Author's Note: Seriously, I've never uploaded so many stories in such a condensed amount of time... Three within twenty-four hours! Well, maybe twenty-five or twenty-six... But still - that's impressive for ME, at least!
Good news - I have the next two days off of work and I plan on laying in bed all day with my laptop doing nothing but finishing Curtain Call. Then, once that's done, I'm going to finish developing the plot lines for my upcoming Twilight and Harry Potter stories that I can't WAIT to start writing and posting! I'm uber excited... tons of action and romance!
Quil arched an eyebrow, unable to hide his smirk. "You're serious?"
I was completely serious! "Of course!" I shouted, somewhat insulted by his disbelief. "One more round."
Quil watched me with searching eyes. Then, with a soft sigh, he nodded. "Alright," he agreed, stretching his hands across the table and gathering up the playing cards scattered across the surface. I fought off a blush as his pinky finger accidentally brushed against the back of my hand. The sound of his voice broke me out of my temporary daydream.
"I don't get it," he muttered, shaking his head with a small smile.
"Get what?" I asked, watching as his hands seemed to move gracefully as they expertly shuffled the deck of cards.
He chuckled at my question. "Why would anyone ever want to play slapjack with a werewolf?"
I crossed my arms over my chest. "And why is that so funny?"
Quil grinned, causing my heart to skip a beat. "Claire, think about it," he said in his soft, soothing voice. He leaned forward. "My reflexes are much faster than any normal person." He narrowed his eyes, tilting his head to the side. "But you still want to play?"
"Yeah," I confirmed, scooting forward to the edge of my seat in a feeble attempt to be just that much closer to Quil. "Or are you afraid that a sixteen-year-old girl is going to beat you?"
This caused him to chuckle much louder than I had predicted, sending pleasant shivers down my spine as I felt the table shake with his laughter. "I'm hardly afraid," he scoffed, dealing the cards out at a rapid rate. Once he had sorted them into two piles, he stood, walking into his kitchen. "Claire, do you want something to drink?"
I picked up my half of the deck, organizing it into a neat pile. "Sure," I called back. "Can I have some of that lemonade?"
Quil opened the refrigerator door, sticking his head in as he shoved various foods around on their shelf. "Uh… It doesn't look like we have that anymore," he said, his voice sounding slightly muffled. He pulled his head back out, turning to look at me with an apologetic smile. "Embry must have had all of it last night."
I slapped my hand on the kitchen table in disbelief. "You're kidding!" I exclaimed. "I just made that last night – and it's gone already?"
Quil smiled. "Sorry," he said, shrugging. "But did you really think that Embry wouldn't drink everything in sight after getting off of his all-night patrol?"
His logic made complete sense – it was exhausting work having to protect La Push – but I still couldn't help but feel disappointed! I had spent all afternoon doing homework and hanging out at Quil and Embry's house yesterday. And when Quil mentioned that he was in the mood for my mom's homemade lemonade, I offered to make some before I left – I just never expected that Embry would drink the entire thing before I even got to taste a bit of it myself!
I let out a heavy sigh, fuming inwardly. "I'll just have water," I muttered, dropping my elbow onto the table and resting my head on my hand.
I heard a faint chuckle as Quil moved around the kitchen, filling my glass with water.
Absentmindedly, I started to run my fingers along the side of my stack of cards, lifting the corners and letting them slap back down onto the deck.
And then an idea struck.
I quickly glanced back into the kitchen, making sure that Quil was still distracted by the drinks that he was getting. When I was sure that the coast was clear, I picked up my cards and started to search for the jacks in the pile.
The jack of spades was the fourth card from the top.
I smiled with delight.
"Here you are," Quil interrupted my thoughts, setting a glass of water down in front of me.
"Oh – thanks," I mumbled, picking it up to take a small sip.
"Alright, are you ready?" He picked up his half of the cards, smiling confidently. "Because I just want to make sure you're prepared to lose – again."
I lifted an eyebrow, pulling the glass away from my lips. "Is that so?" I asked, unable to hide the smile on my face. "I would beg to differ," I softly corrected him, avoiding eye contact. "Because I have a trick up my sleeve this time."
Quil laughed, making my heart expand in my chest, just as it did every other time I heard that wonderful sound. "I'm intrigued," he said, giving me that half-smile of his that I adored. He leaned across the table, grabbing my attention. I nearly swooned as I absorbed the full blast of his gorgeous, brown eyes. "What's your secret?"
