A Healing Touch
Leah’s arm bumped into mine as we walked down the sloping hill to meet the rest of the pack. She was actually laughing and making jokes- granted they were at my expense, but it was great to see a smile light up her face.
Imprinting had screwed us both up. We were sad and miserable, but we talked when no one else was around. She was the only person I could stand to be around these days. She wasn’t a vicious she-demon- she was broken and hurt.
Just like me.
Not that I would ever admit that to anyone besides her. And she wouldn’t tell anyone. I knew Leah better than I even knew Jared these days, and he was my brother from another mother.
My brothers- the pack- were wrestling and laughing together, talking and having fun while they waited for Sam to call our meeting to order. The imprints were nestled by their mates on blankets, cuddling and nuzzling. I couldn’t stand to see them all so happy and wrapped up in each other when my world had been destroyed. In an instant, I had been amazingly happy and dazzled. An hour later, I was shattered- like a glass vase on a cement floor.
Devastated with a gaping hole where my heart used to be.
The day had been warm and rainy- typical for La Push. We’d been playing soccer down at First Beach, kicking the ball and chasing each other around. We were young- happy, laughing and carefree.
“Hey Jared, you finally bang Kim yet?” I taunted him.
His growl made me laugh. I wasn’t scared of him. “Don’t talk about her like that, Lahote! You will respect her.”
“Sure, sure. The same way I’ll respect the baby alpha’s leech lover,” I replied.
Jake and Jared’s anger rumbled from their chests and I laughed, full-belly laughs and loud guffaws pealing from my lungs. “Just remember Jared, when you do get lucky, I’ll be happy to give you pointers,” smirking, I ducked as he tried to smack me upside the head.
“Paul, you will respect the imprints,” Sam told me. His voice held no alpha command, but I could see it hanging in his eyes, the threat of it.
“You know I’m just playing around, Sam. Lighten up.” I ran back into the game, stealing the ball from Seth and kicking it down the beach, barely grazing it past Quil who was guarding the ‘goal’ for the other team. “Score!” I shouted, pumping my fist in the air victoriously. I flailed my arms and shimmied my hips in a sexier imitation of the chicken wing.
A slight breeze wafted down the beach and a scent I’d never smelled before filled my nose. My nostrils flared as I drank it in- sucking huge gulps into my lungs. I tried my hardest to savor every nuance of it. It was vanilla, sweet pea flowers, and the scent of joy. It etched itself in my memory like a chisel on stone. It was comfort and reassurance. Security and peace.
It was home.
My arms dropped to my sides and I turned seeking the bearer of the glorious smell. I wanted to bathe in it and drink it in.
It was perfection in its simplicity.
My eyes searched through the crowd until they landed on the tiny female engulfed in Jacob’s arms. Long, dark-brown hair hung to her waist in soft waves. A smile graced her face; the beautiful, full lips painted shiny with gloss. Her high cheekbones were rosy with happiness. She radiated light like the sun. It was breathtaking and my heart skipped a beat. This girl, this beautiful woman, held my future, my entire hope for life, in her tiny palms and she didn’t even know it. It scared the hell out of me. Could I really give her that kind of power over me? Could I really surrender my will to be what she would need? In a word, yes. I would sacrifice myself to the very pits of hell if it would mean her eternal happiness. I was ready to sing her name from the mountaintops in my luckiness of being gifted by the spirits with her.
Rachel- my heart hummed in contentment with just the thought of her name. It was beautiful just like her. I felt the pieces of my soul tie themselves together, mending the raveled, broken pieces I didn’t realize existed. She made me whole and she didn’t even know it yet.
Even knowing it was her brother that she was hugging, I couldn’t hold the growl in my chest. Something in me screamed, “MINE!” I needed to make her realize that. She had to understand. And so did he. He was no real threat, but she hadn’t accepted me yet, and I needed her to see me.
To trust me.
To want me.
A hand clapped on my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear, “Calm down, Paul.”
I ripped myself from under the restraining hand, and walked toward the dainty girl that was going to change my life.
I held my hand out and said, “Hi. I’m Paul Lahote. Who might you be?”
Long slender fingers slid into mine and a husky voice filled my ears, “I know who are, Paul. You don’t remember me?”
Her dark eyes- big, brown, doe-eyes- lifted to meet mine and I felt the universe shift. Heat slid up my arm and wrapped itself around my heart. I was forever chained to this tiny woman. She was mine. I would make her the happiest girl in the world.
My daze of complete ecstasy was broken when a solid, rock-like fist connected with my cheek. I was on the ground, chest heaving as I tried to restrain my anger. It coiled inside me and a feral growl rumbled my chest. I fought back the beast that I was and muzzled him before I scared Rachel too much.
