A Golden-Hearted Rose
Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps. . . perhaps. . .love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea ~
Bella Swan sat on a patch of grass by herself, a short distance away from two little girls who were whispering conspiratorially to each other; a wistful look in her big brown eyes. She had never had a best friend. No one had ever asked her to be their bridesmaid when they were grown up or given her the other half of a ‘BFF’ necklace. All the other little girls thought she was weird – that Swan girl, with the big glasses and the pale skin who was always lugging around some enormous book that didn’t even have pictures. Anyone who wanted to read ‘adult’ books all the time must be weird. And Bella was weird. She knew it. She just wished that she could find someone who could share in her weirdness.
Many years had passed since Bella had sat on the grass gazing forlornly at the happy little girls, and over time, she had gotten used to being alone. In fact, she had even managed to convince herself that she liked the solitude, having her own space to meditate in. Quiet was good. Quiet was nice. Now and then a small voice at the back of her mind would tentatively suggest that having a best friend could be fun – someone to talk to about stuff, but generally she would ignore the voice until it shuffled back into its dark corner again to wait for another rainy day. No, Bella Swan was in absolutely no need of a best friend. She was a rock, an island.
As Bella entered adolescence, she was still a loner, still that Swan girl. Sure, she didn’t wear glasses anymore and she even had a few people she could call ‘friends’, or at the very least ‘acquaintances’, but she still felt like the little girl who had sat on the patch of grass at the edge of the playground, looking in at the happy scenes of companionship and belonging before her and feeling hopelessly excluded.
And then she met Edward Cullen. And fell in love. She was deliriously happy and she certainly wasn’t alone anymore, but was he her best friend? No, not really. He was her boyfriend, the love of her life, but somehow the words ‘best friend’ did not fit him. Too mundane? Perhaps. But for all that, at the back of her mind, where the small voice resided (quieter these days), she still felt that there was something, or rather someone missing. A piece of the puzzle that was Isabella Marie Swan that still needed to be found and attached.
Some months went by and then the unthinkable happened. Edward left. He told her that his family was moving from the state and he was sorry, but it would really be for the best if they ended things. After all, they had never really suited each other anyway. And Bella was broken, shattered, numbed with pain. She felt like half of her had been torn away and had gone with him, gallivanting off into the sunset and leaving her to rot in rainy Forks, WA. And Bella thought that she would never feel like a complete person again.
Until she met Jacob Black. Or rather, met him again. Because she had met him before, but then she hadn’t really seen him. He had just been a sweet, pliable boy who seemed particularly (and flatteringly) susceptible to her somewhat doubtful charms. Nothing more. But this time, Bella saw Jacob, really saw him, for the first time. And fell in love.
This love was so different from the first. With Edward it had been all adrenaline and weak knees and I am not worthy of such a gift. With Jacob, there was no need for self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness, because they just fit. For the first time in her life, Bella had someone she could truly call her best friend. Someone she could laugh with and joke with and just be silly with. Someone she could sit in silence with for hours on end without feeling awkward or having to say something. Jacob was truly a ‘kindred spirit’. When she told him this, he laughed at her and rumpled her hair, saying “Bells, you read too much – life isn’t a book you know! And I am nothing like Anne Shirley…” When she discovered that he had actually read Anne of Green Gables (under duress, it is true), she fell in love a little bit more.
Whilst Bella couldn’t pin down the exact moment that she had fallen in love with Jacob, she could remember the first time she became aware of him in an ‘other than friends’ sense. They had gone to the beach to watch the sun set and were walking along hand in hand in a companionable silence. This was nothing new for them, however. They frequently held hands when they walked together; Jacob was just a naturally physical person. Bella remembered reading a book which spoke about the different ‘love languages’, and when she came to the chapter on physical touch, she couldn’t help but laugh to herself as the descriptions fit Jacob so perfectly. Smiling to herself, she turned to tell him this, knowing that it would amuse him and wanting to hear his boisterous laughter and see his broad grin, but as her eyes drifted to him, she felt her throat go dry and her heart start to pick up pace. Because he was beautiful. And not just in the purely physical sense. As she had turned to speak to him, her eyes had met his and what she had seen there had made her forget the mundane words she had been about to say. Because his whole soul was exposed on his face as he looked at her. His dark eyes were soft and shining as they met hers, filled with such love and kindness and his whole face was lit up with pure, unadulterated happiness.
