“OKAY, WHERE’S YOUR CLUTCH?”
I pointed to the lever on my left handlebar. Letting go of the grip was a mistake. The heavy bike wobbled underneath me, threatening to knock me sidewise. I grabbed the handle again, trying to hold it straight.
“Jacob, it won’t stay up,” I complained.
“It will when you’re moving,” he promised. “Now where’s your brake?”
“Behind my right foot.”
He grabbed my right hand and curled my fingers around the lever over the throttle.
“But you said—”
“This is the brake you want. Don’t use the back brake now, that’s for later, when you know what you’re doing.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” I said suspiciously. “Aren’t both brakes kind of important?”
“Forget the back brake, okay? Here—” He wrapped his hand around mine and made me squeeze the lever down. “That is how you brake. Don’t forget.” He squeezed my hand another time.
“Fine,” I agreed.
I twisted the right grip.
I nudged it with my left calf.
“Very good. I think you’ve got all the parts down. Now you just have to get it moving.”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered, afraid to say more. My stomach was contorting strangely and I thought my voice might crack. I was terrified. I tried to tell myself that the fear was pointless. I’d already lived through the worst thing possible. In comparison with that, why should anything frighten me now? I should be able to look death in the face and laugh.
My stomach wasn’t buying it.
I stared down the long stretch of dirt road, bordered by thick misty green on every side. The road was sandy and damp. Better than mud.
“I want you to hold down the clutch,” Jacob instructed.
I wrapped my fingers around the clutch.
“Now this is crucial, Bella,” Jacob stressed. “Don’t let go of that, okay? I want you to pretend that I’ve handed you a live grenade. The pin is out and you are holding down the spoon.”
I squeezed tighter.
“Good. Do you think you can kick-start it?”
“If I move my foot, I will fall over,” I told him through gritted teeth, my fingers tight around my live grenade.
“Okay, I’ll do it. Don’t let go of the clutch.”
He took a step back, and then suddenly slammed his foot down on the pedal. There was a short ripping noise, and the force of his thrust rocked the bike. I started to fall sideways, but Jake caught the bike before it knocked me to the ground.
“Steady there,” he encouraged. “Do you still have the clutch?”
“Yes,” I gasped.
“Plant your feet —I’m going to try again.” But he put his hand on the back of the seat, too, just to be safe.
It took four more kicks before the ignition caught. I could feel the bike rumbling beneath me like an angry animal. I gripped the clutch until my fingers ached.
“Try out the throttle,” he suggested. “Very lightly. And don’t let go of the clutch.”
Hesitantly, I twisted the right handle. Though the movement was tiny, the bike snarled beneath me. It sounded angry and hungry now. Jacob smiled in deep satisfaction.
“Do you remember how to put it into first gear?” he asked.
“Well, go ahead and do it.”
He waited for a few seconds.
“Left foot,” he prompted.
“I know ,” I said, taking a deep breath.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Jacob asked. “You look scared.”
“I’m fine,” I snapped. I kicked the gearshift down one notch.
“Very good,” he praised me. “Now, very gently, ease up on the clutch.”
He took a step away from the bike.
“You want me to let go of the grenade?” I asked in disbelief. No wonder he was moving back.
“That’s how you move, Bella. Just do it little by little.”
As I began to loosen my grip, I was shocked to be interrupted by a voice that did not belong to the boy standing next to me.
“This is reckless and childish and idiotic, Bella,” the velvet voice fumed.
“Oh!” I gasped, and my hand fell off the clutch.
The bike bucked under me, yanking me forward and then collapsing to the ground half on top of me. The growling engine choked to a stop.
“Bella?” Jacob jerked the heavy bike off me with ease. “Are you hurt?”
But I wasn’t listening.
“I told you so,” the perfect voice murmured, crystal clear.
“Bella?” Jacob shook my shoulder.
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, dazed.
