“Why?” I asked, an obvious whine in my voice
“Because we need to spend more time together as a family. And I’m sure you’re not finished with your shopping yet, ” Dad answers, his arms folded and impatiently waiting for me to get in the car.
“What if I am done with my shopping? Then can I stay home?”
“No, Leah. You are going and that is final. Get in the car.”
Why do parents always say ‘and that is final’? It’s not like it will make a difference, I think hastily as I climb in the car.
Dad gets in the driver’s seat of the already running van and starts down the street.
“Well, ” Mom says from the passenger seat. “How about some Christmas Carols to get the festivities started?”
She pops a CD in the player and “Jingle Bells” floats through the air. Mom begins to sing and Seth and Dad join in, making me want to cover my ears. It’s not that they’re bad singers—they’re actually pretty good—I just hate Christmas music.
“So after we get our shopping done, we’ll go to Jeffery’s and get a tree, ” Mom says.
Seth smiles excitedly. He’s always loved Christmas, as did I when I was little. That’s changed now though.
“Why do we even celebrate Christmas?” I shout through the blaring Christmas Carols.
Mom turns the volume down, “Christmas is Christ’s birthday. He—”
“I know that. I mean why do we celebrate Christmas? We’re not Christian. We don’t go to church. So why celebrate some guy-we-don’t-even-believe-in’s birthday?”
That quiets Mom down, “It’s a fun holiday anyways. Don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t, ” I mutter quietly. Mom either doesn’t hear me or doesn’t answer and they resume their Christmas Caroling.
We drive the speed limit to Port Angeles and park on the end of the long row of stores facing the ocean.
“Alright, ” Dad says as we climb from the car. “We’ll meet back here at noon to have lunch together and then if we still have shopping to get done, we’ll shop some more. And we’ll go to pick up a tree after that. Sound good?”
“Yep!” Seth chirps and hurries down the sidewalk, wallet in hand. Mom and Dad follow closely behind, holding hands. I linger a few minutes and then wait until Mom turns her head over her shoulder to dive into the closest store. I wanted her to see me go into a store so she thinks I am actually shopping and not skipping out.
“Can I help you?” A middle aged sales lady asks.
I shake my head, not even knowing which store I entered and watch out the window for my family to go into another store. As soon as they do, I hurry out of the store and down onto the rocky beach.
I skip across the large stones peeking out of the water until I’m several yards from where the tide reaches. The water laps against the rock and splatters dark spots against the hem of my jeans. I watch the waves form far out and roll in towards me getting smaller as they come.
I don’t know how long I stand there, but finally I dare to pull my phone from my pocket, checking the time. I still have nearly an hour before I have to meet my family and I wait several more minutes before bounding back across the rocks. I find a log of driftwood and sit, not bothering to brush the sand from the wood before I do. The beach is nearly empty today, everyone being too busy with the holidays to spend time there. A couple walks down by the water and as I see them I look away. The reminders are everywhere, mocking and haunting, like ghosts.
I watch the scene around me, narrating the details in my head to avoid thinking of anything else. The sky looked down like a parent over the beach, her child, a solemn gray promise in her eyes. The sun, a bright sliver of hope, murmurs against the salty wind which gathers the dark storm clouds on the horizon, closer and closer until suddenly they would take over, menacingly spitting rumors onto the beach. The ocean yells, over and over, threatening to rebel against the rocky shore, but each time, it’s strength peters out before it can and it’s white whispers slide across the land and then return, leaving helpless artifacts in place. Another shout comes, and in it’s wake, sacrifices the twisted remains of a jellyfish, already lifeless and flat, strangled by a green snake, seaweed.
A buzz in my pocket brings me from my trance. I remove my phone and open it beside my ear.
“Hello? Leah? You know it would really help if you said something when you answered the phone,” Mom complains.
Mom sighs, “Where are you? It’s time for lunch.”
“Oh, I finished my shopping so I walked down to the beach. Be there in a minute,” I quickly lie.
“Okay, see you in a minute.”
We hang up and I walk back up to the street, taking my time. Mom, Dad and Seth are waiting beside the car when i arrive.
“Where’s your stuff?” Seth asks.
“I didn’t find anything. I already have my shopping done,” I say, lying again. I don’t really plan on buying anything for Christmas since I don’t plan to be home.
