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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:


9. Chapter 9

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3764   Review this Chapter

Three years after Bella’s graduation found her more content than she had been since her childhood in Phoenix. Her happiness was not the wild joy she’d experienced with Edward, but it was real. She and Jacob grew closer all the time. Both the bookstore and the shop were doing well. Of course, Alice had long ago predicted the success of the bookstore, and Jacob worked so hard he couldn’t possibly have failed, so Bella wasn’t at all surprised.

They had purchased a monstrous dining room table that would seat ten people, and it was often in use. It was not at all uncommon for her to make three pans of lasagna and have everyone over. This evening, however, they’d ordered a pizza, and only Mike and Leah were visiting. Bella had closed the store, but Jake and Quil were still finishing up. They already knew why Leah was visiting. Only Bella hadn’t yet heard the news. Leah had made Jake promise not to tell.

“Things are about to get very busy for us,” she’d started awkwardly, glancing toward Mike as they sat in the living room. Mike held one of her hands in both of his. It had been very difficult for Bella to watch their romance unfold, knowing as she did that the same thing would one day happen to Jacob. Still, Mike’s obvious response to Leah’s unconsciously devout gaze brought Bella some joy. She’d wanted nothing but good for Leah from the moment she first heard about the mess imprinting had made of her life with Sam. She smiled a little now, watching them, but didn’t ask. Leah was obviously about to tell her.

“Mike and I are going to have a baby,” Leah followed up quickly, looking back at Bella with a face full of joy.

Bella celebrated with her, and they started planning a shower almost at once. Leah didn’t have many girlfriends, but Bella had Angela she could invite – she and Leah vaguely knew one another from random meetings around the bookstore. Mostly, though, the mothers of most of the pack would make up the guest list.

That night, however, Bella felt the first real discontent that had plagued her since she and Jake had moved into the apartment. She wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t until she startled awake in Jacob’s arms, her dreams pushing to the forefront of her mind, that she became aware of what was bothering her.

Jacob was a fairly sound sleeper, but that woke him up. She kissed him and told him she was fine when he asked. It hadn’t even really been a nightmare. Just a very vivid recollection of a very vivid vision from long ago.

Bella lay awake, thinking about her vision. It had been so long ago that the details had faded from her memory. As each part of it – Renee and Charlie mixed in with Billy and the pack and La Push – had come to pass, she had hardly registered that she had seen it in the vision. Suddenly, however, the one part that had NOT yet come to pass was foremost in her thoughts. And she didn’t know quite what to think of that.

Three weeks later, she made a surprise visit to the Cullen residence. Usually, she called Alice’s cell phone to ask if it was convenient for her to visit, which was a euphemism for, ‘Edward’s not there, right?’ But her mind was preoccupied with her vision, and when it came to visions, Alice was the person to see.

Her truck was loud enough that Alice had probably known she was coming from the moment she turned into the nearly invisible driveway, so it wasn’t any surprise to Bella to see her opening the front door as she cut the engine. Alice looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable for a moment, but was soon smiling as usual. Bella noted her pale amber eyes and hugged her at the bottom of the steps, grinning. She really didn’t get to see Alice often enough.

“I need to ask you about something,” she said, as Alice led the way into the house. As was customary, they sat down in the superfluous dining room. That seemed to be the place for discussions.

“If you’re wondering about the stocks, they’re great for another three months. After that, we’ll have to move them.” Alice grinned at her.

Bella only laughed. “Yes, that’s it. I’m suddenly worried about the stocks.” Since her sophomore year of college, she’d hardly bothered to ask Alice about those stocks. She had no idea what they were worth, but as long as the money that appeared in her account didn’t come from anywhere besides those stocks, she wasn’t fussed. Honestly, she had no idea how much money was even in her account. Money had never really mattered to her.

“You’re on the right track, though,” she added. “This is definitely something only you can tell me.”

Bella looked into Alice’s suddenly sad eyes, and wondered if her expression should be answer enough. “You know I can’t tell you your future, Bella. I haven’t been able to see you at all for years.”

“Not at all? Even right now, when I’m here with you?”

Alice closed her eyes briefly, and then shook her head. “As long as you’re decided on being … close to the pack, I can’t see anything.”

Bella dropped her eyes to the table, foiled. In truth, she felt guilty for even being here. The decision she was contemplating should not require the kind of reassurance she was seeking today. Jacob would be so hurt, if he ever knew. But she’d had to come.

