I Always Will @rubberduckiez
The Less I Give

The Less I Give

Paul stood off by himself, drinking a beer as the other milled around the fire. They were all laughing and joking around, though he wasn't really paying attention to whatever it was they were saying. There had been more than a few surprised looks when he walked up. Seth Clearwater had shouted out a joke about him rejoining the land of the living that Paul had forced himself to smile tensely at. But now the pack was leaving him alone for the most part.

He could feel their eyes on him, watching. Though no one moved over to him. That was fine. It was better they leave a wide berth than being forced to make small talk.

Well, everyone save one person.

"You should eat," Emily said as she walked up, holding a plate out.

Paul looked down at the food and then up at her. She was smiling warmly, though he could see the concern in her eyes. While it irritated him, Paul didn't dare do or say anything that would upset her, knowing Sam would kick his ass for it. And it was hard to truly be angry with Emily.

"Thanks," he said gruffly, taking the plate and then moving to sit down. She followed, sitting next to him. "You going to watch and make sure I eat?"

"No, just tired of standing at the grill," Emily said lightly as she stretched her legs out. "And running around all day. Wrangling kids is exhausting."

Paul winced slightly, his thoughts once again turning to Rachel. They had talked about having kids. And truthfully, he had been eager to start, though she wanted to wait a few years. And then it had been too late.

"Luke and Jessie miss their uncle," Emily continued, nudging his shoulder. "You should stop by and see them sometime."

"I'll think about it," Paul mumbled.

Emily reached out and patted his shoulder encouragingly. She then looked over, her eyes widening as a smile came over her face.

"Who is that?" she asked.

Paul followed her gazed, looking over as well. His own eyes widened as he saw a nervous Briony walk up to the group, tightly gripping a cloth bag as she took everyone in. What the hell was she doing here?

"Briony! You made it!" Embry shouted as he walked over and hugged her.

"Old friend of ours," Paul replied softly.

He frowned, wondering how those two ran into each other. Emily stood and walked over, no doubt to introduce herself, as Paul continued to watch as the others either greeted Briony or introduced themselves. The older members of the pack remembered her, of course. She then looked over, meeting his eyes as she smiled and nodded. Paul returned the gesture, starting to stand. He then stopped and sat back down, realizing he wasn't sure what to say to her.

"Heard you were back in town," Jared said, getting Briony's attention.

"Yea, fixing up my grandparents' place," Briony replied, a tense smile on her face.

Paul could understand the feeling behind it. That was the smile of someone who was praying that no one brought up their dead spouse. Glancing around the group, he wasn't sure if any of them knew. Jared and Embry shared a look that told him they probably did and wouldn't bring it up in front of everyone. The look of warning that Jared shot his wife Kim told him that he had talked to her beforehand as well. But Paul wouldn't be surprised if Seth ran his mouth. He was good at saying the wrong thing.

"She's hired me to do the work," Embry said, grinning.

"Why would you hire this loser?" Quil called out with a laugh.

"He's got good ideas," Briony shot back, a hint of her old self peeking out. "And well, didn't really want a bunch of strangers trooping in and out of the house."

Jared snorted as Embry frowned at the guys who were laughing loudly.

"Shut up!" he shouted.

Paul put his now empty plate down and leaned on his knees, still watching the group, though his eyes kept finding Briony. She was smiling, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. Her tone was light and she seemed a bit more relaxed the longer she stood there.

He had to admit that she was good. If she was in any sort of pain - which Paul was sure that she was - she was easily hiding it from the others. Paul was sure that only he could really pick up on it. The slight tension in her jaw. The way her eyes would never meet others for too long. The way she continued to play with her wedding ring while shifting her weight from foot to foot.

Sighing, Paul pushed up from the log and walked over to a cooler to get a beer.

"Did you know she was back?" Sam asked, walking up to his side.

Paul furrowed his brow as he straightened up and looked over at Briony and then back at Sam. He wasn't sure why the alpha was asking him. He was sure that Jared had told him. And it wasn't as though Sam was close to her, though he had probably heard about her from the others.

"Ran into her on the beach," he said. Sam nodded, looking over at Briony and then Paul could feel him studying him. "Out with it."

"Nothing," Sam replied. "Just find it interesting that she's back."

Paul looked over at him, his eyebrows raised.

