started to laugh.
"I cannot believe I'm doing this," Jacob laughed at himself, "Not only am I tagging along for your girl time, but with a bloodsucker as well. I've really lost it."
I hung my head down, slightly turning to look at his face. I was about to apologize, but Alice caught me off guard.
"We're here!" Alice sang, "So, what're we going to see?"
My head snapped up at her voice, that was a good question. I suggested the movies, but had no idea what to go see. I just wanted to get out of the house before Alice and Jake killed each other. My past experiences going to the movies were not entirely pleasant ones, I hoped that this wouldn't be the worst.
Alice waited for my answer; I grimaced at having to be the one to decide. Jacob raised his head and sighed.
"I hear Tomorrow and Forever's pretty popular," He suggested, looking directly at me, ignoring Alice.
I nodded my head, eager to agree, I was up for anything. Then it came back to me, I remember I'd turned down this movie before, back when Mike asked me. It was back when I was too broken to handle a romance. How would I feel now? I truly believe that the hole in my chest is somewhat gone at least, plus I have Jacob and Alice, for the moment. Maybe it won't be so bad.
"Bella," Alice looked at me doubtfully, "Is that what you want?"
Alice got out and opened the door on my side. She reached out and took my hand, a warm smile lit up her face. Jacob, with his arm still securely around my waist, pulled me back. Alice grabbed my hand again and yanked, while Jacob firmly resisted. It was a brief match of tug-of-war with me as the rope, both competitors glaring each other down.
"Jake!" I snapped at him.
Jacob grimaced but gave up, releasing me hesitantly. Alice yanked me from my seat, causing me to stumble, but she caught me before I could cause any damage to myself.
"Sorry," She apologized, "Forgot how fragile you were."
"You sound like Edward."
Jacob got out on his side and made his way next to me, Alice to my right and Jacob to my left. We headed toward the theater; Alice bought two tickets for herself and me, leaving Jacob to pay for his own.
There weren't that many people in the theater, I'm assuming everyone had seen the movie already. It had been out for a while, this might be it's last week in theaters. We sat down, Alice to my right and Jacob to my left like before. I kept my eyes on them both cautiously; they wouldn't fight in here would they?
Alice suddenly started giggling, I looked up at the screen and a man was coming up with every excuse in the book to keep from getting fired. I was so occupied with watching Alice and Jake that I hadn't realized that the movie started already, for who knows how long.
I actually began to watch now; the man that got fired meets a rich woman who enjoys working with children. They fall in love and the man begins to help out with the children too, while still jobless. The man is secretly involved in some shady business involving loans and dangerous favors. The woman finds out what he's up to and the man confesses all that he's done, which in turn gets the woman involved.
So far the movie was pretty good; I wasn't feeling any pain from what I've seen up until now. Unfortunately, I'd spoken too soon. The man felt terrible for burdening the woman in his problems and decides to leave her.
I winced at the words "I don't want you to come." The man had spoken the same words as his. My head sank, I didn't want to look up at the screen anymore, I felt tense.
Jacob saw this; he put his arm around my shoulder and leaned his head against mine. I rested my head on his shoulder and shifted closer to him. Normally, something like this would set me off. I could see myself breaking into tears, screaming, and running out of the theater after witnessing this. But Jacob made everything so much better, he was my own personal sun again, but something else radiated from him besides the usual happiness and comfort. Love.
I let out a deep sigh of relief and looked up at the screen. Apparently I had missed a lot; the man was already begging the woman to take him back, saying that they can work something out as long as they're together. The woman all too happily takes him back and they agree to start a new life together somewhere far away.
The credits started rolling and the lights came back on. Alice eagerly got up and started toward the exit, Jacob and I followed.
Back in the car, Alice started the engine immediately but left it in park for a few minutes.
"Mmm, cliché ending," Alice said, looking thoughtful. Jacob nodded his head, looking past Alice.
"Yeah," Jacob looked at me now, "It's better than that other movie you took me to, though."
He laughed and I joined in; comparing it to Tomorrow and Forever just makes Crosshairs seem even more ridiculous. Alice looked back at me, a wide smile across her face.
"Shopping now?" Alice asked, delighted. I rolled my eyes.
"Of course, Alice."
"I'll make sure you have the most beautiful clothes in the store."
"Don't overdo it."
Alice pouted; she started driving straight for the mall which wasn't far from the movie theater at all. It took only two minutes to get there.
I told her not to overdo it, but in the end she ignored me. We went to every clothing store the mall had to offer, buying at least three things from each one. Every so often Alice would find something that she wanted for herself and get me the same one in my size. Jacob was enjoying the ordeal even less than I was; Alice was making him carry all the clothes. I could tell Jake was trying very hard not to lose his temper, I had to tell Alice to ease up a little. Alice was having the time of her life however, at least she was happy.
By the time we were done, it was dark out. The bright headlights of cars were passing by, avoiding people as they walked out of the mall and varies other stores around us.
"Well, I'd better get you home," Alice reminded.
I nodded slowly, knowing what will happen afterwards. The drive home felt longer, either Alice wasn't driving as fast as before or I was just trying to cling onto this moment for as long as I could.
Charlie wasn't there when we walked in. He must still be at the Clearwater's, probably doing whatever he can to help out. I felt bad that I wasn't there too, felt even worse that I was keeping Jacob away. I sat down on the sofa and Jacob joined me. Alice was arranging the clothes she bought in one pile and the clothes for me in another on the kitchen table. In a flash, she darted upstairs and my new clothes disappeared. The next second she was back, looking as cheerful as before.
"Hope you don't mind, but I'm sure you'll find your new beautiful clothes in perfect order," Alice said confidently.
Alice started to stare off into the distance, her expression lost. Jacob shifted himself closer to me in a protective position. Alice let out a gasp, her cheerful expression didn't return.
"It's time for me to go."
I couldn't speak, I just let my head fall.
"I'm sorry Bella, but it's time. I can't stay any longer."
I just nodded. I was starting to feel the pain come back to me.
"Come on." Alice grabbed my hand and lifted me off the sofa. She led me outside to her car, Jacob followed quickly.
She let go of my hand to give me a hug. Her hard cold skin felt strangely soft and gentle when her arms wrapped around me. The wind blew her sweet clean scent toward me, I'd remember it for a while. I embraced her back, trying very hard to fight back tears. It seemed to last for a lifetime.
"Bye Bella," She said quietly in my ear, "I promise I'll be back."
She nodded, "Promise."
I woke up to a similar sight as yesterday; my dark and gloomy room, very little sunlight shining through the curtains, and absolutely no noise. The only difference was that this time I didn't feel dead. I was alive, with the determination to see Jacob again giving me that strength. It could've already happened by now, but I couldn't win the fight against my exhaustion from last night. I sat up in my bed slowly, feeling heaviness in my chest as I remembered the dream I had that I desperately wished were true. I must've fallen asleep on the couch and instead of waking me up, Charlie must have just taken me to my room. I'd have a few choice words for him about that decision later.
I looked at my clock and saw I had about an hour and a half before the big ceremony at school. Today was graduation, the big day, and yet it wasn't a big deal to me. It just felt like an annoying wall in my way of getting back to Jacob. I was far too concerned about trying to fix things with him to really care about this huge step into the real world. I wondered if I should just skip graduation and drive straight to La Push, but I knew no one would allow me to escape, especially Alice.
I jumped when I heard a sudden knock at my door and knew it was Alice when the door swung open before I could say 'come in'.
"What are you doing still in bed?" Alice demanded, "Come on, get up, you'll be late."
I yawned, still not having much motivation. "I'll just put my gown over this and we can go." My clothes from yesterday were still on thankfully. I cringed at the thought of Charlie changing me into my usual nightwear.
She looked at me like I was crazy. "Uh, no, no way! We want you to actually look nice, Bella. It's graduation."
"I know, I know."
"Then get up and go wash. I'll get your clothes ready."
I sighed. "Again?"
I sighed and did as she asked, figuring the sooner we got this over with the better. Alice was already in my closet and looking through my clean clothes all hung up as I walked out to get myself washed up. I didn't move as slowly as yesterday and Alice wasn't tapping her foot impatiently once I came back to the room. She smiled and gestured toward her selection on the bed, this time with a beautiful blue velvet blouse and khaki skirt. Surprisingly, it wasn't as flashy as what she made me wear yesterday, but still not something I'd usually pick on my own.
"What do you think?" Alice asked cheerfully.
I gave her a soft smile. "It's a nice choice."
"Oh my god, Bella Swan approves?" She let out an exaggerated gasp.
I rolled my eyes. "Well, it's not exactly my style, but close enough. I know that I'd have chosen my red blouse…" I sighed and muttered. "If only that thieving vampire hadn't taken it."
Alice grimaced, the reminder seeming to bother her more than I thought. "I'm sorry about that, Bella."
"Alice, it's not your fault."
She sat down at the foot of my bed and sighed. "If I was able to see the vampire coming, we could've prevented it in the first place."
"Didn't you say you couldn't look out for a total stranger in your visions? Plus, I'm invisible to you so you couldn't have seen it coming through me either. Both sides were blocked."
"I don't think that's quite it, Bella."
"What do you mean?" I sat down at the edge of my bed, looking at her directly.
"It's not just the intruder I've had problems with, but the newborn vampires in Seattle too. And unlike the intruder, I knew about the newborns, but I'm still having problems seeing the whole picture."
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. "Problems? How?"
"I can see that they're in Seattle, but I can't see why? Why would someone be building an army of newborns there? I know there's a reason, I can feel it, but I just can't see it. I know a bunch of newborns couldn't have just decided to gather up in Seattle. There's a reason, I know it."
My eyes widened at the word 'army'. "You think someone's building an army of vampires?"
She nodded. "Most likely. Do you remember the story Jasper told you about his experience in that kind of army?"
"Yeah." It was hard to forget a story like that. To think that two armies of vampires could clash and make such a commotion that the Volturi would have to stop them, it made sense that Edward wondered why they haven't stepped in yet. "You think it's the same thing?"
"The army, yes. The reason, no clue. It couldn't be to fight off any rivals because they don't have any. They've already got the city and there aren't any other vampires in the area."
I gulped hard when I thought of the possibility. "Except for you guys."
She stopped to think for a moment. "You think they're preparing to fight us? I don't even think they know we exist yet, Bella."
"You are the only other vampires to be an option."
"Yeah, that's true." She sighed. "But still, how would they know us?"
I thought for a moment. "Maybe someone told them about you guys; someone you've met who doesn't like-" At that very moment, it all clicked. As I put together one missing piece of the puzzle, it all made sense.
"Doesn't like what?" she asked, looking at me confused.
I was frozen. Everything was starting to make sense now, but this very possible reality was terrifying. My body suddenly felt cold and I could feel my breathing accelerate into hyperventilation.
"Hey, Bella!" Alice called out to me, grabbing my shoulder and rubbing my back frantically to get me to calm down. "Take it easy, take deep breaths."
I tried doing as she asked, slowing down my breathing until I was able to speak in a shaky voice. "Alice!"
"What is it, Bella?"
"They're connected. It's all connected!" I almost shrieked.
"What's all connected? Calm down and speak slowly."
I took a few deep, but unsteady breaths before I explained. "Who could have told these newborns about you guys? It's someone who knows you and doesn't like you. Who else could that be other than…Victoria?"
Alice's eyes widened when she heard the name. "Oh."
"And they're not after you guys, they're after me. You said you couldn't see the intruder in my bedroom because the vampire came for me, and you couldn't have seen that coming because any future involving me is blind to you since I started seeing Jacob. You also said that you couldn't see the reason behind the army in Seattle. Well, if their reason is blind to you as well, what else could it be than to come after me?" The fear was starting to really show in my voice as I started talking faster with no control over it. "And what other reason would they have to come after me than because Victoria commanded them to?"
Alice froze in shock just like I did, only much closer to a statue than I could ever manage. She was like that for a minute before responding.
"That does make sense," she said, her tone non-changing and almost robotic, "I haven't seen any activity from her lately. It could be because she's been hiding behind this army and letting them prepare. And if she had told them about you, I definitely wouldn't have seen that."
I nodded slowly with a grimace. "The intruder must be part of the army too, that's the only thing that makes sense. He or she may have come to find me as some kind of test and was able to slip by because they knew you guys wouldn't see a complete stranger."
"They also got your blouse. It's possible they used that to get your scent so it'd be easier to find you."
I cringed and started to tremble. "Y-yeah, that too…"
"Although newborns are typically vicious, they are pretty easy to manipulate since they're so new to the vampire life and would seek guidance." She nodded to herself. "I can sort of see Victoria pulling this off if she was this desperate to get past us and those werewolves too."
As the fear overwhelmed me, tears began to stream down my face beyond my control.
"Alice…" I whimpered.
She frowned and pulled me into a hug, rubbing my back in comfort.
"Bella, you're going to be fine," she assured, "We're not going to let anything happen to you. Victoria can bring as many newborns as she wants, we'll fight back."
"Noo…" I pleaded weakly. It wasn't just my life I was worried for, but theirs as well. Now I knew for a fact that one way or another, the people I loved would have to deal with an army of deadly vampires. There was no way of avoiding it now. I remembered when I first heard about these newborns and Alice said it wasn't their problem. Now it is, or at least Alice was determined to make it that way.
There was a sudden knock at the door which made me jump, almost knocking the clothes Alice prepared for me off the bed.
"Hey, are you girls ready yet?" Charlie asked loudly from the other side of the door, his tone edgy.
I cleared my throat, trying not to let weepiness sound in my voice. "Not yet. I'm almost ready." Obviously a lie considering I was still in my towel.
He was silent for a moment. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"You sound like you're crying."
"I'm fine!" I shouted hoarsely.
It was silent again before Alice broke the awkward tension. "She's just a little nervous and emotional about graduating."
"Huh…alright. Just hurry up, okay? We're gonna be late," he announced before stomping back downstairs.
Alice turned directly toward me and grabbed my shoulders, looking me straight in the eye.
"Bella, right now let's just focus on graduation," she commanded, "We'll worry about the other stuff later, okay?"
I shook my head frantically. "How can I focus on graduating when I know that Victoria's gathered an entire army to come and kill me?"
"Just focus on the here and now. We don't know when this will happen; we'll worry about it later."
I took a deep unsteady breath and nodded slowly. Alice got up and went outside my door to let me get dressed in privacy, although I could tell she'd come back in and dress me herself if I took too long. My mind was a million miles away as I got dressed. I could've worn my skirt for a hat and wouldn't have noticed. How was I going to tell Edward about this? He would need to know eventually, but I had a feeling he'd go berserk if he did. Just the thought of Jacob hurting me in the slightest put him on edge; this was far worse. And Jacob, what would he do if he found out? I wondered if I should even try fixing things with him if my life was in this much danger. It'd be easier for him knowing that I died as his ex-girlfriend that got what was coming to her after breaking his heart.
Once I got my clothes on with everything miraculously being in the right place, I quickly grabbed my yellow polyester graduation gown and cap from my rocking chair in the corner. Alice was waiting for me right outside when I came out.
"You look great," she said with a soft smile as we went downstairs.
I sighed. "If you say so."
Charlie was waiting for us downstairs by the open front door, all dressed up in a black suit and yellow tie that I knew he hated. Charlie hated special events just about as much as I did and I knew dressing up was one of the reasons why.
"You look very nice," he said as we walked up to him.
Alice smirked at me. "Told ya."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Thanks."
"We'd better get going if we don't wanna be late for the ceremony," Charlie said and glanced outside for a second, "And your brother's looking a bit impatient out there, Alice."
"Brother?" I asked a bit surprised and turned to Alice, "I didn't know you came here with someone."
Alice made a slight grimace at the corner of her mouth. "Yeah, Edward drove us over here."
"Edward?" I gasped.
I stepped toward the frame of the front door and looked outside to see Edward sitting in the driver's seat of his silver Volvo, right behind Charlie's Cruiser parked in the driveway. The look on Edward's face was…frightening. He was staring straight ahead with huge eyes, yet still piercing like daggers. His entire body was completely still and his face sharp and edged like a rock while his hand gripped the steering wheel so hard it had crushed into his palm. He looked like he was ready to kill someone and had his victim looked on sight, but he wasn't looking at anything. I watched him in panic as I wondered what could have made him this way.
"You're right Charlie, we should hurry," Alice agreed, her face suddenly hardening too as she looked at Edward, quickly brushing past me to walk to his car.
"Alice, wait!" I called to her, reaching my arm out to stop her.
Her head snapped back to look at me, wondering what I had to say, but I could tell she wanted it to be quick.
"Does he know?" I whispered, knowing she could hear me.
The hard expression on her face didn't change as she just nodded before turning back to walk toward Edward's car again.
I cringed. Of course, of course he knew. If he was outside in his car the whole time, he could have easily overheard our conversation upstairs or even read it from Alice's mind. I knew that Edward would've had to know eventually, but I had no idea it'd be this soon. I was worried about his reaction, and judging from how he looked right now, I wasn't exaggerating too much when I thought he might go berserk.
Alice got in quickly and put her hand on Edward's shoulder. Edward looked at Alice with clenched teeth, looking more enraged than he did before while Alice stared him down in warning. I completely tensed up watching them, worried that Edward might hurt Alice or worse. Edward was actually reminding me of Jacob, both of them having the potential to lose it if they got too mad. I wondered if it'd be a good idea to go to Edward and try to soothe him like I always used to for Jacob; wrap my arms around him, hold him as tight as I could, pleading for him to be calm. I almost did just that before I saw Edward begin to calm down on his own as Alice said something to him, though her lips moved way too fast for me to read. However, I was able to make out one thing as she said it just slow enough – 'Don't do anything stupid.'
