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The Road Less Traveled

Summary:
Bella's worry over Jacob's disappearance drives Edward away. Years later, when she's had time to come to terms with herself and grow up, she and Jacob meet again. He, too, has matured. Can they build a life together? And what about Edward? TRLT Prequel to The Road Not Taken by Daintress of tm_switzerland .


Notes:


2. Chapter 2

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3026   Review this Chapter

Bella was disappointed when she spotted Charlie, standing alone, staring into the crowd of people who’d disembarked with her. Fortunately, she saw him first, and was able to force a smile onto her face before their eyes met. He looked thrilled to see her.

The car ride home was uncomfortable. Charlie was clearly bursting at the seams to tell her something, so he was forcing conversation that felt painfully unnatural. He asked about finals, of course, and the few friends she’d ever mentioned to him in the last few years. He asked if she was seeing anyone, and she rolled her eyes and didn’t answer. But he never quite got to the point.

Finally, Bella heaved a deep sigh and said, “So, have you run into Jacob? How’s he doing?”

Charlie looked at her out of the corner of his eye, then focused again on the road in front of them. They were just entering the city limits. “Well, now, it just happens I did,” he answered, “and here I thought I’d get to be the one to tell you he was home.”

Bella laughed. “Quil and Embry beat you to it by most of a month. Usually between the two of them they can manage to scratch out an entire page and mail it off to me. Their last letter was three pages long, so I knew something was up even before I opened it. How’s the repair shop doing?” She didn’t mention that she’d also received more than one letter from Jacob himself during her last few months away at school. Clearly Jake hadn’t mentioned to Charlie that they’d seen each other. She wondered if he’d returned Charlie’s tee-shirt and sandals, at least.

Charlie laughed. “Well, I take the cruiser out there every other week for a tune up. Seems like business is steady.”

Bella caught herself scanning the trees as they pulled up to the house, but there was nothing to see. She noticed Charlie watching her carefully throughout the afternoon. He’d glanced into her room while she sorted laundry with a disapproving expression, but went to watch his game without commenting. However, after she’d started the first load, and puttered out into the kitchen to start something for dinner, he got up and stood in the doorway.

“Aren’t you going to La Push, Bells?” he asked quietly, as she was about to begin defrosting the chicken. She withdrew her hand without starting the microwave and turned around.

“Do you think I should?” They had parted well, but she still recalled the anger on Jacob’s face when he’d first seen her. A lot had been said since then, of course, but all they’d really decided was that she would come home for the summer. She was nervous. Maybe he would come to her.

Charlie was eyeing her thoughtfully. “I suppose that depends on where things stand right now. Are you seeing anyone at school?” he asked again, with overdone casualness.

Bella laughed. “Is that your way of asking if I’ve heard from Edward?” she said lightly, proud of her ability to say his name without more than a dull, achy thud from her heart in response. She’d been preparing herself to have to talk about him for several days. “I haven’t. I doubt I ever will. But that doesn’t mean Jacob and I – I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” she finished, laughing.

“It’s not the worst conversation we’ve ever tried to have,” he replied jokingly. “And you should go to La Push. We’ll both go. Stick that back in the freezer and we’ll pick up some pizza on the way.”

Bella was fairly certain she didn’t want to have Charlie present for her next conversation with Jacob Black. In fact, she’d really rather not have Billy there, either. But Charlie obviously thought he was helping, so she let herself be herded out to the cruiser. It was a very quiet drive to La Push, and she found herself missing the sound of her truck’s engine, her usual companion for this trip.

When they arrived, Bella went to knock on the door while Charlie got the pizzas out of the back seat. He was only a few feet behind her when the door was wrenched open from the inside and she disappeared.

Jacob lifted Bella by her waist and spun until his back hit the wall beside the door, his lips on hers before she had time even to register what had happened. Her eyes widened, sightless, for a moment, but his mouth was hot, insistent. She closed them, and she discovered it was easy to kiss him back - like breathing, as he’d predicted so long ago. It didn’t even occur to her to wonder what Charlie would think, at first.

For long moments, Jake held her tightly against him, and she clung to him, her feet dangling, useless and forgotten. She wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. When he finally lowered her back to the floor, she found she was acutely aware of the rest of him for a moment before she stepped just slightly away. He kept his arms around her, but ducked his head, realizing why she was uncomfortable being so close. As usual, he was just in cut off jeans – barefoot, and with no shirt. “Been thinking about that last time a lot, have you?” he teased in a whisper.

Bella grinned, recognizing the question for the jab it was. She didn’t reply. He didn’t need to know just how often she’d thought of his last kiss. But the joke broke the moment, and Bella glanced nervously over at Charlie.

