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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:


6. Chapter 6

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3193   Review this Chapter

Bella awoke and was immediately aware of two things. Firstly, she was WAY too warm. She’d forgotten to turn the AC down before bed last night. It was SO warm, it was hard to breathe. Secondly, there was no way she was getting on a motorcycle today. She grimaced when she tried moving her legs. Jacob stirred.

“Jake, I have to get up,” she whispered. She wasn’t surprised when he dragged his arm from around her waist but was otherwise completely unresponsive. She laughed at him silently while she rolled away. Unless you startled him first thing in the morning, he usually got off to a groggy start.

She took a quick shower, and put on a pair of sweats and a tee-shirt. Then she stuck her head into the fridge and realized that while they were out yesterday, they should have been getting groceries. It was empty. In fact, it wasn’t even set cold enough to be ready for food. She changed the temperature setting and sighed, trying to recall if there was anywhere that served breakfast within walking distance. If the student union was open, they’d have muffins. She recalled Jacob eating ten hot dogs in the course of two hours and somehow didn’t think muffins were going to cut it.

When she seated herself on the bed beside him, he finally woke. “Morning.” His voice was deep with sleepiness, and something else. She grinned at him sheepishly.

“Morning. How do you feel about a three mile walk into town to get groceries you’ll mostly have to carry back yourself?” she asked.

Jacob blinked up at her, then pulled her down to lay beside him. “THAT’S all you have to say?” he demanded in mock consternation. Then they both broke out laughing, and he held her tightly against his chest.

Soon enough, though, his stomach was growling, and she persuaded him to get out of bed. They left the apartment for groceries, but found a diner on the way that hadn’t been in business last term. Jake insisted on buying breakfast. By the time they got back, Jacob carrying most of the bags and still feeling like he’d walked too slowly for her sake, it was nearly noon. They put the groceries away, and Bella suggested going up to the campus.

“I should see if my book list is in my mailbox yet. The bookstore should be open.”

“Sure,” he shrugged, picking up his helmet from where it had been sitting on the kitchen counter bedside hers.

“Erm, I don’t want to ride. Let’s walk.”

“Alright,” he agreed easily, putting it back down, but glancing at her oddly. He didn’t ask, and she supposed that maybe he didn’t need to. She HAD worn sweatpants into town, after all. It couldn’t be much more obvious than that.

Her book list was waiting for her, along with some junk mail, and several sorority flyers, all of which she tossed into the trash without reading. As she stood beside the trash can, sorting, someone called her name from down the hall.

Approaching was a brown haired, blue eyed young man, and he was grinning from ear to ear. Jacob locked his jaw and put his arm around her waist. He took one look at the guy and thought, This is going to be Mike Newton all over again. Bella grinned up at him, fairly certain what he was thinking.

“Eli?” she asked, as the man trotted over.

“You always sound so hopeful when you say my name,” he replied, smirking. He looked from Jacob’s face back to Bella and shook his head. “Levi’s going to be so pissed off.”

“Jacob Black, meet Elijah Anderson – one of a pair, and by far the less annoying of the two,” Bella said by way of reply, sounding relieved.

“Eli will do fine,” he said, offering his hand to Jacob, who shook it carefully. He’d save the vice-like grip for the guy’s brother. He even managed to keep his face passive as Eli added, “Are you headed for the bookstore?”

They walked together, and Bella forced Jacob’s arm from around her, holding his hand instead. When he frowned at her for it, she only grinned up at him.

“So, what are you doing back so early?” Eli was asking.

“Jake and I rode here on the bikes. I wanted to have some transportation around campus for once.”

“Right,” was the reply. His voice was skeptical.

Bella cast about for something else to talk about. “So, when’s Amanda going to show up?”

“Saturday with everyone else, I suppose. Her dad wasn’t too keen when she brought up the possibility of coming to campus early. Apparently he’s afraid we’d use the time for some uninterrupted shagging.” He watched triumphantly as Bella turned red and Jacob nearly choked.

“Shut up, Eli. Shagging?” Bella managed to scoff convincingly. “Who even says that?” Eli was way too observant for his own good. But he knew when to shut up. That’s why even though it sounded like his voice answered her, she was fairly certain it wasn’t him. She cringed.

“I say it all the time,” Levi argued, coming up behind them.

“You would,” Bella returned sourly before turning to greet him. She was thankful that Jake’s presence beside her seemed to head off the hug Levi usually attempted. “Jacob, this is Eli’s brother, Levi.” She tried to conceal her mirth as they shook hands and Levi winced. “Eli’s an English major, like me. Levi’s studying Economics. I’m trying to finish a minor in business without staying an extra semester, so when one of them isn’t in my class, the other one usually is.”

Eli broke into the conversation as his brother tried to discreetly massage his hand. “What are you studying, Jacob?”

“I’m not. I’m just here because Bella’s dad didn’t want her riding all the way from Washington to New Hampshire alone on a motorcycle.” He smirked a little, but Bella thought she recognized in his expression just a bit of the bitterness she remembered from the days following his first transformation. She squeezed his fingers, and shot him a questioning glance. He shook his head.

