I WASN’T SURE WHAT THE HELL I WAS DOING HERE Was I trying to push myself back into the zombie stupor? Had I turned masochistic—developed a taste for torture? I should have gone straight down to La Push I felt much, much healthier around Jacob This was not a healthy thing to do.
But I continued to drive slowly down the overgrown lane, twisting through the trees that arched over me like a green, living tunnel My hands were shaking, so I tightened my grip on the steering wheel.
I knew that part of the reason I did this was the nightmare, now that I was really awake, the nothingness of the dream gnawed on my nerves, a dog worrying a bone.
There was something to search for. Unattainable and impossible, uncaring and distracted… but he was out there, somewhere. I had to believe that.
The other part was the strange sense of repetition I’d felt at school today, the coincidence of the date. The feeling that I was starting over—perhaps the way my first day would have gone if I’d really been the most unusual person in the cafeteria that afternoon.
The words ran through my head, tonelessly, like I was reading them rather than hearing them spoken:
It will be as if I’d never existed.
I was lying to myself by splitting my reason for coming here into just two parts. I didn’t want to admit the strongest motivation. Because it was mentally unsound.
The truth was that I wanted to hear his voice again, like I had in the strange delusion Friday night. For that brief moment, when his voice came from some other part of me than my conscious memory, when his voice was perfect and honey smooth rather than the pale echo my memories usually produced, I was able to remember without pain. It hadn’t lasted; the pain had caught up with me, as I was sure it would for this fool’s errand. But those precious moments when I could hear him again were an irresistible lure. I had to find some way to repeat the experience… or maybe the better word was episode .
I was hoping that déjà vu was the key. So I was going to his home, a place I hadn’t been since my ill-fated birthday party, so many months ago.
The thick, almost jungle-like growth crawled slowly past my windows. The drive wound on and on. I started to go faster, getting edgy. How long had I been driving? Shouldn’t I have reached the house yet? The lane was so overgrown that it did not look familiar.
What if I couldn’t find it? I shivered. What if there was no tangible proof at all?
Then there was the break in the trees that I was looking for, only it was not so pronounced as before. The flora here did not wait long to reclaim any land that was left unguarded. The tall ferns had infiltrated the meadow around the house, crowding against the trunks of the cedars, even the wide porch. It was like the lawn had been flooded—waist-high—with green, feathery waves.
And the house was there, but it was not the same. Though nothing had changed on the outside, the emptiness screamed from the blank windows. It was creepy. For the first time since I’d seen the beautiful house, it looked like a fitting haunt for vampires.
I hit the brakes, looking away. I was afraid to go farther.
But nothing happened. No voice in my head.
So I left the engine running and jumped out into the fern sea. Maybe, like Friday night, if I walked forward…
I approached the barren, vacant face slowly, my truck rumbling out a comforting roar behind me. I stopped when I got to the porch stairs, because there was nothing here. No lingering sense of their presence… of his presence. The house was solidly here, but it meant little. Its concrete reality would not counteract the nothingness of the nightmares.
I didn’t go any closer. I didn’t want to look in the windows. I wasn’t sure which would be harder to see. If the rooms were bare, echoing empty from floor to ceiling, that would certainly hurt. Like my grandmother’s funeral, when my mother had insisted that I stay outside during the viewing. She had said that I didn’t need to see Gran that way, to remember her that way, rather than alive.
But wouldn’t it be worse if there were no change? If the couches sat just as I’d last seen them, the paintings on the walls—worse still, the piano on its low platform? It would be second only to the house disappearing all together, to see that there was no physical possession that tied them in anyway. That everything remained, untouched and forgotten, behind them.
Just like me.
I turned my back on the gaping emptiness and hurried to my truck. I nearly ran. I was anxious to be gone, to get back to the human world. I felt hideously empty, and I wanted to see Jacob. Maybe I was developing a new kind of sickness, another addiction, like the numbness before. I didn’t care. I pushed my truck as fast as it would go as I barreled toward my fix.
Jacob was waiting for me. My chest seemed to relax as soon as I saw him, making it easier to breathe.
“Hey, Bella,” he called.
I smiled in relief. “Hey, Jacob,” I waved at Billy, who was looking out the window.
“Let’s get to work,” Jacob said in a low but eager voice.
