A/N: To my darling SorceressCirce, my soulmate and my partner in crime, even through all that stupid distance that separates us. (Dog hesimus, anyone?) I love you more than words can say, and I hope you had an absolutely fantastic birthday. I wish I could've been there to celebrate with you, bb! *mwah*
Many thanks to ahizelm and naelany for prereading! *smooches* Note: Please follow this link to view a family tree including the characters from this fic:
Note: Please follow this link to view a family tree including the characters from this fic:
"In My Life"
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places had their moments,
With lovers and friends I still can recall,
Some are dead and some are living,
In my life I've loved them all.
But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compared with you,
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new.
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more.
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more.
In my life I love you more.
"Jake, can you get that?" I called from my bedroom. I pulled the towel from my waist and stepped into my old cutoff shorts, struggling to maintain my balance as I did so. I wobbled and finally fell onto the bed at the same time I heard the doorbell ring again.
"Get the goddamn door, will you?" I shouted.
From the living room, I heard a loud snort and the thump of feet hitting the ground.
"Wha-? Whazzat?" he rasped, his voice deep and groggy.
I rolled off my bed, deciding to forgo the t-shirt I'd picked out in favor of greeting my boyfriend at the door half-naked. I smirked mischievously and adjusted my shorts on my hips as I walked out into the living room. I found my brother standing in front of the couch, holding one pillow in his hand while the other laid on the floor at his feet. The coffee table was crooked and angled away from him, and he pursed his lips as he blinked rapidly, glaring at me.
For once, he did not.
"Jesus, what the fuck, Embry?" he groaned, scrubbing the sleep from his eyes with his palms. "Why're you fucking screaming at me? I was dead out, man."
"That's why, jackass," I said, gesturing toward our small hallway as I stalked past him, crossing the living room. "He's probably been standing at the door for a half an hour while you enjoyed your naptime, Sleeping Beauty."
He flopped back down on the couch, cradling a pillow in his lap. "Well, why didn't you just answer it yourself? It's not like you didn't expect him. Am I the butler now? How can I help you, Master Embry?"
"I was in the shower!" I cried, turning over my shoulder to shoot him a dirty look. Jake just laughed, as he always did. About everything. All the time.
Except when you wake him up from a nap.
"Sorry, bro," he said, though the smirk on his face betrayed his false apology. "Like I told you, I was dead asleep. Didn't hear the doorbell. Besides, who has a doorbell in an apartment building, anyway? What happened to good, old-fashioned doorknockers?"
I sighed, ignoring Jake's usual rambling commentary.
I stopped in the entryway, taking hold of the doorknob. I took a deep breath, allowing the genuinely happy smile - the one that had been kept at bay by my stupid brother - to stretch across my face. I turned the knob and threw the door open.
There he was, my personal heaven.
"Hey, baby," he said, flashing me his gorgeous smile.
"Hi, Seth," I greeted him, taking his hand in mine. I pulled him close, cradling his cheek with my free hand, and I kissed him tenderly on the lips. My eyes drifted closed as he responded with a light sigh of contentment, our lips moving together in the sweet, familiar way that they so often did.
His left hand gripped my waist lightly, while his other hand trailed up my bare abs and over my chest, hooking behind my neck to deepen the kiss. I moaned into his mouth, reciprocating enthusiastically until I heard a suggestive cough from a few feet behind me, inside the apartment.
I felt Seth smile against my lips as I groaned in frustration, finally breaking our kiss. I kept Seth's body flush against mine while I turned to glare at my brother for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last five minutes. He had stepped right up next to us, pursing his lips and shaking his head in mock irritation.
"Have you started charging the neighbors for the daily show you two put on in our doorway?"
"Real funny," I mumbled.
Seth grinned at Jake. "Hey, man."
"Hey, dude. C'mon in," Jake said, clapping Seth on the back. "Sorry it took my brother here so goddamn long to answer the door. He can be so thoughtless sometimes."
Jake laughed loudly as I repeatedly shoved him back into the apartment and through the curve of our small hallway. Seth pulled the door closed and chuckled as he followed us into the expanse of the living room. Jacob collapsed in his usual spot on the couch again, though this time he made room for Seth and I to sit down next to him.
As soon as we settled in, I turned to Seth. "How was class today, baby?"
"Boring as hell," he grumbled. "At least I only have the one class on Fridays... unfortunately, it happens to be QSR."
"What's that stand for?" Jake asked, picking up the remote from the coffee table - which he had put back in its rightful position - and flipping the channel to ESPN.
"Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning," Seth answered dully. "It's exactly as exciting as it sounds."
Seth was an English Lit major at U-Dub, though he was an undergraduate student while Jacob and I were graduate students. Seth's focus was in Creative Writing, but since he was still in undergrad, he had to take the obligatory foundations courses to fulfill his curriculum's course requirements. That, unfortunately, included boring seminars like Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning, and all of those monotonous introductory classes that you could sleep through and still pass with flying colors.
"Well, at least it's over, right?" I said to him with a grin. "And the weekend can officially begin."
"Speaking of which," Seth said, turning to Jake, "what time is everyone getting here? Have you talked to any of them?"
"Talked to Jared this morning," Jake replied, his eyes still focused on the television. "He said that he and Quil were picking up Paul after he gets off work, and then they'd swing by to get Ness, too. I talked to her earlier, and she's been waiting around all day for the guys to get their asses in gear."
"It's not like they're slackers," I snorted. "They had to work today."
