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A Different Path

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


Notes:


14. Epilogue

Rating 5/5   Word Count 1123   Review this Chapter

As soon as the door closed behind Alice, Bella rolled out of bed. She stood in front of her window, unable to see much beyond it in the now-sheeting rain. The darkness of the room prevented her from seeing her own reflection, as well. She stood for a long time, one hand on her bedpost and the other on her desk, resting lightly.

She wasn’t sure how much later it was when she heard Charlie on the stairs. He passed by her room. She listened to the water running in the bathroom, and later heard his door close. And she stared at the rain, tearless, tense.

Eventually, she became aware that she was thinking. It was almost subconscious. She concentrated, narrowing her eyes at nothing, and began dissecting her own motivations. When Edward had left, she’d been numb. Jacob had offered her an alternative to the endless nothingness. A way to feel alive without being in pain – the ONLY way she had discovered in the months after Edward left.

She had used the brightness of his personality as a cure for her own personal darkness. If that had been all, though, she could have felt guilty and moved on. She’d thought she had nothing to give him in return for the many pain-free hours they’d spent together, at first. She’d convinced herself that there wasn’t enough left of her to allow her to love him. She’d been wrong.

Her mind turned to Edward, and her eyes involuntarily focused on the glass of the window for an instant before she looked back at the rain, her head never moving. When she’d seen him again for the first time in the cafeteria, her first inclination had been to run to him. To beg him to come back to her. She hadn’t done it. It wouldn’t have been fair to Jake, but that wasn’t what had prevented her. She could admit now that it had been fear.

When Edward had left, he’d nearly ruined her. But for Jake, she’d be a zombie in a mental institution somewhere in Jacksonville. The thought of being with him again – of reinventing the circumstances that had led to that pain – had been profoundly frightening. It still was. And yet…

She swallowed hard and considered her options. There were really only two. She could go to bed. Leave the window closed, and never let Edward back into her life. Her heart constricted painfully at the thought, but she remained still, resisting the urge to wrap her arms around herself protectively. She forced herself to consider it as a valid option, but her mind supplied the truth. Even though she’d never gone back to him, losing him now would devastate her just as surely and completely as it had the first time. By denying him, she hadn’t really kept her heart safe from the pain. All she’d accomplished was hurting him as well as herself.

Or, she could open the window. He might not come; he might never forgive her for the months she’d spent away from him. She might never forgive herself for them, either. But would it really be worse than if she never opened it at all? The end result would be the same. A mental institution in Jacksonville.

With a sudden, decisive movement, Bella opened the window. She might have continued to stand and stare at the rain for the rest of the night, but a soft voice, thick with emotion, made her turn.

“I was hoping that would be your decision,” Edward said.

Bella’s breath left her in a quiet, “Oh!” as their eyes met. She felt suddenly like all the air had been knocked from her lungs.

He crossed the room in two long strides and put his arms around her, squeezing as tightly as he dared, and lifting her up off the ground briefly, his lips grazing her ear as he lowered her back to the floor and whispered. “Someday, you have to tell me how you got there, though,” he joked weakly, “because these have been the longest hours I’ve ever spent.” Without waiting for a response, he dragged his cheek along hers until their lips met.

Bella had not forgotten the feel of his lips on hers, the chill, smooth pressure. But neither had her memory done it justice. She tightened her arms around his neck possessively, and felt him pull her closer in response. When he pulled away, she gasped for air. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered brokenly, her words made difficult to understand when their lips met again almost at once.

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for,” he said against her mouth, immediately claiming her lips so she couldn’t argue. He felt her tears on his own face, and put his hands to her cheeks, cradling her face as he wiped them away. “How can I blame you for protecting your heart from me? I was an idiot. Can you forgive me?” His eyes blazed as he stared into hers, hope and desperation making them even more dazzling than usual.

Bella shook her head to clear it, but didn’t look away. “You were forgiven before you were even gone,” she whispered. He put his arms around her again, then, and kissed the top of her head. They held each other, oblivious to the rain coming in the window, until a clap of thunder startled Bella. Edward loosened his arms, but didn’t let her go. She was still crying. “But you should know,” she said quietly, looking up into his face with an earnest expression, “that if you ever leave me again, I will FIND someone to make the change, and I will hunt you to the ends of the earth.”

Edward felt his face pull up into a lopsided grin against his will, but didn’t try to stifle it. It was the first time he’d really felt like smiling since the day he’d left her in the forest. The stutter in her heartbeat as she looked at him only made him smile harder. Finally he chuckled, but his reply was serious. “I will never leave you like that again. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to stand having you out of my sight at all,” he admitted.

“You won’t have to,” Bella said, taking his hand and pulling him toward her bed. She knew that she would feel the pain of losing Jacob, but she also knew that she’d done the best she could by him – and that he and Leah had a chance at something just as strong as what she felt for Edward. Someday, Jake would be her best friend again. So she allowed herself, just for the night, to concentrate on Edward, and to learn again what it really meant to be happy and whole.