“I’m dead on the side of the road.”
At first I didn't even recognize the voice – shrill in comparison to my deep, gravelly ‘hello’ – that assaulted my right ear as I wedged the telephone handset uncomfortably between my shoulder and cheek, allowing it to hold my heavy head somewhat upright.
I was still only half awake… well, maybe more like a third. My eyes hadn’t even really opened yet; I’d stumbled my way into the kitchen purely on instinct.
The agitated voice confused me as much as it annoyed me. Calling someone up first thing in the morning just to casually pass on the news that you’ve died? Who does that?
Based on the voice’s pitch, I reasoned that it either belonged to some morbid little kid, a pissed-off girl, or one of those annoying little round-eyed cartoon animals that hung out in the Enchanted Forest with the Seven Dwarves. The last one only really made sense if I was still dreaming, which, all things considered, was probably the case.
I stumbled backwards for a second, completely disoriented, before slamming my shoulder – the same one that supported the phone – up against the wall to steady myself. The impact caused the whole kitchen to shake; glasses clinked in the cupboards, and my Garage Girls 2009 calendar (Quil’s idea of the perfect birthday gift) popped off the cork-board and dropped straight to the floor.
I didn’t even consider stooping to pick it up… that would’ve required me actually giving a shit, and at this moment I couldn’t even have given the time of day.
Instead, I twisted the back of my left hand into each eye socket, unglued my tongue from the roof of my mouth, and almost dislocated my jaw with a massive, ear-popping yawn.
When my eyes reopened I could only see floating spots, stars, and various dancing blobs blocking out the refrigerator and making me feel dizzy, like my head had just been put through a tumble-dryer. I panicked for a second; what the hell!? Had someone force-fed me hallucinogens? This fear was almost confirmed by the fact that I’d jumped straight to the conclusion of talking chipmunks and shit a few seconds ago.
After pinching my arm a few times to convince myself that I was in fact awake, and therefore not dreaming, or on drugs, I relaxed and allowed my hand to come to rest over my hipbone, thumb hooked under the waistband of my shorts, fingers scratching absentmindedly at the bright red wrinkled-fabric lines that had been pressed into the bare flesh of my lower back.
I tried desperately to find my words; I realized that I had to say something fast, or else the frantic dying person was probably going to hang up on me.
“You’re a… the………… wha?”
My embarrassingly drunk-sounding words tumbled out before I could stop them, sounding about as pleasant as a chunk of scrap metal being dragged over rocks. It had only been about thirty seconds since I’d hauled my ass out of bed, and now this mysterious person… thing… whatever it was on the other end of the phone was expecting me to churn out coherent sentences?
Yeah, not likely to happen.
It spoke again, this time less shrill and more… aggravated:
“I’m on the side of the highway… on the One-Ten. My truck is dead… broken down. As in no longer proceeding from Point A to Point B...”
Hang on a sec… I knew that chipmunk!
“Mmmbella?” I croaked drowsily.
“Theeerrrrrre it is. Wakey wakey, Jake. It’s freaking one o’clock in the afternoon. What the hell are you still doing in bed?”
Wait… one o’clock in the---?
So much for first thing in the morning.
I blinked a few more times until the kitchen finally came into focus, kicking my brain into full gear and throwing in an extra yawn for good measure.
My free hand floated up from my waist to my neck, squeezing out the knots that had formed because I'd been too exhausted to care about the warped state of my spine when I’d passed out three hours ago on top of – and surrounded by – two loads of clean, unfolded laundry that my oh-so-thoughtful father had dumped on my mattress in hopes of me finally putting it away. Three days later and it was still there, only flatter.
Curling the fingers of my right hand around the cordless receiver, I allowed my sore neck to slowly angle backwards, forwards, side to side, tilting the mouthpiece away from my face as I hastily cleared my throat in an effort to make myself sound less blatantly lazy.
“This is when I sleep because this is when I can sleep. I don’t operate on standard business hours, you knew this when you signed up for me,” I cracked, still sounding like I just got out of bed despite my best efforts to come across casual.
Even over the phone I could hear her scoff in response.
“Nuh-uh! You used to sleep like a normal human being.”
“Yeah, but that was back when I was a normal human being. Clearly you failed to read the werewolf clause when you renewed your subscription.” I said, making a confused face at my own bizarre attempt at logic.
“What the hell are you even talking about? I didn’t sign up or subscribe for anything-”
“Says the girl in need of roadside assistance…” I interrupted, smiling like an idiot. Sixty seconds ago I’d been dead-set on dismembering whoever or whatever was rousing me from the much-needed sleep that I had to fight to find time for these days, and now I was smiling like an idiot.
I almost dissolved onto the linoleum. Why did she always feel the need to use that tone of voice… the one that made my knees disappear?
Her mind games were strong… but I could fight dirty as well.
I yawned once again, but this time it was loud and obnoxiously drawn-out.
“What do I look like, Triple A?” I questioned, grinning even wider.
This whole act - the one that the two of us seemed to love so much where we bickered back and forth as if we actually wanted to disagree with each other - was fucking pointless as hell.
We both knew I was going to help her. I mean, shit, the half-eaten jar of peanut butter on the counter in front of me knew I was going to help her-
…Mmm… peanut butter. Do we have any bread…?
I absently began flicking open the cupboards one by one, even though I knew we didn’t have any bread, because it’d been my turn to pick up groceries this week and instead of shopping like a good boy, I’d been out patrolling around Bella’s place all day yesterday and well into this morning. Billy had nearly shit a brick when I’d stumbled home tired and empty handed, launching into a lecture about… priorities, and responsibilities, and family comes first, and blah, blah, blah. He’d probably left the peanut butter sitting out intentionally to chastise me for being such a slacker.
