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Jared stared up through the trees.

Laying still, he could feel a million little things at once: the cold dirt crawling under his clotheless body—so much more body than he had ever anticipated he would have—his rib cage lifting itself nearly off of his frame with every ragged and heavy breath he took. He felt his blood running hot all along the surface of his skin.

Jared saw Sam Uley’s face above and looked quickly away from his naked body. A tear leaked out of a burning eye and traced the dirt away. This day had started out tense. Now he felt destroyed. What just happened?

It felt out of place to be going back to school the next day. All of the questions he didn’t know he had were answered in that long week. His hot temper, his temperature, his feeling like his body sat all wrong on its hugely powerful frame. Why Sam, the young man he’d never met and seldom heard about before that year, seemed to be the talk of the town—shacking up with some girl he barely knows, dropping out of school, running all over the woods, shaving his head, wearing hardly anything— and the pride of the rez..
Jared, I know you’re confused; listen to me..

Jared, I want you to meet someone—this is Emily..

Jared, did you just hear something? Someone else?

He sat gazing between his hands on his knees. Paul wasn’t his best friend in the world, but it was a relief to be joined later that week by someone he was friendly with, someone he knew. An awkward, painful relief.

Jared’s mother sat next to him on their lumpy couch. The house was cold and drafty. He felt guilty, knowing all of the food and clothes he was going through made a dent in her paycheck, but the guilt disappeared and comfort flooded through him when they greeted each other. He and his mother were especially close, and she’d done her best to understand the changes her son was going through. Jared wrapped his arms nearly twice around her as she made small talk with him about her waitressing job.

He didn’t think it was safe to drive himself, that morning. Someone could cut him off and he might get so angry—he settled for the bus. Paul was there to cheer him up about the first day; Jared found he laughed easily at Paul’s constant aggression.

The day dragged on. He lingered in the bathroom stalls between classes, and showed up late to every one.

He contemplated skipping the rest of the day, but decided different.

“I’m not about to give up being normal. ” he muttered to himself. He noted that he was tall enough now to see over the stalls.

The carpet gave more friction under his feet than before. He wondered for the millionth time how Sam managed this ridiculous change by himself, and was thankful that Sam was rewarded for his trouble with the happiness Emily gave him.

Of course his old friends were there, asking where he’d been and how he felt. He felt empty and ragged; that was how he felt. He continued warding off the questions that came at him from all sides.

The wood grain of his desk felt rough and crannied now instead of plastic and lacquered. He looked to the side through the sharpness of his new senses, and suddenly he saw her, and it hit him like a thousand gulls knocking at his back.

Every pore of her face shone like gold; every atom of her warm, bright eyes and every strand of her dark burnished hair consumed his senses. Too much to take in, too much to look at and too much to feel. He wasn’t breathing. His universe was shifting, scattering and reforming under her feet, so much bigger and more whole than it had ever been. She looked away quickly and he could have died. Her fluttering hands straightened her pencils and the gentle action wrung his heart out like a rag.

He couldn’t stop looking at her and his brain was in hyper drive, what could he do, what could he say, he must get her attention, and he tried desperately to dig in to his brain, rooting around for her name.

He tried to remember her from before, but what he was seeing in his past, in his memories, it didn’t add up, it wasn’t what he felt he should be seeing, which was a life centered around her. He saw faint and ridiculous fragments of time; trying to ignore her, looking away from her, his friends laughing at her, making fun of him, just make sure she isn’t outside your window, dude; dude, that girl seems really creepy.. he felt angry and heated and his thoughts scrambled around; he wanted to punch himself for not seeing her earlier, not even knowing her name.. his hands lifted and fumbled with the air, his brain struggling to stay calm in the face of the soul-commanding force begging him to reach out and touch her.

She took a quick look back at him and he could have died again, again, a thousand times. A curtain of euphoria swept over him, heat prickling from his ears to his neck to his feet, traveling over all six and a half feet of him in less than a second. He’d turned fully in his seat to look at her, as if by turning his body he could absorb more of her, like standing before the sun. His old friends, the ones from before, were looking at him plaintively, confused at his distracted attention. He couldn’t have registered this if he tried. Nearly a minute had passed.