I was somehow able to laugh. “You seriously aren’t sick of me yet?” I wondered. He must be starting to ask himself how desperate I was for company.
Jacob led the way around the house to his garage.
“Nope. Not yet.”
“Please let me know when I start getting on your nerves. I don’t want to be a pain.”
“Okay.” He laughed, a throaty sound. “I wouldn’t hold your breath for that, though.”
When I walked into the garage, I was shocked to see the red bike standing up, looking like a motorcycle rather than a pile of jagged metal.
“Jake, you’re amazing,” I breathed.
He laughed again. “I get obsessive when I have a project.” He shrugged. “If I had any brains I’d drag it out a little bit.”
He looked down, pausing for so long that I wondered if he hadn’t heard my question. Finally, he asked me, “Bella, if I told you that I couldn’t fix these bikes, what would you say?”
I didn’t answer right away, either, and he glanced up to check my expression.
“I would say… that’s too bad, but I’ll bet we could figure out something else to do. If we got really desperate, we could even do homework.”
Jacob smiled, and his shoulders relaxed. He sat down next to the bike and picked up a wrench. “So you think you’ll still come over when I’m done, then?”
“Is that what you meant?” I shook my head. “I guess I am taking advantage of your very underpriced mechanical skills. But as long as you let me come over, I’ll be here.”
“Hoping to see Quil again?” he teased.
“You caught me.”
He chuckled. “You really like spending time with me?” he asked, marveling.
“Very, very much. And I’ll prove it. I have to work tomorrow, but Wednesday we’ll do something nonmechanical.”
“I have no idea. We can go to my place so you won’t be tempted to be obsessive. You could bring your schoolwork—you have to be getting behind, because I know I am.”
“Homework might be a good idea.” He made a face, and I wondered how much he was leaving undone to be with me.
“Yes,” I agreed. “We’ll have to start being responsible occasionally, or Billy and Charlie aren’t going to be so easygoing about this.” I made a gesture indicating the two of us as a single entity. He liked that—he beamed.
“Homework once a week?” he proposed.
“Maybe we’d better go with twice,” I suggested, thinking of the pile I’d just been assigned today.
He sighed a heavy sigh. Then he reached over his toolbox to a paper grocery sack. He pulled out two cans of soda, cracking one open and handing it to me. He opened the second, and held it up ceremoniously.
“Here’s to responsibility,” he toasted. “Twice a week.”
“And recklessness every day in between,” I emphasized.
He grinned and touched his can to mine.
I got home later than I’d planned and found Charlie had ordered a pizza rather than wait for me. He wouldn’t let me apologize.
“I don’t mind,” he assured me. “You deserve a break from all the cooking, anyway.”
I knew he was just relieved that I was still acting like a normal person, and he was not about to rock the boat.
I checked my e-mail before I started on my homework, and there was a long one from Renee. She gushed over every detail I’d provided her with, so I sent back another exhaustive description of my day. Everything but the motorcycles. Even happy-go-lucky Renee was likely to be alarmed by that.
School Tuesday had its ups and downs. Angela and Mike seemed ready to welcome me back with open arms—to kindly overlook my few months of aberrant behavior. Jess was more resistant. I wondered if she needed a formal written apology for the Port Angeles incident.
Mike was animated and chatty at work. It was like he’d stored up the semester’s worth of talk, and it was all spilling out now. I found that I was able to smile and laugh with him, though it wasn’t as effortless as it was with Jacob. It seemed harmless enough, until quitting time.
Mike put the closed sign in the window while I folded my vest and shoved it under the counter.
“This was fun tonight,” Mike said happily.
“Yeah,” I agreed, though I’d much rather have spent the afternoon in the garage.
“It’s too bad that you had to leave the movie early last week.”
I was a little confused by his train of thought. I shrugged. “I’m just a wimp, I guess.”
“What I mean is, you should go to a better movie, something you’d enjoy,” he explained.
“Oh,” I muttered, still confused.
“Like maybe this Friday. With me. We could go see something that isn’t scary at all.”
I bit my lip.
I didn’t want to screw things up with Mike, not when he was one of the only people ready to forgive me for being crazy. But this, again, felt far too familiar. Like the last year had never happened. I wished I had Jess as an excuse this time.