"Sure, sure," he replied, rolling his eyes at the foreign concept.
Quil Ateara, Jared Blake, and Paul Elliott were also of Quileute heritage, and were from La Push just like the rest of us. They had each settled in Forks after graduating college, and they all had full-time jobs in town there.
I continued to push the subject - I just couldn't help myself. "I mean, not all of us have Fridays off because we're earning our masters degree by studying to be a lumberjack..."
"Hey!" Jake said, throwing the remote down on the couch cushion and glaring at me. "My masters is in Forest Resources, asshole. I'm not going to be a fucking lumberjack."
I was in the process of earning my doctorate degree in physical therapy at the same school I attended for undergrad, which was the University of Washington. While I was in undergrad, though, our friends would visit me pretty often, especially when Jacob graduated from Lewis & Clark and joined me at U-Dub to begin his masters program - in Forest-freaking-Resources, no less - and to be closer to me.
Jake swatted at me, and I laughed. "I'm going to start calling you LumberJake."
Jake grabbed me in a tight headlock and wrestled me off the couch. Seth was laughing his ass off in his comfortable spot on the couch, while I was busy being pinned under my brother's six-foot-five-inch frame.
"Get. Off. Me!" I demanded, finding it even harder to breathe now that I had reluctantly joined in on Seth's laughter. Jake pressed my face into the carpet as he tried his damnedest not to laugh, too.
"Take it back!" he shouted, squeezing my ribs with the arm that he'd wrapped around my midsection.
"You two are such children," Seth snickered under his breath. He continued to watch us in amusement as Jake and I rolled around the living room, throwing hapazard punches and elbows at each other while I remained in his headlock.
"Just give up, little brother," Jake taunted. "You know I always win."
"I'm almost as tall as you," I reminded him, grinning in satisfaction when my elbow connected with his ribs. "And nobody ever believes you're older than me anyway."
A deep, familiar voice spoke then, coming from the entryway. "That's very true."
Jake and I paused our wrestling match to glance up at our cousin, to whom the familiar voice belonged.
"Oh, hey, Sam."
"Hi, guys," he said, standing tall over Jake and I, as we were still a mess of tangled limbs on the floor. "Some things really don't change, huh?"
"Nope," I agreed. My fist connected with Jacob's ribs one final time, causing him to grunt and loosen his hold on me. I sprang lithely to my feet, aiming a light kick in his direction before trotting over to the couch and sitting down next to Seth, who placed a hand on my knee and grinned at me, almost patronizingly.
I smiled back and offered him a shrug of indifference in return. "Jake started it."
Sam reached down to the ground and grasped Jacob's hand, easily yanking him off the floor. He patted him on the back and the two of them walked over to us. Sam collapsed onto the couch next to Seth, where Jake had been sitting before our little wrestling match. Meanwhile, Jake had sprawled out on the ground again, leaning back against the couch for support.
He craned his neck to look at Sam. "Where's the wifey?"
"Grocery shopping," Sam answered with a sigh. "You know Emily - she's gotta be prepared with enough food for everyone this weekend. Her shopping list was practically a mile long."
Emily and Sam were married, and they rented the apartment right next door to Jake and me. As a result, Emily often cooked dinner for all four of us, something Jake and I always appreciated. The only person I knew who could cook better than Emily was my mother, Sarah, who was three hours away, in La Push. Distance like that is not exactly convenient when dinner time rolls around.
"Claire said that Emily was on her way over when I left the apartment, actually," Seth added. "She and I haven't been grocery shopping in two weeks, so Emily said she'd pick Claire up so that she could get some shopping of her own done."
Seth, Emily, and Claire were cousins, and they had all grown up with us in La Push. Emily was two years younger than Sam, while Claire and Seth were the same age. They lived together in an apartment across town.
"Yeah, I noticed," I grumbled, nudging him with my elbow playfully. "When I stayed over on Wednesday and went to grab a Coke from the fridge in the middle of the night, the only things I found in there were a half a case of beer and some ketchup."
Seth chuckled. "There was some cheese in the drawer, if you'd stopped to look hard enough."
"Wow," Jake breathed, in mock amazement. "Ketchup-covered cheese slices, washed down with an ice-cold Budweiser or two. Sounds like the breakfast of champions, man."
"Actually, it's Coors Light, smartass," Seth replied, sticking his tongue out at Jake.
Sam, as always, ignored our banter. "Either way, I guarantee it's going to be the longest shopping trip in the history of the world. It's probably good that the guys aren't arriving until later, because Emily's going to be frantically running around the kitchen in preparation."
"I'm really excited for everyone to get here," I said. "We haven't had a real reunion in... God, how long has it been?"
"Probably since we were back on the res," Seth supplied.
"Yeah, Old Man," I teased, reaching over Seth to swat at Sam. At 28, he and Paul were the oldest in our group. "You graduated before Seth and Claire even reached high school age. Luckily, QTS is one measly little building with every grade in it, or who knows if we'd all have ended up friends?"
"You know we would have," Sam said. "We're all connected in some way, whether it's actually by blood, like us," he said, gesturing to Jake and me, "or through our parents. I mean, Ness found us, and she's not even Quileute. That was just because Charlie has been friends with your dad for so long."
