EDWARD CARRIED ME HOME IN HIS ARMS, EXPECTING that I wouldn’t be able to hang on. I must have fallen asleep on the way.
When I woke up, I was in my bed and the dull light coming through my windows slanted in from a strange angle. Almost like it was afternoon.
I yawned and stretched, my fingers searching for him and coming up empty.
“Edward?” I mumbled.
My seeking fingers encountered something cool and smooth. His hand.
“Are you really awake this time?” he murmured.
“Mmm,” I sighed in assent. “Have there been a lot of false alarms?”
“You’ve been very restless — talking all day.”
“All day?” I blinked and looked at the windows again.
“You had a long night,” he said reassuringly. “You’d earned a day in bed.”
I sat up, and my head spun. The light was coming in my window from the west. “Wow.”
“Hungry?” he guessed. “Do you want breakfast in bed?”
“I’ll get it,” I groaned, stretching again. “I need to get up and move around.”
He held my hand on the way to the kitchen, eyeing me carefully, like I might fall over. Or maybe he thought I was sleepwalking.
I kept it simple, throwing a couple of Pop-Tarts in the toaster. I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflective chrome.
“Ugh, I’m a mess.”
“It was a long night,” he said again. “You should have stayed here and slept.”
“Right! And missed everything. You know, you need to start accepting the fact that I’m part of the family now.”
He smiled. “I could probably get used to that idea.”
I sat down with my breakfast, and he sat next to me. When I lifted the Pop-Tart to take the first bite, I noticed him staring at my hand. I looked down, and saw that I was still wearing the gift that Jacob had given me at the party.
“May I?” he asked, reaching for the tiny wooden wolf.
I swallowed noisily. “Um, sure.”
He moved his hand under the charm bracelet and balanced the little figurine in his snowy palm. For a fleeting moment, I was afraid. Just the slightest twist of his fingers could crush it into splinters.
But of course Edward wouldn’t do that. I was embarrassed I’d even had the thought. He only weighed the wolf in his palm for a moment, and then let it fall. It swung lightly from my wrist.
I tried to read the expression in his eyes. All I could see was thoughtfulness; he kept everything else hidden, if there was anything else.
“Jacob Black can give you presents.”
It wasn’t a question, or an accusation. Just a statement of fact. But I knew he was referring to my last birthday and the fit I’d thrown over gifts; I hadn’t wanted any. Especially not from Edward. It wasn’t entirely logical, and, of course, everyone had ignored me anyway. . . .
“You’ve given me presents,” I reminded him. “You know I like the homemade kind.”
He pursed his lips for a second. “How about hand-me-downs? Are those acceptable?”
“What do you mean?”
“This bracelet.” His finger traced a circle around my wrist. “You’ll be wearing this a lot?”
“Because you wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings,” he suggested shrewdly.
“Sure, I guess so.”
“Don’t you think it’s fair, then,” he asked, looking down at my hand as he spoke. He turned it palm up, and ran his finger along the veins in my wrist. “If I have a little representation?”
“A charm — something to keep me on your mind.”
“You’re in every thought I have. I don’t need reminders.”
“If I gave you something, would you wear it?” he pressed.
“A hand-me-down?” I checked.
“Yes, something I’ve had for a while.” He smiled his angel’s smile.
If this was the only reaction to Jacob’s gift, I would take it gladly. “Whatever makes you happy.”
“Have you noticed the inequality?” he asked, and his voice turned accusing. “Because I certainly have.”
His eyes narrowed. “Everyone else is able to get away with giving you things. Everyone but me. I would have loved to get you a graduation present, but I didn’t. I knew it would have upset you more than if anyone else did. That’s utterly unfair. How do you explain yourself?”
“Easy.” I shrugged. “You’re more important than everyone else. And you’ve given me you. That’s already more than I deserve, and anything else you give me just throws us more out of balance.”
He processed that for a moment, and then rolled his eyes. “The way you regard me is ludicrous.”