More than fine. The voice in my head was back. It still rang in my ears—soft, velvety echoes.
My mind ran swiftly through the possibilities. There was no familiarity here—on a road I’d never seen, doing something I’d never done before—no deja vu So the hallucinations must be triggered by something else… I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins again, and I thought I had the answer. Some combination of adrenaline and danger, or maybe just stupidity.
Jacob was pulling me to my feet.
“Did you hit your head?” he asked.
“I don’t think so.” I shook it back and forth, checking. “I didn’t hurt the bike, did I?” This thought worried me. I was anxious to try again, right away. Being reckless was paying off better than I’d thought. Forget cheating. Maybe I’d found a way to generate the hallucinations—that was much more important.
“No. You just stalled the engine,” Jacob said, interrupting my quick speculations. “You let go of the clutch too fast.”
I nodded. “Let’s try again.”
“Are you sure?” Jacob asked.
This time I tried to get the kick-start myself. It was complicated; I had to jump a little to slam down on the pedal with enough force, and every time I did that, the bike tried to knock me over. Jacob’s hand hovered over the handlebars, ready to catch me if I needed him.
It took several good tries, and even more poor tries, before the engine caught and roared to life under me. Remembering to hold on to the grenade, I revved the throttle experimentally. It snarled at the slightest touch. My smile mirrored Jacob’s now.
“Easy on the clutch,” he reminded me.
“Do you want to kill yourself, then? Is that what this is about?” the other voice spoke again, his tone severe.
I smiled tightly—it was still working—and ignored the questions. Jacob wasn’t going to let anything serious happen to me.
“Go home to Charlie,” the voice ordered. The sheer beauty of it amazed me. I couldn’t allow my memory to lose it, no matter the price.
“Ease off slowly,” Jacob encouraged me.
“I will,” I said. It bothered me a bit when I realized I was answering both of them.
The voice in my head growled against the roar of the motorcycle.
Trying to focus this time, to not let the voice startle me again, I relaxed my hand by tiny degrees. Suddenly, the gear caught and wrenched me forward.
And I was flying.
There was wind that wasn’t there before, blowing my skin against my skull and flinging my hair back behind me with enough force that it felt like someone was tugging on it. I’d left my stomach back at the starting point; the adrenaline coursed through my body, tingling in my veins. The trees raced past me, blurring into a wall of green.
But this was only first gear. My foot itched toward the gearshift as I twisted for more gas.
“No, Bella!” the angry, honey-sweet voice ordered in my ear. “Watch what you’re doing!”
It distracted me enough from the speed to realize that the road was starting a slow curve to the left, and I was still going straight. Jacob hadn’t told me how to turn.
“Brakes, brakes,” I muttered to myself, and I instinctively slammed down with my right foot, like I would in my truck.
The bike was suddenly unstable underneath me, shivering first to one side and then the other. It was dragging me toward the green wall, and I was going too fast. I tried to turn the handlebar the other direction, and the sudden shift of my weight pushed the bike toward the ground, still spinning toward the trees.
The motorcycle landed on top of me again, roaring loudly, pulling me across the wet sand until it hit something stationary. I couldn’t see. My face was mashed into the moss. I tried to lift my head, but there was something in the way.
I was dizzy and confused. It sounded like there were three things snarling—the bike over me, the voice in my head, and something else…
“Bella!” Jacob yelled, and I heard the roar of the other bike cut off.
The motorcycle no longer pinned me to the ground, and I rolled over to breathe. All the growling went silent.
“Wow,” I murmured. I was thrilled. This had to be it, the recipe for a hallucination—adrenaline plus clanger plus stupidity. Something close to that, anyway.
“Bella!” Jacob was crouching over me anxiously. “Bella, are you alive?”
“I’m great!” I enthused. I flexed my arms and legs. Everything seemed to be working correctly. “Let’s do it again.”
“I don’t think so.” Jacob still sounded worried. “I think I’d better drive you to the hospital first.”