It was true - Charlie was a lifelong friend of mine and Jacob's father, Billy. It had been five years since Renesmee first came to stay with her Uncle Charlie in Forks for the summer, but Jake had fallen for her the instant he met her and, miraculously for Jacob, the feelings were mutual. She even chose to enroll in college at Lewis & Clark in Portland because Jake was already studying there when they met. He proposed to her on their fourth anniversary, just last summer, and she'd said yes.
"She was really the only outsider, and she still fit in with us perfectly," Seth said. "We are all really lucky." He pondered this for another moment or two, his brow furrowing in thought. "Seriously, guys... the last time we were all in the same place at the same time was when we were in La Push."
"That's crazy," Jake breathed. "Things were so different back then."
And as I thought back on the group's collective history, I realized that I actually had to agree with my brother. Yes, things were very different back then - truer words had never been spoken.
With the exception of Ness, we were all from La Push, the Quileute reservation located on the Olympic Peninsula. Despite the fact that Sam was our cousin, Jacob and I always thought of him as an older brother, since we had such a close-knit family to begin with.
My father was a tribal elder, and our family was good friends with Harry Clearwater - who was another tribal elder - and his family. Seth was Harry and Sue's son, and Seth had a sister named Leah, who was Jake's age and had attended NYU. Growing up, their extended family was around a lot, too - Emily, Seth and Leah's cousin, was an only child who was a year older than Jacob. Claire's sister, Kim, was much younger than all of us - she had just started high school this past year. Claire moved to Seattle after high school, and she and Seth found the apartment downtown shortly thereafter.
Quil, Jared, and Paul weren't connected by blood relation to each other or to the rest of us. Quil's grandfather, his legal guardian, was the third elder of our tribe, so he was always around while we were growing up. Paul had lived nextdoor to Sam, and since they were the same age, they hit it off right away. Jared was a family friend of Paul's, so he fit into the gang naturally, too.
Even though our group was scattered throughout different grades at Quileute Tribal School, the time we spent together outside of QTS helped solidify our friendship. Thankfully, our friendships remained in tact throughout the years, even when we got older and could only connect through phone calls and the occasional visit to and from our respective colleges.
During my junior year of undergrad, I came out to Jacob, not only because he was my brother, but because he was my closest friend. I had known I was gay since grade school, but I was really nervous to come out to our family and friends. Jacob helped me through all of that, and gradually I opened up to our parents, then Sam, and eventually to the rest of our friends, who, of course, handled it with the kind of grace I knew they possessed, even if they didn't choose to display it often.
Quil had been openly gay since high school, and I spent a lot of time with him right after I came out simply because he understood my thoughts, my fears, my feelings... he understood everything perfectly. He'd even had a few boyfriends throughout the years, but no one he deemed serious enough to meet any of us. I knew that he and I were growing closer because of all the time we spent together, and I also knew that we weren't becoming closer solely because of our shared... interests. By the time I admitted to myself that I was falling for Quil Ateara, one of my oldest and best friends, he found himself confessing his feelings for me, as well. Our relationship continued down the inevitable path it was on, blossoming into a relationship that both of us were instantly and entirely committed to.
"Hey, Em," Jake said, snapping me out of my thoughts, "Have you talked to Quil today? I tried calling him earlier, but he didn't answer."
"You have to catch him during a planning period, or he can't answer," I reminded him, for probably the eighteenth time that week. Quil was a seventh-grade science teacher at Forks Middle School, and couldn't exactly answer his cell phone while he was in the middle of a lesson. "But, no, I haven't talked to him today."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Seth bite his lip. It was something I knew Sam or Jake wouldn't notice, and if they had, they wouldn't think anything of it. I, on the other hand, knew Seth better than anyone else in the world. We had only been together for four months, but I had essentially known him his whole life. I hadn't honestly been surprised when he came out to us two years ago, though I could tell by the way he cringed a little that he had expected all of us to be shocked when he said the words, "I'm gay." The only people who had known before us were Leah and Claire, and he'd said that when he saw that the rest of our friends had reacted so positively toward Quil and me coming out, it gave him the courage to do it himself, even if it did take him a bit longer to build up the nerve to actually do it.
Seth was generally a very quiet person, except around our group, when he was relaxed and could be himself. But when he chewed on his lower lip, like he had just been doing, it always meant that he was worried, or that he was over-thinking something that didn't demand such serious attention.
Of course, I knew what he was mulling over in that pretty head of his. He was worrying that Quil's visit might spark old feelings between us, and that I'd dump Seth without warning and return to Quil.
No, I wasn't a mind-reader. I just knew my boyfriend very, very well.
I placed a hand on his leg, rubbing soothing circles with my thumb. Within seconds, I felt his muscles relax, and he released his lip from between his teeth. I smiled faintly to myself.
The four of us lounged in the living room for a few more hours, watching television and enjoying random conversation. Eventually, Jake's head lolled back on the couch cushion next to my leg, his mouth hanging open and allowing a light snore to pass through his lips. I shook my head at him - Jacob could fall asleep anytime, anywhere.
Sam chuckled. "Even though things are really exciting around here, I should probably get going. I promised Em I'd clean the kitchen before she and Claire get back with all that food. I'll see you guys for dinner later."
Seth and I said our goodbyes to Sam as he walked out the door, closing it behind him. At the sound of the wooden door hitting its frame, Jake snorted, stirring in his sleep. When he dozed off again, his snoring became much louder than before.
"Even in sleep, he's a pain in the ass," I mumbled, turning to Seth. "Do you want to go hang out in my room to escape the beast's incessant gurgling?"
