Paul sighed as he went over the list of supplies in the back room of the clinic one more time. He didn't need to be there. It was his day off and the clinic was closed. Someone else took care of whatever animals had to stay over, but there currently weren't any there. He had woken up that morning with his thoughts and stomach churning, knowing that he didn't want to stay around the house and all the memories there. Paul needed something to do with his hands and to try and distract himself.
More and more, his thoughts started turning back towards his conversation with Briony the night before. It was the most he had spoken to anyone about Rachel in the last year. And surprisingly, despite the fact that it was uncomfortable, the anger hadn't been there. It had been - dare he admit it - therapeutic. But talking to Briony had always been like that.
However, the longer they sat on the beach and the more Briony spoke about her husband with a faint smile on her face, the more Paul started to open up about Rachel, the more the pain returned. To the point where he knew he needed to leave, otherwise he risked phasing on the beach and giving up the whole damn secret.
Shaking his head, Paul continued on with his work, pushing it out of his mind. It didn't matter. It was too late for him. Whatever ease he felt about the conversation was gone as the familiar pain filled him, along with the anger. Not to mention, there was a lot Briony couldn't know. He needed to keep her at arm's length, both for her safety and his.
Paul stopped again, closing his eyes as he breathed deeply, feeling his wolf coming to the surface again. He needed to stay in control. He was in Forks and couldn't risk phasing here. He couldn't risk it anywhere, otherwise everyone would know what was on his mind.
After a few minutes, he felt his wolf retreat and he had stopped shaking. Swallowing, Paul opened his eyes and left the room, going over the possibilities for how he should spend his day. Maybe he'd go sit on the beach.
"Paul, you here?"
Groaning, Paul walked out to the front room, finding Jared there. It was almost as though he was tracking him.
"What do you want?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at his best friend.
"You left pretty quickly last night. Just wanted to check on you," Jared said, the concern clear in his eyes.
"I'm fine," Paul said harshly, starting towards the front door of the clinic.
"It looked like you and Briony were having fun catching up."
Paul stopped and closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. It was a mistake to sit and talk to her. Now Jared and the others would start getting ideas. Or maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. If he at least put up the pretense of talking to Briony, they would finally start leaving him alone.
"It was… okay," he admitted, opening his eyes.
"I think it's good for you," Jared continued. Paul could hear him walking closer.
"I can't… Jared, she doesn't know about us," Paul said, putting up another attempt to block Jared's plans. Whatever they were.
"It's not like she needs to know about that," Jared countered. "I'm sure there's plenty for you two to talk about - reconnect over - without mentioning anything about us."
Paul turned around to face Jared, frowning at him. His best friend was wearing a hopeful expression.
"Right, so you think we'll bond over our dead significant others," he spat, feeling his irritation start to build.
"It's better than you destroying your house every other night," Jared shot back, now frowning as well.
"Have you forgotten? She's not one of us. More than that, it's not like she went out of her way to keep in touch over the years," Paul said. "I don't need to bare my soul to someone. I'm fine."
"We both know that you're-"
"Seriously, stop it, Jared," Paul said, turning to storm out of the clinic.
He was struggling enough as it was to keep himself in check and the last thing he needed was yet another ill-planned intervention on Jared's part. Why wouldn't he just give up already?
"Look, she gets what you're going through. And back in the day, she got you better than any of us. Why is it such a bad idea for you to reach out to her? It certainly looks like she's already trying to meet you halfway," Jared called out, following Paul into the parking lot.
"Because she's not Rachel!" Paul bellowed, turning to glare at Jared. The other man stopped abruptly, knowing that he was toeing the line.
Or maybe he was trying to get Paul to phase intentionally. It had been a good six months or so and it would certainly make it easier for Jared and the others to know what was going on in his head. But Paul remained steadfast. He wouldn't phase even if it was getting harder to keep control.
"Hey… no one ever said she was," Jared said calmly. "I just think it would help…"
"Nothing can help," Paul retorted. "And no one will ever replace Rachel."
"Again, not what I meant-"
"Then what are you doing, Jared?" Paul shouted, even though they both knew the answer.
Help. Jared thought he was helping. It was the only thing he had been trying to do for the last year, but all it seemed to accomplish was pushing Paul farther away.
Jared sighed and shook his head, reaching up to rub his temples. Paul knew if he gave him the chance, he would launch into another of his lectures, and he wasn't about to get caught up in that again. Turning, he started towards his truck, the only other vehicle in the parking lot save Jared's.
"Just give it up already," Paul shouted over his shoulder. "I don't need to talk - especially not to Briony."
