Jacob and Esme reached the third story in seconds, and even now he felt exhilarated by his super speed and agility. Even as he took in the normality of the surroundings, the façade the Cullens were living, Jacob had to remind himself that he was among a group of killers- that the world would be a better place without them, that, in fact, allowing them to exist was irresponsible. And as the mother vampire led him into a study that may very well been the size of half of his own house, Jacob pushed away the thoughts of concern he was reading in her mind.
She took a seat on an ivory leather loveseat, crossing her legs demurely and gestured for him to join her. Jacob wondered if this was how she had created their little family, simply by appealing to each with her sweet face and smile. Sure, she appeared harmless, but Jacob could imagine her with teeth bared, attacking with the ferocity of a black widow, determined to steal their humanity for her own purposes. What would they do without their queen? She should die, Jacob concluded, and so should every single other one.
He took the seat beside her tentatively, every reflex on alert, while contemplating how exactly a vampire kills another vampire.
"Now, Edward, Alice is very concerned, and so are the rest of us. Will you tell me what's wrong? Did something happen with Bella?"
Drat. Jacob could hear their thoughts downstairs – in fact, the foursome could hear every word Esme had just said and were listening intently for his reply. So much for privacy…
"I want to talk to Carlisle," he told her firmly with arms folded across his chest.
Esme's eyebrow arched curiously. "Of course, dear. You can speak to him when he gets home. He's working the late shift at the hospital, remember? He'll be home before you go to school."
Of course he hadn't known that but nodded anyway. So with the leader gone, and the queen vulnerable, Jacob saw that this was his time to strike.
She placed her hand gently in his, and the corners of her lips curled upward again.
Twenty-five minutes later…
"It's okay," her soft voice crooned.
Jacob was crying tearlessly into her shoulder as Esme hugged him tightly to her. He was a sobbing mess, and Jacob was grateful that the members of the wolf pack could not see him right now.
"We all miss our mothers," she told him. "You loved her very much."
The truth was that Jacob could hardly resist the similar mannerisms of Esme and his own late mother, Sarah. Though his own mother's russet features had been in direct contrast to Esme's pale ones, her endless maternal tendencies had appealed to him unconsciously. It hadn't helped either that while Jacob had considered slicing her head off with a single vampire karate chop, that he could read in her thoughts the pain that he was projecting, and Esme was experiencing them along with him sympathetically.
Destroying her would be like taking a sledgehammer to a kitten.
"Sometimes it's just so hard," Jacob admitted, his shoulders rising and falling as he spoke. It had been a very long time since he had his last cry.
She took his face in her hands and captured his gaze with those unreasonably understanding eyes. I know. It's nothing to be ashamed of.
He hugged her tighter, sniffling despite the absence of mucus.
Now is that what was bothering you?
One of the things, he thought, nodding. "Well, partly."
"I bet you miss your father, too."
Jacob's brows drew together, and he shook his head. His father was still alive and well back in La Push.
She pulled away from him, and her brows rose in surprise.
Be Edward! He had to remind himself again. "I mean, uh, yeah, I miss my…father…I just think about my mom a lot."
Of course you do.
"I wonder if…."
What is it, son?
"I wonder if she would…how she would feel about…." Jacob could hardly get the words out. "…what I am now."
"You listen to me, Edward," Esme began, her tone as serious as death. "Your mother would be proud, proud to have such a sweet, kind, honorable son."
Jacob knew that her words were meant for Edward, but still he wanted to keep this woman. Touched by an overflow of emotions, he felt his lips once again begin to tremble.
"Your father and I love you very much, and every day we are grateful to have you in our lives. Every day."
He was feeling very much like a mama's boy and loving every second of it. "Thanks, Mom," he told her, sniffling at absent mucus once more and then realizing it.
Jacob had always thought vampires to be so cold and heartless – it was what he had always been taught, but Esme was more tender and human than any human he had ever known. "Do you ever regret, you know, being what you are?"
Her features fell into a blank stare, and Jacob could read in her thoughts the remorse of her mistakes nearly eighty years before.
"There have been times," she admitted, unconsciously recalling the bloodlust that had taken over her will.
Involuntarily, Jacob relived the pain of her mistakes and how she had dwelled on it for years to come. Sadly, she had taken lives, but was not the vicious, uncaring monster that he had imagined her to be.