I idly unscrewed the lid and made to reach two fingers inside, bachelor style.
Hell, if I was going to annoy my father, I may as well come out with all guns blazing.
A hysterical shriek jolted me out of my food-inspired trance. I dropped the peanut butter back onto the counter - still intact - and instantly shifted onto the balls of my feet, launching myself into full-on protective wolf-Jake mode.
“Bella!? Are you okay?” I gasped as my heart tried to go all prison-break on my chest cavity.
“Damn it! Raccoon scared the… crap out of me…” she had officially gone supersonic, “God, what the hell is up with this state and wildlife!?”
She was still panting heavily, and the tone of her voice was so frenzied that it took a few seconds for me to convince myself that it was okay to unclench.
I exhaled, releasing the tension that had built up in the base of my neck, and snorted laughter, rolling back onto my heels and grinning my face off at her downright disgusting adorableness.
I slumped into one of the chairs around the kitchen table and began to lazily flip through the newspaper that Billy had left out this morning. “I know what you mean. Stupid forests. It’s like they’re just full of that nature crap. It sickens me.”
“Ha ha, Mister Funny. Are you going to come here and help me or should I ask the damn raccoon if he has a set of jumper cables?” It was clear that she wasn’t in the mood for my teasing, so I decided not to push the subject. There were sure to be plenty of chances for me to bring up her abnormally girly, hilarious freak-out in the future… I filed this one away in my mental vault.
“I don’t knnooooww…” I crooned with convincing lack of interest, trailing my finger down the TV listings, “…Oooh! Legislative Week in Review on the Government Access Channel! You’re seriously going to make me miss that, Bells?” A lopsided, open grin broadened out towards my ear.
“I’m sure you’ll live,” she sneered, her shot at legitimate anger somewhat weak, “Didn’t Billy buy you guys that stupid digital box last month? If you record it I’m positive you’ll enjoy it just as much when you watch it later on this evening.”
I stood up and cracked open the fridge, cramming the receiver back under my chin and resting one arm up on top of the dusty appliance, the other on the open door, ducking my head inside.
“You didn’t seem to think the box was so stupid when you wanted me to record Dancing With the Idiots for you last week-”
I could almost picture her rolling her eyes, “You know that’s not what it’s called-"
"Oh come ON! You can't seriously tell me that chick with the lightsabers was mentally sound."
"That was just the auditions! Besides, that wasn't even dancing, you can't judge the whole show based on someone as demented as her," she argued, even though I'm pretty sure she could tell that the poor horse she was so determined to beat down was already more than six feet under.
"Oh, and you know what dancing is?" I said, struggling hard to suppress my laughter.
"Shut up Jake, I… used to be into ballet. I find it entertaining okay? Don’t try to pretend you didn’t like watching it with me.”
The 'it' part? Not so much.
The 'with me' part? Holy Mother of God, yes.
Had it been that obvious?
I reached down and, with the back of my hand, shifted a carton of long-expired milk to the side revealing… nothing, although I swear I saw a miniature tumbleweed bounce over the crisper to the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
“Yeah, you know what, Bells? It was so good I’m going to go watch it again right now. You can chill there for the next couple hours or so, right? And hey, sounds like you’ve got some furry snacks to tide you over. I’m sure Count Dorkula and his family have taught you all there is to know about hounding wild game.”
She was silent. I popped my head up, wondering if I’d actually succeeded in pissing her off.
After a painfully long silence she spoke again, her voice holding none of the edge that it had seconds ago.
“Come on, pleeeease Jake?” Yep… sarcasm gone. She’d decided instead to render me knee-less again: “I called you because… I need you.”
Let’s just say I was glad that the fridge was supporting me as she uttered that last comment; in fact, I’m pretty sure I actually swooned… and not many guys of my stature would voluntarily admit to something like that.
The receiver finally surrendered itself to gravity with the unintentional slackening of my jaw. Due to the combination of my barely having slept in 48 hours, and the unanticipated sucker punch I’d just been delivered, my reflexes were unfortunately not quick enough to stop the damn thing from clattering noisily onto the ground.
I frantically bent down, stepping forward to snatch it up and accidentally kicking it across the floor where it collided with the oven, spinning slowly in place on its back before I scrambled awkwardly to retrieve it. All the while I could hear Bella’s puzzled, metallic voice squawking my name.
“Jacob? Are you still there?”
I desperately, clumsily smashed the handset back against the side of my face. Then I did a shameful thing.
“Sorry Bells, I accidentally dropped the phone. I uh… I didn’t catch what you just said…”
I’d heard exactly what she’d said.
“Please come help me. I need you…”
And she knew exactly what she was doing.
Neither of us was selfless enough to put a stop to it.
I paused, allowing her words to seep inside me through my eardrums and slowly fill me up with the feeling that I was invincible… that I was the luckiest man alive on Earth because she needed me. God, what I’d have given to hear her say it again.
I gripped the phone with such intensity that it began to make little strained creaking noises, pressing my spine against the wall and allowing my skull to fall back and make contact with a thud.
I sighed with satisfaction and, unable to torture her with the suspense any longer, grabbed my keys off the hook on the wall.
“I’ll be right there.”
The afternoon sun was making its presence known, bypassing the trees that lined the highway and forcing me to keep squinting on and off as it flickered like a strobe light across my face through the front windshield.
Summer was my favourite season by a mile, not only because it allowed me to sport my usual minimalist wardrobe while attracting only positive, non-horrified stares, but also because the long days and lack of school meant I got to see more of her.
