Chapter 6 FRIENDS


THE MOTORCYCLES DIDN'T NEED TO BE HIDDEN ANY further than simply placing them in Jacob's shed. Billy's wheelchair couldn't maneuver the uneven ground separating it from the house.

Jacob started pulling the first bike��the red one, which was destined for me��to pieces immediately. He opened up the passenger door of the Rabbit so I could sit on the seat instead of the ground. While he worked, Jacob chattered happily, needing only the lightest of nudges from me to keep the conversation rolling. He updated me on the progress of his sophomore year of school, running on about his classes and

his two best friends.

"Quil and Embry?" I interrupted. "Those are unusual names."

Jacob chuckled. "Quil's is a hand-me-down, and I think Embry got named after a soap opera star. I can't say anything, though. They fight dirty if you start on their names��they'll tag team you."

"Good friends." I raised one eyebrow.

"No, they are. Just don't mess with their names."

Just then a call echoed in the distance. "Jacob?" someone shouted.

"Is that Billy?" I asked.

"No." Jacob ducked his head, and it looked like he was blushing under his brown skin. "Speak of the devil," he mumbled, "and the devil shall appear."

"Jake? Are you out here?" The shouting voice was closer now.

"Yeah!" Jacob shouted back, and sighed.

We waited through the short silence until two tall, dark-skinned boys strolled around the corner into the shed.

One was slender, and almost as tall as Jacob. His black hair was chin-length and parted down the middle, one side tucked behind his left ear while the right side swung free. The shorter boy was more burly. His white T-shirt strained over his well-developed chest, and he seemed gleefully conscious of that fact. His hair was so short it was almost a buzz.

Both boys stopped short when they saw me. The thin boy glanced swiftly back and forth between Jacob and me, while the brawny boy kept his eyes on me, a slow smile spreading across his face.

"Hey, guys," Jacob greeted them halfheartedly.

"Hey, Jake," the short one said without looking away from me. I had to smile in response, his grin was so impish. When I did, he winked at me. "Hi, there."

"Quil, Embry��this is my friend, Bella."

Quil and Embry, I still didn't know which was which, exchanged a loaded look.

"Charlie's kid, right?" the brawny boy asked me, holding out his hand.

"That's right," I confirmed, shaking hands with him. His grasp was firm; it looked like he was flexing his bicep.

"I'm Quil Ateara," he announced grandly before releasing my hand.

"Nice to meet you, Quil."

"Hey, Bella. I'm Embry, Embry Call��you probably already figured that out, though." Embry smiled a shy smile and waved with one hand, which he then shoved in the pocket of his jeans.

I nodded. "Nice to meet you, too."

"So what are you guys doing?" Quil asked, still looking at me.

"Bella and I are going to fix up these bikes," Jacob explained inaccurately. But bikes seemed to be the magic word. Both boys went to examine Jacob's project, drilling him with educated questions. Many of the words they used were unfamiliar to me, and I figured I'd have to have a Y chromosome to really understand the excitement.

They were still immersed in talk of parts and pieces when I decided that I needed to head back home before Charlie showed up here. With a sigh, I slid out of the Rabbit.

Jacob looked up, apologetic. "We're boring you, aren't we?"

"Naw." And it wasn't a lie. I was enjoying myself��how strange. "I just have to go cook dinner for Charlie."

"Oh�� well, I'll finish taking these apart tonight and figure out what more we'll need to get started rebuilding them. When do you want to work on them again?"

"Could I come back tomorrow?" Sundays were the bane of my existence. There was never enough homework to keep me busy.

Quil nudged Embry's arm and they exchanged grins.

Jacob smiled in delight. "That would be great!"

"If you make a list, we can go shop for parts," I suggested.

Jacob's face fell a little. "I'm still not sure I should let you pay for everything."

I shook my head. "No way. I'm bankrolling this party. You just have to supply the labor and expertise."

Embry rolled his eyes at Quil.

"That doesn't seem right," Jacob shook his head.

"Jake, if I took these to a mechanic, how much would he charge me?" I pointed out.

He smiled. "Okay, you're getting a deal."

"Not to mention the riding lessons," I added.

Quil grinned widely at Embry and whispered something I didn't catch. Jacob's hand flashed out to smack the back of Quil's head. "That's it, get out," he muttered.