Bella had always loved the way Jacob looked. She loved his smile and the way his soft lips curved upwards in a gentle half-moon. She loved his skin; the way it gleamed and rippled when he moved, the way it was so different from hers. She loved his hair; how soft and silky it was, like black satin, catching the dying rays of sunlight right now and gleaming with a soft sheen. She loved his eyes; large, expressive and so deep you could lose yourself in them. And his muscles; smooth, sleek, strong; graceful planes and curves. His hands; large, shaped by a master sculptor, with long beautiful fingers and broad flat palms. Looking at him, silhouetted by the last of the evening sunlight, she could see why she had once thought of him as sort of beautiful.
But looking at him now, Bella realised that it wasn’t his looks that drew her to him, which was a strange realisation to say the least. It was not his smile so much as the kindness and gentle laughter behind it. Not his skin so much as the brave heart that pounded beneath it. His hair was beautiful, but it was the skilled and sensitive mind hidden beneath that drew her. His eyes were captivating more for their reflection of his selfless soul than for their colour magnificent as it was. His muscles, whilst glorious to look at, meant nothing without the strength of heart which they mirrored. And his hands. His hands had been the first thing she had noticed about him. Because his hands were the truest reflections of Jacob, the man. They were gentle and sensitive; creators of the beautiful and delicate. They were large and warm; protectors of the small and fragile. And they were calloused and flawed; fixers of the broken and weary.
Whereas in the past, Bella had been drawn by the superficial, dazzled by pretty exteriors, she realised that with Jacob this was not the case. It was not Jacob’s physicality that drew her to him like a hummingbird to sweet nectar. No, her attraction for him went much deeper than that, to the very core of his being. For whilst Jacob’s body might only be sort of beautiful, Jacob’s soul was breathtaking.
Whilst this revelation might have taken a long time to put down in words, in fact it only took thirty seconds to occur. Thirty seconds and Bella’s entire perspective of the world, and more importantly of the man next to her, had changed. She realised with a jolt of her already pounding heart that no longer could she truthfully say that Jacob was nothing more than a friend to her. And this fact scared her more than she would care to admit. So to cover up her sudden awakening, she laughed (albeit rather nervously) and asked Jacob whether he was planning on getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for being able to stare without blinking for the longest amount of time. To her relief, the intense look on Jacob’s face disappeared, and he laughed with her, saying that he could think of much better things to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for than intense staring sessions.
“Oh yeah, like what?” she asked, wanting to distract him (and herself) still further.
“Oh, like being able to kick your ass in a race to that rock over there!” he said and took off in the direction he had pointed, laughing at her over his shoulder and kicking up pebbles and sand in his wake.
Bella didn’t even make an attempt to race him. Rather, she strolled leisurely after him and when she got there, he started to brag about he had beaten her, she punched him lightly in the arm, saying “Pssh, you don’t have to be a world record breaker to do that, genius.” And whilst outwardly she joked around with him, teasing him and laughing, inwardly she felt a secret and vaguely guilty relief that she had managed to push aside her disturbing new self-discovery for another day.
However, sometimes ‘another day’ really only meant ‘tonight when I’m trying to sleep’ as Bella soon found out. Having said a rather a distracted goodbye to Jacob, she had made her way home, quickly busied herself with cooking supper for Charlie, and cleaning everything in the kitchen until it shone. And when that was done, she did the laundry and took down all the curtains and washed them by hand and polished the parquet flooring in the passageway. And then she changed the sheets on her and Charlie’s beds and vacuumed the carpets and scrubbed the walls. And by this time Charlie had come home and supper was ready.
