October 27th, 2008
"It's not fair! I hate my life, and I hate all of you for doing this to me! I will never, ever forgive you for taking away my one chance at childhood!"
Seriously, was this kid actually just two years old? I guess by "all of you" she didn't mean me or Leah because she came stomping right to us and took our hands in each of hers.
"Jacob, please take me away from here," she demanded.
"Renesmee, you will not speak to your family that way! You know we are only doing this to protect you." Man, his tune just never changed. "I insist you come here right now, or I will have to make you come back!" I would have thought getting some - finally - after a hundred years would have loosened him up, but he was still the same over-protective tight-ass he was a year and a half ago. Of course, his daughter didn't give a shit what he said. She didn't even turn to look at him when he shouted at her. "Renesmee, you will look at me when I speak to you. I am you father!"
"Edward, please calm down." I hated her voice. It sounded okay to me the first few months, but now it just kept reminding me that she wasn't the same anymore.
She seemed less like the girl I remembered with each passing day. I tried to keep my face from flinching and my thoughts from straying as she put her hand on Edward's arm. She stroked it gently while shushing him. He relaxed, but of course, that gave him time to take in what was going on behind the scenes. He glared at me for a split second. He knew he didn't have to look longer than that for me to know. It had been our shitty little secret for over a year and a half.
"Look, why don't we just take her to our place for a few hours, so she can calm down?" Leah's idea was probably good, but she really needed to work on her delivery. Her voice just screamed you guys are assholes and bad parentswhenever she spoke to them. At least she had finally decided she liked the kid - a lot. "We brought Jake's Suburban, and we'll go straight into the garage so no-one will see us. Bella, you can pick her up in a few hours, right?"
As much as they all hated her, for some reason no-one ever disagreed with her. It took some nerve to intimidate this crowd, but leave it to Leah Clearwater to be the one to do it. Even I couldn't do it, and trust me, I tried. How was it possible that she came from the same genetic pool as Seth?
Rosalie sneered and turned her back on us. Alice and Jasper took the easy way out and quietly left the room while Edward just stood there fuming. Bella was the one to finally speak. It was always Bella who spoke to us. Okay, once in a while Miss. Crystal Ball and the 'grandparents' talked to me if Leah wasn't there, but that was it.
"Thank you, Leah. That's very nice of you to offer but..." She was always so damn polite and calm now. She never sounded pissed off or pouty anymore. It was like she was void of emotion.
"Mom, I'm going!"
I hope I never have a daughter like her. That was just asking for an escort on every single fucking date. Who was I kidding? With the direction my life was taking me, I'd end up with a kid exactly like her.
"Oh, well perhaps the change of scenery may be a good idea... Shall I pick you up for dinner?" Yeah, way to stand your ground there, Mom. I couldn't remember when she started to speak like that. It was one thing to constantly read all those damn novels, but completely another to sound like you were living inside one. I blamed it on the Cullens. Other than the big guy, none of them really lived in the twenty-first century.
"None of you even eat. I'd rather have dinner at Jake and Leah's. At least then I'd have some company instead of all of you staring at me chew. You can pick me up just before bedtime." Before Bella could answer, Nessie started walking out the front door. I shrugged apologetically and ran after her. Leah didn't even acknowledge any of them. She just grabbed Nessie's hand and led the way.
According to Carlisle, Nessie was supposed to be equivalent to a six or seven year old. She looked a year older than that, but still, not too far off. Physically, she grew fast, but that was nothing compared to how quickly she matured. Her intellect, behaviour and social maturity were about the same as a 'tween's - you know, maybe eleven or twelve. I guess for a girl it could happen at ten. Anyhow, I knew that was the right stage for this behavior because it wasn't all that long ago when I was a 'tween.
As much as she pissed her family off, her rebellious and stubborn nature never bothered me. Of course, that's probably because she never got upset with me - or Leah for that matter. I couldn't quite remember when everything changed with Ness. It started around the same time she wanted to eat more like a human. One day she just got out of bed and decided she didn't want to go hunting anymore. Coincidentally, it happened the day after Leah made an exceptionally bad and disgusting remark about the Cullens' diet, both past and present. She ate regular food almost exclusively now. On occasion, she'd have some steak tartar, but that was it.
