Story Title: Breathe Again by ysar
Chapter: 36. Normalcy
Genre: Twilight – Romance / Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence,
Post Word Count: 6237
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!”
Of all the nights to have to work, this was probably the worst. Mrs. Newton was bound and determined to keep the business open, and I suspected she was just as determined to make me miserable.
Heavy plastic sheeting cordoned off the section of the store that was more heavily damaged, and everything that was still in good condition had been crowded into one half of the building. I’d never considered myself to be someone who thrived on order and organization, but the haphazard new layout made it just about impossible to find anything. I honestly didn’t know what half of the stuff was to begin with, but when it was all piled up on top of itself, I was lost.
I was actually surprised that we had customers, though I probably shouldn’t have been considering the fact that an enormous yellow banner hung outside, screaming to the whole world that Newton’s was still open for business. Most of the people who came in went right for the fire-sale section, though, picking through the camping gear that smelled heavily of smoke and looking for a deal. Several customers asked for discounts on things that hadn’t have any damage at all, and Mike and I watched through the evening as his mother’s expression tightened and tensed by the minute.
“How long do you think it will be before she explodes?” he chuckled.
“Glad you think it’s funny,” I grumbled. “You know she’s just going to take it out on me.”
Mrs. Newton had never exactly been friendly to me. She wasn’t rude, but there was always a tone of condescension when she spoke, and now that she knew I was dating Jacob, she made no effort to hide her distaste. It made me feel sorry for whatever poor girl ended up marrying Mike someday. Mrs. Newton was going to be the worst mother in law in history.
“She’s not that bad,” he said. “At least she’s not making you mop.”
“Not yet. Don’t give her any ideas,” I said, rolling my eyes.
My shift only lasted a few hours, but already I’d cleaned the windows, scrubbed down all the shelves in our makeshift stockroom, and hauled heavy displays around just so Mrs. Newton could purse her lips, pretend to give it some thought, and then say, “No, I think it looked better where it was. Go ahead and put it back.” I wouldn’t have minded the work if it had actually needed to be done, but wiping down glass that was already spotless was hardly necessary, and the whole display thing was like a twisted game I was stuck in. Mike was lucky, assigned with greeting the customers and helping them find things. That wasn’t something I necessarily enjoyed, but I would have gladly switched places with him tonight.
“Oh, Isabella!” she sang in an unconvincingly sweet sing-song voice. That’s right. I was Isabella to her now.
“Wish me luck,” I whispered to Mike. “Yes, Mrs. Newton?”
“Someone’s been tracking soot all over these floors. I’m going to need you to mop before you leave.”
It was clear that by “someone,” she meant me, and I made a mental note to look for another job as I headed to the back to scrounge up a mop.
“Oh, come on, Mom,” Mike said. “We leave in like two minutes.”
I paused for a second, hoping against hope that she would decide mopping could wait.
“Now, Mikey, you know I can’t open the store tomorrow with filthy floors,” she replied.
I gave him a grateful smile anyhow and hurried to the back. The sooner I could get this over with, the sooner I could see Jacob.
I found the bucket easily enough, and it was filled with grimy black water, so I tugged it over to the back door and dumped it out in the unused drive behind the store. Once it was refilled, I went in search of the mop, which I finally found lying behind a bunch of damaged bins. It was almost black with dirt, too, but before I could go back out to rinse it, Mike walked into the room.
“Come on,” he said. “We’re leaving.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But I can’t get away with that like you can.”
“I’m serious, Bella,” he said. “She said she’ll have Dave take care of it in the morning. So we’re free to go.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I left everything by the back door grabbed my bag. Mike waited until I had my keys in hand and then walked ahead of me onto the sales floor.
“Oh,” he said, pausing before we rounded the corner where his mother had been all night. “If she says anything about dinner, just go with it, okay?”
I gave him a skeptical look, but I wasn’t about to blow my chances of getting out of there on time, so I nodded my agreement.
“Have fun, kids!” Mrs. Newton called cheerily just as we reached the front door.
“We will. Thanks, Mom!” Mike yelled over his shoulder, grabbing my hand and holding it tightly as we walked through the store and outside.
