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A Different Path

How would the story have progressed if Bella, instead of Jacob, had answered the phone on the day of Harry's funeral?


10. Chapter 10

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3037   Review this Chapter

fFinals were a blur. Bella found herself watching Edward’s face carefully and regularly for any sign that the Cullens had learned anything new. Once in a while, he’d catch her at it, and shake his head, a line appearing in his forehead that worried her. Nightmares, which she’d managed to avoid for the most part for the last several weeks, returned with a vengeance. Faceless flashes of white whirling around her, threatening, but insubstantial.

School had finished for Jake, and he’d taken to spending every evening at her house, either watching her study or running around the woods outside, which made her nervous in light of the lack of news from the vampires. No one had really decided whether they were going to track down the army before it left Seattle, or wait until it came looking for them. The stress of her tests was barely noticeable as she worried over that.

Graduation day arrived, and Bella stood in her room, looking at every article of clothing she owned with a mixture of exasperation and despair. When Alice popped through her window, she was so grateful she hugged her. Then she noticed the color of the outfit her friend was delivering, and she sighed, an ache beginning in her chest. She’d let Alice talk her into the blue dress for the prom because it really DID look nice. But this was getting ridiculous. If Alice had her way, this was the only color Bella would ever wear.

When she pointed this out, Alice laughed lightly, though her eyes looked troubled. “I thought you might say that. There’s a green one in the bottom.”

Bella dug under the tissue paper and found exactly the same outfit in green. She laughed in spite of herself, and said thank you again. Alice kissed her swiftly on the cheek and disappeared out the window just as Charlie began knocking on her door. Bella dressed in a hurry.

Being next to Jessica Stanley as she walked graduation was not Bella’s idea of fun, but at least she had sensible shoes, and managed not to trip on her way across the stage. She threw her cap half-heartedly into the air along with the rest, her eyes already searching out Charlie, Billy, and Jacob. She’d heard them cheering as her name was called. Sure enough, Jake could be seen easily, moving through the crowd. She forced a smile onto her face in spite of her worry, and tried to hold her breath for once when he hugged her. It worked. She laughed a little at his exuberance. Charlie was no better. “Billy’s waiting outside,” he explained, excited. “I thought we could all go to The Lodge for dinner.” Bella nodded, and let them lead her to the car. In light of everything going on, dinner seemed painfully unimportant. However, with Jake sitting beside her, and the place filled with other graduates and their families, she tried to let herself relax a little.

Jacob didn’t seem to be tense. If anything, the impromptu strategy planning at the prom seemed to have buoyed his spirits alarmingly. She frowned at the notion that he was so anxious for what she saw as a dangerous battle. To him, it seemed like a game, and that worried her. She didn’t think he was taking it seriously enough. She still shuddered whenever she pictured him facing off with Victoria.

She tried to eat, but was feeling much too keyed up. Instead, she followed the conversations around her. Charlie was talking to Tyler Crowley’s parents, seated behind him, and someone she didn’t recognize had stopped by to talk to Billy. It was bedlam. But that’s what happened when there was only one nice restaurant in town – every time there was a special occasion, the place was packed.

The conversations dragged on, and she was glad not to be wearing a watch. She’d have been checking it every minute. Now that school was out, she wasn’t sure how she was going to get new information from the Cullens, provided there was any to be had. She somehow doubted that Edward would be calling the house. She thought about leaving her window open, but knew he might read more into that than just that she wanted to talk.

It was late by the time they finally left. Jacob kissed her goodbye beside the cruiser, equally oblivious to Charlie’s disapproval and his own father’s pleased expression. Bella sat beside Charlie on the way home, red-faced, but glad he’d managed not to comment. Part of her embarrassment had come from the feeling of other eyes on her. She’d noticed it throughout dinner, and had a good idea who might be watching.

It had been a while since she’d let herself consider Edward’s words to her in the woods behind the school parking lot. As she dug her pajamas out of the drawer, she glanced out the window, wondering if Jake had arrived yet. It was long passed dark, but she knew he’d needed to drive Billy home. She did a double-take, though, when she noticed Alice standing in the trees, staring up at her. Without a second thought, she opened her window, tossing her pajamas onto her bed.

The expression on Alice’s face was truly frightening. “What is it?” Bella gasped. Alice sat down hard on the bed.

“They’ve decided. They’re coming here,” Alice replied quietly, worry creasing her brow. “Carlisle and Edward are talking with the werewolves now. Coming up with a plan.” Saying the words seemed to ease a little of the tension on her face, but Bella didn’t feel better. She sat down on the bed beside Alice, and let her put her arm around her shoulders.

“Can you see what they’re deciding?” Bella asked finally.

“No.” Alice shook her head in frustration. “Not with the werewolves involved. But it’s better than what I saw before –“ she fell silent abruptly and they exchanged a look of horror. Bella didn’t ask what she’d seen before the wolves had agreed to help. She was pretty sure she didn’t want to know.

