Chapter 8 - Easing the Hurt

Generally speaking, Claire considered West Virginia a grim-looking state. She waited silently for the others to comment on their surroundings, not wanting to seem pretentious, though it was hard not to at the moment. The landscape and what she'd seen of the people left quite a bit to be desired. Of course, Embry looked around brightly, and she watched his eyes survey the road ahead as they entered the state. He craned his head to look at her and flickered his eyes toward his window with a quizzical look. Then, a mile-wide smile broke across his face; it was infectious, and she responded wordlessly, with a shrug and a small grin.

She guessed that, at some point, the northern half, where their journey had brought them, was fairly modern and industrialized. She'd heard over the years that the area had had a considerable amount of coal-mining money filtering through, which helped with the local economy. But that day, by the time the three had seen it, it resembled a more or less ghoulish-looking cowboy-era ghost town. It was nothing like Philadelphia or anywhere even remotely surrounding it. As they quietly drove through the state, she found herself excited when she caught sight of something modern; anything to offset the rusted mid-century pick-up trucks littering house after run-down house. This fact helped her forget and stay occupied, which was all she really wanted at that point.

She searched the barren rustic land to the left or right of them. She counted the number of vehicles made after the 1970s, and then the 1980s, amid farms or old mills or deserted mines. It kept her mind busy.

It all helped her forget, how much her heart and mind still ached.

Five days since the funeral and two weeks since... Things were still hard for her; very hard.

Times like this, though – watching the brilliant sun glow off the perfect, golden, reddish-brown skin of Jacob's bare forearm, or the way the cool breeze flipped and mussed Embry's unkempt hair, keeping her mind on what Jake was thinking or focusing on the curves and dips of Embry's left ear; the thought of nothing really, but the perfect weather and their surroundings made her almost, almost, forget.

In her perfect world, she'd never met Quil. So, there was no pain of loss, and she could just exist with these two selfless men, who were protective and watchful of her.

She wanted those memories of Quil to go away.

She wanted to forget that Christmas party and her soiled Chanel jacket. She wanted to forget the wedding dress hanging in a bag that she could never again allow herself to unzip. She wanted to forget the beautiful muscles of his back, or his intricate tattoos, or the way his eyes wrinkled at the edges when he was being mischievous.

She wished she could take her perfect, perfect memories of Quil and freeze them in time. She wished she could tie them with ribbon and place them in a wonderful, perfect box, lock that box and put it away forever. She wished she could forget, and

Her perfect world was interrupted that afternoon, by no fault of her own.

Suddenly, as she drove along the sleepy towns littering Route 50 with the two people she felt closest to in the world, all she could feel was guilt. She felt the guilt of quarreling with Quil for leaving his socks on the bathroom floor the morning before the accident. It was a trivial thing, and they'd made up shortly thereafter, but she still felt the stinging pain of regret.

He'd been talking about taking Jacob out that evening, all week. Quil had been excited to see his friend and was determined to make him feel better. He'd called her one last time, just as he pulled up to Jake's house, apologized for their fight that morning and told her he loved, her among a myriad of other non-important topics of conversation that couples in love and in comfort with each other engage in. If she'd known that would be the last time they'd speak, she'd have come up with so much more to say, something meaningful and poetic. She'd tell him that he was her air, and her sun, and her life. She'd tell him he was everything she never knew to ask for.

She never got the chance, and that was something she'd always desire; those small, insignificant and all-consuming moments with her Quil that she'd never, ever get back.

But, on days like this, on this clear, sunny July afternoon, she could forget. She bit back the stinging in her heart – it was always a stinging, a burning, or numbness – and let herself ease back into the comforting cadence that was Embry's conversation. He always helped her forget. He was so funny, and kind, and interesting. She could listen to him explain nearly anything to her for an infinite amount of time, because everything he said sounded so complex, and so beyond.

