Perhaps things would have turned out differently if I had never told her about our legends. Legends that I once thought were just your run-of-the-mill scary bedtime stories. How little I knew then. Without those legends, she might have never found out what he truly was. And maybe, just maybe, the chain of events that led her to him would have been broken. And instead, she would have followed her life's natural path. A path that would have led her ... to me.
But I can't bring myself to regret going to the beach that day. That was the day that I saw her - that I really saw her - for the first time. And I was never the same again.
Chapter 1: Homecoming
We drove to Port Angeles to pick up Rachel for her first visit home since leaving for college. It was also the first time we had taken the Chevy out beyond the rez since I had rebuilt the engine and I couldn't help but grin smugly as the truck accelerated smoothly onto the 101.
"Slow down. You don't want to get caught for speeding," Billy cautioned gently.
"Please, like this truck could even make it to 60 miles an hour," I scoffed.
"True, but you also don't have a permit yet."
"Oh yeah, right."
I had forgotten that one teeny crucial detail. I was still a few weeks shy of my 15th birthday so I was technically breaking the law right now. But I had been driving my dad around the rez ever since my sisters left, so it was easy to forget that the rules were different out here.
"Then again, I don't see Charlie arresting you for driving to pick Rachel up for the holidays," Billy admitted as he smiled broadly. I couldn't help but grin back. We had both missed my sisters this past fall, more than we probably would have ever admitted.
And we weren't the only ones. Charlie, Chief of Police at Forks - the closest town to the rez, had a soft spot for my older sister Rachel. I think it was because she reminded him of his own daughter, Bella, who lived in Phoenix with her mother.
As the truck chugged along steadily, I tried not to grimace as old ladies driving beat-up vintage Cadillacs zoomed by. Despite the brisk weather, I rolled down the window and breathed in the crisp air. It was rare that I had the chance to get off the rez and the air was different out here; fresher somehow without the salty tang of the ocean breeze that I was so used to. Plus, it wasn't raining for once and that automatically qualified it as a good weather day in the Olympic Peninsula.
Port Angeles was a touristy seaside town about 60 miles east on the way to Seattle. It was also the closest bus stop to the rez, and the last stop on Rachel's seven-hour bus ride from Washington State. My other sister, Rebecca, Rachel's twin, wasn't coming home at all this Christmas. It would be the first time that we hadn't all celebrated together. Rebecca had gotten married fresh out of high school to Tommy, a Samoan surf instructor who worked at the La Push resort last year. They moved to Hawaii in October where Tommy and some buddies had opened up a surf shop. It took a little getting used to – the idea of Rebecca being married - but she had always been the mother hen of my two sisters, making sure I was fed, clothed, prepared for school, so imagining her with her own family wasn't all that much of a stretch. What was strange was realizing that she wouldn't be around to take of me - or Billy - anymore.
It was especially strange this time of year. Christmas was always tough, ever since my mother was killed in a car accident when I was five. She was coming home after doing some Christmas shopping - in Port Angeles in fact - when a drunk driver t-boned her car and killed her, and himself, on the spot. I was too young to remember the details, but I did remember how it felt – the strange feeling of emptiness that pervaded our house during a time of year that was supposed to be anything but empty.
The Port Angeles exit sign flashed up on the right, pulling me out of my thoughts. The drive had flown by despite the heavy holiday traffic. I turned to Billy to ask him for the time but he was staring out the window equally lost in his thoughts. I didn't need to ask to know that he was thinking about my mom too.
I pulled off the highway – if the one-lane 101 that snaked through the Olympic National Park could be called a highway - and merged into the heavy traffic onto First Street. Last minute Christmas shoppers I thought with a snort. Talk about cutting it down to the wire. It was 3 pm on Christmas Eve right now. As we made our way through town, I caught glimpses of evergreen branches, colorful bows, and twinkling lights wrapped around every possible lamppost and parking meter. People were mulling about, spilling out of cafes and stores with their arms full of colorful bags. It suddenly hit me how different this all felt. This cheerful hustle and bustle was a stark contrast to the stillness of the past few months at our house.
