I could feel his burning, angry stare from across the bonfire. Despite the peaceful co-existence of both types of shape-shifters around us, he continued to glare. "It had to be you." He spat. After a long, lazy minute, I dully looked up. It looked like his lip pulled up in a snarl at my patronizing gaze.
"It had to be you..." I repeated.
It felt like a long drive from Seattle to the coast. It was a long drive, and apparently just what I needed. After weeks cooped up in the office with no business, and on the teetering, nervous edge of losing my job, getting a call felt like the sunshine coming through the clouds. That call meant business, and more importantly, I could get a breath of fresh air.
For a brief moment I loosened my grip on the steering wheel to take a moment to appreciate all the green vegetation around. Like a thick veil around both sides of the road, trees filled every bit of space there was. Canopies loomed above, dark and green, effectively blocking out any sunshine. The steady overcast weather though seldom changed. Still, it was literally a breath of fresh air to have a client again.
My boss Wendy looked bewildered only an hour ago when the near forgotten tune of the phone went off. I'd been fishing for old clients to pester in my files when it caught me off guard. Until Wendy gestured that I hurry and answer. The fish took the bait. Our services of tourism through Seattle and the western half of Washington state had business again.
Momentarily I stalled, watching as a heavy truck passed by in my peripherals. It had been too long since I'd traveled from Seattle. That itching to get moving was the reason giddiness was now rumbling in my stomach. But as always I kept a blank face, as always professional and the spitting image of 'Wendy's Washington Tour Services'. Not exactly a career I planned, but it was decent enough for now.
Port Angeles didn't take long at all to reach, much to my disappointment. But my off white sedan needed gas, and this was my stop anyway. Considering it wasn't touring season for the foreigners I was surprised- but far from complaining. The client's name was Yin, leaving me to assume they'd taken a trip from overseas. On the phone a representative from one of Port Angeles' docking center had called for the client, pausing now and then with the occasional 'please repeat that, sir', muffled in the back. Maybe their English wasn't too good…
Pulling into a gas station, I parked and got my tank filled up. While absentmindedly watching the numbers rise on the small screen, my phone rang yet again, startling me.
It was Wendy.
"Did you pick up the client?" She was too excited. Most likely she'd badger me like a mother on things I already knew, even the common ones like using manners. As if I hadn't been doing this job for the last three years…
"Not yet, I'm getting some gas real quick."
"Well hurry." She pressed, and I could tell she was knitting her brows and looking off like she always did. "We haven't had business in so long, we're barely holding on by a thread here. I already feel so bad for letting Johnson go last month… If it weren't for your mother easing back on our lease here, I don't know what-"
I had to stop this early before she really did make me late. Too often for my liking Wendy would often talk how grateful she was for my mother being generous about the rent. Given how my mother had been a Seattle property owner so long, she had a nice three story building passed down to her. The first floor was a shop belonging to a nice Italian family, the second floor was Wendy's tourism business, and the third floor was where I lived with my mother.
Sometimes though I wondered if Wendy liked reminding me, as if to prompt me to talk to my mother about lightening up even further on rent.
I never went for it though. Either way Wendy definitely wouldn't be firing me any time soon, so long as she still worked in my building. It was that confidence that made me a bit…lazy… Nonetheless if I could travel, I was happy.
"-I've got to go." I cut in, glad she held her tongue from further hinting things. "I'll talk to you tonight."
"Don't skimp any details Ross. I want to know everything." Click.
The wind blew at my back as if rousing me back into my car. I didn't hesitate. Port Angeles was always so desolate and slow. I always expected zombies to drag around the corner one of these days. Yet there was nothing but a few bundled up people walking here and there, and the rare car going down the street. Keeping my speed at a meager thirty, I started for the docks.
It was common for tourists to arrive there or at some dock on the coast. If not a dock then the airport. Although Port Angeles carried a bit of a greasy, industrial stench on its docks, I'd still rather visit a dock. At least then I could smell the salt water and listen to the waves than a giant Airliner making my ears ring. In moments the little tourist dock was in view, leaving me to take a space in the small parking lot. Work trucks mostly were parked around, belonging to workers probably. My boots dug into the gravel as I looked towards the building nearby. One of the workers there hung by the front door near an older man who was hunched over. He was probably mid-seventies.
Briefly I soothed down my black pants and checked over my faded blue t-shirt with 'Wendy's Washington Tour Services' printed across my right breast in a bright, jazzy font. I contemplated going back into the Sedan for my jacket, considering it was in the forties, but that worker was looking impatient. Raising my brows and mustering up a smile, I made my way over and went about the routine, speaking when close enough.
