CHAPTER ONE: Love
I am Leah, and I am alone.
I look out at the snow whirling about in gusts outside my window. The windowpane is cool and slick under my fingertips. My breath appears in puffs of vapor, even though I’m inside, but I am not cold. The abandoned research station where I now live was built for durability, but not necessarily for comfort. Judging by the number of parkas I found in the storage lockers, the research team who used to live here must have worn them inside as well as out.
Soon I’ll be outside, running in that chill wind. It’s time to hunt.
It wasn’t always like this.
I can remember a time, so sweetly, when I was never alone. Growing up on the Quileute reservation, with my mom, dad, and little brother, Seth, there was always someone around. When you live in a tiny little two storey house, there’s very little privacy, but I didn’t mind. School on the reservation meant more chaos, the noise and laughter of friends.
School was where I fell in love with Sam Uley.
He was my age, in the same grade, and he was wonderful. Those first dates with their shy, stilted conversation quickly gave way to warmth and a friendship that deepened into something more. I loved him, and he loved me. We were in our last year of high school, making plans for the future. We’d even spoken of marriage, in the distant future of course, after college. We thought we had all the time in the world. We gave ourselves to each other. There was a moment, in the midst of it, as we lay together, where I could have pushed him away, but I didn’t. He was my first, and I was his. It was as it should be.
Then everything changed.
He was supposed to meet me after school, but he never showed up. He’d disappeared.
We are Quileute. They sent out the police, the park rangers, and our own men. Our trackers are some of the best in the world, but none of them could find Sam.
I spent a lot of time with Mrs. Uley, at the Uley house. She seemed to be the only one who could understand my frantic desperation. She was also the one the Quileute searchers reported to, and I needed to know what was happening. The trail went cold. A week passed, then two. It was painful to watch the hope fade from Mrs. Uley’s eyes. I’m sure she saw the same thing in mine.
Then Sam returned. No one found him, he just staggered into the house, half naked, through the back door.
Mrs. Uley and I heard the crash of the door as it smacked into the wall of the kitchen. We stared at each other for a second, then ran as we heard Sam’s voice call out.
He stood in the door frame, his hair wild, wearing jeans that didn’t fit. They were wet, like they’d come off someone’s clothesline. I don’t know why that detail stuck in my head, but it did. Then Sam’s mom and I were at his side, hugging him, laughing and crying.
He shrugged us off.
“Don’t touch me!” he said.
I can still remember the hurt.
“But Sam, we’ve been so worried…” Mrs. Uley began.
Sam, my beloved Sam, looked at us as if we were strangers, then brushed by us roughly.
“Leave me alone!” he screamed as he slammed the door to his room, shutting himself in. Shutting us out.
I turned to follow him, but stopped when I felt Mrs. Uley’s hand on my arm.
“Don’t,” she implored. “I’ll talk to him later, when he’s calmer. You go on home, Leah. I know your parents are missing you.”
Looking into her eyes, I felt my protests die on my lips. Mr. Uley wasn’t exactly a model husband, and I wondered how many times she’d had to wait for him to calm down. It was an open secret that he’d been an alcoholic, and that he’d abused her. I thought of my mom and dad, the way they loved each other, and how patient they’d been, letting me spend so many hours with Mrs. Uley. I didn’t want to, but I went home.
Sam never did say where he’d been, or what he’d been doing. The rumors flew around school. The stories ranged from drug running, to alcoholic binges in the city, to terrorism. Sam sat quietly in class, and refused to speak to me or sit with me at lunch for three whole days. When I tried, once, to take his hand, he shied away like I was contagious. I’d had enough.
I cornered him in the library, where he’d ducked in to avoid me during lunch. He’d found a quiet corner and was just setting his backpack down on a desk when I came up from behind him. He turned to look at me, and it was like he already knew it was me before he saw my face. He had this resigned, wary look in his eyes. I ignored it.
“Sam Uley, if you don’t stop avoiding me, you’ll never graduate.”
It was the last thing he expected me to say. He just stood there, open-mouthed.
“You lost two weeks of school. If you want to catch up, you need my help.”
Those two weeks had been hell for me, but I’d clung to the thought that Sam would come back, so I’d gone to school, forced myself to pay attention so I could give the homework and notes to Sam when he came back. They were in my book bag, so I slung it off my shoulder, reached in and grabbed the folder where I’d put everything, and slammed it own on the desk.
