A/N: Huge thank you to Jezebel Jai-Braxlin again for beta reading this chapter.
February 14th, 2008
It was impossible to avoid people on Valentine's Day when you had classes.
Last year, I had spent the day at home and went out to buy myself discounted chocolate on the 15th. This year, Seth's party hadn't left me feeling as grouchy, and I didn't dread Valentine's like I had in the past.
I wasn't looking forward to it either, but I thought I'd make it through with minimal pessimism. It wasn't like the entire school had been bathed in pinks and reds. I could hardly pick up on any signs that it was a holiday.
Maybe the couples were being extra affectionate today. I wasn't paying close enough attention.
By the time I slid into a chair with my lunch, I had forgotten what today even was until I noticed Joselyn was looking at the heart confetti sprinkled on the table like it was a colony of ants.
"Not your favorite holiday then," I commented lightly as I dug into my food.
This had become a daily tradition, us eating lunch together. In the past month, I'd already begun to feel closer to Joselyn than I had anyone in a long time. I was surprised at how well it felt like she was getting to know me considering I had to disguise so much. She already knew about Sam and Emily, although I had to leave out large parts of the story. Parts that might have made both Sam and Emily look a bit better than the way I had struggled to word it.
"Don't tell me it's yours," Joselyn shot back. She turned back to her food, trying to block out visions of the confetti.
"If I hate something, that's normal. You hating something is strange."
I didn't want to watch someone else I knew go through such a dramatic personality shift.
"Hate is a strong word."
I had to wait for her to chew and swallow before she continued.
"I don't hate Valentine's Day. Usually. 'Am not a big fan of' would be a better way of describing it."
I hummed in response, too busy with my own food to speak. Something about the moment triggered a response in Joselyn. She jumped a bit, tugging her phone out of her back pocket. I rolled my eyes as she opened the notes on her phone and hastily typed something out.
"What inspiration could you possibly have gotten?" I asked once she'd gotten whatever it was written down.
"You know I don't share my ideas," she returned in a sing-song voice.
I couldn't help but roll my eyes again. "You know I'm not going to write whatever it was, Joselyn."
She grinned a little before answering. "Fine. It was about the difference between hating and not caring about Valentine's Day."
It took her several moments to realize that I was looking at her peculiarly.
"What?" she asked, stiffening. She was always defensive about whatever ideas were floating around in her head.
"No offense, but that sounds boring."
Feeling comfortable enough to tease her like this was a recent development. Sometimes I still worried that I was offending her when I said something. She grinned again though. Now that I was beginning to recognize her expressions, I could tell it was her joking grin.
"All ideas sound boring until you do something with them. The simplest of ideas can become brilliant stories by the right people. The grandest of ideas can still turn out shit."
I shot out a, "Whatever," because I didn't have another response.
Sometimes Joselyn liked to talk like a philosopher. I wasn't sure if it was a writer thing or a Joselyn thing, since I'd never been around that many writers. She reminded me of Embry whenever she did it, something that made me feel strange.
After a few minutes, something else occurred to me.
"So, what is with the 'just not a fan of Valentine's' thing?"
I could tell from the way Joselyn slowly lowered her fork and looked up at me that I'd hit on something.
"Does one need a reason?" she asked, attempting to divert the subject.
I hadn't been expecting her answer to be anything more than the usual. I'd geared myself up for disgusting couples or reminders of her single status or something of the like. Now I wondered what bad memories I had stumbled upon.
"Well, no. I guess not. It'd be okay if there was a reason though."
She sighed, moving her food around on her plate with her fork.
"I just-" She cut herself off, spent a moment gathering herself, and took a deep breath. "I don't do relationships. Ever. I don't have any deep, dark story about it or anything. I just don't care. I don't like to tell people because they always make a bigger deal out of it than I want them to. My mom loves going on about how I'll meet someone nice one day that'll change that. I can't convince her that I don't care about meeting a boy. Ever.
"It's not that it's not a priority. It's more than that. I would never stop to think about being in a relationship if people didn't shove it in my face. That's why I tend to hate days that are all about shoving relationships in people's faces."
She looked at me expectantly, and it took me a bit too long to react.
Joselyn's face dropped, and I scrambled to come up with something more adequate.
"I don't see why people would give you a hard time about that. I mean, you should live your life however you want." I shrugged in an attempt to appear nonchalant. I was serious when I said I didn't think it should be that big of a deal, and I wanted Joselyn to get that. "There are plenty of things in life other than relationships."