"Are they gonna be okay?" Charlie asked, sounding genuinely worried.
"I hope so," I muttered.
"Well, like she said, we better hurry. Come on."
I nodded and followed him to his car. By the time I got in, Edward and Alice had already pulled out of the driveway and drove off toward the school. We weren't too far behind as we quickly got onto the street and followed them. I seriously could not get my mind off of the newborn army. What if they showed up for me at the graduation itself? Would they know not to let humans see them if they were inexperienced? Would Alice be able to see them coming with their intensions being blocked off to her?
"You know, I'm a bit surprised Jacob isn't coming with us," Charlie mentioned.
My eyes widened at his name, the only thing that could capture my attention.
"I expected him to be the one knocking at our door and helping you get dressed instead of Alice." He paused for a moment. "Not that I would let him anywhere near your room while you're dressing that is. Not on my watch."
"Oh, well he told me he was really busy today and wouldn't be able to make it," I lied.
He raised an eyebrow. "Too busy for your graduation?"
"I told him it was okay and I'd tell him all about it. He doesn't have to be there. I'd rather he didn't see me trip over my gown when I get on stage anyway."
"Hmm…" He looked at me suspiciously for a moment before turning back to look at the road. "If you say so."
I sighed, relieved that he bought it, but I could tell he had a feeling something was up. Jacob and I used to be together all the time, every chance we got. I could understand if Charlie found it strange that there'd be an exception on such a big occasion.
"That's why I wanted to see him so badly last night, so we could do something together before the next day," I explained, then turned to glare at him, "But instead, you just let me fall asleep."
His face scrunched up in guilt. "You needed to sleep, honey. You looked completely out of it."
"I could've managed if you had just woke me up."
"Somehow I doubt that."
I frowned at him. "I'm serious."
"We're here," he announced immediately, quick to change the subject.
I sighed and let it go as we both got out of the car. I could see Edward and Alice two cars to the right of where we parked. Edward looked at me with worry clear on his face before he suddenly gave me a smile that honestly looked forced. I smiled back awkwardly, knowing we both didn't have much to smile about.
"You excited, Bella?" Charlie asked.
"Not really," I admitted.
"Come on, Bella, this is a big deal. You're graduating high school, going off into the real world. There's college, living on your own…you're not my little girl anymore." He choked up a little at the end.
I sighed. "Dad, please don't start crying."
"Crying? I am far from that," he grumbled. "By the way, you've kept me pretty far out of the loop regarding college. I trust you know what you're doing."
"Don't worry, I've got it planned out."
I'd decided that while Jacob was still in high school, I'd take classes at a university much closer to home, and Seattle University worked just fine. Of course, I'd made this decision before I knew how serious the vampire problem in Seattle was, back when I assumed it would just blow over. At least now I knew things over there could end as long as they got what they wanted. If that happened, I wouldn't even have to worry about college or anything anymore.
Edward and Alice started walking toward the back door of the gym and I gave Charlie a quick hug before following them while he went to the main entrance with the rest of the parents.
There was a bunch of chatter and moving around as Ms. Cope and Mr. Varner tried getting everyone lined up in alphabetic order. Mike came from behind me and patted me on my shoulder with a smile. I gave a weak smile back and it looked like he was about to say something until he was interrupted.
"Bella, over here!" the familiar voice of Jessica called to me at the back of the line with a big grin on her face.
"Mr. Newton, get in line," Mr. Varner ordered.
Mike groaned. "I'll talk to you later then."
He went to go stand with the other N's and I could already see Edward and Alice standing up front with their gowns on.
"Bella!" Jessica called again.
I walked down the line to stand behind Jessica. I was a little curious why she was suddenly so friendly to me again since she kind of left our little friend circle a while ago. I could see Angela five people back watching us with the same curiosity.
Jessica started babbling something about the first time we met which was honestly going in one ear and out the other for me. It wasn't until the last few lines when I started picking up stuff.
"…Y'know? I mean, it's like we just met and now it's gonna be over. We're graduating together, can you believe it?" she gushed.
"Um, no, I can't," I mumbled.
"This is all just so amazing. We were friends just like that the first time we met, and now we're going off to college. I'll be in California and I'm gonna miss you so much! Promise me you'll keep in touch! I'm sooo glad you're having a party tonight. It's perfect, because we really haven't spent much time together lately and now we're all leaving."
She kept going on and on as I tried to at least appear like I was paying attention with smiles and nods of the head. I was pretty sure the sudden return of our friendship was due to graduation nostalgia and gratitude for the party invite, even though that was all Alice. Still, it was nice to know things could end on a good note with her. I wasn't sure if she'd be one of my high school friends that I'd keep in touch with years from now; maybe during special occasions or something, but not really on Angela, Mike, or Ben's level.
I shrugged on my gown as Eric, the valedictorian, made his mostly generic speech about commencement meaning a new beginning and whatnot. I could hear everyone in the audience force a laugh at his lame jokes thrown in so the speech wasn't completely boring, but it didn't make a difference to me. Everything went so quickly it was like I'd pressed fast forward. Eric sped through his speech around the end and Principal Greene was already calling names one after the other with hardly any pause in between.
Ms. Cope scrambled to give the principal the right diplomas to hand out as the students began their march. Alice danced gracefully across the stage to receive hers and Edward followed after. Any anger or worry that was on his face before had been completely erased as he took his diploma with a brilliant smile which he also displayed for the crowd.
I heard Mr. Greene call my name and I rose from my chair, walking out on stage to grab my diploma. Usually, all applause were saved for when every student received their diploma, but of course there were always a few families that broke that rule to cheer for their child. I could hear cheering come from the back of the gym and I hadn't really expected Charlie to be one of those parents to break the rule. I looked out in the direction of the hooting and I completely froze in astonishment at what I saw. Charlie wasn't the only one cheering, but to his right stood Embry, Quil, and I could see the top of Billy's head right next to the elbow of…Jacob. My eyes felt like they'd pop as I stared at him with my mouth hung open, probably making myself look like an idiot. I couldn't believe my eyes. After what happened, I didn't think he'd want to see me unless I was the one to go to him and beg for forgiveness. But there he was, shining a big, beautiful grin at me with eyes filled with joy and pride directed toward me. He was proud of me. Despite everything, he was happy to see me graduate.
I noticed Embry and Quil snicker a bit as both Jake and Charlie grimaced awkwardly for some reason. Jacob made a spinning motion with his finger and mouthed something at me that I could somehow make out from all the way on stage.
"Bella. Around. Turn around," Jacob mouthed.
"Um, Miss Swan?" Mr. Greene called from behind me.
I gasped and turned around to face him, my face turning completely red. Mr. Greene was then able to hand me my diploma now that he had my attention.
"Congratulations, Miss Swan," he mumbled with a sheepish smile.
"Thanks," I muttered back.
I went to stand next to Jessica with all the other graduates. I saw she was all red around the eyes and heard her sniffling as I stood next to her. Mr. Greene said something I didn't hear and everyone around me shouted and screamed, letting their yellow caps rain down on the floor.
I was, however, not connected to any of this. My attention was aimed only on Jacob. I stared directly at him in the crowd in awe, still astounded that he came. Jake sat back casually in his seat, one arm hanging over the back of his chair. He wore a white button down shirt and black dress pants. His black hair hung freely down to chin length with a few locks sticking out in different directions. His deep black eyes seemed hypnotizing even from how far away he sat, but it may have been partly because he was staring back at me just as I was him. It was like there was a chain that connected us together while everything else around us disappeared. The only thing that mattered in that moment was what that chain connected me to.
The chain wasn't too strong though, as I noticed Billy pat Jacob on the shoulder to get his attention. It took Jake a minute to actually break from the chain and notice him. Billy whispered something in Jake's ear and he grimaced in response. He sighed and glanced at me one last time, his expression troubled, before slowly standing up and grabbing the back of Billy's wheelchair. I saw Embry and Quil get up as well as the three of them started walking toward the exit through an open space where Billy could be easily wheeled out.
"No!" I gasped as my hand reflexively stuck out at them.
"Oh, Bella!" Jessica blubbered suddenly and threw her arms around my neck, bringing me back to reality. "I can't believe we're done."
"Huh?" I said a little dazed as I looked around me, seeing students throwing their hands in the air, cheering, and giving each other hugs. "Oh, r-right. I can't believe it's over…"
Jessica wiped a few tears from her eyes and sniffled. "Promise me we'll keep in touch."
I grimaced, not completely sure if I could keep that promise. "Right. It's been a good two years, Jess."
"It has," she sighed and dropped her arms before squealing, "Lauren!"
She waved her hand and started pushing through the crowd to get to Lauren as families began coming forward, pressing us tighter together. I craned my neck up over the mass of people, frantically searching to see if Jacob was still here. I could see Angela and Ben with their families, Mike talking to Tyler and Eric, Charlie searching the crowd to most likely find me, but no Jacob. Did they already leave? Why were they in such a hurry? My opportunity to talk to him left as suddenly as it came. I should've just ran into the crowd and begged to speak to him before he left; who cares if I'd have made a scene.
"Are you okay?" Edward whispered, coming from behind me and wrapping his arm around my shoulder.
I glanced at him and shook my head. "No…"
His face hardened. "I know. We're in a terrible situation, but I promise you I won't let anything happen to you. If that means giving my own life, I'd be more than willing."
My eyes widened at his words. "What?" It took me a moment to realize he was talking about the newborns. "Oh, Edward, no. That won't happen."
"Jeez, Edward. It's graduation, think about something else," Alice demanded, walking up to my other side.
"That's easier said than done," Edward mumbled.
"Bella!" I heard Charlie yell as he pushed his way past the families crowded around us.
I smiled weakly and waved at him, hoping that maybe Jacob might possibly be with him, but I was only kidding myself. As tall as Jake was, he'd be the first person I notice, not Charlie.
"Congratulations, baby!" He grinned and wrapped his arms around me as Edward shifted to the side.
"Thanks," I muttered, hugging him back.
"Oh, congratulations to you two as well," he said to Edward and Alice, although he was mainly focusing on Alice.
"Thank you," they both said at the same time.
Charlie pulled back to smile at me, but kept his hands on my shoulders. "Were you surprised to see Jacob and Billy and…the other two?"
"Oh…" I frowned. "Yeah, I was…"
"Yeah, I could tell." He grimaced awkwardly.
"Where did they go? Did they already leave?"
"You told me Jacob was busy today, so they said they needed to leave early because they promised to help Sue Clearwater move a few things around in her house and they wanted to get an early start. It's good that they're helping her out, and it was really nice of them to make time to come see you graduate."
"Yeah, I didn't think they'd come at all," I sighed. But since they did come, I really wished they stayed for just a little longer.
"So, where do you want to go for dinner? You can have anything you want."
"Does anything I want include just cooking something at home?"
"No, it does not."
I rolled my eyes. "Of course."
"How about the Lodge." He smiled eagerly.
I wasn't a big fan of the Lodge, but I didn't think I'd be eating much anyway. "Sure, sounds great."
Charlie grinned wide and looked over at Edward and Alice. "Do you guys want to come?" His eager expression suddenly became awkward when his eyes landed on Edward specifically, looking like he regretted asking. Charlie was completely fine with Alice, but still hadn't forgiven Edward for the whole break up.
"Oh, that's okay," Alice said, "I've got to prepare for the graduation party tonight."
"Ah, I see. That's fine." Charlie nodded, not seeming disappointed at all; relieved, actually.
"And Edward will also be helping." She turned and looked up at Edward. "Right?"
"Uhhh…" Edward murmured, avoiding eye contact with her.
She raised an eyebrow at him and nudged his arm. "Right?"
He sighed. "Yeah, yeah."
"Good." Alice smiled and grabbed his arm as she pulled him away. "Let's go."
I watched them walk away into the mini-sea of students and their families.
"I'll drop you off at the party right after dinner," Charlie said.
"Um, yeah…no rush," I muttered with little enthusiasm.
He chuckled. "As thrilled for a party as ever?"
I rolled my eyes. "Let's just go eat."
Author's Note: Sorry this one took longer than I thought. Despite having summer off, I've still been busy with job hunting and dealing with the family. Buuuut, the next chapter I expect to be fairly easy to write and fairly short. So...I'm pushing for it to be out by July 1st. Look forward to it.
The Lodge was crowded and dinner dragged. I picked at my burger as Charlie was busy socializing with Tyler Crowley's parents at the back of his seat, slowly eating his own prime rib. There were a lot of parents here from the graduation as it was the only place close to a formal restaurant in town, although I found it overpriced and tacky myself. I just sat there, staring at the hands of the restaurant's old clock that I mentally begged to move faster, hoping that maybe the late hours would give Charlie a hint that we should leave.
Although I was dying to leave, I still wasn't exactly looking forward to this party. I knew that Alice would probably force me to socialize with people, but I would much rather just talk to her, Edward, and the rest of the family, because I knew we definitely had something to discuss. By now, I was sure they all knew about what I figured out this morning. I was dying to know what they had planned. Would there really be a fight, when would it be, and how could I help? All of this was happening because of me. I couldn't just sit by and let others fight my battles, even though everyone was telling me to. It wouldn't feel right. I had to help somehow.
Charlie finally got his check and put a tip on the table. I sighed in relief and quickly stood up, pushing my chair in after me.
"Well, someone's ready to go," Charlie noted and got up himself.
"I just want to help Alice set up," I insisted.
"I thought you didn't really want to go."
"It's just setting things up, not the actual party. When people start showing up, then I can probably hide in the back or something." I said it, but I knew it wasn't likely to happen.
He shook his head. "Just try and enjoy yourself."
I shrugged and walked toward the exit as Charlie turned back around to say goodbye to everyone. I leaned against the passenger door of his cruiser outside, waiting impatiently for what seemed like ten minutes until he finally came out and unlocked the doors. I got in quickly and Charlie could see I was more than ready to leave so he wasted no time to pull out onto the road.
"So, how're ya feeling?" he asked as we drove along the highway. "It's been a big day for you."
I shrugged. "Alright, I guess."
"Yeah. No complaints, I'm just waiting for this night to be over."
"I know you're not looking forward to the party, but you're not excited at all about graduating?"
"Maybe it hasn't hit me just yet."
He nodded. "It's a really big step in your life. In fact, I wish I could've given you something more than just dinner. Sorry."
"Don't be silly, Dad."
"No, really. I feel like I don't always do everything for you that I should."
"Dad, you do a fantastic job, I mean it." I sighed, trying to find the right words as it wasn't easy expressing feelings with Charlie. "I'm actually really glad I came to live with you. It was the best decision I ever made and I don't plan on leaving you anytime soon."
A smile briefly stretched across his face as he glanced at me for a second, before focusing back on the road.
"Well, you did graduate. You gotta leave sometime," he chuckled.
I smirked. "Already trying to get rid of me, huh?"
He laughed. "I don't think I'd ever want you completely gone." He smiled for a moment, but frowned as we got closer to our destination. "Now if this party gets too wild…"
"Dad, don't worry about it," I assured, cutting him off, "Carlisle and Esme will be there, and you could come too if you're that worried."
He grimaced. "That's alright. I'm sure they'll keep things under control."
Charlie squinted through the windshield, looking into the night. He looked like he was having trouble finding the turnoff in this darkness and I wondered if everyone else would too. I smiled at the thought that maybe everyone would get lost and turn back, but unfortunately the blackness was cut off just up ahead. There were trees wrapped in white Christmas lights that flickered on and off on both sides of the Cullens' drive. I grimaced as we saw more trees lit up every twenty feet of the way there, for three miles.
"Wow!" Charlie exclaimed, "This is pretty impressive."
I sighed. "That's Alice for you."
"Welp, have fun kid." He smiled at me as he stopped outside the house.
"Are you sure you don't want to come in?"
I looked at the big white house and sighed as I got out. I watched Charlie drive away before walking up to the door.
Before I could lift my hand even an inch to knock, the door swung open with Alice on the other side with a huge grin.
"Come on in," she said cheerfully and took my hand, pulling me inside.
My mouth dropped when I saw what Alice had done with the place. She pretty much turned the whole house into a nightclub. Pulsing lights of red, blue, green, and purple shined throughout the foyer where there was a big open space that acted as the dance floor. Huge speakers and an expensive looking sound system were set up by the stairs with a towering stack of CDs by the upper left speaker. Furniture was rearranged in the living room to allow people to sit in circles with a small coffee table in the middle of each. I wouldn't have been surprised if there was a bar in the kitchen, but I wasn't going to check.
Alice giggled when she noticed my shocked expression. "What do you think?"
"It's completely ridiculous," I exclaimed.
She laughed. "I'll take that as a compliment."
I sighed and shook my head, taking my eyes off the over the top decorations to look at what Alice was wearing. She was wearing a sequined black tank top and red leather pants. I looked at my own outfit with a slight grimace.
"Am I underdressed?" I asked, finding the question kind of ironic considering she picked my clothes out for me.
"Mm, it'll do."
"I think you look perfect," Edward's voice came from behind me.
I turned around and smiled at him as he returned with his own beautiful crooked smile. He was wearing a simple light blue button down shirt and black dress pants. He looked pretty calm, which was a huge change from earlier today. I wasn't sure if it was because they had some kind of plan for the whole newborn problem or if he was just putting on a smile for me. I wondered if now was the best time to ask.
