Chapter 2 – Traditions
The event my family had planned for my coming of age was to consist of a grand banquet, formally presenting me to the court – something I couldn’t help viewing as frivolous, considering I had been at court my entire life, and would immediately afterward be leaving it forever – and then finally a ball, where, tradition would indicate, I would be sought after by every handsome young suitor in the kingdom. Somehow, I doubted that would be the case tonight.
I watched myself in the mirror as I stood for the final fitting of the gown we’d commissioned specifically for this event. It was simple in design, but elegant in the details, the way I liked my formal wear. Panels of pale green hugged my bodice and waist through the hips and then swirled out into a full skirt. Delicate gold embroidery edged the neck, sleeves, and bottom hem, where it wove its way up into a larger, more intricate design on the front panel. The colors were perfectly balanced to bring out the red and gold hues in my hair, and the skirt would look beautiful twirling around the dance floor, embroidery glinting in the lights of the hall. Too bad I wouldn’t be doing any dancing tonight; no one was going to come seeking the doomed princess, no matter how pretty her dress looked.
Once I was dressed, my hair was next on the list of preparations. The top half was pulled back and woven with strings of tiny white forget-me-nots, leaving a few loose curls to frame my face and the rest to swing freely down my back. Rose and Alice both tried to offer me pieces from their personal jewelry collections, but I politely refused. I knew they were only trying to help in their own ways, but getting dressed up like a doll was the last thing I wanted right now. Tonight was the last time I would get to be me, perhaps even the last evening of my life, period. Formal and pretty, yes, but most important tonight was that I still looked and felt like myself.
After that, time seemed to move both sluggishly and all too quickly. It was a little like I had my head submerged in water, watching my life play out around me but unable to hang onto any of the details. I remember being ushered into the great hall, where tables had been set up for my family and me, as well as the rest of the noble families who would be attending, along with a wide open dance floor and a raised platform where a small string band was already playing soft background music.
Since the celebration was to be held in my honor, I would be seated in the chair just to the right of my grandfather’s place at the head of the table, with my mother on my other side. As the guest of honor, Jacob would be across from me, at Grandfather’s left, and my father next to him. The rest of my family filed in after us, moving to stand behind their respective chairs while we awaited the arrival of the court. Rosalie would be next to my mother, and my uncle Emmett across from her, followed by Alice and Rosalie’s brother, Jasper. Rose and Emmett’s twin sons Tobias and Joshua brought up the rear; at ten years of age, they finally could be trusted to sit through a formal evening without direct supervision from their parents. Between them, opposite my grandfather, my grandmother Esme took her place at the end of the table, smiling sweetly – and a little sadly – at all our family gathered here together.
Together for the last time, I thought gloomily, staring down at the wood grain between my fingers as I clutched the back of my chair. I refused to meet anyone’s eyes – particularly the pair of obsidian black ones watching me from across the table.
As the first of the guests arrived, Grandfather and Grandmother came around the table to greet them together. Grandfather gave my shoulder a little squeeze as he passed – both in reassurance, and as a reminder to look up and smile, since technically I was the main spectacle tonight.
I sighed, then turned and joined the rest of my family in smiling welcomingly to the people filing in for the banquet. I couldn’t help a quick glance in Jacob’s direction. Where I expected to find boredom or confusion, he instead seemed to be carefully studying my face. I flushed, turning away quickly, but not before taking in his appearance as well.
Someone – Grandfather, no doubt – had apparently convinced him to don a short robe-like garment in addition to his trousers. It was a deep green color, edged in gold and black, and belted closed at the waist, the top hanging open to expose the russet skin of his chest. Such a garment was normally worn over an undertunic, but Jacob, I suspected, had agreed to one shirt, not several. It was nothing formal by our standards, but at least he wasn’t walking around half-dressed in front of the rest of the court.
I smiled and nodded to our guests as they entered, despite the looks of worry and even fear directed at me and the large dark man behind me. I wondered if they had convinced him to put on shoes. I doubted it – and for some reason, that thought made me smile in earnest.
