I sat on the bed cross-legged with the box in front of me. I took a deep breath before opening it gingerly like it was a bomb. The only thing it contained was my mother's laptop. If there were any information I needed to know about being a Huldra it would most likely be on here. Despite her stating that that particular legend had been the first she'd studied I knew she'd never actually published anything about it but she'd always kept her current computer up to date with all the files of the research she'd done in the past so she'd always have it all in one place for reference. I lifted it out of the box and easily located the button to open it up. I was surprised to find a piece of white hotel stationary paper folded neatly in between the two halves. Curiously I picked it up and unfolded it. Once again my mother's writing met my eyes. I grabbed the box and looked at the postmark. I hadn't noticed before that it was actually Italian and not German. Since the package had arrived after her death I had assumed that the police had shipped it back to me but now upon further reflection I realized this wouldn't be true. Why would the police send me the computer knowing there might be evidence on it? Of course, with all the things I had to think about after her death this hadn't occurred to me, I'd just thrown it in the moving van to come to Washington with me without a second thought. I tucked my hair behind my ear and turned my attention back to the note.
I am being followed. I can't even go to the post office to send this to you; I have to send it out with housekeeping. I've stumbled upon something and I fear I know too much but I can't destroy this information. You have to hide it in the best place you can find. Then you need to hide yourself.
That's all. It wasn't even signed. So this was the note she'd mentioned in the letter Mr. Falk had brought me. Hiding this laptop was what she'd hoped I'd done and somehow just having it meant I was in danger. Thanks Mom. Well, I had hid it all right… in a tiny closet, in a non-descript house, on a dirt road, in a rainy coastal town on the other side of the country.
Whatever was in the laptop that my mom had been working on in Italy was important if it put me and everybody I loved in danger and I would need to figure it out as soon as possible but obviously if it had been a year and nothing had happened then I had unintentionally done my job and hid it well enough that we were okay for the moment. There was the more pressing matter of me being an actual mythical creature disrupting my life and that needed to be taken care of first. I needed to know everything that she had known. I located the power button and pressed it… nothing happened. I pressed it again and when that didn't work I pressed it harder. Nothing. The laptop's battery was dead. In desperation I rummaged through the box it came in once more but didn't find the power cord. My second thought was to try my own. I unplugged my laptop from the cord and immediately saw that the fitting was different and wouldn't work with my mom's computer. I then checked for a disk drive that I could remove but there wasn't any. Whatever secrets my mom had been keeping were locked away tight in this hunk of metal and plastic. "Ugh!" I yelled in frustration, kicking my mostly empty laundry basket across the room. All that information right at my fingertips if only I could access it.
Almost immediately I heard Leah outside the door, "Everything okay in there?"
"Yeah," I replied dejectedly. I would have to locate a power cord for this laptop but I couldn't take care of that problem right this second. I sighed and sat on the bed. It had become dark outside without me even noticing. The clock on the bedside table informed that it was actually past ten. What a difference 24 hours made. Last night in this bed I'd made love to Jacob and it had been incredible. Hands down the best night of my entire life. I remembered how safe I had felt in his arms and how much love I'd seen in his eyes. Now I wasn't even sure if he still felt that way about me. I couldn't help the tears the pricked the corner of my eyes. Tonight I would lay down by myself hugging the pillow he'd used to my face because it still smelled faintly of him. I felt pathetic… and lonely… and scared.
I slept that night but it was fitful and it seemed like I woke up every half hour. I finally gave up around 6 am and joined Leah who had apparently drank so much coffee that she couldn't stop fidgeting. "Morning Anni," she said as she jiggled her leg nonstop on the couch. I gave her a weak smile and continued to the kitchen to find a mug of my own only to find I had to make a whole new pot. We spent most of the morning watching the Food Network and half-heartedly making commentary on things like Guy's day-glo hair and Giada's massive head. Leah jumped up like clockwork every five minutes to prowl in front of the windows. By noon I didn't know what I wanted more: for someone to show up just for a change or for no one to show up and be able to keep putting off whatever came next. Finally, around two in the afternoon, Leah stopped pacing in front of the kitchen window. "Embry and Seth are coming."
