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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:


2. Chapter 2

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2024   Review this Chapter

Bella stopped walking two feet into the cafeteria, and abruptly turned around and walked back out. Angela and Ben both turned to see where she’d gone, but she was already too far away to talk to without shouting, so neither one asked. Angela turned back to the room, puzzled, until her eyes fell on Edward and Alice Cullen. Edward was staring right at her. She pursed her lips and, when he didn’t respond, she gestured with her head toward the door, wishing he’d just get up and follow Bella already. She narrowed her eyes as he shook his head just a little, and then decided that it really wasn’t any of her business. She let Ben pull her into the lunch line.

Alice and Edward sat alone, neither one having any intention of disrupting Bella’s lunchtime with their presence at her table. Edward, especially, hadn’t wanted this to upset her. It wasn’t his idea, after all. He stared into space, still annoyed over his conversation with Carlisle upon his return. But Carlisle had been right. If he was going to protect Bella without interfering, he could do it better as a fellow student than as a vampire hiding in the woods around her house. Not that he didn’t intend to spend every night hiding in the woods around her house.

Still, it was painful hearing Angela’s thoughts. The girl was usually so pleasant. He tuned her out, and everyone else as well, and so he was astonished when Angela and Ben passed by their own lunch table to sit with him. He found it difficult to keep the annoyance from his expression, but held his peace.

“I hadn’t heard that you’d moved back to town,” Angela started hesitantly, clearly talking to Alice.

“Esme, our mom, didn’t like L.A. very much. She missed the woods. So we came back. We hadn’t sold the house yet,” Alice responded cheerfully, kicking Edward under the table. He didn’t even flinch, but his expression cleared.

“I think Carlisle secretly liked his job here better anyway,” he added dutifully. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded dull.

“You’ve got excellent timing,” Ben said under his breath. Naturally they all heard him, but no one demanded an explanation. Angela shot him an annoyed look, and he dug into his food sheepishly. After that, Angela and Ben ate in silence. Angela kept glancing up toward the cafeteria door, but no one came in. Finally, Ben got sick of the tension. “I didn’t see you in Calculus earlier,” he commented to Edward.

“We took the morning to unpack,” Edward replied, his eyes looking passed Ben’s shoulder rather than at his face. “We got in late last night.” He shrugged, and it was mostly convincing. Ben gave up.

“Hey, Angela, I want to see if Austin wants to go to that movie that’s opening next week. I’ll see you after classes, okay?”

Angela nodded up at him as he stood, and offered him only her cheek when he leaned down to kiss her. He furrowed his eyebrows at her, but she gestured toward Edward, and he understood. It hardly mattered. Edward wasn’t paying much attention to them anyway. Still, Angela tried to be sensitive.

Angela ate in silence, trying to decide what she ought to do. Bella had just told her about Jacob Black that morning before school. She was just getting to be herself again, and here was Edward back in town. It didn’t seem fair to either of them that it should work out this way. Edward was clearly upset, though she noticed that the minute she thought it, he brightened up a bit, straightening in his chair and smoothing the frown lines around his mouth. She sighed.

“Look, you should hear about this before you go sit next to Bella in class,” she began quietly, putting down her drink. “Bella is seeing that boy from La Push that came to prom last year. They’ve been friends for a while, now,” she defended as both of the Cullens turned their eyes to her.

“It’s good of you to warn me,” Edward allowed. “I didn’t come back here to get in her way, though, so don’t worry.” The words sounded bitter, and he closed his eyes briefly and tried again, softening his voice. “I’ll just keep to myself, and leave her be.” His jaw felt tense as he said this, and he kept his eyes firmly away from Alice. He’d seen enough pity from his family to last him a lifetime or three.

Angela didn’t seem to take offense. “For what it’s worth, I’m really sorry it worked out this way,” she offered kindly, standing to take up her tray. Alice watched her as she retreated.

“Why did I let Carlisle talk me into this?” Edward hissed, more to himself than to Alice.

“Because this is the only way you’ll get to see her or talk to her. If you want to find out what the werewolves know about Victoria, this is the best way to go about it.” She kept her voice even and low, but there was no one nearby to hear.

Bella was pulling up in front of Jacob’s house before it even occurred to her that she was skipping school. She found she really didn’t care. She ran to the house and knocked on the door, arm firmly clenched around her torso, but no one answered. She swallowed hard and looked around. Of course. Jake would be in school. Billy would be with Sue. She felt stupid AND panicky.

Climbing back in the truck, she weighed her options. School was not among them. She could go home, and hope no one noticed how early her truck had arrived there. Or she could wait here for Jacob to come home. Several minutes passed while she debated. Then, suddenly, a third option presented itself. Her truck roared to life, and she drove as quickly as she could to Emily’s place.

Sam was running patrols, but the house was warm, and so was Emily. Bella smiled at her gratefully when she invited her inside without question. The house smelled wonderful. Emily was always cooking. Bella sat at the table while her hostess worked. At first, she couldn’t bring herself to talk. She just held herself together, her knees pressed to her chest and her arms wrapped securely around them.

