Leah knows she is different.
From the moment she is conscious of the world around her, she notices oddities in the way others regard her. She pays no mind to it, initially, but it becomes all too alarming when she realizes that this does not happen to other girls.
Adults, relatives of hers who Mom and Dad ask her to call "Aunty" and "Uncle", visit her house on occasion to see, apparently, her. Their faces brighten up all merry like and some other Aunty comes running to her, grabbing her round the waist and hugging her for all it is worth. Leah does not mind – she enjoys the attention and warmth that emanate from the adults surrounding her. The happy spell shatters, however, when every single Aunty who has ever visit asks her Mom the same question:
"I thought you had a daughter?"
It becomes awkward, afterwards, for Mom and Dad as Mom attempts to gently explain that yes, Leah is a girl. Aunty and Uncle always try to take this in stride and still smile and kiss her cheek and tell her she is a very pretty girl. This confuses Leah. Of course she is a girl, Mom told her so. She has always known. So she ignores this, but feels uncomfortable when yet another Aunty and Uncle show up and the scenario repeats itself. Again, and again, and again. Until all the Aunties and Uncles know that yes, Leah is a girl.
Kindergarten starts and Leah is excited. She loves her new uniform. It is a dress-type thing in tartan with a white collar and the uniform falls to her knees. She lets her Mom pull on her frilled socks and slip on her black shoes, reminding Leah time and time again how to buckle her shoes. But Leah doesn't listen – she is too excited.
She waddles after her classmates, nervous and sorely missing her Mom. School is not what she imagined it to be. Mom is not there with her and suddenly she has been reduced to a shy girl whose gaze is fixated on the floor. Her teacher is nice. She tries to get Leah and the other girls to play with one another. A tentative friendship is born and Leah likes it. Especially a girl, Morgan, who is the nicest to her. The girls like to play "Family" with the small, wooden makeshift house filled with plastic cooking toys. The girls make her become the "Father".
Three weeks later and she wonders why she is always the "Father". The girls tell her it is because she looks the part. Leah accepts this, but asks her Mom why she looks like a Dad when she gets home. Mom's cheeks turn a bright red and Leah slinks back because her Mom looks angry. The next week, the girls let her be the "Mother" and Leah is happy.
Leah loves running. She is tall, and proud of it. Her strides are much longer than the other girls and she looks forward to Physical Education every week. Her PE teacher likes that she is fast and asks Leah if she wants to join Track and Field. Leah readily agrees and she gets her running uniform the very same week.
The girls in Track and Field are mean. They do not like that Leah always beats them in speed and stamina. They say hurtful things to her when the teacher is not looking and Leah tries her hardest to ignore them. It works, most of the time. But one particular line spears through her and makes her chest clench painfully.
She crawls under her bed sheets and covers her head. She does not want to eat dinner tonight. Her mind is a record, playing over and over till she feels tears prick her shut eyelids.
"It's like you're a man or something!"
The very next day, Leah hands in her resignation form to the teacher-in-charge. He tries to cajole her into staying and asks her what is wrong. But Leah only mumbles under her breath that she is busy or something like that and walks away. She hates running.
They have been dating for two years now. Leah is extraordinarily happy. Life is fantastic and she welcomes every new day with a smile, despite how painfully cheesy that sounds (her inner cynic, hidden in some corner of her mind, cries). The reason for her aching cheeks, a result of an unending grin, greets her in the living room with a jacket casually slung over his shoulders. Sam.
When he first asks Leah out after class, she cannot believe it. Her first reaction is to blurt out if this is a dare becauseshewouldn'tmindatall. But then he laughs and goes on one knee, mortifying Leah to a dangerous degree, and gently asks if he can have the pleasure of her company this Thursday. Leah can barely get out a nod.
Sam makes her feel like a woman. He is big and tall and muscular, so his figure is like a blanket over her. When they are together, nobody doubts that she is a woman, because when compared to Sam, she is but a young girl. Sam is fun and he takes her to the beach often, where they hang out on the cliffs or lie on the sand. Sam always tries to get her to wear something other than a dark, long-sleeved shirt and cut-offs but she slaps away his gesturing hand and gives a small bark of laughter every time. Leah does not want Sam to see how completely unlike a woman she is under the thick layers of clothing.
She cannot imagine how their relationship could ever end. But it does, and Leah can only blame herself.
Emily, her cousin, is coming over for the summer. Leah does not mind, or rather, she has no opinion of it. Leah has always felt undecided when it came to her cousin. Emily is pretty, no, beautiful. She is who every boy in La Push dreams of marrying because she is made of dreams. Emily has long legs, her hair just as such. She is taller than most but much shorter than the men that inhabit La Push. She has slender hands, a disarming smile, and she is nice. Very nice. Leah cannot hate Emily because she always greets her with a hug and she tries her hardest to befriend a disgruntled Leah. Everyone likes Emily. Everyone, including Sam.
Leah is worried – Sam is acting strangely. He disappears for two weeks, leaving Leah to visit the Uleys without rest for fear of his well-being. They too are just as clueless. Then Sam shows up out of nowhere and he is taller, much more muscled, and restless. It is this restlessness that bothers Leah. Sam does not meet her eye. He does not hold her nor does he smile as often. Leah worries some more. And when Sam meets Emily at Leah's home, it is not only his eyes that do not meet her anymore.
Leah catches them in Sam's backyard. He calls her a beautiful woman. He is holding Emily's hand and reaches forward to kiss her cheek. Leah runs away with tears in her eyes before his lips even fully pucker.
The pain in her heart is constant. It plagues her for days. Soon, days become weeks and weeks turn into a year. It is almost two years later that Leah finds herself alone in her room. Summer has come by once more and she is longing for something to fill her time with. Her gaze lands by her right.