I hopped up from the couch and smoothed out my clothes anxiously even though it was just a white tee and a pair of shorts. "Just Embry and Seth? That's weird."
"It's our brothers," she answered me, simply. The obvious meaning behind that statement being hopefully I wouldn't hurt my own brother and she would never in a million years let anything happen to her little brother.
I joined her in the kitchen as the boys walked in the back door letting in a breath of fresh summer air. There was an awkward, dark pause despite the bright, airiness of the kitchen and then Seth smiled and reached over to tug my hair, "How are you holding up Goldilocks?"
I felt some of the fear flow out of me. Whatever happened next this was still my family and they would love me even if it were best for all of us if I left. "I've been better," I answered honestly. "How's Jacob?"
"He was at the meeting with us but he was getting too erratic and it wasn't helping anyone think clearly so they had to send him home," Seth answered. "Sam still won't let him anywhere near you… yet."
"Not until this is sorted out at least. So here's the deal," Embry declared, "Some of the elders have a theory but we need to test it. Leah, we need you to phase so Sam can watch. He's still at the Old Church with the Council."
The Old Church was exactly what is sounded like: a small, one room wooden structure with a cross on the top that had been built in a bygone era by some gung-ho Christian missionaries looking to convert. It was set apart from the rest of the town and surrounded by thick forest. The building had sat mostly abandoned for decades until the Council had needed a private place to deal with pack business away from the eyes of the rest of the tribe. The Pack had fixed it up and while it still looked abandoned on the outside to deter people from coming there, the inside was roomy and clean with new benches, floors, and paint.
Leah had walked into the living room to remove her clothing but came back in her wolf body that was smaller than the rest of the pack but still so large in the kitchen that it would have been comical on any other day. She nodded to Embry that she and Sam were both listening.
He cleared his throat, "So basically you just need to order us to do something or whatever it is you did to the stock boy at the grocery store and then we'll see what happens."
"Great plan, Sam" I said sarcastically in Leah's direction. "I can see how it would take you 24 hours to come up with it."
Seth put his hand over his mouth to cover his smile and Embry rolled his eyes. "Come on, let's just get this over with."
For a few moments nobody did anything until I realized they were all looking at me expectantly. "Oh! Ok… ummm…" I looked around the room and my eye caught on a drinking glass. I picked it up and put it in front of Seth and then turned to get the juice out of the fridge and filled the glass. "Seth, drink the juice," I demanded. Seth shook his head. I tried to remember back to what I had done to poor stock boy Drew. I put a sweet smile on my face and moved the cup a little closer, "Seth, will you please drink the juice for me?"
Seth shook his head again but added, "I feel like I can say no but I am really thirsty now. Actually I was probably thirsty when I got here." I sighed as he drained the glass.
Embry opened the fridge again, "Let's try something else." He took the now empty glass and began adding a little bit of whatever he could find. Mustard, horseradish, grenadine and coffee grounds all made their way into the glass along with about a hundred other things. After a few minutes I gave the concoction a stir while trying not to throw up in my mouth. I happily placed the glass on his side of the counter where I could no longer smell it and made eye contact with Seth, "Seth, will you please drink what is in that glass for me?"
Seth's cheeks began to turn bright red, "Well, to be honest now I kind of want to taste it just to see what it's like. Does that count?"
I blanched as Embry threw up his hands and said "That's disgusting, Seth!" Even Leah's wolf looked a little sick. Seth took a small sip and almost instantly turned green. He ran out the back door and not a minute later we could hear him retching in the bushes.