That was one of the things I had struggled to learn after Sam and Emily. In high school, I would have been one of the people Joselyn hated most. She would have turned her nose up at how terrible I was around Valentine's Day. But after everything I'd been through, I couldn't see relationships that way anymore. Any that I had in the future wouldn't be all consuming. I was too disenchanted with movie-worthy romances.
When I looked back at Joselyn , her smile had brightened, and I kept myself from letting out a sigh of relief.
"Thank you," she said before going back to her food.
We continued chatting about everything except Valentine's Day. Not for the first time, I was grateful Joselyn had somehow stumbled into my life.
February 20th, 2008
International Club meant long breaks between my last class and meetings, but that never bothered me. Joselyn, who lived off campus in Port Angeles, stayed too, and we split our time between the library and lounging outdoors now that it was getting warm enough.
This particular Wednesday had become an outdoor day. Joselyn was enjoying it immensely, and had been cheerful about only having to wear a light jacket. I'd done my best to play along and act like I hadn't been able to wear a tank top comfortably all winter long.
Joselyn opted to lay across the wall lining the sidewalk, while I sat up to watch the people come and go around us.
My conversation with Joselyn on Valentine's Day had gotten me thinking about relationships ever since. Or at least thinking about what I would want from one should it ever happen.
It had been interesting to hear that someone knew definitively that they never wanted that. I'd never heard someone say that before, and it had made me re-evaluate my own feelings.
I did want a relationship someday. I knew that much, and I'd never thought otherwise except in my moments of deepest despair. But I also felt like I was in a strange state where I knew I wanted one but wasn't sure if I wanted one now or later. Joselyn's words had made me think that maybe I was being too hard on myself. Maybe I worried over getting into a relationship as soon as I was "ready" because I had a subconscious idea that I was meant to at this age. I wanted to follow a conventional timeline I had never signed up to follow.
There was also the possibility I was making this into a much bigger deal than it warranted. But that was a big part of what I was trying to sort out.
I'd resolved to stop worrying about when I was ready and deal with whatever happened as it happened. If I met someone I liked, then great. I'd date him. But obsessing over the "right time" for a relationship wasn't getting me anywhere.
It was also taking away from other things already in my life like my family, the pack, school, and even Joselyn. Those were enough for now. Joselyn had helped me to see that.
February 24th, 2008
The sky just had to be uncooperative today and decide to be cloudy.
The few days a week I got to watch the sunrise were important to me. I didn't appreciate when La Push's usual weather kept me from the sunrises.
That didn't mean I gave up. I always stuck around, hoping the clouds would clear enough to show the sun. Sometimes they cooperated.
Today was a Sunday, which meant it was the day when Embry and I spent less time talking. Embry had caught me up on the latest gossip yesterday, and today we were both watching the sky in silence.
He sat closer now than he had in the past. When he'd first started coming, he'd always made an effort to act like he was there but yet wasn't at the same time. There was none of that now. He always sat right beside me, and we both accepted the fact that this had become his thing as much as it had ever been mine.
I'd also become a lot more comfortable with the silence than I'd used to be. In the past, I'd taken silence as a sign that Embry wanted to say something but didn't know how. It made me feel uncomfortable. Now I accepted it as us both enjoying the moment.
We never stayed silent for the entire time though. Embry always came up with something to say eventually, and even I was beginning to start conversations.
"Have you thought about how long it's been since someone imprinted?"
I turned to look at him, surprised at the question. It was the first time we'd spoken about imprinting as a concept since he'd first brought his theory up to me.
"You sure you're not obsessing over this?" I asked, referencing what I'd said to him then. I was only half-joking. A large part of me was curious about how much Embry thought about imprinting and why he found it worthy of his time. I'd stopped bothering with the idea of it ages ago.
Embry appeared disgruntled and shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't think about it anymore than I think about other stuff."
Embry's mind was always going a mile a minute. Sharing thoughts with him often involved a struggle of keeping up as his train of thought flew by. I hadn't known it was possible for someone to think as many things in a minute as Embry did until I saw it for myself.
None of us ever saw it often, as Embry often kept his mind closed off to us. I had never been sure if it was through courtesy or wanting to keep his thoughts private.
There was no doubt in my mind that Embry had far more ideas about tons of stuff than what he ever shared with anyone else.
"No, I haven't," I admitted, finally answering his question. "I don't actually remember when the last imprint happened off the top of my head."
"Nessie's birth," Embry pointed out. "That was the last time. It's her age."
I nodded along. Almost a year and a half then.
"Five imprints in less than a year," Embry continued when it became clear I didn't have anything to say. "And now we haven't had any in a year and a half."
