Story Title: Breathe Again by ysar
Chapter: 30. Panic
Genre: Twilight – Romance / Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence,
Post Word Count: 6264
Status: Work In Progress
Summary: “If Alice hadn’t seen Bella cliff-dive, what would have happened? Would Bella have given in to her feelings for Jacob? Was she even capable of moving on? Victoria’s hunting, Edward’s coming back—and that’s just the beginning!”
How did Charlie know? And what exactly did he know? Obviously he didn’t know everything or he would have come crashing into my room last night. I mean, we weren’t really doing anything…kind of…but it would have been enough to send Charlie into a fit. And what did a branch have to do with anything? My mind was going around in circles as I piled our dishes in the sink. I almost failed to notice that there was still enough food left for five more people…or Jake. Wow. Charlie knew.
I jumped, startled by Jacob’s sudden presence behind me, and I nearly dropped a plate.
“He knows,” I sighed, not even turning around. “Charlie knows you’re here.”
“I heard,” he replied, his voice tight and strained.
Was he just as freaked out by this as I was? I busied myself with making him a plate of food. “I’m not grounded, and you’re not in a body bag, so I guess… He said something about a branch?”
“Yeah, your tree kind of broke,” Jake laughed.
Why did his laugh sound forced? Did he think I was mad at him? If I was going to be mad at anyone, it would be myself. It was my own fault for letting him in and not wanting him to leave. I was the one who’d broken Charlie’s trust. “Broke?” I asked, turning around.
“Don’t worry,” he said, taking the plate from my hands. “I’ll take care of it.”
He sat down at the table, eating quietly and barely acknowledging my presence. I would have thought he’d get a good laugh out of the whole situation. To be honest, if it happened to anyone else, I would have laughed, too. Instead, I did a few dishes and watched him eat, but I just felt weird in that strange silence.
“Ummm…,” I started. Jake didn’t even look up. “I’m just gonna go take a shower. Will you wait?” I asked. I didn’t know if he had to patrol, or if Billy would start wondering where he was, but I didn’t want him to just leave without saying goodbye.
“Sure,” he mumbled through a mouthful of eggs.
I tried to shake off the uneasy feeling that something more was wrong and headed upstairs to the bathroom. I turned the water on, waiting for it to warm up, and checked to make sure my robe was hanging from the hook behind the door. Why couldn’t we just communicate like normal people? Because we’re not normal, I thought. And what was with Charlie? Obviously he trusted me, and yet I’d sat there, basically hiding Jake from him. Not only was I embarrassed, but I felt really, really stupid. Maybe I just needed to focus on the positive side.
Charlie trusted me. He believed me, and he didn’t send a SWAT team in after Jake. That was positive, right? And Jake… When I was missing him terribly, he’d shown up at my window. He’d stopped us before things went too far. And then he’d stayed there, holding me while we slept. I didn’t know a lot about relationships, but I knew one thing. It couldn’t possibly get any better than what I had with Jake. Of course, his holding me had included a stray hand, but I really couldn’t complain about that. He’d been asleep. He probably didn’t even realize what he was doing. God, how embarrassing, I thought. It was just my luck that second base happened when we were both unconscious.
With Edward I’d always felt a bit rejected. And let’s face it, being eclipsed by his insanely gorgeous family didn’t exactly do anything for my self esteem either. But all those times he pushed me back, pulled away from me, stopped us from doing anything more than simple kissing…yeah, it got to me. But waking up with Jake, knowing that even in his sleep he wanted me, trusting him not to push me too far…he was healing me without even trying.
I dried off quickly and pulled on my robe, and I dashed back downstairs to see him. The shock of Charlie knowing had worn off, and my mood had improved a little. Maybe his would have too. But he wasn’t there. The dishes were done, and everything was put away. He must have gone back upstairs.
I stepped into my room, only to find it empty. Empty, that is, except for something he’d left on my bed. For a fraction of a second, I thought it was some kind of letter or gift, that he’d had to leave suddenly, and he’d left something behind for me. And then my eyes registered what I was seeing, and I froze.