To tell the truth I was flattered that she’d called me. As much as I’d ribbed her and acted like an asshole on the phone, I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing I’d rather be doing with my afternoon. I mean, please… hanging out with Bella, helping her out of a bind, AND possibly ending up elbow-deep in auto parts?
Maybe I was still dreaming.
Even though we hadn't made any concrete plans to see each other today, it hadn't surprised me to hear that she’d been on her way to La Push when she’d broken down; Bella had been showing up on my doorstep on almost a daily basis this summer.
I knew she was starting to get sick and tired of being kept under surveillance by him and his family, but as far as I was concerned that loser’s overbearing obsession with her safety was the best thing that ever happened to me.
All I had to do was look tough and intimidating (like that was hard), act indifferent to the fact that he obviously wanted to pound me, keep suppressing the blatant rage that oozed right down into my bone marrow every time I saw him, sit back, relax and watch as her unshakable devotion to me – to us – crawled right up under his pasty, glittery skin.
He might seem like the man with the upper hand, but I wasn’t about to let him get me down.
Nope, nothing could ruin my high knowing that her tires had been pointed in my direction when she'd suddenly become stranded halfway down the 110. I was her support system, her breath of fresh air, her light at the end of the tunnel.
I was Point fucking B.
And I loved it.
Suddenly a tiny, metallic glint through the trees up ahead caught my eye for one millisecond as I subconsciously shifted into fifth gear, bearing down almost violently on the gas pedal with my bare foot and tearing around the final corner, my lips curling upwards by reflex as soon as I saw her.
As she caught my eye her face lit up with the most time-stopping smile I’d ever seen. I gradually veered across the oncoming lane in order to pull up nose-to-nose with her on the shoulder, absentmindedly hoping that a speeding semi wasn’t heading directly for me, because… well… fuck me if I’d have noticed anything while that smile was on her face.
I cut the engine and popped open the door, placing one naked foot out onto the pleasantly warm gravel and tucking my remaining limbs in close to my body, carefully maneuvering myself through the microscopic doorframe.
I made a mental note to start checking the classifieds when I got home for a new car project, one that was more… Jake-friendly. While I hated to admit it, I knew that my exits from the tiny hatchback probably looked about as graceful as a praying mantis trying to extract itself from a walnut shell. To be fair, my grand plans for the Rabbit had originally been drawn out prior to my… well, growth spurt didn’t even seem like the right term to use; it had been more like a growth tsunami.
As Bella took in my lazy, disheveled appearance, she angled her chin guiltily to one side, smiling up at me apologetically. I hoped that this look just meant she felt sorry for waking me up… not sorry for me.
I immediately noticed her eyes as they flicked down towards my feet and returned to mine narrowed with disapproval. All I could do was shrug at her; she knew that above all other clothing items, I despised shoes with a particularly stubborn passion. Hell, on most occasions - right now being a prime example – I wouldn't even realize that I’d forgotten to wear them until I was already too far away from home to do anything about it... or until she noticed for me.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised that she didn't seem fazed by my usual lack of shirt, or the fact that the shorts I was wearing were clearly wrinkled not because I was going for that trendy too-cool-to-give-a-fuck look, but because I'd just spent three hours passed out in them.
No, she was too busy feeling sorry for herself as she wordlessly dragged her sandals over the loose shards of stone until she was flush up against me, arms hanging limply at her sides, forehead connecting miserably with my chest, a pathetic, self-pitying whimper escaping her throat.
I interlocked my fingers on top of her head and rested my cheek on them until I felt her arms slink around my waist, right where they damn well belonged!
“You know you owe me big time for this,” I lied. I felt her fingers dig gently into the sensitive skin on either side of my vertebrae, her arm muscles tightening their hold on me in a subtle ‘I’m-sorry’ gesture, but as far as I was concerned she was paying me back as I spoke….
Her body against my body was definitely worth missing out on my only few hours of sleep for. Hell, it was worth never sleeping ever again for.
…And hey, if I was forgoing sleep in favour of bodily contact, my bed could easily be put to… other uses.
My eyebrows flicked upwards cheekily, and I was glad Bella couldn't see the sly smile that unfurled across my face.
Then, right as that thought managed to skirt past my brain's security filter - the one that usually succeeded in stonewalling all non-kosher teenage-guy thoughts that threatened to undo me when I was around her - I felt her fingers splay out wide and begin to slowly massage themselves into my aching back muscles… up and down, up and down, up and down… and down… and down… and-
I put my hands on her shoulders and, smiling the most uneasy, terrified, manic smile that I could manage, stepped backwards and out of her grasp. Three more seconds of that and things definitely would have started getting… awkward.
“So, uh….” I shoved my hands into the front pockets of my shorts, angling my wrists forward discreetly so that the fabric hung more loosely in front of me. I rocked my upper body forward slightly and jerked my shoulders up to my ears, locking my eyes onto hers for what seemed like an uncomfortably long, silent moment.
Words, Jake! WORDS!
I ripped my eyes away from her face and tried to look at anything else: the treetops, my feet, the highway, the truck… the truck! That’s right! I’d almost forgotten that I hadn’t come all this way just to subject myself to the possibility of near-humiliation.
“What’s wrong with the truck, Bells?”
She threw a worried glance over her shoulder, her high ponytail bouncing left and right with the momentum. “I dunno… It’s probably just the battery. Charlie had to jump-start me last week and I never thought anything of it after that. I guess it just… died.”
“Then let’s see what we can do about that…” I blurted, clamping my hand onto her shoulder and spinning her around, gently steering her over to the front of the truck, having only really registered the word ‘battery’ in my haste to not have her facing directly towards me for the next few minutes.
