a/n: I know. I'm late. Late on the last. I'm sorry.
So this is it, my friends. I want to htak you all for giving my crazy little story a chance. It's been a wild rid and I've love talking with al of you along the way.
I hope you join us with Grace Note as it is turning now to a sequel of sorts. Kind of. Not really. Maybe? I don't know.
Don't want to run on too long. I'll save my thankings for the end; I have a lot this time. I'll try not to cry too much if you promise to do the same.
And today I am Team Ava.
(All together now: NOOOOOOOO!!!)
February 14, 2149
The dance was…not horrible. After living through all the drama and possible death, I couldn't find a reason to loathe the idea of spending a couple hours in a suit on Ava's arm. At least I had made it out of the campsite, even if I wasn't unscathed. At least the family was whole again. At least I was alive.
Not to mention the dance turned out to be the least of my fears on that particular day.
Confused? I don't blame you. Let us rewind.
I was released from the hospital on Wednesday, and though Dr. Cullen said I was fit for active duty at school, my mother still managed to decide I was handicapped. Possibly for life. And if she wanted to think that and let me stay home for the rest of the week, who was I to stop her? I wasn't much in the mood for being social anyway.
Ava came to visit on Thursday after school. We talked about the rumors running around campus about my escape from death, the recent absence of the family Cullen, and just how excited she was about the dance. (Saw that one coming, didn't you?)
You may ask: What of Jules? Well, my only answer would come in the form of advice given by the one and only Will Yorkie. He said it to Aubree, over a lunch that seems like an eternity ago.
"You have to live in the now, darling. Because everywhere else doesn't really exist."
So that's what I was doing: living in the now. Jules would always be my past, and maybe someday a part of my future, but I couldn't really live my whole life in a dream of what was to come in college. For all I knew, I would get to UMT and she would want nothing to do with me. I wouldn't blame her. That would be fair. And I wasn't going to break my promise to myself that I wouldn't call her begging.
Though that didn't mean I wasn't wishing she would call. Every. Single. Hour.
On Friday I received a phone call from someone I was hoping I wouldn't hear from.
"Will Yorkie calling," the phone said. It was brand new. A homecoming gift from Mom, as if I deserved such things.
I was sitting on my bed, staring at the ceiling and ignoring the auto-homework alert on my notebook that seemed to be going off every other minute. I reached up to the side of the phone to answer.
"What do you want, Will?" I asked.
"Aaaaaaaaaggggghhhhh!" Even the volume control had trouble toning him down. "I love you!"
I wasn't entirely sure why he loved me, but this was Will, after all, so it could have been a number of things. "Um. Thanks? Though I have to tell you, I prefer girls…"
"No, not like that. I mean you're my hero. I don't know how you pulled it off. But don't deny it was you. I know it was you."
I had no idea what he was talking about.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," I said.
"The after-party. The invite. C'mon, E, don't play dumb. It doesn't suit you."
"Seriously, Will. What invite?"
"You mean it wasn't you? I still don't believe. And you have to be invited. Have you checked your mail recently?"
"Of course. I have my notebook open on my desk and—"
"No. Paper mail."
Well. No. Who gets paper mail? It was for formal things. "I haven't. I just…"
"Ethan!" Mom called up the stairs. "I'm home! Did you see the registered letter?"
"I'll be down in a—"
"No! I'll come up!" she said.
Back to Will, I said, "My mom's home. I'll…call you back later."
"You bet your ass you will. I give you ten minutes."
I rolled my eyes. "Bye."
Mom's footsteps seemed to suggest she was in some sort of a hurry. I wasn't sure how the mail could make her want to be in my room point five seconds faster than she would have usually been there, but the pace of the creaking floorboards seemed to suggest I was wrong.
"Ethan, I'm just so proud of you," she said as she walked in the room. She was holding two envelopes in her hand, one white one, manila-sized, already opened but with the contents replaced; and a small black square-ish looking one. She tossed the black one on the desk and came to sit on the foot of my bed. Her grin was blinding.
"I didn't even know you had applied for any scholarships," she said.
And now…I had no idea what she was talking about.
"What are you—"
"And while I wasn't worried about college, this is just really amazing. More of an honor than anything else. It's just so wonderful that they chose you—"
"Mom. Slow down. What's going on?"
"Your scholarship." She handed the white envelope over to me. I should have been angry that she had opened it already, a federal crime and all that, but it was addressed to me in care of her. There was gold embossed print in the return address corner that simply read: The Pacific Northwest Trust. "You were their choice."
