A/N: I debated over posting this for awhile—but figured I'd do it anyway. It answers some questions about certain things (wedding invites, Julie's decision-making processes, etc) so I figured I'd post it, but as an Outtake versus an Epilogue? I don't know if that makes sense. I just feel that if I were to post it as an Epilogue, it would mean it was a vital part to Edythe's story, which it's not, so an outtake was a better option?
"When are you finally gonna get over this kid, Jules?"
I felt my jaw clench, my back teeth grinding together.
Like everyone else in the pack, Lee knew everything about everyone's issues. He knew why I was sitting here now—at the very edge of the earth and sky and sea. He knew I wanted to be alone; more than anything, it was all I wanted.
He knew, and yet—he'd come anyway. Because he knew it would bother me.
Despite the annoyance which surged in my chest like the tide, I felt self-assured for the tiniest of instants. I felt smug, because the idea of controlling my temper hadn't even entered my mind. Instead, the restraint just came naturally, like I'd been born with superior self-control. I didn't see red, the feathery heat didn't shiver down my spine and out my ribs like unearthly wings; I was calm, controlled.
Thanks, Grandma Enli…
Even my voice, smooth and cool, didn't betray the rage the rest of my pack fought so hard to control. "Jump off a cliff, Lee." I pointed to the craggy waves and sharp rocks twenty feet below us. It wouldn't kill him, but it'd take him—I don't know, a day? Maybe two?—to heal. And that would satisfy me well enough.
Lee ignored the jab, sprawling in the dirt next to me and throwing his arms behind his head. Getting comfy, I guessed. He was settling in for a long afternoon of teasing and bullying. "Really, kid. You have no idea how hard this is on me."
"Oh, boo-hoo," I snapped at him. "I'm sorry I'm shattering your disgustingly bigheaded ideal that the sun revolves around you. Screw off."
Lee only scowled blackly at me, his thick brows pulling down over his eyes. Once, I'd considered him good-looking, but that was a long time ago. No one thought of him in that way anymore, not since he'd joined the pack. No one except for Sam, that is. She would never forgive herself for the pain she'd put him through, as if it were her fault he'd turned out to be this vindictive jackass.
His scowl intensified, as if he could guess at what I was thinking. Probably could.
"I don't even like the kid," he complained, "And you've got me devastated over the frickin' leech-lover like I'm all in love with him, too. Can you see where that might be a little… Confusing? This shit is taking a serious hit on me. First, I run around all day with a bunch of girls, and then I dream of kissing the guy at night. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?"
I snorted. "I don't care."
"All I'm saying is," he said, almost cavalier, though I knew better, "it's time to get over the guy. He's marrying the thing—that's, y'know, pretty damn serious… And then she'll try to change him into one of 'em… I would have given up hope a long fricken' time ago."
"Shut up," I spat at him, feeling a spark of heat spike down my spine and settle in my hips, crackling and flickering there. I was going to try to be nice—it would be wrong to even the score… But if the asshole didn't let up, he'd regret it.
"According to all the legends, he's doomed before it's started. Chances are, she'll kill him anyway." He shrugged, as if this detail didn't matter to him in the least. "Maybe they should be planning a funeral instead of a wedding." He snorted with derisive humor.
The metallic taste of pennies filled my mouth, and this time, I had to clench my eyes shut to control the rage. The heat prickled from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, flashing in the tips of my fingers. I could feel the ground trembling underneath me, and I knew that was because my core was shaking so hard—trying to tear itself apart and take another shape while the rest of me struggled so bad to keep it together.
When I opened my eyes, Lee was smirking at my hands, watching them shake.
Screw him. I'd had it.
"If you're so distraught about having feelings for another guy, how do you think the rest of us like looking at Sam through your eyes? It's bad enough that Elliot has to deal with your obsession. He doesn't need the rest of us salivating over her, too."
The anger was a physical force inside my body, but still, I felt guilty when pain flashed across Lee's features. I'd got him right between the armor plates, where I knew it would hurt most. I watched as the offense quickly gave way to rage, distorting his features.
He leapt to his feet, pausing only to spit a few choice words in my direction, and then wheeled for the trees, his shape already quaking apart at the seams.
I laughed sardonically. "You, too."
I'd get a reaming from Sam for that move, but I really didn't care at this point in time. It had been worth the hit, and I knew the repercussion had done its job. No way Lee would bother me anymore…
But I guess it had the effect he'd wanted—his words coursed through my brain like sandpaper on skin, abrasive and relentless. The agony the reminder brought on made my chest tight, made my stomach ache, made my eyes prick with stupid, stupid tears.
