This is the completely edited version that is posted to Twilighted(dot)net under the pen name fictionfan
A/N: The story name and each chapter's title is a reference to a song title. I did this because music means a lot to Leah and it often plays a big role in her life. I highly recommend looking up the songs on playlist(dot)com or youtube.
Bruce Springsteen's Leah is pretty self explanatory but "For Leah and Chloe" is a song by Lost in the Trees and "American Baby" is by Dave Matthews Band
Bruce Springsteen's Leah
For Leah and Chloe
I hadn't shifted in nearly three years. My personal record in the nine or so years since The-Almost-War. I did call Jake and Seth every once in a while; I couldn't let my Alpha worry too much... Yeah. Whatever that meant.
I just couldn't stand to share a consciousness with two people so bright and damned chipper. Jake with Renesmee and Seth with his new BFF Ed-jas-mett-isle. I swear. It didn't matter that Seth was so obviously the odd man out. He just loved the leeches. He followed them around like the little puppy dog he was. I think he'd offer to do their laundry if Esme didn't beat him to it. Me, I was sticking to the yoga thing, lots of deep breathing.
Until one day, I decided to share my other self with someone special to me. Then it happened: I heard Jake's cry for help.
After The Volturi left, I did too. I headed up north like Jake did after the wedding. I just let the wolf run for a while, stretch her legs. I found the soft crunch of snow under the pads of my paws to be relaxing and eventually, the taste of raw rabbit didn't bother me so much. Jake was right: don't think about it.
A couple of weeks into my trip, I came across this beautiful ranch. Complete with log cabins, rolling hills, stone chimneys, smooth mirror-faced lakes that were frosted over at the edges, a seemingly endless array of painted ponies and it was all topped off with an endless sky with clouds that seemed to touch the sun. The perfect place to relax, I thought to myself. Now this is a place I could call home...
Take care of yourself. I heard flit through Jake's mind. He and Seth were in La Push, gifting me with one last look at the shoreline of First Beach from the cliffs. No matter how far I ran, I could still hear the both of them in my mind. Jacob phased, and then I couldn't feel him anymore; it was just me and Seth.
Good luck, Sis, I'll miss you.
Damn Seth and his sentimental crap.
Hey, I heard that! Seth thought.
Good... I'll miss you too, kid. Tell Mom I love her. And try to keep an extra eye out for Charlie...
I'm pretty sure Mom can handle herself, y'know.
I know. Well, I guess this is it. With that, I phased and left everything from my past behind, not knowing when or if I would return to my childhood home. Here, no one would bring up Sam, or Emily, or my father, or damned vampires.
It had been about two weeks since the Volturi's departure: long enough to say my good-bye's, buy one of those backpacks made for rescue dogs (size XL) and wander The Great White North for a bit. Next thing I knew, I was naked as a jay, in the middle of the woods, looking at the most beautiful log cabin I had ever seen. I knew I had nothing to be nervous about; I was just looking for a job, that's it. The worst that could happen would be that they would say no and I would keep going. I had stared down an army of angry vampires yet the prospect of asking a perfect stranger for a job had me hiding behind a tree like a six year old playing hide-and-seek. I threw my clothes on and faced my fears and walked down to what I could only assume was the... main building? The office? It was the only building with cars anywhere near it.
I walked up a few short steps and into a side door. I didn't want to walk directly past a couple that were already giving me meaningful glances from the front balcony, mugs of steaming-something in hand. I didn't think about it at the time but it was probably the fact that I was only wearing a long sleeve shirt and jeans with holes in the knees. I wasn't exactly worried about catching a cold and they were bundled up like Eskimos. I should have known better. The average human doesn't run a 108 temperature every day, especially not in the snow.
The inside of what turned out to be the lodge was even more beautiful than the exterior, if that was even possible. Overstuffed leather couches with enormous brass grommets, wood paneled floors and walls, bouquets of wildflowers (Where did those come from? It was all but a blizzard outside.), stacks of leather-bound books and cashmere pillows, and in the center of the giant room: one of those antler-chandeliers that you only see in design shows hosted by gay men in Montana. No. Freaking. Way. This was the kind of thing you see in a magazine. Yeah, no way I'm getting a job here. I thought it was best not to get my hopes up.