My throat went dry – I was always unable to say anything after he looked at me like that.
And then I felt something hit my foot beneath the table and realized, with a shiver of delight, that Quil was nudging it with his own, trying to get a response to his question. My breathing stopped entirely as he didn't pull his foot back and left his leg resting against my knee.
Just friends, I softly tried to remind myself before my heart completely burst out of my chest. We're just friends.
Believing that the safest way to answer Quil's question was not to open my mouth, I silently shook my head and leaned forward, showing him that I was ready to start the game.
He flipped the first card. I flipped the next one. Once he was on his second card, I could feel a noticeable increase in my heart rate that wasn't due – entirely – to his leg pressing against mine.
All you have to do is lay down the card and then slap it again, I silently told myself. You have the advantage! Quil's reflexes might be faster than yours, but you know when the jack is coming!
Here it was – the fourth card.
I held my breath as I flipped over the jack of spades. Immediately, I pulled my hand back and slapped the card with as much force as was humanly possible.
But I didn't hit the card.
I stared down at my hand in shock and amazement. Just beneath my fingers was a hand – a very warm hand.
Impossible, I thought, amazed. Quil's not that fast – is he?
Then, I realized, it wasn't Quil's hand at all.
With what must have been the most confused look to have ever crossed my face, my eyes left the hand, trailed up the owner's well-defined arm, and landed on the face of Embry Call.
"Damn it, Embry!" I growled, glaring up at the tall boy. Not only was I upset that his interruption had caused Quil to remove his leg, leaving a cold spot on my knee where it had once been, but I was still a little angry from earlier when he had drunk all of my lemonade before I even got a chance to have any. "That was my jack!"
Embry blinked, looking at me with a blank expression. He glanced down at his hand, seeming to just now notice that it was covering a pile of cards. He quickly shook his head and pulled his hand away, appearing slightly flustered. "Sorry – I just – Claire."
I frowned, trying to decipher this odd jumble of words. "Yes?" I asked, forgetting momentarily about the game that I now had no chance whatsoever of winning.
"You have to help me," Embry pleaded in a low voice, watching me with wide eyes. "Please."
My eyes darted across the table, looking questionably at Quil. He seemed just as stunned as I was. I looked back at Embry, watching as he slid into an empty chair and slouched forward, over the table. "What's wrong?" I asked, suddenly worried for my friend.
Embry took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I need you to help me make dinner."
My jaw dropped. "That's it?" I asked a little louder than I had planned. Then my eyes narrowed as I grew suspicious. "Why?"
Embry glanced first towards Quil with wide, terrified eyes, then back to me. "I met this girl today," he explained softly. His eyes continued to dart towards Quil as he spoke. "She's only in town for the week, but I asked if she wanted to have dinner here tonight."
I couldn't help the small laugh that escaped from my lips. "Why would you ever offer to make dinner – have you tasted your cooking?" I asked, giggling as I remembered the last time Embry attempted to cook. Since then, I had banned him from his own kitchen and insisted that I should be the only one allowed to cook in their house. "Besides – what if I was going out with some friends and I wasn't able to make your dinner tonight?" I pointed out. "What would you have done then?"
Embry's tense posture seemed to relax slightly at my question. He smirked, shaking his head. "Oh, please," he muttered. "I highly doubt you would rather go out with friends when you could spend your Friday night hanging out here with Quil."
I was sure that every inch of my face had gone red with embarrassment. But, despite my humiliation, I knew that Embry was one-hundred percent correct. Whenever given the choice to either be with Quil or to do anything else, I would always pick Quil over the other option, no matter what that other option might be.
"Even still," I added, hoping to redeem myself. "Maybe I'm not in the mood to make dinner tonight."
At these words, Embry started to panic. "Claire, you have to help me." He clasped his hands together, begging me to help. "I promise – I'll never ask you for anything ever again."
I blinked at this odd behavior. Since when did Embry stoop to begging? "Well, how about you go out to eat?" I suggested, warming up to the idea of having the house alone with Quil for the night. "Isn't that what you normally do on your dates? Just take them out for pizza?"
Embry immediately started to shake his head. "No," he abruptly cut me off. "Claire – I can't do that. It's just – " He glanced, once more, over at Quil, and then back to me. "It's different this time, Claire. Please."
Embry's sincerity was almost alarming. Normally, he was incredibly laid back and easygoing, constantly making jokes. But now – he almost seemed terrified.
I was about to nod, agreeing to help, when Quil spoke up for me. "Don't worry," his calming voice broke the silence. "We'll help out."