I couldn't think of anything to do other than shrug. What was there to say about the whims of magic? But Embry gave me a look that pushed me to comment.
"Oh, well. I mean, I don't know what you want me to say. If it hasn't happened, then it just hasn't happened. Most of the unimprinted wolves are too young to know who their soulmate is anyway. They're better off having to wait."
Embry nodded, but he'd become distracted with staring into the distance. He was in his own mind again. I hadn't proved myself to have any insight like he'd been hoping.
I reached out to swat at his arm. "Why are you concerned?" I asked.
I was embarrassed over how much the answer to that question mattered to me.
Embry watched me for a bit before answering.
"I wouldn't say I'm concerned. I think it's interesting."
"The frown on your face isn't what people look like when they're just interested."
He sighed and readjusted how he was sitting as a distraction from replying. The sun chose that moment to peek through a crack in the clouds. I turned my attention to it and away from Embry, enjoying the look of the light beams.
When Embry did speak, his words left me confused.
"Taha Aki didn't imprint until he was on his third wife."
I couldn't help but tear my eyes away from the skyline to look at him.
"That would be the legend, yeah."
Embry nodded. He didn't offer any sort of explanation for the statement. Instead, he kept talking, keeping up some sort of train of thought that only he knew about.
"The first imprint didn't happen until the wolf was ancient, and we had five imprints in the span of a year. Sam was the oldest when he imprinted, and he was still only twenty. Now no imprints for a year and a half. It's all so strange."
"I still can't understand what you're freaking out about here, Embry. It's some mystical magic or whatever. I don't think it's supposed to make sense. Everyone else has accepted that. We're better off not questioning. We're never going to figure out some hidden secret to how it works. It's not possible."
My words struck something in him, and he sounded indignant when he answered.
"That doesn't mean I can't speculate." He crossed his arms against his chest to emphasize his annoyance. I would have found it comical if it weren't so early in the morning. "I can't help if it's something I want to know about, whether I can or not. I can't stop myself from making theories."
"Embry, stop. I know you can't, okay? But you're talking like you want answers, not theories, and you know as well as I do that that's not going to happen. The answers don't exist. Not unless you get the mythical imprint fairy to come down from the sky, wave her magic wand, and grant you all the answers they haven't shared for centuries."
He was quiet then, still frowning as he looked out over the cliff. The clouds were clearing over the horizon, giving a clearer view of the sun as it rose. We watched in silence until the sun was no longer grazing the water, and then Embry spoke again.
"I want to know how fate decides who gets an imprint and who doesn't," he admitted.
There was a touch of such real emotion in his voice that I would never be able to make a joke about his feelings. This was truly bothering him in a way far more serious than I'd known.
"I thought your theory was that everyone has a soulmate, even if they don't imprint."
"But not everyone finds them. That was the other part of the theory. A crucial part."
I couldn't help but let out a long, loud sigh. This was a heavier conversation than I'd planned when I came to the cliff that morning. I'd been expecting our usual quiet interspersed with light conversation, not this.
"Embry," I said, getting his attention although he diverted his eyes quickly. "If anyone in this world is aware enough to find their imprint completely on their own, it's you. And if your theory holds up, you'd either find her or imprint anyway, right? You wouldn't have anything to worry about."
I thought I could detect a blush on his cheeks, but I looked away, feeling self-conscious myself.
"This isn't about me," he insisted.
Keeping my eyes on the ocean, I didn't respond, even remaining unnaturally still. We both knew that was a lie, and calling Embry out on it wouldn't matter at all. There was no way he was this concerned with imprinting without it being personal. You didn't worry about vague concepts that couldn't be understood without personal investment, without caring about the outcome.
I had nothing worthwhile to say, but I had to keep talking. I had to say what I had worked hard to make myself believe since I'd phased and first learned of imprinting.
"Plenty of people in this world are happy without imprinting. We don't need it. It's not a necessary component of happy endings."
That was about as cheesy as I would ever get out loud. Sure, I'd repeated that same thing over and over in my head before, but I'd never expected to say it to another. Embry was one of the few people I would have shared it with, and that was only because I knew he couldn't judge me. Not after he'd been so forth-coming about his own deepest thoughts.
Embry sighed, letting out a long, "Yeah."
He didn't have anything else to add, and this time the silence lasted until we could no longer claim to be watching the sunrise. The sky no longer contained any vestiges of pinks, and the two of us went our separate ways. Already, I knew it would be a while before either of us brought up imprinting again.