"No, really, I have to go," I protested, heading for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jacob."

As soon as I was out of sight, I heard Quil and Embry chorus, "Wooooo!"

The sound of a brief scuffle followed, interspersed with an "ouch" and a "hey!"

"If either of you set so much as one toe on my land tomorrow��" I heard Jacob threaten. His voice was lost as I walked through the trees.

I giggled quietly. The sound made my eyes widen in wonder. I was laughing, actually laughing, and there wasn't even anyone watching. I felt so weightless that I laughed again, just make the feeling last longer.

I beat Charlie home. When he walked in I was just taking the fried chicken out of the pan and laying it on a pile of paper towels.

"Hey, Dad." I flashed him a grin.

Shock flitted across his face before he pulled his expression together. "Hey, honey," he said, his voice uncertain. "Did you have fun with Jacob?"

I started moving the food to the table. "Yeah, I did."

"Well, that's good." He was still cautious. "What did you two do?"

Now it was my turn to be cautious. "I hung out in his garage and watched him work. Did you know he's rebuilding a Volkswagen?"

"Yeah, I think Billy mentioned that."

The interrogation had to stop when Charlie began chewing, but he continued to study my face as he ate.

After dinner, I dithered around, cleaning the kitchen twice, and then did my homework slowly in the front room while Charlie watched a hockey game. I waited as long as I could, but finally Charlie mentioned the late hour. When I didn't respond, he got up, stretched, and then left, turning out the light behind him. Reluctantly, I followed.

As I climbed the stairs, I felt the last of the afternoon's abnormal sense of well-being drain from my system, replaced by a dull fear at the thought of what I was going to have to live through now.

I wasn't numb anymore. Tonight would, no doubt, be as horrific as last night. I lay down on my bed and curled into a ball in preparation for the onslaught. I squeezed my eyes shut and�� the next thing I next I knew, it was morning.

I stared at the pale silver light coming through my window, stunned.

For the first time in more than four months, I'd slept without dreaming. Dreaming or screaming. I couldn't tell which emotion was stronger��the relief or the shock.

I lay still in my bed for a few minutes, waiting for it to come back. Because something must be coming. If not the pain, then the numbness. I waited, but nothing happened. I felt more rested than I had in a long time.

I didn't trust this to last. It was a slippery, precarious edge that I balanced on, and it wouldn't take much to knock me back down. Just glancing around my room with these suddenly clear eyes��noticing how strange it looked, too tidy, like I didn't live here at all��was dangerous.

I pushed that thought from my mind, and concentrated, as I got dressed, on the fact that I was going to see Jacob again today. The thought made me feel almost�� hopeful. Maybe it would be the same as yesterday. Maybe I wouldn't have to remind myself to look interested and to nod or smile at appropriate intervals, the way I had to with everyone else. Maybe�� but I wouldn't trust this to last, either. Wouldn't trust it to be the same��so easy��as yesterday. I wasn't going to set myself up for disappointment like that.

At breakfast, Charlie was being careful, too. He tried to hide his scrutiny, keeping his eyes on his eggs until he thought I wasn't looking.

"What are you up to today?" he asked, eyeing a loose thread on the edge of his cuff like he wasn't paying much attention to my answer.

"I'm going to hang out with Jacob again."

He nodded without looking up. "Oh," he said.

"Do you mind?" I pretended to worry. "I could stay��"

He glanced up quickly, a hint of panic in his eyes. "No, no! You go ahead. Harry was going to come up to watch the game with me anyway."

"Maybe Harry could give Billy a ride up," I suggested. The fewer witnesses the better.

"That's a great idea."

I wasn't sure if the game was just an excuse for kicking me out, but he looked excited enough now. He headed to the phone while I donned my rain jacket. I felt self-conscious with the checkbook shoved in my jacket pocket. It was something I never used.

Outside, the rain came down like water slopped from a bucket. I had to drive more slowly than I wanted to; I could hardly see a car length in front of the truck. But I finally made it through the muddy lanes to Jacob's house. Before I'd killed the engine, the front door opened and Jacob came running out with a huge black umbrella.

He held it over my door while I opened it.

"Charlie called��said you were on your way," Jacob explained with a grin.