As soon as we were away from the brightly lit storefront, I yanked my hand back. “What was that?” I asked, a little mad that he’d gone back on his ‘just friends’ promise so soon.
“That was me getting you out of there,” he laughed. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Mike. I thought—” I started to say.
“No, Bella, I have moved on,” he said dramatically as he moved his arm in an exaggerated sweeping gesture. “I know you want another chance, but it’s just not gonna happen. Mike Newton is unavailable to you.”
He could barely keep in his laughter, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Mike was actually turning out to be a pretty decent friend after all.
Jacob was waiting in the driveway when I pulled in. He grabbed my bag as I got out of the truck and hugged me tightly before following me inside.
Charlie barely glanced away from the TV when we walked in, but then he did a double-take upon seeing Jake. “’Bout time you came around,” he said. “She’s been a mess without you.”
I shook my head, trying to will away the blush I felt flaming up, and Jake chuckled.
“You kids hungry?” Charlie asked. “There’s a couple of pizzas on the counter.”
I was starving, and Jake was a bottomless pit, so we headed straight for the food. Jake wouldn’t go anywhere near the half of one that had pineapple, but he made quick work of the rest. I rinsed off our plates while he took the empty boxes out to the trashcan, and when I turned around, he was standing there watching me, a strange look on his face.
“So…” he said, looking uncomfortable. “Can I see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, wishing he didn’t have to leave so soon. “Do you have to patrol tonight?”
“Oh,” I said, disappointed. “But you can’t stay?”
“Yeah, I just didn’t think…I mean, I didn’t want to assume…” he trailed off, staring at his feet.
“Stay,” I said. “You owe me for last night.”
Hi face lit up with a grin just as Charlie walked in to grab another beer. Charlie paused and looked from Jacob to me and then back at Jake again.
“Door stays open,” he said gruffly before heading back to his recliner.
The second we were in my room, Jacob pulled me over and kissed me.
“I should have done that earlier,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, unable to hide my smile. “You should have.”
I extricated myself from his arms quickly though, feeling sweaty and none too attractive after my evening of manual labor. I walked over to my dresser and pulled out some sweats and a tank top, and then I tossed Jake the shirt he’d given me after that night at Emily’s.
“What’s this for?” he asked.
“My dad says you have to wear a shirt, remember? Besides, it doesn’t really smell like you anymore, so…”
He smirked and slipped his arms into the sleeves then walked over to the bed. “Hey, Bells?”
“What?” I asked, my back to him as I tried to slip a change of underwear into the bundle of clothes I was holding.
“Can we change the sheets?”
“I just changed them the other day,” I said.
“Yeah, but um…they smell kind of like…your friends,” he said hesitantly.
“Oh.” I was a little surprised. I knew he tracked Victoria by her scent, but it never occurred to me that he thought vampires smelled bad. I guess it made sense, though. Werewolves were supposed to kill vampires, not eat them for dinner, so they probably weren’t supposed to smell delicious. “Okay,” I shrugged. “I’m going to take a shower, though. Toss those in the washer, and get another set from the hall closet.”
Washing away all the soot and grime from Newton’s felt better than I would have imagined, and as much as I wanted to linger under the warm spray, I didn’t want to waste any of my night with Jake. I was exhausted from work, full from dinner, and relaxed from my shower. All I wanted was to curl up next to him and sleep. He’d only been gone a few days, but it felt like forever, and I was looking forward to resting beside him without any worries.
I towel dried my hair and tossed my dirty clothes in the hamper, and then walked back into my room. Jacob was sprawled out on the bed, his eyes closed and his breathing soft and steady. Even though I’d missed being with him, I didn’t want to wake him. He’d been chasing Victoria for days, and I was willing to bet that his worry about the Cullens visiting had made any sleep he’d had since coming home restless.
I stood there for a while just watching him sleep. The bed was a mess but the new change of sheets was on, so I guess he’d done his job before passing out. He looked happy and peaceful and every bit the Jacob I’d fallen in love with. Gone was the worry I’d seen in his eyes during our recent time together, and though I knew it would be back as long as Victoria was still a threat, it was nice to see him completely relaxed.