“Like a date?” I asked. Honesty was probably the best policy at this point. Get it over with.
He processed the tone of my voice “If you want. But it doesn’t have to be like that.”
“I don’t date,” I said slowly, realizing how true that was. That whole world seemed impossibly distant.
“Just as friends?” he suggested. His clear blue eyes were not as eager now. I hoped he really meant that we could be friends anyway.
“That would be fun. But I actually have plans already this Friday, so maybe next week?”
“What are you doing?” he asked, less casually than I think he wanted to sound.
“Homework. I have a… study session planned with a friend.”
“Oh. Okay. Maybe next week.”
He walked me to my car, less exuberant than before. It reminded me so clearly of my first months in Forks. I’d come full circle, and now everything felt like an echo—an empty echo, devoid of the interest it used to have.
The next night, Charlie didn’t seem the smallest bit surprised to find Jacob and me sprawled across the living room floor with our books scattered around us, so I guessed that he and Billy were talking behind our backs.
“Hey, kids,” he said, his eyes straying to the kitchen. The smell of the lasagna I’d spent the afternoon making—while Jacob watched and occasionally sampled—wafted down the hall; I was being good, trying to atone for all the pizza.
Jacob stayed for dinner, and took a plate home for Billy. He grudgingly added another year to my negotiable age for being a good cook.
Friday was the garage, and Saturday, after my shift at Newton’s, was homework again. Charlie felt secure enough in my sanity to spend the day fishing with Harry. When he got back, we were all done—feeling very sensible and mature about it, too—and watching Monster Garage on the Discovery Channel.
“I probably ought to go.” Jacob sighed. “It’s later than I thought.”
“Okay, fine,” I grumbled. “I’ll take you home.”
He laughed at my unwilling expression—it seemed to please him.
“Tomorrow, back to work,” I said as soon as we were safe in the truck. “What time do you want me to come up?”
There was an unexplained excitement in his answering smile. “I’ll call you first, okay?”
“Sure.” I frowned to myself, wondering what was up. His smile widened.
I cleaned the house the next morning—waiting for Jacob to call and trying to shake off the Litest nightmare. The scenery had changed. Last night I’d wandered in a wide sea of ferns interspersed with huge hemlock trees. There was nothing else there, and I was lost, wandering aimless and alone, searching for nothing. I wanted to kick myself for the stupid field trip last week. I shoved the dream out of my conscious mind, hoping it would stay locked up somewhere and not escape again.
Charlie was outside washing the cruiser, so when the phone rang, I dropped the toilet brush and ran downstairs to answer it.
“Hello?” I asked breathlessly.
“Bella,” Jacob said, a strange, formal tone to his voice.
“I believe that… we have a date” he said, his tone thick with implications.
It took me a second before I got it. “They’re done? I can’t believe it!” What perfect timing. I needed something to distract me from nightmares and nothingness.
“Yeah, they run and everything.”
“Jacob, you are absolutely, without a doubt, the most talented and wonderful person I know. You get ten years for this one.”
“Cool! I’m middle-aged now.”
I laughed. “I’m on my way up!”
I threw the cleaning supplies under the bathroom counter and grabbed my jacket.
“Headed to see Jake,” Charlie said when I ran past him. It wasn’t really a question.
“Yep,” I replied as I jumped in my truck.
“I’ll be at the station later,” Charlie called after me.
“Okay,” I yelled back, turning the key.
Charlie said something else, but I couldn’t hear him clearly over the roar of the engine. It sounded sort of like, “Where’s the fire?”
I parked my truck off to the side of the Blacks’ house, close to the trees, to make it easier for us to sneak the bikes out. When I got out, a splash of color caught my eye—two shiny motorcycles, one red, one black, were hidden under a spruce, invisible from the house. Jacob was prepared.
There was a piece of blue ribbon tied in a small bow around each of the handlebars. I was laughing at that when Jacob ran out of the house.
“Ready?” he asked in a low voice, his eyes sparkling.
I glanced over his shoulder, and there was no sign of Billy.
“Yeah,” I said, but I didn’t feel quite as excited as before; I was trying to imagine myself actually on the motorcycle.
Jacob loaded the bikes into the bed of the truck with ease, laying them carefully on their sides so they didn’t show.
