My life went through the spin cycle on January 1, 2006.
I was home from the U of Washington. For good. I'd graduated early thanks to the accelerated program and had spent as much time as I could visiting my friends before I resigned myself to my own home.
I'm well aware that makes me sound like a bitch. But it's really just because I'm a coward. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to be around them sometimes. And it wasn't because I didn't love either of them. Jacob and Billy Black were truly the two most important people in my life. But things were strange.
Dad. What can I possibly say about my father? He's one of those people you meet and can never forget. He's funny because he doesn't know how bad his own jokes are. But he'll be the first to surprise you with a snappy comment when someone presents the opportunity. He has a gift for story telling that hasn't changed since I was a child. Even now, at twenty years old, I can see pictures and images in my mind whenever he talks. It's like a projector connects him to his audience; he gives us his words and his sight.
Jacob is my stupid, lovable, awkward, gangly little brother. I'll always remember how we used to trade broccoli spears for diced carrots when Mom's back was turned during dinner. I remember him asking me when he was twelve what all pink things under the bathroom sink were for. I know you could back over him with a tractor and he wouldn't say a word but he'll cry if you pinch him hard enough. He's allergic to Gain laundry detergent – we found out one summer – after he walked around scratching every bit of skin he could reach for seven whole days. We had to take him to the doctor in Forks and he was a raging ball of calamine lotion for the next week.
But when I come home from school these are not the boys I find anymore. Billy is much the same, but it's like he's on slow-mo these days. He forgets more things, sometimes can't remember the date. He just moves slower. He talks about the ache in his bones. He's getting older. And that very concept scares the ever living crap out me. I don't have my mom anymore. I haven't for a while. I love my dad and when he's gone, I'll be an orphan. Twenty something, thirty something – I don't care. I'll be orphan.
I can't imagine what'll happen when he goes. Rebecca is out in Hawaii or Guam or god knows where but what about my baby brother? He's sixteen right now. I know La Push is like an enormous family – I lived here too – but Billy is all Jacob has in that house. What could I possibly do to fix or even help a situation like that?
I try not to think about it, because it just makes my hands twitchy and my stomach roll.
And my baby brother? Yeah, he's not so much a baby anymore. He is only sixteen but he's a big sixteen year old. He has to duck going between rooms – something he's only just getting used to because that bruise on his forehead is still fading. And he's wide. I remember when I was home over the summer – less than six months ago – he was just a string bean and I could fit my arms all the way around him. Now he hugs me because he's so tall and all-encompassing.
In short, he's not a boy anymore. Instead of playing X-Box for 72 consecutive hours with little Quil Ateara and Embry Call (who, by the way, are not little anymore either), he's turned into a body builder. He's bulky, like no real sixteen year old ever is. His face is older too. It's square and angular – he doesn't have that roundish face with the big toothy grin anymore. Sometimes when he's not paying attention, I'll glance over at him and try and find the vestiges of my little brother but I get too distracted by the creases at his eyes and the firm set of his jaw. It scares me a little because this really came out of nowhere.
Becca and I had always tried to make sure – despite the violent car accident that took our mother – that Jacob wasn't not forced to grow up prematurely like we had. It was eventually too much for her and she got married and moved away. I'm not saying that was the sole motivation for her to marry, but it makes me wonder sometimes. Eventually I went to college and, yes, I sort of dreaded coming home sometimes. But it was only because I couldn't stand to come to a house that just wasn't the same. Now matter Jacob's own personal level of warmth and happiness, the house dimmed and became colder in my eyes with each passing vacation.
And like I said, his little dorky friends aren't little anymore – though I think they'll always be dorks. Quil, Embry, some older boys and Sam Uley – whom I graduated with – are around the house all the time. And they all share these same traits. They're big and they just look so angry all the time – despite their constant jokes. Not this raging and throwing things kind of anger. A bitter, sad, resentful anger. Like they're all resigned. They stay together – even outside the house they all go everywhere together.
Sam seems to be the ring-leader, though what he wants with such young kids is strange to me. Sam's at least twenty or twenty one. I don't understand how he spends so much time with my younger brother. The whole group of them spans the ages. Jake and his friends seem to be youngest. I met a boy Jared who's eighteen and I've seen others with him. I don't think it's bad per se. I just think it's strange. There's more happening than meets the eye, I'm sure. Jacob won't say anything. I just hope it's nothing stupid.
But that New Year's Eve, I figured it all out and fell down the rabbit hole.
There was a bonfire down on first beach that night and yours truly was begged to come – because I happen to be a champion bonfire builder. No one else has ever really had the patience to stack the wood like I do. But if you can manage it, the fire burns tall and lasts for a long time, never collapsing on itself.