“Um… WE?” She continued to scuff reluctantly forward, an uneasy expression on her upturned face.
I ducked my head under the low hood, planting both hands over the cold lip of metal that framed the engine compartment, and the joyous mass of grease-spattered parts within.
“Yeah. ‘Member that time when you made me your sous-chef?” I wagged my elbow out to the side, causing her to jiggle slightly in place as I nudged her repeatedly in the ribs.
“You mean the banana pancakes? I remember you almost lighting Charlie’s tablecloth on fire…” she wisecracked, deadpanned, thrusting my arm forcefully back to my side with both hands.
I brushed her insult aside and focused my attention on the battery, flicking bits of built-up green oxidization away from the negative terminal with my middle finger; “Pshh… singeing a barely-noticeable black circle onto something with a frying pan does not equal setting it on fire.”
“That’s why I said almos-”
I cut her off with a thunderous, animated clap of my hands, turning to face her with a giddy smile, “WELL, I’m officially making you my new apprentice. You’ve been on deejay duty in the garage for far too long… it’s time you learned the ways of the trade, young grasshopper.”
“Excellent,” she mumbled, not amused in the slightest, her eyes trailing uneasily over the pickup’s grimy innards.
"Awesome," I continued, now completely juiced-up, choosing to ignore her painful lack of enthusiasm and excitedly yanking her by both hands over to the car, my eyebrows darting up suggestively, "you know you wanna get down and dirty, hun."
She resisted the entire way, whining shamelessly like a stubborn six-year-old, her head flopping back and rolling to the side, "Why can't you just do iiiit?" she moaned, "I bet you can fix it in like, five minutes..."
"Your flattery is useless on me," I muttered, reaching into the hatch of the Rabbit and pulling out some jumper cables, Billy's trusty old analog meter, and – what I’d only assumed would be necessary – a brand new battery.
I’ll admit that I was showing off a bit when I held all 25-pounds of it out one-handed, jokingly offering it up to her.
…But she actually raised her arms up to take it, surely not realizing just what she was accepting.
I laughed only for a second at her adorably obedient, naïve gesture before placing it on the platform of her arms, letting go slightly as her entire body buckled under its weight, only to lift it quickly again, laughing my ass off as she straightened and glared at me.
"Holy crap, what the hell is in that thing, rocks!?" she griped, rubbing her back.
My mouth formed a straight line, "I'm going to pretend I didn't just hear you ask that question," I said, plodding back over to the Chevy.
"Here," I tossed her the jumper cables, which she ignored, eyeing them at her feet with the same disgusted, apprehensive look that she always wore when she walked into my bedroom, "pick it up and listen to me. I'm about to send your confidence levels through the roof, not to mention provide you with some seriously mad bragging rights. You could at least pretend to be excited..."
She exhaled rather moodily, "okay fine, but don't expect me to remember the names of everything in there," she rotated her wrist, index finger extended towards the open hood.
"Fine." I shrugged casually.
"And don't go off on a million tangents like you always do." The finger now whipped around and fixed itself on me.
"And let's not waste all afternoon on the edge of the highway. Quick and to the point, Jake. I mean it. Quick." Her eyes were as round as a couple of quarters, bulging humourlessly from their sockets.
"FINE! Jeez, it’s not like I'm asking you to throw a box full of doe-eyed puppies off a cliff or something. This could actually be fun... y'know, if you wanted it to be."
She glanced at her watch, and if I'd been more on my game at that moment I might have realized that this was more than just her trying to nail her point home.
“Okay, fine,” she conceded, extending one hand out palm-up, tilting her chin down and hoisting up her eyebrows, “Teach me your ways, oh wise one…”
The skin on my arms and neck bristled with electricity.
This was going to be fun.
The watch-checking continued throughout the entire process, but I wasn't even registering its potential significance; I was too wrapped up in other matters.
Watching Bella go to work... her eager eyes begging me to make sense of the reading on the meter as she held the wire leads up against the terminals, her tiny, bony wrists and elbows twisting with the socket wrench as she loosened the bolts that held the cable clamps in place, her front teeth gnawing at her lower lip as she readjusted her slippery grasp on the handle of the oil-smeared flathead and started carefully chipping away at the corrosion on the ring terminals... I was in fucking heaven.
Bella. Focused, sweaty, and... fixing her own truck.
It was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life.
"There," she said, effectively snapping me out of my mind-void, "all done."
I inspected the lead rings closely, nodding my head, "Well, almost." I leaned in closer to her, placing my hand between her shoulder blades and angling her forward so she could see what I was talking about: "See this white stuff left on the metal? If you don't clean it off completely, then you may as well not even bother. You want to have optimal current transmission." I placed it back in her hand.
"No, you want optimal transmission. I want to be finished."
She blew a piece of hair out of her eyes, pushing it off her forehead with the back of her arm, making sure not to touch her face with her grease-covered fingers and pouting at me as it fell back to cover her eyes once again, "I can't see anyways, my stupid hair's coming undone." She held the screwdriver out for me to take, "Can't you just finish the job?"
"And steal your glory?” I was shocked.
“It’s cool. I feel plenty glorious as it is.” She was staring, repulsed, at her dirty fingers, which she held away from her body like they were infected with anthrax.
I didn’t give in, though, “Nuh-uh. Not a chance. You keep going, I'll handle this," I said, whipping the elastic out of her hair and placing it between my front teeth.
I went to work with my large hands, still familiar with the action from my own long-haired days, gently dragging the loose curls back from her forehead to her crown, allowing the strands to sift through my fingers as I raked them repeatedly over her scalp.
