*by Stephenie Meyer*



TWILIGHT - chapter 17 - THE GAME


It was just beginning to drizzle when Edward turned onto my street. Up until that moment, I'd had no doubt that he'd be staying with me while I spent a few interim hours in the real world.
And then I saw the black car, a weathered Ford, parked in Charlie's driveway - and heard Edward mutter something unitelligible in a low, harsh voice.
Leaning away from the rain under the shallow from porch, Jacob Black stood behind his father's wheelchair. Billy's face was impassive as stone as Edward parked my truck against the curb. Jacob stared down, his expression mortified.
Edward's low voice was furious. "This is crossing the line."
"He came to warn Charlie?" I guessed, more horrified than angry.
Edward just nodded, answering Billy's gaze through the rain with narrowed eyes.
I felt weak with relief that Charlie wasn't home yet.
"Let me deal with this," I suggested. Edward's black glare made me anxious.
To my surprise, he agreed. "That's probably best. Be careful, though. The child has no idea."
I bridled a little at the word child. "Jacob is not that much younger than I am," I reminded him.
He looked at me then, his angry abruptly fading. "Oh, I know," he assured me with a grin.
I sighed and put my hand on the door handle.
"Get them inside," he instructed, "so I can leave. I'll be back around dusk."
"Do you want my truck?" I offered, meanwhile wondering how I would explain its absence to Charlie.
He rolled his eyes. "I could walk home faster than this truck moves."
"You don't have to leave," I said wistfully.
He smiled at my glum expression. "Actually, I do. After you get rid of them" - he threw a dark glance in the Blacks' direction - "you still have to prepare Charlie to meet your new boyfriend." He grinned widely, showing all of his teeth.
I groaned. "Thanks a lot."
He smiled the crooked smile that I loved. "I'll be back soon," he promised. His eyes flickered back to the porch, and then he leaned in to swiftly kiss me just under the edge of my jaw. My heart lurched frantically, and I, too, glanced toward the porch. Billy's face was no longer impassive, and his hands clutched at the armrests of his chair.
"Soon," I stressed as I opened the door and stepped out into the rain.
I could feel his eyes on my back as I half-ran through the light sprinkle toward the porch.
"Hey, Billy. Hi, Jacob." I greeted them as cheerfully as I could manage. "Charlie's gone for the day - I hope you haven't been waiting long."
"Not long," Billy said in a subdued tone. His black eyes were piercing. "I just wanted to bring this up." He indicated a brown paper sack resting in his lap.
"Thanks," I said, though I had no idea what it could be. "Why don't you come in for a minute and dry off?"
I pretended to be oblivious to his intense scrutiny as I unlocked the door, and waved them in ahead of me.
"Here, let me take that," I offered, turning to shut the door. I allowed myself one last glance at Edward. He was waiting, perfectly still, his eyes solemn.
"You'll want to put it in the fridge," Billy noted as he handed me the package. "It's some of Harry Clearwater's homemade fish fry - Charlie's favorite. The fridge keeps it drier." He shrugged.
"Thank," I repeated, but with feeling this time. "I was running out of new ways to fix fish, and he's bound to bring home more tonight."
"Fishing again?" Billy asked with a subtle gleam in his eyes. "Down at the usual spot? Maybe I'kk run by and see him."
"No," I lied, my face going hard. "He was headed someplace new... but I have no idea where."
He took in my changed expression, and it made him thoughtful.
"Jake," he said, still appraising me. "Why don't you go get that new picture of Rebecca out of the car? I'll leave that for Charlie, too."
"Where is it?" Jacob asked, his voice morose. I glanced at him, but he was staring at the floor, his eyebrows pulling together.
"I think I saw it in the trunk," Billy said. "You may have to dig for it."
Jacob slouched back out into the rain.
Billy and I faced each other in silence. after a few seconds, the quiet started to feel awkward, so I turned and headed to the kitchen. I could hear his wet wheels squeak against the linoleum as he followed.
I shoved the bag onto the crowded top shelf of the fridge, and spun around to confront him. His deeply lined face was unreadable.
"Charlie won't be back for a long time." My voice was almost rude.
He nodded in agreement, but said nothing.
"Thanks again for the fish fry," I hinted.
He continued nodding. I sighed and folded my arms across my chest.
He seemed to sense that I had given up on small talk. "Bella," he said, and then he hesitated.
I waited.
"Bella," he said again. "Charlie is one of my best friends."
"Yes."
He spoke each word carefully in his rumbling voice. "I noticed you've been spending time with one of the Cullens."
"Yes," I repeated curtly.
His eyes narrowed. "Maybe it's none of my business, but I don't think that is such a good idea."
"You're right," I agreed. "It is none of your business."
He raised his gray eyebrows at my tone. "You probably don't know this, but the Cullen family has an unpleasant reputation on the reservation."
"Actually, I did know that," I informed him in a hard voice. This surprised him. "But that reputation couldn't be deserved, could it? Because the Cullens never set foot on the reservation, do they?" I could see that my less than subtle reminder of the agreement that both bound and protected his tribe pulled him up short.
"That's true," he acceded, his eyes guarded. "You seem... well informed about the Cullens. More informed than I expected."
I stared him down. "Maybe even better informed than you are."
He pursed his thick lips as he considered that. "Maybe, he allowed, but his eyes were shrewd. "Is Charlie as well informed?"
He had found the weak chink in my armor.
"Charlie likes the Cullens a lot," I hedged. He clearly understood my evasion. His expression was unhappy, but unsurprised.
"It's not my business," he said. "But it may be Charlie's."
"Though it would be my business, again, whether or not I think it's Charlie's business, right?"
I wondered if he even understood my confused question as I struggled not to say anything compromising. But he seemed to. He thought about it while the rain picked up against the roof, the only sound breaking the silence.
"Yes," he finally surrendered. "I guess that's your business, too."
I sighed with relief. "Thanks, Billy."
"Just think about what you're doing, Bella," he urged.
"Okay," I agreed quickly.
He frowned. "What I meant to say was, don't do what you're doing."
I looked into his eyes, filled with nothing but concern for me, and there was nothing I could say.