chapter 16. PARIS
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."
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."
"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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.