"Is this a joke?" Bella asked him in disbelief. She honestly could not comprehend what he was telling her.
"I'm sorry," Edward told her, keeping his hands at his sides.
"Why are you doing this? I mean, why are you really doing this? And please don't tell me it's because of the curse."
"It is because of the curse…what Desiree said-"
"Edward, please," Bella interrupted, "are you doing this because you think once you switch back I'm going to be confused? I'm not confused."
"This doesn't have anything to do with you, Bella."
"Yeah, except for that I'm the one who's getting dumped."
"I don't see that I have much of a choice. And I hate this. I would rather cut off every limb than have to put you through this pain again."
Tears swam in Bella's vision as Edward's words shot at her heart with the force of a nuclear explosion. The memories of their breakup in the forest drowned her consciousness, and though the person saying the words wasn't the same, Bella still felt that familiar hole in her heart once sewn neatly shut now beginning to rip apart one stitch at a time.
"You can't do this, Edward," she whispered through the sobs forming in her throat. "You promised."
His dark brows drew together, and Edward was painfully aware that without Bella his life would be reduced to existing second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. He didn't know how to live without her. There were no words of comfort to offer, and he'd already reconsidered this decision a hundred times. His thumb and forefinger rose to her chin as he allowed himself to be lost in the watery depths of her dark brown eyes for the last time. It had been over a century since he'd felt the prickle of tears now stinging in his eyes. He wanted to say that he loved her as he walked away. And that he always would.
Jacob was waiting on the other side of the door, leaning against the adjacent wall, his arms folded as Edward closed the front door behind him.
Wiping at his eyes, Edward didn't make eye contact with Jacob. "Your turn," he said, sniffling but trying to put on a brave face even though he knew Jacob could read his thoughts.
"I can't do it."
Edward cleared his throat. "Jacob, we have to. Don't you understand that?"
"Why do you believe Desiree anyway? What if she's making it up?"
"She knew about the necklace. She knew that I wasn't you. Isn't that proof enough?"
"Okay, okay, okay," Jacob's posture straightened. "How about this? We say that we're going to give her up and…."
"I doubt that any insincerity on either of our parts is going to be of any benefit to our situation."
Jacob's arms folded once again. "I won't give her up," he said, shaking his head. He had heard every word exchanged between the two, and now he could hear the awful sobs ringing like unholy bells in his perfect hearing. "And unlike you, Edward, I can't just walk away from Bella when she's crying."
"Did you ever consider that maybe neither of us were meant to have her? Maybe Bella was meant to live a normal life – a life devoid of vampires and werewolves?"
Jacob's Edward lips pressed in a tight line. He had considered that possibility, especially lately, that Bella had deserved better.
"Fortunately for you, since you're her friend, I doubt you have to remove yourself from her life like I do. I'm sure you only have to give up the idea or even the faintest thought that you will end up together."
To Jacob, this was of little consolation. He lowered his head and stared at the sidewalk beneath his feet. This seemed an impossible task when his every thought revolved around Bella.
"I have to get back to the reservation. Sam's waiting for me," Edward told him, "but she'll need you, just like she's needed you before."
With a bitter nod, Jacob turned and braced the knob with his hand, still hearing the sobs from the other side of the door. When he stepped inside, he found Bella in the kitchen in front of the sink with face in hands.
Her eyes were rimmed with tears. "You…gonna…dump…me…too?" she asked between sobs.
Jacob felt like his nonexistent heart was shattering. "No, I mean. I'm here for you, Bella…as your friend."
He took her into his arms and held her gently as the tempting scent washed over him like a wave and sparked the inevitable kindling in his throat. "Shhh…shhh…it's gonna be okay."
"How can you say that, Jake? How can you stay so positive? You might be stuck like this!"
Bella felt Jacob's Edward body turn to stone, and she recoiled from his embrace. "I'm sorry," she said, sniffling. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm just so mad at Edward."
"I wouldn't be so hard on him, Bella. If there were another solution, I'm sure we would both prefer that."
"Thank you for not leaving me," she said in a quiet voice.
He met her eyes. "You have to believe me. Just because I look and sound like him, please listen to what I'm saying. I will never leave you. Okay?" A small smile curved his lips as she nodded. "You know what might cheer you up? A visit to the Cullens."
"How will a visit with Edward's family cheer me up?"
"Because it's lonely and quiet here, and at Edward's house there's plenty of us to protect you."
Always with the protecting. Bella heaved a long sigh. Someone was always having to protect her from something.