The sun was just beginning to set over the ocean and I was precariously stacking the bleached out driftwood in my prize winning pattern. A girl, Emily – Sam's girlfriend - was there. She helped me gather supplies and set everything up. The man-child crew were shoving each other into the sand and oncoming waves – in January – while Emily and I coaxed the fire to life.
I watched the sparks sizzle and snap as they crawled up the wood pile. My eyes were glued to the pyre as it grew. Emily tossed a few twigs in now and then, while Sam brought down a cooler of hotdogs and soda. I could see some of the boys run up the beach to help others that had just arrived. Jacob sat with Emily and I; and another one I'd never met joined Sam a few feet away.
"Oh, Rach," Jacob said, "this is Paul. I don't know if you've met him yet. I don't think he's been by the house. Paul, you idiot, say hi."
Paul and Sam were only about three feet away from us but obviously fully ensconced in their own near silent conversation at the time. "Wha?" Paul turned his head around with a chip halfway to his mouth. "Hi."
That was it. He just looked at me for a moment, waved at me and then kinda pushed Sam across the sand and towards the line of cars on the road. "Paul, what are you doing?"
"I need to talk to you."
To this day Paul has tried to explain to me several times what imprinting is like. He said it happens in that instant you first really make eye contact with the person. All of a sudden, you can't breathe for a moment and all the faces around you blur and fog. That one person is thrown into stark contrast; you see every beautiful detail about them. Every move of hair, twitch of a smile, movement of fingers.
And to this day I don't understand. The first time Paul sat down and tried to verbalize it, I flipped out, thinking he was seeing into every pore and imperfection on me. After disentangling me from my sweatshirt where I was hiding, he told me it wasn't like that. What I saw as oddities – scars, birthmarks, fly away hairs – he saw as parts of the greater whole. Like a painting, when examined closely it's nothing but a bunch of colored splotches - these amorphous blobs and shapes – but when viewed as the whole they become master works of art. If anything were missing it wouldn't be the same. That helped a little bit.
At the moment though, I had no idea what was going on. I honestly thought Paul was a bit slow. "OH-kay!" I said quietly as he and Sam retreated.
Emily just laughed, "Don't mind them. They're all so used to each other that girls kinda throw them for a minute."
I chuckled quietly with her. It did make sense. Jacob just stared after the two, his eyes boring into the back of their heads like he was trying to read their minds. Eventually he just shook his head and stood to help with the food. As I turned around to gather the other fire supplies that I'd brought, a large body plopped carefully in Jacob's spot. It was Paul. He just looked at me for a moment and took a deep breath. "Hi, I'm Paul. Sorry about earlier. I'm just… Okay so I don't really have an excuse. I'm just Paul."
"It's nice to meet you just Paul. I'm Rachel. It's okay. We're all a little weird sometimes." I smiled because Paul was kind of funny – I'm not going to lie, that was a super apology. I don't think it was intentional; he just seemed to not have much of a brain filter. Like he couldn't help being honest. I picked up my bag and put it in the sand before me.
"So you built this thing?" he asked. "I've only heard rumors of your fire-taming prowess."
"I did indeed," I nodded. "And I'm going to make it a little cooler."
I went to the food table and grabbed the roll of paper towels – it's not like any of these boys used them anyways. "Really?" he asked dubiously as I returned.
"Sure," I pulled out a length of paper towel. "Hold this?" I asked. He took the length and held it before him making a little dip in the middle. "Emily," I called across the fire circle. "What's your favorite color?"
"What?" she seemed to be absorbed in her own thoughts.
"What's your favorite color?" I asked again.
"Green," she said decidedly.
I reached into my bag and pulled a small canister out. I twisted the top off the jar and poured a handful of its contents into the paper towel bowl. I replaced the cap and the jar and took the paper towel sack from Paul. I bunched up the top and knotted it up, making a good, solid bundle.
The rest had now made their way down from the street. There were some boys and a few girls around the fire. I also saw some kids from Forks at the table. I could hear the tear of plastic as hotdogs were passed around. The sun was now completely gone from the sky, leaving nothing but inky blue and speckled white stars.
I tossed the little package into the fire and a shock of bright vibrate green flooded the bonfire, momentarily replacing the orange warmth with its eerie, aquatic glow as it cast shadows on the faces close by. I watched Paul's eyes widen infinitesimally and then his head cock to the side. He looked over at me, "Very nice."
"Thank you," I responded, "it happens when you're a science geek."
A series of hotdogs was passed down towards me followed by a half empty six pack of Pepsi. I watched Leah Clearwater and Embry argue with each other and the radio before it finally crackled to life. I sat on the sand and leaned against the log behind me. I heard Paul slump down beside me a moment later.
