Disarm Me with Your Smile
Paul stood in the living room, looking out the front windows of the house with a mug of coffee, once again wondering how to fill his day. He didn't have to go into work, so there wasn't that to distract him. He supposed he could get some work on his letters, but for some reason he had woken up feeling antsy and unable to sit down or focus on one thing for long.
As though he was forgetting something, but try as he might, he just couldn't remember what it was. Like there was something he was supposed to be doing. It left him unsettled and he could feel his wolf rumbling close to the surface. Despite his current calm exterior, Paul felt his control slipping. He needed to find something to do fast or else he risked phasing.
He took a drink of his coffee, his sharp eyes taking in the forested neighborhood. Though it sat on a decent-size plot of land that jutted up against the woods, there were a few houses nearby - one unfortunately within earshot if things got too loud. It had never been a problem before, even if they had the pack over for a get-together. But in the last year, the neighbors - an elderly couple - had taken to watching him more closely and keeping Jared and Sam updated if he should go on a so-called remodeling spree.
Sighing, Paul turned and looked around the room, seeing the holes he had punched in the walls and never bothered to fix. Papers were strewn about the coffee table along with his busted laptop that was still somehow working despite throwing it against the wall in his last episode. Granted it definitely needed a new screen. Paul had decided to leave it to Seth, who was always fiddling around with computers and other electronics. He'd find a use for it, as busted as it was.
Paul's phone then went off, disrupting his quiet morning. Sighing, he walked over and picked it up off the table, seeing Embry's name on the cracked screen. Frowning, Paul wondered why he was calling. He contemplated not answering, but almost as though it had a mind of its own, his finger pressed accept.
"What do you want, Embry?" he asked gruffly, angry at himself more than Embry.
"Shit, what pissed in your coffee this morning?" Embry asked lightly. Paul rolled his eyes and huffed. "Look, I got a favor. I know it's your day off, but my guys can't make it out today and I need you to help with some things at Briony's house."
Paul's eyes widened. It wasn't an incredibly unusual request - he had helped Embry out with projects several times over the past few years. But not lately. And what's more, it was at Briony's house. Paul still wasn't sure if he wanted to see her after their last interaction. And he was supposed to be staying away from her.
Even now, just the thought of seeing her had him on edge just enough that he started worrying slightly about phasing.
"I don't know…" he started.
"Seriously, I need your help," Embry said, sounding almost desperate. "We're taking down a wall today and I need three people. And I'm already behind. If I don't get this done today, I'll be even more behind."
Paul was silent a few moments, thinking it over. It had long been Embry's dream to start his own business building and renovating homes. He had been trying to do it for years, but in their neck of the woods, it wasn't as though there was a huge amount of clients. Or rather, there were already a few established companies that everyone used and Embry was struggling to break in. This project on Briony's house would be his golden ticket, so he wanted to do it right and well. It would definitely drum up more business if it went well.
Sighing, Paul shook his head, thinking he must have finally lost his damn mind. But at the same time, maybe doing this would help with that loose end.
"Fine. What time do you need me there?" he asked resignedly.
"Can you head there now?" Embry asked.
"Great! I'll see you soon. Seriously, man, I owe you one," Embry said.
"It's fine," Paul replied. "See you in a bit."
He then hung up before Embry could say anything else and slid his phone into his back pocket, looking around the living room again. Supposed he should get his tools and start bracing himself.
He was about to spend an entire day with Briony.
Paul sat in his truck a few moments, gathering his thoughts as he stared at the front of the old cabin where Briony had grown up. He had a lot of happy memories there. Her grandmother had had him over often and Paul had been a regular fixture at their dinner table since his father tended to work overnight shifts. He had then taken to spending a fair amount of his weekends there as well, when he and Briony weren't running around somewhere or he was off with the other kids on the reservation.
It had been years since he had been there, but it still looked the same if a bit rundown. Paul supposed Embry had a plan for that. But there were still bright flowers planted along the front of the deck that wrapped around the house and the beds were neat and clean of weeds. Briony must have done that.
For a moment, Paul thought about starting up his truck again. Going back home and coming up with some excuse for Embry. Maybe some sort of emergency at the clinic. It was believable. Something inside him whispered that it was a mistake to be here.
But before he could do anything, someone knocked loudly on his window, causing him to start and then turn to glare at the offender. Seth laughed loudly as he stepped back from the truck. Huffing, Paul turned and grabbed his things then got out. Embry must have really needed the help if he called in Seth as well.