We pulled up to the bus station just as the Greyhound was pulling away. I spotted Rachel almost immediately in her bright blue parka. Despite being born and bred in the Pacific Northwest, my sister still couldn't deal with the cold.
"Hey kiddo! Great timing!" she waved as she jumped up in excitement. It was good to know that she had missed us as much as we had missed her.
I laughed as I pulled to the curb and hopped out. She pulled me into a tight hug and I suddenly became aware that I had grown taller in the past few months. While the twins were a respectable 5"7", Rachel dwarfed me now, with the top of her head just reaching my chin. Her hair was also much shorter than it was before and I could see faint purple shadows under her eyes.
Rachel looked me over with an appraising eye as well, but I must have passed her inspection because she let go of me with an affectionate squeeze to climb into the truck to hug Billy. That's when I noticed the two gynormous duffle bags sitting on the sidewalk. Clearly, some things never changed. How was it possible to need that much stuff for a two-week visit home? Especially when you already had a closet full of clothes back at the house. I would never understand women.
I stowed the bags in the bed of the truck, carefully covering them with plastic tarp in case it started to rain. As I moved back to the door, Rachel scooted into the middle seat next to Billy.
"You don't want to drive?" I was confused. My sister had always been a stickler for playing by the rules.
"Nah, I'm tired. Plus, I'm sure you're a better driver than I am at this point." She flashed a teasing smile at me. Wow. College really had mellowed her out.
"I was always a better driver," I retorted as I started the engine and pulled out of the station.
"Though I am surprised the truck was able to make it all the way here. It wasn't looking so good last summer," she commented as she stroked the faded leather seats that had begun to crack in places.
"Jake here rebuilt the engine himself this fall. Did a pretty darn good job of it too," Billy replied as he patted the dashboard with a loud thump. The pride in his eyes was unmistakable and I glanced away quickly with a deep blush.
"It still doesn't seem to go very fast." Rachel frowned skeptically as we merged back onto the highway.
"Don't blame that on me! I did the best I could with what I had. This thing is like 40 years old. Now if I could just work on something with a little more potential ..." I glanced hopefully at Billy who was looking straight ahead with a small smile on his lips.
"We'll see. We'll see." Billy turned to Rachel. His eyes were soft, but his cheeks were almost cracking from the lovingly goofy grin on his face. "So Rach, how's school going?"
"School is great! Been pretty busy with all the extra classes, but it'll be worth it when I finish early."
"You don't have to do that, Rach. You should enjoy your time at college. We'll find a way to ..." He frowned as he took in the shadows and faint lines around her eyes.
"Dad, this is what I want. Really - let's not go through this again!" Rachel urged softly with a pleading smile.
I kept my eyes on the road. I had heard this conversation a million times already. Rachel had won a large scholarship from the tribe, but it only covered two years of tuition. It was designed for someone getting an associate's degree, but my sister was determined to use it to finish a bachelor's degree in half the time. She knew we had no money to help pay and she refused to take on loans, which meant that she took an insane number of classes and worked crazy hours at a café to make ends meet. It also explained why she hadn't been home since she left for school.
"Really dad, I'm fine. I swear. It hasn't been that hard and I have been enjoying myself, so don't worry." Rachel squeezed his hand gently as she skillfully changed the topic. "So enough about me, how are you guys? What's the latest scoop on the rez?"
Billy paused, clearly not wanting to drop the subject but he relented at the determined look on her face. His shoulders eased as he started running through the local gossip mill. It always amazed me how much stuff went on given the tiny size of the reservation.
I started to zone out as Billy updated her on the past few months, when suddenly, a red Mercedes convertible – driven by a gorgeous blonde - came out of nowhere and sharply cut me off before zooming off into the distance. I looked up in the rear mirror, half expecting to see the flashing lights of a cop car in pursuit. That was the only reason I could think of for anyone to have the guts to drive that fast. Talk about exceeding the speed limit. She was probably going 120 miles an hour.
But there was no cop in sight. Too bad my friend Quil wasn't with me – she was just his type – a showy blonde in a hot car. But she probably was a jerk . Anyone with a nice ride generally was. At least that was my experience with the tourists who got their cars fixed at the La Push garage. And that red Mercedes was one hell of a sweet car.