All of a sudden, I wanted nothing more than to frighten these little people before me, to showcase the foreignness they feared, the same foreign power that was even now reaching out to claim me. I was hyperaware of Jacob standing behind me, how he towered over everyone in the room, looming threateningly with his dark skin and deep black eyes. I smiled toothily at a noblewoman as she passed, her eyes darting from me to Jacob and back again, a hint of white beginning to show all around her irises.
When the last of the courtiers had passed me, the triumphant, morbid glow began to dim, leaving me feeling a little foolish. I had seized the moment to try to make all of them feel as bad as I did, but it didn’t do anything to improve my own situation in the end. I suppressed a sigh, clasping my hands in front of me and staring resolutely out at the crowd.
Now that all the guests had arrived and found their respective tables, Grandfather stepped away from the rest of us, calling the court’s attention to himself as he stood at the front of the room to deliver his welcome speech while we took our seats. He thanked them all for coming to celebrate my birthday, and I rose to curtsy and smile sweetly at them when he directed their attention toward me. When I turned back to my seat, it was to find Jacob studying me from across the table, his gaze curious, which I had expected, but also compassionate, which I had not. I pursed my lips and looked down at the table instead.
I felt Jacob’s gaze lift momentarily when Grandfather introduced him as the representative from our esteemed neighbors, the Quileutes. I glanced up at him as he acknowledged the court with a disinterested scowl; he really wasn’t doing anything to dispel the image of him as a savage half-man-half-beast warrior. His eyes found mine again a moment later though, and I had to force myself to look away, instead turning to watch as Grandfather finished his speech and called for dinner to be served.
The cooks and servers who had been standing by now emerged from the side doors all around the hall, carrying great vats of fine wine; bowls of salads, fruits, and beans prepared in every way imaginable; baskets of warm, sweet breads; and platters of butter and cheese. Jacob looked more and more disappointed with every dish they placed on the table around us, his eyes searching hungrily for something he knew would not be there. Glumly, he finally accepted the salad one of the servants offered him, heaving a heavy sigh. Grandfather glanced at him semi-apologetically, but didn’t comment.
Everyone at our table was unusually quiet as they ate, despite the soft music from the band and the general hubbub of conversation in the rest of the hall. I stirred my food around on my plate and tried to keep myself from meeting Jacob’s gaze as he continued to stare at me.
I wondered what he could see on my face that could captivate him so. Perhaps he was looking for some sign of guilt over the crimes my people had supposedly committed against his, never mind that they had occurred nearly a half century before I was born. Maybe he was looking for fear. Maybe he was waiting for me to cry.
I glanced up defiantly, silently daring him to think such a thing. He caught my gaze eagerly and held it with his dark eyes.
“What?” I said, ignoring the look my mother shot me. She had raised me better than that, but I didn’t so much care at the moment.
He frowned, though not as if he were offended by my rudeness. “You’re not eating,” he said simply.
I saw my father’s hand tighten around his fork. Jacob continued to watch me.
I glanced at his untouched plate of salad, beans, and potatoes. “Neither are you.”
He made a face, flicking at the green leaves piled on his plate with one long finger. “There’s no meat…” he mumbled.
“Excuse me?” my father suddenly cut in. My mother hissed his name admonishingly but he ignored her, staring up at the younger man with eyes like twin pieces of amber ice.
“I said there’s no meat,” Jacob all but spat, a snarl coloring his voice as he turned to face my father.
“Yes, well, we can’t all be barbarians, can we?” Father snapped back.
The whole table went very still. Grandfather and Emmett were watching the exchange anxiously, my uncle looking ready to leap out of his chair at the slightest hint of a fight beginning. My mother looked embarrassed and dismayed, while Aunt Rosalie glared openly at Jacob. I simply stared, shocked at my father’s uncharacteristic loss of temper and at Jacob’s sudden mood change from the quiet concern he’d shown me just moments before.
From the other end of the table, someone cleared their throat delicately. We all looked down at Alice, who was smiling placatingly at the two of them. “Edward, you know perfectly well there’s nothing barbaric about the Quileutes eating meat,” she said sweetly, then continued in a conspiratorial stage-whisper to Jacob, “You should be glad it’s just the one day for you; imagine having to give up meat for the rest of your life!” And then she winked at him, letting out a tinkling laugh that served to immediately disperse the tense mood around the table.
