Getting Bella to leave after Quil's little show was no easy feat. Really, the last thing I wanted to do was run her off, but after all the trouble I'd gone to, it would have been stupid to blow it now. And so I hugged her tight and kissed her so long that she was bright red and embarrassed by the time I let her go, and then I stood and watched until her truck disappeared around a bend in the road.
"You missed a little," Embry chuckled. "She still had some face left, I think."
"Shut it," I said, knocking into his shoulder as I walked past him to find Emily.
Things had been strangely quiet after the whole imprinting thing. Claire was clueless, of course, but everyone else? Not as clueless as we would have liked. Even Bella had looked at me like she was expecting some kind of explanation, but how the hell was I supposed to explain what had just happened? Oh, no big deal. That werewolf over there? Yeah, he just imprinted on a baby. They're gonna have a Spongebob themed wedding now. Aside from the obvious imprinting, I had no idea what was going on. This was just…creepy.
Emily was back at the kitchen table when I walked in. Only this time, Allison was sitting across from her, clutching a cup of coffee like her life depended on it. The conversation looked serious, and I knew immediately what it was about, so of course I walked right past them and out the back door. I didn't have to guess that the rest of the guys were out there, but what I didn't expect was the entire pack. Even Collin and Brady were there, looking as about uncomfortable as two newly turned wolves possibly could.
"She's gonna think I'm a freak," Quil was complaining.
Collin and Brady were standing back, probably not sure what to do with themselves, but everyone else was kind of huddled around Quil, who looked like he was just about ready to crawl out of his skin. I couldn't blame him for that.
"You've gotta calm down, man," Jared said. "This is natural."
"Natural? What the hell is natural about this? She's a baby, for Christ's sake!" Quil yelled.
Sam stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder, no doubt worried that Quil was going to phase right then and there. Because, you know, the imprinting wasn't freaky enough for Allison and Claire.
"Just let Emily talk to her," Sam said calmly. "She can make her understand."
"Really, Sam? And what happens when Allison figures out those scars weren't caused by a bear?" Quil replied, panic raising his voice. "What then?"
Sam visibly bristled as the rest of us held our breaths. Provoking the Alpha certainly wasn't the way to sell the situation to Allison, either.
"Go," Sam growled quietly, threateningly. "Go run, go cliff dive, go something. And don't come back until you've got your shit together."
Quil's eyes darted to the backdoor and then to me.
"Come on," I sighed. "Let's run."
I guess I didn't really understand imprinting after all. I mean, I'd seen it through the minds of Jared and Sam and…ugh, Paul, but I'd never actually witnessed it firsthand. And I always assumed it would happen with someone a bit more age appropriate. But a glimpse inside Quil's head told me that age had nothing to do with it, and his thoughts weren't anything like I had expected. With the other guys there had been a sense of devotion and lust, but with Quil, it was just protective and…innocent?
What the hell, Jake?
Sorry, man, I just didn't know it worked that way.
Yeah, well that makes two of us.
I knew my thoughts were annoying him, maybe even offending him a little, but I couldn't help it. I supposed he couldn't help it either, though. Wow, that must suck. I couldn't imagine imprinting on a little kid and then having to wait…for what? Were they going to be like Sam and Emily one day? All inseparable and in love?
I tried to control my thoughts, my questions, but it was no use. Even if I didn't think about it right now, I'd think about it later, and the next time we phased, the whole pack would "hear." Besides, Quil wasn't paying any attention to me anyway. He was too busy wondering what Claire was doing, if Allison was going to get a restraining order or something, if Emily would be able to explain what was going on without making him sound like a creep.
By the time we got back to Emily's, Quil's head was a little clearer, but only for a moment. Allison and Claire were gone. He just about had a panic attack, even though Emily assured him that everything was smoothed over. It sounded like Allison wasn't thrilled about it, she wasn't completely freaked out. And that was more than anyone could say for the rest of us.
Unfortunately, our little run had lasted nearly four hours, and that meant I was way behind schedule in getting together dinner for Bella. She'd be home in a couple of hours at the most, but there was still so much to do. On the up side, Emily had cut the flowers that I picked out for Bella and even arranged them so that they looked like they'd been bought instead of stolen from her yard. Even if Emily had insisted they weren't actually stolen.