I shook my head. "I never applied for any scholarship." I pulled the papers out and spread them across my lap. There was a form to fill out and sign that was a couple pages long, a return envelope already stamped and addressed to a PO box in Seattle, and a letter.
Dear Ethan, it read.
Allow me to formally congratulate you on being awarded the Pacific Northwest Trust's prestigious J. Nicholls Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded infrequently, and you should feel proud to know that the Allocations Committee picked your name unanimously for the honor.
The scholarship is not limited to any school and does not have an expiration date. Wherever you choose to matriculate, at whatever date, the Pacific Northwest Trust will be there to foot the bill. Just fill out the form upon acceptance and we will take care of the rest.
Once again I congratulate you on your accomplishment. Please accept the best wishes of the entire Pacific Northwest Corporation for your future scholastic career.
I was a little dumbstruck.
Mom laughed. "Say something!"
"I never applied for any scholarship," I replied.
She patted my foot. "I heard that part already. Maybe it was something you did at school? Maybe they chose you for some project you did well? Did one of your teachers mention submitting your name at all?"
Yeah, right. Maybe it was Mr. Barrett, because he was very impressed with my level of dedication to my government homework.
I shook my head.
"Well, obviously someone thinks you're a pretty special guy, and I have to agree with him." She started to gather the papers into a pile. "I'm going to file these for safe-keeping. I think I'll try to give their office a call just to make sure they know we got the letter and…" She stood up, stuffing the papers back into the envelope. "I'll bring your dinner up when it's ready."
"Mom. I can walk."
"Just…" She tucked the envelope under her arm. "Fine. But I'll be up to help you down the stairs."
This was going to have to be the compromise. "Fine."
"Congratulations, Ethan." The loud grin returned. "I really am proud of you."
She headed back downstairs, humming to herself.
After a few quiet moments, my eyes fell back on the black square envelope that was sitting on the corner of the desk. She had neglected to mention what that piece of mail was about, or maybe she didn't know. Or didn't care.
I slowly swung my legs around to dangle off the bed and took a breath. While what I told my mom was true – I could walk – it wasn't completely without pain. The tissue regenerator had patched up the muscles quite nicely, but they were very new now and not used to all the work. And there was the matter of the bruises. Still had lots of those.
I pushed off of the bed with my hands and exhaled in a hiss. In those first moments of standing, I always rationalized with myself that my mom was right to keep me home. Limping around campus would have done horrible things to my ego.
And then I would start walking, as I did this time, and I would think, You are such a baby.
Little twinges of pain shot through my thigh as I made my way to the desk. The envelope that waited was a perfect square, five inches by five inches of stiff black paper. There was no address, just my name in silver script in the middle. I picked it up and took it back to the bed so I could sit down again.
After I settled myself against the headboard, I turned the envelope in my hands for a moment, watching the words sparkle in the dim light of the room.
I turned it over and lifted the flap. The card inside was the same heavy black paper, with sparkling ink that seemed to hover just over the surface. Little animated sprays of confetti went off on either side of the text.
You are cordially invited
To attend a party at the Cullen residence
Immediately following the Forks High School Valentine's Dance
Rail Stop 97
And then, as if he knew, the phone in my ear spoke, "Will Yorkie calling."
My ten minutes were up.
My mom volunteered to drive Ava and I to the dance and I agreed, as the alternative was probably Ava's father. I would do anything to avoid that. When we pulled up to the house, Will was already there on the porch, posing for a picture with Aubree. It wasn't the horribly strange outfit I was expecting. He wore a pair of black dress pants, a blue plaid vest, and a black tie. Maybe Aubree reined him in a little. He did have a hat, though: a black bowler. Perhaps to help with the bizarre hair situation. All in all, pretty tame.
And then he turned to pin on Aubree's corsage, and my opinion changed.
There was a giant sparkling "W" on the back of the vest.
I heard Aubree shout into the house as I stepped out of the car. Twinges and stiffness aside, I wasn't going to let my mom help me up the driveway. So I put on a happy, pain-free smile and walked around the car. Ava was just coming out the front door, and she waved with a big grin on her face. The dress she wore was light blue with little ruffles around her shoulders and a smattering of beads that were catching what little light we had.
At least it wasn't raining.
"Ethan!" Mom said as she stepped out of the car. "You forgot the corsage!"
She caught up to me and handed over the little cardboard box.
"Um. Thanks," I said. Mom fell into step beside me but didn't offer an embarrassing arm as we walked up the driveway.
"Ethan!" Ava shouted. Her dad stepped outside behind her, holding a white jacket. He waved. I waved back and then had the awkward realization that he wasn't waving at me.