I chewed my breakfast calmly. I knew he wouldn’t listen if I told him that he had that backward.
Edward’s phone buzzed.
He looked at the number before he opened it. “What is it, Alice?”
He listened, and I waited for his reaction, suddenly nervous. But whatever she said didn’t surprise him. He sighed a few times.
“I sort of guessed as much,” he told her, staring into my eyes, a disapproving arch to his brow. “She was talking in her sleep.”
I flushed. What had I said now?
“I’ll take care of it,” he promised.
He glared at me as he shut his phone. “Is there something you’d like to talk to me about?”
I deliberated for a moment. Given Alice’s warning last night, I could guess why she’d called. And then remembering the troubled dreams I’d had as I’d slept through the day — dreams where I chased after Jasper, trying to follow him and find the clearing in the maze-like woods, knowing I would find Edward there . . . Edward, and the monsters who wanted to kill me, but not caring about them because I’d already made my decision — I could also guess what Edward had overheard while I’d slept.
I pursed my lips for a moment, not quite able to meet his gaze. He waited.
“I like Jasper’s idea,” I finally said.
“I want to help. I have to do something,” I insisted.
“It wouldn’t help to have you in danger.”
“Jasper thinks it would. This is his area of expertise.”
Edward glowered at me.
“You can’t keep me away,” I threatened. “I’m not going to hide out in the forest while you all take risks for me.”
Suddenly, he was fighting a smile. “Alice doesn’t see you in the clearing, Bella. She sees you stumbling around lost in the woods. You won’t be able to find us; you’ll just make it more time consuming for me to find you afterward.”
I tried to keep as cool as he was. “That’s because Alice didn’t factor in Seth Clearwater,” I said politely. “If she had, of course, she wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all. But it sounds like Seth wants to be there as much as I do. It shouldn’t be too hard to persuade him to show me the way.”
Anger flickered across his face, and then he took a deep breath and composed himself. “That might have worked . . . if you hadn’t told me. Now I’ll just ask Sam to give Seth certain orders. Much as he might want to, Seth won’t be able to ignore that kind of injunction.”
I kept my smile pleasant. “But why would Sam give those orders? If I tell him how it would help for me to be there? I’ll bet Sam would rather do me a favor than you.”
He had to compose himself again. “Maybe you’re right. But I’m sure Jacob would be only too eager to give those same orders.”
I frowned. “Jacob?”
“Jacob is second in command. Did he never tell you that? His orders have to be followed, too.”
He had me, and by his smile, he knew it. My forehead crumpled. Jacob would be on his side — in this one instance — I was sure. And Jacob never had told me that.
Edward took advantage of the fact that I was momentarily stumped, continuing in a suspiciously smooth and soothing voice.
“I got a fascinating look into the pack’s mind last night. It was better than a soap opera. I had no idea how complex the dynamic is with such a large pack. The pull of the individual against the plural psyche . . . Absolutely fascinating.”
He was obviously trying to distract me. I glared at him.
“Jacob’s been keeping a lot of secrets,” he said with a grin.
I didn’t answer, I just kept glaring, holding on to my argument and waiting for an opening.
“For instance, did you note the smaller gray wolf there last night?”
I nodded one stiff nod.
He chuckled. “They take all of their legends so seriously. It turns out there are things that none of their stories prepared them for.”
I sighed. “Okay, I’ll bite. What are you talking about?”
“They always accepted without question that it was only the direct grandsons of the original wolf who had the power to transform.”
“So someone changed who wasn’t a direct descendant?”
“No. She’s a direct descendant, all right.”
I blinked, and my eyes widened. “She?”
He nodded. “She knows you. Her name is Leah Clearwater.”
“Leah’s a werewolf!” I shrieked. “What? For how long? Why didn’t Jacob tell me?”
“There are things he wasn’t allowed to share — their numbers, for instance. Like I said before, when Sam gives an order, the pack simply isn’t able to ignore it. Jacob was very careful to think of other things when he was near me. Of course, after last night that’s all out the window.”
