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Taking Care of Family

Summary:
Bella takes care of her family. And in return, they take care of her. No matter what it costs them.


Notes:


1. Taking Care of Family

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3739   Review this Chapter

For the most part, Charlie had been remarkably good about my breakup with Jacob. I winced at the terminology, but knew I couldn’t honestly refer to it as anything else. He’d also been very supportive about the wedding, though I saw him looking askance at the invitations. To be honest, they’d startled me, too. Apparently Alice didn’t know me as well as she thought she did. I supposed time would mend that. We’d have all kinds of time.

It was only two days after Alice sent the ugly things out that Quil and Embry appeared on the front porch. Quil had his arms crossed over his impressive chest, and an angry glint in his eye. Embry looked apologetic, and handed me a piece of the offensive parchment. I scowled at it, but invited them in. Embry sat down at the kitchen table with me in silence. Quil stood, just inside the door, leaning with affected nonchalance against the counter. When I opened the envelope and saw Edward’s neat handwriting I felt my stomach drop.

Before I could even comment, Quil spoke up. “He’s gone. Took off right after that arrived,” he spat angrily. I felt the tears start in my eyes. The accusing tone of his voice was entirely deserved. I couldn’t even try to pretend this wasn’t my fault.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. There wasn’t anything else I could say. Embry seemed to understand this, and stood up. I walked them to the door. Embry hugged me before disappearing back out into the rain. Quil scowled at me but after a moment he uncrossed his arms and hugged me as well.

“So are we,” he replied, biting his lip in a way that reminded me of myself. Then he was gone also.

When Edward arrived that evening, I could tell he was trying to ignore the scent of werewolf in the house. He didn’t comment or scrunch his nose, but some of the light seemed to go out of his eyes. I led him into the kitchen, where the smell of lasagna might have overpowered any lingering scents from the morning. Or so I hoped. I had no way of knowing.

“What are you making?” he asked, glancing from the dinner plates in the sink to the oven. He’d obviously figured out at once that Charlie and I had already eaten.

“Lasagna,” I answered. I was a little loathe to tell him my plan. It was something I really had to do, but he wasn’t going to like it. I’d resigned myself to that before I’d even cooked the noodles. I would have to tell him what I was up to, but there was something else we had to talk about first.

I didn’t have long to wait. I turned back to finish the dishes, and it was only a fraction of a second before I heard a soft, “Oh,” behind me. When I faced him again, he was seated in Charlie’s chair, his eyes focused on the note he’d sent to Jacob, which I’d left open on the table.

“I’m not angry with you,” I said, trying to inject a warmth into my voice that I didn’t really feel. I’d felt ridiculously cold since the words had left Quil’s mouth. “But I’m disappointed that you didn’t trust my judgment,” I finished, lowering my eyes to where my hands were twisting the dish towel. He was standing beside me instantly – as if he’d forgotten that Charlie was just a room away and might see him moving so fast he blurred.

“I’m sorry. I just thought, if it were me – “

“I read it. I know what you thought. But it wasn’t you. And JAKE isn’t you.” I knew Jake. I knew what that invitation – what that note – would have done to him. I knew perfectly how the fire would have torn through his chest when he read those words. I knew he’d have disapproved of everything from the font to the paper to, and especially, the date on that document. I shook my head. “He’s gone,” I said finally.

Edward’s eyes were filled with remorse. He had often been filled with remorse since our return from Italy, but this was a new kind. For once, he was sorry about hurting someone other than just me. He truly did have a compassionate heart, one of many things I loved about him. He wanted to do what was right. Sometimes, though, he overvalued his own ability to discern exactly what that was. This was one of those times.

“The lasagna will be done in twenty minutes,” I told him unnecessarily. I’m sure he’d already noticed the display counting down. “I’m taking it to Billy tonight.”

“That’s good of you,” Edward replied carefully. “Please give him my apologies. I thought Jacob would appreciate being invited. I didn’t realize.” He was always so formal. It was difficult to tell if his formality now was because he honestly felt uncomfortable with what he’d done, or if it was only his usual manner. It didn’t really matter.

“Thanks,” I whispered. He didn’t even stay until the timer went off. I felt guilty, knowing that my pain over Jacob had chased him away – had caused Edward pain in turn. I’d promised myself that I’d make it my life’s work not to cause him any more pain. But the cycle was begun, and it would be a long time before thinking of Jake didn’t hurt. Maybe the hurt would never go away. It felt that way today.

