Disclaimer: If I owned Twilight, I would have done a better job on picking the music for the movie soundtracks. They're good, don't get me wrong, they're just not what *I* would have picked.

AN: So here you go, a Christmas present! Yay! How was my Christmas, you ask? Why, it was lovely, thank you! My beautiful sister and goofy brother-in-law came home, and it's been SO nice to see them. I hope you all got to be with your families.

This chapter is 15 pages in word. Phew! It marks the turn-around in Clara's thinking, although it won't be an instant change. She knows that she's going to have to start letting some things slide in order to maintain her relationships with the Quileutes. Don't look for an update for the next two weeks. I'm going to be in Florida with my family! So excited! I'll tell you all what the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is like! Squee!

Merry Christmas!

Chapter Nine:

Ding-Dong, The Bitch is Dead! … Well, Sort Of.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Anatole France

I woke up with a weak ray of sunshine in my eyes. Like, directly pointed at my eyes. It was this one pathetic little ray that barely deserved to even be called a ray, and it had honed in like a goddamn Vegas spotlight exactly where my eyes were on my pillow. If I had moved even a centimeter in any direction, I wouldn't have woken up at all.

I had never hated sunshine before, but this was definitely pushing it.

Looking over at the clock, I saw that it was barely six in the morning. I didn't have to be in town until eight. Abso-freakin'-tastic. I'd never get back to sleep now. I laid in bed and simmered for a while before I realized why I had been so disoriented in those first seconds of opening my eyes in response to God's little sun joke. I had no recollection of getting in bed. The last thing I remembered was being in Paul's car, sniffly and pitiful. Just the memory of how I'd behaved made my blood boil. I couldn't believe I'd done all that! How big of a pussy was I?

As I lay there, though, I started to view last night objectively. Apparently, I'd really just needed to cry. It was understandable. I made it a point to not cry unless I'd been hit by a car or something. When I allowed myself to be really and truly honest, I knew that it was because I hated to appear any more vulnerable than I already was. I had to compensate for my chair and for my past. But sometimes feelings build up, and they have to find an outlet somehow. Watching Embry and Margot dance had been the buzzer to the Emotion Game Show or the final drop that made the cup overflow. Whatever metaphor fit the best was fine by me.

Paul hadn't seemed to judge me, though. He'd been angrier when I'd had my mask on than when I'd broken down like a pansy. Paul looked like a Man in the most chauvinistic, Neanderthal meaning of the word, but I supposed that he actually did have a soft side. Who would have guessed it? He must have carried me in from the car…wait.

Wait a minute! He hadn't undressed me or anything like that? If he had, I was gonna murder him!

I felt down my legs and discovered that I was fully clothed in my jeans and black lace camisole. He had just taken off the outer layers. Huh. I was usually such a light sleeper; how in God's name had me managed to do all that without waking me up?

It seemed that Paul Lahote was a man of mystery.

When I finally pulled myself enough together to wander into the kitchen to look for food, I was surprised to already smell something cooking. I traced the smell to the oven, which was on low. Inside, a plate of eggs and sausage was waiting for me, warm and looking edible. I looked around and found a note on the table, lying next to a single daisy. I smiled. Daisies were my second favorite flowers. The note said:

Dear Harpy,

Hope you weren't too freaked out to wake up at home with no memory of how you got there. I promise you weren't drugged! I made you breakfast so that you wouldn't be pissy on your first day in the clinic. Try to remember that not everyone can handle your particular kind of defense mechanism in the face of new situations. When you meet people, be sure and say "please," "thank you," and keep the damning of all idiots to hell at a minimum. I would love to meet you for lunch at Kim's; I'll be in-between jobs. See you there at noon if you can make it.

King Kong

P.S. I put my number in your phone. Call me if you need anything, or if you just need to scream for a while. I can tune you out better than most mortals.

I grinned. It looked like I hadn't managed to scare Paul off yet after all. He really had gone beyond the call of duty last night, what with dealing with my emotional wreckage and making sure I got home okay without murdering somebody first. He'd even made me breakfast. Then I spotted another postscript in tiny letters at the bottom of the page:

P.P.S. Nice bra! ;-)

Oh, his ass was so nailed to my wall.

I tried hard to squelch down nervousness as I wheeled up the ramp to the medical clinic. This was my first big girl job, and all I wanted to do was run screaming into the night. Or wheeling into the night, I guessed. Whatever.

