And as my eyes met Jacob's now, I thought that maybe it had. He still looked like my best friend. But he wasn't the one who had changed. What did I look like to him?
Then he smiled his familiar smile, the smile of a kindred spirit, and I was sure our friendship was intact. It was just like before, when we were hanging out in his homemade garage, just two friends killing time. Easy and normal.
Again, I noticed that the strange need I'd felt for him before I'd changed was completely gone. He was just my friend, the way it was supposed to be.
It still made no sense what he was doing now, though. Was he really so selfless that he would try to protect me - with his own life - from doing something in an uncontrolled split second that I would regret in agony forever? That went way beyond simply tolerating what I had become, or miraculously managing to stay my friend. Jacob was one of the best people I knew, but this seemed like too much to accept from anyone.
His grin widened, and he shuddered slightly. "I gotta say it, Bells. You're a freak show."
I grinned back, falling easily into the old pattern. This was a side of him I understood.
Edward growled. "Watch yourself, mongrel."
The wind blew from behind me and I quickly filled my lungs with the safe air so I could speak. "No, he's right. The eyes are really something, aren't they?"
"Super-creepy. But it's not as bad as I thought it would be."
"Gee - thanks for the amazing compliment!"
He rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. You still look like you - sort of. Maybe it's not the look so much as... you are Bella. I didn't think it would feel like you were still here." He smiled at me again without a trace of bitterness or resentment anywhere in his face. Then he chuckled and said, "Anyway, I guess I'll get used to the eyes soon enough."
"You will?" I asked, confused. It was wonderful that we were still friends, but it wasn't like we'd be spending much time together.
The strangest look crossed his face, erasing the smile. It was almost... guilty? Then his eyes shifted to Edward.
"Thanks," he said. "I didn't know if you'd be able to keep it from her, promise or not. Usually, you just give her everything she wants."
"Maybe I'm hoping she'll get irritated and rip your head off," Edward suggested.
"What's going on? Are you two keeping secrets from me?" I demanded, incredulous.
"I'll explain later," Jacob said self-consciously - like he didn't really plan on it. Then he changed the subject. "First, let's get this show on the road." His grin was a challenge now as he started slowly forward.
There was a whine of protest behind him, and then Leah's gray body slid out of the trees behind him. The taller, sandy-colored Seth was right behind her.
"Cool it, guys," Jacob said. "Stay out of this."
I was glad they didn't listen to him but only followed after him a little more slowly.
The wind was still now; it wouldn't blow his scent away from me.
He got close enough that I could feel the heat of his body in the air between us. My throat burned in response.
"C'mon, Bells. Do your worst."
I didn't want to breathe. It wasn't right to take such dangerous advantage of Jacob, no matter if he was the one offering. But I couldn't get away from the logic. How else could I be sure that I wouldn't hurt Renesmee?
Tm getting older here, Bella," Jacob taunted. "Okay, not technically, but you get the idea. Go on, take a whiff."
"Hold on to me," I said to Edward, cringing back into his chest.
His hands tightened on my arms.
I locked my muscles in place, hoping I could keep them frozen. I resolved that I would do at least as well as I had on the hunt. Worst-case scenario, I would stop breathing and run for it. Nervously, I took a tiny breath in through my nose, braced for anything.
It hurt a little, but my throat was already burning dully anyway. Jacob didn't smell that much more human than the mountain lion. There was an animal edge to his blood that instantly repelled. Though the loud, wet sound of his heart was appealing, the scent that went with it made my nose wrinkle. It was actually easier with the smell to temper my reaction to the sound and heat of his pulsing blood.
I took another breath and relaxed. "Huh. I can see what everyone's been going on about. You stink, Jacob."
Edward burst into laughter; his hands slipped from my shoulders to wrap around my waist. Seth barked a low chortle in harmony with Edward; he came a little closer while Leah retreated several paces. And then I was aware of another audience when I heard Emmett's low, distinct guffaw, muffled a little by the glass wall between us.
"Look who's talking," Jacob said, theatrically plugging his nose. His face didn't pucker at all while Edward embraced me, not even when Edward composed himself and whispered "I love you" in my ear. Jacob just kept grinning. This made me feel hopeful that things were going to be right between us, the way they hadn't been for so long now. Maybe now I could truly be his friend, since I disgusted him enough physically that he couldn't love me the same way as before. Maybe that was all that was needed.
"Okay, so I passed, right?" I said. "Now are you going to tell me what this big secret is?"
Jacob's expression became very nervous. "It's nothing you need to worry about this second___"
I heard Emmett chuckle again - a sound of anticipation.
I would have pressed my point, but as I listened to Emmett, I heard other sounds, too. Seven people breathing. One set of lungs moving more rapidly than the others. Only one heart fluttering like a bird's wings, light and quick.