“Right,” Levi replied, his tone exactly as skeptical as his brother’s had been a moment before, but twice as petulant.

Jacob found himself annoyed. His little daydream of what life on campus with her would have been like came back to him, full force, when Eli asked about his major. An impossible dream. Werewolves didn’t go away to college. For the first time, he wondered if Bella could possibly want to date someone who’d skipped his last two years of high school, scraped a GED and worked on cars for a living.

Bella and Elijah discussed class schedules, and found their books. Jacob ended up carrying Bella’s for fear she’d drop them all, but added little to the conversation.

“What do we need for Crit?” Bella was asking, looking through the books in Jacob’s arms, and back at the shelf.

Eli rattled off a list of four more titles, and she selected the first three from the shelf. “Did you keep your Shakespeare?” she asked. He nodded, laughing, and neither of them picked up the last title.

Bella turned to Jake. “Eli and I had Shakespeare together first semester Freshman year. It was – entertaining.” She thought back to what a catastrophe that had nearly been. Especially when the professor had assigned partners for the acting portions, and she’d ended up playing Hermia to Eli’s Lysander. It had been a tense month.

“Yeah, I sat beside her, and on her other side was this amazing, inhumanly handsome guy who was totally –“

Jacob was suddenly paying attention, but Bella cut across Eli’s description. “No one wants to hear about your man-crush on Edward, Eli, least of all me.” She grimaced.

“Right,” he agreed, grinning as though it hadn’t occurred to him that the topic might be difficult for anyone. “Anyway, I tried talking to her, since we had assignments we were supposed to work on together, but I swear he about growled at me every time.”

“Cullen didn’t like you?” Jacob asked sarcastically. “I can’t imagine why.”

“Can’t you?” Bella asked, amused.

“Anyway,” Eli began again. “Once HE failed out, I figured maybe I’d get a chance. She was always beating me on tests, and mostly I just wanted her for her notes.” He grinned.

“But studying with me hasn’t helped him much,” Bella interjected smugly as they walked toward the register. “I still beat him on every test.”

Levi arrived behind them in line. “It sure helped ME out when they started studying together, though,” he observed casually.

Eli and Bella both grimaced, and it was Bella who explained. “A few weeks after Edward left, I realized I hadn’t taken any decent notes, and I had no idea when the next paper was due. I saw Levi at lunch one day and thought I recognized him from Shakespeare. So, I asked him if he’d tell me, and Levi…”

Eli broke in, “- being Levi - said he had it written down, and maybe they could get together that evening. He THOUGHT I was going to just hand him all my notes and let him pretend to be me so HE could spend the night with the pretty girl.” He paused, and glanced at Bella with the first worried expression he’d bothered with through the whole conversation. Jake glanced at her too, but she didn’t look upset by the topic yet. “I’d noticed she was pretty messed up after Edward left, though, so I told him to can it, and gave her my notes myself, without the come-ons.”

“Which is why Eli is my friend, and Levi has to stand behind us in line,” Bella finished lightly. Levi stuck his tongue out at her, but she’d only glanced back at him for a second before grinning up at Jake. Her smile faltered quickly, though, as she noticed the carefully peaceful expression on his face.

When she’d paid for the books, and parted with her friends, promising to get together with Eli and Amanda for their usual Thursday night study sessions once classes began, she and Jacob walked slowly around campus. Her intention had been to tell him which buildings she had classes in, but he seemed preoccupied, so she fell silent, just enjoying the heat of his hand in hers.

She turned their feet back toward the apartment when she realized he didn’t seem interested. He didn’t look up. His eyes had been on the ground right in front of his feet almost since they’d left the bookstore. Finally, halfway back, she asked him what was wrong. She couldn’t believe he’d been this upset just by Elijah and Levi. Granted, Levi was annoying, but he’d mostly behaved himself with Jacob standing right there.

Jacob kicked at a stone on the sidewalk before he answered. “I was planning to go to school. You know, before the pack. I don’t guess I’ll ever be able to leave Forks, now.” He didn’t add his fears that SHE might leave Forks. That any one of these guys would be able to give her a better life than he could. He realized abruptly that he’d rather lose her to Edward than to Levi Anderson. At least Edward had really loved her, vampire or no. Levi struck him as rather underhanded and childish, and he clearly was only after one thing.

“I didn’t realize you were thinking about going to college.”

“Well, there wasn’t much point in talking about it after that first transformation. At least I was younger, and hadn’t already paid a semester’s tuition like Sam.”

Bella didn’t know what to say. There were still some things she didn’t know about Jacob Black, clearly. She felt bad that the trip to campus had reminded him of something he’d lost when he’d joined the pack. She walked a little closer, and dropped his hand, putting her arm around him instead. He returned the favor.

“I’m sorry you can’t go away to school like you’d planned. But it wouldn’t be much fun for me in Forks for the next four years if you did.” He flashed her a smile at that, but his eyes focused back on the ground quickly. “Jake, if you really want to there’s always Peninsula. It’s close enough that you could be back if there was an emergency.”

“It isn’t just that.”