I took a deep breath and muttered my morning prayer under my breath to settle me back down again. I had a thought as I finished, though.

In order to be in this job in this place, in order to reach out to patients and to maintain their trust, I had to change. I couldn't be a Dr. Cox brand smartass all the time and hope to survive on the tribe's goodwill. Eventually, even my services as a nurse wouldn't be enough to have some social capital. If I couldn't have relationships with these people, I wouldn't make it. It was too hard for someone like me to try and go it alone. I had to…ugh…be nice.

But, to be perfectly truthful, that would never last for long. Niceness just wasn't me, and if there was one thing I was big on, it was people being true to themselves. Come to think of it, though, Paul had liked me better when I was open with him. Maybe that would be a universal trait.

It was settled, then. Nobody had said I that had to be Mother Theresa, after all. Maybe if I was myself, only without overcompensating and being too snarky, everything would work out. I just couldn't mess with people's minds for the hell of it. This was a little sad for me, I'm sorry to admit. I had liked being bitchy every once in a while and tormenting people. But maybe this would be for the best. Who could tell? Maybe I'd like myself better that way, although to improve on who I was already would definitely be a stretch.

With all that in mind, I eyed the entrance and went forth to conquer. But just as I leaned forward to open the door so that I could shove myself into the building, a pale hand reached out and held the door open for me. "Let me get that for you," a gentle male voice said. "It's a little heavy to hold with only one hand."

"Thanks," I grunted as I bumped over the threshold. I looked up and blinked for a minute at my benefactor. The man who had welcomed me in was beautiful. Now, I know that there's this whole gender-specific thing regarding the uses of the words "beautiful" and "handsome," but this man actually was beautiful. He had shining golden hair, perfect strong cheekbones, and kind brown eyes. No, not brown, I realized as I looked closer. They were golden, too, just a bit darker than his hair. He was unbelievably pale. I sighed as I realized that I was probably looking at my future skin tone. This is what happened when humans never saw the sun! They became Mole People!

I got over my shock quickly though. I'd never really been into blonde guys. Give me tall, dark and rugged men any day over the golden surfer types. Kind of like Paul, just, you know, not Paul. God, did I really just have that thought? Danger, Will Robinson, danger! "Thanks," I said as I offered my hand. "You probably already know, but I'm Clara McLeod, the new nurse."

"So I guessed," the man smiled as he took my hand in his. "The stethoscope around your neck tipped me off." It took me a minute to realize how cold his hand was; I was too busy being blinded by the toothpaste commercial light blinking off of his straight white teeth. "I'm Dr. Carlisle Cullen. I come down here once a month to see any serious cases that can't be taken care of in Forks. You'll be on your own much of the time as a consequence, I'm afraid. It'll be a lot of bumps, scrapes, and the sniffles. I hope that's all right with you."

I grinned back at him. "Trust me. I tend to do a lot better when I'm not around people. Or, at very least, a minimum amount of people; less inanimate objects get thrown at skulls that way."

He lifted one of his golden eyebrows at that. I shall dub thee Dr. Spock, I thought, repressing a smile. "If you dislike people so much, nursing seems to be an odd career choice, Miss McLeod. Why, then, did you choose it?"

I liked his old world way of talking. It made me feel like I was in a Dickens novel. Ooo, it could be Bleak House and I could pretend to be Esther! Wait, Mac, get back on topic. "That's just one piece of the puzzle, Dr. Cullen. My reasons are my own. What matters in the present is that I work hard, I'm stubborn, and I'm a damn good nurse."

"I'm sure you are, Miss McLeod. The council would not have asked you to come here if it were otherwise," he conceded, his eyes twinkling merrily.

"Please, doctor, call me Clara, or Mac. That's what I've been named by the Quileutes, apparently." Despite the unfortunate fact that Dr. Cullen was blonde, I liked him. I didn't feel an immediate and overwhelming urge to lash him to a rock and summon a sea monster to feast upon his flesh, and that was unusual.

"Very well, Clara. In return, I would be most obliged if you would call me Carlisle. It's much shorter than Dr. Cullen, and I find that I prefer it. After all, we are colleagues."

We really weren't, but it was nice of him to say so. "Sure thing, Carlisle," I replied. "Hey, I love old fashioned names. It's a good thing, too, or else my mother would have been in deep trouble once I figured out how old my name is."