Everyone seemed to relax again, at least as much as they could. After a few moments, they began tucking into their food and conversing quietly, apparently determined to forget the last few minutes’ conflict – all but Father and Aunt Rose, who continued to shoot Jacob furious looks despite their respective spouses trying to distract them.
“What the hell was that supposed to mean…” Jacob muttered, casting a dubious look down towards Alice as he picked at the vegetables on his plate.
“Alice grew up in Volterra,” I said quietly, not meeting his gaze.
“What?” He didn’t raise his voice, but the shock and horror was still evident in that one syllable. His eyes were wide when I looked up at him.
“She’s originally from Volterra,” I repeated. “She didn’t join us until she married Jasper, my Aunt Rose’s brother.” I nodded toward the far end of the table, indicating the tall, battle-scarred man sitting across from her.
He stared down the table at them for a long moment before turning back to his still-untouched plate with a small shudder, muttering something that sounded like “bloodsucker.”
I felt my eyes narrow slightly, but he didn’t say anything else on the matter. Alice was my mother’s best friend and like another aunt to me. It wasn’t important where – or how – she was raised; after meeting Jasper, she chose to convert to our vegetarian ways of her own free will. That was all that mattered to us.
“So how do you eat this stuff?” Jacob asked after a moment, waving a hand disdainfully around the food on his plate.
I raised an eyebrow. “With a fork.”
He wrinkled his nose at me, grabbing his fork off the table as if to prove he knew what it was. “I mean how do you eat this every day? All fruits and vegetables, nothing but plants.”
“And bread, cheese, nuts, beans…”
“Those count as plants,” he said, wagging his fork at me.
“Okay, not that one,” he conceded. He seemed to debate for a moment, and then selected a steaming ear of corn from a nearby bowl, pushing the salad aside to make room on his plate as he slathered it in butter.
“That’s a plant,” I pointed out, feeling one corner of my mouth begin to hike up just a little. He made a face at me again and purposely took a huge bite of the corn, making me bite my lip to stifle the grin that threatened to break across my face. This didn’t escape Jacob’s ever-watchful gaze, and he smiled in return, knowing he was getting to me.
I felt a small blush beginning in my cheeks, and looked back down at my own plate, stirring my salad around thoughtfully. What was I doing? Making friends with the enemy? Because Jacob was my enemy, I was sure. He was here to rip me from all I had ever known and loved, to visit on me a punishment that was meant for men my grandfather’s age, who had wronged his people long before I was born. I should be feeling the most violent hatred toward him, not joking with him about our eating habits.
But… so what? I frowned, stabbing half-heartedly at a turnip slice. What was the point in hating him? It wasn’t as if it would change anything. I was going to the Quileute king whether I made Jacob’s life miserable along the way or not. If anything, it made more sense to befriend him and thus have at least one person on my side when I went into that strange land.
I blinked, the realization suddenly crystallizing in my mind. Of course. I slanted a glance at my grandfather, who had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the meal. His eyes were on his plate, seemingly content to let Jacob and I entertain each other. Silently encouraging us, even, to talk exclusively to one another.
I looked back over at Jacob with new eyes. Grandfather was hoping I would find a friend and confidante in him, that I would have someone to trust and rely on when I left home. Jacob didn’t seem adverse to the idea either, if his open, friendly conversation with me was anything to go by. A small part of me still insisted I should resent him for coming to take me away like this, but… truth be told, I liked Jacob.
I didn’t know what to make of him, though. Surely, I thought, the Quileutes would have wanted to send their fiercest, most intimidating warrior. Not that he wasn’t fierce-looking, or intimidating… but it was difficult to think of him that way when he was grinning like a mischievous schoolboy, or sighing over his meat-free dinner… like he was now.
“You really can’t make any meat appear there by staring at it,” I said. He looked up at me, grinning sheepishly. I found myself smiling back. “I mean, I assume not… Unless you’ve got some kind of magic powers I don’t know about.”
