He saw her truck veer wildly into the parking lot from the window. It was the same one he'd rebuilt for her when she'd first moved to Forks a decade before – faded now to a kind of pink-orange where it had once been red, and with an engine which spluttered uncomfortably when pushed too hard, but still basically the same.
To be honest, Jake had no idea how it was still running. Even he didn't think his skills as a mechanic were that good.
With a sigh, the man went back to lining up the brightly coloured jelly babies on his desk. It was a slow morning in the police station, but Jake had a feeling it was about to get one hell of a lot more interesting.
Sure enough, the sound of raised voices from downstairs told him that Bella was not happy. He almost laughed, imagining Seth faced with the spitting hellcat that was the former police chief's daughter in a rage, but the smile dropped as Jake realised that he was going to have to face her sooner or later.
Actually, forget that – the angry thud of footsteps on the stairs meant that sooner or later had come now. Resigned to his fate, Jake swung his booted feet down from the corner of his desk just as the door crashed open on its hinges to reveal a very irate, wild-haired Bella Swan.
“Good of you to knock, Bells,” Jake drawled lazily. She glowered at him for a moment, frozen in the doorway, before marching straight up to him.
“What the hell, Jake?” she demanded.
He took the moment to study her, because he knew that the slow flick of his eyes up and down would only irritate her further. She had obviously thrown on her clothes in a hurry, because her tee was back-to-front and crumpled as if she'd grabbed it from the floor in her haste. The long waves of brown hair had suffered either by a neglect to brush them or the constant tugging of restless fingers; knowing Bella as he did, Jake was guessing both. When his eyes finally drifted back to her face, Bella's cheeks were flushed with fury, but Jake cut her off before she could speak.
“I had a feeling you might drop by today.”
He actually watched the little strand of what control she had remaining snap, wasn't at all surprised when she closed the small distance between them to jab her finger hard into the centre of his chest. “You arrogant – insufferable – asshole.” Each word was emphasised by an angry prod, and even as Jake winced he wondered how Bella hadn't broken her finger on the first one.
With this in mind, he gently captured her wrist, held it firmly as she struggled and swore at him. “Careful there, Bells. You don't want to break your finger.”
“Why should you even care?” she spat. “What have you done to him, Jake? Where is he?”
Jake heaved a sigh. “Look, Bells,” he told her tiredly. “It's nothing to do with me. He got himself arrested, and it's up to the Chief to decide when he's allowed out. My hands are tied.” He held them up as if in supplication, but Bella knew him well enough to recognise the spark of glee in his eyes.
“Oh, you're loving this, aren't you?” she hissed caustically. “I bet you've been waiting for this day ever since you took this god-forsaken job. You're probably going to mark it in your calendar and celebrate every year, the day you finally cooked up some offence to arrest –”
“Bella, please.” Jake managed to look wounded. “Do you really think that of me? I'm just doing my job.” I freaking love my job! he crowed silently.
Bella looked a little ashamed of herself, stepping back with arms crossed over her chest as some of her fury fell away. “I'm sorry, Jake. I didn't mean it.”
“Yeah, right. You're a really bad liar, Bells.”
She laughed at that, brown eyes lighting up. “True. But god, Jake, I was just so mad.”
“I think I got that impression, yeah.” He made a point of glancing towards the door, where there was a large scrape in the plaster of the wall. Bella winced.
“I'm sorry,” she apologised again. “I'll pay for it.”
“No need. It's been there for ages.” His grin only widened as she thumped his arm with her fist.
“That's why you love me.”
“No, I love you despite that.”
“Aw, I think you just hurt my feelings.” Jake pressed one hand over his heart, laughed up at her she shifted a few papers aside to rest a hip on the edge of the desk.
“Serves you damn well right.” Her eyes fell on the line of jelly babies, one eyebrow rising as her gaze lifted slowly to his. “Productive morning, I see.”
“As always.” Casually, he reached out to pop a red one into his mouth, watched her face for the pout.