“Um, Bella? You’ve got a huge cut on your forehead, and it’s gushing blood,” he informed me.
I clapped my hand over my head. Sure enough, it was wet and sticky. I could smell nothing but the damp moss on my face, and that held off the nausea.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Jacob.” I pushed hard against the gash, as if I could force the blood back inside my head.
“Why are you apologizing for bleeding?” he wondered as he wrapped a long arm around my waist and pulled me to my feet. “Let’s go. I’ll drive.” He held out his hand for the keys.
“What about the bikes?” I asked, handing them over.
He thought for a second. “Wait here. And take this.” He pulled off his T-shirt, already spotted with blood, and threw it to me. I wadded it up and held it tightly to my forehead. I was starting to smell the blood; I breathed deeply through my mouth and tried to concentrate on something else.
Jacob jumped on the black motorcycle, kicked it to a start in one try, and raced back down the road, spraying sand and pebbles behind him. He looked athletic and professional as he leaned over the handlebars, head low, face forward, his shiny hair whipping against the russet skin of his back. My eyes narrowed enviously. I was sure I hadn’t looked like that on my motorcycle.
I was surprised at how far I’d gone. I could barely see Jacob in the distance when he finally got to the truck. He threw the bike into the bed and sprinted to the driver’s side.
I really didn’t feel bad at all as he coaxed my truck to a deafening roar in his hurry to get back to me. My head stung a little, and my stomach was uneasy, but the cut wasn’t serious. Head wounds just bled more than most. His urgency wasn’t necessary.
Jacob left the truck running as he raced back to me, wrapping his arm around my waist again.
“Okay, let’s get you in the truck.”
“I’m honestly fine,” I assured him as he helped me in. “Don’t get worked up. It’s just a little blood.”
“Just a lot of blood,” I heard him mutter as he went back for my bike.
“Now, let’s think about this for a second,” I began when he got back in. “If you take me to the ER like this, Charlie is sure to hear about it.” I glanced down at the sand and dirt caked into my jeans.
“Bella, I think you need stitches. I’m not going to let you bleed to death.”
“I won’t,” I promised. “Let’s just take the bikes back first, and then we’ll make a stop at my house so I can dispose of the evidence before we go to the hospital.”
“What about Charlie?”
“He said he had to work today.”
“Are you really sure?”
“Trust me. I’m an easy bleeder. It’s not nearly as dire as it looks.”
Jacob wasn’t happy—his full mouth turned down in an uncharacteristic frown—but he didn’t want to get me in trouble. I stared out the window, holding his ruined shirt to my head, while he drove me to Forks.
The motorcycle was better than I’d dreamed. It had served its original purpose. I’d cheated—broken my promise. I’d been needlessly reckless. I felt a little less pathetic now that the promises had been broken on both sides.
And then to discover the key to the hallucinations! At least, I hoped I had. I was going to test the theory as soon as possible. Maybe they’d get through with me quickly in the ER, and I could try again tonight.
Racing down the road like that had been amazing. The feel of the wind in my face, the speed and the freedom… it reminded me of a past life, flying through the thick forest without a road, piggyback while he ran—I stopped thinking right there, letting the memory break off in the sudden agony. I flinched.
“You still okay?” Jacob checked.
“Yeah.” I tried to sound as convincing as before.
“By the way,” he added. “I’m going to disconnect your foot brake tonight.”
At home, I went to look at myself in the mirror first thing; it was pretty gruesome. Blood was drying in thick streaks across my cheek and neck, matting in my muddy hair. I examined myself clinically, pretending the blood was paint so it wouldn’t upset my stomach. I breathed through my mouth, and was fine.
I washed up as well as I could. Then I hid my dirty, bloody clothes in the bottom of my laundry basket, putting on new jeans and a button-up shirt (that I didn’t have to pull over my head) as carefully as I could. I managed to do this one-handed and keep both garments blood-free.
