They were on the cusp of a new year when they shared their first kiss.
A part of it had felt as though it was inevitable—for months Bella’s heart seemed to have grown with the careful actions of her best friend. He would brush her hair from her face and smile, so bright and handsome and with every loving word ever said seeming to come out without ever having to be said, and Bella would want to kiss him so bad it made her fingers swell.
Jacob took her hand.
Bella smiled up at him.
His hand—warm and so big it made her feel so safe, as though he was a cocoon and she a little caterpillar waiting to arise—traveled up her arm, leaving a trail of gooseflesh as it moved, and placed itself onto her cheek. Bella shakily breathed out, a rush of air that bounced off his wrist and back towards her face. They were sitting on the front porch of her house, the sounds of the small New Years gathering inside filtering out of the screen door.
“Bella,” Jacob whispered. All sounds disappeared. It was only Jake and her and her and Jake. His breath was so loud in her ears and all Bella could think was, isn’t that the most beautiful sound in the world ?
She wanted to cry so bad, thinking about what brought them to this moment. How far they had gone together. Bella sighed out, “Jacob, I want to kiss you so bad.”
“Cool,” he murmured back, gently pressing forward.
Bella pried open the floorboard in her bedroom, carefully pulling out the box she had hidden underneath it. There was no reason for her to hide it—Edward was long gone. Still. Still, she kept it there and, in moments of pure melancholy that bit at her bones, she fished it out.
After he had left, Bella had stuffed every memento of his that she could. An expensive diamond and pearl bracelet that had made her deeply uncomfortable, but she had worn it for months just to see that smile on his handsome cool face. It was the only time he seemed to melt away from his cold demeanor, when he smiled at her. When she made him so happy, Bella could pretend he was human. A part of her wondered if Edward had felt the same, that he could pretend with her while being openly inhuman.
It hung over them at all times, yet Bella had always been so well-versed in turning her cheek away from things like that. She had pretended that she respected Renée; she had pretended that life with Edward was a possibility. It wasn’t. She closed her eyes and clasped her hand over her wrist. She breathed in and opened the box.
She pushed the bracelet aside and pulled out the pictures. There was a photo, of the two of them, that she had folded in half. It had been hung up on her wall for quite a while, a beautiful smiling picture of Edward, so pale white and shining and happy while with a girl so ordinary as her. Just looking at the picture made her want to throw up. Still, she unfolded it and stared at herself. Her straightened hair, just the way he loved it. She threw it back in the back, face-down, unable to look at it any longer as something sour twisted in her stomach and chest.
There was another, of Bella sitting on a stool as Alice straightened her hair. One side was its natural, voluminous curls while the other was pressed flat with a straightener that Alice held out proudly as she grinned towards the camera. Another picture of Edward sitting at his piano, a simple melody not yet lost to time playing in Bella’s head no doubt the sound beneath his fingertips. She could hear it so perfectly.
Bella wiped at her eyes.
It had been so easy to fall in love with Edward Cullen.
What a terrible thing that fall was.
The bonfire was high and mighty, swaying with the soft ocean wind.
Bella felt so warm, snuggled in Jacob’s big corduroy and wool-lined jacket. He was just in a big hoodie, looking as warm as anything with his growing out hair in a casual ponytail and a smile on his face. While he no longer had the ability to shift into a wolf, he still ran warm, something Bella was grateful for when she got so damn cold herself.
Embry was softly playing his guitar and Bella carefully pulled out her disposable camera from the small tote bag sitting near her feet. She rolled the thumb wheel and pressed her face against it, Embry just meeting her gaze when the camera flashed. He laughed and threw his head back, “Hey, no fair! You didn’t get my good angle!”
Kim laughed from where her and Jared were cuddling. “Em, I hate to break it to you but there isn’t any good angle on you.” The crowd laughed and jeered. Embry playfully scowled at her and threw a handful of sand her way, only for the wind to pick it up and head straight towards the fire. It ignited and dissipated. “Hey, can I borrow the camera? How much film’s in it?”