"I've also heard rumors of your cooking skills," he told me, "and if you don't move that thing it's definitely going to burst into flame." He pointed towards my hotdog.
I know other people perceive it as being rude but Paul is completely honest – no matter the situation. I don't deny there are many instances where that is not ideal. But I swear he can't help himself. I know he upsets other people sometimes. Jared insists that I really have no idea because Paul thinks light shines from my every cell tissue, so I never get the full effect. But I beg to differ.
The thing about imprinting is that it's absolute. Not perfect. Paul may see me in whatever way he does but that doesn't alter my own vision of him. We've had a few screaming matches over his insensitive remarks to other people. I love him, I truly do, but I'm also trying desperately to improve his social skills.
As far as I see it, this whole imprint thing is as much biological as it is emotional. Yeah, Paul's genes picked me because we'd make good wolf-babies, but his heart certainly had some say too. And sometimes I use that to my advantage. Paul's not always willing to see reason.
You see, Sam is his Alpha and has ultimate control over what he does, but the amount of influence I hold over that man is inconceivable. We argue, we yell, I throw things at him and he just takes it all. But he hates arguing with me, absolutely loathes it. He's more inclined to want to fix things with me. If he is mad at Jared, Colin, Brady or even occasionally Sam it just comes to some kind of ridiculous man-child throw down. At that point in time all Paul wants is to beat the crap out of someone. Logic is not at the top of his priority list.
I love him. But he's an idiot.
If it's me he has an issue with, he just storms around all red and huffy for a bit before he sits down, holding his head in his hands. I just stare at him across the room, sitting in my hip with – what he calls – my "I'm waiting" face. He digs his thumbs into his temples, leans back in the chair and the anger is gone. The hard, creased exterior of his face, the heat in his eyes all dies down and he's ready to talk about it.
It's a process. That's how it happens every time. Sometimes he doesn't always seem to realize what he says affects people the way it does. I don't believe he does it out of any malice or ill-intent, he just doesn't understand that not everyone wants or needs blunt honesty all the time. He's not just this ogre with some walnut sized brain, there's a lot more there.
Paul likes it when people are honest with him. He doesn't like anything sugarcoated, which I can tell you was strange getting used to.
I ate my crispy hotdog – just the way I liked it – sans the fiery conflagration and watched as people began to disperse around the beach. A few of the boys were actually deranged enough to want to surf. In La Push. In January. I don't deny the waves looked amazing, but they'd all be hypothermic by the end. Sam and Emily were sitting on the other side of the fire talking quietly and there were some Forks kids on the rocks behind us. My legs began to cramp up from sitting still for so long. I got up and stretched, making my way towards the road, deciding I wanted to dig out another sweatshirt from the recesses of my trunk.
I walked around the craggy rocks and popped my trunk. All manner of junk was in my trunk: jumper cables, a lunch box, an umbrella, my spare tire, an empty coke bottle, a pile of used textbooks, the jack, a folding chair and an old backpack. No sweatshirt. Fantastic. I stood upright and looked around. There was a boy and girl from Forks sitting on the hood of the car down the other end of the long line of cars parked on the road. I saw down the short rocky slump that lead to the beach. Sam and Emily were the only ones at the campfire. I wondered if the others were crazy enough to go surfing as well.
I leaned back against my open truck and was trying to form an alternate plan of warmth. Being away from the campfire certainly was not helping the situation. I shivered once and ran my hands over my arms – now covered in goose bumps. That's when I saw Paul mosey up the sandy path towards my old Buick. I smiled because I was starting to like this socially awkward goofball.
His mouth smiled but his brows scrunched together when he saw another one of my compulsive shakes. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," I replied, "Just a little chilly, but this whole being-away-from-the-fire-thing isn't helping."
"Wait here," he said before jogging down the line of cars. I listened to lilting, crackling rhythm from the radio. It was still down on the beach and only served as background up here. Paul returned moments later with a dark bundle in his hands. "Here, try this."
I reached toward his extended hand, my fingers brushed against his for a moment and I found his flesh scalding. In comparison to my own frigid temperature, it almost stung. He perched next to me against my open trunk. "Thank you," I responded. I noted that this felt a tiny bit strange, but then another shiver wracked my body and I all but dove into the sweatshirt. It almost hit my knees and I had to roll up the sleeves before I could wiggle my fingers back out. I sat on the edge of my trunk next to Paul, who seriously seemed to be emanating warmth – I must've been really cold.