He was wearing his shirt, but just barely. The sleeves were pushed up above his elbows, and he hadn’t fastened a single button. I remembered the first time I’d seen him without his shirt. Well, it probably wasn’t the first time, considering how often Charlie had taken me to La Push when I was little. But it was the first time that counted. I’d told him he was sort of beautiful, and standing in my doorway watching him tonight, I wondered what was wrong with me to say that. There was nothing sort of about it. He was another version of perfect.
“You gonna stand there all night?” he asked, the corner of his mouth turning up while his eyes remained closed.
“I thought you were asleep,” I said, glad he wasn’t looking as I blushed at being caught. I flipped the light switch off and hurried over to the bed before he could see.
“It’s okay. You can ogle me,” he chuckled.
“I was not ‘ogling’ you,” I argued as I crawled under the covers and curled up as close to him as I could.
“Sure you weren’t, Bells,” he teased.
“You’re awfully confident for someone who’s still in trouble,” I said.
He laughed and stretched his arm out, wrapping it around my shoulders to pull me closer, and I rested my leg over his. I closed my eyes, not because I was tired, but because I just wanted to savor the moment when everything was finally back to being as it should.
“You forgot to button up,” I said, giving the shirt a tug before sliding my hand up his chest. Yes, he was definitely perfect.
“Charlie didn’t say anything about a buttoned shirt,” he said. “All he said was I had to wear one. And that’s what I’m doing.”
“True,” I agreed, not really wanting to give up the feel of his skin under my hand anyhow.
“And as I recall, you didn’t think it needed to be buttoned before,” he added.
I nuzzled my face against his neck and tried to ignore that comment.
“So that’s it?” he asked. “No kiss?”
I raised my head, hoping my blush had faded enough that he couldn’t see it in what little moonlight streamed in, and lowered my lips to his. One of his hands immediately cupped the back of my head, his fingers weaving into my hair as he held me in the kiss. His other hand snaked around my waist, grabbing at my hip and dragging me fully on top of him, my legs between his. The smell and taste and feel of him combined to shut down my brain, and every conscious thought I had was wrapped up in him, in that kiss, in us. And then we were jolted apart by the creak of a loose board in the stairway.
“I really hate your dad right now,” he groaned as I scrambled to get into a more appropriate position.
“Feeling’s mutual, son,” Charlie answered.
Getting back to La Push took longer than it should have thanks to Sam’s stupid rule about phasing. The treaty said we weren’t responsible for Forks, and it restricted us from stepping foot on the Cullens’ territory, but Sam had decided to take it a step further this time and forbid us from even phasing if we were off the rez. He said it was because he didn’t want anyone running into them and starting a war or something because we couldn’t control ourselves. I suspected it had more to do with Sam wanting to be in complete control…and probably a little to do with being pissed at Bella.
As soon as I set foot on the reservation, I phased and took off through the woods toward Sam’s house. That was probably a huge mistake, though, because I was stuck listening to Jared’s whining the whole way. Sam had gotten a little creative with his punishment for him, issuing an alpha command that Jared was to stay phased for two weeks. So not only did Jared have to stay hidden most of the time, but he also couldn’t see Kim. Well, I guess he could have, but movie night on the sofa with a giant wolf was probably not something she felt like explaining to her parents.
If you’d asked me, though, Jared got off easy. He’d deserted his post guarding Bella, and we were all lucky that it was just the Cullen leeches who’d slipped in while he was gone. If I’d had any say in his punishment, he’d be a lot worse off than just hanging out in the woods, suffering the werewolf version of being grounded.
I didn’t worry with knocking when I got to Sam’s. None of us really did anymore since it was kind of like our unofficial headquarters. Emily glanced up from whatever she was doing in the kitchen and gave me a questioning look.
“We’re good,” I said, knowing she was wondering how things went with Bella.
She smiled brightly and nodded toward the back door. “He’s outside.”
I stepped out the backdoor to find Sam, his head buried under the hood of the truck and cursing under his breath.
“Need some help?” I offered.
“Nah…think I’ve got it,” he replied. He rose up and wiped the grease from his hands onto his jeans, then turned to face me. “What’s up?” he asked.
