New Moon (Chapter 11 CULT)

EACH TIME THAT I OPENED MY EYES TO THE MORNING light and realized I'd lived through another night was a surprise to me. After the surprise wore off, my heart would start to race and my palms would sweat; I couldn't really breathe again until I'd gotten up and ascertained that Charlie had survived as well.

I could tell he was worried��watching me jump at any loud sound, or my face suddenly go white for no reason that he could see. From the questions he asked now and then, he seemed to blame the change on

Jacob's continued absence.

The terror that was always foremost in my thoughts usually distracted me from the fact that another week had passed, and Jacob still hadn't called me. But when I was able to concentrate on my normal life��if my life was really ever normal��this upset me.

I missed him horribly.

It had been bad enough to be alone before I was scared silly. Now, more than ever, I yearned for his carefree laugh and his infectious grin. I needed the safe sanity of his homemade garage and his warm hand around my cold fingers.

I'd half expected him to call on Monday. If there had been some progress with Embry, wouldn't he want to report it? I wanted to believe that it was worry for his friend that was occupying all his time, not that he was just giving up on me.

I called him Tuesday, but no one answered. Were the phone lines still having problems? Or had Billy invested in caller I.D.?

On Wednesday I called every half hour until after eleven at night, desperate to hear the warmth of Jacob's voice.

Thursday I sat in my truck in front of my house��with the locks pushed down��keys in hand, for a solid hour. I was arguing with myself, trying to justify a quick trip to La Push, but I couldn't do it.

I knew that Laurent had gone back to Victoria by now. If I went to La Push, I took the chance of leading one of them there. What if they caught up to me when Jake was nearby? As much as it hurt me, I knew it was better for Jacob that he was avoiding me. Safer for him.

It was bad enough that I couldn't figure out a way to keep Charlie safe. Nighttime was the most likely time that they would come looking ior me, and what could I say to get Charlie out of the house? If I told him the truth, he'd have me locked up in a rubber room somewhere. I would have endured that��welcomed it, even��if it could have kept him safe. But Victoria would still come to his house first, looking for me. Maybe, if she found me here, that would be enough for her. Maybe she would just leave when she was done with me.

So I couldn't run away. Even if I could, where would I go? To Renee? I shuddered at the thought of dragging my lethal shadows into my mother's safe, sunny world. I would never endanger her that way.

The worry was eating a hole in my stomach. Soon I would have matching punctures.

That night, Charlie did me another favor and called Harry again to see if the Blacks were out of town. Harry reported that Billy had attended the council meeting Wednesday night, and never mentioned anything about leaving. Charlie warned me not to make a nuisance of myself��Jacob would call when he got around to it.

Friday afternoon, as I drove home from school, it hit me out of the blue.

I wasn't paying attention to the familiar road, letting the sound of the engine deaden my brain and silence the worries, when my subconscious delivered a verdict it must have been working on for some time without my knowledge.

As soon as I thought of it, I felt really stupid for not seeing it sooner. Sure. I'd had a lot on my mind��revenue-obsessed vampires, giant mutant wolves, a ragged hole in the center of my chest��but

when I laid the evidence out, it was embarrassingly obvious.

Jacob avoiding me. Charlie saying he looked strange, upset. . . . Billy's vague, unhelpful answers.

Holy crow, I knew exactly what was going on with Jacob.

It was Sam Uley. Even my nightmares had been trying to tell me that. Sam had gotten to Jacob. Whatever was happening to the other boys on the reservation had reached out and stolen my friend. He'd been sucked into Sam's cult.

He hadn't given up on me at all, I realized with a rush of feeling.

I let my truck idle in front of my house. What should I do? I weighed the dangers against each other.

If I went looking for Jacob, I risked the chance of Victoria or Laurent finding me with him.

If I didn't go after him, Sam would pull him deeper into his frightening, compulsory gang. Maybe it would be too late if I didn't act soon.

It had been a week, and no vampires had come for me yet. A week was more than enough time for them to have returned, so I must not be a priority. Most likely, as I'd decided before, they would come for me at night. The chances of them following me to La Push were much lower than the chance of losing Jacob to Sam.

It was worth the danger of the secluded forest road. This was no idle visit to see what was going on. I knew what was going on. This was a rescue mission. I was going to talk to Jacob��kidnap him if I had to. I'd once seen a PBS show on deprogramming the brainwashed. There had to be some kind of cure.

