I woke hours later in blackness. My clothes were soaked through, and it felt like I could barely move; my joints were too stiff from the cold. I pulled myself to my hands and knees and rested that way for a long time, my whole body shuddering. I realized suddenly that I had to get home as soon as possible. If I'd lain on the forest floor for much longer in weather like this, I probably wouldn't have survived the night. The cold had seeped so thoroughly into my bones that my legs shook with the effort of every step
I wasn't entirely sure what direction I'd came from, and it was too dark to look for anything familiar. I hoped that moving would at least keep me warm, and if I went the wrong way I was bound to eventually find a stream that would lead me toward the river. I walked until my legs felt numb instead of painful, until I wondered what time it was, and dug into my jeans for my phone to find it gone. Had I left it beneath the tree I'd rested against? I'd stumbled over so many roots in the dark and switched courses to find the clearest path that I wasn't sure which way I'd even come from.
Well, if I hadn't found my way back by then, I'd know around what time it was when the sun rose.
In the silence my breath was laboured and my footsteps lonely. The rain was a drizzle above my head, barely making it through the canopy of the forest. I was wet anyway, from the time spent laying on the ground. The leaves rustled, and twigs cracked beneath my feet, a steady rhythm– one, two, one, two, left, right.
I paused when the rhythm faltered despite my even steps. The trees were unmoving around me, but I could still hear crackling. My footsteps had not been so lonely as I thought. My heart began to thud in my chest and I started moving again, faster, in the direction opposite the noise I heard, when suddenly it seemed the footsteps were ahead of me after all and I had been moving toward them without realizing it. The trees rustled– and out stepped Edward.
I stilled, realizing that I was still asleep somewhere beneath that tree, probably freezing to death.
"Char? There you are, Jesus, I've been looking for you. Charlie's worried, we all are."
"I– what?" This was not a conversation Edward and I usually had in these dreams.
He grimaced and stepped closer. "Alice– saw you getting lost, so I came back to... make sure you were okay. You are, aren't you?" he asked quietly.
"I– well, no. Maybe. You're... really here..."
I reached up to wipe at my nose, runny from the cold. In the darkness, the back of my hand had a black streak on it. Red in better light, no doubt. Nose bleed. I looked up, terrified suddenly, but Edward barely seemed to notice the blood. He was directly in front of me now, expression gentle.
"Char..." he started, sounding hesitant. He grabbed my wrist, the way he'd done before he left.
"Uh– wait," I said. "Don't you think we should... talk about this?"
"Why wait?" he asked, crowding me back against a tree. "I missed you."
"Listen, I've missed you, too, and it's not that I'm against this; I just think we should– talk. You should– wait."
Edward didn't wait, but flattened his body against mine, kissing me despite my muffled protestations. He captured my jaw in his fingers, his body stronger than an iron weight holding me in place. I couldn't escape, couldn't move, couldn't even speak or choose–
I woke up with a scream caught in my throat, warm, my head cushioned on someone's knees, blinking against the dim lamp light revealing my living room. I gasped for breath.
I twisted my body sluggishly so that I could turn my head to face the person above me, realizing as I rolled that I had the heavy weight of my duvet on me. Blue eyes set into a tan, handsome face peered down at me.
I coughed. My throat was sore, and I could barely speak. I rubbed at my neck with my hand, suddenly aware of how cold I was.
"Hey, 'bout time you woke up. You had us all worried."
I started to sit up. The blanket slid down from my shoulders and I realized that I was naked underneath. Instinctively I pulled it tightly around myself.
"Don't worry," Glen said quietly. "Matt and I got your clothes off. You were soaked. But we preserved your dignity."
He smiled tightly.
"I– what time is it?" My voice sounded like it hadn't been used in months.
"Almost 1 in the morning. Matt, Ben, and I got in around 11." He frowned. "I'm sorry we didn't get here sooner... I... We got on a plane as soon as we possibly could after you called."
"After I– what? I didn't call." I tossed my legs over the sofa, resting my head in my hands. The living room was empty except for Glen and I, but I could hear several voices in the kitchen.
"You must not remember. It would have been around 4 o'clock. The doctor said you were probably pretty out of it. You nearly froze to death."
I struggled to remember calling Glen, but all I could remember was going to sleep at the roots of an old tree, and then my dream about Edward. My lungs rattled with my next breath, my heart hammering as I thought of the feeling of being crushed against the tree with no hope of moving or getting away... I squeezed my eyes shut. It was just a dream, no doubt fueled by the very reason I'd been in the woods to begin with– the documentary from class. And then, the woods being the last place I'd seen Edward... My brain was just piecing things together. He wouldn't actually do that.
(Except that he has done that.)
It didn't matter anyway. Edward was gone. It was just a stupid dream.
"How did I get back here?" I asked, still unable to remember anything beyond falling asleep.
