By The Moon
word count: 2.9k
Chapter 9: Evergreen Books
Angela and I work together for my first shift, something that I am eternally grateful for. Her parents give me a call Sunday morning, which seems like an odd time to call a new employee, but I suppose my lack of interview or application alluded to the oddness of this process. I agreed to start work on Tuesday and was told to come in a couple minutes early so that they could show me around.
I spent all of Tuesday at school preoccupied, my mind struggling to make sense of my new reality. Working at a bookstore. It was like a dream come true, only better. I had never dared to dream of working in literature, it had felt unattainable. Not worth the energy to think about, I had to think realistically. Get a job that made sense.
This makes sense. Evergreen Books is small and warm, it pays a fair wage, and Angela and I get an excuse to spend more time together.
I had gotten home from school earlier than usual, truly pushing my luck as I drove back at speeds Charlie would wince at. My truck doesn’t go fast, but it manages when the right amount of urgency is placed on the peddle.
I had then spent a more than fair amount of time deciding on an outfit for my first shift at the bookstore. Did I wear something professional, a pair of slacks? Was it casual enough to wear blue jeans? These are questions I wished I had asked Angela at school, where it seemed casual and friendly. Now, if I was to text her, she would see it as me being nervous. I wanted to come across as calm and collected, not an anxious ball of nerves.
“Mom?” I whisper into the phone as the call connects itself with a click. I hear soft music in the background, something jazzy with a fast beat.
“Bella!” She calls into the receiver, and I flinch at the volume. “It’s been so long! How’s Forks? Does it suck? Be honest, you can be honest with me. I know how much you hate the rain.”
I suck in a breath, bracing myself against her onslaught of questions. I wish I had more time to talk with her, but my clock tells me that I must leave within the hour. Nostalgia and homesickness burrow into my gut at the sound of her voice, the familiarity of her child-like curiosity aching in my heart. “Actually, mom, I got a job.”
I’m prepared when she squeals with excitement, the phone already held a distance away from my ear. She yells something to someone near her, I can’t entirely make it out, but I pick out my name. She must be telling Phil.
“Where do you work? Tell me it’s somewhere cute! Is it in Port Angeles? Oh, babe, promise me it’s not in that crappy diner Charlie always goes to. You’re not a waitress, are you?” She sounds frantic, excited, and perhaps just a little bit high on life. I’ve spoken to her a couple of times since I’ve moved, and each time she sounds more and more alive. If that’s even possible. Florida must be treating her well.
“No, I’m not a waitress,” I promise her, trying not to think of Diane as I reassure my mother. Surely being a waitress isn’t that bad, Diane was so nice to Charlie and me. She was pretty, I know my mother would have been envious of her makeup if not for her career choice. “I actually got a job at a bookstore in town.”
She starts talking over me as soon as the word book comes out of my mouth. I can’t entirely comprehend what she’s saying, but I understand her tone and speech pattern. Excited, beyond excited. She’s talking fast, her words merging and pitch raising impossibly higher. “Bella,” she exhales at last. I can picture the emphatic smile she must be wearing at this moment. “That is so amazing, you love reading.”
A smile creeps over my lips. “I do,” I agree. “But my issue is I don’t know what to wear? Is it supposed to be casual?”
“Oh, babe, I’ll help you.” An imaginary arm, thin and toned, wraps around my shoulders and I feel myself falling into my mother's embrace. The homesickness in my stomach grows. “Don’t even worry.”
We end up deciding on a pair of brown slacks and a green sweater. Per my insistence that I wanted to look respectable and professional, we added a white button-down underneath, the collar folded perfectly over the top of my sweater. I sent her a picture while still talking to her and heard her sigh in contentment at my outfit.
“Bella, you look beautiful.” I blush at her words and say a quick goodbye along with all of the other necessary sentiments.
Charlie watches me pace back and forth in the kitchen as I wait for the proper time to leave the house. “You look nice,” he notices. “This for the new job with the Webbers?”
“Yeah.” He makes a face at my short response, and I quickly amend it. “Sorry, I’m just nervous.”
“You’ll do well. They’re a good family and that’s a good place for you.” His moustache scrunches to the side as he considers his words. “You like books and quiet things.”
I smile because it’s true. I do like books and quiet things.
It takes me a couple minutes to find parking outside of the bookstore, which is happily situated on the main street of Forks. It sits between a modest coffee shop and some ambiguous storefront that has tinted windows and only a single light shining down on the door. The sign hanging from an extended post above the windows reads Frank’s. It provides zero context to the space’s interior.
I end up parking three stores down from my new workplace, and the walk gives me ample time to calm my nerves. By the time I reach the door, pulling it open on smooth hinges, my breathing is at least semi-normal.
