"Everything you say to me
Takes me one step closer to the edge
And I'm about to break"
One Step Closer - Linkin Park
December 21, 2006
Jonathan pressed his forehead against the car window. His fingers fidgeted with the earbuds. The silence of the car ate at him.
Every Christmas, he and his parents made the drive from the city of Seattle to the tiny reservation La Push. His dad had grown up there before moving on to college and meeting his mom. The three of them had always stayed with his aunt and uncle in their small house. Uncle Harry had passed earlier in the year though. This would be Sue's first Christmas without him. Mom had worried about that, but it wasn't the reason for the silence in the car.
The tension in the car had only grown with the silence. Mom's hands gripped the steering wheel as if she were trying to choke it out. Dad wisely looked out his window, keeping his musing thoughts to himself. One wrong move, and there would be an explosion. Jonathan thought he could hear his heart beating louder. He gnawed on his bottom lip and tried to exist as little as he could in this moment.
Failing the fall semester had not been in his plans. Mom had spent most of the car ride fuming at him. Twenty-two minutes ago, she'd lost steam and settled for death gripping the steering wheel. He looked down at the earbuds hanging off of his fingers. Was it safe to listen to his music now? He had a feeling that, were he to pop in one of the earbuds, Mom would start her yelling again. He'd leave the music off, but that didn't stop the tension around him. Maybe it would be better to chance it. No.
They passed through Forks, and then he caught a flash of the La Push sign. Jonathan's shoulders tensed when they pulled up to Sue's house. Mom breathed in deeply and let out a long sigh. The first noise inside the car for the last hour.
"We'll talk more about this later, Jonathan," she said, sounding tired. "Let's just try to enjoy the holidays for now."
He dared a quick look at his mom. "Okay." He whispered, unsure if she was expecting a response.
Aunt Sue already had the door open for them by the time they had climbed out of the car. She smiled at them, but, as if she knew what a long Christmas this was going to be, her eyes were tight and worried.
"Lucas, Anna, Jonathan." Sue hugged each of them before they had a chance to put their bags down. Everyone smiled and the chatter began.
"How was the drive?"
"Long," his dad said.
"How are you, Sue?" his mom asked.
Sue nodded her head. "Things could be better, but we're doing good."
"Where are Seth and Leah?" Jonathan asked. For a split second, her smile faltered, but she laughed. "Oh, they're out with . . . friends. They promised to be here for dinner though."
He hadn't seen his cousins since Harry's funeral back in the spring. How had they been?
"You can go put your stuff in Seth's room, Jonathan." Sue suggested. Seth was only a year younger than him but was still a cool kid. Over excitable and hard to shut up, but still cool. Leah used to be fun, but she'd grown distant in the last two years. He remembered his parents whispering about a fiancé who dumped her for one her cousins on the other side of the family. How was she now?
Seth's room was pristine. Jonathan stopped at the doorway and wondered if he should continue. Never, had Seth Clearwater's room been so clean before. He remembered finding moldy pizza under his bed once last year. Jonathan felt bad putting his bag on the floor, the room was so clean. There was an air mattress already blown up for him. His parents' voices mixed with Sue's out in the living room.
"I had lost track of the days," Sue said, laughing a little. "It wasn't until your phone call the other day that I realized Christmas was on Monday. Things have been so hectic around here. You wouldn't believe."
"You said that you started at the hospital in Forks again."
"Yes. Conditions changed. Things aren't as bad as they used to be. And anyway, the pay is better there then doing the homecare."
He should probably stay in here. Even with Aunt Sue in the room, he wasn't sure how long Mom could pretend that she wasn't infuriated with him. He bit his bottom lip. It wasn't as if he was the only person to have failed a few classes. Why was she making such a big deal out of it? Sure, he should have studied more, should have snuck out with friends less, should have actually done some of the homework. It wasn't a fun feeling to see F's staring back at you at the end of the semester, but why did Mom have to act like he had killed someone?
A sting in his mouth snapped him out of his thoughts. He tasted blood. Had he bit through his lip? He rubbed at it, pushing back the sudden angry thoughts.
Rummaging through his bag, he ignored the conversations in the living room and pulled out one of his books to pass the time.
That was the only thing Jonathan could say when his cousins finally came home. They were tall. Seth had to have at least a half a foot taller than he was. Leah towered over everyone in the room. Even Mom's and Dad's eyebrows shot up to their hairlines.