“It’s pretty much full,” Bella said as she handed it to Kim, who grinned and turned it around, taking a picture of her and Jared, who scrunched up his nose and stuck out his tongue. The camera went from hand to hand to hand, until Bella wasn’t quite sure who had it as its flashing light went off.
Until, of course, Jacob sat by her side and tipped the camera towards her with that beautiful smile of his. “The film’s nearly out,” he said as he began to scroll the thumb wheel. “Mind taking a picture with me?” His voice was soft, almost a whisper among the laughter of their friends, and Bella leaned forward towards Jake to hear him better. They were nearly cheek to cheek.
It made her feel warm, hot, scalding, perfect. Like she had settled into a warm bathtub that she never wanted to leave. She needed her head and giggled when Jake made a face at the camera. She made a face of her own and— click.
Even as Jake set the camera back in her bag, she stayed close to him. “You’re just so warm,” she mumbled into his shoulder, loving the way it shook with near-silent laughter. Bella felt suddenly and completely delirious in his warmth. She wanted to curl up next to his spine and find shelter within him, like a little mouse within shavings of wood and strands of fur, so safe in a home found from the shattering of another. It was morbid and weird and she whispered it for him to hear.
As expected, Jacob laughed and twisted his head so that their eyes could meet. It had to be an awkward position, but he was still smiling. That was her Jake. “I’ll always have a home for you inside of me,” he said in a steady voice and something dropped in Bella’s stomach.
She pressed her face into his shoulder, wanting to cry, but, instead, she smiled.
It took her months to realize what that feeling within her was.
A deep and comfortable love that grew and shifted as she did. If she thought hard, she was sure it had been inside her for a long time. Yet, it was only now making itself known. The love had grown so much it couldn’t be ignored anymore.
Bella woke every morning, her heart both calm and hummingbird fast in her chest, her thoughts turning straight away to Jacob’s smiles and laughs and hands. She felt so warm, like the manifestation of the color pink, and had to press her hands over her hands and cheeks as though it could keep all her emotions down, down, down, inside of her.
“Jake,” Bella said quietly, leaning towards him from where she sat on the arm of the sofa. The house was full of conversation—Charlie and Sue and Harry and Billy sat around the kitchen table playing a hand of cards and Seth was dominating everyone in Mario Kart 64. It was hours away from midnight, but the sun had set over the horizon hours ago. Nobody would have heard Bella if she spoke in a normal tone, but she whispered anyway.
Jacob raised one of his eyebrows and leaned closer to her, his shoulder digging into her chest. “Bella?”
She rolled her eyes and tilted her head up, towards her bedroom. Jacob glanced around, shrugged, and stood up. They were able to get up the stairs without anyone calling out to them (a feat considering Jacob’s height always caught someone's attention) and Bella flopped onto her bed with a sigh. Jake stood at her doorway for a long moment until Bella patted the side next to her. He dropped face-first onto the bed.
“Your bed smells nice,” Jacob muttered. “Lavender?”
“Apparently my grandma swore that lavender helped lighten every heavy mood anyone could ever have,” Bella said as she reached over and twisted a lock of Jake’s hair around her finger. “Charlie never really talks about them—his parents.” Bella closed her eyes and could see that picture of them that sat in the living room. She had been an infant, tiny and chubby-faced, with dark black curls already on her head. Her grandmother held her up with brittle hands and a bright smile and her grandfather was tickling at her stomach.
She wondered how coherent her grandma was there. Did she know who Bella was? Or did she just think little Bella was some cute dark little child that was in her hands?
“He talked about the lavender though?” Jacob asked, as he turned over onto his back and picked up one of the plush wolves on her bed. There were five, solely because every time Bella saw one with brown fur at the store she felt like she had to buy it in memory of the beautiful creature Jacob used to turn into. “Was… was it.” Bella watched as his throat bobbed. “Was it when Edward left?”