I heard her draw in a deep, shuddering breath as I gathered the sides up and began alternating hands, smoothing everything back over, and over, and over. I took my time, wondering mischievously if I was now paying her back for what her own roaming hands had done to my lumbar region earlier.
After I'd secured everything in place with the elastic, she murmured a quick "Thanks", plugging away as if nothing had even happened.
Grinning smugly, I leaned against the driver’s side wheel well and stared openly at her as she tried as hard as she possibly could to ignore me, blatantly clearing her mind of all non-kosher teenage-girl thoughts as she continued to jab away frantically at the corroded terminals.
Ten minutes (and twenty watch-checks) later she was bouncing excitedly out of the truck cab, her fists pumping like the rejuvenated pistons.
Her voice was loud enough to be heard by that creepy homeless dude in Port Angeles who always hung outside the Walgreen’s on Front St. – the guy who, according to his cardboard sign, was deaf.
"YES!!! WE TOTALLY DID IT, JAKE! GOD, WE'RE SO UNBELIEVABLE!!"
I removed my fingers from my ears, holding my palms up to indicate that she needed to settle down, like… severely.
Still, I could understand why she was psyched… I was sure that almost everyone else she knew – especially one person in particular – probably wouldn’t have trusted her enough set her loose under the hood.
It made me feel a little sad; I mean sure she was clumsy at times, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of changing a battery, or riding a motorbike, or going cliff diving… it was just shitty that I seemed to be the only one who realized this. She deserved to be commended.
"That was all you, Bells. I merely provided the guidance and the muscle. You did all the hard work."
She looked completely astonished, "I KNOW, RIGHT!? That's what scares me! I'm afraid it's going to, like, catch on fire at any second or someth-"
"OHMYGOD!" I screamed, cutting her off, pointing and staring terrified over her shoulder.
"What!? Jake, what did I do!?" She almost gave herself whiplash as she spun around, and I almost burst into laughter at her response. Every limb on her body froze; she looked like a cat that had just touched down after being pitched from a second-floor balcony.
Once she’d convinced herself that the truck was still running smoothly and hadn’t been replaced by a smoking crater in the ground, she snapped her head back to observe my further reaction with puzzled, terrified eyes.
"SQUIRREL!!!! OH, SWEET JESUS!" I screeched, still pointing at nothing and grasping the hair at my temple in the other hand, a look of pure, overstated anguish on my face.
She stomped wildly over to where I stood, reeled back with all the force she could muster, and hurled her entire arm forward from the shoulder as if it were a baseball bat about to connect with the game-winning pitch, absolutely walloping my left bicep with a grunt that would make Maria Sharapova proud.
"JACOB BLACK, I hate you so much sometimes..." she sneered out through clenched teeth, her rapid-fire delivery causing the words to almost fuse together.
I stepped forward, reaching my hand around behind her and palming the top of her skull, pulling her head close to my chest as I looped my other arm around her neck, pausing for a moment to chuckle before hunching somewhat awkwardly, lowering my mouth as close as I could get to her ear and rumbling in a soft, husky voice, a wicked smile on my lips, "I hate you too."
...And I felt her fucking shiver.
We stood like this for a solid minute, tangled comfortably, the ‘wrong' of the whole situation temporarily outweighed by the 'so-right-it’s-painful', until the persistent, impatient purring and revving of the truck finally succeeded in crow-barring us apart.
I beamed down at her proudly, “You did good, Bells.”
“I did well.”
“Nothing…” she stared blankly at her still-grubby fingers, “I think I got grease on your shorts…”
My shoulders bobbed with laughter “Um, yeah I’m really concerned about that… did you just meet me?” I pulled her forwards by the wrist and smeared her hand front and back across my thigh.
She snickered, bending down and gathering up a fistful of fabric, rubbing vigorously to erase the black streaks from the creases of her knuckle joints.
“So are you sure the truck looks good, then? What if it dies again when I stop it?” she mused, releasing my shorts and biting her lip.
I continued to chuckle and shook my head, imagining her plowing her way across the state line just to avoid another jump-start, when a crazy, ridiculous, flawless idea suddenly blindsided me:
I took a single step back and looked her in the eye for a moment before deciding to just throw it out there, “…What if you didn’t stop it?”
She snorted a quick laugh, “Great advice, Dear Abby. I'll be calling you again when I run out of gas somewhere just outside of Portland.”
“No I’m serious," I grabbed her by both shoulders and hunched down, drilling my eyes further into hers, "hear me out, here. You’re sick of being babysat and told what you can and can’t do, right?”
She scrunched up her nose, looking away.
“Right?” I emphasized.
“I don’t understand what you’re suggesting.” This was a lie. She wasn’t stupid; she knew me better than anyone.
“Driving?” She repeated it as if the phrase ‘committing mass homicide’ had just emerged indifferently from my mouth.
“Yes, driving. As in you get in the truck, you plant your hands at ten and two, you push down on the little black rectangular deal with your right foot, and you floor it the fuck out of Dodge.” I straightened up to my full height wearing a confident, close-lipped smile, barrelling on before she could reprimand me for my choice of dialogue, “I’ll come with you.” I punctuated my brilliant idea with a single, conversation-ending nod.
“Oh you will, will you?" She tilted her head, smiling sweetly and condescendingly at me, like I was a precocious toddler who’d just announced his plans to become President some day. She wagged her head from side to side slowly with the same smile on her face before leaning sideways to peer around me, jutting her chin out in indication: "What about the Rabbit?”
