equanimity: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper - especially in a difficult situation. - Oxford American Dictionary
When Jacob stopped phasing, he left me with two simple instructions.
"Seth. You and Quil are the last of my Pack. You sure you're okay with that?"
"Yeah," I told him over coffee. I had been a real late-comer to the Pack, not phasing until I was eighteen, the year that Embry and Bella had their youngest, Hantaywee. Leave it to Embry to give his kids weirder names than he had been given. I knew it was all about being traditional and I respected that. Really. Hemeh and Hennah? Great names. But Hantaywee? I knew it meant Faithful. Why couldn't they just call her Faith?
But that wasn't what made me phase for the first time.
Jake leaned back, and studied me, his eyes narrow. It was weird, seeing him like this. He was the Chief of our people. Our Leader. Closer than a brother to me and he and I had been running for a long time together. But still, he hadn't aged and I hadn't aged and we were sitting there looking very similar in our worn jeans and t-shirts. "I hope to hell my sons don't have to go through with this," he said on a sigh.
"Me, too." At his lifted brow, I shrugged. "I like the power and everything, man, but it's a huge responsibility. And, you know, the rest of it."
He couldn't hide the small smile on his face, the jerk. "Well, yeah. So, two things, dude."
"First, do your best. We've got your back, you're taken care of and everything, right? Finances all in order?"
"Yeah. Between what I got when my dad died and having the old house free and clear, I'm good with what I make at the school." I held his gaze directly. "We won't let you down, me and Quil. We'll keep 'em safe."
"I know. Second. How are things with her?"
I laughed a little, since he looked so uncomfortable. "Jake. C'mon. She's got a name."
"A nice long one, yeah, I know." Still clearly uneasy, he rose to his feet. "I just feel kind of responsible, Seth. It's not you, it's the whole Chief Black/Alpha Wolf deal." Reaching the window of the large-for-the-reservation house he and his family required, he turned to me again. "You haven't had any problems or anything?"
"No," I said in all seriousness. "Life didn't start getting weird for me until, like, last year, you know? And we're managing it."
"Well, here's a note from your chief, then, buddy."
He rarely said anything as my chief, so I inhaled deeply and stood up. "Yes?"
"Hands off until she's seventeen."
"Jake, she's only fourteen. I – I know what my wolf wants, but I don't, you know?"
Setting his jaw, he stared out the window into the wet pines of the forest. "I know. You and Quil. What the hell?"
I snorted. "Quil's fine. I mean, he's finally not tearing his hair out and taking so many cold showers."
"Stop it. I've got daughters!" Jake protested.
I laughed. Well, sure, I had to laugh, right? Sam had Alpha-ordered Quil to keep his hands off of his imprint until she was seventeen, and Jacob had reinforced that. But the morning Claire turned seventeen – well, I didn't want to know any more than I already did. Werewolf mindmeld sucked sometimes. My sister had hated it. I was so glad Leah wasn't running with the Pack anymore.
"Yeah, and how's your water running?" Jacob asked, trying to make a joke out of it.
I crossed the room to him, feeling his unease not only by the way he was avoiding being direct about this, but also by the tension his body was giving off, the tang of nervousness that seeped from his pores. My wolf-nose was super sharp. "You don't need to Alpha-order me, Chief."
"If I don't, you can't tell Bells. She's counting on me. They both are."
It was a matter of honor. "I'm not a puppy, Jake. I'm thirty-two years old. I can handle it."
He blew out a breath and looked out in the general direction of the Call house. "Okay. Then look. Quil's gonna be Alpha. He's older." With a look over his shoulder, he asked, "You okay with that?"
Didn't he trust me? "I swear, if you don't quit asking me," I threatened, internally fuming, "I'm going to phase right now and give your perfect abs a brand new scar. Maybe you didn't hear me. I'm not a teenager, Jacob Black."
"Sure, sure, okay." With an overplayed, submissive shrug of his shoulders that was remarkably lupine – I know words like that because I did manage to get a college degree, unlike some tribal chieftains – Jake seemed to calm himself. "All right then. The tribe is in your paws."