And there was always a chance that, as long as she’d also made the decision to go with Edward if he ever wanted her again, that her future might show up in Alice’s visions somewhere, far down the line…

“Bella, what are you hoping I can tell you? What are you trying to decide?” Alice asked gently, cutting through her guilty thoughts.

She shook her head. Disgusted with herself, and embarrassed. But she continued, unwilling to give up her hope that Alice might see something in the distant future that hadn’t occurred to her yet. “Do you remember Christmas of my sophomore year – what I asked you?”

Alice only nodded. She remembered everything Bella had ever asked her.

“Well, I think I’ve made a decision, and I wonder if it will affect that vision.”

“Any decision you’ve made since then might have affected it,” Alice answered carefully. “I have no way to be able to check, now.”

Bella nodded miserably. Alice narrowed her eyes. “Why do you think this decision might be more likely to render that vision untrue.” Bella bit her lip and looked up, a vague expression of fear on her face.

“Did I ever tell you that I had a vision once?” she asked, dodging the question for as long as she could. Alice shook her head, so Bella continued. “It was that morning, by the tent, when Edward was off with Seth, and Jacob tricked me into kissing him.” She smiled a little, to hide her discomfort. The words ‘that morning’ would have probably been enough, but she wanted Alice to understand.

“What did you see?” Alice prompted, suddenly seeming twice as interested. Bella’s smile grew.

“I saw La Push. Jake and me and Charlie and Billy, Sam and Emily – I saw the life I’m living now, for the most part.” The life she had rejected for Edward’s sake. The life she’d been willing to give up. Was still willing to give up, if he asked it of her. But she didn’t say so. The sadness in Alice’s eyes proved she already knew.

Then she repeated, “…for the most part,” and her voice was a whisper.

“Was there more?”

“I saw the two most beautiful little boys. With Jake’s silky hair, but paler skin. They were holding hands, and running into the trees. Four and five years old, maybe, and the younger one stumbled.” Her voice was gone, and she spoke only in a choked whisper. Then she huffed a laugh and turned her eyes back to Alice, realizing she’d been staring into the distance. Alice looked even more miserable than before.

“I’d forgotten, for the longest time. Then a few weeks ago, Leah told me she was pregnant, and the whole thing came rushing back.” Her voice was stronger now, if self-deprecating. She’d once looked forward to never forgetting anything again.

“And you wanted me to tell you if my vision of you and Edward being together again would be affected by your choice to have children?” Alice confirmed unnecessarily.

“I should have realized you wouldn’t be able to see me anymore. I guess I was hoping that since you could see Edward –“

Bella had prepared for this conversation for several days. Being prepared to talk about Edward was essential. Otherwise she still, occasionally, could burst into tears. Of course, everyone with whom she interacted knew this about her, so it hadn’t happened in years. In spite of her preparation, however, she felt tears stinging her eyes. She looked away from Alice for a moment to control them.

Alice sounded miserable. “I’m sorry.”

Bella shook her head and chuckled a little. “Honestly, I don’t know why I came. It’s not fair to Jacob that I would take an unlikely future with Edward into consideration before I decide if I want to have his children. It was a fantasy. It was always a fantasy.”

At this Alice took her hand, and her voice became urgent. “It wasn’t. Bella, Edward loves you. If you want to be with him –“ she stiffened suddenly and broke off. Bella narrowed her eyes as Alice glanced upwards. She was sure someone upstairs had made a noise to get Alice’s attention. To prevent her from finishing her thought.

“It isn’t about what I want, Alice,” she said softly. “It never was. Edward knows I chose him, but that wasn’t enough. And I couldn’t just turn off my love for Jacob. Jake is willing to accept me, even knowing that I love Edward. The only choice I had was Jacob, or being alone.” She shrugged, resigned. “It wasn’t a hard choice.”

She pulled her hands out of Alice’s cold grip and stood. “And really, this choice isn’t a hard one either. Though, it will certainly be an interesting conversation.” She smiled wryly, trying to improve Alice’s mood. Alice walked her to the door. But when she opened it Bella bit her lip and turned toward her.

“This is probably not something that ought to go in your next letter to Edward,” she suggested evenly. And then Alice’s whole face seemed to crumple in.

“Oh, Bella, I’m so sorry! When he heard you coming, he made me promise not to tell you he was here,” she said, her voice reflecting more pain than Bella had heard in it since the day she’d seen Edward asking the Volturi to kill him. “If I’d known what you came to say, I would never have –“

“He isn’t going to do anything foolish?” Bella asked quickly, cutting her off. She felt her heart rate increase involuntarily, and fought to control her breathing.