Embry groaned and looked around the room again. Suddenly he walked over to the butcher block on the counter and yanked out a steak knife. He inspected the blade closely and seeming satisfied brought it back to the counter where he placed his left hand flat and held the knife about a foot above it in his right. "Tell me to stab the knife into my hand."
I recoiled like I'd been punched. "What?! No!"
Embry lowered the knife and stared at me levelly across the counter with serious brown eyes, "An, it has to be something I really don't want to do and you have to mean it. This isn't a game; this is serious. If I stab myself, will it hurt like a motherfucker? Hell yeah! But it will heal really fast and there won't be any permanent damage. You understand?"
I nodded. Could I handle it if my own brother stabbed himself because I told him to? I shuddered at the thought of the blood that would spill over the counter. Anybody who could make someone else do that to himself was truly a monster.
Embry rolled the tension out of his shoulders before raising the knife back over his hand and turning his eyes to me, waiting. It didn't help that there wasn't a trace a fear in them.
I paused to lick my dry lips nervously then I focused all my energy on my brother. I felt an odd tingle in the back of my scalp while I appealed to him with as much conviction as I could, "Embry, I would really appreciate if you would stab that knife into your own hand right now."
A few heart-pounding seconds followed where we stared intensely at each other across the counter and then Embry straightened up and put the knife down. I blew out a shaking breath I didn't realize I'd been holding and felt hot tears of relief prick my eyes and spill down my cheeks. In an instant Embry came around the counter and grabbed me up into a hug as I began to sob uncontrollably. "I didn't do it. Shh, little sister, I didn't do it. Everything is going to be okay," he whispered into my hair.
Leah and Seth left soon after but Embry stayed. Leah told me that someone would be by a little later to talk to me. It was clear I was still on lockdown. Surprisingly, It was a lot easier to be around Embry than Leah. I think he truly believed that I wasn't a danger to him or the Pack. To pass the time he challenged me to some Call of Duty and though we played for hours my kills were uninspired and I spent most of the time listening for the sound of someone at the front door. Around 7 we gave in and called for a pizza. As Embry went to answer the door he gave me an evil grin and asked if I could talk the pizza guy into not charging us. He received my best unamused glare in return. Only ten minutes later there was another knock on the door. This time it was Billy and Sam who came into the house.
"Sorry to keep you so long Anni," Sam said, sitting down on one of the sofas next to Embry. "We had to make sure everyone was in agreement and some of those old guys can be hard to convince."
"In agreement of what?" I asked apprehensively.
Billy spoke up then, "That your Huldra side is not a danger to our community. It is regrettable what your mother did but she was young and scared and none of the council believes she knew better… After reading her letter it sounds like she paid for it in regret and sadness a thousand times over. But you are not her and you are not destined to make her same mistakes."
I had to look away at this. "My Dad wasn't there was he?" I could feel shame burning my cheeks.
"No," Billy said. "He hasn't been an active member of the council in quite some time. Maybe one day when he's sober enough we will tell and then we can lift some weight off an old man's shoulders."
Sam picked up where he left off, "We had a theory before Embry and Seth came to see you this afternoon that you would not be able to control them like you could some others."
"Why would you think that?" I asked, twisting my hands in my lap.
"Because you may have half of your mom's genes but you are also half of your fathers and since Embry has wolf blood from your Dad that means you do too," Sam stated.
Billy took my hand, "You see, Anni? Whatever else you may be, you are first of all Daughter… and Sister… and Mate… and Pack. Pack does not turn against each other. Your wolf blood will not let you turn against your brothers and sisters. You understand?"
I lowered my voice to a pained whisper, "But what about Jacob?"
Billy shook his head, "Your mother had no Pack blood, no allegiance. Her Huldra could control your father as a man. Your wolf blood will not work against anyone in the Pack that way. What you and Jacob have is different. You cannot control him. You are his imprint, his soul mate."
"But what about the stock boy?"
"Drew is also not wolf so apparently you can hold some sway over him and some others. Are you planning on doing that?" Sam asked with a half smile.