He moved to pick up our coffee cups, at which point his wife and imprint Cassi came in. She was still a knock-out and clearly a former model. It was all in the way she moved. "Hey, you still have your skin?"
I stretched and made a show of checking out my arms. She laughed. "Yeah, I'm good."
"All right. I don't know about you, but we've got a busy day here. Heading to the Calls?"
"Take them this," she offered, handing me a small leather volume she had in hand. "Tell Bella I am passing it on to the next generation of imprints."
Since she was, in effect, the first imprint as the chief's wife, her word was also to be followed insofar as it didn't go against tradition. I took the book, the leather handled often so that it was soft and sueded with years. "Thanks, Cassi. WG-101, huh?"
"It's time. Give my best to Little Faithful."
I don't know what it was, but something made me feel differently in myself right at that moment. Was it the formal acknowledgment of Jacob's ceasing to be my Alpha? Was it the discussion of my imprint? Or was it the passing on of this book – the book Emily Uley put together years before?
Whatever it was, it was in my middle, my chest, my heart. I blew out a breath, uncomfortable and freaking out a little. "I will," was all I said.
I ran to Embry and Bella's house, my mind racing faster than my feet could go when there might be others about in the sunshine. I have to master this.
So I did.
On her fifteenth birthday, Hantaywee pulled me aside, her fair skin – she wasn't as pale as her mother, since she had an almost perpetual lightly tanned glow about her – tinted pink. "Seth?"
"Yeah, hon?" The endearment was natural between us. Ever since I imprinted on her – and damned straight, I told her parents immediately – I had been using them. "What's the matter?"
She tugged put her hand on my arm to drag me away but stopped just after she had started, her blue eyes flying open as she gasped, "Sorry!" Then, "Damn!" Then, "Oh, man. This is so embarrassing."
I felt my own color fluctuate, but at least I had a pretty good idea what the problem was. "Your parents gave you a certain leather-bound book for a birthday present, didn't they?"
I didn't know her eyes could get so wide. "You know?"
"I gave it to them months ago. They told me they'd give it to you when you were ready."
Eyes darting around, she bit her lip a little. "Can we go...talk?"
"Of course." She seemed even more freaked out than she had a moment ago, so I tried to reassure her. "Our spot still works, you know. Tay? Nothing's changed since yesterday, you know." I offered her my hand, just to show her. How many times had I held her hand over the years?
The gesture seemed to work. Drawing in a breath, she blew it right back out. "Right. Right. Of course. Sure. Okay." I waited and she eventually slid her hand into mine, just as she had done almost every day for years. It felt good and right, there, as it always had.
"You've got about an hour until the party starts!" Bella called from the kitchen. She popped out just as Tay and I were opening the front door. Her brown hair was braided down her back and she didn't look a day over thirty, though she was closer to forty than otherwise. "You okay?" she asked me.
"Yep. I'll have her back before the party, Bells."
With a half-amused, half-concerned light in her eye, my imprint's mother turned back to the kitchen. She was in the process of making frosting for the birthday cake.
Outside, the spring air was crisp and cool and familiarly swept with pine. I loved being in the open air and I brought as much of it into my lungs as I could. "Great day for a birthday, hon."
"It really is pretty."
We walked slowly around the house to the back, where there was a sheltering pine from which hung a swing that the kids used to like to play on when they were little. Once my imprint was old enough to swing without falling on her butt, we'd come out here to talk, the two of us. Because Hantaywee Call was a remarkable person and needed some support sometimes in her choice of hobbies.
"So. Ayásochid?" I asked her when she settled herself on the old swing and I had folded myself up on the needle-covered ground at the base of the tree. Overhead, the wind brushed the branches, making a comforting whisper. How are you?
"Wah-shay-th-lee tick-thoh-oh-wah!" she responded. I'm going crazy!