Alice mastered herself, her eyes fluttering closed in concentration. “No. He would never do anything to bring the Volturi’s attention back to you. He’ll behave himself.”

Bella gasped twice more, then took a deep, steadying breath. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “I should have called. I’m sorry to have caused him more pain. That was never my intention.”

Alice only nodded, knowing the words weren’t for her sake. And then Bella ran for her truck. She was doing forty-five down the driveway in no time, and pushed it to its limit once she got onto a proper road. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes as she drove, but she didn’t let them fall. Instead, she drove stoically to Charlie’s house, let herself in and threw her clothes into the washer. She took a long shower and waited in a towel while they dried, careful to leave the bathroom as she’d found it. She even blow-dried her hair. Jacob could never know she’d been to see Alice to ask about this. It was bad enough that SHE knew she’d done it, and she vowed she would never again make a decision about her future with Jacob based on whether it would affect a future with Edward.

Bella let a few weeks pass as she thought over the implications of her visit to Alice. Eventually, it occurred to her that nothing had changed. The future she had seen with Jacob was the best future life had to offer her at this point. Every time he held her, every time he kissed her, she knew that to be true. Maybe she loved Edward more. But Edward wasn’t here, and probably never would be again. And whatever woman Jacob was going to imprint on wasn’t here either.

Bella had spent the first summer after college slightly on edge each time an unfamiliar face appeared at Jacob’s shop. After so long, however, she no longer gave it much thought. Jacob might not imprint until his next lifetime. Or the one after. Bella could be long dead by the time his heart was usurped by someone else.

Finally, when the beautiful little boys were filling her dreams every night, she resolved that it was time she mentioned it to him. He was most commonly to be found in bay three at the shop, halfway under someone’s vehicle, so that’s where she went to find him.

For his part, Jacob had noticed her distraction, and wondered about it. Since it had come about so shortly after Christmas, he hadn’t been able to prevent himself from wondering if Carlisle’s annual letter had upset her somehow, but he didn’t want to ask.

He was halfway through changing the oil on a beat up old Ford Ranger when his nose told him she’d come into the shop. She was usually so busy selling books that she didn’t have time to sit and watch him work anymore, so he was surprised. He watched her jean-clad knees appear as she folded her legs under her and sat on the ground near his feet. He didn’t bother reminding her how dirty she was going to get. If anyone knew just how bad the shop floor got, it was Bella, who swept it for him when she thought he was too busy to notice.

“Everything alright?” he asked easily. Mostly, things were alright. Life had been good to them these last few years, so he wasn’t expecting the heavy silence. He rolled out from under the truck to look up at her.

“I was wondering if you had any free time today,” Bella said nervously, gazing down into his eyes. Jacob caught his breath, and wondered for the thousandth time if this was it – the day Bella was going to walk away from him to be with Edward. For the most part, he tried not to think about that. But once in a while, when she looked nervous and upset as she did now, he couldn’t help it. He reminded himself he couldn’t hold her back, any more than she would be able to hold him, when he imprinted.

He sat up. “Sure, sure,” he said quickly, to cover his hesitation. He stood and dusted himself off, then pulled her to her feet. She held his hand as they walked toward the bookstore. He noticed the sign on the door said, ‘closed,’ and narrowed his eyes. She never closed the store in the middle of the week. His heart constricted in his chest. He could hear the stutter in its beat, and was thankful she could not. He wondered how long it would be before she could.

She pulled him toward their bedroom when they reached the top of the stairs, and he was surprised. The conversation he was dreading wouldn’t be happening there, he was sure. He felt himself relax, and thought Bella must have noticed the change in the way he was gripping her hand. She smiled up at him, and pulled him down to sit on the bed with her, scooting herself into the middle, where she looked very small, compared to the bed itself. Compared to him.

“Do you remember,” she began, staring earnestly into his face with the expression that usually made it impossible for him not to kiss her, “when I told you what the worst part was?” But her gentle finish to the question had him resisting the urge. That wasn’t what he was expecting at all.

“Yes.”

Her answering smile was so sweet and sad. He held her hands tightly, facing her on the bed that had been theirs for three years.

