23. What the Hell?
Edward was fuming as he made his descent back into La Push. He didn't trust Jacob, and right now the boy's comments felt like they were searing through every tissue in his brain.
"So Bella's confused?" Jacob had asked, keeping his voice low as they stood next to the tree. It wasn't really a question, and Edward had the feeling that Jacob was not going to play nicely.
"You wish," Edward had said, but of course, Jacob had been able to see right through his lie, homing in on his uncertainty. Get out of my head, his mind shouted to him.
The smile that spread across Jacob's lips made Edward want to punch him in the jaw.
"Hey, you know what I'm thinking, Edward?" he asked.
"You know I don't."
"It's a very good thing."
Without another word, Jacob turned back and leapt up to Bella's window, and as a burst of rage shot through Edward's body, he willed himself away from the Swan's property and back to the Rabbit a few houses down.
It was light out when he stepped through the door. He paced quietly to Jacob's room and fell onto the bed. He hadn't had a decent night's sleep since the first night in Jacob's body.
It was close to noon when he awoke, hearing the low voices from the television in the living room.
"Good morning," Billy said as he watched his son groggily head toward the kitchen. "There's coffee left over."
"Morning." Coffee…Edward would never again belittle the powers of that beverage. He poured himself a cup, drinking it black and allowing the liquid to soak into his system, giving him that boost of energy he needed. His stomach growled loudly, despite the volume of junk food he'd consumed earlier with Bella. Since it was past breakfast time, he opted for a sandwich. After rummaging through the refrigerator, he removed some condiments, a package of lunchmeat, cheese, some lettuce and tomato.
His knife was poised to slice into a tomato when Billy wheeled into the kitchen.
Edward had begun covering four slices of bread with mayonnaise, feeling Billy's eyes watching him.
"So, Bella dumped that bloodsucker, did she?" Billy asked, the pride obvious on his face.
Edward did not like the sound of this, and it bothered him immensely that this must have been the foremost thought in Billy's mind. "No. Bella didn't dump anyone," he said, almost defensively. The memory of Jacob's private meeting by the tree was like a shock to his system and put Edward on edge. "Bella's just…confused," he said, hating that he was repeating Jacob's words.
"But you two are seeing each other?"
"Yes…for now." He wanted to tell him to butt out, but realized that Billy's attention was now back to the television.
"She called, by the way, a little while ago. She's on her way over here."
Feeling Jacob's heart leap in anticipation of seeing her, Edward could hardly suppress the smile that was spreading across his face. Bella was on her way to see him…and then a surge of panic shot through him. Even if Jacob was escorting her to the treaty line, she would still be traveling alone and unprotected the rest of the way. As quickly as his human hands would allow, he assembled the two sandwiches and threw them onto a paper plate. "I have to go meet Bella."
Billy only nodded in acknowledgement as Edward rushed to the door, but paused before he opened it.
"By the way, Dad, will you please keep it to yourself? It's too soon to say what will happen with Bella."
Billy's dark eyes widened in surprised. "Of course. Not a problem, son. Mum's the word." He made a gesture with his thumb and index finger of zippering shut his mouth.
As Edward drove from the reservation, he had driven past at least four people he didn't recognize along the way. And alarmingly, each person either winked at him or had given him a thumbs-up. The dread crept into his system at the realization; Billy Black had already shared the news while Edward had been sleeping, and from what he could see, news among the reservation traveled like fire. Forcing the disturbing thought away, he accelerated the speed of the Rabbit, and with relief found Bella heading toward him just past the treaty line. She waved to him and pulled off to the side of the road.
Seeing her again put his mind at ease. He cut the engine and left the car to meet her. His arms swept her up into his embrace. "I missed you," he told her.
Bella closed her eyes, feeling safe in the warm embrace, reminding herself that inside the body of her best friend was really Edward. "I missed you, too." After they had pulled away, his hand reached for hers, and the heat from it caused her to draw her own hand back.