Harsh reality eventually raked its claws in to his back and he was forced to turn to face the board, but was always glancing to his side, always reassuring himself that she was still there and that nothing could touch her. He would obliterate whatever even tried to touch her. His nails cut in to his palms while his whole body fought against his whole soul, trying not to shift his chair to press against her.

His nerves relaxed but the warmth pulling his body toward hers stayed behind, not uncomfortable or burning like his own body, but glowing and faultless, a perfect feeling like doves coalescing behind his heart.

The class ended but he didn’t move before she did. He hadn’t used one school supply. He fought against gathering her books for her.

“Hey, Kim.” The words fell out of his lips before he knew they were moving. He could feel himself staring, eyes wishing for some completion of the image before him, seeking out all every angle of her like lungs gasping for air. He knew her name. He’d always known it. But how could he have known her? How could he have been so close to her for all the time his conscious mind knew that he had? Jared wasn’t rude. He grew up in an American small town; everyone knew everyone and he knew Kim, had shared greetings. But there was no way he had really seen her.. How had he not seen her? How could he have known her for all this time and not felt this, like he would choke without her there with him?

She stuttered and blushed and shivered and faltered and was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. He had liked girls before and knew the feelings that came with liking them: the days of tortured avoidance and over thinking, the analyzing of his own moves, the prepared conversations littering his head. None of this for his, his soul, his Kim. His body moved without the approval of his brain, guided by something he couldn’t see. He moved as she moved.

They walked through the door and as they walked he felt a brand new feeling: frustration! Why wouldn’t she meet his eyes again?? Why wouldn’t she look at him?

His hand felt hers empty and took its chance, feeling her soft palms twitch and his mind took off again—wondering if anyone had ever taken the time to embrace her hands like this, feel her small fingers, to touch the translucent skin surrounding this limb, to kiss her palms.. He felt her looking at him. At last!

But her stare was frightened. She had no idea what was going on, though he felt it difficult to imagine. How could she not read the devotion in his eyes? How could she not see what he knew so plainly?
She seemed to force out her words: “What are you doing?”
He thought it was obvious. “Holding your hand.” And was overcome with doubt. “Is that all right?” He burned at the mere essence of the thought of rejection.
“I guess..” her eyes swept the floor and her face flushed with red. “This is my class.” She tore away from him and through the doorframe.
As soon as she was gone, his mind took back his body and flitted a thousand different ways. School wasn’t a thought anymore. He had to see Sam.

He’d thought about what he’d say, how to break the news, the whole way running fast on human legs to Sam’s and Emily’s house—Sam and Emily. Samily, almost. One unit, two persons. He imagined it for Kim and himself. He beamed brightly and ran faster, cold air burning his hot lungs and wolf’s blood cradling his hot heart.

Emily Young was minding her own business when the door nearly exploded off its hinges. She hardly had time to give a start when Jared’s voice boomed over the house’s foundation—

“I found her! She’s here; I found her! I have her!” he was looking at Emily with unfocused, shining eyes and he ran toward her, wrapping her in a tight hug. Her blue dress was like the stressed wrapper of a candy bar being squeezed as he lifted her off of the kitchen floor. “Woah!”

Sam Uley wandered blearily out of his bedroom, his sentiments plain on his features.

But the gleam of Jared’s happily bared teeth and his nonsensical rambles told him all he needed to know. His fiancé looked at him meaningfully. Jared had found another member of their permanently bonded family. His other half had been discovered.

For Kimberly Conweller, the day had started out like any other.

She’d pressed the snooze button once instead of the usual twice, lying in bed, savoring her last moments of rest. As with every morning, she contemplated the thought of not going to school, of faking coming down with something, and if she did go to school, of the empty hands she would have when asked for her homework. She also thought of Jared. As with any young girl in the throes of a desperate unrequited crush, she tried not to let herself get out of her own hands. She tried not to think too much about it. She tried to keep it to herself.

As with any other morning, she failed. She chastised herself for what was beyond her control. She knew the real reason she’d be boarding the bus, going through the motions. She daydreamed about greeting Jared and getting a positive reaction, even if she knew she wouldn’t. She tried not to even hope he’d be there, tried not to jinx her chances of seeing him. She thought about him shirtless and smiling as she contemplated mascara, and then as she skipped it, and then as she carefully considered the clothes she’d wear. She sat on the bed and giggled at herself, thinking of wrapping his arms around her.