Effortlessly, without a conscious command to the muscles around my lips, my answering smile spread across my face. A strange feeling of warmth bubbled up in my throat, despite the icy rain splattering on my cheeks.

"Hi, Jacob."

"Good call on inviting Billy up." He held up his hand for a high five.

I had to reach so high to slap his hand that he laughed.

Harry showed up to get Billy just a few minutes later. Jacob took me on a brief tour of his tiny room while we waited to be unsupervised.

"So where to, Mr. Goodwrench?" I asked as soon as the door closed behind Billy.

Jacob pulled a folded paper out of his pocket and smoothed it out. "We'll start at the dump first, see if we can get lucky. This could get a little expensive," he warned me. "Those bikes are going to need a lot of help before they'll run again." My face didn't look worried enough, so he continued. "I'm talking about maybe more than a hundred dollars here."

I pulled my checkbook out, fanned myself with it, and rolled my eyes at his worries. "We're covered."

It was a very strange kind of day. I enjoyed myself. Even at the dump, in the slopping rain and ankle-deep mud. I wondered at first if it was just the aftershock of losing the numbness, but I didn't think that was enough of an explanation.

I was beginning to think it was mostly Jacob. It wasn't just that he was always so happy to see me, or that he didn't watch me out of the corner of his eye, waiting for me to do something that would mark me as crazy or depressed. It was nothing that related to me at all.

It was Jacob himself. Jacob was simply a perpetually happy person, and he carried that happiness with him like an aura, sharing it with whoever was near him. Like an earthbound sun, whenever someone was within his gravitational pull, Jacob warmed them. It was natural, a part of who he was. No wonder I was so eager to see him.

Even when he commented on the gaping hole in my dashboard, it didn't send me into a panic like it should have.

"Did the stereo break?" he wondered.

"Yeah," I lied.

He poked around in the cavity. "Who took it out? There's a lot of damage��"

"I did," I admitted.

He laughed. "Maybe you shouldn't touch the motorcycles too much."

"No problem."

According to Jacob, we did get lucky at the dump. He was very excited about several grease-blackened pieces of twisted metal that he found; I was just impressed that he could tell what they were supposed to be.

From there we went to the Checker Auto Parts down in Hoquiam. In my truck, it was more than a two hour drive south on the winding freeway, but the time passed easily with Jacob. He chattered about his friends and his school, and I found myself asking questions, not even pretending, truly curious to hear what he had to say.

"I'm doing all the talking," he complained after a long story about Quil and the trouble he'd stirred up by asking out a senior's steady girlfriend. "Why don't you take a turn? What's going on in Forks? It has to be more exciting than La Push."

"Wrong," I sighed. "There's really nothing. Your friends are a lot more interesting than mine. I like your friends. Quil's funny."

He frowned. "I think Quil likes you, too."

I laughed. "He's a little young for me."

Jacob's frown deepened. "He's not that much younger than you. It's just a year and a few months."

I had a feeling we weren't talking about Quil anymore. I kept my voice light, teasing. "Sure, but, considering the difference in maturity between guys and girls, don't you have to count that in dog years? What does that make me, about twelve years older?"

He laughed, rolling his eyes. "Okay, but if you're going to get picky like that, you have to average in size, too. You're so small, I'll have to knock ten years off your total."

"Five foot four is perfectly average." I sniffed. "It's not my fault you're a freak."

We bantered like that till Hoquiam, still arguing over the correct formula to determine age��I lost two more years because I didn't know how to change a tire, but gained one back for being in charge of the bookkeeping at my house��until we were in Checker, and Jacob had to concentrate again. We found everything left on his list, and Jacob felt confident that he could make a lot of progress with our haul.

By the time we got back to La Push, I was twenty-three and he was thirty��he was definitely weighting skills in his favor.

I hadn't forgotten the reason for what I was doing. And, even though I was enjoying myself more than I'd thought possible, there was no lessening of my original desire. I still wanted to cheat. It was senseless, and I really didn't care. I was going to be as reckless as I could possibly manage in Forks. I would not be the only keeper of an empty contract. Getting to spend time with Jacob was just a much bigger perk than I'd expected.

Billy wasn't back yet, so we didn't have to be sneaky about unloading our day's spoils. As soon as we had everything laid out on the plastic floor next to Jacob's toolbox, he went right to work, still talking and laughing while his fingers combed expertly through the metal pieces in front of him.

