Chapter 12

Playlist selection: Here Comes Your Man – The Pixies

 Bella POV

I rub my hands up and down my arms, trying to get some friction, some warmth.  Jesus, it's cold in this room.  I glare at the air conditioner register in the ceiling as it blows cold air into the classroom.  I should have brought a sweater.  It's eighty-four degrees outside, and with the sub-arctic blast pouring from the vents, you'd think it was one hundred and fifty - these Washingtonians don't know what hot is!  This place has nothing on Phoenix. 

I'm pulled from my thoughts of home by the sound of a chair scraping across the linoleum floor.  Two more students file into the classroom and sit down at the next table.  The only seat left in the class is next to me, and I silently pray that someone sits there, needing the body heat to keep me from becoming a Bellacicle. 

I dig into my backpack, looking for a pen and pad of paper to take notes on, when the professor walks in and introduces himself to the class.

"Hi,  everyone. I'm Professor Banner, and welcome to Understanding Change in Natural and Social Systems - section 4055."  He smiles at each of us and pulls several papers from his man-bag. "Let's quickly go over introductions and then we can review the syllabus.  There's a lot for us to cover this semester."

He hands out the syllabi and returns to his spot at the head of our table.  There are only twelve students in the class and two lab tables situated in the center of the room.  The walls are plastered with diagrams and posters of various geological, marine, and botanical themes.  A large aquarium sits on the counter top at the back of the room and bubbles loudly.  It's water is low and a dark, murky green.

Professor Banner informs us that we will be paired up with a lab partner, and together we will be working on assignments and reports based on our research at the Center.

"Stanley?  Newton?  Where are you?" 

Two hands shoot up into the air, and the professor informs them of their new partnership.  Then he continues, "Next group is Mallory and Yorkie."  They both raise their hands and nod at each other in recognition. "Swan and Black?"  I raise my hand up, but notice no one else did. "Black?  Where's Jacob Black?"  Professor Banner glances at the remaining students and opens his mouth to say something else when the classroom door opens and a tall, dark drink of water walks in.  Jesus, God in Heaven, he's hot. 

"Sorry I'm late.  I'm Jake Black."

Oh, Lord.

Jake pulls out the chair next to me, nods hello, and settles in, digging out some pens, highlighters, and a notebook.  I blush furiously when I'm caught staring at his defined biceps from under the taut sleeve of his black tee-shirt.  Oh, yeah, I'm warm now. 

The rest of the class passes by in a blur.  I pretend to pay attention to Professor Banner as he drones on about the laboratory's do's and don't's, the lab report/paper due at the end of the semester, and the mandatory field trips to the forests and waterways around the Olympic Peninsula for specimen collection.  I twiddle a pen between my fingers, imagining how I could "accidentally" drop it onto the floor; then Jake would bend down to pick it up for me at the same time I do, and we'd stare into each other's eyes with unbridled lust and want, and then... 

"... numbers?"

I'm plucked from my daydream by the huskiness of Jake's voice.  He's leaning toward me with a curious expression on his face. 


He laughs. "I said, 'Since we're partners, would it be okay if we exchanged numbers?'"

I stare at him, processing this request, but then I glance down at the pen situated in his left hand... the same left hand that has a gold band on the third finger.  Great.  Mr. Hump-a-licious is married.  Well, maybe it's better this way.  God knows I can't handle any more love interests being hurt right now.  

Jake and I swap numbers, and then he walks me out to my truck.  I ask him to join me for lunch at one of the few restaurants in Forks, but he barks out a sarcastic laugh.  "Trust me, Bella, you don't want to eat at any of those places in town.  Well, maybe the pizza place is tolerable, but I wouldn't attempt the food in any of the other shitholes.  You're better off bringing your own lunch."

I laugh and thank him for his concern about my immune system, tell him I'll swing by my place for a quick bite, and then meet him back here in an hour for our next class.

The University of Washington's Olympic Natural Resource Center is a tiny campus on the outskirts of Forks, Washington.  A long, winding road leads you to the top of the forest covered hill where the facilities are situated.  It's a beautiful, modern campus, but I expected there to be more buildings, students, faculty, traffic... anything.  Instead, there's one single-story building for academics and another for "dorms".  I think my high school's gym would encompass both of these buildings. 

This is not what I had anticipated. 

