Jake started up a small company fixing up cars on the Rez. Embry and I would occassionally help out, just to be able to see each other after all the mess with all those creepy vampires showing up and a heap more wolves phasing. It had shaken us all up a bit, honestly, but we were starting to sink back into a routine we could imagine was how it had always been.
Embry had always worked on and off at his mum's store, just to help her out. There wasn't too much paid work on the reservation, and seeing as my schedule was sometimes turned upside-down by mythical creature problems, it proved to be a bit tough to find something suitable. After Nessie arrived, Jake started spending almost all of his time at the Cullen's house. His dad didn't mind as much as I thought he probably should. He was just happy Jake was around at all.
So, with the knowledge I'd picked up on fixing cars the last few years, I pretty much took over with anything anyone brought to my best friend. It was still under Jake's name and everything, but he was happy to help me out with work and I was happy to take what I could get for the money. Word spread pretty quickly, and even families from Forks were making bookings with us, seeing as we were that much more reasonably priced than anyone else around.
I'm not denying the fact that a good amount of the money I made went straight to Claire.
I saw her almost every day. I would go to Emily's house to meet her, either staying there for the day or taking her out to see the world. She loved the beach. She loved my brothers. She seemed to be happy with anyone holding her, as long as they were above average temperature. I knew Emily was still a little bitter about me swooping her niece away from her, but I was too infatuated to care. She eased up a little more every time she saw me with Claire. She kid was happier with me, as conceited as that sounds.
When the Italian vampires had gone back home and left us alone it was like nothing else. I hadn't even known I'd been worrying as much as I was. But then, relief. Claire was safe. We were safe. Jake suggested we let Claire and Nessie meet, and I was apprehensive at first, but I told myself I was being stupid. Nessie didn't have any problem with control. I was being an overprotective moron.
Claire went to day care on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Emily said it was going to prepare her for the rest of her life, and it was better for her wellbeing than hanging out with us, but I doubted it.
So, one rainy Tuesday afternoon working in Jake's garage, I was visited by my friend and his imprint.
"How is it going?" Their footsteps had been impossible to hear under the car. I pushed myself out from under it and smiled at them both. I honestly liked Nessie. Not just because I had to. She was great.
"Fine. I think I should be finished by the time Claire's ready to be picked up."
"We came to talk about that," Jake started carefully. "Ness doesn't really get to hang out with anyone younger than us. And Claire's pretty much in the same situation, except for when she's at school. Ness thought she could make dinner tonight for the four of us and they could meet."
Nessie was swinging on the spot beside him innocently, her hands behind her back and her eyes on me, wide with hope.
"You realise she's three, right? She's not as freakishly advanced as you are, Ness."
The friendly insult slipped over her like a mild compliment. "I know that. I just think it would be nice to know her, imprint-to-imprint. And I hear about her all the time, I might as well meet her. I'm going to run into her at a party soon enough anyway, right?"
"I guess so," I looked at the clock on the wall. I still had a good hour until I had to get ready to pick her up. "What are you cooking?"
"Pasta. At my parent's house. They're hunting tonight, so we'll have the whole place to ourselves."
Cool. I still wasn't completely comfortable spending time with Vampire Bella yet. "Alright. Well, just let me finish up here and I'll clean up and go get Claire. We'll be over as soon as I've had Emily call her mom."
"Excellent," Nessie grinned, her bright white teeth catching on what little light was in the garage, and she dropped into a plastic chair.
Jake helped get the car all fixed up and called the owner, and I ran home to have a shower and get changed. I grabbed a blanket on my way out the door for Claire (Do vampire houses have blankets? She might get cold...) and jumped in my car twenty minutes earlier than was necessary.
Claire's parents knew I minded her at least one day a week. They were under the impression that she spent the rest of her time away with her Aunt, which wasn't entirely untrue. As far as they knew, I had a lot of spare time and babysat in La Push quite a bit. So Claire wasn't anything special, it was just that I was around Emily and Sam's house and Emily sometimes needed an extra hand. Yep.
She jumped into my arms when she saw me. I held her bag in my left hand and supported her with my right as I carried her back to my car, strapping her safely into the back seat. She blabbered on about her entire day, and I laughed at things I normally wouldn't find so amusing. Today they had painted dinosaurs. And apparently Claire had gotten a taste for gray paint, because I was allover her chin and nose.
"And then I painted it again, and then I licked it off again!"
"Wow," I headed in the direction of Forks. "Well, I hope you're not too full of paint, because we're going to have dinner with Uncle Jake tonight."
"Yay!" she sang loudly behind me.
"Yeah," I agreed. She loved Jake. "And you know how we talk about his friend Nessie? She's going to be there, too,"
"Jake loves Ness," Claire told me seriously. I chuckled under my breath. I'd said the same thing to her not a few weeks prior when she'd asked who Nessie was.
