I watched Jacob closely as he fiddled with the edge of his too-tight t-shirt. My eyes lingered longer than necessary on his torso before traveling up to his face. I flushed crimson after seeing that he'd noticed my scrutiny. I averted my eyes, gazing intently at the stone-covered earth beneath my feet.
"Have you ever heard of imprinting?" he asked.
"Um," my brain searched through the legends he'd told me the night on the beach – careful not think of that one. "No. What is it?"
A sigh escaped his lips. "We thought it was just another legend. One day I guess we'll realize that all of the legends are true…" he laughed bitterly. "It's supposed to be rare, but we're three for five, so maybe it isn't as rare as we thought. It's how we find our mates… soul mates, I mean. When we find that person – our soul mate – we can tell them anything – everything. There are no secrets between you."
"What are you trying to say?" I asked, eyeing him warily.
Another deep breath. "I'm saying that I've imprinted on you, Bella."
A stunned silence settled between us. I laughed nervously after a few minutes. "So, what does that mean exactly?"
"It means that we were made for each other, Bells – that we're supposed to be together."
My breath began to quicken, verging on hyperventilation. Jacob couldn't be my soul-mate. I already had a soul-mate. But he doesn't want you, my thoughts were kind enough to remind me. He left you. I winced and pulled my hand from his grasp, the hole in my chest aching unbearably. "Can't you just … unimprint?" I asked, staring as the waves crashed on the shore behind us.
"No, Bella, imprinting is permanent, but even if I could, I wouldn't want to. I love you, Bella, and I did before any of this werewolf crap happened. That hasn't changed – it won't ever change. This only means that now we can be together."
I jumped up. "Don't I get a say in this?"
His face dropped. The hole in my chest throbbed as his frown became more pronounced. "Of course you get a say, but why wouldn't you want to be with me, Bells? Didn't you feel that connection between us earlier? You said before that you liked me better than anyone else. I'm not asking you to get married or anything. I just want you to give me a chance."
"I'm just not ready for that – for this – right now, Jake. Maybe I should go." I said.
"You're still in love with him – with that bloodsucker – aren't you?" he spat the words out, a sneer forming on his beautiful face.
I sat back down on the log next to him and allowed his arm to fall on my shoulder. "No… well, yeah, I am, but not that way," I took a deep breath. "I know he – Edward -" I choked the word out, "isn't coming back. I'm just not sure I'm ready to move on, not sure that I can," I stared into his eyes, begging him to understand.
His face softened. "Bella," he murmured. "Bella," he repeated my name, desperation leaking into his voice. He sighed and took both of my hands in his. "I'm sorry – I broke my promise again. I know it's..." he trailed off, his unspoken words hanging in the air. "I will wait for you – for as long as it takes for you to be ready."
I nodded numbly, the pain receding for the moment. Beside me, Jacob stiffened, his eyes darting across the tree line. He stood, pulling me up with him.
"We should get back," he said, his eyes still concentrating on something in the forest. My weak eyes searched the tree line for whatever had Jacob so enraptured, but I could see nothing.
We walked back to his house in a comfortable silence. Once we reached the truck, I hesitated for a moment before throwing my arms around his waist and burying my face in his chest. A bad feeling clawed at my insides – it was as ominous as the dark clouds gathered overhead. Jacob pulled away and I was hit with the irrational notion that Jacob was in danger, that I had hurt him, that I had lost him – my entire being rejected that concept. Even if it wasn't like that for me now, I still needed him – desperately needed him. Sobs began wrecking my body, the weight of our recent separation still heavy on my shoulders.
"Bella, Bella, Bella," he said in a soothing tone as his hands softly touched my hair, my back, my face. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. What's wrong? Please don't cry."
"I don't want to lose you," I cried into his chest. "You're my best friend."
"You're not going to lose me, Bella. If anything, you're gaining a new accessory," I could hear the smile in his voice. "I won't leave," he promised, my chest tightened as he said those words. "I've never been able to stay away from you, and now I don't even have a reason to try. Face it, you're stuck with me," he teased.
My eyes met his for a moment, and I could see the truth in his words. I stepped into the open cab of my truck, inhaling deeply, noticing for the first time it was his – Jacob's – scent that perforated the inside of the truck.
"See ya, Bells," he called as I pulled out of the driveway and headed back to my house.
My mind was racing as I went through the motions of preparing dinner. I took two pieces of fish out of the freezer and left them on the counter to thaw. Then I threw a salad together before heading upstairs to check my e-mail. I still had a while to go before Charlie would be home from work, so if I sent Renee an e-mail now, it would be out of the way. My fingers tapped impatiently against the desk as I waited for the ancient computer to boot and get connected to the internet.