Driving to La Push was agonizing. I nearly turned around at the treaty line. Embry only lived about a mile and a half onto the reservation. He would hear my obnoxiously loud engine when I passed by. I wondered what he would think, what they all thought. Did they despise me for what I’d done to their brother?

And Billy. Billy, who was like a favorite uncle, who had treated me like family when I was six years old and making mud pies with his daughters near the tide pools. Billy, who had treated me like family even as he watched me breaking his son’s heart. He’d be totally justified to slam the door in my face when I arrived.

I fought back the tears before they could start, and set my jaw. If that was what he wanted to do, the least I owed him was the opportunity to do it. I pulled up outside the house and cut the engine. I could already see the curtains fluttering. I tried not to hesitate as I retrieved the pan of lasagna from the floor on the passenger side, shoving the door closed with my hip.

Billy opened the door and looked up at me as I approached. His eyes seemed ancient with worry and sadness.

I held the pan in front of me with the faded yellow pot holders that my mother had purchased to match her cabinets, and which Charlie had never replaced. “Hi,” I said, forcing myself not to whisper.

“Hello, Bella,” he replied, and his voice sounded more gentle than I expected. I don’t know if I thought maybe it would be rough from crying, or angry, but it was neither. I managed a small smile.

“I was thinking about you. I wanted to come by,” I said awkwardly. Without a word, he wheeled himself backward, and gestured me into the house. “Thanks,” I responded, quickly sliding one of the pot holders under the pan before setting it down on the table. “Have you eaten?” I asked.

“I have, but thank you. That will be a very welcome treat tomorrow.”

I turned back to him, biting my lip. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “I asked them not to send it –“ I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t make myself blame Alice and Edward as if the invitation was all that had caused Jacob’s pain. This wasn’t their fault. The blame was only mine.

“Bella, you can’t help who you love,” Billy said, after he’d looked at me for a long moment.

“Neither could Jake,” I choked out, aware that the tears had started coming again, aware that my breathing was getting out of hand.

“No,” Billy agreed. “But he is strong. He’ll be alright.”

I could tell that it cost Billy a lot to say this. I knew he must be worried sick about his 16 year old son running alone through the woods – God knows where. No friends, no family to comfort him. And it was my fault.

Still, I nodded, reassured in spite of myself. “He is,” I whispered. “He’s much stronger than me.”

The corners of his eyes crinkled in sudden amusement, but I knew he was aware that I wasn’t talking about physical strength. Still, his ability to see even a horrible joke in any of this lightened my heart a little. I felt my breath coming more naturally. We looked at each other for one peaceful moment. One of the great things about Billy was that he didn’t need to fill those sorts of moments with idle chatter. Finally, I was able to smile at him.

“There’s probably a game Saturday. Charlie’d love to have you come up to watch it. I can pick you up after work,” I offered. Billy agreed to that with more enthusiasm than I’d expected. I recalled that he didn’t have Harry Clearwater to watch with anymore.

As I was on my way back out the door, Billy caught my elbow. “Bella, don’t let yourself dwell on how things worked out with Jacob,” he said kindly. I got the impression that he had debated a long time over the words he spoke now – maybe he’d been planning to say it since the moment Jake left. “He would want for you to be happy. I want you to be happy. You’re family, and you always will be, whatever happens now,” he said solemnly.

Then the tears did come. I leaned down to hug him awkwardly, my hands grasping his shoulders rather than trying to wrap around him as he sat in his chair. “Thank you,” I said, smiling in spite of myself. “That really means a lot.”

“You’ll always be welcome here, Bella,” he replied. The words wiped away my smile.

“No, not always,” I contradicted sadly. “It won’t be long before the treaty will keep me out forever.” I swallowed hard. “But until then –“ I began, intending to tell him I’d be back every few days with food.

“Maybe it’s time the treaty was revisited,” he said, cutting me off. His voice was thoughtful, but stern. I was instantly reminded that this wasn’t just a favorite pseudo-uncle. This was an Elder of the Quileute tribe. “After all, if it weren’t for Dr. Cullen –“ he didn’t finish, but there was a friendly, familiar twinkle in his eye. I swallowed again, suddenly hopeful. Maybe I didn’t have to lose La Push. Maybe Jacob and I could be friends, one day, when the hurt wasn’t so raw. Maybe the pain could fade, after all.