When he didn’t continue, Bella stopped walking, and he stopped with her. Not wanting to be prodded, he scowled at the ground. “You’re going to Dartmouth, Bella, and your dating the mechanic from your home town who never even finished high school.”

For a second, this statement shocked Bella silent. “No,” she disagreed finally, her voice slightly cold with disbelief. Her arm fell away from his waist, and she turned to face him. “I’m dating Jacob Black, who happens to be one of the finest people I know, though he clearly isn’t aware how impressed I’ve always been with what he can do with some bits of metal, an obsessive work ethic, and a lot of grease. Jake, I’m almost insulted that you think I care about any of that.”

“Maybe I care about it.”

“Maybe? You should decide. If you’re going to leave me for my own good, I want to know right now.” Bella’s expression was downright black when he looked up at her in alarm.

“What? No! That wasn’t what I was saying. I just mean – you could do better, you know?” Jacob finally held her gaze, so Bella was able to notice the misery in his eyes as he said this. She felt her anger drain away, and sighed.

“Jacob, could you please let me worry about what’s best for me? I’m really not able to tolerate other people telling me what I want, anymore. Not even you.” This was true. After Edward had gone, and she’d had some time to heal, it had occurred to her that many of the most awful things that had happened between them had been a direct result of Edward trying to ‘do what was best’ for her.

Jake was still staring into her eyes, a shell-shocked expression on his face. She realized she may have been a little harsh, so she took a step closer to him, and took his free hand in hers. “I want to be with you, Jake, for whatever time we’ve got. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. But I’m choosing to be with you anyway. Isn’t that worth something?”

Jacob looked down at her and felt his heart expand for just an instant. He carefully put away his college life daydream, vowing silently that he’d never think about it again. He wanted to tell her that he was sorry for wallowing in self pity and for being arrogant enough to think he knew what was best for her, and that her choosing to be with him meant everything. But he couldn’t seem to talk around the lump in his throat, so he settled for putting her books on the ground and wrapping his arms around her. He kissed the top of her head as she held him, and let himself be comforted.

After a few moments, she released him. “Thanks,” he said quietly, picking up the bag again.

Bella studied his face, and decided he looked like he was over it. “For what? Telling you off?” she said, smiling up at him as he took her hand in his and started walking.

“Everybody needs a good telling off now and then,” Jacob replied lightly. Bella looked at him sideways and watched as his lips turned up at the corners just a bit.

She wanted to tell him she loved him. That it didn’t matter whether he went to school, or spent the rest of his life fixing cars. But it didn't seem necessary. She just smiled back at him, and they walked a while in silence.

Finally, Jacob seemed to be back to himself. “So, what’s a Dartmouth graduate going to do in Forks, anyway?” he asked, clearly trying to make up for his previous reticence. They were nearly to the apartment, now, and being off campus made him feel a little better.

“I was actually thinking I might open a bookstore, since Forks doesn’t have one. That’s why I wanted the minor in business. The library there is awful, and there isn’t even anything decent in Port Angeles. If you want something to read, you literally have to go to Seattle.” Bella had given this a lot of thought. She’d even looked into the franchise agreements for several major bookstores, to see if that would be worthwhile. In the end, she’d decided to open an independent store, though, and she’d already talked to some business major friends of Levi’s to see how they would go about it. She had a pretty good idea what she wanted to do when she graduated.

“Where will you put it?” Jacob asked, pleased. If she owned a shop in town, she’d be around a while. He felt better still. He also had the perfect place in mind, and couldn’t wait to tell her about it.

“Well, I was planning to look around for rental properties while I was home this summer, but I got distracted.” She laughed, and he joined her, feeling more himself as they climbed the stairs to her apartment.

“The building next to the shop is empty, and I’ll bet I could get you a good deal on it,” he said, with just a hint of smugness in his tone.

Bella looked at him questioningly as he put the bags from the campus bookstore onto the kitchen table. “It used to be a tire store – owned by the same guy we’re renting the shop from. It was a package deal,” he admitted, grinning. “Rent them both, or neither one. We needed the shop.”

And suddenly, several things fell into place for him. The shop, her bookstore, and, perhaps what had put a grin back on his face, the apartment OVER the prospective bookstore. He and Quil had completely ignored that other building after the owner had walked them through it, but he was fairly certain he could get a king sized bed into that apartment. These thoughts, however, he didn’t mention. There was no guarantee she’d want to move in with him after she graduated. But, just in case she did, he figured he’d better be ready.

Bella was staring at him. He shrugged. “Quil and I can have it cleaned for you by the time you’re ready, since you did all our cleaning for us.”

“Jake that’s – it’s perfect! We can split the rent, and –“

She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him when he shook his head. “Quil and I aren’t having any trouble with the rent.”

“But splitting it three ways would improve your profits,” Bella argued.

Jake only shrugged. “I’m not worried about it. Mostly I just want to be able to do something for you. Seems like you’re always doing things to help me out, but I’m never in a position to return the favor,” he added self-consciously, remembering all the things she’d bought for his office.

“This from the man who completely rebuilt both our motorcycles on MY whim,” she teased. He pulled her into his arms again and smiled into her hair.

“It was a good whim,” he defended.