The CD. The CD Edward had given me on my birthday. And the pictures I’d taken. And the plane tickets. They were here, in my room, on my bed. He was back.
“Jake?” I tried to call out, managing only a choked whisper.
Had Jake seen him? They were natural enemies. Jake hated Edward, and Edward probably hated him right back. Were they off somewhere trying to kill each other right now?
No sooner than the thoughts crossed my mind was I running back down the stairs, stumbling in my haste and falling down the last few steps. I picked myself up, not even bothering to check for the scrapes and bruises I would surely be suffering.
“Jake!” I screamed, launching myself out the door and looking frantically around the empty yard. “Jacob, please!” I yelled, not even knowing what I was asking for. I just wanted him to be…I wanted them both to be okay.
There was no answer, no sound at all, and the tears flowed as panic rose in my throat, threatening to choke me. “Jacob,” I cried, falling down to my knees in the damp grass. I could see it all in my head, like a terrible nightmare come to life. Jacob eating breakfast, Edward coming through my window, Jacob phasing, attacking…
My head whipped up so fast that the earth swayed a bit before me, and I felt a second of relief as I caught a glimpse of copper skin, black hair, cut off sweats. But it wasn’t Jake.
“Are you okay?” Seth asked, looking anywhere but directly at me.
I looked down at myself, only to realize I was standing in my backyard in a short bathrobe. Thankfully, the loosely knotted belt hadn’t come undone, but that was really the least of my concerns. I jumped up, nearly falling again in my rush, and I ran to Seth, crashing against him.
“Where’s Jacob?” I demanded as he grabbed my arms and pushed me back a comfortable distance.
“With Embry,” he shrugged, like it was nothing. His boyish features were marred with confusion. “Why are you bleeding?”
“Huh?” I looked down to see that my knees were indeed scraped up, and I winced as I tried to brush the grass off. My palms were scraped up, too. It didn’t matter. I looked back up at Seth. “I need him,” I said.
Need. It was such a simple word, and yet it held everything. I needed Jacob to be okay. I needed him to come back. I needed him to not kill Edward and to not be killed by Edward. I needed him to get me through whatever was happening, the way he helped me through everything else.
“Okay,” he said, obviously just placating me. “Why don’t you go…um…get dressed, and I’ll go get him for you, okay?”
He was looking at me like I was crazy, talking to me like I was a child.
“No!” I said stubbornly. “You get him now!” I poked him in the chest for good measure, trying uselessly not to cry.
“Okay, but just…go wait inside, okay?” he asked, his eyes pleading with me.
I nodded my head and watched him lope into the woods, but I wasn’t going anywhere.
Why now? And why like this? Why would Edward take everything from me and then bring it back? It’s not like I needed to be reminded. He haunted me every day, in every little thing I did. He was the reason I barely functioned for months. He was the reason I’d held back so long with Jacob. I knew Edward was cold and cruel, but I never thought he was too cowardly to face me.
I could only hope what Seth said was true, that Jacob was with Embry. Maybe they didn’t even know Edward had been here. Maybe they’d just gone for a run or to some pack thing. Maybe I could just hide everything until I knew what it all meant. But before I could take a step, I saw movement behind the trees.
Seth appeared first, looking at me with pity, although I had to admit I probably looked pretty pitiful. And then Embry was there, his own expression mirroring Seth’s. It was strange to see him look so serious. Maybe they had seen Edward.
Oh God, what if there had been a fight? What if…? And then Jake stepped forward, his expression a whole myriad of emotions. He was angry and sad and confused and…scared? Had Edward hurt him? Had he hurt Edward?
“Jacob,” I breathed, relieved just to see him.
He whispered something to Seth and Embry that I couldn’t hear, and they disappeared back into the trees. Jacob crossed the yard to stand in front of me, looking at me strangely.
“What happened to you?” he asked. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t my Jacob. It was Sam’s Jacob. This was bad.
“I…pictures…Edward was…the stairs.” My mouth couldn’t keep up with my thoughts, and my thoughts couldn’t keep up with my hammering heart. I felt dizzy, and I tried to step toward him, to close the unnecessary distance between us, only to feel my traitorous legs give way.
