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Truth Hurts

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“That’s gross. Beyond gross, actually. It’s repulsive.” Jake snaps his head in my direction, mouth gaped. “Why you looking at me like I killed your pet? All I did was tell the truth.”

“You really want to go there?”

“I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t want to.”

“That’s such a low blow, Lyn. Like I’m the one fucking her over. She came to me. She decided to lean on me.” Jake is the only one that calls me Lyn, the only person I’ll ever let call me that. But now I want to tear the nickname from his throat and vow to him to never say it again. 

I throw my hands up. “You still tried to manipulate her. And she’s manipulating you! This whole relationship is fucked up. Just like her relationship with Edward.”

“I love her,” Jake states.

“She only used her because she was heartbroken over her fucking vampire boy toy.”

“She came to me for a reason. I actually care about her, unlike the bloodsucker.”

“Okay, you care about her, but that doesn’t mean you get to direct her life. You’re stooping to Edward’s level now.”

That comment makes him jump up from the floor. His nostrils are flared, fist curled at his side. I stay seated on the couch. “You will not ever compare me to that leech!” Jake exclaims.

“I think the fuck I did and will do so again.”

“Hey, cool it you two,” Emily calls out.

“Nah, he’s feeling froggy, let ‘im jump.” I keep my focus trained on Jake. He’s shaking, fist clenched tight. He will phase and it shouldn’t happen in Emily’s house. I stand. “You. Me. Outside.”

Jake stands frozen in place, arms shaking as I move outside. Both these boys need a fucking reality check and no one in this pack seems to be doing much of anything. Sam’s only concerned about the treaty if it gets broken and this other vampire, Victoria, that we still haven’t gotten hold of in the last few weeks. He’ll be of no moral help. The other boys, well, morals clearly get lost on them as well.

“Anyone who bets against Maelyn is an idiot,” Quil pipes up.

Paul scoffs, then looks over to me with a small wink. “Jake beat me. He’s not to be messed with.” Paul would never admit this on any other occasion and if ever faced to do so he would definitely fight like hell not to. Pride sparks in my stomach; I can prove him wrong and he knows it.  

“You two don’t need to fight,” Emily sighs. “It won’t solve anything.”

“It’ll make him feel better,” I state while stretching. “Because clearly the truth hurt his feelings.”

“Shut the fuck up, Lyn. You’ve got a big ass mouth for such a small body,” Jake barks.

I stand up straight. “Oh, trust me. I know this big ass mouth very well. But at least I’m not trying to jump into the pants of a grieving friend for my own personal gain.”

“For the last time, I wasn’t trying to get in her pants!”

I close the distance between and stand chest to chest with him. I’m a few inches shorter than Jake. So I have to look up at him just a little bit. In another situation, this would make me laugh. I’d make a jab about my height, or the fact that Jake’s fucking 6’7’ the size of a grown ass man and yet still has no fucking hair on his chin.  But not now, all there is now is hot breath as he seethes. “Explain it to me Jake. Explain to me why it’s so goddamn important that Bella’s not with Edward.”

“I-,” I raise an eyebrow. Jake stops and rethinks his statement. “Edward’s dangerous.”

“You’re dangerous. I’m dangerous. This whole pack is fucking dangerous. He wants her blood and you lose your temper, you kill her with one swing.”

“Because of the Cullen’s, Victoria is now after Bella. If they weren’t here, she wouldn’t be in danger.”

“It’s one vampire after your dearly beloved. I’m sure the Cullen’s can protect her just as well as we can. You need something better than that, boy.”

He’s not as worked up as he was a moment ago, the jaw is no longer clenched. His nostrils aren’t flared. But his fists are still clenched a little. The shaking has subdued a bit.  “Why are you doing this? Can’t you just take my answer?”

“No, because you don’t own her. She has every right to make her decisions for herself. She came to you for help. She came to you for you to be her friend. You were there when Edward wasn’t, and you know for a fact that’s all she wanted from you. But you insisted that you should pressure her for more. Why are you angry at the truth?” Jake runs a hand over his head and then turns away from me.  

“This is boring. I wanted to see a fight,” Paul interjects.