"Mrs. Powell," Mr. Parson said; he walked down to the driveway and extended a hand. "It's nice to meet you." Ava was two steps behind him and came to stand in front of me, next to her father.
Mom sighed but took the hand anyway. "It's Ms. now, actually. Ms. Lebeouf."
I gripped the little box and it made a crinkling noise.
"Oh, sorry," he replied with a slight frown.
"That's okay. You didn't know. Nobody knows. It's gonna take a while."
"Well, it's nice to finally meet you," he said. "Your son seems to have become quite a household name around here."
"And your daughter seems like a wonderful girl," Mom said.
"She is, she is," he replied, wrapping one arm around Ava's shoulders. He gave me a sideways glance. "And your boy is…well dressed."
"Doesn't he look nice?" Mom asked. She brushed off my arm. "Jules did well."
And…there it was.
Ava wasn't going to let it linger long. "Alright. Well, we better go," she said, ducking from her father's arm. "Daddy? My jacket?"
He huffed. "Oh. Right." He opened the white coat and she stepped into it. "Your mother is going to want a picture." He turned to the porch. "Helen, why don't you get one of Ava now?"
Ava's mom smiled and nodded; her hair was up in a ponytail like Ava usually wore. She gestured for the two of us to stand together. Mom stepped out of the way and Ava took her spot by my side.
"You do look nice, Ethan," she said.
I cleared my throat. "Thanks."
"I think we're supposed to be smiling," she said.
"Right." I turned to face Ava's mom with the biggest smile I could muster. It wasn't much.
"The corsage, Ethan!" Mom hissed.
"Oh. Um. This is for you," I said, looking down at the little crumpled box.
She blushed. "Thanks."
I lifted the lid and thankfully the flower inside was still okay. I think it was an orchid. She pulled it out of the box. "It's beautiful."
"Um. Do I? Or do you…?" I stammered.
She smiled. "You can help if you want."
If I want. Right. I took the flower, trying only not to crush it as I held it. I pulled on the little strap and Ava slipped her hand through the loop. It survived, but I was glad it wasn't my responsibility anymore.
"Let's do one more, all four of you," Mrs. Parson said.
Will put one hand on the railing and hopped over it to the driveway. Aubree rolled her eyes and walked down the stairs.
"E. You look dashing," Will said. "Simply dashing."
"Thanks, Will. You look—"
"Like a king, you can say it," Will said.
Aubree hooked her arm in his and turned him to face Mrs. Parson, who was holding the waiting camera. "He's dressed. That's all we can really be thankful for."
We laughed and the flash went off, a sudden daylight in the winter twilight.
As I said before, the dance wasn't horrible. I watched the actual dance part of the evening from our table. The student body of Forks High dressed to the nines, turning in bright colors to the dulcet tones of bands like Spare Hearts, The Heartbeat Boys, Heart in Your Hand...well, pretty much just lots of bands with the word "heart" in their names. Ava wasn't stuck in the seat next to me all night, thankfully. Will and Nate both asked her out to dance a couple times.
The Cullens didn't attend the dance, but even without the constant reminder, Will wasn't able to focus on much else but the after-party. He kept asking me what time it was and what time I thought would be appropriate for us to duck out. I told him I had no previous experience to give him a frame of reference for appropriate ducking-out times. Sorry.
I figured it didn't really matter when we left. Alice would probably know we were coming.
At 10:00 he convinced us, and we stepped out of the side entrance of the gym into the very cold night air. The girls giggled and linked arms, running to the rail stop. Their dresses billowed in the wind as they ran. Will was not far behind them; his "W" glinted in the lights of the gym.
Nate and I took up the rear. He slowed his step to keep in time with mine. "I never expected to be on my way to where we're going now."
"I never expected to live outside Lake County," I replied. "Things change."
"This is a big deal, Ethan," he said. "Do you know if they invited anyone else from the school? They had to, right?"
"And why us? I mean…I know you're friends with Bella, but why me? And Char? And Will? Do you think they realize the torture they have unleashed upon themselves?"
I shrugged again. "I don't claim to fathom what any of the Cullens do. They are creatures beyond my scope of understanding."
He barked a laugh. "That's true enough."
Will skipped in a circle around the bench as the girls sat down to wait. He was holding his invitation in his hand. We had tried to convince him the he probably didn't need it to get in, but he refused to give it up.
"I heard a rumor they're leaving," Nate said. "My mom said Dr. Cullen was offered some job back East."