“Let’s go,” he said, his voice higher than usual with excitement. “I know the perfect spot—no one will catch us there.”
We drove south out of town. The dirt road wove in and out of the forest—sometimes there was nothing but trees, and then there would suddenly be a breathtaking glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, reaching to the horizon, dark gray under the clouds. We were above the shore, on top of the cliffs that bordered the beach here and the view seemed to stretch on forever.
I was driving slowly, so that I could safely stare out across the ocean now and then, as the road wound closer to the sea cliffs. Jacob was talking about finishing the bikes, but his descriptions were getting technical, so I wasn’t paying close attention.
That was when I noticed four figures standing on a rocky ledge, much too close to the precipice. I couldn’t tell from the distance how old they were, but I assumed they were men. Despite the chill in the air today, they seemed to be wearing only shorts.
As I watched, the tallest person stepped closer to the brink. I slowed automatically, my foot hesitating over the brake pedal.
And then he threw himself off the edge.
“No!” I shouted, stomping down on the brake.
“What’s wrong?” Jacob shouted back, alarmed.
“That guy—he just jumped off the cliff ! Why didn’t they stop him? We’ve got to call an ambulance!” I threw open my door and started to get out, which made no sense at all. The fastest way to a phone was to drive back to Billy’s. But I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen. Maybe, subconsciously, I hoped I would see something different without the glass of the windshield in the way.
Jacob laughed, and I spun to stare at him wildly. How could he be so calloused, so cold-blooded?
“They’re just cliff diving, Bella. Recreation. La Push doesn’t have a mall, you know.” He was teasing, but there was a strange note of irritation in his voice.
“Cliff diving?” I repeated, dazed. I stared in disbelief as a second figure stepped to the edge, paused, and then very gracefully leaped into space. He fell for what seemed like an eternity to me, finally cutting smoothly into the dark gray waves below.
“Wow. It’s so high.” I slid back into my seat, still staring wide-eyed at the two remaining divers. “It must be a hundred feet.”
“Well, yeah, most of us jump from lower down, that rock that juts out from the cliff about halfway.” He pointed out his window. The place he indicated did seem much more reasonable. “Those guys are insane. Probably showing off how tough they are. I mean, really, it’s freezing today. That water can’t feel good.” He made a disgruntled face, as if the stunt personally offended him. It surprised me a little. I would have thought Jacob was nearly impossible to upset.
“You jump off the cliff?” I hadn’t missed the “us.”
“Sure, sure.” He shrugged and grinned. “It’s fun. A little scary, kind of a rush.”
I looked back at the cliffs, where the third figure was pacing the edge. I’d never witnessed anything so reckless in all my life. My eyes widened, and I smiled. “Jake, you have to take me cliff diving.”
He frowned back at me, his face disapproving. “Bella, you just wanted to call an ambulance for Sam,” he reminded me. I was surprised that he could tell who it was from this distance.
“I want to try,” I insisted, start ing to get out of the car again.
Jacob grabbed my wrist. “Not today, all right? Can we at least wait for a warmer day?”
“Okay, fine,” I agreed. With the door open, the glacial breeze was raising goose bumps on my arm. “But I want to go soon.”
“Soon.” He rolled his eyes. “Sometimes you’re a little strange, Bella. Do you know that?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
“And we’re not jumping off the top.”
I watched, fascinated, as the third boy made a running start and flung himself farther into the empty air than the other two. He twisted and cartwheeled through space as he fell, like he was skydiving. He looked absolutely free—unthinking and utterly irresponsible.
“Fine,” I agreed. “Not the first time, anyway.”
Now Jacob sighed.
“Are we going to try out the bikes or not?” he demanded.
“Okay, okay,” I said, tearing my eyes away from the last person waiting on the cliff. I put my seat belt back on and closed the door. The engine was still running, roaring as it idled. We started down the road again.
“So who were those guys—the crazy ones?” I wondered.
He made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. “The La Push gang.”
“You have a gang?” I asked. I realized that I sounded impressed.
