Post Reply chapter 16: paris
Posted 12/2/08
AT THAT MOMENT, MY HEAD BROKE THE SURFACE.
How disorienting. I'd been sure I was sinking.
The current wouldn't let up. It was slamming me against more rocks; they beat
against the center of my back sharply, rhythmically, pushing the water from my
lungs. It gushed out in amazing volume, absolute torrents pouring from my
mouth and nose. The salt burned and my lungs burned and my throat was too full
of water to catch a breath and the rocks were hurting my back. Somehow I stayed
in one place, though the waves still heaved around me. I couldn't see anything but
water everywhere, reaching for my face.
"Breathe!" a voice, wild with anxiety, ordered, and I felt a cruel stab of pain wher
I recognized the voice—because it wasn't Edward's.
I could not obey. The waterfall pouring from my mouth didn't stop long enough
for me to catch a breath. The black, icy water filled my chest, burning.
The rock smacked into my back again, right between my shoulder blades, and
another volley of water choked its way out of my lungs.
"Breathe, Bella! C'mon!" Jacob begged.
Black spots bloomed across my vision, getting wider and wider, blocking out the
light.
The rock struck me again.
The rock wasn't cold like the water; it was hot on my skin. I realized it was
Jacob's hand, trying to beat the water from my lungs. The iron bar that had
dragged me from the sea was also… warm… My head whirled, the black spots
covered everything…
Was I dying again, then? I didn't like it—this wasn't as good as the last time. It
was only dark now, nothing worth looking at here. The sound of the crashing
waves faded into the black and became a quiet, even whoosh that sounded like it
was coming from the inside of my ears…
"Bella?" Jacob asked, his voice still tense, but not as wild as before. "Bells,
honey, can you hear me?"
The contents of my head swished and rolled sickeningly, like they'd joined the
rough water…
"How long has she been unconscious?" someone else asked.
The voice that was not Jacob's shocked me, jarred me into a more focused
awareness.
I realized that I was still. There was no tug of the current on me—the heaving
was inside my head. The surface under me was flat and motionless. It felt grainy
against my bare arms.
"I don't know," Jacob reported, still frantic. His voice was very close. Hands—so
warm they had to be his—brushed wet hair from my cheeks. "A few minutes? It
didn't take long to tow her to the beach."
The quiet whooshing inside my ears was not the waves—it was the air moving in
and out of my lungs again. Each breath burned—the passageways were as raw as
if I'd scrubbed them out with steel wool. But I was breathing.
And I was freezing. A thousand sharp, icy beads were striking my face and arms,
making the cold worse.
"She's breathing. She'll come around. We should get her out of the cold, though. I
don't like the color she's turning…" I recognized Sam's voice this time.
"You think it's okay to move her?"
"She didn't hurt her back or anything when she fell?"
"I don't know."
They hesitated.
I tried to open my eyes. It took me a minute, but then I could see the dark, purple
clouds, flinging the freezing rain down at me. "Jake?" I croaked.
Jacob's face blocked out the sky. "Oh!" he gasped, relief washing over his
features. His eyes were wet from the rain. "Oh, Bella! Are you okay? Can you
hear me? Do you hurt anywhere?"
"J-Just m-my throat," I stuttered, my lips quivering from the cold.
"Let's get you out of here, then," Jacob said. He slid his arms under me and lifted
me without effort—like picking up an empty box. His chest was bare and warm;
he hunched his shoulders to keep the rain off of me. My head lolled over his arm.
I stared vacantly back toward the furious water, beating the sand behind him.
"You got her?" I heard Sam ask.
"Yeah, I'll take it from here. Get back to the hospital. I'll join you later. Thanks,
Sam."
My head was still rolling. None of his words sunk in at first. Sam didn't answer.
There was no sound, and I wondered if he were already gone.
The water licked and writhed up the sand after us as Jacob carried me away, like
it was angry that I'd escaped. As I stared wearily, a spark of color caught my
unfocused eyes—a small flash of fire was dancing on the black water, far out in
the bay. The image made no sense, and I wondered how conscious I really was.
My head swirled with the memory of the black, churning water—of being so lost
that I couldn't find up or down. So lost… but somehow Jacob…
"How did you find me?" I rasped.
"I was searching for you," he told me. He was half-jogging through the rain, up
the beach toward the road. "I followed the tire tracks to your truck, and then I
heard you scream…" He shuddered. "Why would you jump, Bella? Didn't you
notice that it's turning into a hurricane out here? Couldn't you have waited for
me?" Anger filled his tone as the relief faded.
