Finally. Thank you, everyone. This has been wonderful, and a lot of fun.
The weather cooperated for once. If it hadn't, our hastily dashed off diplomas would have become mulch in the usual rain but since it was dry, Paul, Jared and I displayed our brand-new high school diplomas on the main table at the bonfire. They stood in a place of honor, right next to the brownies and homemade cookies, above the soda cooler.
As the sun shot orange and red over the beach, we laughed about the classes we finished just in time to make the cutoff date. Jake, Embry, and Quil would finish after the next semester.
Sam and Jared had a handyman service and were working their way through roofing jobs that week. Paul would be joining them and would take over the heavy jobs to free Sam up to do more electrical work. A private grant had been awarded for the construction of a new activity center, and had specified that Sam's budding new company handle major contracting work. The grant had been anonymous, but the announcement had been accompanied by an envelope sealed with red wax with nothing but a phone number inside.
The Cullens had made their apology—and restitution.
A second envelope arrived the same day, addressed to me and sealed the same way. The lab report didn't mean much to me but the accompanying note in Carlisle's graceful script explained his initial results. If vampires were death, I had received an inoculation through Edward's venom. He was planning more tests, but the basic message was clear: I was going to live about twice as long as the average human. I still couldn't believe that I might get to share my life, and even grow old with, instead of before, Jake.
The light dimmed and a few people started lighting the bonfires. They were cheerful and bright by the time it was dark, lighting the way to the party for the few people who had not yet arrived. Like Leah and Drew. He held her hand like he was escorting a princess in scuffed denim. Drew shooed a kid
away from one of the few folding chairs and dusted the sand off for her, then sat on the rock next to it. They were often seen talking quietly by themselves, sometimes serious, other times with Leah's laughter when he teased. Sue watched carefully, but never interfered.
Sam watched, too. The first time he tried to join one of their conversations, right after the big fight, Leah shot him a glare so full of warning that we joked that his hair had gotten singed. Now, a few weeks later, he just kept one eye on them and the other on his sweet Emily, who tugged his arm in the direction of the bonfire and sat him down with a plate. Sam didn't see it, but Emily mouthed the words thank you to Leah as she patted Sam's back.
Seth, who had the faintest pale scar on his cheek now, took sodas to Leah and Drew and shook Drew's hand. Most of the pack made a point to greet him warmly. There weren't many who knew the secret; the imprints knew, but that just went with the territory. It was becoming clear that he loved Leah for herself, and that made him something special. The fact that Leah hadn't dropkicked him meant there was a future here, and she was going to embark on something most of them simply couldn't imagine.
I buried my toes in the cool sand and waited. My dad would be arriving soon and he said he had something special for me. Jake was driving our dads to the bonfire-informal graduation party and they were running late. That was normal, though. It was hard for my dad to get out the door on time on a good day, and if he was achier than usual, it could take much longer. My mother had come to help as soon as he returned home from rehab; they soon remembered some of the reasons why they divorced when she couldn't stand the walls around her and he found them covered in sheets of decorated tin.
I was surprised she stayed for two whole weeks. I owed Jake a batch of cookies over that bet.
The headlights made me squint as the car pulled up. I got up and clambered over the drift logs to meet them in the parking lot. The trunk opened and Jake unloaded the wheelchair and helped his dad into it. My dad slowly got out and, with his cane, walked gingerly a few paces to take the brownie I brought him.
"Hiya, kiddo. Jake's bringing more chairs."
"Good. How was therapy today?"
"Great. I have a surprise for you."
He smiled nervously. "I hope so."
Charlie leaned his cane against the car and walked carefully to the drift logs. He set a foot on top of one of the smaller ones, shifted his weight, and stepped up like it was a stair, and cautiously set his other foot on the ground on the other side.
I jumped up. "Dad, that was great!"
"I hoped you'd like it. I couldn't get to town for a real present, so we'll go to Port Angeles next week and I'll get you whatever you want."
I hugged him gently. There were still sore spots in his ribcage. "I don't want anything."
"Don't lie, Bells." Jake said. "You need a laptop."
"No one needs a laptop. I have a computer."
"You can't take it anywhere." My dad remarked. "And you'll need a case for it, too."
"If this is about helping you, Dad, then forget it. You aren't paying me for taking care of you."
He frowned. "Who said anything about paying you? You're going to need a laptop."
Jake popped his soda open. "Colleges don't use nearly as much paper anymore, and you get assignments by email now. Isn't that right, Jared?"
"Yep. The online courses are completely paperless."
"Who said anything about college?" I asked, confused. "What are you talking about?"
My dad pulled an envelope from his pocket and held it out to me, with a smile that managed to be a little sad and proud at the same time. It was from Peninsula College.
I snatched it away and ripped it open. I was accepted into a two-and-two program they had with the University of Washington. I screamed and jumped up and down.
For once, I got to know what it was like to just be an eighteen-year-old girl.
"Whoa, easy!" Jake grabbed me in a bear hug. "You did it. They only accept the best, and you did it."
We settled Billy into a spot by the fire and gave him and my dad a beer in celebration. Jake kept his arm around me as the night chill moved in. Billy took a drink and breathed in, preparing for his tale.
"The blessing of Taha Aki's magic has never left our land or our people. At many times in our history the spirit wolves have been called upon to protect the tribe."
That night, Billy told a new story, about an alliance between the Spirit Wolves and a band of peaceful Cold Ones, combining their forces against a murderous red-eyed horde. The mighty leaders of the pack fought the first wave of vicious attackers, blunting their strength and taking many injuries to make sure their Cold One partners would be able to finish the work.
"Finally, most of the enemy army was slain, there remained only their evil queen, locked in a death battle with one of the ally Cold Ones. The two were evenly matched and neither could gain advantage. It was the youngest and smallest of the pack, an unblooded boy, who saved the day.
"Although terribly wounded, the lad kept his head and remembered his duty to light the killing fires, the pyres which would put an end to the monsters so they could not rise again."
"Every word of it's true," Jake whispered softly as his dad continued. "And I promise you, the worst smell in the world is burning vampire hair." I smiled and tried not to remember what that day had been like.
Billy finished his tale to a rapt audience. "And so, the savage leader of the hostiles was thwarted by the youngest and smallest of the pack, who had never been in battle before."
I glanced over at Seth, who was pretending to be very interested in his plate, and I saw the briefest creasing of his forehead. Sam walked by to nudge him, and the frown softened into an indefinable recognition- the face of a challenge shared and overcome. They exchanged a nod and Sam walked on.
Jake's warmth seeped into my side and I grew drowsy and content. The cracks and sizzles from the fire grew louder in volume as a load of fresh wood was heaped on. The smoke rose and cut a hazy path upwards, carried inland from the sea breeze that chilled the air on this mid-summer night.
A kiss pressed to my forehead as I leaned into Jake. I looked up one more time to watch the sparks rise to dance in the column of smoke and swirl in the breeze before getting lost among the stars.
There. I fixed it. *drops the mic*
Thank you so much for reading. -sfiddy