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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:


4. Chapter 4

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3955   Review this Chapter

If Bella had never hugged Jacob Black, she might have complained about the way Charlie was squeezing her. As it was, she endured his bear hug with good grace. “I want you to call me every night, as soon as you’re off the road,” Charlie was mumbling.

Bella pulled away. “Dad, I’m not going to do that. The first time I forget, you’ll assume I’m dead in a ditch somewhere. I’ll call you once from the road, and once when we get there,” she negotiated calmly.

“Fine,” he replied, knowing she was right, but not happy about it. He held her at arm’s length. “And you’ve shipped your suitcase?”

“We took it to UPS this morning,” she confirmed, smiling. “I even kept the tracking number.” Charlie nodded.

“Well, I guess that’s it then.” He released her. “See you at Thanksgiving. You’re flying back for that, right, I don’t want you riding in the snow over such a long distance.” He scowled.

“Yeah, Dad, I’m flying home for Thanksgiving. We’ll be fine.” She let him kiss her cheek, and then pulled on her black riding jacket and picked up her helmet.

Charlie turned to Jacob. “Don’t set too fast a pace. You’re sure you know what route you want to take?”

“I’ve got it covered,” Jacob replied confidently. Bella had named him navigator, so he’d mapped out the trip precisely. He was still in shock that Charlie hadn’t started asking where they were spending the first night. He hadn’t asked either, but he already felt nervous about it, and they hadn’t even left yet.

Bella had come into his shop, the morning after her unexpected invitation, in high spirits. That’s when he’d discovered that not only had she managed to get Charlie to agree to let them take a six-day road trip alone, but she’d given him an arrival date a week before classes actually began. That’s when the nervousness had set in.

He shook Charlie’s hand, careful not to squeeze it too tightly by mistake, and went to pick up his own helmet. Bella hadn’t just insisted on it, she’d bought one for him, purposely too small so he’d have to go try some on. He shoved the resulting purchase onto his head with only a little petulance, and heard her muffled laughter as she donned her own. They waved, then eased out of Charlie’s driveway, not willing to upset him by picking up speed before they were out of sight of the house.

Saying goodbye to Billy was easier. Of course, his son would be back in three weeks, so that was understandable. Once they’d left La Push, it was straight to the highway, and then nothing but the rushing of the wind, and a vague feeling of togetherness until nearly dark, with only a few short breaks for lunch and gas.

Bella followed Jacob when he pulled off the highway as the sun went down. They needed to make a little over four hundred miles a day, and they hadn’t, quite, but he knew they had substantially more time than the six days he’d planned for. He pulled into the first hotel he came to, he wasn’t picky, and started preparing himself for the argument they were going to have over who would pay for the room.

He felt a little sheepish as they walked up to the desk. This was new territory for him. He hesitated for just a moment when the woman behind the counter looked up at him. Bella stepped in. “Hi. We need a room for just tonight, please, with two beds. His will have to be big,” she added, having noticed the raised eyebrows the young clerk had sent Jake’s way.

Jacob watched them share a smile over that, and was astounded at how fast and easy it all was. Bella paid, and they were soon handed a key. No one had even bothered to ask if they were legal, consenting adults. He looked at Bella walking next to him, and for the first time in years, he felt young. Especially when he thought back on her request for two beds. He’d clearly been nervous over nothing. He tried to tell himself he was relieved.

Jacob carried their only bag, which had made the trip strapped securely to his back seat. He tossed it on the first bed, noting that they were both huge. That would be a nice change of pace. They’d brought two days worth of riding clothes each, two pair of pajamas for her, and a pair of cut off sweats for him. Bella was counting on being able to do laundry, but at least it would be unnecessary for tonight.

She excused herself and disappeared into the bathroom after digging out her pajamas. He hadn’t seen them go in, but coming out, they looked like a flimsy tank top and a really thin pair of sweats. He set his jaw, and changed into his own sweats as soon as the door closed behind her, sure already that this was going to be almost as torturous as the last, and only night they’d ever spent together. At least there would be nobody analyzing his fantasies. Until he got back to La Push. He grimaced and turned on the TV, throwing himself down on the nearest bed to it, and stretching out. Now, THAT was enjoyable. His bed at home was ridiculously small.

Bella came out of the bathroom after a bit, and grinned at the sight of him. “Don’t get used to that,” she commented. “When we get to the apartment, you’ll have to sleep on the floor.”

A weak growl started in his chest, and he could see from her amused expression that she heard it before he stifled it. Human growls were clearly not as impressive as werewolf growls. He frowned at her instead. He figured it was better than ogling, and wondered if she was aware of just how thin her top was. He doubted it.