"Oh, Edward, I wanted your opinion on the music," Alice said and went over to the huge stack of CDs. "Should we give them familiar and comforting? Or…" She pointed to a different stack, "Should we educate their taste in music?"
"As much as I'd prefer to 'educate them', I doubt they'd stay very long if we did," Edward answered.
My eyes widened and I nodded my head enthusiastically. "That's a great idea. Educate them."
Alice frowned at me as I really didn't hide the fact that I'd prefer this party to be as short as possible. I groaned as she put the classical CDs in a box to the side.
I looked around and saw that everything seemed to be already set up; I probably wouldn't have been able to keep up with Alice anyway. I noticed Jasper pacing back and forth along the banister upstairs that connected with the stairway. He looked completely on edge, like he was bracing himself for some kind of crisis. I glanced at Edward and cringed when I saw that he was suddenly tense again, just like this morning. I knew that this had nothing with the party.
"Does he know?" I asked, unable to ignore this any longer.
Edward nodded slowly. "Yes. We all do."
Alice glared at us, obviously not wanting me to think about this now, but I couldn't help it.
"What are we going to do? Is there a plan or something?" I tried to keep my breathing even and calm.
He put his arm around me to rub my shoulder. "Jasper's still thinking, but he and Carlisle don't like how the numbers stand."
I gulped hard. "How…do the number's stand? Do you know how many there are?"
"Alice says more than twenty."
I grimaced, but nodded. Twenty wasn't exactly the number I thought of for an 'army', but it still didn't change the fact that they were outnumbered.
"Alice is also worried that she won't be able to see when they'll be coming, because…" His face squirmed uncomfortably like he was in pain. He turned his head slightly away from me before he continued in a lower voice, "Because they'll be coming for you, and she can't see any future events related to you."
"Oh my god…"
He was silent for a moment, still rubbing my shoulder to keep me calm before he spoke again.
"That's why we've made up our minds to go and attack them ourselves two days from now," he announced.
I gasped. "Two days?"
"Yes. Although we're outnumbered, they're still young and inexperienced unlike us, but-" He stopped himself right there and cringed, looking like he wished he had stopped sooner.
I shifted myself around to his front, looking into his eyes. "But what?"
Before he could say anything, although it didn't look like we would anyway, the chime of the doorbell rang across the room.
"First guests!" Alice cheered as she turned the music up and danced to the door.
Edward sighed in relief and gave me an apologetic look before putting on his best smile for the guests. I cursed the horrible timing under my breath and scowled at him, but his back was already turned so he couldn't see.
All of my friends seemed to arrive all at the same time, probably too nervous to come to the reclusive Cullen house by themselves. Jessica came in first with Mike right behind her. Next came Tyler, Conner, Austin, Lee, Samantha, and even Lauren trailed in last, her eyes critical as she looked around the room. All of them looked around either overwhelmed or thoroughly impressed at everything Alice had set up. The doorbell rang again and I answered it this time, letting in Angela, Ben, Eric, and Katie. I left the door open as more of our senior class was arriving sooner than I'd thought.
It didn't take long for the entire first floor of the house to fill up with the whole senior class. People danced and swayed to the infectious music Alice selected, the food was quickly disappearing, and everyone seemed to be having fun mingling and mostly talking about their high school experience. I was one of the 'minglers', though not by choice as everyone wanted to talk to me. Although this was supposed to be the Cullens' graduation party just as much as mine, I seemed to be the target of everyone's congratulations and thanks. It might've been because the Cullens' didn't exactly look approachable under the pulsing party lights, despite their perfect human charade. I wondered if Alice did this on purpose, forcing me to be the center of attention. If this was her plan, it worked like a charm as I couldn't find any way to escape this crowd. This party had turned out exactly how I feared it would. It seemed to be a massive success overall, but a disaster for me.
I couldn't name a person that I hadn't talked to once. Edward made it a bit easier, helping move conversations along and transitioning to the next group of people who wanted to talk without making an awkward exit. It was thanks to him that I was able to get some food and drinks since I couldn't figure out how to sneak away. It was either he bring them to me or I go the night hungry. I ended up with Jessica much longer than I was with anyone else at the party as she babbled on and on, not giving me much of a chance to respond to what she was saying, which was a good thing since I wasn't paying attention.
Edward had smoothly snuck away about ten minutes into Jessica's chatter, whispering to me that he'd bring me back another drink. I stood with Jessica at the corner of the living room as she went on, nodding at the appropriate moments. I was mainly looking at the crowd though; some standing around with drinks, some dancing, and some sitting and talking. I started looking for Edward as it'd been a few minutes since he left to get me a drink. It usually didn't take him that long and I knew he wouldn't have forgotten. That's when I realized, I couldn't spot any of the Cullens anymore, not just Edward. They stood out pretty easily with their skin reacting oddly to the pulsing party lights throughout the house, so why were they suddenly so hard to find now? Did they leave? That would explain why Edward didn't come back, but where did they disappear to?
"…So I'm thinking of majoring in that. Do ya think that sounds like a good position for me?" Jessica asked about something I wasn't paying attention to.
I nodded. "Um, yeah, do whatever feels right. But uh, could you excuse me for a minute, Jess?"
She looked kind of disappointed to see me leave, but I wasn't worried about that. I made my way through the closely packed bodies, awkwardly squeezing my way through the dancers and getting shoved around a bit to search out the Cullens. The only problem was, I was searching blindly. I didn't know where they had gone to. I assumed some place where they could be alone, but the entire first floor was packed with people. I wondered if they went upstairs, but the stairway was blocked off by the obnoxiously huge speakers blaring noise that most of my classmates would consider music.
Although I didn't know where I was supposed to go, my body seemed to move toward the kitchen automatically. I hadn't been in there yet and maybe there weren't as many people crowding that area as I thought. But before I could make my way too close to the kitchen door, I heard my name.
I immediately stopped at the familiar voice. I was hoping it would be Edward or any of the Cullens to let me know everything was alright, but what I got was completely unexpected as I turned around to see the tallest person in the crowd waving at me. He came along with two other giants that looked incredibly tense and edgy, their eyes flickering around the room like they'd walked into a haunted crypt. Once our eyes met, he started making his way toward me, swiftly weaving through the partiers far better than I could despite him being so tall. I just stood there frozen, my heart racing as I anticipated his arrival.
Once he was right in front of me, we didn't speak, just stared. There was so much going on in my mind, so many questions I had, but I couldn't find my voice. Wasn't this the chance I had been waiting for? I would've preferred we were alone, but I couldn't be picky. I had to take what I could get.
"Um…friendly reception they got here," Jacob finally spoke, looking around the room with his nose wrinkled up.
I nodded, still staring at him and trying to find the words I needed to speak.
He looked around the room, his eyes shifty and cautious, and then suddenly grabbed my arm. I gasped softly at his familiar warm touch as he pulled me away from the crowd toward one of the few secluded shadowy corners close to the kitchen door. The other two, Quil and Embry, watched each other's backs as they tried blending in with the crowd and danced over to us…literally. They stood on either side of Jacob, smiling at me.
"Hey, Bella," they both greeted at once.
"Hey…" I mumbled, managing to say that at least before my eyes focused on Jake.
Jacob stared back at me like before, his hand sliding down my arm where he had grabbed until he held my own hand. The gesture was surprising. I expected him to be mad at me, but instead, all I could see in his eyes were longing.
"Aren't you gonna say something?" Embry asked and nudged Jacob for encouragement.
Jake's eyes widened in realization, but kept his focus on me. "Hey, Bella…"
Quil and Embry smacked their palms against their foreheads at the same time, both groaning.
"Hey, Jake…" I responded in almost a whisper, then managed to ask one question on my mind. "W-why are you here?"
He frowned. "You invited me, remember?"
"Oh, right." I blushed, but still kept my eyes on him. "I just didn't think you'd actually come."
"I came to see you."
I was silent for a moment. "You did…?"
Embry chuckled. "Of course. Why else, to party with vampires? Hell no."
Jake nodded. "Right. I wanted to talk to you."
My heart sped up. I had wanted to talk to Jacob and this seemed to be my chance, but I didn't think he'd want to talk to me. What did he have to say?
Jacob took a deep breath. "Bella, I'm sorry. For whatever I did…or whatever I didn't do, I'm sorry."
My eyes widen in shock. "You're sorry?"
"Yeah…" He grimaced and nodded slowly. "You're feelings for him. I didn't know they were that strong, and I was hoping I could help you forget." He frowned and looked down for a moment, but quickly corrected himself, looking back at me. "But I guess I couldn't. And I feel like I wasn't…or that I couldn't…"
He groaned in frustration, having trouble finding the right words.
Quil sighed. "Basically, Jake's saying he must've been a pretty bad boyfriend if you're still in love with a bloodsucker."
"Or the leech's got some kind of creepy spell on you," Embry added.
Jacob let out a quick growl and they both flinched back a little.
"Jeez. Just trying to help," Embry muttered under his breath.
Jacob sighed and suddenly took both of my hands, pulling me closer to him. I looked at him surprised, but more so from the gloom clearly displayed in his deep black eyes.
"Bella, I know you love him, but you also love me. I guess don't really know how much anymore, and this might sound crazy asking, but please don't give up on me just yet. I want to make you happy and keep you safe. Whatever it is you want from me, you can have. I'll do whatever I can to give it to you. Just…please."
I was speechless. I looked at him in astonishment and wondered if I was right to be surprised or not. I'd hoped that Jacob wouldn't give up on me, even though I loved someone else as I loved him. I would've been happy to know that he would love me enough to take me back, but him being the one to apologize never crossed my mind. Should it have?
It was silent as Jacob examined my expression, awaiting my reaction.
"Bella…?" he whispered.
I shook my head slowly. "Jacob, I don't understand. I hurt you. I thought you wanted this to end. I thought you broke up with me."
He jolted back, like my words caught him off guard. "What? No. You left my house and went to be with the Cullens. I thought you broke up with me…to go back to him."
I shook my head again. "No…"
We were silent again, both of us blinking our eyes in confusion. My head was overflowing with so many questions; I didn't know where to begin.
"Wooow. Good going, guys," Quil commented and slow-clapped.
Embry groaned in irritation. "Jeez, Jake, way to overreact."
Confusion was still plastered on Jacob's face as he opened his mouth like he was about to say something. Suddenly, he tensed up. His eyes were no longer on me, but he now glared over my head with clenched teeth. Quil and Embry looked in the same direction, their eyes piercing and hands balled into fists.
Startled by the sudden mood change, I turned around to see what had them so worked up. There stood Edward, his body just as stiff and eyes like daggers as they all glowered at each other, bracing themselves.
"No. Please, don't do this here," I begged, looking between the two sides.
They didn't move. The tension was ridiculously thick and they hadn't even said a word to each other.
"Bella," Edward finally spoke, "We need to speak with you."
"We?" I asked, turning to raise my eyebrows at him.
"Um, excuse me, but we were talking here," Jacob said, his voice low and rough.
Edward narrowed his eyes. "Yes, and now it's my turn, if you'd be so kind."
"Guess what. I'm not."
Edward smirked for a split second and then looked at me. "Bella, please come with me."
"Did you hear what I just said?" Jacob growled.
Edward glared. "Yes, you can continue later. This is important."
"What's important?" I asked him, a little annoyed by their attitudes.
He looked at me, his face a bit calmer as he put an arm around my waist to turn me away from Jake.
"I'll tell you when we're with the others," he whispered.
Like a bolt of lightning, Jacob's hand struck the arm Edward had at my waist, his hand gripping on like he planned to break it off. His face was terrifying as he growled while Quil and Embry echoed the noise. Edward instantly reacted with a hiss, his dagger-like teeth clearly visible.
"Get your hand off me!" Edward snapped.
"Keep your hands off her!" Jacob growled.
"Stop!" I shouted, probably turning a few heads in the crowd, but I couldn't see them. I was thankful Quil and Embry's huge bodies were there to block this scene off from the partiers in the room, though probably not intentional.
I shifted away from Edward's arm and stood beside Jake, turning to scowl at Edward.
"Tell me what's going on or I'm not coming," I threatened.
Edward grimaced. "I will tell you. You just need to-"
"No!" I cut him off and crossed my arms over my chest. "Tell me right now."
I noticed Jacob glance at me surprised, a smile creeping onto his face for a second before he tried to hide it by glaring back at Edward, his hands at his side now.
Edward was silent for a moment, his eyes flickering back and forth between Jake and me.
He sighed. "Okay. Alice just saw something."
My eyes widened. "She did?"
"Alice? The psychic? Saw what?" Jacob asked.
I gulped quietly, my hands gripping onto my suddenly trembling arms. I already knew what it had to be.
"She saw the newborns. They're coming here very soon," Edward announced.
Very good story!!!! I am totally hooked. Too bad you can't speed write. This is just as bad as waiting for November to get here for Breaking Dawn Part 2!!!!
Cliffhangeeeeer! Can't wait to see what will happen next!
great update! can't wait to see how this goes! please update again soon!
26. Training (Part 1 of 2)
I sat in one of the perfectly aligned kitchen stools by the counter. My whole body trembled as I listened anxiously to the Cullens go over what they knew and what it meant. Everyone's disheartened expressions drained all the color from my face like a virus. My heart raced and stomach lurched at the feeling of hopelessness that filled the kitchen; all while the wolves stood by my side with confusion clear on their faces, trying to keep up with what the Cullens were talking about.
"Alice, didn't you say you wouldn't be able to see them coming?" Rosalie asked.
"That's what I thought," Alice clarified. "All I see is that they're coming. I don't see the reason why, but we already know it. The fact that their motivation is invisible to me can only mean one thing."
Edward hissed through clenched teeth. "I also wonder if they'll bother sparing anyone or anything when they search."
Emmett nodded. "That's true. We're not dealing with a tracker or anything like that. They might turn the whole town upside-down to look for her."
"No!" I gasped.
Jacob shifted his confused eyes at me. "No, what?"
I wasn't able to answer just yet. I needed to keep listening.
"If they make it into Forks, we'll have a real problem," Esme noted
Jasper's expression was disapproving as he glanced at Jake, Embry, and Quil. It was obvious he didn't want to discuss this with werewolves in the room, but he still had things to say. "We can't let them come that far. There aren't enough of us to protect the town."
"I know," Alice said, her face suddenly desolate, "But it doesn't matter where we stop them. There still won't be enough of us and they'll still come here to search."
"Then I'll go meet them!" I managed to shout, though my voice was strained. "If they find what they're looking for, then maybe they'll go away and won't hurt anyone else."
"Absolutely not!" Edward growled.
"Hold it!" Jacob bellowed, turning all heads toward him. "What's coming? Protect the town from what? What are you guys talking about?"
Quil and Embry nodded simultaneously, their expressions just as concerned.
Edward sighed deeply and turned his gaze at Jake. "Our kind. Newborn vampires."
Jake's eyes widened in shock. "You mean the same ones on the news?"
Edward nodded. "The very same."
"They're coming for Bella."
Jacob froze as terror flashed across his face before it quickly turned to anger. A low growl resonated in his chest, Quil and Embry echoing the noise.
"Again, why?" Jacob asked, his tone forceful.
"We believe Victoria might be behind it," Carlisle stepped in to explain. "This could be her way of getting past us. We don't know for sure, but it's the only logical answer."
Jacob nodded slowly. "From what I heard, there are too many for you?"
Jasper glared. "We have a few advantages, dog. It'll be an even fight."
"And you didn't tell us about this, why?" Jacob growled.
Edward grimaced. "Well for one, we had just learned about it fifteen minutes ago."
"But were you ever going totell us?" Quil asked with one eyebrow raised.
"Oh!" Alice gasped as her expression suddenly shifted. All despair was wiped clean from her features as her face glowed with elation. The change was so drastic, it scared me. "Excellent! I can't see anything now, but I'll take it."
"This is our job more so than yours, y'know," Jacob said with a smirk.
Edward let out a deep sigh. "I wouldn't go that far, but we do need the help. We won't be picky."
I was frozen as my eyes shifted back and forth between Jake and the Cullens. It took me a while before I finally realized what they were saying.
"Oh no…" I muttered in a hoarse voice as my body trembled.
Jacob looked down at me and put an arm around my shoulder. "Bella, you didn't honestly think we'd stay out of this, did you?"
"Yes, I did. Jacob, please, no," I begged as tears began welling up in my eyes.
Jake grimaced, a familiar response to whenever he saw me upset, but he didn't look like he was about to give in. "Bella, a bunch of bloodsuckers are coming after you. To kill you. There's no way in hell I'm just going to sit back and do nothing when you're in so much danger."
"But you could get killed."
"Bella," Alice interrupted, "Separately we all could get killed. But together…"
"It'll be no problem," Jacob finished her sentence with a smirk.
I shook my head. "No. Why can't I just give them what they want?"
Jacob growled. "Because that wouldn't solve anything."
"It would. They'd go away and no one would get hurt."
"What about you? Are you thinking about yourself at all?"
"All of this is happening because of me. You said you can't just sit back and do nothing. Well, I can't either, especially since this is all my fault."
"No, Bella!" Edward exclaimed.
I turned my attention to him as he stepped closer to us. Jake's armed tightened around me, but Edward paid it no mind. Edward's eyes were strictly on me.
"Bella, this is not your fault. It's mine. None of this would be happening if I'd been more careful to keep you away from other vampires. James saw you because of me. He went after you because he saw how much you meant to me. Because I killed him, Victoria wants revenge on me, by taking away someone I love just like I did to her. You did nothing, Bella. This is my battle."