"Sorry," I muttered. "It was stupid."
"Yeah, it was really stupid," he agreed, drops of rain shaking free of his hair as he
nodded. "Look, do you mind saving the stupid stuff for when I'm around? I won't
be able to concentrate if I think you're jumping off cliffs behind my back."
"Sure," I agreed. "No problem." I sounded like a chain-smoker. I tried to clear my
throat—and then winced; the throat-clearing felt like stabbing a knife down there.
"What happened today? Did you… find her?" It was my turn to shudder, though I
wasn't so cold here, right next to his ridiculous body heat.
Jacob shook his head. He was still more running than walking as he headed up
the road to his house. "No. She took off into the water—the bloodsuckers have
the advantage there. That's why I raced home—I was afraid she was going to
double back swimming. You spend so much time on the beach…" He trailed off,
a catch in his throat.
"Sam came back with you… is everyone else home, too?" I hoped they weren't
still out searching for her.
"Yeah. Sort of."
I tried to read his expression, squinting into the hammering rain. His eyes were
tight with worry or pain.
The words that hadn't made sense before suddenly did. "You said… hospital.
Before, to Sam. Is someone hurt? Did she fight you?" My voice jumped up an
octave, sounding strange with the hoarseness.
"No, no. When we got back, Em was waiting with the news. It's Harry
Clearwater. Harry had a heart attack this morning."
"Harry?" I shook my head, trying to absorb what he was staying. "Oh, no! Does
Charlie know?"
"Yeah. He's over there, too, with my dad."
"Is Harry going to be okay?"
Jacob's eyes tightened again. "It doesn't look so great right now."
Abruptly, I felt really sick with guilt—felt truly horrible about the brainless cliff
dive. Nobody needed to be worrying about me right now. What a stupid time to
be reckless.
"What can I do?" I asked.
At that moment the rain stopped. I hadn't realized we were already back to
Jacob's house until he walked through the door. The storm pounded against the
roof.
"You can stay here," Jacob said as he dumped me on the short couch. "I mean it—
right here I'll get you some dry clothes."
I let my eyes adjust to the dark room while Jacob banged around in his bedroom.
The cramped front room seemed so empty without Billy, almost desolate. It was
strangely ominous—probably just because I knew where he was.
Jacob was back in seconds. He threw a pile of gray cotton at me. "These will be
huge on you, but it's the best I've got. I'll, er, step outside so you can change."
"Don't go anywhere. I'm too tired to move yet. Just stay with me."
Jacob sat on the floor next to me, his back against the couch. I wondered when
he'd slept last. He looked as exhausted as I felt.
He leaned his head on the cushion next to mine and yawned. "Guess I could rest
for a minute…"
His eyes closed. I let mine slide shut, too.
Poor Harry. Poor Sue. I knew Charlie was going to be beside himself. Harry was
one of his best friends. Despite Jake's negative take on things, I hoped fervently
that Harry would pull through. For Charlie's sake. For Sue's and Leah's and
Seth's…
Billy's sofa was right next to the radiator, and I was warm now, despite my
soaked clothes. My lungs ached in a way that pushed me toward unconsciousness
rather than keeping me awake. I wondered vaguely if it was wrong to sleep… or
was I getting drowning mixed up with concussions… ? Jacob began softly
snoring, and the sound of it soothed like a lullaby. I fell asleep quickly.
For the first time in a very long time, my dream was just a normal dream. Just a
blurred wandering through old memories—blinding bright visions of the Phoenix
sun, my mother's face, a ramshackle tree house, a faded quilt, a wall of mirrors, a
flame on the black water… I forgot each of them as soon as the picture changed.
The last picture was the only one that stuck in my head. It was meaningless—just
a set on a stage. A balcony at night, a painted moon hanging in the sky. I watched
the girl in her nightdress lean on the railing and talk to herself.
Meaningless… but when I slowly struggled back to consciousness, Juliet was on
my mind.
Jacob was still asleep; he'd slumped down to the floor and his breathing was deep
and even. The house was darker now than before, it was black outside the
window. I was stiff, but warm and almost dry. The inside of my throat burned
with every breath I took.
I was going to have to get up—at least to get a drink. But my body just wanted tc
he here limp, to never move again.
Instead of moving, I thought about Juliet some more.
I wondered what she would have done if Romeo had left her, not because he was
banished, but because he lost interests What if Rosalind had given him the time
of day, and he'd changed his mind? What if, instead of marrying Juliet, he'd just
disappeared?
I thought I knew how Juliet would feel.