“What?” she asked, clearly still teasing. “You think I’ve got a bed like this? I’ve got a tiny twin, just like at Charlie’s. If you LOOKED at it wrong, it would break.” They shared a laugh over that.

Bella turned away, folding up the clothes she’d worn for riding so she could wear them again tomorrow, then folding his as well, into the same pile. He smiled and looked away. For some reason he hadn’t admitted to himself yet, the sight of Bella doing anything domestic with his things, or at Billy’s house, always made him smile.

“What’re you watching?” she asked, having finished her bedtime ritual. He looked over at her again. She was still standing where she’d been. He wondered why she didn’t prop herself up in bed and watch, if she wanted to know. It made him furrow his brow for a second, but he forced it smooth again.

“Dukes of Hazzard,” he replied. “But you can change it if you want.” He flipped the remote in her direction. She reached for it, but it thudded down onto the bed in front of her. He escaped into the bathroom to brush his teeth, wondering why everything was so awkward all of a sudden. All summer long, things had been so easy. He knew it was his own leftover nerves from expectations he should never have formed, and looked at his own eyes in the mirror longer than necessary, trying to talk some sense into himself without making any noise.

Bella giggled silently to herself as he fled to the bathroom. Then she mussed the bed he’d rejected, so it would look slept in, and tucked herself under the covers of the one he’d chosen. Boys could be so dense. She was shocked to find that the inane chatter of several of her fellow English majors, which she’d endured with so little patience, had turned out to be so useful. She continued to giggle right up until he turned the door handle, and regretted it, because it made it impossible to suppress her smile. She couldn’t WAIT to see his face.

Jacob came out of the bathroom, having just talked himself out of his nervousness, to find her in his bed. It didn’t take him too long to figure it out, but he must have looked really comical while his mind worked, because her shoulders were shaking. He wanted to scowl at her for laughing at him, but only managed a wry expression. She WAS in his bed, after all. “You think Charlie’s going to check up?” he asked finally, gesturing to the mess she’d made of the empty bed.

“Did he ask YOU anything about our plans for the night?” she replied pointedly. Jake shook his head. “And he didn’t say a word to me. You can BET he’s going to check up. And he’ll do it in uniform, so they’ll tell him everything they can remember.” Her eyes traveled the length of him just before he pulled back the covers and slid under, rolling to face her. “You’re pretty memorable.”

“Thanks,” he said easily. Then he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her against him. She giggled again.

“Behave yourself, though, or tomorrow night I WILL sleep in the other bed,” she threatened. But he knew that tone. That was not the tone that meant ‘no’. He kissed her anyway, and she definitely didn’t resist, but she did pull away long before he was finished. He might have tried again, if she hadn’t snuggled down into his arms, turning her head so her cheek rested against his chest. She only stayed there a few moments, though, before she pulled back, an apologetic expression on her face. He let her go and watched, amused again, while she turned the air conditioning down, then hesitated, and turned it down some more. He was laughing outright by the time she got back in bed.

He set the cheap alarm clock for six in the morning, meaning to make up some distance tomorrow, and then insinuated an arm under her head, so he could hold her against his side. He hadn’t noticed in the sleeping bag all those years ago, through all those layers of clothes, that she molded against him the way she did now. He was sure he was never, ever going to be able to sleep like this. So he was shocked when the alarm woke him, and it seemed like no time had passed at all.

Annoyed, he smacked at it blindly, and then groaned when he heard it crunch. “Aw, Jake,” Bella moaned from beside him, just stirring. “You didn’t.”

“Sorry.” He grinned over at her, completely unrepentant. Then he leaned down and kissed her quickly.


The cross-country ride was a lot of fun, but Jacob was relieved when they finally pulled off on the exit that would take them to Dartmouth. He’d done a lot of thinking as they rode, and he’d come to one important conclusion. Before she graduated, he was going to make sure he had his own place, and a bed that could hold the both of them. His cramped bed at home was going to feel pathetically empty while she was gone. He hadn’t come up with how he was actually going to get her to stay over, though, what with Charlie so nearby. Maybe he’d be able to work through that on the way home.

Her box was waiting for her outside her apartment, and he hefted it as she unlocked the door, depositing it again when they were inside, and lifting the suitcase out of it for her. Everything else she could get for herself. He’d been surprised at how little she brought back and forth, but as he looked around he realized that the place was full of things that must belong to her. She wasn’t renting this apartment just during term. His next thought was that she wasn’t the one who’d rented it at all.