I follow my family down the street and around the corner to a little cafe. After lunch, we decide to go get the tree since everyone but Mom has finished shopping. I refuse to get out of the car as Seth leads Mom and Dad through the lot pointing out the best trees. It takes nearly a half an hour for them to decide on the ‘perfect one’ and another twenty minutes to tie the tree down on top of the car. I wait in the backseat, my head resting against the window as I try to sleep, only to be reawoke every few minutes by a child squealing with delight.
Finally we went home and I went straight to my room and listened to the grunts from Dad and Seth as they lugged the tree inside and the high-pitched orders from my mother as she directed them on where to go. I heard as they dragged the boxes of decorations down from the attic and the Christmas Carols they played loudly on a loop.
Finally at midnight, the house was silent except for the rumbling in my stomach that had steadily been growing louder over the last few hours. I sneak downstairs to the kitchen, and eat a sandwich as I stand in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.
Our house looked like the Christmas Fairy had dumped a bucket load of pixie dust, leaving behind a perfect Christmas scene. The tree occupies the corner, glistening with lights and ornaments. As a border, icicle lights are drooped around the room with big red bows every few feet. The picturesque view made me sad; I wanted to be happy and enjoy Christmas but I didn’t see how I could. No one wanted me included anyways, and it wouldn’t be fun without friends in addition to my small family.
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Leah is at our rendezvous place before I come across the street, carrying a black box filled with the tools I will need. I’m glad we are neighbors, just in case I need to grab more tools.
“Hey, ” I say, approaching Leah. She doesn’t answer. Her arms are folded across her chest and there is a thoughtful frown across her lips. Her eyes look like Dad’s sometimes do, when he’s looking at pictures of Mom, like he’s in another world. “Okay, so you want the car to run quieter?”
“Yeah,” Leah says, coming out of her trance. She turns around to watch as I lift the hood.
The job only takes about fifteen minutes and I finish with a yawn. “Okay, try that.”
Leah opens the driver’s side door and sits with her legs outside the car. The engine starts quietly and I smile at its purr. When it stops and Leah gets out, I can see even in the limited light that she’s smiling too.
“Thanks, Jacob, ” she says sincerely.
“No problem. It was my pleasure.”
I pack up my tools and say goodnight before heading back across the street. My work seemed to make her happy but I can’t imagine why she would want the engine quieter. Leah is definitely a puzzling person.
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I drive through the streets in a good mood. It’s one of the rare sunny days in La Push, but that’s not why I’m happy. Actually, I would usually be unhappy on sunny days because that meant everyone would be outside enjoying the nice weather, so I’d have to stay in to avoid them. The reason for my good mood today is because Dad suggested I go make the dream catcher Jacob wanted. The building should be empty today, so I could have time to paint, too, and luckily, I don’t have to work today.
Finally I pull up to the council meeting building and go inside, leaving the door unlocked and pocketing the keys. I go to work on Jacob’s dream catcher first, choosing a smaller rim than the first I made. I use brown leather to cover the rim and black string for the web, only adding a couple of beads. After I’ve picked several more beads, I attach small brown feathers to the middle of the web and the bottom.
I have to say, the dream catcher looks pretty good for being only the second I’ve ever made, and this time solely from memory. Leaving the dream catcher on the table, I go to the easel where my painting still sits and pour some paints. Even though the painting isn’t finished, I don’t feel like I can continue to paint it since I’m in a different mood than I was when I started it. I hesitate, deciding to just leave the first painting for someone else and start a new one. After moving the painting to the shelf with a note saying anyone can finish or take it, I find a blank canvas and pour a rainbow of acrylics onto the paint tray.
I’m not sure how much time passes before I finally am satisfied with the painting and put my paints away. Quickly, I sign my name and carry the canvas and dream catcher out to the car, setting them on the passenger seat and driving towards home. I park in our driveway and then carefully pick up the dream catcher, tuck the canvas under my arm, and walk over to the Black’s house.
Billy answers the door a few moments after I knock.
“Leah! What a surprise, ” he says with a smile in his deep booming voice.
“Is Jacob here? He asked me to make him this. ” I hold up the dream catcher.
Jacob appears behind his Dad and Billy retreats back into the house. It’s the first time I’ve been over to their house in what seems like forever. I don’t like coming over when Rachel and Rebecca’s aren’t living here. It just seemed so empty and boring.
“Hey, ” Jacob says.
“I brought you this, ” I say as I give him the dream catcher.
“Oh, thank you. It’s beautiful. Now I know who to call for all of my dream catcher needs, ” Jacob says with a smile.
“Yeah, I guess. Do you think maybe you could do a favor for me?”
“Sure, what do you need?” Jacob asks.
“Meet me by my car at midnight tonight with your tools.”