He'd held her when she'd snuck in his bed, so tenderly and chastely that she'd almost forgotten her pain. She wanted to go to him and tousle his hair, and let him smile his smile at her It was the smile that told everything would be okay, the smile that comforted her in those dark, frighteningly scary hours, and the smile that, though she'd never admit it to anyone, barely herself, reminded her of Quil's.

She was grateful to Embry for engaging her from his passenger seat beside Jake, who was driving, and bobbing, and dipping along the hilly landscape. He talked to her, which also helped her drown out her own thoughts. Yes, today was a pretty bad day, but she noted that it wasn't as bad as the day before, and not nearly as bad as two days before that. She really only listened to every third or so word that he said, but that was enough to keep her mind off of anything that could drag her back down and ruin the progress of that bright West Virginia afternoon.

They'd traveled about half of the 150-mile trip through the state, and it had gone by faster than she'd even noticed. Jake was deathly quiet from the driver's seat, as she expected from him. He was focusing so intently on the road that she was sure he hadn't heard a word she or Embry had said in the last hour. She wanted so badly to know what was going on in his head, but he hadn't given her a glimpse of what was bubbling inside of him since that morning in the hospital when he'd cried and poured his soul out to her, and Embry, and everyone else who knew her Quil.

He was still in pain, that much was clear, and she knew better than to compare her pain to anyone else's, but, God, he'd known Quil his whole life. He was a part of Jake as much as he was her. It hurt her more than she realized, initially, to look at him these days, because, while Embry was the light spirit he always was and she herself was slowly, very slowly, seeing changes in the grief, he was not changing. Not at all. She would even wager that things were getting worse, more difficult for him.

Her heart was so full of love for him; even in these few days, the love she'd gained had grown so much that Jake's anguish was tangible to her. His hurt was her own, and, combined with her very real emotions, it was something that was physically painful for her. So, sadly, she avoided him, and looked to Embry to share her burden. [4] The hum of his voice eased and salved her, lulled her...lulled her.

Embry paused, mid-sentence, when he glanced in the green tinged rear-view mirror only to see that Claire had fallen asleep. He'd have to continue his rant about his parents, his childhood, his rocky start to adolescence, and of his schooling later.

St John's Academy, situated in a wealthy section of suburban Philadelphia, was a place where the judges and politicians, and chief executives of the area sent their sons for grade and high schools.

By the summer of 1994, Embry had all but sold his soul to avoid having to go there. Even upon entering his sixth grade year, he had a fairly firm handle on what he needed, or, at the very least, wanted; especially with regards to a place that he'd have to endure for eight or more hours of each day. This place was not a place he'd want to be, with its perfect, shiny floors, perfect-looking WASP students and massive church attached. Not this place, with its choking stiffness.

This was not a place for the creative. This was not a place for someone like him. He required a place that would provide the patience and one-on-one attention that, at that point in his young life, he needed so desperately.

Embry had known he was different for as long as he could remember.

He saw things differently. He thought differently, though, of course, he never realized until it was so unceremoniously pointed out to him by his peers, on several occasions. One thing, however, that Embry never lacked was self-confidence, which helped turn his unfocused brain into a wunderkind, after some time, and a person that had several friends, generally. In those early years, this was always a quandary to Embry – he never really tried to gain them.

At fourteen, he drew the line at boarding school. He refused to go to Boston-area Worton; he'd sooner run away, to Spain, perhaps. Maybe he'd even go to Greece, but before he'd ever choose to do something so rash, so selfish, he had to consider Jacob and Quil. They were his real friends. They got him, and they didn't judge. He also refused to leave the art department that he'd been doing so well in, or the support of Ms. Dwyer, who had been so patient and saw the potential in him.

Math and the arts were where Embry excelled. Well, he excelled in most things without much effort, but mathematics was where he soared. When he tried to explain how he'd only ever gotten perfect grades in every math class he'd ever been in, including advance calculus by grade six, he could only describe numbers and logic as he'd always seen it in his brain.

…The way he'd always seen numbers, and music notes, and chess moves, and scientific equations.