As I stared at it, at the stupidly inoffensive green folder, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
“If you don’t want me anymore, that’s fine,” I lied. “But you still need the makeup work, and we covered a lot of new stuff in math, and you know how much you suck at math, so you’re going to sit down and listen while I explain it.”
I tried to sound stern, and angry. Sam saw right through me. His arms came around me, and he held me as I sniffled against his chest.
“I’m sorry, Leah. I’m so sorry.” His voice was like rough gravel, rumbling through his chest.
“I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you to be alright.”
I felt his short, bitter bark of a laugh shake his body. “I don’t think I’ll ever be alright ever again.”
I raised me head from where it rested against his shoulder and looked up at him, but he wasn’t looking back at me. He was gazing up out a window set high in the wall, above the bookshelves. His expression was so bleak. It chilled me.
“Then let me help you,” I begged softly. “Whatever it is, we can get through it, together.”
Sam looked at me. His eyes were filled with misery.
“I love you, Leah,” he whispered.
Those eyes, that much sadness, it scared me.
I smiled. I couldn’t let him see my fear. It would destroy him. “Then show it by passing math, OK?”
I stepped back from him, taking him by the hand and leading him to the study desk.
Our lives took on a semblance of normal from that point on. Sam still refused to speak about what happened those two weeks he was gone. He was moody, depressed at times, but he was still my Sam and I loved him.
I knew his father was an alcoholic, and I began to wonder if the rumors that he’d been off on an alcoholic binge were true. Yet I never saw him drink so much as a beer.
He was so careful around me too, like he was afraid to touch me. I knew how much he loved his mother, how it had nearly killed him as a child to watch the way his dad hurt his mom when he’d come home drunk. I wondered if he thought he might accidentally hurt me the same way.
He was supposed to pick me up for dinner one night after school. We were going to drive to Olympia, go to a nice restaurant. It was a sort of celebration. Sam got an A on his math midterm. He still had a chance of passing the class.
He never showed up. As I waited, in my one good dress, I couldn’t help but remember those two weeks when Sam left before. I called his mom, but she didn’t know where he was either. She promised she’d have him call me the minute he returned home. Mom and dad did their best to take my mind off my worry. Seth even gave me a hug before going to bed, forgetting that he was ‘too old for that girly stuff’.
I barely slept at all that night.
The next morning Sam appeared on our doorstep. I went outside so we could talk in private.
“Where were you?” I burst out. “I waited most of the night for you.”
“I’m sorry, Leah.”
He did look morose, but I didn’t care. Didn’t he care how much I’d worried over him? Didn’t he care what he put me through? I forged ahead.
“Answer the question, Sam!” I said sharply. “What was so important that you couldn’t at least call me to let me know you weren’t coming?”
His face clouded over. “It’s not like I had a choice!” he yelled back.
I blinked. Sam never yelled, except at basketball games and stuff like that.
“Do you think I wanted to be away from you? God, Leah, I would’ve given anything to be with you last night.”
“Then why weren’t you? Why?” I yelled right back.
Sam opened his mouth, then turned away. He turned his back on me.
I grabbed his shoulder, trying to force him to turn around, to look at him. I gripped him as hard as I could, but he shrugged me off like I was nothing.
“Don’t touch me,” he ordered hoarsely.
He was shaking. I took a step back. Suddenly all my anger melted away. This was Sam, and he was hurting. I reached out to him, then let my hand drop to my side.
“I don’t know how to help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on.” I heard the tell-tale catch in my voice. I hoped Sam didn’t realize how close to tears I was. “Please, just tell me what’s wrong.”
“I just…” Sam turned back around to face me, and seemed to take in for the first time that I was standing barefoot in my nightgown and tatty old robe. “Geez, Leah, you’ve got to be freezing.”
I’d been standing for some time on the cold, wet grass of our front lawn. I felt like pointing out to Sam that dawn wasn’t the best time for outside conversations, and that he was only wearing a tee shirt and jeans and was probably colder than I was, but it seemed so pointless. Everything seemed pointless. Why were we arguing?
“Don’t you…like me anymore?”
Sam looked dumbfounded by my question.
“Leah,” he said slowly. “Don’t you know by now that you’re the only thing good and sane in my life?”
