I Always Will @rubberduckiez
Come on Back to the Front Porch

Come on Back to the Front Porch

Paul sighed as he sat down at the diner, offering a small smile to the waitress as she put a glass of water down for him and asked if he wanted his usual. He nodded and then picked up the last of Briony's books, opening it to where he left off. The last couple of weeks, he found that he couldn't stop reading, some sort of insatiable urge to know what was in them - especially this last one - taking over him.

Back then, he had always thought he knew Briony well, and he had, but the books had given him an insider's look into her mind that had gone beyond even that.

It was still a bit awkward to be around her, but for whatever reason, Paul managed to find various reasons to see her. More often than not, it was helping around her house on the weekends or after work. Slowly, their old friendship seemed to be coming back and for a few hours of the day, he found himself relaxed. Almost calm. Much calmer than he had been in the last year. He told himself it was because he was making peace with things. Had settled on a course and knew where he was going. And also, because day by day, he could start to see her come back alive. It was a weird mixture of the Briony he hadn't known for 12 years with the one he had grown up with.

"Thought I'd find you here."

Paul looked up as he put the book down, seeing Jared slide into the booth on the other side of him. There was a spike of irritation, but it quickly faded. It wasn't just Briony that he needed to tie up loose ends with.

"You stalking me?" Paul asked, raising an eyebrow at his best friend.

Jared tensed for a moment, but then his eyebrows rose when Paul didn't do anything aggressive or fight the fact that he was sitting there. Glancing around, Jared then turned back to Paul, a smile appearing.

"Hadn't had a chance to check in with you for a few days. Went to the clinic, but they said you had already headed out to lunch," he replied, leaning back slightly. "Embry says you've been helping out at Briony's a lot."

"They need it. Have you seen the things Embry's trying to do? Beginning to think he bit off a bit too much," Paul said as the waitress walked up and handed Jared a menu. He glanced at it and put in an order. "Though… when it's done, it should look good."

Jared just blinked in surprise before reaching for his water glass. Paul knew there was a comment he wanted to make, but was holding back, worried he would break the easy peace that seemed to have settled over them. To be honest, he was surprised at himself. This was the first time since before everything that he hadn't wanted to lash out.

He frowned slightly, but then shook his head.

"Kim wants to have Briony over for dinner soon," Jared said. "Apparently they ran into each other in town and got to talking."

"Yea?" Paul asked. He recalled Briony telling him the other day that she had started going to La Push for things since it was closer than Forks, so it wasn't strange that she'd seen Kim. "Said she's been spending some time with Emily. Guess they hit it off at the bonfire or something…"

Jared nodded slowly, a small smile firmly on his face. Paul could clearly see where his thoughts were going. Part of him thought he should squash that thought. Before he got any more grand ideas about Paul and Briony. He was just helping her out so he could leave without any unfinished business.

"Been reading her books too, huh?" Jared asked, glancing over at the book sitting next to Paul's glass. He glanced at it as well and then back up at Jared.

"They're good," he said. "Really good."

"And it has nothing to do with the fact that you're in there," Jared said with a chuckle. Paul frowned, though he could feel his cheeks heat up.

Especially considering what this book covered. It was essentially her last year in Washington. He knew what was coming at the end of the book, but it didn't make him want to stop reading. He hadn't really asked Briony many questions about the books as he got into the later years of their friendship, already feeling conflicted about it. But now was not the time to ponder that. Not with Jared sitting across from him, looking like the cat who caught the canary.

"It's not really me," Paul said as the waitress brought their food.

"Sure," Jared replied. Paul frowned at him.

"Not like you've read them," he shot back. Jared just chuckled.

"Look… whatever it is… just… keep it going," Jared said, appearing a bit more serious. Paul frowned at him. "Right… so, you think you could come over when we have Briony? Kim wants to know."

Paul sat back, not expecting that diversion. He blinked a few times.