"Why's that?" he asked, taking the bait, though he was certain he knew where this was going.

"You hear about her husband?" Sam asked.

And there it was.

"Yea, I know," Paul said, looking back over at the group. Briony's face was a bright red as she wore a sheepish grin. Likely from some story from their childhood. "Not sure why it's interesting. Unless you're planning some sort of intervention for her as well."

Sam looked over at him, his expression unreadable.

"Doesn't look like she needs one," he said seriously.

"And neither do I," Paul said before walking off. He was half expecting Sam to follow him but was happy when he didn't.

As he sat back down on the log, Paul began to wonder why he was even here. He knew he was trying to get everyone to leave him alone, but even he had to admit that it wasn't worth it if he was going to sit off by himself sulking the entire time. Maybe he would try and make a quick, but quiet exit. Paul wasn't up for socializing and had actively avoided all gatherings up to now.

It was probably more suspicious that he was even here, now that he thought about it.

"Hey."

He looked up, his eyes widening as he saw Briony walking up to him. She then sat next to him on the log.

"Hey," he replied, shifting slightly.

"Any reason you're off on your own?" she asked, smiling slightly.

"Not one for parties," he replied. Briony snorted softly.

"That seems unlike you," she said. "Or, well… the Paul I used to know. Pretty sure we snuck out to parties every weekend even though we were only 15 or so..."

"It's been 12 years. A lot's changed," he said, glancing down at her ring and then looking at the fire, his jaw tense.

He could see the color starting to paint Briony's cheeks out of the corner of his eye and immediately he felt bad. He hadn't meant to sound so harsh and it wasn't her fault she didn't know anything about his life after she had left.

"Suppose that's right," she said softly, wrapping her arms around herself even though it was a warm night and they were seated next to a fire. And well, Paul supposed she could likely feel his body heat as well.

"So, Embry's taking care of the house?" he asked, deciding that was a better route of conversation.

"Yea, he's got some great ideas for it," Briony replied.

"Decide what you're going to do with it after?" Paul then asked, finding it a bit surprising that he cared to know. He told himself he was just making small talk, but at the back of his mind he knew it was more than that.

He really did want to know.

"Not sure," Briony said. "Can't really stand the idea of selling it or renting it out."

"Suppose you can afford to keep it," he commented, though Paul winced.

He hadn't meant to venture anywhere close to her life in LA or her husband. He had just gotten pretty damn close to it. Briony chuckled softly.

"Yea, I suppose I can," she said, shifting uncomfortably on the log. "Though, don't know… may just stay up here, the more I think about it."

Paul looked over at her, noticing she was now staring at the fire, her face pinched slightly. He looked back down and saw the ring again. It was at that moment that Briony looked at him, catching him looking at her wedding ring. Paul immediately looked away, wondering why he hadn't noticed it the morning on the beach. It was pretty big. But then again, she had been married to an actor.

"So… 12 years… you get hitched like everyone else?" she asked, her tone light.

Paul tensed, looking down at his hands as they clenched together into fists. He could feel his anger start to well up a bit but managed to stay calm.

"No," he said curtly. "Didn't work out."

He could feel her looking at him but didn't dare turn. Paul knew that he couldn't handle the pity that was sure to be there. Not from Briony. It was bad enough he got it from everyone else. Something about her pitying him just felt worse.

"Oh… sorry…"

"You didn't know," he said, suddenly pushing up from the log and walking off down the beach.