Jacob caught me easily, and the next thing I knew he was carrying me inside. He carried me straight up to the bathroom and planted me on the counter, lifting my leg up to take a closer look at my knee as I ran my hands over his skin, trying to see if he had any scratches or…whatever vampire wounds looked like on werewolves.
“What happened?” he asked again, pushing my hands away.
He wouldn’t look me in the eye, and that’s how I knew. Something terrible had happened.
“Did you hurt him?” I asked, ignoring his question.
He dropped my leg and stepped back, looking at me strangely.
“He was here and—,” I started to explain, but no sooner had the words left my mouth than Jacob was gone.
I hopped off the counter, flinching as a stinging pain shot through my knees, and ran after him. When I stepped into my room, I found Jacob standing in the center and…sniffing? He glanced at the bed, anger overtaking his expression before he turned to me, and then something in his eyes turned desperate. Before I could say a word I was crushed almost painfully against his chest, his arms wrapping around me like vises.
“Air,” I gasped with what little oxygen I had left, only to panic as his grip on me actually tightened. I pushed and struggled against him, finally clawing my nails into his side as I began to feel lightheaded. Without warning he let go, and I stumbled backward, blinking and trying to focus as I frantically tried to re-inflate my lungs.
I must have looked like a fish, my eyes round and my mouth opening and closing repeatedly, unable to process anything that was happening as I gulped in several deep breaths. But all of that was nothing compared to what I was seeing. Jacob’s broad shoulders were slumped in defeat, and no inkling of his boyish character remained. He looked tired and broken. The spark in his eyes was replaced by something glistening, something red rimmed and devastating.
“I found them,” he said. “I didn’t mean to, but the floorboard was loose, and I thought you might trip, so I just wanted to look at it. I didn’t mean to. I…”
“Found what?” I asked.
“The stuff under your floor,” he said. “Tickets to Florida.” He was looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to say something.
Time seemed to stop as everything began crashing into place. Jacob finding the tickets…his detached manner when he came downstairs… Had they been there all along? Was this just another way Edward had deceived me?
“I thought…I thought he was here and you saw him and…tried to hurt him,” I stammered, still turning over the pieces in my head.
I knew immediately I’d chosen the wrong words. Jacob’s eyes flashed fire at what probably sounded like single-minded concern for Edward. His body stiffened and recoiled at my words. His expression grew hard, his eyes cold.
Another piece clicked into place. “Tell me that’s not why you left,” I said, shaking my head as if my own denial would somehow change the answer I knew was coming.
The flash of guilt was quickly hidden behind a blank mask. “I just needed to talk to Embry,” he said.
“Without saying a word to me?”
“What was I supposed to think, Bells?” he asked, literally throwing his hands up in the air. “I found a stash of pictures of him,” he spat, “some CD or something, and plane tickets! I thought you were going to…be with him.”
And then I saw it, that insecure, unsure part of Jacob that was usually hidden behind the cockiness and bravado. The part of him that knew I still loved Edward and wondered if he would be, could be enough. And I didn’t know what to tell him. I needed to sit down, just to think for a minute, but I didn’t want to face what was scattered on my bed. Instead I walked across the hall to the bathroom, locking the door behind me, and I sunk down onto the faded rug.
What would I have done if Edward had actually come back? My first instinct was to run after Jacob, but had I done that because I was afraid someone would get hurt or because I truly wanted Jacob? I hugged my knees up to my chest and was immediately sickened by the sight of dried blood.
“Bella?” Jacob called, knocking lightly on the bathroom door.
I didn’t answer. I hadn’t figured out the answer yet.
“Honey, please open the door. You’re hurt. I just want to see if you’re okay,” he pleaded.
He had a point. As much as I wanted to shut down, I needed to at least clean up, and I probably couldn’t stomach it by myself.
“I’ll leave, okay? I’ll leave once I know you’re okay. Just please open the door.”
I reached over and turned the lock but didn’t get up. I just pulled my robe tightly around my body and stared at his feet.
