Chapter 6: Letting Go
That night after Claire left, I slept alone, feeling guilty about sneaking around behind her back when in actuality Claire only wanted the best for her child. I was not the best for Maddie, and if Amber and I had had the children we were supposed to, as a dad, I probably wouldn't have let any daughter of mine near a guy like me.
Okay, honestly, I only tried to sleep alone, and around 3 a.m., I caved, slipping into her room where she tossed and turned.
"Solace?' She groaned rolling over and rubbing her warm brown eyes with her tiny fist.
"Sorry, Muffin," I whispered, kissing her pudgy cheek shamelessly. I shouldn't touch her or kiss her in anyway but she was irresistible, this magnet dictated my life.
"Where were you?" She asked drowsily, hitting me on the arm in anger. It hurt only because I knew she was mad at me.
"Being stupid," I admitted sheepishly. I felt as though I was giving an excuse for being late to my boss and, in a way, I was.
"Well, stop doing that, okay?" I nodded a serious yes.
"So you're coming for dinner?"
She was now wide awake, her eyes sparkling in the dark room. I nodded and she squealed, hopping on her knees before launching herself at me. She was heavier, not fat, but her weight felt more significant on top of me. She was growing, a few months from twelve-years old and developing. Girls got older quicker nowadays and it was scary with Maddox.
She was quickly becoming a different kind of beautiful. I'm not a creep or some dirty old man, but I could see it, the shadow of her impending beauty, and it was terrifying.
Mark called me in the morning before Maddox had a chance to wake me up with her customary peck on the cheek, and I was happy to find I wasn't going to the Ateara house alone; he and his family had been invited.
I left as soon as Maddox woke for the day, letting her hug and snuggle me before she dressed and walked to school.
Around five in the evening before I started to dress, Mark, Eli and Jordan came to my house bearing gifts, well, not gifts exactly, seeing as Amber paid for them with my bank card—but Jordan brought five very large boxes of books for the library. In my four bedroom home, which Amber called Avery Manor (because every "mansion" needs a name), Amber had transformed the third guest room into a library. I hadn't actually needed a library seeing as my collection included Jordan's four books, two sign language dictionaries and a journal I stopped writing in the day I imprinted, but Amber thought I might need a place to relax. Jordan bought all the essentials which ended up being two thousand dollars worth of books I might never read.
Mark also came with advice; he was filled with different tips on how to deal with Claire. He dealt with a lot of people in his job as a legal advisor. It was a newly acquired profession, he had finished studying years ago but now that he was finished as Alpha and Eli was settled, he had a chance to start his life. His first job was for the tribe and he was enjoying it, it was much easier than running with a pack of wolves.
"Don't argue with Claire, you should know that...don't lie to her, the truth always has a way of coming out and it'll be worse in the end, but don't volunteer the information either," Mark listed as Eli strapped himself to my arm. They dressed me in a black button up and jeans that made me look young, younger than I felt but I was given the 'Eli Seal of Approval' so I didn't argue.
May flowers were blooming, the gentle breeze sending the scent of gardenias, a scent I have been told I possess, to guide our path to her home. Her scent, which had been burned on my mind since the moment our eyes met, greeted me at the doorway and I inhaled deeply before I came inside. Their youngest child Addison answered. He was tall for his age and looked very much like his father, though not as tanned. He held his hand out for a shake, much like an adult, then ran off to meet his sister, Harley.
"Harley the Hellion" was infamous in the pack, similar to her idol Soli, who incidentally stood attached to her imprint, Randy, on the opposite side of the room, just a month away from their wedding. He would be graduating from Quileute Tribal School in three weeks and the build-up to the day made Soli uncommonly reserved. Randy however, seemed unfazed, he was beaming as if everything in the world was perfect, but then that was his natural state of being. His sunny demeanor was rubbing off on her, so much so that it even affected her clothes. Before they were together, Soli liked to dress like a rocked-out, sex kitten, but now she wore a coral colored sundress with a fresh tropical flower in her hair that Randy kept leaning in to smell. Every time he did, she reached up for a kiss; it was sickeningly sweet and it made me miss Amber just that much more.