He needed to get away from this conversation and fast.

~~~

Briony watched as Paul walked off, his shoulders tense. She knew she had touched on some sort of sore spot and immediately regretted it. Perhaps this woman was the reason he seemed to carry an air of melancholy with him.

"Don't take it personally. He's like that with everyone," Embry said.

Briony jumped slightly and looked over, watching as he sat next to her and held out a can of beer. She took it and opened it.

"What happened?" she asked, her brow furrowed in worry. "I mean… he seems completely different…"

Embry looked at the fire as he took a long drink from his own beer.

"His, ah, girlfriend. She died in a car accident a year ago," he said softly.

Briony felt her heart break for her old friend as she looked over and saw Paul sitting on the beach several yards away, staring out at the ocean.

"He hasn't been the same since," Embry continued. "It really broke him…"

"I can understand that," Briony replied with a sigh as she looked back at Embry.

"Suppose you can," Embry said.

"How long were they together?" Briony asked.

Part of her felt bad about going behind Paul's back - she probably should be talking to him about all this. But it was clear that he wasn't the chatty type anymore. God, it was so different. Back when they were kids, they told each other everything. She remembered him going on for days about some girl he had a crush on when they were 13. And then talking about their mothers - Paul's had died when he was really little while Briony's was in jail for a time before she died when she was 7. There had never been any secrets between them, but now she felt like there was a giant wall around Paul.

"About 10 years. They got together when he was 17," Embry said. "You remember Jacob?"

"Yea, I was wondering where he was, actually," Briony said, glancing around the bonfire.

"It was his older sister - Rachel. You remember her?" Embry continued. She turned to him, her eyes wide.

Rachel had been four years older than them and therefore not really part of their group. But she had always been around and Briony remembered thinking she was so cool and pretty. Nice.

"Oh, god," she said, finding it was the only thing she could think to say.

"Yea, we all took it bad, but Paul and Jacob the worst. Jacob ended up moving to Canada with his girlfriend and her family," Embry said. "I still hear from him a lot, though. He's doing good. Going to school and all." Briony looked back over at Paul. "But Paul… well, we're all worried about him. It's been over a year, but he still acts like it was yesterday. We all thought that he'd do what he usually does. Blow up. Get into some fights. And then he'd move on. But…"

"He just shut down," Briony said, her eyes still fixed on Paul. "Yea, I know a thing or two about that."

She looked back at Embry, finding a sad smile on his face.

"But you seem to be doing well, considering," he said softly. Briony shook her head and looked down at the beer in her hands, slowly turning it.

"I'm good at pretending," she replied dryly. "Probably should have become an actress like my father suggested…"

She looked up, seeing the sympathetic look on Embry's face and shifted uncomfortably on the log, suddenly finding herself a bit stifled and warm. Granted, she was sitting next to a fire. And it was summer. But at the same time, she was venturing into a topic she wasn't sure she wanted to get too detailed on. Not with Embry. She didn't want to burden the normally cheerful man with her luggage.

"So… you got married… tell me about that," she said, changing the subject.

"Well… that's a bit of a story..."

~~~

Sometime later, Embry had gone off to get more beer and Briony found herself alone. She looked over, seeing Paul was still sitting on the beach. She wasn't sure why he was still there but for whatever reason, he was. It was then she realized that she had started walking towards him.

Briony stopped, not sure she wanted to intrude. But at the same time, she knew that she wanted to talk to him. Needed to.

So, she took a deep breath and continued on. If he heard her coming up, he didn't react. Not even when she sat on the sand next to him.

"Take it Embry told you," he said, his jaw tight.

"Yea," she replied softly. "I'm sorry… about…"

She then shook her head and laughed softly, causing Paul to look over at her with his eyebrows raised.

"Christ, you would think of all people, I would know what to say in these sorts of situations," she replied, looking out at the ocean. "My… my husband died. About six months ago…"

There was a heavy silence for a bit, but she didn't look at him.

"I heard," Paul finally said softly. "I'm… sorry…"

She ventured a look at him, finding him studying her closely, his expression unreadable. She shrugged and looked back at the water.

"Brain cancer… they gave him six months, but he made it a year. Brandon always was a fighter," she said, finding it easy to talk to Paul. Then again, it always had been.

"I can't even imagine… we seem too young to get something like cancer," Paul replied.

"Well, suppose that's the thing with brain cancer. It doesn't discriminate," Briony said, a bit of a harsh edge to her voice.

"Is that why you really came back?" Paul then asked. She looked at him and nodded.

"Just… needed to get away. From our house… LA… his parents," she said. "Everything…"

"I get that. I've thought about moving several times," Paul admitted. "But… just can't do it, for some reason."

"This is your home," Briony said. "Sure that makes it hard."

"LA is yours," Paul said. She laughed softly and shook her head.

"LA was never my home. I just lived there. Though… I suppose I did feel at home with Brandon," she said.

"How long were you…"

Paul trailed off and looked out at the ocean, his expression making it clear that he thought he was overstepping. Briony reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, finding the same strange heat radiating from his body as Embry's.

"It's okay. I don't mind talking about him," she said softly. "I mean… if you're okay with it."

Paul looked back at her, his expression softening a bit as his jaw relaxed. He gave her a short nod.