"So maybe it's a going away party?" I asked.
"Maybe. If it's true, it's going to be weird here without them." We reached the bench and I leaned against the back, trying to get the weight off my bad leg. "I mean, who are we going to talk about now?"
"Maybe we can talk about ourselves for a change," Aubree said.
The long rail ride was made longer by Will's incessant questions. He asked me if his clothes were okay, as if that was something he could change. He asked me how late I thought the party would go, as if I had ever even been to an after-party before. He asked me what Renesmee's favorite color was, so he would have something to talk to her about, as if I knew…
Well, you get the idea.
When we got off at 97, there were cars waiting. I had hoped it would be Emmett who would drive us, but we were among friends and the charade had to be kept. So Dr. and Mrs. Cullen chauffeured us to the house front. Will was pleasantly silent through the whole drive.
When we got out of the car, I was the first to the front door. I expected them all to accompany me or even run ahead because I was too slow, but they remained silent in the background. Dr. Cullen opened the front door for the Missus and waited for us. I turned around to see what the hold up was.
"You guys? We gonna do this?" I asked. They were staring at the house with gaping mouths, each waiting for the other to take the first step forward. Aubree didn't seem to care; she stood next to Ava, watching them with a little smile. "'Cause we could just go home—"
"No!" Will jumped forward from the line. "No. We're coming, right guys?" He didn't wait for a response. "Of course we are. We just needed a moment. C'mon." He offered his arm to Aubree and she took it. They walked up the stairs and paused for a moment at the door. Will took off his hat.
"Dr. Cullen," he said with a deep bow. "Thank you for inviting us to your lovely home."
Dr. Cullen's smile seemed to suggest he was trying not to laugh. "You're welcome, Mr. Yorkie."
At least I wasn't the only one who had that idea. Though the fact that I have something in common with Will just—
Ava took my hand. "This should be…interesting."
My thoughts exactly.
The living room wasn't all white and sunlit anymore. The lights were dimmed; a rock song drifted in from somewhere outside. There were flickering candles and dishes of tiny food scattered on almost every flat surface. Laughter mingled in with the music, coming from the couches in the living room. It was a much better atmosphere than the last time I had come to pay a visit.
"It's exactly how I imagined it would be," Will whispered. "I can't believe it."
Bella walked up to meet us at the door. She was also wearing a blue dress, though hers was a deeper color than Ava's and had no embellishments. Her hair was pulled back on top, with the little waterfall of curls pouring out around her face.
"Welcome," she said. "So glad you guys could make it."
As if she didn't know we were coming.
"Thanks for inviting us," I said. "Lovely home."
"Thanks, Ethan. And you must be Ava, right?"
Ava nodded. "It was really nice of you to invite us over."
Bella smiled, and for the first time I realized: no, there were no fangs. "Well, please help yourself to anything to eat. There are some drinks in the kitchen as well." She pointed off to the left. We nodded and thanked her again and walked into the living room. I heard her greet Nate and Charlotte behind us as we went to find Will.
He was in his element, already with a champagne glass in one hand (most certainly not filled with champagne…I hope) and some kind of tiny food in the other. He was laughing along to something Logan had said, and I was so very glad we were not the only guests. Trip and Jonah were there as well, sitting on the couch.
"…and then I told him he had to get his nose out of my shoes!" Will said. The room burst into laughter along with him. He popped the little round cheese or whatever it was into his mouth. "Right? Right?"
"Hey, Ethan," Logan said. "How you holding up? Heard you were in the hospital."
"This man is amazing," Will said. He put his hand on my shoulder. "He survived a bear attack. A bear attack."
The smile fell from Logan's face. "Yeah. I heard. You healing up alright?"
"I'll be right as rain in no time," I replied.
"I think now is a good time for us to hear the story, E," Will said. "Did he just come at you all claws and teeth? Did you play dead? How did you survive, anyhow?"
"Um," I said. "I don't know if I remember it very well…"
"Sure you do!" Will said. "C'mon, E, tell us the tale! Tell us the tale!"
There was no way I was going to make up a bear survival story at this point in the evening. I looked down to Ava. "You want something to drink?"
"Sure," she replied. She took the empty chair across from the sofa. "So, Will," she said. "What about the time you saw Bigfoot when we were out camping?"
Will took the bait and left me alone. "Oh, you guys, you should have been there…"
I walked back towards the front door, heading for the kitchen. The dull roar of the party faded away. Just on the other side of the entryway was a glossy black grand piano on a raised portion of the floor. I stopped for a moment and ran my fingers across the keys.