“Hey! You're supposed to save the red ones for me.”
“Who says?” Jake blocked her hand as she reached towards the line, a smirk pulling at his lips. “And I thought you liked the black ones best.”
“I'm allowed two favourites, aren't I? Especially if you get the rest.”
He batted her fingers away yet again, one arm curved protectively around the sweets. “Tell you what, you can have the black and red if you eat the green ones.”
She pulled a face, as he knew she would. “No way. Let's feed them to Seth instead.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Jake scoffed. “There's no way I'm letting him know that I have a stash of candy in my desk.”
A wicked gleam entered Bella's eyes, making Jake abruptly nervous. “Well then, isn't that interesting to know...”
“Blackmail's against the law, Bells.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sure, they'd clap me in jail for a bag of jelly babies.”
“Blackmail's blackmail.” Jake shrugged, a reluctant grin forcing its way through the glower he tried so hard to maintain. “Fine, have the damn sweets. See if I care.”
Bella wasted no time in gathering them to her, pausing only to pat his cheek with affectionately teasing patronisation. “Poor baby. Here, you can have the pink ones; they creep me out.”
“So generous.” But Jake took what she offered anyway, holding one up to the light in order to study it. “Aw, these ones look like little babies. Look, it's got a bonnet and everything.”
“Exactly! They – god, how can you do that?” She watched, aghast, as Jake bit its head off. He shrugged, not even bothering to dodge as she hit him again. “Jeez, Jake.”
Deliberately, he tossed the other half in his mouth, reached out to grab an orange sweet from her pile. She let him, absent-mindedly thumbing through the files on his desk.
“Do you ever clear this desk? I swear, these folders are months old.”
He waited, knowing that she didn't really want to ask him about paperwork. Finally, Bella sighed. “What's he in for, Jake?”
The man stretched his arms up above his head, tilted his neck from side to side uncomfortably. “Bells, I don't know if I can –”
“Don't play games with me, Jake.” Her voice was suddenly harsh. “We've been friends long enough that you don't have to feed me some bullshit about my boyfriend.”
“Jacob.” Her gaze was hard as granite. “How will keeping this from me help in any way at all?”
Jake hesitated for a moment longer before lifting his eyes from the desk he'd been studying to meet hers. “Illegal substances possession.”
Bella's lips pursed into a tight line, but other than that her expression barely changed and Jake's suspicions were immediately aroused. His eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Shit, Bells, did you know about this? Has it happened before?”
“May I see him, please?” The tone of her voice was deceptively calm; worryingly so.
“Bella.” Jake rose in one smooth movement from his chair, towering over the woman as she turned away from him. He spun her back with one hand on her arm so that he could see her face, see the fury bubbling perilously close to he surface. It matched his. “Oh, no you don't, Bella. Don't you dare avoid this. What do you know about James?”
“Take your goddamn hands the hell off me, Jacob.” Icily furious, Bella snatched her arm away and met his enraged glare with eyes that flashed with livid rage. “I am not having this conversation with you.”
“The hell you're not.” Jake's fingers closed firmly around Bella's wrist, swung her closer despite her angry protests so that she couldn't avoid his eyes. “I'm the freakin' deputy, and you're not blowing me off like that. What the hell have you been doing with a druggie, Bella?”
“He's clean!” she spat before her mind could catch up with her tongue to censor it. “I mean...”
“So you admit that you knew, then?” His eyes bore into hers. “I thought you were smarter than that, Bells.”
“You don't know me all that well,” she snapped.
“Apparently not.” He saw her recoil as if she'd been slapped, hated himself for it even as he refused to back down. “How well does Charlie know you?”
Bella's words came out in a stricken whisper, brown eyes massive and vulnerable. “You're not telling Charlie about this.”
Jake cocked one eyebrow and stared down at her wordlessly.
“Please,” she begged. “You can't.”
No sign of the self-loathing Jake felt showed on his face as he finally replied, “I can. You know I can.”