Alice continued with only a little prompting, explaining when they were coming, and where. She mentioned that they planned to meet them in the baseball field. Bella grimaced, remembering her last trip there, and Alice correctly identified her thoughts. “But you aren’t going to be anywhere near there,” she concluded. “I don’t know where we’re going to take you yet, but we’re getting you out of here.”

“What do you mean? Where could I go that Victoria wouldn’t follow?” Bella said, panicking at last. She felt herself starting to hyperventilate. “I can’t leave with all of you in danger!”

“Shhh!” Alice said quickly, glancing toward the door.

“Did he hear?” Bella whispered after a tense moment of silence. Alice shook her head.

“Listen, no one wants you anywhere near this mess. The fastest way to put the rest of us in unnecessary danger would be to have you nearby. Edward or Jacob would surely get hurt trying to protect you. That won’t do,” she insisted.

Bella felt tears stinging her eyes. No, that wouldn’t do. “So, I’ll just have to wait somewhere alone to hear if they live or die?” she asked in a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know if I can do that, Alice,” she continued, pulling her legs up onto the bed and holding them tightly to her chest. “If I don’t know whether he’s alright, whether I’ll ever see him again... It’ll be just like before. And Jake – “ she choked back a sob.

Alice looked miserable as well, but put her arms around Bella, knees and all, and held her tight. “We’ll work something out. We’ll find a way to make this bearable,” she offered, not knowing how to go about it, but obviously affected by Bella’s pain.

“Where are they now?” Bella asked after a moment.

“At the house,” Alice answered unwillingly.

“Will it be...too difficult for Jasper if I go to hear what they’re deciding?” Bella asked, not wanting to invite herself, if it was going to cause more trouble than good again.

Alice stood. “Jasper will be glad to see you, and so will everyone else. We’ve all missed you, you know,” she added quietly, pulling Bella up by the hand.

“Except Rosalie,” Bella whispered.

“Except Rosalie,” Alice allowed, smiling tightly. “But Emmett will be thrilled,” she added dryly, drawing a smile from Bella as well.

“I’ve missed all of you, too. It was like losing my whole family –“ she stopped, and set her jaw, brushing away the sudden tears. “Let’s go, then.”

Every room in the house was lit as Alice and Bella approached. Emmett met them at the door, grinning. “You’ve missed it. They just left,” he said with a knowing look at Alice. Bella turned an accusing glance in her direction also, but Alice’s eyes were wide with affected innocence.

“I warned you I couldn’t see the wolves,” she reminded her.

Bella shook her head in exasperation. “I suppose I should head to La Push, then, if I want to know what’s going on. Jake will be worried if he notices I’m not at home.” As she spoke, Edward and Carlisle came down the stairs, both looking surprised to see her, but only Carlisle looking pleased.

“Bella! It’s good to see you!” he said warmly, shaking her hand again as if this was her first visit to his home. “You never come by the hospital anymore,” he commented lightly.

“I’ve finally stopped falling down every time I get on the bike,” she replied without thinking, then winced as Edward’s expression darkened even further. Apparently Jake had managed not to think about BELLA’S bike during their frequent late-night discussions. She raised her chin defiantly, and continued. “Proof that even a clutz like me can be taught to ride, I guess.”

Carlisle forced an uncomfortable laugh, but was soon at ease again. “Alice, Emmett, if I can talk to you for a moment,” he suggested, gesturing smoothly to the stairs. Bella narrowed her eyes as Alice threw an apologetic glance over her shoulder and retreated.

Edward looked at her in silence for a moment. “Sorry to have intruded,” Bella said awkwardly, looking at the floor.

He whispered something softly, and she looked up. He’d turned his back to her, and she was sure she hadn’t been meant to hear, but she’d thought it sounded like, “You are always welcome here.”

“Edward?” she asked. He turned, arms folded across his chest in a position that reminded her of her own vain attempts to hold her heart in place over the last several months. She swallowed. “What have you decided to do with me for the duration,” she forced herself to continue, her voice tense, and her brow furrowed. When he didn’t answer, she looked up.

“I thought we might discuss that with you before we decide,” he answered carefully, having been warned by Alice upon their arrival that this was a sensitive topic. The truth was, a plan had been formed, but it clearly wasn’t something Bella was going to agree to – he could see that in her eyes without having to read her mind. He resolved instantly that he’d defy Jacob and Sam’s plan in a heartbeat rather than make her cry again.

Bella nodded, “If you’re thinking of shipping me off to La Push to wait for news,” she began, having been considering what options they might have come up with on the way, “I’d really rather not be that far away.”

Edward grimaced. That had not been the plan. The plan had been to put her on a plane with Emmett and Esme to somewhere remote and unexpected, though Jacob had certainly pushed hard enough for keeping her on the reservation.

“La Push is fairly nearby,” he said, trying to be persuasive. He didn’t want her there with the wolves, but he’d resigned himself to her presence among them weeks ago. “Two of the wolves would stay behind to keep watch there, in case anyone got passed us.”

“Which two?” Bella demanded immediately.

“The youngest. Collin and Brady.” Edward watched her expression twist and knew she wasn’t going to accept that.

