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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:


7. Chapter 7

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3188   Review this Chapter

Thursday afternoon, while Bella and Jacob were curled up on the couch in her former bedroom watching a movie, the apartment phone rang. They’d fallen into an easy, patternless existence through the week, and this was the first time anyone had interrupted them since Bella had gone book shopping.

It was a bit of a wake-up call when Bella heard Quil on the other end of the line. “I saw Charlie today. He’s figuring it out.”

“What do you mean?” Bella asked.

“I mean, he’s been stopping by to see Billy and he knows Jacob isn’t there. Billy’s been trying to cover for you, but you know how obvious his lies always are. Today he was out at the shop asking questions.”

“Thanks, Quil. We’ll think of something.”

Jacob heard the last part as he came into the kitchen with the empty popcorn bowl. Bella explained, but she had hardly finished talking when her cell phone rang. She went back into the hallway and fished it out of her purse. It was Alice.

“I thought you’d want to know that Charlie’s seriously considering a visit to New Hampshire,” she said without preamble.

Bella laughed and shook her head. “Alright. I suppose I’ll call him. Maybe I’ll tell him all my furniture was stolen and Jake’s helping me find new stuff.” She knew she wasn’t really going to say that, but it was funny to imagine the look on his face. Much funnier than imagining the look on his face when she told him the truth.

“That’s actually pretty good,” Alice said after a moment. Then she sighed. “But you aren’t going to tell him that.”

“No.”

“He’ll get over it,” Alice said confidently. Bella grinned. It was good to have a psychic for a friend. Even if she couldn’t see werewolves, she could see Charlie.

“Thanks, Alice. I’ll call him now.”

Throughout this conversation, Jacob was looking at her worriedly. He’d seated himself at the kitchen table. When she hung up, she turned to look at him. “If you go finish the movie, will you still hear this conversation with Charlie?” she asked, amused but concerned, too. It wasn’t that she wanted to hide anything from him, but it WAS going to be an embarrassing conversation.

“Probably,” he admitted. “Do you want me to go out for a while?”

“No.” Bella picked up the phone and dialed Charlie’s house. This was going to be the motorcycle conversation all over again, and she wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Hey Dad,” Bella said into the phone, when he picked up. Jacob waited and watched her face as Bella grimaced.

“Bella, have you heard from Jacob? Billy said it should only have taken him a few days to get back, so we were expecting him yesterday. He hasn’t called or anything.”

“He’s fine. I asked him if he wanted to stay the week, so he’s not heading home until Sunday.”

Bella waited through the long silence on the other end of the line, picturing the redness of Charlie’s face. She wished she’d called Billy instead, and not talked to Charlie until he and Billy were in the same room. Billy always seemed to be able to calm him down.

Finally, there was a sigh, and Charlie said, “I told you once that I’d try to be open minded about this sort of thing, didn’t I?” he asked in a resigned tone of voice. It was clearly a hypothetical question, so Bella didn’t respond. “I suppose I don’t really need to ask if you’re being careful.”

Bella turned her back on Jacob to hide her blush, but knew better than to fail to reassure her father on this point. “I went to the doctor a few weeks ago,” she responded quietly. “I’m not being foolish.”

Again there was silence as Charlie processed that. “That’s my girl,” he said weakly.

“Thanks, Dad,” Bella replied, honestly relieved to be through with these sorts of conversations. At least, now that he was aware, he would never mistakenly think they needed to discuss it again. “I’ll make sure Jake calls Billy before he leaves.”

“Billy knew all about this,” Charlie commented suddenly.

“I’m sure he suspected,” Bella agreed. “But you can’t really blame him for not mentioning it. If you’re going to be angry with anyone, it should be me, not him.” She waited a moment, and then continued, “And if I hear about you giving Jake a hard time when he gets back…”

She heard Charlie take a deep breath. “Of course not,” he agreed grudgingly. Bella smiled. Charlie really DID like Jacob. “I suppose I’ll see you at Thanksgiving, then.”

They said their goodbyes and hung up. “Well, that was mortifying, but at least it’s over,” Bella commented. Jacob simply looked at her for a minute.

He hadn’t thought for a moment that she might actually tell Charlie the truth. The fact that she had, caused quite a few conflicting emotions in him. Of course, he felt relieved to know she wasn’t going to hide this from her family – that she wasn’t ashamed of being with him. But he was also wondering how he was going to look Charlie in the eye next week when he got home. He figured he’d better make a trip out to the house to make things right before Charlie showed up at the shop. He was also slightly disappointed in himself that he really hadn’t thought about responsibility, and he tried very hard not to think how nice it would be if she had to come home from school early. That struck him as an awful thought, and he buried it as soon as it occurred to him.

Then he forced a grin. She noticed, but didn’t comment. “Let’s finish the movie, then,” he suggested easily, knowing he probably wasn’t going to pay much attention to it now. And she agreed, knowing that she probably wouldn’t either.