I decided I'd better call Charlie first. Maybe whatever was going on down in La Push was something the police should be involved in. I dashed inside, in a hurry to be on my way.

Charlie answered the phone it the station himself.

"Chief Swan."

"Dad, it's Bella."

"What's wrong?'"

I couldn't argue with his doomsday assumption this time. My voice was shaking.

"I'm worried about Jacob."

"Why?" he asked, surprised by the unexpected topic.

"I think�� I think something weird is going on down at the reservation. Jacob told me about some strange stuff happening with the other boys his age. Now he's acting the same way and I'm scared."

"What kind of stuff?" He used his professional, police business voice. That was good; he was taking me seriously.

"First he was scared, and then he was avoiding me, and now�� I'm afraid he's part of that bizarre gang down there, Sam's gang. Sam Uley's gang."

"Sam Uley?" Charlie repeated, surprised again.


Charlie's voice was more relaxed when he answered. "I think you've got it wrong, Bells. Sam Uley is a great kid. Well, he's a man now. A good son. You should hear Billy talk about him. He's really doing wonders with the youth on the reservation. He's the one who��" Charlie broke off mid-sentence, and I guessed that he had been about to make a reference to the night I'd gotten lost in the woods. I moved on quickly.

"Dad, it's not like that. Jacob was scared ofhim."

"Did you talk to Billy about this?" He was trying to soothe me now. I'd lost him as soon as I'd mentioned Sam.

"Billy's not concerned."

"Well, Bella, then I'm sure it's okay. Jacob's a kid; he was probably just messing around. I'm sure he's fine. He can't spend every waking minute with you, after all."

"This isn't about me," I insisted, but the battle was lost.

"I don't think you need to worry about this. Let Billy take care of Jacob."

"Charlie��" My voice was starting to sound whiney.

"Bells, I got a lot on my plate right now. Two tourists have gone missing off a trail outside crescent lake." There was an anxious edge to his voice. "This wolf problem is getting out of hand."

I was momentarily distracted��stunned, really��by his news. There was no way the wolves could have survived a match-up with Laurent��

"Are you sure that's what happened to them?" I asked.

"Afraid so, honey. There was��" He hesitated. "There were tracks again, and�� some blood this time."

"Oh!" It must not have come to a confrontation, then. Laurent must have simply outrun the wolves, but why? What I'd seen in the meadow just got stranger and stranger��more impossible to understand.

"Look, I really have to go. Don't worry about Jake, Bella. I'm sure it's nothing."

"Fine," I said curtly, frustrated as his words reminded me of the more urgent crisis at hand. "Bye." I hang up.

I stared at the phone for a long minute. What the hell, I decided.

Billy answered after two rings.


"Hey, Billy," I almost growled. I tried to sound more friendly as I continued. "Can I talk to Jacob, please?"

"Jake's not here."

What a shock. "Do you know where he is?"

"He's out with his friends." Billy's voice was careful.

"Oh yeah? Anyone I know? Quil?" I could tell the words didn't come across as casually as I'd meant them to.

"No," Billy said slowly. "I don't think he's with Quil today."

I knew better than to mention Sam's name.

"Embry?" I asked.

Billy seemed happier to answer this one. "Yeah, he's with Embry."

That was enough for me. Embry was one of them.

"Well, have him call me when he gets in, all right?"

"Sure, sure. No problem." Click.

"See you soon, Billy," I muttered into the dead phone.

I drove to La Push determined to wait. I'd sit out front of his house all night if I had to. I'd miss school. The boy was going to have to come home sometime, and when he did, he was going to have to talk to me.

My mind was so preoccupied that the trip I'd been terrified of making seemed to take only a few seconds. Before I was expecting it, the forest began to thin, and I knew I would soon be able to see the first little houses of the reservation.

Walking away, along the left side of the road, was a tall boy with a baseball cap.

My breath caught for just a moment in my throat, hopeful that luck was with me for once, and I'd srumbled across Jacob without hardly trying. But this boy was too wide, and the hair was short under the hat. Even from behind, I was sure it was Quil, though he looked bigger than the last time I'd seen him. What was with these Quileute boys? Were they feeding them experimental growth hormones?

I crossed over to the wrong side of the road to stop next to him. He looked up when the roar of my truck approached.