“I can’t believe it. Leah Clearwater!” Suddenly, I remembered Jacob speaking of Leah and Sam, and the way he acted as if he’d said too much — after he’d said something about Sam having to look in Leah’s eyes every day and know that he’d broken all his promises. . . . Leah on the cliff, a tear glistening on her cheek when Old Quil had spoken of the burden and sacrifice the Quileute sons shared. . . . And Billy, spending time with Sue because she was having trouble with her kids . . . and here the trouble actually was that both of them were werewolves now!
I hadn’t given much thought to Leah Clearwater, just to grieve for her loss when Harry had passed away, and then to pity her again when Jacob had told her story, about how the strange imprinting between Sam and her cousin Emily had broken Leah’s heart.
And now she was part of Sam’s pack, hearing his thoughts . . . and unable to hide her own.
I really hate that part, Jacob had said. Everything you’re ashamed of, laid out for everyone to see.
“Poor Leah,” I whispered.
Edward snorted. “She’s making life exceedingly unpleasant for the rest of them. I’m not sure she deserves your sympathy.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s hard enough for them, having to share all their thoughts. Most of them try to cooperate, make it easier. When even one member is deliberately malicious, it’s painful for everyone.”
“She has reason enough,” I mumbled, still on her side.
“Oh, I know,” he said. “The imprinting compulsion is one of the strangest things I’ve ever witnessed in my life, and I’ve seen some strange things.” He shook his head wonderingly. “The way Sam is tied to his Emily is impossible to describe — or I should say her Sam. Sam really had no choice. It reminds me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with all the chaos caused by the fairies’ love spells . . . like magic.” He smiled. “It’s very nearly as strong as the way I feel about you.”
“Poor Leah,” I said again. “But what do you mean, malicious?”
“She’s constantly bringing up things they’d rather not think of,” he explained. “For example, Embry.”
“What’s with Embry?” I asked, surprised.
“His mother moved down from the Makah reservation seventeen years ago, when she was pregnant with him. She’s not Quileute. Everyone assumed she’d left his father behind with the Makahs. But then he joined the pack.”
“So the prime candidates for his father are Quil Ateara Sr., Joshua Uley, or Billy Black, all of them married at that point, of course.”
“No!” I gasped. Edward was right — this was exactly like a soap opera.
“Now Sam, Jacob, and Quil all wonder which of them has a half-brother. They’d all like to think it’s Sam, since his father was never much of a father. But the doubt is always there. Jacob’s never been able to ask Billy about that.”
“Wow. How did you get so much in one night?”
“The pack mind is mesmerizing. All thinking together and then separately at the same time. There’s so much to read!”
He sounded faintly regretful, like someone who’d had to put down a good book just before the climax. I laughed.
“The pack is fascinating,” I agreed. “Almost as fascinating as you are when you’re trying to distract me.”
His expression became polite again — a perfect poker face.
“I have to be in that clearing, Edward.”
“No,” he said in a very final tone.
A certain path occurred to me at that moment.
It wasn’t so much that I had to be in the clearing. I just had to be where Edward was.
Cruel, I accused myself. Selfish, selfish, selfish! Don’t do it!
I ignored my better instincts. I couldn’t look at him while I spoke, though. The guilt had my eyes glued to the table.
“Okay, look, Edward,” I whispered. “Here’s the thing . . . I’ve already gone crazy once. I know what my limits are. And I can’t stand it if you leave me again.”
I didn’t look up to see his reaction, afraid to know how much pain I was inflicting. I did hear his sudden intake of breath and the silence that followed. I stared at the dark wooden tabletop, wishing I could take the words back. But knowing I probably wouldn’t. Not if it worked.
Suddenly, his arms were around me, his hands stroking my face, my arms. He was comforting me. The guilt went into spiral mode. But the survival instinct was stronger. There was no question that he was fundamental to my survival.