Leah sees a young man. He is tall for someone in his late teens, with long, lean limbs and large hands and feet. His face is, for lack of better term, peculiar. He has a strong jaw and a chiselled face framed by shoulder-length hair. Thick eyebrows frame his deep-set eyes. His lips are thin and pale. He is sitting right next to her in the mirror.
Leah has come to realise why Sam left her for Emily. She regrets shouting at Emily when she returned "from the market". She regrets punching Sam in the face. And it is not only in mourning of her once broken fingers and un-mended relationships. She knows Sam cannot help himself. Compared to Emily, or any other female in the reservation, Leah is a She-man.
That is what the children in La Push have started to call her. They know no better. That is what the teenagers are viciously whispering about when she shuffles by. They are young and immature. That is what the adults concernedly discuss behind closed doors. They are just worried for her. That is what everyone ever talks about. And they are just plain insulting.
Leah starts to become more cruel, more guarded. She has stopped smiling at cashiers and giving a small "thank you" when she buys things. Not since a cashier muttered a "weirdo" under her breath when Leah browsed through a women's underwear store. She has stopped waving at familiar faces and striking up conversation about this or that. Not since they give her strange looks because without Sam by her side, they can no longer recognize "the young man" in jeans and a hoodie. She no longer talks to people outside her immediate family. Not since the rest of the world regard the She-man with disgusted looks and sympathetic grimaces.
Leah wants to feel like a woman.
She hates waking up to the morning and looking into the mirror, only to find a ratty-looking man. Her chest aches painfully at the pitiful sight. She does not want this; has never wished for this. Bit by bit, she finds herself slipping into the mind-set that she is a man. That she does not need to condition her hair, to shave her underarms everyday, to iron her clothes crisply, to bake for the joy of it, to wear nice clothes, to help her mother cook dinner, to do any of these feminine things, because nobody realizes anyway.
But she does not want that.
Leah wants to bake for the fun of it, to wear pink and pretty clothes, to doll herself up, to be a wonderful, dainty daughter. Leah does not just want to be a girl – she wants to feel like one.
Today Leah decides to transform herself. Courage, wherever it has been hiding all this while, swells in her chest and she grabs her wallet, her actions filled with purpose. Leah does not eat because she is much too excited. She knows what she wants to do.
A quick post-it later, Leah is out the door and slipping into the firm seat of her car. She drives past the thick forest, listening to the radio and smiling all the while. Seattle, she soon finds out, is but a couple hours away. There are many clothing shops there and Leah can barely control her excited shifting in her seat. Seattle is much sunnier than La Push. And when there is sun, there are sundresses.
She pushes through the glass door of the first shop she sees that is selling women's clothing. In her excitement, she misses the bewildered look of the cashier. There are shirts, jeans, hoodies, and all the like. But Leah heads for the small rack of dresses down the back. There are many sundresses and Leah cannot stop grinning. Pinks and yellows, flowers, thin shoulder straps, lacy hems, frilly hems, skirting that falls knee-length, boat-neck collars, square collars, V-necks that swoop low, barebacks, chartreuse buttons, flower-shaped buttons, oh, the ribbons!, and Leah finds herself lost in the metaphorical sea of fabric.
Her savings are scarce, if she sets aside money for college, and Leah knows she only has enough for one dress, so she chooses carefully. She reminds herself not to lose her head, albeit a little belatedly. With a discerning eye, she feels the soft fabrics before her, her fingers fondling with the details of each dress. Her eyes shift towards the wide windows, and she grins – it is still bright; she has all afternoon.
Leah walks out of the store, a paper bag flung over her shoulder. Her chest feels warm and oddly fuzzy. She is just so satisfied with her purchase. Starting up her car, she peeks into the paper bag that leans on the front seat. A queer sound escapes her lips. Did she just giggle? She thinks so.
Life is good. She hums along to the songs on the radio. She feels that at that very moment nothing can dampen her mood. However, as her small Buick begins to enter Forks, a wave of apprehension blankets her. Maybe this isn't a very good idea, she thinks. She does not look like a woman anyway. What was she thinking? Leah shakes her head, trying to chase away her doubts. It works, for a moment. But she is in the reservation now, and all too suddenly her anxieties double in intensity. Her heart thumps loudly in her chest. Leah is worried that someone will find her dress, will see her purchase, and laugh at her foolishness. Her stomach convulses a little.
When Leah parks her car, she rolls up the paper bag and attempts to smother it under her hoodie. She does not greet her father and mother in the living room as she races up the stairs to her bedroom, slamming the door shut when she reaches asylum. Her forehead is sweaty and Leah hurriedly wipes it away, trying to sooth her frantic heart. A few deep breaths, muttered motivational phrases, and mindless pacing later, Leah puts on her sundress. In that instant, the cumulative insecurities residing within her vanish.
It is a pretty thing, her sundress is. It is knee-length and Leah cannot help but playfully spin around in her dress, loving how the hem brushes against her knees when she comes to a stop. She opts for a sleeveless dress, but one where the straps are thick – an effort to visually narrow her too-broad shoulders. The dress tapers at the waist and is a simple white. Small pink flowers dot her dress and the collar is rounded, accentuating her collarbone.
She feels like a woman. So much that a laugh bubbles from her throat. Her steps have a light skip to them. She spins again, stopping in front of the mirror. She expects to see a pretty woman in a sundress. She expects to see a smiling, beautiful version of herself. She expects to see a new her, one that is filled with confidence and ready to prove to world that yes, Leah Clearwater is definitely female. Whatever it is that she is expecting, it certainly is not this.
For all she sees in the mirror, is a deranged-looking guy in a sundress that hangs off his scrawny build. The vision shatters along with whatever is left of Leah. She dry heaves, only because she has not had breakfast. That day, Leah learns something: it does not matter how she feels, but only how she looks. And she looks like a sick, sick man in a dress.