“When is school out?” she finally whispered. Emily glanced at the clock.

“Another hour, and we’ll call,” she replied carefully. Bella nodded, though Emily, with her back to her as she worked over the stove, couldn’t have seen it. “Sam will be back before then,” she added. Bella suppressed a shiver. It had always been difficult for her to be alone with Sam and Emily. Their obvious affection reminded her too much of what she’d lost.

“The Cullens have come back,” she blurted out, then. She already knew that she’d leave as soon as Sam arrived, so she figured she’d better tell someone. Emily turned to look at her. “Alice and – and Edward were in school today.”

Emily’s eyes filled with pity, and something else. She looked almost wary. Bella understood after a moment that Emily was concerned about Jacob. Bella looked away, remembering the way her whole world had narrowed as she entered the cafeteria so that all she could see was Edward’s tossled bronze hair; remembering the leap her heart had given, as if everything was finally as it should be, before it, and she, realized that his presence changed nothing. It was unlikely, if even his distractions had not managed to hold his interest, that SHE ever would. So she’d run away, rather than face him. It had been a cowardly thing to do, but she would much rather be sitting in Emily’s kitchen feeling cowardly than trying to hold herself together at the desk beside an uncaring Edward in class.

Emily had resumed her task, but was interrupted again as Sam came through the door. He had eyes only for her, and it wasn’t until he’d walked right passed Bella, and finished embracing Emily, that he noticed there was company. Bella kept her eyes firmly averted. “Bella has some news for you,” Emily said gently, when his eyes turned questioningly to her guest.

In spite of her intention to leave as soon as Sam arrived, Bella was still sitting in Emily’s kitchen when Jacob, Embry, and Quil came through the door. She hadn’t had much information to give them, but Sam had kept up a steady flow of conversation on trivial topics while Emily finished her tasks, offering input only occasionally.

Jacob’s initially confused expression morphed into worry in the time it took Bella to stand up and put her arms around him. Sam explained quietly, watching Jacob’s hand as it stroked through Bella’s hair. Jake tried not to be annoyed that Sam was obviously looking for signs that his control was slipping, and took the news of the Cullens’ return stoically.

“We’d better get you home before Charlie starts wondering where you are and asking questions,” he said quietly as the others turned away to discuss this new development. Bella nodded into his chest before pulling away. He took her hand and pulled her out the door. She called a hasty goodbye over her shoulder, throwing Emily a weak smile before the door closed behind her.

“Are you okay?” Jacob asked, taking the driver’s seat. Bella shook her head wryly, but went around to let herself in the other side.

“I am now. But skipping school probably wasn’t the best way to handle it. I was pretty upset before.” She felt his eyes on her, and was glad she didn’t feel like falling apart just now. She figured she looked pretty together, for a change, though she knew that as soon as he left, it was bound to become an ugly night. She kept her eyes straight ahead, wondering if he’d notice the panic if she looked at him. She felt him take her hand and smiled.

Halfway back to Charlie’s house, the rain began. “Sorry you’ve got to run home in this,” she mumbled, mostly to avoid all the conflicting thoughts that seemed to be bouncing around in her head.

Jacob laughed, though it sounded a little off. “I’m more put out about having to carry all this back with me,” he said, gesturing to his clothing indignantly. Bella felt her eyes widen and she looked up at him. He laughed again, a little more naturally. “Well, you didn’t think the clothes morphed, too, did you?” he asked in a teasing tone of voice.

An easy blush rose to her face, and she turned to look out the windshield again. “I hadn’t given it much thought,” she admitted, a slight smile tugging the corners of her mouth, even though she didn’t much feel like smiling.

“Bet you will now,” Jacob said smugly, laughing again. This time Bella couldn’t help but laugh with him.

“I suppose I will,” she agreed. There was an awkward silence. “You can leave your shirt and shoes in the truck if you want, and get them some other time.” Then she snorted. “But you’d better shove them under the seat so Charlie doesn’t notice. Can you imagine?”

“Now THAT would be an interesting conversation,” Jacob said, his voice finally sounding less tense. “I think I’d better just take them with me. Maybe I’ll leave the shoes, though.”

“Shoes are fairly safe,” she agreed.

Charlie had not yet arrived when they pulled into the driveway, for which Bella was thankful. Jacob was in a hurry to get back to Sam and the others, but he walked her, barefoot, to the door and kissed her gently before she could reach up for the key. “It’s going to be alright,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers as they broke apart. “If you need me tonight, call, okay?”

Bella stepped back and nodded. “Thanks, Jake,” she whispered back, trying to smile. She waited on the porch while he ran off into the woods, then let herself into the house.

There was a message from Angela on the phone, and she listened to it, but didn’t call her back. She could talk to her tomorrow. Tomorrow, she had every intention of going to school.