"Uhm, some guys from the reservation nearby helped. Friends of your dad's friend, I guess? They brought you in a half hour or so after we got in... They found you lying under a tree, " he went on, his voice subdued. "You were so pale, when they brought you in..."
His voice trailed off, uncertain.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
Heavy footsteps broke into the conversation. I turned to see Matt coming down the stairs. He had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the landing as he reached the middle of the staircase.
He grinned and helped up a bundle of cloth for my inspection.
"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. Brought you some clothes. I just grabbed 'em off your bed, hope they aren't too dirty."
"Thanks, man," I answered, catching the clothing as he tossed them to me. I pulled on the sweat pants and t-shirt, suddenly thinking about what he'd said... If I hadn't had them sitting on the bed, he would have had to go through my drawers; he would have found something, undoubtedly. Charlie might be oblivious, but it occurred to me that my friends knew me too well, they'd watched me balancing drugs and life before, and it'd only be a matter of time before...
"Hungry?" Glen asked, cutting into my thoughts just as I yanked the t-shirt down over my head. "Ben made food."
"Uh, yeah," I said, trying to force a smile. Before we made our way into the kitchen, Charlie emerged with Dr. Snow.
"Char," she said warmly. "You're awake. How're you feeling?"
"Uhh, fine. Hungry. Tired."
"To be expected. You're lucky you were found when you were. Do you remember falling down, hitting your head?"
"No, I just... Fuck, I... got lost, so I sat down for a bit. I must've fallen asleep."
She turned away from me, as if that answered all her questions. I wasn't ungrateful, but I was sure Glen would be ranting later about how incompetent she was.
"Well, he's awake," she was saying to Charlie as I went past into the kitchen. "If there's no head injury, I'm sure he's fine. I'll be back to check on him in the morning. I suspect we'll have to bring in the school therapist, or perhaps a psychologist from Port Angeles..."
Nothing could have sounded like a worse idea at that moment, but I knew that arguing would get me nowhere.
In the kitchen, four burly men– who must have been the guys from the reservation– were sitting at the table, eagerly digging into large bowls of soup in front of them. Ben was standing at the stove, staring absent mindedly into a large pot. Glen guided me to a chair while Ben placed a bowl in front of me... The silence was awkward, but I preferred it to the conversation bound to happen once these strangers left my table.
As I looked at their faces, I realized I recognized one of them.
He stopped eating briefly enough to grin, and swallowed thickly.
"How ya feeling, man? You weren't looking too hot when we found you." He snickered. "Cause you–"
"Yeah, Embry, I get it. Thanks for that, by the way."
"Hey, your dad called Mr. Black freaking out, he asked us to come down."
"Right," I said distantly, and then to change the topic asked, "How is Jacob? Haven't really spoken to him since..."
Embry snorted. "Since you got wasted and tried to fight me and everyone in a ten foot radius and got your ass beat?"
I cleared my throat, hearing Matt snickering behind me. "Yeah."
Embry shrugged then, less animated than before.
"Truth be told I'm not really sure, we uh–" He glanced over at one of the other guys sitting there, a little older than the others. "We haven't been hanging out much lately.."
My gaze flickered between him and the other boys - no, men - at the table, understanding that something was being left unspoken. Their faces were tense, mouths set in hard lines. By contrast, Embry looked so young, and just as unsure as Glen had moments before when voicing his concern for me. I didn't like the tension that seemed to have come alive in the room around us. But they had just saved my life, and besides something told me my interference would not be welcome.
Glen nudged a spoon into my hand.
"Eat," he urged me. "It'll help warm you up."
"And you'd be missing out if you didn't," Embry told me. "It's the best thing I ever ate." He seemed to become suddenly aware that his dish was empty and stared forlornly at whatever lie in the bottom of his bowl. He sighed and pushed it away.
I began eating my own slowly as Ben refilled Embry's bowl.
"Good thing I made extras," he laughed."You guys eat like a pack of ravenous wolves."
Embry's eyes looked ready to pop out of his head as he began to choke on what could only have been a large chunk of potato. He was elbowed hard in the side by one of his companions. "Slow down. Jesus."
Charlie chose that moment to wander into the kitchen and lay his hand on my shoulder. I looked up into his face expecting the worst but he didn't look angry, only fearful.
"Okay?" he asked.
I nodded. "Tired."
"Yeah," Charlie said quietly. "I imagine so."
A heavy silence took over the kitchen. Glen finally broke it by ushering me out of the kitchen and up to bed. I heard Charlie thanking Embry and his... friends as we left. I collapsed into my bed, feeling the weariness in my bone marrow. Glen joined me after a moment, curling around my back.
"What's going on?" he whispered. "Let me help."
"Tomorrow," I assured him. It wasn't long until I was overtaken by sleep. This time, with Glen curled protectively around me, my mind slept too.