He laughed. "I have a feeling that we are going to get along just fine, Clara. Now, let me give you a tour of the clinic."

I eyed the facilities. "I don't think that will take very long, Doc."

And it didn't. The clinic was very small, having only four small beds and a closet that passed as a waiting room, but it was surprisingly well stocked. It seemed that a lot of the older generation of Quileutes didn't like going to Forks to be treated; they preferred to stay on their own land. They felt protected that way, although I didn't see why. Forks had a police department, after all, which was something I had never seen on the reservation. However, that meant that my clinic would take care of a lot of the local medical needs. I had the supplies to do stitches, wrap up sprains and splint breaks, take x-rays, and treat a wide variety of illnesses. Luckily I was actually a nurse practitioner, which meant that I could write prescriptions and perform small procedures, like EKGs. Any ailment or wound that was bigger than that would have to be handled at the Forks hospital or by Dr. Cullen on the days that he was around.

I learned that he only came to La Push once a month. He was usually in Alaska with his large family; apparently, they had lived in the Forks area a few years ago, and Dr. Cullen felt a desire to repay La Push for some kindness that the tribe had done for him while the Cullens had lived here. He didn't give me much detail, and I didn't ask. Wasn't my place, and the story probably wasn't all that interesting to begin with. Carlisle looked like the sort of person that would turn in a penny to a lost and found rather than simply pocketing it as a sign of good luck. Knowing him, he was giving a lot more time and effort to the La Push people than was necessarily deserved.

Once Carlisle had showed me around and allowed me to familiarize myself with how the equipment worked, he set me to conducting a thorough inventory on the medicine cabinet so that I could see what needed to be ordered or replaced. I could tell that everything had been reorganized so that it was mostly within my reach. Anything that wasn't low enough I could grab with a tool that was propped up against the wall. It was a little claw that could grasp anything in its little pincers and hold until I released a lever. It was a really clever design, and I imagined buying one to have at home. I would finally be able to put books on the top shelf again with something like this!

Come to think of it, the Quileutes' now-familiar generosity was easily seen all over the entire clinic. The beds were low, so that I would easily be able to tend to whoever rested in them. The aisles were wide; I would never have to fear not being able to get into any corner of the room. There was even a desk against a wall that I could roll right up to and make notes. I had a pretty good idea of just which Quileute had made and installed that desk for my use. Too bad he was already destined for the chopping block for his little underwear eye-fest last night.

In very little time, Carlisle and I were working together as easily as if we'd been friends all our lives. We'd turned on a jazz station on the static-ridden radio, and I hummed softly as I sorted and counted medicine bottles and boxes of gauze and bandages. I was surprised when Carlisle started to hum to the radio, too. He had a lovely tenor voice, and it meshed well with my warm alto. We hummed our way through "Making Whoopee" and "La Vie En Rose" (which always made me think of the Audrey Hepburn movie Sabrina) when an instrumental arrangement of "Someone to Watch Over Me" came on. Carlisle and I turned towards each other and grinned. "This is my favorite," I admitted to him with a rare blush.

"Then by all means," Carlisle said, leaning back and waving his hand at me like a king to a minstrel, "feel free to sing along. It a favorite of mine as well, and I certainly wouldn't mind hearing your interpretation of it."

I hadn't sung for an audience in a while. I'd always participated in church choirs and I was a member of the chorus at my college, but I hadn't done much soloing. It was weird, but I felt completely accepted by Carlisle. His kindness was practically a third person in the room. Even if I sucked, Carlisle would think it was gorgeous. He hadn't been put off by my personality, and he seemed to like me for me, not just what I put myself off as. So when the right point in the music came, I opened my mouth and sang.

"There's a saying old, says that love is blind

Still we're often told, "seek and ye shall find"

So I'm going to seek a certain lad I've had in mind

Looking everywhere, haven't found him yet

He's the big affair I cannot forget

Only man I ever think of with regret.

I'd like to add his initial to my monogram

Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?

There's a somebody I'm longin' to see

I hope that he, turns out to be

Someone who'll watch over me

I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood

I know I could, always be good

To one who'll watch over me."

