Leah knows Kim, knows her in the sense that everybody knows everybody, that you can hardly breathe in La Push without someone having something to say about it. Not that Kim is remarkable in any way; Leah remembers the younger girl as a sidenote to the main story, her name always tacked on like an afterthought —
— a casualty in the chaos of childhood —
(“You need to look out for her, Leah, she’s only little,” Mrs Black said, her eyes sliding across to where the tear-streaked girl crouched beneath the shade of a tree. “You know better.”
I do know better, Leah thought defiantly, her hand fisted around the coveted softball bat. And I know I don’t like her.
Still, Leah knew better than to pick a fight with her mother’s best friend.
“Yes, Mrs Black,” she muttered, dragging her feet towards where the younger girl sat, acutely aware of the adult eyes watching on.)
— the obligatory invite —
(Rachel pushed the envelope across the table, Leah’s name inked in thick purple marker. She knew exactly what she would find when she slid her fingernail under the flap, tugged the scalloped piece of cardstock from within, but it still sent a little zing of excitement tingling up her spine.
Rachel leaned across the table, drummed her fingernails against her cafeteria tray. “Tell your mom that you need to come over early, ‘kay? Rebecca wants to put up paper streamers in the garage and I need you to tell her they’re ugly.”
“They can’t be that bad,” Leah said placidly, then poked at her meatloaf. “Besides—”
There was a little squeak of a hello from behind her, and Leah knew exactly who it was judging by the awkward expression on Rachel’s face.
“Oh, Kim,” Rachel said in a weird high-pitched voice, not-so-subtly moved her arm across the neat stack of envelopes. “I forgot you have the same lunch period. Meatloaf, huh?”
Kim smiled, but her eyes were focused on the paper in Leah’s hand. “Your birthday’s this weekend.”
Leah made her best stay strong! resist the pressure! face, but Rachel only sighed and told her the time, the date, giving up without even trying to fight off the obligation of inviting a twelve-year-old to a teenager’s birthday party.
—in the end, Kim is memorable.
Memorably and profoundly annoying.
Conversely, Leah knows Jared—knows him as one of the kids in Rachel’s little brother’s class, part of the gaggle of dirt-encrusted boys that run around the Reservation on bare feet, burrs and rocks be damned.
Somehow, whenever there is anything going on around the Rez, Jared is inexplicably yet predictably caught in the middle of it.
At first, Leah finds it mystifying: how much trouble can a kid like him get into, given his six p.m. sharp curfew and military-style discipline that can be heard from multiple houses away—God, does Mrs Cameron have a set of pipes—but, as if he is magnetised, he is right back in the fray in no time at all—
—like the first day back after Winter break in her sophomore year, when he flies off his skateboard in the quadrangle and leaves a couple of his teeth behind. It’s an exceptionally gross task, but she finds herself volunteering to collect the little fragments of shell-white enamel from the dirt, taking them to the nurse’s office in a discarded bag of pretzels. He’s a little weird looking, all blood and dirt and tears, but he gives her a little trembling thumbs up and, somehow, Leah comes out of it thinking he’s actually kind of alright for an eighth grader.
She doesn’t see him much that year; Sam Uley takes notice of her, finally looking at her like she’s more than just some mousy kid, barrelling through her carefully organised life like a cannonball and, after that—
—Well, Sam doesn’t leave much room for anything else.
Later, when the shiny gleam of the new relationship has worn off, when the monkey’s paw curls and Sam pivots from Leah to Emily—yes, she wished to keep him forever; no, she did not mean as an in-law—there is time to think.
She thinks a lot; Leah wonders when she became the sort of person to hang her hopes and dreams and future on a high school drop-out, when she fell for a man who found himself more enamoured with deception than honest partnership, when she stopped listening to the wisdom of her best friend. It didn’t take long for Sam to be woven into her life as if he was always there, as if he was the most important person to walk the earth.
And, for a short summer, he was.
The cold always comes, though, and try as she might, she cannot avoid seeing Sam with Emily, watching the lovesick way he dotes on her, shields her protectively from curious glances at her bandages.
The attentiveness makes her sick.
In the blink of an eye, she has lost the two most important people in her life without the dignity of a clear explanation; no matter how many times Emily apologises, it will never be enough. She cannot look at Sam without remembering how his voice had shaken as he broke up with her, the way he could not meet her eyes when he said her name.
She resolves to never give another person that same power over her spirit—if not for her, then for the next bystander charged with pulling her from the wreckage.