When it came down to it, I didn't care so much that Beau had chosen her over me. Of course, it hurt like hell knowing it, but still—it was nothing compared to the other agonies. The ones I would have to live with for the rest of my stupidly long life. Stupid shape-shifting perks… Didn't feel so much like perks right now…
What mattered was that he was sacrificing everything for some half-life with the bloodsucker. He'd let his heart stop, he'd let his skin petrify, and his head twist into some iced killer's mind. He wouldn't be warm, soft, awkward Beau anymore; instead, he'd be a monster, a stranger. And that thought alone spurred so much misery that I didn't know if there was anything worse than that… Except there was…
If she killed him…
I couldn't finish the thought. The rage tore through me anew, blasting down my spine and out through my legs and arms. I curled my knees to my chest and pressed my forehead to them, fighting the urge.
But it was so tempting. Why shouldn't I let the fire change me? Why shouldn't I shift? Everyone knew the wolf's instincts overrode so many human emotions. Everyone knew it was easier to deal in wolf form. As the wolf, I wouldn't feel this ripping, tearing, aching pain in the same way. As the wolf, it would be different—on a baser level, at least.
But Lee was running now, and I so didn't want to share his thoughts.
I cursed him under my breath again for stealing away that freedom, too.
So I did what I could to ease the tremors. I had to placate myself with the idea that Beau would somehow survive; it was the only way I'd ever be able to hold on to some shred of domination over the change. But how could I bring myself to trust that, if I couldn't trust the snake whose hands his life was in?
How could I know she'd be able to do it? How could I know she'd love him as much as I did? Of course I knew she did… The night in the tent, and the conversation that had ensued between us, had made denying that impossibility.
But the only way I could see that she would not kill him, was her success in changing him. And if she succeeded at that…
Beau wouldn't be Beau anymore. He'd be incontestably different, and I had to wonder what kind of affect that would have on me. Would the pain knowing he'd survived as some half-alive demon corpse thing be different than the pain I'd go through if he had died? If I saw him standing there in front of me, like some ice sculpture… Would he even remember what we'd shared while he was still human? Would I be able to look at him in the same way? Or would the instinct to destroy be too much to overcome…? When his scent burned like bleach in my nose… When the instinctual urge to protect rose like the tide inside me…
Could I really want to kill him?
I struggled toward some kind of answer, some kind of mollification, as I watched the waves roll in from the ocean, listened to them crash over the beach and the rocks under the cliff I sat on.
I still hadn't solved anything by the time the sun had set, so I stood up, stretching my arms and legs—which had long ago healed. I tried not to think of that week for a lot of different reasons.
Instead, I focused on the hunger snarling in my stomach, and turned toward home in search of food. Unfortunately, Charlie had been with my mom the day of the 'motorcycle accident', and so I had a ruse to upkeep. I oriented my arm in the stupid sling, and grabbed the even stupider crutches. Props—that's all they were. I wedged the things under my arms and headed back for the res.
I regretted going home as soon as I walked in the door. The expression on my mom's face was impossible to hide, although she tried to act all blasé—like she always did when she wanted to talk about something.
She had the food ready, so I grabbed a plate and headed over to the table, clunking down into a chair. In the kitchen, gathering her own food, she was already talking about nothing and everything.
"This morning's sunset was sure something, huh?" she was saying, "Spectacular. I drank my coffee on the porch and watched it flood the sky, all pinks and purples and oranges… And then I took care of some of that paperwork I'd been meaning to get to. Sam dropped by for awhile—nice to talk to her. Haven't seen much of her since… Well, you know… Ate a sandwich for lunch, had a little nap, and then Sean stopped by just a little while ago." Her voice rose in tenor, and as much as I concentrated on the food grinding up between my teeth, I couldn't drown her out. "Don't know how that man does it—keeps up with work, and the house, and those kids… 'Specially Lee. Sean would have made one hell of a wolf, but Lee… I'd call that kid more of a wolverine." She chuckled throatily at her own little joke.
I didn't respond, just waiting for the catch. I was practically inhaling the food by now, just hoping Sam would call me out—for any reason at all. Really, I was willing to do anything to avoid this talk with my mom.
"Sarah's a little easier, I think," she was saying, "Of course, you were a lot easier than your brothers, too, until… well. At any rate, you had a lot more to deal with than they ever did."
