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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:


5. Chapter 5

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2755   Review this Chapter

Bella heard the roar of Jake’s bike as she was brushing her teeth, and glanced up at her own wide eyes in the mirror. What was he thinking? She finished quickly and ran for the stairs just as he knocked at the door.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, as she threw open the door. Her eyes took in his wide grin, though, and her anger faltered a bit. “We can’t go on the bike! Someone will tell Charlie!”

“So let him scold me for it later,” Jake shrugged. “He still won’t know you ride your own.” His unconcerned smile was contagious, and she chuckled once, shaking her head and hoisting her backpack into place.

“All of this to deliver a completely unnecessary warning, I suppose,” she grumbled good-naturedly. It had been a difficult night, but Jacob’s presence was already easing the pain, and she found it difficult to maintain any kind of annoyance with him as she climbed onto the bike behind him.

“Hold on,” Jake advised. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and pressed her face into his back, thankful that it wasn’t raining for once. She didn’t close her eyes, though. She knew from experience that he was a much better rider than she was.

The trip to school was shorter than it would have been in the truck, by far. She rolled her eyes as they pulled up onto the sidewalk, skidding to a quick stop right in front of Edward’s silver Volvo. He and Alice were still inside. “Great timing,” Jacob muttered to himself, pleased, as she dismounted easily. She wondered briefly if her easy manner on the bike would give away her experience, and then decided it didn’t matter. It wasn’t as if Edward or Alice would snitch on her to Charlie anyway. When would they have the opportunity?

Edward was already in front of them by the time Jacob set the bike on its kickstand and stood. Alice, oddly enough, stayed in the car. Bella tried to keep her eyes on Alice, and take comfort in the fact that she didn’t look concerned. However, as soon as Edward spoke, she couldn’t help but turn her eyes back to him. He was staring at her, though, and she looked away quickly to avoid his gaze.

“Consider your message delivered,” Edward snarled in a low voice, his eyes still on Bella. She forced herself to look back at Alice, who was now looking at her, and wondered what expression her friend saw on her face.

“Yeah, well, just for good measure,” Jacob began sarcastically, “I’ve got to remind you to stay on your side of the line. Paul was totally justified in – “

“It was no-man’s-land!” Edward hissed, cutting him off, his expression black.

“It WASN’T!”

“Enough, please,” Bella interrupted, noticing Jacob’s shaking hands. She grasped one tightly, and it stopped shaking at once. “This is such a ridiculous squabble. If you really want to catch her, Edward, so you can go on about your business, it would probably happen a lot faster if you could manage to work together instead of this!” She gestured between the two of them with her free hand, but Edward wasn’t looking at that hand. His eyes were focused on her other hand, the one that was lost in Jacob’s warm grip. She was hoping that neither of them heard the weakness in her voice as she said his name. It was a futile hope, though. Jacob glanced down at her with a pained expression.

“As if!” he exclaimed, trying to keep his voice down, though she could hear the anger.

Edward, however, was looking at them appraisingly. “It isn’t a bad idea, actually,” he said after a moment. Then his eyes strayed back to Bella and Jacob’s entwined fingers. Bella noticed his jaw tighten for a moment, then release. He took a deep breath. “Are you the Alpha?” he asked, “Can you negotiate?”

“No,” Jake spat at him. “And yes. But there’s nothing to negotiate. We don’t generally work with bloodsuckers.”

Edward’s face twisted. “And we don’t generally work with dogs, but if it will ensure Bella’s safety, we might be willing to attempt it.”

That pulled Jake up short, and he looked down at Bella again. Her exasperated expression may have influenced him. Or perhaps he was just becoming aware of the crowd of spectators that had gathered, just far enough away to be out of hearing, but close enough to get a good view if anything interesting occurred. Bella noticed Mike Newton nearby, a restraining hand on Ben’s shoulder. As if Ben had already tried to intervene. She shook her head at them slightly, and Ben relaxed. Mike’s hand dropped.

“I’ll have Sam contact you. The three of us, and Carlisle, can meet and discuss what needs to be done,” Jake allowed finally.

Edward nodded. “The assistant Principal is on his way. We should get to class.” Instantly, Alice was as his side. Bella dropped Jake’s hand.

“I’ll see you later,” she whispered, swallowing hard. It had been helpful, riding to school with him. Seeing him twice a day kept the ache in her chest to a minimum. She knew, though, that the hurt would start again as soon as he was gone.