He knelt beside me, curving one arm beneath my legs and the other around my back, and lifted me back onto the counter. I felt his lips brush across my forehead, and I looked away as he ran some water over a washcloth and started dabbing at the blood on my knees.
“What happened?” he asked once more.
He didn’t ask anything else, and I didn’t say any more. I kept my gaze focused on the brown flecks in the countertop as he washed my legs and inspected my palms. The water stung, but he was quick about it and as gentle as he could be. He rinsed the cloth out and draped it over the side of the tub, and then he reached into the cabinet, quickly finding the huge assortment of bandages that were a permanent fixture in my life.
He thought I was leaving him. Maybe he thought I was cheating on him, making arrangements for Edward…or with Edward behind his back. I wanted to be angry, but it was impossible. I could only be angry with myself. I did this. I did this to both of us by getting into a relationship with him when I wasn’t over Edward. But could I get over Edward? Did it even matter? Edward left me. For some reason he’d left the mementos behind, but I didn’t even want to start thinking about that. They were just pieces of something that had broken. He was still gone, and Jacob was here. Jacob was here, worrying about me, taking care of me, loving me even when I didn’t deserve his devotion. And I did love Jacob.
Whatever he had thought, wherever he had gone, he’d come back because I told Seth I needed him. And even when he expected the worst, he’d carried me inside and tried to tend to my wounds. Even when I walked away and shut him out, he didn’t leave. Jacob never left me.
He reached over me again, probably putting the box of bandages back in the cabinet, and I wrapped my arms around his waist, touching my cheek to his chest. He froze for a second, and then he dropped the box and pushed my legs to one side before he pulled me close. His breath was warm in my hair, and he sighed heavily before lifting me to stand.
I took one step toward him, and he sunk to his knees, his arms wrapping loosely around my waist to pull me closer, his forehead resting lightly against my chest as he stared at the floor. I couldn’t help but run my fingers through his messy hair, and he raised his face to look at me.
I let my legs relax, my body sliding slowly through his arms until my face was even with his. He leaned back on his heels, keeping me pressed to his chest as my knees bent to rest on either side of him, and I settled into his lap, burying my face against his neck.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, apologizing for so much more than I could explain.
Maybe she’d just squirreled everything away so she wouldn’t have to look at it. That made sense, right? Rachel had a box of crap from old boyfriends still shoved under her bed. Girls kept all kinds of stuff like that…didn’t they? So this was just Bella’s version. But there wasn’t anything about me in there. We hadn’t been together that long, but surely she would have kept something. And then there were the tickets.
As far away from me as she could get without leaving the country.
Her mom lived in Florida. Maybe she was just going to visit her. But then why did she have two tickets? And why were they hidden under her floor with pictures of the leech? And what was the damned CD about? A bunch of sappy love songs he burned for her?
I just needed to ask her. Then again, I probably didn’t want to know. No matter what explanation she had, it was going to cut right through me. I didn’t really need to know why she was hiding stuff, or when she was leaving, or why she said she loved me when she was really planning on going back to him the whole time. Knowing why wouldn’t change the fact that it was going to kill me.
My stomach was churning, and I felt like I was going to be sick. Maybe I just needed to get rid of it all. No tickets meant she wouldn’t be able to leave, right? Rich bastard would probably just buy another pair. Or worse, a private plane. I could put it all back and pretend I didn’t know. Then I could just keep her for however long she let me, and let the world end later…after she’d walked away.
It was silent downstairs. I knew I couldn’t keep it from her. There was no way I could smile and laugh and just be. I couldn’t see her and fake like everything was normal. One way or another, it was all going to come crashing down around me. I dropped what was left in my hands on the bed with the pictures and made my way downstairs slowly, every step shoving the knife in deeper. It felt like I was walking to my own execution, and there was no way to avoid it.
She was standing at the sink wiping a dish cloth in slow circles over a perfectly clean plate. Her hair was still a mess, and her feet were bare. I stood there for a moment, watching her, wishing time would just stop. I don’t think she even knew I was there.
She jumped, the plate slipping a little in her hands, but she didn’t turn around.
“He knows. Charlie knows you’re here,” she said quietly.
