Suggested Listening: "Hurricane" by 30 Seconds to Mars, "Call Me" by Shinedown, "Apologies" by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, "In Your Hands" by Jason Mraz
You already had both feet out the door when it happened.
Before you spoke the words, I already was memorizing the lines on your face, the contours of your body and the breathy sounds you made when you slept. I'd watch you in nothing but your underwear and one of my ratty t-shirts as you floated around the kitchen, making breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning. I'd prop myself against the wall outside the bathroom and watch you precariously lean over the sink, fiercely concentrating as you put on eyeliner before work.
I filed each one away, mental photographs I'd save for those agonizing days after you finally decided you'd had enough of our shit and enough of our life together, for those inevitable nights to come I knew no amount of Jameson would drown the self-hatred I'd harbor toward myself for letting you go.
Just in case, I told myself.
But I could see if bleeding into when. I could see in case turning into indefinitely.
It was hard to miss the way you looked toward the door each time you left the room, each time you reminded me how much you regretted moving to this town and following me to this god-forsaken college. It didn't go unnoticed when your suitcase appeared near the front of the closet next to the laundry basket. There was nothing inside but it moved. The zipper was partially open, and I noticed.
Everything inside me was preparing to lose you, yet I couldn't stop. We didn't stop. We didn't budge an inch. We couldn't let go of our stubborn resolve. The hate, the resentment spewed from us like a fountain. Even the eggshells we walked on were too loud, and our mouths shot off like a malfunctioning gun whose bullets had no trajectory and no intended target.
It had become so easy, so frightening. I didn't recognize myself anymore.
By the time our last real big blowout happened, I didn't recognize us.
"You are a fucking asshole, Jacob Black. I seriously cannot believe you just said that to me."
My mouth was dry as cotton and even when I moved my tongue across the top of it and down across the back of my teeth, it didn't help. I watched you as you stood near the refrigerator in the kitchen of our small apartment in Chicago. It was a shoebox, really. I half-blamed our apartment. No matter where we went, we constantly tripped over one another. It's hard to cool off and 'get some space' when your kitchen and living area are in the same fucking room.
"Well, what do you expect me to say?"
I blindly walked toward the cupboard where I grabbed the bottle of whiskey and a shot glass. As I clumsily unscrewed the lid, I heard the judgmental scoff fall from your lips.
I just can't do anything to make you happy anymore, I thought as I filled the glass and, without a second thought, tipped my head back to allow the amber liquid to slide down my throat. God, it burned – but it felt good.
I tried, Bells. I tried for so long, but you're different here. We're different here.
I don't remember when I started drinking. It wasn't a lot of drinking, but it was just enough to take the edge off, just enough to numb the pounding in my head, the warning alarm telling me this was it. This was going to be the end.
Keep pushing her, douchebag, and see what happens.
But another part of me — the part that remembered how much you and I loved each other once, the part that remembered JakeandBells, the part that couldn't forget how we'd fought tooth and nail to be together — recalled the spoken and implied promises. That part of me, small enough to be masked by fear but big enough to be heard, honestly believed you wouldn't leave.
She promised you, man. She fucking promised she'd never leave.
For being so damn small, that part of me dominated my decisions and the words that came out of my mouth.
"I've already told you this. If you're so miserable here, just go. If you'd be happier without me, just leave. Do yourself a favor and go!" I snarled as I knocked back another shot before angrily replacing the lid on the bottle and shoving it back into the cupboard.
In a flash, you were right beside me, your cheeks blazing pink in fury. "You'd love that, wouldn't you? You'd love it if I just left."
"Jesus, Bella, is that what you think? You're the one who's not happy here. It has nothing to do with what I want."
At this point, we were fighting over the same tired subjects we always did. Between work and Northwestern and football, I was never around and you hated me for it, especially when I came home so tired I never seemed to remember to ask you how you were or care how your day went.
You spent your time isolated and stressed. You agreed to wait on college and get a job to help support us. Northwestern wasn't cheap and I didn't get the full football scholarship for which I'd hoped. Instead, I received a partial one. It was enough to pay my tuition but not enough to pay the bills.
