The Road Not Taken
Epilogue: “She didn’t really seem like that sort of girl,” Tanya commented, her tone just a tad sour, and Demetri quirked a smile.
“I get the feeling there’s a lot more to her than we’ve suspected.” Sequel to The Road Less Traveled by Daintress of tm_switzerland.
14. Chapter 14
Rating 5/5 Word Count 2034 Review this Chapter
Bella sighed and took a breath, letting her nose wrinkle, too. “I knew we’d always have something in common,” she joked. Embry released her, chuckling, and turned to shake Edward’s hand as Quil caught her up into another hug. The Cullen family looked on bemusedly. Jasper, especially, still seemed unable to comprehend how she could stand to be so close to them.
“I don’t care what you smell like,” Quil said quietly, putting her feet back on the floor. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you. Did Carlisle tell you why we’re here?” Bella asked, knowing this concerned Quil even more than the rest of the pack. He nodded, his smile falling away. She put a hand to his shoulder as he made his way into the house, following Embry. The rest of the pack filed in, and Bella hugged Leah carefully, noticing that she was pregnant again, her light sundress bulging prettily around her stomach. “Congratulations,” she whispered. Leah glowed. “You’ve got to write to me. The boys left this completely out of their letters.” They both laughed, and Bella turned to greet Paul and Jared with firm handshakes. They were not quite as friendly. But Seth, Colin and Brady each hugged her quickly before passing her by. And then she was looking at Sam. She inhaled quietly, surprised. The last she’d heard, Sam had not rejoined the pack. But they’d clearly run here, and he was in the same state of undress as the rest.
Sam noticed the surprise on Bella’s face and smiled, pulling her into a hug that lifted her feet off the ground. She’d almost forgotten how huge they all were. But she squeezed him back carefully, mindful of her own strength, and remembered all the good times she’d spent with him and Emily. Sam, somehow, was the one who really defined the pack for her, with Jacob gone. She grinned at him as he set her down again. “Had to come,” he explained unnecessarily.
“Well, I’m glad you did.” She gestured him into the house, where the others were waiting, seated in the dining room. By the time they arrived, Edward was already explaining how they’d found Russ. It was a short conversation. The Cullens had already decided that they would do their part to help him, and there was no question of the pack’s desire to have him back with them, even though they knew his continual presence would mean the Quileute werewolf gene could never go dormant again. He and Sam had attended school together. He’d babysat Quil and Jacob both when they were children. He was family. And Bella exchanged a pleased glance with Edward when she noticed how happy they all looked, even Russ.
There wasn’t a lot of time for catching up. Bella and Quil whispered together about the boys, and when she gave him the colored pencils and coloring books she’d found for them at the airport, he laughed. She grinned up at Edward in thanks, and found his eyes already on her. She held out a hand and he joined them. Neither seemed to be able to keep a smile from their face.
Edward listened to the thoughts around him while Bella hurried to catch up with as many of her friends as she could before Jane’s return. His family, predictably, were all thinking hard about the change in her disposition just since their arrival an hour before. Almost all of them attributed it to being with the pack again, and they felt sorry for him, but Carlisle knew better. And Edward did, too. It helped that every few seconds, she’d looked around the room to find him, smiling when her eyes settled on him again.
The werewolves’ thoughts were split about evenly between Bella’s obvious contentment and Russ. Quil, in particular, seemed pleased to see her so happy. He’d clearly been dreading this – expecting to find her miserable, and not sure how he would let her leave again if that had been the case. He was thrilled, too, to have his cousin back, and he left Bella with a hug, rolling the coloring books around the circular tin of pencils and securing it with the cord at his ankle. Edward took her hand as Quil went to greet Russ, and she stared up into his eyes for just a moment before Leah approached her again. She grinned at him before turning her attention to her. He listened as the women discussed the particulars of pregnancy and was amazed that it didn’t bother him. It occurred to him that not much was going to be able to bother him tonight.
He looked around the room, letting his mind wander, and heard a stray thought from outside. Edward, hope you’re paying attention. We’ll be there in three minutes. It was Emmett. He leaned down to whisper in Bella’s ear. “Jane is on her way. They should go before she arrives.”
Bella’s smile turned sad. She reached for Leah’s hand. “I’m sorry. We really will have to catch up by letter. Jane is coming, and you should be well out of range before she gets back.” Bella would have worried, but knowing her own strength gave her a new confidence in the Cullen family. It would be a simple matter to restrain Jane if she attempted to injure any of the pack. Especially since she couldn’t focus her formidable talent on more than one person at a time. And it didn’t work at all on Bella, herself.