"Will you just hurry up and pick one?" Emily asked, clearly irritated with me. "It's just chicken, Jake."
"But which one?" I asked, holding two packages up, like I somehow knew what I was comparing.
"This one," Emily said, suddenly grabbing for the one in my right hand.
Out of instinct or stupidity—I'm not sure which—I automatically raised it up out of her reach, immediately regretting it as I felt slimy chicken…juice, or whatever it was, running down my arm.
She stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest, tapping her foot impatiently and giving me a look I thought only moms were allowed to give. "Well, if you plan on feeding her raw chicken, then we have all the time in the world. I'll just come back later to pick you up."
Shit. She was right, and I was being an idiot…again. And to make matters worse, I was pretty sure she could see the second that realization washed across my face. "Fine," I huffed, dropping the package into the cart. It was just chicken, and it probably all looked the same when it was cooked anyway, so I wasn't sure why I was freaking out about it in the first place. I heard her muttering under her breath as she walked away, so I grabbed the cart and pushed it after her.
Paying attention to each passing minute now, I stopped worrying so much about every little detail as I followed Emily through the store. She insisted what we…well, I was cooking would be easy, but it didn't look like it based on all the little jars and stuff that were covering the bottom of the shopping cart. I was almost ready to panic again, which would have just been stupid considering it was panicking that had gotten me into trouble in the first place. Besides, Emily wouldn't let me screw this up. Right?
We'd just grabbed the last thing on the list and were getting in line at one of the registers when Emily's step faltered and she suddenly dropped her gaze to the old linoleum tile. Her shoulders seemed to curl in around her body, as if she was trying to make herself disappear, but before I had the chance to ask her what was wrong, I saw them. They were staring.
Two kids who looked to be about Seth's age were looking right at us and whispering, and a little girl sitting in a cart while her mom loaded groceries onto the conveyor belt was outright gaping. Everyone else appeared to be looking at anything except us, but as I noticed them sneaking sideways glances here and there. Only they weren't really looking at us. They were looking at Emily.
I glanced back down at Emily, and she seemed to be shrinking even further away, her hair falling across her scarred face as she tried to disappear from sight. Without thinking I grabbed her wrist and pulled her to me, curling my other arm protectively around her as I glared over her head at anyone foolish enough to meet my gaze. After a few seconds, she raised her head again, looking up at me with a curious expression. I just smiled and kissed the top of her head, feeling her instantly relax a bit.
"You know you're beautiful, right?" I asked.
Her eyes were still filled with a dark sadness, but she offered a small smile, and I couldn't help but grin back.
"You just gonna sit there?" I asked.
"Yep," Emily said, leaning back with a smirk. "This is all you, Jake."
She'd parked her ass at the kitchen table about five seconds after we walked into Bella's house, and the only time she got up was to get herself something to drink or lean over the stove and tell me I was doing something wrong.
"Well, what am I supposed to do with all this?" I asked, gesturing at the aftermath that used to be Bella's kitchen.
"Clean it?" Emily giggled. That's right. Giggled. Like a five year old.
There was…stuff…everywhere. Dishes were piled high in the sink, there was a thin layer of flour on the floor, and I was sure that burnt, caked on mess was not on the stove when I started. Sure, the food was all in the oven, but that was about all I'd done right. I sighed and picked up a dishtowel, knocking over a bottle of wine. At least it was corked. The last thing I needed to do was spill alcohol all over the kitchen. Charlie would never believe it was just for cooking.
"Fine," Emily said, rolling her eyes at me. "You set the table, and I'll see what I can do in here." She brushed past me and immediately set to work on the dishes. "Candles are in there," she said, nodding toward a big canvas bag sitting by the door.
Candles. Flowers. Setting the table. Not burning the food. So far, so good. Bella would probably be home any minute now, and it looked like I was actually going to be able to pull this off.
Okay, next up is the "date!" It will be the last official chapter of Breathe Again, but of course, the larger story won't stop there. I have already written a piece that covers their summer, and after that's posted, I'll begin posting the sequel that picks up when Bella's in college. And yes, I've already written several key scenes for the sequel, including a few little details you have all been waiting for.
Think fruit. The yellow kind.