She wouldn't go back to her old life, not really. She wouldn't ever have moved
on, I was sure of that. Even if she'd lived until she was old and gray, every time
she closed her eyes, it would have been Romeo's face she saw behind her lids.
She would have accepted that, eventually.
I wondered if she would have married Paris in the end, just to please her parents,
to keep the peace. No, probably not, I decided. But then, the story didn't say
much about Paris. He was just a stick figure—a placeholder, a threat, a deadline
to force her hand.
What if there were more to Paris?
What if Paris had been Juliet's friend? Her very best friend? What if he was the
only one she could confide in about the whole devastating thing with Romeo?
The one person who really understood her and made her feel halfway human
again? What if he was patient and kind? What if he took care of her? What if
Juliet knew she couldn't survive without him? What if he really loved her, and
wanted her to be happy?
And… what if she loved Paris? Not like Romeo. Nothing like that, of course. But
enough that she wanted him to be happy, too?
Jacob's slow, deep breathing was the only sound in the room—like a lullaby
hummed to a child, like the whisper of a rocking chair, like the ticking of an old
clock when you had nowhere you needed to go…It was the sound of comfort.
If Romeo was really gone, never coming back, would it have mattered whether or
not Juliet had taken Paris up on his offer? Maybe she should have tried to settle
into the leftover scraps of life that were left behind. Maybe that would have been
as close to happiness as she could get.
I sighed, and then groaned when the sigh scraped my throat. I was reading too
much into the story. Romeo wouldn't change his mind. That's why people still
remembered his name, always twined with hers: Romeo and Juliet. That's why it
was a good story. "Juliet gets dumped and ends up with Paris" would have never
been a hit.
I closed my eyes and drifted again, letting my mind wander away from the stupid
play I didn't want to think about anymore. I thought about reality instead—about
jumping off the cliff and what a brainless mistake that had been. And not just the
cliff, but the motorcycles and the whole irresponsible Evel Knievel bit. What if
something bad happened to me? What would that do to Charlie? Harry's heart
attack had pushed everything suddenly into perspective for me. Perspective that I
didn't want to see, because—if I admitted to the truth of it—it would mean that I
would have to change my ways. Could I live like that?
Maybe. It wouldn't be easy; in fact, it would be downright miserable to give up
my hallucinations and try to be a grown-up. But maybe I should do it. And maybe
I could. If I had Jacob.
I couldn't make that decision right now. It hurt too much. I'd think about
something else.
Images from my ill-considered afternoon stunt rolled through my head while I
tried to come up with something pleasant to think about… the feel of the air as I
fell, the blackness of the water, the thrashing of the current… Edward's face… I
lingered there for a long time. Jacob's warm hands, trying to beat life back into
me… the stinging rain flung down by the purple clouds… the strange fire on the
waves…
There was something familiar about that flash of color on top of the water. Of
course it couldn't really be fire—
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a car squelching through the mud
on the road outside. I heard it stop in front of the house, and doors started
opening and closing. I thought about sitting up, and then decided against that idea.
Billy's voice was easily identifiable, but he kept it uncharacteristically low, so
that it was only a gravelly grumble.
The door opened, and the light flicked on. I blinked, momentarily blind. Jake
startled awake, gasping and jumping to his feet.
"Sorry," Billy grunted. "Did we wake you?"
My eyes slowly focused on his face, and then, as I could read his expression, they
filled with tears.
"Oh, no, Billy!" I moaned.
He nodded slowly, his expression hard with grief. Jake hurried to his father and
took one of his hands. The pain made his face suddenly childlike—it looked odd
on top of the man's body.
Sam was right behind Billy, pushing his chair through the door. His normal
composure was absent from his agonized face.
"I'm so sorry," I whispered.
Billy nodded. "It's gonna be hard all around."
"Where's Charlie?"
"Your dad is still at the hospital with Sue. There are a lot of… arrangements to be
made."
I swallowed hard.
"I'd better get back there," Sam mumbled, and he ducked hastily out the door.
Billy pulled his hand away from Jacob, and then he rolled himself through the
kitchen toward his room.
Jake stared after him for a minute, then came to sit on the floor beside me again.
He put his face in his hands. I rubbed his shoulder, wishing I could think of
anything to say.
After a long moment, Jacob caught my hand and held it to his face.
"How are you feeling? Are you okay? I probably should have taken you to a
doctor or something." He sighed.
"Don't worry about me," I croaked.
He twisted his head to look at me. His eyes were rimmed in red. "You don't look
so good."
"I don't feel so good, either, I guess."