She was removed from her thoughts with a few beats on the door and her older sister, Ronnie, for Veronica, popped her head in. She quickly shook off her thoughts. Stupid, Kim, stupid, stupid..

“You dressed already?” her sister crossed her arms and propped one of her substantial hips on the doorframe. As it was late May, Ronnie was already done with school for the year, home from attending the University of California in Santa Cruz, ranting regularly about missing the hot and sunny weather. “What’s up?”

Kim had always been close with her sister. Making conversation in the middle of a busy morning required no real reason. “Not a lot,” Kim replied, hooking on a bracelet. Normally she wouldn’t bother, but she had extra time this morning—Ronnie had offered to drive her, and she’d conceded, even if it meant the risk of not seeing Jared for the extra ten minutes. She could always find something interesting to say to her sister.
“Dad’s been a real weenie since I came home. Last night he tripped on an ice cube in the kitchen and…”

Kim huffed and stumbled in to her daily physics class. Everyone had said it would be an easy pick for an easy senior year, but everyone was proving to be wrong. The class required heavy concentration and proved to be easily distracted from, especially after having struck gold in the assigned seating department—Kim had to endure forty five minutes a day of trying to concentrate on dry textbook material and irrelevant lectures when the object of her best and most indulgent fantasies sat lounging next to her—raw material for her best mental vacations.

That was before today, of course. Today, he’d started panting at her.

Kim was not the type to suffer unexpected attention, let alone suffer it well. She hadn’t expected to even see Jared today. He’d been gone for a week! At first, she tried to convince herself that she was imagining the heavy stare on his face, a strange fantasy gone wrong. She tried to shake it off—just blink a few times and he’ll be gone, he’ll be gone.. but she did that, and when she glanced Jared’s way not only was he still staring, but he’d shifted his entire body to look at her. And boy, did he look different. His hair was closely buzzed, and Kim could have sworn he’d actually grown larger.

Kim’s face got hot all of a sudden. From under her jaw to her ears to her hairline and even on her upper lip, all she could feel was heat. What is he looking at? There was no reason to be staring! The pit in the center of her stomach shined white hot and there was a cold sweat breaking out on her forearms. The humidity, the air conditioning, Jared’s eyes—too much for Kim’s fragile self awareness. She could hear two boys snickering and wondered if this was all a big joke. She wondered bitterly how he could keep a straight, staring face for that long. She wanted to cry.

The class passed slower than any other and Jared never stopped sneaking glances to her. She was sure it was some big immature setup but she couldn’t stop the doubts from trickling in to her mind—the little stares and peeks she noticed didn’t illicit any laughter from the back of the classroom, and his hands seemed to be fidgeting nervously. Also, Jared wasn’t laughing.

She didn’t know what to do when Jared waited for her, long after the class had left, just sitting there looking as though he had nowhere else to be. He jumped up when she did, and walked perfectly in step with her to her next class.

Kim wasn’t a fidgeting kind of girl. She was nervous and shy, but never jumpy, so she didn’t pull her hand away immediately when Jared grabbed it. Her eyes did, however, shoot to seven times their size and she stared openly at the boy who was looking at their entwined fingers in wonder. All of her fantasies shot through her brain at once, of the two holding hands down the hallway, laughing and enjoying each other, broadcasting their relationship to the world. But those thoughts vanished quickly and all she could think was: Are you insane?

“What are you doing?” she asked gravely, but ignored—couldn’t absorb—his response. What in the ever loving world was going on? Did he even realize what he was doing?

She saw people staring, some in confusion, others laughing subtly, and again, she knew it had to be a stupid joke. She ripped her hand away and ran to her desk, scoffing at her stupid self and her stupid school, convincing herself crying was useless. How many times had she cried over the love she’d never have? That didn’t stop her.

Later, she stomped off the bus, still wrapped up in the embarrassing tangle of that day’s events.
How dare anyone do something like that? I may not be popular, I may not be pretty or a sex goddess or particularly witty, but I’m a person, just like anyone else. I’m a person. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t deserve that stupid prank. Stupid set up. Stupid Jared. Stupid me.