Bella closed her eyes and pressed her head against Jake’s chest. His heart beat in a steady and strong rhythm. It had been exactly the same when he would shift. “Yeah. He thought maybe the lavender would help me. I don’t know if it did, but it’s a nice smell, isn’t it?”
Jacob huffed out a small laugh. “Yeah, it’s the patented Bella Swan scent.”
Bella opened her eyes and leaned back a few inches to get a good look at Jake. “I have a patented scent?”
“Uh. Yeah, Bells. I just said so.” Jacob gave an exaggerated nod of his head. Bella laughed and playfully bit at his shoulder, which only made Jacob laugh louder and pretend to howl in anguish. Laughing, Bella pressed her hands over his mouth, shushing him. “Okay, okay, okay, I’m good, I’m good,” he repeated over and over despite still laughing.
Bella smiled and placed her head back on her pillow.
Watching Jacob, he looked like the most beautiful person in the world.
“Hey, can you help me with something?”
“Anything,” Jake answered automatically, like it was natural.
The sun was just beginning to rise, day breaking in a beautiful array of soft oranges and pinks. Bella had barely slept a wink, unable to let herself fall asleep when she knew Jacob and the others were running about. Facing Victoria. Billy kept trying to reassure her, but she could see it in his face: he was just as concerned.
They’d been out all night long.
The pack had been chasing Victoria for months on end, but today had been their breaking point. They were facing her head-on. They were going to kill her.
The very thought made Bella feel jittery. She knew, really, that it was possible. She had seen, in a haze of blood loss, the Cullen’s kill James. It was possible. There was no true immortality. Still, whenever Bella closed her eyes she could see Victoria. The blood-red of her eyes, piercing and hungry , just as striking as her wild leaf-filled curls. She had been beautiful, wild and wicked and filled with a fury Bella could taste on the tip of her tongue. It had been so long, but not for Victoria. No, the bitterness of losing her mate was fresh for her. And she wanted Bella.
Edward had left months ago, yet Victoria was here.
“You guys shouldn’t have to clean up my mess,” Bella had told Jake before he had left yesterday. Victoria wanted her . Not them. They could be safe.
Jacob had smiled at her, something sadder than usual, and grabbed her hands. His were so big and that had made her want to cry, but instead she closed her eyes and let the feeling envelop her. “It’s what we do, Bells.” She had felt as he leaned down, his breath warm on her cheek as he hovered for a long while, and pressed a kiss to her cheek. Then, he had left with the waning sunlight.
Now, the sun was rising, and Jake wasn’t back home.
Bella tugged her cardigan closer to herself and pressed her chin into her knees, staring out across the yard. The wait was too long. Were they at Emily’s? Would she have called if they were? Had something awful happened? The questions twisted in her mind, over and over again. She had half convinced herself to run out into the woods when a figure appeared.
His name was a whisper in her mouth. She stood up. “Jake!” She called out before sprinting towards him. She very nearly tripped over herself, but she kept herself going towards him, needing to touch him, to ground herself back to reality because he was okay! He was okay! “Jake!” Bella wrapped her arms around Jacob, tears finally escaping her eyes, and he set his hand on the back of his head.
“You’re safe now.” He said. “You’re safe now.”
Edward Cullen had to be the most handsome man Bella had ever seen.
Yet, outside of the prom venue, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of shyness when Jacob Black settled down next to her. Maybe it was because of the dress she was wearing—a little too expensive and odd-looking on her. Maybe it was the big boot on her still healing foot. Whatever it was, she couldn’t quite meet Jacob’s eyes.
His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, showing a line of muscle along his arms that had to come from working on cars. Bella stared at it for a long moment before meeting his big brown eyes again. “Just don’t get mad, ‘kay?” He mumbled, shifting slightly back. “But, my dad wants you to break up with your boyfriend.”