"Sounds like a good plan." He nudged my brother with his foot for good measure as we stood up, stepping over Jacob and turning the corner into my room.
Seth shut the door and sat down on my bed while I strode over to my desk and flipped on the radio to my favorite oldies station. I sat down next to him as the distinct voice of John Lennon softly filled the room, crooning one of my favorite songs: "Love."
I took his hand in mine, and he smiled delicately at the simple gesture. "Hi," I said cheerfully, grinning from ear to ear.
He laughed and squeezed my fingers. "Hi, baby."
"I'm glad we can finally get some alone time," I said honestly. "Jake's apparent narcolepsy has its benefits, don't you think?"
"Yes," he agreed, still smiling. "I'm definitely with you on that."
"Good." I nodded once. Now, it was my turn to nervously bite my lip. "Can I ask you something, Seth?"
I took a deep breath. "Are you... are you okay, baby? I noticed you were a little tense earlier, and I just wanted to see if anything was bothering you."
Of course something was bothering him, and, yes, I knew what that "something" was. But I wanted to give him the chance to discuss it, if that would make him feel better. Seth occasionally needed some gentle prodding when it came to talking about things like this, or else he would keep it bottled up inside. I was usually the one called upon to get him talking, to coax it out of him, even before we'd started dating.
His brow furrowed and he broke my gaze, instead looking down at our hands. "I... I mean, it's really nothing to worry about. Seriously."
"Well, then why are you clearly worrying, love?" I asked, cupping his chin with my free hand and lifting his head so that our eyes met again.
He sighed. "It's silly. I don't know why I'm dwelling on it like I am."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
He conceded easily, which told me that this was bothering him more that I had realized. "I... well, yeah, I guess I should."
I gave his hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it and moving sideways on the bed, toward the wall. I leaned against it and patted the space in front of me invitingly. He obliged, moving to face me once again.
"Okay, well... You know what were talking about earlier? How all of us haven't all been together in years?"
I nodded, and he continued.
"I was just... well, I was thinking... what if, when you and Quil see each other..." He winced as he trailed off, leaving the end of the sentence open for my interpretation. He knew I would be able to follow his train of thought, just like I always could.
He and I had discussed Quil and my relationship prior to this. It wasn't exactly an in-depth discussion, though, because I really didn't see a need to go into detail when Seth had been around throughout our entire relationship. He had seen how things had played out, from beginning to end.
Quil and I had broken up because we had both gone to separate universities after high school, and the distance was too much of a strain on our relationship. We had reached the decision to end things amicably, and there was no bad blood - we slipped very easily back into friendship, which, to me, indicated that we were always meant to be friends in the first place.
When I thought about all of that, though, I realized that this was probably a reason he was so concerned, because he had seen Quil and I together. In retrospect, I knew I should have brought it up sooner, and I felt absolutely awful that his worry had clouded his excitement of the guys' visit.
"Seth," I breathed, becoming serious as I looked deep into his eyes. "Baby, I promise you have absolutely nothing to worry about. When Quil and I broke up, it was a very good-natured sort of situation... you know this. And he and I aren't meant to be together. Sure, we remained closer than most exes do, but that's only because we were such good friends to begin with. I don't feel that way about him anymore, not even a little bit. We're just good friends."
Seth was a very honest, trusting person, so when I studied his features, watching as the tense lines in his face softened and a smile loosened the corners of his mouth, I knew my words had genuinely made him feel better.
I leaned in tentatively, pressing my lips to his. I felt him smile before he responded, kissing me back tenderly. I skimmed one hand up his arm, over his shoulder and into his hair, while the other snaked around his waist, pulling him closer to me. When his tongue broke through his parted lips, gliding along the length of my mouth, I hummed lightly and happily granted his silent request.
I held onto him, never unlocking our lips as I softly pushed us down onto the bed. Our tongues moved perfectly together while I settled on top of him, propping an elbow up next to his head in order to support my weight. His legs fell to either side of my body while his hands ran up the length of my torso, stopping to graze the deep grooves along my stomach and the hard expanse of my chest. He groaned appreciatively, and I bucked my hips against his with a breathless chuckle. He responded by deepening our kiss and flexing his fingers while they traveled back down my body, settling low on my waist.
I released his mouth and trailed kisses down his neck and under his chin, right where I knew he liked it. I sucked gently on his collar bone before licking and nipping my way back up to his mouth, pausing only to gasp when his hands dipped below the waistline on the back of my shorts. He gripped my ass, moving my hips and urging me on, and I could feel him growing harder against my leg.
"Mmm. Commando, baby?" he asked, a playful smirk pulling one corner of his lips upward. "Did you expect this to happen?"
Fuck, I love it when he lets go like this.
My voice was raspy as I stuttered breathlessly through my response. "I- oh, fuck... I sure as shit hoped it would."
I moved my hips harder against his, shifting above him at the same time so I could feel every inch of his hard length against mine. As I settled into the new position, I slipped my hand up his shirt, enjoying the smooth feel of his chest under the roughness of my fingertips. I wanted his skin against mine so badly that I briefly thought of ripping his shirt right off.
I rolled us onto our sides so that my back faced the wall. "I want these off," I demanded, hooking my thumbs around the elastic waistband of his shorts. I tugged lightly, and the stretchy material gave in easily, sliding lower on his hips. My other hand threaded itself into his inky black hair, my fingers tightening when his hands slid from my ass to my waist, yet still remained beneath the fabric of my shorts.