Sunday arrived too quickly for both of them. Jacob couldn’t bring himself to get out of bed, and kept his arms firmly around Bella, even when she began insisting she was going to die of heat stroke. “If you didn’t die of it half an hour ago, then I think you’ll be fine,” he joked weakly. Already, remembering their morning together made him sad. Tomorrow he would wake up alone. He stared up at the ceiling.

“You’ve got to be starving,” Bella returned, stretching up to plant a kiss on his cheek. She made to get up again.

“Please stay,” Jake said quietly. They were the words he wanted to hear from her, but he said them now, and she looked at him with a sad expression for a second before relaxing against him again.

When they finally got up Bella made lunch, but it was clear the atmosphere was one of mourning. Neither of them really wanted to part. After they ate, she walked him down to his bike, parked beside hers. He stood and looked at it for a long time.

“Jake, if you wait much longer, you’ll be riding all night,” Bella said quietly, adding to herself, or I won’t let you go at all. But she bit her lip and didn’t say it. This was difficult enough.

Jacob turned to look at her, and then pulled her into a bruising hug.

“CAN’T – BREATHE – JAKE!” she hissed with what was left of her oxygen. He didn’t usually forget his strength, lately, so she’d been caught off guard. He let her go, but he was grinning, and she was glad, though she wondered if he’d somehow known the part she couldn’t say. She decided it didn’t matter. She didn’t want her last memories of his face to be of pain. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Not soon enough for me.” Jacob put both hands to her face and kissed her the way he’d been kissing her all morning – with more than a little desperation. Bella went without air for as long as she could before pulling away.

It hurt to let him go home. There was always the chance he’d meet some woman in a restaurant on the way, and imprint. There was always the chance Edward would be sitting beside her in class tomorrow without warning.

They were both thinking exactly the same thing, of course, which is what made it so difficult to say goodbye. She kissed him again and watched as he put on his helmet and mounted the bike. “Be careful. I don’t want a call from Billy asking where you are in a week.”

Jacob laughed, though it sounded forced. “I’ll be home in four days.”

“I mean it, Jake! And you’ve got to stop for sleep!”

“Sure, sure. Take care.” He put a hand on her cheek. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes seemed to sparkle more than usual. She nodded, and he started the bike. He hadn’t kicked it out of neutral yet, thankfully, when she suddenly stepped forward and threw her arms around his neck. He put the kickstand down and yanked his helmet back off before putting his arms around her again.

Bella, in her younger days, had never been too embarrassed about crying. Considering what all she’d been through, she’d mostly felt she was entitled. This, though, was embarrassing. Just days ago, she’d told him she didn’t need anybody any more, and here she was gasping for air like she’d die if he left. She wouldn’t. She knew that. But she still wasn’t looking forward to being separated from him. It felt like they’d only just found each other.

Jacob held her silently, grateful that she was at least sad he was leaving. In spite of their newfound closeness, or maybe because of it, he was uncharacteristically insecure. She’d been very clear that, short of Edward returning, she wasn’t going to leave him. That didn’t make the months of separation ahead seem any more appealing. It was just wasted time, to his mind, knowing they only HAD so much of it. He held her until she got control of her breathing again, and when she made to pull away, he kissed the top of her head and let her go, keeping her hand in his.

“I love you, Bella Swan,” he whispered.

“Love you,” she echoed back, a sudden smile at odds with the tear tracks down her cheeks.

School dragged for Bella throughout her senior year. She studied with Eli and Amanda and their mutual friends. She wrote letters to Jacob, Quil, Embry, and Alice. On rare occasions, Alice came to visit, and they shopped. Alice put all the furniture they replaced into Edward’s old apartment for her, so she wouldn’t have to go in there herself. She found that having memories of Jacob to associate with school made it easier NOT to think of Edward than it had been the previous year. Levi was easier to deal with, too, now that he’d seen the size of her current love interest. But the days passed slowly, regardless.

She went home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Spring Break. It was harder to leave each time.

Charlie was remarkably good about things. He didn’t ask her where she’d been when she and Jacob went out, or give him the third degree. Jake was still welcome at Charlie’s house, and he and Bella often went to visit at Jake’s, too. Bella thanked Charlie at one point over the Christmas holiday for handling it so well. It was a brief conversation, because sharing feelings still made them both uncomfortable, but he managed to convey that as long as Jacob didn’t hurt her, Charlie would make him welcome.

That had been a difficult conversation, but she’d hidden her fear well. Because eventually, there was an excellent chance that Jacob WOULD hurt her. She thought it much more likely than that Edward would return, though part of her still hoped…

That evening, they were having Billy and Jacob over for dinner, which Bella had spent all day preparing. Charlie had piled all of their Christmas cards in the middle of the table, to be read after dinner. Once the table was cleared, he tossed half of them to Bella. Jake sat beside her with an arm around her shoulders, and she and Charlie took turns reading their cards out loud.

Charlie picked up one envelope, and said, “Oops,” and then put it at the bottom of his pile. Bella noticed.

“Not a card?” she asked, not really paying attention as she opened another.

“It had a Christmas stamp, but I should have recognized the handwriting,” he mumbled guiltily. Bella looked up, and so did Jacob. “It’s from Carlisle.”