I stared speechless. I rattled through my brain to find the words I needed to say, but came up blank.
"Well, can't argue with that," Embry agreed.
Jacob nodded and narrowed his eyes at Edward, his expression very critical, but I could tell he appreciated that Edward was owning up to his mistakes.
"This is my battle to fight, but I know I wouldn't be able to do it alone," Edward continued. "That's why my family will be helping me, and now, I'm asking for your assistance." He gestured at each werewolf. "Will you help me?"
Jacob snorted. "Yeah, but we're not helping you. If they mess with Bella, they mess with us."
"Right," Quil and Embry both said enthusiastically.
Edward nodded. "That's fine."
"I hate this," I muttered through clenched teeth.
Quil chuckled. "So, how many are we talkin' here?"
"It changes," Alice answered. "The last time I checked, it was twenty-one."
"That doesn't sound so bad," Jacob said.
"Still, you dogs will need instruction. We were planning a strategic meeting tonight. If you want to fight with us, you'd be wise to come," Jasper announced.
The wolves all stared at Jasper in annoyance, not liking his superior tone.
"This will be odd," Jasper said thoughtfully, ignoring their stares. "I never considered working together. Standing guard outside a house is one thing, but this is a whole other level."
"No doubt about that," Jacob agreed. "We've got to get back to Sam. What time tonight?"
"How's three o'clock sound?"
"About ten miles due north of the Hoh Forest ranger station. Come from the west and you should be able to follow our scent in."
"Got it. We'll be there."
Quil and Embry both got up quickly, seeming eager to either set things in motion for the fight or just wanting to get away from the vampires as fast as they could. Jacob was a bit more hesitant as his eyes flickered between me and Edward, frowning.
"I'll…leave you to your party. Talk to you later, okay," Jacob said to me in a somber tone. He patted my shoulder and turned his head toward Edward. "You'll take her home, right?"
Edward nodded. "Of course."
"Wait," I blurted out and grabbed Jake's arm. "Why can't I come with you?"
I noticed Edward grimace at my question. Jake looked like he was about to say something, but wasn't fast enough as Alice cut in.
"Because you still have a party to finish," Alice said cheerfully.
Unbelievable. I couldn't fathom how a party could demand so much attention over killer vampires coming to town, or why Alice seemed so happy.
"Don't you think we should maybe end the party a little early under the circumstances?" I asked, trying to remain calm.
She smiled. "On the contrary. I think our new plan is more of a reason to celebrate."
My mouth fell open as I looked at her in astonishment. Even more shocking was that no one else seemed to disagree with her. In fact, I seemed to be the only one in the room still worried. All the doubt and stress that filled the room moments ago was gone. Jacob's solution had them all so relaxed, almost euphoric.
"If she wants to come with us, she can," Jacob said, glaring at Alice.
Alice scowled back at him before turning to me. "Please, Bella. Just see this party through and I promise I won't throw another one for you again."
I groaned. "Alice…"
Alice's smile was gone now, and in its place was a depressing, pleading frown. I still couldn't believe she could think about a party at a time like this, but I could tell this did mean a lot to her. She put a lot of effort into this party and she did throw it mainly for me. Although I didn't like it, this was probably my last chance to really spend some time with my classmates before life took us all in different directions. Could I really just walk out on that?
"Jake, are we leaving or what?" Quil asked, his finger tapping against the door impatiently.
"Yeah," Jake answered and looked down at me. "So, are you coming?"
I grimaced, unable to meet his eyes. "I think I'm going to stay for the party."
"But you hate parties."
"Well, it is my party."
I didn't have to look directly at his eyes to see his disappointment. I cringed as I felt a sharp pain in my chest; a natural reaction for me whenever I saw Jacob upset. I hated this. Here I was, trapped between two sides, both of which I loved so much.
"Okay, I get it," Jacob said in a low, defeated tone. "Have fun with your other friends."
He got up from the stool next to mine and started toward the door where Embry and Quil were.
"Oh, Jake, wait," I pleaded with my hand out to him, although I honestly didn't know what I would say to fix the 'two sides' problem.
Jacob didn't answer though. The three of them all too eagerly bolted out the kitchen door. I had lost him again.
The Cullens all began walking back out to the party once they were sure the wolves were out of the house. Alice gave me a 'thank you' hug as she passed by and went out with Jasper. Esme kissed my forehead, promising everything would be alright. Emmett walked out with Rosalie, laughing boisterously and commenting on how I can't be the only one who gets to fight with werewolves. Carlisle stayed behind for a few minutes, having a silent conversation with Edward before walking out a second way on the other side of the kitchen. Edward stayed with me as I wasn't ready to move just yet.
"That was really nice of you. You didn't have to stay for Alice's sake," Edward said, sitting in the same spot Jacob was.
I sighed. "That's easy for you to say. She wasn't staring at you with puppy-dog eyes."
He chuckled lightly. "True, but I know how important Jacob is to you."
I grimaced; the reminder bringing back that sharp pain in my chest as I remembered Jacob's face.
"I just want this party to hurry up and be done with so I can at least see him later tonight," I said.
He furrowed his eyebrows. "You're not coming with us, are you?"
"Um…yeah, of course I am. Why?"
"Bella, you already look worn out and it's going to be late."
I rolled my eyes. "You honestly think I could sleep?"
"This is an experiment, more or less. I'm not sure if it'll be possible for us to…cooperate. I don't want you in the middle of that."
My eyes narrowed. "Oh yeah, the stress of wondering whether or not you guys killed each other will definitely lull me to sleep."
He sighed. "I just don't want you getting hurt if things heat up."
"Well I don't want any of you getting hurt either. You're making this your mission to stop a whole army of vampires, but do you know how painful it'll be for me just sitting back and wondering if any of you make it back alive? The stress alone could kill me. The least you could do is include me in some way."
He was silent for about a full minute. I really did feel tired and wondered if I could manage to mingle with partiers any longer, but I definitely couldn't sleep. If anything, seeing this instruction of theirs would at least put my mind at ease knowing what happened.
Edward got up and took my hand. "Come on, I think you should be with your classmates a little longer."
I nodded and followed him out the kitchen door. He still hadn't answered me, but I would just ask him again when the party was over.
The rest of the party was basically a repeat of what I did earlier. Edward guided me around the room as I ended up talking with every one of my classmates a second time. It was mostly trivial chatter that I wouldn't be able to remember for the life of me. Not everything people said went in one ear and out the other though.
Angela was going to Washington State University with Ben and they both planned on working as much as they could for the summer before it was time for them to go. Angela still promised to make time for us to hang out at least once before she left and Ben mentioned he'd probably be with her when she did.
Mike didn't have any college plans yet for reasons he was apparently too embarrassed to tell, but he was going to be working a lot during the summer too at his family's store. He offered, no, practically begged me to take my position back. I didn't say no, but just that I'd think about it. Extra money would be good, although I was already set for college if I decided to go.
Jessica once again reminded me that she'd be going to school in California and how she was so excited, but also sad to leave everything behind. I eventually gave in and agreed to keep in touch through email. If I wasn't quick to respond to her, I could always blame it on my dinosaur of a computer.
Once the party was finally over, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I was more than ready to leave. It wasn't just for the meeting that was half an hour away, but I just couldn't be in that party atmosphere any longer, even though everyone had left.
"Edward, I'm ready. Can you take me home?" I asked.
"Of course," he said, taking my hand as he led me to the door. "So you're going home to sleep after all?"
"What? No, I just need to check in with Charlie and change my clothes."
His face fell in disappointment. "Oh…"
I ignored his reaction and just walked with him outside to his Volvo. The ride home was mostly quiet, which gave me time to think. I still didn't like this at all. People that I loved were going to get hurt because of me. Edward said that this was his battle and I wasn't at fault, but none of this would be happening if I had just taken Edward's advice way back when I first met him. Stay away. If I'd known, I wouldn't have stayed away for my own safety, but for his, his family, and of course Jacob's.
The fact that they were going into a life threatening battle and I couldn't do anything to help drove me crazy. Part of me still wished someone would turn me into a vampire just so I could help fight. But I knew I couldn't do that; not anymore. I knew it meant that I would lose Jacob, which was completely out of the question, as long as he still wanted me. It'd be so much easier if I could somehow become a werewolf. Could I have faint Quileute blood in me that I wasn't aware of? Most likely not, but I could always dream.
"Bella, are you alright?" Edward asked, picking up on my anxiety.
I sighed. "Not really. People I love are going to be fighting vicious vampires."
He looked at me seriously and put his hand on my shoulder. "Listen to me, Bella. This is going to be easy. The newborns will be completely taken by surprise. They'll have no idea that werewolves even exist. I've seen the way the newborns act in a group through Jasper's memory. I believe the wolves' hunting techniques will work flawlessly against them. And with them divided and confused, there won't be enough for the rest of us to do." He shrugged. "Someone might even have to sit out."
"That easy, huh?" I mumbled and looked out the front window to see we were pulling into the driveway right behind Charlie's car.
He nodded. "You'll see. Don't worry."
"No promises…" I groaned and got out.
I tiptoed inside and saw Charlie fast asleep on the couch in the living room. He was snoring so loudly he could rival the sound of a chainsaw.
"Dad! Dad, wake up!" I shouted, shaking his shoulder vigorously.
He grumbled and kept his eyes closed, not fully awake yet.
"I'm home now. You're going to hurt your back sleeping like that. C'mon, let's go upstairs."
His eyes were still closed, but I managed to get him off the couch. I helped him upstairs to his bed where he collapsed and immediately went back to sleep. He wouldn't be looking for me anytime soon.
I went into my room and jumped when I saw Edward sitting in my rocking chair.
"You startled me," I gasped.
He raised an eyebrow. "That didn't used to before."
I shrugged. "It's been a while, I guess.
He was completely still as he looked off like he was distracted by something I couldn't see. I grabbed some jeans and a flannel shirt as I went into the bathroom to change. Edward still hadn't moved an inch when I came back and hung up the outfit Alice gave me in my closet.
"Are you okay?" I asked him.
He suddenly turned his head at me like I startled him too. "Yeah, I'm fine. Are you ready?"
"Um, yeah." I was a little nervous that there might be danger or something, but he seemed okay now so I shrugged it off.
He got up and opened my window. I was confused why at first, but it made sense once he threw me over his back and held onto my legs.
"Whoa," I gasped. "We're not taking your car?"
He shook his head. "No need."
Edward jumped out the window and I held on tight as he raced through the dark forest. The feeling of the wind blowing past at this particular speed brought back memories of when it used to be just us. I smiled, thinking back to when he showed me the meadow for the first time. I remembered how dizzy I always got, but I felt fine with the speed now. A small part of me felt really happy, for the moment.
When we got to the big open field, the rest of the Cullens were there, talking casually and relaxed. Edward let me down and we walked toward them. It may have been because it was so dark, but it took me a minute to realize we were in the baseball clearing. It was the same place where that evening with the Cullens was interrupted by James and his coven. I shuddered at the memory.
I was surprised when I noticed Alice didn't look as optimistic as the others. After everything she said about celebrating a few hours ago, I figured she'd practically be jumping for joy.
"Is Alice okay?" I asked Edward.
Edward chuckled. "The werewolves are on their way, so she can't see anything. She doesn't like being so blind."
My heart skipped a beat. "All of them…?"
"Yes. Three wolves were hard enough for her, but now there'll be ten blocking her vision."
Alice heard Edward and stuck her tongue out at him.
Emmett laughed, which echoed through the wide field. "Hey Bella, is Edward gonna let you practice too?"
Edward groaned. "Shut up. Don't give her any ideas."
"Too late, I already thought of that a while ago," I said.
Edward looked at me disapprovingly, but I just shrugged in response.
"When will our guests being arriving?" Carlisle asked Edward.
Edward concentrated for a moment. "About another minute, but I'll have to translate. They don't trust us enough to be in their human forms."
Carlisle nodded. "They're coming, that's all that matters."
My heart beat faster as the seconds passed by. I realized that I was really anxious to see them. It seemed like Quil and Embry weren't too upset with me, but what about the others? Would they be mad at me for hurting Jake? Would they even know?
"Hey Edward, how'd you know there were ten of them?" I asked curiously.
"Jacob often forgets that I can read his mind. His two friends had forgotten too," he answered and suddenly chuckled. "One of them…" He paused for a moment. "Embry, I believe, was having some guilty thoughts about Rosalie. He hated himself for finding her beautiful, but he couldn't help it."
I giggled. "He really is becoming like Quil, or maybe Paul."
"Huh?" He looked at me confused.
"Um, you wouldn't get it."
Edward suddenly stiffened, his eyes beaming.
"Here they come. Prepare yourselves," he warned.
The Cullens' spread out in a loose line with Jasper and Emmett at the spear point. They all looked into the trees with wide eyes, shocked at what they saw. All I could see was darkness.
"Damn…" Emmet muttered. "Have you ever seen anything like it?"
"What? Where are they, I can't see," I whispered.
I strained to spot the wolves in the shadows, until finally I was able to see the gleam of their eyes; all ten pairs of them. Their eyes were all I could see however as the rest of their bodies were invisible in the darkness. I frantically tried to make out which wolf was which, but they were too far away.
Edward turned his head to look at me and nudged my shoulder.
"Go to them. I know you want to," he said.
26. Training (Part 2 of 2)
I glanced at him for a moment and nodded. He was right and I didn't waste any time as I quickly made my way over to them. I was incredibly nervous, but my feet wouldn't stop or even slow down. I couldn't make out each wolf yet, but something in me drew me toward the pair of black eyes to the far right of where the center wolf stood. As I got closer, I was able to finally see who was who. Sam stood in the center with Paul and Jared at his flank. Seth stood in the back behind Jared with Leah positioned next to her brother. I hadn't gotten the chance to memorize Brady and Collin's coat, but they were easy to spot being the smallest ones way in the back. Quil and Embry stood next to each other right behind the wolf I was walking towards. Jacob.
They all turned their heads at me as I approached them. My heart raced at suddenly being the center of attention. I wasn't sure if they were just looking curiously or glaring. I lowered my head with a grimace, unable to look at them directly. I knew it was very possible that I'd be unwelcome in their group.
I heard a low bark from the wolf in front of me which made me jump. It was Jacob, his russet colored fur just as shaggy as ever. He leaned in to me and nudged my chin with his snout. A soft grumble came from his chest as he looked at me, his overall expression disapproving. I knew what he was saying. He didn't want me to look so sad.
"Sorry," I mumbled.
Jacob nodded once, and then suddenly his head snapped in Paul's direction. Jake's teeth were showing as he started growling at Paul while he growled back. I heard Leah direct a snarl at Jake as well and Seth forcefully bumped her side with an annoyed grunt. Seth and Leah glared at each other as Sam barked at Paul and Jake, making them focus and end their bickering. I wondered why Jake would suddenly get so angry at Paul, but it wasn't hard to figure out. As I glanced over at Edward further away, his dark, furious scowl and clenched fists pretty much confirmed it for me. Paul, and probably Leah as well, must've said something bad about me. Why else would Jacob and Edward be so pissed? They certainly were taking 'talking behind someone's back' to a new level.
Carlisle put his hand out at Edward in warning and turned his attention to Sam. He took a slow, deliberate step forward. It was a careful movement, designed to reassure.
"Welcome," he greeted.
"Thank you," Edward responded in a strange, flat tone after he took a deep breath to calm himself down. I quickly realized he was speaking for Sam. "We will watch and listen, but no more. That is the most we can ask of our self control."
"That is more than enough," Carlisle answered. "My son Jasper," he gestured at Jasper, standing tense and ready, "He has experience in this area. He will teach us how they fight and how they are to be defeated. I'm sure you can apply this to your own hunting style."
"They're different from you?" Edward asked for Sam.
Carlisle nodded. "They are all very new; only months old to this life. In a way, they are like children. They will have no skill or strategy, only brute strength. Tonight their numbers stand at twenty. Ten for us and ten for you, it shouldn't be difficult."
The wolves all muttered a low growl that sounded enthusiastic. I didn't exactly approve of their excitement. Who could be excited about going off and putting your life on the line? I let out a shaken sigh and Jacob quickly responded by rubbing his shaggy fur against my side. His warmth always calmed me down and this was no exception, especially since it was fairly cold outside.
"We are willing to take more than our share, if necessary," Edward translated for Sam, but was watching Jake and I carefully.
Carlisle smiled. "We'll see how it plays out."
"Do you know when and how they'll arrive?"
"They'll come across the mountains in four days, late in the morning. Alice will help us intercept their path from what she was able to see."
Sam nodded once as Edward translated. "Thank you for the information. We will watch."
With a sighing sound, the wolves all began sinking to the ground one at a time. Jacob lowered, lying comfortably on the ground as he stared up at me like he was waiting for something obvious. I smiled softly and sat down in the grass and dirt, adjusting myself to get more comfortable and curling into Jake's side. He made a low, soft grumble of what sounded like satisfaction.
Quil and Embry did the same, and by that I meant they both fought and pushed over who got to lie down on my other side. Quil ended up winning as he dropped down next to me, leaning against me with a grin. Jake rolled his large black eyes and I giggled softly.
"Thanks, Quil, but I think I'm warm enough," I said.
Quil coughed out a laugh while Embry looked over Quil's shoulder to smile at me. I wasn't sure if it was too early to say, but it seemed like Quil, Embry, and Jacob had forgiven me at least. There was still a lot I needed to clarify with Jake, but knowing that he didn't hate me at least was enough for now.
