I sat at the table, looking out over the dance floor. In the center, my brother Cooper danced with his new wife, Alexis, and they both glowed with joy. I felt happy for them and loved having a little nephew to dote on. Everyone in attendance from the guests to the bridal party seemed to be out on the dance floor, having a blast. As my eyes continued to pass across the room, I took in the details of the rustic wedding. I’d always wanted a wedding like that—in a barn in the woods, with lots of rich golds and deep reds for autumn. Now that Cooper and his wife had had my dream wedding, I would need a new dream.
“It’s much better out there, you know.” Jace gave a nod toward the crowd, sliding into the seat beside me.
“It looks it.”
“Then why are you over here bumming?”
I raised a shoulder and hoped he would leave it at that. But of course, he didn’t.
“I’ve never seen you not dance,” he went on. “How many school dances did we go to? How many weddings and family events? You always dance, Kylie.”
I gritted my teeth and blinked fast. “It’s different now.”
Finally, he seemed to understand that it wasn’t just about me pouting or not feeling up to it. “What is?”
“Me. I can’t dance.”
I scoffed. “Well, let’s see. There are two metal plates and six pins holding the bones of my leg together. There’s the fact that putting too much pressure on that leg still hurts. There’s also the fact that this accident has made me less coordinated than I used to be.” I crossed my arms and promised myself I wouldn’t cry. After all, the day wasn’t about me and my car accident.
Jace stood in front of me and held out his hand. I glared up at him. He pushed his hand closer to me and I looked away.
“Ky, come on; I’m your best dancing partner and you know it. You don’t need those crutches if you’ve got me.”
I sighed, wiping away a stray tear, then wrapped my arm around his and let him help me to my feet, leaving my crutches resting against the table. When he stopped on the dance floor, I leaned on my good leg and held onto his waist to steady myself. He wrapped his arms around me tightly and pulled me closer to him.
“Thank you,” I said as I lay my head on his shoulder. “You’re always there for me. First with the accident, and now this, and countless other ways throughout the years.”
“You’d do the same for me,” he replied.
I lifted my head to meet his gaze. I absolutely would. “I’m finally going back to work the day after tomorrow.”
“The day after tomorrow?” He raised his eyebrows. “How are you going to do that?”
“Light duty. Desk work.”
He looked relieved. “That’s good. At least you’ll get to rest.”
“I’ve had enough freaking rest. I’m antsy to get back out there.”
“So, you’ve shifted?”
I gulped. He had me and he knew it. “Not yet.”
He pressed his lips together.
“Hey.” I poked his shoulder. “Humans do my job, too, you know. Shifting is not a requirement for being on the search and rescue squad.”
“I suppose. I’d just like to make sure you’re fully healed before you get back out there. Have you not been able to shift?”
“It’s not that. I can feel it calling, I’m just…afraid to. I’m pretty sure it’ll hurt like hell, and I’ll just have to deal with that. But I have all these…other parts now. What will happen to my plates and pins when my bones move? What if it screws up my human leg or my bear leg?”
He pulled me close and put one hand to my cheek. “Don’t think about all that,” he urged.
“No one knows the answers. I don’t think I can take the chance.”
“You’ll feel it,” he assured me. “It’ll feel right or wrong. Either way, you’ll know, and if you go with it and let your body do its thing, you’ll be okay. I do think it might hurt, though.”
“You really think so?”
“About which part?”
“All of it? That I’ll know? That it’ll hurt?”
He nodded. “I think so, yes. To both.”
I let myself settle again with my head on his shoulder. He felt so warm and close. I inhaled, trying to etch his scent deeper into my mind. It smelled different than his usual cologne, the one he’d been wearing since we were in our teens. I felt so safe in his arms. How many years had it been since I first fell in love with Jace?
When Jace moved in next door, Cooper was 12 and I was 8. I remember that day clearly. Jace and Cooper were the same age, which was part of what instantly brought them together. I’d been the dorky tag along for many years, but when I grew into adolescence, they let me hang out a little more often. They made me prove myself to them. And I had.
My first crush ever was Jace. I think I was maybe 9, and it wasn’t long after he moved in that I began to notice him. Cooper and Jace were running around the back yard one day and Cooper fell and got hurt. Jace ran to him to make sure he was okay, and something in his little concerned face made me feel the depth of his character—not that I had any idea what that was all about at that age. Later, I realized that was moment I fell in love with him. And since then, that love has only grown deeper.
So, from age 8 until now at 23. Fifteen years spent loving him. Fifteen years of watching him go through girl after girl. Always dating someone, but never staying with any of them. He seemed determined to date the entire high school, repeatedly breaking my heart in the process.
He must be dating someone now, I told myself. He’s always dating someone. I imagined this woman. She was prettier than me, more fit, better coordinated. Flawless skin. Thick, silky hair. She probably had her life together. Unlike me.
What would it take to win someone like Jace? In all the time I knew him, somehow, I never figured that part out. I’d tried to get involved in his interests; in high school, I was on the yearbook team when he was a photographer. I got into cars, though it was quickly clear that I was not a gearhead. In my teen years, when I was still figuring out who I was, I’d spent years trying to be the girl I thought Jace would fall for—but I was never her. Eventually, I’d managed to find my identity, but I never seemed to form as much as a blip on Jace’s radar.
I thought about what Cooper’s life would be like now. Married—with a baby already—and surely more to be coming later. It was a life so different from the one I spent living in my apartment. I felt, too often, alone. Maybe that was why Jace had dated so much; maybe he felt the same and had been trying to fill the void.