Edward was happy about it at first because he missed cooking for Bella, and it made Renesmee more human to him. However, he didn't stay happy long because she hated eating by herself with all of them hovering. She called and begged me or Leah to come over and eat with her all the time. I've actually skipped lectures to sit and eat fruit loops with her. Edward hated that, and I knew it hurt Bella's feelings, but I couldn't get myself to care. Bella had made her bed, more than any of them. She had damn well be willing to lay in it and smile.
It took us a while to get to our place. The Cullens lived way out in the country. It was the only way they could ensure Nessie would be able to get out once in a while without being seen. Since she came along, their lives had changed. They lived secluded from society more than ever. Nessie had to be kept out of sight until she was fully mature because they couldn't risk having anyone see her more than once. Sometimes, if I went more than three days without seeing her, I could notice a difference that I was sure even a normal human would detect. It was the reason why she didn't go to school, have real friends, or went anywhere outside their property or our house.
Once we got to our place I drove into our attached garage and closed the door before getting out of the car. We all went in through the mudroom so the neighbours wouldn't see Nessie. She was the reason why I had the windows tinted as dark as I could in my truck.
"I hate them all! I only get four years to be a kid and they won't even let me experience childhood!" She stomped her way into our kitchen and plopped herself down on a bar stool at the island. "Can you believe he offered to buy me candy? As if that's even close to going trick or treating. I know it was a long time ago, but doesn't he rememberanything about being a kid?"
"Listen squirt, I doubt your old man was ever a kid," Leah answered as she sauntered in and sat next to Nessie.
I sighed as she got comfortable, resting her feet on the third stool. That meant she wasn't going to cook today. I swear, living with Leah was turning me into a total lame-ass. She had this chip on her shoulder about becoming a submissive little woman in our household - as if that were even possible - so she fixed leaking faucets and took out the garbage, but she wouldn't cook unless she was about to faint from hunger. "We can at least make a costume. That's something, right?"
As they talked, I rummaged through the refrigerator to see what we had. I was in luck! Leah had done some grocery shopping, so we had a fresh, trimmed rib roast. I looked at my watch. The roast was about eight pounds, but dinner would have to be in about two and a half hours if Nessie was going to get home for her usual bedtime. It wasn't much time.
I shrugged, took the roast out and started pre-heating the oven. Leah and I could eat just about anything, and Nessie liked her meat red and bleeding anyway. I decided to cook it at high heat so the outside slices wouldn't moo when I cut into it. I prepped some carrots, washed a few new potatoes and set them aside to put into the oven later. Well, there you go, dinner. That was easy enough.
"What's the point in dressing up if you're not going to go anywhere? That's the type of pathetic thing Rosalie and Alice always do." Nessie sounded like she was disgusted with her "aunts". Was it my imagination, or was this more than just pre-teen angst?
"I'll throw you a party. We'll bob for apples, have disgusting foamy green punch, a costume contest, and so much candy you'll turn green." I looked at Leah with my eyebrows raised. She had better not be thinking I was going to do all the work for her damn "party".
"What, with just the three of us? Leah, that's not a party," Nessie pouted.
"Who said it would just be the three of us?" Leah tossed out casually.
"Well, I don't want them here. Halloween is about candy and stuff. I only want people who eat food at this party." She crossed her arms over her chest and stuck out her lower lip.
"We've got four days until Halloween. I'll call La Push and get some of the guys to come. You want people who eat food? I'll get you people who'll eat us out of house and home. Here, why don't we call them now?" Leah walked over and got the handset for the phone, brought it back and dialed. She didn't bother putting it on speaker - we could all hear everything.
It rang five times before Seth finally answered. "Hello?"
"Hey, we need you to come over for a Halloween party and bring a few of the guys. Not Paul."
"Hello to you too, dear sister. Don't you think this is a little last minute? Halloween is in four days and you live like five thousand miles away."
"It's not five thousand miles, and what else do you have planned?" Silence. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I'll courier over plane tickets, first class so you can all stretch your legs. You'll have to skip school that day, but I'll have you back before Monday. Bring Embry, Quil, Collin and Brady."
"Seriously? How do you think I'm going to be able to get them all to go?"
"Give me a break. Who's going to say no? They get to cut class for a day, fly out first class to our beautiful city, eat shitloads of premium food and not pay for a single thing. They'll say yes, and if they don't you tell me who's giving you trouble, and I'll call them myself."