“Fuck the Rabbit…” I flicked my arm dismissively towards it.
“Jake!” She was giving me the look.
“Screw the Rabbit--- Sorry! ---You know what I mean!” I quickly amended.
“Okay…” I could tell she was humouring me, “well then what about Billy, and Charlie, and Sam, and the Pack…”
She didn’t even try to say ‘what about Edward?’
She knew she’d just get a repeat of the original answer I’d given for the Rabbit.
“They’d understand! Young people do crazy stuff like this all the time…”
Yeah that was a stretch, but still…
She wasn’t convinced, “Uhhh, speak for yourself Jake-”
“WHAT!? Seriously, Bells? You’re such a hypocrite!” I interjected, laughing.
Her arms moved up to cross over her chest as she transferred all of her weight onto one foot, jutting her left hip out sharply, “Okay, Jacob,” her tone was still light, but the fact that she’d abandoned the short form of my name was a little bit off-putting, “why don’t you tell me why I’m such a hypocrite.”
“Okay, Isabella,” I copycatted cheekily, “you told me once that all I had to do was give the word and you’d run away with me.”
Her mouth scrunched up. I could almost hear her thinking ‘Oh, right. THAT.’
“Huh? Huh?” I jiggled my head, not really needing a confirmation… just relishing the fact that I was right. “Well now I’m changing my mind. I’m giving the word. I want it.”
“Jake,” her hands moved to her hips, “you can’t just take everything I say to you and save it up like spare change to be spent at a later date. That was said in specific context-”
“Stop… rationalizing!” I cut in, “You know it would be awesome. We could just… get in that truck and drive away from all this bullshit! Just be us… just be together with no one else around and nothing else to think about for once in our goddamn lives…”
I had no idea where this sudden burst of confidence had come from; for whatever reason it seemed like somewhere in the depths of my brain a voice was screaming ‘now or never’, and I, the optimistic fool that I was, thought it completely sane to just toss myself into the deepest of deep ends.
…But I couldn’t ignore the sense of foreboding.
I felt like I was placing an apple on my head and handing Bella a blindfold and a semi-automatic.
She exhaled heavily and allowed her pupils to roll upwards as she closed her eyes. I knew what she wanted me to think: that she had heard enough, that she was frustrated, as always, by my determination, that she’d love nothing more than for me to stop my ridiculous fantasizing…
…But I could see her eyeballs twitching left and right underneath the lids. I could tell she was wondering... considering… sawing herself in two equal halves like a one-woman magic act, wavering visibly between reason and recklessness.
I steeled myself for her retort, but when her eyes popped open she just stared right by me, past my left elbow and straight out into the forest. I tore my eyes away from her and scanned the trees to see what could possibly be maintaining her attention so intensely, but the dense undergrowth was completely still… just like her.
She remained this way, frozen for so long that when she finally stirred – pivoting from the shoulders up until I was trapped again in the beam of her gaze - I almost jumped.
Then suddenly, I saw it: my window. Straight through her eyes, emerging from somewhere down in the pit of her guts was the tiniest crack of promising, tantalizing light.
I extended a phantom limb, hungrily pressing greasy prints onto the pane, hoping to God as I wrenched it open that there wasn’t a thirty-story drop on the other side…
"You know it could work, Bells, I promise you it could work. We could drive, just... anywhere. California, Arizona, Idaho… Canada… freaking Mexico. I don't care where I am as long as it's with you.” My hand wavered at her cheek, and she subconsciously shifted her jawbone to accept its warmth. “I know why you drive this way every day. I feel the same way, Bella. Just the thought of living a single day without seeing you makes my stomach hurt…”
I trapped her face between both my hands and forced her to look me in the eye. I was about to go out on a limb… one that just happened to be attached to the most dangerous-looking, decrepit tree imaginable, but as long as I kept eye contact I’d be fine.
As long as I kept eye contact I’d just know.
“Tell me you can live without ME.” It surprised me how calm and confident I sounded. I was scared shitless.
She didn’t even flinch; she just swallowed forcefully, speaking her next words quietly, but with brutal honesty.
“You know I can’t.”
“Then let’s go.”
The tears welled up in her eyes and threatened to spill out onto my hands.
“You know I can’t.” She didn’t even use her voice this time, and I cursed myself for holding her head loosely enough to allow it to move from side to side… cursed my ability to read her lips.
I dropped her face and turned around, walking a few steps away to try and shrug off the anger I could feel fizzing upwards through my abdomen. I heard her sigh noisily… the kind of sigh that wasn’t meant to be ignored.
I spun to face her, "What?"
"I just... nothing."
I was charged-up, her passive-aggressive nonsense now grating on me, "Oh, yeah… okay fine. Nothing. Sure, I accept that."
"Just forget it."
"I WANT IT TOO, OKAY!?” She didn’t even give me a chance to speak, and the words that flew out of her shocked her as much as they did me.
She hesitated. Had this very moment been part of a cartoon or a bad sitcom, both of her hands would have already flown up to cover her mouth with a *smack*, but as it was, she merely shifted her eyes from side to side self-consciously, calming herself before continuing.
“I mean…” she was rethinking, panicking, backtracking at light speed, “sometimes… I wish that things had never changed; I wish that you were still the same sweet, awkward guy who offered to fix my motorbikes, and that I was still the broken girl who was so close to healing... I wish that we could still have a conversation like we used to… without ending up in this place every single time, and that I could come see you whenever I wanted to without having to cross a goddamn line."
She gestured sharply with her entire arm to where the treaty line lay to the west, about thirty yards behind the Rabbit, causing me to turn my head to observe it.