Forks is not what I had anticipated.  The town is so small that it doesn't have apartment complexes or condos to lease, so I had to resort to finding a privately-owned rental. My place is a small efficiency, created from a remodeled two-story home and came mostly furnished.   I have a large window in the living room/bedroom space that allows plenty of light into my first floor apartment.  Notice I didn't say "sunlight".  There's not much of that here.  The only view from the window is of the wooden privacy fence that lines the property on the west side of the house.  There are a few shrubs against the perimeter and a tall pine tree off to the side.  The space inside the window is the perfect place for Carrumba's cage.  She'll enjoy watching the other birds.   

It's too fucking quiet in this town.  I get lost in my head - my thoughts - which is never a good thing.  I think about Edward and what he would say about living here. Would he like the small town life?  Would he have been happy being surrounded with the dense forests and plethora of insects?  And what about Riley?  Would he have been content with the early closing times of all the businesses?  He was such a night-owl, I don't know how he would have survived here without any nightlife, bars, or all-night diners.  Part of me is not sure how I will make do, either.  

I realize now that I should have Googled that shit before I accepted my grad school offer in Washington.    

Needless to say, Renee did not take the news well.  She cried, saying that Charlie and I were all she had left since the Masens died and she couldn't stand the thought that I'd leave her too.  She kept making me feel extremely guilty for moving so far away, but I needed to escape, to make a drastic change in my life.  I couldn't do it in Phoenix with the heart-wrenching memories of Edward and Riley all around me.  I had to leave.

Thankfully, Charlie agreed with my decision.  He understood my need to change things.  Although his haste to sell the Masens' house had caused a rift between us for a while, I knew it was something that needed to be done.  But it didn't lessen the sting of having to part with it.  I had to loosen my grasp on the physical items that were left behind when they died and focus on my future while still holding tight to their memories. There's no way I could keep their house if I was planning to start my life over in another part of the country.  I boxed up most of Edward's things and packed them into my truck to bring with me.  The rest of the house's furnishings were sold with the house.  The day of the closing was the day I left Phoenix.  It was time to close one door and open another.

My dad practically demanded that he drive to Washington with me and fly home once I was settled into my apartment, but I didn't think I could have dealt with his less than optimal ability to handle any potential emotional breakdowns from me.  Leaving my home, driving thousands of miles away to live all by myself was not something that I was really ready for, regardless of my stubborn insistence that I could handle it.  Thankfully, Angela volunteered to ride with me.  We convinced Charlie that it would be a girl's road trip and we'd be squeeing and gossiping the whole way, and he finally agreed to let Angela take his place as long as she allowed him and Renee to buy her an airplane ticket home. 

It took us three and a half days of driving in that old truck to reach Forks. 

To say it was utter culture shock as we arrived in town would be an understatement.  The trip up the 101 was scenic and very relaxing, but we both expected a larger community than the one that greeted us: logging trucks, mom-n-pop shops, and only one traffic light.  A large, cheery 'Welcome to Forks' sign was posted directly across the two-laned highway from a sketchy landing strip.  Angela's eyes widened, and she shrieked, "Oh, shit!  Charlie didn't book a flight to Phoenix from here, did he?  There's elk on the runway!"

"No, calm down." I laughed. "You leave from Sea-Tac."

Relieved, Angela grabbed the directions from the benchseat between us and navigated us to my new home.  We unloaded the truck, and Angela unpacked some of my boxes while I ran up to the Thriftway grocery/hardware store in town to grab some food for the week. 

We cried off and on for the next thirty-six hours, sad to be separated by so many miles, heart-broken at the circumstances that led to this situation, and anxious of our unknown futures.  I didn't want her to go, but I didn't need her to stay; I needed to do this.  

Angela left a few days ago to fly back home to Phoenix, and I cried the whole way to and from the airport.  

Now, I truly am alone.  I've only been here for a week, but I already miss Phoenix.

After I make a quick lunch at my place, I scramble into my truck and head back toward campus. 

Jake is sitting on a bench under the patio overhang when I pull up into the Center's parking lot.  We chat for a few minutes before heading to our second class together.  There are only two Colleges within the univeristy that are situated at the Center: the College of Forest Resources and College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences.  My program is housed in the former; Jake's, the latter.  He and I have several core courses that we share, but the specialized classes are separate.

"I hope you took my advice and stayed away from those gourmet gastropubs in town," he yells across the lot.  I nod, smiling, and hoist my backpack up higher on my shoulder.  "Good.  I don't want to deal with a lab partner who's moaning and groaning all afternoon from pains of dysentery."

I laugh and we make small talk as we enter a new classroom in the academics building. He tells me he's lived here all of his life, and being from a small fishing village on the La Push Reservation, he wanted to pursue marine conservation and industries for his native people.  When he asks why I chose the forest program, I just tell him that I always had a special place in my heart for nature.  I know my explanation is vague, and he quirks an eyebrow at me, silently urging me to tell him more, but I don't want to explain Edward and reopen those wounds right now. 

