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Where Are You, Christmas?
Jacob was draping blue and silver garland along the wide opening between the kitchen and living room and paused to peruse his friend Bella who was sitting at the small kitchen table. For him—she had always been more than just a friend.
While he surreptitiously peeked at her, she tugged at her oversized, blue plaid, flannel shirt, pulling it more tightly around her as if she were cold, before she resumed the task of cutting lengths of silver curling ribbon.
Jacob finished tacking up the garland and returned to the table for the next bundle. He absently hummed along with the music coming from his dad’s old radio in the living room as he picked at the gnarled mass. Quickly becoming frustrated with his inability to untangle the shiny glob he’d found in the attic, Jacob wadded it into a ball, set up his shot, and lobbed the glittery disaster into the trash can next to the refrigerator.
He reached into the bowl of popcorn sitting on the table, scooped up a large handful, and shoved it into his mouth. His eyes were drawn to Bella again as she began to tie the silvery ribbons around the handles of the five little, blue gift bags they had put together for his pack-mates. From her pale hands, Jacob’s eyes traveled to the long brown hair that hung listlessly around her gaunt face.
“This popcorn sucks,” he complained, wiping the crumbs off on his T-shirt. “Where’s the gobs of butter and salt?”
Bella quickly glanced up at him and went back to tying and curling the ribbons. “You’re supposed to string it, not eat it.”
“Screw that. Around here, we don’t waste food by decorating with it.” He grinned at Bella and reached into the plastic tub beside the table. He pulled out an old, fake, pine-bough wreath, and rummaged around until he found the wreath hanger his family had used for years.
He carried the red-painted, chipped hanger and ratty wreath out to the front porch and shook them, trying to dislodge some of the dust. One of the pine cones on the wreath came off and bounced across the porch, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was still a wreath. He placed the hanger over the door, pulled the door closed, and hung the faded greenery. It had seen better days, but it was still sort of festive, even with the crumpled red bow.
Sadly, it reminded him of Bella. She was certainly faded and seemed to be missing something, too. Like he had for months, he wouldn’t give up—he’d keep trying. As he went to fetch the errant pine cone and work the wrinkles out of the bow, he thought over their day.
He and Bella had spent the better part of it Christmas shopping and preparing food, though the shopping part hadn’t really taken long. He and Bella were more of the search-and-destroy-complete-the-mission type of shoppers; not the ogle-and-touch-every-damn-thing-in-the-friggin’-store type.
Jacob had lured her from her house, under the guise of needing her help to pick out a small gift for each of his fellow pack members. They had stopped by a little boutique touting handcrafted items, and Jacob had thought that the little lumps of black soap, resembling coal, would be a funny thing to give his brothers.
While they were in the little shop, Bella had even picked up a few bars of handmade soap for her weird mother.
Delighted, his deep brown eyes had lit up at her purchase. To be honest, Jacob was grasping at straws. He was desperate to find something—anything—that could be a sign of the old Bella returning. He would take what he could get, even if it was a couple bars of vegan, patchouli-scented soap for Renee.
Then Bella did something even more shocking. She had stopped by the gift wrap display and actually suggested they should buy the celestial print gift bags.
Bella lifted the bags. “Moons. Werewolves. Get it?” she had said.
Such a small thing, but it had Jacob feeling really hopeful for the first time in months.
But then the light died in her eyes once again. Her shoulders sagged, and she shuffled toward the cashier as if the weight of the little hand-sewn gift bags and package of silvery tissue paper in her hands were more than she could bear to carry.
He hated to see her like that. Her hair was dull, her eyes were dull, her whole … self was dull, colorless, washed out; like the driftwood on First Beach. It was as if, when Cullen left her, he took the essence—the spirit—of Bella and tore it away.
The leech hadn’t drained her blood, but he had sucked the very life right out of her.
Back when Jacob had phased for the first time, and learned unequivocally that the legends of the spirit warriors were indeed true—not just fairytales—he had wanted—more than anything—to imprint on Bella. Like Sam had imprinted on Emily and Jared had found his mate in Kim.