The Cullens were waiting for us to get settled and I noticed Edward watching me with a grimace, like he was watching something disgusting. I wasn't sure why.
It was quiet for a few seconds, and then Jasper took a step into the space between the vampires and werewolves. Jasper glanced warily at Edward, who nodded, and then Jasper turned his back to the pack. I could tell he was uncomfortable as he sighed deeply.
"Carlisle's right," Jasper said only to the Cullens, trying to ignore the wolves behind him. "They will fight like children. The two most important things to remember are, one, don't let them get their arms around you and, two, never go for the easy kill. They'll expect that. If you come at them from the side and keep moving, they'll be too confused to respond effectively. Emmett?"
Emmett grinned and stepped out into the space with Jasper.
"Now, Emmett is the best example of a newborn attack," Jasper said.
Emmett glared in annoyance. "Thanks, bro…"
Jasper chuckled. "What I mean is that Emmett relies on strength just like the newborns do. He's very straightforward when he attacks. Just go for the easy kill, Emmett."
Emmett smirked. "You're the boss."
Jacob and the rest of the pack were staring attentively, hardly moving.
Jasper backed up a little more as his body tensed. In the next second, Jasper disappeared. He was a blur as Emmett charged him like a bear, grinning and snarling. Emmett was amazingly fast, but Jasper was practically a ghost. Every time Emmett tried to grab Jasper, his hands would clench around nothing. Emmett suddenly froze when Jasper had him from behind, his teeth an inch from his neck.
"Crap…" Emmett growled.
A low rumble of appreciation resonated from the wolves' as they watched and I noticed Jacob was grinning.
"Again," Emmett insisted.
"It's my turn," Edward protested.
Emmett was about to argue, but Edward stared him down; he wasn't about to take no for an answer. Emmett groaned and reluctantly took his place in line as Edward stepped forward.
I cringed as I watched; Edward intent on Jasper, both of them glaring and feinting as Edward closed the distance between them. I knew Jasper wouldn't seriously hurt his brother, but I couldn't help the chills I felt just watching them eye each other, both their bodies crouched to launch at any moment. My heart raced at the idea that Edward could get injured. Jacob picked up on my anxiety as he glanced at me for a moment before rubbing his fur against my shoulder softly.
I jumped when Edward finally closed on Jasper. The fight was much more even than the other one. Jasper had the century of experience on him while Edward could read his moves and react to them properly. Edward was faster, but Jasper's moves seemed unfamiliar to him. They came at each other again and again, constantly growling instinctively, neither one able to gain the advantage. I couldn't really understand exactly what they were doing as they moved way too fast. Jacob watched the fight with a gleam in his eyes. He seemed a lot more interested in it than the one with Emmett. I wondered if it was because the fight was much less one sided or because Edward was the one fighting.
Eventually, Carlisle cleared his throat. Jasper and Edward both laughed and took a step back.
"Alright, back to work," Jasper said. "We'll call it a draw."
The rest of the Cullens went after Edward. They all took turns, first Carlisle, then Alice, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett insisted on going again. Carlisle was very similar to Edward, though maybe not as fast. He and Jasper went at each other without any contact until Jasper eventually caught him, gripping his throat with both hands. Jasper still commended him though for lasting as long as he did
I was especially worried for Alice and Esme, but Alice proved I was worrying for nothing. At first it seemed like Alice was just standing there completely still as Jasper lunged and missed every time. It wasn't like Jasper to miss a motionless target, but that was because Alice wasn't motionless. I realized she was stepping out of the way the exact moment Jasper attacked where she was once standing. Jasper closed in and Alice was moving much faster. She spiraled, twisted, and curled like a dancer, avoiding Jasper's every attack. I blinked and suddenly Alice was perched on Jasper's back, her lips at his neck. She won.
Esme's was harder to watch. It was difficult to imagine, much less actually see such a sweet woman being pursued like an antelope trying to get away from a hunger lion. Jasper slowed down a bit to give her more instruction. She eventually caught on and became much more of a challenge for Jasper to get his hands on her.
Rosalie was very impressive like Alice. She weaved and twisted gracefully to dodge Jasper's attacks, but her movements suddenly became fierce and frightening when she was the one on the offensive. I noticed Embry was especially paying attention to this fight. All the wolves' heads turned toward Embry and they let out an irritated groan. Embry whined in response and I think I knew why. I couldn't help giggling at the thought of Rosalie's reaction if she knew a werewolf found her attractive.
After Emmett tried his luck at Jasper again, and failed, Jasper paired everyone off into groups of two. They rotated and switched out partners whenever there seemed to be a clear winner in each group.
It continued like this for a while and my eyes started getting heavier. It was reaching a full twenty-four hours since I slept last and I hadn't been sleeping too well lately anyway. I sighed and rested my head on Jacob's neck. My eyes closed immediately. Jacob's soft fur and warmth made it nearly impossible for me to stay awake as I relaxed into him.
I felt Jake suddenly sit up a bit which woke me up from my brief nap. I rubbed my eyes and saw that Jasper had turned to face the wolves, his expression once again uncomfortable.
"We'll be doing this again tomorrow," Jasper announced. "Please feel free to observe again."
"Yes, we'll be here," Edward translated for Sam and then turn to his family. "The pack also wants to get familiar with our scents so there's no confusion during the battle. If we could stand completely still, it would be easier for them."
Carlisle nodded and turned to Sam. "Of course. Whatever you need."
The Cullens all stood side by side in a straight line, staring in the direction of the pack.
The wolves all began to rise to their feet. Jacob was last as he waited for me to stand first. I was a little unstable on my feet as I did, still feeling pretty sleepy. Jake remained close to my side so I'd have something to lean against. The pack made their way toward the Cullens with Sam in the lead. I decided to follow beside Jake, keeping my hand on his back to guide me since I was half-asleep.
As we came out of the trees, I noticed the deep darkness of the night was beginning to fade. The sun hadn't yet cleared the horizon, although it was brightening the clouds.
Sam approached Carlisle first and went down the line, sniffing each one of them and wincing slightly as he did. Everyone was pretty tense and that included the Cullens, except for maybe Emmett who seemed relaxed, grinning as each wolf got his scent. I stayed by Jake's side as he went down the line. Edward watched me carefully and Esme threw me a smile as we went by her. Jasper and Rosalie glanced at me questioningly, probably baffled that I could be so comfortable with such fierce, horse-sized wolves that stunk, to them at least. Emmett found it humorous though as he opened his mouth like he was about to say something sarcastic, but decided to keep it to himself. I heard Edward chuckle.
Once the pack was done, they all began backing away, not taking their eyes off the Cullens as they went. I swallowed nervously and wondered whether I should be going with them or not. However, Jacob wasn't moving. I decided that if he wasn't, then neither was I. Sam switched his focus to Jacob as he went. Jake looked back at him and nodded as Sam disappeared into the murky forest. The others followed, although Quil and Embry seemed to hesitate while Jacob stayed where he was beside me.
"So, what's your question?" Edward suddenly asked, positioning himself in front of Jake.
I looked at both of them confused. "What question?"
It was silent for a moment.
"I haven't figured that out just yet," Edward answered Jacob's thoughts.
Jake grumbled sullenly.
"No, I don't think that'll work. It's more complicated than that," Edward said. "I'll make sure it's safe, don't worry."
"What are you guys talking about?" I demanded.
Jacob groaned at Edward in what sounded like irritation. Edward just shrugged in response.
"Well, it's been my job for the past two days now," he said, his tone critical.
Now Jacob was growling, his muzzle pulled back to show his sharp teeth. I gasped and reflexively reached out to hold him back, although I was sure there was no way I could manage that. But before I could touch him, Jacob suddenly turned around and bolted for the trees. I flinched back in shock and watched as he disappeared.
"Jake, wait!" I shouted, but he was already gone. I could no longer see Quil or Embry either.
I turned back around to Edward, immediately angry. "What did you say to him? Why'd he leave?"
He held his hand out at me, open palmed. "Relax, he's coming back. He wants to talk for himself."
I turned back around and watched the trees anxiously. Every second felt like a minute as I stood there completely still, just waiting for one thing.
Eventually, he came, on two feet this time. He looked just as magnificent as ever. His russet skin glowed and there was a lot of it as his perfect, broad chest was bare, only wearing a pair of cut-off jeans which he usually brought with him when he planned to turn wolf. My heart beat faster as he approached us. Why did it feel so much like I hadn't seen him like this in months, when in reality it had only been two days?
Jacob made his way to us and stood by my side, glaring intensely at Edward.
"Tell me why it won't work," Jacob demanded.
Edward sighed. "Because she's been back and forth too much. She's left trails all over the place."
"Wait," I interrupted. "Are you guys talking about me?"
Jacob looked down at me and nodded. "I was wondering what to do with you during the fight and if he had any plans."
"What to do with me?"
"You can't stay in Forks, Bella," Edward explained. "They know where to look for you there. What if someone slipped by us? Jacob suggested keeping you in La Push, but you've spent so much time there that you probably left tons of scent trails. La Push might even be less safe for you than Forks."
"We're making Brady and Collin stay behind to protect the place," Jacob said.
"Do you honestly think two rookie werewolves would be enough to fight off an army?"
Jacob groaned. "Then what's your brilliant plan?"
"I told you, I haven't figured it out yet."
My stomach dropped at the thought of vampires raiding the town for me. "What about Charlie?" I gasped.
"He'll be with Billy," Jacob assured and wrapped an arm around me to rub my shoulder, instantly calming me down. "I doubt it'll take much to get him down there. They haven't had a Friday fishing trip in a while and there's a game on Saturday which I'm sure he'll want to see."
"But Edward said La Push isn't safe because of me being there so much."
"At least there he'll have protection."
"If Charlie's protected there, then why not me?"
"Charlie isn't their target," Edward said. "If they searched La Push and didn't find what they came for, they'd most likely leave quickly. If you were there however, I'm sure they'd stop at nothing to get to you, even if it meant through someone else."
I cringed and Jake rubbed my shoulder again. It took a little longer for me to calm down this time.
"But like I said, this is going to be easy. I doubt any of them will get by us anyway, but if they do, you have to be hard to find. Hiding you in the perfect spot is just me being overcautious, I suppose."
"The perfect spot, huh," Jacob muttered and thought for a brief moment. "What about the mountains or the trees. There are tons of options. Either of us could be there in a matter of minutes."
Edward shook his head. "Her scent's too strong, especially combined with mine. If I carried her there, it would leave a trail that-"
"Hold it!" Jacob interrupted and put his hand up to silence him. "Who said anything about you carrying her anywhere?"
Edward paused for a second, and then his eyes brightened. "Oh. That's not a bad idea. It's possible." He turned to his family. "Jasper!"
Jasper looked up curiously and walked over to us with Alice right behind him.
"What's going on?" Jasper asked.
I nodded. "I was about to ask the same thing."
"Okay, Jacob. Go," Edward instructed.
Jake nodded and turned to me. He kept his one arm around me as he reached down to lift me up under my legs. My heart skipped as I was suddenly in his arms.
"Wha…?" I gasped.
"We're going to see if I can confuse the scent enough to hide your trail," Jacob explained, looking at me.
"Oooh…" Jasper muttered to himself.
Edward nodded at Jasper. "Bella's scent is very potent for me. I think it'd be a fairer test if someone else did it."
Jacob turned away from them, facing the trees. "Ready, Bells?"
"Uh…" It was all I could say.
He grinned. "I'll take that as a yes."
Jacob darted into the woods and it became dark all around us. I instinctively wrapped my arms around his neck to hold on as he was running pretty fast. I knew he wouldn't drop me or anything though, especially with him holding me fairly tight and close to his chest. He then started jogging at an even pace and I was able to loosen up a little.
I looked up at him, his eyes distant as he faced straight ahead. Even though I knew running didn't make Jake tired, I could feel his heart beating unusually fast and the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed deeply. Something else was getting to him and I wondered if it was the same thing that made my heart race. I was still confused about us. Were we 'official' again? Did we ever break up in the first place? Was it right for me to be in such an intimate position with him? I hoped it was, although this could've just been business. However, Jacob wasn't being so distant with me since the party. To allow me to warm up with him in his wolf form and to wrap his arms around me like it was so natural; would he still do that if he was unsure? He was taking chances with me bit by bit, so why not I do the same?
I took a deep breath and tried not to think too much. I completely relaxed into him and rested my head on his shoulder; just letting myself do what came naturally toward him. Jacob glanced at me for a split second and I wondered if he was okay, but I urged myself not to think. Jacob slowed his jog down to a fast walk as he made his wide arc and was coming back to the clearing at a different direction from where we entered the forest; maybe a football field away. We were still in the trees though as he gradually slowed down his pace. I wasn't trying to think, but it seemed odd for him to slow down if this was just a simple test. Just then, I knew why. Jacob rested his head to the side, leaning it against mine and taking a deep sigh through his nose. His arms tightened, pressing me closer to him, and he was walking so slowly now that I could probably pass him easily if I were on my feet. I knew he didn't want the moment to end. Neither did I.
Eventually we did make it back to the clearing where Edward stood alone, looking a little irritated. Out of nowhere, Jasper and Alice stood behind Edward. Jacob took one more step forward and stopped about six feet away from Edward.
"What took you so long?" Edward asked with a groan.
Jacob rolled his eyes. "Shut up and tell us the results."
"As long as you don't touch anything, Bella, I can't possibly imagine anyone sticking their nose anywhere near that stench," Jasper explained with a grimace. "It was almost completely obscured."
"Definitely a success," Alice agreed.
"And it also gave me an idea."
"Clever," Edward complimented.
"What the hell are you guys talking about?" Jacob asked in annoyance.
Edward looked at me with a weak smile. "I know you wanted to help out, Bella. This is your chance. You're going to leave a false trail to the clearing. The newborns are hunting your scent and you can lead them exactly where we want them."
My eyes widened. "Really?"
"The only problem is I can't see whether this'll work or not," Alice mentioned. "I see them coming, but when they get to a certain point, my vision disappears. I'm assuming that's when they pick up your scent, Bella."
"However, I don't see any negative consequences to this idea as long as we know the trail. It's definitely worth a shot. Will you do it, Bella?" Edward asked, even though it wasn't necessary.
"Of course I will," I answered enthusiastically. It wasn't exactly helping to fight, but it was something. Improving their chances of winning. Lessening their chances of…dying.
"Not a chance!" Edward shouted, suddenly angry.
I gasped and my arms naturally tightened around Jacob who was still holding me. I was confused for a moment, thinking he changed his mind, but he was looking at Jasper.
"I know, I know," Jasper said quickly. "It was just a thought."
"What's a thought?"Alice, Jacob, and I all said at the same time. The three of us looked at each other with furrowed brows, not expecting that.
Jacob snickered. "Nice…"
"I wasn't really considering it actually," Jasper tried to explain. "I just thought that if Bella was actually there in the clearing, it would drive the newborns insane. They wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything but her. It would make picking them off really easy…"
Edward continued to glare at Jasper and Jacob was eyeing him as well in disgust, the smile left behind by his snicker completely gone. His teeth were clenched and he almost growled. Alice frowned at Jasper and stepped on his foot.
"Of course it's too dangerous. It was just a random thought," Jasper said, avoiding eye contact as his face scrunched up uncomfortably. However, the look in his eyes told me he still seemed wishful of the idea.
"Jasper…" Edward said in warning.
"Right…" Jasper grimaced and took Alice's hand as they started back toward the others.
Edward sighed deeply and turned his attention to us. His expression seemed unusual, like he was trying too hard to keep a straight face.
"You know, the scent trail test ended a while ago," he said in a flat voice.
Jacob nodded with a smirk. "I know."
I was still securely in Jacob's arms and I hadn't thought about how this looked to others. My face turned red and I debated with myself on whether I should ask Jake to put me down, although I really didn't want him to.
Edward sighed. "Anyway, back to business. I know you'll be busy, so I can bring her here to lay out the false trail. Then you meet us afterward and carry her to this place I know. It's completely out of the way; I seriously doubt anyone would bother going there."
"And then what? Leave her with a cell phone?" Jacob asked critically.
"Do you have a better idea?"
Jacob grinned. "As a matter of fact, I do."
"Oh. Again, dog, not bad."
"What would you do without me?" Jacob smirked.
"What idea?" I asked, looking back and forth between them.
Jacob smiled at me. "I'm thinking Seth could stay with you. We were trying to talk him out of fighting with us since he's still pretty new, but he's been resisting. He really wants to help out. So I think this is the perfect job for him. A cell phone."
I raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Cell phone…?"
"As long as Seth's a wolf, we can communicate with him. Plus, he can keep you safe more than a real cell phone ever could. Not to mention you won't be so lonely this way either. I trust you still understand 'wolfanese'?" he teased.
I giggled at his made up word. "Yeah, I'm pretty fluent." It was mostly a joke, but I remembered the times where I was able to understand what Jacob's wolf was saying based on body language alone. "Are you sure Seth will be okay with this job?"
"Well, it's no brawl, but I think he will be. Seth really likes you, and it's admittedly more exciting than Collin and Brady's job. They definitely got the short end of the stick. Just staying at home…boring."
I could definitely relate to Seth on wanting to help so badly. At least I wasn't the only one being held back.
Edward scowled and mumbled so softly I could barely hear. "I'm glad some of you dogslike her."
Jacob let out a frustrated sigh. "Paul has a bad temper and Leah's always been a harpy, so…"
It looked like I was right. I'd never really established a good relationship with Leah as almost everyone kept away from her, but I thought that Paul and I at least had a friendship going. It didn't feel good knowing he was angry at me, but I certainly couldn't blame him.