Jake grinned in spite of himself. “I’ll pick you up right after school,” he promised.

“Thanks.” And she could see in his face that he understood – she meant more than just ‘thanks for the ride to school.’ He nodded solemnly and got back on the bike, squealing the tires before jumping the sidewalk. Bella watched him go, shaking her head. Even after all this time, she was nowhere near that good on her bike.

The assistant Principal arrived then, and Bella turned with the rest of the students to go to class. She left Edward to explain what had occurred, hurrying to walk with Ben to her first period class, instead. It was bad enough to have to sit next to Edward in nearly every class. She didn’t want to walk with him also.

The morning classes passed in silence, but Bella had a feeling of impending doom concerning lunch. She briefly tossed around the idea of sitting with Jessica, but decided that it would certainly hurt Angela’s feelings. She sat in her usual spot and smiled tightly at the table at large. Ben was missing, she noticed, and she suspected that was partially because of the bet she’d overheard him participating in earlier in the day. She glanced around and saw him sitting with Austin a few tables away, his eyes carefully averted. “Angela, tell Ben I’m not angry, would you?” Bella said, smiling a little. From the corner of her eye, she saw Edward look up at her.

Angela’s eyes widened in surprise, and Bella explained quickly. “I heard them, in Spanish. It’s no big deal.” Then she turned her eyes to Edward. She didn’t often look straight at him if she could help it. “There isn’t going to be a fight anyway,” she added. Edward held her gaze for a moment, his face carefully blank, before he nodded tightly and went back to tearing apart a granola bar, letting the pieces fall onto his tray. Bella narrowed her eyes at him, but Angela, who could see that whatever Bella said, it was clearly a big deal to someone, starting bemoaning the stack of graduation announcements she had to deal with. Bella made plans to help her, grateful for anything she could spend her time on that didn’t include worrying about Jacob and Edward.

Edward got up first to dump his tray, and Alice followed. Bella could feel the tenseness in her shoulders relax as he left, and Angela was looking at her knowingly. “Are you alright?” she asked.

“Not really. I thought it was hard when he was gone....” Bella didn’t finish the thought, but Angela was already nodding. “But I’m going to La Push after school. That always helps.” She tried to smile, but it didn’t quite come out right.

“Does it? Or does it just push the pain away until you leave again?” Angela asked, with her usual knack for seeing more than she should. Bella’s smile melted and she bit her lip. “Sorry,” Angela said at once. “I shouldn’t have –“

“No, you’re right. As soon as I leave to go home, it’s the same. But it’s as close as things get to tolerable, so I’ll take it. Anyway, there really isn’t another option,” she added glancing towards the door through which Edward and Alice had disappeared. “I can’t go back to walking around like a zombie all the time.” She smiled a little, trying to make that a joke. It was true that she couldn’t go back to being a zombie. She had tried, when the numbness had first worn off, to recapture it somehow, and failed. If she was going to have to be conscious, it was far easier with Jake than without him. But even as the thought occurred to her, she shook her head. She knew she wanted to be around Jacob for more reasons than just the easing of her hurt over Edward. The more time she spent with him, the more she realized that she really did love him, too. It wasn’t the same. It could never be the same. But everything that was left of her heart was clearly his. She felt more than a bit of worry at the thought. How easy it would be for Jacob to break her now.

Angela stood up, and Bella realized she’d been staring into space. She smiled at her own folly and picked up her tray as well. They walked quietly out of the lunchroom, each lost in her own thoughts. They came to an abrupt halt just outside the door, however, when they caught sight of Edward leaning against the lockers on the other side of the hallway, his face carefully blank.

“See you later, Bella,” Angela whispered worriedly. Bella tried to smile at her as she left but didn’t quite manage it. She walked over to Edward with a resigned expression.

“Is this the motorcycle safety lecture I’ve been expecting all day?” Bella asked sourly, keeping her eyes fixed carefully left of his face. She noticed his expression of annoyance anyway, however, and tilted her chin stubbornly in answer.

“I just want you to be safe. Would it be too much to ask for you to wear a helmet, at least?” he whispered.

Bella caught the sound of panic in his tone, though, and finally her eyes focused on his. “Why does it even matter?” she demanded in an angry whisper, glancing furiously toward the cafeteria door, where several people were emerging, headed for their next class. Without discussing it, they began walking in the opposite direction as he answered.