"Hello, welcome to Washington." I greeted the old man, a bit louder than usual. He slowly lifted his head, as if just noticing me. He was a tan old man with plenty of deep wrinkles in his face. A faint, wispy patch of white hair hung on his head. But bright, shining blue eyes lifted and he smiled. "I'm Ross, with Wendy's Washington Tour Services," that would never stop being a mouthful, "how are you doing today sir?"
I met the dock worker's impatient look. They promptly turned and headed inside where it was warm. It gave me a chance to note the old man only had a wool shawl draped over his shoulders, which almost skimmed the ground with his hunch. Thankfully his cane was there to support him.
"I am very well." He kindly spoke, in what was probably practiced English phrases. Ross judged he was from somewhere in China. "We drive now?"
So I lead the way back to the sedan and helped him inside. Most likely he wanted to get where it was warm. After I slid into the driver's seat and turned up the heat, it occurred to me I had no information other than his name, and where to meet him.
"Uh…" The representative hadn't told me anything. Most likely she just wanted to not be bothered any more. "Where are we doing, sir?"
He inclined his head towards me, not understanding.
"Where?" I repeated, louder and more clear.
The meaning dawned on him and he nodded his head. "Reservation." He answered, closing his eyes. I unintentionally stared at him. He must have been tired from the trip.
"Which one? There's a few in the area."
My question was met with silence. He was asleep.
Again, I stared at him. A small part of my mind was tempted to call Wendy and ask what I should do. Then again… her ego would eat that up. I couldn't give her the satisfaction. My eyes wandered to an open pocket on his breast. A white paper was folded up. Again I looked at him.
His rhythmic breathing gave me the confidence to slowly reach over and take the paper.
He was dead asleep.
Turning, I opened the paper and met Chinese symbols covering the page. Well, it was a good thing my mother passed it down. If my own family hadn't moved from Beijing three generations ago, I'd probably be speaking Chinese naturally than knowing it as a plus.
'Destination: Quinault Indian Reservation-'
The rest was merely directions, unnecessary on my part. At least now I knew where I needed to go. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd been to La Push. But now that I noticed it, the old man's skin was darker. Maybe he was partly Native American like them…? He certainly reminded me of my grandfather, in kind attitude and in tone.
It was a small sense of familiarity that was comforting in the drive West. Sometime during that long drive, it began to rain- no surprise. It always rained this time of year, and from what I remembered in driving in Forks a few times, it was always dreary weather. Maybe that's why I liked Seattle. It was a good mixture of both types of weather. Still, I cracked the window a little just to smell the fresh breeze.
"-Ross?" The old man murmured.
Quickly I rolled up the window and turned my head, regarding him a moment. "Sir?"
He tiredly looked around, as if trying to remember where he was. He lifted a wrinkly hand and patted his pocket where I thankfully remembered to return the paper.
"Reservation." He repeated, apparently unsure how to describe it further.
"I know." I spoke slowly. "We're going to the Quinault Indian Reservation." He seemed to smile, a faded old look- but still there. As the road turned and we drove past the 'Welcome to Forks!' sign, I realized he'd turned his head and looked at me.
"Very pretty." He softly spoke up, barely audible with the rain steadily coming down. I slowed down a little, minding the curves of the road and all the rain. For a moment I furrowed my brows, staring ahead.
It sounded like he chuckled, but I wasn't sure. He somewhat gestured with his hand in my direction. "Pretty… right word?"
"Oh…" That was new. "Uh, yes, I suppose if you're calling me pretty." I'd never been called that before. Granted, I did have my share of callers throughout high school, and now and then still, but being in a relationship never mattered much to me. I was content so long as I could travel.
"You have features from China. Are you from my home?" He suddenly asked in Chinese, leaving me glad for all those lessons.
"Yes." I slowly answered. It had been years since I bothered using it. "My grandfather came from Beijing. And my mother married an American man. I'm only half."
"Even so." He warmly smiled, again closing his eyes to rest.
The rest of the drive throughout Forks was quiet, but oddly comforting. The old man Yin's peaceful breathing was steady and quiet, and the rain was always nice to listen to. Or maybe I was flattered. He'd been sincere about it. Still, sparing a glance into the rearview mirror, I didn't see what he did.
My black hair was straight as usual and tied back in a simple, but professional low ponytail just below my shoulders. All the rain though and mist in the air made it unruly and a bit frizzy. Loose bangs covered my forehead, ever since I was sixteen and cut them just enough to hang above my eyes. Truthfully, my mother was always the one with the looks. She was petite and fragile, at her five foot one. Lei, my mother, was always beautiful. She had the curved, small face, with little lips and an upturned nose. Her almond brown eyes were always lively and bright. She never raised her voice nor strayed beyond the stereotypical 'housewife' thing. She was ideal, to most men anyway. But my father had loved her despite her subservient nature. He loved her till the day he died…
I leaned my head back into the headrest, breathing in slow through my nose. I was never too much like my mother. She was sweet and forgiving, while I always spoke my mind- whether someone liked it or not.
