I paused at the top of the cliff, feeling the rain on my face, anticipating the plunge, and Edward's voice yelling in my head as I flew through the air. I smiled. I was only moments away. I took a step forward... and hesitated. Where was Jacob? The thought came to me suddenly. He had promised to meet me. Something must have happened to distract him. What if (and the bottom dropped out of my stomach) the wolves had crossed Victoria's trail? What if they were following her right now and here I was, acting like some impetuous child who didn't get her way, about to throw herself off a cliff to satisfy some delusions? I swallowed and looked down. It was awfully high up. With a sigh, I backed away from the edge, struggling against my disappointment. Another time, when Jacob was around in case things went wrong... as they so often did for me.
"Thank you, Bella." His voice was so full of abject gratitude and relief that it froze me for a moment. That burning hole in my chest throbbed and flamed, and I stood there paralyzed, letting the rain that should have cooled the pain soak through to my skin, feeling the wind whipping my hair across my face. Would this pain ever end? For one more moment, the edge of the cliff looked inviting. But Edward's voice growled in my head, and I reminded myself of my reasons for not jumping. I took another step back... into a very warm embrace.
"Bella!" Jacob swooped me up in a bone-breaking hug. "What are you doing up here! You were supposed to wait on the beach!" He placed me back on the ground, and I turned to retort something - his presence already a balm to the throb in my chest - and paused. Sam stood behind him, his face perturbed, not his normal smoothness. Something was wrong.
"Victoria...she hurt..." I choked out, my knees going weak. Oh, God, someone had been hurt. But who?
"No, no, Bella," Jacob hurried to reassure me, exchanging a glance with Sam. "Though she's always a concern. We should get you out of the rain. I'll explain in a bit." His gaze swept the area, and I couldn't help but look around myself. For a brief second, as I looked out across the water, I thought I saw a flash of red, like a flame, floating above the waves, but when I blinked and narrowed my eyes, I saw nothing. I turned back to Jacob and Sam in silent conversation.
Sam nodded. "I'll return to the hospital then. Be careful." He loped away into the woods.
I looked up at Jacob, blinking away the rainwater in my face. "What's going on, Jake? Are you okay?"
He didn't meet my gaze; instead he stared at the rainsoaked ground. "It's Harry Clearwater. He had a heart attack. He... he didn't make it," he said quietly.
"Oh, Jake, I'm so sorry," I said, my heart aching at the pain on his face. His pain, my pain. I hugged him tightly, and his arms slowly came around me, face buried in my drenched hair. We stood like that for a moment before he pulled us apart and began to tug me back to the road where his Rabbit waited. "Sam is helping Sue and her kids. Quil and Embry are still running patrol."
"Will they be all right on their own?" I asked, worried again.
Jake rolled his eyes, though it lacked his usual energy. "They'll be fine. We chased her earlier, but she took off into the water. I thought you were on the beach so I went running. And then I saw you on that cliff..." He shuddered and then turned to look at me, ignoring the road. Did all males do that? "What were you thinking Bella?"
I hung my head, ashamed. "I wasn't," I replied.
"Apparently. Did you even notice what a hurricane it's turned into? It would not have been fun fishing you out. That current would have swept you away. Let's hold off on the recklessness for a little while okay?" He seemed satisfied with my nods as we pulled up in front of his house.
Jake and I returned to his house, stumbling rain-drenched, into his little den. The house felt sad, though nothing bad had happened there. Just knowing that Billy was out, dealing with the death of a friend and council member, was enough to make the normally cheery house a place of silence. Jake briefly disappeared to change into some dry clothes, coming back with a hugely oversized t-shirt and sweatshirt for me. I gratefully changed in his bathroom before we both collapsed on the couch. Jacob was quiet, obviously thinking about Harry. I stayed quiet, not protesting when he tucked me under his arm and rested his head on top of mine. We both needed comfort: him for the death of a family friend and me for the death of my delusions. Because as I lay there, curled up beside my best friend, I realized that it was time for me to grow up. Not let go - I didn't think I would ever be able to do that. But it was time to stop throwing myself at the next adrenaline inducing activity in the hopes of hearing the voice of someone who was never coming back. It was the responsible thing to do.