“Um, okay. Are we altering your car or something?”
“Yeah. I need the engine to run quieter, ” I say.
“Can do. Thanks again for the dream catcher.”
“Yep. Well, see you later, ” I say, turning and walking back home.
I manage to make it to my room without anyone in the house talking to me and go about finding a spot to hang my painting. Finally I decide on a spot beside my window that covers up a spot of peeling paint. As I finish straightening the painting, I have the crazy idea that I should just paint my room—not one solid color, but an array of pictures. I quickly dismiss the thought, since I don’t plan to live here much longer and I’d probably just get in trouble for it anyways. To avoid spoiling my rare mood, I stay in my room for the rest of the afternoon, doodling and sketching ideas for more paintings.
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So this is what Leah felt like when Sam first went missing, I think to myself. The thought makes me feel even worse after talking to her at the store. I haven’t seen or talked to Sam since that day in the forest. I feel so bad for the things that I said to him. Jared, Paul and now Embry all say they haven’t seen him. He hasn’t been home, and he hasn’t called.
The doorbell rings and I turn off the TV, since nothing good was on anyways, and open the door. Jared stands there with Paul beside him. I invite them in and offer them cookies, which they each take several of. I’ve learned to always make extra of everything, doubling or tripling the recipe since I know none of it will ever go to waste.
“Have you guys heard anything?” I ask when they are seated at the table munching down cookies.
Jared nods. “Actually yes.”
“What?” I ask excitedly. I miss Sam so much.
“He’s back. He’s . . . ,” Jared says.
“Having a hard time, ” Paul finishes, and Jared nods again
“He wanted us to be here when he came over—just in case.”
I sigh but my heartbeat quickens. “When is he coming?”
“He should be here anytime, ” Paul answers.
As if summoned by their words, the doorbells rings. I go to answer it and am quickly flanked by Jared and Paul. Jared takes the lead and opens the door. Sam stands there, looking handsome as ever, cleanly shaven.
“Sam,” I say and dive into his arms. Paul and Jared hesitate beside us, not knowing whether to intervene. Sam hesitates too, to wrap his arms around me but he does.
“I missed you so much, ” I tell him, and he lets go.
I take a step back to see him better. Paul and Jared hover nervously and Sam nods. His hand reaches toward me and stops. He drops it and then lifts it again, closer to my face this time.
“It’s okay, ” I say taking his other hand.
“I don’t . . . I don’t even know how to begin to tell you how sorry I am, Emily. If you never want to see me again, I understand. You should just tell me right now to . . . go jump off a cliff or take a bullet or something. I don’t know if I can live with this”—his hand grazes my scar—”knowing I hurt you —so your wish is my command. I wouldn’t ever do those things unless you told me to. I wouldn’t leave you . . . if not, ” Sam whispers, looking down and stuffing his hands into his pockets.
I shake my head and look away so he won’t see the tears filling my eyes when he looks up. I wipe them away.
“Stop. No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did. I didn’t mean it at all. You’re not like him—you’re so much better than that, Sam. I just feel so bad for Leah. I do want to see you. I’m just afraid you won’t want to see me . . . like this. And if you ever did, any of those things you just mentioned, I-I would have to, too. And then Leah probably would and then we’d raise the suicide rate in La Push by like, a ton, ” I finish off my words, laughing through my tears. Sam smiles.
His sad smile nearly breaks my heart, so I kiss him, wrapping my arms around him once more. I’d all but forgotten Jared and Paul were even there and they hover once more but back away when Sam pulls me even closer. We end our kiss and I rest my head against his chest with my eyes closed, both of us relaxed.
“I’m so sorry—” Sam begins again and I interrupt him.
“Stop. Are you hungry?”
“Starving, ” he answers and I take his hand, leading him inside.
He sits at the table while I heat up leftovers for all three of the men. While the food is heating, I grab plates and set the table.
“Gosh, I missed you, ” Sam says as I serve his food.
I laugh, “I’m sure. You don’t know how lonely it gets. Especially while I’m not working.”
Sam looks up, “Not working?”
“They gave me some time off. I go back after Christmas break, ” I explain while dishing food for the others. I’ve already eaten, so I sit in the empty chair at Sam’s side, pulling it closer to him.
He nods, “That makes sense. And that gives us like an extra week together right?”
Paul and Jared groan in unison and I giggle.
“It was bad enough when you were gone, ” Paul says. “Even with Embry’s help.”
“How is Embry? ” Sam asks them.