Like that mattered anymore.
“I’m not grounded, and you’re not in a body bag, so I guess… He said something about a branch?”
“Yeah, your tree kind of broke,” I said, trying to sound normal. I was second guessing myself, trying to find an excuse to run back upstairs and shove everything back under that floorboard.
“Broke?” she asked, turning to hand me a plate full of food.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
For the first time in…well…ever…I didn’t have an appetite. I was sure the food was good, but I couldn’t taste it. I just swallowed reflexively, half-hoping I’d forget to chew and simply choke to death. Bella watched me for a few minutes while I tried like hell to act normal, and then she went back upstairs to take a shower. I waited, knowing she would see everything still sitting on her bed, knowing she’d probably freak out and yell at me. But what did that really matter now?
Then I heard the water running. What the…? She didn’t even care? Didn’t she have anything to say to me? Was I just supposed to accept this?
I got up too fast, knocking my chair over, and I shoved the rest of my breakfast down the disposal. I wanted to run upstairs, yank her out of the shower and confront her. I wanted her to tell me it was all a mistake and she wanted me. I wanted her to love me the way I had fooled myself into believing she did.
Bella and I had enough problems, didn’t we? When something on the outside wasn’t trying to come between us, something on the inside usually was. Only this was the one thing that we wouldn’t survive. It completely went against logic, against nature, but I had seen how much she loved him, how much it had beaten her down when he left her. I was an idiot for even thinking I could compare.
I couldn’t take it anymore, and I couldn’t think straight. Even though I’d told her I would wait, I needed to get out of there.
I ran. I ran from everything I didn’t want to know and everything I wished I could have. Seth had been on patrol nearby, and as soon as he sensed me, he took over standing guard at Bella’s. I wanted to tell him not to bother, that she obviously didn’t need our help, but I knew that wasn’t true. And as badly as I wanted to just get away, I probably wouldn’t have gone far if she’d been unprotected. At least with Seth there I could run in peace.
Ha. Peace. That was something we never had together. Sure, an hour or two here or there, but never for long enough to get truly comfortable. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn’t notice a thing until something slammed into my side. I was knocked off my feet, flying sideways into a tree. The large trunk split right in two on impact, and I let myself collapse next to it.
‘What’s with you, man?’
‘Dammit, Embry, just leave me alone!’
‘You have to go back.’
‘Why? So I can help her pack? So I can give her my blessing and just watch her leave?’
I didn’t have to explain it to him. He could see it all in my head…the way she’d looked last night when she opened the window, the way she’d kissed me like she couldn’t get enough, the way she’d panicked when Charlie knocked on her door this morning. I was too upset to put any of it out of my mind. I couldn’t block a single thing from him, and his mind was working overtime in response.
A thousand scenarios flitted across my thoughts, all the different ways Embry thought this could go. He pictured her calm, angry, surprised, even laughing. But the one that stood out was Bella crying. His image of her wasn’t quite right, not catching the glint of clouded sunlight on her chestnut hair, or the way she wrapped her arms around her middle when she was truly hurting, but he got her eyes right…big and warm and reddened by tears.
‘You didn’t even ask her,’ he said.
‘Stay out of my head.’
‘I wish I could,’ he replied. ‘Just go back, man. What if you’re wrong?’
‘How can I possibly be wrong? I don’t even know what the hell it all means!’
‘Exactly. You don’t know shit, and you’re running away.’
‘You’re one to talk,’ I said.
‘At least I knew what I was running from, and it’s not like I wanted her. You want Bella. You’re just running from a bunch of crap that might not mean a damned thing, and you know it.’
I wanted to tell him to shut up, to mind his own business and leave me the hell alone, but suddenly Seth’s mind was with worry, and Bella was screaming for me. Without a second thought, Embry spun and rushed back toward Forks, as I leapt up to match him step for step.
Bella was standing in her yard, and Seth phased back before I could see anything else. I hoped that meant she wasn’t in any danger, but I wasn’t going to feel any better about it until I saw her for myself. God, I was such an idiot. If Bella was hurt because I was too chicken to face her…
Seth had phased to join us again, and for a second I panicked, worried that he was having to protect Bella on his own. But then I saw her in his thoughts. Bella sobbing and screaming for me, Bella slumping down to the ground, Bella barely dressed and bleeding. What the hell was going on?