He then got in, slammed the door shut and took off before Jared could say or do anything more. The entire drive, Paul continued to fume, beyond irritated that his so-called friends wouldn't get the picture and just leave him alone. It was what he wanted, after all. To wallow in his own self-pity without the pack seeking him out constantly. None of them understood what it was like.
Making good time, Paul finally pulled up into the parking lot at the beach and got out, moving towards a more secluded area where he knew no one would bother him. Getting close to the water's edge, he sat on a rock and stared out at the waves, taking more deep, soothing breaths. While he was calmer, he couldn't help the ache that was his constant companion.
It was his one certainty now. Rachel was gone and nothing and no one would replace the hole that she had left in his chest. Taking another deep breath, Paul slid his eyes closed. All he could see was Rachel.
"God, you're such a dumbass, Paul," she called out, glaring playfully at him as the water dripped from her hair and clothing.
"You started it," he called back to her, grinning. "I was just ending it."
Rachel rolled her eyes and huffed slightly as she made her way back to the picnic they had set up on the beach before she had attempted to splash him and he had succeeded in completely dumping her into the surf.
"This is what I get for being with a younger, immature man," she said, plopping down next to him on the blanket. Paul chuckled as he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close to his chest, breathing in deeply the scent of her shampoo.
"You mean a hot, young man?" he replied, causing her to laugh.
"I will give you that," she conceded as she looked up at him. Paul stared into her eyes a moment before leaning down and kissing her. "Okay, definitely on board with that."
Paul chuckled as she settled into his arms and they stared out at the ocean.
"Face it, you like it," Paul replied, the smile clear in his voice.
"Suppose if I'm going to be stuck with anyone through some supernatural bond that still doesn't make complete sense to me, I could do a lot worse than you," Rachel quipped in response. Paul only chuckled. "I have to admit, while I'm eager to get out of here, I'm going to miss coming out here."
"Yea, it is nice," Paul commented.
"Are you sure you want to leave?" Rachel asked, looking up at him, a hint of concern in her dark eyes. Paul smiled down at her, his heart swelling.
Paul had never been a very romantic guy. And he certainly wasn't the mushy type now. But since imprinting on Rachel, he couldn't help but think he had never been happier.
"Wherever you are… that's where I am," he replied. Rachel rolled her eyes slightly. "Seriously. I'm happy to go anywhere as long as it's with you."
Paul took another deep breath and opened his eyes, looking out at the ocean. They had been so happy together. Had plans. She had finally convinced him to go back to Seattle. Finish vet school. And then go anywhere.
But that was all gone now.
Briony pushed herself, starting to struggle to breathe a bit as her muscles began screaming. It seemed running along the beach had quickly become her daily activity, if anything to have something to do to get out of the house. Granted, it wasn't so bad now that Embry was coming by on a near daily basis, working on this or that. She had left him to get started on doing some fixes with the upstairs bathrooms.
Music coursed through her headphones, though Briony wasn't paying too much attention to it as she ran along the coast, her eyes fixed ahead of her. Part of her wondered if perhaps she would run into Paul again. Then she wondered if that was part of the reason she had taken up to running along the beach. In the hopes she would see him, and they would talk again.
Once again, she felt guilty for not keeping touch. There wasn't a lot she could have done for Paul back then, if she was being honest with herself. She had still been in the middle of taking care of Brandon when Rachel died. But she couldn't help but feel like a rotten friend. Surely there was some way she could have reached out to him at the time. Perhaps maybe then he wouldn't be as bad as he was.
Shaking her head, Briony could almost hear Tanya's voice in her head, chiding her for thinking she could save everyone in the world. But still… they had been so close. And then after she moved to LA, they had lost touch. She had gotten wrapped up in Brandon and trying to fit in with her father's family - constantly working to do well in school so that his money wasn't going to waste at the fancy private school. Avoiding arguments with her half-sister that were impossible to avoid. She had spent more time at Brandon's house with his family than she had with her own, now that she thought about it.
He had been her lifeline.
But once upon a time, that had been Paul. And then Briony had abandoned him just as she had abandoned this place. Heat filled her cheeks as the shame rolled through her. Yes, she had been in high school and most people were a bit on the foolish side in high school. But she hadn't always been that way.
Briony slowed down to a jog and then eventually stopped, bending over to catch her breath. Even if she hadn't come back, Washington, La Push, all her friends, they had never been that far from her mind. Hell, she had created an entire book series based on growing up here. She wondered if anyone outside of Embry had read them. If they knew…
"So… this is where you grew up?" Brandon asked, looking over at her from the laptop where he was going through the third draft of her first book.