He saw them as a series of colors.

It all came down to color.

Eights were cold and blue.

Zeros were red and thin brush strokes.

He soon learned that that was also not normal.

Neither was the perfect score on his SATs or his complete inability to focus on anything that didn't involve percussion instruments.

No, none of it was very normal, at all.

Embry was special. Even still, at the time, what was occurring seemed anything but. His genius manifested itself in almost complete withdrawal from anything and anyone that weren't his two friends, an easel, or a piano. More, once he'd hit puberty, his differences morphed into a complete inability to focus, need to always be away from home and with Jacob and Quil, and a near-perfect mathematical, musical, and artistic memory.

He would continue at St. Johns. He would stay as his parents travelled in Europe and Western Asia, his only supervision being his elderly grandmother. And he'd managed to get himself into quite a bit of trouble over the years, which, looking back, he was sure would have been a lot worse were it not for his friends. For the first few years, he was bitterly angry with his parents for leaving him there to fend for himself. Even now, at almost thirty, he still harbored the same boundless emotions of his youth.

Jacob stopped just outside Cincinnati's city limits to refill the tank, quietly engaging in the simple task. He took his time and didn't make a big deal when Claire wandered off to look around and stretch her legs. Embry leaned against the MDX with his arms crossed and brows furrowed, thoughtfully, for a few moments. Then, he pursed his lips like he always did.

"You good to drive into the city? You've been goin' since Virginia." He cocked his head to the side and looked at Jake for any signs of fatigue.

Jake returned his friend's gaze and took inventory of how he was feeling at the moment. Just like the days prior, the only thing he could really feel was raw. He didn't know what to do with or to make of these feelings, so he tried this best to push them away. He tried everything to ignore the emotional distress, which he was learning would remain with him for the long-haul, like a deep-set splinter underneath his thumb.

His body was healing nicely, thankfully, because he was nearing the bottom of his prescription, but he still wasn't resting enough. He'd really gotten used to the tired, dull wanton ache that resulted from a lack of good sleep. So, he ignored that altogether.

"I'm okay. It's only another hour or so, or at least that's what the GPS says."

Embry smirked and Jake almost smiled. He'd always had the worst luck with GPSs and the one that came with his truck was no exception. Embry hated the thing, but, at least it kept them somewhat on-route. God only knew what would happen if he'd have to read the map that he'd commandeered from the hotel in back in Crystal City.

"Where's Claire?" Jake looked around and tried his best not behave as the concerned patriarch he was feeling like at the moment.

Embry glanced around, as well, and then saw a head of jet-black hair and a graceful neck from fifty yards away. She was standing in line with a handful of various food items, and smiling a weak smile at the obvious advance of a guy, about their age, in line behind her. Jake followed Embry's gaze and his jaw clenched involuntarily, as did his grip on the handle of the gas nozzle. He watched intently for any wrong-move by the guy, quietly sizing him up from where he stood in the parking lot and preparing himself for the possible need to react if the stranger stepped out of line with their Claire. Embry watched, too, with less fury, yes, but watched closely, never the less.

After half a beat, Claire exited, the guy seemed to back off, and Jake was able to relax a bit. Embry met her a few steps away from the car and helped her with the bags. Jacob watched the simple interaction until she was seated in the vehicle, and the gas nozzle clicked loudly indicating it had reached capacity. He climbed into the driver's seat and prepared for the remainder of the drive, pressing various buttons – the air conditioning, the radio. He preferred the silence, but learned that hours on an open road with nothing to entertain didn't do well with others included on the trip.

"Jake..." Claire's sing-songy voice got his attention, his head turning.

"…Got you some Mountain Dews." Her tone, coupled with her feminine hand swaying the green and yellow can in feigned enticement, caused an unexpected smile to tug at the corners of his mouth. It felt so foreign, so odd, and uncomfortable. So much so that he took the cold beverage from her and that small smile quickly disappeared.