Ronnie was inside, reading and wearing Kim’s shoes. “What’s up?” she asked, and then when she looked at her little sister, “What’s wrong??”

Kim let it out.

Jared was many things. Running through the woods, he was ecstatic, tongue hanging from his mouth, caught up in his fantasies—

Jared, dude!

Sorry man, didn’t realize you were there; you know how it is! He thought with happy reverence. He breathed in the foggy air like he was tasting its sweet scent for the first time.

He was also missing something. No matter how happy he was, thinking of his Kim, knowing what was bound to happen, there were snags in his contentment. He wanted her there; he wanted to smell and feel and taste her; he wanted her expression of her love and for her to feel just as close to him as he felt to her. His arms ached to hold her. He wanted to see her.

So go. Sam’s voice interrupted his longing.

What? But I’ve got..

Look, I know how useless you’re gonna be while this is new. Go see her. I think she lives..
I’ll find out. Thanks, Sam.

He shot off toward the pull in his chest.

“That is fucked up to the max, man.” Ronnie was sympathizing while chopping peppers. Ronnie knew all about Jared, from the sound of his laugh to the stride of his step to the set of his shoulders, and all else Kim had thought to tell her. For the past year she’d been waiting for the crush to either fade or to spring in to something more. She didn’t believe Kim’s rants about not being good enough for Jared, or for anybody. She knew her sister was pretty, sharp as a tack even when she didn’t show it, and warm hearted despite all of her self-damnation. She’s even got style, she thought to herself, gazing down at her sister’s purple flats on her own feet.

Now Ronnie was having thoughts about her sister being too good for Jared, not that such thoughts were far off in the first place. “What the hell kind of stunt was that?”

“I don’t know!” Kim stomped her foot and crossed her arms, leaning against the counter. “And here I thought I was getting somewhere, him saying hi on a regular basis and all.”

“Well..” Ronnie began to revise her thoughts. “What if it didn’t mean any harm?” she looked back at her sister. “What if he was simply caught off guard by your spectacular beauty?” she was joking, but in a way, serious.

Kim just scoffed like Ronnie knew she would. “Right.” She hauled herself on the counter. For some reason, she couldn’t sit still. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“Hold your head high.” Ronnie declared, a slice of green pepper between her teeth. “Don’t let the bastards get you down. I don’t know what that kid is up to, but whatever it is, you deserve an explanation before he deserves any kind of recognition. Next time he tries to laugh at you, ask him exactly what his problem is.”

“And if he tries to grab my hand?”

“Choke him in the balls.”

This got a laugh. It was an old joke from when they were kids, Kim asking how the woman in the movie on TV was choking a man just by grabbing at his pants.

“So dad says he won’t be home until late. You want a quesadilla?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Kim sighed, and that was it.

 

Jared paused in the woods outside of what he was sure was Kim’s house. He didn’t think about what it looked like or who else might have been home, not taking in the unkempt yard and the peeling paint. He only knew she was here, and that he had to see her.

He phased and dressed quickly, practically leaping around the house and toward the door. He warmed instantly at the laughter he heard inside. Kim.. Where is she? He hardly realized the necessity to knock on the door, but his hands worked for him.

 

“What was that?” Ronnie turned to look at the door. No one ever came around out of the blue like that. The family wasn’t friendly with the neighbors, really.

Kim shrugged and stared at the door. She and her sister continued to do so until another knock sounded, and Kim jumped off of the counter. “I’ll get it.”

It was late; Washington clouds dusted the mid afternoon sky and at first, all she could see was teeth.
“Jared!” she gasped, “What..?”

Jared chuckled. His eyes, like lungs again gasping for breath, raked over her without regard to respect or decency. He trailed over the softness of her face and the contours of her body. There was an aching in his chest, a need just behind his ribs that sounded for her. “Hi, Kim,” he sighed, not seeming to notice the rain that was dripping on to his shoulders and shaven head.

Both of them stood silently for a while. Kim stood, stunned in to silence, staring at a boy who stared back at her like she was the greatest vacation his mind had ever taken.

“Do you want to go on a walk with me?” Jared then asked excitedly. Kim’s mouth hung open and her eyebrows pushed together.