All of my anxiety is wasted, and all of my stress over work attire and professionalism is unnecessary. Angela is sitting perched on the front counter as I enter, a book in her lap. A bell dings lightly as I let the door close behind me, her eyes looking up quickly at me. “Oh! Bella!” She hops off the counter, coming up to embrace me quickly. “I’m so glad you’re here, mom got us stuff from next door, and I didn’t want it to get cold.”
I smile appreciatively, but my response is lost as I look beyond her. Rows of bookshelves are placed narrowly across the shop, the wood of varying shades and bending in some places from the weight of their contents. The lighting is soft and yellow, not the bright fluorescence of Forks high school.
“I love it,” I tell her earnestly. I can hear the opening chords to a slow song playing over hidden speakers, not loud enough to invade my thoughts or conversation. “It’s so perfect.”
“Thanks, I like it here, too. It’s like my home away from home.” She snorts and draws my attention back to her. “Except, it feels less like home when I get the early shift. Then it feels like work.” I laugh at this before following her around the counter. She extends a small brown bag to me along with a warm mug of something. “Herbal tea,” she explains. “It’s really good, we just have to return the mugs after our shift.”
The beginning of my shift is filled with explanations and training procedures, although the latter are few and far between. She shows me the handwritten list of phone numbers to call if anything goes wrong, I notice that all the names are followed by Webber. This is truly a family business.
The main point of my training was learning how to work the ancient cash register, which wouldn’t open unless you performed some occult ritual by pressing a series of keys in rapid succession and tapping the locking mechanism. “We really should get a new register,” my friend explains sheepishly. “We got one a couple years ago, but my dad couldn’t get the hang of it so we kept this one instead.”
“No, I like it. It’s antique.” I emphasize the word with a flourish of my hands.
She laughs, throwing me a grin. “People use the word antique when they want to say old.”
“Antique sounds better.”
The rest of the shift is uneventful. We get a few customers, all people whom Angela knows by name and greets as so. They wander around the store aimlessly before bringing their finds to the counter to get checked out. Angela runs through the first customer, having me watch her process the payment and provide change. Then I run through the second customer, which takes significantly longer than it would have if Angela was doing it. The customer is patient, as if my friend, and once they are out the door Angela turns to me with a crinkly eye smile.
“I can’t believe how good you are at this,” she says kindly. I think she’s being a little generous, but I refuse to humble myself at this moment. I bask in her praise, providing her with an appreciative smile.
“Thanks, I really like it here.” I motion towards the crammed stacks of bookshelves. It’s getting a little later in the afternoon, and the little foot traffic that was outside has dwindled even more. All I see is the occasional schoolbag-laden child or elderly person. I notice both demographics tend to walk in groups. I suppose even age doesn’t change you.
It’s time to close before I’m ready, the atmosphere of the store so warm and comforting that I don’t want to leave. My friend demonstrated the proper closing procedure, which involves locking the register, confirming the dehumidifier in the backroom is on low and then locking the front door. I notice a sliding set of bars on either side of the window and bring it up.
“Do we not need to use those?” Angela gives me a wide-eyed look, her lips pulled into her mouth. I giggle at this, “Angela?”
“I am so glad you’re here.” She shows me how to pull the bars over the window, and which key to use to lock them. “My dad would’ve killed me if I forgot to lock the windows.” We then take our mugs, now empty and cold, over to the coffee shop next to us.
Trendy pop music is playing through outdoor speakers as we open the front door, the cashier waving us forward and ahead of a short line. One customer grumbles something unhappily, which I dutifully ignore. “Hey, Angela,” the cashier says.
He’s tall, taller than even Angela who is nearly six feet. I recognize his face and identify him as one of the boys in the cafeteria at school. He doesn’t sit with us, but I’ve seen him in passing. His face is slimmer than Mike's, but they have similar blonde hair. Mike wears his in spikes, but this boy wears his flat and without gel.
“Hi,” my friend says in a light voice. Her friendly, outgoing demeanour has shifted to her usual introversion. It seems that I am one of only a few people who see her bubbly personality. She’s quiet most of the time, which I relate to.
They look at each other for a moment, a customer coughing and pulling their eyes away from each other. She hands him her ceramic mug, then motions for me to do the same. I step forward and hand it to him. “Bella,” I say as a way of introduction. Angela seems a little too distracted to do the introduction for me.
He gives me a kind smile. “Ben.” The customer coughs again and Ben rolls his eyes at us before turning back to the customer at the register. “What can I get for you?”
We exit the store, me offering Angela a ride home and her politely declining. “It’s okay, I borrowed my mom’s car for the shift today.” We walk in silence towards my truck, her seeming a million miles away and me unable to take my eyes away from the bookstore. There’s a cute wooden sign hanging above the door, my anxiety earlier not allowing me to read it clearly. Evergreen Books.
“Ben seems nice,” I say as a way of conversation when we approach my ancient vehicle. The sun has dropped in the sky and the truck's paint reflects the dim lighting of the streetlamps.