“Get up and fight, Lahote! C’mon you, Walking STD!” A bare foot connected with my ribs lifting me up in the air and sending me flying. I couldn’t fight back. I knew for sure that if I fought back, I’d lose her forever. I couldn’t hit her brother. And besides, being called a walking STD- in front of my imprint- wasn’t earning me any favor points with her. He may be the future alpha, but right now, he wasn’t even beta. I would rip him to pieces later. In this moment, though, I needed to make a good impression and killing Jake wouldn’t be the way to Rachel’s heart. Not today anyway.
Cries of “Jacob! Stop!” filled the air. I stood to my feet, pulling myself up to my full height and glared at him.
“You imprinted? On my sister?! No way man! That’s not gonna fly! She deserves better than that! Better than you!” Jake ‘s eyes flashed fire; his face twisted up in anger as he spat his venomous words at me. His hands curled into fists at his sides as he loomed over me. His words were true- she did deserve so much more than I could ever hope to be, but I’d do my damnedest to make sure I never let her down.
“You know it doesn’t work like that Jacob. I don’t get a choice!” A quick breath inhaled and my eyes sought hers again. “Wait, Rachel! I don’t mean it like that!” She turned from me quickly and buried her head in Jacob’s chest.
“Dude, she doesn’t even know what all of it means. It’s a good thing this bonfire was planned to welcome Brady and Collin. She may as well hear it tonight too,” Jared said, his voice strained. His eyes glazed with compassion and sympathy when they met mine. I swallowed thickly. I could appreciate the attempt to calm me, but he was right. She didn’t know what anything meant, and I probably screwed up any chance I had with her with that statement. My heart rate increased and I panicked at the thought of losing her. I’d just fucking found her. She couldn’t leave me now.
I glanced around at my brothers- my extended family. Embry, Quil, and Seth were pretending to talk about the newest Call of Duty game. I appreciated the attempt to give me some semblance of privacy. Kim and Emily were gazing at Rachel- Kim like she couldn’t wait to tell her all my dirty secrets and Emily with the excitement of another duckling to guide. Sam was avoiding my eyes like the plague. Billy was trying to get Jake to calm down and remember what it’s all about- I could hear him muttering something about honored to have such a strong legacy in their family. Brady and Collin were staring, eyes wide and mouths gaping. Finally Seth corralled them into the discussion of the new game. Sue and Old Quil were whispering quietly about missing Harry. Only one person looked at me with understanding in their eyes. The only person that truly understood the heart wrenching pain that an imprint could bring about.
Guilt and regret clawed up my throat and sat like a brick. Without even speaking ten words to her, I’d hurt my imprint. I couldn’t bear the intense pain that flooded my soul. It was like I’d cut off my hand. I’d already let her down and it was breaking me. The guilt shrouded me like the fog that rolled in off the ocean. I couldn’t shake free of it. Some part of me knew this was going to end badly. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
That was just the beginning of my pain.
When Sam and Billy called it time for the stories, it was all I could do to keep my seat by Embry and Seth. I needed to be close to her. It was a compulsion I couldn’t shake. I was almost vibrating with the need to be closer to her. She was right there- so close- yet the distance between us already seemed insurmountable.
Billy told the legacy of our people. Her sobs reached my ears as she cried for the fate of her brother. The danger he would be in. I ached to comfort her. To hold her in my arms and whisper sweet nothings in her ear.
Then the stories changed. Billy told the story of imprinting and how blessed and honored we were to be gifted so by the spirits.
Rachel’s eyes met mine and then her sadness was for both of us. It was soul deep and cut like the sharpest of knives. I felt gutted- exposed and raw. Her head shook in denial.
Emily stepped beside her when the stories were over and asked her to walk with her. Rachel stood gracefully and trailed down the beach with Emily at her side. Her long-legged stride carrying her farther and farther away from me. I could hear the beating of their hearts as they walked, their toes digging into the sand, the waves lapping at the shore- crashing against the rocks.
The sounds of their whispers as they talked. About me. About Sam. What the imprint could be if she chose it. It was quiet, like the steady thrum of butterfly’s wings on the wind. My ears strained to pick up their conversation.
I knew she was it for me. She was my forever. My eternity- I saw it shining in her eyes in that too-brief moment that our eyes were connected.
They were gone for what seemed an eternity. I never lost sight of them, though I never could make out the words of their whispers over the loud waves. I was worried- panic overwhelming my soul. Anxiety threatened to choke me and I gasped for each breath. I was never a very patient man- taking what I wanted when it was offered or I wanted it. Each moment, every nanosecond, stretched out for what seemed like hours- years, even- until I was afraid I’d dreamed the whole damn thing. I even pinched myself, like the school-girl I was becoming- that she was making me- to be sure I was awake and this was real.
When she returned, her eyes were sad, her face drawn and pinched. Her voice croaked out an answer for me as tears poured from eyes, leaving salty tracks down her beautiful cheeks. “I don’t accept the imprint, Paul. I don’t want to be what you want me to be. I won’t love you. I release you.”
The bands that held me in place snapped as my world shattered. My knees buckled under me and I sank to the ground. I couldn’t breathe- gasps of air left my lungs faster than I could pull more in. I was hyperventilating. “P-please. Don’t say that. Just a chance. Please.” I was begging, my words interspersed between wheezes.