Embry couldn't have looked happier. "Thanks," he whispered, exhaling in relief.
I nodded, quickly bobbing my head up and down. "Yeah, of course," I added. "Did you want me to make anything in particular?"
Embry shrugged, indifferent. "Whatever – you decide," he said, scooting his chair away from the kitchen table. "Oh – but could you make some of that lemonade? I had some last night – it was really good…"
I nodded, smiling secretly at Quil as I did so. "Sure, Embry."
"Wait – " Quil's hand shot out, wrapping around Embry's wrist. Embry stopped, turning to look at his friend with curiosity.
Quil slowly released Embry's arm, pulling it back to his deck of cards. And then, after the extremely long and slightly uncomfortable pause, Quil asked, "Is she – this girl – is she worth the trouble? I mean," Quil corrected himself with a slight frown. "Is she really important to you?"
A look seemed to pass between the two boys – something I noticed but was unable to read. But then, in a soft voice, Embry responded.
"Yeah," he said, a small smile spreading across his lips. "She really is."
"Alright, I've got the plates laid out, the silverware – and here's the glasses," Embry muttered to himself as he pulled out the expensive crystal glasses that I had brought from home. He delicately placed each one onto the table at the top right corner of each place setting. "And now I just need the – oh – oh, god – where are the candles?"
Embry started to spin in his spot, searching desperately for the missing candles. He sprinted to the other end of the kitchen, nearly barreling me over in his attempt to reach the cabinets above my head, and threw the doors open. He dug around, recklessly shoving various bowls and dishes to the side as he hunted for the missing candlesticks.
He turned and rushed towards me once again. This time, however, I wasn't quite lucky enough to jump out of his path. I was hit directly on the shoulder as Embry darted past me, sending me stumbling backwards. Just as I was sure I was about to land on my backside, I felt a pair of arms encircle my waist, catching me before I embarrassed myself.
Although the blush that rose to my cheeks was just as powerful as it would have been if I had landed on the floor.
"Uh – thanks, Quil," I muttered, ducking my chin down to my chest in an attempt to hide my red face from him. He carefully helped me regain my balance as he did every other time I tripped and made a fool out of myself.
Quil didn't answer me, however. He turned towards Embry. "Calm down, Call," he said in a soft growl. "You nearly hurt Claire."
Embry didn't seem to hear him. He continued his frantic search, but Quil cut him off.
"Embry, they're right here," he said in an exhausted sounding tone. He held up two, golden candlestick holders, both replaced with brand new candles. "I took them to put in some new candles for you."
"Oh, thank god." Embry sighed in relief, hurrying back towards us. "I almost thought that – "
"Sure," Quil brushed off his explanation. "Here," he said, handing over the tall candles. "Just calm down – before you give yourself a heart attack."
Embry nodded, taking three deep breaths.
"Yeah," I added, trying to ignore the fact that Quil's hand was still in the middle of my back after he had already helped me back onto my feet. "It's just a date with some girl. You don't have to freak out over it…"
The room seemed to suddenly tense up. Out of nowhere, Embry sprang to attention and hurried towards me with a livid expression. "She's not just some girl! You don't understand – you don't – "
"She didn't mean it," Quil cut in with a soft but commanding voice. He put both of his hands on Embry's shoulders and held him back, staring him down. "Embry, get a grip on yourself," he hissed, slowly loosening his hold on him. "Think, Call. Now's not the time to lose your mind."
These words seemed to work. Soon, Embry was calm enough to apologize. "Sorry, Claire," he muttered, staring at his feet. "I just – I really like this girl."
I nodded, still in shock over Embry's reaction to my offhand comment. "No problem," I answered, waving a hand. I went back to preparing my mother's homemade lemonade.
But the tense atmosphere remained.
"So," I started, unsure of how to break the awkward silence. "Tell me about this girl that you met," I said in a rush. I looked up. "What's her name?"
Embry's eyes seemed to sparkle. "Elizabeth," he said in a voice only slightly louder than a whisper, as if it were the sweetest word to cross his lips.
I nodded. "And where did you meet Elizabeth?"
He sighed wistfully. "The gas station."
My mouth must have dropped open further than I thought because Quil cleared his throat loudly. He widened his eyes at me and jerked his head in the direction of Embry. I immediately understood.
"Oh, that's cool," I said, hoping to cover up my surprise. "And… where does she live?"
At this, Embry seemed to cringe. "New York," he answered. "Her older brother lives in town and she's just visiting for the week."