"So distance isn't a problem?" Edward asked, wanting to change the subject.
Jake shook his head. "Nope."
"Three hundred miles. That's pretty impressive."
"It's the farthest we've gone to experiment. Still clear as a bell."
Edward nodded. "This will work. I think everything is just about set. Tomorrow night, we'll be practicing some more which you're free to observe. We'll be hunting on Wednesday to make sure our strength is at its max when it's time to fight. On Thursday, I'll bring Bella here to lay out the false trail and you take her to the spot I've chosen. And finally, on Friday morning…"
Jacob grinned with excitement. "Yes!"
I cringed. Hearing the whole schedule laid out like that made me truly realize how soon this would all be happening. It wasn't as soon as their old plan to leave in two days, but still much too soon for me. Then again, I wouldn't want them to ever leave. I still couldn't believe how they could be excited about this.
"Are you taking her home?" Edward asked
Jacob looked at me with a smile. "Ready to go?"
I met his gaze, his deep black eyes distracting. It took me a moment to answer. "Yeah…"
"Awesome. Let's go."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Bella," Edward said quickly before Jacob turned away.
I looked over Jacob's shoulder at Edward and smiled. "Right, tomorrow."
Jacob was very eager to get away from the vampires as he immediately dashed toward the black forest. I held on tight, watching Edward get further and further away until the mass of trees blocked him from view. I faced forward in the direction Jake was running when he started to slow down gradually. Out of nowhere, two gigantic, shadowy forms jumped out in front of us. I gasped and my arms tightened around Jake, but he seemed completely relaxed. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I let out a sigh of relief when I saw it was just Embry and Quil.
"You guys are still here?" Jacob asked.
They both nodded their big, furry heads in response.
"Did Sam tell you to stay? Y'know, I can handle a vampire myself."
Quil and Embry glanced at each other and shrugged. Their eyes flashed back and forth between me and Jake.
"I'm taking Bella home. I'll be there soon."
That seemed to be all they needed as they nodded and turned to sprint away.
Jacob finally set me back on my feet. I pouted and held onto his arm, still wanting some kind of physical contact. He patted my back with a chuckle, glancing at a large tree about twenty feet away.
"Sam wanted me back immediately after I asked my questions because we're gonna be practicing all day today," Jacob proclaimed. "I need to hurry and get back, so it'd be faster if I was a wolf."
I nodded slowly. "You don't mind me riding on you?"
"Of course not. Why?" He looked at me confused.
I blushed and shook my head. "Just curious."
Jake shrugged and started toward the large tree. It may have been because I was pretty exhausted and wasn't thinking too clearly, but for some reason I felt like riding on a wolf's back was something only couples did, not that I've seen Emily or Kim ever doing the same. I could've been completely wrong.
It didn't take Jacob long at all to come back out as his huge, russet-colored wolf. A black leather strap tied his cut-off jeans to his right hind leg, secured with a metal buckle. He came over to me and lowered to the ground so I could climb on easily. I sighed in content as I got on, wrapping my arms around his neck. His soft, warm fur felt so nice I probably would've fallen asleep instantly if Jacob stood still, but he quickly launched once I was on. My eyes were closed, but mainly because it was hard keeping them open when Jake ran this fast. The wind blew my hair back and pushed against my skin. I could feel Jake's body rumble underneath me as he breathed even and steady.
I whimpered softly when he slowed down to a trot. I knew we were getting close to my house now. He'd drop me off, leave, and I wouldn't see him until much later tonight. Did the pack really have to practice all day long? Couldn't they take breaks? Although, if they needed that much practice to survive the battle, then I guess I was all for it.
Jacob came to a complete stop and grunted. I opened my eyes to see that we were a good distance away from my backyard so Jake was still covered by the trees. He crouched down again to let me off, looking back at me when I hesitated. I sighed, slowly getting off of him as we both rose to our feet. He was facing me now, both of us gazing at each other. It took me a bit more effort to see him as my eyes fought to stay open. He took a step forward and let out a concerned whine.
"I'll be okay. I think I can make it to my bed," I insisted. "I don't want Sam to get mad at you for being late or anything."
He shrugged, not seeming too worried about that.
I reached out and rubbed his neck softly. "You should go. You don't want to hold everyone up."
Jacob nodded and quickly leaned in to touch his snout against my cheek. I flinched, slightly surprised by the gesture as Jacob grinned. He backed away and dashed off into the woods, still covered in darkness. I watched as he ran further in until the shadows enveloped him.
Very Good! I wish you could write faster though! :)
Yeah, I know :( Sorry for the delay. This was supposed to come out in July, but real life issues caused delays. But, this is probably the biggest chapter I've written so far, so there's that. The next chapter I'll try to get out around the August 15th area and the one after I'll try for the end of the month.
It's all good. I just have too much free time at work! LOL.
27. Going Up
The past two days have been either too short or too long. After Jacob dropped me off at my house, I managed to drag myself to my room just in time to collapse on my bed rather than the hard floor. When I woke up, it was well past noon. If I hadn't already graduated, there'd probably be just about an hour left of classes by the time I woke up. However, the only thing on my mind was what the wolf pack and Cullens could be doing right then.
I was pretty surprised to come downstairs and see Alice casually chatting with Charlie. She apparently had made arrangements for us to go shopping in Olympia this Friday, the day of the fight. I was also going to be with her for the few days leading up to it as the rest of the Cullens would be hiking and she didn't want to be left all alone. Of course, all of this was just to give me an alibi for the fight. Charlie would wonder why I wasn't home or even in La Push.
That night, the Cullens continued their practicing. Jacob, Quil and Embry were there as well, but the rest of the pack was missing. I figured they only really needed one wolf to observe and they could pass it on through their connected minds; Quil and Embry were probably there for back up. They stayed wolves the whole time, but I didn't mind. Quil was watching the Cullens fight with excitement. It was clear we wanted to join, but we all knew that would've been a bad idea. Embry was still focusing more so on Rosalie than the others, which Jacob and Quil ragged on him about, making annoyed grunts and shoving him. Quil and Embry got into a light scuffle about the whole thing, which greatly distracted Edward, awarding him a good punch in the jaw from Jasper during their match. He was obviously worried about me being so close to fighting werewolves, but I knew they wouldn't hurt me, nor would Jacob allow that. They were just rough housing to me; nothing unusual.
After the Cullens finished practicing, this time I joined them as they went home. Thanks to Alice, I was to be with her at the Cullen house for two days plus a trip to Olympia, at least that's what Charlie was supposed to think. I explained to Jacob and it tore me apart having to say goodbye to him.
I spent the night at the Cullens' house; the first time I'd done that in a long time. Alice didn't allow me to sleep in this time, waking me up around nine with breakfast waiting for me downstairs, thanks to Edward. This was the day they needed to hunt and energize themselves for the fight. Edward really didn't want to leave me all alone in the house, but I insisted on them going and promised I'd be fine. It turned out to be a pretty bad idea. The house felt eerily quiet, much more like a crypt than it ever would with the vampires actually present. I found myself looking over my shoulder constantly, thinking that any moment someone would sneak up from behind and grab me. Aside from feeling uneasy, overall, I was just bored. There was really nothing to do without the Cullens besides watch TV, which gave the house some noise and made it slightly less creepy.
The whole time, I was debating with myself on whether I should go out and walk to the mall, just to give myself something to do. I just didn't know when exactly the Cullens would be back and I didn't want them to come home while I was gone and worry them. I really wished I could just spend the day with Jacob and the pack. Charlie was supposed to believe I was at the Cullens' house, but I didn't necessarily have to be here. Charlie wasn't supposed to be down at La Push until Thursday, so it would've worked out. The only problem was that they were once again practicing all day for the fight. From reading Jacob's mind, Edward told me Sam was being very strict on having zero distractions during practice, which I apparently qualified as. Sam allowed me to be around while the wolves sparred with each other before. I would always sit back and watch, making little to no noise. Why was I a distraction now? The more I thought about what I could be doing, the more frustrated I became that time couldn't move faster. It was seriously the longest day of my life.
Eventually, the boredom made me drowsy as the energy that allowed me to sit up on the couch slowly drained. Sleeping would definitely make time move faster for me, but being alone already frightened me. I was at least aware of my surroundings, but sleeping would take that away too. That anxiety kept me awake, but it couldn't for very long. My boredom was just far too powerful.
I closed my eyes and I was suddenly in La Push. I could see Emily's house in the distance and Brady and Collin both came out of nowhere, standing in front of me with smiles on their faces. They led me to the front of the house where the rest of the pack stood with welcoming grins. Sam stood with Emily, Jared with Kim, Quil giving Claire a piggyback ride while Embry watched in annoyance, Paul laughing off to the side, and Seth standing with Leah who was the only one not smiling; which I was perfectly fine with, because it felt normal. And then there was Jacob, coming out of the front door and smiling my favorite smile. He rushed over to me and I closed the distance as I threw my arms around his neck, pressing my lips to his.
"Are you awake now?" the voice of Edward called to me.
I awoke with a groan, looking around the familiar living room through squinted eyes. I was lying on the couch with my head resting on a pillow that I didn't remember being there, same for the soft blankets that covered me from shoulder to toe. Edward was sitting on the far end of the couch, allowing me to stretch my legs. A soft whimper escaped me as I reflected on yet another dream that I wished were real.
Edward frowned. "What's wrong?"
I shook my head. "Just a dream, don't worry about it." I looked out the window, noticing that it was much lighter outside than I remembered. "What time is it?"
"Seven in the morning," Edward answered.
"Really?" I rubbed my eyes and sat up to look at him. "Did I sleep for that long?"
"For as long as I've been here. I was nervous about you being here alone, so I came home early to check on you around nine at night. You were fast asleep on the couch and I didn't want to disturb you."
"You have been pretty tired lately. At least you're well rested and waking up in the morning today." He smiled.
"What is today?
His expression became more serious. "Thursday."
"We'll be setting the false trail and bringing you to this special hiding spot I know."
I nodded, confirming it to myself. "When?"
"Probably this afternoon when the others get back."
I tilted my head to the side. "They aren't here?"
"No. I came home early to check on you. They're still out hunting."
"Wait, did you get enough blood if you left before everyone else?"
"I think I'll be fine."
I frowned. "You think?"
He glanced at me and sighed. "I know I'll be fine."
If anything ever happened to Edward, I didn't think I'd ever be able to forgive myself or him for that matter.
"Come on, I made breakfast for you," he said with a smile, holding his hand out to me.
I smiled back and took his hand. "You knew exactly when I was going to wake up, didn't you?"
"I had a hunch." He smirked and led me to the kitchen.
Breakfast was great. It always amazed me how great of a cook Edward was despite him being unable to taste any of it. I decided to give him a test and see how well he could prepare chicken penne with alfredo sauce. The only catch was that he couldn't look at any recipe. The chicken ended up a little undercooked and the alfredo sauce lacked flavor, which Edward apologized profusely about. I just laughed to let him know everything was okay and told him what he could do next time to make it better. It was nice to know there was at least one thing I was better than him at.
The rest of the Cullens got home around noon, bringing about a new business-like feel to the atmosphere and pulling me back into the seriousness of our situation.
Alice had a change of clothes for me and I was thankful that for once she didn't go for anything stylish. Instead, she had me put on a plain dark blue sweatshirt and a jacket to match.
"Why the warm clothing?" I asked.
"Well, I think you'll need to pack for cold weather," she explained, making a face at the uncertain word. "I can't see exactly where Edward's having you go because you'll be with that dog, but there's a storm that seems particularly bad in that area."
My eyes widened. "Snow? Seriously? It's June!"
She gave me a look of sympathy and patted my shoulder. "Yeah, but we've got plenty of camping gear for you. Edward's packing right now."
I sighed. "I was hoping this 'hiding place' would be, like, a cabin or something."
Alice rolled her eyes. "Any spot with civilization wouldn't be the safest choice."
"Yeah, I understand."
We went back downstairs as Edward was packing. He had a down sleeping bag, a small tent, and several packets of dehydrated food, stuffing them all in a large backpack.
Alice seemed to wander off as I went to stand beside Edward. Once he was done packing, he handed me his phone out of the blue.
"You should probably call Jacob and tell him we'll be ready for him in about an hour. He should know where to meet us," Edward said.
I nodded and quickly dialed the number, eager to hear his voice.
"Hello?" Billy answered after the second ring.
I frowned for a moment, but kept my voice even and normal. "Hi, Billy, it's Bella. I just wanted to know if I could speak to Jake."
"Oh, sorry Bella, Jake's not in right now. Did you need to tell him something?"
"Oh…" I cleared my throat to hide the disappointment in my tone. "Just that we'll be ready for him to meet us in about an hour."
"Alright, got it. He's probably with the others at Emily's, so I'll give them a call. And don't worry about Charlie, Bella. I've got my part in this under control."
"Yeah, I know Charlie will be fine."
"I wish I could be with the rest of them tomorrow." Billy chuckled regretfully. "Being an old man is a hardship, Bella."
I nodded, even though he couldn't see. He was just like the others. They all wanted to fight so badly. I wondered if it was just a guy thing, but I couldn't forget about Leah. Plus, I wasn't entirely different. If I had the power to be out there and help protect everyone, I would.
"Have fun with Charlie," I said.
"Good luck, Bella," he answered. "And…tell the, um, Cullens I wish them luck as well."
"Oh. Sure, I will," I promised before hanging up. It was certainly a surprising gesture.
"That was generous of him," Edward noted, overhearing the conversation
I nodded and handed him his phone back. "Is everything packed and ready?"
"Yes. We can leave anytime you're ready."
"Alright then, let's go." I grabbed his hand, eagerly pulling him to the door.
Edward carried me in his arms, taking a long detour to the clearing to make sure my scent was nowhere near the trail Jacob would hide later. I knew he couldn't carry me on his back with that bulky backpack taking up the space, but the way he held me brought back memories of him taking me to our meadow, more vividly, just last week. It was a memory both blissful and a nightmare at the same time. The fact that I liked being held so intimately by him scared me. The fact that I didn't want him to put me down scared me. The fact that I couldn't stop loving him scared me. But still, I never once forgot about Jacob. There was never even a single moment where Edward was more important to me than him; not since we've been together at least. Even now, though I loved the smooth, cold arms that held me securely to his chest, I still yearned for a different pair.
Edward finally stopped at the farthest end of the clearing and set me on my feet, my arms clinging to him for a moment.
"Alright, just walk north for a ways, touching as much as you can. It shouldn't take us too long to intersect the path where Alice's vision disappeared," Edward instructed.
"Okay. And north is…?"
He snickered and pointed out the right direction.
I walked slowly, trailing my fingers over anything close enough; the rough tree bark, wet ferns, mossy rocks. It was pretty cold for June, especially when the wind whipped through the open spaces in the trees, giving me goose bumps. However, the sky was pretty clear, even sunny. There was a faint yellow shine that struggled to break through the mass of branches and leaves. Maybe Alice would be wrong about the weather. After all, if I was going to be there, wouldn't her vision just end?
"Am I doing this right?" I asked.
Edward nodded. "Perfectly."
"What if I-" I ran my fingers through my hair and caught a few loose strands, draping them over a couple of rocks, "-did this? Would that help?"
"Yes, it would make the scent stronger. But you don't need to pull out your hair."
I giggled softly. "I've got a few to spare."
We continued forward with Edward following a few yards behind me. I kept touching anything reachable and made sure to watch my feet for once. I didn't want to let any tripping slow me down.
"How far are we now?" I called.
"Not too far now."
"I'd say about ten minutes."
I grimaced. "How long have we been out here?" I paused. "Wait, no, how long has it been since I called Billy? An hour?"
"More like twenty five minutes."
"Yes." He was silent for a moment. "You're eager to see him."
I sighed. "Yeah. I don't know if he'll be there early or not."
"If he's not, we'll wait of course."
"But the wait might kill me." I frowned.
"We could always just call him when we get there and tell him to come as fast as possible."
I looked back at him. "And how fast is that?"
"You tell me." He smirked. "Maybe a few minutes if he can reach my speed. Has he ever gone that fast when you take him for a ride?"
"Oh yeah." I nodded enthusiastically. "Sometimes even faster."
Edward grimaced, his overall expression becoming concerned. I hadn't thought about that comment taking a jab to his pride. It probably didn't feel so good hearing that a werewolf was faster than him, although I was sure that Edward held back just a little when he carried me.
"Interesting…" he muttered; I could barely hear him.
It took me a while to reach the spot where Alice's vision disappeared. Unconsciously, I moved much slower, probably to give Jacob more time to make it to the clearing by the time we arrived, but Edward never got impatient with my pace.
Once we were almost to the clearing, however, I sped up. There was no point in stalling now as I was much more anxious to see if he was actually there. I was moving too quickly to watch my feet anymore. I wasn't sure what I tripped over, but I was about to collide head first into the closest tree in front of me. I caught myself before I could do any serious damage, but a small branch snapped off under my left hand and dug into my palm.
I cussed out loud, gripping my hand.
"Are you alright?" Edward asked with deep concern, rushing over to me.
I hissed at the pain. "I'm fine. Don't get too close, I'm bleeding."
He ignored me and held the underside of my hand gently, looking at my palm.
"I've got a first aid kit," he said and pulled off his backpack. "I had a feeling I'd need it."
"Edward, it's not that bad. I can take care of it. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"I feel fine, Bella. Here, let me clean it."
"Wait, I have another idea."
Without looking at the blood, I pressed my hand against a rock within my reach.