He laughed, shaking his head. “Wouldn’t that be nice? Concentrate hard enough, get bacon!”
“Bacon?” I blinked.
He looked back at me, confused by my confusion. “Yeah, you know, it’s…” He hesitated, pursing his lips. “Um… It’s a kind of meat…”
“Well I figured that.” I ignored the stormy expressions coming our way from my family members.
Jacob gave me a disparaging look, but continued, still smiling. “It’s thin slices of pork, and when you cook them they curl up and get all crispy, and…” He trailed off, licking his lips comically. “It is just about the best thing in the whole world.”
I laughed, though I couldn’t help the horrified look on my face. “Pork? Like from piglets?”
“Well, yeah,” he shrugged. “What else are you gonna do with pigs?”
I made a face at him, thinking of the miniature piglets some people liked to keep as pets in our kingdom. They were sweet, intelligent creatures, and very easy to take care of. I knew from my studies that they were nowhere near the size of the pigs bred for butchering in other places, but they had no need to be. I couldn’t imagine eating something so adorable.
Hundreds of feet above us, the tower bells suddenly began to chime, signaling the setting of the sun and, in our case, the end of dinner. I swallowed hard, my carefree conversation with Jacob forgotten.
Grandfather gently grasped my hand as he rose from his seat, pulling me up with him to lead me to the front of the room. I took a deep breath, preparing myself mentally for what was to come. Jacob looked concerned but not confused as we stepped away from the table; apparently, he’d been briefed on the events for the evening.
My family and I had discussed many times over the past year how exactly to handle my birthday celebration. Tradition dictated a banquet and then a ball, but my parents and grandparents had suggested perhaps foregoing the latter. No one ever said it, but I knew we were all thinking the same thing: what was the point of a dance when I was going to be whisked away from all the would-be suitors perhaps that very night?
Grandfather had wanted to find some way of graciously declining the ball, perhaps inviting others onto the floor while I danced only with family members. I remember commenting at the time that they would all have to prepare themselves for a lot of dancing then, or else it would be a very short ball, since there were only four men in my family, not counting my two young cousins. That didn’t seem like such a horrible alternative anymore.
When it came down to it, I had decided to just follow the old traditions. I would go through the motions and try to keep things as normal as possible till the very end. I had forced myself to consider only what would benefit our nation the most, what would be the most comfort to our people. Now, it was all I could do to keep from hating them all for this.
I steadied myself with a breath. Just go though the motions.
“My lords and ladies of the court,” Grandfather began, calling the room to attention. “It is my greatest honor and pleasure to introduce to you this fine young lady, who has blossomed seemingly overnight into a beautiful woman. She is the pride and joy of our family and our kingdom, and my own sweet granddaughter. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the princess Renesmee.”
Polite applause spread through the hall as I curtsied graciously. Grandfather smiled down at me as I stood, his eyes sad but full of love. He turned to kiss me softly on the forehead. “I am so proud of you,” he whispered, and then turned back to the crowd. Raising our joined hands, he called out, “Let the dancing begin!” Then he twirled me elegantly out onto the dance floor, where I came to a stop just inside the wide circle of tables ringing the hall, my skirt swishing around my legs softly.
For just one moment, I managed to smile out at them, letting myself believe that this would actually be a normal coming of age ball. Any moment now, the first of the ever-eager young men would begin making their way toward me…
That feeling lasted for a solid three seconds, and then I remembered who I was, and what was happening, and what the dark man at the table behind me was really here for.
The hall was silent but for the band’s feeble attempt at a waltz tune. A hundred pairs of eyes watched me and even more couldn’t seem to look up from their suddenly interesting plates. I felt my expression begin to fall, and my face begin to heat.
I stubbornly refused to look away though, standing proudly at the front of the room, even as I felt a glower darkening my features. Just as my eyes began to sting with the tears I absolutely refused to shed in front of these people, I heard a chair being pushed out somewhere behind me and someone rising from their seat. I didn’t look; I didn’t want to turn around and see my father coming to my rescue.