"So we're off to the Clearwater's tomorrow night, right?" Rachel asked as Billy finished telling her about Sue Clearwater's recent attempt to put her husband, and Billy, on a low-fat low-cholesterol diet.
"It wouldn't be Christmas without it," I responded cheerfully. We had spent every Christmas at the Clearwater's house since my mother died. Harry was one of my dad's best friends and Sue was like a surrogate mother to us all.
"So, just the usual crowd? Us, Sam ..."
"Not Sam," Billy corrected abruptly. I looked up at him with a grin. I guess he hadn't told her yet. This was going to be good.
"Not Sam?" Rachel exclaimed. "What happened? Is he out of town or something?"
Billy caught my eye and raised his eyebrow in a way that I read to mean, "Aren't you going to help me out here, kid?" But I shrugged. He knew as much as I did about what happened. Probably more, in fact, since I was sure that Sue had given him an earful about Sam's 'disgraceful behavior.' Her words. Not mine.
"No no, he's at La Push. It's just that he and Leah …" Billy's voice faltered.
"They broke up?" Rachel interrupted her eyes wide in shock. "No way! You guys have been holding out on me! What gives?"
"They only broke up a few weeks ago," Billy replied as he cleared his throat. "And it wasn't that dramatic really."
I snorted. That was quite an understatement. Billy frowned sharply at me. Rachel looked back and forth at us eagerly, sensing the juiciness of the gossip.
"This has got to be the biggest news on the rez. He and Leah have been joined at the hip for years! What happened?"
"Well they kind of grew apart-" Billy tried again without success
"-but Sam turned down college to stay her with her!" Rachel interrupted trying to cut to the chase.
I was careful not to let Billy see my smile. Rachel was relentless when it came to gossip, so he might as well just get over it because she would get it out of him sooner or later.
"Well..." Billy balked again as he muttered something to himself. It was strange to see him fumbling for a response. My dad was pretty much a straight-shooter, but he was clearly uncomfortable speaking poorly of Sam, which of course rankled me. Saint Sam, who could do no wrong in the eyes of my dad and the tribe's elders. Wouldn't want to say anything bad about him even if it were true.
The elders had pitched a fit when Rebecca turned down a college scholarship to marry Tommy, but not a word was said when Sam did the same thing. It wouldn't be quite so annoying if they didn't hold him up constantly as some kind of role model for us. It was even worse that Sam clearly relished the role. As far as I could tell, he hadn't exactly done much to merit being a role model. Deciding to give up college and the chance to make something of himself didn't seem all that admirable to me. But what did I know.
I jumped in, "He met someone else." I figured that we might as well cut to the chase before Rachel had an aneurysm from trying to guess the answer.
"No freaking way!" Her eyes were glinting with devilish merriment. "Sam?!?! Always-do-the-right-thing and don't-shame-the-tribe Sam?!"
I chuckled. Clearly, Rachel wasn't all that fond of Sam either.
"Well now, we don't know the whole story. We shouldn't judge him so harshly," Billy chided us both gently.
"What more do we need to know? He dated Leah for ages and then dumped her cold for someone else. Seems pretty black and white to me," I muttered under my breath.
Ignoring me, Billy continued. "He and Leah had some issues after that incident last summer-"
"-Yes, yes, I remember you telling me. He disappeared for like two weeks or something, without a word to anyone, right? Did he ever explain why?" Rachel asked curiously.
"Not exactly, but he had his reasons."
I snorted loudly – I couldn't stop it.
"Jacob, you don't know the whole story!" Billy admonished – more harshly - this time.
"I guess so, but I do know that if I took off for two weeks without telling anyone, I'd need more than just a good reason or else you'd skin me alive!"
"You don't know that. If it was the same reason that Sam had, I might understand."
Billy looked at me quietly with a completely unreadable expression on his face. I turned my eyes back to the road confused. I had no idea what he was talking about and yet, I could sense that he was being entirely serious.