Leah doesn't smile for what feels like an eternity after it happens, and she certainly has no reason to smile after her first phase.
She's someone now, even without Sam.
In trading flesh for fur, she’d become a murderer, and she is certain the shame will follow her all the way to her grave.
Her mom and Seth refuse to blame her for what happened, and the mismatched group of merry men she is forced to spend time with do not dare, but the pain remains unrelenting. She carries the grief wherever she goes, the weight burdening her like the smooth river stones she used to collect with her father.
The world is moving on but she is still living in past tense, sighting ghosts wherever she goes. Even the littlest things, like Seth’s deepening baritone in the pack mind, conjure apparitions of Harry despite her best efforts to suppress them. Sam starts scheduling the siblings on opposing patrols—it’s a kindness, Lee, you’ll understand in time—as if distance will heal the gaping bullet wound in her chest. Maybe it will make sense eventually, but the distance between her and Seth has grown and stretched into distance from everyone, her circle dwindling and contracting until she’s graced only with the temporary company of near-strangers. Leah knows them in a cursory way, having grown up on the same block and sharing the same babysitters, but that doesn’t make them friends. At least, not the kind of friends that share freaky telepathic links and see each other butt naked after tromping through the forest as wolves.
Either way, she spends her first few weeks as a beast in near-solitude, comforted only by the fleeting company of the village idiot (and by extension, that insufferable white girl from down the road) and his slightly-less grating sidekick.
You know, I resent that, Jared thinks, breaking his usual policy of ignoring her moping.
And I resent sharing a brain, but here we are, she grumbles in return, scratching claw marks into the muddy earth. Sam’s yet to truly make her work, assigning her to run laps of the usual patrol routes to get familiar with their routines, and she’s going to milk his pity as long as she can.
Fair, he concedes, his mind wandering through a slew of memories, past and present mixed into one. You don’t have to stay out here forever. Come and eat with us. Seth is there.
Just the mention of his name sends a little pinprick of hurt coursing through her body.
And who else?
Jared doesn’t reply for a moment; she gets little flashes through his eyes, sees the forest from his vantage point. And then—
Emily, Sam, maybe Paul? Kim’s there, too.
She tries to contain the flicker of emotion that Kim’s name evokes, though it’s shaded by her hatred for Sam and, by extension, Emily.
It’s not that Kim has done anything egregious; Kim acts only in half measures, being there but not being present, lingering between idleness and inaction. It’s not the lack of ambition that irks Leah, nor the mellow disposition that she carries, but her lackadaisical approach to the world. Things just seem to happen to Kim, good grades and party invitations and opportunities that just seem to be drawn into her orbit. And, of course, Jared is no exception.
Like everything, Jared just happens to Kim, with no regard for the existing order of the world that functioned quite happily without her involvement.
Kim is a sore spot. Whether the rest of the pack are aware, Leah is unsure, but it is no secret from Jared, who seems to know a little of everything about everybody.
Jared, who has somehow grown into a rather respectable teenager, is gracious enough not to comment.
I’ll save you a plate, Jared promises, unperturbed by her lack of response. Seth can take it home.
Thank you, she volunteers finally, only when he is on the verge of phasing.
His acknowledgement is fleeting in the moments before he dips out of their shared mind, but the lightness she feels in those moments does not go unnoticed. Happiness is a long-forgotten feeling, but its lesser cousins are not entirely unwelcome, as unfamiliar as they may be.
For the first time in a long while, she doesn’t feel quite as alone.
It’s a pleasant change.
It takes a long time for her to see, and even longer to feel, but, eventually, she comes to the conclusion that, hurt as it may, the universe was right. Perhaps not about everything, given that the whole werewolf thing has majorly thrown a wrench in her life plans, but about Sam. It’s hard not to notice him—her body is practically hard-wired to gravitate towards his warmth, though it gets easier with time apart—but she can’t help see the flaws, the excesses.
He’s always laughing about something, nudging Emily into grating peals of laughter, fingers tickling at her sides as she shuffles around the kitchen. She can hardly look at the Young family bakeware without her skin prickling, shimmering with the tell-tale waves of energy, incensed at Sam’s blatant neediness. She cooks, she cleans, she hems his stupid little jean shorts that deserve to be used as kindling in a bonfire, and she does it all with a self-satisfied smile on her face.
They deserve each other.
Once the realisation has ripped through her, seeing them together becomes more of an exercise in tolerance. Leah can’t claim to be happy for them but, at the very least, she can be calm in their presence; Paul teasing her about being a bunny boiler only makes her roll her eyes, and the sudden appearance of wedding magazines on the coffee table is more humorous than horrifying.