Leah stops trying. She knows her efforts are futile, should have known it before that pathetic attempt. The accursed dress has been roughly stuffed into a corner of her closet, never to see the light of day again. Leah clams up, and she does not speak much anymore. Fate has decided that she remains the She-man freak for the rest of her existence. And Leah accepts that.
Her mother forces her to go out. "Get some fresh air," she says. Her mother shoves a casserole into her arms and pushes her out the door, demanding that she head over to the Blacks' and socialize. Leah complies. She does not have the will to resist anyway. She will hand over the casserole and maybe brood over at the cliffs at First Beach. Leah convinces herself that she does not socialize because people at large do not hold her interest. Although a part of her acknowledges that just maybe it is because she has forgotten how to carry out a normal conversation.
Leah trudges over to Billy Black's house, dragging her feet with every step to show just how much she does not want to do this just in case her mother is watching from the window. The Blacks live just down the street, a short distance for someone with legs as long as hers. At this, Leah barely suppresses a grimace. The phrase "She-man" dances around in her mind and her pace quickens. Hurry to the Blacks. Anything to take her mind off the impending episode of self-pity. Leah knows this is self-pity. There are many things much worse out there. Terminal illness. War. Rape. But this is her. And this is now. And Leah cannot help but feel so terribly alone.
Leah raps her knuckles against the wooden door of the Black household. The white paint is peeling and the wood has started rotting at certain parts of it, but this belies the smile on the face of the youth who swings open the door.
He is short, Leah realizes at first. Only half a head shorter, but he is male, and Leah cannot help but envy him. His lightly defined muscles help to alleviate her indignation, though. She tucks a strand of rough hair behind her ear as she sizes him up. He is grinning straight at her and Leah nearly cringes. She cannot remember the last time somebody looked so happy to see her.
"Hey, come in! You must be Leah," the teenager says as he tugs Leah into the well-lit house, snatching the casserole away from her arms and disappearing into what Leah assumes to be the kitchen. Leah stands awkwardly by the sofa, fumbling with her hands, eyes darting everywhere. She wonders where Billy Black is. Leah takes in her surroundings – it is warm and cosy and Leah feels the tension leaving her lanky frame. It must be the woven rugs, she thinks.
When he returns, Leah realises that he is donning a thin wife beater and Leah wonders the logic of doing so in the cold autumn. Leah herself is wearing a thick cotton shirt and the warmest hoodie she has. The teen, presumably the elusive "Jacob" she has heard so much about (although considering her hermit-ness, everyone is elusive), asks her to get comfortable on the sofa. Leah obliges, not the "comfortable" part, but she does seat herself on the three-seater. Leah attempts to appear distant – she does not want to remain in the house any longer than she has too – but the fact that she is slowly sinking into the ridiculously squishy cushion seat disrupts her aloof façade.
"Thanks so much for the casserole, Leah! My name's Jacob!" He sticks out a hand, and as Leah awkwardly returns the gesture, she cannot help but wonder if she is imagining the exclamation marks in Jacob's sentence. But then she realizes something: she has never mentioned her name.
"Wait, how did you know I'm Leah?" She says this because most people first mistake her for Seth.
"Well, was I not supposed to...? You're obviously the girl Clearwater sibling, right?" Jacob flashes her a "are we on the same page" look but he tempers it with a grin. Jacob proceeds to chatter on about one thing or another, but Leah is dumbstruck in the sofa seat. Girl. And all too suddenly she is bashful, embarrassed, and god forbid, shy. Her ears burn, but she blinks hard to clear her head and tries to pay attention to what Jacob is rambling about. When she comes to, she is a little surprised when Jacob is staring at her intensely, a look of annoyance tingeing his features.
"You weren't listening to a word I was saying, were you?" he asks accusingly, and Leah fumbles for a comeback in her defence.
"No!" she blurts out, and internally winces at the loudness of her voice. "I mean, it was just that, well, I was surprised cause no one's ever, you know, figured it out and I was stunned and I'm sorry cause, I mean-"
Jacob holding up a hand cuts off her embarrassing word vomit. He shakes his head a little as he says, "What? You lost me."
Leah exhales loudly and slaps her hand on her cheek, trying to rub away her mortification. She softly groans and Jacob chuckles softly at her sheer chagrin, easing up a little. Trying to retain some semblance of dignity, Leah composes herself and states, "It's just that no one's been able to figure out I'm a girl, you know, just by looking."
Her sentence ends in a mumble and she looks away. Her eyes shift towards Jacob and he is grinning funnily at her, a bubble of laughter seemingly caught in his throat.
"Well, of course you're a girl!" he bursts with a snort and Leah starts. She whips her head to look at him sceptically, ready to snap at him, but he quickly continues on, "I mean, sure, you're not the typical girl, but look at your wrists!"
"What about them?" she asks tonelessly, not wanting to betray her hope that maybe at least one part of her resembles a woman. Jacob smiles (again! and Leah wonders if he is always this exuberant) and grabs her wrists, flashing them to her as if expecting her to have the same realisation.
"Well… they're thin. You know, delicate," Jacob says slowly, "Guys have very, uh, prominent wrists. Is that the word? No, more of angular wrists, know what I mean? And they're thick."
Jacob gestures towards the protruding wrist bone of his own wrist as he compares it to her own… "delicate"wrists. Leah realises that her large hands do taper at the wrist. She has always thought them odd, some other deformity that causes her arms and hands to look like canoe paddles. But according to Jacob…
Suddenly, Leah snatches her arms back and narrows her eyes at said man. "So you're telling me that the moment I stepped through the door, the first thing that caught your eye were my wrists?"
"Yup!" he chirps back.
Leah stares at Jacob silently for a moment.
"Figures. One person gets that I'm a girl, and he has some messed up fetish," Leah groans and finally slumps back into the cushy pillows of the sofa. She ignores the fact that she is slowly being eaten alive by the piece of furniture, muttering under her breath about perverts and wrist fetishes.