“Hurry up,” Jacob called.
“Okay, okay,” I shouted back. After making sure I left nothing incriminating behind me, I headed downstairs.
“How do I look?” I asked him.
“Better,” he admitted.
“But do I look like I tripped in your garage and hit my head on a hammer?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
“Let’s go then.”
Jacob hurried me out the door, and insisted on driving again. We were halfway to the hospital when I realized he was still shirtless.
I frowned guiltily. “We should have grabbed you a jacket.”
“That would have given us away,” he teased. “Besides, it’s not cold.”
“Are you kidding?” I shivered and reached out to turn the heat on.
I watched Jacob to see if he was just playing tough so I wouldn’t worry, but he looked comfortable enough. He had one arm over the back of my seat, though I was huddled up to keep warm.
Jacob really did look older than sixteen—not quite forty, but maybe older than me. Quil didn’t have too much on him in the muscle department, for all that Jacob claimed to be a skeleton. The muscles were the long wiry kind, but they were definitely there under the smooth skin. His skin was such a pretty color, it made me jealous.
Jacob noticed my scrutiny.
“What?” he asked, suddenly self-conscious.
“Nothing. I just hadn’t realized before. Did you know, you’re sort of beautiful?”
Once the words slipped out, I worried that he might take my impulsive observation the wrong way.
But Jacob just rolled his eyes. “You hit your head pretty hard, didn’t you?”
“Well, then, thanks. Sort of.”
I grinned. “You’re sort of welcome.”
I had to have seven stitches to c lose the cut on my forehead. After the sting of the local anesthetic, there was no pain in the procedure. Jacob held my hand while Dr. Snow was sewing, and I tried not to think about why that was ironic.
We were at the hospital forever. By the time I was done, I had to drop Jacob off at his home and hurry back to cook dinner for Charlie. Charlie seemed to buy my story about falling in Jacob’s garage. After all, it wasn’t like I hadn’t been able to land myself in the ER before with no more help than my own feet.
This night was not as bad as that first night, after I’d heard the perfect voice in Port Angeles. The hole came back, the way it always did when I was away from Jacob, but it didn’t throb so badly around the edges. I was already planning ahead, looking forward to more delusions, and that was a distraction. Also, I knew I would feel better tomorrow when I was with Jacob again. That made the empty hole and the familiar pain easier to bear; relief was in sight. The nightmare, too, had lost a little of its potency. I was horrified by the nothingness, as always, but I was also strangely impatient as I waited for the moment that would send me screaming into consciousness. I knew the nightmare had to end.
The next Wednesday, before I could get home from the ER, Dr. Gerandy called to warn my father that I might possibly have a concussion and advised him to wake me up every two hours through the night to make sure it wasn’t serious. Charlie’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at my weak explanation about tripping again.
“Maybe you should just stay out of the garage altogether, Bella,” he suggested that night during dinner.
I panicked, worried that Charlie was about to lay down some kind of edict that would prohibit La Push, and consequently my motorcycle. And I wasn’t giving it up—I’d had the most amazing hallucination today. My velvet-voiced delusion had yelled at me for almost five minutes before I’d hit the brake too abruptly and launched myself into the tree. I’d take whatever pain that would cause me tonight without complaint.
“This didn’t happen in the garage,” I protested quickly. “We were hiking, and I tripped over a rock.”
“Since when do you hike?” Charlie asked skeptically.
“Working at Newton’s was bound to rub off sometime,” I pointed out. “Spend every day selling all the virtues of the outdoors, eventually you get curious.”
Charlie glared at me, unconvinced.
“I’ll be more careful,” I promised, surreptitiously crossing my fingers under the table.
“I don’t mind you hiking right there around La Push, but keep close to town, okay?”