Jacob was a werewolf – a werewolf. I still couldn't wrap my mind around it. With him I had known almost from the first moment I saw him that there was something different about them… something more… something better then the other people at school. But Jacob – Jake? No, he was just normal Jake. The person who'd helped me through the darkest time of my life, who'd resurrected me just as he'd resurrected the pair of motorcycles I brought to him. My best friend. The one who understood me better than I understood myself. Jake. My Jake, but he wasn't mine, was he? No, he wasn't. But he could be, the voice reminded me. He'd imprinted on me – I was his soul-mate. But what about my soul-mate? He was gone, never to return. How much longer could I delude myself about a return that was never going to happen?
I turned the computer off in frustration when I heard Charlie's cruiser turn into the driveway. I practically flew downstairs and was just starting to fry the fish when Charlie walked into the door. I didn't turn towards him, but I heard the familiar noises of his holster being unfastened and flung onto the rack along with his jacket.
"Mmm. Smells good, Bells," he commented. He opened the fridge and pulled out a soda before heading towards the living room. The TV flicked on and the sounds of a ball game drifted into the kitchen. I pushed all thoughts of Jacob, werewolves, and soul mates out of my head as I finished making dinner.
I quickly made Charlie a plate and set on the table before making my own. '
"It's ready," I called into the kitchen. The TV switched off, and Charlie shuffled into the kitchen.
We ate in silence for several minutes before I noticed Charlie watching me.
"Something's different," he accused.
I sighed. Might as well get this over with. "I went to La Push today and saw Jake."
"Hmm." He didn't say anything further, only continued eating.
"We made up – I guess you were right. It was all just a misunderstanding." I stifled a laugh… misunderstanding… I suppose you could call it that.
Charlie's face lit up. "Good. That's good. Jake's a good kid." He stretched and put his hand over his belly. "So, any big plans for spring break?"
I grimaced. I'd almost forgotten spring break completely. Last spring break, I had been running from a duo of psychotic vampires. I recovered quickly. "I don't know, Dad. Work mostly. Probably go down to La Push and spend some time with Jacob," I said with a shrug.
Apparently I'd said the magic words because Charlie breathed a sigh of relief. "You do that. I'm glad you two patched things up." He pushed himself away from the table. He put one of his rough hands on my shoulder. "I love you, Bells," he said in an uncharacteristic show of emotion.
"I, um, love you, too," I muttered as he walked back into the living room. I cleaned up the kitchen as fast as possible so I could retreat to my bedroom. I was resigned to the pain that I knew would come tonight.
The pain didn't come though, and I woke up for the first time in months feeling refreshed. No nightmares had caused me to scream myself awake, no haunting nothingness. Instead, I was plagued all night by black-haired children and a russet-colored wolf. It was still early when I headed down the stairs, but Charlie was already pulling on his work gear.
"Work already?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said, pouring his coffee into a thermos. "You goin' to La Push today?"
I shrugged. "Probably. Why?"
He stopped what he was doing and turned to look at me. "Whatever you do, stay out of those woods. I know you two spend a decent amount of time there, but it isn't safe. There's been another sighting of the wolves, and this time two hikers have been killed – well, we assume they've been killed. There was a lot of blood, but no bodies."
"Killed?" I repeated the words. I knew now that the large wolves people were seeing were actually werewolves – specifically Jake and his pack – but they were protectors, so who had killed the hikers? I finally found my voice again. "We'll stay out of the woods, promise. Maybe we'll go to the beach."
He grunted a goodbye and left me alone in the house to fall apart. My brain was reeling. Missing hikers. Large wolves. Werewolves. Protectors. Vampires. I gripped the counter tightly as it all fell into place. Laurent's words echoed in my head – But if you only knew what she had planned for you, Bella… Victoria was back. His voice roared in my head – fierce and furious.
I took a quick glance over my shoulder and darted upstairs, stumbling several times in my haste. I showered and dressed in a hurried daze. It was still too early – not even seven o'clock yet, so I dragged my backpack downstairs to the kitchen table and attempted to get some homework done before heading out to La Push. I was in the middle of my calculus homework when the phone rang. I glanced at the clock; nine a.m. was still too early for Jacob to be awake. I sighed and reached over to answer the phone. When I heard Mrs. Newton's voice, I realized how much I'd hoped that it had been Jacob.
"Do you think you could come in for a few hours? I'm sorry it's such short notice, but I completely forgot that we would be leaving for vacation today!"
I groaned inwardly. "Sure," I told her. "What time?"
Five minutes later, I hung up the phone with a new plan for the day. Work. With Mike. What a lovely way to start out spring break. I sank back down and finished working on my calculus homework before grabbing a granola bar and rushing off to work. I flung the door open and stumbled back – startled at who was waiting for me on the porch.