When she walked away with Edward, his cold arm around her shoulders, the idea of breaking up with him felt entirely out of the question. Why would she ever want that? He was an immortal, beautiful vampire. He could have anyone. And he chose Bella! Bella, who was clumsy and awkward and didn’t have a shred of beauty within her. Yet, he chose her.
Bella pressed close to his body, shivering slightly as she did, not letting herself glance back where they left Jacob. But, right before they entered the building, she turned back, only to feel disappointment that Jacob had disappeared.
The dance would feel so much more fun if he was here too , Bella couldn’t help but think.
By the time summer rolled around, Jacob and the others were turning into wolves less and less often. The shift, Jacob explained, was no longer necessary.
“Looks like Victoria was the last vampire around here,” he said with a shrug as he lathered a bread roll with butter. It melted automatically, the bread straight out of the oven. They were sitting in Emily Young’s kitchen, a steady rainfall outside. The house was warm and lively, something Bella was growing more and more confident around the longer she spent time with them. “No vampires means no reason to be a wolf.”
Bella nodded her head in understanding. The only reason they had turned in the first place was because of the Cullens being around. Jake and his friend probably wouldn’t have even shifted at all if it wasn’t for Victoria slinking around in the area. A deep chill entered her chest at the thought of the Cullens, but her mind drifted towards them. They all seemed so pained, yet proud, of being vampires. Like it was both a gift and a damnation. “Will you miss it?” Bella asked, thinking about how Edward would lament on his existence being one eternal hell. “If you never shifted again?”
Jacob hummed and sat back in his chair, taking a bite out of his bread roll. His hair was beginning to grow out a little, a shaggy dark head of hair that fell over his ears. “I think a part of me will miss it,” Jake said with a smile as he glanced over towards Seth, who sat at the other end of the table turned towards the entryway where his sister sat on a chair in front of. “But it’s better this way. When we’re wolves, it means there’s danger around. Now, everybody is safe.”
Bella had been so unafraid of the vampires in her life. They were safe, she had reasoned over and over, even after Edward had gotten a taste of her blood and would press his nose against her neck like he wanted to dig through it and even despite the piercing gaze of Jasper, who moved more like a predator than a human. She had thought she had been safe.
But, really, Bella didn’t know true safety until now.
Emily Young’s house was lively and warm and Bella took another bread roll into her hands, relishing in the warmth and the wonderful scent.
It was close to sunset when the phone rang, insistent and loud, before cutting off quickly.
Charlie and Billy were sitting at the table, playing a game of dominoes, while Bella and Jacob worked on making dinner. He said over and over that his hands were made for tinkering with motors, not for cooking. “You need to learn,” Bella told him in a playfully stern voice. “Rachel and Sue can’t be the only person giving you two home-cooked meals.”
“Shouldn’t you be schooling Charlie on cooking then? If that’s your logic?” Jacob shot back with a frown, even as he stood up and moved towards the kitchen. He sat against the counter, watching as Bella pulled out the recipe book next to the oven.
It was an old thing, something Bella had found in a drawer. There were two different sets of handwriting within it—her grandmothers and, for two short recipes Bella knew by heart, her mother's messy half-cursive. Renée was never really a cook, but she knew a few dishes that she and her grandmother had taught Bella. A simple albondigas dish and migas. Bella set the book next to Jacob, who watched her turn the pages with interest.
“Was that your grandma’s?” Jake asked, glancing over towards the table where their dads were busy talking.
Bella gave a small nod. “I found it a few days ago. I wasn’t sure how to tell Charlie about it, but I made him a few meals from it and he doesn’t seem to mind. I’ve been thinking of adding in my own recipes. There’s plenty of pages left in it.” She pressed down against the book, settled on the page titled One-Pot Chicken . “What do you think about this?”
Jacob raised an eyebrow and read the ingredients under his breath. “Sounds good to me.” He heaved himself off the counter and grabbed what he could from the high cabinets as Bella pulled out ingredients from the fridge.