When Angela doesn’t immediately respond I turn to look at her. If not for the lighting, I wouldn’t have noticed the blush painted across her face. “Yeah,” she agrees after noticing my scrutiny. “We also have Spanish together.”
“Do you guys get along?” She nods quickly before I finish my question.
“He comes over sometimes.” Then, as if noticing my meaningful smile, she corrects herself. “To the store, I mean. Not my house. He likes books.”
“You guys have that in common.”
She smiles, looking at me with a shielded expression. “I should head home.”
“Are you trying to avoid the conversation?” I ask her with a laugh. “Because I won’t bring Ben up again if you don’t want me to.” I never really had girl friends, my closest was my mother and my second closest was probably a girl I tutored in Phoenix. She would tell me about how awful her boyfriend was while I tried to teach her Algebra. She failed her exam, but I now know that if my non-existent boyfriend ever tells me he’s going for a run, it means he’s cheating. I don’t entirely understand the correlation between running and cheating, but she seemed too upset to lie about something like that. Apart from that semester-long experience, I never got the opportunity to exercise my ‘girl-talk’ muscles. Angela is my guinea pig.
“No, I just can’t be home late.” She turns to walk away but pauses before taking another step. “I might also be avoiding the conversation.” She laughs quietly, the blush not yet faded from her face. “I might also be avoiding the fact that I like Ben's company as more than just a customer-to-cashier relationship.” I slap a hand over my mouth to cover the excited squeal I had almost let loose. Jessica would’ve been proud of me at that moment. The squeal would’ve been worthy of applause.
Angela notices this and hides her face behind her palms. “Angela! I can’t believe this! He seems so nice!” She turns and starts to walk away quickly. “Where are you going?”
“Home!” She calls back over her shoulder. “And also, to avoid this conversation!”
Charlie had visited Harry Clearwater during his lunch hour and brought back fish fry for dinner. I warmed my plate up in the microwave and ate on the couch with Charlie. There was some action movie on television the other night and he had recorded it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’m not an action fan, especially not after he had brought it up to me.
“I know you must’ve had a long day at work,” he had said with a knowing smile. My heart did a funny little jump at his words. “But I have this movie on the box. It has that one guy with the hair, uh…” He snapped his fingers as if to try and spark a memory of the actor’s name. He came up blank. “Anyways, you know the guy I mean, right?”
“Yeah.” I didn’t have any idea who he was talking about. Most male actors had hair, that wasn’t a unique characteristic.
“I thought you might want to watch it with me.” He looked away, suddenly very interested in the buttons going up his shirt. “If not that’s okay, you must be tired.”
How could I have said no to my father at that moment? So, I agreed to watch the movie and promptly regretted not suggesting another movie. The plotline was unidentifiable, and the main character spent the entire two hours shooting people seemingly at random and supposedly saving the world.
I fall asleep an hour or so after the movie ends. My brain threatens to keep me awake, thoughts of my day spinning in circles as my eyes grow weary. The rain had at some point stopped hindering my sleeping patterns, and instead provides me with the natural white noise needed to push me into a deeper slumber. I lay on my side, one arm under my pillow and one over my sheet, as I look out my window.
The blinds are open, and the light of the moon illuminates the forest at the edge of Swan property. The trees are tall, broad, and have a commandeering presence. My eyes eventually drift closed, the swaying trees still playing in my mind as unconsciousness sweeps over me.
I dream of trees and moss and breaking new trails in the forest. I don’t hear the ominous bird cawing from my last dream, nor is there a large creature looking to maul me, yet a certain level of anxiety propels me further into the forest. As if I’m running away, or perhaps running towards.
It’s unsettling to be unsure of what motivates me, just that fear plays a role in my steadily increasing speed.
I wake up before my alarm, my forehead drenched in sweat and my blinds pulled to the side. The trees watch me blink away drowsiness, watch me walk over to the window, and watch me close the blinds with perhaps too much force. I’m closing you before bed, I mentally threaten the offending blinds. It’s your fault my dreams have been so awful.
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By The Moon
word count: 5.3k
Chapter 10: Who Can't Make Lasagna?
I talk to Renee Wednesday morning on the drive to school. I know it isn’t entirely safe to drive while talking on the phone, but it seems the safer alternative to having Renee call me during class. She has been anxiously awaiting the details of my shift yesterday, or at least that’s what Charlie told me this morning when I woke up. “She called at half past six this morning. Seems a little anxious to hear about how the shift at the Webbers went.”
I have never known my mother to be anxious. Harebrained, erratic, a little extravagant: yes. But not anxious.
So, I call her before I pull out of the driveway, thankful that Charlie had already left for work. He frowns upon phone usage while driving, not that I blame him. I usually frown upon it as well, but today I seem to make an exception for myself. A casual hypocrite in my own way.
I tell her all about the bookstore, the coffee shop next door, my friend Angela, and how nice the entire experience was. She laughs at all the appropriate parts and makes excited noises when I reveal a particularly interesting piece of information.