Charlie had arrived at the door, and was now grasping the pizza boxes tightly enough to dent them. His eyes were on Billy. He’d meant only to glance at him, to share in the outrage that was a father’s right. But Billy had been grinning from ear to ear, and Charlie hadn’t looked away. When he felt Bella’s eyes on him, he forced himself to keep walking towards the table, kicking the door shut behind him, and putting their dinner down so he wouldn’t be tempted to destroy it. Billy’s obvious happiness calmed him in a way nothing else would have.

“Go for the gut,” he whispered as he passed her. They all laughed, then, and the atmosphere settled into the laid-back friendliness that Bella had always associated with La Push. As usual, she never wanted to leave.

“Jake?” Bella pulled open the glass door, set in the glass front of the tiny building Charlie had given her directions to this morning. The linoleum, checked blue and white, was grimy under her feet. She looked around. The front office was tiny and filthy, and she shook her head, thinking the place must have been deserted for quite a while before Jacob and Quil had claimed it. It was going to be like his messy garage all over again.

There was a high counter, but no one behind it. A door to the left said “Restrooms” and the glass door to the right opened into a three-bay garage. She opened that door and stuck her head inside, unable to see much through the filthy glass. “Jake?” she asked again.

“Yeah, over here,” came a muffled voice. There was the sound of rushing wheels, and then Jacob’s head appeared from the other side of the car in the second bay, low to the ground on a little rolling platform that he was obviously pushing around with his feet.

Bella laughed as the annoyed expression on his face turned into his sunshine grin. “You’re short,” she commented. She never got to look DOWN at him, after all. She walked over as he rolled himself back under the vehicle he was examining. “And awake way too early, from the look of it.” His tools were already scattered around him, as though he’d been working for quite some time.

“Wanted to get done early today,” came the reply from under the raised Chrysler. Bella grinned at nobody, and folded her legs underneath her to sit on the floor near him. He noticed. “You’ll get filthy,” he warned.

“I’m dressed for it. I know better than to show up in your garage and wear something I can’t get dirty.” They shared a laugh as they both remembered the many good times they’d spent working on the motorcycles. Bella fell silent first, though, as she recalled the time he’d sprayed her head to foot in soda. Not all the times had been good.

He was clearly involved in his work, so she told him she had some errands to run, and she’d be back. Then she went into the little office, and around the counter. She found a notebook, with a hand-drawn weekly schedule. She tore a blank page from the back and the first thing she wrote down was “appointment book.” In five minutes, she had listed everything she thought she’d need to clean the place. It was quite a list, but it would give her something to do while Jake was working.

The shopping took less than an hour. She arrived back with her arms full of bags – window cleaner and paper towels, floor cleaner, a bucket, a sponge, a mop, an OPEN/CLOSED sign for the door, and two appointment books, one for this year, and one for next.

Quil was standing behind the counter squinting at their current appointment book, but when he heard her truck he came to the door, just in time to let her in. “Hey. Heard you were home.” He took all the bags from her left hand. “What’s all this?”

“Just something to keep me busy while Jacob’s under that car,” she said, reaching up to hug him. “How’ve you been? How’s Claire?” She, Quil, and Embry had become even closer friends in Jacob’s absence. They’d really looked after her in the beginning, and it had quickly become her habit to hang out with them and the rest of the pack when she was home from school. She even considered Paul a friend these days.

Quil went back to trying to decipher Jake’s handwriting, launching easily into a story of Claire’s latest exploits. Bella cleared the counter, and shooed him out from behind it, notebook in hand, and listened. There was very little that was more endearing than Quil talking about Claire. She smiled to herself as she set about wiping down every surface in the room.

When Quil met the customer he was waiting for at the door, and asked them to pull around the back, she started copying their appointments into the new book, writing slowly to keep her atrocious handwriting legible. When she’d finished that, and returned everything on the counter to it’s original position, she started with the front glass, standing on a chair to reach the upper half. She was glad she’d purchased more than one roll of paper towels.

By the time Jake was finished for the day, the front office was spotless – shining, even. Bella had made another trip to the store just before noon and bought them doormats, toiletries for the bathroom, and a radio, which was playing quietly when he came into the office. He stood on the black mat and looked around. Then he glanced down at his grease-covered jeans and grimaced. Bella looked up from the counter. She’d picked up a stool for behind it, too, so she could see over. Not EVERYONE was seven feet tall, after all.

“I didn’t realize I’d been out there so long,” Jacob said, as she hopped off her stool and came over to greet him, grinning.

“Well, I know you get a little obsessive. I thought I’d better find something to keep me busy and out of your way.”

“You wouldn’t have been in the way,” he disagreed warmly, leaning down to kiss her. Conscious of his dirty clothes, he didn’t try to get too close. But when she reached a hand up into his hair, he unthinkingly put his to her cheek. They broke apart, breathless, to the sound of Quil’s laughter.

“Oh, shut up,” Jake grumbled, throwing an annoyed glance at his friend just before his hand fell from Bella’s cheek. Then he got the joke and started laughing, too.