It was a mutual decision. While I went to school, you would work. As soon as I graduated, it was your turn and I'd help support you. In the beginning, it seemed like the perfect solution.
But we didn't make it past the first year before we started to crack.
You watched me learning new things. You watched me meet new people and, little by little, I could see the resentment building in your eyes. It replaced the love. It replaced the infinite adoration always dancing in them. You never were good at making friends and didn't have anyone else. You expected me to be there and I expected you to understand.
Neither of us held up our end of the deal.
I still remember the fight where it all became too real. You came home after a 12-hour shift waiting tables to an empty apartment. I'd decided to go have a few beers with my study group instead of coming straight home. When I walked through the door, you were sobbing on the floor, leaning against the side of the couch with your legs tucked up against your chest.
When I knelt down to pull you in my arms, you pushed me away.
You pushed me away.
"I love you, Jacob, but I don't know where I fit into your life anymore," you'd told me, your breath catching in your throat as you noisily wiped your nose with the back of your hand. "I know school's important, but I feel like I'm yesterday's crappy leftovers in the back of the fridge. I'm not even on a burner anymore."
It hurt. It hurt like a bitch. I should have done something that second, but I didn't. Instead, I allowed it to get worse with time. The words grew stronger, the fights grew louder, and the long periods of silence seemed to multiply by infinite amounts.
Little by little, you let on to how much you missed Forks, how much you missed La Push. You started calling your father twice a week after the first year instead of once. By the time you told me, you were calling him almost every damn day. You even called your mother at least once a week. A couple times, I caught you on the phone with Embry or Quil. Since they were my best friends, I resented you a little more for that, too.
You talked to everyone but me.
And with each passing day, you missed everyone a little more, and you missed me a little less.
"You know what, Jake? I'm not happy. And you know what else? I'm exhausted. I'm so tired of fighting with you. I'm so tired of doing this every single day. Why can't it be like it used to be?"
I could hear the emotion in your voice, your angry façade wavering as you spoke about the past, as you talked about a time when things were good, when things were perfect.
Me? I couldn't bring myself to look at you. I wanted to, but looking at you would be admitting defeat because as soon as I saw the piercing plea in your eyes, I'd give in. I wouldn't apologize – there was never an apology between you and I – but I'd still give in.
"I don't think it can be the way it used to be, Bells."
"Why not? Are we really that far gone, Jake? You really don't think we can save this?"
I squeezed my eyes shut as my palms clenched the edge of the kitchen counter, all my weight resting on the strained muscles in my arms. "I'm not so sure anymore."
I heard your breath hitch. It wasn't what I wanted to say. I wanted to beg, I wanted to plead with you, but there was too much pride in me to do it. When I heard the first sniffle, something deep inside me wavered. I'd made you cry again. At one point, you'd stopped crying all together when we fought. Now you saved your tears for the really bad fights, the special occasions when you wanted me to know my words cut especially deep.
My pride couldn't stop my instincts as I turned toward you, already prepared for what I'd see. The tears left jagged streaks down your flushed cheeks and your bottom lip quivered. I knew what it took to get rid of the pain but damn it, why couldn't I just do it?
"Do you really want me to leave?"
My hand traveled to your face and cupped your cheek. If I could hang on to you, Bella, I'd do it as long as I could, I thought. I felt my head move back and forth. "No, honey, I don't want you to leave."
There were no apologies. We didn't talk about what we would do different, what we would change to fix our broken love, a love everyone – our family, our friends back in Washington – considered unstoppable, a love that kept me breathing in and out and a love that once filled us both with possibility and hope for the future.
What we couldn't express verbally we did physically. All our fights ended the same way, wrapped in a temporary bandage of desperate, frenzied kisses and fumbling hands that clung to one another, desperate to grasp on to what used to be and in search of that passion, that intense love we'd lost somewhere in the middle of life and responsibilities.
Our last fight was no different.