Bella was rather quiet during supper, but this wasn’t really anything unusual as she and Charlie generally ate in silence. This time, however, her silence wasn’t due so much to a lack of things to say, but rather to the fact that her mind was silently teeming with very loud thoughts which were all jumping up and down, vying for her attention. The loudest of these thoughts was the one which was currently screaming at her in an awfully Jessica-like voice, saying You’re falling for Jacob, aren’t you? Aren’t you?? Admit it! But Bella wouldn’t admit it. She was too scared to admit it. And so, just as she did with the real Jessica, she ignored the screaming thought and carried on quietly munching her broccoli.
However, that night when there was no housework or broccoli to distract her, the Jessica thought came back with a vengeance. Bella tossed and turned under the covers, trying to mentally block out the screaming but she couldn’t. Eventually she switched on her bedside lamp and, running slightly clammy fingers through her tangled hair, she sat up and leaned back against the headboard. Why am I so scared of being attracted to Jake? she silently asked herself. I know he’s attracted to me. He makes his feelings for me obvious every time he looks at me.
Deep down, however, she knew the answer. Jacob was her friend. He was the one person she could always count on being there for her, the one person she could talk to about anything and feel absolutely comfortable with. And whilst she hated to admit it to herself, she was afraid that if they took their relationship further, they would somehow lose that. She didn’t want them to become an awkward couple who suddenly weren’t sure whether it was appropriate to hold hands anymore or who were worried about bases and things. She didn’t want their relationship to become all about sex and for them to lose that easy, comfortable companionship that they had. Jacob’s friendship meant so much to her that she almost didn’t want him to become something more. Almost. Because she also knew that Jacob wouldn’t hold out forever, that he wouldn’t be content to simply be ‘best friends’ for the rest of their days. She knew that one day, just like with Anne and Gilbert, the crunch would come and she would have to make a choice. And she felt in her bones that that day was not far away.
The next morning, Bella woke up with a new resolve in her heart. She wouldn’t say anything to Jacob just yet because after all she had only begun to realise that she was attracted to him yesterday, but instead she would remain open to the idea and just let things unfold naturally. And so this was what she did, and as the weeks went by in a happy, companionable blur, she had another revelation.
Falling in love with Jacob was not anything like falling in love with Edward had been. She hadn’t woken up to find that her world had suddenly changed around her without her realising it. It had started with a flash of insight, but that was only the beginning. If she had to describe the process, she would call it a journey. Not a fast journey in a flashy car down a paved highway with the wind blowing in your face and your heart pumping with exhilaration. Those journeys were fun in the moment, but at the end your hair was tangled and your eyes were smarting and it was all over too soon. No, she had lost her taste for adrenaline. This was a trudging journey on foot, down a secret grass-covered pathway which was tucked away from the world, surrounded by trees and foreign scents and quiet whisperings.
At first it seemed slower, less exciting; the destination was too far away and it felt like she would never arrive. But then, as her senses became attuned to the world around her, to the sound of trickling water in the distance, of birds humming in the trees, of little animals tripping agilely through the fallen leaves, and the smell of pine and grass and rain, she realised that the destination was only part of it. Half the fun was getting there.
And that was what it was always like with Jacob, she realised; enjoying the moment, living in the present. Jacob was all about now. And she found that over the weeks, she fell in love with him gradually over rusty car parts, warm sodas, private jokes, healing hugs and heated glances.
She couldn’t pin down the exact moment that she fell in love with him, and say then, that’s when it happened. All she knew was that on Monday she noticed his smile (bright, warm, invites me in). Tuesday she noticed his laugh (deep, happy, full of life). By Wednesday she was noticing his hands (large, healing, warm). On Thursday it was his shining eyes (so full of love and understanding), and on Friday, his husky voice (so masculine and strong). By Saturday, she was noticing his scent (rain, pine, musky) and by Sunday she realised that there was nothing left to notice, and without her being quite aware of how or when it happened, she had fallen in love with the whole person, piece by piece. And suddenly all the fear was gone and she knew that she could tell him now.