‘Something’s wrong with her, Jake. I don’t know. She’s all crazy,’ Seth said.
‘We’re almost there,’ Embry replied.
We were only a mile away when Seth came crashing toward us through the brush.
‘You left her?!’ I was furious.
‘She’s…I just didn’t know what to do,’ Seth replied.
‘You’re supposed to protect her!’
‘From what? There’s nothing there!’
He played it all again in his mind, hearing her scream and sob, watching her fall, seeing her eyes, wild when she spotted him. She’d run right into him and said she needed me. She needed me.
We phased just inside the trees. I could already see Bella standing in her yard, her bare feet probably cold in the damp grass. Her knees were bruised and bleeding, and her shoulders were slumped as she stared at the woods. She was clutching a thin robe around her body and shaking. I started toward her, and Embry grabbed me roughly, yanking me backward. I was ready to hit him when I realized he was holding my pants. I didn’t say anything. I just grabbed them and threw them on, took a deep breath, and followed the guys into Bella’s yard.
“Jacob,” she breathed quietly.
“Give us a minute?” I asked Embry.
“Sure. We’ll stay close,” he replied. “Talk to her,” he added as he disappeared into the forest.
But what was I supposed to say? I walked over to Bella, every step that brought me closer to her only magnifying how broken she looked.
“What happened to you?” I asked, trying to resist the urge to just grab her and never let go. I felt stupid enough still wanting her. I didn’t need to show it.
“I…pictures…Edward was…the stairs,” she stammered. Her face was too pale, her breathing too shallow. She leaned toward me and then swayed, her bloodied knees buckling beneath her.
Catching her had become a reflex, and I swept her away from the ground and carried her inside.
She hadn’t fainted, but she was mumbling and clinging to me. For a moment, I focused only on the feel of her hands around my neck, her body pressed against mine, her face turned into my chest. But then she said his name…its name…and I was drowning in the pain again.
I kicked the bathroom door open, the sweet, fruity scent of Bella still thick in the humid air. I wanted to fill my lungs with it, to hold it inside me forever, but it was torture. I held my breath. I set her down on the counter beside the sink, ignoring everything that tipped over and rolled onto the floor, and I lifted her leg with one hand while holding the bottom of her robe closed with the other.
She ran her hands up my chest, over my shoulders, and down my arms, making it almost impossible for me to keep my distance. I let go of her robe, praying it would just stay closed, and I pushed her hands away. Hopefully it just looked like I was too busy trying to patch her up.
“What happened?” I asked. I couldn’t look her in the eye. If I did, I’d just end up on my knees, clinging to her and begging her to stay.
“Did you hurt him?” she whispered shakily.
What was she talking about? “Who?” I asked.
I dropped her leg and took a step back. Did I hurt the leech? A better question would have been just how badly did I want to hurt him. In any case, it told me what I already knew. She knew I discovered her secret, and she was only worried about him.
“He was here and—,” she started to say.
I was in her room before she could finish. I knew he hadn’t been downstairs. I would have smelled him there. Come to think of it, I hadn’t smelled him outside, either. And I couldn’t smell him here.
She was standing in the doorway looking at me like I’d lost my mind. I suppose I had because right then and there I went from refusing to beg to wanting to fight for her, even if I knew it was a losing battle. The only thing I was certain of was that I couldn’t just let her go.
I didn’t know what else to do. I just wrapped my arms around her, lifting her up and holding her against me. She was soft and small and perfect, and I didn’t know how I was ever going to let her go. When she was here, touching me, nothing else in the world mattered. But if I let even an inch of space between us, it was going to rip me apart. She said something, I think, but I couldn’t listen. Everything I had was wrapped up in the small comfort of holding her close for just one more second.
