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?
9. Chapter 9
Rating 5/5 Word Count 1985 Review this Chapter
The dance was crowded, dark, and decorated with crepe paper, which Bella couldn’t help but make a face at, when they arrived. In fact, in many ways, it could have been the same dance exactly as the one she’d attended the previous year. Jake bought them tickets, having insisted on it during the ride there. Then he turned back to her. She was looking at the dance floor with a pained expression he recognized, and he already knew what he’d see when he followed her gaze.
Edward and Alice were dancing, both with soft smiles on their faces, in the middle of the room. They were looking away from each other, but Edward’s lips would move, almost too quickly to see, once in a while. They looked content, if nothing else. Alice glanced toward them, her expression going blank for a moment, and Edward’s smile fell away for an instant as well. It was back in place before he’d turned toward them again.
Anger blazed through Jake, as it usually did when he was confronted by Edward, but he didn’t let his hands shake. Instead, he forced a smile, and took Bella’s hand. It always felt cold, in his, but just now it felt colder than usual. “Would you rather go?” he whispered, his mind spinning out to think of places they could go dressed as they were – other than Seattle, of course. He remembered only too well his recent, stilted discussion with Edward about Seattle.
Bella didn’t turn to look up at him. “No, I see Angela and Ben at a table, let’s get drinks and sit down for a little while.” Then her careful tone changed slightly to a bit of self-mockery, as she turned her eyes away from the dancers. “Before I go make a fool of myself on the dance floor, we might as well relax a little.” Then she did smile at him, though he didn’t think it reached her eyes.
Jake nodded, and suffered through the introductions to her friends. He noticed Ben eyeing him warily, and couldn’t help but grin sarcastically back at him, which clearly made the boy even more uncomfortable. Jake seemed pleased.
They danced. It went better than Bella expected. It was easy, with Jake, to just rest her head on his chest, close her eyes, and shadow his graceful movements. Unlike Edward, he clearly had no idea what he was doing, but it didn’t matter. His coordination seemed to make her lack of it a non-issue, and for that she was grateful. She could feel Edward’s eyes on her, and probably Alice’s as well, and it was easier to ignore them surrounded by Jacob’s warmth.
Bella wasn’t sure how many songs they’d danced through before Jake led her back to the table. Ben and Angela were already there, or maybe had never left. He left her with them for a minute to get her something to drink. Bella was talking with Angela in low tones when he returned. It wasn’t his intent to listen, but like Billy, he could hardly help but hear.
“They came over for a few minutes and said hello,” Angela was admitting. “Alice left a purse on her chair.” Bella’s shoulders seemed to sag briefly, before she chuckled. It wasn’t a happy sound. Jake took her hand under the table.
“I didn’t really expect him to be here, though I should have realized Alice would need a dance partner.” Her eyes seemed to be drawn back to where she’d seen them last, but they weren’t dancing. She noticed them seated alone at a table on the other side of the room, talking quietly. She suppressed a surge of guilt at chasing them away from where they’d clearly intended to sit.
Bella watched them in silence while Angela and Ben looked uncomfortably around the room, and Jacob kept his eyes on her. Finally, Angela thanked her again for her help with the announcements, and Ben and Jacob managed to begin a shallow conversation about recent movies, which Bella was sure Jake hadn’t had time to see. She tried to keep her eyes on Jake or Angela, surprised at how often she smiled. But she couldn’t help but notice that Edward and Alice were still seated as well, and they didn’t appear happy with one another anymore. They weren’t just looking away from each other as usual. Edward was scowling, and Alice was clearly pouting.
Bella snorted in amusement at a thought that shot through her head. She was often annoyed by Jacob’s insults to the Cullens. She wondered –
“What?” Jake asked, responding to her unexpected laughter.
“Alice looks unhappy. You should ask her to dance,” Bella suggested, her eyes bright as she looked up at him. She raised an eyebrow as his face went carefully blank. Sam’s expression.
“Really, you should. If you’d just spend a few minutes talking with her, you’d really like her. She’s always going to be my friend, Jake,” she added, amazed at her own persuasive tone. Jacob’s eyes went from blank, to disbelieving, to resigned in just the time it took to her to finish speaking.
“You’ll owe me,” he warned, his voice wavering between anger and teasing. She grinned as he stood and stalked across the room. Bella kept her eyes averted, watching instead the worry and then relief that crossed Angela and Ben’s faces. Only then did she turn to look.
Jacob towered over Alice, and they held each other at arms length. Both had their noses crinkled slightly, but Jacob was already talking. Bella imagined he was apologizing, and explaining whose idea it had been. A second later, Alice flashed him a quick smile, which seemed to shock him. Bella laughed.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Angela commented finally, a note of censure in her voice. “He’d have been embarrassed if she’d said no.”
But Bella only shook her head. “Jacob isn’t easily embarrassed. He’d have been relieved, though, I suppose,” she mused, watching them. They seemed to be getting along well enough. Jake’s hands, resting lightly on Alice’s waist, were steady.