He shook his head, as if warding away some mental image I couldn’t see. “If I didn’t have you, I’d go crazy. Like you? I love you more than anyone. I will always love you.”
He moved fast, so fast I barely saw his feet move, then he was at my side, his arms around me. “No matter what happens, I will always love you.”
Just like that, everything was OK. I hugged him back. “Promise?” I asked softly.
I snuggled into his warmth. Sam loved me. It was my lifeline. Whatever happened I’d always have him. I was so sure of it. That’s why the breakup was such a shock.
Old Mr. Ateara was waiting for Sam one day after school. He was a tribal elder. I knew his son, Quil, who was in drama class with me. Sam and I had plans to go to the basketball game that night, but Mr. Ateara insisted Sam come with him, so Sam went. You didn’t disobey tribal elders. I thought maybe they were going to try again to get him to say where he’d been those two weeks he’d disappeared. I snorted to myself and wished them luck. Sam hadn’t even told me. He’d get upset whenever I brought it up, so I dropped it. He’d tell me when he was ready to. We had our whole lives together, and I could be patient.
I didn’t think anything of it, until Sam tried to break up with me the next day. He kept saying it was ‘for my own good’ like that made it better somehow. I asked him if he’d stopped loving me, and all he could do was shake his head mutely. That’s when I knew I’d just have to be patient.
Eventually, he gave up and started seeing me again. He also started hanging out with Jared and Paul, two younger boys. I smiled at the way they looked up to Sam. It was like they idolized him. He started calling their little group, ‘The Protectors’. It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong or off about his influence over them. Sam was a natural leader, and if Jared and Paul were drawn by his abilities, well, they could do a whole lot worse in choosing a mentor. He took them hunting and fishing. I didn’t mind the time we spent apart so he could be with them, because he always came back to me. I started dreaming of what it would be like when we had children. God help me, I saw it as practicing for how he’d be when we had sons.
Still, I was shocked when Sam told me he wouldn’t be going to college, that he couldn’t leave the boys. We had one of our worst arguments about that.
“You don’t understand! They need me!”
“I need you too!” I yelled back. We were out by mom’s vegetable garden out back. Thankfully, she, dad, and Seth weren’t home to witness the fight since they’d gone to shop for my high school graduation present. They thought I didn’t know that they were planning to get me a laptop computer for college.
“What about Washington State? What about your scholarship?” We’d both got partial scholarships when we were accepted. We’d have to get part time jobs to make it through, but Sam and I decided it was worth it to be together when we received our acceptance letters. We’d applied other places too, but Washington State was the only place we’d both been accepted.
“That doesn’t matter to me,” Sam said impatiently. “There are more important things in life than college.”
“Like what?” I was furious. Sam was so smart, so incredible. Did he really want to stay on the reservation forever? I could, but it was different for me. I had a family that loved me, but I was nothing special. Not like Sam, who could be anything he wanted.
“Like protecting people.”
“Protecting people?” I let me voice become incredulous. “From what? What do we need to be protected from?”
Sam got quiet then. “You have no idea.”
“Then tell me! Or is it another one of your secrets?” I clenched my fists. There was something I’d been keeping inside for too long. “I am so tired of this. I know you go off with Paul and Jared sometimes on the weekends, but where do you go at night?” I’d called his house a couple of times when he’d said he was staying in with his mom, only to have her tell me he’d said he was going to my house.
A guilty look stole across Sam’s face. My heart dropped.
“Where do you go?” I asked again when it was clear he wasn’t going to answer. “Is it another woman? Are you cheating on me?” I knew it wasn’t drugs because Sam, Paul, and Jared had scared off a drug dealer from the Makah reservation not too long ago.
“No!” His denial was quick and furious. “After all this time, you could think that?”
“Then what? What is it?”
Sam was shaking with rage. “Stop asking me, OK? I can’t tell you!”
“Because I can’t! Now just leave it alone. Leave me alone!” And with that Sam was gone, racing through the woods in back of our house like he couldn’t wait to get away from me.
We made up of course. I decided to send my regrets to Washington State so I could stay with Sam. Sam still wouldn’t tell me what was going on, but he asked me to trust him. How could I refuse? He swore it wasn’t anything illegal or immoral, and I believed him. I told myself every relationship had secrets. I just didn’t know that ours would prove fatal.