Briony was pacing nervously around his game room, afraid of what he would say. She didn't often show others her work. The only other person who had ever read any of it outside of class projects was Paul. In a way, she felt as though she were standing naked in front of Brandon letting him read it.
"Yea," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"Bri… this is amazing."
She stopped and looked over at him, her eyes wide as she met his hazel ones and found he was being sincere. Part of her wondered if he was just saying it. He was in the drama department and had the makings to be a great actor someday like his mother. Even already had a lot of small parts under his belt. He could just be saying this to make her feel better.
"Why do you look terrified?" Brandon asked with a chuckle.
"Because… I told you. I don't show anyone my work," Briony said immediately.
Brandon looked back down at the laptop, the awe apparent in his expression.
"I'm serious. This is really good… and I can tell how much you loved it there," he said. He scrunched his face up slightly as he leaned closer to the screen. "Who is Patrick? Someone you actually know?"
Briony gulped, sure her cheeks were now stained red. She wasn't sure about including all her old friends in there - especially Paul. But it was easier to base characters on people she knew, stories on things she had actually done.
"Yea," she said softly. "I've told you about him… Paul."
Brandon looked up at her, his eyebrows raised.
"We… we haven't really talked a lot lately," she said, frowning slightly.
She had emailed him last a few months ago and he hadn't bothered to reply yet. She wasn't sure what to make of it. In the two years since she left, they kept up a relatively active back and forth through email. And then he stopped replying as fast. His letters got shorter… more vague. And then suddenly four months ago they had stopped completely. She wasn't sure what to make of it, though Grams had assured her that it was just a natural part of life. People came and went and perhaps it was time that Paul went. She had then reminded Briony of the great friends she had in LA - namely Brandon. Encouraged her not to be upset by Paul's absence. To focus on school and making the best of what she had.
Besides, she and Brandon had been dating a year at this point. Perhaps it was time to let go of Paul.
"You guys seemed pretty close," Brandon said. Briony nodded and looked away.
"He was the first friend I made when I moved to Washington," she said with a sigh.
She then felt his large hands taking hers, pulling her to look up at him.
"I know you miss it… him... but… you've got me, Bri," he said softly. She found herself smiling slightly as her heart fluttered. God, what was it about his smile that had her knees turning to mush? "And really… you've got something here. You should show it to your dad. Or let me show it to mine. They both know publishers."
Briony's eyes widened as her mouth dropped open. She could feel her heart start to race in her chest.
"S-show someone else my work? No. It's not ready," she said quickly, shaking her head. Brandon chuckled and pulled her closer to him.
"You can't be a famous writer without showing your work," he said rationally. "And trust me, I wouldn't suggest it if it wasn't good."
"I… I'll think about it," she said, her voice barely a whisper. Brandon kissed her gently.
"Don't think about it… just do it, Bri," he said.
Briony gulped and nodded, a smile starting to come back over her face. Perhaps she could do this. Finally go through with following her dreams. Become a writer. Honestly, a small part of her thought that perhaps she could do just about anything with the way Brandon was smiling down at her.
"Okay… yea… I'll talk to Dad…"
Briony wiped away the tears that had fallen down her cheeks as she looked out at the ocean, taking a deep breath. God, she missed Brandon. Even though she knew that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself - making her own choices - she had spent so long with Brandon as her biggest cheerleader, that she wasn't sure where to turn.
Not to mention the fact that she couldn't even write anymore.
She shook her head and looked around the empty coastline, her eyes searching for something, though she wasn't sure what.
She then thought back to the bonfire last night. Sitting with Paul. It seemed he was in just as much pain as she was. Briony frowned slightly, remembering how he had walked off without saying good-bye to anyone. What Embry had told her about him. How he had just shut down and cut everyone out.
It killed her, to be honest. To see her once close friend in such a bad way. She knew there was nothing she could have done back when it happened. But perhaps she could do something now.
Briony's eyes widened slightly as the idea came to her. No one had gotten through to Paul in the year since Rachel died, from what she could gather. But no one else understood what he was going through. Not like she did.
She looked back down the coast, her eyes and mind going to where she knew First Beach was. Perhaps there was a reason for all this. A reason she came back. A reason she had run into Paul that morning on the beach. A reason he had allowed her to sit and talk with him last night when he had pushed everyone else away.
Maybe this was her next purpose. Helping Paul. Christ, she didn't have the foggiest idea of what to do or where to start - she could barely get herself together - she couldn't help as the idea settled in her mind. Briony would figure something out, or make it up as she went along, but determination was now coursing through her, drying her tears.
She would be there for Paul. Makeup for all that lost time. And then perhaps she'd figure out a way to fix herself in the process.