Jacob's skill with his hands was fascinating. They looked too big for the delicate tasks they performed with ease and precision. While he worked, he seemed almost graceful. Unlike when he was on his feet; there, his height and big feet made him nearly as dangerous as I was.

Quil and Embry did not show up, so maybe his threat yesterday had been taken seriously.

The day passed too quickly. It got dark outside the mouth of the garage before I was expecting it, and then we heard Billy calling for us.

I jumped up to help Jacob put things away, hesitating because I wasn't sure what I should touch.

"Just leave it," he said. "I'll work on it later tonight."

"Don't forget your schoolwork or anything," I said, feeling a little guilty. I didn't want him to get in trouble. That plan was just for me.


Both our heads snapped up as Charlie's familiar voice wafted through the trees, sounding closer than the house.

"Shoot," I muttered. "Coming!" I yelled toward the house.

"Let's go." Jacob smiled, enjoying the cloak-and-dagger. He snapped the light off, and for a moment I was blind. Jacob grabbed my hand and towed me out of the garage and through the trees, his feet finding the familiar path easily. His hand was rough, and very warm.

Despite the path, we were both tripping over our feet in the darkness. So we were also both laughing when the house came into view. The laughter did not go deep; it was light and superficial, but still nice. I was sure he wouldn't notice the faint hint of hysteria. I wasn't used to laughing, and it felt right and also very wrong at the same time.

Charlie was standing under the little back porch, and Billy was sitting in the doorway behind them.

"Hey, Dad," we both said at the same time, and that started us laughing again.

Charlie stared at me with wide eyes that flashed down to note Jacob's hand around mine.

"Billy invited us for dinner," Charlie said to us in an absentminded tone.

"My super secret recipe for spaghetti. Handed down for generations," Billy said gravely.

Jacob snorted. "I don't think Ragu's actually been around that long."

The house was crowded. Harry Clearwater was there, too, with his family��his wife, Sue, whom I knew vaguely from my childhood summers in Forks, and his two children. Leah was a senior like me, but a year older. She was beautiful in an exotic way��perfect copper skin, glistening black hair, eyelashes like feather dusters��and preoccupied. She was on Billy's phone when we got in, and she never let it go. Seth was fourteen; he hung on Jacob's every word with idolizing eyes.

There were too many of us for the kitchen table, so Charlie and Harry brought chairs out to the yard, and we ate spaghetti off plates on our laps in the dim light from Billy's open door. The men talked about the game, and Harry and Charlie made fishing plans. Sue teased her husband about his cholesterol and tried, unsuccessfully, to shame him into eating something green and leafy. Jacob talked mostly to me and Seth, who interrupted eagerly whenever Jacob seemed in danger of forgetting him. Charlie watched me, trying to be inconspicuous about it, with pleased but cautious eyes.

It was loud and sometimes confusing as everyone talked over everyone else, and the laughter from one joke interrupted the telling of another. I didn't have to speak often, but I smiled a lot, and only because I felt like it.

I didn't want to leave.

This was Washington, though, and the inevitable rain eventually broke up the party; Billy's living room was much too small to provide an option for continuing the get-together. Harry had driven Charlie down, so we rode together in my truck on the way back home. He asked about my day, and I told mostly the truth��that I'd gone with Jacob to look at parts and then watched him work in his garage.

"You think you'll visit again anytime soon?" he wondered, trying to be casual about it.

"Tomorrow after school," I admitted. "I'll take homework, don't worry."

"You be sure to do that," he ordered, trying to disguise his satisfaction.

I was nervous when we got to the house. I didn't want to go upstairs. The warmth of Jacob's presence was fading and, in its absence, the anxiety grew stronger. I was sure I wouldn't get away with two peaceful nights of sleep in a row.

To put bedtime off, I checked my e-mail; there was a new message from Renee.

She wrote about her day, a new book club that rilled the time slot of the meditation classes she'd just quit, her week subbing in the second grade, missing her kindergarteners. She wrote that Phil was enjoying his new coaching job, and that they were planning a second honeymoon trip to Disney World.

And I noticed that the whole thing read like a journal entry, rather than a letter to someone else. Remorse flooded through me, leaving an uncomfortable sting behind. Some daughter I was.