"Whoa. What are you doing?"
"My job." I started for the clearing again, pressing my palm against anything within reach and ignoring the stinging pain it brought. "I bet this'll really get them going."
Edward sighed. "Don't you think you're overdoing it?"
"I wanna do a good job, since no one will let me do anything else."
"Fair enough, I suppose."
We finally broke through the last of the trees as the grey sky opened up to us.
"The newborns are going to be frantic," he said.
I turned around to look at him. "So, I did a good job?"
He nodded. "Yes, very good. Now let me see your hand, you've gotten the cut dirty."
I looked at him a little doubtful as I slowly held my hand out to him.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?"
He took my hand and smiled as he examined it. "Yes, this doesn't bother me anymore."
I watched him carefully as he cleaned my cut and smoothed a bandage across my palm. He seemed alright. The same small smile stayed on his lips and he breathed evenly. It wasn't like the times where he'd stiffen up and stop himself from breathing.
"Why doesn't it bother you?" I asked.
"I got over it."
I raised an eyebrow at him. "You can do that?"
"Apparently, yes." He paused for a moment, pursing his lips. "The moment I received that call from Rosalie that you were dead, I experienced pain unlike anything before. Even though it was only for a moment until I called you myself, it was enough. Now my entire being shies away from anything that could cause that kind of pain again."
"Oh…wow." It was all I could think of saying.
The wind whipped across the clearing that caused me to shiver despite having a rather thick sweatshirt on. The grey clouds off in the distance and chilling wind made me worry that Alice's weather prediction might be right after all.
Edward pulled out my winter coat and held it out for me to put on. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder as we made our way to the other side of the clearing.
"Even when away from him, the things you picked up from that dog still slip out," Edward suddenly muttered with a sigh.
"What're you talking about?"
"You're language, Bella."
I rolled my eyes. "Where is he, anyway? Where are we meeting him?"
"Right here." He suddenly took his arm from around me.
I whimpered softly and looked around the clearing frantically when I didn't immediately see him. Although we were still over twenty minutes shy of an hour, I was hoping he'd already be here.
"Call him," I demanded, my tone unintentionally forceful.
"No need," he assured and nodded toward the trees in front of us.
My eyes darted straight ahead as Jacob stepped warily from the shadows. My heart skipped a beat the moment I saw him. His arms were folded over his bare chest, clutching a jacket in one hand. Jacob's face was void of expression as Edward started walking closer, giving me a good push to get me going.
"Hello, Jacob," Edward greeted.
Jacob nodded once in response then got down to business. "Where do I take her?"
Edward pulled out a map from the side pocket of his backpack, handing it to Jake as he unfolded it.
"We are here," Edward explained and pointed it out on the map, Jacob recoiling instinctively from his hand, but paying attention, "and you're taking her here, about nine miles." Edward traced the path with his finger.
Jacob nodded. "Okay."
"When you're about a mile away, you should cross my path and it'll lead you right in. I'll be taking a longer route."
Jacob glared. "No, I got it."
"Good. I'll see you in a few hours," Edward said, keeping his tone polite. He turned to me and smiled softly. "See you then."
I smiled back until he bolted in the opposite direction, disappearing into the trees.
There was nowhere else to look now but at the werewolf in front of me. Jacob folded the map back up and stuffed it in his back pocket. He shrugged into his jacket and took three large steps closer. His expression was a mixture of curiosity and confusion as he looked at me. I hadn't moved a muscle.
This was the moment I'd been waiting for. It was just us now. There was nothing to get in our way for at least a few hours as Edward said. Despite the looming terror of newborn vampires coming our way, I felt like this was finally our time.
"Um…what's up, Bella?" he greeted with an awkward grin.
I didn't respond verbally. I suddenly felt this uncontrollable urge to hold him. To make up for something lost in the days we've been apart. Like a magnet, my body pulled to him as I took one long stride and wrapped my arms around him in a tight embrace. Locked in place, I had no plans on letting go anytime soon as I buried my face in his bare chest, suddenly feeling my eyes fill with tears.
Jacob flinched slightly, my brash show of affection taking him by surprise. He stood there for a few seconds with his arms at his sides, but I didn't let go; if anything, I held him tighter. Seconds passed by in silence until I felt his warm arms slowly wrap around me, pressing me even closer to him than I already was. He rubbed my back comfortingly as the tears in my eyes finally spilled over.
We stood there like that for an immeasurable amount of time. It'd been so long since I felt like this, where time seemed to stand still and nothing really mattered but us. Thinking rationally, this probably wasn't the best time to feel this way, but I couldn't stop it now. For all I knew, the hours could've already passed and we'd have been standing here the whole time.
We were finally pulled out of our little bubble when a harshly freezing gust of wind tore through the clearing, causing us both to tense up.
Jacob stepped back and put his hands on my shoulders, smiling down at me.
"Ready to go?" he asked cheerfully.
I smiled softly and nodded. "Yep, I'm ready."
Jacob wrapped his arm around me before bending down to lift me from the back of my knees, holding me close just like when we practiced the day of instruction.
He wasted no time and started running through the trees as I held on tight with my arms around his shoulders. His breathing was even despite not slowing down even a bit, keeping a steady pace as he jogged swiftly, avoiding any trees and ferns that got in his way. He kept straight through the pathless woods, but I noticed the terrain begin climbing steeper and steeper. Jacob leapt from rock to rock, still not slowing down and keeping a perfect balance. Sometimes it amazed me just how much Jacob could do as a human alone. He and the rest of the pack were like perfect human soldiers. Everything about them was taken to the peak of what was humanly possible; maybe even a few steps over that limit. I remembered Quil talking about a superhero like that once, but I couldn't remember the name.
"So, what have you been up to these past few days?" Jacob asked, breaking the silence.
I shrugged. "A whole lot of nothing."
"Really? That sounds exciting," he chuckled.
"Yeah, you should've seen me yesterday. I was glued to the couch and staring at the TV for hours, and yet I still have no idea what I watched. Most riveting day of my life."
"Wow, fun." He smirked. "At least you had the chance to even be lazy."
"Was Sam working you guys hard?"
He sighed deeply. "Non-stop training all day long."
"Not even one break?"
"Well, I guess I take that back. Each of us got two half an hour breaks and we could rest a bit when Sam or someone else was giving individual instruction, but we had to pay attention which took brain work."
Jacob nodded in agreement. "Yeah, but it's necessary. We're definitely ready for tomorrow."
I grimaced, still against them fighting.
He looked at me disapprovingly. "Oh, don't look like that, Bella. We gotta do what we gotta do."
"No, you don't 'gotta' do anything."
"Uh…yes, we do. It's our job to protect this place from vampires or anything harmful to our people. We're made for this, Bella. Besides, your bloodsuckers said themselves that this would be really difficult without our help."
"Well, it's too late to stop it now…" I mumbled and hung my head down, watching his feet as he continued going up the steep, rocky path. I quickly realized we were going up a mountain and it was gradually getting colder. "Could you stay out of the fight at least?" I lifted my head back up to look at him.
"No way!" Jacob exclaimed immediately.
I frowned. "Why not?"
"I spent two days training hours and hours for this. I am not letting all that time go to waste. Plus, I've been itching to kill a vampire for a while now. Tomorrow I get to go at ten of them and maybe more." He grinned, not making any effort to hide his excitement.
"Can't you think of anything other than fighting? How do you think I'll feel waiting wherever you're taking me and wondering if you got hurt or…killed?" The last word came out in a whimper.
Jacob glanced at my face and sighed. "Bella, I'll be fine. Like I said, I've been practicing, well, forced to practice non-stop."
"Yeah, but not on actual vampires."
"We've killed one before without practice. Again, we're made for this, it just comes naturally to us." He sighed. "Besides, I couldn't sit out even if I wanted to. Sam's calling the shots and he wants me out there. I'm part of the main offensive, right in the front row."
I cringed. Knowing that did not make things easier. "Well, you can tell Sam I have a serious problem with his plan."
He shrugged. "I could, but honestly I doubt Sam would care what you think."
I was silent for about a mile up. I was looking at his swift moving feet again, unable to keep the frown off my face.
"I'm sorry," Jacob said with a grimace. "That sounded way more harsh than I wanted it to. I understand that you're worried."
I sighed. "Does Sam hate me now?"
"What? No, he doesn't hate you. Why would you think that?"
"Well, he didn't want me around you guys during your practicing."
His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "I said we'd be busy, but I never said you couldn't come."
"Yeah, but Sam did."
"And how do you know that? I don't think you ever talked to him since…well, a while."
"Edward told me." I tapped my temple twice. "Mind reader."
"Damn leech," he muttered under his breath with a groan.
I frowned at him critically. "Jake…"
His face suddenly fell. I noticed he had slowed down a bit too, something obviously distracting him.
"I was kind of hoping you'd show up anyway," he sighed. "Like, not even call and ask, just show up. That way, you're already there and I wouldn't let Sam just kick you out of La Push. But he had to tell you."
"He was just informing me."
"Well, he's very selective about what he shares."
I tried to veer the subject away from Edward. "Why was Sam so against me being there while you practiced? Am I that much of a distraction?"
Jacob groaned. "He thinks so…"
"Sam let me watch you guys fight before though..." I frowned as the gloom hit me. "But I understand why. He's mad at me, right? He probably thinks I'm a traitor and that I'm going back to the vampires."
Jacob's face matched mine, staying silent; he definitely wasn't disagreeing. He looked off in thought, his head pointing in the direction where the trees completely cleared out and the forest below us could be seen, stretching out to the horizon.
"I'm not, by the way," I made clear. "I don't want anything to change and I'm not leaving anyone. But they can all be pissed at me for hurting you. That's a good enough reason alone." The frown didn't leave my face.
"I wanted to talk to you about that," he said softly.
I swallowed thickly and nodded. "Right…"
Jacob look off like he was thinking again, slowing his pace down even more, though still jogging at a fair speed that would normally tire an average person out after fifteen minutes or so.
"Well, from what I got at that party you loved so much," he began, smirking for a second before being serious again, "I thought you broke up with me, while you thought I broke up with you. So…who did what?"
"It sounds like neither of us did anything."
"So then, we're still together?"
"Depends…" I felt my heart beat faster. "Do you still want me?"
He looked me right in the eyes. "Do you still want me?"
I sighed and nodded. "Yes."
"And you don't want…him?"
I grimaced, suddenly feeling like there was extra weight on my chest. "It's not that I don't want him. I can't. I can't have the best of both worlds, I need to let go of something."
"Why let go of him and not me?"
"Because you're too important."
"I guess I can take that." He nodded slowly and frowned. "Bella, I'm sorry. When you said that you still loved him and…kissed him," he made a disgusted face at the last part, "I thought that was it. I just assumed you were going back to him. I've seen how much you pined over him before we got together. I thought unless you no longer loved him, I didn't stand a chance. When I went home and saw you weren't there, and then called the next day to hear you were with the Cullens, I thought I was done."
I winced, feeling that stab in my chest again from hurting him. "I'm sorry. Going to the Cullen house definitely wasn't my idea. I would've just stayed at home, lying in bed and feeling miserable, but Alice pretty much abducted me."
"Not that I'd ever want you to feel miserable, but at least you could've gotten my call if you stayed home." He groaned. "Parasite…"
I raised an eyebrow. "That parasite is also the reason why we're so prepared for the fight tomorrow."
"Right…" He shrugged, not having anything to counter that fact.
"As for not staying…" I paused for a moment to take a breath, the pain in my chest not going away, "I thought you didn't want me anymore. You were so angry when I told you what happened with Edward, and you told me to get away from you." I cringed at the memory.
His eyes widened. "Oh. Bella, no, I didn't mean it like that. Yes, I was angry, very angry. I was losing control of myself and I told you to get away from me because I didn't want you to get hurt when I phased. I didn't mean for good."
"Really? But it's understandable. How could you want a girl who loves someone else as well?"
"You're choosing me. That's good enough."
"Are you sure?"
He finally gave me a genuine smile after frowning so much. "Yes, I'm sure."
I smiled back softly, staring into his beautiful black eyes. Time started to feel meaningless again as our faces slowly moved toward each other. Our lips were only inches apart and I wasn't even sure if Jacob was still jogging at that point.
Jacob suddenly wrinkled his nose in disgust and pulled back. I looked at him surprised and a little offended.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I can smell him," he explained. "We're not far now."
I sighed in relief, glad it wasn't me.
Jacob picked up the pace, running at the same speed he started and breathing with every stride.
"We gotta hurry up and get you under shelter. Y'know, before that hits," Jacob said and looked up at the sky.
A thick wall of black cloud was racing in from the west, bringing darkness to the forest beneath it.
"Whoa," I muttered. "This is going to suck."
"No doubt about that, but it does bring good news. Originally, I was gonna stay with you until Seth arrived. However, with the storm, I might just stay overnight and be your personal heater. Then I'll be leaving in the morning." He grinned.
"That is good news," I agreed, smiling weakly. "But I wish you could stay longer. What if I get cold in the morning and during the fight too?"
"Then I guess Seth'll have to do."
"You don't mind me snuggling up with Seth?"
He smirked. "Not really, because he knows I can and will kick his ass if he tries anything."
"Not that we would. He's a good kid."
Jacob nodded and looked like he was about to say something, but a fierce, icy cold wind interrupted him, blowing through the trees around us. The sharp sound of wood cracking echoed off the mountain. I scowled at the unwelcome white specks that fluttered past us. Jacob was in a full sprint now, his arms tightening and pulling me closer as I curled more into his chest, needing his warmth.
Just a few minutes later, he darted around to the left side of the white, rocky mountain peak as a little tent came into view. I could see Edward pacing back and forth until Jacob's feet stomping against the rocks and twigs caught his attention.
"Bella!" Edward called, running over in a blur to meet us half way.
Jacob cringed at his arrival and kept me held securely to his chest, which didn't seem to bother Edward much.
"Excellent, that was much faster than I expected," Edward said very sincerely. "You should get her inside quickly, the storm is moving fast."
"Ya don't say…" Jacob responded sarcastically and glanced at the small tent in back of Edward. "Is that tent secure?"
Edward nodded. "Yes, I all but welded it to the ground."
Jacob looked up at the sky, now completely black as the storm caught up to us. He glanced at me and rushed for the tent, trying to beat the snow swirling down at us.
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay, but the next chapter should actually be out in a few days, before the end of the month. So look forward to that. :)
28. Why Are You Talking To Me?
"You can leave now," I said loudly and irritated. Obviously he wasn't getting the hints I was dropping.
"I think I'll stay a little longer," Edward said, trying to act all polite. "I don't want her to be left alone since Seth isn't here yet."
"Yeah, that's not necessary. I'm staying with her overnight."
He shrugged. "I'd still feel better making sure Seth gets here."
"You have got to be kidding me!" I growled.
"Jake, stop," Bella commanded from inside the tent, along with the shuffling of her sleeping bag as she got settled. "Edward can stay if he wants."
I groaned. "Well, shouldn't he be preparing with the other blo-" I cut myself off and took a deep breath, "With his family?"
"We'll be ready in the morning," Edward explained. "For now, I'm pretty much free."
I muttered curses under my breath. Wasn't the reason he needed to leave obvious? I haven't been able to spend some alone time with Bella in days. I thought that this could be it. Just me and her, until Seth arrived at least, but I knew he'd give us some privacy. But now I had to deal with the leech too? I was hoping Bella could see why he had to go without saying it out loud, but she actually wants him to stay? As happy as I was that Bella seemed to be picking me over him, it still irked the hell out of me that she still had feelings for him. If she didn't, it probably wouldn't be so hard for her to tell him to get the hell out of here.
"Speaking of Seth, could you check to see where he is right now?" Edward asked, apparently hearing my thoughts.
"Are you giving me orders?" I growled.
He kept his tone polite. "I'm just asking."
I had to admit, it was a good idea. I turned away from him without a word and walked into the dark trees, slightly blurred from the flurry of snow coming down. I changed out of my parka and jean shorts quickly, watching as the snowflakes instantly melted once they touched my skin. I smirked, feeling especially glad and impressed that my body could stand a snow storm like this, but I needed to be hotter if I wanted to become a wolf.
I focused on the heat and let it over take me as I phased, furry and standing on all fours now.
Hey, I called out. Is anyone there?
Jake, good to hear from you, Sam answered. Did everything go well?
Yeah, I carried Bella up to the mountains and the bloodsucker set up a tent for her.
Good. Now stay with her until Seth arrives, and then come back.
Actually, I was hoping I could stay with her overnight and meet you guys at the clearing in the morning. Is that okay?
Hmm… It didn't take him long to think about it. That should be fine, as long as you actually show up.
Come on, Sam. There's no way I'm missing this.
Hey guys, I'm ready! Seth suddenly came in, his thoughts cheerful and full of excitement.
Jeez, calm down, I coughed a chuckle.
Seth laughed too, but turned silent in concentration as I showed him where I was and the route I took to get there.
Ya got that? I asked.
Got it, Seth confirmed. I'm on my way.
I could see Seth dart into the trees from the backyard of his house. I hoped he'd get here quick. The sooner he arrived, the sooner Edward would leave.
The leech's still there? Sam asked.
I groaned. Yeah.
The hell if I know, I sighed. I think he just thrives on annoying me.
Watch yourself, Jacob.
Yeah, I know.
Sam's thoughts went completely quiet and I knew he phased out. It was just me and Seth now, his mind focused on getting to his destination. Everyone else must've been resting up for the fight tomorrow. We all knew when the vampires were coming, so there was no sense in wasting time with our usual nighttime patrols.
