But I'd seen all the girls in La Push and up on the Makah rez and in Forks. I needed a wider hunting range.

So how do you look for a random soul mate in a crowd? Well, first, I needed a crowd. So I tooled around, looking for a likely spot. I passed a couple of malls, which probably would've been pretty good places to find girls my age, but I couldn't make myself stop. Did I want to imprint on some girl who hung out in a mall all day?

I kept going north, and it got more and more crowded. Eventually, I found a big park full of kids and families and skateboards and bikes and kites and picnics and the whole bit. I hadn't noticed till now - it was a nice day. Sun and all that. People were out celebrating the blue sky.

I parked across two handicapped spots - just begging for a ticket - and joined the crowd.

I walked around for what felt like hours. Long enough that the sun changed sides in the sky. I stared into the face of every girl who passed anywhere near me, making myself really look, noticing who was pretty and who had blue eyes and who looked good in braces and who had way too much makeup on. I tried to find something interesting about each face, so that I would know for sure that I'd really tried. Things like: This one had a really straight nose; that one should pull her hair out of her eyes; this one could do lipstick ads if the rest of her face was as perfect as her mouth___

Sometimes they stared back. Sometimes they looked scared - like they were thinking, Who is this big freak glaring at me? Sometimes I thought they looked kind of interested, but maybe that was just my ego running wild.

Either way, nothing. Even when I met the eyes of the girl who was - no contest - the hottest girl in the park and probably in the city, and she stared right back with a speculation that looked like interest, I felt nothing. Just the same desperate drive to find a way out of the pain.

As time went on, I started noticing all the wrong things. Bella things. This one's hair was the same color. That one's eyes were sort of shaped the same. This one's cheekbones cut across her face in just the same way. That one had the same little crease between her eyes - which made me wonder what she was worrying about___

That was when I gave up. Because it was beyond stupid to think that I had picked exactly the right place and time and I was going to simply walk into my soul mate just because I was so desperate to.

It wouldn't make sense to find her here, anyway. If Sam was right, the best place to find my genetic match would be in La Push. And, clearly, no one there fit the bill. If Billy was right, then who knew? What made for a stronger wolf?

I wandered back to the car and then slumped against the hood and played with the keys.

Maybe I was what Leah thought she was. Some kind of dead end that shouldn't be passed on to another generation. Or maybe it was just that my life was a big, cruel joke, and there was no escape from the punch line.

"Hey, you okay? Hello? You there, with the stolen car."

It took me a second to realize that the voice was talking to me, and then another second to decide to raise my head.

A familiar-looking girl was staring at me, her expression kind of anxious. I knew why I recognized her face - I'd already catalogued this one. Light red-gold hair, fair skin, a few gold-colored freckles sprinkled across her cheeks and nose, and eyes the color of cinnamon.

"If you're feeling that remorseful over boosting the car," she said, smiling so that a dimple popped out in her chin, "you could always turn yourself in."

"It's borrowed, not stolen," I snapped. My voice sounded horrible - like I'd been crying or something. Embarrassing.

"Sure, thatW hold up in court."

I glowered. "You need something?"

"Not really. I was kidding about the car, you know. It's just that... you look really upset about something. Oh, hey, I'm Lizzie." She held out her hand.

I looked at it until she let it fall.

"Anyway...," she said awkwardly, "I was just wondering if I could help. Seemed like you were looking for someone before." She gestured toward the park and shrugged.

"Yeah."

She waited.

I sighed. "I don't need any help. She's not here."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Me, too," I muttered.

I looked at the girl again. Lizzie. She was pretty. Nice enough to try to help a grouchy stranger who must seem nuts. Why couldn't she be the one? Why did everything have to be so freaking complicated? Nice girl, pretty, and sort of funny. Why not?

"This is a beautiful car," she said. "It's really a shame they're not making them anymore. I mean, the Vantage's body styling is gorgeous, too, but there's just something about the Vanquish___"

Nice girl who knew cars. Wow. I stared at her face harder, wishing I knew how to make it work. C'mon, Jake - imprint already.

"How's it drive?" she asked.

"Like you wouldn't believe," I told her.

She grinned her one-dimple smile, clearly pleased to have dragged a halfway civil response out of me, and I gave her a reluctant smile back.

But her smile did nothing about the sharp, cutting blades that raked up and down my body. No matter how much I wanted it to, my life was not going to come together like that.

I wasn't in that healthier place where Leah was headed. I wasn't going to be able to fall in love like a normal person. Not when I was bleeding over someone else. Maybe - if it was ten years from now and Bella's heart was long dead and I'd hauled myself through the whole grieving process and come out in one piece again - maybe then I could offer Lizzie a ride in a fast car and talk makes and models and get to know something about her and see if I liked her as a person. But that wasn't going to happen now.

Magic wasn't going to save me. I was just going to have to take the torture like a man. Suck it up.

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