"I don't have a fetish! I just like how they look!" Jacob says indignantly, although his blush gives him away.
"Pervert. Wrist pervert. I'm definitely never letting my wrists in vicinity of you ever again."
"I'm not a wrist pervert! If I'm a wrist pervert, then you're a muscle pervert! Don't think I didn't see you staring at my guns." Jacob grins at this, a smug look crossing his features. He flexes his arms a little, and Leah is crossed between sighing in vexation and calling him a douche. All he is missing are a pair of sunglasses. It's always sunny in Doucheville.
"I am what I am," Leah shrugs, and adds slyly, "So you're admitting you like wrists?"
An awkward silence later, in which Jacob tries to stir up conversation and Leah just awaits her death by cushion, Jacob sighs exasperatedly and stands up. He grabs Leah and proceeds to drag her into the kitchen, paying no mind to Leah's scandalised "Hey, stop grabbing my arm! Their connected to my wrists!" Jacob pushes her into a seat and heats up the dish Leah had delivered. Jacobs taps his fingers against the countertop and Leah wonders why Jacob is forcing her to watch him eat. Probably to spend some more time with my awesome wrists.
A few minutes later, he is serving up a slice of chicken and cheese casserole to her. At that moment, it becomes apparent to Leah that Jacob is attempting to have dinner with her. Operative word: attempting. And Leah is having none of that. What happened to brooding sullenly by the cliffs?! Leah sneakily slides off her seat and edges towards the exit, hoping the invisibility powers she has tried to hone over the years have finally materialised and that Jacob is not currently glaring at her with his arms folded in a ridiculous mother hen pose.
Leah supposes it is the spatula in his hand that really pulls it together.
"I can't believe you call your arms 'guns'," she bites out, pushing her chicken and cheese around her plate with a fork. No, she is not sulking.
Leah hates herself for giving in. But he is so friendly and Leah cannot help but get carried away by the monstrous happy-tide most call "Jacob". He consistently tries to start some form of exchange (aside from prompts and replying grunts) and largely fails at first, until Jacob brings up the topic of "I wonder why girls wear dresses?" and there is no way Leah can just take that sitting down.
"Well, why wouldn't they?! Dresses are the very epitome of womanliness! Of femininity! Dresses transform girls into women! They make women look even more alluring! Dresses are cute, and pretty, and girly, and soft, and comfortable, and feel nice when you wear them! Even I have a dress! And look at me! Plus, they have great designs! And you can wear them in so many different ways! Do you even-" But Leah is cut off by Jacob waving a hand at her, trying to signal to her to stop.
"What?" she asks, folding her arms disgruntledly.
"Wait… so you own a dress?" A teasing smile creeps onto his face and Leah has the urge to smack it off.
"What, no! I didn't say that!" Leah tries to cover it up and curses internally at her slipup. Throughout her entire rant, that was the only thing he caught?!
"Uh, hello? 'Even I have a dress' or something like that," Jacob retorts with a playful undertone and Leah's ears burn.
"Don't you get sassy with me!" She snaps in return, actually snapping her fingers before she can stop them.
"I'm sassy? Says the one who's giving me the snappy fingers thing!" Jacob does a poor imitation of snapping fingers.
"What, you-! At least I'm not a… wrist perv!" Leah finishes somewhat lamely, but when Jacob's cheeks flush a dark red, Leah grins.
"Pervert," Leah spits out meanly. Jacob lunges at her, but Leah dodges and runs out into the living room. They circle around the coffee table and Leah cannot stop the Eye of the Tiger music from escaping her lips. Jacob is trying to force a grin down, so Leah knows he is not embarrassed anymore.
Jacob tackles her from across the table and Leah moves to avoid it, but she is too late and soon they are wrestling on the floor (Leah tries to ignore that she is participating in a masculine activity), sweaty and tired, but giggling like pre-pubescent girls the whole time.
And it is in this very manner that Leah is wheedled into another dinner at the Black household.
It is Billy Black who first approaches her about her new disposition. Make no mistake, Leah tries to hide it, but it is impossible to look all withdrawn and unapproachable when Jacob is being a total idiot and making her laugh at the stupid recount of his day. I can't believe she failed my paper just cause I used the word "abulous"! Come on, man! It was only one word! And it was totally "appropriate in the context". I would know, I made the word! That and, well, she was in his house eating dinner with them every other day.
Leah is washing up the dishes (she is a recluse, not rude), when Billy wheels up next to her.
"Well, Jake's watching the TV, so I thought I'd tell you that I think it's great that you've been a lot more chipper lately." Billy claps a hand on her forearm and gives it a warm squeeze.
Leah cannot even force out a reply. Chipper? Was it cause of Jacob? She wasn't chipper! Was she? When was the last time someone said anything positive about her anyway? In her fluster, her hand slips, and in a move to reflexively grab the plate before it falls, she rams her elbow into the sink's walls.
"Damn it! The fuck?!" she cusses out, as she lets down the plate onto the drying rack and roughly clenches her elbow in her fist.
Jacob sticks his head into the kitchen. "Leah, you all right?" he asks worriedly when he sees her cradling her arm.
"No, no, 'm fine," she grits out. She blames her warm ears on her elbow cause she is totally not embarrassed. Totally.
Damn funny bone.
Their relationship is not romantic despite what many others think. Jacob has taken to asking her to hang out with him after school at odd places that take to his fancy (There's this awesome kebab place I heard the teachers talking about in Seattle. It's so cool, we've gotta go there!), and Leah is much too gratified to say no (only Jacob would want to hang out at a teacher's watering hole). Finally, after many years, someone is asking her to hang out with them. They make merriment in public now. They are no longer secret friends. No, no more secret friends. Now, they are just friends, and Leah is completely happy with that.