“Don’t look now,” Angela began, “but – “ she stopped talking, her eyes widening as Edward crossed the room much more quickly than she’d expected when she first noticed him standing. He was behind Bella before she’d had time to turn, but he waited patiently.
“Good evening, Bella.”
“Hello, Edward,” she said, already regretting sending Jacob away.
“Did you want to talk?” he asked quietly. He tried to cover the hopeful tone of his voice.
Bella looked up at him, struck, as always, by the beauty of his face. “It wasn’t my intention, but while you’re here, you might as well sit down.” She dimly heard Ben invite Angela to dance, and peeked at them as they stood hastily, suppressing a sigh. “Maybe since we're talking, you can tell me if you’ve discovered anything more about what’s going on in Seattle,” Bella said into the awkward silence, her eyes on the table.
Edward stared at her for a minute. “How much have you heard?” he asked worriedly.
“Jacob tells me you spoke about it one evening last week. That you think it’s a young vampire causing all the trouble...” she trailed off, realizing she really knew very little. It wasn’t like Jacob to leave out important bits of information.
“That’s about all we were sure of,” Edward replied, reading her worried expression. “Jasper has been starting to suspect that we’re dealing with a lot more than one newborn, though. He’s thinking someone might be putting together an army.”
Bella looked at him in alarm, and shuddered at the thought. “An army?” she asked wonderingly. “Why would anyone NEED an army of vampires?”
Edward’s eyes narrowed. “The only threat nearby that’s big enough to require an army is us,” he admitted reluctantly with a glance back towards Alice. Bella looked too. Jacob was still talking, and they both looked peaceful, if not pleased by their proximity.
“We can’t be sure. Alice is having trouble seeing anything – it’s as if they’re purposely deciding NOT to decide on anything.” Bella let herself meet his gaze for the first time, then, hearing the frustration in his voice. She leaned over the table toward him, feeling a sharp pain in the vicinity of her chest, but pushing it aside to concentrate on the conversation.
“Like the one in my room. Alice didn’t see that, either,” she commented.
“Yes, and it’s infuriating that they got that close and she saw NOTHING.”
“Edward – how many people really know how Alice’s talent works?” Bella asked quickly, trying to distract him from the sudden anger. She watched as his fist unclenched and smiled just a little as he purposely placed his hand flat on the table between them.
“No one. Me,” he amended, "but only because I can read her mind. The others have a vague idea – “
“Who else has a vague idea, then? What about Tanya’s family in Denali?” she continued. “Could they know enough to circumvent her sight?”
Bella and Edward both realized they’d been leaning closer and closer to one another as they talked, and sat back, Edward considering the possibility. “They might, but they aren’t our enemies,” he said finally, leaning back in his chair, but eyeing her with a thoughtful expression.
“But Laurent stayed with them for close to a year, didn’t he? And we know he was talking to Victoria during that time. What if this is all her? Couldn’t she be the one creating the army, changing her mind all the time?” she whispered worriedly, sitting forward again and putting both hands on the table in front of her.
“That definitely wasn’t her in your room...”
“But if she’s been making new friends,” Bella insisted. Edward looked at her for a long time before nodding.
“All the clothes missing from my room,” Bella whispered. “My pillow....”
“Things were missing?” Edward demanded. “He failed to mention that.”
But Bella wasn’t paying attention. “They aren’t after you, are they? They’re after me.” She could feel her lower lip trembling, and quickly captured it between her teeth.
Fury crossed Edward’s face like a strike of lightening. “They will never touch you,” he hissed, leaning toward her again.
They were startled, then, by Alice and Jacob. “Private party?” Alice asked lightly. Jacob sat down on Bella’s other side, conspicuously putting his hand at the small of her back, but Edward ignored him.
“We’ve had a bit of an epiphany,” Bella admitted, looking to Edward to explain, which he did, struggling to keep his voice down. Bella tuned him out, the pleasant velvet tones of his voice serving to calm her as long as she didn’t listen to the words. She stared at her own hands until suddenly, the table fell silent. She looked up, surprised, as a hand fell on her shoulder.
“Hey, Bella,” Mike Newton said uncomfortably, his gaze shifting between Edward’s scowl and Jacob’s expression of polite amusement. “Couldn’t help but notice you all seem so serious. It’s Prom. Do you want to dance,” he added, turning his eyes to her, finally.
Bella swallowed. “Mike, we’re kind of in the middle of – “
“No, Bells, it’s cool. Go ahead,” Jacob said, trying to keep a smile from his face. He already knew she didn’t like Mike Newton, after all. Also, this might be an opportunity for some serious strategizing. Edward caught that thought and his face relaxed also. He smiled and leaned back in his chair again.
Bella threw Jacob an annoyed glance, but got up anyway. “Sure, Mike. Thanks,” she said tightly. She let Mike lead her to the dance floor, and wrapped her arms around his neck loosely, trying not to give the impression she was enjoying herself. It wasn’t difficult. Her eyes kept straying back to the table where Alice, Edward and Jacob all had their heads together. She tried to pay attention to Mike’s usual chatter, but there was little he had to say that they hadn’t already talked over during work. She was burning with curiosity about what was being decided without her.
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