"Fine, but you have to tell Mom why I'm taking off to Duluth on a school day."
"Seth, you're such an idiot. Don't tell Mom. I'll send a note with Mom's signature for school. Tell her you're staying over at some friend's place over the weekend because of Halloween. At least it's on a Friday this year. You'll be home Sunday afternoon. Oh yeah, all of you have to bring a costume. You tell them to make sure they have good costumes or else they'll have to wear the ones I have on reserve. And those will not..."
"Yeah, yeah. You don't need to elaborate. I get it, embarrassing costumes on reserve. What about Sam? What do we tell him?"
"Tell him I'm forcing you, and I told you he has to talk to me directly if he has issues."
"Ooo-kay. Send the tickets over to Sam's. The rest of us live with our parents. I'll call everyone right now." Click. She always got her way, except when it came to the one person that had meant the most to her.
"There, done! Now, what do you want to dress up as?" Nessie was beaming and jumping up and down on her bottom. Suddenly, she flung her arms around Leah's neck.
"I love you so much Leah! This is going to be great! Can we get coordinating costumes for all three of us?" Leah sneered as she peered over at me. I cringed and mouthed, your problem. Shit, it wouldn't be long before this kid made me as pathetic as Quil. At least she wasn't all girly and into princess crap.
Four Days Later - Halloween, 2008
How did I get stuck here alone with her? Wasn't Nessie my imprint? I should have been the one to go with her to pick up the guys.
Why was it that Leah always found a way to get all the fun jobs while I got stuck doing shit like this? Setting up for a party was supposed to be a girl job for Christ's sake! Of course, that's exactly the reason why she stuck me with it.
I think it had been over a year since the Bella and I had been alone for more than ten seconds, and the silence was deafening. Shit, I hated that. We used to never have this uncomfortable silence between us. It was yet another piece of evidence that it wasn't her anymore. If only I could get myself to truly believe that...
"So, what time is their flight scheduled to get in?" She bit her lower lip nervously. Damn, why did she have to do that? I almost convinced myself the girl I knew was dead and this was something else completely, then she had to go off and do that!
"It's supposed to land at twelve-thirty or thereabouts. They'll be pretty pissed when they get in because they had to leave around three in the morning to get to Seattle in time." More silence. "How come you were allowed to attend?" She got this hurt look on her face, but it passed quickly. So, she wasn't completely the Ice Queen I thought she'd turned into. I couldn't decide if that was that good or bad.
"Was I not invited?"
"Oh, no, of course. I'm happy you're here. I just thought Ness didn't want...well, you know." How do you tell someone their own kid didn't want them around?
"Edward insisted someone had to accompany her, and I volunteered." What the hell did he think was going to happen to her? There were going to be seven werewolves here, not to mention Nessie was no slouch herself. A group of Navy Seals couldn't get past us.
"So, what are all of you dressing up as? Edward couldn't get it out of Renesmee, which is very odd."
"That's because Ness doesn't know. Leah planned it all, and she didn't tell her. I'm not supposed to tell you because it's a surprise. The only reason I know is because I helped." She just nodded and looked away. "Are you dressing up?"
"Oh, I hadn't thought about that. I...I guess I just saw myself as a chaperone, not a participant." Of course that's what she thought. We never saw each other as together anymore. It was always them and us, ever since that Valentine's Day.
"I'm sorry about all the money Leah's going through," I said, to change the topic to someone other than the two of us. "Ever since she decided she's not too big to take your money, it's been impossible to rein her in." Bella just shrugged and waved a hand nonchalantly.
"Don't worry, no one's noticed. You should see how much Alice and Rosalie spend. They spend more on underwear than the two of you spend in a month. Besides, it makes Carlisle and Esme so happy to know that you and Leah are finally able to live your lives. They've always felt bad about the sacrifices you've made for us, and for having to leave your families in La Push." I shrugged thinking about what my life was like back then. It seemed so far away.
"No one forced us to do anything. You can tell them 'thanks'- again. Things are really good for us now."
It was true, mostly. In the beginning I hated it. Back in January of last year - just before the move - they insisted I had to be home-schooled, so I'd be ready for college that September. At first, they were going to get Rosalie and Edward to tutor me, but all three of us refused. Eventually, Carlisle ended up being my teacher, and it worked out really well. He was a good guy, for a bloodsucker. He got me up to speed in no time and Jasper got a fake birth certificate, driver's license and school records for me. Right now, Leah and I lived in a nice little house, and we both went to Swenson College at the University of Minnesota located here in Duluth. It was a pretty good life, for the most part.