I couldn’t believe it. She’d just used about a hundred words in place of seven:
‘Sometimes I wish he hadn’t come back.’
I wanted to feel pain and joy and anger and pleasure and injustice, but instead I suddenly felt nothing... numbness...
...Because right when she’d mentioned the treaty line a realization had hit me like a mallet to the head.
I slowly brought my face back to center, my eyes unfocused until they finally met hers.
Why hadn’t this thought occurred to me when she'd first mentioned the breakdown, or when she'd first hinted at the battery?
Where had my brain been these past twenty minutes? Well, that was an easy question to answer:
The fact that such a blaringly obvious question hadn’t even entered my mind this entire time... it was a true testament to how much of it she took up when I was in her presence.
I spoke slowly, knowing even now that I didn't really want to hear her answer aloud… but I couldn’t not ask.
"Why did you stop your truck?”
“Why did you stop? …And on their side of the treaty line…”
“What do you mean?” She was trying to act both annoyed and innocent, and I wasn't buying it.
I decided to lay it all out for her like Basic Car Facts for Dummies, "Even if the battery dies while you’re driving, you’ll still keep running off the alternator until you stop. Why did you stop. Your. Truck?"
She looked guilty now. I’d caught her.
“Okay, don’t get mad.”
I raised my eyebrows, waiting for a response.
“This afternoon I sort of… I snuck off so that I could see you. Edward caught up to me and stopped me before I could get across the line. He said that he wasn’t going to tolerate my driving out here anymore. He wanted me to… choose.” She kicked a few of the larger chunks of rock at her toes into the long grass bordering the woods.
“Choose what?” I spat incredulously.
“Between you and him. I told him that he was being unfair… that I couldn’t just… decide like that, and that he was crazy to assume that I would.” Her expression changed to one of regret, “I told him that he didn’t trust me… I told him to get the hell off my back.”
“And he…?” I neither wanted, nor needed to finish.
She raised both arms and waved them around her body, wearing a look that said ‘what the hell do you think?’
“So then you got back in the truck and…” I was staring down at my hands, which were fidgeting absently as I talked, trying to piece everything together.
“Yup. Dead. Finito,” she confirmed.
I raised my chin to observe her face, “So he wouldn’t have even known that you were broken down then?”
She shook her head, “No. He was gone. He did as I asked him to…” she didn’t even try to downplay the sadness in her tone.
I lifted my hands slightly and allowed them to drop miserably back against my legs.
"So why didn’t you call him, then? He couldn’t have been that far away," I said, hostility polluting the air between us.
She struggled for a response, shrugging, “I dunno, I mean… sure the Cullens might have an impressive garage, but… come on… Edward doesn’t really know that much about cars.”
That was it. She'd just aimed, fired, and missed the apple, giggling with an innocent ‘oops!’ and not seeming to care that a red-hot bullet was now lodged permanently inside my brain.
I nodded drunkenly, my vision fuzzy, my voice monotone, "So you called me because… because I know more about… cars."
It wasn’t a question. The wolf inside me was dying to burst out.
"Jake…” she spoke low, stepping back and eyeing me with warning, “don’t be like that, you KNOW that’s not what I meant. I just got in a huge fight with my boyfriend because of you. Stop being an idiot."
I braced myself. Right now I had two choices: keep pushing my case, or back up.
I had to back up. I had to do it for her.
I swallowed my pride, wishing instead for painkillers.
…Anything to numb the torment that I was about to inflict upon myself.
“You’re right. I'm sorry I overreacted." I clenched my jaw and placed one hand apologetically on her shoulder, trying against my will to act like good old ‘Life Support Jake’ as I kindly referred to him; that sweet, gutless guy who’d resuscitated two motorcycles, a misplaced smile, and a once-defeated, discarded heart…
… the guy who fought to keep her alive, but was too chicken-shit to fight for her…
…the guy she wished I still was.
"Come on, get in the truck, then. I'll meet you back at my place. I’ll even order us a truce pizza.” I punched her lightly, and only somewhat resentfully on the shoulder.
See? We’re still friends.
Best fucking buddies.
She stood stock still, her mouth open slightly as if she didn’t know how to say what she needed to.
“I… um…” She tossed an eastward glance behind her… back in the direction he would have gone.
“…Oh.” And I understood. “Right.”
The checking of her watch and the ‘Quick, Jake. I mean it’ suddenly all fell into place. She wasn’t planning on spending the afternoon with me. Not anymore.
She’d been too proud to ask him for help, but she still wanted to go find him… to go apologize for running off so foolishly, so she’d done what she’d needed to do.
She’d used me to get her back on the road.
I swallowed heavily, forcing a tight ball of flames back down my throat. I couldn’t bear to look at her guilty face any more. I turned around and marched back towards the Rabbit, my fists clenched at my sides.
“Jake, please. He’s my BOYFRIEND. Can’t you just try for ONCE to understand?”
I halted immediately, leaning back against the small red car and draping both arms up on top of my head, snapping my eyes shut to block out the sun, but not the voices...
Tell me you can live without me...
I breathed slowly, measurably.
You know I can't...
Sometimes I wish that things had never changed...
I could fight this.
Can't you just try for ONCE to understand?
I could fight this. I could fight this.
I called you because... I need you...
Faster than the speed of sound, my fist came down like a tomahawk, viciously connecting with the side panel of the Rabbit. Out of the corner of my re-exposed eye I saw her jump like she’d just been struck by lightning.
A part of me wished she’d go ahead, follow through on her instinctual act of fear and just run like hell, abandon me here before things could get worse, but before I knew it she had actually moved closer… until she was within a yard of me.