"Do you play?" a voice from behind me asked. It was Edward, in a black suit that made mine look like secondhand formal wear. Oh wait. It was.
"I know one song." I sat down at the bench and cracked my knuckles. I cleared my throat and rested my hands on the keys, taking a deep breath.
And then I proceeded to plink out a very rusty version of Frère Jacques. Edward chuckled.
After the first run, I let it die off with a melancholy chord that didn't really resolve.
"Not bad," Edward said. "Though you know that song is meant to be done in canon, right?"
"Yeah, I know," I replied. Jules taught it to me one summer so she wouldn't be so bored during her enforced piano practice. It didn't sound the same without her. I sighed. "Hey, because I'm sure Will's going to ask me about it later, where is Renesmee?"
Edward's face fell. "She and Jacob will be by later tonight. They've been having a…second honeymoon of sorts."
"Oh. Um." Poor Edward.
"Exactly," he said.
I need to change the subject, for his sake. "So the rumor is you're leaving."
He nodded. "Monday."
"I bet you'll be glad to get out of this damn town."
"This place is never easy, that's for sure. It seems like every time we come here disaster strikes."
"Why come back at all?" I asked. "Seems like somewhere to avoid."
His answering smile was small. He looked off towards the kitchen. "This place was also witness to the greatest things that ever happened to me. How can I avoid the place where all my dreams came true? Even the ones I didn't know I had."
It didn't take a genius to know what he was looking at. Or who, rather.
I smiled. "I can understand that."
"You know what's really funny?" he asked.
He chuckled. "You remind me of her."
"Don't worry, I don't mean it in any way but that you too are too smart for your own good."
"Alright," I said.
"Ava's wondering where you are," he said. "You should get back to her. With water. She just wants a water."
"Right, thanks." I stood from the bench and turned to the kitchen again. I took a couple steps towards the open doorway. I could see Bella and Alice by the sink, talking.
"Oh, and Ethan?" Edward said.
"Just hear her out, okay?"
I nodded and walked off to the kitchen. Alice and Bella grew quiet as I stepped in the room; both of them smiled, little knowing grins. Alice giggled.
"Water, right, Ethan?" Bella said, handing me a bottle. "And did you want something for yourself?"
"Um. Water too, I guess."
Why did it feel like everyone was in on some kind of practical joke, plotting against me?
Alice handed me another bottle and then wrapped her arms around my waist in a very awkward hug. "I'll miss you, Ethan."
We didn't really know each other very well. Why would she even care? "Um. Miss you too?"
Alice backed away quickly, letting her arms drop to her side. "Now hurry up, Ava's waiting for you and you have exactly 23 minutes."
23 minutes until…? I opened my mouth to ask her what the hell she was talking about, but she turned me around by my shoulders and gave me a light shove out of the room. I walked out to the entryway again, a water bottle in each hand, throwing questioning glances back to Bella and Alice. They only smiled and watched me make my way to the living room.
Ava wasn't sitting with the crowd anymore. She stood, a couple yards away from the chatting, staring out the back glass wall. I went to stand beside her and handed her the bottle. Her eyes didn't leave the scene outside, so I followed her gaze to see Aubree's little figure walking down the long sloping grass hill. She was headed for the line of trees.
"What is she doing?" I asked.
"She's facing her fears," Ava said. "It's about damn time. I just hope…" She sighed.
"Is it really okay that she's out there by herself?" I asked. The darkness coupled with Aubree's black dress made her all but invisible. Just a little flash of blonde now, bobbing in the distance as she picked up her pace.
"She'll be fine," Ava said. "Which is probably more than I can say for myself."
"Ava? Is something wrong?" I asked.
She gave a weak smile. "Ethan, I had a very good time tonight."
"That's good," I said. "I'm glad."
"And I appreciate all that you did to make that happen, really." She opened her bottle of water and took a long drink. The weak smile returned; she looked almost nervous. She blushed.
And then I realized…she was working her way up to a kiss. I could feel it.
You may ask, "So what? She's kissed you before, Ethan." This is truth. But I had somehow avoided kissing her since the hospital. We hadn't even come close, and part of me just felt wrong about it now. It was one thing to pine after one girl and take another to a dance. But it seemed mean somehow to go ahead and kiss Ava when I was wishing she were someone else entirely.
Now I had to face that particular fear.
She bit her lip. The blush grew stronger. "The thing is…the thing is…"
Don't move an inch. Don't get any closer. Don't give her any idea that…
She took a deep breath. "The thing is I know you don't feel the same way as I do. And I tried to tell myself it was just a matter of time, that we just had to get to know each other better and…and we would be the third couple in no time. We did alright for a while, didn't we?"