By the time I'd slammed you against the wall, I'd forgotten what we were fighting about as my fingers twisted frantically through your hair, pulling your head back as I attempted to wash away the words, every last ounce of hurt I'd caused with deep, open-mouthed kisses to your neck. Your gasps, the whimpers falling from your throat as your fingers clawed violently at my back, were words of forgiveness to my ears. It was all I needed, even though I knew they were only temporary.
Clothing was shed quickly and I hoisted you up, gripping your thighs so tightly you cried out, but the sound left your mouth as a pleasurable moan. This was good, I thought. It encouraged me to go harder, faster. This was the point I knew you'd forgotten, too.
We waged a gratifying assault on one another, your legs gripping my waist tightly as I repeatedly buried myself inside you as your back slammed against the wall. My name mixed with four-letter words as both fell from your mouth, tangled with frantic gasps for air. Your fingers raked at my scalp and urgently grasped my hair as I watched your eyes roll into the back of your head and a smile spread across your mouth.
God, that smile. If only I could see that smile, everyday, for the rest of my life.
When you came, you came hard, your body clamping down on mine as you gasped, trembling against my chest. That smile was still there as you fought hard to catch your breath, your fingers trailing down the length of my cheeks. I closed my eyes and leaned into your touch.
I did this every time. After I took one of my mental photographs, I closed my eyes to imagine things like they used to be, to pretend like everything wouldn't go back to shit the second we came off our post-coital high.
But it always did. The way we "fixed" our problems was like putting a bandage on a bullet hole.
It was pointless.
You and I spent the next several weeks tiptoeing around one another. You picked up extra shifts at the restaurant and were rarely ever home. I was so consumed with studying for senior year midterms, I barely noticed you were gone. The peace was a blessing in disguise. The quiet meant we weren't at war, at least not right now.
But the truth was, even in those moments, I missed you so much I found it difficult to breathe. It was those moments, the ones where you weren't around for me to tell you, that I missed you the most.
We were both responsible for where we were, but I didn't blame you one bit. If anything, I'd pushed you there. With every harsh word, with every accusation flung carelessly in the middle of the night, with every whispered apology in the form of breathless moans as our limbs entangled on the kitchen counter, I'd practically planted my thick hands on your shoulders and pushed you out the door.
I had to tell you. I had to do it. I had to tell you I was sorry. I had to tell you for the hundredth time things would change, yet this time I had to mean every word. The ticking was growing louder and I knew our days were numbered.
Yet when you'd come home and wordlessly fall into bed beside me, my mouth would open and nothing would come out. It would sound stupid if I told you with no reason for it – at least that's what I told myself when I didn't have the courage to grow a pair and admit I was wrong. Instead, I'd roll over and turn off the lamp and listen to you breathe as you fell asleep, telling myself I'd tell you tomorrow.
It had to be tomorrow. If I didn't tell you, I knew I'd lose you forever.
But tomorrow was too late.
Tomorrow was when my time finally ran out.
For the first time in what seemed like years, I felt hope as I made my way home after stopping at a small flower shop on the corner a few blocks from our apartment. I knew the lilies weren't enough. I could buy the entire flower store and give you every last petal inside and it still wouldn't be enough, but they were a start. It could be the first step to rebuilding the numerous bridges we'd burned on the roads ultimately diverging JakeandBells.
But the hope faded as quickly as my confidence when I let myself into our apartment and found you sitting primly on the couch, a wadded up Kleenex in your fist and your suitcase at your feet.
I felt my heart stop. In that moment, it completely stopped beating, as if the second I realized you were leaving, my reason for being evaporated along with my pulse.
The look you gave me punched a hole in my chest, squeezed my not-beating heart and twisted with all its might. It wasn't the look of someone who wanted to leave. It was the look of someone who had no other choice, the look of someone who no longer was making decisions for only herself.
"Bella...what are you doing?" I could feel my fingers curling tightly around the stems of the bouquet I held in my right hand.
"Jake..." Your words were choked, forced. I swore I saw your eyes twinkle for a split second when your eyes landed on the lilies in my hand. "I just want you to know I'm leaving." I watched your bottom lip quiver violently before you pulled it between your teeth. "I'm leaving you."