Over to a corner, I saw a small, dark desk with a small, bright woman seated behind it. She kept her natural-looking blonde hair in a low pony tail at the base of her neck with bangs swept across her forehead. She was dressed professionally but simply.
As every well trained concierge should, her expression never wavered from one of welcome. "Hello, my name is Olivia. Welcome to The Siwash Lake Ranch. Do you have a reservation, miss?"
"Hi, my name is Leah. It is really beautiful here." I was seriously trying to make a good first impression. "Actually, Olivia, I was more interested in looking for a job. Is there anyone here I could speak to about that? I would be willing to do just about anything you needed." My admission wasn't far from the truth. I needed a job and I needed a place to stay.
At that, Olivia seemed to brighten even more. She stood and said, "If you will have a seat, I'll have a word with Mr. Siwash." She turned heel and rapped softly on a door at the opposite end of the room. After a quiet "Yes, Olivia" she opened the door and walked inside. Through the solid wood door all I could make out were mumbles. The slight orange tint to the door contrasted nicely with the wide array of beiges from the pine timbers supporting the ceiling, paneling the floor, and covering the walls.
I walked over to the massive stone fireplace; I think my wolf could have walked into it had it not been for the rolling fire. It was big enough for five to comfortably sit around it and make s'mores. On the mantle was a wrought-iron candelabra. To me, it looked like something you could see some fat, balding guy make at a Renaissance Festival; I certainly wouldn't have picked it to place right in the middle of all the wood and stone and leather, but it fit perfectly. It had deep red candles, a shade darker than the leather sofas, glistening from the heat of the fire but not getting hot enough to melt. Once I noticed the candles, I couldn't help but take more notice of the stonework behind them. A wide array of colors from gray to tan to brown to purple to green to red to yellow made up the throat of the chimney. Before I could catch myself, my breath was stuck in my throat and tears were threatening to brim over my eyelashes; it was like taking a magnifying glass to the stones of First Beach. Of all the things to be reminded of from home, that was probably the least threatening.
I took a few calming breaths that I wasn't anticipating I would ever need and batted back the tears that I would never let myself cry. I turned around to see Olivia and a middle aged man standing near the door she had knocked on a minute before. He wasn't too intimidating, I guess. He had perfectly straight black hair that was starting to gray on the sides, and stubble on his cheeks and chin that was also starting to gray on the sides. He was wearing a green flannel button-up and jeans with cowboy boots. He had copper colored skin, just lighter than my own. Not exactly what I was expecting.
"Leah? Would you like to step into my office?" Mr. Siwash, I assumed, asked.
"Yes, sir, of course, sir." Wow, did that really just come out of my mouth? Well, if I'm going to suck up to get a job, I guess I better do it right, I thought to myself.
Olivia stepped aside with a kind smile and Mr. Siwash ushered me into his office. As I walked past the strawberry-blonde door, I realized with my heightened senses that it smelled faintly of cedar; its spicy scent had slowly worn away to just a warm, inviting aroma. The smell matched the soft grains of the wood that felt almost malleable as I shut the door behind myself. The room was a small square with a smaller version of the same fireplace as the sitting room. He took a seat behind another dark wood desk and gestured for me to take a seat in one of the wooden chairs opposite him.
"So, Leah, is it, eh?" He really said 'eh'. If there was any question before, I definitely knew then that I was in Canada. I desperately hoped that the colloquialism wouldn't ever rub off on me.
"Yes, sir, Leah Clearwater," I responded, trying to sound as polite as possible.
He pondered that for a few seconds and then questioned, "Clearwater? Any relation to the Clearwaters of Clearwater River a piece north of here?"
"Not that I know of, sir. I'm from the Quileute Reservation off the coast of Washington."
"I see. Well, as it turns out, you are in luck. I do need some help in the stables. It's tough to keep all of those jobs filled through the winter. But I have a few questions to ask you first."
"Of course, sir, anything you need." I wanted to give him whatever he would require to get a job, even if it was in the stables. I assumed he needed my social security card or my driver's license or something.
"Do your parents know that you are here?"