"He does. And I love you,"
It was trickier finding Bella and Edward's house than the big white one. I had to follow my nose a couple of times, but we eventually made it. Jake and Nessie were already inside, and Nessie was already cooking, by the smell of things. Weird that she could make good food when she didn't enjoy eating it all that much. Apparently her dad was the same.
"Smells good," I pulled Claire out of the car, holding her to me, and handed her the blanket I'd brought for her. After grabbing her bag out of the back seat with her I started inside. The door was open and Jake greeted us as we got closer.
"Uncle Jay!" she squealed with delight and he took her out of my arms without asking, holding her tightly as he spun her around on the spot.
"Look at you! You get bigger every time I see you!"
Claire giggled, leaning over his shoulder to peer into the house. "Where is Nessie?"
And suddenly Nessie was there, not a foot away from my imprint, smiling with excitement on her young face. "Hello, Claire! I'm Nessie. It's nice to meet you."
"Hello, Nessie," Claire said politely. She turned to Jake and smacked the tops of his arms. "Down!"
Jake gave me a look once Claire was on the ground. "You sure you're not spoiling her? She's more demanding than I remember."
"I think she's trying to look independent in front of Ness," I chuckled.
"I'm three," Claire told Nessie as a conversation opener. "I like dogs and ducks and I have four bears at home."
"I'm turning one in December," Nessie answered back casually. "My best friend is a dog, and I ate a bear for dinner on Sunday."
Jake and I exchanged a wary look. Claire wasn't exactly kept up-to-date with the entire wolf and vampire thing. Without even thinking about how much that would terrify a three-year-old, we just couldn't risk it. She was really good at talking, and if she said the wrong thing to the wrong person it would cause a bigger mess than necessary. Sam had decided it was best just to keep those things from her until she was old enough to be reliable. Which was fine by me, at this stage. That just meant she didn't know about imprinting.
But apparently what Nessie had said to her didn't have as high an impact as we thought. Claire accepted her new friend's words easily and followed her into the kitchen, where Nessie was half-way through a salad.
The night passed uneventfully. Nessie seemed completely hypnotised by Claire at times. I don't think she'd ever really been around another child before, and that was a bit sad. Even though she had aged mentally so quickly, it must have been refreshing for someone young to spend a bit of time with. A lot of the time she just smiled and watched Claire, amused, as though she were watching an entertaining movie.
Ness was a great cook. She made some kind of chicken with herbs and oils all over it, and it was just amazing. Jake and I piled our plates high, and Nessie helped Claire pull her's to pieces small enough to eat. I wondered if she was intentionally treating Claire like a real-life doll. It was a bit cute.
After dinner, we sat on the thick couches to watch television. Nessie was curled up at Jake's side, his arm around her, and Claire left me to sit beside her, playing with her hair.
"You are too, Claire," Nessie grinned and took her hand. "I had fun meeting you tonight."
Claire was a bit upset when we had to leave, but her mother had made plans to pick her up from Emily's when she'd finished work, and I was sure it would get a bit messy if she arrived and her toddler wasn't even there.
"I want to stay with Nessie!" Claire whined as I strapped her into the car.
Nessie and Jake smiled out the front of the little house, waving goodbye. "I know, Claire. You have to get home, though. Your mom will be worried about you."
She was grumpy the entire drive back to La Push. Emily was happy to see her, and swooped her into her arms before I'd even gotten out of the car.
"Thank you for having her back in time. Just,"
"You're welcome," I said casually. I leaned on the hood of my car, watching my imprint in her arms. "She met Ness tonight,"
"Oh," Emily liked Ness. We all did. It was something we hadn't expected to happen, but it was impossible to deny. "That's nice. Is that where you ate?"
"Nessie is my best friend!" Claire told her importantly. "She's so pretty. Uncle Jay loves Nessie."
"And Aunt Emily loves Claire," Em kissed her pudgy cheek noisily. "You'd better say goodnight to Quil. Your mommy will be here soon."
I knew what was coming next. The same thing happened almost every night, every time I got to see her. She turned to me slowly, her eyes widening and filling with heavy tears. I felt my heart clench in my chest and my throat become thick. My arms lifted out to her automatically, and I cradled her against my chest safely.
"I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"No," Claire moaned into my chest.
No matter how often this had to happen, I still felt sick every time. Our bond was too intense for her emotions at this age. She felt the draw to me like I did to her, but she was too young to handle it properly. I tried to be strong for her, but I knew she could tell I was upset as well. Emily watched us hopelessly, as she did every night.
"It's okay. You go have a big sleep, and I'll pick you up tomorrow, okay?"
"Kay," I felt hot tears fall onto my shirt and I gave her one last squeeze, kissed the top of her hair, and handed her back to her aunt. "You have sweet dreams."
"I love you, Quil!"
"I love you too, Claire-bear."