Despite Sam phasing in a rage and accidentally scarring Emily, she had forgiven him and both young women had blossomed under the loving attention of their imprinted wolves. Jacob felt that if he could somehow imprint on Bella, and she could feel the security of really knowing he would never leave her, she would get better and be like she used to be—before Cullen.
It hadn’t happened, no matter how hard Jacob had wished for it. He had tried to console himself with the fact that the legends all stated that imprinting was rare, and he still had her as his friend.
Another thing that Jacob hoped for was that the Cullens never return to Forks. He wished they would run their cold, undead asses, as far from La Push as they could get. None of them had bitten Bella, but there were other ways to cause harm to a human. It was because of them his best friend was nearly lifeless, and the wolf gene of their ancestors had been awakened, burdening him and his pack-mates with the mixed blessing of the wolf spirit.
“Mixed blessing” was the nicest way to put it. Of course, it had changed them all. Physically, they all looked like they were twenty-five-years-old and worked out at the gym every day, and yet none of them were over twenty. Sam was the oldest at nineteen, and Jacob happened to be the youngest at fifteen.
It had caused changes in their personalities, too. Initially, each one of them had been terrified and when they realized what they had become, they were beaten down under the crushing weight of it all. Their dreams, no matter how big or small, had been ripped apart and smashed to pieces.
It had taken some time, but eventually the young wolves had banded together, bonded with each other, and came to accept it was their destiny to be the protectors of their homes and families. They were the ones who were deemed most capable of defending their land against creatures who were indestructible. Indestructible except when they faced the Quileute spirit wolves.
All of the boys had had to grow up. They had all become a little more thoughtful and circumspect. They had also become a little more hot-headed. Though with Paul, it was hard to tell since he always seemed to be pissed off.
Even Quil had moments, fleeting as they were, when he took his job seriously.
The biggest change amongst the wolves had been in Embry. The closer it got to Christmas, the worse he became. He’d never been as loud or boisterous as Jacob and their friend Quil, but he’d always had a smile on his face, and was up for pretty much anything the boys had wanted to do. Then he had phased, and his ready smile and quietly playful manner were gone.
Not that they’d talked about it, but Jacob had figured his friend’s somber mood wasn’t all about being a wolf. He honestly thought it had more to do with Embry not knowing who his father was. Too many times Jacob had caught the stray, quickly buried thought in Embry’s mind, who did this to me?
Obviously, it was someone who carried the wolf gene. But who? It could have been Sam’s piece-of-shit father or even Jacob’s own dad. He hated to even consider it, and the thought twisted Jacob’s stomach. It would have meant his father had cheated on his mother not long before Jacob had been conceived.
Embry’s mother had never told him, so he’d grown up without a dad; without someone to potentially help guide him.
Without someone to blame.
Each and every one of them had railed and growled and snarled at or about their parents and ancestors for cursing them.
Slowly, bit by bit, it had gotten better as they came to terms with their wolves, and garnered the respect and support of their immediate families and the tribe’s council.
Except for Embry. He was always in trouble with his mother for sneaking out of the house and breaking his curfew because of the patrols he couldn’t tell her about. Jacob wondered if maybe she had accused him of being like his father. But she still wouldn’t tell him who he was.
Embry couldn’t tell her his secret, and she refused tell him hers.
Jacob wondered who she was trying to protect—her son, herself, or the man who had knocked her up and left her to raise their son alone.
The most profound change Jacob had seen in anyone because of the goddamned Cullens was in Bella.
When that fucking Edward Cullen had left her in the woods, he’d left her alive, but that was all she was. It was like she was hollow inside. She didn’t seem to care about anything anymore. It broke Jacob’s heart because she had always been one of the most compassionate people he had ever known.
It was also because of the Cullen’s negligence the red-headed female leech was still out there somewhere. The good thing about being a shape-shifting wolf was that he and his pack would take care of her. Eventually. They’d had no problem getting rid of the bloodsucker with the dreadlocks.