They are at Port Angeles today. Jacob wants to eat tacos and he insists that minced meat in corn-made shells filled with various toppings taste best with a friend. Leah only gives in cause he calls her his "friend". She likes getting confirmation that, yes, their friendship is official. So she lets Jacob manhandle (she grimaces at the term) her into her own car and coax her into driving them both to Port Angeles.
When they are seated comfortably, well, as comfortably as you can get on thinly cushioned wooden seats, Jacob orders their tacos. Leah lets him choose her taco because she must try out the new Pickle and Mayo topping! It's a freaking new topping! And there is apparently just no way she cannot try the new topping which promises a new universe of flavours upon her humble tongue.
They have a window table, so she looks out onto the streets to people-watch as she passes the time. It is snowing today, so it is surprising that there are quite a number of people rushing about. Then again, it is the eve of Christmas, so Leah just laughs under her breath at the last-minute shoppers. She has already gotten things for her family (and Jacob, but she keeps that one under her bed, probably to never see the light again) and she is planning to spend Christmas holed up at home to spend some quality time with her family and her mother's hot cocoa. Lots of quality time.
Anyway, she is snapped out of her daze when Jacob returns with their tacos. He looks like he cannot even contain his enthusiasm so even before he seats himself he blurts out, "Oh my god, Leah, they smell so damn good! Pickles and Mayo! I'm so excited!"
"No, really?" Leah says as she sips her coke. Jacob just glares at her.
"Don't be mean."
Jacob tears open a couple of packets of hot sauce and smothers his taco with "Super Inferno". Right-o. Jacob bites into his taco, which has way too many toppings and Leah doubts there is actually a taco shell under the monstrosity. And then Jacob moans and Leah is treated to the sight of half-chewed meat and miscellaneous items through his gaping mouth. It is a food-porno from then on as Jacob groans, pants and licks his way through his taco. Leah mysteriously loses her appetite despite the fact her matching taco is actually not that bad. Not that she can tell Jacob that as he lets out what can only be described as a food-gasm.
"Unh, Leah, tastes so good!"
And that is how the meal progresses.
Jacob is done with his taco and Leah has managed to stomach hers. They exit the restaurant and Leah walks next to Jacob as they peer into the subsequent window displays at the various Christmas-themed goods. What should have been a comfortable silence is instead replaced with Jacob commenting on the weird paraphernalia that is supposed to exude "Christmas spirit" and Leah injecting the near one-sided conversation with jabs at the shoppers around them. She knows it is immature to sneer at couples buying gifts for one another at cheesily decorated shops and calling them fuckin' pussies, but Jacob makes her feel like a kid with no problems and she lets loose. Cause right now, it is just Jacob and her in a sea, no, river? of people and she is not Leah the lonely, angst-ridden She-man. No, she is just Leah, who is hanging out with her best friend on a winter day.
Jacob is smiling more brightly than usual and Leah raises an eyebrow at that.
"What's got you so happy?" she asks. But she is grinning a little too, so she knows she is being hypocritical.
"Nothing." But Leah rams her elbow into his stomach.
"Ouch! Damn it, Leah!" Jacob glares at her but his annoyance eases up when Leah lets out a bark of laughter.
"It's really nothing, Leah. I'm just happy that we're spending Christmas Eve together." Jacob's cheeks flush a little and he stuffs his hand into the pockets of his parka.
Leah stiffens at that. "Wait, you mean this is supposed to be some sorta pre-Christmas celebration thing?"
"Well yeah," he shrugs, "Cause you know, you'll be spending tomorrow with your family so I thought I'd get some time with you now. I mean, you know, that's why I got you the tacos and all."
Leah is aware that Jacob treated her to the tacos. She just let him do it cause it was his idea anyway to bring her to Port Angeles and she thought this was in exchange for the gas money to drive here. How the hell was she supposed to know this was purportedly a Christmas Bonding Time with Jacob?!
"The hell, man. Warn me about these things! I thought we were just hanging out. I didn't even bring you your present!" Leah cried. She is embarrassed because she was completely unawares and prospects were, she hurt Jacob! Were they even hanging out? Was this some misconstrued date that she had utterly not picked up on?!
"You got me a present?" Jacob looks hopefully at her, and Leah rolls her eyes. Of course that would be the only thing he would hear.
"Yes, yes, I did," she says monotonously, trying to both convey her incredulity at his unaffectedness and conceal her apprehension that maybe she was the only one who thought to gift-give. But Jacob's eyes widen and he hurriedly unzips his bag (Leah wondered about that) and pulls out a sizeable box. It is badly wrapped with shiny red paper and the words "Leah's Present :P" have been written somewhat neatly on the top. No friggin' way. Her ears suddenly burn and she is touched, despite the annoying emoticon on the box. Jacob must have wrapped it himself and god knows Jacob is useless in anything outside mechanics.
"Here's mine!" Jacob says almost shyly and he stuffs the box into her hands. Leah is grinning bemusedly and Jacob is all the more flustered.
"…thanks," Leah manages to croak out. The box is pretty light in her hands and Leah moves to open it.
"No, wait! You've gotta wait till tomorrow!" Jacob snatches back the box, and only upon Leah's promise that she solemnly swears the box shall not be opened till tomorrow morning that Jacob relents and hands it back to her. She rolls her eyes though, because most Quileutes do not seriously celebrate Christmas anyway.
"Tomorrow," Jacob reminds. And then he chirps, "So when do I get my present?"
His whiny, anticipative voice pisses her off a little, so she teases him.
And Jacob punches her shoulder, pouting like a bitch.
Leah got a pair of sunny yellow ballet flats with sunflower motif (they have fucking smiley faces on them), and attached to the box is a letter saying, "To cheer you up when you're looking down. Get it? Lolololol."