Esme smiled then. "As you know, I didn't choose this, but, I wouldn't trade being what I am," – even if the thirst is unbearable at times - "if it meant giving up any of you. I love you all, and I am so happy that we are all together."
The thirst. Esme's admission, her memory of it brought it front and center once again, leaving Jacob to experience the flicker ignite into a flame in his throat at just the memory of Bella's scent.
I'm sorry. I shouldn't have thought about it, Edward. I know how difficult this can be for you. Maybe you should hunt before your dad gets home. She was biting her lip, remorseful at having caused him discomfort.
Jacob shook his head. He was certain he could push that feeling away if he tried hard enough. Besides, it was going to take a lot more than a simple memory to motivate him to drink blood.
"I'm okay," he told her. "But, I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't go to school today."
She didn't bat an eye. "That would be fine. Stay home, and you and Carlisle will have plenty of time to talk."
Now, she was either really nice, or just a pushover, Jacob was beginning to think, until she winked at him.
Lord knows that you've repeated high school enough times. I doubt you'll be missing anything.
That thought was disturbing. Could he inquire as to how many times without sounding conspicuous…probably not. There were a great many things he wanted to ask her, like why he wasn't feeling tired, or hungry, or why nobody in this god-forsaken house was in bed. Edward seemed to have neglected filling him in on these necessary bits, whereas Jacob felt confident about trading off plenty of information about his own life. However, Edward had been yawning at the time…
By the way, Edward. Why did you snap at Rosalie?
Jacob's eyes widened as he searched for a reason. "Sometimes she just bugs me."
The hint of a smile curled at the corners of Esme's lips. She knew exactly what he was talking about.
Jacob had heard Alice's approach, and knew it was her at the door before she even knocked. A fresh wave of dread washed over him. He would have liked to send the rest of the family away and stay safely tucked inside this room with Mother Esme.
Esme loosened her grip on Jacob, looking in the direction of the door.
Okay, Edward. I'm glad we talked. Now, you'll apologize to Rosalie for snapping at her?
With no motivation to move from his spot, he allowed Esme to answer the door.
"Edward's fine now," she told her before Alice could voice her concern.
"Are you sure?" she whispered, knowing that he could still hear her.
Esme nodded. "So, has anything changed with your visions?"
Alice pinched the bridge of her nose as though to ward off a headache. "No. Nothing is clear…it's so odd."
"Don't worry, Alice. I'm sure it will pass."
To Jacob, that woman always knew the right things to say.
"Edward? Come with me. We need to talk."
Hesitant to leave the presence of the one comfort he felt he had in Edward's body, Jacob threw himself into Esme's embrace. "Thank you, Mom, for our talk."
Okay, Edward. Any time.
Jacob could hear their thoughts. Esme thought it was a little odd for him to be hugging her like this, but at the same time she didn't mind one bit, relishing it as she held him tightly. Alice, on the other hand, was not sure what to make of it. And, as she lead him to what he learned was Edward's room, she hid her thoughts carefully, contemplating the weather for the week.
Edward's room was huge, and bright and open. And one wall was a glass door, opening out into the great beyond. While this odd vampire had entirely too much music and every possible luxury, Jacob noticed immediately what was wrong with this picture. No bed.
No bed, no sleep, he figured, unless they hung upside down like bats from some sort of bar…or maybe there were coffins in the cellar…However, if they required sleep, the leader Carlisle would not be working a night shift. Hmmm…
Now Edward, are you okay? Because I need you to have your head on straight.
Jacob turned to face her. "Yes, Alice. I am fine." He didn't feel fine, but he was not going to tell her that.
Don't freak out.
"What is it?" Jacob was becoming a little annoyed by the hesitance in her thoughts, as though she felt he was a ticking bomb waiting to explode.
"Tonight when I went looking for you, I talked to Bella…and she was missing some of her things. She thought I'd taken them from the slumber party over the weekend…."
There was another pause in her thoughts, and it was as though she didn't want to continue.
"Go on," Jacob prompted, trying to sound very Edward-like.
"Well, that's not all…I picked up a scent."
"What kind of scent?"
It wasn't yours or any of ours. I didn't recognize it, but it was definitely vampire.
In wolf form, Jacob had been very aware of scents and could tell the difference between those of his people and the vampires they had run across. "Are you telling me," he paused to stop the panic from taking over his voice. "That there was some strange…." - He had to stop himself from saying bloodsucker – "stranger in Bella's room taking her things?" Jacob was already feeling a growl emerging from deep inside his throat.