"What?" I couldn't comprehend what you said. I was going to fix things. I was going to make them better. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. "Bella...what? What do you mean you're leaving? Y-you can't leave."
You reached up and wiped your nose with the back of your hand, something you always did to distract yourself when the dam was threatening to break. "Jacob, I can and I am. I have to. I can't do this anymore."
"Do what? This?" I motioned between us, already knowing that's what you meant, as I stepped around the side of the couch, dropping my keys and the bouquet of flowers to the coffee table. You visibly winced when the flowers hit the wooden surface. "No! Bells, you can't leave, not now. Please."
"No!" I repeated, my legs refusing work as they buckled underneath me, causing me to fall to my knees in front of you. I saw the moisture building in your eyes as you refused to look in mine. You stared at anything except me as I sought out your hands and clasped them between my fingers. "Bella, please don't do this. Not now. I can...things can be different, I swear."
You chuckled nervously through your impending tears. "How many times have we told each other that, Jake?"
"It's different this time..."
"It's not," you whispered. "You know it and I know it. It never is, and I can't do this with you." For the first time since I walked in the door, you looked me right in the eyes. "Because it's not a decision I'm making for just me anymore, Jake."
My stomach knotting profusely, I shook my head and squeezed your hands. "I'm telling you, it's different this time. Bells, please, I can..."
My words immediately stopped, yet my mouth remained open, suspended in a state of shock at the revelation spilling from yours. A hurricane of emotions slammed into me head-on – surprise, fear, anxiety, happiness, anger – making it hard for me to pick out one and focus on simply feeling it.
Instead, I swallowed thickly, suddenly feeling my palms turn clammy against your skin. "What?"
You blinked. "I'm pregnant."
"I heard that."
"Then why did you want me to...?"
"Bells — " I cut you off. " — how did this happen?"
"How do you think it happened?" you cried out, but I watched the emotions on your face backpedal as you tried to keep the conversation from turning hostile like so many ones before it.
"I just don't understand," I repeated, rising to my feet.
"Well, the test is on the bathroom counter just in case you want to see yourself."
Normally, your lack of trust toward my faith in you would have grated my nerves, but this time it didn't. So many things were racing through my brain. How were we going to afford a baby? Where were we going to put it? How was that going to work when I graduated in seven months and it was your turn to go to college?
Somewhere, though, mixed in the millions of questions was a statement, a memory, a sentence you'd spoken just moments earlier.
"I have to leave. I can't do this anymore."
I was on my feet in a flash, pacing the small length of the living room, my hands pressed against my temples as I tried forcing the words to materialize. "You can't leave, Bella. You just can't."
"Jacob, please." Your words were soft, soothing almost. "We both knew this was going to happen. Neither of us has been happy in so long, and we can't keep doing this, pretending like things are going to magically be okay."
"Because it's not just about me and you anymore, Jacob. We've been dangling by the end of our rope for months now. I don't know how we got to this point. I don't know how we let it get this far. God, we loved each other so much..." By this point, your voice was audibly cracking as you struggled to explain your decision to me. You didn't want this. It was clear in your face, in the tortured expression in your eyes, but it also was obvious why you were choosing now to walk away.
"I still love you, Bells."
You shook your head slightly, wringing your hands together before you continued. "That may be so, but you don't do this to the people you love, Jake. You admit when you're wrong, you make compromises, you bend. We stopped doing any of those things, Jake, when really that's all it would have taken to save this, to save us. You know I love you, too. I always will, but that's why I'm walking away. I'm leaving before we destroy each other, and I'm not going to let our baby be a victim of it."
The more you refused to listen to me, the more I could feel the latent anger bubbling to the surface. The more I could feel the Jake I was used to threatening to break loose. It wasn't because I was angry with you, though. It was because I was angry with myself, distraught with the fact I was too late, and painfully aware of everything I could have done sooner to prevent you from removing yourself – and our child – from my life.
I needed to say something. I was going to say something, wasn't I?
God, what was I going to say?