His fingers moved slowly, torturously, toward the place I wanted them the most. He stopped to press his thumbs into my pelvic bone, which was my favorite spot for him to lick, to touch, to kiss... hell, anything. I gasped into his mouth and he lightly huffed a laugh at my desperation.
"Something you want, Em?" he asked innocently.
"Baby, you know what I want," I growled, nipping at his earlobe.
Just as I made the decision to use my own hand to put hiswhere I wanted it, the bedroom door flew open and the overly-cheerful voice of Renesmee Cullen rang throughout the room.
"Hey, guys! Jakey said you were- GAH!" she squealed, scrambling to cover her eyes with her hands. "Oh my God, I'm SO SORRY. Oh my God!"
"Renesmee!" I shouted in surprise, yanking my shorts back into place at the same time Seth withdrew his hands from inside them. "Haven't you ever heard of knocking?"
Seth and I leapt off the bed, frantically readjusting our clothes and exchanging a look that said we really freaking hoped she hadn't seen anything.
"I'm SO sorry!" she repeated in the same high-pitched voice. Her hands still covered her face. "Jake said you guys were just watching TV in here!"
"I don't even have a TV in here," I groaned, and I heard Jacob's loud laughter booming from the living room. "Asshole!" I shouted out the doorway, which only made him laugh harder.
"Oh, I'm so sorry..." she mumbled again, turning to walk back into the living room. I grabbed a t-shirt from a pile of clean clothes on my floor and pulled it over my head, fidgeting with it in irritation.
We were supposed to be taking clothes off, not putting them on.
I leaned over to give my boyfriend a quick, chaste kiss, smiling back at him when he sighed heavily.
"Looks like everyone's here," I said.
He sighed again. "We should probably go say hi, huh?"
I nodded, taking his hand as we walked into the living room.
Ness rounded the corner into the living room a few steps in front of us, keeping her hands over her eyes until she bumped into the arm of the couch. When she removed them, she blinked hard, twice, and I could see her searching the suddenly crowded space of our apartment for her fiancé.
She was nearly a foot and a half shorter than he was, but she still marched right up to him and gave him a surprisingly strong shove into the wall.
"Ouch, Nessie," he mocked. His laughter continued, even though he flinched slightly as her tiny fists pummeled his torso.
"That. Was. Not! Nice. Jacob. Michael!" Each word was punctuated with a forceful punch. Her long brown curls bounced around as she put all of her effort into assaulting my brother. "Emmy doesn't even have a television in there, you bastard."
He wrapped his arms around her, crushing her small body against his and effectively putting an end to her abuse.
I took that opportunity to walk straight up to him and kick him in the shin.
"OW!" he howled, letting go of Ness and clutching at his leg. "You son of a bitch!"
I smirked at him. "Deserved it."
Next to me, Seth grinned broadly at my brother, who was rubbing his shin through his sweatpants and mumbling curses.
"You shouldn't speak like that in front of a lady," he chided, wagging his finger at Jake. Ness smiled in agreement.
"Shut up, Seth," Jake mumbled. He looked down at Renesmee. "And what are you nodding for? You have a dirtier mouth than I do."
She shrugged and threw her arms around his waist again. All was forgotten in the midst of their reunion - they hadn't seen each other in almost a month.
I turned away from them to face the rest of the guys. Jared, who was lugging an armful of duffel bags near our kitchen table, dropped everything and walked over to Seth and me, extending his arms for a hug.
I smiled. It was always nice to see Jared.
"Hey, guys!" he said, first pulling me, and then Seth, into a bone-crushing embrace. "How the hell have you been?"
The three of us exchanged hellos with Jared and then Paul, who was already raiding our kitchen cupboards for a snack.
"Jesus, Paul, hungry much?" Seth asked, walking into the kitchen and clapping Paul on the back. "Doesn't being the super-sweet manager of First Federal Bank get you perks like, say, a fucking lunch hour?"
"I worked through my lunch hour today so that we could leave early to come see you assholes," Paul replied, stopping briefly to ruffle Seth's hair in greeting. He reached back into the cupboard, continuing to rifle through our food.
"Speaking of perks," I said, "since you are the boss, shouldn't you be able to leave whenever you want anyway?"
Paul pulled out a box of Gushers and ripped open a packet. He tilted his head back and poured the contents into his mouth, smiling at Seth and I to display the green goo that had previously resided inside the small gummy snacks.
We looked at him disgustedly and took an automatic step backward to distance ourselves from our friend's lovely eating habits. His voice was muffled through the abundance of Gushers in his mouth. "I work in Forks, dumbass," he pointed out. "I'm the boss of, like, six people. They need me around. Fuckin' place falls apart without me."
I heard Quil's voice from behind us. "That's real cute, Paul."
Paul looked past us, shrugging nonchalantly at him. Seth and I turned around to see Quil leaning against the doorway of the kitchen with his arms crossed, shaking his head in amusement.
"Only Jared, Ness and I drove together," he said seriously. "Paul rode the short bus here."
I grinned. "I figured as much."
Quil stepped closer, moving to hug me. I embraced him, happy to see my old friend again. Paul shoved me lightly as he walked past us. Quil let go of me, wrapping his arms around Seth and lifting him a few inches off the floor.
"Good God, Quil," Seth coughed, "haven't you heard that steroids are illegal?"
I nodded in agreement, taking a step back to size Quil up. "You have gotten a lot bigger since the last time we saw you, dude."