“Well, we’ve been getting a lot of wildlife complaints lately. The forestry department is going to check into it, but for the time being…”
“Oh, the big bear,” I said with sudden comprehension. “Yeah, some of the hikers coming through Newton’s have seen it. Do you think there’s really some giant mutated grizzly out there?”
His forehead creased. “There’s something. Keep it close to town, okay?”
“Sure, sure,” I said quickly. He didn’t look completely appeased.
“Charlie’s getting nosy,” I complained to Jacob when I picked him up after school Friday.
“Maybe we should cool it with the bikes.” He saw my objecting expression and added, “At least for a week or so. You could stay out of the hospital for a week, right?”
“What are we going to do?” I griped.
He smiled cheerfully. “What ever you want.”
I thought about that for a minute—about what I wanted.
I hated the idea of losing even my brief seconds of closeness with the memories that didn’t hurt—the ones that came on their own, without me thinking of them consciously. If I couldn’t have the bikes, I was going to have to find some other avenue to the danger and the adrenaline, and that was going to take serious thought and creativity. Doing nothing in the meantime was not appealing. Suppose I got depressed again, even with Jake? I had to keep occupied.
Maybe there was some other way, some other recipe… some other place.
The house had been a mistake, certainly. But his presence must be stamped somewhere, somewhere other than inside me. There had to be a place where he seemed more real than among all the familiar landmarks that were crowded with other human memories.
I could think of one place where that might hold true. One place that would always belong to him and no one else. A magic place, full of light. The beautiful meadow I’d seen only once in my life, lit by sunshine and the sparkle of his skin.
This idea had a huge potential for backfiring—it might be dangerously painful. My chest ached with emptiness even to think of it. It was hard to hold myself upright, to not give myself away. But surely, there of all places, I could hear his voice. And I’d already told Charlie I was hiking…
“What are you thinking about so hard?” Jacob asked.
“Well…” I began slowly. “I found this place in the forest once—I came across it when I was, um, hiking. A little meadow, the most beautiful place. I don’t know if I could track it down again on my own. It would definitely take a few tries…”
“We could use a compass and a grid pattern,” Jacob said with confident helpfulness. “Do you know where you started from?”
“Yes, just below the trailhead where the one-ten ends. I was going mostly south, I think.”
“Cool. We’ll find it.” As always, Jacob was game for anything I wanted. No matter how strange it was.
So, Saturday afternoon, I tied on my new hiking boots—purchased that morning using my twenty-per-cent-off employee discount for the first time—grabbed my new topographical map of the Olympic Peninsula, and drove to La Push.
We didn’t get started immediately; first, Jacob sprawled across the living room floor—taking up the whole room—and, for a full twenty minutes, drew a complicated web across the key section of the map while I perched on a kitchen chair and talked to Billy. Billy didn’t seem at all concerned about our proposed hiking trip. I was surprised that Jacob had told him where we were going, given the fuss people were making about the bear sightings. I wanted to ask Billy not to say anything about this to Charlie, but I was afraid that making the request would cause the opposite result.
“Maybe we’ll see the super bear,” Jacob joked, eyes on his design.
I glanced at Billy swiftly, fearing a Charlie-style reaction.
But Billy just laughed at his son. “Maybe you should take a jar of honey, just in case.”
Jake chuckled. “Hope your new boots are fast, Bella. One little jar isn’t going to keep a hungry bear occupied for long.”
“I only have to be faster than you.”
“Good luck with that!” Jacob said, rolling his eyes as he refolded the map. “Let’s go.”
“Have fun,” Billy rumbled, wheeling himself toward the refrigerator.
Charlie was not a hard person to live with, but it looked to me like Jacob had it even easier than I did.
I drove to the very end of the dirt road, stopping near the sign that marked the beginning of the trailhead. It had been a long time since I’d been here, and my stomach reacted nervously. This might be a very bad thing. But it would be worth it, if I got to hear him .
I got out and looked at the dense wall of green.
“I went this way,” I murmured, pointing straight ahead.