I wrote back to her quickly, commenting on each part of her letter, volunteering information of my own��describing the spaghetti party at Billy's and how I felt watching Jacob build useful things out of small pieces of metal��awed and slightly envious. I made no reference to the change this letter would be

from the ones she'd received in the last several months. I could barely remember what I'd written to her even as recently as last week, but I was sure it wasn't very responsive. The more I thought about it, the guiltier I felt; I really must have worried her.

I stayed up extra late after that, finishing more homework than strictly necessary. But neither sleep deprivation nor the time spent with Jacob��being almost happy in a shallow kind of way��could keep the dream away for two nights in a row.

I woke shuddering, my scream muffled by the pillow.

As the dim morning light filtered through the fog outside my window, I lay still in bed and tried to shake off the dream. There had been a small difference last night, and I concentrated on that.

Last night I had not been alone in the woods. Sam Uley��the man who had pulled me from the forest floor that night I couldn't bear to think of consciously��was there. It was an odd, unexpected alteration. The man's dark eyes had been surprisingly unfriendly, filled with some secret he didn't seem inclined to share. I'd stared at him as often as my frantic searching had allowed; it made me uncomfortable, under all the usual panic, to have him there. Maybe that was because, when I didn't look directly at him, his shape seemed to shiver and change in my peripheral vision. Yet he did nothing but stand and watch. Unlike the time when we had met in reality, he did not offer me his help.

Charlie stared at me during breakfast, and I tried to ignore him. I supposed I deserved it. I couldn't expect him not to worry. It would probably be weeks before he stopped watching for the return of the zombie, and I would just have to try to not let it bother me. After all, I would be watching for the return of the zombie, too. Two days was hardly long enough to call me cured.

School was the opposite. Now that I was paying attention, it was clear that no one was watching here.

I remembered the first day I'd come to Forks High School��how desperately I'd wished that I could turn gray, fade into the wet concrete of the sidewalk like an oversized chameleon. It seemed I was getting that wish answered, a year late.

It was like I wasn't there. Even my teachers' eyes slid past my seat as if it were empty.

I listened all through the morning, hearing once again the voices of the people around me. I tried to catch up on what was going on, but the conversations were so disjointed that I gave up.

Jessica didn't look up when I sat down next to her in Calculus.

"Hey, Jess," I said with put-on nonchalance. "How was the rest of your weekend?"

She looked at me with suspicious eyes. Could she still be angry? Or was she just too impatient to deal with a crazy person?

"Super," she said, turning back to her book.

"That's good," I mumbled.

The figure of speech cold shoulder seemed to have some literal truth to it. I could feel the warm air blowing from the floor vents, but I was still too cold. I took the jacket off the back of my chair and put it on again.

My fourth hour class got out late, and the lunch table I always sat at was full by the time I arrived. Mike was there, Jessica and Angela, Conner, Tyler, Eric and Lauren. Katie Marshall, the redheaded junior

who lived around the corner from me, was sitting with Eric, and Austin Marks��older brother to the boy with the motorcycles��was next to her. I wondered how long they'd been sitting here, unable to remember if this was the first day or something that was a regular habit.

I was beginning to get annoyed with myself. I might as well have been packed in Styrofoam peanuts through the last semester.

No one looked up when I sat down next to Mike, even though the chair squealed stridently against the linoleum as I dragged it back.

I tried to catch up with the conversation.

Mike and Conner were talking sports, so I gave up on that one at once.

"Where's Ben today?" Lauren was asking Angela. I perked up, interested. I wondered if that meant Angela and Ben were still together.

I barely recognized Lauren. She'd cut off all her blond, corn-silk hair��now she had a pixie cut so short that the back was shaved like a boy. What an odd thing for her to do. I wished I knew the reason behind it. Did she get gum stuck in it? Did she sell it? Had all the people she was habitually nasty to caught her behind the gym and scalped her? I decided it wasn't fair for me to judge her now by my former opinion. For all I knew, she'd turned into a nice person.

"Ben's got the stomach flu," Angela said in her quiet, calm voice. "Hopefully it's just some twenty-four hour thing. He was really sick last night."

Angela had changed her hair, too. She'd grown out her layers.