Jacob introduces her to his friends Quil and Embry. They are rowdy, and Jacob is thus rowdy with them too. Leah does not like rowdy very much. She likes the Jacob that tugs on her sleeve and drags her over to the window display of a shop selling GUNDAMs (whatever those were), not the one that wolf-whistles when a "hot chick" walks past. She likes the Jacob that re-enacts a scene of a lover meeting his lost soul mate every time they meet one another (after watching some old chick-flick together), not the one that chest-bumps Quil and Embry and gives them "bro-fists". She likes the Jacob that begs her to accompany him to the supermarket and flops on the floor, refusing to relent, when she tells him to go screw himself (just cause he apparently needs his daily dose of banana milk and it is just no fun going by himself), not the one that goes to wrestling matches in Seattle when she knows he would rather be working on his Rabbit.
She definitely likes the Jacob that is not the one hanging out with Embry and Quil.
Leah asks Jacob why he acts differently when he is with his friends. Jacob just flushes a deep red and denies it vehemently, his words come out harsher than they need to be and his fists clenched in anger and embarrassment. On hindsight, maybe she should have phrased her "Why do always act like some dude when your with your 'homies'?" a bit more tactfully, but she is feeling rash too, not liking that Jacob has to put a front before her just because his friends are around.
"Well then, why do have to act like some sorta poor, insecure girl who makes out her problems to be larger than they really are!" he spits out, eyebrows a severe line on his creased forehead. But then he pales when he sees Leah freezing up, and as if someone threw a bucket of ice water over him, Jacob clambers to take back his words.
"No, no, wait! I'm sorry, I didn't mean that! You know I didn't mean that," he exclaims remorsefully, his hands flying everywhere as he struggles to show Leah just how sorry he is.
"No, it's fine. You're right anyway," Leah mutters, ignoring Jacob's no, no, no, wait, listen!, and then she is folding her arms across her non-existent chest and not meeting Jacob's eye. She knows she is being ridiculous; knows that Jacob insulted her in the heat of the moment, but this is from someone she cares about, and it just hurts. Painful self-misery is welling up in her being and her heart aches. She wants to escape before Jacob sees the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She supposes it is a thing of pride, not to let anyone see her cry, even though she knows it is the more girly thing to do.
"Why do you always do this to yourself?" Jacob's words stop Leah in her tracks. He sounds weary, like a traveller gone too long without sleep. His voice – husky, like Jacob himself is on the verge of crying yet wanting to yell in frustration.
"Do what?" she says brusquely.
And it is like a dam breaks.
"THIS! You always act like you're some sorta freak of nature just cause you don't look like the most womanly person there is out there! So what if you don't have huge milk jugs? So what if you aren't small and dainty and look like a strong wind could knock you over? So what if, according to you, you don't look great in a dress? So freaking what?!"
"Jacob, no you don't underst-" But Jacob is on a roll.
"No, no, you keep quiet! You think I don't realise how you look at other women? How you're so jealous cause apparently you'll never have what they have? How fucking wistful you look when you see someone wearing a skirt? You think I don't realise all of this?!"
Leah is momentarily stunned at the expletive and tries to defend herself but Jacob cuts her off again.
"You know what? I could care less about how you look! To me, you are a girl. I mean, come on! You can't stand it when anyone farts or belches in public, you hate messes, you like adorable things, you like cakes, you think hamsters are the darnest things, you like the Backstreet Boys cause they're cute, you're such a girl!" Jacob is panting softly now, winded from his rant. His wildly gesturing arms finally rest by his sides, his frame heaving slightly.
"But that doesn't matter does it," Leah starts off bitterly, "Cause even if I act like a girl; am a girl, people only see the man." Leah wants to say more, to articulate to Jacob why she cannot even muster enough confidence in herself to wear a simple tank top, but she is suddenly enveloped in a fierce hug. Leah stiffens when she feels a warm wetness seeping through the fabric of her shirt.
Jacob's voice is raspy as he whispers sternly, "You know what really doesn't matter? What people think. To me, you're a girl, and that's all that matters. In fact, screw gender. Even if you really were a man – a man who loves sweet things, and boy bands, and whatever, I'd still support you. You'd be a man who wants to be a girl, sure, but to me, you'd be a full-blooded woman."
It then strikes her just how much Jacob cares. Even in his 15-year-old frame, he has a heart large enough to care for the both of them. Jacob is crying softly now, and it hits Leah that Jacob is a sensitive person; that he absolutely cannot stand that the people, person, he cares about does not hold herself in high enough regard. Leah reciprocates the hug, and amidst the stifled sobbing and the choked out I'm so sorry, she allows a small smile to bloom on her lips.
"I'll wear a dress for you tomorrow."
And Jacob lets out a wet chuckle.
She knows she said it.
He knows she said it.
But Leah still cannot believe she agreed to commit something so blasphemous. Leah and Jacob are both in her room right now. Jacob is seated on her computer chair, swivelling round and round as he waits for her to scour her wardrobe for her long lost dress. Leah knows she does not have to look – she already knows exactly where it is. Because despite her trying to rid herself of all thoughts of the forsaken piece of clothing, she cannot help but be so terribly aware of its presence in her wardrobe.
"You know, I'd like to get this done sometime today," Jacob drawls and his eyes are twinkling with the mirth Leah is so familiar with.
"Shut up, man. And get out of here, I'm gonna have to change," she says snidely, but Jacob is not offended because he knows Leah is just embarrassed.
"Sure, sure, but I'll be back," he says in his best impersonation of the Terminator as he slips out of the room. Leah just throws a book at him.
Leah grumbles under her breath as she reluctantly pulls out the dress from deep inside her wardrobe. The sundress is well-creased, having never been unfolded in years. But it still looks new, and Leah credits this to the total usage time of about ten minutes. Leah dons the sundress and feels completely ridiculous. She is taller than she was back then, much to her dismay, and the hem falls two or three inches below mid-thigh. Leah refuses to look in the mirror, afraid that she will be too mortified to face Jacob.