“Angela says we can use the ceramic mugs from the coffee place as long as we return them before closing,” I tell her. She can’t see my grin, which stretches across my face and pulls at the muscles in my cheeks, but I know she can hear it in my words.
“Ah! You hate cardboard to-go cups!” My grin grows infinitely at her casual mention of one of my quirks.
“I do hate them, yeah!” And so, the conversation continues.
It continues until I pull into the school parking lot and nearly clip someone’s car. “Mom, I got to let you go before I get into an accident.”
“Okay, sweetie, have a nice day!”
I toss my phone beside me on the seat and drive for a moment longer before I pull into my usual spot beside Fran the Van.
The entire group is already here, lounging in or around Tyler’s mom’s van. I notice Angela leaning against the hood, her arms wound around her chest as she nods along to something Jessica is saying. I never really imagined Jessica and Angela being good friends, which is perhaps due to my initial, and likely biased, perception of Jessica Stanley.
She’s a beautiful girl, with long dark hair and a rounded chin. She, unlike Angela, is extroverted and seems to speak at a volume just below a yell. She’s a good friend of mine, and her boisterous traits don’t detour me in any way. In fact, it might be because of her extroversion that I enjoy her company so much.
I had assumed, rather stupidly, that her sociable tendencies and Angela’s quiet demeanour left the girls at odd ends of the friend spectrum. Clearly, I was wrong in that assumption. The two girls have broad smiles on their faces as Jessica says something animatedly with emphatic hand movements.
She turns as I close my door behind me. “Oh! Bella!” This causes Angela to turn and her smile to soften at me. “I’m so glad you’re here, I was just telling Angela about that bake sale for the homeless people. We should totally make brownies or something, right?”
My response is cut off before it begins. Eric pokes his head out of the open passenger window of the van. His hair is greased back with some heavy-duty hair products, so heavy-duty that I doubt a hurricane could move a strand out of place. “It’s not for the homeless, Jess.”
Jessica rolls her eyes in response, throwing me a wounded look. “Well, okay, fine. Who’s it for then?”
“It’s for the volleyball team,” He responds before popping back into the van. Jessica and Angela stand quietly for a moment as if considering his words for truth.
“No,” Jessica says loudly. “The volleyball team is running it, not getting the money.”
Eric doesn’t respond, just shakes his head, and maintains his conversation with Tyler. I approach my two girl friends as the school bell rings. Everybody begins moving at once, but Jessica links her elbow with mine before we can depart. “I’m, like, completely positive the money is for the homeless people. Don’t listen to Eric.”
“Well, if you still want to bake for it, I don’t mind helping.” She squeals at this, reaching over and smacking Angela on the arm excitedly. Angela looks over quickly, her eyes wide.
“Why am I getting hit suddenly? Did Angelina Jolie-”
Jessica waves away our friend’s suggestion, “No, no, no. Angelina Jolie did not follow me back. Which I think is so stupid, I am very clearly her type and I’m also so much better than Brad Pitt.” She looks back over to me, momentarily distracted. “Like, have you seen his hairline? It’s absolutely horrendous.”
We walk in silence for a few more beats, Jessica’s face screwed up in concentration. “Well,” I interject quickly as we step onto the paved pathway leading to our respective buildings. “If you guys need any help with baking just let me know.”
I turn to depart, unlinking my arm with Jessica’s when she calls my name. “That would be so amazing! We could make it a whole girl’s night!”
The thought of having a girls' night introduces equal amounts of fear and excitement into my body. Somehow, knowing Angela would be involved soothes the fear portion of my emotions.
I spend the rest of the morning thinking about the implications of a girl’s night. Am I supposed to bring something in particular? Maybe ice-cream? Nail polish? Perhaps my best pop CDs?
I cringe at my own thoughts, the stereotypes that I am embracing by assuming that nail polish must be brought to a girl’s night. Although, in my defence, I have never truly attended a girl’s night that had an attendance of more than just Renee and me. And Renee was a big fan of all things beauty and self-care. We’d listen to trashy music and eat soft-baked cookies. I’d paint her nails and she’d braid my hair in an elaborate way that seemed to take an eternity to finish.
I meet up with my friends again at lunch, prepared to assault them with questions.
Angela and Jessica have their heads together, whispering discretely between the two of them as the conversation continues around the room. I take the only open seat, which is between Mike and Lauren and across from Eric. Jessica and Angela are sitting to the side of Eric and acknowledge me with kind smiles.
I’d much rather sit beside them than Lauren. The blonde-haired girl with a slender face seems to have taken some extreme disliking to me, and I cannot understand what prompted it. She tends to avoid speaking to me directly and goes out of her way to ignore my presence entirely. Just last week she had asked if everybody- her words, not mine- wanted to go to her house to swim once the weather got warmer. Apparently, her parents had a pool large enough to host the entire football team, and it was somewhat of a fan favourite amongst our friends.