Bella seemed to know what he was thinking. “He and I disagreed over whether he should spend money on me. Once he’d gotten me to accept that he was paying for Dartmouth, he paid all my tuition, and four years’ rent up front, so we wouldn’t fight about it every year,” she explained, rolling her eyes.

Jacob nodded, but didn’t comment. “We’d better call Charlie,” Bella added after a moment, eyeing him thoughtfully.

When they’d both talked to their fathers, and Bella had finished reliving the entire trip for Renee’s benefit, she grinned at Jacob and took his hand. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said unexpectedly, and he felt a lurch in his chest before she could continue, “you shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.” She grinned up at him, clearly not noticing the momentary fear in his face, and pulled him toward the door. “We’ll move all the living room furniture into my room, and get rid of my bed. Then I’ll get some dividers, and we’ll turn the living room into a bedroom. That should give us enough space.” It was a lot easier to find these sorts of things here, than in Forks.

Jacob watched with an indulgent expression while Bella picked out a mattress. She also chose a set of three oriental shoji screens that would match none of the furniture in her apartment, as far as he could tell. Still, she seemed to love them, so he said nothing.

Bella DID love them. And she loved the bed she’d chosen too. She was excited to be redecorating the apartment, even if it was only one room. Edward had furnished the place before she’d ever even seen it. At the time, she’d been thrilled with it. It looked like a place Edward could belong. Traditional. Old-fashioned. And anywhere he belonged was where she’d wanted to be.

After he’d left, though, she had caught her eyes sliding passed the furnishings so she wouldn’t have to see them. And once the hurt had finally begun to fade, she’d stopped noticing them altogether. It would be nice to look around her apartment and see her own taste reflected for a change. It’d be nice to have SOME furniture she wanted to take home with her after graduation.

Bella arranged with the clerk to have her furniture delivered that afternoon, and they left the store empty-handed. Jacob followed her to a home store, where she chose sheets, pillows, and a bedspread. He couldn’t imagine why she needed three sets of sheets, but again, he said nothing, offering his opinion when asked, but otherwise only observing. Mostly, he observed how happy she seemed. Dartmouth clearly suited her. He couldn’t decide if that was good or bad. What if she didn’t want to come back to Forks after graduation?

Bella felt her cheeks flush as she picked up the third set of sheets, but she didn’t hesitate. While riding this morning, and most of yesterday, too, if she were honest with herself, her mind had been on this. Spending the night beside Jacob Black in a sleeping bag with an audience had been thoroughly embarrassing, and ridiculously awkward. Spending the night in a bed with him, alone, had been very comfortable, indeed.

She had noticed, though, that each night was LESS comfortable than the last. She thought of the feel of his smooth chest, hot under her fingers, and the way he’d turned his face away from her the first time she’d unthinkingly let her leg creep over his. She was sure he’d been hiding a blush. SHE had certainly been blushing. But neither of them had shifted.

She had admitted to herself years ago, and to him as well, that Jacob was sort of beautiful. He’d been just a boy, then, and she had been just a girl. Now, though, he’d grown into himself – physically and emotionally. He was a lot more than just beautiful to her. And she wasn’t exactly a child anymore, either. The way he’d kissed her each night before they settled in to sleep told her that he was as aware of that as she was.

She was blushing again just thinking about it, but she snapped out of her thoughts long enough to arrange for their purchases to be delivered to her place, explaining about the motorcycles. It was at this point that it occurred to Jake to wonder just how expensive this store was. He couldn’t help but scowl as she talked with the clerk. He wasn’t going to so much as SIT on this bed, if it was being purchased by Edward Cullen.

Fortunately, his years of soul searching had taught him a little patience, and he managed not to word it quite that way. As they left the store, he simply asked in an undertone, “How are you paying for all this?” He must have kept the censure out of his voice because Bella’s face was open as she answered.

“After he left, I got a job. Of course, I figured out eventually that I wasn’t going to need it, but I kept it anyway. It was a place to be – something to occupy my mind. I never spent anything, though. I didn’t feel much like going out, and I didn’t need any clothes. By the end of freshman year, I’d saved up about a thousand dollars. One day I mentioned to Alice that I didn’t know what to do with it, and she told me to invest it in this new little internet company that was just starting up. I’m not stupid. I invested all of it.” She laughed. “Nothing like having a psychic for a financial advisor.” She marveled at how easy it was to talk about the past, lately. Or maybe it was only easy to talk about it with Jake.

At this, Jacob smiled. That was infinitely better than accepting charity from Edward, in his opinion. “You and Alice are still close, then?” he asked. Alice was the only Cullen he didn’t occasionally despise, and only because she’d been so eager to let the wolves in on the vampire war.