"Yea… just… let me know…"

~~~

That night, he laid on the sofa, reading the book. Paul had been there since he got home from work, finding that he couldn't put it down, wanting to devour the entire thing. The letters laid forgotten on the coffee table, where they had been sitting untouched for a few days now. Whenever he tried to sit down and work on them, Paul found that he couldn't focus, pulled back to reading Briony's books, or thinking of ways to help her out.

He was already doing a lot with the house. He hadn't asked about the movie deal since the day he told her to do it, but they had gone to see a movie, so he knew that she had to uphold her side of things. It had been an interesting experience. As they sat down and the lights went out, a wave of anxiety ran through him. He hadn't stepped foot in a movie theater since before Rachel died - it had been one of their most frequent types of dates. He worried that being there would conjure up too many difficult memories. That he might lose control.

But thankfully, Briony had picked a raunchy comedy with no hint of romance whatsoever. That had helped. As had hearing her laugh next to him. He had managed a few furtive glances at her throughout, pleased that she seemed okay. And then afterwards they had gone back to her place for a couple beers as Sam's gag order on bars was still in effect. Paul had worried how to explain that when they started to come across one on their walk back to the car, but Briony had suggested going to her place before he got too worried.

It had been nice. Normal.

But when he stepped foot in his dark, empty house afterwards, everything had come rushing back and he spent the night tossing and turning as he dreamed about Rachel. Though the dreams were interspersed with dreams of Briony and their past. He had woken up confused and conflicted though managed to put it aside while he went to work.

But right now, he wasn't thinking about that. He was fully focused on the book. Suddenly, he sat up, knowing what was about to happen. Paul couldn't tear his eyes away as he read, his heart pounding.

It was exactly like he remembered…

~~~

Briony was unusually quiet as they walked down the beach together, not really looking at him as the breeze blew her hair from her face.

"Grams says it's supposed to storm tonight," she suddenly said, looking out at the choppy water. "Shouldn't stay out too long. You know how storms are here…"

She continued on rambling about random storm facts that Paul wasn't sure how she knew. But he wasn't really paying attention, his own heart pounding. He knew she was nervous - she always rambled when she was nervous. He just didn't know what about, and that made him nervous. Had something happened? Had Embry or Jared ran their mouth around her and told his secret. He made them all swear they wouldn't say a word about his crush on Briony. They had promised, though continued to give him a hard time about it when she wasn't around.

Shit. That had to be it. She had somehow found out and was now about to tell him she didn't feel the same way. That's why she was so nervous. Shit. Fuck. What did he do?

"Paul?"

They came to a stop as she turned to face him, wearing a worried expression.

"I'm fine," he said quickly, though he was anything but.

Briony nodded and looked down at her feet, starting to draw in the sand with the toe of her shoe. Outside of the wind and the waves, Paul swore the only other sound was the thundering of his heart and he was certain that she could hear it too. God, why wouldn't she just say something? Get it over with.

Briony then took a deep breath, seeming to steel herself, and then looked up at him, resolution clear in her green eyes.

"We need to talk about something," she said.

"O-okay," Paul replied, trying to ready himself for this. Hell, there was no way he was going to be ready. Briony took another deep breath, color already seeping into her cheeks.

"So… we've known each other a long time," she started. Paul nodded, unable to speak even if he wanted to. "And, well… you're my best friend and… I just… I feel like you get me. You don't make fun of my stories or think I'm crazy for wanting to write. And you always stand up for me… and… I feel safe with you…"

She went silent and Paul wasn't sure if she was waiting for him to say something or what. He opened his mouth, but then shut it, not sure what he could say. He still wasn't exactly sure where she was going with this, even though there were two clear options. One - she was about to tell him that she knew how much he liked her, but they were just friends. The other, well, he didn't dare hope that she went there. He didn't want to set himself up to be hurt more than he already would be if it were option one.

"I like you, Paul," she said.

His eyes widened slightly as he thought over her words.

"I like you, too," he said almost automatically. Briony rolled her eyes and looked away a few moments before turning back to him.

"No, I mean… I like-like you," she said, her cheeks turning a brighter shade of red.

That's when it dawned on Paul that this was option two. She was telling him that she had a crush on him.

"I shouldn't have said anything," Briony muttered, starting to walk back towards her grandparents' house, misinterpreting his silence.