Probably why I'd already had seven different jobs by the time I was twenty-five…
Besides, I didn't even look like her. Aside from the hair color, I looked much more like my father. He'd been a security manager at one of Seattle's Airports. So of course he was a big, muscled man. My skin was light peach like his was, and my lips a bit fuller and more inclined to smirk at the side like he used to. Plus I was taller at five six or so. Not much, but more than any woman in my family anyway.
Yin's compliment though lingered in my mind- again causing me to glance in the mirror. If anything, my mother always said my neutral expression could cut through ice. Not that I was always in a bad mood- it just always looked like I was either annoyed or bored out of my mind. Greeting clients like Yin though, mustering up the patience to smile and be pleasant sometimes worked and didn't. Luckily he didn't seem to care- being so polite.
All the sudden, red and blue lights behind me snapped me out of my self-inspecting mood.
I cursed softly under my breath- and a small part of me hoped Yin was in a deep enough sleep not to hear that. Thankfully by the lower of his head, he was still out.
Braking slowly and minding the soaked pavement, I pulled out onto the road's shoulder and put the gear into park. I stared at the rearview mirror, pursing my lips.
I'd take this to the grave before I told Wendy.
Luckily the officer didn't have his sirens on. Instead he shut the lights off and climbed out of the cruisier. The form of a man became more clear to me as he neared. Then, he knocked his knuckles on my window.
Although sparing a glance at all the rain, I had no choice but to press the button and watch the window slide down. A middle aged man with a mustache over his lip bent down, looking at me first then my passenger.
"Ma'am." He greeted. "Do you know you've got expired tags?"
"No." I answered. "I…uh, was going to get them this past week but…it must have slipped my mind." I excused quickly.
He nodded, thinking a moment. "I'll excuse it, just make sure you get them updated." Then, his dark eyes inched over. "Is your grandfather alright?" he asked, referring to the slump of the old man's head. Thankfully Yin was still out.
"He's not my grandfather." I briefly explained, feeling a pang of regret when the officer's eyes cut over to me. I tapped the logo on my shirt. "I'm just taking him somewhere."
"Where?" He was probably just curious, but still I felt a tinge of nerves. Hadn't he ever heard of 'Wendy's Washington Tour Services'?
"A reservation. Quinault."
The officer's eyes lightened- maybe recognition. "The road's got a tree collapsed over it- crews working right now. You know how to get there?"
My pause, thinking, much have been confusion to him.
He moved away from the window. "I'll lead the way. I'm off duty soon anyway." Before I could say anything, he was back in his cruiser and pulling ahead of me. Blinking, I quickly rolled up the window to prevent any more rain from coming in and followed after him.
There couldn't have been more than twenty minutes' left to the reservation when Yin woke again. It seemed like he was done resting now and alertly held his eyes open, watching out the windows. I was surprised he could hold his head so upright.
Although the rain was nice to listen to, I still had questions needing to be answered.
He turned his head slightly, but not looking at me. Something must have been on his mind.
"I still need some information… Firstly, I know you want to see the reservation, but you never mentioned how long. And if you wanted pick up again at a later time."
Yin adjusted in his seating, perhaps getting anxious. All the sudden I could smell him. It smelled like he lived with fifty cats… He really was like my grandfather.
He took his time before he answered. "I will be… staying with them. But on… tomorrow evening, I need travel to my hotel." He slowly answered.
"Which hotel?" I patiently pried.
He furrowed his brows, opening and closing his mouth. Eh, I'd make it interesting and figure it out later. I waved it off. The cruiser in front of me turned down a road, presumably taking us off the one with the fallen tree. After the turn we picked up speed again for the straight road.
During then Yin spoke up.
"What is your last name, dear?"
I glanced over. "It's Ross… which is what I go by… But my first name is Lei." I winced, keeping my eyes on the cruiser. I couldn't stand my first name. Every woman in my family had the same name. Luckily I never had any sisters or Aunts, or it would get really confusing. It was a horrible family tradition.
The old man hummed. "I knew a Lei once. Zhang Lei was her name-"
I nearly braked.
"That's my grandmother's name." I marveled, daring to spare a glance over. He blinked. "And did she marry a Zhang Fu?"
I let out a breath, my smile real and clear this time. "I don't believe it. Those are my grandparents."
Yin began to smile. "I knew them, before they left for America when we were all very young. We lived in the same village. At least until his family moved to Beijing."
If I hadn't felt comfortable with him already, I definitely did now. Unfortunately the ride seemed to end before I could pester the man with all my questions. The officer in front of me slowed down, giving enough time for me to notice the welcome sign to La Push. I could distantly see the shores of the ocean ahead.