Quil's expression frightened me more than it surprised me. His face was bleak, brooding, his forehead creased with worry.

"Oh, hey, Bella," he greeted me dully.

"Hi, Quil�� Are you okay?"

He stared at me morosely. "Fine."

"Can I give you a ride somewhere?" I offered.

"Sure, I guess," he mumbled. He shuffled around the front of the truck and opened the passenger door to climbin.

"Where to?"

"My house is on the north side, back behind the store," he told me.

"Have you seen Jacob today." The question burst from me almost before he'd finished speaking.

I looked at Quil eagerly, waiting for his answer. He stared out the windshield for a second before he spoke. "From a distance," he finally said.

"A distance?" I echoed.

"I tried to follow them��he was with Embry." His voice was low, hard to hear over the engine. I leaned closer. "I know they saw me. But they turned and just disappeared into the trees. I don't think they were alone��I think Sam and his crew might have been with them.

"I've been stumbling around in the forest for an hour, yelling for them. I just barely found the road again when you drove up."

"So Sam did get to him." The words were a little distorted��my teeth were gritted together.

Quil stared at me. "You know about that.?"

I nodded. "Jake told me�� before."

"Before," Quil repeated, and sighed.

"Jacob's just as bad as the others now?"

"Never leaves Sam's side." Quil turned his head and spit out the open window.

"And before that��did he avoid everyone? Was he acting upset?"

His voice was low and rough. "Not for as long as the others. Maybe one day. Then Sam caught up with him."

"What do you think it is? Drugs or something?"

"I can't see Jacob or Embry getting into anything like that�� but what do I know? What else could it be? And why aren't the old people worried?" He shook his head, and the fear showed in his eyes now. "Jacob didn't want to be a part of this�� cult. I don't understand what could change him." He stared at me, his face frightened. "I don't want to be next."

My eyes mirrored his fear. That was the second time I'd heard it described as a cult. I shivered. "Are your parents any help?"

He grimaced. "Right. My grandfather's on the council with Jacob's dad. Sam Uley is the best thing that ever happened to this place, as far as he's concerned."

We stared at each other for a prolonged moment. We were in La Push now, and my truck was barely crawling along the empty road. I could see the village's only store not too far ahead.

"I'll get out now," Quil said. "My house is right over there." He gestured toward the small wooden rectangle behind the store. I pulled over to the shoulder, and he jumped out.

"I'm going to go wait for Jacob," I told him in a hard voice.

"Good luck." He slammed the door and shuffled forward along the road, his head bent forward, his shoulders slumped.

Quil's face haunted me as I made a wide U-turn and headed back toward the Blacks'. He was terrified of being next. What was happening here?

I stopped in front of Jacob's house, killing the motor and rolling down the windows. It was stuffy today, no breeze. I put my feet up on the dashboard and settled in to wait.

A movement flashed in my peripheral vision��I turned and spotted Billy looking at me through the front window with a confused expression. I waved once and smiled a tight smile, but stayed where I was.

His eyes narrowed; he let the curtain fall across the glass.

I was prepared to stay as long as it took, but I wished I had something to do. I dug up a pen out of the bottom of my backpack, and an old test. I started to doodle on the back of the scrap.

I'd only had time to scrawl one row of diamonds when there was a sharp tap against my door.

I jumped, looking up, expecting Billy.

"What are you doing here, Bella.'" Jacob growled.

I stared at him in blank astonishment.

Jacob had changed radically in the last weeks since I'd seen him. The first thing I noticed was his hair��his beautiful hair was all gone, cropped quite short, covering his head with an inky gloss like black satin. The planes of his face seemed to have hardened subtly, tightened�� aged. His neck and his shoulders were different, too, thicker somehow. His hands, where they gripped the window frame, looked enormous, with the tendons and veins more prominent under the russet skin. But the physical changes were insignificant.

It was his expression that made him almost completely unrecognizable. The open, friendly smile was gone like the hair, the warmth in his dark eyes altered to a brooding resentment that was instantly disturbing. There was a darkness in Jacob now. Like my sun had imploded.

"Jacob?" I whispered.

He just stared at me, his eyes tense and angry.

I realized we weren't alone. Behind him stood four others; all tall and russet-skinned, black hair chopped short just like Jacob's. They could have been brothers��I couldn't even pick Embry out of the group. The resemblance was only intensified by the strikingly similar hostility in every pair of eyes.