Traditionally, family members and relatives waited until the end of the night to dance with the lady of the hour, allowing as much time as possible for the young men of the court to seek her out for a dance. Father must have finally decided enough was enough; if they hadn’t approached me yet, they weren’t going to.
When I looked up at the figure who had stepped up beside me though, it wasn’t my father, or my grandfather, or either of my uncles. Instead, it was Jacob who stood before me, his large brown hand held out toward me and the strangest expression in his eyes. It took me a moment to decipher it, and then I understood: I was being rescued, but not by anyone I’d expected.
He couldn’t know anything about our traditions, about how humiliating and disappointing it was for me to stand at my own coming of age ball as not one young nobleman took so much as a step in my direction. He couldn’t understand how this was my last chance to be normal, to pretend I had a life, before it all came crashing down… There was no way he could know any of that – and yet, somehow it seemed he couldn’t bear watching me anymore than I could bear standing there alone.
I reached out and placed my hand in his.
The instant our skin touched, a bolt of lightning seemed to shoot up my arm, originating from our joined hands. My eyes jumped up to his, which had gone wide like my own. There was no doubt that he had felt it too.
Jacob swallowed but continued forward, swinging me out into the center of the dance floor as his other hand found my waist. He seemed to think for a moment, and then suddenly grinned down at me. “Follow my lead, okay?” he said, dark eyes twinkling.
It occurred to me then: there was no way he knew any of our dances either.
“Hey, you!” he called, then whistled through his teeth at the band. They stared him, aghast. “Play something fast,” he ordered. The musicians glanced at my grandfather nervously, who nodded and waved a hand at them to go ahead.
“What are you–” I started, and then we were spinning around the floor.
My feet barely touched the ground as Jacob carried me through some kind of jaunty, quick-stepping dance I was entirely unfamiliar with. I was suddenly very glad for his apparently limitless strength – he could have easily picked me up and carried me like a sack of potatoes, I was sure – because otherwise I would have been tripping on my skirt and my own feet trying to keep up with him.
After a minute or two, I did start to get the hang of it. I had always been a natural dancer, and between finally finding the rhythm in the song and studying the quick movements of his feet – which, I noticed, were indeed still bare – I was just beginning to be able to follow along when the dance abruptly changed.
Instead of the two of us moving in tight circles across the dance floor, Jacob suddenly whipped me out away from him, sending me spinning until I was jerked to a stop by our joined hands. A quick tug then had me whirling back into his arms, where he caught me with a smirk.
We turned a few more quick circles, and then he sent me spinning out again. As far as I could tell, there was no pattern to it at all; he simply swung me out and spun me back in as he felt like it. The next time, I made sure I was ready for it, letting my feet guide and steady me through the outward turn as my skirt spun out around me with a flourish.
There was one instant at the outermost point of the spin where everything seemed to slow to a halt, the golden light in the hall surrounding us and blocking out all else. Jacob stood with his arm extended, holding me by the very tips of my fingers, absolutely beaming at me. Behind his exhilarated smile, however, was a warm, gentle glow, like a sunrise breaking through the night’s storm clouds.
I couldn’t put a name to the emotion on his face, but I knew it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My eyes drank in the sight, burning the image into my memories forever.
I was breathing heavily when he pulled back in again.
“Having fun yet?” he asked, and before I could answer, he suddenly bent me backwards, dipping my head toward the floor. I clung to his arms, sure I was about to hit the floor, but then he lifted me back up and we were spinning again.
“Are you making this up as you go?” I gasped, trying to find my balance again.
“Of course,” he said, eyes twinkling.
He raised the hand holding mine then and pushed me under his arm with the hand at my waist, spinning me around several times in one direction and then back the way I had come. I was a little dizzy when he caught me again.
“I’ve never danced like this before,” I admitted as he swung us around the dance floor once more.
He snorted. “I’m a little surprised you even have dancing here, you’re all so freakin’ proper…”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I demanded, glaring up at him. I resisted the slight urge to step on his toes.
Jacob blinked down at me, looking slightly surprised. “Oh, I didn’t mean…” He frowned, then spun me out and back in as he tried to find the right words. “I guess what I meant was, this,” he gestured around the room with his chin, “is their idea of a party?”