“You aren’t wearing any shoes..,” she finally said, lamely. “And it’s raining.”

“Drizzling,” Jared insisted.

Kim’s head shook at the impossibility of him. “What are you doing here? How did you know where I live?”

“I’ll tell you, if you walk with me.” All Jared knew was that he wanted to keep her with him, for as long as possible.

Kim looked dazedly in to the kitchen, where her sister was staring at their exchange. She waved them out the door.

 

The two of them were walking a well trodden path, side by side, Jared trailing behind when the path became too narrow for the both of them. Kim walked with her head down, face pulled in to a thoughtful, confused grimace, refusing to look at the object of her deepest affections walking right next to her. She gulped and tried not to realize how impossible it seemed.

Jared reveled in the closeness to her, all of the things his eyes could see and the breathing his ears could hear, the stride he felt next to him. Only her quietness, her expression worried him. He knew that normal human beings(God, that was just last week), ones who liked each other (Did she like me??), who were out walking—they normally had conversation. Maybe I should try that.

“So.. what’s up?” he tried, desperately interested, excited to hear her voice.

“Um, nothing..” Kim’s voice was weak. Jared could tell she was distracted, and nervous, and shy, and his heart ached—don’t be nervous around me; it’s okay; please talk to me; you’re so beautiful.. But then she winced, and looked up suddenly, and for the first time he could see the shining wetness of her eyes, her brows crunched together, and it made his insides scream—

“What the hell is this about?!” she was yelling at him now, and he cringed backward—“What, do you have cameras or something? Are you collecting stories about stupid stalker Kim? Stupid geek, stupid pitiful girl—Let’s see how much we can mess with her?! I’m not going to be some stupid girl your friends can laugh about..”
Jared was utterly bewildered—“What?! What are you.. cameras? No! I’m not playing any trick on you.. Please, no—..”
“What then?!” she was furious. “What’s with this? Holding my hand when you’ve hardly said two words to me, staring at me like a freak while your friends laugh—Just because you know I like you is no reason to take advantage of me, you asshole, you shitty..!” she’d begun to shove him weakly, not noticing she’d never do any damage, not noticing that the shock in Jared’s face was far from the being-found-out kind.

Jared couldn’t decide whether to damn himself to the pits of hell for confusing and hurting her, or to soar with the angels in his elation. He settled on Earth, and came crashing down with the shock of reality. He supposed he’d already had this particular gem of information. He supposed he’d been aware of it, distantly. There was only so much joking your friends could do.. Still, there were two eras for him, for his life now. The dimly lit, crushing reality of pre-Kim, and the glowing potential of Now.

He paused. “..You like me?” he asked, dumbly.

Kim’s face pulled itself up from where she’d been shoving him. She stared at him in disbelief, clutching wearily at his shirt. Didn’t he.. didn’t he plan the.. didn’t he..? She nodded. Wasn’t it obvious? Isn’t it painfully obvious? And her face dropped in to her hands, rubbing her wet eyes in anger.

He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t stop himself. She was in pain and it echoed through him tenfold. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight to his chest. She was his. She was his. And he was hers, whether she wanted him or not.

“It’s okay; it’s okay; don’t cry; please don’t cry..” he muttered in to her soft hair. He wondered how he could have been so lucky. She was so beautiful. Even with her pain, a part of him cried out in joy when he finally held her body so close.

Kim opened her eyes. The arms around her were hot and the voice in her hair was so honest. For a minute she wondered what was going on. She wondered if the sensations were real. “What are you doing?” she finally murmured against his chest. Why had all the things she wanted come on so quickly? So unreasonably? “I don’t understand.”

Of course. Of course he had to explain. She had to know. He needed her to understand because there was nothing more real than what they had, what he realized and what he needed her to know. What came out was less than all she needed to hear.

“I like you.” He explained carefully. He loosened his hold on her body. She looked up at him and sniffed. “I’m sorry I confused you..” He’d heard that apologies worked well with women. He needed to try all that he could. She stepped firmly away from him and he let her, even if a pain shot through the valves of his heart. “I just, I’ve been sick for the past week and—and I just realized…” He didn’t know where he was going with this, at all. “Would it be okay if we hung out more?” he tried.

She only laughed. “More than we do now?” she seemed tired. He wanted to get her something to rest on. And a blanket. The rain made it chilly for May.