Sam was the straightforward type, so I decided to speak his language and just get right to the point. “We can’t leave Bella unprotected,” I told him.
“Jake, you know we can’t interfere,” he said, obviously irritated that I would even bring her up. “If the Cullens are back—”
“They’re not,” I interrupted. “They just came to…I don’t know…visit or something. And they’re gone now.”
“And you’re okay with this?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“She hangs out with the bloodsuckers while we’re out there trying to keep her safe, and that’s not a problem for you?” His voice was laced with judgment.
“You know it’s a problem for me,” I replied, not wanting to take his bait and get stuck justifying it. I didn’t need him telling me how messed up it was, and it really wasn’t any of his business. “But I didn’t make the damned treaty.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” he asked, taking a step toward me, like he was daring me to challenge him or something.
“The treaty let them live here. It let them pull her into their mess. And it stops us from doing anything about it. What doesn’t it have to do with anything?”
“I think we need to stick to the rez,” he said, almost like he was handing down some kind of final decision. “Bella knew what they were, and she—”
“Really?” I asked, refusing to let him finish that stupid line of thought. “That’s your argument? She knows what we are, too, Sam.”
“I’m not arguing about this, Jake. We have responsibilities here.” He turned around, like he was just going to go back to working on the truck, and anything I said didn’t matter.
“So we’re just gonna what?” I asked angrily. “Let the bloodsuckers take over Forks?”
“No!” he yelled, spinning back around to glare at me. “But we can’t concentrate everything on Bella. She chose this.”
“She didn’t choose anything! None of us did. It just happened!”
“And we can’t be responsible for her. End of discussion.”
“Fine. If that’s how it has to be, then fine,” I said yanking open the backdoor to go inside and get away from him. But just as quickly I turned back around. “But as long as you’re running everyone’s life, find another place for Collin to stay.”
“Why?” he asked, eying me skeptically.
“Because Bella’s staying with me. On the rez. Where she’ll be safe,” I told him.
“Dammit, Jake! You can’t just put some girl above the pack!”
He might have been my Alpha, but he wasn’t Bella’s. I just raised an eyebrow. “Watch me.”
I didn’t wait to hear his argument, stepping inside and letting the door slam loudly behind me. But it didn’t drown out Sam.
“Jake!” he yelled.
“What?” I yelled back through the door.
“Get out here!”
Instead of walking back out into the yard, though, I just opened the door enough to look at him. And I waited. He wasn’t going to change my mind, and I’d said what I needed to say. Sam’s fists were clenched, and his arms were beginning to twitch like he wanted to phase. I stayed silent and motionless as he got himself under control, even though a small part of me was hoping he’d lose it, and we could just fight it out in his backyard. Finally, though, he exhaled slowly and brought his gaze up to meet mine.
“We’ll protect Bella,” he said coldly.
I just nodded and let the door swing shut again.
“Everything okay?” Emily asked, her worried face peeking around the wall from the kitchen. There was no way she’d missed all the yelling.
“Now it is,” I said, still a bit mad at Sam for forcing my hand. Not that I would have had a problem with Bella staying with me….
Emily looked toward the door and opened her mouth like she was going to say something else, but then she shook her head. “How’d it go with Bella?” she asked instead.
“Better than I expected,” I told her, rounding the corner into the kitchen. “Better than I deserved, really.”
I leaned against the counter as she went back to mixing some globby brown mess in a giant bowl.
“What about the Cullens?” she asked.
“They’re gone,” I shrugged. “For now at least. She says they were just visiting, like to check on her or something.”
“What are you going to do if they come back?” she asked, zeroing in on the one thought I was trying not to think.
“I don’t know,” I sighed. “Deal with it, I guess?”
“Good,” she said.
She didn’t say anything, and I just stood there for a while, watching as she spooned what was apparently batter into a muffin pan.
“Was there something else?” she finally asked.
“Yeah…um…I need to do something. You know, for her,” I said.
“Something?” she asked.
“Something nice, like romantic or whatever,” I replied, not really sure how to explain it without sounding like a girl.
She laughed and shook her head. “Spoken like a true romantic.”
“ Very funny.”
“What are you planning?” she asked.