Every pair but one. The oldest by several years, Sam stood in the very back, his face serene and sure. I had to swallow back the bile that rose in my throat. I wanted to take a swing at him. No, I wanted to do more than that. More than anything, I wanted to be fierce and deadly, someone no one would dare mess with. Someone who would scare Sam Uley silly.

I wanted to be a vampire.

The violent desire caught me off guard and knocked the wind out of me. It was the most forbidden of all wishes��even when I only wished it for a malicious reason like this, to gain an advantage over an enemy��because it was the most painful. That future was lost to me forever, had never really been within my grasp. I scrambled to gain control of myself while the hole in my chest ached hollowly.

"What do you want?" Jacob demanded, his expression growing more resentful as he watched the play of emotion across my face.

"I want to talk to you," I said in a weak voice. I tried to focus, but I was still reeling against the escape of

my taboo dream.

"Go ahead," he hissed through his teeth. His glare was vicious. I'd never seen him look at anyone like that, least of all me. It hurt with a surprising intensity��a physical pain, a stabbing in my head.

"Alone!" I hissed, and my voice was stronger.

He looked behind him, and I knew where his eyes would go. Every one of them was turned for Sam's reaction.

Sam nodded once, his face unperturbed. He made a brief comment in an unfamiliar, liquid language��I could only be positive that it wasn't French or Spanish, but I guessed that it was Quileute. He turned and walked into Jacob's house. The others, Paul, Jared, and Embry, I assumed, followed him in.

"Okay." Jacob seemed a bit less furious when the others were gone. His face was a little calmer, but also more hopeless. His mouth seemed permanently pulled down at the corners.

I took a deep breath. "You know what I want to know."

He didn't answer. He just stared at me bitterly.

I stared back and the silence stretched on. The pain in his face unnerved me. I felt a lump beginning to build in my throat.

"Can we walk?" I asked while I could still speak.

He didn't respond in any way; his face didn't change.

I got out of the car, feeling unseen eyes behind the windows on me, and started walking toward the trees to the north. My feet squished in the damp grass and mud beside the road, and, as that was the only sound, at first I thought he wasn't following me. But when I glanced around, he was right beside me, his feet having somehow found a less noisy path than mine.

I felt better in the fringe of trees, where Sam couldn't possibly be watching. As we walked, I struggled for the right thing to say, but nothing came. I just got more and more angry that Jacob had gotten sucked in�� that Billy had allowed this�� that Sam was able to stand there so assured and calm��

Jacob suddenly picked up the pace, striding ahead of me easily with his long legs, and then swinging around to face me, planting himself in my path so I would have to stop too.

I was distracted by the overt grace of his movement. Jacob had been nearly as klutzy as me with his never-ending growth spurt. When did that changed?

But Jacob didn't give me time to think about it.

"Let's get this over with," he said in a hard, husky voice.

I waited. He knew what I wanted.

"It's not what you think." His voice was abruptly weary. "It's not what I thought��I was way off."

"So what is it, then?"

He studied my face for a long moment, speculating. The anger never completely left his eyes. "I can't tell you," he finally said.

My jaw tightened, and I spoke through my teeth. "I thought we were friends."

"We were." There was a slight emphasis on the past tense.

"But you don't need friends anymore," I said sourly. "You have Sam. Isn't that nice��you've always looked up to him so much."

"I didn't understand him before."

"And now you've seen the light. Hallelujah."

"It wasn't like I thought it was. This isn't Sam's fault. He's helping me as much as he can." His voice turned brittle and he looked over my head, past me, rage burning out from his eyes.

"He's helping you," I repeated dubiously. "Naturally."

But Jacob didn't seem to be listening. He was taking deep, deliberate breaths, trying to calm himself. He was so mad that his hands were shaking.

"Jacob, please," I whispered "Won't you tell me what happened? Maybe I can help."

"No one can help me now." The words were a low moan; his voice broke.

"What did he do to you?" I demanded, tears collecting in my eyes. I reached out to him, as I had once before, stepping forward with my arms wide.

This time he cringed away, holding his hands up defensively. "Don't touch me," he whispered.

"Is Sam catching?" I mumbled. The stupid tears had escaped the corners of my eyes. I wiped them away with the back of my hand, and folded my arms across my chest.