Suddenly I realized that I had gotten a little loud. I may not have had the use of my legs, but my lungs were perfectly healthy, and I enjoyed using them. Embarrassed at my, um, exuberance, I glanced over at Carlisle, but he didn't look annoyed at all. Instead, his eyes were closed and he was smiling a little, his fingers waving to the music as if he were conducting me. "That was lovely, my dear. You're quite talented," he said, opening his eyes. Any embarrassment I'd felt disappeared when I saw his tender smile.

"Thank you," I said with a wide grin. "I've always enjoyed singing. It's when I'm the happiest."

Carlisle turned the radio down a little and turned back to his paperwork. I thought I'd been dismissed when he said, "What are your other hobbies, Clara?"

Oh, he still wanted to talk. Okay, I could oblige. I considered the question. "Hobbies aside from honing my wit, you mean?" He gave me a look that told me to be serious, so I laughed and added, "I try to sketch, but it rarely comes out as anything recognizable. I read quite a bit. Oh, and I play the piano and sing."

"My wife is an artist," Carlisle said, his eyes lighting up just at the thought of her. "And my son is an extremely talented pianist."

"I'd like to meet them sometime." I could bet his wife was beautiful. Beauty tends to attract beauty, even though I couldn't see Carlisle collecting a blonde trophy wife. However, I would also bet that his kid wasn't all that talented at the piano yet. Carlisle didn't look old enough to have a child over the age of seven or eight. Ten years was pushing it.

"I would like that as well, but I doubt it will happen," he said with a sigh.

"Why not?"

Carlisle gave me a sad smile. "That's a very long story for another time, I'm afraid. Besides, isn't it about time for lunch?"

I glanced at the clock and was amazed at the time. "Oh, no! It's 12:15! Paul's going to kill me!"

"Paul?" I could practically see Carlisle's ears prick up like a dog's would at the sound of the words "treat" or "no." "You mean Paul Lahote?"

"Yeah, that's him," I threw out as I threw on my scarf and hat. "He's been helping me get settled in at La Push, and he asked me to lunch today. This is a good thing, because I'm probably going to stab him with a fork while we eat. Can I bring you anything back from the diner?"

Carlisle's eyes twinkled, even though I didn't think I'd said anything funny. "No, thank you, Clara; I had a big breakfast. I'm not hungry at the moment."

I shrugged. "Suit yourself. See you in an hour, Doc!" Without waiting for a reply, I sped out the door. I told myself that I wasn't in a hurry to see Paul or anything. I was just hungry. Starving, even. You'd see my picture up with all the hungry orphans Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were adopting on TV the next time you turned it on.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Stop laughing at me. Let me just continue to delude myself.

When I entered the diner, pretending to be cool, calm, and utterly casual, I saw Paul pacing back and forth in front of a booth. He was wringing his hands, and I could almost imagine him scratching at the ground like a mother hen when her chicks are gone. "Are you that eager to see me?" I questioned as I rolled up to him.

He turned around so fast he was a blur. This guy could have been an athlete. That or a Jedi, which would have been way cooler. "Clara!" he sighed, sounding utterly relieved. "I got worried when you were so late."

I gave him a weird look. "Why would you get worried? It was only fifteen minutes and I was at a medical clinic, for God's sake. There isn't a safer place in the world than that."

"If you only knew," Paul muttered under his breath.


"Nothing, nothing." He scooted me to the end of the table. "So how's your first day going so far?"

I grinned. "Great. The clinic is really cute and I have everything I could possibly need. The only thing I couldn't do in that place would be performing brain surgery. The rez did a really great job outfitting the place."

"I'm glad you approve." His voice got cautious, slower. "And you met Dr. Cullen? What did you think of him?"

Did he think I was going to run off with the doc or something? Man, Paul sure had some insecurity issues to work through. Rolling my eyes, I replied, "He's married, Lahote. Don't be so nervous. Carlisle's a great guy. I have a feeling I'm going to wish he were here more than he will be. We got along like gangbusters. Come to think of it, maybe I should run off with him." I tapped my chin thoughtfully.

He grimaced. "Just keep your distance, Clara."

That touched a nerve. Did he think I shouldn't trust a pale face? Even if it was an exceptionally pale face? Just what did he think I was, anyway? I was only one quarter American Indian, and I didn't even know if he was aware of that fact. I very rarely looked Indian. Did that mean, then, that I couldn't be trusted? But I remembered my overreaction of last night and bit my tongue. I had no intention of making another big emotional scene. "And why should I keep my distance?" I asked sweetly, trying to keep the lasers in my eyes from firing just yet.