She stepped a little closer to me. I kept as still as I could and was seriously considering a step backwards, but that seemed a little offensive. I was preparing myself for the awkward conversation I should have had with her a long time ago. The age-old excuse "It's not you, its me" floated through my subconscious. She put a hand on the glass and it fogged under her palm.
Her gaze was still out at the forest. "…but then she came to visit and I knew. Aubree tried to be nice about it, and I was just so mean to her. But she was right. You're in love with Jules, and I'm just fooling myself."
"Ava, I think you're really nice and all but—"
What did she say?
"What did you say?" I asked.
She looked down at her feet and then back up to me. "You're in love with her…aren't you?"
Um. Um. Um.
She shook her head, laughing. "Ethan, you can be so dense sometimes."
No. Couldn't be.
"You're not going to make me say it again, are you? Because that's just kind of mean."
I shook my head. My eyes were flitting around the room, not really seeing anything. "I just…I'm just…I don't know. I just didn't know. I didn't know."
The words bounced around in my head, ricocheting off every memory I had with Jules. It was my whole life. She had always been there, and suddenly the sadness of having her not there took on a whole different meaning. Yes, I was sad because it was Jules, my best friend. But more than that, I was sad because her absence from my life meant I was missing the girl I loved.
I loved her.
I loved Jules.
"I—um—I…" My eyes found focus on Ava's face. She had a couple tears escaping down her cheeks. She wiped them quickly.
"We can still be friends though, right?" she asked.
I nodded violently. "Of course. Ava, you were my first friend here. I couldn't ever give that up."
"Good. Now, as your friend, I have only one question," she said. "What are you still doing standing here?"
"There's a rail east in about…" she looked off to the clock that hung on the far wall of the living room. "Fifteen minutes."
It took me a minute to realize what she was saying. "Oh, I couldn't just—"
"Ethan, I have my sister. I have my best friend. I have a bottle of water. Go."
I love Jules? I love Jules? I love Jules?
"Right. Okay." I sighed. "Thank you."
She nodded. I turned towards the living room, giving one last look at the scene around me. Will was still laughing with Logan; Nate and Charlotte had joined them. Aubree was still out on her adventure, wherever she was. Alice and Bella stood at the entry to the kitchen, smiling back at me.
They knew the whole time.
Of course they did.
Alice flicked her fingers towards the door in little shooing motions. I nodded at her and headed for the way out. I still felt guilty for leaving Ava, but I had done worse by others.
I love Jules.
Edward went to stand beside Bella. He took her hand and smiled.
Goodbye. Hope you do well…wherever it is you're going.
I looked back at them from the front door. Edward nodded.
"Wish me luck," I murmured.
And I stepped out the front entryway to see a car waiting with the engine running. It was the sleek red one I hadn't been able to get started. The top was down and Emmett sat in the driver's seat.
"I didn't think Rose would mind," he said.
"I don't have a lot of time, I'm going to—"
"I know. Alice told me," Emmett said. "Hop in."
I took the stairs two at a time, ignoring the pain in my leg as I went faster than it wanted to go. When I got to the passenger side, I opted to use the door rather than try to jump over it. I had only just shut the door behind me when he stepped on the gas. We peeled out and shot down the long dirt road.
We pulled up to the interstate rail station with about five minutes to spare. I was afraid I wasn't going to make it, as I still had to buy a ticket. I hoped my mother would understand the expense. I was going to have to figure out a way to explain the whole thing without it being completely embarrassing or ending up grounded for a month. She would understand, right? She had to.
I climbed out of the car and turned back to Emmett for only a second. "Thank you, man. You don't know how much I appreciate this."
"No problem. The least we could do," he said. "Have a good ride."
"Thanks." I turned for the station.
"Oh, and Alice says check your pockets!" he called as I was already halfway up the steps. I turned and waved back to let him know I had heard, but I kept my pace up.
As I walked into the station, I put my hands into my pockets. In the left was a small plastic card that I pulled out to examine as I headed for the ticket counter.
It was one ticket to points east.
I shook my head and chuckled. I should have known.
I skipped the ticket counter and jogged around to the entrance to the platform. I flashed the card at the screen and the gate buzzed to let me in. The rail was just pulling into the station.
I wouldn't have made it.
The doors opened and a handful of people got off. Even less were there to get on; aside from me there were only an elderly woman and her son, as well as two kids in formal wear. I guess I wasn't the only one ditching out on the evening's festivities.