Quil set Seth back down on the floor, smiling widely. "You build a lot of muscle when you're tossing unruly middle schoolers around the hallways all day."
Seth and I chuckled, turning to follow Quil in joining everyone else in the living room. I laced my fingers through Seth's and squeezed his hand lightly, chancing a look in his direction. He was smiling ear-to-ear, and when he glanced back at me, I could tell that his happiness was genuine. My concern that he'd forget the talk we'd had once Quil actually arrived was, thankfully, abated.
Our living room was a complete disaster, piled high with duffel bags and random sports equipment. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought the guys were simply moving in. When I suggested as much, I earned a quick scoff from Paul.
"Like we'd move here when we already have such thrilling lives in good ol' Forks."
"Well, we're all here," I pointed out, gesturing to Jacob, Seth and myself, "which I'd like to think tips the scale in Seattle's direction."
Paul rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes. It's definitely you assholes that make Seattle so much better than Forks. Has nothing to do with the fact that there's an opportunity to have a social life or that there's likely more than a handful of restaurants to eat at here."
"You would bring up food, fat ass."
"Bite me, Jake."
"Speaking of food," Ness said, checking her watch, "shouldn't we head over to Sam and Emily's soon? Claire called me about a half an hour ago and said that she and Em were already cooking."
"Yeah, let's get going," Seth said. "Claire-bear would probably be less than pleased if we all showed up late. Meanwhile, Em probably wouldn't even give it a second thought."
"I've never been late for a meal, and I'm not about to start now," Quil said. "I haven't had Emily's cooking in years. Drop your shit on the floor and let's go."
Piles of blankets and giant Adidas bags were kicked to the side as we struggled to make a path to the door. Comments about the guys packing like girls were tossed around, and the standard insult-laden responses were thrown back.
Sam had been right, as usual – some things never change.
Walking into Emily and Sam's apartment was always an assault on the senses, in the best way possible – the place was always immaculate and smelling like something good, most times the food that was cooking or the innumerable candles Emily had placed "strategically," as she assured me, throughout the space. This time was no different, except Emily and Claire were moving around the dining room table, their movements as dissimilar as their outward appearances – Emily's long, dark hair was pulled up in a ponytail, which was swinging every which way as she flitted around the table, fixing the place settings just so. Claire, who had fair skin and light blue eyes, was easily side-stepping Emily's spastic gestures while she finished carefully smoothing the tablecloth and putting the last napkin in place. Just as she brushed her blonde bob away from her face and gave a satisfied sigh, she noticed us standing in the doorway.
"My boys are here!" she shrieked, her face lighting up as she launched herself into Quil's awaiting arms.
"Hi, Claire-bear!" he said, his voice muffled in the crook of her neck. He swung her tiny frame around and then passed her to Paul, who was standing with his arms extended in their direction. Claire's feet never even touched the ground as she fell from one embrace into the next.
"It's really great to see you, C," Jared said one it was his turn to hug her. His arms lingered around her waist for just a moment longer than Paul's, or even Quil's.
I pretended not to notice when Claire's cheeks flared bright red. "Ahh, yeah. You, too."
Jared walked towards Emily with a little more bounce in his step. Quil furrowed his brows and Seth stifled a chuckle, which prompted me to elbow him in the ribs playfully. Claire shot her cousin a glare and spun on her heel to head back into the kitchen.
Emily had stopped obsessing over the table settings long enough to receive hugs and kisses from all. Claire said hello to everyone else, and then immediately went back to Quil, clinging to his arm and smiling big. He grinned back and squeezed her again. Claire and Quil were always very close; since she was very young, he had acted like the big brother she never had. It was nice to see them together again.
"Need any help, Em?" I asked her once the greetings settled down a bit.
She smiled up at me. "No, thanks, sweetie. I think Claire and I got everything sorted out."
Sam's voice could be heard from the kitchen, over the running water and clanking dishes. "Hey, I helped, too!"
We all laughed as he stepped into view, cursing and wiping his soapy hands on the apron he was wearing.
"Wow, dude," Paul whistled. "Looking good. So is Sam short for Samantha?"
"Real funny, dickhead."
Emily cut in before they could really get going. Nobody bickered like Sam and Paul... well, nobody but Jake and me.
"Quit it, you two," she chided. She raised her hand up to Sam's cheek and patted it delicately. "Sam is a wonderful husband, that's all."
"You mean wife?" Jared muttered, trying – and failing – to contain his laughter.
Sam picked up the nearest dishtowel and lobbed it at Jared. We all laughed even harder when the towel fell about a foot short.
"What smells so delicious, Em?" Quil asked, schooling his laughter and wiping the tears from his cheeks.
"Chicken Parmesan with my homemade marinara, and I also made that ciabatta garlic bread that you guys like."
Murmured sounds of happiness filled the space as we shuffled around the dining room table and sat down. Emily and Claire disappeared into the kitchen, and moments later reappeared carrying large dishes that were placed on the cooling trays in the middle of the table.
As we waited in uncharacteristic silence, I glanced across the table to see that Paul was staring longingly at the humungous bowl of spaghetti that had just been placed in front of him by Claire. He was biting his lip, barely able to contain his excitement.
"Did the two boxes of Gushers at Em and Jake's not fill you up, Paul?" Seth teased from his seat beside me. Apparently I wasn't the only one who'd noticed Paul's poorly-contained anticipation.
"I've missed Emily's cooking," Paul admitted. "It's the best."