“What?” Bella asked, feeling self-conscious.

Jake realized he couldn’t do any more damage, really, and reached up with his thumb to smear the grease that was already coating her cheek. Then he showed her his hands. “Sorry. You distracted me.”

Quil laughed louder, and went back outside. Bella shook her head, and went to wash her face. Jacob followed, afraid to touch anything.

“You didn’t have to do all this, you know? We’ll pay you back, though –“ he began, thinking she’d probably spent way too much on the various things she’d purchased for them.

“You won’t,” Bella cut him off, muffled as she spoke into the paper towels she was scrubbing with. “I haven’t had anything to spend money on for a long time, and I’ve been saving up. Besides, it isn’t like I can do much else to help out. I’m better off staying out of the garage. You’d just be taking me to the ER all the time.” She didn’t add that she had no desire to go see Carlisle just now, but Jacob was looking at her like he already knew it. She stepped back into the office so he could wash his hands.

“So, what do you want to do today?” he called, when he was sure he’d got most of the grease off his hands. “I think you worked harder than Quil and I combined. We should go out.”

“I don’t want to go out. I want to go to La Push. I haven’t seen Emily in forever.” Emily had also been very good to her, and they’d become close during the summer after her freshman year.

“You want to go to La Push?” Jacob asked incredulously. But when he appeared he was smiling. “Did Charlie see you at all when you came home for breaks? You spend all your time there.”

Bella looked up curiously and Jake shrugged. “Running with the pack that first time would’ve been hell if I hadn’t already seen you,” he explained. “They think about you all the time, so I know you’ve been around a lot.” He added silently, and you’re all Billy talks about, but I don’t mind.

Bella grimaced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about how that might affect you when you got back,” she admitted worriedly. “They were all so kind to me...”

“Good thing, too,” Jake said flashing her a grin to head off the melancholy he heard in her voice. “Or they’d have been in a lot of trouble. But I don’t want to go visiting. I want to do something fun.”

Bella raised an eyebrow. “Not cliff-diving.” Jake only laughed.

“No. But your bike’s still in my garage...”

Bella got an odd look on her face, and looked down quickly to hide it. “I don’t feel like riding bikes.” She flipped closed his new appointment book and came out from behind the counter.

Jacob picked up on her sudden embarrassment easily, and it surprised him that he could still read her so well after all this time. “But there’s something you want to do,” he guessed, his voice confident as she came to stand in front of him, her eyes on the now-shining floor.

He was considering forcing her to look up at him, when she suddenly made it unnecessary. Her eyes snapped up to his, and he inhaled sharply at the wicked smirk that crossed her face. “I had this dream once,” she said, still smiling slightly, “about wolf-back riding.” Jake broke into a fit of laughter over this, but inside he was a little shocked. The Bella he remembered would never have admitted such a thing, much less worn such an expression. He decided he liked this new, less easily embarrassed Bella quite a lot.

“Is that right?” he asked finally, still snickering. “And not once in all the time you’ve spent in La Push did you mention this dream to any of the guys?” But he knew the answer already. If she had, they’d have still been laughing about it years later.

“Well, I wasn’t riding just any old wolf,” she joked, and saying it that way, looking up into his face, brought the blush – later in the conversation than he’d expected, but no less welcome for it.

“That’s a relief,” he whispered, stepping closer. He’d intended to kiss her, but she stepped back.

“You’ve got to change your jeans first,” she said, eyeing the grease spots warily. They both laughed again.

“Sure, sure. I’ll come pick you up at Charlie’s, then.”

Bella left a few moments later, smiling and excited. Jake looked around his new front office and shook his head. She’d cleaned every possible surface. It looked like she’d even scrubbed the walls. Behind the counter, he noticed the appointment book, filled out in a very neat version of her handwriting. He looked at it for several long minutes, not really reading the words.

Quil caught him at it, and Jake raised his head defiantly, just waiting for the comments to start. Quil had a big mouth. But he only smiled at him, and gestured around himself at the office. “She really outdid herself. I thought she went nuts cleaning Billy’s place, but this is amazing.”

“She is amazing,” Jacob agreed. Quil looked at him oddly for a second, his smile faltering.

“What?” he asked worriedly, but Jake only shook his head.

“She wants to go wolf-back riding,” Jacob confided. He figured he might as well tell him now. The pack would hear all about it later, while it was happening, probably. Quil laughed even louder than Jake had done.

“Oh, I’ve got to be there for that.” Both men shook their heads, chuckling. It was certainly going to be an unprecedented evening for the pack. Jacob decided not to tell Bella that they’d probably all be running with him. (He didn’t need to read Quil’s mind to know that he was going to blab this to everyone at the first opportunity.) With luck, most of them would stay away. He could make it an order if he had to – if Leah was being spiteful again.