"I'll go get your truck and then take you home—you probably ought to be there
when Charlie gets back."
"Right."
I lay listlessly on the sofa while I waited for him. Billy was silent in the other
room. I felt like a peeping torn, peering through the cracks at a private sorrow
that wasn't mine.
It didn't take Jake long. The roar of my truck's engine broke the silence before I
expected it. He helped me up from the couch without speaking, keeping his arm
around my shoulder when the cold air outside made me shiver. He took the
driver's seat without asking, and then pulled me next to his side to keep his arm
tight around me. I leaned my head against his chest.
"How will you get home?" I asked.
"I'm not going home. We still haven't caught the bloodsucker, remember?"
My next shudder had nothing to do with cold.
It was a quiet ride after that. The cold air had woken me up. My mind was alert,
and it was working very hard and very fast.
What if? What was the right thing to do?
I couldn't imagine my life without Jacob now—I cringed away from the idea of
even trying to imagine that. Somehow, he'd become essential to my survival. But
to leave things the way they were… was that cruel, as Mike had accused?
I remembered wishing that Jacob were my brother. I realized now that all I really
wanted was a claim on him. It didn't feel brotherly when he held me like this. It
just felt nice—warm and comforting and familiar. Safe. Jacob was a safe harbor.
I could stake a claim. I had that much within my power.
I'd have to tell him everything, I knew that. It was the only way to be fair. I'd
have to explain it right, so that he'd know I wasn't settling, that he was much too
good for me. He already knew I was broken, that part wouldn't surprise him, but
he'd need to know the extent of it. I'd even have to admit that I was crazy—
explain about the voices I heard. He'd need to know everything before he made a
decision.
But, even as I recognized that necessity, I knew he would take me in spite of it
all. He wouldn't even pause to think it through.
I would have to commit to this—commit as much of me as there was left, every
one of the broken pieces. It was the only way to be fair to him. Would I? Could I?
Would it be so wrong to try to make Jacob happy? Even if the love I felt for him
was no more than a weak echo of what I was capable of, even if my heart was far
away, wandering and grieving after my fickle Romeo, would it be so very wrong?
Jacob stopped the truck in front of my dark house, cutting the engine so it was
suddenly silent. Like so many other times, he seemed to be in tune with my
thoughts now.
He threw his other arm around me, crushing me against his cheat, binding me to
him. Again, this felt nice. Almost like being a whole person again.
I thought he would be thinking of Harry, but then he spoke, and his tone was
apologetic. "Sorry. I know you don't feel exactly the way I do, Bella. I swear I
don't mind. I'm just so glad you're okay that I could sing—and that's something
no one wants to hear." He laughed his throaty laugh in my ear.
My breathing kicked up a notch, sanding the walls of my throat.
Wouldn't Edward, indifferent as he might be, want me to be as happy as possible
under the circumstances? Wouldn't enough friendly emotion linger for him to
want that much for me? I thought he would. He wouldn't begrudge me this:
giving just a small bit of love he didn't want to my friend Jacob. After all, it
wasn't the same love at all.
Jake pressed his warm cheek against the top of my hair.
If I turned my face to the side—if I pressed my lips against his bare shoulder... I
knew without any doubt what would follow. It would be very easy. There would
be no need for explanations tonight.
But could I do it? Could I betray my absent heart to save my pathetic life?
Butterflies assaulted my stomach as I thought of turning my head.
And then, as clearly as if I were in immediate danger, Edward's velvet voice
whispered in my ear.
"Be happy," he told me.
I froze.
Jacob felt me stiffen and released me automatically, reaching for the door.
Wait, I wanted to say. Just a minute. But I was still locked in place, listening to
the echo of Edward's voice in my head.
Storm-cooled air blew through the cab of the truck.
"OH!" The breath whooshed out of Jacob like someone had punched him in the
gut. "Holy crap!"
He slammed the door and twisted the keys in the ignition at the same moment.
His hands were shaking so hard I didn't know how he managed it.
"What's wrong?"
He revved the engine too fast; it sputtered and faltered.
"Vampire," he spit out.
The blood rushed from my head and left me dizzy. "How do you know?"
"Because I can smell it. Dammit!"
Jacob's eyes were wild, raking the dark street. He barely seemed aware of the
tremors that were rolling through his body. "Phase or get her out of here?" he
hissed at himself.
He looked down at me for a split second, taking in my horror-struck eyes and
white face, and then he was scanning the street again. "Right. Get you out."