“If I tell you about James, will you promise not to say anything to Charlie?”
The strain of holding her desperate, trusting gaze was too much, so that Jake was forced to close his eyes. “Bells, I can't promise you anything.”
“But you'll try. I know you will.” With a sudden weariness which was all too apparent in her face, Bella slumped down into the chair on the other side of Jake's desk. “He was using for a while in college. I knew it, everyone did, but... god, Jake. When James wants something, he goes after it. Doesn't stop until he has it, and he wanted me. It's... difficult to resist.”
A vicious stab of an all-too-familiar emotion struck Jake full on in the stomach, but he kept it from his face with too-practised ease.
“I knew what I was getting into,” Bella continued. “Well... I didn't. Not exactly. But I knew he had a problem, knew that it would be hard.”
Jake pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Why didn't you say anything, Bells?” he asked with forced gentleness. “If you've been living with this since college... why did you never tell me?”
“You don't understand. I haven't been living with it.”
“I told you, Jake. He's clean... or at least I thought he was.” A frown creased her brow, the sudden line an unhappiness which Jake hated seeing. “When we started dating, he went to therapy. It was horrible, seeing him like that, but in the end...” Bella shrugged helplessly. “I would have sworn he hasn't used for years. There've been no signs of... oh, god.”
The woman buried her face in her hands and without even a thought or any conscious direction Jake was around the desk, his arms cradling her. “Bells, it's okay. I just wish you'd told me, wish I could've been there for you.” Wish I could've beaten the bastard's face into a bloody pulp.
When Bella lifted her head once more, her gaze was steady with a steely calm, utterly composed. “I'd like to see him please, Jake.”
“I don't know, Bells...” All six-foot-seven of him wavered under her glower. “No, I'm serious. Sam said –”
“You don't have to do what Sam says all the time.” Her eyes flashed with defiance and a hint of the cheekiness he'd always loved in her.
“Bella, he is the police chief,” Jake reminded her mildly. She humphed.
“Fine. I'll come back later, then. When will the Chief be in?”
Jake winced at her emphasis. “Harsh, Bells. And I don't know; definitely this afternoon.”
“I'll be back then.” Bella stood on tip-toes to press a kiss to Jake's cheek. “Thank you. And I'm sorry for being so...” Her voice trailed off at the wicked gleam in his eyes, her own narrowing. “Don't you dare even say whatever you're thinking.”
“Wouldn't dream of it, Bells. I'll see you later.”
“Sure thing.” Bella flashed a slightly weak smile back over her shoulder as she left, the door closing behind her far more quietly than her entrance. Jake's sigh of frustration echoed around the empty room as he rubbed his hands wearily over his eyes.
“What have you got yourself into, Bells?” He could still feel the burn of her lips on his cheek, still see her propped against his desk with a handful of sweets. Jake's eyes fell on the fallen ranks of jelly babies on top of a case file, couldn't help but grin.
All the red and black ones were gone.
“Hey, Jake.” Bella smiled tiredly as she peered around the door, quietly swinging it open and slipping inside. The subdued tone of her voice and the deep purple circles under her eyes worried Jake, but he knew better than to say anything about it. Instead, he rose to go directly over to the cupboard and pull out two mugs.
“Hey. Coffee, Bells?”
“Thanks.” Jake felt, rather than saw, the woman drift across the room to stand behind him as he busied himself with milk and sugar. “Thank you, Jake.”
He had a feeling that she was thanking him for more than the coffee. “No problem. How are you doing?”
Her voice falsely bright, Bella wrapped her fingers around the mug Jake kept for her. “Oh, I'm great! I've been really busy, actually...”
Jake nodded in understanding. “Yeah, I know. That's why you missed the last bonfire, right? Shame, Charlie was there and everything.” He took a sip from his 'Save the Olympic Wolf!' mug, never moving his eyes from Bella's face.