I flick him off with a glare. He holds up his hands in surrender, mouthing a “sorry” at me. I roll my eyes, watching Jake pace a little. He finally stops, and looks up at me. “Because that isn’t the whole truth. I know she feels something for me. I want her to be with me.” He pauses and then softly adds, “I want her to be with me.”

“But you know what you did and I’m sure she knows what she’s done too. And if she doesn’t, she’ll figure it out soon enough. You sat there and manipulated her while she was vulnerable as hell and tried to sneak in. Tried to replace all the pieces of her heart that Edward had broken. And she, in her vulnerable state, sat there and allowed you too. She roped you along and played the strings of your heart.”

“No, no, I did not manipulate her. Bella’s just confused because of that bloodsucker. He’s in her head. I’m trying to help her.”

I roll my eyes. Why did I think he’d give up that easily? “You don’t get it. This relationship was never going to happen. Bella’s hung up on Edward. It’s not like he’s a saint either, manipulative and fucked up too.”

“At least we agree on something,” Jake mutters.

“You are not better than him, so we agree on nothing. Y’all two peas from the same pod. And if I could kick both of your asses I would.”

“Then why not do it?”

“Because then Bella’s whiny ass would bitch at me and I’d have to kick her ass too, with no hesitation.” Jake recoils a little. I prepare for the anger to return. Instead, his shoulder slump forward. He shells into himself. There’s the obvious downturn of hurt in his eyes.  

“Do you not like her?”

“Honest answer?”

“If you can put it nicely.”

I shake my head. “Never mind then.”

“What has she done to you?”

“To me, directly? Nothing. Hasn’t said two words to me. Indirectly? She’s created a gigantic headache. She’s made me realize my best friend’s just like all the other gross guys I’ve tried to avoid. No means no, it’s like every other thick skulled idiot.”

Jake brushes some of my hair behind my ear, mouth open to respond. I yank back from his touch. My eyes sting and Jake’s face blurs for a second behind my tears. “If Bella had stayed the fuck in Phoenix, I wouldn’t have phased and wouldn’t have be on pins and needles every three seconds. Henry wouldn’t have died. Leah and Seth and Sue wouldn’t be grieving. Forks and the rez wouldn’t be in danger.”

Tears fall down my cheeks. Jacob becomes fuzzy in my vision. “That girl is a magnet of trouble. And I wish I could be normal again. I wish I could go back. But I can’t. And if she’s going to keep causing trouble, then she sure as hell needs to step up. She had better have the balls to cut you off. And you need to have the balls to let her go. You two broken messes just keep hurting each other. And two messes, just make a bigger mess, you know?”

“Maelyn, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Oh, I know Jacob. Because you can do no wrong intentionally, right? No, Jake’s got pure intentions. No matter what it feels like.” I wipe at my face and take a deep breath.

“Lyn, c’mon. Bella-Bella’s something special to me. Please, please try to understand.”

“Oh, like I don’t get what it means to have someone special in your life.”

“Then why this out lash?”

“Because I never try to manipulate and use a person’s vulnerability for my gain!”

“Lyn, you know me, you know I’m a good person.”

“Look, no, I’m not doing this. Don’t beg to me now. Don’t guilt me. Go on with your sick love triangle bullshit. But unless you get a track on Victoria, your house is burning down, or Billy needs something, don’t come to me.”

“Lyn, please, I...” Jared, Embry and Sam come out of the trees then. Paul stands from the porch, followed by Quil. It’s our turn for patrols.

I head inside, slip off my bra and place it in the laundry room. Jacob tries to stop me as I leave the house. I turn to him, tears streaking his face. There’s nothing left for me to say to him. Yet there’s still too much to say. But what’s the point in saying it if I know for a fact that he won’t listen to me. It will go in one ear and then fall out the other. Jake is so set in his way, the way he thinks, it would be impossible to get him to change his mind through just talking to him. It’ll take him falling hard on his face for him to get the wake up call. I head behind Paul and Quil into the trees.

Jacob has always come to me for help and I’ve always helped him. I’ve always called him out on his bullshit and he does the same for me. But it’s like he can’t see what he’s doing. Or he refuses to acknowledge the vile behavior. If he refuses to accept that, then I won’t support it or him.  I pull my tank top up over my head. I get into the thick of the forest and shimmy out of my shorts. Feeling the crunch and stretch of my skin and bones as I phase.