“That’s the problem,” I said. “What I should do is take her out to a fancy restaurant or something, but that’s not exactly in my budget.” Money wasn’t something I’d really ever mentioned around Bella, and she’d never brought it up. I knew she was happy to just spend time together, but I felt like I owed her more than that.
“What is your budget?” Emily asked.
“About thirty bucks?” I asked rather than said. It was all the money I had, actually.
“Okay,” she nodded, looking thoughtful for a second. “We can work with that. What do you guys normally do on dates?”
“Umm…we haven’t exactly gone…on a real date.”
“Never?” she asked, obviously surprised.
I shook my head. “I mean, we just hang out, you know?”
“Jacob” she said, practically scolding me.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I complained. “I can’t exactly get a job. I can’t even go to school with all this patrolling.”
“Bella’s not a fancy kind of girl, Jacob,” she said. “I don’t think she’d keep you around if money was the issue. What do you two normally do when you ‘hang out?’?”
“Watch a movie, maybe,” I said. “She cooks a lot, so there’s usually dinner… or Charlie orders pizza when she works late.” I paused and thought about it for a minute and realized I could count on one hand the number of times we’d actually done something since we got together. “I guess we mostly just sleep,” I finally said. “We don’t get a whole lot of time together with school and her job and my …job, I guess.”
“So take her to a movie,” Emily suggested like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Really?” I asked. “That’s the best you’ve got for me? Can I accidently touch her hand when we both go for the popcorn? Maybe I can do that fake yawn move,” I teased.
“Make fun all you want, Jake. I don’t hear you coming up with any ideas.”
“Fine,” I conceded. She was right, but even I could have come up with the movie thing.
“Okay, let’s start simple,” she said. “What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?”
“Take her out to a nice dinner,” I replied. “Get her flowers, I guess.” Okay, maybe my ideas were as unoriginal as Emily’s.
“Okay, so dinner,” she repeated. “Thirty bucks pays for a sit-down restaurant, nothing too fancy, but definitely better than pizza. Or…” she trailed off.
“Or what?” I asked.
“Or you could make dinner for her,” she suggested.
I rolled my eyes. “I love her, Emily. I’m not trying to kill her.”
Emily just laughed it off, but I wasn’t entirely joking. Dad and I had been living off frozen dinners and grilled fish for years. Cooking just wasn’t an option.
“You’re telling me you wouldn’t even try?” she asked. “For Bella? Oh, don’t give me that look. There’s no reason you can’t make her dinner. She does it all the time for everyone else, and I bet she’d like a break.”
“I take it you’re volunteering to help?” I asked. Because honestly, that was the only way this was going to happen.
“If that’s what it takes, yeah,” she said, smiling. Damn it.
She knew she’d won.
“Ok, so I just need to buy a bunch of stuff I don’t know what to do with, try to keep it edible, and spend whatever’s left on flowers,” I said, hoping she’d see how this was probably destined for failure. It wasn’t that I didn’t think Bella would like it. I just didn’t think I could pull it off. And she deserved a hell of a lot more than having her house burned down because I could barely work a stove.
“You know, you could probably do better by just taking some from my garden.”
“I am not giving her stolen yard flowers,” I said.
“They’re not stolen if I tell you to take them, Jake. And my “yard flowers” are a lot nicer than you’re gonna be able to buy.”
“Great. I’m the cheapest boyfriend ever,” I sighed.
“Or maybe just the most thoughtful. It’s the effort that counts Jake, not the money.”
Once I gave Emily the okay, she started doing that girl thing, making plans and worrying about details. The problem was that she left all the decisions up to me, and I had no idea what I was doing. She said she’d put the flowers together where they looked good, but she made me pick them out. All I knew was that girls were supposed to get red roses, and Emily didn’t have those. After standing there staring at all the plants for a good ten minutes, Emily finally just told me to pick out whatever reminded me of Bella.
After that came the “menu,” as Emily insisted on calling it. I really thought she’d be more help, but instead she just set a cookbook in front of me and told me to pick. I knew fish was out, or at least I hoped it was. Bella could have fish any day of the week if she wanted. Steaks were good, but I wasn’t sure if Charlie would let me use his grill and…well, at this point I didn’t even know if he’d let me use his kitchen. I couldn’t exactly take Bella to my house with Collin staying there, and it’s not like I could send him off somewhere for the night. This date stuff was turning out to be a lot harder than I thought.