"No!" I replied, horrified.
"We trust you and The Pack is always here as the safeguard of our community just in case."
They left after letting me know I didn't have to stay in the house anymore and I could see Jacob. Embry fell asleep with the controller in his hand after mumbling about a late patrol he had to do. Trying not to wake him I laced up my tennis shoes and slipped out the back door. The sun was on it's way to setting and the forest was darker then I had expected but I wouldn't let it stop me. I just had to see Jacob, just had to see his face to know he was okay even if I wasn't sure I could trust myself with him. Sam and Billy seemed sure but what if they were wrong? Regardless, It had been an emotional day and I just wanted to end it in his arms. I thought he might be able to hear me coming from a mile away but I was surprised to make it all the way to the tree line on my own. I was even more surprised when the first thing I saw was a fancy, black car parked near his front door. But it was what was backlit in the window that made me gasp and move closer to the camouflage of a tree. I should have immediately known that the expensive car was Bella's but it was a testament to the faith I had so recently put in Jacob that her name hadn't even crossed my mind until I saw her standing there with Jacob, not a foot apart. They were having what looked to be an intense conversation and then Jacob took his hands and put them on her face and looked into her eyes. She must have really liked whatever it is he was saying because two seconds later she closed the gap between them and they were kissing. My stomach rolled over on itself as I stumbled away from the tree in disbelief. Not my Jacob, no. But he wasn't moving, wasn't pushing her away or stopping it. I walked home in a daze. Then I sat and stared out my window into nothing but darkness in a daze. Finally around 5 in the morning I picked up my phone and dialed information for a taxi cab company in a daze.
I stood in the dining room window, watching the road. The two bags I had packed were leaning against the wall by the front door and I clutched my purse tightly in my hands even though it was securely hanging from my shoulder already. I had dressed comfortably for the long trip with my jeans tucked into my boots and a white tank top covered by an oversized grey cardigan that easily wrapped around me in case it got too cold on the plane. The laptop was wrapped up securely in a sweater and I would hopefully be able to locate a compatible charger at one of the stores at the airport. I jiggled my knee and bit my lip anxiously while I waited for the cab. I didn't have to wait long. The old, black sedan came trundling along over the potholes in the dirt road right on time. Port Angeles Taxi Service and a phone number were painted in large letters on the side. I hauled my bags out toward the car where I met the middle-aged cab driver opening the trunk. His nametag read 'Tony' in bold, white letters. He looked up at me and smiled, "Never been out this far before. Beautiful country," he said in a hoarse smoker's voice as he relieved me of first one bag and then the other, stowing them safely in the trunk. "Can't imagine why anyone would want to leave. I bet the fishing is fantastic."
I shrugged, "It just doesn't feel like home anymore."
The cab driver studied me for a moment, "You're a little young to look so sad," he finally replied before reaching up to close the trunk.
"Anni! What is this? What's going on?" Tony and I both jumped and turned in the direction of the voice. Jacob was walking out of the forest dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt, his hair loose and still damp from a recent shower. He looked from me to Tony and then to the bags in the trunk, his eyes squinting in a pained expression. "Are you leaving?" he asked in broken disbelief.
"I'm going back to New York and staying with Frankie's family until graduation," I declared as coolly as possible.
There was a stunned silence and then Jacob's expression turned murderous, "The hell you are!" he declared as he began stalking towards us across the yard.
"Uh, are we going to have a problem here?" Tony whispered to me in a worried voice. "I've got a radio in the car if you want me to call for help."
I'd forgotten how intimidating Jacob could be to someone who was unfamiliar with him. Right now he looked about as frightening as I'd ever seen him without wolfing out. His hands were squeezed into fists that caused the muscles in his arms and chest to bulge. "Yeah, we're going to have a problem!" Jake called out.