“Yes,” he said gently. He was treading lightly, knowing his whole heart rested on her decisions.

She didn’t know what to think. Her head was spinning. She discreetly pinched herself, not knowing whether or not she really wanted to wake up. “Are you okay?” she asked instead.

Jared laughed and told the undying truth. “If you are.”

It was awkward at first, but Kim eventually forgot the gravity of her situation. The two wandered the woods, laughing, talking, enjoying this other world they seemed to have in each other. This new plane. Fat rain drops fell on their shoulders and in their eyes, and each time was a new occasion to laugh. Kim shuddered as Jared wiped a drop of rain from her face; Jared rejoiced in the feeling. Jared couldn’t stop asking questions—where were you born, what was your tenth birthday party like, how many pets do you have—and Kim couldn’t stop looking at him like he’d stepped out of her favorite dream for a brief liason—like he’d disappear at any moment.

“I still don’t get it,” she said thoughtfully, picking at the grass. She was sitting on a tree stump, in the haze of descending sunlight. They’d spent hours out here. Her sister had to be worried where she was. She’d understand.

“Get what?” Jared stared at her, letting her beauty seep in to his ecstatically jumping soul through his vision. He had this new appreciation for everything his eyes gave him. He was sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree. Eye level with her. He was more comfortable on the ground than he’d have her know.

She laughed, looking up from the leaf she was taking apart. “What happened? Why are you here?”

“To see you.” He answered plainly. He thought that was obvious.

“But why?” the leaf dropped to the forest floor. Jared stared at it, sitting luckily, so close to her perfect ankles. “Why today, when you’ve had the chance to see me every day of your life?” Kim felt brave, assured by this dream-like state she’d been lulled in to, sedated by Jared’s friendly company.

He smiled at her and shrugged. He guessed, at the center of things.. “I really don’t know.” But the look on Kim’s face said he’d have to give her more information. “I guess I never really saw you before.. before recently. I just felt like you were worth knowing, getting to know. I figured… I just wanted to be closer to you.”

“Just all of the sudden..?” Kim stared. By the faintest blush on his sunlit face, she could tell he wasn’t blatantly lying to her. She could understand that this was his truth..

Jared laughed. “Who wouldn’t want to know you, really?” Her eyes shot up. “All that stuff you said.. all that ‘stupid geek’ nonsense.. I don’t want to know who’d ever think that.. I don’t know who wouldn’t see you for what you are.”

“How do you know what I am?” she asked defensively.

“I’ve spent the past few hours with you, haven’t I?” Jared asked. In reality, he wouldn’t have been aware of the time if not for the setting of the sun. She was captivating. “You’re beautiful, y’know. You’re a person. A good person.”

Kim was shocked for the forty third time that day at the b-word. That word every girl wanted, the one that they wanted to apply to everything about them.. She withdrew in to herself for a mere moment before looking up at him again.

“You said you wanted to be closer to me..” she felt stupid doing this, but also knew she had to make some sort of move. She had to do something to ride out this unfathomable current of good luck. She stood up and moved to sit next to him. She landed with a plop on the dirt, within touching distance. “How’s this?”

A wide smile took Jared’s face. He reached as far as Kim’s knee, taking her hand in his and kissing her knuckles before he had the chance to wonder what he was doing. The smoothness of her hand struck him. “This is fine,” he stared as the sun’s setting rays gazed kindly upon them, reflecting gold on Kim’s smooth, wide lips. “..for now”. He smiled.

 

Kim’s dad had arrived and gone to bed by the time she got home. She closed the door on the misty night behind her and looked into the kitchen, where a cold veggie quesadilla waited on a lonesome plate. She couldn’t wipe the smile off of her face, and when she walked in to the kitchen to find Ronnie propped on the counter, filing her nails and asking silently for the details, she was all too happy to divulge.

Jared was too riled up to think of going home to sleep. He tied his clothes to his legs and shot off in to the trees. His pack was there, in his skull, greeting him warmly. Sam was congratulatory. Paul was simpler.

That’s cool, man.

It was a good reaction, for Paul.