"Yes, of course. I hope you know Edward is also grateful for everything you and Leah have done for our family, even if he hasn't been acting appreciative of late." That was an understatement if I ever heard one. "We wouldn't have Renesmee if it weren't for you."
"Sure, sure." What else was I supposed to say? Why was it so fucking hard to keep the conversation flowing? And why was it so damn uncomfortable when it was quiet? What happened to us?
"How are things with you and Renesmee these days?" What was she really asking me?
"They're...good?" I looked at her quizzically.
"Do your feelings change as she changes? I mean the imprint..." Oh, we were back to that again. Was she ever going to drop the whole imprint thing? It still bothered me that some hocus-pocus crap decided who I was going to live for, even if I did love Nessie. I tried not to think about the reason why, and just focus on how much Nessie meant to me. If I thought too much about the why, it always drifted to what should have been.
"She's like a little sister to me right now. Like my favorite sister, more than Rachel and Becca ever were - which makes me feel badly sometimes."
"How about everything else? Do you miss Billy, the pack, La Push?"
"Yeah, of course I miss them, now."
"Now?" Shit, I hadn't realized I said that last word out loud. I sighed before answering.
"At first, it was just Nessie, and I didn't care about anything, or anyone else but after a few months things just sort of found their place in my world again."
"I don't understand. Are you telling me that in the beginning you didn't care about them at all?" She looked shocked, almost disgusted. She had some nerve to be disgusted with me.
"I wouldn't say I didn't care. It was more like I forgot. It was like that with Sam too, at first, but then he accepted his responsibilities and the pack became almost as important. It's not all that different from when people first start dating..."
Suddenly she got this horrified look on her face. Shit, not again. How many times did I have to explain this before she understood? For Christ's sake, her husband could read my mind, and she still needed reassurance that I wasn't a pervert.
"I'm not talking about me dating, so stop getting your shorts in a knot. As I was saying, it's like when people first start dating, and they can't get enough of each other."
"Yes, I remember those first few months after Edward and I got married." She smiled, looking off into the distance thinking about something that I knew I didn't want to know. If she were the same girl she would have blushed, but she couldn't.
Crap. Now it was my turn. I could feel a weight the size of Mount Everest falling in my stomach. I put forth every ounce of energy I had in me to look happy.
"Yeah, like that. Well, after that initial excitement ends, you still love the other person, probably even more, but all the other things in life begin to come back into focus again. You know, friends, school, family, that sort of thing."
She nodded, smiled, and then her mouth started to turn down in the corners.
"Oh." Now what was she getting all hung up about?
"So... all the things that used to be important before the imprinting, 'friends, school, family, that sort of thing' they all came back? Everything?"
What the hell was she getting at?
"Ye-es?" I replied, as I looked at her in confusion.
"How's Leah these days? Is she still bitter about Sam and Emily?"
What the...was she changing the topic or was this related? I started to feel uneasy.
"Sam and Emily aren't exactly Leah's BFF's, but I think she's gotten past it. She's really enjoying life now. She likes school, she's made new friends and she really loves Nessie. Why do you ask?"
She just shrugged and bit her lower lip again.
"Okay, spit it out. What do you really want to know?"
"How does Sam feel about Leah?"
"I'm not in his head anymore, remember?"
"Well, back when you were, how did he feel about her?" I was getting a bad feeling about this...
"He felt awful about what he did to her."
"No, I already knew that. I want to know how he felt about her."
"He still cared for her. It's not like he forgot everything that happened before Emily." As soon as I said the words, I realized where she was going with this, and I didn't like it. That's when I noticed I was biting my lower lip now.
"Just cared for her? That day - just before the newborn battle - when you carried me up to the campsite, you said something. You said, 'it's possible to love more than one person at a time' and that you'd 'seen it in action', do you remember?" I nodded, surprised she remembered it verbatim like that.
"You were talking about Leah, Sam and Emily, right?" I nodded again.
"So Sam still loved Leah, even then." It wasn't a question, but I nodded anyway because I couldn't speak. I knew what she was asking me, and I didn't want to talk about it. I couldn't talk about it, not with her, not with anyone, not even myself. It was too much. I could feel my heart ripping apart like it had over two years ago. For a long time, it had faded to just a dull, forgotten ache, but now it was back full force.