It was my turn to blink wonderingly up at him now. I’d been to other banquets before, of course, celebrating our national holidays or another young noble’s coming of age. They all followed a certain format, an expected routine, but they weren’t boring. And yet… somehow, afterward, I could never throw off the rich finery they required fast enough, freeing myself to run barefoot across the palace lawns despite my parents’ disapproving yet indulging gazes.
“Why,” I said, making it sound like a challenge, “what are celebrations like where you come from?”
One corner of his lips quirked up and his eyes took on a distant quality. “They’re… wild.” He said the word breathlessly, even reverently. His eyes found mine again a moment later, and he smiled down at me, his voice still quiet. “But I guess you’ll see that for yourself soon enough.”
My insides seemed to ice over as I stared up at him, apparently unaware of the effect his words had on me. Where his hands touched me now felt like points of fire.
Jacob looked up as the song ended and gradually slowed us to a halt. “Maybe something slower next,” he murmured. So maybe he had picked up on my mood change after all. I nodded, feeling hollow.
Someone cleared their throat right behind us then, and we turned to see my father standing a few feet away at the edge of the dance floor. “If I may,” he said, smiling gently and holding his arm out to me, though his eyes were frosty as he glanced up at Jacob.
Jacob, for his part, looked like he wanted to tell my father no, he may not. Something like a muted growl seemed to reverberate in his chest, but then he snorted and nodded sharply, relinquishing his grasp on me.
“Princess,” he said, turning back to face me, and offered a short bow, an abbreviated version of the fluid movement he’d performed when we first met. Shakily, I responded with a small curtsy of my own, and then could do nothing but stare at the spot he’d vacated as he passed me to return to our table. Father reached down and took my hand, gently leading me back out into the center of the room as other couples began to trickle onto the floor around us.
The band struck up a familiar stately dance melody, and my father began to lead me through the steps, we circling each other, joining hands then parting again, moving in perfect sync with the others dancers. It was a common dance in our kingdom, one I had known by heart since I was very young. It didn’t do anything to dispel the hollow feeling.
Father sighed after a minute or two of silence. “What did he say to you?” he asked quietly, but I looked up at him, hearing the anger and hate burning just below the surface.
“Nothing important,” I sighed. Father didn’t look convinced, but it was technically true, I realized. Dancing, parties… It was about the equivalent of discussing the weather, really. So why did everything Jacob say get under my skin like that, like the entire world hung in the balance when he spoke?
Father continued to watch me, his eyes like two sad drops of honey. “We tried, you know,” he said after a long moment, causing me to look up at him again. “When he arrived this afternoon, we tried everything we could to convince him to leave you be. How can sacrificing your life right a wrong that happened forty years ago?” His voice broke on the last few words, but he shook his head, continuing. “But that… that monster… He wouldn’t even listen. He would have tossed you over his shoulder and left immediately if we’d let him.”
“He’s not a monster,” I said quietly, despite the fact that he was now echoing my own thoughts from throughout the day. “He’s just… doing what he has to. Just like me.”
My father stared at me incredulously. “How can you- How can you just accept this, Renesmee?” he demanded.
“What choice do I have?” I shot back at him, feeling my eyes begin to prick with the tears I refused to shed here. Father stared at me and I stopped, standing across from him. “I think I’ve had enough dancing for one night,” I muttered.
He nodded, looking soul-sick, and turned to lead me back to the table. Uncle Emmett rose from his chair as we approached, but I waved him back; I couldn’t stay out on that dance floor any longer.
“All finished?” Grandfather asked gently. I nodded as I took my seat, avoiding the dark gaze from across the table. I stared down at my hands folded on the tabletop as my grandfather went to address the crowd, trying as best I could to maintain appearances and not break down right here in the middle of the banquet hall. Grandfather thanked them again for coming to celebrate with us, thanked the band for the wonderful music and the cooks for the delicious food, and then brought the festivities to a close, bidding them all a safe return and a good night.
I sat and tried not to hear the astonished murmurs that rippled through the room. My head hurt. My chest felt hollow. I’d never felt so drained.