"I made the garlic bread," Claire offered softly as she took a seat between Quil and Jared.
"And it looks delicious, as always, sweetheart," Quil assured her. Claire smiled.
"Sure does, Claire-bear," Jared agreed. Then he lowered his voice. "Maybe I can sneak a piece while Emily–"
His hand was slapped just as he began reaching for the plate of bread – Emily had appeared right behind him just in time.
"Damnit," he muttered, and we all laughed.
"Don't even think about it, Jared William," she scolded, but with a smile on her face. "You know the rules."
Renesmee chimed in. "Nobody eats until everyone is at the table," she said dutifully.
"Damn straight," Emily replied as she sat down beside me. "We can wait for Sam. Plus, he's bringing more of the bread out. I know how much you guys love that stuff."
Claire beamed with pride, because she knew it was true.
Once Sam sat down, he said grace and we all dug in rather hastily. There is something to be said about the appetites of seven men in their 20s, but the girls were always impressive as well. We didn't hang around the only-salad-for-me types, that's for sure.
Throughout the meal, I noticed many of my friends' little idiosyncrasies that I hadn't realized I missed so much. Jared and Paul were going back and forth, discussing the goings-on back in Forks, and gesturing wildly while doing so, like they always did. Quil served Claire before he served himself, and even Jacob and Renesmee were back to their old selves, finishing each other's sentences and laughing loudly at each other's jokes. And I knew that Seth was observing all of this as well, because we were the only ones who were quiet through most of dinner. Every once in a while, he would reach over and pat my leg gently, which was a simple gesture that always made me smile.
Once we were finished, we all helped Sam clear the table while Emily and Claire stayed right where they were, lounging back in their chairs and happily letting us pitch in after all of their hard work. Renesmee stayed with them, too, because apparently she and Claire had a lot to catch up on – something about fashion week was mentioned, which promptly cleared the table of all testosterone. I suspected that was their plan all along, and it definitely worked.
I also noticed that Jared seemed to lag behind a bit, glancing first at the girls, then at the kitchen, and then back again. When I met his gaze, I quirked an eyebrow at him in question.
"Uh, since I already showered before we left home, I'm gonna stay here and help do the dishes while you guys go get ready," he proclaimed, louder than necessary. Everyone dropped what they were doing – in Paul's case, he literally dropped the plastic serving spoon he was holding – and we turned to look at Jared.
"What?" he said grumpily. "I am being helpful. You should try it sometime, assholes."
He glanced almost unwillingly at Claire, who caught his eye and immediately turned red again. She smoothed her hair back from her face and proceeded to talk to Renesmee about someone by the name of Gabbana, but even as Ness talked, every few seconds Claire's eyes flitted back to the kitchen doorway that Jared had entered.
Seth rolled his eyes and took my hand. "Well, you want to head back so we can all start getting ready?"
"Hell yes," Paul answered for me, as he appeared next to us. "I hear this Neighbours nightclub that you mentioned is supposed to be a really good time."
I nodded. "Yeah, we like it a lot. It's only a few blocks from here, too, so that's definitely a good thing."
"Eliminated the need for a cab ride… and a designated driver," Jake added.
"All good things," I agreed. "Let's go back to our place and get a move on."
Seth, Jake, Paul, Quil and I went back to our apartment while Jared stayed with Sam and the girls to continue "being helpful" – a thought that made us all laugh as the guys unpacked their bags in the living room.
"You see how Jared was making eyes at your cousin, dude?" Jacob said, nudging Seth.
"Yeah, that's a new development," Quil said with a chuckle. "I hope she knows what she's getting herself into."
"Actually, I think Jared finally believes in monogamy in his old age," I said.
"Old age? The dude's 26," Quil countered.
"Yeah, but I think he left his womanizing days behind," Jake said pensively. "That might have just been a phase in college."
"It was a hell of a phase," Paul murmured.
"I'm actually not all that surprised," Seth said. We all turned to look at him in disbelief, so he sighed and continued. "Claire sits in her room on the phone for hours at a time, almost every single day, and I never knew who she was talking to. But she was more excited than I expected her to be about you guys visiting, and now I know why."
"Ah, the pieces of the puzzle come together," Jake mused, narrowing his eyes and tapping his finger on his chin like he was deep in thought.
I aimed an elbow at his stomach as I walked past him, towards the couch. "Well, now that the mystery's solved, you fools can take turns in the shower while I lounge on the couch with my boyfriend." I glanced over my shoulder at Seth, who waggled his eyebrows playfully and followed.
"Aw, Jesus," Jake groaned. "Everyone better hurry the fuck up and shower already, or we will never convince these two lazy bastards to get off the couch."
Seth and I laughed as we settled into the couch cushions, and I snuggled against him as I said, "You got that right."
That kicked their asses into high gear, and everyone was ready in record timing. I stepped into my room to change, and when I came out moments later, everyone, including Emily, Sam, Jared, and the girls, was standing in the living room.
"Ready?" Jared asked me.
As we stepped into the hallway, Paul tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to face him, and he said, in a low voice, "Hey, uh, would it be okay if I brought a girl back to your place later? You know, we'd stay on the couch–"
"Oh, hellno," was Jacob's answer. I hadn't noticed him to my left, and apparently Paul hadn't either.
He cursed. "Aw, c'mon man! What if I meet some really hot chick and I wanna–"
"Then do it at her place, dude," Jake answered with a grimace. "I don't want that shit going down on my couch."