"Don't what, Jacob?"
"Don't ruin this. I told you, things are good now."
"Are they really? Then why are we like this? We were best friends, once. You're still blaming me, aren't you?" she looked at me for an answer, but I wouldn't meet her gaze. "I don't believe you. Sam had Emily, but he still felt torn. You don't even have that." I turned to her and glared furiously.
"I love Nessie! Don't you ever question how I feel about her!"
"She's not your other half, not yet anyway. She fills a different role for you. You said it yourself. She's like your favorite sister. That void that made you so angry and bitter hasn't been filled. You're not really happy, are you Jake?"
"Don't be so high on yourself. You're not that great. You're not even the same person anymore. That part of me will be empty forever now, because of you!" I saw her flinch, and immediately her gaze went down to her feet as she wrung her hands nervously.
"Until Nessie gets older," she whispered.
She looked up at me, surprised, when I said that. I was shocked too. It had spilled out of my mouth before she had finished talking. All of this had been repressed for so long. I never allowed myself to think about it. I hadn't realized how empty I was inside, until those two little words escaped my mouth just now. We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. I was glaring and angry, or at least that's how I probably looked. She was sad and full of pity, for me, which made me even more furious.
"But how can that be..." She wasn't really asking. It was more like she was talking to herself. I could tell because she was looking off into the distance now, not at me.
"Stop making this all about you." She looked up from her thoughts, obviously irritated.
"Who said this was about me? I never mentioned me," she glowered. This conversation was the most emotion I had seen in her over the last year.
"Yeah, you're making this about you. I know you, and I can still read you, even now. You're all upset that your fucking happily-ever-after isn't perfect. You wanted me to be happy so you'd have nothing to feel guilty about anymore. Getting to be a mother and a vampire wasn't good enough. Even having Charlie be a part of your new life wasn't enough. You had to be free of all guilt and wrong doing, too! But I just ruined that, didn't I? When will it be enough for you, Bella? None of this is ever going to be enough for you, is it? Just like I was never enough for you!"
I grabbed the vase of flowers on the table and threw it at Bella's head. She didn't move out of the way. Instead, it hit her in the face covering her with shards of glass and water. She seemed disappointed. Of course, she was still a martyr. She wanted it to hurt her, but it didn't. It never would. That's when I really lost it.
I fell to the ground with my head in my hands. I was fighting to keep my eyes dry. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Imprinting was supposed to take all this away, wasn't it? I was shaking as I crouched on the floor, afraid to cry and afraid not to. That's when I felt cold, hard fingers running through my hair, and then I felt her body crouch down next to mine. She wrapped an arm around my shoulders and brought my head into the crook of her neck.
"I love you, Jake. I'm so sorry you're hurting. Is that what all that has been about? Is this what happened back in February last year?" I nodded, not looking up. "Edward knew." Again, it wasn't a question, so I didn't bother replying.
Valentine's Day, about a year and a half ago was not a happy day for me. We had moved to Duluth that January right after our face off with the Volturi. It was then that things started to change. At first it was subtle, so I didn't notice it right away. It seemed like we weren't able to just talk anymore. First of all, we were never alone and Bella was different. She started to move, speak and act like them. It was like she had become a different person. Actually, I guess she literally had. I knew she missed our friendship and I felt a loss too but there was something else that I couldn't put my finger on. All I knew was that I was starting to dislike Edward again, and I had trouble talking to Bella about anything other than Nessie.
I guess Bella saw I wasn't quite myself and wanted to cheer me up with a nostalgic gift. On Valentine's Day we were all at the Cullen house when she gave it to me. I made the mistake of opening it up right there in front of everyone. It was a little box of conversation hearts. At first I thought it was the same kind that I had given her a year before, but it was the actual one. Over the course of the tumultuous year we had, she had kept this. I knew it was my box because it had been opened and there were some missing. No one gave a gift of used candy, unless it had some other significance. I almost broke down, right there on the spot. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't move or speak.
