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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:


6. Chapter 6

Rating 5/5   Word Count 1777   Review this Chapter

The inescapable rain was sheeting sideways by the time Bella’s last class ended, and she and Angela stood just under the roof, waiting for Ben to pull up. Bella had already sighed in relief at the sight of Jacob’s VW Rabbit, idling nearby. “I’ll be over Saturday after work, to help with the announcements,” Bella said again, smiling at Angela’s obvious distress.

“I really appreciate it. There are just so many!” They both laughed as Ben pulled up, and said goodbye quickly. Bella ran for Jake’s car as Angela stepped out into the rain, wishing he’d parked closer. She opened the door violently and plopped onto the seat, taking down her hood with one hand while she closed the door, already soaked. She let out the breath she’d held as she ran, then turned to look at Jake. He didn’t look as happy to see her as usual. She felt the smile that had been blooming on her lips fall away.

“What’s wrong?”

“You’ve been crying,” he accused quietly. “What happened?”

Bella pursed her lips and shook her head. She thought she’d managed to scrub away the tear tracks. “It’s - it’s fine. Really. I’m good. We should go.” She’d been expecting to feel better as soon as she saw him, but this conversation wasn’t helping. He narrowed his eyes at her, but backed out into the crowded parking lot anyway, taking her hand as they began to drive away.

“Where to?”

“La Push, if that’s okay,” Bella replied quietly. “I’m not up for sitting at home to work on all this right now.” She looked woefully at her backpack, which currently held far more unfinished homework than she would like.

“You, too?” Jake asked lightly. “It’s like they’re trying to stick another two months’ worth of information into these last few weeks.”

Bella smiled, then, as the conversation moved to less stressful topics.

She greeted Billy warmly as they came through the door, Jacob pulling her by the hand to the table, where she sat, and began digging out the first of her assignments. She looked up when Jake didn’t join her, and her expression fell.

“I’ll be back,” he assured her quickly, apologetically. “I’ll only be gone an hour, and then I’ve got lots of homework, too.” He grimaced at the thought, but smiled again at once, as she nodded.

Then, carefully, he leaned down and touched his lips to hers. It was brief. Not long enough for Billy to feel the need to interrupt, but it warmed Bella through, and she smiled at him when he straightened up. “I’ll be right back,” he said again.

“I’ll be here. Maybe Billy and I will see about getting dinner.” She felt her face heat, as she remembered his presence, and shot a glance at Jacob’s father to see if he was upset. But Billy sat with an enigmatic expression on his face, nodding.

Jake only laughed. “Food is always welcome. We still remember the lasagna you sent last time.” He disappeared into his bedroom briefly and reemerged wearing only his cut-off sweats, barefoot. A moment later, he was gone. Bella looked back at the outline of the next English essay that she’d jotted down as the teacher explained the assignment, and then glanced back at Billy.

“Dinner first?” she asked, smiling.

It was a pleasant hour bustling around the kitchen and talking with Billy. Like Jake, he seemed to know instinctively what topics were off limits, and what was fair game. They talked about Rebecca and Rachel. He asked after Charlie and Renee. He asked about school. Then, with a hastily hidden smile, he asked about prom.

Bella surprised herself by laughing. “I figured Jake would want to go,” she explained. “I hate to dance. I can barely walk for falling down, but I went and got a dress anyway, just in case.”

“You’re going to ask him, then?” Billy asked solemnly. She took in his expression, her forehead crinkling.

“Well, I guess I was going to wait and see if he brought it up.” She realized her hands had paused in the act of breading the chicken, and began working again. “Though, I guess it is MY prom, so I’d have to do the asking. He wants to go, doesn’t he?” she guessed. There was only silence while she leaned down to put the dish in the oven. When she straightened up to look at him, he was smiling at her.

“He might have mentioned it once or twice,” he admitted. Bella had no opportunity to reply, however, as Jacob bounded through the door at just that moment. They both looked up at his arrival, grinning. There was something very domestic and comforting about cooking with Billy until Jacob got home that made Bella feel warm again. She didn’t comment, though, and soon they had both taken up positions at the table – trying to get some homework done before dinner was ready.

“If you can refrain from eating three helpings, I think I made enough for Charlie,” she teased Jacob, when he commented that dinner smelled good.

He grinned in return. “I think I can restrain myself to only enough for two,” he laughed. Billy laughed, too, and wheeled himself into the other room to call Charlie and invite him for dinner.