"Okay, so Sam came back with a good excuse. And then what? Weren't he and Leah working things out?" Rachel pressed on, not allowing herself to be distracted from getting the full scoop.
"Yes, they were and they were making good progress. You know how – ahem - feisty Leah can be," Billy continued with a wry smile.
I rolled my eyes - discreetly - as I took the exit for Forks/La Push. Describing Leah as feisty was another contender for understatement of the year.
"But things were going well…" Billy hesitated slightly so I decided to steal the punch line.
" … until he met Emily Young and fell head over heels in love with her at first sight and dumped Leah without a second thought." We were already in Forks so I figured that I'd speed up the conversation.
"Wait! Wait! Emily Young? As in Sue's niece? Leah's cousin and best friend? That Emily?!" Rachel's expression was priceless.
"The very one. So you can see why Sam is persona non grata at the Clearwater home right now." I grinned. "Not much of a loss in my opinion."
"Wow, I can't believe it," Rachel sighed with a half smile. "It just seems way too soap-opera-ish. It's so weird though - Sam was so into Leah – it was sickening."
"You should see him now – it's really puke-inducing," I offered helpfully. He really was. The way he looked at Emily was like the way he looked at Leah but magnified by a thousand. And he didn't seem to mind anyone knowing it either. It was really enough to make you want to swear off women.
"Well I guess he wasn't the guy everyone thought he was," Rachel mused thoughtfully.
"That's what I've been saying all along!" I exclaimed, happy that she was on my side.
"Jacob, you don't understand." Billy sighed as he looked out his window. We had pulled into downtown Forks and were waiting at a red light – one of the two traffic lights in the entire town. "It has hurt him more than you know."
"Yeah, I know. I'm sure he had a good reason for this one too," I shrugged unapologetically. "Though I can't see what can possibly excuse going from being practically engaged to falling in love with someone else."
I knew I had him there. Loyalty was a pretty big thing with the Quileutes, and with Billy in particular.
"How is Leah taking it?" Rachel asked innocently.
"As well as you might imagine," I joked. I didn't mean to be a jerk. It was just that Leah was notoriously difficult. Translation, she could be a total pain in the ass.
"She'll get over it. This is all for the better. You'll see," Billy insisted vehemently in a voice that silenced the two of us. Rachel looked at me, her dark eyes full of questions, but I shook my head. I didn't understand why Billy was defending Sam so strongly – given the circumstances - any more than she did.
Changing tactics, Rachel continued, "I have to admit I'm a little surprised about Emily though. She never seemed like the boyfriend-stealing type."
"I don't think she really is either," I admitted honestly. "Emily hasn't taken so kindly to Sam's change of heart. Or at least that's what I heard."
"Wait, but you guys said that Sam dumped Leah for her," Rachel protested impatiently.
"Well not technically," I pointed out. "Sam dumped Leah because he fell in love with Emily – some love at first sight crap - but they're not actually together yet. Emily and Leah were pretty close, if you remember, so I don't know that she's agreed to date him or anything."
"Hmm… very interesting." I recognized the scheming expression on my older sister's face. She was clearly figuring out who she was going to visit as soon as we got home to get the full scoop. I grinned, knowing that I could count on her to fill in the gaps of the story for me before she left. Not that I was interested generally in rez gossip, but I couldn't resist getting some dirt on Saint Sam.
Billy interrupted us with a loud cough. "We better pull into the Thriftway to stock up on some food. Unless you want to eat beans and rice for dinner?"
He wasn't exaggerating. Neither of us were good cooks, so beans and rice had been the go-to dinner many a night this past fall.
"It's strange that Rebecca won't be here," Rachel said suddenly with a wistful smile.
That was for sure. Rebecca's cooking skills were sorely missed, particularly around this time of year.
"We're just glad to have you with us." Billy took Rachel's hand and squeezed it tenderly. "Plus Jake and I have been making do pretty well. He's even learned to cook."
"By cook, you mean pop something into a microwave?" Rachel asked skeptically.
"You know me too well," I acknowledged with a mock sigh.
"Well I can do better than that. Let's stock up on groceries and I'll make a freezer's worth of food before I leave."