Tony looked startled that he had been overheard. I gave him my most reassuring smile, "There won't be a problem. You can close the trunk now."
Tony reached his hands up again but a little more uncertainly this time. Jake closed the distance quickly and blocked the door from coming down. "Do not close the trunk," he ordered the tiny-in-comparison Italian man who automatically backed up a few steps.
"Look, I don't want no trouble, kid," he threw his hands in front of him in a gesture of peace.
"Good, then stay out of this," Jake said and then he removed my bags from the car and set them on the ground before turning to face me. "I don't understand what's going on with you. I've been waiting and waiting for Sam to give the all clear for me to come see you because I have been literally dying with out you and when he finally does this is what I come over to see? Why?!"
The pained expression was back on his face but I wasn't going to let it get to me. "Well, I guess I couldn't wait as long as you because I came to see you last night and you sure didn't look like you were dying to me… unless Bella was sucking the life out of you with her lips," I declared caustically. Then I reached down and with a lot more effort than Jake had exhibited I threw my bags back in the trunk.
Understanding and relief crossed his face, "Bella?! That's what this is about? I can explain that." Jacob reached back into the trunk and removed the bags again. "What I don't understand is why you would take off just like that. How could you do that to me?"
"Oh that's rich!" I laughed morbidly. "I catch you making out with another girl and you want to know why I'm leaving? Aren't you the King of taking off like a spoiled child and abandoning everybody who loves you when life doesn't go your way?" Jacob looked like I'd slapped him. With all the anger I could muster I bent down and threw my bags in the trunk once more. My arms were starting to get really sore and Tony had begun following the journey of the bags in and out of the trunk like it was a match at Wimbledon.
Jacob glared at me, "Knock that off!" he demanded. Reaching in and grabbing the first bag he threw it at the house like it weighed no more than a tennis ball and it easily sailed through the air and landed on the porch 50 feet away. The first bag was quickly followed by the second bag, which promptly exploded open upon landing launching my clothes and under things all over the porch and lawn.
"God Jake!" I yelled, throwing my hands up in the air in frustration. "You are the most infuriating person I have ever met in my life!"
"Well, you are the most amazing person I have ever met in my life and I'm not just going to let you walk out of it this way!" he yelled back.
Tony, now completely rattled by Jake's unnatural display of strength, had apparently had enough. "Um… ok, kids. This is clearly a lover's quarrel that the two of you need to work out by yourselves so I'm going to go and there's no charge for the drive out here, k?" He stuck a cigarette in his mouth and began trying to light it with shaking hands. "Young lady, if you are still interested in leaving, just call the company again and someone will come pick you up… Not me because this is clearly a town full of crazy people… but someone will." With that, he slammed the trunk shut and hustled into the drivers seat faster than a man with a beer belly that big should be able to. With a blast of engine exhaust at Jake and I, he was gone.
I choked on the smoke and waved my arms to clear it away quicker before placing my hands on my hips and giving Jacob a withering glare then I gave him a wide berth around the mailbox as I considered my clothes all over the lawn. "Now look what you've done, you big jerk!"
"Fuck, you look hot when you're mad." My jaw dropped when I saw the look in Jacob's eyes. It was unbridled lust. He started walking… no, stalking towards me like he was about to throw me down in the grass and have me right there. He looked completely wild and out of control.
Instinctively I began to back up, raising one hand between us like some kind of barrier, "No, Jacob… we are not animals. We need to sit down and talk."
Jacob advanced until his chest hit my outstretched hand and then he took it one step further; bending my arm and moving into my personal space, "Speak for yourself. I'm about to show you exactly what kind of animal I am," his voice was low and dangerous and it made something in my gut clench unpleasantly. Without another word he threw me over his shoulders like a caveman with his kill and began to march back towards the house.
AN: Buh Buh Buhhhhh. I know some of you can see where this story is going, you smart cookies, you. Leave me a nice review if you liked it! I love me some reviews. -AJ