Slowly, a large dark hand glided across the table to rest on top of both of mine. I looked up to find Jacob gazing at me resolutely, his eyes apologetic. I didn’t know if it was for what he’d said that had upset me on the dance floor, or for simply being here at all. Beside Jacob, instead of looking like he wanted to attack him like I’d expected, my father simply sat watching me, he gold eyes heartbroken.
I looked down at Jacob’s hand on mine and, for some reason, felt a little better.
Once the guests had all left and the servants were beginning to clear away the tables and decorations, my family converged on me, gathering in a tight clump at the front of the hall. Jacob stood a little ways off, arms folded and looking somewhat unsure as he watched me.
Uncle Emmett pulled me into a fierce bearhug, shaking his head when I tried to apologize for not letting them each have a chance to dance with me. “Hey, it’s your party, Nessie,” he said, grinning down at me, though even his usually merry eyes looked sad. “You can do whatever the hell you want.”
“Here here,” Jasper agreed quietly, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder. My mother pulled me into a tight embrace then, unable to hold back her tears any longer, and Rosalie and Alice stepped up as well, encircling us both. My grandmother was the last to pull me into her arms, cradling my head against her shoulder as she whispered how much she loved me and what a beautiful woman I had become.
I was close to tears myself with my family members clustered around me, their love and loss tangible in the air. I could feel the end coming, though, something pulling me away from them and on to whatever awaited me beyond the mountains.
I looked up from my grandmother’s embrace to find Jacob studying my face from where he stood apart from us. Somehow, he looked almost as drained as I felt. “So what now?” I asked quietly, stepping slightly away from my grandmother to look him in the eye.
He blinked, caught off guard by my question. “Um…”
“I think it’s time we all got to bed,” Grandfather cut in, taking a step between Jacob and I. We both looked at him, confused. “It’s much too late to set out for Quileute now,” he explained, as if he hadn’t actually planned this. “We can of course offer you the best lodgings for the night, Jacob.”
He shrugged noncommittally. “I’d rather sleep outside, honestly…”
“Whatever you’d like,” Grandfather said graciously, bowing slightly.
My family started to shepherd me away with them, but that unnamable something was still tugging on me, pulling me toward Jacob and my future. “You don’t mind, do you?” I blurted, leaning around my father to look back at Jacob.
He gazed at me for a long moment, then offered a small, tired smile. “No, of course not.” His dark eyes were strangely regretful once more as he murmured, “Good night, princess.”
I nodded and let myself be led away, staring back at him the whole while.
Once in my quarters, and having finally finished saying my various goodbyes-disguised-as-good-nights to my family members, I went through my usual nighttime routine, washing, changing into my nightclothes, and pulling a wide-toothed comb through my unruly curls. I tried to ignore the ache building in my chest and the pull that had yet to ease.
As I moved through my nightly habits, I found myself at the window, staring out at the stars as if they had some sort of advice for me. Shaking my head, I sank onto the window seat – and then gasped.
There on the lawn four stories below me, I could see the silhouette of an enormous canine mass. The moonlight caught on its fur, painting it a dusty reddish-brown, and from here I could just make out the steady rise and fall of its breathing.
Inexplicably, the weight on my chest seemed to lessen as I sat there watching him. I still felt the pangs of loss at having to leave my family, but it was manageable, I realized. While part of me mourned that loss, there was another part, perhaps even a larger part, that was already moving on. My thoughts repeated what I had known when I first saw Jacob this afternoon: However dire or short my future might be, it was waiting for me just past tomorrow’s sunrise, and, somehow, the wolf-man sleeping below my window was the key to it.
I felt a palpable tug in the center of my chest, and for one instant I actually considered running out to sit with him on the grass under the moon.
I shook my head feebly, leaning against the cool glass as I watched him. I stayed there for a little while longer, and then finally rose with a sigh, reaching up to draw the curtains. I thought better of it a moment later, though, letting them hang open so I could see the moon and the stars.
As I settled into bed, I looked back at the window one more time. “Good night, Jacob,” I whispered, just before drifting off into a troubled sleep.