“Do you actually believe that stuff you said? ” Quil asks.

“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t. I think both Bella and Jake were very vulnerable when the relationship was developing. And Bella, in an attempt to get over Edward, wasn’t honest with her intentions. Maybe in the beginning she couldn’t really be sure herself, but I think after awhile, you know if you are depending on someone like a friend or a crush. And she wasn’t honest. And Jake was wrong to try to use her moment of need for his own gains. They’re both messy and wrong and if he refuses to listen to the truth, then maybe he deserves the heartache he’s bound to receive.”

“That’s harsh,” Paul interjects.

“But it is kinda true,” Quil agrees.  “ Jake didn’t really choose the best time. He could’ve given Bella more time before trying to make a move. Bella, on the other hand, I guess never really knew what she wanted from him. She was using him, but I think when Jake made his moves, she didn’t respond negatively right away.”

“So you’re saying that it’s Bella’s fault?” Paul, usually all for instigation, seems appalled at the finger point.

“I’m not saying it’s all Bella’s fault. I’m saying both Bella and Jake have blame for the mess they’ve created. Instead of admitting he’s wrongdoing, and the wrongdoing done to him, Jake’s sitting in denial and what he calls love and I’m worried this will hurt him more than he really needs to be hurt. Bella chose Edward. Jake still has time to walk away, accept his loss and keep on with his life. But instead, he chooses to push himself further into this mess and it’s really only going to hurt him,” I answer.

“Besides,” I continue, “ maybe Bella thought she was starting to like Jake. But the second Edward came back into the picture, look where she went. So Bella’s mixed signals weren’t helpful. I think going all the way to Italy is pretty much a big warning sign that she didn’t want Jake like that anymore. She’s always loved Edward. She only might’ve loved Jake. He just refuses to accept the truth right in front of him.”

What about Edward? How is he just as bad as Jake?” Paul asks.

If I have to explain that one to you, then you’re blind, Paul. He’s just as unnecessarily overprotective. I know he might have his concerns, but it’s one thing to way you might not want to get with me and another to get together, drop off the face of the earth, and then just expect that person to come back to you without a hitch. And then you tell your girl she can’t see her friend. Like what kind of nonsense is that? Bella has every right to be friends with whomever she wants to be friends with. Just because we happen to be werewolves doesn’t mean anything. If she can hang around they’re supernatural asses, ours are no different. Both guys are gross and Bella, if she had sense, would get rid of both of them with the quickness.”

“But it’s like you said, Bella’s always loved Edward,” Quil points out. “If she could get him back, you know she was going to do whatever it took to do so. Maybe they do love each other, though. Like who are we to judge?”

I see Quil’s point. “I know. Maybe they do love each other, I just don’t see a very solid basis to their relationship. All I see is fascination and infatuation. I’d classify that as lust over love. But you’re right, who am I to say anything? I just don’t want to see Jake get hurt. I’ve always had his ass, but maybe this time I just need to keep out of it. Besides, I’m nothing but a dog to the Cullen’s and Bella’s hardly aware of my existence.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Paul laughs. “Bella dropped by one day while you were out. Jacob was quite sad that you weren’t around. He was going to introduce you two.”

“Huh, well, would you look at that.”

“So she’s aware, but I think after that episode it’s best if you two didn’t meet.”

“Yeah, maybe not,” I agree with a chuckle. Around dusk, Quil, Paul and I start back to give Sam an update on the whole  nothing we have. No new sightings, or trails to follow for Victoria. Quil and Paul phase back in the clearing of Emily’s house, pulling their shorts up. I hang back a little bit behind them, to keep as modest as possible. I button up my shorts and look for my tank top. But don’t find it. I know for certain I placed the shirt on top of the shorts. Unless, someone’s snatched it.

“Paul! Give me back my shirt.”

I turn around and see his arms behind his back. He smiles at me. “I actually don’t have your shirt.” He reveals his arms. Nothing in his hands. I look at the ground around him. No sign of the gray tank top.

“Is this a ploy to get another look at my tits?” I stalk over to him. “Because all you’d have to do is ask.”

“Well, it’s not like I’d have to try too hard to get a look, considering you hardly wear a bra.” His arms snake around my waist.