When I was originally invited, I took it as a leap forward, and in a way, it was but with so many people present, it turned out much less of a leap and more of a baby step. Randy and Soli were present, Trisha, David and their daughters, Sarah and Samantha, and to my surprise, Amber; this was a business dinner, the kind Claire held for all her big paying clients. Both David and Randy had worked on my house construction-wise, Jordan had been paid by Amber to stock the library, Claire had done the artwork and Amber had designed it. Only this time there was the added awkwardness of us all being members of an extended family.
It was an awkward mix all around. Amber and Trisha, who were not fond of each other, stayed on opposite corners of the room and Mark happily took the anti-Trisha side, leaving Jordan to stand silently by David whom he liked but had an impossible time talking to. Soli, who had just been accepted into the pack mix, did not want to choose corners so she stood wisely with her fiancé kissing every part of him she could reach when no one was looking. Even the children were not well matched.
Eli, who did not know his cousins (the Uley girls as they had come to be known) very well was uncommonly shy and stuck at Maddox's side. Maddox liked him but as her eyes had not left me since I walked in the house, he was having a hell of a time trying to sign to her. Sarah and Harley were similar in age and in the same grade at school, but since Harley was more likely to set fire to your house then play with dolls like the other little girls her age, they didn't exactly mesh.
Harley tried to attached herself to Soli, but at the moment Soli was preoccupied, progressively more enthralled with Randy. Both Amber and I watched the couple from afar and in unison we looked up at each other and dropped our eyes to the floor in pain.
By the time dinner rolled around only Addison and Sammy had found any form of entertainment, fluidly playing round after round of rock-paper-scissors. They got along well, Sammy's rough exterior and Addison's gentle calm made for a good mix.
Claire had the foresight to arrange the seating, placing small name cards on our seats, so that Trisha and David were on one end near me and Amber and Mark were on the other. To my great delight, Maddox sat across from me, and I was immensely pleased when her brother pulled her chair out for her like a little man because I couldn't.
With sixteen people Claire and Quil had set up two long tables like a Better Homes and Garden spread in their large backyard. Maddox, who was desperate to catch my attention, kicked my feet under the table and I shot up, meeting her eyes for a second to show her I was paying attention. She had dressed up, more than I was actually comfortable with, her thick wavy hair held in a cascade high on her head, stray locks falling across her face. I detected makeup, enhancing her features though I didn't allow myself a glance up to look. Why would they let an twelve year old wear makeup? What was wrong with this world?
"Solace?" She whispered, not moving her lips much for fear of catching the attention of her mother. I nodded to tell I was listening.
"Why is Amber here?" She asked gazing down the aisle to glare at her. Amber sat next to Randy, perfectly still and unimposing but Maddox was not please, her nostrils flared and it made my stomach clench, instantly defensive of my wife... ex-wife.
"Maddox," I warned through clenched teeth and she huffed, so loudly Claire caught wind.
"What's wrong?" she asked looking between us. Trisha, who I had not talked to since her feud with Amber a decade ago, came to my rescue.
"Maddox was just asking about the artwork in the house. I'm interested in seeing it too, Solace. You should have a housewarming party when everything is situated," she said smoothly.
"Party?" Trisha had gotten me out of a potentially ugly situation put me in another.
"Annabelle and dad can cater," Amber chipped in. Annabelle had left school before graduation still traumatized by her kidnapping and desperate to start her life. Her new life included being one of the only party planners/caterers in the La Push area, and she was pretty good at it from what I could see at Maddox's birthday party.
"Annie does all of my new houses now," Amber rang out, still pimping out her youngest sibling, who had recently moved in with her imprint and thrown a housewarming party of her own, though I didn't attend.
"Sure, sure. Sounds good, we'll invite the town," I tried to say enthusiastically.