She was never in any danger. I would have seen that. Her internal voice was defensive, as though expecting to be scolded.
Jacob had not been sure about what she meant by that, but in order not to spark any more interest in his odd behavior, he was trying to ask the least number of questions as possible.
But, whoever this was must have been there when Bella was staying here.
"Did you tell her what you suspected?"
Alice shook her head. "Of course not, but I wanted to talk to you about it right away…." But you got all weird on me.
His mind began to race. This was the worst possible timing to not be in his own form, and he hated that he had left her alone and unprotected with the threat of another vampire looming over them. And at this moment, that's exactly what Bella was…alone…unprotected while Edward was very likely snoozing in his bed.
"We have to go to her," Jacob told her. He ghosted past Alice, confident with purpose now and paused by the trio still on the sofa.
Their thoughts immediately flooded his mind.
You okay now, Edward?
"Sorry about that before," he told them quickly, hoping to avoid apologizing to the cold blonde directly. "I've gotta go."
Alice was behind Jacob as they moved toward the garage.
"Wait! Edward, where are you going now?" Emmett called out.
"I'm going back to see Bella. She's in danger."
The group had not let him go as quickly as he intended, but after considering the situation, they decided that while Jasper and Emmett search for a trail that Jacob and Alice should return to Bella's house to be on the lookout until Carlisle returned home to discuss their options.
Rain began to patter against the Volvo's windshield once again, and Jacob wondered why Alice couldn't just wait in her own car a block away. Although, he was grateful for the Cullens' willingness to help Bella, Jacob was wary of providing Alice any more explanations and was desperately hoping that Carlisle could help him and Edward return to their natural forms.
It was silent for a long moment, and Jacob noticed that Alice was guarding her thoughts once again.
"I think I should call Jacob," Jacob told her suddenly, reaching the cell phone from the glove compartment.
Alice's teeny tiny nose scrunched in disgust. "Why… do you want to call a wolf?"
He was sure he did not like the way that came out of her mouth, but given the fact that they were natural enemies, Jacob supposed it was a natural response. "Because I think he could help us."
"I thought you didn't want Bella to have anything to do with them."
Jacob shrugged his shoulders. "They're not so bad, you know," he told her a little too defensively. He calmed his tone at her curious expression. "It wouldn't hurt to have the wolves on our side especially since we don't know what we're up against." It seemed that all the news had been reporting lately had been a series of killings in Seattle, and Sam Uley was not the only one to suspect the vampires.
You're right. It's just that I can't see around the wolves. But, I guess I can't see much right now anyway.
Her thoughts turned to a memory of an old vision of Bella all dressed in white, holding flowers as she walked down an aisle toward Edward, but to Jacob what was more horrifying than that was Bella's unusually pale skin, and her beauty had been sharpened…
"Stop that. Why are you thinking that?" Jacob hissed.
Alice shook her head. Edward seemed like he would never understand. Because I've already seen it.
Jacob's brows came together tightly. He could have been happy the whole day without seeing that image of his best friend all transformed into artificial perfection and getting married…being one of them. The most disturbing thing was that Bella had made up her mind already, and he doubted there was any way to dissuade her. The picture in Alice's head soon changed to show Bella – who was very much human – sitting in the cafeteria at school with Alice and Jasper, missing Edward terribly.
"So, you're not going to school today. Why not?" she asked.
Ohhh…Jacob felt like he had been blessed finally with a tiny bit of understanding. This is what she saw. If he had not seen it in her mind he would not have believed it. After all, Alice could have overheard him discussing that with Esme earlier. One Cullen was a mind-reader, one a clairvoyant…what abilities did the others possess? It was unnatural and unfair…and kind of freaky. And yet, Alice had stated over and over that she could not see him, and now with Edward in Jacob's body she could not see him either.
"Are you still feeling like you can't control yourself around Bella?"
"Yes," he answered quickly, nodding. "That's exactly what it is. So, I'll hang around here and watch the house in case a…." He held back the word "leech" in his mouth. "…a vampire comes back, and you two can watch over Bella."
Alice wondered if there wasn't some kind of connection with the Volturi, perhaps there was a vampire who could block abilities, or alter one's control. Yet, she had not seen anything suspicious with the Italian vampires. And Jasper's ability to manipulate emotions seemed not to be affected. Nothing was making sense right now.
