“You… don’t… want me?” I tried out the words, confused by the way they sounded placed in that order.
I stared, uncomprehending, into his eyes. He stared back without apology. His eyes were like topaz—hard and clear and very deep. I felt like I could see into them for miles and miles, yet nowhere in their bottomless depths could I see a contradiction to the word he’d spoken.
“Well, that changes things.”
My eyes opened, bleary as I registered the feeling of warm arms encircling, lifting me from the wet, moldering leaves on the forest floor. I shuddered, squeezing my eyes shut and involuntarily curling closer to the blazing heat as more tears leaked out of my eyes. I remember running after Edward, screaming his name in an agonized stupor, not wanting to believe it was over.
No… no… it can’t be.
“It’s okay Bella, I’ve got you,” a gentle voice murmured above me, and I cracked my eyes open again to look at my savior. His dark face was unfamiliar to me, and I felt my brows pull together in confusion.
“Have you been hurt, Bella?” he asked, his voice deep and soothing as I felt my body begin to sway with his slow cadence as he carried me through the pitch black forest, the only light coming from a propane lamp swinging from one of his fingers below my knees. I vaguely wondered if it was uncomfortable for him to carry it that way, but he didn’t even seem bothered by my weight.
“No…” my voice was so hoarse it was barely a whisper, but he nodded as if he heard me clearly.
“My name is Sam Uley,” he began, but at my blank stare indicating I had no recognition of him, he continued, “Charlie sent me to look for you.”
That struck a chord, and I felt my breath hitch as I tried to pay more attention to what he was saying to me. Charlie mattered, if nothing else did. I knew I should probably be upset by a stranger carrying me through the forest, but there wasn’t much left in me to be upset. More deadened bemusement than anything. I hung limply in his arms, the only sound the soft rustling of leaves beneath his feet until finally I heard a low murmur of voices growing steadily louder as the light around us began to grow slightly brighter.
“I’ve got her!” Sam Uley called out in a booming voice, making me flinch slightly, and suddenly the volume in my ears felt like it was cranked up to maximum.
“Bella!” I heard Charlie’s distressed cry, and I twitched, trying to crane my neck to see him. Sam must have been watching me closely as he fluidly took my cue and twisted so that I could see Charlie running across the yard towards me, naked panic suffusing his face. My shattered heart ached with love for him, and sorrow that I had caused him such pain.
“Char…lie…” I murmured, my voice sounding small. My hands that were curled against my chest moved haltingly forward as if to reach for him but my muscles didn’t seem to remember how.
A confusing swirl of faces moved over me, and as the babble rose in urgency I paid the most attention to Sam’s voice as it was the only one that made sense in the chaos, perhaps because my ear was pressed to his chest.
“No, I don’t think she’s hurt,” he told someone. “She just keeps saying ‘He’s gone’.”
Crap. Was I saying that out loud? I bit down on my lip, startled that I could feel such a hot, flushing emotion such as embarrassment through the dull pain pounding sluggishly through my chest. I wished it would go back to the numbness. That, at least, was easier to manage.
“Bella, honey, are you alright?” I turned my eyes back to Charlie, who was hovering worriedly next to Sam, his eyes glued to my face. I felt my face pucker, and I turned it abruptly into Sam’s shirt, unable to suppress a ragged sob.
“She’s fine physically, Charlie, but from what I gathered the l—Cullen left her there in the woods.
“Oh Bella… I’m right here, baby,” Charlie murmured, and I felt a coarse hand brush gently down my hair. Another ragged sob hitched in my chest, and I felt the swaying begin again as Sam carried me towards the house. “We’re almost home now, honey.”
I opened my eyes as I heard the distinctive sound of my front door opening, and looked dully at the tear stains I’d left on Sam’s bare chest. I frowned slightly, wondering at how odd it was he didn’t have a shirt on. Really, Bella? With everything going on, everything that happened, this is what you focus on? I continued with my idle internal monologue as Sam deposited me gently on the couch.
“I’m all wet,” I protested, my lip pouting a little and Charlie huffed a laugh, kneeling down beside me so his face was even with mine.
“I know baby, I know, but that doesn’t matter,” his voice was gruff, and his eyes looked suspiciously bright as he took in my state. My eyes slid over to Sam Uley, amazed again at how he seemed to fill up the entire room with his towering form. He reminded me of someone… I couldn’t put my finger quite on it just then, but it tugged at my memory, making me ache for something…
I realized while I was lost in my thoughts Charlie had sent someone to get blankets which were now being laid over top of me, and a grey-haired man I barely recognized filled my vision next as Charlie stepped back.
“Dr. Gerandy?” I frowned.
“That’s right dear,” he answered kindly, his deep brown eyes crinkling on the edges with his smile. “Are you hurt, Bella?”