He eventually phased back, in the early morning, and walked carefully in to the creaking front room of his house. His mother didn’t wait up; she knew his “duties” sometimes had him out so late. There was a surreal feeling to coming home in the wee hours of the morning, feeling the still, quiet air fresh around him, and closing himself off in to an artificially lit box that was too special to describe. He felt the love of his mother, his only family, close around him, just being there. He tiptoed in to his room and closed the door; standing in front of his air conditioner made his skin prickle with frozen sweat. He’d take a shower, soon. For now he wanted to sit on his bed and think about the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his nights with.

Was Kim safe? Was she sleeping already? Was she curled in to the safe cocoon of her bedding, in her family’s house? Was she surrounded by all of the affection she deserved? Was she thinking of him too? Oh, god, let her think of him..

 

She was.

Kim never thought this would be reality. She was still waiting for the curtain to pull, for her to realize the big ruse that had been pulled behind her back.

She was seventeen. She’d kissed three boys, before tonight. She thought about how she didn’t really like any of them.

Jared’s probably done a lot more than kissing.. Kim clenched her eyes shut and remembered the week and a half that he was attached to a girl in their grade. She remembered how pretty she was. How sexy, at least. She stopped herself from thinking about it before it got to be too much. She stopped before the doubts could curl their vicious way in to her brain, and let herself enjoy the residual warmth of the past few hours.

Kim’s mouth opened and closed a few times. She wanted to let him know how impressed she was, how awesome and incredible the bonfire had been, but none of the phrases she conjured up seemed to fit. She’d never known how rich the history of her small tribe could he.

He seemed to read her mind. She felt a restrained pressure on the hand he was holding, a squeeze which, while strong, wasn’t a fraction of the squeeze Jared was capable of.

 

He’d told her a few days ago.

It would have been too much to see all of his new family at once, and tell her that what she had seen was a pack. He’d told her what she was to him, too, and all of the details of how he regarded her, what he’d felt when he first saw her, the clawing ache of being apart from her, the rapturous joy of touching her, the base connotations of what the word imprint meant to his kind, their kind. She knew about Quil and Claire and Emily and Sam. It had hurt her to realize Jacob’s affection for the girl with him would one day crumble to dust.

She wrapped her arms around the broad body of a man who would never depart from her side.

“This.. it’s meant to be rare?”

He nodded. “Very, supposedly.” He looked seemingly nowhere. “But so were we, really. There have never been so many of us before. I suppose..” he drifted off.

“More of—” she hated to say it, mention the enemy, “More of them, so more of us..? Stronger, too?”

“Yeah, I guess. More connected with this side of ourselves..” They slowed to a stop, content to stand still while their hands idly brushed each others’ skin. It was one in the morning. Walks in the darkened forest were a familiar habit. Kim breathed in Jared’s heat as a gust of cold Washington air took hers away. “Stronger souls.” Jared continued, pulling her more fiercely to him.

Jared sat down. Kim noted again how comfortable he was in the dirt and the leaves. She obliged him when his arms reached out for her—open, but with a tinge of desperation, like a drowning man reaching for the air, trying to break the surface. One of his hands enclosed her shoulder, and the other her head, breathing in the scent of her hair as if he hardly realized he was doing so.

“Are they all waiting for it? Do they know it will come?” Since learning of Jared’s strange bond to these other boys, Kim had become helplessly concerned for all of them. She didn’t know them well, but they were important to her, as they were important to him. Family.

“Well.. They’re prepared. None of them are attached to anyone else. Nothing will happen to them like what happened to Sam. None of them will leave behind a Leah.”

“What about—”

“We’ll all be relieved when Jacob imprints.” Jared seemed to read her mind at times, like they were linked. It was these times that reminded her not to doubt the validity, the weight of the word “soulmate”. “The girl with him—she has someone,” Jared continued. “A bloodsucker,” he finished quickly.

Even though no one else was around, Kim turned her shout in to a whisper. “What?!”

Jared shrugged, like he was reporting something trivial. He’d already accepted the impossibility of it all. “She’s with someone. One of the Cullens, the ones who don’t kill.”

Kim shook her head, bewildered for a moment. “And so.. so she’s a lost cause?”