I wanted desperately to ask why Embry would want to start a relationship with a girl who lived on the opposite end of the country, but knew it was better not to say anything for fear of upsetting him.
"Well, I hope you two have fun tonight," I finished, putting the final touches on the lemonade. "And I'll just leave this in the refrigerator."
Embry grinned. "Thanks."
"And I think everything else is done – right, Claire?" Quil asked, turning towards me.
I nodded. "Everything is either in the refrigerator or in the oven," I said, mentally checking the lemonade off of my list of things that I needed to accomplish before I left Embry on his own. Then I held up a sheet of paper for Embry with lists of different sorts of foods and where I had put them. "Remember to take the lasagna out of the oven in ten minutes," I reminded him. "You know – before it starts to smell burnt."
For the first time in several hours, Embry was relaxed enough to joke around and make a face at me. "Thank you, Claire," he muttered, rolling his eyes. "I'm not stupid…"
I glanced over at Quil, raising both eyebrows with a look of mock surprise. "Well," I said, hiding my laughter. "You could have fooled us!"
Quil chuckled at my comment. He came to stand behind me, just close enough for me to practically feel the heat radiating off of his body without having to actually touch him. He then asked Embry a question that I nearly missed because I was distracted by the tickling sensation of his warm breath on my neck.
"Will we be able to meet the lucky lady?" Quil asked. "Or are we supposed to act like we don't exist?"
Embry didn't hesitate in answering the question. "You don't exist," he said. "At least, tonight you don't."
"Ah – I understand," Quil replied with a nod. Then I felt his fingers slip through mine and start to pull me towards the back door. He let out a wistful sigh. "Looks like we're on our own tonight, Claire."
I was elated to hear these words. "Alright, sure," I managed to reply in a weak voice. I cleared my throat and turned to Embry once more. "Don't burn down the house," I commanded in a stronger tone. Then I spun back to the door and practically sprinted towards the exit in my eagerness to spend as much alone time with Quil.
I heard Quil call over his shoulder a short, "Good luck!" before willingly allowing himself to be dragged into the backyard.
Just as I was about to reach the large mass of trees at the edge of the yard, a slight tugging on my hand made me spin back around.
"Claire, where are you going?" Quil laughed, amused by my excitement to leave the house in such a rush.
I shrugged, realizing I was unsure of the answer. "Dunno," I muttered, feeling a slight blush color my cheeks.
"Well," Quil said with a furrowed expression. "We could always go back to your house."
I made a face at this idea. "No way," I said. "I mean – there's nothing to do at my house," I elaborated, hoping he wouldn't realize that my only reason for staying away from my home was because I wanted these precious hours to be alone with Quil – I didn't want to share him with anyone.
Quil nodded, accepting this answer. "Well, maybe we could – "
He broke off, suddenly freezing in his spot.
"Quil?" I stepped forward, gripping his hand tighter in mine. "Quil, what is it?" I felt a horrible, gut wrenching feeling, imagining the worst possible scenario. I lowered my voice. "It's not a vampire, is it?"
This question seemed to alert him to his surroundings and he remembered that I was standing with him. "No, not a leech," he softly corrected me. Then he started to smile. "But I think I just heard Elizabeth pulling into the driveway."
"Embry's date?" My eyes widened in excitement. "Really?"
A mischievous smile covered his face. "You want to spy on Embry?"
I nodded eagerly. "Course I do!"
Quil jogged back to the house, still managing to keep his fingers wrapped through mine. And then, with a soft chuckle, he whispered, "Look – there they are!"
I mimicked Quil's stance, crouching beneath the kitchen window and peeking through the drawn curtains. And, sure enough, there was Embry, grinning from ear to ear as he showed a petite, auburn-haired girl around the house. He, too, was holding the girl's hand, and she seemed just as excited as I had been when Quil had grabbed mine.
"Oh, they're so cute," I whispered, keeping my voice as soft as possible. "Look at her – you can tell she really likes him!"
Quil's reply was simple. "Yeah, she does."
"And, of course, Embry is completely in love with her, too," I added, almost certain of this fact after observing his behavior all day.
Again, Quil gave a short answer. "Yep."
We were silent for several minutes, watching as Embry filled two glasses to the brim with my mother's lemonade. He sat at the kitchen table, across from Elizabeth, but he couldn't hold back from taking her hand once again.
I sighed, wearily dropping my head onto Quil's shoulder as I watched the scene unfold before my eyes. "That's so romantic."