"What are they feeding you here?" Dad asked, still looking shocked.
"It's called a growth spurt, Lucas." Sue rolled her eyes. "Remember when Jonathan shot up a foot a few summers ago?"
"Hey, Aunt Anna, Uncle Lucas." Seth grinned at each of them before walking over to Jonathan.
"That is not fair. You aren't supposed to be getting taller than me." Jonathan muttered as he looked up to meet his cousin's eyes.
Seth shrugged. "It's in the genes."
"Not mine, apparently."
"What's for dinner, Mom?" Leah asked.
"We're going to the diner in Forks for dinner tonight."
Both Seth and Leah shared a look with each other before staring back at their mother.
Seth cleared his throat and chuckled. "Is, uh, Charlie going to be there too?"
Sue folded her arms. "No. This is a family dinner."
"Charlie?" Mom asked at the same time Dad said, "Charlie Swan? The police chief?"
"He was a friend of Harry's," Sue said, giving her kids pointed looks. They backed down.
Something was off. Jonathan couldn't exactly say what it was, but something was. Seth was grinning and joking, but none of the emotion seemed to be reaching his eyes. He was the happiest kid in the room normally. Leah had shadows under her eyes as if she hadn't slept in weeks. Dad had said to be prepared for things to be less than joyful this year because of Harry's death, but none of his extended family looked particularly mournful. Their eyes . . .they all seemed . . . scared. That didn't make any sense, though. He was probably just overthinking things.
He laughed to himself. Now why couldn't he have overthought math homework?
The diner had a cramped feeling to it. There were too many pictures and things on the wall and the heater was on too high. Jonathan felt he would knock something over if he moved too much in between the tables. Seth and Leah expertly weaved through the diner to the largest booth in the back corner.
"I'm starving." Seth moaned. Leah began flipping through the menu. Jonathan slid into the booth next to Seth. Just the three of them took over most of the booth. Sue took Mom and Dad to the booth next to theirs.
"How have you been, man?" Seth asked.
Failing high school, unsuccessfully avoiding Dad's disappointed eyes and Mom's wrath. Trying to figure out what's up with his cousins.
Seth paused for a second, and then nodded. "As good as it can get, I guess."
Leah scoffed quietly. "Yeah, you could say that."
Seth hit his sister lightly. She scowled at him and rolled her eyes. Jonathan began to bite at his lip before a flash of pain made him remember he had bit through it.
"What happened to your lip?" Leah leaned on her hand.
"Accidently bit it earlier."
Seth cocked his head to the side and sucked in air. "Yikes, that looks like it hurts."
"Do anything fun this year?" Jonathan asked quickly.
Leah snorted. "Oh, you know. Killed a few people, ran away from home, the usual."
"Uh huh. Sounds fun?"
She snorted again.
"Leah thinks she's funnier than she actually is." Seth whispered loudly. "Just go along with it."
That was most of dinner. Leah was snarky. Seth attempted to crack jokes. The food was okay. The heat was still too high. Wasn't anyone else getting hot? Before the server brought the dessert, Leah suddenly seemed intent on studying Jonathan.
"Are you okay?" She asked, all of the snark gone.
"Just hot." He smiled weakly at her.
"You're sweating. A lot." She eyed his forehead. Seth's smile faded from his lips.
"The heater is probably on too high? You guys aren't hot?"
Leah was silent for a long moment, doing nothing but staring at him. She got up and left the booth without saying anything else. She went straight to her mom and leaned down to whisper something in her ear. Sue suddenly went rigid. Then everyone seemed to be crowding around the booth.
"Honey, are you sick?" Mom asked.
Sue placed her hand on his forehead and grimaced. "He's got an awful fever. We need to take him home. I have some medication he can take there."
Jonathan pushed his aunt's hands away. "Guys, I'm fine. It's just too hot in here."
"Sue's a nurse. Listen to her," Mom said before placing her hand on his cheek. Immediately, she snapped her hand back. "You're burning up!"
"Seth, help him to the car."
"I can walk." Jonathan stood up and held up his hands. Outside, the winter air felt amazing on his skin. He immediately felt better. His mom practically pushed him into the car when he paused.
Sue sped down the road, definitely ignoring the speed limit. Leah spat words quickly and quietly into her phone. Jonathan only caught a name: Jacob. Maybe a new boyfriend?
"Really, I'm fine." Jonathan tried to protest the fever pills and water Sue offered once they were inside.