Holding her hand toward her chest, she wished she had brought an ice pack with her. Her fingers and palm still stung. "Oh, it's nothing."
Edward waited, able to see by the expression on her face that it was more than she was letting on.
"It's just that," she began, feeling guilty even though she shouldn't. "Don't get mad, okay?" After what Jacob had told her, she wondered if he might be right about the wolf pack's attitude, and now she didn't want to chance Edward phasing. "Jacob kissed me."
His lips formed a snarl. "He kissed you?" It came out as little less than a growl, and he noticed how quickly Bella reached out her other hand to calm him.
"And I slapped him."
Trying to see past his fury, Edward forced his mind to her injury, taking her hand in his and examining the redness of her palm. The tissues appeared swollen, but otherwise there wasn't any broken skin or bones as he tested the range of motion.
"It's fine," she insisted, stealing her hand back.
"He could have killed you." Despite the feelings of jealousy toward Jacob, the possibilities of danger for Bella were already numerous, and it was not only foolish, but careless for Jacob to have risked kissing her.
"Yeah, well, he didn't." Bella threw her arms around him, desperately wanting to get off the subject of unwanted kisses. "I'm okay, see?" As she breathed in the familiar earthy scent of him, she had to tell herself once again that the warm arms now wrapped around her back were not Jacob's. "I missed you," she said, recalling their heated kisses early that morning.
Pressing her against him, Edward felt some of the stress begin to diminish. It was hard to remain angry; she was alive and safe and in his arms. "I missed you, too. And I love that you're here." If Jacob was going to not be respectful, then Edward was more than happy to have her close.
She shared how Jacob had been playing jokes on the Cullens, much to Edward's dismay. At some point he would have to find a way to explain, although, he couldn't hold back the chuckle at the image of oil dripping onto Rosalie's face. The offense was almost forgivable…
In a moment of shared laughter, Edward found himself overcome by wanting to kiss her, drawn in by the magnetic pull of her lips and smile, but recalling the looks he had received from the people here, he turned away. "Billy ratted us out," he informed her.
Bella's eyes opened wide, and she felt the blood rush to heat her cheeks. "Oh no. Do you think he told Charlie?" She had just told her dad that Jacob had kissed her, but imagined that Billy's perception would have been much different.
Edward smiled, brushing his thumb against the worried crease on her forehead. "I don't think so. But, I think it's safe to say that everyone in La Push knows."
Her mouth fell open, and she contemplated the reactions of the pack members…and Emily… "Oh God."
"We just need to be careful." He proceeded to tell her about the conversation he had with Billy.
"You told him I was confused? I'm not confused!" She was very tired of being told that when she was very clear about her feelings…mostly.
He smiled again, happy to hear her acknowledgement. "I know. But when everything goes back to normal there has to be a reason that you're not with him anymore." At least, Edward hoped that was the case.
With their stories now straight, Edward followed behind her truck and parked beside her.
Billy was at the door waiting. "Jake. Sam's on the phone. He needs to talk to you," he said with an urgent tone.
With a sinking feeling, Edward hoped that this had nothing to do with new threats to Bella, but rushed inside.
Get a hold of yourself, Sam.
Sam had hung up the phone and was taking a deep breath as the thundering growls from the other room penetrated his senses. Leah was raving mad, and Sam imagined that calming her down would be no easy task; she already hated him. Her fever had finally broken, and the day he had been dreading was here. He had arrived at the Clearwaters' soon after Sue had called, and now unable to anticipate how long it would take to get Leah to phase back into human form, he had to make arrangements for his Beta to take over today's meeting.