A tell-tale blush coloured her cheeks, and the woman ducked her head to hide her eyes. “Yeah... I wish we could've come. We had... stuff, though.”
“Oh, I totally understand. Life's busy, right?” Jake sat down, propped his feet up on the desk with studied carelessness. “Did James come with you today? I saw his car in the lot.” He didn't mention that he'd also seen James storm out of the car, wheeling around to snap something at Bella whose face had fallen before she could stop it.
“He's downstairs, talking to Sam.” A flash of some unidentifiable emotion flickered across Bella's features.
“Sam doesn't bite,” Jake assured her. He wished, a little maliciously perhaps, that James would do something to spike the Chief's temper and merit being arrested again, but none of his feelings showed on his face. “It's just routine, James isn't in any trouble.” For now, he added silently. Unfortunately.
“I know.” Bella lifted the mug to her lips, blew on the hot liquid. There was a long silence.
“How's Quil?” she asked at last in a poorly-concealed attempt to change the subject, and one side of Jake's mouth twisted upwards in half amusement, half bitterness. Since James had been arrested, a distance had grown between the two friends which he hated.
“Quil's fine. He's still being stalked by the seventeen-year-old, which is a little strange. Claire's very stubborn.”
For the first time since she'd come in, Bella gave a genuine smile. “Teenage girls get crushes. She'll grow out of it; being in love with someone who doesn't love you back isn't terribly fulfilling.”
Oh, really? I never knew, Jake thought caustically. “You'd know that, right Bells? I remember that crush you had in high school on Cullen...”
Bella hit him for that. “You promised you'd stop bringing that up!” she hissed indignantly.
“Why would I do something like that?” he teased in return. “Okay, okay, I promise. I'm sorry.”
“No, you're not,” Bella grumbled. “Why should I trust you now, anyway?”
Jake's eyes grew serious as he set his mug down carefully on the desk, ignoring the amber ring soaking into the file immediately underneath from where the coffee had dripped. “You do know you can tell me anything, don't you?”
“Of course.” The words were filled with disingenuous cheerfulness, and Bella avoided his gaze. “God, don't you use a coaster? You'll stain the official documents.”
“It's a report on a missing lawn ornament.” Jake's stare didn't leave the woman's face, so that when she finally looked up their eyes locked and held. Unable to look away, Bella blushed, but there was a hurt wariness in her expression which was starkly at odds with the innocence of her flushed cheeks. “Bells...”
“What, Jake?” With a sudden flare of anger the man hadn't expected, she slammed her mug down hard enough that the coffee slopped over the sides to pool on a pile of leaflets detailing the dangers of drinking and driving. “What do you want to lecture me on this time? I'm a grown woman, I can make my own damn choices! It's none of your business the mistakes I make!”
“Oh, so you'll admit now that hooking up with James was a mistake.”
“I didn't say that.” Her hands balled into fists at her sides, Bella stalked across the room to glower threateningly from the window. “Don't take my words and twist them to what you want to hear!”
“I'm only saying what you aren't!” Jake retorted furiously. “God, you have to know that being with him is the most monumental fuck-up of your life. You should –”
“Don't tell me what I should or shouldn't do, Jake!” Bella's voice rose. “You've got no freaking right to do that!”
“I'm your best friend!” he roared back. “That gives me every right there is to tell you when you're being a blind, stubborn idiot! I'm not twisting your words to what I want them to be; I'm saying what you need to hear, what you already know but are too much of a chicken-shit to admit, even to yourself.”
“Oh, don't you start calling me a coward.” Bella's laugh was harsh, utterly humourless. “You, Jacob Black, have absolutely no moral high ground there. Get off your damn soapbox, Jake, because you've been too scared to say what you really want to for years.”
“About what, exactly?” All of the heat had been leached from Jake's voice so that the words he spoke now were icily cold. Bella, however, didn't appear to notice.
“The real reason you're trying so freaking hard to make me leave James is because you're jealous of him. Are you going to admit it, Jake? Go on, say it. I dare you. You love me.”