"Stop blaming Sam." The words came out fast, like a reflex. His hands reached up to twist around the hair that was no longer there, and then fell limply at his sides.

"Then who should I blame?" I retorted.

He halfway smiled; it was a bleak, twisted thing.

"You don't want to hear that."

"The hell I don't!" I snapped. "I want to know, and I want to know now."

"You're wrong," he snapped back.

"Don't you dare tell me I'm wrong��I'm not the one who got brainwashed! Tell me now whose fault this all is, if it's not your precious Sam!"

"You asked for it," he growled at me, eyes glinting hard. "If you want to blame someone, why don't you point your finger at those filthy, reeking bloodsuckers that you love so much?"

My mouth fell open and my breath came out with a whooshing sound. I was frozen in place, stabbed through with his double-edged words. The pain twisted in familiar patterns through my body, the jagged hole ripping me open from the inside out, but it was second place, background music to the chaos of my thoughts. I couldn't believe that I'd heard him correctly. There was no trace of indecision in his face. Only fury.

My mouth still hung wide.

"I told you that you didn't want to hear it," he said.

"I don't understand who you mean," I whispered.

He raised one eyebrow in disbelief. "I think you understand exactly who I mean. You're not going to make me say it, are you? I don't like hurting you."

"I don't understand who you mean," I repeated mechanically.

"The Cullens," he said slowly, drawing out the word, scrutinizing my face as he spoke it. "I saw that��I can see in your eyes what it does to you when I say their name."

I shook my head back and forth in denial, trying to clear it at the same time. How did he know this? And how did it have anything to do with Sam's cult? Was it a gang of vampire-haters? What was the point of forming such a society when no vampires lived in Forks anymore? Why would Jacob start believing the stories about the Cullens now, when the evidence of them was long gone, never to return?

It took me too long to come up with the correct response. "Don't tell me you're listening to Billy's superstitious nonsense now," I said with a feeble attempt at mockery.

"He knows more than I gave him credit for."

"Be serious, Jacob."

He glared at me, his eyes critical.

"Superstitions aside," I said quickly. "I still don't see what you're accusing the… Cullens"��wince��"of. They left more than half a year ago. How can you blame them for what Sam is doing now?"

"Sam isn't doing anything, Bella. And I know they're gone. But sometimes�� things are set in motion, and then it's too late."

"What's set in motion? What's too late? What are you blaming them for?"

He was suddenly right in my face, his fury glowing in his eyes. "For existing," he hissed.

I was surprised and distracted as the warning words came in Edward's voice again, when I wasn't even scared.

"Quiet now, Bella. Don't push him," Edward cautioned in my ear.

Ever since Edward's name had broken through the careful walls I'd buried it behind, I'd been unable to lock it up again. It didn't hurt now��not during the precious seconds when I could hear his voice.

Jacob was fuming in front of me, quivering with anger.

I didn't understand why the Edward delusion was unexpectedly in my mind. Jacob was livid, but he was Jacob. There was no adrenaline, no danger.

"Give him a chance to calm down," Edward's voice insisted.

I shook my head in confusion. "You're being ridiculous," I told them both.

"Fine," Jacob answered, breathing deeply again. "I won't argue it with you. It doesn't matter anyway, the

damage is done."

"What damage?"

He didn't flinch as I shouted the words in his face.

"Let's head back. There's nothing more to say."

I gaped. "There's everything more to say! You haven't said anything yet!"

He walked past me, striding back toward the house.

"I ran into Quil today," I yelled after him.

He paused midstep, but didn't turn.

"You remember your friend, Quil? Yeah, he's terrified."

Jacob whirled to face me. His expression was pained. "Quil" was all he said.

"He's worried about you, too. He's freaked out."

Jacob stared past me with desperate eyes.

I goaded him further. "He's frightened that he's next."

Jacob clutched at a tree for support, his face turning a strange shade of green under the red-brown surface. "He won't be next," Jacob muttered to himself. "He can't be. It's over now. This shouldn't still be happening. Why? Why?" His fist slammed against the tree. It wasn't a big tree, slender and only a few feet taller than Jacob. But it still surprised me when tht trunk gave way and snapped off loudly under his blows.

Jacob stared at the sharp, broken point with shock that quickly turned to horror.