Quil didn't reply at all this time. Instead, he wrapped an arm around my shoulders, rubbing his warm hand across the top of arm as I shivered.
I couldn't tell you how long we stayed like that: with Quil's arm wrapped around me and my head on his shoulder. It was like heaven on earth. I wasn't even paying attention to Embry anymore. All I knew was that I was pressed up against the most amazing man to have ever walked this earth. If I decided to look up at Quil, we would have been mere centimeters apart – I could kiss him if I wanted…
The idea of kissing him started to replay over and over in my head. I would just turn – and kiss him. He wouldn't see it coming. He couldn't stop me if he wanted – even his reflexes weren't that good.
The butterflies built up in the pit of my stomach. I could do this – right now – I just had to lean in and, I knew, it would be the highlight of my life.
The sound of my heart was audible in my own ears, but I didn't let that distract me. Slowly, I turned my head to the side so that I was facing his shoulder. I swallowed, pushing away the last of my fears, and finally looked up into his angelic face.
My breathing stopped as I took in the sight of his strong, defined jaw line in the glow of the setting sun. My eyes drifted upwards, memorizing the slight smile that played at the corner of his lips. And then, finally, my gaze settled on his gorgeous, brown eyes that were still focused on the window.
Now, I told myself. Do it now – just kiss him!
I took one last breath before I slowly lifted my lips to his face –
"Oh, shit," Quil murmured, squinting into the house.
I stopped immediately, as if I were a little girl again, caught stealing cookies before dinner. "What?" I whispered; it was the loudest sound I could muster.
With a sinking feeling, I realized that Quil was slowly letting his hand drop down, off of my shoulders. "Embry's incredibly distracted."
Unwillingly, I tore my gaze away from Quil's face and peeked back through the kitchen window. And there, still seated at the kitchen table with their hands clasped together, was Embry and Elizabeth.
"Of course he's distracted," I replied, chuckling at the goofy smile that covered Embry's face. "He's practically drooling all over the poor girl."
Quil sighed. "He forgot about the food, though."
My eyes darted up to check the clock on the wall of the kitchen, and then over to the oven.
"Well, there goes a perfectly nice meal – down the drain," I muttered, more irritated than upset.
Just as soon as the words left my mouth, I spotted two clouds of smoke slipping out from the corners of the oven.
Elizabeth seemed to notice it at the same time that I had. She gasped, covering her mouth with one hand and pointing at the oven with the other one. Embry turned in his seat, instantly realizing the problem.
Quil and I watched in silence as Embry threw open the oven door and was engulfed by an enormous cloud of smoke. He waved his arms around in a futile attempt to clear away the heavy smoke, but all that seemed to accomplish was triggering the smoke detector to go off even faster than before. A loud beeping noise filled the entire house and I cringed.
"Oh, no – poor Embry!" I groaned. My heart went out to him as I imagined what he must be thinking right now. My hands twitched as I longed to run inside to help with the situation. "Should we go and help?"
Quil immediately shook his head and snatched my wrist before I could even think about entering the house. "No," he softly commanded me. "No, you can't – just watch."
I frowned, thrown off by this odd behavior. I thought, for one minute, about questioning his reasons, but chose, instead, to drop the subject and continue observing through the window.
While I had been looking away, Elizabeth had managed to drag one of the kitchen chairs over to the smoke detector and was now standing on the chair, waving her hand around in front of the small machine. Embry, on the other hand, had taken the burnt lasagna over to the sink and was running water over the ruined dish.
I could clearly see the pained expression on his face as he emptied the contents of the pan down the disposal. He took a moment to compose himself, holding onto the edge of the sink, and then turned back around to face Elizabeth. He silently walked back towards the red-head who was still standing on the kitchen chair in the middle of the kitchen.
Embry's eyes were down, staring at the floor as he spoke. His words, I assumed, must have been an apology for their ruined meal or something along those lines, but he never once lifted his gaze to the girl standing on the chair. The only time when he did so was when she put her hands on his shoulders.
With a look of surprise, Embry looked up, stunned by the gesture. And then, my stomach filling with butterflies for my friend, Elizabeth wrapped her arms around his neck as Embry hesitantly placed his hands on her waist, carefully lowering her to the ground.
Instinctively, my hand dropped to my side and attached itself onto Quil's wrist as I watched with longing as Elizabeth stood on her tiptoes to kiss Embry in the middle of the smoking kitchen.