Everyone at the table had happily agreed, already beginning to make plans for the inevitable ‘first swim of the season’ when she looked over at me and made an exaggerated frown. “Oh, Bella, you probably already have something to do that day though, right?” Her voice was sugary sweet and concealed in faux concern. Despite the fact that nobody had mentioned any specific date yet, I found myself slowly nodding my head and agreeing with her. It’s as if her words had some power over me. I constantly found myself succumbing to her teasing, it was infuriating.
“Bella!” I look over to Jessica who’s picking at a plate of lukewarm nachos with too much lettuce and too little cheese. The lunches for the past few days had been especially awful and I wonder if one of the lunch ladies is trying to get fired. On Monday someone bit into a burger to find it still pink inside. “I texted my mom and she’s doing her book tomorrow night, so we can’t do it at my house?”
“Oh, that’s okay, Jess,” I say low enough to try and keep our conversation from Lauren. The last thing I need is her injecting her venom into the plans. I should be the bigger person and extend an olive branch but considering how much she dislikes me she’d probably bite off the olive branch and sneer. “We can always do this weekend.”
“Well, actually the bake sale is on Friday, so we have to do it either tonight or tomorrow night.” Angela smiles apologetically and I get the impression that I’m about to be hosting girl’s night. “I have swim tonight so I can’t do anything and tomorrow my brothers are having their friends over to play some video game thing.”
“Oh.” I sound stupid, even to my own ears.
Both girls blink at me, but Angela quickly interjects before the silence continues. “If you don’t want to do it at your house then I’m sure we can find somewhere else.”
Jessica continues to watch me expectantly, but not rudely. If I could see her hands under the table, then I’m sure I’d see her fingers crossed.
As much fear, or rather anxiety, that I feel towards our girl’s night, I also feel incredibly excited. I’d rather have a girl’s night at my house than not at all. And besides, I’m sure Charlie would love to see how well I’m adjusting in Forks.
“No, we can do it at my house. I can pick up some baking supplies at the grocery store tonight, I doubt Charlie has anything in the cupboards.” I feel an odd sense of relief as they both thank me for hosting. I can’t pinpoint why exactly but wonder if it has anything to do with knowing I won’t have to navigate the confusing side streets of Forks to find either of their houses.
“Do what at your house?” Mike asks from my right. Jessica blushes lightly as he glances in her direction.
I spare her from the obvious effect he’s had on her. “Just a girl’s night.” My voice comes out a little higher as I notice Lauren leaning forward on her elbows. Damn it. I make eye contact with her quickly before looking back toward Mike. I can only hope her parents had instilled some baseline manners in her and that she won’t invite herself over to my house.
“I’m a girl.” Her voice comes out whiny and upset. Everyone swivels to look at the blonde to my left, her eyebrows lifted delicately in distaste. She’s a good actress, I’ll give her that.
Nobody speaks for a moment, and I can feel my shoulders slouching forwards under her scrutiny. Angela clears her throat, clearly prepared to invite her along to our hangout. I don’t think Jessica and Angela are oblivious to Laurens disliking me, but they’ve also never brought it up and I doubt they’ll start today.
I rush to speak before Angela can. “Yes, you are a girl.” I look down at my lunch tray, taking a large bite of a crunchy apple and chewing harshly as the table silences itself. I can feel my friends’ eyes on my skull, watching me and probably trying to decipher why I said that.
Then, thankfully, Eric bursts out into emphatic laughter. His laughing fit is contagious and quickly has Mike and Jessica joining in. I peek up from under the curtain of my hair and see Angela stifling a laugh with her palm pressed against her mouth. I don’t hear anything from my left and know Lauren must be staring daggers at me right now. She’s probably plotting my murder. A lightness has entered my chest, lifting my spirits and easing the discomfort Lauren instigated.
“What’s so funny?” Someone asks from over my shoulder. I look over and Tyler is grinning down at us, a bottle of apple juice lifted to his lips.
Eric takes a heavy breath before heaving out another bout of laughter. Mike responds for him, “Bella called Lauren a girl!”
Tyler sprays apple juice over the table, wetting the top of my head and the front of Eric's face. The laughing only increases in volume, and I find myself joining in. Lauren leaves for class quickly.
The entire drive home I speak aloud, practicing for how I’ll introduce the idea of a girl’s night to Charlie. I’m hesitant to inform him of our plans, although I know I must. My concern is that he’ll call Jessica and Angela’s parents to confirm the plans. Or that he’ll do something else equally as embarrassing. I can’t really think of anything else that he could do to embarrass me regarding this, but my teenage brain is in the midst of freaking out.
“I was planning on having some friends over tomorrow night,” I say into the empty cab of the truck. The windshield wipers are on the lowest setting, rain pattering the windows. “Is it okay if I have some friends over tomorrow night?” I huff out a sigh, sounding entirely like a dramatic teenager.