Now it was my turn to look at her skeptically. Rachel's cooking skills left much to be desired. Though to be fair, Rebecca never gave her the chance to do much in the kitchen, but the few times Rachel had attempted to cook hadn't been all that successful.
"What?!" Rachel retorted as she caught the look on my face. "I picked up a few things at the cafe where I've been working. You'll be amazed."
She reached out and ruffled my hair as we pulled into the Thriftway. A police cruiser pulled into the spot next to us just as Rachel and I were helping Billy into the wheelchair.
"Charlie!" Rachel exclaimed as she skipped over to greet him with a big bear hug,
"Look who's back from the big city!" Charlie, who was tall and thin with dark brown hair and eyes, was grinning from ear-to-ear. "The guys here have barely survived without you. I can hardly bear to visit anymore."
Charlie patted me on the shoulder as he walked around the truck to playfully punch Billy's arm in greeting.
"That's right. Yet, who keeps coming over to watch the Seahawks game every Sunday?" Billy laughed, trying to retaliate by ramming him in the legs with the chair. It was their standard way of saying hi.
"Well that may be changing soon," Charlie beamed, looking every bit like the proverbial kid in a candy store. "I just bought myself a shiny new 32" Samsung flat screen."
Sw-eet! Not that I was a huge Seahawks fan by any means, but our TV had seen better days. Plus it was nice to have an excuse to get off the rez on Sundays. Maybe I could even get a gig in Forks to make some extra bucks when I dropped Billy off for the game. Part-time jobs were not easy to come by in La Push, especially during the winter when the tourists were away.
Billy whistled. "Now that is something! Harry's been bugging Sue for one for years. I can't wait until you tell him." The men hi-fived each other. They both respected Sue tremendously, mostly because they were both somewhat scared of her. There was no doubt as to who wore the britches in the Clearwater house so to speak.
"I'll tell him tomorrow night. You guys are going, right?" Charlie asked as he took the wheelchair from me.
"You betcha. Rachel is even planning to wow us with her culinary skills," Billy responded winking at my sister as we entered the store.
"That so?! I better eat before I show up then!" Charlie teased as the the two of them dissolved into raucous laughter as they headed over to the beer aisle
Rachel gave them both a mock glare or resentment before she disappeared in search of ingredients. I perused the bulletin boards for promising help wanted ads when I heard the crash behind me. A cashier had knocked over a small rack of merchandise, causing the colorful assortment of candy bars to spill all over the floor. The reason for her accident was obvious. A tall pale man, who could have easily been Tom Cruise's younger, blonder, better-looking brother, was standing at the registrar and the cashier – a slightly plump middle-aged woman – was blushing furiously as she fumbled to clean up.
I recognized him immediately as Dr. Cullen, the doctor at Forks Hospital and the subject of a spectacularly unflattering Quileute legend. I had only seen him once before when Billy had grudgingly pointed him out to me. The doctor smoothly gathered up a bunch of loose candy with one hand and fixed the rack with the other, smiling gently at the woman the entire time, which only made her cheeks blush a more violent shade of red.
I watched curiously as he bagged his groceries, paid, and left. I couldn't believe he was a doctor. He didn't look a day over thirty. He got into a black Mercedes S55 AMG with tinted windows, the nicest car by far in the entire parking lot, and pulled off. It must be nice being a doctor, I mused. Maybe I should start paying more attention in biology class.
Rachel was surprisingly quick with the shopping and she was done by the time Charlie and Billy emerged from the liquor aisle with a few packs of Vitamin R. We said our goodbyes to Charlie as we loaded up the truck with all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and spices that hadn't been seen inside our house in months. I eyed a tub of ricotta cheese and a package of lasagna noodles eagerly. Rachel had remembered that lasagna was my favorite. Even if Billy or I actually knew how to make it, we tended to forget to buy anything except the bare bone essentials when we grocery-shopped. Meat. Vegetables. Starch. But fancy stuff like cheese or spices tended to fall off our radar. No wonder food had tasted so bland recently. I made a mental note to ask Rachel to stock up on some simple sauces and spices for Billy to use.