"What did you two do this weekend?" Jessica asked, not sounding as if she cared about the answer. I'd bet that this was just an opener so she could tell her own stories. I wondered if she would talk about Port Angeles with me sitting two seats away? Was I that invisible, that no one would feel uncomfortable discussing me while I was here?

"We were going to have a picnic Saturday, actually, but�� we changed our minds," Angela said. There was an edge to her voice that caught my interest.

Jess, not so much. "That's too bad," she said, about to launch into her story. But I wasn't the only one who was paying attention.

"What happened?" Lauren asked curiously.

"Well," Angela said, seeming more hesitant than usual, though she was always reserved, "we drove up north, almost to the hot springs��there's a good spot just about a mile up the trail. But, when we were halfway there�� we saw something."

"Saw something? What?" Lauren's pale eyebrows pulled together. Even Jess seemed to be listening now.

"I don't know," Angela said. "We think it was a bear. It was black, anyway, but it seemed�� too big."

Lauren snorted. "Oh, not you, too!" Her eyes turned mocking, and I decided I didn't need to give her the benefit of the doubt. Obviously her personality had not changed as much as her hair. "Tyler tried to sell me that one last week."

"You're not going to see any bears that close to the resort," Jessica said, siding with Lauren.

"Really," Angela protested in a low voice, looking down at the table. "We did see it."

Lauren snickered. Mike was still talking to Conner, not paying attention to the girls.

"No, she's right," I threw in impatiently. "We had a hiker in just Saturday who saw the bear, too, Angela. He said it was huge and black and just outside of town, didn't he, Mike?"

There was a moment of silence. Every pair of eyes at the table turned to stare at me in shock. The new girl, Katie, had her mouth hanging open like she'd just witnessed an explosion. Nobody moved.

"Mike?" I muttered, mortified. "Remember the guy with the bear story?"

"S-sure," Mike stuttered after a second. I didn't know why he was looking at me so strangely. I talked to him at work, didn't I? Did I? I thought so��

Mike recovered. "Yeah, there was a guy who said he saw a huge black bear right at the trailhead��bigger than a grizzly," he confirmed.

"Hmph." Lauren turned to Jessica, her shoulders stiff, and changed the subject.

"Did you hear back from USC?" she asked.

Everyone else looked away, too, except for Mike and Angela. Angela smiled at me tentatively, and I hurried to return the smile.

"So, what did you do this weekend, Bella?" Mike asked, curious, but oddly wary.

Everyone but Lauren looked back, waiting for my response.

"Friday night, Jessica and I went to a movie in Port Angeles. And then I spent Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday down at La Push."

The eyes flickered to Jessica and back to me. Jess looked irritated. I wondered if she didn't want anyone to know she'd gone out with me, or whether she just wanted to be the one to tell the story.

"What movie did you see?" Mike asked, starting to smile.

"Dead End��the one with the zombies." I grinned in encouragement. Maybe some of the damage I'd done in these past zombie months was reparable.

"I heard that was scary. Did you think so?" Mike was eager to continue the conversation.

"Bella had to leave at the end, she was so freaked," Jessica inserted with a sly smile.

I nodded, trying to look embarrassed. "It was pretty scary."

Mike didn't stop asking me questions till lunch was over. Gradually, the others were able to start up their own conversations again, though they still looked at me a lot. Angela talked mostly to Mike and me, and, when I got up to dump my tray, she followed.

"Thanks," she said in a low voice when we were away from the table.

"For what?"

"Speaking up, sticking up for me."

"No problem."

She looked at me with concern, but not the offensive, maybe-she's-lost-it kind. "Are you okay?"

This is why I'd picked Jessica over Angela��though I'd always liked Angela more��for the girls' night movie. Angela was too perceptive.

"Not completely," I admitted. "But I'm a little bit better."

"I'm glad," she said. "I've missed you."

Lauren and Jessica strolled by us then, and I heard Lauren whisper loudly, "Oh, joy Bella's back."

Angela rolled her eyes at them, and smiled at me in encouragement.

I sighed It was like I was starting all over again.

"What's today's date?" I wondered suddenly.

"It's January nineteenth."


"What is it?" Angela asked.

"It was a year ago yesterday that I had my first day here," I mused.

"Nothing's changed much," Angela muttered, looking after Lauren and Jessica.

"I know, I agreed I was just thinking the same thing."