I tilt my head upward and press a gentle kiss to his lips. “I do wear them. But not if I know I’m gonna be phasing. No need to ruin a perfectly good bra behind any wolf business.”

Paul kisses me again, fingers lightly tracing up my sides, trailing over the side of my breasts. I wrap an arm around his waist and notice a bulge in the back of his pants. I pull from the kiss. “Fucker!” He cackles as I pull at the bulge and reveal my shirt.

“What were you gonna do when I trotted back to Emily’s topless, huh?” I throw the shirt on.

“You wouldn’t have walked into that house without a shirt on.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t? Huh? Is that what you said?”

“You wouldn’t dare.” The hard edge to his look tells me I might not be able to get away with a trick like this. But there’s some awe in that tone as well.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame,” I start, pulling the t-shirt above my head, “if I just lost my shirt?” I ball it up and give it a hard lob. It hits some low branches as it sails. Then falls somewhere on the forest floor.

“Mae, you did not just-,” Paul continues on even as I walk past him towards the house. He’s definitely going to be a little angry at this. But whatever wrath he unleashes will be worth it. Hopefully.

Paul and I have been seeing each other on the low for a couple months now. It’s not exactly a secret, but it’s not public either. I had seen him out and about on the rez and noticed him more when he took under Sam’s wing. But we never really interacted a whole lot. He was loud and smug. A little vulgar, but nothing that I couldn’t outdo on the occasion that we interacted.

Then I joined the pack about six months back, and during my training Jared let it slip that Paul had had an eye on me for a while now. With such small pack numbers and the gag order by Sam, Paul kept his distance. I confronted Paul about it a few weeks afterwards once I was well established in the group. He still fronts like he hates my guts, and I give him a run for his money. Like now.

“Mae, you’re really not.”

We clear the trees in front of Emily’s house. I notice a red truck. That was the old one Billy had. So that must be Bella. Which means Jacob is still here. Now, I wish I hadn’t thrown away my shirt. I could try to go home without the top, let alone my bra. No, the second I walked in Dad would want to talk and I wouldn’t be able to sneak to my room to pull something new on. I at least need to get a shirt from Emily. But that means interacting with Bella and Jacob. Well, this will be one hell of a meeting. Paul tugs on my arm and pulls me back into the trees, before stepping in front of me. “Do you want me to get the shirt from Em?”

“I can get one, quick,” I say walking around him.

He shields me yet again with his body and stops me in my tracks. The truck is still providing some coverage, but not a lot.  If only I were shorter, then being behind the truck would help. “Mae, we both know what’s going to happen if you walk in that room. Stay here and I can grab a shirt.”

“Can you get my bra as well?” He nods. “It’s in the laundry room. It’s pink, should still be on the hanger.”

“Bet you regret throwing that shirt now, huh?” Paul teases. I shove his shoulder.

“Hey, Lyn,” Jacob starts, there’s clear hesitation in his voice. He’s in a t-shirt and jeans on the steps. Paul whips around, still protecting my exposed top half. “Am I interrupting something?”

I look to the ground and Paul starts to answer. “There was a mishap-” While he is explaining, Bella comes to the door. She’s a bit left of Jake. Far enough off. I try to shimmy behind Paul a bit more.

“Oh my God,” Bella gasps, covering her eyes. “I’m so sorry!” she stutters out. “I didn’t, oh God.”

Jake’s forehead wrinkles together and he looks down at me. His eyes widen. “Shit, Lyn! Sorry!” He spins around, but not before slapping his hand to his eyes.

I sigh. By this point the other guys are peeking out the door and window to get a look.  “I’m so sorry, oh, jeez, I-- sorry,” Bella stutters.

Paul notices the others looking and I note the slight tremors rippling through his back. I step in a little closer to him. “Hey, Paul, it’s okay. I’m not embarrassed.”

“They’re all staring.”

I press myself into his back. “Take a deep breath, Paul.” He continues to shake. “Paul, c’mon. Deep breathing.” Still nothing. “Follow my lead.” I start inhaling and then exhale. The tremors are moving to his arms. “Paul. Listen to me. You’re going to do your breathing. Inhale three seconds, exhale five.” I reach my arm around and press my hand against his chest. I feel the inhale, his chest rising against my palm. “There you go. And out, three, four, five. Inhale, two, three.”

