ALMOST EVERYTHING WAS BACK TO NORMAL—THE GOOD, pre-zombie normal—in less time than I would have believed possible. The hospital welcomed Carlisle back with eager arms, not even bothering to conceal their delight that Esme had found life in L.A. so little to her liking. Thanks to the Calculus test I’d missed while abroad, Alice and Edward were in better to shape to graduate than I was at the moment. Suddenly, college was a priority (college was still plan B, on the off chance that Edward’s offer swayed me from the post-graduation Carlisle option). Many deadlines had passed me by, but Edward had a new stack of applications for me to fill out every day. He’d already done the Harvard route, so it didn’t bother him that, thanks to my procrastination, we might both end up at Peninsula Community College next year.
Charlie was not happy with me, or speaking to Edward. But at least Edward was allowed—during my designated visiting hours—inside the house again. I just wasn’t allowed out of it.
School and work were the only exceptions, and the dreary, dull yellow walls of my classrooms had become oddly inviting to me of late. That had a lot to do with the person who sat in the desk beside me.
Edward had resumed his schedule from the beginning of the year, which put him in most of my classes again. My behavior had been such last fall, after the Cullens’ supposed move to L.A., that the seat beside me had never been filled. Even Mike, always eager to take any advantage, had kept a safe distance. With Edward back in place, it was almost as if the last eight months were just a disturbing nightmare.
Almost, but not quite. There was the house arrest situation, for one thing. And for another, before the fall, I hadn’t been best friends with Jacob Black. So, of course, I hadn’t missed him then.
I wasn’t at liberty to go to La Push, and Jacob wasn’t coming to see me. He wouldn’t even answer my phone calls.
I made these calls mostly at night, after Edward had been kicked out—promptly at nine by a grimly gleeful Charlie—and before Edward snuck back through my window when Charlie was asleep. I chose that time to make my fruitless calls because I’d noticed that Edward made a certain face every time I mentioned Jacob’s name. Sort of disapproving and wary… maybe even angry. I guessed that he had some reciprocal prejudice against the werewolves, though he wasn’t as vocal as Jacob had been about the “bloodsuckers.”
So, I didn’t mention Jacob much.
With Edward near me, it was hard to think about unhappy things—even my former besi fnend, who was probably very unhappy right now, due to me. When I did think of Jake, I always felt guilty for not thinking of him more.
The fairy tale was back on. Prince returned, bad spell broken. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do about the leftover, unresolved character. Where was his happily ever after?
Weeks passed, and Jacob still wouldn’t answer my calls. It started to become a constant worry. Like a dripping faucet in the back of my head that I couldn’t shut off or ignore. Drip, drip, drip. Jacob, Jacob, Jacob.
So, though I didn’t mention Jacob much , sometimes my frustration and anxiety boiled over.
“It’s just plain rude!” I vented one Saturday afternoon when Edward picked me up from work. Being angry about things was easier than feeling guilty. “Downright insulting!”
I’d varied my pattern, in hopes of a different response. I’d called Jake from work this time, only to get an unhelpful Billy. Again.
“Billy said he didn’t want to talk to me,” I fumed, glaring at the rain oozing down the passenger window.
“That he was there, and wouldn’t walk three steps to get to the phone! Usually Billy just says he’s out or busy or sleeping or something. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know he was lying to me, but at least it was a polite way to handle it. I guess Billy hates me now, too. It’s not fair!”
“It’s not you, Bella,” Edward said quietly. “Nobody hates you.”
“Feels that way,” I muttered, folding my arms across my chest. It was no more than a stubborn gesture. There was no hole there now—I could barely remember the empty feeling anymore.
“Jacob knows we’re back, and I’m sure that he’s ascertained that I’m with you,” Edward said. “He won’t come anywhere near me. The enmity is rooted too deeply.”
“That’s stupid. He knows you’re not… like other vampires.”
“There’s still good reason to keep a safe distance.”
I glared blindly out the windshield, seeing only Jacob’s face, set in the bitter mask I hated.
“Bella, we are what we are,” Edward said quietly. “I can control myself, but I doubt he can. He’s very young. It would most likely turn into a fight, and I don’t know if I could stop it before I k—” he broke off, and then quickly continued. “Before I hurt him. You would be unhappy. I don’t want that to happen.”
I remembered what Jacob had said in the kitchen, hearing the words with perfect recall in his husky voice. I’m not sure that I’m even-tempered enough to handle that… You probably wouldn’t like it so much if I killed your friend . But he’d been able to handle it, that time…
“Edward Cullen,” I whispered. “Were you about to say ‘killed him? Were you?”