"I bet," I responded in English. Hantaywee's main hobbies were learning the Quileute language and studying our people's history. She was perhaps the best storyteller-in-training in the tribe and I was always impressed by her. Beyond the whole She's my imprint and I'd do anything to make her safe and happy thing. The girl I called "Tay" was expressive and had an amazing repertoire of character voices as well as the ability to smoothly shift from narrative solemnity to a legend's exciting heart. It was mesmerizing. I couldn't help but wonder if she could make a living at it.
She rocked on the swing and I waited for her. Her scent carried on the breeze, comforting me. Sometimes, I knew from being in the heads of the rest of the Pack for years, the imprinted relationship meant a huge drive for sex. Reproduction. Continuation of the genes and so on. Quil had confided in me that things got really weird when Claire went from being a little girl who looked up to him as a family friend, big brother and confidante to being a possible breeding partner. It had done a number on my friend.
"Man, it's like I have to see her all the time, and oh, hell, she smells so good, and she makes me crazy."
"What do you mean?"
Quil cocked a brow. "The girl is a born flirt and she's driving me up the friggin' wall."
For me, it wasn't like that. The whole feeling for my imprint had always been guardian-like, so I was overtly protective of her. Her family trusted me, of course, with her entire welfare, knowing I would never do anything contrary to what was in her best interests. Ever. And I loved spending time with her. Hantaywee Renée Call was the smartest girl on the Rez, even if one included her mother and Jacob's wife.
Hantaywee took a breath and eyed me around the rope of the swing. "The werewolf stuff I knew, but I didn't know about the imprint."
"I know. We had to wait."
"When did it happen?"
She made a gesture with her fingers, her face mobile and expressive. "The whole deal, Seth. Dad said you weren't a wolf until the rest of them had already been doing the whole furry thing for a while. And yeah," she went on, looking at my feet and knees instead of my face, "what does that mean for me? And how did you imprint? And why didn't you tell me when it happened?" Her eyes, when she lifted them, were dewy and sad and betrayed and my heart clenched inside me – that was exactly what it felt like.
I leaned forward and brushed her cheek with one finger. "Well, I've got less than an hour, I'll see what I can do, okay? But know this, Little Faithful. I haven't ever lied to you. Ever. And I won't. So you can ask me anything and I'll tell you." I had to chuckle. "How do you think I was able to tell you so many things about the Pack? We're not allowed to share that stuff with just anyone."
She sat up and then moved to straddle the swing. "I know! I never tell anyone the contemporary stories. Only the legends."
"I know, hon. I know. You're amazing."
She blushed. I looked at her, my question on my face, I knew. "My dad says that to my mom all the time."
I grinned. "Well, he's right. She is pretty amazing. So are you."
"Stop, already! C'mon, Seth. Phasing?"
I settled back against the rough bark of the spruce and let out a breath to relax myself. "I didn't phase until most of the Pack had quit, you know. There hadn't been any Cold Ones around in a while, and we were all hoping the gene had gone dormant in those of us who carried it."
"Ateara, Black, Clearwater and Uley," she said as if to a group at a bonfire. Her tone of voice gave me goosebumps. "These are the bloodlines that are receptive to the spirit warriors."
I nodded, sobered by her intonation. "Yes. And it was the last arrival of the Cullen Coven that triggered Sam Uley and your father and my sister to phase. But I was still pretty young then, younger than you are now, and my own transformation didn't happen until a group of them came to Chief Black's wedding."
Hantaywee's eyes rounded out, then narrowed. "I've seen pictures. I was just a baby."
"Yep. That night, while everyone was partying, I was getting feverish and I had this intense growth spurt – it was scary, Tay. It really was." I met her eyes honestly; I held nothing back from my imprint.
Her dark gaze held mine with as much sympathy as a non-phasing girl could. "Then what?"
"Quil was there for me. Embry had just begun trying to stop phasing, but he was able to find me when I did. So did Jake. It was hard, but they were pretty awesome."
"How old were you?" She slipped down to the ground, her knees touching my feet, her fingers furrowing slowly through the pine needles.
"Eighteen. And in a matter of weeks, I looked pretty much like I do now." Shaking my head, I shrugged. "And so I've stayed, you know?"