That caught me off guard. I figured honesty was going to be the best policy in all matters that weren't supernatural. "Well, my father died about a year ago. I guess you would call this one of those cheesy 'finding yourself journeys'. My mother knows that I'm gone, though she doesn't know where I am specifically right now, but it's not like I'll be hiding it from her either. Once I get settled, wherever I go, she will be the first person I tell. But she has my brother to take care of her and I just needed to make my own way and get away from the same fifty people that I've seen every day of my life, wow, I'm rambling. I'm sorry." I looked down into my hands and twisted my fingers together with worry. I had said more honest things to this stranger than I had to anyone, excluding the pack, in years.
He just chuckled and reached under his desk. "That's quite alright Leah. You made quite the impression on my wife out there and she wanted me to make sure that you weren't a runaway. I think it would break her heart to know that she was breaking some other mother's heart. My name is Charbonneau Siwash, by the way."
"Two last names, talk about a mouthful," I mumbled.
"Charbonneau is a family name from my mother's side. You can just call me Nox. Well, you certainly seem hearty enough and earnest. We will give you a trial run. The job is nothing glamorous, that's for sure; for now it is just cleaning out the barn and helping the stable staff, but if that works out well, it can always change. Here's the key to your room; Olivia can show you the way." I then excitedly took the silver key on the basic key ring. "We will need to get you a coat and some better shoes and maybe a toque, and some of that will have to come out of your first paycheck but I'm sure Olivia is just chomping at the bit to jump into mother hen mode. She can't help but to take in the strays. Tonight you can relax and get settled. Tomorrow we'll show you the ropes."
"Thank you so much Mr. Siw-" but he didn't give me a chance to finish properly thanking him.
"Nox. Please. Around these parts 'Siwash' means drunken, no-good Indian, and I don't think either of us appreciate that," he said with a laugh and I couldn't help myself but to chuckle along with him.
"Nox," I said to appease him. "Thank you. I really appreciate everything, but what the heck is a toque?"
With that he pursed his lips to the side and lowered his eyebrows and I could tell he was thinking crazy foreigner.He spread his fingers out over the top of his head like he was imitating a spider and said, "Y'know, like a fuzzy hat." Then we both broke out in laughter and I could tell that even if the work was gross, I would enjoy my job here at the Siwash Lake Ranch. "Hey, just don't tell the guests about the drunken Indian thing, alright?"
"If you ever need to talk about anything, you know where to find me," he said softly and seriously. Then, his smile widened wickedly and he loudly proclaimed, "Or, you could just look for Olivia."
A second later, the door opened and Olivia, who I can only assume was eavesdropping, walked in, a warm smile on her flushed cheeks. "Leah, sweetie, would you like me to show you to your room?"
"Yeah, thank you ,Olivia. That would be great."
Olivia walked me out of the office, and at the front door she slipped out of her low heels and into a pair of worn cowboy boots that were hidden inconspicuously next to an old cast-iron, pot-bellied stove. With an errant thought I wondered if there were a few embers left in the old stove that Olivia kept red to keep her boots warm. I figured there must have been when I spied two other pairs of boots also left next to the stove. All three pairs, like Nox's, looked well broken-in and well loved; they each had a different, intricate design stitched into the leather. I was hoping that my mandatory new boots would not be of the cowboy variety and more of the hiking persuasion.
Olivia opened a small door and pulled out two black down parkas. Even if I didn't need it for the warmth, it was still comfortable. It was like walking around in the slick side of a sleeping bag.
I thanked her for her hospitality and she walked me through the front door of the lodge. As we walked down the stairs, she wrapped her arm around me with her hand on my arm as if to warm my biceps through friction. It was definitely a motherly thing to do. I could see what Nox meant by the whole mother hen thing. It was something I would have to adjust to. Sue Clearwater was never exactly the coddling, motherly type. But I think it was something I could get used to.
We walked about a hundred and fifty yards from the main lodge to where I saw a large barn, and when I say large barn, I mean I need to make up a word to describe how huge it was. I think most of the Rez could have fit in there. Maybe thirty yards closer to the line of trees from the colossal barn was a medium-sized cabin and fifty yards behind the first cabin, tucked into the tree line was a second cabin that was obviously Nox and Olivia's home. I'm not sure how I knew, but it just matched the two of them perfectly: simple, one story, with a wide, wrap-around porch and ferns and wild flowers growing completely around it.