He laughed once at my reaction. “Not like that. I swear, they’re like hall monitors gone bad. They don’t start fights, they keep the peace.” He snorted. “There was this guy from up somewhere by the Makah rez, big guy too, scary-looking. Well, word got around that he was selling meth to kids, and Sam Uley and his disciples ran him off our land. They’re all about our land , and tribe pride … it’s getting ridiculous. The worst part is that the council takes them seriously. Embry said that the council actually meets with Sam.” He shook his head, face full of resentment. “Embry also heard from Leah Clearwater that they call themselves ‘protectors’ or something like that.”
Jacob’s hands were clenched into fists, as if he’d like to hit something. I’d never seen this side of him.
I was surprised to hear Sam Uley’s name. I didn’t want it to bring back the images from my nightmare, so I made a quick observation to distract myself. “You don’t like them very much.”
“Does it show?” he asked sarcastically.
“Well… It doesn’t sound like they’re doing anything bad.” I tried to soothe him, to make him cheerful again. “Just sort of annoyingly goody-two-shoes for a gang.”
“Yeah. Annoying is a good word. They’re always showing off—like the cliff thing. They act like… like, I don’t know. Like tough guys. I was hanging out at the store with Embry and Quil once, last semester, and Sam came by with his followers , Jared and Paul. Quil said something, you know how he’s got a big mouth, and it pissed Paul off. His eyes got all dark, and he sort of smiled—no, he showed his teeth but he didn’t smile—and it was like he was so mad he was shaking or something. But Sam put his hand against Paul’s chest and shook his head. Paul looked at him for a minute and calmed down. Honestly, it was like Sam was holding him back—like Paul was going to tear us up if Sam didn’t stop him.” He groaned. “Like a bad western. You know, Sam’s a pretty big guy, he’s twenty. But Paul’s just sixteen, too, shorter than me and not as beefy as Quil. I think any one of us could take him.”
“Tough guys,” I agreed. I could see it in my head as he described it, and it reminded me of something… a trio of tall, dark men standing very still and close together in my father’s living room. The picture was sideways, because my head was lying against the couch while Dr. Gerandy and Charlie leaned over me… Had that been Sam’s gang?
I spoke quickly again to divert myself from the bleak memories. “Isn’t Sam a little too old for this kind of thing?”
“Yeah. He was supposed to go to college, but he stayed. And no one gave him any crap about it, either. The whole council pitched a fit when my sister turned down a partial scholarship and got married. But, oh no, Sam Uley can do no wrong.”
His face was set in unfamiliar lines of outrage—outrage and something else I didn’t recognize at first.
“It all sounds really annoying and… strange. But I don’t get why you’re taking it so personally.” I peeked over at his face, hoping I hadn’t offended him. He was suddenly calm, staring out the side window.
“You just missed the turn,” he said in an even voice.
I executed a very wide U-turn, nearly hitting a tree as my circle ran the truck halfway off the road.
“Thanks for the heads-up,” I muttered as I started up the side road.
“Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”
It was quiet for a brief minute.
“You can stop anywhere along here,” he said softly.
I pulled over and cut the engine. My ears rang in the silence that followed. We both got out, and Jacob headed around to the back to get the bikes. I tried to read his expression. Something more was bothering him. I’d hit a nerve.
He smiled halfheartedly as he pushed the red bike to my side. “Happy late birthday. Are you ready for this?”
“I think so.” The bike suddenly looked intimidating, frightening, as I realized I would soon be astride it.
“We’ll take it slow,” he promised. I gingerly leaned the motorcycle against the truck’s fender while he went to get his.
“Jake…”I hesitated as he came back around the truck.
“What’s really bothering you? About the Sam thing, I mean? Is there something else?” I watched his face. He grimaced, but he didn’t seem angry. He looked at the dirt and kicked his shoe against the front tire of his bike again and again, like he was keeping time.
He sighed. “It’s just… the way they treat me. It creeps me out.” The words started to rush out now. “You know, the council is supposed to be made up of equals, but if there was a leader, it would be my dad. I’ve never been able to figure out why people treat him the way they do. Why his opinion counts the most. It’s got something to do with his father and his father’s father. My great-grandpa, Ephraim Black, was sort of the last chief we had, and they still listen to Billy, maybe because of that.
“But I’m just like everyone else. Nobody treats me special… until now.”
That caught me off guard. “Sam treats you special?”
“Yeah,” he agreed, looking up at me with troubled eyes. “He looks at me like he’s waiting for something… like I’m going to join his stupid gang someday. He pays more attention to me than any of the other guys. I hate it.”