“No…” I murmured, coughing when my voice cracked. “No,” I answered more surely, knowing it was a lie when I winced as my chest stabbed with fresh pain. No. Don’t think about it.
I remembered suddenly Sam Uley’s same question, but phrased so differently. Have you been hurt, Bella?
Have I been hurt?
More than anything I’ve ever felt before.
Dr. Gerandy’s warm hand touched my forehead, and I flinched away from the bright pen light he shone into both of my eyes, blinking the spots out of my vision. His fingers touched the inside of my wrist, and I watched his lips as he counted silently while watching his wrist watch.
“What happened to you?” he asked gently, after getting the reading he needed, and I felt a tear leak unbidden out of the corner of my eye, sliding down my cheek to land on the couch cushion. I could taste bitter panic at the back of my throat and I stiffened.
“Did you get lost in the woods?” he pressed on in a soothing voice, forehead crinkling with concern. My gaze flickered to three tall, dark figures that entered the room—men from La Push, the Quileute Native reservation down on the coastline—the familiar face among them that I had been aching for before.
“Jacob…” I breathed as my eyes alighted on his worried face, and it seemed as if a string that had been holding him in place snapped and he rushed towards me, the couch dipping under his weight as he sat next to my curled legs.
“Hey Bells,” he murmured, lips pulling up in a sad smile as he gathered up one of my hands in his. His skin was so warm, and I registered faint shock in the back of my mind as my lip tugged up into a smile in response to him. His resulting beaming grin was like a warm ray of sunlight touching my soul.
My attention was pulled back to Dr. Gerandy who watched the exchange with a critical, knowing gaze, his dark eyes missing nothing. Charlie’s eyes looked like they were trying to crawl up into his hairline. I would have laughed at the comical thought if my chest hadn’t hurt so bad.
“Yes… I got lost in the woods,” I whispered, realizing my hand was clutching Jacob’s like a lifeline, but he didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. I shivered, the cold finally seeming to settle into my bones. The doctor nodded thoughtfully, gently probing the glands underneath my jaw. I saw Charlie’s face harden.
“Do you feel tired?” the doctor asked, and I tried to suppress another shiver, nodding and closing my eyes obediently, not before stealing a glance at Jacob whose face had slid back into worried concern. I could feel his thumb swiping soothingly back and forth over the back of my hand, and I latched onto that warm line like a lifeline, trying to regulate my breathing.
“I don’t think anything is wrong with her,” I heard Dr. Gerandy tell Charlie after a moment, his voice sounding farther away. “Just exhaustion. Let her sleep it off and I’ll come back to check on her in the morning,” he paused, looking down at his watch again. “Well, later today, actually.”
Jacob stayed next to me, switching hands so he could rub one up and down my arm gently. I felt his warmth seep into me, and I gripped his hand tighter, suddenly desperate for him not to leave me alone.
I teetered dangerously on the edge of the numbness, balking away from the agony awaiting me if I delved too deep into my memory.
“Is it true?” I heard Charlie whisper, his voice now sounding from the edge of the room near the kitchen. I strained to hear. “Did they leave?”
“Dr. Cullen asked us not to say anything,” Dr. Gerandy answered, and I stiffened as sharp pain gashed the gaping hole across my chest. “The offer was very sudden; they had to choose immediately. Carlisle didn’t want to make a big production out of leaving.”
“A little warning might have been nice,” Charlie grumbled, and I had the strange urge to bark a laugh, but I knew if I tried it would come out more like a cry of anguish.
Dr. Gerandy sounded uncomfortable when he replied, “Yes, well, in this situation some warning might have been called for.
Jake seemed to notice me curling into myself at the conversation, and he shifted me forward suddenly, I frowned until I realized he was moving around until he was behind me, his arms wrapping around me tightly. I should have been embarrassed, or pushed him away from literally spooning me in the middle of my living room where everyone could see, but the minute his arms tightened around me I felt all the tension leave me. His warmth seemed to literally surround me, binding the edges of the hole in my chest together.
“Jake…” I murmured, and he shushed me gently, kissing my temple.
“It’s okay honey, I’ve got you. Go to sleep.”
For the first time, I didn’t fight it. I sighed, drifting in an out of awareness, Jacob’s steady warmth keeping me from teetering and falling over the edge into oblivion. The few times I shuddered, feeling close to crying again Jacob would tighten his arms around me until it subsided.
I heard Charlie whispering thanks to the volunteers of my search party one by one as they filtered out, heading home after a long, weary night of searching for me. I felt guilt seep into me, but it barely registered on top of the seething mass of pain I was trying to hold inside my chest.
I heard the familiar squeak of wheels rolling over the hardwood floors next to the couch, and felt Jacob lift his head long enough to nod at whatever Billy must have silently asked him. He kissed my head again before nuzzling back into my hair, his heartbeat steady and strong behind me. I realized vaguely that I was counting the beats, feeling them match mine perfectly.