Jacob shook his head to rid himself of those depressing thoughts. It was Christmas, though he’d been questioning whether he should even make the effort to celebrate. He’d do it for Bella. He’d do it for his pack-mates. He had to try. They were supposed to be happy. The guys were coming over for a little pack get together—their first Christmas since becoming wolves—and they were going to do one of their favorite things—eat.
Giving one last tug at the velvety bow, Jacob nodded and smiled. It wasn’t perfect. It was a little worse for wear, but with a little work and patience, it had become better. He was determined to do the same for Bella.
He opened the door to go back inside and stopped when he heard the song playing on the radio.
Where are you, Christmas? Jacob scoffed. He was doing everything he could to help everyone find a little Christmas spirit, so he decided to tune out the music and concentrate on the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen.
The pack would eat well because when Jacob had picked Bella up, and mentioned he was going to make some delectable beans and weenies for Christmas Eve dinner, Bella had perked up just enough to almost glare at him before offering to make them lasagna. Her dad Charlie had been so pleased at her response; he’d shoved a wad of bills into her hand and told her to buy whatever she needed. He hadn’t even asked her to save some for him as he practically shoved her out of the house.
They’d bought enough food to fill the back seat, floorboards, and trunk of the Rabbit. Enough for four nine-by-thirteen pans of lasagna, along with pounds of Italian sausages, loaves of crusty bread to make garlic bread, bags of pre-packaged salad, and boxes and boxes of cookies. With what he was sure Emily and Sam would bring, they had enough to feed a small army.
It just might be enough.
While shopping, he’d even managed to slip in a couple packages of mistletoe. What was Christmas without a little mistletoe?
He’d taken Bella’s offer to cook as another good omen and had delightedly chopped, sliced, diced, and layered everything she had asked him to. He hadn’t even complained (much) when she chased him out of the kitchen and told him he needed to run the vacuum quickly through the living room and straighten up the bathroom.
Sighing, Jacob tore open the clear plastic package he’d plucked from the table, and dug out the little branch of mistletoe. He ripped a length of tape from the dispenser, and made his way into the cozy and freshly tidied living room to stick the tiny bundle of leaves and white berries to the ceiling fan light fixture in the center of the room. It seemed kind of pointless since the only girls who were coming were already spoken for, except for Bella, and he didn’t think he’d be getting a kiss from her. But he could hope. Well, it was traditional, and Christmas was about traditions: decorating with crappy wreaths and garland and getting together with people you cared about.
When he went back to the kitchen to grab the last package of the preserved greenery from the table, he saw Bella was in front of the oven, a mismatched pair of oven mitts on her hands. One was red-striped and the other was an olive plaid.
At least they were sort of Christmasy.
“That stuff’s poisonous, ya know. I think it’s like a fungus or a mold or something, so wash your hands,” Bella said as she opened the oven door, reached inside, and pulled the foil from the top of each pan.
Feeling a surge of hope and happiness, Jacob raised one eyebrow and the corners of his mouth began to lift in a smile. “Don’t be stupid, Bella. It’s tradition. It’s decor. It’s … it’s green. We’re not going to eat it.”
“I don’t know about that,” Bella said derisively as she quickly peeked over her shoulder at him. She sprinkled more parmesan over the top of each full-to-the-brim pan. “I haven’t met any of the pack besides you and Sam … well, not since they’ve phased, but I’ve seen you eat.” She closed the oven door and dropped the mitts on the counter. “I don’t know if all this will be enough.”
A full-blown smile spread across Jacob’s face. If she was worrying about the food, then things were definitely looking up, and that was the most she’d said at one time in months.
“Around here with the pack, it’s the law of the jungle, Bells,” Jacob informed her while he snapped another piece of tape from the dispenser. He applied it to the stem of mistletoe before pressing it to the top of the entryway between the kitchen and living room. He stood back to admire his work and then looked at Bella from the corner of his eye. “He who eats the fastest gets the mostest.”