“It matters because I want you to be safe. I – worry,” he admitted. He tried to keep his voice even. After talking with Alice and Carlisle the previous week, he had just about convinced himself that maybe it would be safer for Bella to be with him than with Jacob Black. But he was still unsure. It had made sense the way they explained it. He couldn’t quite decide, though, if that was just because he wanted so badly to be with her again, or if it really was what would be best for her.

He held the door for her, and she preceded him out into the rain without comment, merely throwing the hood of her jacket up over her hair. “Jacob can handle the bike, as I’m sure you must realize. What is this really ABOUT, Edward? Why are you making this so hard?”

Edward was walking quickly, his steps taking them to the far corner of the parking lot – into the trees, where they would be hidden from wandering eyes inside classrooms. As soon as they were under the cover of the leafy canopy, out of sight of the school, Bella planted her feet and waited. He turned back to her and read her angry expression. He knew what he wanted to say, but the words stuck in his throat.

Finally, she spoke instead. “You’ve surely gathered by now what it was like when you left,” she began, her voice falling to an agonized whisper. “I appreciate you coming back to deal with Victoria, but you can’t know – you can’t possibly understand how hard –“ She broke off, angry, suddenly, at the tears that had started streaming down her face. She wiped at them viciously, turning her eyes away.

“I understand better than you think.” He took a few steps back toward her, until he was right in front of her, and put his hand under her chin to force her to meet his eyes. He could hear the increase in her heart rate. That, at least, had not changed. The urge to lean down and kiss her then was almost overwhelming. He fought it back. “Bella,” he whispered. “I was an idiot, thinking I could live without you. I wanted to protect you from what I am. After James, and then Jasper, too, I thought you would be safer if we left. That was the ONLY thing that could have given me the strength to leave you.”

Bella shook her head in denial, but couldn’t tear herself away from the urgent sincerity of his eyes. “Don’t,” she said quietly.

“No, listen,” he insisted. “I was wrong to leave you like that, but Bella, I love you – “

“DON’T!” she said again, more strongly. This time she backed away, and Edward let his hand drop from her face. She was shaking her head again, looking at the damp ground under her feet, half-turned sideways as if to run from him. He watched as she bit her lip and then turned back to him, this time truly angry. “I will not go through that again,” she said, carefully averting her eyes so she wasn’t looking directly at him. “Even if I didn’t suspect that you’re just trying to keep me away from La Push. Even if I believed you. I won’t. I can’t.”

Bella felt the tears coming again, and she forced herself to turn and walk away. She pulled her hood more securely around her face as she stepped from the trees. She wasn’t sure where to go. The class they’d skipped was certainly still in session. She didn’t want to stay out here with him, though, so she headed back to the cafeteria and sat down at the table closest to the door, lowering her head onto the table and folding her arms tightly around herself. The gaping hole in her chest, which always seemed so much better when Jake was around, which was mostly kept anesthetized by at least the reassurance of Edward’s existence and the sound of his voice, seemed to have been torn open again with a vengeance.

She carefully controlled her quiet sobs, forcing herself to breath steadily. She could feel the eyes of the cafeteria workers on her. She supposed she was going to get in trouble for cutting class, but couldn’t bring herself to care. She tried not to imagine Edward standing among the trees, watching her walk away. She tried not to believe what he’d told her. But somewhere inside the emptiness of her chest, she could feel her heart contracting at the thought. What if he really DID love her? What if they could be together again?

But Jacob’s face swam into existence behind her eyelids, and Bella knew she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t cause him the same kind of pain she’d been through. She remembered how what was left of her own heart had twisted, sharing his pain when he’d first discovered that he was a werewolf. She wasn’t even sure she could survive hurting him – she seemed to feel his pain even more acutely than her own.

That knowledge quieted her, finally. She lifted her head and unwrapped her arms to wipe away her tears. She was strong enough, now, to deal with her own pain, but she wasn’t strong enough to deal with hurting Jacob as well. She couldn’t do that, no matter what her heart wanted. As usual, as soon as she made the decision, the stress eased. She looked around, nodding at the concerned cafeteria workers, and smiling tightly until they nodded in return. Then she made her way resolutely to the girls’ bathroom to wash her face. There was still one more class to get through today before Jacob would be here to pick her up.