"Drink that and go take a cold shower." She demanded.
Sighing in defeat, he downed the pills, took the shower, and, still under Sue's command, went to bed. She gave him an ice pack before promising to return in a while with a new one.
Jeez. Jonathan groaned. Had everyone gone crazy? What was with the overreaction? Maybe it was a nurse thing. Sue probably saw a lot in the hospital. At least her version of overreacting was icepacks and an overflow of comforting words. Better than Mom by a long shot.
Sue had sent him to bed early to get some rest, but he barely got his eyes shut for longer than a few minutes before she'd come in and check his temperature. He could hear voices in the living room, though couldn't hear what was being said. Every time Sue pulled out the thermometer she paled and quickly replaced the ice packs.
It was about two in the morning, when she exhaled in relief.
"98.8 degrees." She whispered. "Thank God."
"Told you I was fine." Jonathan mumbled, not bothering to open his eyes.
"Shh . . . Get some sleep." Her hand brushed against his cheek again, but it was a loving touch rather than a clinical one. "We don't want that fever coming back."
She didn't close the bedroom door all the way on her way out.
"Are Lucas and Anna still sleeping?" she asked.
"Yes." Leah spoke quietly. "Do you think he's okay? He's not going to . . ."
"No. His temperature is normal now. I can't believe I was so stupid. I didn't even think about what his coming here could mean."
"He's only half Quileute." Leah said.
"Still, he needs to stay away from Forks. How many of them are there now?"
"I don't know. But there are three more of us now. Jacob thinks there will be more."
"I'm afraid so." Sue sighed. "Leah, I think-"
"Wait." Leah interrupted her. She softly closed the door. Their voices faded as they walked away.
Jonathan slipped into sleep, barely aware of their conversation.
"Dude, we totally thought you were going to die." Bits of egg flew from Seth's mouth when he spoke. Jonathan ate another bit of bacon.
"Maybe you should listen to me next time."
"Hah, Mom's a nurse. Remember?"
He'd woken up, still fine, but that hadn't stopped Sue and his mom from checking his forehead once more.
Sue laughed. "Sorry, Jonathan. You wouldn't believe the things I've seen in patients who 'just have a fever'."
Bowls of eggs, bacon, and biscuits sat on the table in between the six of them. Everyone had filled up their plates at least twice. Seth filled up another plate and Leah ate another large biscuit with honey.
"I'm glad you're okay," Mom said.
Jonathan waved off their comments. "That restaurant had its heater up way too high. You think I could sue the place?"
"What have you two been up to?" Dad asked Seth and Leah.
Mom brightened up. "Yes, how have you two been?"
They both smiled and shrugged. "Good."
"Oh, come on." Mom buttered a small biscuit. "Tell us some details. Are you dating anyone? Have you gone anywhere fun? Passed all your finals?"
The last question punched through Jonathan's gut. His lips flattened into a hard line.
Leah and Seth both shrugged again.
"We're really not that interesting, Aunt Anna." Seth admitted.
"Oh please," Sue laughed, "Seth's too modest. The school just called two days ago. All A's." Her eyes beamed with pride for her son. "I really don't know how he did it."
"Really?" Mom's voice took on a new tone. She quirked an eyebrow at Jonathan. "Good for you, Seth. I always say that hard work leads to success. Wouldn't you say so, Jonathan."
He froze. His thoughts froze. His body froze.
When he got control of himself, he pushed back his chair. "I think forgot something in your car last night, Sue. I'll be right back."
He was out the front door before anyone could say anything. He paced the driveway twice, breathing heavily.
A hand pulled on his arm. He glared at the hand and yanked himself away from his mother.
"What is your problem?" she demanded. "You think you can just storm off like that?"
"My problem?" His voice was low. "What was with rubbing that in back there? I get it, okay, Mom. I screwed up. I failed my classes. I'll go to summer school and make it up. Why are you making such a big deal out of this?"
"Don't talk back to me like that." She grabbed his arm again. "And don't try to make me feel guilty for your mistakes."
Jonathan didn't step back. Anger wasn't an emotion he felt often. Sure, he got annoyed sometimes, but this pure anger building up inside him felt foreign. Inside, he had frozen when the feeling shot up his spine. Now, he shook. The hostility in his eyes made his mom let go of his arm. She began speaking again, but he couldn't make out what she was saying.
People began screaming.
"Anna! Get Back!"
Then he went blind with rage.