What if it had been me that had died that day? What if that current had swept me away, out to sea, never to return? How could I do that to Charlie? To Jacob? After everything they had both done for me, they deserved better than that. I owed them both my life. It would just about kill me to give up those few moments when I could hear Edward's voice again, but I would have to do it. Because there were other people who loved me and they did not deserve to get a phone call about some horrible accident of my own making. The hole in my chest burned in protest, and I felt tears gathering in my eyes, but I resisted the urge to cry. It was time to grow up.
Jacob must have dozed off for a moment because he suddenly jumped, startling me. He chuckled in embarrassment and then stood swiftly, pulling me up with him. "Come on Bells," he said. "I should get you home. I'm sure Charlie will want to see you."
We drove to my house in silence. As we pulled up, Jake killed the ignition. I went to open the door, but he suddenly pulled me into another of his bone-breaking hugs. "I'm so glad you didn't jump off that cliff, Bella," he murmured into my hair. "When I didn't see you on the beach... and then saw you standing at the edge of that cliff..." He swallowed. "My heart almost stopped. I've never run so fast in my life. If you had been hurt -" he shook his head "- I don't know what I would have done. Thank you."
Hearing those words again, coming from someone else I loved, not as much but loved enough, made tears prick my eyes again. I knew I had made the right decision today as he held me close; I could not cause him any more pain. As I sat there, wrapped in his arms, more thoughts began to swirl through my head. Jacob wanted me, wanted to be with me. I knew he loved me, and I loved him enough that I wanted him to be happy. I could make him happy. Sure, I would be completely giving up on the man I truly loved, loved to the very core of my being, but maybe Charlie was right. Maybe I had to accept what Fate had dealt out to me; my mother had left Charlie heartbroken and alone, but he had recovered. He had put his life back together, found some small measure of happiness. Maybe it was time for me to do the same.
I could make that choice right now. If I lifted my face up to Jacob's, pressed my lips gently against his, he would not question...at least not tonight. It would be enough. I hesitated, my breath starting to pick up, my heart starting to pound. Jacob, sensing my sudden reaction, began to release me. I took a deep breath and looked up into his dark eyes. They went wide, seeing the conflict on my face. Very, very slowly, he leaned in, keeping his eyes on mine.
And then suddenly, I heard Edward's voice, as if he were sitting beside me. "Be happy, Bella," he whispered. I froze, shocked into stillness as surely as if I had been paralyzed. Jacob saw my sudden panic and immediately backed away, trying to hide the expression of hurt on his face. I swallowed tightly and turned to escape. I opened the door... and instantly, everything changed. Jacob reached out, slamming the door closed, suddenly shaking.
"Jacob, what's wrong?" I asked.
"There was a vampire here," he hissed through clenched teeth, looking around wildly. I also began to look around, a cold sweat breaking out. The street was empty; my house was dark. There was nothing to be seen.
"You said was?" I whispered. "Do you think she's gone?"
Without answering, Jacob got out of the truck, closing the door behind him. I could tell he was taking deep breaths, taking in every scent he could. He followed the smell right around the side of my house, pausing below my window. He scrambled up the tree, pushed open my window and climbed inside. All this time I was glancing around me, trying to take in every sight, waiting for something to burst through the car door. Then Jake was suddenly back, running back to the truck and jumping inside. He was shaking, but he did not look so furious.
"Whoever it was, they're gone," he said, trying to calm himself. "They went up to your room, but then they left."
"Was it Victoria?" I managed to say.
He shook his head tightly. "I didn't recognize the scent," he admitted. "It was a bloodsucker I don't know. I should take you back to my house..."
Just then another set of lights came down the street - it was Charlie. I thought of him, being here alone and upset, while a strange vampire stalked the house. I gulped and shook my head. 'No, I'm staying here. I'm not leaving Charlie alone," I said loudly, interrupting whatever Jake had been about to say. "And I don't want to drag him out of his home when he's grieving. My imagination for excuses is dry right now, so can we please just stay here? It wasn't Victoria, so it could have been anyone. Maybe she's got a friend, maybe..." My throat closed up suddenly. No, it couldn't have been one of them. None of them were coming back. But the sudden hope was almost overwhelming.
Jake's eyes narrowed in reaction to the change in my expression. "I'll run patrol," he said finally. "I'll get some of the guys down here to keep an eye on you. Do not leave this house, do you understand me?" He waited until I nodded. "I don't like this, Bella. But I'm trusting you to not get yourself killed." With that, he got out, opened my door, and led me inside, keeping me tight against his body.