“Hey, guys c’mon. Give Maelyn her privacy.” Sam ushers the boys into the living room. Jacob and Bella follow hurriedly.

“One more,” I instruct. The tremors have stopped, but I can still see tension in his shoulders. “Inhale, two, three. Exhale, two, three, four, five. You okay?”

“Yeah,” he clears his throat. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks, babe.”

“Babe?” the crowd from the living room shouts.

Paul drops his head for a second before starting up the stairs. He takes the hand I had on his chest into his and intertwines our fingers. “Well, I guess everyone knows now,” I tease as we enter.

“I wasn’t thinking.”

“When are you ever?”

Emily gently takes my hand from Paul and we scurry to the laundry room. “Coast is clear,” Paul informs the others. I quickly get on my bra as Emily digs out a T-shirt. It looks like it’ll be tight. I pull it on and hear the seams snapping.

“I hope you’re not too attached to this shirt. Stretched out now.”

Emily waves me off. “It’s fine.”

 I can hear the guys giving Paul hell. “When were you going to tell us?” Quil questions the amusement dripping from his words.

“I wasn’t,” Paul answers. Neither one of us is the other’s imprint. It started out casual. But admittedly, I feel like the dynamic has changed between us, not in a bad way either.

I step out of the laundry room and catch Bella’s gaze. Her cheeks turn pink and she looks away. Part of me wants to grab her by her shoulders and shake her, tell her that both guys are no good. While it’s sour to admit, I don’t mind pointing out the flaws of Jacob. But she doesn’t know that I know all that. And there’s no need to cause another scene right now. “Bella, you do realize that it’s okay, right?”

Bella looks up at me. “Still, I’m so sorry.”

I shrug. “It’s not like I was completely naked, now that would be a story to tell,” I chuckle.

Bella gives a small smile. “I still think meeting someone for the first time when they’re topless is still one hell of a way to meet.”

“Definitely…So I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“All good I hope.”

I nod. I can feel the tightness of the smile on my face. “Of course.”

“I didn’t think girls could, uh, phase.”

“Surprise,” I tease. “I didn’t think so either. But six months ago, I got proven very wrong. It’s nothing like an argument with your dad to activate the gene.” She looks at me a little confused. “There’s a gene in us that allows us to shift. Basically, it’s dormant until a stressor activates. This redhead chick being in town caused the gene to wake up. Then the fight with my dad triggered my first phasing. And yeah, now I’m here with these idiots.”

“Apparently not all of us are idiots,” Jared teases, elbowing Paul.

“No, he’s especially an idiot,” I laugh.

“Watch it.” Paul smiles a little while he says it.

I hold up my hands, palms out. “Watching.” I turn my attention back to Bella. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Nice meeting you too.”

“Thanks for the shirt, Em!” I call over my shoulder into the kitchen.

“You’re welcome Mae!”

“See you guys tomorrow.” I make a point to not look at Jacob during the goodbye. I can still hear their conversations from outside.

“She stills seems pretty upset,” Bella remarks.

“I’ll try talking to her again. She’s just stubborn.”

I pause. Stubborn, I’m stubborn all day long. But that tone. As if I’m crazy for being upset. As if I don’t understand my position and my opinion on his situation. I spin around on my heel. If Jake thinks I’m crazy about that, he’s got another thing coming. Paul stops me before I can reach the steps. “I’ll take care of him. Go home. Your dad’s probably worried.”

“No, let me-,”

“Home, Maelyn.” He turns me around. “Your dad’s already going to be upset because you’re late. Go home.” I start back down the dirt path. “Alright, smart ass,” Paul starts. “Want to try that tone again?”

I know the guys will give Paul more hell for deciding to stick up for me. I can’t help the smile on my face, knowing he’s willing to sacrifice a moment’s dignity for me. By the time I get home. Dad’s sitting on the steps. He stands as I approach. “Aren’t you supposed to call if you’re going to be late?” He holds up my phone.

“I didn’t think I’d get held up. Jake brought Bella over after my shift and there was a fiasco before that. I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry.”

“When are you ever thinking? Oh, only about that boy Paul.”

We walk into the house and I wash my hands. “You love Paul.”