Bella froze, a habit she’d picked up from Edward when she was uncomfortable. That letter had probably arrived the day she came back from school. She’d been a little troubled all break, wondering where it was. “I’d like to read that, please,” she said, stiffly. He fished it out from under the pile and handed it to her wordlessly. She excused herself to her room, and Jacob watched her go – understanding perhaps for the first time, why Edward had disappeared again.

When she’d been gone five minutes, he got up and left the room without a word. He found her staring out her bedroom window. Her fingers were on the frame, not as if to lift it open, but just resting there. She didn’t hear him come in to the room, so she jumped when he put his arms around her.

“Are you alright?” he whispered into her hair.

She turned in his arms, and he was glad to see she hadn’t been crying. “I am, truly.” She rested her cheek against his chest, and resolved to try and explain. She didn’t want Jake to be hurt more that necessary by this because he thought it was something it wasn’t. “When he left the first time,” she began, her voice quiet, “part of the reason it was so awful was because I didn’t know if he was alright. If he was alive or dead. I had no way of discovering where he’d gone, and nothing to prove I’d ever known him at all. For a long time, I was deathly afraid that I’d imagined the whole thing, or if I didn’t, that I would forget what it was like to ever know him.” She laughed a little at herself.

Jake’s heart seemed to stop, but he said nothing, and she continued. “So this time, when he said he was going, I knew what I had to have to stay sane. I had to have Alice. I made him promise not to forbid her to talk to me. And after he was gone, that first summer, I went to the hospital and told Carlisle that I wanted to hear from him every so often – just to hear that Edward was alright. I think he could see I was a mess. He agreed.

“So, every Christmas, there’s a letter for me. It doesn’t say much. You can read it.” She nodded toward her bed, where the letter was lying open. “Just so I know he’s alright, so it doesn’t feel like last time he left. So it doesn’t feel like when you were gone. It helps me cope.”

Jake released her and read the short note. Edward was alive, and he’d checked in a few times in the last year. He was going to see the Great Wall of China. That was all it said before it launched into explanations of what the rest of the family had been up to. “I don’t ever reply,” Bella said quietly. “Alice keeps them up to date on me, and I try to go visit Esme when I can.”

Jacob folded the letter and put it back on her bed, putting his arms around her again. “Are you upset?” she whispered after a moment.

“No. Honestly, Bella, looking back I can see that Edward and I would have probably liked each other a lot, if we hadn’t been after the same beautiful girl,” he said gently. “I’m glad to know he’s alright, too.”

Bella felt a smile starting on her face. “You’ve perfected your very patient good guy routine,” she observed, quoting a half-remembered conversation that used to disturb her, but now only seemed like a dream.

“Didn’t realize you were awake for all of that.” Jacob replied worriedly.

“Neither did I, until just now.” Bella smirked at him, and then they both laughed. Before she could catch her breath, he kissed her, gently, sweetly. And when his lips parted from hers, he pulled her close again.

“Charlie will be worried that we’re up here fighting, I suppose.”

“Well, he’ll be worried that we’re up here, anyway,” Bella said, laughing again. She took his hand, “Come on.” Charlie was very relieved when they came back downstairs in mostly high spirits to finish reading their cards.

Jacob worked hard during Bella’s school year. His shop was gaining quite a lot of clientele, and Quil was thrilled to have him back. The pack had been afraid he’d never come home, he gathered during their first run together.

He spent a lot of time cleaning up the empty store beside the shop – more than he should have, maybe. He wanted it to be as good as what Bella had done for their office, but he wasn’t much of a cleaner. He worked on the upstairs apartment, too. He’d decided he was definitely moving in there, but he kept putting it off. Billy still needed help around the house, and it was more convenient to stay there, if he was helping out all the time.

He knew he was driving the pack crazy, but Bella was pretty much all he could think about. Leah, especially, was furious with him. He never quite understood why she seemed to despise Bella so much, until one day he happened to morph just to make a run over to Sam’s place, and Leah was the only person in his head. He caught the end of her thoughts before she’d registered his presence.

...don’t understand why it should work out for HER when the man I love had to go and imprint…

He morphed back and walked to Sam’s place instead of running, feeling a little low. Sam’s incessant teasing, whenever Emily was out of earshot, picked up his spirits again, though. He had known he was going to get some ribbing for stealing his line.

For all that the waiting was difficult, and parting when she went back to school was agonizing, June arrived before he was quite ready for it. The apartment was still empty, though it WAS clean. He’d finally broken down and enlisted Emily’s help. He went to the airport to pick her up. Charlie had flown out for her graduation, and insisted she fly back, since Jake had too much work at the shop to leave just then. She’d paid a moving company to bring her furniture and her bike. They would arrive the following week.

When she saw him, she ran to him and jumped. He caught her easily. “Welcome home.” He set her back on her feet and shook Charlie’s hand, grinning. This was how it was supposed to be. Everything was finally right. Now all he had to do was get up the nerve to ask her about the apartment. And he only had a week.