"How long you been sitting there?" Seth asked as they started down the lane to the house.
"Not long," Paul said, keeping his eyes fixed forward.
"Surprised Embry called you," Seth then replied. Paul shrugged.
"It was my day off and he said he needed the help," he said, his tone clear that he didn't want to discuss the matter further.
They walked into the house, making their way through the mudroom and around into the large, open living room and kitchen. Paul stopped and glanced around, taking it in. There were boxes everywhere and the walls were a bit bare. But a large, new TV had been set up over the fireplace and a small bookshelf against the wall was full.
He then looked through the large windows that seemed to almost cover the walls facing towards the surrounding forest and down to the beach, seeing Briony. She was pacing around the deck, the phone to her ear and a frown on her face. Paul felt his heart clench slightly as he worried what was making her upset. But just as quickly as the feeling had set it, he pushed it aside, starting to look around for Embry.
"Good! You made it!" Embry said happily as he jogged down the stairs and over to them. "Okay, so we're taking down that wall." He turned and pointed up to an expanse of wall over them. "Want to make it so the landing on the second floor is open and overlooks this area. Think it'll really open the place and update it."
He then turned back to Paul and Seth, his expression asking if they understood. Paul gave a short nod.
"So we're busting down walls? Now I understand why you called in Paul," Seth joked as he started towards the stairs. Embry glared at his back and quickly turned to Paul, who was watching Seth, his face expressionless.
Normally a comment like that would get him worked up, but Paul couldn't muster anything.
"Well… let's get to work then…"
A few hours later, Paul was making his way down the stairs to start cleaning up some of the debris from their demo when he heard a small laugh and sniffle. Stopping, he looked towards the open door of the master bedroom, frowning. He knew it was Briony, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to go in there. She had been off on her own the whole day doing whatever it was she was doing. There was another soft chuckle. He shook his head and started to head towards the mud room where Embry had left large bags for the debris when he found his body turning and heading towards the open bedroom door instead.
He finally managed to stop at the threshold, seeing Briony seated in the middle of the floor surrounded by more boxes. Upon hearing his footsteps, she looked up from a photograph in her hands, her eyes wide.
"Oh, hey Paul. Didn't realize Embry called you in," she said, her surprise clear, though a smile appeared. "Just… going through some boxes of photographs I found in one of the upstairs bedrooms."
Paul glanced around the room, seeing that she had been making some progress. While the outdated furniture was still there, a lot of the knickknacks one would expect to see in a grandparents' room were gone. His eyes then fell back on Briony, who was looking back down at the photograph. She then looked up at him again, holding it out..
Paul walked over, reaching out to take the photograph. In it stood two scrawny kids with their arms around each others' shoulders, grinning as the sun set behind them. They were on the beach.
Of course he remembered.
It wasn't long after Briony had come to live with her grandparents and they had spent the day on the beach just outside the house with them, making sand castles and then destroying them. He had tried to teach her how to surf, but Briony had continued to fall off the board so Paul had given up. Granted, it wasn't as though he knew how to surf any better than she did.
It had been a good day. They ended it with a bonfire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Paul remembered he had looked around at Briony with her grandparents and wished he could stay with them all the time. It wasn't as though he had a bad home life. His dad loved him and did his best, but he just wasn't around that much and was always sad after his mother had died. And Briony's house seemed to always be full of laughter. Happiness. Something constantly going on. And really good food that her grandmother cooked.
"That was a fun day," Paul found himself saying as he handed the photo back to her. Briony smiled at it again then put it back into a box.
"God, I didn't realize how many photos Grams took," she said with a sigh. "Most of these are of me. And you. And the others."
Paul ventured another step forward, looking down into the box, seeing piles and piles of photographs.
"It's going to take forever to get this organized. And then I have to decide what to do with them," she said, her eyes widening slightly.
"You could try scrapbooks," Paul suggested. Though he then began to wonder why he had even thought about scrapbooks. Briony looked up at him, her own surprise evident. "I mean… I think that's what some people do…"
First he tells her that he enjoys listening to her talk. And now scrapbooks. Paul was par for the course of being an idiot in front of Briony and he couldn't understand why any of this was happening.
A small smile came across Briony's face as she looked back down at the photos.