Claire gaped but piped in just the same, "I'll bring another painting… i think your bathroom is a bit bare and I've got the perfect one, Maddox and Harley painted it," she said nodding. And it was official; I was inviting the whole of La Push into my home.
When dinner was finished, Amber left first and we soon filed out. I followed her scent all the way back to my house, my heart beating faster as I heard hers pounding against her chest at a steady rhythm.
"I've got something for you," Amber breathed before I made it to my doorstep where she stood.
"Yeah? Is it a bill?" I joked, she giggled her hand slapping my arm then staying there, pulsating.
"No smart ass, but I've got that too," she smiled, holding her hand out for the key. When I followed her inside, I was thrown back by the force of what I saw. My things, my life set out before me. The lamps, knick-knacks and all of the personal effects I had accumulated in the last 47 years of my life were placed around the house, making my mansion which looked a lot like a design catalogue before, feel like a home.
There were pictures, not of her and me together, but of my family that had all died years ago, Phil and the pack before the divide, Mark and I, landscapes from our travels abroad. The solid gold lamp I took from my room in Volterra for the shear ridiculousness of it, stood in the corner; the scrolls we bought on vacation Thailand. The silver Buddha from Nepal, the beaded cushions from India, all there. I rushed through the house leaving her in the living room as I ran to our bedroom—or my bedroom rather.
My clothes and shoes were all in place and on my nightstand stood one picture of us, sweet and meaningful in a silver frame. She was young in it, before I left for Italy, which was the biggest mistake of my life. Maybe if I hadn't left, if I had been man enough to deal with my pain, I wouldn't have needed an imprint.
In the picture, she was sitting on the hood of my old sports car, the blue one I gave to Michael before I left for Italy, which now belonged to Levi. I stood next to her, my head inclined smiling at the camera; she looked only at me.
"You were the cutest girl in the world," I sighed, listening to her heartbeat at the doorway.
"Ye-yeah," she gasped, releasing the breath she had been holding in. She hadn't cried, not with me. Once the divorce papers were served, she was a stone.
"Princess," I breathed, turning and yanking her to me. She felt right, her body molded to mine with real desire and undiluted love, it was intoxicating. She gasped when I lifted her up by the back of her thighs the way I did every night before I carried her to bed.
"Solace," she whimpered, pounding weakly against my shoulder, I didn't stop. There was a life, there was a world completely different from the one I had fallen into, where we loved each other, where we lived for each other and we were happy. We had never had a chance to say goodbye, tragedy struck, and she gave up on me, the last chapter of my real life was chopped off, and I needed to read it before I could move on. Though Maddox was like an eclipse so often blocking her, the fiery Amber sun still existed behind it. I kissed her, locking my fingers in the soft hairs at the back of her neck so she could not stop me.
"Amber, I love you," I breathed as she struggled with me.
"Solace," she panted against my lips, leaving her mouth open for me to explore. I had missed the sweet undertones of her lips, the salty warmth of her sex.
"God, I want you," I groaned as she wrapped her legs around my hips grinding her warm core against my erection.
"We can't," she whined but her body was not complying, I could smell the perfection of her arousal. I kissed, bit, licked, and sucked everything I could reach and when the cloth of her dress became a hindrance I placed her firmly on the ground and ripped it off, ignoring her words; she shivered. I couldn't hear 'we can't' or 'we shouldn't' because, strike me down, I just didn't want to.
"We have to," I commanded, laying her back against the bed and ripping her panties off. I spread her legs at the knee kissing down her flexed thighs until I reached her center desperately tasting her.
"Oh God, now please," she screamed when the gentle ministrations of my tongue against her clit had made her clench and burst twice in rapid succession. I crawled up her body and she pulled my shirt off, kissing the dark scars along my shoulder which I received during my years of combat in Volterra, scraping her nails along my back and urging me forward.
I slammed into her, trying to bury every inch of myself in the tight warmth of her core. We screamed in unison, both elated and tortured.