...but not before Claire saw it, and man, did it look amazing on him. It made her heart jump a little, which was a decidedly strange reaction to have for Jacob. But, he had smiled for her. The first one she'd seen since, well, she couldn't remember when. Perhaps, things weren't as bad as she had previously thought with him. Maybe he was coming around, if even in the smallest amount.

Jake slipped into his favorite sneakers after feeling around in the dark for jeans and a t-shirt. The night was cool but pleasant, and the twinkling city lights made his walk an easy one. After relenting to the gorilla that was his insomnia, he remembered the bar he'd noticed as the trio made their way into the city when he'd awaken. It would do and provide him with something to pass the next few hours until Quil and Claire would wake, too. He could finally get a drink and, hopefully, some time to himself, and rest from the perceived strong front he was performing for Claire and Embry's benefit. He was tired in mind and body, and, as he crossed the small side street to enter, he began his descent and took off the mask.

Hours before he'd left, Claire had crawled into his bed and snuggled closely to him. He flipped through every thought imaginable, wondering why she had chosen to sleep with him that night. Did she pity him? Did she see the aching desire for human touch that he furtively wanted so badly through this difficult time? It was a desire that he'd never, ever admit to her or Embry. He'd wanted to stay there with her, to feel her warm, soft body and smell her light, citrus smell, but his mind was racing and he literally couldn't remain there, lying next to her a second longer.

So, there he sat, in the little dive with heavy wooden booths, a loudly-playing FIFA match, and too many patrons. He straddled his massive body on a stool in a corner of the bar, sipping his Jack and Coke. Then he followed it with a Red Stripe, staring straight ahead for the first hour, sipping, and thinking, and sipping.

"Can I get you another one?" Jacob glanced around after his broken daze, finally locking his two black eyes with two blue ones.

The bartender was hot.

Even through the haze of liquor and pain, Jacob could see that.

She wore a denim vest, showcasing her ample breasts, a short leather skirt and cowboy boots. She flipped her waist-length auburn hair over her shoulder, noting his confusion and nodding to the empty glass sitting in front of him. He nodded, and she turned to prepare his simple drink.

"You're not from around her, eh?" She set the dark mixture in front him after placing a small, squared napkin down. He remained silent, and looked at her through intense eyes. Hot or not, Jacob was not in the mood for small talk.

Bartender nodded her understanding, and went about her night, serving her other patrons, glimpsing in the direction of Jacob and monitoring the liquor in his glass. As much as he tried to ignore her, though, she made herself known; bending over to better hear a customer, a sliver more of shapely thigh making itself known to him and, while reaching up for a low-ball glass, a slice of stomach peeking through.

As the night wore on and the futbol matches continued, she retrieved a pair of shot glasses, placed them on the edge of the bar, and reached for the Cuervo, because it was her favorite and because the tall Indian was cute and dangerous-looking. She filled them each to the brim and Jacob watched intently as she placed small bowls of salt and limes between the two of them. Bartender raised an eyebrow and glanced around the bar, before resting her blue eyes back on Jacob.

"C'mon, now," she began, "you won't let a girl drink by herself, huh?" Jacob's jaw clenched and unclenched, in mild annoyance, as he made his decision. His fingers dwarfed the tiny glass, as Bartender licked the fatty crook connecting her thumb and index finger. She noticed that the tall Indian completely ignored her salt and limes, so she decides to, as well.

"Salud." She raised the glass to her lips, with chipped black nail polished-fingers. Then, the pair consume the liquid in one synchronized motion.

He was where he needed to be. His head was just fuzzy enough to numb the pain, but not so much so that he didn't have control over his actions. At least, that was after the one; by his third shot of tequila, he was certifiably intoxicated. He could get back to the hotel, but just barely – only, only if he didn't drink anymore.

The bartender continued to chat him up, and pour him shots of tequila, even after her shift ended around 3AM.