"Can I come in now?" comes a muffled question from behind her door.
At her feeble "yes", Jacob comes barging into the room, wielding an expectant look on his face. When he sees her, Jacob stops and stares for a bit. Leah feels on the edge, being scrutinised intensely by Jacob. She can feel his eyes traversing her being – from her large feet, to her knobbly knees, up to her imaginary chest and down her lean and muscled arms, to her sizeable, rough hands.
"Well, I don't see what the big deal is!" he finally cries out in semi-exasperation, "You look fine, Leah. In fact, you look great!"
Jacob is beaming at her, and Leah wonders if, excuse her, Jacob is completely fucked in the head. Jacob hops onto her bed, and kicks his dangling legs excitedly in the air.
"Come on, give us a little twirl!" He does this spinny-motion with his index finger, and he has put up some phony British-accent that makes Leah groan in agony. She supposes the "us" refers to Jacob and the shit-eating grin on his face. But his eyes are supportive and after basking in her humiliation a little, he calms down enough to say, "Okay, if you give me a spin, excuse the innuendo, I'll let you braid my hair."
And Leah is tempted. Jacob has long silky hair, hanging like an ebony curtain down his back, that Leah has always been envious of. Her own hair is short and wiry (but when Jacob tells her to get a certain brand of conditioner, she refuses because she is too embarrassed to go shopping by the Hair and Beauty section of the supermarket). Leah has always wanted to braid his lustrous hair, her fingers twitching towards the pink hair-tie in her dresser.
"Fine." So she turns by the balls of her feet. The skirting of the dress flares out a little and when the hems brush her thighs, Leah is taken back to the time a year ago when she did the exact same thing. She wonders if Jacob is seeing the robust man in a dress she knows she is. Her heart clenches.
"See now that wasn't so bad, was it?" came Jacob's gentle voice, and Leah looks to him. The corners of his eyes are crinkled and an adoring smile is on his face, like a Dad first seeing his son ride a bike by himself. The painful squeezing of her heart disappears instantaneously. She cannot help but smile back.
"Yeah, guess it isn't."
It is easier, now that they have let their feelings out.
Jacob tells her about his insecurities about fitting in and that Embry and Quil have been his friends since they were in middle school, and that they have conformed more to what the typical male teenager should be like, and how he is scared that they will not find him cool enough to hang out with because he is not into what typical guys like, save for cars. He tells Leah how difficult it is to care for his father, because even though he loves him and will do anything for him, Jacob occasionally wishes that he can just leave the house without the worry that his father will need him.
Leah tells him all about the struggle she has and is still facing with her masculine body and how she does wish that she had been born a regular-looking girl, and how her insecurities only solidified once Sam left her for Emily. She tells Jacob about her past relationship with Sam, how he disappeared and fell for Emily upon his return, and how different she is from Emily, and how she hates that she looks nothing like her cousin.
She tells him about the two years she spent wasting away at home, unable to eat, sleep, function normally, because her mind was plagued with thoughts of how abnormal she was. How her mother tried her hardest to get her back into shape by force-feeding her food, only to have Leah vomit it right back out minutes later, so her mother had to make watery foods like porridge and soup, just to get sustenance into her deteriorating body, and how she cried in front on Leah because Leah no longer referred to herself as a woman. How her father tried to talk some sense into her, make her feel loved, tell her that how she looked did not matter, stroke her hair when Leah was too tired and without will to leave her bed, tuck her in at night and promise her that her family will always love her. How Seth had come straight home from school to try and cheer her up even though he was popular and could have hung out with his friends, and how he was tripping over himself to fulfil her every whim, although at that point, all she wanted was a normal body.
They had spent the day eating ice cream and watching rom-coms to chase away the tears and awkwardness left after stripping themselves of their secrets.
Now, it is a lot more comfortable between the two of them. There is an undeniable trust that has formed and Leah cannot help but be bolder around him. Whenever they hang out alone, Leah will change into her dress – the same dress that had her mortified just to imagine herself in. Whether it is in her or Jacob's room, they will lock the door, close the shutters, and unwind. Leah will wear her dress and the flats Jacob gave her, and Jacob will sit down in front of the mirror and let Leah braid his hair, because he admits to her that he enjoys having her fingers comb through his locks. And then, they talk.
Sometimes, Leah brings out her laptop and they watch movies on her bed as she paints her nails and Jacob gives her ugly ponytails. Other times, they get sweet popcorn and chocolate (because savoury snacks are just so weird, Leah!) and flip through motorcycle magazines. It could even be listening to the Backstreet Boys and lip-syncing while doing math homework (well, helping Jacob do his homework for her part). It does not matter what they do behind closed doors, because when they leave either room, all traces of their previous activities have been wiped away.
So it is their secret.
Leah first hears about Bella from Charlie. Billy Black is good friends with the Forks police officer through their fishing trips and watching football matches, so when Charlie excitedly tells Billy that his only child is staying with him for the remainder of her time in high school, Leah knows about it too cause she is also holed up at the Blacks' eating peanut butter sandwiches with Jacob.
Jacob's face lights up when he hears this and the beginnings of uncertainty creeps into her heart. Bella, she later finds, is very beautiful. Charlie keeps pictures of her daughter, that his ex-wife Renée sends him through post, in his wallet. Bella has a small, heart-shaped face, with deep brown eyes and a sharp nose. She has slender limbs and she is giving a half-smile half-grimace to the camera. Her long brown hair is windswept and in the Phoenix sun, she looks breath-taking.
"Woah," breathes Jacob, and Leah freezes.
Leah strongly declines when Jacob begs her to come along to visit Bella in her spanking old truck that Jacob fixed up for the Phoenix girl. Leah does not want Bella around. She is beautiful and she is female and Leah is worried that this is another Sam-Emily. Only, she is much closer to Jacob than she ever was with Sam and she knows, hell, it will hurt if he leaves. But Jacob is pouting and calling her "Llama Leah" and Leah caves in to her superhero name.