Even so, she still resists Emily’s attempts to buddy her with Kim in a fruitless effort to champion girl power in a house bursting with testosterone —
(Emily chatters as she bustles around the living room, alternating between smiling sweetly and levelling her with a gravely serious expression, trying to sell Leah on hanging around more, when she says it:
“You and Kim have lots in common,” Emily says, placing another plate of biscuits on the coffee table. “You know, you’re going through the same things.”
Whatever conversation is going on between the boys immediately quietens; like prey in the woods, they know danger is afoot.
“Same things,” Leah repeats, incredulous. “Kim’s got herself a boyfriend. I’ve got a man-stealing cousin, a dead dad, and a fast-track ticket to being a high school dropout. Unless she’s secretly Bruce Wayne, we are not the same.”
Emily says nothing; she has the gall to turn away and disappear into the kitchen without another word—a privilege that is probably the only upside of constantly hosting the pack.
“So, Lee, would that make you the Riddler?” Embry says contemplatively, snickering at her scowl. “I’ll pay you to get revenge on Jake—”
“—what, you’re too lazy?” Jared taunts, his mouth curling into a mischievous smirk. “‘Sides, Leah’d rather help me out, she likes me more than you.”
He catches her eye then, his grin making his brown eyes crinkle around the edges, and the little jolt in her chest may as well be a full-force shove into oncoming traffic.
—and she begins to avoid Jared, too, half-scared he’ll pinpoint exactly why she is acting so strange, and half-hopeful he’ll admit to feeling the same.
It’s a bit of a headache.
Spring melts into Summer, Summer into Autumn and, before long, it’s been a full year since Sam and Emily had happened, and before Harry had keeled over as if he’d been staked. It’s an appropriate comparison, really, on the basis that even thinking about her old life cleaves her chest open anew. If it wasn’t explicitly against that godforsaken treaty her ancestors had signed, she’d have half a mind to ask one of the Cullens to stake her.
I think that’s racist. No, speciest.
Shut up, Jared, Leah growls, wishing she could roll her eyes as a wolf. She does plenty of wishing these days.
Wishing for privacy. For sleep. For normalcy.
If wishes were fishes, Jared starts, hell-bent on annoying her senseless, as is his custom.
She phases before he can finish the platitude, smiling a little when she imagines his disappointment.
Technically, the rest of her evening should be spent running routes, Christmas Eve be damned. In saying that, her house is the last place she’d choose to be—somehow, even spending time with Sam and Emily ranks above having to face her mom—and it’s probably why she’s ended up on woods duty.
It’s a little strange that Jared’s out here, too, given that he has a normal family and a girlfriend to go home to; she’d rather not question it too much, lest she be stuck out in the cold alone.
Jared makes for good company.
She stands at the cliff edge for a while, watching the waves lapping at the rocks, force against inertia. It’s mesmerising, the way the salt water surges and recedes, undaunted by the perpetuity of nature. No matter the time of day, the reach of the tide, she can count on the swell to continue beneath, a constant amidst her changing world.
“Find any mermaids?”
His footsteps are nearly inaudible as he comes to stand beside her, staring out into the inky blackness. Between them passes little more than the softness of breath, the muted thump of heartbeats overlapping, a moment shared in time.
“Only boring werewolves,” she says eventually, sneaking a glance out of the corner of her eye.
Jared smiles. Then—
“I’m glad it’s you tonight,” he says, slinging his bare arm across her shoulders. “Your mind is nice. Predictable.”
She scoffs. “Are you calling me boring?”
“The opposite,” Jared murmurs, warm breath blowing across her cheekbone; he’s looking at her, really looking at her, and yet she cannot find it within herself to move. “I understand you, I know how you think. It’s a . . . good kind of predictable. Feels like home.”
Her breath catches in her chest; his eyes are still on her, she can feel their burn, and for a long terrible moment she is caught between following her head and following her heart.
She remembers Emily, and it stops her.
“Kim,” she says simply, trying to calm her breath to the ebb and flow of the waves. “This isn’t fair to Kim.”
“None of this is fair,” Jared says tiredly, finally looking away. “Not on any of us.”
Leah sighs, leans into his hold, closes her eyes and tries to commit every inch of his warmth to memory. Maybe he is doing the same, too; he presses his mouth to the crown of her head, his breath ruffling the short strands of her hair like a summer’s breeze.
She breathes him in.
They can have this moment.