Jacob could hardly believe it when Bella almost smiled at his little joke. He’d thought they wouldn’t have much of a Christmas at all, but maybe a little of the holiday spirit was finding a way in.
Speaking of finding a way in … Jacob could hear the pack and the two imprints getting closer. He’d become so attuned to them, he could almost feel them.
He reached for the empty packages and gathered them up to throw them away. “Besides, everybody has to bring something or they aren’t allowed to take something. Capiche?”
Bella nodded, dropping her eyes to the floor, and began wringing her hands. She was acting nervous. She’d shown practically no emotion at all for months, and suddenly she was behaving as though she was anxious.
“What’s the matter, Bells?”
“I’m not sure. I … I, uh, maybe … It’s almost like I can feel … Like … I don’t know.” She threw her hands up in the air. “I think I’m just nervous. I haven’t met them all before. Well, except for Sam, and it wasn’t like I really met him when he … found me … because I was …” she stammered and turned toward the sink. She snatched up the dishrag and began frantically wiping the counters again. “Well, I was pretty much catatonic and—”
Jacob grabbed the worn rag, tossed it in the sink, and took hold of Bella’s hands. “It’ll be okay, Bells. You did one of their favorite things—you made food. Lots of it. They’ll love it.” He squeezed her hands. “We’ll have to save a few platefuls for Paul because he’s patrolling right now, but the rest of them will be at the door any second. I want to tell you that I’m real glad you came out with me today to go shopping, and cook, and … and said you would meet the guys, and everything.”
Bella just nodded jerkily, pulled her hands away, and brushed her hair behind her ear before crossing her arms.
Jacob patted her shoulder. “I’ll get the door. You can stay here in the kitchen if you want. Then maybe you can bring out the bags of coal and some of the cookies? Food always distracts them.”
Bella nodded quickly and wrapped her arms even more firmly around herself in a closed-down posture. Jacob had seen it many times since the Cold Ones had left, and his heart was about to break for her again. Then in another move that stunned him, Bella drew her arms away from her body, clenched her fists, and held them rigidly at her sides. A determined spark lit her once dull brown eyes, and she pressed her lips into a firm line. She gave Jacob a quick nod and turned to the far counter where the boxes of cookies were stacked.
Bella hadn’t shown that much energy in a long time, and Jacob’s heart sang. There was hope. With the shopping, preparing all the food, and wrapping the little presents, he knew Bella was trying, and he would do everything in his power to help her.
He heard the first whispering footsteps on the front porch and then the loud guffaws and groans of some of his pack brothers. He smiled again as he hurried to the door, knowing Quil must have said something stupid to set them all off.
Jacob threw open the door to his wolf pack family who were spread across the porch and down into the yard.
“Dude! Check it out! It’s snowing!” Quil elbowed his way in ahead of everyone and shook, slinging melted snow all over Jacob.
“Asshole. Get in here.” Jacob grabbed his arm and hauled him into the center of the living room. “You don’t have any snow on you anyway. It all melted.”
Amongst the chaos of four huge, hungry men in his suddenly too-small living room, Jacob tried to be the proper host and took Emily’s and Kim’s coats, hanging them next to Bella’s coat on hooks by the door.
“Smells great in here. When do we eat?” Jared slapped his hands together and dropped onto the couch, holding his arms out to his imprint.
“Don’t be so rude!” Kim said, giggling as she sat next to Jared and propping her legs over his lap. “You should at least say hello first.”
“Hello!” Quil yelled, as he claimed the opposite side of the couch. “Can we eat now?”
“Quil!” Sam barked at him. Turning toward Jacob he replaced his glare with a sheepish smile. “Well, it does smell really good in here.”
Chuckling happily, Emily ignored them all and took a few full grocery bags from Sam. She gestured toward Embry, who was loaded down with several more heavy, plastic bags. “Kim and Embry helped me bake a few cranberry-orange and banana-walnut breads, and even Quil brought a few bags of rolls. The rest of them helped by not eating everything.” She reached up and kissed Sam’s cheek. “Where is Bella?” She smiled expectantly up at Jacob, the long scars tugging her bright smile to one side.