“They should definitely be kept home,” she agreed, “but I’m not staying there with them. It’s too far away. I’d have no idea if you were alright – “ she stopped abruptly. “If any of you were safe,” she finished, turning her eyes away from him again, and forcing her breathing to slow. She hadn’t meant to say that. She bit her lip.

Edward took another step toward her. “None of us are in any danger. We very nearly outnumber them, working together, and we’re all good fighters. Your safety is our main concern.”

“They’ll be stronger than you,” she whispered to the floor, remembering old conversations, and marveling that she was still managing to breathe.

“But they’ll be wild, directionless. Even if Victoria is responsible for this mess, she can’t possibly have the experience to control them, or she’d never have let them run wild in Seattle as they’ve been.”

“Not La Push,” Bella insisted, refusing to be sidetracked.

Edward nodded reluctantly. “Not La Push,” he agreed solemnly. “Then where? You can’t stay in the clearing with us, it’s too dangerous.”

Bella shook her head, her eyes down. She didn’t have an answer. “I need to talk to Jake,” she whispered after a moment.

“Why?” Edward’s voice was suddenly hard. He closed the gap between them and tilted her face up until she had to meet his eyes. “Tell me where you want to be, Bella, I’ll make it happen.”

Tears were already coursing down her cheeks, and he could feel her trembling, but he held her gaze, angry – with her – for the first time he could remember. “I need to be – where you are,” she admitted finally, drawing a shaky breath.

Edward’s expression softened and he looked into her eyes tenderly, but she was still crying. She snapped her eyes shut and closed her lips around a sob. It came out a strangled whimper instead. He put his other hand to her cheek. “Tell me why it costs you so much to say it,” he demanded, his voice low. For the first time in weeks, she’d said something to him worth hearing. Something with meaning.

He waited, trying to be patient. “Because it’s so unfair to him,” she choked out eventually. She let her voice fall to a whisper. “After all he’s done for me, how can I admit that it’s you I can’t live without?” Bella opened her eyes, biting her lip, trying to keep from crying again. Her breathing was still ragged, but she couldn’t decide if it was from the tears, or from the intensity in Edward’s eyes as he stared at her.

He bent, hesitating, but she stiffened, and he straightened up again. “Please don’t,” she whispered.

“Tell me why not? Because you don’t want to hurt me by having to pull away, or because you don’t want to hurt him by allowing it?” His voice already reflected his hurt.

“Both. So don’t ask,” Bella said sharply, closing her eyes again and turning way, swiping at the tears that started fresh again. When she looked up again, he was standing with his arms folded across his chest once more.

“I should take you home,” he said, his voice detached.

“Alice can take me.”

“Alice is busy.” They stared at one another angrily for a moment.

“Then I’ll walk.” Bella started toward the door, but he grabbed her hand, just long enough to stop her progress.

“And get back through the window how?”

“ALICE?” Bella called, knowing her friend would come.

Alice was at her side almost instantly, and Bella tried not to sigh too loudly in relief. “I need to go home,” she explained unnecessarily, keeping her eyes away from Edward. Alice nodded and took her hand, glaring angrily at Edward. It was not an expression Bella had seen often on her face, but in this circumstance, she felt it completely justified. She wished just once she could make herself look at him that way. But every time she turned her eyes to him, she seemed to lose whatever resolve she had in her, good or bad.

Alice must have run faster to get her home than she had on the way to the Cullens. Bella hadn’t made any progress deciding where she should spend the battle by the time they arrived in her room. She waited while Alice listened carefully. “He’s asleep,” she said after a moment.

“Then he didn’t check on me earlier. If he had, he’d be on the phone with the department by now.” Bella said, relieved that something, at least, seemed to be going right.

She picked up the pajamas she’d discarded earlier and turned back to Alice, intending to thank her for bringing her home. But Alice was looking at her worriedly. She put them back on her bed and sat, patting the bed beside her. Alice flashed her a grateful grin and sat down, facing her, with one leg on the bed – a nervous posture.

“Bella, it’s none of my business, and I’m going to catch hell for this when I get back, but –“

“Then you shouldn’t say it, Alice,” Bella cut her off sharply.

“BUT,” Alice continued doggedly, “I really think you need to know.” She paused to see if Bella would interrupt again, but there was only silence. “I purposely didn’t let myself see what Edward said to you when he left. But I think he must have lied profoundly.

“Whatever he told you, Bella, Edward loves you – more than anything. When we fall in love, it isn’t something that ever goes away. We aren’t changeable like that. He couldn’t make himself stop loving you now, even if he wanted to.” Her voice was so earnest that Bella couldn’t help but stare at her as she spoke. She’d never noticed that Alice had the same persuasive power behind her gaze that Edward did, but she found she couldn’t disbelieve her. “He needs you,” she finished quietly, her mouth turned down into a pretty frown.

“I know,” Bella whispered brokenly, her eyes shut. She didn’t open them until she felt the wind of Alice’s departure. Then she curled up into the smallest ball she possibly could and let the tears take her, resigning herself to an evening alone with the gaping hole in her chest.