“Sure, sure,” Bella replied, throwing him a grin as she caught herself using a phrase she thought of as his. “She comes to visit for a weekend here and there during the year. And when I’m home, I always try to stop by once or twice. She and Jasper and I had a nice visit last month. She said she’d be out to see me sometime in October.”

“I didn’t realize you’d been out to the Cullen place this summer,” Jake said, trying to keep his voice casual. He regretted the words almost as soon as he’d spoken them. They reached the bikes, and he stood, awkward, beside his.

Bella looked at him oddly for a moment, and then leaned against the seat of her bike. She hadn’t heard that tone of voice from him for a long time, and she’d almost forgotten how jealous he could be. “Well, I always call before I go, to make sure Edward isn’t visiting,” she answered finally, watching his face. “Alice is my friend, Jake. I didn’t go there looking for him.”

“I know,” he answered, relieved in spite of himself. He knew they’d agreed to take what time they had together and be satisfied, but the idea of her running into Edward out at the Cullen house didn’t appeal to him in the least.

They rode back, and walked upstairs to the apartment in silence. Bella couldn’t help but feel like that conversation had gone horribly wrong somehow. Jacob walked toward the living room as she closed the door behind them, and she watched him, worried.

“Jake?”

“Hmm?” He didn’t turn. He seemed to be looking over the furniture, maybe trying to decide where they should start.

“Are you angry with me?” She was looking at the floor when he turned toward her. He crossed the room quickly.

“No.” When she didn’t look up, he put a hand to her cheek and forced her eyes to his. “What is it?”

“I know we’re both taking on the same risks,” she said, her voice falling to a whisper, “and you’re right – it’s worth it - but that doesn’t mean that, whichever way this goes, it isn’t going to hurt like hell when it’s over.” The possibility that she might hurt Jacob again was already hurting her.

Jake pulled her into a gentle hug, his hand at the side of her head to hold her cheek against his chest. His breathing was uneven, and he worked on calming it. He didn’t have any response to that, but somehow it helped, knowing she didn’t want things to end any more than he did. He was surprised she wasn’t crying. The Bella he remembered was quick to tears during conversations like this. But he reminded himself that she’d grown up a lot in his absence. He lowered his cheek to rest on top of her head.

His mind skipped ahead, trying to think of ways to prevent the situations they’d already agreed were inevitable. He could build her a house in La Push – without a telephone – and then they’d never leave it. He’d never be able to meet any new people for fear of imprinting. She’d never be free to leave the reservation for fear of running into Edward. None of it was feasible. Except maybe the house in La Push.

They stood that way for a long time. Bella didn’t let herself cry. There would be time enough for that, and tears enough, when it happened. She had thought there would be more to say, but he was silent, and she realized after a while that it was because there really wasn’t anything to add. She let herself relax into the heat of his embrace, reassured, though he’d not had any reassurance to offer.

“It’s worth it,” he affirmed finally, whispering into her hair. “Even if it’s hell every second we’re apart, this is worth it.”

Bella squeezed him tighter, then pulled away, smiling. She might have responded, but the doorbell rang, and it was suddenly time to work. Their deliveries arrived within an hour of each other.
“Do you have anywhere to store this bed?” Jake asked, carrying the twin mattress alone through the hallway. She might want to replace her bed at Charlie’s house with it at some point, after all. It had to be newer.

“We can lean it in the hallway across from the bathroom for now,” she responded. The delivery guy had taken one look at Jacob and decided just to wait outside while he moved the current furniture. Clearly he didn’t need any help.

They had her old bedroom clear of furniture, and everything from the living room moved in to take its place in under twenty minutes. Jake helped the delivery driver bring up the new bed, and stood with his arm around Bella, watching him put the frame together. “We’re making good time,” he commented.

“You say ‘we’ as if I’ve been any help at all,” she joked. Somehow their easy banter had returned without any effort from either of them. He laughed.

“You carried that potted plant,” he reminded her. She rolled her eyes.

When everything was in place, and both delivery trucks had gone, Bella made the bed up with the least expensive sheets she’d purchased. She didn’t feel as self -conscious as she’d expected as she put the other two packages, unopened, into the hall closet. She had once attempted to seduce a vampire and failed miserably. He’d just been too constrained for her own good, and she’d been too innocent. She’d expected a healthy dose of fear at the thought of seducing a werewolf, but felt none.

She smiled at Jacob across the bed, amazed that she could even think of it without the familiar pain in her chest. “Do you like Chinese food?” she asked.