“Thanks, Emily. Um, she’s in the kitchen. She’ll be out in a minute, I guess.” He took the heavy bags from his Alpha’s imprint. He’d always loved anything she baked. “Maybe I could get you guys some drinks? We have some sodas, tea, coffee, water, hot chocolate, Powerade.” He turned to Embry, who hadn’t actually said anything yet, and studied his solemn face. “Hey man, just take those in the kitchen, okay? I’ll be right there.”
Embry nodded silently and headed for the kitchen while Jacob reached for the other bags that Sam was holding. He turned to make his way to the kitchen and ran right into Embry’s back.
“Em! What the hell’s the matter with—” At the look on Bella’s face, Jacob’s voice died in his throat.
Bella was standing under the mistletoe, three white bakery boxes clutched in her hands, the little, beribboned celestial-print gift bags perched on top. Her eyes were wide and expectant, her pink lips were parted, and she was staring up at Embry.
“No,” Jacob whispered under his breath as he stepped to the side to look at his pack-mate’s face.
Embry’s dark brown eyes were wide with surprise and wonder. His mouth was hanging open. He was barely breathing.
Bella was the first to blink, and she quickly licked her lips before speaking. “Uh, hi. I’m Bella.”
Jacob felt his arms begin to tremble. “No,” he gasped, as someone’s hand wrapped around his arm with an iron grip.
From somewhere far away, he heard Sam’s calm tone. “I’ve got those bags, Jacob.”
Embry gulped loudly and cleared his throat as he gazed down at Bella. “I … I’m Embry.”
“Hey, Em, let me take those bags off your hands,” Jared said with a voice that was a little too bright. “Uh, Quil, c’mere and get this stuff. Don’t eat ‘em.”
“But, Em’s supposed to carry ‘em in the—”
“Shut up, Quil, and get the food,” Sam ordered gruffly. He tried to pull Jacob away from Embry and Bella. “Emily, go sit next to Kim,” he added with a low hiss.
Jared stepped around to Embry’s right and reached for the forgotten boxes in Bella’s hands. He gently lifted them away from her. “Hey, Bella, I’m Jared. Let me take care of these.” He backed away from Embry, and darted back across the room to be near his mate. He dropped the boxes on the end table and stood in front of both women seated next to each other on the couch.
Clamping his hand around Quil’s arm, Jared yanked his oblivious brother back to stand with him in front of the pack’s imprints.
Bella never even acknowledged Jared. She was still staring up at Embry. “Hi, Embry. Um, would you like some hot cocoa? I … I made it.”
Jacob’s trembling was increasing and spreading through his arms to creep across his chest and down his body. Sam was still trying to pull him toward the door, but he stood as if his feet were cemented to the floor.
His quivering hands rose slowly to his head, and he gripped his hair with both fists. “No.”
Embry’s stunned face broke into a beaming smile as he looked at Bella. “Yeah, I’d like some, but you’re standing under the …”
Bella blinked rapidly, shook her head, and looked up at the leafy decor. “Mistletoe?”
“I gotta go. I gotta get out of here.” Jacob scrubbed his hands over his face. “Sam, I’ll relieve Paul. I … I’ll …”
Quil scowled at Jacob and Sam, and glared at Jared as he roughly brushed his brother’s restraining hand from his arm. “Embry’s supposed to relieve Paul. How come Jacob—”
Jared slapped his hand over Quil’s mouth. “Are you fuckin’ stupid? Shut the hell up.”
Embry took a slow, measured step toward Bella, and tentatively reached for her. His hands rose cautiously, and he tenderly cupped each side of her face. “Yeah. Mistletoe,” he breathed, a pleading note sounding in his voice. “You’re … you’re under the mistletoe.”
“I am.” Bella eyes dropped shyly as a deep blush rose over her cheeks, bringing a warm pink flush to her skin. She looked up at Embry and there was a sparkling brightness to her eyes that hadn’t been there in such a long time.