Renee had always said that my wise beyond my years. That I only get more middle-aged with each birthday. I don’t think she’s wrong. I was never one to attend parties, to attend football games or other sporting events. I’d never attended a school-organized dance or gone on a weekend road trip with friends. In fact, I don’t recall ever truly having friends in Phoenix.
I was never sad or lonely, not in the way that most people without friends are lonely. I had my mother and, on occasion, her friends or Phil.
She was all the dramatic teenager that I was supposed to be. It was as if we had switched rolls sometime between elementary and middle school. She would invite friends over for late-night dancing and I would read on the porch, in bed and lights out at an honourable hour.
I pull up out front of the Swan residence, in all its aged glory, and put the truck in park. I then experience a full-body refusal to exit the vehicle. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. It’s as if my very being is offended by the rain and refuses to step into it. Okay, maybe it’s a mixture of rain-induced repulsion and mild nervousness about having to discuss the girl’s night plans with Charlie.
Okay, maybe it’s just me procrastinating talking to Charlie.
His cruiser is staring at me from its parking spot, laughing at my inability to have a basic conversation with my father. Fine. Okay. Fine. I can do this. There is nothing scary at all about telling Charlie I’m having a couple friends over tomorrow.
Besides, they’re girls so that should make it easier. I doubt Charlie would like it if I had a bunch of boys over. Well, unless it was Jacob Black. In that case, he would probably jump with joy.
I push thoughts of Jacob Black from my mind.
I try to push thoughts of Jacob Black from my mind.
Instead, I have been thrust into a nonstop influx of feelings and images by even the mere mention of his name internally.
Jacob crouched over tide pools, his large hands holding the starfish so gently. His smooth black hair pushed behind his ears every time it falls over his eyes. The way his eyebrows scrunched upwards each time he got stuck on an Algebra question. His muscles bunching underneath his shirt and the casual way he seems to carry himself. Like a boy who knows how beautiful he is but doesn’t let that make him cocky. Make him unlikable.
“Get a grip, Bella,” I mutter angrily into the air.
I stalk up the front porch steps, trying to muster as much courage as possible when the front door opens. I startle, knees knocking together and stumble backwards. An arm winds around my waist, pulling me back onto the porch.
Jacob Black smiles down at me, his hair pulled back and tucked behind his ears. “Bella, hi!” I force my mouth to smile at him, the entire time screaming internally.
I had just been thinking about his back muscles, thinking about how good he looked in that black shirt he had on. I had just been thinking about him in a very not platonic way. And, as per my luck, here he is standing on my porch in a form-fitting shirt.
“Jake,” I mumble, thoughts lost to the hormonal chaos raging inside of me due to the warmth of his arm around my waist. “I didn’t know you were here.” It’s a dumb thing to say, but I still said it and now I can’t take it back.
His smile barely dims, but his eyes flicker down to my midsection, where my arms are raised to not come into direct contact with his arm. His smile dims a little now and my heart plummets with it. He removes his hold on me, instead planting his hands on his hips. He looks a little silly like that, tall and broad as he is but standing like a kindergarten teacher.
“I’m just stopping by,” he says. He doesn’t move from his position, and I don’t dare move either. Something about his lack of movement instigates the same in me. It is then that I notice there is somebody else present.
Charlie is standing in the open doorway, his arms crossed over his chest and moustache pulled up to expose a toothy grin. “Well, now, look at the two of you.” He says it proudly as if we’ve done something worthy of praise. I nearly fell and broke my tailbone and Jake pulled me up, not entirely something commendable on my part. My father looks over to Jacob then, motioning for him to step back into the house. “Jake, you stay for dinner. I have lasagna in the oven.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Chief Swan. I really should get back to the Rez.” Jacob looks between Charlie and me, finally dropping his arms back down to his sides. I stand stupidly, watching this go on.
“You’re making lasagna?” I had only meant to think the words, but apparently, the eventful last few moments have interrupted the channel between my brain and mouth.
Charlie looks at me pointedly, eyes narrowed. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” I nod. Once, twice, three times.
“Okay, cool. I’m sure it’ll be great.” Both men look at me now, Jacob’s eyebrows raised, and Charlie's furrowed over his brown eyes. The same as mine. Well, in colour not in expression. I’m sure my eyes look something like those of a rabbit about to be eaten by a coyote. “What?”
Charlie opens his mouth, raising a finger to say something when he cuts himself off. “Jake, I’d really like it if you could stay for dinner. I’ll give Billy a call and send him a piece home with you.”
“Thanks, Chief Swan.”
“And enough of that Chief Swan stuff, call me Charlie.”
“Thank you, Charlie.”
We all sit around the small kitchen table with its diverse array of chairs and pointedly ignore the growing smell of something burning. The television is playing quietly in the next room, I can barely make out the voices or what is happening. I focus on the tinny noises, trying ardently to avoid Jacob.