As my mind continued to trip over itself, you rose to your feet, clasping the suitcase between your fingers. With a heavy sigh, you brushed the slightest trace of moisture you'd allowed to escape your eye from your cheek. Looking away from me, you walked gingerly toward the door without a word.
With each step, I felt my chest grow heavier and my breath quicken as I struggled to keep filling my lungs. I could feel the panic rising in my throat as the reality set in, as you made your way, step by step, out of my life.
I felt my arm reach out, my fingers grazing the skin of your arm as they curled around it, stopping you momentarily in your path.
"Bella, please – don't do this." I still couldn't look at you.
I heard a choked noise in your throat as you gently twisted out my grasp. "I have to." My fingers were still reaching for you, yet I felt nothing but cold air. "I'm so sorry, Jacob. I'm so sorry for everything."
The click of the door as it closed behind you ripped through me like a gunshot.
I couldn't move, I couldn't think about anything other than the disappearing sound of your footsteps down the stairs. I don't know how long I stood there. I wasn't counting, but it became apparent when the setting sun outside cast a warm, yellow light on the walls of what once was our home. Just us. Jacob and Bella. Forever.
But not just us. Not anymore.
Forever wasn't just gone with you; it was gone along with my life and my child — our baby. My entire world, including a part of it I never got the chance to know, was gone in a whirlwind of a few whispered words.
I'm so sorry, Jacob. I'm so sorry for everything.
It was then I remembered what I was supposed to say to you.
I'm sorry, Bella. I'm so sorry for everything.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...
"Jesus Christ, man. You look like hell."
Gaping at Embry Call for a moment, I turned on my heel and retreated to the kitchen. The door shut behind Embry, who apparently decided to invite himself into my apartment as he dropped his keys on the coffee table and his jacket on the back of the couch. I didn't care he'd been my best friend since we were both in diapers. The intrusion was not welcomed.
"What the hell are you doing here, Call?"
"Nice to see you, too, Jake," Embry murmured as he followed me into the kitchen. When he reached the doorway, he stopped, no doubt floored by the mess littering every surface of the small room. The trash can overflowed and empty whiskey bottles lined the counter near the sink. "Damn, Jake..."
His judgmental tone didn't faze me. In fact, I stopped letting anything faze me the moment you walked out the front door.
Life had been far from grand before that day, but now? It was just empty.
By some miracle of God, I managed to skate through my last year of college with barely acceptable grades. Nevertheless, I graduated, but I didn't attend my commencement. The right of passage was supposed to mark the beginning of my future, but to me, it only commemorated the end of something and the final stage of my descent into nothing.
I didn't spend those months looking for pity. Instead, I closed myself off and let myself drown in my own self-hatred, knowing full well I was the only person to blame for you leaving our home and taking our unborn child with you. I should have stepped up. I should have been the man I knew I was capable of being. I should have told you I was sorry. If not for you, I should have done it for my child.
After you left, you never called, and I never called you. There were more times than I could count, though, where I sat staring at my cell phone, my fingers poised above the numbers. I thought about what you might be doing that very second. I envisioned your growing belly, and I imagined going with you to the doctor's appointments, beaming as I heard our baby's heartbeat for the very first time.
I wanted all those things. I wanted them so badly it hurt. I should have called. I should have dialed the numbers each time the thought crossed my mind, but I didn't.
Despite the never-ending list of should-haves, a part of me felt it truly was too late. A part of me believed what you said when you left, but I directed its meaning solely on myself. With me around, it would only destroy the both of us. I wouldn't let my child grow up in a home like that. Neither would you, which is why you left in the first place.
"Embry, did you fly 1,500 miles just to lecture me or is there a point to this unexpected visit?"
"No. If you needed a lecture, I woulda sent your dad out here, not taken time out of my schedule to come out here and drag your ass back to Washington," Embry countered, leaning against the doorframe and watching me skeptically.
"Em, if you think I'm going back there..."
"Jake, Bella had the baby."