"So you're thirty-three now?"
I flashed her a grin. "You math genius, you."
She made a face and gestured at me to continue. More wind blew her reddish-brown hair into a fan over her features, and I cleared it out of the way before I spoke.
"Once I was part of the Pack, I heard it all. The chases, the vamps, the whole deal. One of the biggest things that preoccupied the current and former members of the Pack was the whole imprinting thing."
"Yeah." I offered her a rueful half-smile. "I don't remember what it says in Emily's book, exactly, but what the guys said was that imprinting happened the first time you saw your imprint after your first phase."
"That's totally random."
"Well, your dad said it was when he saw your mom's eyes. When they made that focused connection, it happened for them. He felt it." I had, too...
I heard Hantaywee's heart pick up its pace as her skin heated. "Um, so what happened with you?"
"Well, you can bet I didn't meet any girl's eyes for what seemed like forever unless they were an imprint of one of my Pack brothers or former Pack members." Clouds blew in overhead, hiding the sunshine beyond our special place. I smelled the strong scent of the sea and sighed a little. "I was afraid, to be honest. I wanted to go to college, but I had to put that off for a year so I could get control of myself. The guys encouraged me; I had good grades and got a scholarship and other assistance, but the whole time I was in school, I just – didn't look any female in the eye. Ever."
My imprint made a curious sound. "That must have been so hard."
"It got to be habit, you know? And looking back, it was a stupid thing to try to do."
She sat up, her spine straight. "Because your imprint was here on the Rez already, right?"
I extended one hand to her; she clasped it and moved around to sit beside me, as we had done times without number over the years. "Right."
I squeezed her fingers lightly in my own. "Well, you know the legends."
"Yeah, I do," she agreed, drawing her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them. Her hair flowed over her back, over the light sweater she wore, sometimes lifting above her body and into the breeze. "Your wolf has found its mate, the legends would say."
All year, I had disciplined myself against feeling like Hantaywee was my "mate." Mostly, I was successful. I did my best not to squirm. "Yep. Remembering Quil and Claire, I didn't get near any kids for a while, either. It was pretty easy for a few years, while I was away at school, but when I graduated and came back here, it was impossible. And then, one day – I saw you." I couldn't help the way my voice softened in the forever-fresh wonder of the moment.
She caught her breath and her heart raced, but she held still otherwise. "How old was I?"
"Five. You read the book, right? You said you had."
"So you know I wasn't, like, all perving out on you." Yeah, I spent way too much time with the kids at the school.
Her laughter eased my mind, but she still didn't look at me. "I know. My parents did, too. Seth..." She paused and let go of my hand so that she could get up and brush herself off. I waited, wanting her to feel safe and in control. "Seth, you've always been a part of my life. I can't really remember back before you. I want you to know I'm okay with this – this imprint thing. I am. But I also feel really guilty. You tried so hard and you still got stuck being, well, stuck with this kid. I mean, all your friends were having real lives and you –. You." Her mouth worked, her hands moved, but no sound came through. No meaning beyond her voiceless discomfort.
I pushed myself to my feet and took her in my arms. What she needed, I knew, was to know she was cared for and loved. And she was. So I held her and rocked her a little as I had done since she was in Kindergarten. "You were five, and you were running after Hemi," I murmured into the air over her head. "We were on the beach, a bunch of us, and you didn't manage the sand too well. You fell, skinned your knee. I was closest and I couldn't let a little girl cry all by herself when her skin was bleeding into the sand..." My voice trailed off as I remembered. "You didn't look like the rest of the kids, but I knew you were Embry's youngest and I picked you up. Do you remember that?"
Hantaywee held on to the front of my shirt and rubbed her nose on my chest. "Yeah. I do. I remember being so embarrassed and my knee hurt and then there was this tall man who picked me up and brushed my knees..."