As I pulled off 101 onto La Push Road, the reservation's "Welcome" sign flashed by on the right and Rachel let out a contented sigh.
"I've missed La Push. I didn't think I would, but I have," she marveled.
Last summer, Rachel had been desperate to get out of here. She couldn't wait to finally escape small town life. Not that I could blame her. I felt the same way most of the time. But the reservation was gorgeous right now, with the lush moss-draped trees almost enclosing in on the road and a million shades of green extending away as far as the eye could see. I had spent my life running around these forests and I could tell by sight the name of almost everything I saw. It was at these moments that I could almost understand why "I-had-a-good-reason" Sam had stayed behind at La Push. There was something about this place that made it hard to leave.
The main rez road was a ten mile stretch that meandered its way through the dense woods alongside the Quillayute River. Even though I knew that it was coming, the first glimpse of the ocean was always a shock to the senses. The road veered suddenly to the right and the endless green broke to reveal the glittering – and often stormy – waves of the Pacific Ocean.
First Beach – not to be confused with Second or Third Beach – was the reservation's main attraction for tourists. A perfect crescent of silky smooth sand that cradled the pummeling ocean waves gently, surrounded on three sides by the dense forest that lent an otherworldly feel to the place. I may not have been many places, but I knew that watching the sunset here, with the mist slipping out of the forest and slowly sweeping across the beach, had to be one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Right by the beach was the town that thrived off the tourists who visited during the summers. There was the resort built in the 60s that was beginning to show its age, as well as the main dock where fishing and crabbing boats pulled in every morning. And then there were the usual collection of beach town shops – a small surf shop that offered lessons and wet suits for those crazy enough to brave frigid water, a handful of eating joints serving up the summer trinity of burgers, seafood, and ice cream, and a souvenir shop selling useless overpriced trinkets that tourists bought by the dozens.
Billy worked at the Quileute tribal heritage center, which also doubled as the tribe's administrative office. He used to co-own the town's gas station and garage with my friend Quil's dad, but after the accident, he took over the tribal affairs full time. The center was an easy trip from our house down the road, a dark red building with some faded posters and even more dusty artifacts. Very few people stopped by the museum since tourists came mostly for the beach. But those who did often ended up staying for hours, enthralled by Billy's story-telling. I was still enthralled, even though I had heard his stories a thousand times in my childhood.
We pulled up to our little faded red house – set far back from the road along the edge of the forest - just as it started to drizzle again. Rachel helped Billy out and pushed him into the house while I started unloading the truck.
"Did you get someone to repair the wheelchair ramp? It's not as wobbly as it used to be," I heard Rachel ask.
"Your brother rebuilt it out of some scrap wood. He's a good kid. You should have seen ..."
Billy's voice trailed off as they entered the house. I felt myself flush. Not wanting to follow them as they were discussing me, I unloaded the groceries and luggage onto the covered porch and then jogged down the driveway to grab the mail. Just some junk mail and our Christmas package from Rebecca. I could almost smell the cookies that I knew were in there. I fervently hoped that she had remembered to include some gingerbread too.
When I got back to the house, Rachel was unpacking in her room. Well technically, it was my room now. I had started using it after the girls left since it was twice the size of my old one. But it was still tiny. Our whole house was tiny. The front door opened directly into the main living space - a small yellow kitchen to the left with faded white cabinets. A table and some chairs were pushed up against the window overlooking the porch. To the right was the tiny living room, made to feel even smaller by the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that covered nearly every available wall. Billy was a history buff and our bookshelves reflected that. One faded, squishy, extraordinarily comfortable blue sofa lined the wall. It was originally part of a set, but we had moved the other sofa into my old room to make more room for Billy's wheelchair.
Our rooms were at the back of the house. All three used to be same size, but after the accident, half of my old bedroom was used to expand the bathroom to make it easier for Billy to use. Since the girls left, we had gotten rid of my old furniture and used the room as a storage space – so there was barely room for the small air mattress that was now nestled in among the boxes and bookcases. Despite knowing that I would have to sleep on that saggy thing, I was happy – and relieved - to have Rachel home. Things finally felt right again.