My stomach wretched and I grabbed the kitchen counter for support as I tasted the bile rise in the back of my throat. Somehow, I knew it was coming but I hadn't prepared myself for how the news would rock me to my very core. I had missed the birth of my first child. It was a moment I would never get back and something I already knew I would regret my entire life.
"Why didn't you call me?" I whispered, an unmistakable anxiety causing my tone to shake.
"I did," Embry muttered. "When's the last time you checked your voicemails?"
My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. I hated myself in that moment. I hated myself for adding one more mistake to the insurmountable sum I'd managed to accumulate the past few years.
Except this time, the mistake didn't affect me. It didn't affect you. It affected a tiny human being who'd counted on me to be there.
"This morning," Embry replied.
"Boy or girl?"
I heard a loud sigh escape Embry's chest. "Why don't you come home and find out for yourself?"
I could feel myself start to lose my cool. I could feel the frustration building up inside me. It wasn't directed at Embry. Again, it was only directed at one person. "She doesn't want me there, Em."
My breath hitched and I felt an unfamiliar glimmer of something pass through my veins. Hope? I turned toward Embry, who was still giving me an expectant look, like this was something I should have known all along. "What?"
Embry crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Jake, it might be too late for you and Bella, but it is not too late for you to be there for your kid. Do you honestly think Bella would keep you away from your own child?"
"That's why she left," I murmured as flashes of the past invaded my already clouded head.
"She left because it was the right decision for her at the time," Embry countered. "You two messed things up. You messed them up bad, and God knows how it happened or how the two of you let it get to where it did. She thought she was doing the right thing for the baby, too, but things change, Jake. This experience? Being a mother? I think it's safe to say it's changed her. Now that the baby is here, if you're serious about getting your shit together and stepping up to be a father, I don't think she's going to turn you away."
I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe him more than anything, but a part of me was petrified. I was terrified that if I took him at his word, you would only turn me away. I wasn't sure I could bear it if it happened.
"How do you know?"
"I don't," Embry replied, "but I do know Bella wants this baby to have everything, Jake. It deserves everything, and that includes you. Not this you, though." He motioned to the room surrounding us. "The old you — a better you. Think about it — you know Bella better than the rest of us. Look past all the shit you two went through and think back to who she really is. She wouldn't keep you from your own child, man. You know she wouldn't, not if she knows you're serious." Embry took a few steps into the kitchen. "Do you want to come home? Do you want to be there for the baby?"
"More than anything."
"Then you gotta let go of the past, Jake. You can't change it. But you can change what happens after today."
I stood outside the hospital room, staring intently at the plastic plaque securely fastened just to the side of the door.
You were inside the room. Our child was inside the room.
And I was standing outside it, scared shitless to walk through the door.
What if you sent me away? What if you told me you hated me? What if you told me the baby was better off without me? I couldn't bear the what-ifs.
But another set of what-ifs had me putting one foot in front of the other, crossing the threshold into the dimly-lit maternity room.
What if I never meet my child? What if our baby grows up never knowing who its father is? What if I miss out on the single most defining moment of my life because I was too proud and too scared to step up?
You were asleep in the hospital bed, the covers pulled up to your chin as you snored quietly. The lamp on the bedside table cast a soft light on your face. My heart twisted when I saw you. You were so beautiful, perhaps more so than I remembered. I wanted to touch you, I wanted to brush the strand of hair from your eyes and tell you I was here and I would not fail you or our child.
It was then I noticed the bassinet sitting next to the bed. I wasn't close enough to see inside but from where I stood, I could hear slight noises and gurgles coming from within.
My world shifted as I took a step, followed by another. The sounds pulled me in as I neared the bassinet. The anticipation coursing through my body caused me to tremble as I reached it, peering in to see the most beautiful creature I'd ever laid eyes on. On the baby's tiny head rested a knit cap.
It was pink.
My breath left me as I studied the tiny human drawing me in with her hypnotizing presence. She had my black hair and copper complexion, but she also had your eyes and mouth. Those were the parts that bound me to her, the parts that made me love, fear, hope and dream all in a single heartbeat.