"Did you ever consider that I'd asked Embry, and not you, for a reason, Jake?"
"Of course I considered it. I just didn't give a shit either way."
Paul cursed under his breath again, and I had to laugh a little. "It's not like you were going to get any other answer from me, dude."
The walk to the bar took about 10 minutes, which was less than the amount of time it took to get a drink at Neighbours once we arrived. The club was packed with people of all ages and races, and even though Neighbours was technically known as a gay club, many straight people still came to take advantage of the huge dance floor that the club had installed a few years back.
Everyone found a table near the bar area while Seth and I took one for the team and walked up to the bar prepared to order, Quil came up behind us with a proposition.
"Ten bucks says Paul will find a chick within the next 4 minutes."
"I'm not taking that bet. I'd bet the same damn thing," I laughed.
Seth checked his watch and then extended his hand to Quil.
"You're on. I bet it takes him 8 minutes." They shook on it.
There was laughter and mocking ooh's and ahh's exchanged, and the bartender walked over to us just as they stopped teasing each other. Quil raised his eyebrows at the bartender, who had light brown hair and a smile that could knock you dead. And he was aiming that weapon straight at Quil.
Once Quil decided he was finished being dazzled by Mr. Bartender's award-winning grin, we ordered everyone's drinks. Between the three of us, got them all back to the table without major spillage. When I looked around our area to see what everyone was up to, I wasn't at all surprised by what I saw.
Jacob and Ness were huddled in the corner to my left, giggling and poking at each other playfully, and stealing the occasional kiss. Opposite the love birds, Quil and Jared were standing with Claire, who was talking animatedly with her hands. Jared was slowly inching closer to her, looking like he was trying to pluck up the courage to put his arm around her. Emily and Sam were sitting at the table with their heads close together, probably talking softly about the problems of the universe or something equally as deep.
I was about to ask where Paul had gotten to when Seth smacked my arm.
"AHA! Hey Quil, you owe me, fucker!"
Quil spun around and spotted Paul at the same time I did. He was wrapped around a girl a few booths over, and his hand was already moving up the front of her shirt.
"Classy broad," I chuckled.
"She is perfect for our equally-classy friend," Seth pointed out. When Quil walked over to us, Seth made a scene about checking his watch and looking at Quil, then checking his watch again. "That took him exactly 7 minutes, which is closer to my guess than yours. Pay up, buddy."
Quil groaned and pulled out his wallet, muttering something about losing his touch.
For the next couple hours, we entertained ourselves with dancing and drinking, some of us more than others. For example, Jared decided to dive head-first into his rum and Coke, and therefore used the liquid courage to finally sling his arm around Claire's waist. They were propped up against the side of a booth, talking closely and smiling way too much.
Seth and I saw this just as we were returning to the table from the dance floor, and we both shook our heads.
"What are you thinking, baby?" I asked him.
"He's a good guy, I know it. I'm happy for them," he answered honestly, giving my hand a squeeze.
I grinned nodded in agreement while I looked around for the rest of our friends. Paul and his newest conquest had disappeared shortly after we discovered them in the first place, but Jake and Renesmee had also gone MIA. I figured it was safe to assume that they had headed home, which I knew was where Sam and Emily, who rarely ever stayed out late, had gone. One glance at the bar showed me that Quil was getting to know the brunette bartender better, and Jared and Claire looked very content in their happy little bubble.
I knew everyone was fine for the time being, so I turned to Seth. "Want to go home, love?"
We walked the short distance home hand-in-hand, occasionally swinging our joined fingers between us like little kids do. As we went along, in relative silence, I got to thinking about how lucky I was to have nearly everyone I love in the same city at this moment, and what was even better was that I knew everyone was happy.
Seth seemed to notice my pensive mood, but instead of saying anything, he just squeezed my hand every once in a while, as if to reassure me that he was there... and that he was not going anywhere.
When I opened the door to my apartment, the light in the living room was already on, so I knew Jake and Ness were home, and the sliver of light from underneath his bedroom door confirmed this fact. Seth and I headed into my room, and as he shut the door, I went over to my iHome, where my iPod was plugged in.
"Whatcha doing, baby?" he asked as he pulled down the sheets on the bed.
When I found the song I was looking for, I pressed pause and turned to him. "I just wanted to play a song for you, that's all."
Seth's smile stretched from ear-to-ear. "I bet I know which one."
"Am I that predictable?"
"No, you're just that adorable."
I smiled back at him before turning to the iPod and pressing the play button on the dial.
"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed..."
"Aw, I knew it," he cooed. We both sat down on the bed, and I reached for his hand, rubbing gentle circles on his palm.
I took a deep breath. "Seth, I just..."
We sat there for a few beats, while the song played in the background, and then he prompted in a whisper, "You what, baby?"
"But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compared with you..."
I took another deep breath and continued. "I just want you to know how much I love you. And that no matter what has happened in the past, or what the future may bring, I will always, always love you."
It was a few seconds before I could look over at him. Unshed tears were making his eyes sparkle, and there was a soft smile playing on his lips.
"I love you too, Embry. Always."
I leaned in and brushed my lips against his, and he responded eagerly, yet just as softly as I had, because there was a much more powerful meaning behind our simple kiss than could be put into words.
"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before,
I know I'll often stop and think about them..."
I gazed into Seth's eyes, and I knew without a doubt that he was the love of my life.
I smiled. "In my life, I love you more."