He looked away from me, staring into the rain. In front of us, the red light I hadn’t noticed turned green and he started forward again, driving very slowly. Not his usual way of driving.
“I would try… very hard… not to do that,” Edward finally said.
I stared at him with my mouth hanging open, but he continued to look straight ahead. We were paused at the corner stop sign.
Abruptly, I remembered what had happened to Paris when Romeo came back. The stage directions were simple: They fight. Paris falls .
But that was ridiculous. Impossible.
“Well,” I said, and took a deep breath, shaking my head to dispel the words in my head. “Nothing like that is ever going to happen, so there’s no reason to worry about it. And you know Charlie’s staring at the clock right now. You’d better get me home before I get in more trouble for being late.”
I turned my face up toward him, to smile halfheartedly.
Every time I looked at his face, that impossibly perfect face, my heart pounded strong and healthy and very there in my chest. This time, the pounding raced ahead of its usual besotted pace. I recognized the expression on his statue-still face.
“You’re already in more trouble, Bella,” he whispered through unmoving lips.
I slid closer, clutching his arm as I followed his gaze to see what he was seeing. I don’t know what I expected—maybe Victoria standing in the middle of the street, her flaming red hair blowing in the wind, or a line of tall black cloaks… or a pack of angry werewolves. But I didn’t see anything at all.
“What? What is it?”
He took a deep breath. “Charlie…”
“My dad?” I screeched.
He looked down at me then, and his expression was calm enough to ease some of my panic.
“Charlie… is probably not going to kill you, but he’s thinking about it,” he told me. He started to drive forward again, down my street, but he passed the house and parked by the edge of the trees.
“What did I do?” I gasped.
Edward glanced back at Charlie’s house. I followed his gaze, and noticed for the first time what was parked in the driveway next to the cruiser. Shiny, bright red, impossible to miss. My motorcycle, flaunting itself in the driveway.
Edward had said that Charlie was ready to kill me, so he must know that—that it was mine . There was only one person who could be behind this treachery.
“No!” I gasped. “Why ? Why would Jacob do this to me?” The sting of betrayal washed through me. I had trusted Jacob implicitly—trusted him with every single secret I had. He was supposed to be my safe harbor—the person I could always rely on. Of course things were strained right now, but I didn’t think any of the underlying foundation had changed. I didn’t think that was changeable!
What had I done to deserve this? Charlie was going to be so mad—and worse than that, he was going to be hurt and worried. Didn’t he have enough to deal with already? I would have never imagined that Jake could be so petty and just plain mean . Tears sprang, smarting, into my eyes, but they were not tears of sadness. I had been betrayed. I was suddenly so angry that my head throbbed like it was going to explode.
“Is he still here?” I hissed.
“Yes. He’s waiting for us there.” Edward told me, nodding toward the slender path that divided the dark fringe of the forest in two.
I jumped out of the car, launching myself toward the trees with my hands already balled into fists for the first punch.
Why did Edward have to be so much faster than me?
He caught me around the waist before I made the path.
“Let me go! I’m going to murder him! Traitor !” I shouted the epithet toward the trees.
“Charlie will hear you,” Edward warned me. “And once he gets you inside, he may brick over the doorway.”
I glanced back at the house instinctively, and it seemed like the glossy red bike was all I could see. I was seeing red. My head throbbed again.
“Just give me one round with Jacob, and then I’ll deal with Charlie.” I struggled futilely to break free.
“Jacob Black wants to see me . That’s why he’s still here.”
That stopped me cold—took the fight right out of me. My hands went limp. They fight; Paris falls .
I was furious, but not that furious.
“Talk?” I asked.
“More or less.”
“How much more?” My voice shook.
Edward smoothed my hair back from my face. “Don’t worry, he’s not here to fight me. He’s acting as… spokesperson for the pack.”
Edward looked at the house again, then tightened his arm around my waist and pulled me toward the woods. “We should hurry. Charlie’s getting impatient.”
We didn’t have to go far; Jacob waited just a short ways up the path. He lounged against a mossy tree trunk as he waited, his face hard and bitter, exactly the way I knew it would be. He looked at me, and then at Edward. Jacob’s mouth stretched into a humorless sneer, and he shrugged away from the tree. He stood on the balls of his bare feet, leaning slightly forward, with his trembling hands clenched into fists. He looked bigger than the last time I’d seen him. Somehow, impossibly, he was still growing. He would tower over Edward, if they stood next to each other.