“You didn’t choose this, so I won’t hold you to it. No, Paul.” My hands reached for her but she stepped quickly back. I had no opportunity to plead for just a chance. She turned and ran.
My heart throbbed heavy in my chest reminding me that I was still alive. With each step of her toes in the sand she took another piece of me- of my soul- with her. I felt my eyes brim with tears and I blinked them back furiously. I was broken. I didn’t know if I’d ever be me again.
The same old, easy-going, angry, smooth-talking, lady-killer was ultimately dead.
The heart that had so recently rejoiced and celebrated at finding its other half shattered into tiny shards of glass, shredding my insides until they bled with fucking despair. At that point, I knew a gust of wind would carry off the remaining microscopic pieces of my soul that were still embedded within me. I was a shell. An empty husk of the man I’d been.
I tried to pull myself to my feet, but I was dead weight- my insides leaden. I knew she needed me to let her go. I couldn’t force myself to move much as I tried to fight the demand to stay. I wasn’t a lap dog, surely I could fight through this. I heard a car door open and shut, the engine start, and tires turning on the pavement. I felt as though I started to lose myself with every inch of distance her car placed between us. My mind started a mantra on repeat, “Gone, she’s gone!” I could feel my wolf inside pulling to the front. My eyes must have given away the loss of my sanity. Hot hands gripped my shoulders and arms lugging me backwards and into the woods. I fought kicking and screaming, my legs flailing every direction as I tried to free myself from the restraining hands. I’d follow her to the ends of the world. I had to be close to her.
One arm freed finally, and I struck at the faces before me, hearing bones crunch and seeing red as blood spurted from someone’s nose. The smell of it filled my senses and I wanted more. I needed someone else to hurt as badly as I did. My wolf flooded to the surface and my form shivered. bones broke and reformed into another shape. I was out of my mind- crazy at the rejection, utter desperation ripped my heart into tattered shreds. Two words echoed through my mind maniacally.
I had run for days , howling at the moon, before I was able to regain any human aspect of myself.
I’d smelled her before I saw her and my hackles had risen. She was encroaching on my territory. I’d found an empty cave and decided it was mine. They’d kept tabs on me, making sure I wasn’t straying too far away. They’d given her the school hours shift that day and left her to her own devices. She’d decided to try to help me.
The soothing words she’d spoken had finally registered with some part of me and I’d been able to concentrate and phase back. We’d formed a tentative friendship after imprinting had destroyed us both. It had taken Sam from Leah- he’d been her fiance and she’d loved him with her entire being. And well, I didn’t want to think about her anymore.
A sigh was wrenched from my gut. I glanced at the pretty girl beside me and gave her a half-smile, “Hey Leah? I don’t think I’ve told you before.... but.... Thank you. I think I’d still be wolfed out somewhere, hiding in a cave, if you hadn’t come along and made me see reason.”
“I know,” she said. That was all- not her normal comment about growing ovaries or something equally as ludicrous. “I should say thank you, too.”
“What for?” my curiosity wouldn’t be assuaged until I asked.
She kicked at the leaves around her and twisted her thumbs in her shirt- her body fidgeting with nervous energy- before answering, “You gave me something else to think about and focus on. I needed the distraction, then. And.... I found a good friend.” She nudged me with her shoulder and smiled. Then peals of laughter- a sound like bells- released from her lungs and echoed through the meadow. “God, Paul. We’re turning into little old women. Next you’ll be asking me what size needle you need to use to knit your husband a sweater.”
I couldn’t help but laugh with her as I pictured that scenario in my mind. We were old, hunched over and toothless, rocking in chairs on the porch of the old folks home in Forks.
When we looked up, everyone was staring at us- some with pleased expressions, others in surprise, and more in confusion. For so long, we’d been angry together- now we were happy.
It was confusing to me. Somewhere in the last year, I’d gone from wishing Rachel would change her mind to wishing her a happy life with someone that would love her. Now, I thought maybe I’d be able to move on and be happy with someone, too.
I looked at Leah, the light bouncing off her hair, surrounding her head with the appearance of a halo. Her eyes sparkled with happiness. And her smile, it actually reached her eyes. The beauty of her happiness was blinding. My heart lurched in my chest and feelings that I never thought I’d feel again bubbled up inside me.
She was breathtaking. And I’d only just realized it. I felt like a blind and bumbling idiot. I might have even compared myself to one of three stooges. Goodness knows those three were a few fries short of a happy meal. How could I have never seen her from this perspective before?
I was awestruck.
Who knew that one day I’d wake up almost whole again? And I owed it to this sarcastic, arrogant, beautiful, angel in a she-wolf’s body. The sound of her voice had brought me from the depths of utter darkness and helped me see the light. The few hugs we’d exchanged had been a healing touch.
Some day... maybe... she’d see me in a better light, too. Maybe I could be her healing touch, as well.