She did not need to instruct or coax, I knew her body like I knew my own, I had studied it, I had worshipped it for close to six years. Our nights were never lacking some sort of connection, hours spent pleasing each other. And though I was old, broken and a slave to a pre-teen, I would not let this night be tarnished, I needed it before I could move on.
The bed, the bed I now knew from laying on it was the bed we had shared for years, hid familiar grooves, spots where I had pushed myself with so much force the springs beneath her had reshaped themselves, while I searched for oblivion. Along the mattress there were snags from the clawing desperation of her orgasms, she made new ones, but most of all lingered a scent, the scent of us as a unit remained and it made me drunk with nostalgia.
"Oh God, Amber please, Princess, stay with me," I moaned turning us on our sides so she would not be surrounded by my heat. It had been a few hours and her eyes were glazing, the first signs she was overcome by the heat of my body. I stopped, determined to douse her with cool water before continuing but the wetness on her face was not sweat but tears. She was crying, and it broke my heart.
I carried her to the shower, gently combing her hair the way I watched her do each night before our shower, she cried harder. I tested the water, something I perfected during our marriage where shower time was close to heaven and pulled her in.
"This is wrong," she sobbed against my shoulder, "we-we can't do this again." I pulled her head back, wetting her hair but covering her long lashed eyes which were still streaming with tears.
I kissed her, soft gentle kisses that were loving and warm and real.
"I know," I breathed against her lips, slowly running my hands up her warm wet thighs which were smoother than I remembered.
"Please, let's just—pretend we're still happy," I begged, she choked on a sob, nodding as I lifted her off her feet, placing her against the cold tile causing goose bumps to erupt down her small frame.
I pressed into her, starting with the tip then gliding forward until I was entirely covered in her. It felt final, as if I pulled out, I could not come back in. I did not move, I stayed still, feeling her body adjust to my size as she grabbed onto my neck with one arm, using the other to brace herself against the wall before she started to move against me. It was slow, it was loving, it was our last time together and we both cried.
When her second orgasm under the cool water rocked me, forcing me to explode inside of her, I dropped to my knees, ashamed I could not hold out any longer because I knew it would never happen again.
I kissed her hip bones, the top of her mound, and her navel in silent pleas but I would not vocalize them. I could not subject her to verbal begging, to the weak cries that built in my chest. I had loved before but there was no unaltered, organic love like the one I felt for Amber. I loved Maddox, but then I had no choice in the matter, she was a force of magic and Amber was a force of nature, neither better or more real because they both filled me so completely.
"I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry," I wept against her chest. She had turned the water off, pulled us out and gently patted us dry in the cold bathroom, that though it was blindingly white, now felt like a mausoleum for our love.
"It wasn't your fault, Solace," she whispered, pulling me to the bedroom. She slipped on one of my shirts, an ancient brown t-shirt that fell down to her knees. It had once been my uniform in the hardware store I owned two lifetimes ago and it looked beautiful on her. She tossed me my soft black boxers, they were the only thing I was willing to wear to bed when we were together.
"It wasn't your fault either," I assured her though I could see she didn't entirely agree. Amber blamed herself for the loss of our child. "We could have adopted." It was a feeble attempt to make her see reason, and I knew it would not work on her.
"We could have done a lot of things, but you'd still be hers," she said, turning and placing her back to my chest the way we slept every night as a couple. I pulled her in and we drifted.
When I woke she and my shirt were gone, but her scent lingered. I couldn't keep this mattress, it smelled so strongly of her it made me ache. I couldn't keep these boxers or any of the things that reminded me of her, though I wanted with every ounce of my being to lose myself in them.
She left a note. It was short and direct and it was her final goodbye.
I can't come back yet, we're not ready. Annabelle will be by for the party planning. Be an adult and win over Claire because you have already captured Maddie's heart. She is the luckiest girl in the world.
Next to the note was a final rundown of the billing. I looked it over trying to get a rough estimate of what I had left in my account now that this huge project was over. There was no designer fee, she had worked here every night for the last ten months for free. It was the last present from the woman who had given me everything, and my last gift to her would be finally letting her go.