"I have to get back." He whirled and stalked away so swiftly that I had to jog to keep up.

"Back to Sam!"

"That's one way of looking at it," it sounded like he said. He was mumbling and facing away.

I chased him back to the truck. "Wait!" I called as he turned toward the house.

He spun around to face me, and I saw that his hands were shaking again.

"Go home, Bella. I can't hang out with you anymore."

The silly, inconsequential hurt was incredibly potent. The tears welled up again. "Are you�� breaking up with me?" The words were all wrong, but they were the best way I could think to phrase what I was asking. After all, what Jake and I had was more than any schoolyard romance. Stronger.

He barked out a bitter laugh. "Hardly. If that were the case, I'd say 'Let's stay friends.' I can't even say that."

"Jacob�� why? Sam won't let you have other friends? Please, Jake. You promised. I need you!" The blank emptiness of my life before��before Jacob brought some semblance of reason back into it��reared up and confronted me. Loneliness choked in my throat.

"I'm sorry, Bella," Jacob said each word distinctly in a cold voice that didn't seem to belong to him.

I didn't believe that this was really what Jacob wanted to say. It seemed like there was something else trying to be said through his angry eyes, but I couldn't understand the message.

Maybe this wasn't about Sam at all. Maybe this had nothing to do with the Cullens. Maybe he was just trying to pull himself out of a hopeless situation. Maybe I should let him do that, if that's what was best for him. I should do that. It would be right.

But I heard my voice escaping in a whisper.

"I'm sorry that I couldn't�� before�� I wish I could change how I feel about you, Jacob." I was desperate, reaching, stretching the truth so far that it curved nearly into the shape of a lie. "Maybe�� maybe I would change," I whispered. "Maybe, if you gave me some time�� just don't quit on me now, Jake. I can't take it."

His face went from anger to agony in a second. One shaking hand reached out toward me.

"No. Don't think like that, Bella, please. Don't blame yourself, don't think this is your fault. This one is all me. I swear, it's not about you."

"It's not you, it's me," I whispered. "There's a new one."

"I mean it, Bella. I'm not��" he struggled, his voice going even huskier as he fought to control his emotion. His eyes were tortured. "I'm not good enough to be your friend anymore, or anything else. I'm not what I was before. I'm not good."

"What?" I stared at him, confused and appalled. "What are you saying? You're much better than I am, Jake. You are good! Who told you that you aren't? Sam? It's a vicious lie, Jacob! Don't let him tell you that!" I was suddenly yelling again.

Jacob's face went hard and flat. "No one had to tell me anything. I know what I am."

"You're my friend, that's what you are! Jake��don't!"

He was backing away from me.

"I'm sorry, Bella," he said again; this time it was a broken mumble. He turned and almost ran into the house.

I was unable to move from where I stood. I stared at the little house; it looked too small to hold four large boys and two larger men. There was no reaction inside. No flutter at the edge of the curtain, no sound of voices or movement. It faced me vacantly.

The rain started to drizzle, stinging here and there against my skin. I couldn't take my eyes off the house. Jacob would come back. He had to.

The rain picked up, and so did the wind. The drops were no longer falling from above; they slanted at an angle from the west. I could smell the brine from the ocean. My hair whipped in my face, sticking to the wet places and tangling in my lashes. I waited.

Finally the door opened, and I took a step forward in relief.

Billy rolled his chair into the door frame. I could see no one behind him.

"Charlie just called, Bella. I told him you were on your way home." His eyes were full of pity.

The pity made it final somehow. I didn't comment. I just turned robotically and climbed in my truck. I'd left the windows open and the seats were slick and wet. It didn't matter. I was already soaked.

Not as bad! Not as bad! my mind tried to comfort me. It was true. This wasn't as bad. This wasn't the end of the world, not again. This was just the end of what little peace there was left behind. That was all.

Not as bad, I agreed, then added, but bad enough.

I'd thought Jake had been healing the hole in me��or at least plugging it up, keeping it from hurting me so much. I'd been wrong. He'd just been carving out his own hole, so that I was now riddled through like Swiss cheese. I wondered why I didn't crumble into pieces.

Charlie was waiting on the porch. As I rolled to a stop, he walked out to meet me.

"Billy called. He said you got in fight with Jake��said you were pretty upset," he explained as he opened my door for me.