I sighed and set down my fork. "Just get to the point, Mom, please."
She paused, and it was suddenly so quiet I could hear the click of the clock over the stove. "We got a letter today," she finally said. Something in her voice told me it wasn't another postcard from Aaron.
"A letter?" I prodded.
"Well… It's more a… A wedding invitation."
Again, the wild heat shot like a lightening bolt down my spine; I gripped the table to keep myself in one piece.
"There's a note inside that's addressed to you," she continued, as if she hadn't noticed my reaction. "I didn't read it."
She produced a thick ivory envelope from where she'd hidden it between her leg and the side of her wheelchair. She put it on the table and pushed it toward my plate. I only stared at it in disgust. I could smell the paper from here, and my nose was already on fire.
"You probably don't need to read it," she said now, "It doesn't really matter what it says, right?"
I huffed an exasperated sigh and plucked up the torn envelope. The paper I pulled from inside its contents was stiff and heavy, fancier than anything I'd ever seen before. And the font printed on the invitation was done in some formal calligraphy. I knew in an instant this had all been her doing. From the handwritten address to the see-through, petal-printed pages. I didn't read the words; what was the point?
Underneath the invite was another thick piece of paper, folded once in half. And on the back of it, my name was written in that same fancy handwriting. No way. Was she so cruel as to send me a letter? Was she going to gloat, now?
Feeling the furrow deepen between my brows, I picked it up and unfolded it.
I'm doing something I never thought I'd ever bring myself to do again—I'm going against Beau's wishes by sending you this. But I justified my actions by knowing it was better for you to know.
Better for me to know? What? That Beau didn't want me at his wedding?
He made it clear that he thought it would hurt you to have to decide whether to attend or not, but you deserve the choice, as painful as it may be. I know if he had chosen you instead of me, I would have appreciated the option.
I know simple words will never suffice, will never convey the words of gratitude I would like to say to you—the words I've said to you in the past, but never felt they did your actions and sacrifices justice. Thank you, Julie. For everything. For picking up the pieces of Beau I left shattered. For making him believe that maybe he could live a life without me. You were an incredible friend to him, Julie, in more ways than one. I know a part of him will always love you—perhaps not in the way you would have wanted, but there is a bond between you that I could never begin to dream of infringing on or replacing.
I promise I will take care of him, Julie. I'll spend the remainder of eternity doing everything I can to make him happy and whole.
I send you my sincerest regards and well wishes,
"Jules—we only have the one table."
My eyes flicked from the page in my hand to my mom's face. She was staring with concern at my left hand, which I suddenly realized was gripping the edge of the table so hard the wood had begun to cave in.
I gasped, releasing the table in one, jerky movement. "Sorry," I whispered, coiling both hands to my chest so nothing else would be at risk of destruction.
"Don't worry about it," she insisted now, and the sincerity in her voice brought a lump into my throat. "Do you—" she started to say, but I was already standing, and on my way to the door.
I hoped Lee had gone home.
"Julie!" my mom called after me as I kicked the front door out of my way and vaulted myself over the porch railing. I broke into a jog before I was halfway to the trees, pulling off my t-shirt and dropping it in the grass behind me. I kicked my shoes off as I heard my mom's voice behind me, frantic with worry, but I ignored her as I ducked through the fringe of trees bordering the property.
It was an almost effortless thing now, to phase. After all, it was more instinct than anything else—and once I'd realized that, had connected to that part of myself, all the ensuing shifts had been easy, really. I followed my body's lead, closing the world out as I let that heat rake up and down my spine now, fill every cavity of my torso, stretching down my arms and legs, and then I was running on four legs.
Around me, the trees swam in a blur of jade, emerald and grey as I launched myself past them, not paying attention to my surroundings. I knew this territory like the back of my hand—well, paw.
I felt the rhythmic coil and release of my muscles as I stretched all four legs, hurling myself past fern and frond. If I wanted to, I could keep this pace up for days. The wolf body was different from my human body—even if I had more endurance than I ever had before as a human. This heart pumped steadily, bracingly, the air puffing evenly in and out through my nostrils.
This body's muscles were lenient and flexible—strong and unyielding. This body was so much stronger than my human body—and my human body was pretty damn strong now.
I didn't have to stop for nothing, and nobody. Maybe I wouldn't.
But I wasn't alone.
I'm so sorry, Emma whispered in my head. Of course, she'd already seen my motivation for the shift. Nothing was off-limits in the pack mind.