"Oh." I couldn't hold back the soft sigh that escaped from my lips. The entire scene that had just played out before my eyes was too sweet to ignore. And, although I was insanely jealous that this girl had the courage to kiss the boy she liked while I hadn't been fast enough, I still found that I was happy for Embry.
I felt a pair of eyes on the back of my head. I turned, catching Quil's gaze. "What?" I asked.
He smiled and shook his head. "Your reaction," he softly explained.
I frowned, replaying my reaction in my head. It hadn't been a bad reaction – was it?
"It was cute," Quil went on, placing his hand on the lower portion of my back.
I tried to think of a rational response, but my brain didn't seem to function correctly when Quil had his hand on me.
I was shaken out of my reverie when I heard his voice close to my ear. "Do you want to go back inside?"
"Inside?" I squeaked, unable to keep my voice in its normal register as I felt Quil's warm breath against my cheek. I looked back through the window and realized, with a jolt of surprise, that the room was empty. Embry and Elizabeth were gone.
"But where did they go?" I asked, turning to face Quil with a look of confusion.
Quil smiled, heading towards the door. "Probably went to some restaurant," he said with a shrug. "I'm assuming they knew there wouldn't be any edible food here," Quil continued. He started to smile, as if he could see something that I couldn't. "And I'm also assuming, after that little display of affection, that their date isn't about to end."
I giggled softly, following Quil into the quiet house.
"But how did you know?" I asked, walking straight for the refrigerator and pulling out what was left of my mother's homemade lemonade. I smiled once I realized there was enough liquid in the container for two.
Quil cocked his head to the side, looking at me with a questioning expression. "How did I know what?"
I poured the drink into two glasses. "How did you know about Embry and Elizabeth – that they would be fine?"
He still seemed somewhat confused. I rolled my eyes and picked up both glasses off of the counter. "You know," I elaborated as we walked into the small living room and I handed over Quil's drink. I sat on one end of the couch as Quil sat opposite of me. "You told me not to go inside to help," I said. "You knew that everything would turn out alright, even though it was a disaster."
Once I started to explain my question, Quil dropped his eyes to the glass in his hands, visibly uncomfortable. He started to trace the rim of the drink with his finger, seeming to find it suddenly very interesting. "Just a hunch, really," he muttered, swallowing.
I didn't move, hoping that Quil would continue speaking. When he didn't, I took a sip from my glass of lemonade and shook my head. "I don't believe you."
His large, round eyes immediately connected with mine, causing my heart to skip a beat as it did every other time he looked at me like that. We stared at each other for several minutes, waiting for the other person to do something.
Quil was the first to crack under pressure.
"Well, you saw how much he cared about her," he said, beginning to drum his fingers on the outside of his glass.
"Yes," I answered slowly, stretching out the word. "But you had no idea how she would react, did you?"
Quil looked uncomfortable again. He diverted his gaze. "Really, it was a lucky guess."
I lifted an eyebrow, still disbelieving, but I finally let it slide.
"Sure," I muttered, trying not to let my frustration show. The only thing worse than being upset with Quil was when he knew that I was upset with him. I hated seeing the pain on his face more than anything in this world and always did whatever I could to avoid it. So, hoping to change the conversation, I quickly asked, "Do you want to finish that game of slapjack?"
Quil smiled weakly and then dropped his gaze.
No, I moaned to myself. He's sad – he saw my reaction – no, don't be upset! I tried pleading with him without ever saying a word. I'm sorry – I'm not really angry!
I immediately moved to the floor, leaving my glass of lemonade to sit on a small table, and found the deck of cards that we had been using earlier that afternoon. I looked up and gave Quil one of the biggest smiles that I could muster, hoping it would cheer him up, but his lowered gaze never even spotted the look on my face.
"Quil?" I asked, slightly worried. "Quil, is everything alright?"
At the mention of his name, his eyes darted back up to my face. He smiled, trying to reassure me that he was fine, but I could easily see through his mask. I was about to pry just a bit further, but he spoke before I could.
"Claire, I think there's something I should tell you."
My stomach plummeted at these words. It wasn't the type of thing that you would normally hear in your typical conversation – and I was sure that this couldn't be good.
"Oh?" I asked, trying to sound casual about the whole thing. I swallowed several times as my throat seemed to go dry. I slowly started to shuffle the deck of cards. "What's up?"
Quil slowly lowered himself to the floor, sitting directly across from me. "There's something – about werewolves – that I haven't told you about."
I frowned, confused. We hadn't been talking about werewolves at all! Where was the connection?