The pack said their goodbyes, mostly to Bella and Edward, though Edward noticed Embry grinning at Alice, and Sam shaking Carlisle’s hand. He was surprised when Paul and Jared, who hadn’t seemed all that pleased to see her, hugged Bella goodbye along with the rest. Russ did, too, and then shook Edward’s hand. “Thank you. I know you put a lot on the line to bring me home. I’ll always be grateful.” And then they were gone. Rosalie and Emmett, with Jane right behind, were walking in the back door as the front door closed behind them. Jane’s nose was wrinkled in distaste.
“Is it finished, then?” she asked imperiously. Her eyes were so red they nearly glowed and Rosalie was clearly keeping her own eyes averted from her. Bella didn’t. She stared at Jane with a horrified expression. The stain on her soul from what she’d just done was fresh, and alarming to her. She normally avoided the Volturi after they fed, for exactly that reason.
“The pack is gone,” she answered, her voice faint.
Saying goodbye to the Cullens was more difficult than Bella had imagined it would be, considering how long it had been since she’d really been close to any of them. Jasper hugged her tightly, which was a surprise, before releasing her to Alice, who picked her up and twirled her around, in spite of Bella’s superior height. Not to be outdone, Bella spun Alice as soon as her own feet were back on the ground. Everyone laughed except Jane.
They all knew it had been a fluke that they’d come home to visit. The whole rest of their 100 years might pass before they saw one another again. Jane endured it with such poor grace, however, that they were soon on their way back to Port Angeles to catch another plane.
The trip back to Italy was nothing like the other plane rides they’d made recently. On the way to Peru, Bella and Edward had sat side by side, holding hands with an air of expectation, but silent – not willing to talk about anything important to them in front of Jane.
On the way to Forks, they’d sat side by side NOT holding hands, both feeling dejected for their own reasons. Bella had attempted to talk to Russ, but hadn’t been able to maintain any interest in his story, beyond just how he’d gone to Peru with a group from his college, and run into a coven of vampires that triggered the werewolf gene, trapping him there. They’d still been loathe to try to discuss anything of importance in Jane’s presence. Jane had found both of those flights fairly restful, although she’d guarded her thoughts carefully throughout. She did not find the trip back to Italy restful in the least.
From the moment they got on the plane, Bella and Edward were whispering to one another. The humans couldn’t hear it, of course, but Jane could. And she was sitting right in front of them, so there was no way to escape it, either.
“Rosalie was very pleasant,” Bella observed, as Edward stowed his bag above them and came to sit beside her.
“She’s been feeling guilty for years – especially since Charlie was born. She blamed herself for telling you her story and changing your mind.” Edward wasn’t sure he wanted to discuss this, considering the giant leaps forward they’d made in Forks. However, he didn’t want to make anything off-limits at such a crucial juncture, either.
“Didn’t you tell them what happened?” Bella asked lightly.
“No. It was enough for them to know that you stayed at Dartmouth and I came home. I never really got to the point where I wanted to talk about it.” He rolled his eyes as he buckled his seatbelt – a completely unnecessary precaution, and Bella grinned at him, understanding. Hers, of course, was already buckled. She recalled her humanity, and what it had required of her, far more clearly. She wondered if that would always be the case, or if it was only because she was still so young to the life.
“I wish – that I could wish things had worked out differently,” she replied, her smile falling away.
“Don’t. In a way, I’m glad you got the opportunity to live. It was what I’d wanted for you from the beginning.” He kept his voice quiet so the humans around them wouldn’t overhear, but his tone was light. Then he felt his face pull up into the lopsided smile that still seemed to make Bella forget to breathe sometimes. “And we’re together now. That’s what matters.”
“I’m going to be ill,” Jane whispered darkly, too quietly for any but them to hear. Bella rolled her eyes, and Edward suppressed a chuckle, but they fell silent. Edward took her hand and rubbed circles against her cool skin, and Bella smiled out the window for a few minutes, content. Jane’s precious quiet didn’t last, however.
Bella recalled her promise to herself at the beginning of this trip, and frowned. “What is it?” Edward asked immediately, and Bella grinned again at once and turned her eyes back to him. She’d forgotten what it was like to have him studying her facial expressions constantly. He’d done it ever since they’d arrived together in Volterra, but all this time he hadn’t felt free to ask about what he noticed.
“I’ve been wearing the same clothes for four days,” she said sheepishly, knowing he’d probably noticed. “I’ve got two other outfits back in Italy, and that’s it.” Then her voice became even darker, as she revealed yet another personal folly. “I was too proud to ask you for help, but I really don’t have any money, anymore.”
“We’ll go shopping as soon as we get back,” he promised at once, grinning. Here was something he had wanted to be able to do for so long – to provide for her. To give her things that would add to her happiness, or make her life easier. He wondered how long it would be before she’d let him buy her a car, but stifled the same question with regards to jewelry when it popped into his head unbidden, a moment later. Fortunately his expression never faltered. He was well aware that she watched him just as closely as he watched her.
“Thank you,” she replied warmly. From the next row up, they heard a familiar huff of annoyance, and this time both of them chuckled.
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