“Hmm,” Jake muttered.
He looked at the direction I’d pointed, then at the clearly marked trail, and back.
“I would have figured you for a trail kind of girl.”
“Not me.” I smiled bleakly. “I’m a rebel.”
He laughed, and then pulled out our map.
“Give me a second.” He held the compass in a skilled way, twisting the map around till it angled the way he wanted.
“Okay—first line on the grid. Let’s do it.”
I could tell that I was slowing Jacob up, but he didn’t complain. I tried not to dwell on my last trip through this part of the forest, with a very different companion. Normal memories were still cangerous. If I let myself slip up, I’d end up with my arms clutching my chest to hold it together, gasping for air, and how would I explain that to Jacob?
It wasn’t as hard as I would have thought to keep focused on the present. The forest looked a lot like any other part of the peninsula, and Jacob set a vastly different mood.
He whistled cheerfully, an unfamiliar tune, swinging his arms and moving easily through the rough undergrowth. The shadows didn’t seem as dark as usual. Not with my personal sun along.
Jacob checked the compass every few minutes, keeping us in a straight line with one of the radiating spokes of his grid. He really looked like he knew what he was doing. I was going to compliment him, but I caught myself. No doubt he’d add another few years to his inflated age.
My mind wandered as I walked, and I grew curious. I hadn’t forgotten the conversation we’d had by the sea cliffs—I’d been waiting for him to bring it up again, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
“Hey… Jake?” I asked hesitantly.
“How are things… with Embry? Is he back to normal yet?”
Jacob was silent for a minute, still moving forward with long paces. When he was about ten feet ahead, he stopped to wait for me.
“No. He’s not back to normal,” Jacob said when I reached him, his mouth pulling down at the corners. He didn’t start walking again. I immediately regretted bringing it up.
“Still with Sam.”
He put his arm around my shoulder, and he looked so troubled that I didn’t playfully shake it off, as I might have otherwise.
“Are they still looking at you funny?” I half-whispered.
Jacob stared through the trees. “Sometimes.”
“As helpful as ever,” he said in a sour, angry voice that disturbed me.
“Our couch is always open,” I offered.
He laughed, breaking out of the unnatural gloom. “But think of the position that would put Charlie in—when Billy calls the police to report my kidnapping.”
I laughed too, glad to have Jacob back to normal.
We stopped when Jacob said we’d gone six miles, cut west for a short time, and headed back along another line of his grid. Everything looked exactly the same as the way in, and I had a feeling that my silly quest was pretty much doomed. I admitted as much when it started to get darker, the sunless day fading toward a starless night, but Jacob was more confident.
“As long as you’re sure we’re starting from the right place…” He glanced down at me.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Then we’ll find it,” he promised, grabbing my hand and pulling me through a mass of ferns. On the other side was the truck. He gestured toward it proudly. “Trust me.”
“You’re good,” I admitted. “Next time we bring flashlights, though.”
“We’ll save hiking for Sundays from now on. I didn’t know you were that slow.”
I yanked my hand back and stomped around to the driver’s side while he chuckled at my reaction.
“So you up for another try tomorrow.'” he asked, sliding into the passenger seat.
“Sure. Unless you want to go without me so I don’t tie you down to my gimpy pace.”
“I’ll survive,” he assured me. “If we’re hiking again, though, you might want to pick up some moleskin. I bet you can feel those new boots right now.”
“A little,” I confessed. It felt like I had more blisters than I had space to fit them.
“I hope we see the bear tomorrow. I’m sort of disappointed about that.”
“Yes, me, too,” I agreed sarcastically. “Maybe we’ll get lucky tomorrow and something will eat us!”
“Bears don’t want to eat people. We don’t taste that good.” He grinned at me in the dark cab. “Of course, you might be an exception. I bet you’d taste good.”
“Thanks so much,” I said, looking away. He wasn’t the first person to tell me that.