Still not wanting to look her in the eye, I turned towards the Rabbit, only to realize---
“SHHHHHHHIT…!” I hissed, not caring that she was standing right next to me.
A depression the size of a cantaloupe now marred the shiny red surface. I got down on one knee and ran my fingers over the indentation.
I felt every muscle on my abnormally broad back harden in anger while she continued to linger about three feet away, twirling her fingers around each other nervously, probably afraid to come any closer.
“I can’t believe this…” I muttered under my breath.
“It’s okay, Jake.” Her voice was soothing, timid, “You can fix it, can’t you?”
I rounded on her furiously, “I’m not talking about the damn CAR!”
She stared at the ground, unwilling to respond, so I barreled on.
“You say you don't want to choose between the two of us, and then you expect me to back off and let you go running off to him!? That's bullshit! You can’t have it all, Bella! Life doesn’t work that way!”
Her eyes were glassy when she raised them to meet mine, “So what are you saying? You want me to choose too?”
No. I want you to choose ME.
“I’m saying…” I paused, wanting to word this properly, “I’m saying… look waaay into your future, Bells. Do you honestly see this working? You, me, and him?”
Her shoulders twitched up a fraction of an inch, “I think… it COULD work.”
Christ, she was delusional.
I barked out a loud, bitter laugh, “Are you for real!? So okay then, tell me… how is it going to work? Really, I’m dying to know.”
Her jaw stiffened and she squinted menacingly at me, “Don’t be all snippy with me, Jacob. It doesn’t have to work if you don’t want it to.”
I pursed my lips and nodded, my head springing up and down like a bobble-head doll's.
I suddenly understood how it was going to work…
It was all up to me. I was the variable in this whole fucked-up scenario the three of us had going. I was the removable component… the training wheels that could be easily discarded leaving behind a slightly wobbly, yet still perfectly functioning bike.
“I don’t want to stop seeing you, Jake,” she began to babble, the silence clearly making her feel uncomfortable, “when I’m away from you it’s like I miss you all the time. I miss your stupid jokes, and I miss the way you laugh at how I eat corn on the cob, and I miss watching… freaking Nascar with you, and yeah I even miss that smell in the garage that I told you I find disgusting… I hate being kept away from you…”
“…And sometimes I hate him for asking me to stay away from you. Sometimes I hate you both for wanting me to choose…”
“… You boys… you see everything like it’s black and white. You think it’s easy for me to just… pick one of you…”
wait for it…
“…But I can’t choose.” I closed my eyes as she continued, “I know that this hurts you, and I understand if you can’t…deal with it anymore. The last thing I want is to hurt you… Jake…”
So that was it, then, she was giving me an out. She was asking me to make the decision for her.
I wanted to grab her by the arms and shake her until her brain rattled, to force her to choose, even when I knew her answer would kill us both. I was sick of being the noble one, the mature one, the one who made all the decisions.
Forcing me to decide was just another way for her to shrug off the blame. Sure, she couldn’t live with the fact that she was hurting me, but pulling the dagger out of my spine and placing it in my hand, blade aimed towards my own chest, seemed a-okay in her books.
Just for one tiny sliver of a portion of a fraction of a second I wanted to throw it all in her face… to turn away and make the gut-wrenching decision that was ultimately best for ME.
I wanted to look her square in the eye and say ‘This is what you get for being such a coward, Bella…’
But it was useless to even think about it. She was too damned clever… she knew I’d always go with what was best for her.
“Go.” I nudged my head out towards the still-idling truck.
Her eyebrows drew in close to each other. She looked confused, but I knew she wasn't. I could see it in her eyes: Good old reliable Jake... predictable as the rise and fall of the sun.
“Are you SURE?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Don’t worry, we’re still cool.” I placed my hand on her upper arm, “I’ll see you tomorrow?” Every word was like a razor being dragged across my heart.
She smiled, but it wasn’t a smile of relief.
It was the smile of someone who'd just been told exactly what they'd needed to hear... someone who wanted to feel happy about it, but knew they didn’t deserve it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She spread her fingers out overtop of mine on her arm, “I promise.”
…And with that, she turned and jogged back towards the truck, shooting me one last remorseful look before hopping up into the cab and yanking on the gear-shift, making a u-turn and speeding off, around the bend and out of sight.
I don’t even know how I managed to get back in my car, or make it as far as I did without slamming into something.
I was mere minutes from home, but once I realized that I couldn't see the road anymore, couldn't even see which lane I was in because all I could see were streaks of diluted sunlight mixed with green and grey, I knew I had to stop immediately before I killed someone.
I realized just how fast I'd been going when I went to pull over, swerving just in time to avoid wrapping myself around a tree and skidding to a stop diagonally on the shoulder. I cranked the e-break. My head fell onto the wheel. I was effectively crushed, and completely, utterly exhausted.
Sniffing loudly, I thrust the heel of my hand forward twice angrily over hot, dampened cheeks and then pounded it into the dash, releasing the last of the pent-up fury that had caused the dent in the side panel.
Meanwhile, the voices inside my head were turning against me:
You call her a coward?
Stop your fucking whining. You did this to yourself.
Congratulations, you’re in this for good now, you idiot…
I breathed them all out slowly, pushed all the thoughts away until just one remained, the last thought that passed through my head before I gave in to exhaustion.
It was a selfish one.
I thought... please let no one drive by, see me stranded here and stop to help.
I didn’t want anyone to see me like this... didn’t want anyone to approach the window and see a body draped over the wheel, tap on the glass and get no reaction, open the door and find me frozen, lifeless, far beyond rescue…
Dead on the side of the road.