“You know it’s not like that, Bella,” he murmured. “I won’t be far, and it will be over quickly.”
“I can’t stand it,” I insisted, still staring down. “Not knowing whether or not you’ll come back. How do I live through that, no matter how quickly it’s over?”
He sighed. “It’s going to be easy, Bella. There’s no reason for your fears.”
“None at all?”
“And everybody will be fine?”
“Everyone,” he promised.
“So there’s no way at all that I need to be in the clearing?”
“Of course not. Alice just told me that they’re down to nineteen. We’ll be able to handle it easily.”
“That’s right — you said it was so easy that someone could sit out,” I repeated his words from last night. “Did you really mean that?”
It felt too simple — he had to see it coming.
“So easy that you could sit out?”
After a long moment of silence, I finally looked up at his expression.
The poker face was back.
I took a deep breath. “So it’s one way or the other. Either there is more danger than you want me to know about, in which case it would be right for me to be there, to do what I can to help. Or . . . it’s going to be so easy that they’ll get by without you. Which way is it?”
He didn’t speak.
I knew what he was thinking of — the same thing I was thinking of. Carlisle. Esme. Emmett. Rosalie. Jasper. And . . . I forced myself to think the last name. And Alice.
I wondered if I was a monster. Not the kind that he thought he was, but the real kind. The kind that hurt people. The kind that had no limits when it came to what they wanted.
What I wanted was to keep him safe, safe with me. Did I have a limit to what I would do, what I would sacrifice for that? I wasn’t sure.
“You ask me to let them fight without my help?” he said in a quiet voice.
“Yes.” I was surprised I could keep my voice even, I felt so wretched inside. “Or to let me be there. Either way, so long as we’re together.”
He took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly. He moved his hands to place them on either side of my face, forcing me to meet his gaze. He looked into my eyes for a long time. I wondered what he was looking for, and what it was that he found. Was the guilt as thick on my face as it was in my stomach — sickening me?
His eyes tightened against some emotion I couldn’t read, and he dropped one hand to pull out his phone again.
“Alice,” he sighed. “Could you come babysit Bella for a bit?” He raised one eyebrow, daring me to object to the word. “I need to speak with Jasper.”
She evidently agreed. He put the phone away and went back to staring at my face.
“What are you going to say to Jasper?” I whispered.
“I’m going to discuss . . . me sitting out.”
It was easy to read in his face how difficult the words were for him.
I was sorry. I hated to make him do this. Not enough that I could fake a smile and tell him to go on ahead without me. Definitely not that much.
“Don’t apologize,” he said, smiling just a little. “Never be afraid to tell me how you feel, Bella. If this is what you need . . .” He shrugged. “You are my first priority.”
“I didn’t mean it that way — like you have to choose me over your family.”
“I know that. Besides, that’s not what you asked. You gave me two alternatives that you could live with, and I chose the one that I could live with. That’s how compromise is supposed to work.”
I leaned forward and rested my forehead against his chest. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“Anytime,” he answered, kissing my hair. “Anything.”
We didn’t move for a long moment. I kept my face hidden, pressed against his shirt. Two voices struggled inside me. One that wanted to be good and brave, and one that told the good one to keep her mouth shut.
“Who’s the third wife?” he asked me suddenly.
“Huh?” I said, stalling. I didn’t remember having had that dream again.
“You were mumbling something about ‘the third wife’ last night. The rest made a little sense, but you lost me there.”
“Oh. Um, yeah. That was just one of the stories that I heard at the bonfire the other night.” I shrugged. “I guess it stuck with me.”
Edward leaned away from me and cocked his head to the side, probably confused by the uncomfortable edge to my voice.
Before he could ask, Alice appeared in the kitchen doorway with a sour expression.
“You’re going to miss all the fun,” she grumbled.
“Hello, Alice,” he greeted her. He put one finger under my chin and tilted my face up to kiss me goodbye.