Edward knew right away. He came over to me, grabbed my arm really hard and said, "I know you're busy today, Jacob. We won't keep you," way too loudly for the audience in question. It was enough to shake me out of my trance. Right away, Leah knew something was up so she made some excuse so we could leave. She didn't ask me about it, ever, but she found out soon enough once we were phased. I didn't mind so much - her knowing that is. I had gotten used to having her in my head, and most of the time it made me feel better that I wasn't alone, especially times like that.
So now here I was. After having buried all that for over a year and a half, she was drudging it all up again. For someone who wanted me to be happy, she sure had one hell of a way of crushing me to pieces every opportunity she got.
We sat there together on the floor with her rubbing her cold hand up and down my back trying to soothe me while I kept my head down, trying not to cry. That's when we heard my Suburban pull into the garage. We both got up and made motions to straighten out our clothes, but that's not what needed to be fixed.
"Hey, hey, hey! The party can start because I have officially arrived!" Quil came over and slapped me on the shoulder just after making his grand entrance. Embry, Seth and Brady followed.
"Where's Collin?" I asked, trying to shake the emotions that had been boiling over a moment ago.
"Grounded, but he sends his regards," Embry answered, as he went straight to our refrigerator.
"Hey, Bella! How's everything with you and Edward?" Seth still had that weird attachment to them.
"We're well, thank you for asking. Edward says, 'hello'." Bella answered in her now usual, stuffy way.
"Yeah? Well tell him I said 'hello' right back."
That's when I saw Nessie skipping into the room. I thought I had my game face on, but apparently it wasn't convincing enough for her. She looked at me, then looked to Bella, frowning. She came over, pulled my arm until I picked her up and placed her hand on my face. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with questions and her attempts at comforting me.
I slowly took her hand in mine and moved it away from my face. I put her down and knelt so we were facing each other. With both my hands completely engulfing hers, I looked into her brown eyes and smiled.
"I'm glad you're back, Ness. I missed you." She didn't say anything. She just continued to stare, looking worried. "Your mom and I were just talking. Everything is fine, I promise." I gave her a quick peck on the forehead and got up. I went over to Embry, grabbed h
him by the collar and pulled him away from the refrigerator.
"We've got food out for you in the dining room, so stop raiding my kitchen. Some of that stuff is too good for you thugs!" He elbowed me in the ribs and shoved whatever he had in his hand into his mouth.
Bella and I did a good job avoiding each other for the next hour or so. The guys ate what even I considered a disgustingly large amount of food then passed out for a short afternoon nap. While they were sleeping, Leah, Nessie and I worked on the decorations and last minute touch-ups for our costumes. Bella left once the pack had crashed. She was off somewhere on some errand or something. I didn't care where she was. I was just happy to be away from her.
It was fun doing things with just Nessie and Leah, but I wasn't happy about the costumes. I couldn't believe Leah thought of this. She really had to love Nessie to wear hers. I was going to refuse to wear mine, but when Leah came out after getting dressed, I just didn't have the heart to complain.
Nessie watched a lot of movies and right now she was obsessed with the whole Star Wars series. So here I was, the largest Darth Vader that had ever existed and next to me was Princess Leia, and in her arms was Nessie, made up like Yoda. What got me was that Leah was not the white robed Leia from the first two movies; she was the bikini topped version from Return of the Jedi. We both knew it was Nessie's favorite Leia look. I had to admit, Leah looked great, even if she did have a nasty scowl on her face.
Leah put Nessie down and stood back up, reaching to adjust her wig, when I heard the guys coming out of the bedrooms.
"What the fuck?"
"Brady, cover your eyes! This is no longer a PG-13 event!"
"Guys, that's my sister you're talking about!"
"Next one to say one more word about my costume is going to get neutered." That made Nessie laugh.
The guys turned their eyes away from her and went back to the guest room to get into their own outfits. When she spoke in that voice, it was like she was werewolf god - or goddess in this case I suppose.
The party started a little earlier than planned, but it didn't matter. We were all there and ready. We started with some games. At first they seemed pretty lame, but when you added a bunch of teenaged werewolves into the mix, nothing was boring. Nessie had a blast and so did everyone else. Dinner was supposed to be next, but it was still early and everyone had eaten lunch so late because of the flight. Bella wasn't back yet, and we were just sitting around cracking jokes at each other when Leah sprang up out of her chair.
"Okay, Ness, we're going trick or treating!"
"Really? But Mom and Dad said I wasn't allowed."
"So?" Nessie's face broke out into what looked like an evil grin as she bounced off her chair and grabbed Leah's hand.