"There are just some rumors about him and his family," Paul said carefully. "I'd really rather you kept your eyes open around him for a while."

I was glad I hadn't torn his head off, even though I thought he was being a complete idiot when it came to Carlisle. Dr. Cullen wouldn't hurt a fly; anybody who'd spent three seconds in his company could see that much. "So you wanting me to watch my back has nothing to do with the fact that he isn't an Indian, then?"

He looked me, eyes wide, before he started roaring with laughter. "God, Clara, is that what you thought? I wouldn't care if he was purple with pink polka dots. He's a good doctor, nobody's arguing that. I'm just not too sure about his…choices sometimes. That's all." A wince suddenly crinkled his face. "Oh. I see. You thought I was dissing him because he's white, and I was therefore dissing you, too?"

I nodded. "Admit it. It was a likely conclusion from your getting all hot and bothered just because I got along with my boss for a few hours."

"Wow. I'm amazed that you didn't rip my stomach out and use it as a football," he said, his voice awed. "You mean you actually waited for verification before you jumped to a conclusion?"

I took a delicate sip of water. "It's a new leaf I'm trying. We'll see how long it stays turned over."

Kim walked over as Paul clutched his left arm. "I think I'm dying. Clara's evolving as a human being. Darwin would be thrilled."

Kim flicked Paul's ear when she heard what he said. "Leave Mac alone, Paul. You're such a drama queen sometimes."

"Hey, he gets a few points for accurately portraying one of the common warning signs of a myocardial infarction," I informed my friend. "How are you doing, Kim?"

She blew a dark lock of hair that had escaped her ponytail out of her face. "Eh, mostly all right, although Jared's home with Kenny. He woke up this morning puking his guts out, so I'm all alone until Claire comes to help me after school."

"Oh, righteous, Kim," Paul groaned, putting his head on the table. "Just what I needed to picture right before lunch: a five year old boy upchucking all over the floor where I sometimes sit and walk."

I looked at Paul's head. For once, it was placed at a convenient distance. I reached over and, copying Kim, flicked his ear. He yelped like a sea lion as I scolded, "Be nice, Paul. Kim's right; you really are a drama queen. I asked her a question and she answered honestly. That's more than I can say for a lot of people." Paul rubbed his ear mournfully as I turned back to our hostess. "I'm guessing Kenny's your son?"

Kim smiled and leaned against the table. "Yup. He's our second oldest. We have three kids total at the moment: Cecily, who's eight, Kenny, and Micah. He's three."

Paul checked his watch. "They should be adding another little bundle of joy within the next year."

Kim looked green. "Not if I can help it. I've got more than enough on my plate as it is, and another little monster is all I need. Jared will just have to restrain himself."

I could literally see the sexual innuendo on its way through Paul's brain and heading out of his mouth, so I headed it off at the pass by saying, "Well, make sure Kenny doesn't get dehydrated if he keeps vomiting. Call me if you need me, okay?"

She winked. "You got it. So what can I get you guys? Contrary to popular belief, you aren't my only customers. Get a move on!"

I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad, and Paul ordered two double bacon cheeseburgers, chili fries, and a chocolate sundae. I felt myself turning every bit as green as Kim had been a minute ago. "You know that kind of meal really is going to give you a heart attack, right?"

Paul gave me an evil smirk. "Don't worry your little medical mind about it, Clara. It's going to be a long time before I die and quit bugging you."

This time I was the one who groaned and put my head on the table. "Can I get a reverse jinx here, God? Something? Anything? A little lightning, maybe?"

Paul's hand made a move to my head, and I expected my ear to get flicked this time. Instead, he tucked a lock of my hair out of my face. "I think God's going to leave me alone. He's figured out that I'm the only one that can make you behave."

"Who likes girls who behave?" I groused sullenly.

"Certainly not me."

"Good. So I don't have to be nice to you, then?" I asked, hopeful.

"Only occasionally. Around my birthday and Christmas, of course. Being nice can sometimes involve things like presents, you know." He nodded sagely.

"I'll keep that in mind," I said as if I really meant it. But as Kim brought out our food and I proceeded to tell Paul just what all that cheese and bacon would do to his arteries, I had a strange feeling that I really would find myself being nice to him, if only very occasionally.

At least until I remembered that he'd copped a look at my bra…