But Edward stopped as soon as we saw him, leaving a wide space between us and Jacob. Edward turned his body, shifting me so that I was behind him. I leaned around him to stare at Jacob—to accuse him with my eyes.
I would have thought that seeing his resentful, cynical expression would only make me angrier. Instead, it reminded me of the last time I’d seen him, with tears in his eyes. My fury weakened, faltered, as I stared at Jacob. It had been so long since I’d seen him—I hated that our reunion had to be like this .
“Bella,” Jacob said as a greeting, nodding once toward me without looking away from Edward.
“Why?” I whispered, trying to hide the sound of the lump in my throat. “How could you do this to me, Jacob?”
The sneer vanished, but his face stayed hard and rigid. “It’s for the best.”
“What is that supposed to mean? Do you want Charlie to strangle me? Or did you want him to have a heart attack, like Harry? No matter how mad you are at me, how could you do this to him ?”
Jacob winced, and his eyebrows pulled together, but he didn’t answer.
“He didn’t want to hurt anyone—he just wanted to get you grounded, so that you wouldn’t be allowed to spend time with me,” Edward murmured, explaining the thoughts Jacob wouldn’t say.
Jacob’s eyes sparked with hate as he glowered at Edward again.
“Aw, Jake!” I groaned. “I’m already grounded! Why do you think I haven’t been down to La Push to kick your butt for avoiding my phone calls?”
Jacob’s eyes flashed back to me, confused for the first time. “That’s why?” he asked, and then locked his jaw, like he was sorry he’d said anything.
“He thought I wouldn’t let you, not Charlie,” Edward explained again.
“Stop that,” Jacob snapped.
Edward didn’t answer.
Jacob shuddered once, and then gritted his teeth as hard as his fists. “Bella wasn’t exaggerating about your… abilities,” he said through his teeth. “So you must already know why I’m here.”
“Yes,” Edward agreed in a soft voice. “But, before you begin, I need to say something.”
Jacob waited, clenching and unclenching his hands as he tried to control the shivers rolling down his arms.
“Thank you,” Edward said, and his voice throbbed with the depth of his sincerity. “I will never be able to tell you how grateful I am. I will owe you for the rest of my… existence.”
Jacob stared at him blankly, his shudders stilled by surprise. He exchanged a quick glance with me, but my face was just as mystified.
“For keeping Bella alive,” Edward clarified, his voice rough and fervent. “When I… didn’t.”
“Edward—,” I started to say, but he held one hand up, his eyes on Jacob.
Understanding washed over Jacob’s face before the hard mask returned. “I didn’t do it for your benefit.”
“I know. But that doesn’t erase the gratitude I feel. I thought you should know. If there’s ever anything in my power to do for you…”
Jacob raised one black brow.
Edward shook his head. “That’s not in my power.”
“Whose, then?” Jacob growled.
Edward looked down at me. “Hers. I’m a quick learner, Jacob Black, and I don’t make the same mistake twice. I’m here until she orders me away.”
I was immersed momentarily in his golden gaze. It wasn’t hard to understand what I’d missed in the conversation. The only thing that Jacob would want from Edward would be his absence.
“Never,” I whispered, still locked in Edward’s eyes.
Jacob made a gagging sound.
I unwillingly broke free from Edward’s gaze to frown at Jacob. “Was there something else you needed, Jacob? You wanted me in trouble—mission Accomplished. Charlie might just send me to military school. But that won’t keep me away from Edward. There’s nothing that can do that . What more do you want?”
Jacob kept his eyes on Edward “I just needed to remind your bloodsucking friends of a few key points in the treaty they agreed to. The treaty chat is the only thing stopping me from ripping his throat out right this minute.”
“We haven’t forgotten,” Edward said at the same time that I demanded, “What key points?”
Jacob still glowered at Edward, but he answered me. “The treaty is quite specific. If any of them bite a human, the truce is over. Bite , not kill,” he emphasized. Finally, he looked at me. His eyes were cold.
It only took me a second to grasp the distinction, and then my face was as cold as his.
“That’s none of your business.”
“The hell it—” was all he managed to choke out.
I didn’t expect my hasty words to bring on such a strong response. Despite the warning he’d come to give, he must not have known. He must have thought the warning was just a precaution. He hadn’t realized—or didn’t want to believe—that I had already made my choice. That I was really intending to become a member of the Cullen family.
My answer sent Jacob into near convulsions. He pressed his fists hard against his temples, closing his eyes tight and curling in on himself as he tried to control the spasms. His face turned sallow green under the russet skin.
“Jake? You okay?” I asked anxiously.