"Not that I take offense or anything," I began, "but why are you being so nice to me, Paul?" He'd only just met me and he seemed like a nice guy, but I don't know… it just seemed strange. The radio switched from a current song by some new female artist to an R&B track; it didn't take long for the singer's understated, yet powerful voice to reach my ears.
He nodded his head slowly for a moment before opening his mouth. He looked towards me and smiled, "I like you, Rachel."
There was nothing wrong with a sentiment of friendship but I couldn't help but feel Paul's words held a little more weight than that. There was more to it. I looked down at my fingers – flexing and bending, trying to get the blood flowing.
"Paul," I began honestly, "I think I'm a little old for you. And you're my little brother's friend."
"Well I'm not so sure why my being Jake's friend is a bad thing – apart from your ability to dig up more dirt on me. Which is minimal, I'm a fairly uninteresting person. And age is all relative. How old are you?"
"I'll be twenty one next month. You?"
"Guess," he told me.
"I don't know," I shrugged.
He let out a single quiet laugh, "You think you're too old for me but you have no idea how old I am? How does that math work out?" He looked towards me with all his teeth shining through a grin.
"Shut up," I replied shoving his shoulder. And for the first time I noticed that Paul – though not quite as crazy as his surfing friends – was sitting next to me in a t-shirt and shorts. "Aren't you cold?" I sidetracked.
He looked down at the pavement with a knowing smile, "Naw. I don't really get cold anymore."
"Why is that?" I asked. Getting cold was kind of important to homeostasis – the maintaining of an ideal body environment. When I voiced this aloud, Paul tried and failed to rein in his laughter. I pouted a bit and slid back so my butt was in my trunk and my legs hung over the edge.
"I have no idea what you just said to me," Paul hopped off his seat and turned so he could see me. "That face is priceless, but what does this have to do with my age? Are you temperature biased too?"
"No," I replied mockingly, "I don't know how old you are, Paul. But I know you're a lot younger than Sam – who is my age – and you're not a hell of a lot older than Jake – who is sixteen. I can't really venture much of a guess beyond that because you all look like you're twenty five."
"All of us?" Paul mused quietly as he leaned forward against the bumper.
"Well," I qualified, "Your ragtag group here. Sam – who is obviously the pack leader—"
"What?" Paul asked, his eyes snapping up to meet mine. I'd said something that set him off… but I filed that away for later inspection. "He's the Riff to your Jets. He's the head honcho, he's at the front of the posse during your throw down/dance off with the Sharks."
"Okay," he nodded once solemnly. "I'm going to pretend that my mother was not obsessed with musicals up through my middle school years and that I did not understand that West Side Story reference. Continue."
It was my turn to laugh. I covered my mouth with the too-long sleeves of his sweatshirt to muffle the sound. I got too much enjoyment out of that visual. Poor preteen boys being forced to watch West Side Story.
"The mutants," I began again. "Sam, you, that kid Jared, my brother and Quil and Embry. You all look like you're twenty five – even though I know for a fact that Jake, Embry and Quil are all sixteen. Sam makes a little more sense, I know he's my age. But you, you, I don't remember from high school. So you have to be closer to Jake's age."
I was quiet for a moment thinking over my next words. I didn't know how to present them without sounding crazy. But I figured I deserved one of those. After all, Paul got his during introductions. "It's weird," I began again quietly, "because it's just you guys. Your group. No other Quileute boys look that way. And I know something is up, because Jake is… different. I'm just really hoping it's not anything stupid." I said this last part with deliberate significance, because I like all these boys. I didn't want them getting themselves into trouble. Or killed.
"Yeah," Paul nodded. He hopped lithely into my trunk, sitting on the edge with his feet inside and he just looked at me. For a long time. He wasn't staring, he wasn't even looking. He was seeing. I felt embarrassed, like I was wearing something revealing because the way he looked at me just sort of made me feel like he was seeing a lot more than what was on the surface.
"Well," he continued, glancing at his feet, "It's not stupid. We can't help it."
"You mean to tell me this," I waved my hand up and down his torso, "is not your own doing?"
"Nope," he confirmed, "au naturel, baby." I listened intently and tried not to say anything that would through Paul off – like my first comment about Sam. The thing was I knew something was up. Not only with my brother but with this select group of Quileute boys.
I had no idea and Jake wouldn't say a word. He just got all panicky when I confronted him about it. He's so used to telling me everything; I won't lie when I say I tried to use that to my advantage. But he would just make up some asinine excuse to leave the room. Or the house.
It looked a lot like Paul was at least marginally more willing to talk then my brother, so I wasn't about to push him.
I was waiting for him to continue, because I really didn't know what to say. I figured if he set his own pace it would be better. Then he looked up at me, a small glint in his eye. "Would you like to dance?"