Through her eyes, I recognized her surroundings, and knew she was more than two miles in the other direction from where I was heading. As I blinked between her vision and mine, I could see she was turning her agile, slim body around, winding between the trees, and now she was running south, intending to meet up with me.
My muzzle pulled away from my teeth as I let out a low snarl, pushing my legs harder.
Wait up, Quil complained. She didn't like to be left out, even if she knew everything that was already going on. Quil was more… Involved than Emma, and though both of my best friends wanted to comfort me in whatever way they could, Quil had always managed to be more obnoxious about it. Unfortunately, she was closer, just leaving the village behind her.
Leave me alone!
Their inescapable concern reverberated through my head—no matter how hard I tuned my physical ears into the natural cadence of my own surroundings. The wind in the trees and my fur, the scurry of wild animals, the twitter of birdsong, all of it and none of it was distracting enough to drown out my friends.
Inarguably, this was the part of being a wolf I hated the most. Seeing myself from their perspective—all the good things I found it hard to believe about myself, all the bad things I didn't want to acknowledge, but worst of all: the pity.
They saw, they heard, my anger, my disinclination, but they followed me anyway.
Don't shut yourself off from us, Emma begged, You need us at times like these!
Don't go! Quil added beseechingly. C'mon, Jules—you have to face this!
Just then, a new voice sounded in my head, the arpeggio of her voice a resonating, inarguable echo.
Let her go.
Sam's thought was soft, and I could see, more than pity, more than concern, the empathy in her thoughts.
Emma and Quil slowed to a walk, relinquishing the chase, but I still couldn't block out what they were thinking, what they were seeing. As they processed everything from this afternoon, I wished more than anything that I could just be alone! But in order to do that, to avoid the scrutiny and the grating compassion, I would have to phase back… And I couldn't subject myself to that misery anymore.
Especially not now, not after tonight. Somehow, Edythe's letter had made everything worse, and a quiet, still part of me knew she hadn't intended for me to take it that way, but the more dominant side of me snarled and growled with frustration as I kicked up mulch behind me.
What would they do if I ran to the Cullen house, intent on ripping her head off? But even as I thought the words, I knew I couldn't do it. It would hurt Beau too much…
So I turned the other way, heading toward the Canadian border.
Phase back, Sam told the girls, I'll pick you up, Emma.
Emma's was the first consciousness to fade from my head. A moment later, Quil grudgingly did the same. Then it was just me and Sam.
Thank you, I told her.
Of course, she thought, I understand what you're going through, to an extent… Take your time to sort through things. Come home when you can.
The words steadily faded in volume, trailing off into blankness as she shifted back to her human form as well.
Then, I was truly alone.
I sighed in relief, the sounds I'd been trying so hard to hear finally filling my ears. The scrape and shift of forest bracken under my feet, the whisper of an owl's wings spreading as she launched from a bough high above my head, the gentle swish of the ocean's wave—far, far in the west… And there was nothing else to fill my head.
There was nothing else to feel but speed, the rhythmic contraction of my muscles, sinew and bone, working together in perfect harmony as the miles scraped away behind me.
I didn't know where I was going, or how long I'd be gone for, but for now, the silence in my head was too comfortable to leave behind. Maybe I never would leave it behind. That would be a first—a shape-shifter staying forever in wolf form… I wondered at that. Would I eventually lose the ability to turn back? Could I forget everything, truly leave it behind?
Well, I was sure as hell going to try.
I pushed my legs faster, letting Julie Black, all her pain, all her heartache, and all her sorrow, melt away behind me.
A/N: And that's it! Keep your eye out for the first installation of Dulcet Devotion this week, and like I said last chapter, make sure you have me on AUTHOR ALERT, so you don't miss it ;)
Thanks again, you guys, for all the support!
I had a question from a reader about why Beau's reaction to Julie was so much more violent than to Edythe… And I feel like he explained it a little bit, but maybe not to the best of everyone's understanding. Beau realizes that the love he has for Julie is different than the love he has for Edythe. It's human, it's raw, it's visceral… But he's formed a supernatural bond with a supernatural creature as a human—and it's forever changed him, on a very, very deep level. He literally canNOT live without Edythe… Whereas with Julie, he certainly CAN, but it's painful because it's a vital part of him (the relationship he and Jules formed, not even necessarily the romantic side of it) and he's had to root it out in order to move on with the life and destiny he has not only chosen, but has no other choice but to move forward with. Hope that helps explain things :)
See ya guys soon!