"So, you gonna tell me more about yourself, or do I have to feed you more of the Cuervo for you to open up?" She cocked an eyebrow and licked her lips with a smirk. Jacob knew that look; he'd seen it on every sorority girl that had ever played late-night beer pong with him and his team mates. Initially, that look scared the shit out of him, coming from a girl like this bartender. She looked wild, and powerful, and fearless, three things he neither had the wherewithal nor the cognizance to handle. But, as the night and morning wore on, she looked even better than she did when he was sober, and her fearlessness pulled out of him a fearlessness of his own. He lost what little resistance he had, and his brain slowly turned to mush at the thought of her knee pressing persistently against his under the heavy, worn booth.

He squinted and, in that moment, he noticed something for the first time since the accident, and even before that; the night with Rose and Edward and his lost best friend.

He wasn't hurting. He didn't feel the stabbing in his chest, and the guilt wasn't overtaking him.

He was swimming, watery, like a dream. His body felt fine, and his mind was only on one thing; the undeniably attractive bartender who had released a button on the top of her vest and had her practiced fingers gripping his knee. He grinned at her, playing with the skinny straw he'd been chewing on for the past half-hour, and showing her what he hadn't showed in a while: his perfect teeth and the deep dimples of his cheeks that seemed out of place on his masculine face.

"Now, that's what I want to see," Bartender said, her eyelids droopy from alcohol and a 10-hour shift, and from lust.

Something passed between the two, sitting in that too-loud bar in Cincinnati. Somewhere between the proceeding shots of golden liquid and the dimly-lit dank bathroom, they came to an understanding. They each would get what they needed, and there would be no discussion of it.

Bartender tried her best to keep her balance as Jake pressed himself into her again, and again, her bare back rubbing against the scratchy, graffiti and god-knows-what-else covered bathroom wall. The heel of her boot on the edge of the toilet did little to help, as she jerked violently toward and away from him. Jake was fully with her, in that men's bathroom that smelled of urine and stale liquor. What he wasn't was thinking about the pain, and for that he was grateful.

She moaned loudly. He grunted, and after exactly thirteen minutes in the red-light lit box, Jake emptied himself into the sheath of latex. Bartender smiled the smile of a minx, of a woman that had gotten what she'd wanted, and Jacob tucked himself back into his favorite jeans; jeans that Rose had bought him.

After she'd slid her phone number into his jeans pocket and made her way back into the bar, Jake tried his best to steady himself and splash water from the ancient-looking faucet on his face. He stumbled back into the cool early-morning air and then the expensive hotel room the three were staying in for the night, or the week, whatever.

He was drunk, but not drunk enough to miss that he smelled of sex and sweat and nauseatingly-sweet liquor. He briefly considered showering before entering the bed with Claire again – he wouldn't have her smelling another woman on him – but thought better of it. He could barely fish out his key card and enter the hotel room, let alone master the dexterity required for washing oneself at this level of intoxication. So, instead, he found the oversized chaise lounge in the sitting room, slipped out of his sneakers and shirt, because shit, he was hot, and did as little to focused on what he'd spent the night doing or who he'd done it with as possible.

He wasn't in pain. He felt okay. He still felt watery, and dreamy, and fuzzy, but at least he felt fine. He didn't think of Rose, or of Quil or the accident. He didn't think of Philadelphia, or of his parents, or of his mortgage. He thought of Bartender; of the feel of her and the taste of her mouth. He shifted until he was comfortable. Then, Jacob let the numbing effects of sleep and drunkenness ease him under.


A/N – Thanks for reading; I appreciate each one of you. Jake is obviously going through a tough time, as are the rest of the group, each processing their grief differently.

Thanks to my beta, Kay Cannon, she rocks, and to her I am wildly grateful.

And I want to invite you to check out my C2, Pack Play that I manage with my friends Little Furry Cannibals, Dahlia Black, and Wolfpull85. It's not for the faint of heart, but, you may find some naughty things staring your favorite member of the TTS wolfpack. (http):/(www.)fanfiction.(net)/community/(Pack_Play_The_Best_In_Wolfpack_Lemons)/75509/

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