"That's… yea… that's a good idea," she said, picking up some more of the photos and going through them. "Would make it easier to look at them… Oh god…"
She laughed and then held another out to him. Paul found himself moving even closer and swatting down to take the photo. At this rate, he might as well just sit down and get comfortable. He looked at it, seeing a skinny, pale Briony grinning in the middle of a group of little boys, all of them covered from head to toe in mud. After a week straight of rain, the first chance it had started to let up, all of them had run out for a giant mud fight. Nearly every kid in La Push had been in it.
And like many photos from that time, Paul was right next to her, grinning as well, his arm around her shoulder protectively. Even though they were only 7 or 8 at the time, he had still worried that the other, bigger kids might accidentally hurt the pint-sized Briony and had tried to look out for her. Much to his surprise, she had ended up blowing all of them to smithereens with her aim and speed.
Paul felt a bit of warmth start to enter his heart as he stared at the photo and reminisced. He hadn't even realized that his lips turned up into a soft smile. But then suddenly, he could feel Briony's eyes on him. Glancing up, he saw the hopeful look on her face.
In a second, the warmth was squelched as he frowned slightly and handed the photo back. The pain came roaring back as well.
"Good times," he said. "Should probably get back to work."
He then straightened up and turned around, striding out of the room quickly so that he could start doing something with his hands that would hopefully distract him from whatever that was back there.
"You can't get close to her… it's for her own safety… and yours…"
Briony stood and stretched as she heard the guys voices drift down from upstairs. With the wall separating the living room from the upstairs landing now gone, she could hear just about everything. Seth and Embry were joking about something.
She walked out of the bedroom just as they were stomping down the stairs, all three of them carrying large trash bags.
"We'll just put these out in the dumpster and get out of your hair," Embry said. "Got a lot more done today than I thought we would. Definitely back on course."
Briony looked over, seeing the floor in front of the stairs clean of all debris and she had to admit she was impressed.
"Or… if you like, I could make dinner? Least I can do for you guys," she said, looking back at them.
Seth was grinning and already nodding enthusiastically while Embry glanced nervously back at Paul, who was silent with a frown on his face.
"Got some beer in the fridge too," Briony added, praying that Paul would stay.
Their eyes met and she could see the internal struggle. His lips pursed together slightly as he looked away quickly and took in the large living room.
"I'm in," Embry said, looking back at Briony. He then elbowed Paul, who glared at him. He then caught Briony watching them. Finally, he sighed and shrugged.
"Guess so… don't have any plans," he said reluctantly.
Briony beamed and rolled up her sleeves.
"Okay. Well, you guys do that and I'll get started. Help yourself to the beer and such while I cook," she said.
The men walked to the mudroom and Briony quickly made her way to the kitchen, grateful that Embry was saving it for last. Otherwise she wouldn't have been able to cook for them. She knew he was going to call them in for help today and had already gone to the grocery store, making sure she had enough food in the hopes they'd stick around. The house was quiet with just her. Hell, she had even pre-made some salads, sides and appetizers, deciding to be optimistic. Looking at it now, she wondered if it was too much food. She had expected more of the group to come out.
But then she decided it was probably better to have too much than not enough.
Getting to work, she sat out the appetizers on the island and then began to pull out everything she needed to make fried chicken and mashed potatoes. When she heard them walk back in, she turned to look over her shoulder.
"Some food is already ready, but you can take it out on the deck if you want. Shouldn't take all that long for me to do the chicken and such," she said, smiling.
"Anyone ever tell you that you're amazing?" Seth joked as he took in the spread. Briony blushed slightly as she glanced over at him, noticing that he was grinning at Embry.
Seth then handed around beers to Paul and Embry before he and Embry grabbed the food, going to the deck, though they left the door open behind them. Briony focused on putting the batter together, though she could sense Paul lingering. Chancing a glance at him, she noticed him walking towards the bookshelf. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw him lean closer, studying the four books that she wrote.
"This is that book series that Embry is always going on about," he said.
"Oh yea?" Briony called out to him. She then grimaced. That was brilliant.
"Yea… tried to get all of us to read it," Paul said.
"He told me that," she said, turning her focus back to the food. She started battering the chicken. "They're… well, they're my books."
Briony was met by silence. She took a deep breath, feeling as though her heart was racing. At this rate, it would likely pound out of her chest. She didn't understand why she was so nervous about this. Telling him. Briony swallowed.
"I wrote them about growing up here… About Forks and La Push," she said.