Alas, we had to pull off down a small gravel road between the trees. Slowly the view of the beach disappeared from view.
I made a mental note to see it after I dropped Yin off. It had been too long since I'd been on any shores.
The gravel driveway went on for a minute until the trees opened up. There were a few fields around, nestled cozily between all the trees. A nice cabin hung on the hill, and distantly there was another house in the woods. I couldn't tell.
Parking behind the cruiser, I was glad to see the rain lightened up. It was still coming down but nothing to complain about. Still I couldn't bear to see the old man get soaked, so I reached back and gave him my umbrella from the back seat. Yin smiled appreciatively and we both climbed out.
Eh, my hair was already frizzing. A little more rain wouldn't hurt. I met Yin on his side of the door and closed it for him. He shakingly leaned on his cane, and as a precaution I stood by his side. With his slow, small steps, I was thankful the officer patiently came over and stood on his other side.
I'd always been strong, but I probably couldn't lift an entire man with no strength of his own without pulling a muscle.
I was so busily watching Yin, I hadn't noticed the door to the cabin open. A young tanned youth with black hair called back into the house. With the rain none of us noticed until we were closer to the door. Finally I lifted my eyes, noting an old man in a wheelchair. He was maybe ten years or so younger than Yin.
His features turned bright in an instant.
"Yin!" He greeted, reaching up to take the old foreigner's hand. It was endearing as the two apparently old friends greeted each other. As Yin hobbled inside, the young man by the door looked at the officer.
"You wanna come in Mr. Swan?"
"Thanks Jacob." He seemed relieved to step inside. It left me lingered a moment and awkwardly meeting the youth's dark eyes.
He blinked. "You wanna come in and warm up? You're soaked."
I spared a glance down, feigning to not notice. "Oh…sure. If it's not too inconvenient."
He just gestured with his arm, leaving me to duck my head and step in. He closed the door afterwards. I had to admit, it did feel fifty degrees warmer inside. My eyes gravitated towards the cozy fireplace, sighing slowly under my breath.
Then I noticed how full the house was. There were plenty of people with tan skin and dark hair- but thankfully all of them were busy watching the old man in the wheelchair and Yin talk by the fire.
Maybe I'd stick with the officer until he left. Although he did seem far more comfortable than I was.
If he knew them, which he probably did, I felt the need to not over-welcome my stay.
Briefly, I looked them all over. They must have been related by some means. They were young, probably mostly teenagers or young adults. There were mostly boys and a few men and… why were they all ripped? And if they weren't, it looked like they were getting there. Not to mention they all looked dressed for summer.
It was forty degrees out! I could barely stand my t-shirt, yet they were wearing tanks and shorts. My questionable gaze lasted until the boy by the door spoke up. I blinked at him, causing him to crack a small smile.
"I was asking if you were warming up."
I glanced down at myself, realizing there wasn't much that hadn't been dried. "Oh, right. Yeah, I'm good." I dismissed quietly, sparing a glance at the door. Our speaking must have caught the other's attention, because I felt eyes on my back.
He didn't get what I hinted by looking at the door. He just smiled. "I'm Jacob. Do you go to school around here?"
For a moment I stared at him. "No… I'm out of school… and I work in Seattle." I began to mumble, not wanting to interrupt the soft, pleasant conversation of the two old friends.
The teen looked at me a moment, probably thinking of another question.
Again I looked at the door.
I felt hot.
I needed some fresh air.
It was too hot in here and the stares at the back of my head were getting worse. It didn't help either that Jacob was oblivious. "Did you guys travel with a cat?" he whispered.
"What?" I answered too quickly.
He glanced out the window. "I just thought I smelled-"
"No." It was a bit louder than our whispers. From my peripherals I could see the officer looking at me now, too.
I had to get out.
I ducked my head. "Tell Yin I'll be back in the morning for him." That said, I took initiative and left myself, quietly shutting the door. Feeling the rain and coolness of the air was like a breath of fresh air. But I got to the car too quick. I wanted to enjoy the cold weather I normally didn't care for.
It wasn't until I was down the road, having completely forgotten my impulsive decision to visit the beach, that I buried in my thoughts. Did I get paranoid because it was hot in there and everyone was probably wondering why I was there…?
My grip tightened on the wheel and I sped all the more rushed from La Push.
I settled in a motel in Forks for the rest of the day and night. I wouldn't be driving back and forth to Seattle. My car, and wallet couldn't handle that mileage. After resting a few hours in my room, I grabbed my spare clothes from the trunk and hurried back inside.
Even a shower, changing my clothes and watching three episodes of Jeopardy didn't distract me from the obvious now. Why I'd been so anxious.
I'd been surrounded by canines that were as real as my grandfather's stories about my own heritage.
Worst of all, I had left Yin there when he smelled as much like fifty cats as I did.