"You had the biggest tears running down your face, but you quit yelling when I had you safe. I – I looked into your eyes, to check on you, and it happened. My whole world shifted, Tay. Everything narrowed down to you and bounced back out again. I could hardly breathe." She and I inhaled deeply, then, as if to remind ourselves that we could both do so. I pulled back and looked down; she pulled back and looked up and we grinned at each other.
"I took you back to your folks and pulled your dad aside and told him. First thing."
"What did Dad do?"
What the hell, Seth? My daughter? You effing imprinted on my little girl? My baby?
"Well, he wasn't phasing anymore by then, so I reminded him that if he tried to punch me, he'd break his hand."
My imprint laughed. Then, she sobered a little. Still clutching my shirt, she bit her lip and studied my face. "So you must've been pretty lonely, huh? Stuck here with a little girl for a soulmate?"
Warmth suffused my whole body and I tugged her close for a quick hug before releasing her. "Hon, you're the only girl I see, really. Never felt lonely since the day I picked you up on the beach. Come on, we should probably get back inside."
"Yeah. Um." Lacing her hand in mine again, she started off to the house, her pace pensive. "So what happens now, Seth?"
Her discomfort reached me tangibly; it was eerie, but also a bit exhilarating. I did my utmost to keep tuned into her subtle signals. "What do you mean?"
"That sanity thing?"
I actually leaned over to nuzzle her hair. "In case you haven't noticed, Little Faithful, I don't let twenty-four hours go by without seeing you."
She froze, one foot in the air, the other planted on the ground. "Oh, for real. How come I never – wow. Um." Her pulse accelerated again before she resumed her walk. I, of course, was attached at the palm.
"So – you're okay and everything?"
I would have teased her about what she meant by "okay" if it had been anyone but my imprint. Hantaywee, I would not make uncomfortable if I could avoid it. "I am. It's all good, hon."
Funny thing – it was. I was aware of her as a female, of course. My wolf wanted to claim her, I knew, but as I'd told Jake years before: I was an adult. A man. I had an imprint whom I loved purely and honorably, but I wasn't aching to push the relationship further.
When she smiled at me over her birthday cake and asked me to help her blow out the candles, she took my hand and squeezed it. Her scent was untainted by nervous acid, her heart rate was excited-normal, and I reminded my inner wolf to relax, already. His mate was safe and happy and that was the most important thing.
"Here, let me do your tie, Seth," Bella demanded, tugging me into the kitchen where the light was better. We were in my house, getting me ready for Hantaywee's high school graduation. As a teacher of Culture and History at the school, I had had my imprint in my classes over the years and would have the very great honor of introducing her as class valedictorian.
Relieved, I rolled my shoulders. "Thanks, Bells. Never could figure these things out."
Deft fingers made quick work of the noose around my neck. "Now that I've got you prisoner, we need to talk."
"She feels weird talking to me about the imprint, but she talks in her sleep."
This was news to me and I blinked. "Oh. Like mother, like daughter?"
"Oh, let's hope not," Bella answered. "She calls for you." After dropping this bombshell on me, Bella looked up. "Just thought I'd warn you and the sandy gray male who shares your brain."
Her snark and warning were both appreciated. My skin tightened all over my body and I instinctively stepped away from Bella, just in case. "Does she – does she remember?"
Bella's cheeks warmed with her blush and my inner wolf calmed down. I felt the tingling pressure subside all over my body. After smoothing the lapels on my suit, Bella nodded. "Yeah. She just doesn't talk about it with me."
"So –" Uncertain, I stopped. My mind kind of scattered, because I had to catch up. "Well. This is awkward," I decided, having to laugh a little because what the hell else could I do?
"What?" She picked up her purse and moved to the door. "That your imprint is saying, Kiss me, Seth, in her sleep or that her mother is standing here telling you about it?" Smirking, she eyed me carefully. "Seth Clearwater. Are you blushing?"
"Oh, hell yes," I admitted, my filter apparently having started summer vacation before I did. "Are you or Embry gonna change my voice or anything if I, ah, do?"
"Do what?" She was not making it easy on me.
"Kiss her!" My limbs were fidgeting with the need to leave my house and find my imprint. I needed to smell her hair, hold her hand again, hear her voice.