The room went cold. The only sound which could be heard through the deadly silence was the drip... drip where the puddle of Bella's coffee had run to the edge of the desk. Even the muffled sound of voices from downstairs seemed to quieten to hushed whispers, as if the whole world waited breathlessly for the fallout from those three little words Bella had fired at Jake.
“Get the fuck out.”
Cold, emotionless, the words dropped like lead; like the first pieces of debris from the mushroom cloud obscuring the sun.
“I said, get the fuck out.”
Now the heat returned to Jake's voice, now the sounds of the world which had so briefly stilled began to move again around them. Bella stood, terrified and trembling in the centre of the room, as Jake pushed himself from his chair with a dangerous grace and stalked over to tower above her. His eyes were matte black; hers, as vulnerable and frightened as those of a cornered doe. She stared up at him in silence, a mute plea in her face, before turning to flee.
Jake didn't move until long after her scared footsteps had died away, didn't move until he'd heard the roar of an engine speeding from the lot. He strode over to the door, paused with one hand on it for a frozen moment; then closed it quietly, walked slowly back to his desk and began to wipe up the spilt coffee.
Jake was downstairs, elbows leaning on Sam's desk as they both studied a series of sketches sent up from Seattle of some guy who was supposed to have robbed a jewelry store, when they heard the familiar roar of Bella's truck pulling into the parking lot outside the station. Both men froze; their eyes met for a long moment, before Jake straightened.
“I'm not here,” he said.
“Come on, Jake. You can't –”
“I'm not here,” Jake repeated firmly, and turned on his heel to go upstairs.
He heard Bella's voice downstairs, but Sam must have said he wasn't there because she didn't come up, and a few minutes later her truck pulled away once more.
It was late.
The windows acted only as dark mirrors, reflecting back shadowy impressions of the empty station; ruthlessly bare cells, cluttered store rooms, and then Sam's office with its haphazard piles of folders and laughing photographs of a scar-faced woman and two dark-haired little children. A mug of cold coffee – the lettering on the side reading World's Greatest Dad! – sat half-drunk beside a thick textbook on criminal psychology, resting open on a case study of the Sacramento Vampire.
Jake liked having the station to himself; the lack of distractions meant that he could get work done uninterrupted, with the radio in the background playing tinny music through its crappy speakers. He hummed tunelessly under his breath as he worked, ignoring the rain which pelted furiously against the glass panes in a vain attempt to get in. His desk was almost clear for the first time since he could remember; in the two weeks since he'd last spoken to Bella, Jake had occupied himself with the merciless clearance of the mess – folders and papers tidied away into the grim cabinets lining the walls, old pamphlets dumped pitilessly into the trash.
Seth had muttered something under his breath about 'avoidance', but it wasn't. Not really. It was something, Jake reasoned with himself, which had to be done.
The folders which were left on his desk were organised into neat stacks, and Jake pushed back in his chair to survey the finished cleaning project. The lack of clutter made it oddly bare, void of any individuality – or perhaps that was simply the lack of the photos which had so recently been pinned proudly to the pinboard propped against the wall. It was empty now. The smiling pictures of Jake and Bella from the holidays they'd spent together while their fathers fished had been thrust unceremoniously into the back of a thick textbook he was supposed to be studying and filed away onto the bookshelf.
Restlessly, Jake pushed himself upright and strode over to the dark window, glaring without really seeing into the night. There should have been some sense of accomplishment at finishing, shouldn't there? But all he felt was a seething irritation at having nothing left to do.
The man spun around, hand flying automatically to the holster on his hip where he customarily kept his standard-issue firearm; it wasn't there, and perhaps that was just as well. “Jesus bloody wept, Bella! What the hell are you doing here?”
“I...” Her lower lip trembled, and now he noticed the state that she was in. Rain had soaked through her clothes, plastering them to her and darkening her hair so that it hung in lank, dripping strands across her shoulders. Her makeup was smudged, eyes red and wide.