“I’ll be back later tonight,” he promised me. “I’ll go work this out with the others, rearrange things.”
“There’s not much to arrange,” Alice said. “I already told them. Emmett is pleased.”
Edward sighed. “Of course he is.”
He walked out the door, leaving me to face Alice.
She glared at me.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized again. “Do you think this will make it more dangerous for you?”
She snorted. “You worry too much, Bella. You’re going to go prematurely gray.”
“Why are you upset, then?”
“Edward is such a grouch when he doesn’t get his way. I’m just anticipating living with him for the next few months.” She made a face. “I suppose, if it keeps you sane, it’s worth it. But I wish you could control the pessimism, Bella. It’s so unnecessary.”
“Would you let Jasper go without you?” I demanded.
Alice grimaced. “That’s different.”
“Sure it is.”
“Go clean yourself up,” she ordered me. “Charlie will be home in fifteen minutes, and if you look this ragged he’s not going to want to let you out again.”
Wow, I’d really lost the whole day. It felt like such a waste. I was glad I wouldn’t always have to squander my time with sleeping.
I was entirely presentable when Charlie got home — fully dressed, hair decent, and in the kitchen putting his dinner on the table. Alice sat in Edward’s usual place, and this seemed to make Charlie’s day.
“Howdy, Alice! How are you, hon?”
“I’m fine, Charlie, thanks.”
“I see you finally made it out of bed, sleepyhead,” he said to me as I sat beside him, before turning back to Alice. “Everyone’s talking about that party your parents threw last night. I’ll bet you’ve got one heck of a clean-up job ahead of you.”
Alice shrugged. Knowing her, it was already done.
“It was worth it,” she said. “It was a great party.”
“Where’s Edward?” Charlie asked, a little grudgingly. “Is he helping clean up?”
Alice sighed and her face turned tragic. It was probably an act, but it was too perfect for me to be positive. “No. He’s off planning the weekend with Emmett and Carlisle.”
Alice nodded, her face suddenly forlorn. “Yes. They’re all going, except me. We always go backpacking at the end of the school year, sort of a celebration, but this year I decided I’d rather shop than hike, and not one of them will stay behind with me. I’m abandoned.”
Her face puckered, the expression so devastated that Charlie leaned toward her automatically, one hand reaching out, looking for some way to help. I glared at her suspiciously. What was she doing?
“Alice, honey, why don’t you come stay with us,” Charlie offered. “I hate to think of you all alone in that big house.”
She sighed. Something squashed my foot under the table.
“Ow!” I protested.
Charlie turned to me. “What?”
Alice shot me a frustrated look. I could tell she thought that I was very slow tonight.
“Stubbed my toe,” I muttered.
“Oh.” He looked back at Alice. “So, how ’bout it?”
She stepped on my foot again, not quite so hard this time.
“Er, Dad, you know, we don’t really have the best accommodations here. I bet Alice doesn’t want to sleep on my floor. . . .”
Charlie pursed his lips. Alice pulled out the devastated expression again.
“Maybe Bella should stay up there with you,” he suggested. “Just until your folks get back.”
“Oh, would you, Bella?” Alice smiled at me radiantly. “You don’t mind shopping with me, right?”
“Sure,” I agreed. “Shopping. Okay.”
“When are they leaving?” Charlie asked.
Alice made another face. “Tomorrow.”
“When do you want me?” I asked.
“After dinner, I guess,” she said, and then put one finger to her chin, thoughtful. “You don’t have anything going on Saturday, do you? I want to get out of town to shop, and it will be an all-day thing.”
“Not Seattle,” Charlie interjected, his eyebrows pulling together.
“Of course not,” Alice agreed at once, though we both knew Seattle would be plenty safe on Saturday. “I was thinking Olympia, maybe. . . .”
“You’ll like that, Bella.” Charlie was cheerful with relief. “Go get your fill of the city.”
“Yeah, Dad. It’ll be great.”