"Okay, who's coming?" Leah shouted out to the pack. Everyone got up.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! We can't have everyone going out. Who the hell is going to answer their door with a bunch of gigantic men outside it? We're not supposed to call attention to ourselves, remember?" I gave Leah a warning look. Usually, she was very careful about this sort of thing.
"Look, the kid's probably only got this year before trick or treating becomes to be passé for her." Okay, granted, but still... "We're allowed to have visitors, right?" I nodded. "Well, she can be one of them." Leah pointed at Nessie. "No one will recognize her if they happen to see her again because she's covered in green make-up. You can't even see her skin, so we can pass her off as my cousin or something." Then she nodded over at the guys.
"As for them, they can wait on the sidewalk while Ness and I go knock on doors. Besides, with that bunch around, who's ever going to remember the kid?" It was good point.
"Okay. Let me just leave a note for Bella, in case she gets back before we do."
It was early for trick or treating, but people with younger children were out already. It was a lot of fun. The guys were rowdy, as usual, but hilarious. Nessie was absolutely jubilant to be out in the street amongst people, free to say hello to passersby.
Leah caught the attention of everyone. I thought at first it was mostly because she had no coat in the brisk, Minnesota autumn air, but I noticed quite a few of the Dads getting slaps in the arm by their wives. She was right though. Between her and the pack, no one took much notice of our little green Yoda.
We got back with a big overflowing bag of candy. It was dinner time, and all of us had just gotten seated, ready to start, when we heard Bella come in. She came directly into the dining room, looking awkward.
"Oh, you haven't had dinner yet."
Ah. That's why she left. She was hoping to avoid meal time. Nessie hated being watched and Bella always seemed uncomfortable being around us when we ate. It was like she knew she didn't belong or something.
"Mom, why don't you sit with us while we eat? We had a lot of fun, and I want to tell you all about it." Bella smiled uncomfortably, but took a seat between Embry and Seth, right across from her daughter. It was the only seat available.
"So, guess what we did?" Bella smiled at Nessie. She was probably happy to see her daughter delighted and wanting to include her. It had been a while since Nessie had actually gone out of her way to include any of the Cullens in her activities.
"Have you been playing all sorts of inappropriate games with our Quileute friends?" She smiled, in an attempt to make it all sound like a joke.
"We played some games and they were all hilarious, especially with Quil and Brady. But afterwards we went trick or treating!" She was bouncing up and down in her seat clapping her hands. Bella just glowered at me. I shrugged and turned away from her gaze.
“Oh Mom, don't get all worked up like Dad! It was fine. Look at me. I'm all green and stuff. Even if someone saw me again, no one would recognize me. Besides, Leah passed me off as her cousin from Washington because you can't see the colour of my skin through all this make-up. As far as the neighbours are concerned, the only little girl visiting today is Quileute. Plus, no one was really looking at me much." Nessie jerked her thumb in the direction of the guys. "They all tagged along and you know what they're like." Bella relaxed a bit. Well, as much as she was able to these days. "So, what were you up to?"
"Oh, I was just out looking for something." Bella looked down at her lap, fiddling. I could still read her well enough to know she was trying to avoid telling us what she had been doing. Nessie knew too.
"Did you find it?"
"What was it?"
"Then I guess you can tell us what it was."
Suddenly, all other conversations stopped. Everyone could sense the tension behind the otherwise benign words. They were all staring at Bella. Nessie wasn't going to let her off the hook. She never let anyone off the hook.
"I...I thought it would be nice if I had a Halloween costume, like everyone else," Bella replied.
"You're not like everyone else." That was just mean. I shot a look at Nessie, but she ignored me.
"Neither are you." That was the first time I had heard Bella speak to Nessie that way. Usually, she let everything slide.
"I'm eating dinner, aren't I?" I had to put a stop to this. It was starting to hurt me, too. I put a hand on Nessie's arm, and she looked over at me. I mouthed the word "stop" and she nodded.
"So, Bella, if you're still looking for a costume, I'm sure we can muster something up," Seth threw in, ever the peacekeeper.
"Yeah," Embry added. "If you're looking to compete with Princess Leia over there you can just strip down to your underwear and you'd be done."
"Embry, man," Quil cut in, as he put a hand over Brady's eyes, "we've got children here!" Seth started laughing. "What the hell are you laughing for? Last time I checked you weren't legal, either."