“Shit, Bells, what happened to you?” For a moment he forgot that he was angry with her, forgot that he'd been avoiding her for the past two weeks. She was, abruptly, just Bella again – the girl he'd grown up with, the girl who had been his best friend for years. Jake crossed the room in two hurried steps to cradle her against his chest, mindless of how the water from her clothes dampened his own.
“It's... it's James,” she sobbed, and the man drew back immediately as if he'd been burned. Bella looked up at him with bewildered, tear-filled eyes at his withdrawal, but Jake merely stepped behind his desk in order to place more distance between them. Some part of him ached to hold her, comfort her, but there was another part of himself that he hated which wanted to make her suffer.
“Are you here to file a complaint against him?” he asked coolly.
Bella stared at him, speechless, but Jake only bent down to dig through his drawers for a recorder. It wasn't tossed carelessly in the top one among a pile of other junk as it had been previously; instead, he found it neatly stored on the bottom shelf beside an unopened pack of jelly babies. It was that reminder of their friendship, perhaps, which embittered him even further so that Jake set the recorder down between them on the desk, flicked it on. “All right, Bella. Tell me about James.”
“You're being recorded.” His eyes bore into hers, so he saw the moment when her hopelessness turned to anger.
“How can you be so callous?” she hissed. “We've been friends for ten years, Jake –”
“And you've been in a relationship with James Laurent for... seven years, is that correct? And you've been aware of his previous drug use for that time.”
“Screw you, Jacob.” Bella turned on her heel to leave, but the man's voice cut her dead.
“This is a recorded interview, Miss Swan. You can't walk out like that.”
“Oh, so I'm suddenly Miss Swan, am I? Cut the crap, Jake. I didn't come here for you to play games with me like this. I came because you're my friend – or at least, I thought you were.”
Her words were like a stab to the chest, but Jake's icy anger was cool enough to numb the pain. He motioned with one hand towards the recorder on the desk, saw the flash of pure, murderous fury in Bella's gaze as she stormed back.
“You really want to know why I'm here? I came here to tell you that I've been an idiot, that I'm sorry. God knows I've tried to catch you enough times these past few weeks, but you've always managed to slip away. Have you any idea how infuriating you are? So I decided to prove you wrong. I wanted to show you that you're not always bloody right.”
She drew in a deep, angry breath. “Well, it turns out you were. Again. I don't know how anyone can stand you.”
Jake cocked one eyebrow, but didn't say anything.
“I followed James to Seattle. He told me he was going there on business, that there was a meeting. And you... you. You've made me doubt everything he says, made me question everything. But I was sure... and I wanted to prove you wrong. So I followed him.”
This wasn't going as Jake had expected, so he made a move to stop her. “Bells, I –”
“Shut the hell up, Jake. It's my turn now.” Her glower had him sinking back down into his seat like a naughty schoolboy as she continued, “I stalked my own boyfriend to Seattle. All across the city, all afternoon. My feet are killing me. I didn't know what I was doing, but I was pissed off at you, and at me, and at James as well. And then he went into a club... and god.”
“What?” Jake leant forward anxiously. “What, Bells?”
She was silent for one long, agonising moment, in which all Jake wanted to do was demand that she tell him, beg her to tell him what happened. He knew better, however, and instead waited impatiently with one foot jiggling up and down under the desk in frustration.
“He's not a user, Jake. He's a fucking dealer.”
“That bastard!” Jake shot out of his chair as if a firecracker had been set off underneath it, white-hot fury bubbling through his veins. He wanted to kill somebody – James, to be more precise – and it was all he could do not to go charging straight out of the station now to go in search of him. It was then, however, that he realised that Bella was crying – hard, angry tears which stained her already ravaged face with trails down each cheek. “Oh, god. Don't cry, Bells. Please don't cry.” He knelt at her side, took both of her small hands in one of his and attempted to wipe away the tears with the other.