After a couple of hours, though, we had a pretty good plan in mind, and we’d settled on tomorrow night since Bella didn’t have to work. But first I’d need to talk to Charlie and make sure he was cool with it. Then I’d need to get Bella away for a while so she wasn’t stuck watching me destroy her kitchen. Emily said she’d come over and help…well, supervise, I guess, since I was going to be doing all the work. I had no idea what to do about Bella, though.
By the time I finally left Emily’s, Bella was already getting out of work. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to catch her at Newton’s, so I just went straight to her house, and within seconds, she pulled up. I carried her bag inside and prayed she’d ask me to stay. I knew we were okay, but I didn’t know just how okay we were.
Charlie was watching TV, as usual, and he looked surprised to see me. “’Bout time you came around,” he said. “She’s been a mess without you.”
I tried to ignore the instant guilt brought on from knowing I’d only made things harder on her by staying gone an extra night, and I just focused on the fact that she’d missed me so much that even Charlie noticed.
“You kids hungry?” he asked. “There’s a couple of pizzas on the counter.”
Twenty minutes later, she was washing dishes, and I was throwing out the pizza boxes. I walked back into the kitchen and watched her for a few seconds, not really knowing what I was supposed to do next. It was late, and I assumed she was going to just go to bed. The big question was whether or not I was invited.
“So…” I started once she’d finished and turned to face me. “Can I see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” she said as I tried to hide my disappointment. “Do you have to patrol tonight?”
Originally I was supposed to be back at the rez tonight, but there was no way Sam could expect me to leave her unprotected. Unless he’d scheduled someone since I left, he had to know I’d be staying in Forks. Unfortunately, it looked like I’d be staying outside. “No,” I replied.
“Oh, but you can’t stay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I just didn’t think…” Crap. That made it sound like I didn’t want to. “I mean, I didn’t want to assume…”
“Stay,” she said. “You owe me for last night.”
The heavy weight on my shoulders lifted and I grinned right back at her little smirk. She could tease me about it for the rest of my life, as long as she kept me around. Charlie walked in before I could say anything else, though, and I swear that man had a sixth sense. He took one look at us and told us to keep the bedroom door open.
Bella took my hand and led me up the stairs, and the moment we were in her room, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I needed to kiss her. I pulled her over to me and just looked at her for a second. Her eyes were wide and trusting, and a small smile played on her lips. The smile disappeared as I got closer, though, and her eyes fluttered shut. And as soon as our lips were touching, her arms were around my neck as her whole body pressed against me. The open door made me a little nervous though, especially since we were standing right in front of it. I pulled back, knowing now that we’d have plenty of time for this later, once Charlie was asleep.
“I should have done that earlier,” I said.
“Yes,” she relied with another smirk. “You should have.”
She dug some clothes out of a drawer and then threw something to me—my shirt, I realized as I caught it.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“My dad says you have to wear a shirt, remember? Besides, it doesn’t really smell like you anymore, so…”
I pulled it on and then went to sit down on her bed, only to be hit with that leech smell again. I thought about opening the window, but when I looked over, it was already open. If it came down to it, I’d just deal with it. But I had to ask.
“Can we change the sheets?”
“I just changed them the other day,” she replied.
God, I hoped this didn’t upset her. “Yeah, but um…they smell kind of like…your friends.”
“Oh,” she said. Then she just shrugged. “Okay. I’m going to take a shower, though. Toss those in the washer, and get another set from the hall closet.”
I should have asked her to do this part, I thought as I tugged at the smelly bedding, trying to touch it as little as possible. Their scent wasn’t as strong anymore, but I knew if I got it on me it would drive me nuts all night. I couldn’t very well expect Charlie to want me showering at his house, too. Finally I got everything off and balled up inside a blanket that hung off the end of the bed, and I carried it all downstairs.
I wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with doing laundry, but I was still relieved to see just a box of detergent and a bottle of bleach on the shelf above the washer. Rachel had stocked our laundry room with all kinds of different stuff, and I still hadn’t figured out what most of it was for. But detergent I could handle. I tossed the sheets into the machine and scooped out some soap, dumping it in and setting it all on cold. I at least knew enough to choose a temperature that wouldn’t ruin anything. That’s when I heard a chuckle behind me.
“So she’s got you doing the laundry now, too?” Charlie laughed.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that so I just shrugged and laughed. It’s not like I could tell him I was worried about vampire cooties. Then I realized this was my opportunity.
“Hey, ah…I wanted to ask you about something,” I said.
His laughter died immediately, and his eyes grew hard. I wasn’t sure what he thought I was going to say, but whatever it was, I hoped I was never unlucky enough to say it.
“I wanted to do something nice for Bella, and Emily said I should cook her dinner.”
“And just what are you hoping to get out of this dinner?” he asked.
“Ummmm…well, see…she’s kind of mad at me right now,” I explained. “I was supposed to be back from camping yesterday, and I didn’t call her…” Man, I hoped he was buying this.
“And what does this have to do with me?” he asked, still looking a little suspicious.
“Well…is it okay if we do it…um, dinner…here?” I asked.
“What’s wrong with your house?”
“There’s just too many people there,” I said. “I mean, my dad and my sister and her boyfriend and this kid that’s staying with us while his mom’s out of town…” Okay, so maybe it was really just my dad and a young werewolf, but that didn’t seem like a safe answer. “We don’t have to be alone or anything, but it’s supposed to be for her, not for the whole family, you know?”
He stared at me for a second, and I was just waiting for him to say no.
“When?” he asked.
“Did you ask Bella? It’s kind of her kitchen,” he said.
“It’s a surprise,” I told him. “I just…well, I haven’t worked that part out yet. I still have to find a way to keep her away till I’m done.”
“Bella doesn’t like surprises,” he said with a smirk. Yes, Charlie Swan actually smirked.
Charlie asked about a million more questions, but he finally agreed, and I hurried back upstairs. I grabbed a set of sheets out of the closet like she told me and did my best to make the bed, but it was kind of a disaster, probably because I hadn’t made my own bed in years. But none of the mattress was sticking out, so it was good enough. I lay down and closed my eyes, trying to relax and not think about the naked girl across the hall.
A few minutes later I heard the water turn off and not long after, the bathroom door creaked open. I assumed she’d head straight for her room, but I only heard a couple of footsteps and then…nothing. But I did feel like I was being watched.
“You gonna stand there all night?”
I heard her gasp, and I tried not to laugh.
“I thought you were asleep,” she mumbled before slipping into bed beside me.
“It’s okay. You can ogle me,” I teased.
“I was not ‘ogling’ you,” she pouted.
“Sure you weren’t, Bells.”
“You’re awfully confident for someone who’s still in trouble,” she said.
Fortunately, I could hear the smile in her voice, and I reached over to pull her closer to me.
“You forgot to button up,” she said, pulling at the open front of the shirt.
“Charlie didn’t say anything about a buttoned shirt,” I replied. “All he said was I had to wear one. And that’s what I’m doing.” Of course, I knew good and well Charlie would revise his rules if he walked in.
“True,” she said.
And since I couldn’t let an opportunity like that pass…“And as I recall, you didn’t think it needed to be buttoned before.” The problem was that as soon as the words were out of my mouth, all I could do was picture her there, in Emily’s guestroom, looking like something out of a dream in my unbuttoned shirt. “So that’s it?” I asked, trying to focus on the here and now instead of the then and nearly naked. “No kiss?”
She pulled herself up and held herself over me as she brought her lips to mine. I knew Charlie could come upstairs any minute, but between the image in my mind and the way she felt, I couldn’t be expected to think rationally. I reached over and pulled her further on top of me. She was so light and so soft and so…just perfect. And the way she kissed me was almost too much to process. And then Charlie ruined it.
She jumped at the sound of a creak in the stairs, and I seriously considered closing her door and locking it. But I knew Charlie would probably just respond with his shotgun.
“I really hate your dad right now,” I groaned.
“Feeling’s mutual, son,” he answered as he passed Bella’s room.
I should have known he’d hear that.