I started seeing a therapist a few months after I began my freshman year at UA.  I only saw her a few times and was discharged from her care until the incident with Riley.  I started seeing her again, but she forced me to revisit that dark time in my life after Edward died, and after four sessions I refused to go back.  I'm better off forcing those memories from my mind and pushing forward with my life.

For the next several weeks, I focus on my studies and quickly learning that Jake was right when it came to the culinary life of Forks.  He introduces me to his wife, Leah,   when she drops him off at the coffee house to go over our lab reports before class.  His car is broken down, and Leah needs the car to go to work.  She's a hotel manager in Port Angeles.  

"Bella, it's nice to meet you. I've heard so much about you."  Her smile appears genuine as she extends her hand through the driver's side window to shake mine.

I smile and tell her the same and that I feel like I've known her all my life.  We both glance over at Jake - who looks a bit sheepish - as he climbs out of the passenger seat.

"What can I say?  I love my wife... and my friends."

Leah and I "aww" simultaneously and then laugh when Jake begins to blush. 

A week before midterms, Leah, Jake, and Leah's friend, Rebecca, invite me to join them on a day trip to Port Townsend's Annual Fall Festival.  Since I haven't taken any trips to the area yet, I figure it would be a great opportunity to get a lay of the land.  Besides, I've been so bogged down with studying and writing lab reports that I can definitely use a day of mind-numbing sightseeing.

They pick me up at my apartment and we set off north on the 101.  In the past three months, I've only been as far north as Sappho and south toward the Hoh Rainforest for specimen collection.  The Olympic mountains aren't easily seen from Forks, but further up the highway, their snow-covered peaks rise from the landscape and stand regally as the backdrop to the terrain of the Pacific Northwest.  

About an hour into our drive, we arrive at a beautiful lake.   Small waterfalls trickle from the hills along the road side as the asphalt snakes along the southern edge of the lake, right along the waterline.  I practically beg for Jake to pull over onto the shoulder so I can take some pictures.  Rebecca points out a small viewing area up ahead, and we stop and climb out of the car, cameras in hand. 

Rebecca lives in Florida and has never been to the area to visit Leah and her new husband.  At least I'm not the only one who looks like a tourist, snapping pictures left and right.  She and I rush toward a rocky outcrop near the far end of the parking area and climb through the small grouping of trees that hang over the lake.

The water of the lake is fairly clear, and I'm amazed at the beauty of the mountains jutting right out from it.  We capture several pictures of the scenery and Jake asks another couple who has stopped to admire the view to take a few pictures of the four of us.  Finally, we climb back into the car and continue our trek north.

We stop in Port Angeles to drop off something at Leah's hotel, and then we are headed east toward Seattle.  Jake pulls off at a roadside diner with a giant statue of a bear and a logger in the parking lot.

"You'll love this place, Bella," Jake says, as he winks at me over Leah's head.

"Welcome to Smitty's!  Sit your butts down here," the middle-aged waitress barks with a smile, pointing to the counter seats.

We plop down on the barstools and glance around the restaurant, mouths gaped and eyes wide.  There's so much shit on the walls.  And when I say 'shit', I mean dollar bills, pictures, knick knacks...  it's a decorator's worst nightmare!  It's kind of cool, actually.  Jake proceeds to tell us about stopping here while with his family on trips to Seattle.  He orders four combos and we each give our drink request and return to reading the thousands of dollar bills and notes littering the walls and ceiling.

"Look!  This one says 1972!"

"Oh my God!  Bill Clinton ate here!  Look at this picture!" 

"Here!  Let's put one up!"  Leah digs out a dollar bill from her purse and we each take turns signing our names and Jake completes it with the date of our visit.  He climbs on the barstool and stands above the counter to tack it to the ceiling.

We devour our gigantic burgers and head back out toward Port Townsend. The Fall Festival is packed with vendors and patrons.  The overcast sky builds up to heavy thunder clouds and suddenly we are being pelted with large rain drops.  We make a mad dash toward the car, but as we reach the vehicle - parked at the edge of the nearby woods - I get that creepy, unsettling feeling again.  I haven't had that sensation since the night Riley died.  Almost as fast as I feel it, it's gone.  I quickly brush off the thoughts of Riley and settle into my seat, joining in the loud chorus of singing to the songs from Leah's iPod.

