Bella is dead, and neither Jacob nor Edward really knows how to mourn her.
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His eyes were dry as he stood just inside the door to the room. People he barely knew filed passed him, grasping his hand and offering their condolences. He imagined that his pathetic attempts to smile looked an awful lot like hers had. Weak, and superficial. But no one expected anything better. On his right, Charlie was fairing worse. He’d been a wreck, but Billy had been comforting him as best he could. The one thing Jacob could always count on was that his Dad would be strong. He frowned thoughtfully. No, not always. One day soon, I’ll be back here shaking hands with HIS friends. He almost lost it then. As if one death in the family wasn’t enough.
The people kept coming. A kid from the high school who worked the cash register at the grocery, mentioning how nice Bella had always been to him. The librarian at the school who gushed about the generous book donation she’d made. The guy from the appliance store where they’d bought their first refrigerator, who’d struck up a conversation with Bella and given them discounts on anything they’d needed all these years just because he liked her so well. The line was as endless as the emptiness he’d been feeling for the last three days.
Charlie had paid for the funeral arrangements. Not because Jake couldn’t, but because he’d insisted. That was the only reason they were having this viewing. It was for Charlie’s sense of closure, not Jacob’s. He didn’t need much more closure than holding her hand as her heart stopped. The silence had been deafening. To some extent it still was. Though he smiled feebly and nodded, he couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying to him.
Eventually, though, the people came less frequently. Sometimes Charlie and Billy would have a few minutes to talk between visitors. He felt Billy’s eyes on him, and knew he was worried. Jacob hadn’t run with the pack for months – ever since they’d found out she was dying. He recalled how they’d all hated it when he’d first fallen in love, having to feel everything he did, and share his thoughts. He couldn’t put them through what he felt right now. He wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It bothered his father that he wouldn’t run. Billy, he knew, wanted to see him live three lifetimes and be a great warrior and protector for the tribe.
Jacob had never cared much about that, and cared a great deal less right now. If he’d had his way, Jacob would have stopped running with the pack years ago, the day Bella turned twenty-five, so that they could live out their lives together normally. One by one, most of the pack had done just that, starting with Sam, and finishing with Quil, when Claire had finally caught up to him in age. Only Embry, Paul, Seth and Brandon still remained. And Jacob, but only because Bella had insisted. You’re the Alpha, Jake. The pack is your responsibility. He could still hear her voice so clearly.
Jacob turned his back on the room for a moment and closed his eyes, casually wiping at them. He took a deep breath before he turned back around. There were more people. He shook a few more hands. He didn’t bother trying to smile.
Much later it occurred to Jacob that at least an hour had passed and no one new had come. Mike Newton and his wife were still standing with a small crowd of Bella’s old High School friends, on the other side of the room, but most people had left, and he’d hardly noticed. Jacob stayed where he was, but Charlie and Billy went up to the casket. Billy stood up, something he hadn’t attempted in years, and Jacob knew he ought to be the one holding him by his elbow, but he left it to Charlie. He watched them, though. Charlie’s hands were shaking, and in spite of the way he gripped Billy’s arm, Jacob had the impression that Billy was the one giving all the support. He suppressed a sigh.
Eventually the Newtons approached him and shook his hand again before taking their leave. He wasn’t sorry to see them go, but he wasn’t pleased either. He realized that he was having a hard time feeling much of anything but the clawing emptiness. After a few more moments, Charlie helped Billy back into his chair. They turned toward him, and slowly made their way out the door. Charlie put his hand on Jake’s shoulder as he passed and squeezed. It should have amused him that it felt so weak, but it was just another reminder of how frail they all were. How mortal. He swallowed hard and nodded to him, watching him push Billy’s chair out into the hall. And then he was alone.
The casket was open, and would be until he told the funeral director they were finished. He didn’t go near it, choosing instead to seat himself in one of the chairs at the back of the room. He’d spent most of the morning standing beside it, until the mourners had started to arrive. It was difficult to talk himself into approaching the casket again.
He sat forward in the chair, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. This wasn’t the happy future he’d envisioned when he’d first begun pursuing the beautiful, broken Isabella Swan. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting there when a startling, familiar scent reached him. As he straightened in the chair, slowly, he tried to ask himself if he’d been waiting for this to happen – for him to come. His mind skittered away from the answer to that question, which was answer enough. He stood and faced the doorway, waiting.
Edward came into the room soundlessly, moving more slowly than Jacob had ever seen a bloodsucker move. He was flawless and youthful, just as he’d been the day he’d walked out of Bella’s life, when she was only eighteen years old. There was no stubble on his face, no rumples in his clothing, no mussy hair to indicate his sorrow, and yet Jacob could feel it emanating from him, as plainly as he could feel his own.