“So, Jake, your father tells me that you’re helping out with Sue.” Charlie leans forward on his elbows, eyes darting over to the oven when something makes an odd popping noise from inside. I idly recall Sue Clearwater, the kind wife of Harry Clearwater. I don’t have any memory of her face but know that she used to hang out at the Black’s house every summer with her family.
Jacob nods and looks a little sheepish as he ducks his head. “Yeah, but I’d say it’s more like she’s helping me out. I’m no good with that doctor stuff, honestly.”
“She’s a doctor?” I ask, pulling my attention away from the noises in the living room.
“Yeah, has a practice down on the Reservation,” Charlie tells me before turning his attention back to Jacob.
I ask another question before my father can change the topic. “You want to be a doctor?” Jake looks over at me, his eyes bright and open. There is something underlying his expression, something like humour but I can’t imagine at what.
“No, not really. I’m just learning some basic first aid and stuff,” he pauses, giving me a broad smile that only heightens the blush settling into my face. I look down at the grains in the table, picking at the varnish. “I haven’t really thought about what I want to do after school. Probably just some community work.”
I look up and immediately regret it. Jacob is watching me steadily with his warm, open expression. As if he’s just waiting to hear about what I’m going to say next as if he’s completely unaware of the impact he can have on me. I take a shallow breath and look over at Charlie.
I also regret this.
Charlie is watching Jacob with some form of parental disagreement on his face, his eyebrows pulled down and lips pursed. I have yet to be on the receiving end of that look but feel bad for Jacob who has yet to notice. I clear my throat and Jacob follows my eyes, his eyebrows darting up.
“Jacob, you’re graduating in only a few months.” My father’s voice is stern, the disapproving tone of Police Chief Swan.
Jacob steals a glance at me and then back to my father. I wish I could help him out but being on the receiving end of Charlie’s scolding is not on my agenda for today. Besides, Jacob has broad shoulders, I’m sure he can handle this.
“I am, yes.” Jacob has either missed the point of Charlie’s statement or is choosing to ignore it.
“And you have no plans for college?” I don’t miss the hint of concern now layering my father’s words, and from the softening in Jacob’s expression, I don’t think he missed it either.
“I might go later, but not next year. I have commitments on the Rez, I want to keep them,” Jacob says confidently. Charlie just nods, as if this response has satiated him.
“You still with Sam and the others?” Charlie asks. I don’t know what this means, the name is unfamiliar, but Jacob understands and bobs his head in acknowledgement.
“Yeah, I am.” The conversation is thankfully interrupted by the oven beeping. We all turn our heads to stare at the ancient appliance, the scent of something burning has grown exponentially. Charlie stands, scraping his chair backwards, and opens the oven door slowly.
Smoke pours out and the smell of burnt lasagna is overpowering. My nose tingles a little with the sensation, and I clap my hands over my face as the smoke continues to fill the kitchen and spread the awful smell. Charlie says something that I don’t immediately hear, the tingling in my nose spreading across my face. Gross, gross, gross. I hate the smell of burning things. I hate it when it’s strong like this.
The tingling increases exponentially, and I stand abruptly, Charlie saying something else that I don’t hear. The chair falls and I can feel it hit the floor, feel the impact as it seems to reverberate through my bones. The tingling continues as I step backwards, my heel kicking the chair and nearly toppling it over. I just don’t want to be in the kitchen, don’t want that smell near me, don’t want the smoke touching my face. Don’t want to be near any of it.
Someone else says something but the smoke is still filling the kitchen and there’s a ringing in my ears and it’s loud and bright and hazy from the smoke and I hate the smell of burning things. Gross, gross, gross.
Someone says something again, louder, and I can hear the words, but they don’t entirely make sense. There’s a loud noise, a screaming noise coming from overhead.
My hands clap over my ears as I continue backwards, the tingling numbness spreading over my body like a volcano building to erupt.
Something touches me, my shoulder. I try to say something, but I’m not sure what and I push back against the pressure. Sorry, sorry, sorry, my brain thinks on repeat. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I push back against it, but it doesn’t leave my skin and the ringing from above is getting even louder and my palms don’t cancel out any of the noise. The air is still hazy, and I smell burnt lasagna like it’s right in front of me and I just want it all to stop. I just need it all to stop so I can breathe and think and feel something that isn’t this hazy tingling.
“Bella?” The pressure on my shoulder increases and I push away from it. But it herds me, pulling me away from the hazy room and the ringing noise and the incoherent words and the awful burning smell.
Cold air touches me, presses up against me, and filters out the smell of burnt lasagna.
“Hey, hey.” There’s more pressure on my shoulders now, covering the tingling with warmth and feeling. I know it’s Jacob, only Jake runs a fever at all times of the day. He pulls me against his chest, his large arms wrapping around my shoulders and compressing me against his broad form. “It’s okay.” The numbness in my limbs retreats minorly, leaving some feeling in my fingertips and feet. I drop my hands from my ears. They move so that they are cradled between my chest and his, my arms brought up and away from the startling cold around us.