For a moment, he had considered canceling, but it was too important. Just the day before, after having picked up the scent of the elusive redhead, he and Paul had chased her through the woods until she, once again, had bulleted away from their territory. The wolves were going to have to step up their security. Sue already had enough to contend with her son Seth breaking out in a fever, and while Sam would have loved to delegate this job to someone else, it was his duty, his obligation to help Leah through this…no matter how painful it was. There was only one thing he asked of Jacob while he conducted the pack meeting – that they remain on two feet. While Sam could already sense the turbulent thoughts and feelings reeling through Leah's mind and body, he knew that once in wolf form they would be crystal clear in his head…as well as to the other pack members…and this he wanted to avoid for as long as possible.
Despite the hesitance in Jacob's tone, Sam felt confident he could handle it. And for now, Sam needed to focus all of his attention on Leah.
Sam threw open the door, showing more courage than he was feeling while his eyes met the wrath in those dark eyes that he had once loved. The customary massive length of her furry gray body was like an elephant in Sue's living room, and debris and broken knick knacks were scattered throughout the floor. In order to prevent any further damage, he ran out to the back of the house with her huge form chasing at his heels. He knew she wanted to hurt him, that in the frenzied state of her mind, she could hardly think through the consequences, and if he phased there inside the house, there would be little besides rubble left of the Clearwaters' home.
Backed up against the wall of the garage, he held up his arms, foolishly still hoping he could reason with her and not have to engage in a physical battle.
"Leah…please, listen to me…."
The size of her jaws was as big as his face, her teeth as long as fingers as the force of her growl shot at him, piercing his eardrums and tearing at his heart. Sam realized he had no words to calm or soothe Leah, to help hedge her back into her sane human form. This could get ugly. If he remained as he was, Sam would be like a mouse under the paws of a lion.
As much as he dreaded it, he knew what he had to do. Once he phased, she would undoubtedly still attack him, but in the end, she would have no choice but to obey the leader of the pack.
Here goes nothing…
Sam willed the booming charge to flood his veins, already hearing the echo of the torrential anger in her thoughts.
With a sigh, Edward placed the phone back onto the receiver. He was expected to conduct the pack meeting, and even though he only had to deliver the necessary information, he was not feeling very confident. Mentally he ran through the conversation, but Billy's voice broke his concentration.
"So, Bella…you and Jacob, eh?"
"I…well, we aren't really together, you know… just taking it slow. Nothing serious," Bella told him, the nervousness apparent in her voice.
"Well, you know what they say? Once you've had Black, you never go back."
"Dad!" Edward burst into the living room, finding Billy smiling at a horrified Bella beside him.
"I'm just sayin', son," Billy told him, with hands up in defense and meeting his eyes. "Did you know that before your mother, God rest her soul, married me, I was the only man she was ever with?"
Edward's gaze shot to the crimson shade that had flooded Bella's face. "Please. You've embarrassed Bella."
With a shrug, Billy faced her apologetically.
"Bella, do you mind giving me a minute to talk to my dad…alone?"
She nodded with what appeared to be relief on her face which was slowly returning to its natural ivory color.
Less than a minute later, Edward joined Bella out front as she waited by her truck. He smiled, thinking how she looked like a deer ready to bolt into the woods.
"I'm so sorry about that. Parents. How do you stand it?" Edward joked.
She smiled back. "Yeah. They can be so embarrassing." Biting her lip, she was dreading the inevitable. "So, you have to leave? I overheard you on the phone."
He took her hand in his, running his thumb along hers. "I do. I wish I didn't." Edward wished he could get out of it, or even ask Bella to accompany him, but assumed it would be inappropriate to show up with her. "But, I already spoke to Billy, and he promised he would behave." Shaking his head, he smiled at her, finding dread evident on her face.
"So, what if you have to phase?"
"Sam already made it clear he wanted us on two feet…but he didn't say why."
The question was still on his mind when he arrived to the meeting site, finding Jared, Embry, and Quil already waiting for him there.
Embry sat with his long legs stretched out across a log, nodding his head at Edward. "So, you and Bella, huh?"
Edward rolled his eyes, inwardly cursing Billy's big mouth.
Quil laughed, looking in Jared's direction. "Didn't I tell you?" he asked. "I told you Bella would dump that bloodsucker! You owe me five bucks!"