I took a seat at the back out of habit, wanting nothing but to be alone to worry. My knee bounced up and down and I rapped my fingers against the glass of the window.
Did Jules know how I felt?
More importantly, did she feel the same way?
Oh dear God.
She probably didn't. I was probably going to make a fool of myself. I was going to travel the 666 miles just to be shot down and sent home.
Did it matter?
No. Not really.
I leaned my head against the window and hoped I would be able to sleep, even if it was just a little bit.
The rail pulled into the station in Polson at 6 am. It was still dark as I made my way through the streets of my former home. The storefronts were all closed and quiet, giving it the air of a ghost town. Not much of a homecoming, I will say. The sky was clear though, and was starting to lighten a bit with the promise of dawn. Stars blinked out. The black turned indigo.
I waited at the bench on Main Street for the west-lake rail.
I had gotten a couple hours of sleep, but not enough to call myself rested. My suit was rumpled, my shirt untucked, and I didn't want to even think about my hair. There was no way it was less than a war zone up there. I ran a hand through it. If only I had a mirror. I straightened my tie and fidgeted with the jacket, trying to smooth out the wrinkles from having balled it up to use as a pillow on the way over.
The rail pulled up, empty and quiet. I was glad I didn't have to explain my sudden appearance in town to some random people on their early ride to work. It was bound to get back to my dad that way. And I was not in the mood to visit my dad.
The rail ran over the bridge. The sun started to peek up over the hills. The sudden brightness sparkled on the lake.
It wasn't long now.
How was I going to tell her this? I had so much to make up for. I wasn't sure which topic to bring up first: the fact that I was an asshat, or that I realized that I had fallen for her at some point in my life and didn't know it. Which also made me an asshat.
My general asshattiness aside, I wasn't sure how I was going to even face her without fainting. There was bound to be rage and tears, all because of me, and I wasn't sure how I was expected to respond. Or how to turn the topic towards my feelings. Or how to ask what she thought of said feelings.
Just thinking about it made my head spin.
The rail turned to the line of trees that made the forest's edge. As it wound through the patches of meadow grass that were turned to horse pastures, and past homes where neighbors were miles apart, my heart started to pound out a frantic pace in my chest. I tucked my shirt.
The sky was turning blue now, actual sky blue. There wasn't a cloud to be seen.
I stood before the rail came to a full and complete stop, and it didn't like that very much. I got two warnings before it gave up at stop 17. I half-jogged down the aisle, my hands shaking. I stepped out into the cold and took a moment to admire the picture before me. Her house was just below the crest of the hill, a cabin-style place with Newwood siding. It had a wraparound porch with a view of the lake.
I took a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
You can do this.
And then I took off running for the house.
I could see Beebu at the counter through the kitchen window; she was stirring something on the stovetop. I didn't stop to knock at the front door; I knew it would be open.
I ran through the foyer to the stairs, pausing only to shout a greeting and question to Jules's mom. "Hey, Beebu," I said. "Jules in her room?"
The twins were at the breakfast table, spooning oatmeal into their mouths. "Ethan!" they shouted at the same time, and the oatmeal came back out.
"What are you doing here?" Beebu asked with a smile on her face. "Long time, no see. She's not in her room, though. She's down a—"
"Yep," I replied. I didn't need the end of that sentence; I knew where she was. "Thanks!"
I jogged around the corner to the living room, around the couch to the glass doors that led to the deck. And as I sprinted across the wood planks, the nerves built up inside me, a screaming, wrecking force I couldn't control. This was the moment; this was the time when she could tell me once and for all, "Leave me the hell alone, Ethan."
I gripped the little post at the end of the deck railing and whipped myself around to the little dirt pathway that wound downhill to the lake. I had walked this particular road so many times that my habits kicked back in. I didn't have to think as I hopped over the rock that insisted on sitting in the middle of the path just a few yards down. I paid no attention to the branches that hit my legs as I ran through the small army of shrubbery that refused to say die, no matter how many times they were cut back.
And then, as I passed around the last bend, I saw her.
My footsteps stuttered to a walk.
She was sitting on the end of the dock. Her legs dangled down to the water where her toes were tickling the surface. I could see her boots sitting to her left with a pair of bright pink socks balled up beside them.
I paused for a moment at the foot of the dock. I listened to the soft lapping noises of the water against the dock's supports.
And then I stepped onto the wood. If she didn't know I was here already, this was the moment she found out. But her head didn't turn.
When I made it down to the end, I stood just beside her. "Hey."