Jared shook his head. “Jacob will never have her, I don’t think. He’d only have to leave her anyway. Four of us have imprinted already..” He said it as if his friends were all succumbing to a disease. Kim didn’t have the chance to pout, because immediately, Jared was beaming. “It’s so.. we’re just lucky.”

She was lost for several minutes in his broadly smiling lips, and it took her a few minutes to recount the math in her head. “Wait,” she said, breaking her concentration with a reluctant gasp. “Four? Sam, you, Quil..” the question was in her voice.

“Embry,” he breathed, gently. “Embry’s imprinted.”

“Who?” Kim had never been much of a gossip, but she felt like a brother had been engaged—who was her new family member? “Why wasn’t she there? Is she young—wait, has she been born? What..”

“It’s a guy,” Jared admitted. “Some white boy, Danny something. Embry’s gay.”

Kim was silent.

“He came out a while ago, I think, really young. No one thought he’d imprint; we all thought it was a biological thing, y’know, propagate the species or whatever..” Jared shook his head. “But Embry’s too embarrassed to make a move, or to be with the guy. It only takes a wandering thought for us to see everything.. He doesn’t want to make us uncomfortable.”

Kim protested immediately. “That’s so unfair; there’s no reason—”

“No one told him to do it,” Jared took a rare, harsher tone. “No one’s making him hold off. He just.. he won’t do it.” Jared thought about what little he already saw. It was weird to catch Embry thinking about his imprint, especially when Jared’s own brain took over the thought, almost making it his own. He could see why some of the boys who hadn’t already imprinted would be uncomfortable with the overwhelming passion of Embry’s musings, finding flashes of a man’s face in their dreams, the downy hair on the back of a man’s neck, dreams of kissing some guy they didn’t know. Jared was too besotted with Kim to let these things interrupt his fantasizing. “Sometimes I wish he would, though. Just give in. We feel his pain, too.”

Kim felt a crushing sympathy for Embry. She remembered easily the pain of longing for someone unattainable and she hoped the boy didn’t have to watch the object of his affections be with anyone else, not when he knew that he and this boy, this Danny, were perfect for each other, predestined and made for each other, composed to fit more perfectly than pieces of a puzzle, just as she was for Jared.

She wrapped her arms belatedly around this man who belonged to her, noticing he was still frowning. They hadn’t kissed, not yet. They’d talked until the sun came up, pressed clothed bodies to each other in constant embraces, shared the secret of this imprint, the knowledge that their souls were bonded endlessly together. The sudden rushing sureness she felt when she looked at him overtook her most days, even while she constantly feared the possibility that the chain holding them together, this imprint, would break mysteriously and she’d be left as alone as before. Her heart hurt as she imagined Jared pursuing the more attractive women he deserved… Sorry, Kim, now that the enemy’s gone, I just don’t feel anything anymore..

“Hey,” Jared nudged the crown of her head with his nose, reminding her, funnily, of a pet. He laughed. “You’re thinking again.”

Kim chuckled nervously and apologized, burying her nose in his chest. “We’re outside so much,” she observed.

“I know,” she could hear his lips moving across his teeth as he smiled. “It’s so green. Really intense.”

“I’ve lived here my whole life… I guess you just stop noticing.”

“You can look at something every day and not notice how beautiful it is,” Jared says, suddenly pulling Kim back, holding her shoulders at arm’s length. “I’ll never stop regretting all of my missed chances. All that time..”

“It’s okay,” Kim smiles and tries to reassure him. “You have all the time in the world, to make up for it.” He
remains serious, so Kim softly punches his shoulder. “Who said I would’ve had you, anyway? All this time?”

“You did.” It was true. She’d told him so. “I love you.” But that was new.

“I love you too..” she responded almost immediately, leaving no room for doubt. One of her hands found itself trailing his jaw, brushing the stubble of his shaved head with the faintest of touches. “I want to kiss you, now.”

Any other night, Jared would have protested, telling her that whatever their bonds, Kim’s obligations were nothing. But after tonight, with every truest ancient fact of their predestined relationship in the open, he felt no moral hindrance. He finally kisses her, and Kim feels as if something inside her will break off and float away.

Their cool lips grasp together and Kim can’t bear to think of being too new to this, too unskilled, she just feels the perfect gentle pressure and pushes against him clumsily, responding in kind to the tight embrace she finds herself in.