Jared looked to Edward for confirmation, and Edward shook his head, fuming. "Bella didn't dump anyone. So please can we drop it and begin the meeting?" he snapped.
The three boys exchanged a look, and Jared turned back to Edward. "So, Sam's busy with Leah, huh?"
"Yeah…I'll bet he's hating life right now," Embry put in.
Edward had no idea why Sam wasn't there, and he hadn't felt it was his place to ask, but apparently the rest of them were better informed. La Push must have had a secret party line that linked them to all the gossip.
Quil's face lit up with a wide grin. "Five bucks says she sinks her teeth into his a-."
Holding up his hand, Edward cut Quil off, "Has anyone seen Paul?"
"He was at the beach," Embry said, pointing to the west just beyond the trees.
"Will you get him? I'd like to get this meeting started," Edward told them. And over with. He wanted very badly to get back to Bella.
Listening to the others' theories about how Leah was probably tearing Sam apart limb from limb, Edward wondered what was taking so long for Embry and Paul to return, when at last Embry's face appeared at the edge of the woods.
"Where's Paul?" Edward asked.
"I'll bet I know where he is," Quil snickered, rolling his eyes as Embry rushed back.
"I told him we were still having the meeting, and he said to go on without him."
This seemed like classic Paul. Since the leader wasn't there, he was going to skip out on the meeting. "No. Paul has to be here. Where is he? What's he doing?"
Embry shook his head. "He's on the beach…."
"Yeah…probably still harassing Pee Pee Pants," Quil added. "I mean Desiree."
Before he could think to do it, Edward headed westward past the trees as a burst of adrenaline surged through his body, and as rage threatened to envelop him, he told himself that Quil could have been mistaken…
…but he wasn't.
When the ocean was in view, he quickly located the two just off to the left. Close to the shore, Desiree's smaller frame could be seen struggling against Paul's larger, more powerful one as she tried to remove herself from his grasp. As Paul leaned down to kiss her, Edward heard a growl emerge from his own throat.
"Let her go!" Edward demanded.
Paul waved him away, ignoring him.
"Let her GO!" he said again, charging at Paul until he was at his back. Paul, who seemed neither to listen nor to care, pulled Desiree closer against him.
"Mind your business, Jake," Paul warned.
Her cries rang out in Edward's ears, and as the rage encompassed Edward's being, his fingers dug into the blades of Paul's shoulders, tugging him backward and away from her. With concern only for Desiree, Edward yelled for her to run and watched her put as much distance between herself and Paul as she could.
When Edward gazed back, he found Paul's eyes were now narrowed threateningly at him as though he had just stolen his lunch; Paul's teeth were bared, and his entire chest heaved and shook with every breath. Before another word could be spoken it was as though Paul's body had burst from its human shell, emerging into the immense form of the gray and white wolf before him. The top of the wolf's head was as tall as Edward's chest, and threatened by the size and imposing presence of the animal, Edward took a few steps back.
As the wolf lunged at him, Edward hadn't even had time to react when a combination of overwhelming fear and ferocity triggered a defensive switch in his body, clouding the nerves in his brain, pushing and pulling at every bone and muscle, as though his insides were digging their way through his flesh, and he was helpless to control the outward blast of tension seeking release from every cell. In the span of a second, he felt the disorienting explosion of energy rip through his head, quickly followed by arms, torso and down to his legs and feet. Edward's mind pulled out of the fog almost instantly, his own form the size of the one across from him, and as his anger blazed throughout this strange, yet familiar body, fierce growls emerged unbidden as he fought for control.
The gray wolf's mouth was no longer in a snarl, and it seemed comedic the domestic way Paul sat and cocked his head to the side curiously…only now Edward did not have to guess what he was thinking.
He could hear it as similarly as when he read minds in vampire form…and Paul's thoughts came in loud and clear with his retreat.
What the hell?