There was a gentle knock at Edward's door, and Bella called for the visitor to enter.
She was surprised to see Jasper standing there in the doorway. "Hi, Jasper."
"Everything okay, Bella?"
Bella nodded, putting on her best smile. "Edward's making me a snack, but he'll be back in a minute."
Jasper shook his head. "I'm not looking for Edward," he said, careful to keep his distance from her delightful scent and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Can we talk?"
Curious, she watched as Edward's blond sibling took a single step inside the room and remained there, as though satisfied that they were ten feet apart from each other.
"What's wrong, Bella?"
She smiled. "Nothing. Everything's fine," she said, feeling like she would choke on her words.
"Uh, hello? I can feel your emotions. You're a wreck right now. What's going on?"
As much as she wanted to tell him the truth, she couldn't, or at least not the whole truth. "I'm just upset about my friend Jacob. He said he can't be friends with me anymore."
"Well, I suppose that's inevitable."
"But he's wrong!" Bella spat. "And he said he wouldn't do that again! He promised."
"I get the feeling this is about someone else."
"Can I ask you something? Is Edward different to you?" She hadn't commented on the sweater that Jacob was wearing, but she noticed how striking the shade of burgundy looked on Edward's body. Anything would look good on him, she mused, but the darker, gloomier colors seemed to be the ones Edward wore.
"He was a little funny in the beginning of the week, but he's better now, in fact better than better."
"Better than better?"
"Well, yeah, when you're not around, he's playing video games with Emmett and wrestling him, he's challenging Rosalie to see who can take apart an engine the fastest. He hangs out with Esme a lot. And lately we've been having some pretty good conversations. He's really surprised us these past couple of days. He even let Alice take him shopping."
Bella glanced toward his closet, curious as to what other colors Alice might have inspired. "No kidding. Edward did all that?"
"It's unlike him, don't you think?"
"Well, yes and no. In some ways he's his same old self, but in others, he's completely different. It's like we're all seeing this side of him we've never seen before."
Bella sighed, wishing Jacob would just help her tell them the truth.
"What if he wasn't really himself?" Bella asked him, surprised those words could leave her lips.
"Who else would he be?"
Jacob. Good old, sweet, easygoing Jacob- that's who. That thought, however, remained tucked and hidden inside her mouth. "Nevermind."
Jacob appeared at Jasper's side, holding a can of cola in one hand and a sandwich on a plate in the other. "Wassup, Jas?"
"Not much – just checking on Bella."
"Thanks," he said, heading over to her seated on the couch.
Without appetite, she accepted his offering, setting the can on the arm of the sofa and then took a bite into the sandwich. Jasper had made an excuse to leave, and Bella looked into Jacob's Edward face contemplatively.
"I wish you'd stop trying to blow my cover," Jacob said.
"You like them," she observed.
"No," Jacob said.
"No, you like them. You can't lie to me."
He shrugged. "They're good people."
She cocked her head to the side, showing him that he wasn't fooling anyone.
"Okay, fine, I like them. A lot," he said but then lowered his voice to a whisper. "But they only like me because they think I'm Edward."
"And so you're afraid that if they find out you're not Edward, they won't like you?" Bella smirked as he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. Typical insecure Jacob. "I think you're wrong."
By the time evening had descended upon them Bella realized that being with the Cullens had cheered her up, and Alice's relentless enthusiasm with the graduation party she didn't even want lifted her spirits. Most of all, there was that connection to the Cullens that had been absent the last time Edward had separated from her, and no matter what the excuse, Bella cherished any reason to be near them, even if Edward wasn't.
The week was long, and the only signs of Edward were the faint glimpses she spied from her window every night before bed. There was no doubt in her mind that he was there, but always in the background. When she called out to him, he never responded. And day by day, the hole in her heart stretched a little wider.
The facade was complete, and though Jacob had been there every day, Charlie had been suspicious of Bella's melancholy attitude.
"Is everything okay with Jake?" Charlie asked her as they ate dinner that Thursday.
Bella nodded, picking up her fork and looking down at her untouched plate. "Yeah. Why?"
"I don't know, Bells. I just got the feeling that maybe you two were fighting. He hasn't called or been by."
Oh, she thought. Jacob had been her rock this past week, helping her to hold onto her sanity. Even though she was aware that the two were in each other's bodies, it was hard to ignore that habitual quickening of her pulse when she saw Edward's face, and even harder to ignore that Edward had broken up with her again.