"I actually told you about him… before… We met in high school. You remember that hotshot private academy that Dad put me in? Well, I definitely felt out of place. I mean, Grams and Papa weren't poor, but… I wasn't used to the amount of wealth that people like to throw around in LA," she said, unsure Paul remembered. She was sure she had told him this. "Didn't really fit in with anyone, but my first day… I walked into the cafeteria, I'm sure a look of pure terror on my face as I tried to figure out where to sit. And then… he came up and asked if I was in his first period English class. I nodded, stunned that this really hot guy was even talking to me. He invited me to sit with him and his friends and… the rest is history, I suppose."

A look of recognition came over Paul's face.

"Wait… that's who you married?" he said. "I mean… heard he was an actor, but…" Briony shrugged.

"Yea… who would have thought I'd marry the first guy I ended up dating in high school… in LA... Granted, it took a full year before he worked up the courage to ask me out," she said, a fond smile appearing on her face. She laughed, remembering those early days of their relationship. "He told me in college that he had wanted to ask me out all of freshman year but thought there was no way I'd go for him. Meanwhile, I was sure there was no way anyone as popular as him would go for me… Nearly didn't believe him when he did get around to asking me out..."

"That's crazy talk, Briony," Paul said suddenly, causing her to jump slightly as she looked back at him. "You were always smart. Pretty. Kind. There's every reason why any guy would be falling over himself to be with you."

She could feel her cheeks heat up as she looked away, her thoughts turning to that summer just before she moved to LA. While she and Paul had always been a bit inseparable, they were practically joined at the hip then.

"I mean… I do speak from experience and all," he added.

She looked over at him, finding him staring out at the ocean again. He didn't say anything for a bit of time and she didn't push him. It had been a really long time. The closeness they once had was long gone, though she was already starting to feel a bit of its pull again. They sat in silence for a time before Paul took a deep breath.

"Rachel and I… we started dating when I was 17," he said, though Briony could sense that he was being careful with his words. She wasn't exactly sure why.

"That's what Embry said… Rachel Black, eh? Going for older women," Briony joked. Paul glanced at her, and it looked as though he was about to smile but didn't.

"Jacob wasn't too happy at the time," he said. "But he got over it… I suppose… Got easier when he-"

Paul stopped speaking suddenly, which Briony found a bit odd.

"When he what?" she pushed.

"Nothing - he eventually got used to it," Paul said, now frowning as his jaw tensed again. "It's getting late… I've got an early morning tomorrow."

He got up from the beach and started to walk off before stopping. He turned to Briony and held his hand out. She took it, finding it surprisingly soft. And very warm. He helped her up and they started back towards the fire and the others.

"It's been good… talking to you again," Briony said, glancing at him. "I'm sorry we lost touch…"

"Don't worry about it," Paul replied. He then offered her a small half smile.

They reached the bonfire and Paul continued on, not bothering to say good-bye to anyone as Briony watched him. She then looked around the group, finding Jared and Sam watching Paul as well before quietly talking to each other. Sighing, she walked over to a cooler, deciding she'd spend a bit more time catching up before she left.

That is why she came here, after all.

~~~

Just a note - I went back and posted a disclaimer at the beginning of the story, but will address it here for those who don't want to go back and read it. This isn't a love story. It's about two people coming to terms with their grief and finding ways to help each other before figuring out how to help themselves. Yes, these chapters where they are breaking down are hard. But its the sad reality of it and I felt necessary for the story. It's not all going to be doom and gloom - things start turning around in upcoming chapters, though it is gradual. Things like this don't change overnight.

I know that there are going to be people who don't want to read a story like this, and that's fine. Doesn't hurt my feelings (pretty much expected it, honestly). If it's too much or just not your thing, you don't have to keep reading, though I always appreciate feedback, especially if it can help make the story better.

I'm mostly writing this because this is how I deal with my own loss. I'm coming up on the anniversaries of the deaths of three very important people in my life. They all died in the same month, though years apart. So, I tend to write stories like this around that time every year. It's how I deal with and help manage my own grief. Sometimes you have to write it down to get it out of your head. I suppose I could have chosen not to post this story, but dunno, just figured I would in case others wanted to read. I enjoy sharing my work with you guys. ^_^

Anyway, thanks for reading and following!

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