"Fine, Jelly Jacob."
Jacob lets out a resounding "whoop" and runs down the front porch to where the old truck is already sitting, engine on. Damn you, Jelly Jacob. Billy is already strapped onto the front seat, so Leah sits in the wagon and they shoot off, well, more like slowly chug, to Charlie's residence.
The journey there is a small torture. Without Jacob by her side, and with every metre they slowly traverse, Leah's heart beats with increasing anxiety. Too many what ifs and I'll be all alones crowd her mind. There is only a miniscule hope, a tiny strand of thought tugging at the back of her mind, that maybe Jacob will not be swayed by the beautiful Bella Swan; that her female mystique will not whisk his breath away and cloud his senses. The formidable trees snail past her and Leah watches Sanctuary leave.
When they finally arrive at the Swan household, Leah jumps off the truck to open the door for Billy. Jacob is already by her side, bouncing eagerly on his toes. He tells her all about how Bella and him were childhood friends, how they would make friggin' adorable mud pies, how he simply could not wait to see her again. Goddammit. The situation was getting dangerous. There were already the makings of a clichéd romance story, and Leah hopes that it remains just that – a story.
Leah just nods along to Jacob's animated ramblings and looks at Charlie's house. It is a two-storey jig and the aforementioned officer himself is at the threshold, dragging with him an all too reluctant teen. Bella Swan. And Leah's shoulders tense up, watching the waves of smooth brown hair shimmer in the low light of Forks. The three of them meet the Swans halfway, and it is not only Jacob whose breath is taken away.
Clearly, the photograph did not do Bella Swan any justice.
At Charlie's insistence, Billy agrees to hang out at the Swans to watch reruns of football matches, leaving Jacob, Bella, Leah and a ridiculously awkward tension to simmer in Bella Swan's bedroom. Well, at least, ridiculously awkward for her. Jacob is being his usual charming self and is already deep in conversation with Bella about school and her life in Phoenix. Leah herself is standing by the door, grimacing at their friendly banter. They look so good with each other, and Leah's stomach feels queasy. She supposes the stomach-gurgling is jealousy. After all, Jacob is her only non-related friend and she has never had to share Jacob with another person. Leah pauses in her thoughts. Well, there is Quil and Embry… but they're guys! It isn't the same! Leah shakes her head a little – she is being nonsensical. Jacob has every right to befriend Bella Swan.
But if he befriends/falls in love/dates/has babies/makes a rom-com with Bella Swan, will there ever be room for Leah anymore?
In the midst of Leah's internal debate, Bella Swan turns to her, sticks out a hand and asks her to climb onto the bed with them. There is a pleasant smile on her face and Leah is hesitant in biting out, "The hell, no." But her neck gives a little twitch, easily mistaken as a nod to the layman, and Leah gingerly climbs aboard the bed. She cringes at the creak it makes – she knows her strapping build makes her heavy. It is a tight fit and Bella Swan's dainty figure is highlighted between Jacob's bulk and Leah's own towering height. A little bit of Leah crumples.
"So," Bella Swan starts, "Leah right?"
It startles Leah that Bella Swan's voice is slightly deep. It is no deeper than Jacob's, but it is lower than her own and this causes Leah to raise an eyebrow. It is the first time, after all, that a woman she knows is more masculine than her in any physical aspect. "Yeah, that's me," she smoothly affirms.
Bella Swan is giving her a calculating look now, analysing her, and Leah falters. Leah is aware that Bella Swan is most likely attempting to figure out her gender. 'Well, at least Bella Swan even realises I might not be a man,' Leah thinks bitterly.
Abruptly, Bella Swan's eyes widen and she loudly exclaims, "Oh my goodness! You're just like me!" Leah is rudely shaken by her shoulders by a suddenly excited Bella. Jacob is completely bewildered and watches, laughing, the bastard, as Bella runs her hands over Leah's arms and face, as if affirming whatever the hell she has concluded. Leah manages to snap out of the shock-induced stupor and slaps Bella Swan's hands away.
"What the hell?!" Leah feels mortified and vaguely vandalised.
"Leah," Bella says, and her voice is firm and commanding, "You're a girl, aren't you?"
Leah dumbly nods.
And Bella Swan breaks into a smile. "This is absolutely wonderful Leah, because I'm a guy!"
Author's Notes and Thought Processes
I honestly do enjoy Blackwater, but the reason I started this story is because I wanted to show my take on how I think Leah's physique should be written as.
My first reaction upon reading Twilight fanfiction (for that is how I started, rather than reading the book), is that Leah would be rather masculine. After all, when the Quileute men first start shifting, even though they are men (who, let's face it, are physically stronger), the only way to adapt to the shifting is to grow taller and become a lot more muscular to accommodate to the wolf.
And even though a female shifter is supposed to be an abnormality, instead of Leah growing taller and more muscular, she, as many authors portray her, gets longer legs, huger breasts and suddenly becomes ridiculously stunning! The fact that, in Twilight, Leah cannot conceive any children should relay that her (physical) femininity ended with shifting. It is one of the reasons, I feel, why Leah is so bitter.
That being said, it is not as if I am anti-"Leah is a woman". I don't mind. But when people take it to the next level of Leah being a huge catch and a total bomb, it sort of douses my reading experience. However, this is fanfiction, and as such, people have the freedom to portray Leah however they want, and I don't mind that! I just don't really read the kind of fanfiction I just described. Hahaha. Because then the story is so sexually charged and, as a romance-loving kind of person, that is not my cup of tea!
I want characters in any story to fall in love based on their personalities, not lust after one another (even as it does eventually lead to love). Haaaa…. I do enjoy those kinds of stories occasionally, but it is more for fun than for any serious, heart-tugging reading.
I hoped you enjoyed this story!