"Things are fine between me and Jacob."
"What about you and Edward?" Charlie asked.
Bella felt hot tears springing to her eyes and blinked them back. "Fine. I've just had a lot on my mind. Alice is insisting on having this graduation party for me tomorrow night, and…and…I'm just sad…you know… to be finishing high school."
She forced a smile to her face and loaded up her fork. "Yeah."
After cleaning up the dishes, she made an excuse that she was tired and wasn't feeling well. It had been four long days since Edward had broken up with her, and still no change had taken place. She was becoming desperate. Again, she spotted some movement outside her window later that night, but when she called to him he didn't answer.
From outside her room, she heard the soft rhythm of Charlie's snoring and snuck downstairs to use the phone. She quickly dialed the phone number on the piece of paper in her hand. It had taken her a great deal of effort to locate this particular number.
"Is this Desiree?"
"Yeah, who's this?"
"This is Bella, and I got your number from a friend of a friend of Emily's. I need to talk to you."
The line was silent for a moment. "Edward's Bella?"
Bella shut her eyes against the tears that threatened to flood her face. "That's right."
"What can I do for you?"
"It didn't work," she said, sniffling and brushing away the tears. "He broke up with me, and Jacob swears that he's only thinking of me as a friend. So, why haven't they changed back?"
"I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't tell Edward to do that. I only told him that a great sacrifice was involved."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know, but I'll tell you something I didn't want to tell him: they wouldn't be the first ones affected by this curse who remained in each other's bodies."
Bella let out a long sigh.
"I'm sure there's some type of sacrifice that needs to be made between the two of them that's much bigger than you," Desiree offered.
"Like what? Their families? Their lives?"
"I wish I could answer that, but I don't know. If I were them, I would just be open to anything. I'm sorry again, Bella, I wish I could be more helpful."
Open to anything? Bella considered this as she thanked Desiree for her advice, though it didn't seem at all telling, at least it was reassuring to know that somehow they needed to consider their options on a grander scale.
She lay in her bed a little while later, listening to the drizzle outside her window. Edward was out there somewhere, and Bella wondered if he was thinking of her, if she could convince him that ending their relationship was not the solution. As the emotional fatigue of the week washed over her, she could not fight the sleep any longer.
Bella found herself standing outside Jacob's house and smiled down at Billy as he opened the door.
"Hey, Bella," Billy greeted, backing up his wheelchair to open the door wider for her to enter. "Edward's been expecting you."
She entered behind Billy and found Edward in his own body setting some plates on the kitchen table beside a box of pizza. He smiled crookedly as she walked in and greeted her with an embrace so tight it took her breath away. To her surprise, his flesh appeared as pale as hers against the black tank top and dark blue denim shorts he was wearing.
"Are you hungry?"
Bella nodded, and Billy made an excuse to leave. Edward pulled the chair out for her and gestured for her to sit.
"I'm starved," he told her.
He joined her across the table, but before he could take a bite of his pizza, there was a knock at the door.
"I got it," Billy called out. "It's probably Jake."
Bella's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Oh, I didn't know he was coming today."
Edward winked to her. "Well, this used to be his home. It'll be good to see him."
To Bella, it looked like Edward had inhaled the entire slice of pepperoni pizza in front of him before they met Jacob in the living room. It felt familiar to her as she watched Jacob leaning down to embrace his dad. He looked very much like himself, his smile white against his dark skin, but his features appeared chiseled, giving his face a more defined beauty. In direct contrast to Edward, Jacob was wearing the same burgundy sweater paired with khaki pants. His black hair was short and cropped like before.
With a grin, Jacob carefully took Bella into his arms. "Hey, Bells. How are you?"
"I'm good," she said, struck by the oddness and ease of it all.
Jacob released Bella and extended his hand out to Edward. "How are you, Edward? You taking good care of my dad?"
"You know it," Edward replied, smiling back. "How are the Cullens?"
There was something very peculiar about this conversation, but for the life of her, Bella could not figure out what it was.
The rest of the night her dreams seemed to blend into one long nonsensical film, and when she awoke by the rays peeking through her window the next morning, it took her a moment to sift through them. The only one that made any sense had been the first one, yet it contradicted everything about Edward and Jacob and their situation. And that was when a whisper inside her mind pushed everything else away like yesterday's trash. The dream had been strange, yet not like a dream at all, rather akin to a glimpse into the future.
Bella was now certain she understood what the sacrifice was. Now, somehow she was going to have to convince Edward and Jacob.