The phone rang a couple times and I could hear Charlie rush to answer before it could wake me. He muttered reassurances in a low voice to the callers.
“Yeah we found her. She’s okay. She got lost. She’s fine now,” he said again and again.
I heard footsteps as he got closer, his voice in a very light whisper now.
“Jake, Harry is here to drive you and Billy home.”
Panic filled me, and I could hear my heart rate pick up unsteadily as I thought about Jake leaving me, the secure warmth of his arms was all that was holding me together.
“Charlie…” he whispered back, his voice full of reluctance. I hear the pleading note in his voice.
“It’s okay Charlie, if Jake wants to stay I’m alright with it. I think what Bella needs right now more than anything is a friend,” I heard Billy’s tumbling gravel voice say softly, close to the entryway. Charlie harrumphed a cough and grumbled his acquiescence after a moment, and I sent a fervent thank you to Billy with my mind.
Rationally, I knew I couldn’t keep Jacob here forever, but just tonight. At least tonight.
Searing pain shot through me again, and my muscles locked as I fought the impulse to curl over my chest. Jacob’s arm tightened around me until my breathing eased, and I went limp, utterly exhausted mentally and emotionally.
I listened to Billy’s departure, and the springs in the armchair creak as Charlie settled in for the night. Of course even in my state Charlie could never sanction me sleeping alone with a boy, I thought dryly.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again.
Charlie groaned as he struggled to his feet, and then he rushed, stumbling to the kitchen. I buried my head further against Jacob’s arm trying to block out the noise, and I felt his lips press against the side of my neck, sending a jolt of unfamiliar heat through me swiftly followed by confusion. Huh?
Struggling to process my body’s response to Jacob’s kiss in the midst of everything else I was dealing with, (or trying not to deal with,) I tried and failed to tune out Charlie’s conversation, not wanting to hear the same words again.
“Yeah,” Charlie said through a jaw-cracking yawn.
He listened for a long moment, his voice changing as he responded, much more alert. “Where?” There was a pause. “You’re sure it’s outside the reservation?” Another short pause. “But what could be burning out there?” he sounded both worried and mystified “Look, I’ll call down there and check it out, but it’ll be a little while before Billy and Harry get home… Yeah, they just left probably ten minutes ago… I realize that, but I can’t speed up the speed that they’re going,” Charlie sounded irritated, ending the call after a few more exchanges and a grumbled goodbye.
He waited a little while before punching in a number.
“Oh good, Billy, you’re home, it’s Charlie… no, she’s fine, still sleeping with, er—her and Jake are still sleeping,” he coughed over his stumble, and I pushed away the thought of whatever had shot through me when Jacob kissed my neck, listening with more interest to the conversation. “I just got a call from Mrs. Stanley, and she says that from her second story window she can see fires out on the sea cliffs, but I didn’t really… Oh!” suddenly there was an edge to his voice, of irritation or anger. “And why exactly are they doing that? Uh huh. Oh really?” he said it sarcastically. “Well don’t apologize to me. Yeah, yeah, just make sure they’re being responsible and that the flames don’t spread… I know, I know, I’m surprised they even got them lit in this weather.”
Charlie hesitated, then added grudgingly, “Thanks for bringing Sam and the other boys up. I’m afraid we wouldn’t have found her if it weren’t for him,” his voice got quiet, pained. He listened for a little bit, grunting in response to whatever Billy was saying. “Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m not sure how she’d be if he weren’t here, to be honest. Okay, well I’ll call you tomorrow about bringing Jake home. Yeah, I hear ya. Bye,” he ended, still slightly sour, before hanging up.
“What’s wrong?” I heard Jacob ask as Charlie came back into the living room.
“Sorry to wake you, Jake. Just some bonfires out on the cliffs,” he huffed. “Seems your friends are celebrating the news of the…” he trailed off, and seemed to think better of his word choice. The pieces clicked into place for me without him having to elaborate. “The move,” he ended lamely.
“Hmm, yeah, the Cullens are pretty unpopular on the reservation,” Jacob replied quietly, sounding evasive, but there was an undercurrent of defensiveness, like he was waiting for Charlie to argue with him about it.
“Well, you have to admit it’s a little ridiculous,” Charlie spluttered, and I felt Jacob tense behind me.
“It’s the legends,” I murmured, shocked that anything had come out of my mouth at all, though my voice sounded hollow.
“Bella! I’m sorry we woke you, honey,” Charlie was immediately by my side, checking me over as if he expected some new injury to have presented itself. Once he was satisfied, he settled back on the armchair, sitting closer to the edge this time.