I couldn't help it as my arm outstretched, reaching into the bassinet. I let my fingertips brush the silky smooth skin of my daughter's cheek.
In that moment, I swear she smiled at me.
It was then I knew I would never leave. I would never walk away from this beautiful, tiny human I'd created with you. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to forget every ounce of pain, every harsh word ever spoken and move forward, creating a life and a future that would make my daughter proud to call me her father.
I heard you stir a few feet away. Tearing my eyes from the little girl in the bassinet, I was met by yours. They were wide and astonished, almost like you were seeing a ghost.
It was hard to walk away from the little girl, but I did. Stepping past the bassinet, I approached the side of your bed. Your eyes followed me, but you didn't protest. As I moved, I tried my best to leave everything behind me. My fear, my pride and my stubborn resolve pushed me to my knees beside your bed, and each one floated away as I took your hand.
I knew what I needed to do. I remembered what I was supposed to do all those months ago.
"Bella," I whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Blinking, I saw moisture gather in your eyes. You reached out with your other hand, closing it over mine. "I know," was all you said.
I felt the fear gather in the pit of my stomach as I squeezed your hands. "Bella, please – don't make me go. I want to be in her life. I need to be in her life. I know I've screwed up so much, but I promise you – I will not screw this up."
In that moment, I had no idea what fate had in store for you and me. By the look in your eyes, I knew we had a long way to go. I could see the scars and I could detect traces of your resolve.
"This doesn't change anything between us, Jake," you whispered, your head resting against the pillow.
"I know," I said hurriedly, bringing my forehead to our clasped hands. "But give me a chance to make it up to you. I am not that person anymore, Bella, so please – give me a chance to be here. I'm begging you. Give me chance to be a good father."
It took only a few moments before another emotion gleaned over the pain in your eyes. There was only one word I could think of to describe it, an emotion I hadn't felt emanate from you in so long.
You were proud. You were proud of me.
And with a smile, a squeeze of my hand and one word, you gave me permission to alter my tomorrow – our daughter's tomorrow.
"No, no, no, honey! Not the pine cone!"
I was on my knees quicker than a flash to snatch away the stray pine cone just within reach of my daughter's stubby little fingers. I should have known there'd be hazards, despite the fact lounging on a blanket on the lawn outside my father's house in La Push seemed relatively harmless. At nine months old, she was finally crawling, which also meant she was getting into everything these days. It was all I could do to stay one step ahead of her curious demeanor.
Her big, chocolate-brown eyes followed the pine cone between my fingers, lingering a moment until her gaze fell on her favorite teddy bear a few inches from her. Within seconds, the pine cone was a distant memory as she shoved the bear's arm into her awaiting mouth.
Looking at this beautiful little person, it seemed impossible to fit anymore love and adoration in my heart. She was perfect, a miniature replica of you and me, an unadulterated testament to a long-ago love we once shared.
I wasn't necessarily proud of how I'd gotten to this point. I wished that one day when our daughter asked me how she came to be, there wasn't a dark, turbulent time tainting the miracle that was the beginning of her life. There were so many things I wished we'd done differently and there were so many things we could've regretted had we let ourselves.
However, the little girl in front of me, now gnawing on the ear of her favorite bear, was not one of them. And it was because of her I couldn't bring myself to regret a single moment leading up to her birth.
She was the light in my life, and she gave me the strength to forgive myself for the past so I could focus on the future – her future. She was the reason I was able to be the person I once was, as well as the father I knew she deserved.
I heard the crunch of your tires on the gravel driveway before I even saw your car come into view. Without permission, my eyes fell to my little munchkin on the blanket beside me. I hated this part. I hated saying goodbye to her. I knew it would only be a few days before it was my turn to have her again, but it didn't seem right. This wasn't how it was supposed to be.
In the months since her birth, you and I managed to put the past behind us, if for no reason other than the sake of our daughter. You got a spacious two-bedroom apartment in Port Angeles and enrolled for the fall semester at Peninsula. On the weekends, you worked doubles at the local diner and our daughter spent those days with me. It worked out perfectly considering the lumberyard didn't require me to work weekends.