Jake and Leah meet up with me a few times outside of school for coffee and once for dinner at 'Chateau de Swan', as Jake likes to call my place.  Most of my time since the fall festival has been focused on school and our research project.  My parents fly up the week of Thanksgiving and stay at one of the local motels.  Renee insists on taking me out for dinner one evening, but I refuse and butter her up by telling her how much I miss cooking with her.  Of course, she knows this is total bullshit since I hate watching her sample everything we make while we're in the kitchen.

The second week of December, Jake and I schedule several study times at the Forks Public Library, to make final revisions of our joint term research paper.  I meet him at a table near the far corner of the library, books and papers strewn about the flat surface.

"Jake!  You started without me?"

He smiles and shakes his head as he rummages through his backpack. "No, I'm trying to find that map of the Elwah River - where we took that sample of sediment."

I plop my bag down on the table and search through my papers, grumbling when I can't find my copy of the map either.  After several moments of rooting through my bag, I wave a paper in the air and present it to Jake, smiling broadly at my find.  "Found it!"

He snatches it from my grasp and the map tears right down the middle of our specimen collection site. "Ah, shit!  Sorry, Bella."

"That's okay, Jake.  I'll just go to the circulation desk and request another copy.  This is where I got it from anyway. You just work on calculating the results from the water samples while I'm getting the map, alright?  We've got to get that shit done today."

He nods and turns his eyes back down to his notes, scribbling figures in the column of the page.

I glance at the map in my hand as I walk up to the circlulation desk.  The paper is ripped nearly in two, but could easily be fixed with some clear tape, but I'd rather not submit a torn topographical map with my research paper.  I want this to look professional, not like I'm back in my undergrad classes again.

As I round the corner made by the shelves of sci-fi books, I spot something that stops me dead in my tracks.  A man about my age - maybe younger - is sitting at a table near the DVD rentals.  He's facing away from me and his clothes are non-descript, but that's not what halts my feet from moving forward.  It's his hair.

I immediately blow it off as a coincidence.  Many people have auburn hair, Bella, I tell myself.  Many people have crazy bed-head hair, too.  He seems to be casually glancing through a magazine, not really paying attention to the articles.  A gorgeous blond man is sitting next to him, looking bored out of his mind.  He's not reading any books or magazines, but his eyes are boring holes into the man with the auburn hair.

I turn my attention back to the librarian at the desk and request a new copy of the particular map in my hand.  She takes my torn paper and disappears into the back office.  As I'm waiting, I chance a glance behind me toward the man.  His friend is staring at me with a confused look on his face, but the man with aurburn hair is just turning back toward the front windows. In that split second as he's turning away from me, I recognize his profile.

I've got to be delusional.

Staring at the back of his head, I try to convince myself that this man has lived in Forks all his life, that he's never been to Phoenix, never grew up with a girl named Bella, never died at the hands of a rabid animal on a camping trip with his family.  But there's something that's gnawing at me, clawing its nails through my head and my heart to verify that it's not him.  It's not possible!  Why am I torturing myself?  But as I tilt my head a little to the left, I can see a portion of his profile and I know without a doubt that it's him.

I've got to be delusional, I repeat.

My heart tells my legs to run to him, wrap my arms around his neck, and kiss him desperately, but my feet stay cemented to the floor.

It's him, I know it is, I tell myself.  But how? Why?  This can't be real.  I must be fucking dreaming. He's the same, but he's not.  Different.  His skin is very pale and his posture is rigid.  He's barely moving, barely breathing, and I'm wondering if he's holding his breath. 

I've got to be delusional.

He raises a cell phone to his ear, mumbling quietly into the phone.  His voice is so low that I can't hear it, and he runs his hand through his hair.  His wrist...!

It is him!  But why?

The blond next to him whips his head to look at me and glares.  The magazine drops loudly onto the table and they stand to leave.   

My body is frozen in place, my brain not able to process what I'm seeing.   How is he...?  Where did he...?

They move toward the exit but they must pass the circulation desk - and me - on their way out.  His face is trained to the floor as they approach me, so I reach out a shaky hand to gain his attention.  I need to touch him, feel him, to know he's really here -alive- and not a ghost.

"Excuse me," he mutters, glancing up at me and trying to skirt around my trembling hand.   

That's his voice! I'd know it anywhere! 

I feel like my body is going to crumble, my knees are wobbly and I grasp onto the counter next to me for purchase.  A sob is fighting to escape my throat, but I'm not sure there is air in my lungs to release it.  

Tears form and tumble from my eyes as my suspicion is confirmed - that's the unforgettable face of the boy I've loved my entire life.



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