The Quileutes had their legends about the “cold ones” or the blood-drinkers that were enemies of the tribe, just like they had their legends of the great flood and the wolf-men ancestors. Just stories, myths, to most of them. Though there were a few who still believed. Billy Black still believed, though even Jake thought it was all stupid superstitions. Something tugged at my memory, Billy warning me away from the Cullens, but also something else…
Just the thought of the name filled me with another astonishing, stabbing pain that took my breath away with its force.
“Bella?” Charlie asked quietly, and I came to, realizing I had been staring blankly into space for too long to be normal.
I looked at him uneasily.
“He left you in the woods?” he asked gravely, and I couldn’t meet his gaze anymore. The pain was threatening to overwhelm me. I felt a tremble run through me, and Jacob responded by stroking his fingers over the skin that peaked under my shirt next to my navel. I latched onto the sensation of warmth filtering through my skin, desperate to keep my head above water.
“How did you know where to find me?” I deflected, my mind shying away from the inevitable drowning I was facing.
“Your note,” Charlie said, his tone surprised. My eyes flashed back to his now, shock providing me an icy alertness. He reached into his back pocket and produced a much-abused piece of paper. It was filthy and damp, with multiple creases from being opened and folded multiple times. He unfolded it again, holding it out to me as evidence. The messy handwriting was eerily similar to my own, but I could easily spot the differences. I felt the icy alertness solidify and filter into my veins.
Going for a walk with Edward up the path. Back soon, B.
“When you didn’t come back I called the Cullens, but no one answered. Then I called the hospital for Carlisle but Dr. Gerandy said they were gone.”
“Where did they go.” I meant it to come out as a question but my voice was monotone, wavering.
He stared at me, clearly alarmed. “Didn’t Edward tell you?”
I shook my head, recoiling. The clawing pain was cresting now, and I found myself pressing back into Jake, who held me tighter, whispering succor in my ear. I threaded my fingers through his; gripping so tightly I thought I must have been hurting him.
Charlie eyed me doubtfully as he answered. “Carlisle took a job at a big hospital in Los Angeles, I guess they threw a lot of money at him.”
I felt hysterical laughter bubble up into my throat, but by some miracle I held it at bay. Sunny Los Angeles, the last place in the damn world the Cullens would go. The memory of the dream with his skin glinting in the sunlight flashed in my minds eye, and I pushed it away, choking on the scream that wanted to escape my throat at the pain from the memory of his face.
Gone… they’re gone…
“Hey honey, I’m here.”
Jake’s whisper seemed to jolt me out of my spiral, and I felt myself take a huge breath, releasing the tension I hadn’t realized was stiffening my shoulders.
“Bella. I want to know if Edward left you alone out there in the woods,” Charlie insisted. I winced at the mention of his name again, but Jacob’s comforting arm around me held the demons at bay.
“It was my fault, he left me right on the edge of the trail, in sight of the house… but I tried to follow him.” I squeezed my eyes shut, shaking my head, cutting off what Charlie was about to say. “Please… dad… I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Charlie was silent for a long moment, his eyes searching my face, then nodded.
“Alright. Now are you kids gonna be alright down here?” Charlie asked, a wave of awkwardness coming over the conversation.
“We’ll be fine, chief,” Jake answered easily, and I envied his ability to placate my father with a simple smile.
Charlie grumbled something, seeming torn between staying and being an overprotective father, and getting a good night’s sleep in his own bed.
Well, morning at this point.
I could see the sky fading to a lighter shade of blue through the window, and I grimaced, feeling the exhaustion pulling at me. After a brief internal struggle, Charlie stood, grumbling a goodnight with one last awkward glance towards the couch. I heard him shuffle upstairs, but I never heard his door click shut, and of all the things I wanted to roll my eyes.
“Thank god, I thought he would never leave,” Jacob joked quietly in my ear, and despite myself I felt the corner of my mouth pulling up.
“Stop it, Jake, he just… cares, a lot…” Jacob and I both chuckled at how unconvincing I sounded, and I sighed, feeling the pain twinge at my chest.
“Hey, Bella. Look at me.” I twisted a little in his grasp to meet his gaze, and I suddenly felt captivated in the deep, warm pools of his dark eyes. Some emotion I didn’t dare name swam in them, and I felt my mouth go dry. My neck tingled where he had kissed it. “You’re gonna be okay, you know that, right?” I tried to smile at him, but I knew he could see right through me. He leaned forward, pressing his warm, pliant lips against my forehead, and I marveled briefly at how different it was from…
Nope. Don’t go there.
“Goodnight honey,” he sighed, his warm breath washing over my face. I felt my heart do a strange jump, and I turned fully so I was leaning half on top of him, my leg tucked between his. If his breath caught, I carefully chose to ignore it, and I nuzzled my face against his chest.
“G’night,” I mumbled, wishing I could have this warmth next to me always, like my own personal sun.
Even after everything that had happened to me, I felt my lips twitch upwards. My last thought before I drifted off to sleep—Jacob… my sun.