The engine caught with a roar. The tires squealed as he spun the truck around,
turning toward our only escape. The headlights washed across the pavement, lit
the front line of the black forest, and finally glinted off a car parked across the
street from my house.
"Stop!" I gasped.
It was a black car—a car I knew. I might be the furthest thing from an autophile,
but I could tell you everything about that particular car. It was a Mercedes S55
AMG. I knew the horsepower and the color of the interior. I knew the feel of the
powerful engine purring through the frame. I knew the rich smell of the leather
seats and the way the extra-dark tint made noon look like dusk through those
windows.
It was Carlisle's car.
"Stop!" I cried again, louder this time, because Jacob was gunning the truck down
the street.
"What?!"
"It's not Victoria. Stop, stop! I want to go back."
He stomped on the brake so hard I had to catch myself against the dashboard.
"What?" he asked again, aghast. He stared at me with horror in his eyes.
"It's Carlisle's car! It's the Cullens. I know it."
He watched dawn break across my face, and a violent tremor rocked his frame.
"Hey, calm down, Jake. It's okay. No danger, see? Relax."
"Yeah, calm," he panted, putting his head down and closing his eyes. While he
concentrated on not exploding into a wolf, I stared out the back window at the
black car.
It was just Carlisle, I told myself. Don't expect anything more. Maybe Esme…
Stop right there, I told myself. Just Carlisle. That was plenty. More than I'd ever
hoped to have again.
"There's a vampire in your house," Jacob hissed. "And you want to go back?"
I glanced at him, ripping my unwilling eyes off the Mercedes—terrified that it
would disappear the second I looked away.
"Of course," I said, my voice blank with surprise at his question. Of course I
wanted to go back.
Jacob's face hardened while I stared at him, congealing into the bitter mask that
I'd thought was gone for good. Just before he had the mask in place, I caught the
spasm of betrayal that flashed in his eyes. His hands were still shaking. He
looked ten years older than me.
He took a deep breath. "You're sure it's not a trick?" he asked in a slow, heavy
voice.
"It's not a trick. It's Carlisle. Take me back!"
A shudder rippled through his wide shoulders, but his eyes were flat and
emotionless. "No."
"Jake, it's okay—"
"No. Take yourself back, Bella." His voice was a slap—I flinched as the sound of
it struck me. His jaw clenched and unclenched.
"Look, Bella," he said in the same hard voice. "I can't go back. Treaty or no
treaty, that's my enemy in there."
"It's not like that—"
"I have to tell Sam right away. This changes things. We can't be caught on their
territory."
"Jake, it's not a war!"
He didn't listen. He put the truck in neutral and jumped out the door, leaving it
running.
"Bye, Bella," he called back over his shoulder. "I really hope you don't die." He
sprinted into the darkness, shaking so hard that his shape seemed blurred; he
disappeared before I could open my mouth to call him back.
Remorse pinned me against the seat for one long second. What had I just done to
Jacob'?
But remorse couldn't hold me very long.
I slid across the seat and put the truck back in drive. My hands were shaking
almost as hard as Jake's had been, and this took a minute of concentration. Then I
carefully turned the truck around and drove it back to my house.
It was very dark when I turned off the headlights. Charlie had left in such a hurry
that he'd forgotten to leave the porch lamp on. I felt a pang of doubt, staring at the
house, deep in shadow. What if it was a trick?
I looked back at the black car, almost invisible in the night. No. I knew that car.
Still, my hands were shaking even worse than before as I reached for the key
above the door. When I grabbed the doorknob to unlock it, it twisted easily under
my hand. I let the door fall open. The hallway was black.
I wanted to call out a greeting, but my throat was too dry. I couldn't quite seem to
catch my breath.
I took a step inside and fumbled for the light switch. It was so black—like the
black water… Where was that switch?
Just like the black water, with the orange flame flickering impossibly on top of it.
Flame that couldn't be a fire, but what then… ? My fingers traced the wall, still
searching, still shaking—
Suddenly, something Jacob had told me this afternoon echoed in my head, finally
sinking in… She took off into the water, he'd said. The bloodsuckers have the
advantage there. That's why I raced home—I was afraid she was going to double
back swimming.
My hand froze in its searching, my whole body froze into place, as I realized why
I recognized the strange orange color on the water.
Victoria's hair, blowing wild in the wind, the color of fire…
She'd been right there. Right there in the harbor with me and Jacob. If Sam hadn't
been there, if it had been just the two of us… ? I couldn't breathe or move.
The light flicked on, though my frozen hand had still not found the switch.
I blinked into the sudden light, and saw that someone was there, waiting for me.
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