And so that is exactly what she did. She waited until the following Saturday (because Bella was always a bit masochistic), and then she went and bought a box of conversation hearts and drove over around mid-morning to visit him.
When she switched her truck off, she could hear him working in the garage, and smiling to herself, she got out and made her way towards the banging and muttered curses. To her great relief, Jacob was by himself and not flanked by his two best friends, Quil and Embry. When he heard her come in, he looked up from whatever it was he was doing and, grinning broadly at her, he wiped a greasy hand across his forehead, leaving a grey mark in its wake.
She watched nervously as his eyes strayed down to the box in her hands and a small frown appeared on his forehead. He glanced up at her in confusion, glanced at the calendar on the garage wall and then glanced back at her, looking slightly relieved but even more confused.
“Bells, why do you have a box of conversation hearts in your hands? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Valentine’s Day in February? You had me worried there!”
Bella swallowed the sudden lump that had formed in her throat, and suddenly feeling painfully shy, she looked down at the box in her hands, refusing to meet his eyes as she replied.
“Well, um…..it’s just that….well, on Valentine’s Day I didn’t get you anything….and um….”
“Bells, seriously. It’s fine. I understand you don’t feel that way about me and I’m fine with it. You really didn’t need to get me candy.” She could hear the smile in his voice and part of her wanted to just pretend that he was right and laugh about it. But the other part of her, the part that sounded like Jessica, wouldn’t let her. And so clearing her throat nervously, she tried again.
“No Jake. You don’t understand. At the time…well yes, I didn’t feel about you that way then. But you see, um. Well, I…what I’m trying to say is that I do feel that way about you now. Um yeah. And so, I was kind of, sort of, in a really cheesy and pathetic way trying to make up for lost time?” Her nerves made her intonation rise at the end so that it sounded like a question. A really stupid, want the ground to swallow you up kind of question.
Jacob didn’t say anything for a moment and Bella could feel the heat rising inexorably into her cheeks and the tears starting to sting her eyes, and she just wished that she had never bought the stupid candy in the first place, just kept her big mouth shut, then she could just sit in his garage and talk to him as he worked like they normally did and everything would be OK. But it wasn’t OK and now it never would be OK again.
Bella stood there, rooted helplessly to the dusty floor of the garage, feeling more and more pathetic by the second until she heard a shuffling of feet and suddenly Jacob was standing in front of her. And his large hand reached out gently to raise her face so that he could meet her eyes. And what she saw there made her insides melt and flutter all at the same time. Because he was looking down at her, not with derision or laughter or embarrassment, but with love. Pure love.
And leaning down towards her, he whispered huskily in her ear, “It’s about time, Bells. You took long enough.”
And then his lips were on hers and they were warm and soft and gentle and he tasted as good as he smelled and as his arms wrapped firmly around her, pulling her in closer to himself, she vaguely felt the now forgotten box of candy drop from her suddenly nerveless fingers, but she couldn’t care less because Jacob loved her and he was holding her and kissing her…..and the candy had only been a prop anyway.
After a few months of blissful dating, Bella finally managed to work up the courage to tell Jacob her initial fears about them losing the wonderful friendship that they had once they entered a romantic relationship.
And instead of laughing at her, as she had half expected he would, he looked at her tenderly and said, “Bells, you should have known that what we have is not something that could be eclipsed purely by the physical side of things, great as that is. Taking our relationship to the next level could only ever be more, never less. No matter what, Bells, we will always be best friends.”
And with a little thrill, Bella realised that she was no longer the little girl sitting on the patch of grass at the edge of the playground, looking forlornly on at the happy children playing together. Because beside her, holding her hand, smiling down at her with a big happy grin was her best friend. And in loving him, she hadn’t lost that at all. Rather, she had gained the promise of forever.