“I tried to talk to him,” the woman carried on. “But he ignored me – pretended he didn't know me. And there was a woman draped over him, a gorgeous red-haired woman with a sneer and pupils massive and black and... I came here. I had to find you. I needed you,” she finished quietly.
“I'm going to fucking kill him,” Jake growled. “He doesn't deserve you – he never deserved you. That bastard. I'm here, Bells. I'll always be here for you.”
“But you weren't!” she cried. “You haven't been – not for the past two weeks. And I'm sorry – I didn't mean it – I shouldn't have said it, shouldn't have tried to force you to say anything...”
“Why did you?” Jake asked quietly. The words hung suspended in the air between them for a long time before Bella finally replied, tears coming harder and faster than before.
“I needed you to say it!” she wept. “Needed to know... God, Jake. I haven't loved James for a long time. He doesn't love me any more, if he ever did. And I needed to hear you say it, because even the illusion was better than having nothing. If you didn't – if you don't love me – how could I leave him? I know, I'm a coward. But without him, without you, what am I? You've both been there for so long, I don't know what I am without you.”
“Bella. Bella.” Appalled, horrified, Jake leaned fowards, wanting more than anything to enfold the woman in his arms and just hold her, but she pushed him away.
“Don't, Jacob. I don't want your pity.”
“It's not pity!” he retorted hotly.
“Really? Isn't it? Because if not, I don't know what the hell it is. I don't know what you'd see in me other than a sad, pathetic coward who's so terrified of being alone that she won't even break up with a guy she doesn't even love for somebody that she does. I'm not even good enough for a drug dealer.”
“Yes you are!” Jake replied instantly, without thinking. Seeing Bella's shock, however, he lowered his face despairingly into his hands. “Well, shit. That came out all sorts of fucked up.”
“Yeah, it did.” She sniffled. “But it's true, I'm not. Why should I be? Look at me.”
“You're beautiful,” Jake replied instantly. Bella regarded him with scepticism.
“My eyes are red, my nose is running, and I've probably got makeup smeared all over my face,” she told him tiredly.
“Well, sort of beautiful,” Jake amended. That elicited a wan chuckle. “But Bells... Jesus, Bella. Why would you need me to say I... I love you?”
“Because.” Her eyes avoided his seeking gaze, her face turned away from his. “Because... because I wanted you to. I wanted you to love me. So that I know I'm not... I'm not...”
“So that I know I'm not the only one!” she blurted, and then clapped both hands over her mouth as if by doing so she could stop her lips from having formed the words. It was too late, though; Jake sat back on his heels, stunned. His mind was reeling.
“You... you love me?”
“What does it matter?” the woman replied hopelessly.
“Bella. It matters.” Jake's gaze fell to the floor. “I don't want to be the rebound guy, Bella.”
“You're not. You've never been. God, I feel like an idiot. I shouldn't have said –”
“Yes. Yes, you should.” Suddenly harsh, Jake looked up to hold Bella's eyes with his own steely stare. “God, Bells... you've got no idea how long...” He swallowed. “I love you. Shit.”
“Jacob.” Bella leaned forward to rest her forehead against his, her hands framing his cheeks. “Jake.”
There was wetness on his face, from Bella's tears and the rain dripping from her hair and maybe – just maybe – some of the tears were his own. “I love you,” he told her again. It was easier to say the second time.
It was the woman who moved to brush her lips tentatively across his first; soft and slow, Jake was nonetheless caught unawares and it took a moment for him to respond, but then his body kicked into gear and he was kissing her back, really kissing her as he'd wanted to do since that first bonfire on the beach at La Push. “Bella,” he murmured against her lips, and he felt her smile as if it were his own.
When Jake found the little voice recorder still sitting on his desk the next morning, its battery dead, he smiled and tucked it safely away back in its corner beside the jelly babies. One day, perhaps, he'd show it to Bella; but for now he'd keep it close as a reminder, because Bella loved him.