"Wait," he said, reaching out and grabbing her arm, stopping her. Briony looked back at him, a bit of hope entering her eyes. "I… I like… like you, too." Her eyes widened. "Really."

Briony blinked a few times and then stepped closer to him. Paul knew this was it. They were going to kiss. Suddenly, his heart began pounding even harder - if it were possible - and he started worrying that it wouldn't be any good. That it would be horrible, and she wouldn't want to have anything to do with him afterwards. He had spent so long fantasizing about this moment that now that it was here, he wasn't sure what to do. He should have been paying attention when the others were going on about it.

He moved closer to her, his hands coming up and then hovering a bit before he grabbed her arms. Before he could talk himself out of it, he pressed his lips to hers as he closed his eyes. His mind went completely blank as they stood there, lips pressed against each other's. Paul knew he was supposed to be doing something more. What had the guys done? Right. He was supposed to use his tongue.

Tentatively, he stuck his tongue out, running it over her lips. Spit. There was too much spit. Briony jumped back slightly, her eyes wide in shock as Paul blushed furiously and let go of her, turning away. That wasn't how that was supposed to go. Maybe he should have practiced like the others told him to.

He ran his hand up the back of his neck, scratching. She'd never date him if he kissed like that.

"Well… that was…."

He looked over at Briony, whose entire face was now bright red. Their eyes met and suddenly, both of them were laughing. Paul found himself relaxing. Right, this was just Briony. His best friend. His Briony.

"Sorry… just… you surprised me," Paul admitted.

"Yea… I think I was in my head too much," Briony replied.

She then turned to face him, squaring her shoulders a bit as a determined look came over her face.

"I think we can do better," she said. Paul laughed.

"It's not a test or competition, Bri," he said. Though he was eager to have another try.

"I know," Briony said, frowning slightly.

They stared at each other a few moments before Paul stepped up to her, resting his hands on her hips and pulling her closer. He heard a soft gasp leave her lips. Rather than think about it or try to remember the tips the guys had given him, Paul leaned down and softly pressed his lips against hers, moving them gently. Briony arms came up, wrapping around his neck as she rested them on his shoulders, moving her lips against his as well.

This was better. And infinitely less sloppy, he thought, as electricity zipped through him. He then tentatively ran his tongue over her lower lip, but this time, instead of moving away, her lips parted.

Yes, this kiss was a million times better.

After some time, Paul pulled back, looking down at Briony's flushed face as she grinned up at him.

"That was… wow," she breathed. He chuckled.

"Aren't you supposed to be a writer?" he replied. She shot him a playful scowl but didn't remove her arms from his neck. "Yea… it was pretty wow…"

~~~

Paul rubbed his face after he put the book down, a flurry of conflicting feelings coursing through him. For years, he only knew his side of that experience. And now he knew Briony's. He looked down at the open book.

It seemed like that entire summer, I had been dreaming about kissing Derek… it was all I could think about. And then it finally happened, and it was as though the last piece of the puzzle fell into place… I had been so terrified to tell him, worried what he would say. We were best friends, after all.

Would this ruin everything?

But then it hadn't…

Taking a deep breath, Paul dropped his face into his hands as memories of Briony ran through his mind. They were then joined by memories of Rachel and an overwhelming sense of guilt came over him. He looked up, his eyes falling on the unfinished letters.

In an instant, the house seemed too closed in. Too suffocating. There wasn't enough space for him to think here. To breathe. He needed to get out.

Paul got up and put on his running shoes and then left, not really noticing where he was going. It wasn't until sometime later when he found himself on the beach, nearly to Briony's house that he came to and stopped.

Why was he here?

He knew that he was close to the spot on the beach where they had their first - and second - kiss. But this also wasn't far off from where he and Rachel would have picnics. Breathing heavily, Paul ran his hands through his hair, the memories battling against each other in his head for dominance. He felt his wolf growling inside him, begging to be let out.

For a moment, Paul almost lost control. But then he came to a decision and suddenly everything was calm again. He looked down the beach and started running again.

He needed to talk to Briony.

In almost no time, he was coming up to her house, the lights on inside and the living room in clear view. He could see her sitting on the couch, watching something on TV. She was hugging a pillow. Onward he kept going. But when he got close enough, he saw the tears staining her cheeks. Coming to a stop, Paul watched, his heart heavy.

He could hear the TV through the open door. He recognized that voice.

She was watching a video of Brandon.

Right. Her husband. That she had spent 12 years with. That she was madly in love with still. Her dead husband.

Backing up, Paul shook his head and turned, running back down the direction he came. He knew he couldn't intrude. He would just have to do what he always did.

Figure this out himself.