There was a small radio that sat on the window sill, something Bella hadn’t touched in months. Not even Charlie had turned it on since her depression had become so big, covering the entirety of their lives. But, suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to listen to some music as her and Jake moved around the kitchen together. She reached forward and turned the knob settling on a station. She felt when Jacob glanced at her in surprise, but continued on with her cooking lesson.
Everything felt so right, so whole, and she wondered if this would be how she would feel from now on. Loved. Happy. Bella nudged Jake’s side and smiled up at him, the sound of music curling around them.
The photographs felt so flimsy in Bella’s hands.
It was odd, how years ago these pictures had felt like a lifeline to someone who had hurt her immeasurably. There were times when Bella still felt like that hollow shell of a human, the girl who could barely get up without wanting to lay back down, the girl who couldn’t bring herself to cry and instead walked about with her mind a million miles away, trying to reach someone who never had access to her mind in the first place. Bella used to wonder if Edward missed her. If the time that passed was like nothing to him, all while she aged with each passing day. She knew, without a doubt, that who she was now was not the same Bella Swan that Edward Cullen had known.
And wasn’t that perfect?
She was no longer unsteady on her own feet.
Bella had found a confidence within herself that she had never had before. A love for her figure and voice and hair. She had found a joy for life that had always seemed so bleak. She had friends and everyday she talked on the phone with Jacob, his voice like a balm on both bad and good days. She laughed loudly and found comfort within her silly, clumsy body. And she loved. She had so much love inside her chest that she didn’t know could be there before now.
She had always thought she had loved Edward, but that had been the distant love a person has for a marble statue. An admiration so deep it cut—because who could ever be as beautiful as that statue? A part of her had always felt as though she was competing. But, now, it was never like that.
It had always been like an open secret betwee her and Jake. His love for her. He never hid it, never made her feel like she needed to catch up with him. He just was. And so was she. It was uncomplicated and sweet, so sweet she could taste it on her tongue with each kiss they pressed to each other's lips.
Each one was new for them—a sixth, a seventh, a tenth, the fifteenth kiss shared between them—and the novelty of it all made excitement curl around Bella’s chest. Their first kiss had been on the cusp of the new year, and now it was squarely within that new year. A whole new millennium that they had willingly walked into together.
Bella opened up the folded picture, staring at the teenage girl who looked so uncomfortable within herself. What would have happened if that girl had became a vampire? What a hell that would have been.
“I loved when you stopped straightening your hair,” Jacob said, startling Bella from her thoughts. He was sitting next to her, on the chair in front of the small fire pit, throwing kindling within it. He tapped at the Bella-in-the-photograph. “You always looked so miserable with him. Once you let your hair do its thing, it was like you were finally yourself.” He reached over and pulled at a strand, watching as it bounced back when he pulled away.
Bella folded the picture, obscuring her figure once again, before folding it over and on top of Edward’s pale, smiling face. The date was written in small letters on the back. “He used to love whenever I straightened my hair. I would have done anything just to see that smile of his, even though I was so unhappy with myself. How messed up is that?” It was lucky, really, that none of the Cullen’s had been able to use their powers on her. Imagine if Jasper had been able to feel her emotions? To say out loud that sadness clung to Bella’s mind and body like the rainclouds over Forks. She would have been horrified.
Jacob raised his arm and Bella pressed into his side. “Is it messed up of me to be happy he left?”
Bella didn’t have to think. She replied, throwing the picture into the fire, “It’s the smart thing to do.” Together, they sat, watching as the fire caused the photograph to curl in on itself, the image of the immortal boy burning away slowly, slowly, slowly. And with it, Bella’s grip on the past diminished and she smiled up at Jake, who held her close. So warm.
The moment was so warm, she could feel it becoming etched in her memory with so many other warm spots within her mind. She kept her eyes open, watching the picture burn, and threw another and another one in. Jacob kissed the side of her head, and the new year truly began.