With one easy conversation, Alice had cleared my schedule for the battle.
Edward returned not much later. He accepted Charlie’s wishes for a nice trip without surprise. He claimed they were leaving early in the morning, and said goodnight before the usual time. Alice left with him.
I excused myself soon after they left.
“You can’t be tired,” Charlie protested.
“A little,” I lied.
“No wonder you like to skip the parties,” he muttered. “It takes you so long to recover.”
Upstairs, Edward was lying across my bed.
“What time are we meeting with the wolves?” I murmured as I went to join him.
“In an hour.”
“That’s good. Jake and his friends need to get some sleep.”
“They don’t need as much as you do,” he pointed out.
I moved to another topic, assuming he was about to try to talk me into staying home. “Did Alice tell you that she’s kidnapping me again?”
He grinned. “Actually, she’s not.”
I stared at him, confused, and he laughed quietly at my expression.
“I’m the only one who has permission to hold you hostage, remember?” he said. “Alice is going hunting with the rest of them.” He sighed. “I guess I don’t need to do that now.”
“You’re kidnapping me?”
I thought about that briefly. No Charlie listening downstairs, checking on me every so often. And no houseful of wide-awake vampires with their intrusively sensitive hearing. . . . Just him and me — really alone.
“Is that all right?” he asked, concerned by my silence.
“Well . . . sure, except for one thing.”
“What thing?” His eyes were anxious. It was mind-boggling, but, somehow, he still seemed unsure of his hold on me. Maybe I needed to make myself more clear.
“Why didn’t Alice tell Charlie you were leaving tonight?” I asked.
He laughed, relieved.
I enjoyed the trip to the clearing more than I had last night. I still felt guilty, still afraid, but I wasn’t terrified anymore. I could function. I could see past what was coming, and almost believe that maybe it would be okay. Edward was apparently fine with the idea of missing the fight . . . and that made it very hard not to believe him when he said this would be easy. He wouldn’t leave his family if he didn’t believe it himself. Maybe Alice was right, and I did worry too much.
We got to the clearing last.
Jasper and Emmett were already wrestling — just warming up from the sounds of their laughter. Alice and Rosalie lounged on the hard ground, watching. Esme and Carlisle were talking a few yards away, heads close together, fingers linked, not paying attention.
It was much brighter tonight, the moon shining through the thin clouds, and I could easily see the three wolves that sat around the edge of the practice ring, spaced far apart to watch from different angles.
It was also easy to recognize Jacob; I would have known him at once, even if he hadn’t looked up and stared at the sound of our approach.
“Where are the rest of the wolves?” I wondered.
“They don’t all need to be here. One would do the job, but Sam didn’t trust us enough to just send Jacob, though Jacob was willing. Quil and Embry are his usual . . . I guess you could call them his wingmen.”
“Jacob trusts you.”
Edward nodded. “He trusts us not to try to kill him. That’s about it, though.”
“Are you participating tonight?” I asked, hesitant. I knew this was going to be almost as hard for him as being left behind would have been for me. Maybe harder.
“I’ll help Jasper when he needs it. He wants to try some unequal groupings, teach them how to deal with multiple attackers.”
And a fresh wave of panic shattered my brief sense of confidence.
They were still outnumbered. I was making that worse.
I stared at the field, trying to hide my reaction.
It was the wrong place to look, struggling as I was to lie to myself, to convince myself that everything would work out as I needed it to. Because when I forced my eyes away from the Cullens — away from the image of their play fighting that would be real and deadly in just a few days — Jacob caught my eyes and smiled.
It was the same wolfy grin as before, his eyes scrunching the way they did when he was human.
It was hard to believe that, not so long ago, I’d found the werewolves frightening — lost sleep to nightmares about them.
I knew, without asking, which of the others was Embry and which was Quil. Because Embry was clearly the thinner gray wolf with the dark spots on his back, who sat so patiently watching, while Quil — deep chocolate brown, lighter over his face — twitched constantly, looking like he was dying to join in the mock fight. They weren’t monsters, even like this. They were friends.