The ringing in my ears slows, quieting, seeming farther away with each passing breath.
The volcano in my chest, waiting to erupt, has calmed. The force of its buildup has died down and it remains inactive within me. The heat encompassing me contrasts with the cold touching my legs and this difference relaxes something integral inside of me. It forces me to take a deep breath, to press my forehead closer to Jacob’s hard chest. To take another deep breath and then another.
“Bells?” My eyes don’t open yet, still squeezed shut against the world around me.
A few more moments pass and my eyes open. I take another breath, this one filling my chest and expanding my ribs. It’s as if my consciousness flies back into my mind, rewatching the scene I had just made. Rewatching the entirety of the past however long. I don’t say anything and instead, just remain in Jacob Black’s arms for a moment longer. “It’s okay,” he says quietly, the action causing his chest to vibrate under my forehead. “We can stay here for as long as you want.”
I pull away slowly, the comforting hold of his arms dropping from me. I keep my eyes trained on my socked feet, on the aged porch beneath them. “Sorry,” I whisper, glancing up at my friend.
Jake is watching me carefully, but not judgementally. Still, the intensity of his eyes pushes me to look back down at my feet. “It’s okay,” he says finally. I look back up again, my heart skipping as I watch him take a step forward hesitantly. “Are you okay?” His hands reach out as if to hold me again.
I open my mouth, but the words remain in my throat. I force them out in a rush. “Yeah, just super tired, I guess.” His hand's pause, quickly retreating back to his sides.
He opens his mouth now, eyebrows pulling down quickly in response to my quick dismissal of my actions.
“Bella? Jake?” The door swings open and Charlie stands in the opening, oven mitts under one arm and a towel clenched in his hand. “You guys good for pizza?” I nod gratefully and Charlie grunts in approval, turning and heading back into the kitchen. I hear him dialling on the home phone and then begin the order.
“We should head in. Help Charlie to clean up.” I pull the door open and motion for Jake to step inside. He does as instructed, but watches me the entire time as if trying to figure something out in his head.
I hate being looked at like that as if I’m something to investigate. That’s how Renee had looked at me when, instead of crying, I simply sat in a corner on my first day of kindergarten. When I had chosen to skip recess at the ripe age of six to sit in the back of the library and read Archie comics. That’s how Phil had looked at me when I had to transfer hot chocolate from a cardboard to-go cup to my ceramic one. “That’s a waste of time,” he had said simply. “You have to drink it either way, just drink it the way I gave it to you.” But I hate the way cardboard feels, the dry itchiness of the material that seems to stay on my skin even after I’ve stopped touching it.
“Leave her be,” Renee had said with a kind smile towards me. She had stopped looking at me in that investigative way long before. “She doesn’t like the cardboard, that’s okay.” So, I drank my hot chocolate out of the ceramic mug and watched Phil watch me the entire time.
We end up eating pizza fifteen minutes later. Pepperoni for Jacob and Charlie, plain cheese with mushrooms for me. The fire alarms had long since stopped their horrible screaming, the smell of smoke had been filtered out through open windows and replaced with the damp smell of wet grass and the greasy smell of cheap pizza.
Even so, the embarrassment of my earlier behaviour haunts my thoughts and keeps me silent while eating. I let Charlie and Jacob discuss what they want. Let them talk about sports and hobbies and the names of people I don’t know. Jacob occasionally looks over at me, as if waiting for me to contribute to the discussion. I don’t.
Charlie looks at me, too, but only to make a face at the mushrooms on my pizza. “That’s nasty,” he says simply. I stick my tongue out at him, which causes him to laugh and lifts the heavy feeling in my chest.
We finish dinner, me before the others because my appetite got lost somewhere between freaking out from the smoke and freaking out from the fire alarm. I excuse myself to use the washroom, and on the way back hear my name. It causes me to stop just at the bottom of the stairs, listening hard to make out Charlie’s words.
“Bella’s a good kid,” he says with a mild amount of fatherly authority. “She’s not a fan of loud noises, no harm in that.” My chest feels oddly hollow at that, the weight of embarrassment leaving me momentarily.
There is something warm in the way Charlie talks about me as if he doesn’t feel the need to understand why I am the way I am. As if he’s never even thought of me in that frustrating, investigative way. As if he’s never felt the need to make sense of me, not in the way that others sometimes do.
I quickly step into the kitchen, to save myself from having to hear anymore. Jacob is already looking up at the entryway, eyes already on me as I step inside. It makes me wonder if he could hear me standing at the bottom of the stairs and if he knows that I was listening in.
“I think I might head out,” he says to me. I check the time on the microwave and see that it’s barely seven o’clock. He notices my scrutiny. “I have a thing with some friends later,” he explains. I nod, feeling awkward for no good reason.
“Sam?” Charlie asks not unkindly. Jacob agrees and this causes Charlie to smile broadly. “I like him, respectable man.”
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