~~~

Briony stared at the package on the counter of her kitchen, which was slowly starting to come together. The brown envelope was taunting her. She had gotten it days ago, but still hadn't brought herself to open it, knowing what it was. Vivian had told her to expect it. At first, she had hidden it away, not ready to think about it. But then she had pulled it out after the guys left for the day, thinking maybe she was ready.

But now she stood there thinking maybe she wasn't.

Huffing in agitation with herself, Briony walked over to the counter and picked it up, ripping it open and then dumping the contents on the counter. There was an unmarked DVD and envelope. She reached for the envelope, opening it and reading through the letter.

It was from Vivian.

Take your time with it - I know that it's not easy. But the director wanted you to see it before they went through with the release. He put it off, knowing what you were going through, but I think it might be time…

Briony's eyes trailed over to the DVD. She reached out, her hands shaking as she picked it up. She didn't know how long she stood there staring down at it, but finally she took a deep breath and walked over to the TV, glad that she had thought to get a DVD player. Quickly, she loaded it in and moved back to sit on the couch, wanting to get this started and over with.

Taking a deep breath, Briony pressed play and waited as the opening credits started, her thoughts going back in time. To when Bran had first heard about the screenplay. He had been excited about this role - more than the others. And the director had been willing to work around his chemo. Brandon was still well enough to do it - wanted to do it - and they had somehow managed to keep his condition from everyone else until filming was nearly done and he could no longer hide it.

At the back of their minds, they had both known that it would likely be his last, though they were both trying to focus on the positive. Believing that Brandon would get through it - survive brain cancer. Make more movies. Briony had nearly forgotten about the movie, she got so tied up in taking care of him afterwards. She had been on set every day. Took Brandon to his treatments and then helped him with the harsh side effects. Gotten close to everyone working on the film.

But here it was. Finished.

Briony gasped as Brandon's face filled the screen. Immediately tears filled her eyes as she watched. Though she knew that he was feeling rough most of the time from his treatments, you couldn't tell from watching him.

She didn't realize she had begun sobbing.

But then…. The sobs started to subside a bit. A small chuckle left Briony's lips as she continued to watch, still sniffling and crying quietly. God, this was such a great role for Bran.

I think… I think this could be the one, you know? The role that defines me as an actor…

"I think so too, Bran," she whispered. It was as though it was written for him, and probably it was. She couldn't remember.

Briony sat back on the couch, hugging a pillow to her chest as she laughed again, reaching up to wipe away her tears, though more were still coming.

It felt like almost no time had passed, but suddenly, the film was over, and the credits were starting to roll.

In loving memory of Brandon Peters… You will always stay alive to us in our hearts and through your work.

Briony brought her hand to her mouth, feeling another round of tears coming as the credits rolled and an uplifting song played. She wasn't sure if it was Oscar-worthy, but it certainly was his best work. She swallowed, a soft smile still on her face. She closed her eyes, seeing Brandon's face.

"Hey, we can't let this get us down, Bri. There's still a lot of life to live…"

Nodding, Briony opened her eyes and looked up at the tall ceiling of the house. She wasn't sure if there was heaven, but if there was, she knew that's where Brandon would be right now. And regardless of her views on the afterlife, in that moment, she felt as though he was there somewhere nearby, watching over her.

"You're right," she whispered. "There's still a lot of life to live…"

Hope started to fill her in that moment as her thoughts turned to Paul. He had been doing so much better. It was still small, but in the big scheme of things, she felt as though he was finally turning the corner. Even Embry had begun commenting on it. Saying that he hadn't seen Paul like this in over a year. The relief was apparent.

Briony took a deep breath and slowly let it out as she looked back at the screen.

"There's a lot of life left for the both of us…"

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