Friends who didn’t look nearly as indestructible as Emmett and Jasper did, moving faster than cobra strikes while the moonlight glinted off their granite-hard skin. Friends who didn’t seem to understand the danger involved here. Friends who were still somewhat mortal, friends who could bleed, friends who could die. . . .
Edward’s confidence was reassuring, because it was plain that he wasn’t truly worried about his family. But would it hurt him if something happened to the wolves? Was there any reason for him to be anxious, if that possibility didn’t bother him? Edward’s confidence only applied to one set of my fears.
I tried to smile back at Jacob, swallowing against the lump in my throat. I didn’t seem to get it right.
Jacob sprang lightly to his feet, his agility at odds with his sheer mass, and trotted over to where Edward and I stood on the fringe of things.
“Jacob,” Edward greeted him politely.
Jacob ignored him, his dark eyes on me. He put his head down to my level, as he had yesterday, cocking it to one side. A low whimper escaped his muzzle.
“I’m fine,” I answered, not needing the translation that Edward was about to give. “Just worried, you know.”
Jacob continued to stare at me.
“He wants to know why,” Edward murmured.
Jacob growled — not a threatening sound, an annoyed sound — and Edward’s lips twitched.
“What?” I asked.
“He thinks my translations leave something to be desired. What he actually thought was, ‘That’s really stupid. What is there to be worried about?’ I edited, because I thought it was rude.”
I halfway smiled, too anxious to really feel amused. “There’s plenty to be worried about,” I told Jacob. “Like a bunch of really stupid wolves getting themselves hurt.”
Jacob laughed his coughing bark.
Edward sighed. “Jasper wants help. You’ll be okay without a translator?”
Edward looked at me wistfully for one minute, his expression hard to understand, then turned his back and strode over to where Jasper waited.
I sat down where I was. The ground was cold and uncomfortable.
Jacob took a step forward, then looked back at me, and a low whine rose in his throat. He took another half-step.
“Go on without me,” I told him. “I don’t want to watch.”
Jacob leaned his head to the side again for a moment, and then folded himself on to the ground beside me with a rumbling sigh.
“Really, you can go ahead,” I assured him. He didn’t respond, he just put his head down on his paws.
I stared up at the bright silver clouds, not wanting to see the fight. My imagination had more than enough fuel. A breeze blew through the clearing, and I shivered.
Jacob scooted himself closer to me, pressing his warm fur against my left side.
“Er, thanks,” I muttered.
After a few minutes, I leaned against his wide shoulder. It was much more comfortable that way.
The clouds moved slowly across the sky, dimming and brightening as thick patches crossed the moon and passed on.
Absently, I began pulling my fingers through the fur on his neck. That same strange humming sound that he’d made yesterday rumbled in his throat. It was a homey kind of sound. Rougher, wilder than a cat’s purr, but conveying the same sense of contentment.
“You know, I never had a dog,” I mused. “I always wanted one, but Renée’s allergic.”
Jacob laughed; his body shook under me.
“Aren’t you worried about Saturday at all?” I asked.
He turned his enormous head toward me, so that I could see one of his eyes roll.
“I wish I could feel that positive.”
He leaned his head against my leg and started humming again. And it did make me feel just a little bit better.
“So we’ve got some hiking to do tomorrow, I guess.”
He rumbled; the sound was enthusiastic.
“It might be a long hike,” I warned him. “Edward doesn’t judge distances the way a normal person does.”
Jacob barked another laugh.
I settled deeper into his warm fur, resting my head against his neck.
It was strange. Even though he was in this bizarre form, this felt more like the way Jake and I used to be — the easy, effortless friendship that was as natural as breathing in and out — than the last few times I’d been with Jacob while he was human. Odd that I should find that again here, when I’d thought this wolf thing was the cause of its loss.
The killing games continued in the clearing, and I stared at the hazy moon.