“Ehh, he’s okay. He’s got a lot of questions, that’s for sure, ” Jared says and Paul nods in agreement.
“Serves you guys right then, ” Sam retorts. “You two asked more questions than a classroom of four-year-olds. Is he running now?”
“Yeah, ” Paul says. “I’m supposed to go trade with him soon. You want me to send him in?”
Sam nods, “Yes, please.” He turns to me, “We can go out tomorrow if you want, Emi. I gotta take care of this tonight.”
“I understand,” I tell him. “I’m just glad that you’re finally back.”
I lean my head against his shoulder and he wraps his arm around me, the other guys making faces and pretending to gag. Paul leaves and a few minutes later, Embry comes in. He stands in the doorway awkwardly, not yet feeling welcome at my house like the rest of the pack does.
“Come on in,” I tell him. “Foods on the counter, plates in the cupboard. Help yourself.”
Embry nods and goes to the counter. Jared gets up and helps himself to seconds after Embry has his food, then they return to the table.
“Emily makes lots of food, ” Jared says to Embry. “And we eat it for her.”
I smile, “Isn’t that right? I guess that’s what comes from being the one and only imprint.” I lean over and kiss Sam’s cheek.
Embry nods but stays silent. Sam’s eyes are on him and I, too can tell Embry has a question.
“So, uh, ” Embry begins. “How does the whole imprinting thing work? I don’t really get it. I mean, You and Leah—”
Sam’s body tenses next to mine and I assume he wasn’t expecting this question.
“We don’t really know how or why it happens, just that it does. I think, ” Sam clears his throat. “That, uh, you imprint on the person that…How do I put this? That you, have the best chance of reproducing with. So that…the tribe will always have protection for our enemies when it’s needed.”
My cheeks grow warm and I know they must be bright pink. I look to Sam to see that his are too and then look away. Being the only imprint doesn’t really allow anyone to make many theories about imprinting.
“That makes sense I guess, ” Embry says. “So, like, how do you know?”
“You just do. The first time you see her, everything changes and she’s the only thing that matters anymore. You would do anything for her, ” Sam stops to kiss my cheek and I smile.
“Anything else?” Sam asks.
“Nah, I’ll let you know if I think-a somethin’.”
Embry continues to eat and Jared stands up to get more. Later we move into the living room and Jared leaves to relieve Paul. Sam answers more questions of Embry’s throughout the evening while I snuggle into his side, happy and content now that he is back.
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I was restacking a pile of boxes on display in the front of the store—that had been knocked over by a passing toddler—when I heard footsteps approach. Russet-colored feet with pink toe nails in white sandals waited patiently in front of me on the linoleum. They didn’t speak as I picked the last box up and placed it on the pile before turning to see who it was. Emily stood in front of me, her face free of the bandages.
Three scars stretched from her eyebrow to her chin. She wore a long-sleeved shirt, but the bandages had covered her arms as well, so I assumed there were more scars. The corner of her eye was dragged down by one of the scars.
Fighting myself, I turn and walk past Emily, ignoring her. She catches up and walks beside me.
“Leah,” she says. “How are you?”
I glare at her as I answer. “Sorry. I just wanted to thank you. For going to the hospital that day. I know that probably wasn’t very easy for you. It was good to have you there, though.”
“You didn’t even talk to me, ” I argue.
“Still. You went.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I’m sorry, Leah. For hurting you. I miss you—a lot, ” Emily says softly.
“I don’t care, ” I say bitterly. “Why don’t you just leave me alone and run back to Sam?”
“Leah, ” Emily says, her voice full of pain, “I wish we hadn’t ever hurt you. You don’t know how many times I’ve told Sam that he should go back to you—he just doesn’t listen.”
I struggle to see right through the blurry fog of tears as they fill my eyes. I turn away from Emily and straighten boxes on the shelves.
“I don’t want him back, ” I say, although it takes every ounce of energy from me. Emily hears the obvious lie in my words and puts her hand on my arm. I shake her off.
“I’m sorry, ” Emily apologizes again and walks away.
I sink down to the floor with my back against the shelves, messing up the boxes I had just straightened. The tears spill onto my cheeks and I sit with my head buried in my knees, sobbing.
“Miss? Are you all right? ” a customer from out of town asks me.
I shake my head.
“Are you hurt?”
“Only on the inside, ” I respond, looking up to see a young couple watching over me.
I stand up and hurry to the back of the store where my boss is supposed to be, counting inventory. She takes one look at me and shakes her head.
“Go ahead, ” she tells me, and I leave the store.
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