"Hey," she said softly. "I was wondering if this day would come. Though I thought it would be a long time from now."
"How was the dance?" she asked. "How's Ava?"
"Ava is…Ava is…" I looked out at the lake. "Cooler than I thought she'd be."
Jules huffed. "Right. Great. You came all this way to—"
"No, I…" I ran a hand through my hair. I was going about it all wrong. I had come all this way to what? Talk about Ava to the back of Jules's head? No.
I sat down next to her.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"I realize that," she replied. I studied her profile, watched the little stubborn pout make an appearance. A piece of hair fell across her eyes and she took a moment to replace it, all the while staring out at the water. "I don't know how we can fix things this time."
I nodded. "I know this. And…and that's okay. I mean, it's not okay, really. I just understand, that's all. If it turns out that way, I mean. I would totally understand if you hated me and didn't want to talk to me ever again and—"
"Spit it out, Ethan."
"Right." I sighed. I wanted to touch her, or hold her hand, or at least turn her chin to look at me. But I didn't dare. "Here's the thing. I've been swimming in this horrible mess in my head, drowning really, in the thought that you would never talk to me again. And why should it affect me so? I mean yes, best friends, forever. But still…"
I watched a lonesome tear roll down her cheek. "That's not enough?"
"I don't know. I can't know," I replied. "Because it's not all you are to me."
She blinked away the tears. The hair fell back into her eyes.
I put my hands at my sides, propping myself as she was. The edges of our palms touched. "I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you, Jules."
She gasped – a quiet intake of air that I had no idea how to decipher. Her gaze left the horizon and fell to her feet.
"So, yeah, there's that," I said. "I said what I came to say. If you want to be rid of me now, you're welcome to tell me to go. But just know I'm here the moment you ask."
I took a second to let the thought sink in, and then I nodded, ready to leave. My heart was thrumming in my chest, but the silence was answer enough. I leaned against my hand to pull my legs back up.
Her pinky crossed over mine.
"Wait," she said, and for the first time, she looked at me directly. Her eyes sparkled with tears, the warm brown calling me home. I settled myself back down to sit again. "When? How?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. Probably always."
"And Ava?" she asked.
"Was the one who told me, actually."
"I always knew she was the smart one." She laughed. "Well, I guess this brings up a couple of problems. One: you are an ass."
I nodded. "Agreed."
"Two: I'm not sure I know how to forgive you."
I nodded again. "Of course."
"And three: how am I going to survive the rest of the school year when my boyfriend lives in Forks?"
The smile that crept across her face was a relieving thing.
Jules and I had been friends our whole lives. It was one of those relationships forged in our baby years, but it didn't really come to fruition 'til we were in the middle grades. When I was eight and a half she became the girl I would spend every day with. When the parents fought, I would head to her house. When the parents would make up, I would head to her house. She didn't seem to mind that I had cooties. And as the years rolled on, no one batted an eye at our closeness. It wasn't weird to my parents when I chose to spend my time with her rather than go out with the guys headed to Wild Horse. And her parents didn't care when she sent herself across the fields and forests to visit a boy in a distant city.
Everyone knew that Jules and I were meant to be.
I reached up to her face. My hand brushed against her cheek, holding the precious weight. I watched her expression change from the mocking smile to something softer. Her eyes were staring into mine, anxious and waiting. We leaned closer, little clouds of breath mingling between us in the quiet cold.
And then our lips touched. There was an unexpected tingle, a jolt that ran through me as my mouth met hers. And as she leaned into the kiss, I was swallowed by the fireworks and magic of it all.
There was nothing in the world outside of me and this girl.
I was finally where I was always trying to go.
Thanks are first deserved to Lindsey and Nae and the girls of twilight20somethings who made me write this mess. T'was it not for them, I wouldn't have done it. I love you girls.
Thanks next go to the betas: AZBella, for her patience and wonderful input, Bririzzle for listening to whining at all hours and still calling me perfect, and Crysross for beautiful rewrites and keeping me well stocked with pictures of Rob. This is very important, after all.
Thanks to the wonderful folks at the FB fan group for hanging tough with our crazy crowd. Aubree will continue to update her statusii along with GN. And maybe the other kids will play along sometimes. So stay tuned.
Thanks to the reviewers here on FF. Every word was read, and every word meant something to me. I promise to reply to every review for the Epilogue.
Thanks to all the folks who nommed Canon and/or Grace Note at the Indies. Voting starts tomorrow and I've never been more nervous in my life. If anyone wants to join in that fun: theindietwificawards[dot]com.
I love you all.