“You don’t have to join anything.” My voice was angry. This was really upsetting Jacob, and that infuriated me. Who did these “protectors” think they were?
“Yeah.” His foot kept up its rhythm against the tire.
“What?” I could tell there was more.
He frowned, his eyebrows pulling up in a way that looked sad and worried rather than angry. “It’s Embry. He’s been avoiding me lately.”
The thoughts didn’t seem connected, but I wondered if I was to blame for the problems with his friend. “You’ve been hanging out with me a lot,” I reminded him, feeling selfish. I’d been monopolizing him.
“No, that’s not it. It’s not just me—it’s Quil, too, and everyone. Embry missed a week of school, but he was never home when we tried to see him. And when he came back, he looked… he looked freaked out. Terrified. Quil and I both tried to get him to tell us what was wrong, but he wouldn’t talk to either one of us.”
I stared at Jacob, biting my lip anxiously—he was really frightened. But he didn’t look at me. He watched his own foot kicking the rubber as if it belonged to someone else. The tempo increased.
“Then this week, out of nowhere, Embry’s hanging out with Sam and the rest of them. He was out on the cliffs today.” His voice was low and tense.
He finally looked at me. “Bella, they bugged him even more than they bother me. He didn’t want anything to do with them. And now Embry’s following Sam around like he’s joined a cult.
“And that’s the way it was with Paul. Just exactly the same. He wasn’t friends with Sam at all. Then he stopped coming to school for a few weeks, and, when he came back, suddenly Sam owned him. I don’t know what it means. I can’t figure it out, and I feel like I have to, because Embry’s my friend and… Sam’s looking at me funny . . and…” He trailed off.
“Have you talked to Billy about this?” I asked. His horror was spreading to me. I had chills running on the back of my neck.
Now there was anger on his face. “Yes,” he snorted. “That was helpful.”
“What did he say?”
Jacob’s expression was sarcastic, and when he spoke, his voice mocked the deep tones of his father’s voice. “It’s nothing you need to worry about now, Jacob. In a few years, if you don’t… well, I’ll explain later.” And then his voice was his own. “What am I supposed to get from that? Is he trying to say it’s some stupid puberty, coming-of-age thing? This is something else. Something wrong.”
He was biting his lower lip and clenching his hands. He looked like he was about to cry.
I threw my arms around him instinctively, wrapping them around his waist and pressing my face against his chest. He was so big, I felt like I was a child hugging a grown-up.
“Oh, Jake, it’ll be okay!” I promised. “If it gets worse you can come live with me and Charlie. Don’t be scared, we’ll think of something!”
He was frozen for a second, and then his long arms wrapped hesitantly around me. “Thanks, Bella.” His voice was huskier than usual.
We stood like that for a moment, and it didn’t upset me; in fact, I felt comforted by the contact. This didn’t feel anything like the last time someone had embraced me this way. This was friendship. And Jacob was very warm.
It was strange for me, being this close—emotionally rather than physically, though the physical was strange for me, too—to another human being. It wasn’t my usual style. I didn’t normally relate to people so easily, on such a basic level.
Not human beings.
“If this is how you’re going to react, I’ll freak out more often.” Jacob’s voice was light, normal again, and his laughter rumbled against my ear. His fingers touched my hair, soft and tentative.
Well, it was friendship for me.
I pulled away quickly, laughing with him, but determined to put things back in perspective at once.
“It’s hard to believe I’m two years older than you,” I said, emphasizing the word older . “You make me feel like a dwarf.” Standing this close to him, I really had to crane my neck to see his face.
“You’re forgetting I’m in my forties, of course.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
He patted my head. “You’re like a little doll,” he teased. “A porcelain doll.”
I rolled my eyes, taking another step away. “Let’s not start with the albino cracks.”
“Seriously, Bella, are you sure you’re not?” He stretched his russet arm out next to mine. The difference wasn’t flattering. “I’ve never seen anyone paler than you… well, except for—” He broke off, and I looked away, trying to not understand what he had been about to say.
“So are we going to ride or what?”
“Let’s do it,” I agreed, more enthusiastic than I would have been half a minute ago. His unfinished sentence reminded me of why I was here.