The two of us walked up to the first cabin, and lined across the top step were, I kid you not, a row of cowboy boots. They were like fingerprints: each slightly different from the next. I was starting to notice a trend. When we reached the top step of the porch, Olivia gave me a chance to unlock the front door with my new key. "Welcome home dear. Let's get you introduced!"
After I slid my key in the door, Olivia called out, "Hello?"
From inside, I heard multiple people reply.
"Come on in!"
The living room of this cabin was like a miniature version of the main lodge but frat house style: the same beautiful furniture but this time draped with coeds; the same decadent wood paneled walls but in place of the artwork there were movie posters; instead of a pot-bellied stove there was a... keg? Where am I? Animal House meets Hey Dude?
"Carson picked up a Two-Four and a couple of forty pounders at the beer store. It's a nice night for a Canadian, eh? But we've got a Mickie in there if you like. We all say it's time you and Nox came and had a night with us and worked on your Molson muscles! The Canucks are playing the Rangers, no better excuse, eh?" said a stringy looking girl with shoulder length strawberry blond hair. And then she turned and noticed me. "Hey Olivia, who y'got there? A Gorby or a Yank?"
I felt like she was speaking a different language... This place was only a full day's drive north of La Push. I might as well have been in Russia for all I understood of what she said. I heard someone cough something that sounded like "keener" which garnered the five twenty-somethings each a chiding glance from Olivia. Then she sternly replied, "Neither. And thank you for the offer, but no, Emma. Nox and I will not be joining you tonight."
"Okay, okay. Just thought I would ask."
"This is Leah. Leah, this is Jillian, Luke, Emma, Charlotte, and Carson. Jillian and Luke are our two riding instructors, Emma takes care of our horses, Charlotte is the children's program director and Carson is sort of our resident jack-of-all-trades. He takes groups on hikes and canoe and mountain bike outings and instructs fishing classes. Guys, Leah will be picking up the slack in the stables through the winter. Hopefully, she'll stay with us after that. I'll leave you all to get to know each other." With that, Olivia gave me a one-armed hug and abandoned me in the shark tank.
I tried to plaster on my friendliest face but I'm not sure if I succeeded.
"Hey, what's up?"
To that Luke responded, "Christ, I'm going to go rock a piss."
With her nose turned up at Luke, Emma started with the twenty questions, "So, where're you from?"
"La Push, Washington."
"How old are you?"
"Excellent, you can make trips to the beer store. What brings you to the ranch?" she asked just as Luke walked back in the room and let out a large belch.
"Could you all stop being hosers, eh? It's nice to meet you Leah, I'm Jillian. Can I get you a Canadian?" She rose to shake my hand and I found that she had waist-long, stick-straight black hair, just like mine used to be. She and Carson had a similar complexion to Nox while Emma, Charlotte, and Luke looked as white bread as you get before you turned vamp.
"Err.." was all I could manage to get out before the room burst out in laughter. Great. So I'll just be the punch-line for the next year till I get the hang of this. Just wonderful.
"Cheechaku, a Canadian is just a beer. It's a Molson. You want one? You can't root for the Big Blue without a Canadian in hand," Carson explained.
"Ok, I'll take one. But you have to explain to me what the heck you are all talking about." Everyone laughed again but they did explain to me their foreign language.
That night, on top of what a toque and Canadians were, I learned 'Cheechaku' and 'Gorby' both mean foreigner (the latter being the derogatory of the two), a Yank is an American, a Hoser is a jerk, a Keener is a brown noser, to Rock a Piss is Luke's way... Well I'm sure you got that one, a Two-Four is a twenty-four pack of beer that they really do buy at a "Beer Store", a Forty Pounder is a 40 ounce, and a Mickie is a pint of liquor. These Canadians really liked to drink on their days off. Luckily I was legal up here at 19 so I would be able to make my fair share of beer runs. There was a beat up old truck that we could use when we needed to go into town, and Carson had his own Jeep, and Emma had a newer Honda, not that I really ever expected a ride from her.
Oh, and a bathroom isn't a bathroom. I figured that out fast. It's a washroom. It was also down the hall and to the right.