As if it were choreographed, she reached up toward Embry’s joyful face as he stepped closer to her, and gently tipped her head up so his lips could press reverently against hers.
At last, Sam was able to wrench Jacob away and propelled him toward the door. “Outside, Jacob. Go. We’ll see ya later.” Sam swung the door open and released Jacob’s arm as he launched himself outside, over the porch, and into the yard.
On four huge paws, Jacob landed heavily on the snow-dusted yard, and threw his head back. With a pain-filled howl, he bolted for the side of the house and raced for the cover of the trees.
He ran, flying toward the closest border, his claws ripping through the slushy forest floor. He finally noticed his other phased brother in his head.
Jacob! What the fuck? What happened? Is it the red-headed leech?
No. No leech. I … I’ve got it, Paul. I’ll run the lines.
But, you howled. Oh. Embry? Swan? What. The. Fuck? I thought that bullshit wasn’t supposed to happen to everybody!
Jacob heard and felt every ounce of incredulity and astonishment in Paul’s mental voice, and was beyond relieved when his pack-mate finally phased human so he couldn’t hear him anymore.
He tore over the snowy hills and leapt the slippery, fallen logs in his path. Before he even realized it, he was more than halfway around their territory, and all the while, the same thought kept pounding through his head.
Embry imprinted on Bella.
Jacob had hoped he would imprint on her, but when it hadn’t happened, he had taken solace in the fact that the legends all spoke of how uncommon it was. Two of the wolves had found their mates through the ancient, mystical connection, but it was supposed to be rare! It wasn’t supposed to happen!
Three out of five isn’t rare!
Then another wolf’s mind touched his own, and Jacob stumbled to a skidding, earth-gouging stop; all four legs splayed out rigidly to hold him up. His breath rushed from his gasping lungs as he collapsed to the ground, overwhelmed by the force of the new-found peace, fulfillment, and utter joy radiating from Embry’s mind.
Taking over his thoughts, he witnessed Bella’s face through Embry’s eyes, and he had never seen her look more beautiful. She shone, she sparkled. She … she glowed. Her deep, liquid brown eyes were filled with twinkling stars, and her hair was rich, chestnut satin flowing around her face and curling over her shoulders, sprinkled with shimmering, iridescent snowflakes.
He watched, amazed, as her slender hands moved gracefully toward Embry’s grey muzzle and softly stroked his sleek fur. He heard a deeply contented rumble begin in Embry’s chest as he leaned into Bella’s hand.
Jacob’s wolf sucked in a breath of the cold, moist air, as love and happiness expanded and overtook Embry’s mind. He knew that Embry saw her as a gift, a treasure—an angel sent down to him from Heaven.
It was as if every broken and scattered shard of Embry’s life had fallen back into place—each damaged piece somehow made clean and new at her touch. It was Bella who had gathered all those shattered and jagged pieces in her little hands and shaped them, molded them—brushed away the dark shame and despondency, and she re-formed, re-sculpted, and rearranged every part of him into a wolf worthy of …
… A man worthy of loving Bella Swan.
Another voice intruded on Jacob’s chaotic mind. It was barely noticeable at first, but it grew louder and more insistent as the disappointment and disillusionment spun and whirled through his head.
Jacob, come home. Jared and Quil will patrol.
The sound of his Alpha’s abiding, steadfast voice caused him to rise from the cold, wet ground. He shook out his fur and turned in the direction of his house, his pace unsteady and reluctant.
Jacob, I know it’s a … shock. But it’s Christmas. Be happy for him.
But he phased into a wolf in front of her!
I’m right here beside them. She asked him to. Be happy for them both.
Jacob snorted bitterly, his breath rising in a steamy cloud.
I am. Well, I will be. Sam, you know I only ever wanted Bella to be happy. I’d been wondering if Christmas would ever really show up, and I thought … Well, I guess it did. It found Embry and Bella.
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