Then he looked at my face. A kind of horrified recognition registered in his expression. I tried to feel my face from the inside out, to know what he was seeing. My face felt empty and cold, and I realized what it would remind him of.

"That's not exactly how it happened," I muttered.

Charlie put his arm around me and helped me out of the car. He didn't comment on my sodden clothes.

"Then what did happen'" he asked when we were inside. He pulled the afghan off the back of the sofa as he spoke and wrapped it around my shoulders. I realized I was shivering still.

My voice was lifeless. "Sam Uley says Jacob can't be my friend anymore."

Charlie shot me a strange look. "Who told you that?"

"Jacob," I stated, though that wasn't exactly what he'd said. It was still true.

Charlie's eyebrows pulled together. "You really think there's something wrong with the Uley kid?"

"I know there is. Jacob wouldn't tell me what, though." I could hear the water from my clothes dripping to the floor and splashing on the linoleum. "I'm going to go change."

Charlie was lost in thought. "Okay," he said absently.

I decided to take a shower because I was so cold, but the hot water didn't seem to affect the temperature of my skin. I was still freezing when I gave up and shut the water off. In the sudden quiet, I could hear Charlie talking to someone downstairs. I wrapped a towel around me, and cracked the bathroom door.

Charlie's voice was angry. "I'm not buying that. It doesn't make any sense."

It was quiet then, and I realized he was on the phone. A minute passed.

"Don't you put this on Bella!" Charlie suddenly shouted.

I jumped. When he spoke again, his voice was careful and lower. "Bella's made it very clear all along that

she and Jacob were just friends�� Well, if that was it, then why didn't you say so at first? No, Billy, I think she's right about this�� Because I know my daughter, and if she says Jacob was scared before��" He was cut off mid-sentence, and when he answered he was almost shouting again.

"What do you mean I don't know my daughter as well as I think I do!" He listened for a brief second, and his response was almost too low for me to hear. "If you think I'm going to remind her about that, then you had better think again. She's only just starting to get over it, and mostly because of Jacob, I think. If whatever Jacob has going on with this Sam character sends her back into that depression, then Jacob is going to have to answer to me. You're my friend, Billy, but this is hurting my family."

There was another break for Billy to respond.

"You got that right��those boys set one toe out of line and I'm going to know about it. We'll be keeping an eye on the situation, you can be sure of that." He was no longer Charlie; he was Chief Swan now.

"Fine. Yeah. Goodbye." The phone slammed into the cradle.

I tiptoed quickly across the hall into my room. Charlie was muttering angrily in the kitchen.

So Billy was going to blame me. I was leading Jacob on and he'd finally had enough.

It was strange, for I'd feared that myself, but after the last thing Jacob had said this afternoon, I didn't believe it anymore. There was much more to this than an unrequited crush, and it surprised me that Billy would stoop to claiming that. It made me think that whatever secret they were keeping was bigger than I'd been imagining. At least Charlie was on my side now.

I put my pajamas on and crawled into bed. Life seemed dark enough at the moment chat I let myself cheat. The hole��holes now��were already aching, so why not? I pulled out the memory��nor a real memory that would hurt too much, but the false memory of Edward's voice in my mind this afternoon��and played it over and over in my head until I fell asleep with the tears still streaming calmly down my empty face.

It was a new dream tonight. Rain was falling and Jacob was walking soundlessly beside me, though beneath my feet the ground crunched like dry gravel. But he wasn't my Jacob; he was the new, bitter, graceful Jacob. The smooth suppleness of his walk reminded me of someone else, and, as I watched, his features started to change. The russet color of his skin leached away, leaving his face pale white like bone. His eyes turned gold, and then crimson, and then back to gold again. His shorn hair twisted in the breeze, turning bronze where the wind touched it. And his face became so beautiful that it shattered my heart. I reached for him, but he took a step away, raising his hands like a shield. And then Edward vanished.

I wasn't sure, when I woke in the dark, if I'd just begun crying, or if my tears had run while I slept and simply continued now. I stared at my dark ceiling. I could feel that it was the middle of the night��I was still half-asleep, maybe more than half. I closed my eyes wearily and prayed for a dreamless sleep.

That's when I heard the noise that must have wakened me in the first place. Something sharp scraped along the length of my window with a high-pitched squeal, like fingernails against the glass.