Laughing, Mrs. Embry Call opened my door and jerked her thumb in the direction of her house. "Go on, Seth. If I can't trust a werewolf with his imprint, I never would have married Embry."
Impulsively, I tugged her into my side in a one-armed hug. Urgency possessed me, though, so I called, "Lock up for me!" over my shoulder before setting off at a jog for the Call's place.
Hantaywee was leaving, carefully locking the door before stepping off the stoop. She grinned when she saw me and – stupid as it sounded even to myself – I felt like she was carrying her own personal sunshine with her. My own smile met hers as I held out my hand to her as I had always done.
My wolf howled within my head and chest when she did. Because suddenly, after years of waiting, my imprint was ready to be my mate. Her mother's secret-sharing had alerted me to the situation, but it was Hantaywee's sweet smile and personal presence that jolted me. Pheromones were more potent than any non-enhanced nose could ever imagine. "Tay."
"Seth! You're here. Walking me over?"
Graduation. Damn. I had forgotten that completely. "Uh, yeah. Sure. C'mon. Your mom will be with the rest of your family later." I couldn't help that my gaze lingered on her face, her hair – so shiny in the afternoon sun – her lips. I encircled her with my arm and started walking toward the Quileute Gymnasium, where the graduation celebrations for at least two decades of graduates had been held. Inhaling, I caught her scent, accented with that new, intoxicating addition that I knew hadn't been there before.
"Are you sniffing me?" she asked, sounding self-conscious. Her heart pounded – I could feel it against my body and it was, frankly, almost enough to pull her off the main road and into a copse of trees somewhere so we could talk.
"Yeah. Not gonna lie, hon. I was."
No one on Earth was quite like my imprint. She stopped, turned and looked up at me, her expression serious but not unhappy. "I read that book, remember."
"I know you did." I nuzzled her head again, right there on the road. "Tay?"
"I think I – I think I want to kiss you."
Her blush was evident in the increase of heat I could feel flaring from her skin. "Oh. O- okay." She swallowed, inhaled quick and sharp, and tugged on my not-so-smooth-anymore lapels. Her breath came fast, her eyes slid closed and I acted on sheer instinct, brushing my skin against hers. Slowly, practically drinking in her scent and feeling her. I breathed out and she shivered in my embrace. "Seth," she whispered.
I turned my head, sliding my lips across her jaw, gliding up to her mouth. She smelled like wintergreen and woman and the combination was heady, thrilling, exciting. "Hantaywee," I managed to say, just before claiming her with my kiss. Her lips moved with mine as if they'd danced together before, familiar but fresh and enticing. I couldn't find the words – I could hardly even think at that moment. Her hands slid up to my shoulders; mine spread on the small of her back and we tasted one another, breathing each other in for I didn't know how long.
Her eyes fluttered slowly open, her lips full and dark with a passion that had surprised both of us, I believed. "Wow," she said, smiling slowly.
"You are amazing," I told her, as I had before.
This time, she laughed, turning to wind one of her arms around one of mine and making us continue our walk to the gymnasium. "So are you." Sliding me a look, she asked, "You okay?"
"Oh, yeah. You?"
"Absolutely. And you know what?"
"I'm not nervous about my speech at the ceremony anymore."
I laughed and dropped a quick kiss to the top of her shiny auburn hair. "I love you," I said. It was easy to say; she knew it already.
Her smile flashed brilliantly up at me. "I love you, too."
Of course, I had to kiss her again.
It was strange, and she knew the legends so she probably picked up on that, but I really was okay. I had had it easy, compared to the others. My imprint was completely aware of everything about me and she was clearly interested in being my mate, as opposed to just being friends as we had been. I hadn't had to struggle with a lot of awkward revelations or impulses. Our relationship had always been as easy as breathing.
When her dad and my former Alpha and our Chief looked at us with a mixture of bemusement and concern, we just smiled at them and kept our fingers laced together until we separated on the dais at the front of the gym. It was all a matter of equanimity.