In my haze I barely felt the pinching pressure against my arms, and it took me a second to realize it was Bella. The tips of her fingers were turning white as she pressed them into my arm, and her nails were denting into my skin. I loosened my hold and heard her gasp, shocking me into letting go completely. She stumbled backward, her eyes wide with fear and confusion, gasping for air, and each breath she took tore into my chest as I realized I’d almost hurt her.
I wanted to go back, back to this morning when I was dreaming of her and holding her while we slept. Back to last night when…was she thinking about him then? Was she wishing it was him she was kissing? It was really over, and I just needed to face it.
“I found them,” I told her. “I didn’t mean to, but the floorboard was loose, and I thought you might trip, so I just wanted to look at it. I didn’t mean to. I…”
“Found what?” she asked.
“The stuff under your floor, tickets to Florida.” I couldn’t breathe as I waited for her to respond.
“I thought…I thought he was here and you saw him and…tried to hurt him,” she said.
That was it. She didn’t care that she was killing me. She was only worried about him.
“Tell me that’s not why you left,” she said.
She stood there, in that thin robe, knees scabbing over and face streaked with tears, and all I could see was the image of her desperate and falling apart in her yard. But I didn’t want to feel guilty. I couldn’t feel guilty. I couldn’t feel anything but the loss. “I just needed to talk to Embry,” I said.
“Without saying a word to me?” she asked, accusation in her voice.
Really? I was the one who’d done something wrong? “What was I supposed to think, Bells? I found a stash of pictures of him, some CD or something, and plane tickets. I thought you were going to…be with him.”
She quickly looked away, looking at anything but me, and then she turned and walked quickly to the bathroom. I cringed at the sound of the lock turning, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying.
I knew better, but I knocked anyway. “Bella?”
“Honey, please open the door. You’re hurt. I just want to see if you’re okay.”
And more silence. I could have just pulled the door right off its hinges, and a big part of me wanted to, but I knew that in spite of everything, this had to be on her terms.
“I’ll leave, okay? I’ll leave once I know you’re okay. Just please open the door.”
Finally, the locked clicked open, and I pushed in the door to see her huddled up, almost in a ball on the floor. I picked her up carefully, ignoring my need to just take her and run somewhere that that thing could never find us, and I set her on the counter, kissing her once on the forehead more for my own comfort than hers.
The scrapes on her knees weren’t too bad once I’d washed the blood away, but I could see bruises starting to form. I still didn’t know what happened, but when I asked, she only said “Stairs,” and didn’t take her eyes off whatever invisible spot she was focused on. If she’d really taken a tumble down the stairs, she was definitely going to be sore. I’d need to remember to get her some aspirin before I left.
She kept her head down while I worked, resting her limp hand in mine as I checked for more cuts. Her knees had taken the worst of it, her hands were a little scratched, and she had a nasty bruise on her shin, but that seemed to be the extent of it. I rinsed out the washcloth and tossed it over the side of the tub, then covered the couple of uglier cuts with some bandages I found in the cabinet.
It looked like I was done, and I needed to leave as I’d promised, but that was really the last thing I wanted to do. I reached to put the bandages away, thinking I could buy a little more time if I picked up the stuff I’d knocked over. And then she leaned into me.
Her arms circled around me and her fingers dug into my back as she pressed her face into my chest. Everything stood still. The box in my hand dropped. And hope flared.
I wanted to pull her closer, but she was wearing that little robe, and as much as I really didn’t care what she had on beneath it, I knew I needed to be careful. So I pushed her legs to one side and moved closer to hold her, hoping this wouldn’t be the last time. But if it was?
I picked her up and made sure she was steady on her feet, watching for any sign of pain, and stepped back, silently begging God and fate and anything else that could save me to just give me some kind of sign that this wasn’t over.
She took a step toward me, and my knees hit the floor. Hope and relief and the worst kind of fear coursed through me all at once, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had no strength left, so I just held weakly to her, all my hope resting on that one step she’d taken. Her fingers pushed through my hair, and I held my breath as I looked up to read her eyes.
Sorrow. Guilt. Love.
She slid down against me, her eyes never leaving mine until we were face to face, and then she wrapped herself around me and pressed her face into my neck.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her warm breath fanning over my skin.
I hadn’t lost her.