“Night Billy,” I said after a moment, and he was solemn again as he wished me good night. He sat in the door as I drove away, and I watched him in my mirror until the forest came between us, thinking about right and wrong, and feeling like maybe I’d finally done something right.

I hadn’t expected to feel so light-hearted today. I was expecting to feel sullen, and maybe just a little belligerent. But somehow, as I made the trip to the Cullen residence, I found myself humming. My eyes in the rearview mirror seemed to glow back at me. I grinned.

I’d left Charlie behind with a hug, and he’d promised to make sure he was early, which was good. Generally we both hated formal occasions, but I think his relief that we hadn’t just eloped was overwhelming his usual annoyance with dressing up.

I’d been a fairly permanent fixture at the big white house, lately. If I wasn’t in La Push, feeding Billy and making sure the house got cleaned, then I was with Edward or Alice. It had been a very short month, between all the various duties I had taken on, and preparing for college. Renee had sent my belongings on ahead, and was arriving later this morning. Charlie was going to pick her up in Port Angeles. Phil had a game. His absence didn’t bother me nearly as much as it bothered Renee, but she’d been very brave about it on the phone yesterday.

I pulled my truck into their garage, well out of sight of any visitors. This was Alice’s request, but I think it came from Edward. Replacement stereo or none, I always got the impression he didn’t like my truck much. My smile faltered only slightly as it crossed my mind that it MIGHT be because it had once belonged to Jake. I pushed the thought away.

Alice was waiting for me at the door, and she pulled me by the hand directly up to her room. Jasper was standing at the window, and excused himself as soon as I arrived. He grinned at me, though, clearly pleased with my state of mind. I shook my head, knowing he’d be reporting that to Edward momentarily.

Edward had been ordered off the grounds for the day. Emmett was literally keeping him out of mental ‘hearing’ distance by force. Alice had been absolutely adamant that he would not see me before the moment I appeared at the back door of the house to begin my walk toward the river. Her plan included, but was not limited to, preventing me from so much as TRYING ON the dress she’d designed for me. Also, she intended to help me with hair and makeup throughout the morning, but when it came time to put on the dress, she was going to zip it from behind and then leave me alone in the room until it was time. She was frankly obsessive about keeping Edward from seeing me in the dress before it was time.

Edward and I had spent most of the month between our engagement and this day teasing Alice mercilessly – threatening all the different ways we could defy her mandate. She’d taken it well, but any time we’d crossed the line and seemed too serious, she’d gotten pouty and made us promise. Still, it had been an endearing game that had brought all three of us closer. I would miss it, after today.

The morning passed slowly. Alice let me know when Charlie arrived, and a few moments later, Carlisle led him up to us. I was wearing a bathrobe, and Alice was dithering over what color of eye shadow I should wear. Just as he came in the door, I pointed to the dusky blue in her left hand, and she grinned. “I thought so, too!”

Charlie hugged me awkwardly, and told me I looked great, even though all we’d managed so far was my hair. Alice had made six different attempts before the current style seemed perfect. Then she’d sprayed it into place with WAY too much hairspray. It would have been a lot faster if she’d just used a fire hose and been done with it. Still, I did love the end result, so I bit my tongue and just thanked her. She beamed.

Charlie didn’t stay long. As soon as he was out the door, Renee came in. I thought this was odd, until I noticed that Esme was with her. Presumably, she’d been given the grand tour. Just like my mother to get sidetracked today. But I wasn’t annoyed. I knew Renee’s opinion of my wedding. I was lucky to avoid a stern talking to, for committing myself to someone at such a young age. I think the only reason she refrained was the obvious camaraderie between Esme, Alice, and me, as they began with the mascara. Renee stayed for quite a while as they fussed over me, and she looked more at ease all the time. Maybe she could see that I wasn’t just marrying Edward. I was joining a family.

Rosalie stuck her head in the door, finally, and exchanged a glance with Esme. That was all Alice needed. “Alright,” she said abruptly, putting a last puff of powder on my forehead with careful gusto, “everybody out.”

Renee tried to delay, wanting to see the dress. But Alice was not to be defied. Not in this. I laughed to myself as she herded everyone out the door. She closed it behind her with a thud. “You have fifteen minutes from the moment I zip you up,” she said, grinning so wide I was afraid her face might split right down the middle.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, affecting a Southern accent. She laughed her high, tinkling laugh, then. “Close your eyes.” She did.