Edward was staring at him, eyes wide, as if he hadn’t known Jacob was there. As if there was anywhere else for him to be. Carefully, Jake sat back down. He could feel the dark expression that had crossed his face, and he forced himself to turn his eyes away from Edward Cullen, the last man who would ever mourn for Jacob’s wife. The last man who would ever love her, just as he’d been the first. The unfairness of that didn’t escape him.
Edward had expected Jacob to be in the room. He hadn’t, however, expected him to be so reasonable. It was clear that the man who’d picked up the pieces after he’d left Bella broken was a patient person. He watched as Jacob turned his eyes away from him. After only an instant, he turned back toward the casket at the front of the room, walking slowly.
He’d left Forks so that Bella could have a safe life. It had taken Jasper’s uncontrollable thirst to convince him, but he’d finally admitted that her safety – body and soul – was more important to him than his happiness or hers. And he’d gone.
To say he hadn’t looked back, though? That would be a lie. All he’d done since the moment he walked away was look back. But he’d only come back once. He wasn’t strong enough to stay away. His family all told him he was being ridiculous – everyone but Rosalie. So, he’d given in and come back to see for himself how Bella was. He’d watched as she held hands in a movie theater lobby with a much younger Jacob Black, and he’d known that she would be alright. That she would be happier without him than he ever could be without her. He could still feel his cell phone crumbling between his fingers as he watched them. He’d never come back again, until today.
He stared at the body in the casket for several long minutes before pulling from his pocket a small box. He knew that the instant he’d moved, Jacob’s eyes had turned to him again. He swallowed unnecessarily, opening the box and looking down at the diamond ring his father had once given to his mother.
Edward had known, from the first night Bella had whispered his name in her sleep, that she would be the only woman he could ever love. When she went into the ground, his heart would go with her, and so would this. Carefully, without disturbing any other part of the scene before him, he lifted Bella’s right hand a fraction of an inch and slipped the ring onto her finger. On her left hand there was also a diamond. He wasn’t the only one burying his heart today. He turned around to see Jacob, standing again. He’d expected anger, but he could tell from both thought and expression that Jacob understood. He closed the box and put it back in his pocket, walking slowly toward the back of the room.
Jacob watched him approach, as slowly as he’d approached the casket. He wondered if a vampire could possibly feel as weighed down with grief as he did. But the truth was evident. Could. Did. Edward raised his arm hesitantly and grasped Jacob’s shoulder, much as Charlie had done earlier. Jake suppressed a wince. Even through his dress shirt and jacket, Edward’s hand felt like ice. He wondered how Bella had ever been able to stand his touch. And then, unbidden, a memory welled up in his mind. Standing on Bella’s front porch with Billy, watching as Edward pressed a careful kiss to Bella’s neck, just under her jaw. He wondered how that had felt to her. Had his lips been as cold as his hand seemed to Jacob?
He remembered too late that the bloodsucker could read minds. It wasn’t information he’d ever truly needed to know. So he was shocked when Edward’s expression turned from commiserating to speculative. And then, as slowly and carefully as all his movements had been, Edward stepped closer, tilting his head to press his lips so very slowly onto that exact spot on Jacob’s neck. Jake felt his mouth fall open, but failed to notice how he raised his chin to accommodate the closeness. Another traitorous thought crossed his mind. Maybe this is the closest either of us can ever get to Bella again.
Jake’s skin burned under Edward’s lips, and he paused just long enough to feel Jacob shiver, no longer, and then stepped away. He watched Jake close his mouth abruptly and swallow, and then dropped his hand from his shoulder. “If you ever need anything, you know where to find me,” Edward said quietly. Jacob closed his eyes briefly – hardly longer than a blink – to consider the implications of that, and when he opened them, Edward was gone. He blinked again, and suddenly his hearing seemed to sharpen. He heard Embry out in the hallway, talking to the funeral director in a low voice. “Just give him a little more time.”
He swallowed again, and walked toward Bella’s casket one last time. He rested his hand on her hair and felt the tears he’d been suppressing for days trying to break through again. He stifled them. Instead, he lowered his lips to her forehead for a long moment, closing his eyes. One tear squeezed out in spite of his efforts, and he straightened slowly, removing his hand. Only then did he notice that Embry had come to stand beside him. He assumed the funeral director had entered the room, as well. It was time.
“Goodbye, Bells,” he whispered, clenching his teeth right after, as the sound of his own husky voice made the grief seem more real. Then he took one long step backward and nodded to the funeral director, who carefully closed the casket. He stood still until he felt Embry’s hand on his shoulder, scorching hot compared to the chill that Edward’s had left behind. He turned, letting Embry guide him away from the only love he’d ever known, his own goodbye echoing, unanswered, in his ears.