Before dialing his home number on the cell phone, Jacob considered calling Sam. Talking to the leader directly would elicit the quickest response, however, he doubted that once Sam heard Edward's voice on the other end of the line that he would even speak to him. No, he thought. He was going to need to reach Edward first, and only through him in Jacob's body would Sam listen. Without wasting another second, he dialed his home number, but frustratingly no one had answered. If he knew that he would not be attacked by a pack of wolves, Jacob would have gone over there himself.
Jacob heaved a long sigh. There were still hours until dawn, and he had no choice but to sit and wait.
Bella was still feeling unsettled about the way Edward had left the night before. She awoke tired, having slept fitfully without him being there with her…and still wondering if Alice had not been mistaken about having taken her pillow, her socks, and a red blouse.
And then there was that other thing – Jacob.
She had been very angry at him for the past few days, but now the heaviness in her heart was weighing her down like an elephant. It was with regret that she recalled hanging up on him the night before. Despite the harsh words Jacob had said, she knew he had not meant them. If he had, he would not been trying so hard to make amends. Charlie would not let her forget that. As she readied herself for school, she resolved to call Jacob when she got home and smooth things over with him.
By the time she stepped out the front door, Charlie was already gone, and to her surprise, she found Edward's car parked across the street, and Edward sitting inside of it. While it was not unusual for him to be there to pick her up, she had not known what to make of his behavior the night before. Alice had confessed that she had not called him, and the look on his face as he sat on the trunk of the tree had given Bella an eerie flashback from the time she had first met Edward in biology class.
Bella made a beeline for the driver's side, disturbed by how Edward's gaze darted away from her. "Were you just going to sit in there all day?" she called out through the window, trying to hold back a smile. Despite his odd behavior, it was hard to resist the chiseled perfection of his face. Although, by now he would have been waiting for her at the door and then would have held the car door open as she got inside.
As a matter of fact, that's exactly what he planned on doing. He was feeling very safe inside this car. "No, I just came to tell you…."
"Roll down the window," she said, making the gesture with her hand. "I don't have super hearing."
Reluctantly, he slid the button over slightly, and the window made a buzzing sound as it lowered, but he stopped it before it opened more than a half inch. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm not going to school today." Bella's scent washed over him like an intoxicating current, and Jacob had to suck in his breath to block it out.
She looked up at the sky, confirming the usual flurry of gray clouds. "Why not?"
Because I want you to live. "I…."
"And what happened with you last night? Why did you say that Alice needed you? I tried calling your cell phone, but you didn't answer."
Right. Edward's cell phone, or the pieces of it lay broken on the street a block over. Jacob really wished she would stop asking all these questions and that she would stop smelling so tasty. For a moment, he was tempted to just tell her the truth, but then, he imagined that she would not want to speak to him after that.
"I…am just having a hard time right now, Bella," he told her truthfully and then held his breath to block out her potent aroma.
Her features immediately showed her concern. "How can I help?" He didn't say anything, she noticed, and was purposely trying not to smell her. A new look appeared on Bella's face – one of understanding…and devastation. Her lips curved downward, and her stomach felt like it was twisting in knots. "Oh, I'm the problem, again."
Shutting his eyes tightly, Jacob wished there were a way to deal with this without either breaking her heart or killing her.
"I don't understand. I thought you were… used to…my blood."
Bella turned around as she heard a quiet purr of an engine pulling up behind the Volvo, and Alice's head peeked out of the driver's side of her yellow Porsche.
"He was, Bella," Alice said. "But, I think we're a little off lately. My visions aren't coming to me the way they used to, and I don't know what's wrong."
Her head tilted downward in defeat. Bella wanted, no, needed Edward to hold her and tell her everything was going to be okay. This withdrawal of his only reminded her of the desperation she felt last time he left…and already she felt a tiny tear in her heart just waiting to rip open.
"Come on in, Bella. I'll give you a ride to school," Alice told her cheerfully, willing her fake enthusiasm to bury the worry inside. Bella was in danger, and Alice wanted to keep her close.
"Okay, see you later," Bella told him sadly, walking with reluctance toward the passenger side.
Although Jacob didn't approve of Bella's choice for a boyfriend, he hated seeing her so despondent. "Maybe tomorrow will be better," he called out. They were the only words of encouragement he could offer.
It was the best he could hope for.