As soon as he left the room, however, Jacob’s expression became serious. “Are you alright, Bells? What happened today?” he asked quietly, ignoring his homework, and taking her hand in his. Bella let go her pencil without any fuss and let him entwine their fingers. She sighed, not really wanting to think about the afternoon, but knowing Jacob deserved to hear about it.

“Edward and I talked today. I think - It seems like he’s trying to convince me to get back together. But I think it’s just because he’s worried about me being here with you and the guys all the time. He thinks you’re dangerous,” she admitted.

“We are,” Jacob agreed in a hard voice. “But not to you. I’m not going to let anything hurt you, Bella.”

She tried to smile. “I know. I told him that.”

“What did he say?”

Not wanting to repeat Edward’s declaration of love, or even to think of it, if she could help it, she cast about for some other part of the conversation that would assuage his curiosity. “He wants me to get a motorcycle helmet,” she offered weakly.

Jacob seemed to know that she’d skipped over the most important bits of the conversation, but he nodded. “I suppose I should have thought of that myself. All those trips to the ER...” He grimaced.

“It isn’t your duty to protect me from myself, Jake,” Bella sighed. “It’s bad enough you’ve been dealing with Victoria.” She shuddered, all of her concern for the pack that had been protecting her coming back in a rush.

“It’s fine,” Jake assured her, squeezing her fingers. “What’s the use of being a scary monster if I can’t use it to protect you?” His tone was warm, but he turned back to his homework, and Bella thought it looked like he might be blushing under his russet skin.

She put her hand to his shoulder. “Thanks,” she whispered gratefully, but then her expression turned scolding. “Just be careful out there,” she demanded.

Jacob smirked in response. “Don’t worry about us. We’re stronger than you give us credit for.” He got a shifty expression on his face as he said this, and looked at his work again quickly, picking up a pen and jotting something down that didn’t look like he’d thought about it much. Bella narrowed her eyes, but knew better than to ask. Pack secrets were, after all, pack secrets. She smiled and shook her head as she returned to her work. He would tell her eventually anyway.

It wasn’t long before Charlie arrived, just in time to see Bella taking the chicken and rice out of the oven. Jacob, who’d heard him coming, had retreated to his room again to put on a shirt. Dinner was a happy affair, and Bella and Jake ate one-handed, holding hands under the table. Somehow, after all that had happened today, Bella was loathe to let him go. Still, when it was clearly time to leave, she found she had to. He walked her to the door, carrying her bag, while Charlie ran out to the cruiser.

“Jake,” she whispered worriedly. She’d found herself thinking all through dinner about Edward’s words, and although Jacob didn’t seem upset, she wanted to give him some reassurance. “I told him no. You know that, right?”

Jacob smiled down at her, neither the room-brightening grin, nor the bitter smile she thought of as Sam’s, but a sad, almost pained smile. “I know. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.” He paused. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Bella looked out into the rain, watching as Charlie flipped on his headlights. She’d been alright all evening, but she knew it was going to be a bad night. She felt tears stinging at her eyes, but tried to be brave. “I think, finally, that I will be,” she said quietly. “Eventually,” she added, her voice suddenly doubtful again.

He gathered her into his chest, trying to remember not to squish all the air from her for once. “If you need me when you get home, I’ll be there. Whisper out your window, like before.”

She nodded into his chest, distressed that her tears were soaking into his shirt. “It’s going to be alright,” he whispered, sounding pained. “I’m going to find a way to make it alright.” But it was an empty promise and they both knew it. Bella nodded anyway.

“I should go, before Charlie gets impatient,” she said finally, her voice muffled against his chest. Jacob chuckled and released her.

“If you need me, I’ll be there,” he said again, tilting her face up until he could reach her lips. This time his kiss was not brief, and she let herself get lost in it gratefully, trying to relish the warmth instead of pine for the chill lips she knew so much better. She told herself she succeeded, and they broke apart laughing as Charlie finally got impatient and beeped for her.

Jacob stood in the doorway, watching until the cruiser was out of sight. Then he closed the door and turned back to the kitchen, where Billy was staring at him. “I HATE him,” he snarled, bringing his fist down on the table with an earsplitting CRACK. Billy nodded in understanding before he noticed the state of the table, and then sighed.

“Call Quil’s uncle, please, and see if he can do anything about that,” he commented mildly, gesturing toward the splintered, no-longer-circular table.

Jake hung his head, miserable, and turned toward the phone.