"Alright," I answered, continuing to shuffle the cards; it kept my hands busy and my mind focused on a simple task.
Quil took a moment before continuing. "There's this thing that happens when you've transformed into werewolf," he started, keeping his voice low. "It's called imprinting."
I racked my brain, hoping to remember any mention of this word. I didn't even remember overhearing Uncle Sam saying anything about it.
"And what is imprinting?" I asked, incredibly curious now that Quil had mentioned a secret of the pack that I had never heard of before now.
Quil cocked his head to the side, trying to find the best words to say. "Well," he started, frowning, "it's a sort of – a connection, really." He scratched his head, fumbling over his words. And then he sighed and slouched forward, dropping his head onto his chest as if he had given up. In a soft voice, he told her, "After you transform into a werewolf, it's possible for you to imprint – on someone."
I was suddenly twice as interested in this conversation. My ears perked up at this last piece of information, but I continued shuffling, ignoring the fact that I could have stopped the process long ago; I was sure the cards were more than ready to deal by now.
I swallowed, trying to keep my voice steady. "And what happens if you imprint on someone?" I asked. "There's… a connection?"
Quil took in a deep breath and nodded. "The moment a werewolf sees this – this person," he stammered, "then it's as if they know that they're meant to be soul mates – to be together forever."
The cards in my hands went flying everywhere at this last statement. I didn't even notice. "Soul mates?" I gasped.
Quil didn't appear to have heard my soft-spoken words. Instead, he purposefully moved his hands across the carpet, gathering up the cards that I had accidentally scattered across the room. He started to shuffle them as if nothing had happened.
I put my sweaty palms on my knees, trying to find something – anything – to keep them occupied. "And – you think that – Embry – and Elizabeth?" I quickly cleared my throat and shook my head, trying to organize my thoughts into coherent sentences. "They're soul mates? That's why you knew everything would be alright between them – just now?"
Quil gave a slight nod of the head. "Yeah," he muttered, beginning to deal out the deck of cards. "Embry imprinted on her." He glanced up into my eyes for the first time in several minutes, seeming hesitant to do so. "That's why he's been acting so strange all day."
It seemed to make sense, what Quil was saying. Embry had been rather odd whenever I had asked him about his date tonight.
"I guess," I said, pulling my cards into a neat, little pile. I had thousands of unanswered questions that I was dying to ask Quil right now, but I restrained myself, hoping not to sound like an overeager child. "That's very – interesting," I mumbled.
Quil nodded silently. "Yeah – interesting," he muttered softly. He silently flipped over the first card. I did the same, trying to keep all of my thoughts focused on the game at hand. Slapjack didn't seem to require nearly as much thinking as Quil's latest revelation.
"You know," Quil interrupted my focus with his soft voice. We continued to play as he spoke. "Your Uncle Sam imprinted, too."
My eyebrows shot up into my hairline, but I tried to disguise my surprise. I flipped a jack of diamonds, but Quil slapped it first. "Who was it?" I asked, hoping to sound only slightly interested.
He took a moment before saying, "Emily."
In that moment, I was caught so off guard by this response that I didn't even realize that Quil had slapped the jack of spades as well. "He did?" I asked in a hoarse whisper. Sam imprinted on my aunt?
Quil nodded, but kept his gaze planted on the growing pile of cards in front of us. "And Jared."
Slowly, but surely, I was starting to make the connection. "He imprinted on Kim," I replied, filling in the blank. "His wife."
Quil flipped the jack of clubs and then slapped the top of the pile, but I didn't even care anymore. A more pressing question was forming at the tip of my tongue.
I tried to make my voice sound as light and airy as possible as I asked the question that I was most interested in hearing the answer to. "How about you?" I asked. "Did you ever imprint on anyone?" Did you ever fall in love?
He swallowed. "Yes."
This single word shot through me like a bolt of lightning, doing far more damage than I could have ever imagined. He had imprinted – he already had a soul mate.
I fought off the tears, blinking furiously as I stared down at the blurry cards. He didn't love me – there was no way he could love me when he already had some other girl that he was interested in – a soul mate!
"Oh." It was all I could allow myself to say without being afraid that my voice might crack. He would have been able to hear the tears in my voice, but as long as I averted my gaze and didn't speak – I just might be alright. I might survive this.
And then I saw it. After putting every ounce of brain power on the game at hand, I spotted the jack of hearts as it landed on the top of the pile. My hand darted out for the card and successfully covered it before Quil had reached it.