I took a half-step toward him, then Edward caught me and yanked me back behind his own body. “Careful! He’s not under control,” he warned me.
But Jacob was already somewhat himself again; only his arms were shaking now. He scowled at Edward with pure hate. “Ugh. I would never hurt her.”
Neither Edward or I missed the inflection, or the accusation it contained. A low hiss escaped Edward’s lips. Jacob clenched his fists reflexively.
“BELLA!” Charlie’s roar echoed from the direction of the house. “YOU GET IN THIS HOUSE THIS INSTANT!”
All of us froze, listening to the silence that followed.
I was the first to speak; my voice trembled. “Crap.”
Jacob’s furious expression faltered. “I am sorry about that,” he muttered. “I had to do what I could—I had to try…”
“Thanks.” The tremor in my voice ruined the sarcasm. I stared up the path, half-expecting Charlie to come barreling through the wet ferns like an enraged bull. I would be the red flag in that scenario.
“Just one more thing,” Edward said to me, and then he looked at Jacob. “We’ve found no trace of Victoria on our side of the line—have you?”
He knew the answer as soon as Jacob thought it, but Jacob spoke the answer anyway. “Trie last time was while Bella was… away. We let her think she was slipping through—we were tightening the circle, getting ready to ambush her—”
Ice shot down my spine.
“But then she took off like a bat out of hell. Near as we can tell, she caught your little female’s scent and bailed. She hasn’t come near our lands since.”
Edward nodded. “When she comes back, she’s not your problem anymore. We’ll—”
“She killed on our turf,” Jacob hissed. “She’s ours!”
“No—,” I began to protest both declarations.
“BELLA ! I SEE HIS CAR AND I KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE! IF YOU AREN’T INSIDE THIS HOUSE IN ONE MINUTE… !” Charlie didn’t bother to finish his threat.
“Let’s go,” Edward said.
I looked back at Jacob, torn. Would I see him again?
“Sorry,” he whispered so low that I had to read his lips to understand. ‘”Bye, Bells.”
“You promised,” I reminded him desperately. “Still friends, right?”
Jacob shook his head slowly, and the lump in my throat nearly strangled me.
“You know how hard I’ve tried to keep that promise, but… I can’t see how to keep trying. Not now…” He struggled to keep his hard mask in place, but it wavered, and then disappeared. “Miss you,” he mouthed. One of his hands reached toward me, his fingers outstretched, like he wished they were long enough to cross the distance between us.
“Me, too,” I choked out. My hand reached toward his across the wide space.
Like we were connected, the echo of his pain twisted inside me. His pain, my pain.
“Jake…” I took a step toward him. I wanted to wrap my arms around his waist and erase the expression of misery on his face.
Edward pulled me back again, his arms restraining instead of defending.
“It’s okay,” I promised him, looking up to read his face with trust in my eyes. He would understand.
His eyes were unreadable, his face expressionless. Cold. “No, it’s not.”
“Let her go,” Jacob snarled, furious again. “She wants to!” He took two long strides forward. A glint of anticipation flashed in his eyes. His chest seemed to swell as it shuddered.
Edward pushed me behind himself, wheeling to face Jacob.
“ISABELLA SWAN !”
“Come on! Charlie’s mad!” My voice was panicked, but not because of Charlie now. “Hurry!”
I tugged on him and he relaxed a little. He pulled me back slowly, always keeping his eyes on Jacob as we retreated.
Jacob watched us with a dark scowl on his bitter face. The anticipation drained from his eyes, and then, just before the forest came between us, his face suddenly crumpled in pain.
I knew that last glimpse of his face would haunt me until I saw him smile again.
And right there I vowed that I would see him smile, and soon. I would find a way to keep my friend.
Edward kept his arm tight around my waist, holding me close. That was the only thing that held the tears inside my eyes.
I had some serious problems.
My best friend counted me with his enemies.
Victoria was still on the loose, putting everyone I loved in danger.
If I didn’t become a vampire soon, the Volturi would kill me.
And now it seemed that if I did , the Quileute werewolves would try to do the job themselves—along with trying to kill my future family. I didn’t think they had any chance really, but would my best friend get himself killed in the attempt?
Very serious problems. So why did they all suddenly seem insignificant when we broke through the last of the trees and I caught sight of the expression on Charlie’s purple face?
Edward squeezed me gently. “I’m here.”
I drew in a deep breath.
That was true. Edward was here, with his arms around me.
I could face anything as long as that was true.
I squared my shoulders and walked forward to meet my fate, with my destiny solidly at my side.