We lived without one another. We didn't thrive, but at the least, we were able to live.
But as time went on, I didn't miss the looks you gave me when you watched me kiss our daughter goodbye before handing her to you. It was the same look I gave when you when I watched you both leave every Sunday, knowing I wouldn't see either of you for several days. I wanted to keep you both with me. I wanted to hang on to that look. It was the same look you'd give me when you stood watching me as I cooked dinner in our old kitchen. Those were the good months when you leaned against the kitchen doorframe and silently took everything in. You didn't need words because the affection, the love in your eyes spoke volumes.
That's the only thing I could bring myself to regret. I should have told you I loved you every single day. I should have never let the light in your eyes fade.
They say time heals all wounds. Now, I couldn't help but wonder if it had the potential to heal us as well.
Your smile spread through me as you exited your car, closing the door behind you. "Hi," you said quietly, holding my gaze for a second before it shifted to the cooing, tiny human beside me. "There's my little monster! Did you miss Mama? Mama missed you, Peanut!" It took only a few swift steps before you bent over, scooping her up in your arms. I watched you close your eyes, holding our daughter's cheek against your lips as you rocked her back and forth. Watching the two of you, side by side, made my heart leap in my chest.
This is how it should be, Jacob.
As I stood, your eyes opened and two sets of chocolate orbs were watching me. "Did you two have fun this weekend?"
I grinned, reaching out and brushing our daughter's chubby cheek with my index finger. "Of course we did. She got to spend some time with her Grandpa Billy, and then we went down to the beach yesterday and she threw sand in Uncle Quil's eye – he pouted about that one for awhile." When you laughed, my smile automatically widened. "Not even a year old and she's already breaking hearts."
Our daughter responded by blowing spit bubbles between her lips.
"Oh, I know!" you exclaimed. "You should see her in the coffee shop some mornings. There's another mom that comes in there with her son who's maybe a few months older than her. If grins and shy looks could talk..." Your words broke off as you kissed her cheek again.
Your smile gradually fell from your face as you nodded. "Of course. I actually don't have to work Friday so, if it's okay with you, I can bring her here. That way she's here when you get off work and you don't have to waste those hours driving."
I nodded, my insides warming again. "Yeah. That'd be great, Bells."
I didn't miss the flicker in your eyes at the sound of your old nickname falling from my lips. The smile again pulled at your mouth as you leaned over and hoisted the diaper bag off the ground. Holding our daughter against your hip, you let the smile spread. "Sounds good. I'll call you then."
I stepped forward, leaning down and kissing the soft, black locks on my little girl's head. "Daddy loves you, baby." With a sigh, I once again stepped back, turning my gaze toward you. "Sounds good," I repeated.
You lingered for a second before you nodded slightly, pulling your eyes away and retreating toward the car. I stood there stupidly, watching you – my first love, the mother of my child and the person I once and still considered my soul mate – walk away. In your arms, you carried the love of my life, safely tucking her into her car seat before shutting the car door and opening your own.
Could time heal all wounds?
"Hey, Bella?" The words spilled out before I could stop them.
You stopped, one hand on the steering wheel and the other still gripping the top of the car door. "Yeah?" Your eyes were expectant and unsure, yet the flicker was still there.
I hitched my thumbs in my pockets and cast my eyes toward the ground. It needed to be said before I lost my nerve, while I still felt a spark of hope. "So, I was thinking – you don't have to work Friday night and I know my dad's been chomping at the bit to spend some one-on-one time with the rug rat." Looking up from the dirt, I met your gaze. "Would you maybe want to stick around after you get here? We could go get dinner – just you and me."
Several agonizingly long moments passed as your contemplative eyes bore holes through mine. Perhaps it wasn't that long. Perhaps it only seemed that long to me. After all, the limb I was going out on was fragile. It was worn down long ago, but all I could do was hope that you and I and the perfect little girl we brought into the world had created a net under it into which we could fall.
The smile you gave me brightened my world.
"That sounds nice, Jacob."
Maybe it could.