I went and retrieved the dress from the closet. The material was absolutely decadent. I shook my head, but reminded myself that this really wasn’t for me. It was for Edward. That made it worth the cost. I stepped into it, and turned my back to her. “Okay,” I breathed.

Alice stepped swiftly up to me, zipped the dress, and disappeared out the door, all in less than the time it took my heart to finish a beat. I swallowed, and walked over to the bathroom mirror. I could feel a slow smile creeping over my face. The fit was perfect. It FELT perfect, and it absolutely looked perfect. Edward would love it. Maybe, for just this day, I could feel like I belonged beside him.

A knock sounded at the door, and I glanced at my wide eyes in the mirror. Instantly it occurred to me that that was Edward, sneaking passed Alice to see me in the dress. I’d have only seconds to get to the door and show it to him before she could arrive and prevent it. It was a lovely game. I raced for the door.

When I opened it, grinning ridiculously, I’m sure, I looked up into a face I didn’t expect. I felt my expression turn to shock, and a dull ache thumped back into existence in my chest. My breath whooshed out of me all at once.

Jacob Black was standing alone in the second floor hallway of House Cullen, staring at me with a kind of sad awe. For a long moment neither of us said anything.

“Jake!” I finally exclaimed. “I’m so glad you’re back! I was – everyone was so worried!” I corrected myself quickly, but it didn’t matter. He knew what I was trying not to say. He always had. He smiled, though. It wasn’t MY smile, but I reminded myself that I couldn’t own a smile on his face. Not anymore. His eyes were roaming over the dress.

“I’m glad to be back,” he answered quietly, and he looked surprised to find himself saying so. He ducked his head, embarrassed, and then managed to focus on my eyes. I smiled a little in spite of myself. “I can’t stay. Embry and Quil are here, though.”

My face must have fallen. “Sorry,” he added, “that was the agreement. I’m not allowed to hang around and give away the game. ” He gestured toward my dress, and I understood. Alice had told him he could come up, as long as he didn’t allow Edward to see it in his mind. He would have to go before Edward came back, which would be very soon. I nodded.

“I wanted a chance to give you your present.” He handed me a rolled up paper. I saw his eyes linger on my bracelet as I accepted it from him, but he didn’t comment. The little wolf he had carved for me still dangled there. I never took it off. I never would.

The paper had the feel of being old, but it flexed easily enough when I began to open it. I paused when he continued speaking, more quickly, now. “I wanted you to have it before –“ he didn’t finish. Then he began again. “You know, so you wouldn’t have to worry today.”

“I don’t understand.” I looked up at him and his eyes glinted as though they might be wet. He shook his head.

“You will.” He reached up a hand as though to touch my cheek, but paused – so close I could feel the heat radiating from it. Then his hand fell away. On his face was still the sad smile I didn’t recognize. But it looked good there. I smiled back.

“Thank you,” I whispered, more because he’d shown up than for the gift.

“You’re welcome.”

And then he was gone. Not so fast that he blurred, but fast enough. I glanced at the clock. Edward would arrive in five minutes. In ten, I was expected to be waiting at the back doors. I looked down the empty hallway after Jake one more time, then closed the door to Alice’s room.

The vanity in her bathroom was still covered with all the various makeup products we’d experimented with. I shoved them aside, and smoothed out the paper he had given me. A few weeks previous, Edward had let me read the official treaty with the Quileute wolves. This was a near duplicate of that document. Only one word had been changed. And yet, it made all the difference to me. I felt my eyes fill with tears, and had to daub them away carefully – conscious of the effort Alice had put in with my mascara.

….not permitted to bite any unwilling human….

Jake had done this. For me. For both of us, so that we could remain friends no matter what. For several long moments, I could think of nothing but him. He was a better friend than I deserved. I took a deep breath and looked up into the mirror. Then I went back out into the room and found the veil Alice had draped across her love seat. I pinned it carefully into place. Drawing the lattice down over my face, I glanced into the mirror one last time, and went downstairs. Charlie was already waiting, his eyes on the doors that led into the back yard. I knew that as soon as I took his arm, before he even had time to turn his eyes to me, they would open, and I would finally be able to begin the life I had chosen. I life which promised to be better – more full - now than I’d had any right to hope. I could hardly wait.