"Hey, I can drive at least!" There were some arm punches and mild jostling as the exchange between mother and daughter was soon forgotten by everyone, except the three of us.
Nessie chewed her food while she rested her head on my arm. Leah looked up once in a while to smile at a joke or comment made by one of the guys, but mostly she sat eyeing me and Bella. Bella was as still as a statue, looking off to the side, out the window.
Over the loud shenanigans of the pack, Nessie asked Bella in a quiet voice, "So Mom, what kind of costume were you looking for?"
She was quiet, thinking, before she answered, "I didn't have anything specific in mind. I was feeling a little nostalgic and wanted something that would remind me of when..." She paused looking for the right words. I guess she never found them because she just mumbled, "...of before."
"Oh. You don't talk about...before much. Did you have some ideas, like a cheerleading outfit or something?" Nessie asked. I almost choked on my food when she said that. It made Bella smile.
"No, I was never a cheerleader."
"Then, what, a band uniform or a basketball outfit? Oh wait! I bet you were on student council or something. That would be hard to find a costume for..." Nessie was very animated, imagining her mother as all these things she had seen in movies and on television, but none of which her mother ever experienced.
"No, I didn't do any of those things either."
"Oh. What did you do in high school?" Bella got a panicked look on her face and fell silent.
Nessie turned to me, "Jake, you were friends...before, right? What did she do?"
"Well, we hung out in my garage a lot, and I taught her how to ride a motorcycle." Nessie smiled. "And we went hiking a lot, and I think your mom picked up some orienteering skills. We used to have this ongoing game where we'd figure out our age based on our skills and experience. I was perpetually older than her." Nessie beamed, listening as I related stories that cut deep into me. I looked right into Bella's eyes before saying the last sentence. "I also saved her life during a cliff diving incident." That silenced the room, again.
Nessie looked at me, then at Bella. Neither of us looked at her, only at each other. Bella wasn't glaring though. She looked sad.
"What did you do with Dad?" Nessie finally asked Bella.
"We went to school together. We were in the same biology class. That was where we met, and he took me to prom."
"Well, I guess we mostly just...talked." Bella shifted, uncomfortably, which was weird because I was pretty sure vampires didn't get uncomfortable - physically. "Our time together was filled with a lot of...conflict."
"You mean you guys fought?"
"Oh, no!" She sounded too defensive. "Other vampires always seemed to be after me, and we were always fighting them. Well, at least your father was and Jacob too, of course."
"Hey, what about us?" Quil quipped in, mockingly indignant. Bella turned and smiled at the pack.
"Yes, everyone here was always looking out for me. I was quite a handful."
After a short silence everyone went back to their own conversations. Nessie said it very quietly. I heard it because I was right beside her. I knew Leah heard because she was on the other side of her. I wasn't sure if Bella heard her, until I saw the expression on her face.
"Sounds like you had more fun with Jacob than Dad," she mumbled to herself before returning to her meal.
It took Bella by surprise. Her mouth actually gaped open as she looked right at me. If it were the girl I knew, her eyes would have welled up with tears. Instead, she shoved her chair away from the table and got up.
"I'm just going to go out to the mall again. I'm sure I can pick up something, even if it's just a mask." She turned to walk away but just before she did, I mumbled something under my breath without looking up from my plate.
I'm not sure if I did it on purpose, or if I thought I was just thinking it, but either way, she heard me.
"Don't bother; you've been wearing a mask for quite some time now."
She stopped in her tracks for a second before turning around to reply.
"In the beginning it was the same for me, as it was for you, Jacob. I forgot about everything and everyone else, but then all those things found a place in my world again. Everything I felt has come back for me too." She turned and walked away.
Everyone at the table had stopped to stare. There was confusion on their faces, but they knew it was something they couldn't ask about. Eventually, they all went back to their meals, keeping their gaze focused on the plate in front of them.
Nessie put her hand on my face. She was hurt, confused and questioning. She felt left out.
I decided if she could live with it, so could I. I put on my own mask, took Nessie's hand from my face, smiled at her, and kissed her forehead.
"I'm fine Ness. We're all fine." There was nothing more to be done or said, so I lifted my fork and went back to eating the meal I was no longer hungry for.
The End . . . well, sort of. I wrote an extension for this called Chains