I turned to walk back toward the tent as the barrage of snowflakes incredibly got even thicker. They came down in such huge clumps that they managed to stick to my fur for a few seconds before melting and being replaced with even more snow. I had to shake the snow off occasionally if I didn't want to end up a snowman; or snowwolf.
Edward was still there, standing in the exact spot he was before. I decided to stay a wolf so I could keep an eye on Seth's progress and maybe it would discourage the leech from getting any closer. If he was gonna stay, he'd better stay far away. Unfortunately, my wolf form didn't seem to bother him much at all.
He suddenly turned his head toward me and looked me straight in the eye, triggering my instinct to growl back defensively.
"Jacob, I wanted to talk to you," he announced. "Follow me."
I didn't move. Whatever he had to say, I did not want to hear it.
He started walking away from the tent by about twelve yards and turned around to see I wasn't following him. The bloodsucker just smirked and shrugged.
"I'm sure you can still hear me, so that's fine," he said.
I grumbled and was thinking of just walking away, far away enough where he couldn't bother me, but there was no way I'd leave Bella in a tent alone; especially not with him around.
I turned my whole body toward him, hoping that whatever it was he had to say, he'd make it quick.
"I'm not going to ask for your forgiveness, Jacob, but I apologize," Edward said quickly, like he was in a hurry for some reason.
I looked at him suspiciously. Apologize for what?
"For everything I've done to inconvenience you and Bella."
Inconvenience, I grumbled. Sure, that's one way of putting it.
"I've made mistakes, and I've learned from them. I promise I won't make them again."
And why the hell should I believe that? You've already broken your share of promises.
What was I doing? I didn't want to talk to him, and yet I didn't have much of a choice now. I could still hear him loud and clear even though he was too far away for a normal person to hear with him speaking in such a low voice. And since I decided to stay a wolf, I couldn't give him the silent treatment either. I could just phase back into my human form, but I was admittedly curious how he was going to explain himself.
Edward sighed. "I know, and I'm sorry about that, but this time I truly mean it."
Is that seriously the best you can do? I grunted.
"Would you like me to say more?"
Yes, please enlighten me on why I should trust you now when you didn't deserve it before. Why did you even come back if you left to 'protect' Bella?
"Because she was in danger, for one," he immediately began, like he was in a hurry again. "I received a call from Rosalie that Bella had jumped from a cliff and drowned. In that moment, I felt my whole world fall apart. I didn't want to accept it though, so I called Bella's house to make sure. When I heard her voice, I felt relief unlike anything before, but I was also enraged at Rosalie. If Alice hadn't arrived to where Rose was staying before I did, I might have torn her apart."
I've got no problem with that, I thought to myself.
He ignored the comment and continued. "Alice explained to me that she told Rosalie about her false vision and Alice had just found out Bella was still alive when she went back to Forks. She told me the reason was because of werewolves and also that Victoria was pursuing Bella. I thought that if Bella wasn't dead, she would be soon if I didn't hurry and go back to her."
I nodded. Okay. Now how about when you actually came back? You said you'd just be there for support in catching the redhead. You promised to stay away from Bella. What happened there?
"I was watching Bella during school. The whole time, she would always look behind herself or around the corner for any sign of me or Alice. It really stung seeing her so hurt and avoiding her became increasingly more difficult."
Couldn't you just ignore it and think of something else?
I saw him raise an eyebrow. "Jacob, put yourself in my situation. If you upset Bella and had to see her like that every day, could you honestly just ignore it?"
I winced. For a moment, the image of Bella's face when I told her I couldn't be friends with her anymore flashed in my head. Seeing that heartbroken expression just once was enough for me to bend the rules and find a way for us to be together again.
"See what I mean?" Edward said with a slight smirk.
Just keep going, I groaned.
He nodded and continued. "When Alice started being around Bella again, I feared that it might set you off. I was afraid you'd attack her and it would break the treaty. I was even afraid that you might hurt Bella."
I growled. I would never…
"Yes, I know that now. You were much more controlled than I gave you credit for. I must commend you for that."
It annoyed me how much he underestimated us, but I couldn't be too mad. I was honestly surprised Bella could be around the Cullens for so long without getting bit.
"So, once I knew you were controlled enough, I decided to be a friend to her again," he explained.
I growled. A friend, huh? Well there goes another lie right there. If you just wanted to protect her and be her friend, then why the hell did you kiss her? I was just letting off steam at this point. I spent the whole weekend thinking I lost her to you and the rest of this week completely unsure of where we stood. Everything I was afraid would happen, happened. You came back, you wouldn't stay away from her, and you tried to steal her away. Worst of all, you wouldn't have just taken her away from me, but her entire life by changing her into a bloodsucking monster like you.
"I would never do that," he defended.
"I'm serious, Jacob. That's the last thing I want for her. I want her to live a long, fulfilling life just as much as you do."
You're not making any sense. If that's true, then why go after her?
He sighed. "When Bella was around me, I could tell she still had feelings for me. She would gravitate to me and look at me with the same eyes I remembered when we were together. I thought that deep down she still loved me and wanted me, but was staying with you because she felt obligated to. After all, you were there for her when I wasn't, it makes perfect sense."
My muzzle pulled back to show the sharp teeth they covered. I snarled and felt the sudden urge to rip his head off. I heard Seth echoing my aggressive sounds as he continued making his way toward us. I'd almost forgotten I was still connected to him and he could hear just about everything I could.
This leech seriously thought Bella stayed with me because she felt obligated? Just the idea of it made me shake with anger.
"Easy, Jacob," he warned. "I was wrong and I'm getting to that part."
You'd better be…
"I thought she still loved me much more than you, but was trying to hold herself back for your sake. If I could get her to see that, then I believed she'd choose the one that would make her happiest; which, I thought, was me at the time."
You know what you are, right? Do you really think that's what's best for her?
He shook his head. "No. In many ways, you are much better suited for her than I. However, I didn't want her to have any regrets. I love her and I want her to be as happy as possible, and if that was with me, then so be it."
Oh, please, I scoffed. You just wanted her for yourself. Tell the truth.
"Jacob, if that were true, I'd probably be in that tent right now."
I growled and I heard Seth growl with me once again.
Like I'd let that happen, I thought.
He shrugged. "Anyway, I was right that she still loved me, but wrong that it meant she'd choose me. Instead it just made a big mess."
You got that right…
"I was really surprised that she still wanted you. The two of you had been together for only two months, I didn't think the love you had could be so strong. But it was. When I realized that, I had no further questions. If you're what she wants, then that's fine."
I was still really suspicious of him. It was hard to believe that he'd let her go so easily if he really loved her as much as he claimed.
"Sometimes, if you really love someone, you'll let them go," he said.
I groaned, but I had to agree. As much as it would hurt like hell, I knew that I'd let Bella go if she could really be happier with someone else; just as long as it wasn't a vampire.
"I can understand that," he said.
My mind was quiet for a moment, watching Seth continue his trek up the mountain. He was pretty close now, which meant Edward would leave. But, even though I hated myself for it, I didn't want him to go just yet. I had more questions.
Lemme ask you something, I thought to him. If you weren't going to change Bella into a vampire, then how would it have worked?
"Just like any other couple," he explained. "We'd be together for as long as she lived."
But that's the thing. Bella's so freaked out about aging. She'll grow older and you'll stay the same. She'd hate that.
He nodded. "You're probably right. That can't really be helped."
I don't age either right now, but I can if I can just figure it out. I wasn't really trying to tell him that, but I thought it anyway.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
I mean, if I can learn how to stop phasing, then I'll age again. That way, Bella won't be alone. We can grow old together.
"Another reason why you're much more suited for her."
My eyes widened in surprise for a split second. Um…thanks?
I grunted and turned my head away. I didn't want to be friendly with this guy at all.
That's not the only reason, y'know. There are a few other things I can do with her that I know you can't. Well, not without killing her at least, I jeered, my mouth pulled back to show my teeth, not aggressively, but as a grin.
He glared back at me. For the first time, he actually looked pretty annoyed.
"I know," he groaned.
So, what about that, huh? If Bella did pick you, and you didn't change her, how would the whole sexual thing work?
"I don't know. I would love Bella with all my heart, but sex would be far too dangerous."
I nodded. Right. Not sure if Bella could handle a sexless life style.
I wasn't trying to, but I started thinking about the times Bella and I tried 'going there'. Even though we kept getting interrupted, each moment was still pretty special. I felt more connected to her than ever before. She was beautiful beyond words and her breasts felt amazing. So soft, like the perfect pillow. And I knew I wasn't the only one into it. The way Bella stared at me in the forest when I was naked like a total horn dog told me she definitely couldn't handle no sex at all.
Wow… Seth thought in admiration, watching the images of Bella I was accidentally projecting into his mind.
I shook my head. Watch it, Clearwater. She's mine.
I know, I know…
I glanced at Edward and the expression on his face was what I could only describe as awe and disgust somehow mixed into one. I laughed hard, which came out as a coughing bark. Edward rolled his eyes.
Sorry, I thought in false sympathy. Just saying, I've got you beat there.
"Perhaps…" he muttered and then went quiet for a moment, his lips pursed in thought. "Although, a lot can be done with someone's fingers. I suppose if Bella was okay with that, then it might-"
Shut up! I cut him off with a growl. Shut the hell up! I do not want to picture that crap.
"How do you think I feel? You paint a very vivid picture which I'm forced to look at."
I grumbled. No one told you to. Stay out of my head.
"Easier said than done. Your thoughts are pretty loud; it's like your shouting them at me."
Well, if you have nothing else to say, I'll try to keep it down. Seth's almost here anyway.
Seth was just a mile away. I could see him taking the same path, weaving through the trees completely blanketed in snow. He was moving too fast for the icy flakes to pile up on him and it suddenly reminded me I hadn't been moving in a while. I looked at my fur to see that I was now a white wolf like the ones you see in the Canadian arctic. I groaned and shook the snow off, bringing my russet-brown fur back into sight.
Edward wasn't saying anything so I assumed he was done. I turned toward the tent and was about to pull back on my hind legs and phase. I would have phased right then and there if I hadn't stopped to wonder if I cared that a vampire would see me naked.
"Jacob, I do have one more thing to add," Edward announced.
Just as he spoke, Seth emerged from the pitched black trees, standing on a rocky ledge just behind Bella's tent as the thick curtain of snow finally got a chance to drape over him.
Sorry, looks like your time's up, I thought to Edward, keeping my eyes on the tent.
"It's just one thing, a closing remark," he insisted.
I groaned. Whatever…
"Thank you," he said and took a few steps closer before talking again. "I know about imprinting, Jacob."
I suddenly froze, and it definitely wasn't from the snow. That word still hit a nerve in me. A reflexive growl resonated from my chest. How the hell did he know about imprinting anyway?
"You don't exactly keep your thoughts private," he said, answering my question.
Like I have a choice, I grumbled. What about imprinting?
"I'm not going to lie to you, Jacob. I will leave you and Bella alone as far as your relationship goes. If she wants you and she's happy with you, then I'll stay out of it. However, I will be waiting in the wings. If the day comes where you imprint and leave her, I'll be there for her."
Seth began echoing my growl, glaring at Edward. It's not like I didn't expect this from him, but it still pissed me off. Why couldn't he just find some other bloodsucker and leave Bella alone?
"I've lived for over a hundred years and never found my perfect match until I met Bella," he said in a somber tone. "I had the perfect girl and I messed it up. I'll never find anyone like her again, so the best I can do is wait and hope. I'm just being honest."
Well, you don't have to worry about that, bloodsucker, I thought to him smugly. I know I'm not gonna imprint.
His eyes widened in surprise. "Really? I thought imprinting was unpredictable. How do you know this?"
Your psychic sister, I explained. She said something about looking into Bella's future and not being able to see anything. Apparently she can't see me, and because Bella's future revolves around me, she can't see Bella either. If I was gonna imprint, she'd be able to see Bella then, right?
"Um…" he muttered, and I did not like the sound of it. "It doesn't quite work like that, Jacob."
My eyes narrowed at him. What do you mean?
"Alice can see futures based on people's decisions," he explained. "Bella's chosen to be with you, so Alice will see…well, not see her future with you. If anything unexpected were to happen, she wouldn't catch it. From my understanding of imprinting, I'm pretty sure it goes under the category of something unexpected."
I made a huge nervous gulp. My heart was suddenly beating much faster.
So…if I did imprint, then Alice would see Bella again? I asked.
He nodded. "Exactly. From there, Alice would be able to see Bella's future based on her current situation.
Then…I could still imprint?
"Sounds like it, yes."
Leave it to this guy to bring the bad news. I really hoped he was lying. Maybe he was just saying this to make me worry and consider giving Bella up. Well it wasn't going to work.
"I'm not lying, Jacob. Really," he assured.
Even if you aren't, this doesn't change anything, I growled. I'm not going to worry about it anymore.
I clenched my teeth, feeling really annoyed. Did he want me to worry? I wasn't going to fall for his mind games.
"I'm just curious."
I groaned. Because, I don't want to live in fear, especially fear of something that might never even happen. Imprinting is supposed to be rare after all. According to our legends, Taha Aki, the very first werewolf, lived three lifetimes and never imprinted.
Seth started going over the stories told at the bonfire in his head. He remembered just about every detail, even more than me.
"It was different back then though, right?" Edward asked. "There were fewer werewolves in a pack than there is today, and from what I've read through your connected minds, three werewolves have already imprinted."
Yes, that's true, I sighed, but I tried not to let it get to me. I did not want to go back in that state of fear and uncertainty again. I still don't care though.
"Do you care about what imprinting means? Your imprint is supposed to be your perfect match, the one person that's made for you in every way. But apparently that's not Bella. Doesn't that bother you?"
Shut the hell up! I snarled. He really was trying to fill my head with doubts.
"I'm just trying to understand."
Well then, understand this. I don't believe any of that crap, so it doesn't bother me one bit. Imprinting is just Cupid messing with people in my eyes. You meet some random girl on the street and suddenly she means the world to you. How the hell is that true love?
Right, Seth agreed in the back of his mind.
"Yes, but love does work in different ways," Edward commented.
Really now? I challenged. Say you've got the love between two people who've known each other for months or even years, sticking by each other through good times and bad, and learning more and more together with every passing day. Then the guy suddenly finds his imprint and throws all of that away for this girl he just met and probably doesn't even know her damn name yet. Are you really going to say that that's true love and the 'right' way for us?
Seth winced and images of Leah sulking in her bedroom with the lights off appeared in my mind. The whole Sam, Emily, and Leah situation was definitely a prime example of what I was talking about.
I personally think the whole thing is messed up, I continued, and at this point I realized I was just venting. Someone could justify imprinting by saying it's what will make werewolves happy, happier than they could ever be before. But it's not real happiness; it's our genes forcing us to be happy. If some werewolf naturally built up a strong relationship with someone, strong enough to start a family with, then imprinted and left his family behind; how could he possibly feel happy about that? The magic of imprinting just makes him not care because he's way too happy with the new girl he just met.
The whole topic was really making me angry. Just thinking about how screwed up imprinting could be made me shake. Sure, it could be pretty convenient for someone who wasn't too good with the ladies, but that's about it. In Jared's case, there was nothing wrong with how he imprinted. He was just a single boy who met a single girl and now they're together forever. But the fact that imprinting was so unconditionally forced made it seem so much more like a curse in my eyes.
Not a day went by without Leah constantly reminding Sam what a jerk he was for leaving her. Leah was left with a heart broken in two, but Sam was far too busy chasing after Emily to care. I always felt like if the old Sam was looking down on his new imprinted self, he'd regret what he became. He wasn't a bad person by any means, but from what I've seen through Leah's eyes of how he used to be, he'd never abandon anyone.
"Jacob," Edward called out, his voice filled with worry. "Do you really think a werewolf would abandon his entire family if he imprinted later in life?"
I shrugged. It's possible. Imprinting is ridiculously strong.
He froze for a moment, his expression surprisingly tormented. I wondered what I said to upset him so much.
"Then I truly, truly hope you don't imprint," he murmured.
Edward turned away and without another word disappeared into the black trees headed down the mountain. So sudden, not even a goodbye.
I was left confused for a moment on why he suddenly didn't want me to imprint. Wouldn't that be what he wanted? But it started to make sense when I remembered him going on about making Bella happy. Seeing her upset was apparently like poison to him. That's when I realized where he was coming from. I could possibly break Bella's heart more than Edward ever could, and not just her, but maybe even our future kids.
The sound of teeth chattering came from the tent behind me. Although this snow was no big deal for me, I knew the low temperature would really bother Bella. I wasn't sure if she'd been freezing the entire time or just now started getting cold, but either way I needed to go to her. I finally could, now that Edward was gone.
I pulled back on my hind legs and quickly changed back to the much less hairy me. I put my jean shorts back on and left the thick parka I brought in the snow. I didn't need it after all and it was frozen anyway. Seth stayed as he was while I walked over to Bella's tent, unzipping the entrance.
Author's Note: Well that wasn't a few days, was it...? :/ Well I'm back in college now and I'm actually not going to set anymore specific release dates for chapters. Instead, my goal is to finish Solar Flare before Breaking Dawn Part 2 comes out, so I'll be releasing as many chapters as I can to get it done in time. HOWEVER, this doesn't mean Solar Flare is over. I have some great ideas for it so there'll probably be a part 2 as long as I can keep writing. I hope everyone who kept reading will continue to read even when part 1 ends. Thank you.