There was more silence and then she heard footsteps across the wood floor and the sound of a chair scraping. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw him sitting at the island, his beer now on the counter as he held the first book and studied it.
"You finally published a book," he finally said, glancing up at her. Briony nodded, a tight smile on her face as she turned back to the chicken, now putting the pieces she had battered into the frying pan.
"Yea… I wrote the first one in high school, but took me a bit longer to build up the courage to actually show it to someone that could get it published," she said. "Bran… I let him read it right after I had finished it and he kept pushing me to try and publish…"
Briony stopped, tears suddenly filling her eyes. Christ, of all the times to have a breakdown. She didn't speak for a time, concentrating on taking slow, deep breaths.
"You… you can take that one, if you want," she then said, glancing back at him.
She nearly gasped, finding Paul studying her intently, worry and pain swirling in his dark eyes. His jaw tightened, and his expression was guarded. Save for the intensity in his eyes. Briony couldn't bring herself to look away though, thinking it was likely that he saw the same pain reflected in her own.
Paul finally blinked and looked back down at the book, his brow furrowed. He then nodded.
"Sure," he said.
Briony felt like she could breathe again as she turned back to dinner.
"It's about here… what's the story?" he then ventured to ask.
"Just… you know… usual stuff… kids growing up and all," she said, infusing a bit of lightness in her voice. "All the crazy shit we used to get up to…"
Briony looked over at him again, finding his eyes wide and questioning. A blush painted her cheeks as she nodded and gulped again.
"Yea… I, um… I based it on us," she admitted.
It was as though she had traveled back in time and she was a teenager again, terrified of talking about her work. Somehow she had gotten over it in the years since - a lot of that thanks to Brandon and his never-ending patience. Again, tears pricked at her eyes.
But then Briony remembered all those times she and Paul would sit on the deck or on the beach, her tattered notebook in his large hands as he leafed through it, an amused look on his face as she rattled on about this idea or that. She had never been scared to tell him about her ideas. Worried about letting him read her stories. He didn't like everything that she wrote, but he always was kind about his feedback. And had given her a lot of praise as well.
But Briony couldn't help as her nerves flared up a bit. This wasn't just another story. She had written about him. About their friendship. About her crush on him all those years ago. Granted, it wasn't as though that had been a secret. But there were still some things in there that she hadn't told him. Christ, what if he hated it? Or got angry with her? Shit, she shouldn't have told him he could take the book. Briony was supposed to be helping Paul, not making things worse.
"Certainly would have a lot of stories," he finally said, still not meeting her eyes.
The grease popped in the pan, drawing Briony's attention back to the food. She reached for a pair of tongs when a bit of grease popped again, this time landing on her hand. Briony hissed in pain, pulling her hand close to her body as she backed away from the stove.
Almost in an instant, Paul was at her side, taking her hand and guiding her over to the sink after he turned the stove off, where he turned on the cold water and put her hand under it.
Neither of them said anything as Briony blinked back tears, her eyes trained on her hand. Paul was gentle, his rough thumb brushing lightly over the blister that formed where the grease had hit her.
"Doesn't look that bad," he said softly. Briony nodded and finally looked up at him, mustering a smile.
"Thanks," she said quietly.
Paul stared at her, looking at those he was about to say something. He opened his mouth, but then stopped, instead turning the water off and walking back over to the island. Briony took a deep breath and walked back to the stove, turning it back on. She continued with frying the chicken, the crackling grease the only sound in the house, save for the occasional laugh that wafted in through the open door to the deck. Briony's shoulders drooped slightly, as she wracked her brain for something - anything - to say.
"I'll… I'll give it a read," Paul said.
Briony looked over at him, finding him reading the back of the cover.
"Sure… take your time with it," she replied.
She then turned back to the chicken, feeling as though something significant had just happened, but she wasn't exactly sure just what it was.
"Yo! Briony! What's taking so long?"
She looked over at the door, seeing Seth standing there, a grin on his face.
"It would go faster if you'd get your ass in here and help," she called back, finding it strange how easily she could slide back into her happy façade.
Seth laughed and started into the house, though out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Paul studying her closely. Shaking her head slightly, she turned back to the food and started giving Seth instructions. As they worked, Embry came back in and sat next to Paul at the island, speaking softly to him as he looked at the book.
Briony pushed it aside for the time. First, she needed to survive frying chicken.