“When I said I could see it, I meant literally. A lot like the way Alice sees things, I think. It was so vivid. There was us,” she smiled even wider, and squeezed his fingers. “And the pack, and Charlie and Billy. There was so much love. In those instants I saw, there was safety and comfort. But I also saw –“

She stopped abruptly, and Jacob felt his eyes widen. Had she seen something about their future that wasn’t safe? Wasn’t comfortable? All his worries flooded back. He was sure this was the end, and he felt tears start in his eyes. He’d promised her that whatever time they had, it would be enough. But he wanted more. He waited, knowing she would continue, but in no hurry to rush her.

“I saw our sons, Jake,” she forced out finally, and he felt his mouth drop. He managed to close it before she met his eyes, and he wondered what she saw there. A slow grin was spreading over her face. “They were so beautiful,” she continued, and put a hand to his temple to brush his hair out of his eyes. He leaned into the touch. “You’re hair, but paler, like me. They were perfect.”

Jacob found he wasn’t able to talk. Instead, he reached for her, and tipped them both sideways, crushing her to his chest with a more gentle pressure than usual.

“So, I think it’s time we got married, Jake,” she mumbled against his chest. The feel of her lips through his tee-shirt sent a shiver through him, but he contained it. He felt a few tears slide down his cheek to land in her hair. Not only had this NOT been their final conversation, but she wanted to have his children. What could he even say? Eventually he thought of something.

“Not a big wedding, though,” he muttered cautiously. “Maybe we’ll just take Billy and Charlie down to Vegas?” he suggested.

“My thoughts exactly,” she agreed. And then she was smiling up at him.

“If I’d thought this was on your mind, I’d have asked a long time ago,” he said solemnly after a moment.

“There wasn’t anything wrong with waiting,” she replied. She was twenty-five now, finally at the point where her mother’s objections would have no particular weight.

“Still. You know, I thought a lot about it. I even bought you a ring.”

“Jake, I don’t want a ring.”

“But you’ll wear it,” he said confidently, suddenly himself again as he processed that she wasn’t leaving him. At least not yet.

Bella nodded in defeat, but her smile didn’t fade. “I’ll wear it.”

To her astonishment, he dug it out of his pocket – he’d clearly been carrying it around, and probably for a long time. She felt a flash of shame. She’d made him wait far longer than he’d wanted to. She hadn’t realized.

Jacob put the ring on her finger, and she was swept with a disconcerting feeling of déjà vu. Then she looked down at it.

Instead of a diamond, one of which she still had, dangling from the bracelet she never took off, this ring held an emerald. It was very beautiful and her grin, having faded away as she felt him put it on her, came back full force. She stretched her neck up to kiss him, and he was already lowering his head to hers.

“Charlie?” Bella called, coming through the front door without knocking.

“In here!” Charlie was in front of the TV.

“How do you feel about a road trip to Vegas this weekend?” she asked without preamble. She stood with her hand on the back of the couch, ring clearly visible.

Naturally, Charlie was thrilled. He called Renee. He called Billy, who’d just finished a similar conversation with Jacob. He spent the rest of the week telling every person he encountered, and setting up a wedding announcement with the paper. He took their engagement picture with Bella’s old camera, one of several things she’d left behind when she moved because it generated too many bad memories. For once, the sight of it hadn’t bothered her.

Vegas was brilliant, and Bella had a lovely time. She got to wear jeans to her wedding, and they were back in town three days later, where the pack was waiting to have a party. It was some party. If Bella had ever bothered to think about what kind of wedding reception she would like, the huge bonfire party on First Beach would have been it.

Each of the men in turn coerced Bella to dance in the sand. Leah even gave up Mike for five minutes. Bella found him much better company now that everything had been explained to him, and they reminisced about their school days before she found herself seated on Jacob’s lap as he perched on their driftwood tree, looking out over the dark water. She awoke in her own bed, Jake beside her, keeping her warmer than the green-flamed driftwood fire ever could have.

It was only a few months after consulting a doctor that she became pregnant, and she could tell Jacob was as thrilled as she was. Her vision had become a dream they could share between the two of them, and it was a wonderful time. It was also ridiculously uncomfortable toward the end, and often embarrassing. Fortunately, Leah was going through the same thing. Bella made sure to stop by the hospital to see Leah and her little girl, in spite of her morning sickness.

The months passed more slowly than Bella had imagined they could. Yet, the day DID arrive. And when it did, Jacob could be found underneath an automobile, working. Bella threw open a window and hollered down to him – not something that was her usual habit, but as the child was three days overdue, Jacob wasn’t about to scold her. He was upstairs in record time, carrying her to the car, returning for her overnight bag.