I tried to pull the pile towards me, but realized, with a jolt of surprise, that Quil's hand was covering mine.
And he wasn't pulling away.
"Claire," he whispered.
I couldn't help it. I lifted my tear-filled gaze to look up into his.
He seemed to just sit there, looking at me for what felt like an eternity. But his hand, I was pleased to notice, never left mine.
"It's you," he told me, leaning forward. His voice seemed to crack on his words. "You're my imprint."
The entire weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. I could breathe again.
Quil – my Quil – he had imprinted on me. We were soul mates – best friends – for life. I realized, as a small sob broke through my hard exterior wall, that he wasn't going anywhere – he would stay with me forever.
And as the feeling of this grateful discovery washed over me, I still only seemed able to say one thing.
Our eyes didn't leave each other's. I was sure neither of us were even blinking. We just stayed like that for the longest time – with his hand covering mine and our eyes glued together.
"Claire – say something," he begged me, slowly moving to sit on his knees so that he could lean in closer. His grip on my hand only seemed to increase, as if he was afraid I would try to pull away. "Anything."
My breathing was coming in short, shallow gasps, now. "Like what?" I asked, unsure of how to respond. The other imprints – they had fallen in love with each other. Was I supposed to declare my love?
"Tell me you're ok with this," he supplied in a hurried tone, as if he were trying to say everything at once. "That you're not bothered by it."
I frowned, surprised by these words. "Why wouldn't it be alright?" He had known me for years – we had grown up together! He should know by now that I would do anything to stay by him every minute of my life – no matter what.
"Just – just tell me," he demanded, closing his eyes as a look of pain spread across his face. A single tear leaked out of the corner of his eye, but he hurriedly brushed it away. "Tell me you won't leave me."
My heart seemed to burst at the sound of these words as they passed over Quil's lips. Quil was worried that I would leave him – but that was impossible! I would never desert my best friend – never.
And then, without a moment's hesitation, I took a leaf from Elizabeth's book and did something that I should have done a long time ago.
I threw myself across the pile of cards in front of me and pressed my lips to Quil's.
It was exactly as I had imagined it would be: the best moment of my entire life. It was as if every missing puzzle piece seemed to come together and make everything perfect and whole for this one instant in my life.
But that was nothing compared to what I started to feel when Quil's hands clung to my waist and he urgently started to kiss me back.
Much too soon, he put his warm hands on the sides of my face and gently pulled away, gasping for breath.
He stared at me with his wide, beautiful brown eyes. "Claire," he whispered, waiting for me to give an explanation.
"I'm not going anywhere," I told him, quickly brushing aside all of the cards in front of me as I moved closer to him. "I won't ever leave you," I said, lifting my hand to cup his face. "I love you."
This was all the explanation Quil seemed to need. Because the moment I had confessed the great burden that I had been carrying for months, he wrapped his arms around my waist and jerked me towards him so that he and I were both kneeling, pressed up against one another. I could feel every muscle through his t-shirt, as well as his heart beating at a rapid pace – and I was sure mine was racing right beside his.
He lifted his hand to my face, delicately brushing his thumb across my cheek as a tear slipped out of the corner of my eye. "You have no idea how long I've waited for you to say those words to me."
I couldn't have been happier, but the tears continued to fall. I was sure my breathing had stopped entirely when I felt Quil's hot breath on my face as he gently kissed away each teardrop. "What words?" I gasped, trying to recall anything other than the feeling of Quil's lips on my skin.
He stopped, pulling just far enough away to look me in the eye.
"I love you."
I wasn't even standing and I still felt my legs wobble as if they were about to fall out from underneath me, but Quil's hold on my waist strengthened, keeping me upright. He pulled me closer to him, if that was even possible. All I could do was gasp in surprise as his warm body pressed firmly into mine.
And then he moved his free hand to the back of my neck and gently pulled me towards him to meet his lips in another kiss.
So, what'd you think? My first Claire/Quil story, but I hope it's not the last! I've become a big fan of their relationship after I've read a ton of REALLY GOOD Claire/Quil stories recently... So maybe we'll see a little bit more of them around here!
By the way... this is my fifteenth story posted up here - how exciting is that? For some reason, I never realized how many I had written, and I always thought I would never even make it to ten... AND my six year anniversary of writing on is in a few months - crazy to think about, isn't it? How long I've been lurking around this site... So much to read, so little time!
Hope you enjoyed the story! (And I hope plenty more updates are coming your way VERY soon!)