My room, like all the girls' rooms, was upstairs. I was the second on the left, across from Jillian and next to Charlotte. Luckily, Emma, the one that didn't seem to warm up to me during the game, was down the hall a bit. She didn't seem to fit in with all the others: I got the impression that she was only here to piss off her uppity parents.
After the game, Canucks lost, 1-2, everyone headed to their respective rooms. I heard a quiet knock at my door. It was Jillian, the other... Native American... Canadian? Indian? I'm not sure of the P.C. term for that one. Maybe one day I'll ask. She came in with a pair of pajamas and a clean pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. "I figured you would want to change out of your travel clothes, and I thought maybe you would want someone to talk to. Maybe?" She seemed nice enough, but how exactly do I explain how I just showed up in the middle of No-Where, Canada with little more than the clothes on my back, a 'knapsack' as they say, and a few bucks to my name. Yeah, not happening.
"Come on in, thanks for the clothes."
"I can take you into town tomorrow for some stuff. You said you had a little money and the hyas muckamuck isn't going to let you go without," she said with a giggle in her voice.
"High ass Muck uh Muck? That's a new one."
"Hyas muckamuck, it means, the big boss, the head honcho," Jillian said, still giggling.
Gotcha. Nox," I said in realization.
"Oh no, I mean Olivia. She may play concierge, and sit up at her little desk, but she totally wears the pants when it comes to Nox. He is totally and completely devoted to her," she said with a smile overflowing with obvious admiration. "So... Do you want to tell me how you happened to end up in the middle of Nowhere, during a pretty decent snow, by yourself, wearing holey jeans and runners? Er, 'tennis shoes'," she asked with an innocent curious expression on her face.
"Not exactly. It's kind of... complicated," I replied honestly. "But I would love to go shopping with you in the morning," I said, not-so-inconspicuously avoiding her question.
"Not a problem. You'll come around, or you won't. I'll wake you up in the morning. It will have to be kinda early so that we can get back early enough for me to show you the stables. So how about seven?"
It was almost midnight. Wow, seven whole hours of sleep. That never happened back at the Rez when I was doing patrols. I usually got five hours a night. At the most. "That sounds great. Thanks Jillian," I responded, earnestly. Though, I was a little ashamed that I couldn't open up with her, she seemed genuine.
Then Jillian walked out of my room and I finally had a chance to get a look at it. Opposite the door, there was a small twin bed with a large window on either side. The comforter was dark blue and hunter green flannel, and it matched the curtains that were each tucked behind large wooden knobs that matched the ever-present wood paneling. Next to the door was a wooden dresser with a large mirror behind it. Against the right-facing wall was a large trunk with a handmade quilt on top. The opposing wall was home to a deep green love seat. It didn't inspire entertaining that the average couch would have, instead, it made me think of alone time I could spend, curled on that couch with a book, or just my thoughts looking at the view out my windows. Speaking of the view out my windows, at that moment, Olivia and Nox were walking, hand in hand, towards the cabin at the edge of the woods. Almost as if they knew I was thinking of them, they turned and looked towards the staff cabin and Olivia waved towards my window. Before I could decide whether I wanted to return the gesture, she turned around and entered her home behind Nox.
I pulled my drapes closed, changed into my loaner pj's, and huffed down onto the bed. I pulled my bag off of the floor and grabbed one of the few things I managed to fit in there: my ipod. I knew it was a fairly extravagant 'necessity', but if I was ever going to get my wolf under control I needed to relax and music was one of the things that helped me to do just that. So I had my ipod and my charger. End of discussion.
I turned it on and pressed shuffle and closed my eyes to say a little prayer. It had been years since I had said prayers before my bedtime, but I just felt like I should say something, for my mom, and Seth, and Jake.
Then I put the headphones in my ears and I heard Dave Matthews sing to me, "Stay beautiful, baby; I hope you stay, American baby."
And I cried. Everything I had been holding in for the past few weeks I let out right then, with the words of that simple, unadulterated song. Unintentionally, everything about that one line was so ironic to me because in just one night, it was evident that Canada would try its damnedest to change me if I let it. It would change my mannerisms, my dialect, my slang, and dear God willing: my appearance. If I could refrain from phasing, I could age. I could grow. I could mature. The sound of the guitar and sax and drums sang me to sleep.