“Yeah, okay, I loved to go a couple rounds with him to show him who’s boss.”

“Okay, Dad. I’ll get him right on that. Though his temper might be a problem.”

“You know I ain’t scared of no wolf, Maelyn. I can take him.”

I rub my forehead. As if Paul is any threat to my dad’s masculinity. Dad starts throwing punches at the air, dodging imaginary swings. “You might want to slow down there, Ali before you pull something.”

“Oh, that’s cold. But at least I taught you well.”

“What’s the chicken for?” I noticed it while washing my hands at the kitchen sink.

“New recipe I found. Didn’t want to start it without you.” He points to the printed out piece of paper.

“Let’s get cooking then. Just know, this chicken’s already dead, Dad. You don’t have to fight it.” I pull down the right seasonings and the box of rice.

“I think I got that.”

A pot goes on the stove for the rice and a bigger pan on the aisle next to it for the chicken. “Now you mentioned some kind of fiasco, what’s that all about?”

“So you know how Jake’s been chasing Bella these past few months?” Dad nods, chopping the vegetables. “Well, you know how I feel about it.”

“Boy, do I.”

“Yeah, well, I tried to explain it to Jake. It didn’t go over well. He made it sound like I was crazy for calling him out.”

“You know Jake has always been a little hard-headed. Besides, there are all times when someone gave us the truth, even when we didn’t want to hear it. Either he’ll come around or he won’t and there’s not much else you can do about it.”

Finished with seasoning the chicken, I cut it up and toss it into the pan on medium heat. It sizzles loudly, with a small tuffs of smoke. “It’s just, I don’t think our friendship will be the same after this. It’s like Bella has this spell on him. There’s a world of trouble surrounding her and it’s maybe too little too late for the pack to get out of this mess. But Jake could really save himself some heartache if he just let Bella go. She clearly wants Edward.”

“You know that phrase ‘a fool in love’?”

“Yeah.”

“Let him play the fool. He’ll learn eventually. Friendships are bound to change at some point. If this proves that large of an issue and the relationship changes, then guess what, you have to let it change.”

“I really don’t want to lose him.” I stir the rice, noticing that the water is boiling. The bubbles start to blur into one. I wipe my face.

Dad nudges me out of the way and he takes over. There’s not a lot left to do. “We never want to lose people, sweetheart. It’s one of the hardest things to except. Maybe just like you don’t want to lose Jake. Jake doesn’t want to lose Bella. So he keeps head first down this path, no matter how detrimental it may be to him.”

“I feel like a hypocrite. Telling him to let her go and then blubbering about not wanting to let him go.”

“We’re human. It’s just a part of the reality.”

“I’m like eighty percent human.”

“Twenty percent a pain in my rear end, but I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

 

***

 

The next evening, as I’m clocking out of work, I notice Jake hanging out at the door of the convenient store. I still manage even with all the vampire and wolf mess, to get in enough hours at the shop to be part time and help with bills around the house. I pull the too small apron from off my neck, hang it up and say goodbye to Ben, the owner. I grab my bag from behind the desk and sling it over my shoulder.

Jacob notices me walking towards the door and opens it for me. “How was work?”

“Fine. A lot of old ladies come in and pinch my cheeks while I help them around the store. The usual.”

“Mind if I walk you home?” I blink.  Do I apologize now to avoid that awkward walk or do I let him talk? I know the right thing is to let him talk and then apologize. “Paul’s not going to know,” Jacob adds. 

“I’m not worried about Paul. And if you think I need permission from whomever I’m dating to hang out with people, you got me fifty ways twisted up.”

“Do you know he told me off yesterday? After you left.”

I shake my head no--a lie. “No, I didn’t.”

“He gets really defensive about you now.”

“Well it’s not like us dating anymore is a secret. So I guess he can get protective as he sees fit. But that still doesn’t mean he must know my whereabouts and who I’m with every second of the day. So yeah, you can walk with me. I’m headed to Sam’s and Emily’s though. Not home.”

We start out on the dirt roads. I kick a piece of gravel. It skitters ahead of us, more in Jake’s line of path. He kicks it to me. “So I know you said that I shouldn’t come to you unless my house was on fire or Billy needed something. But I was wondering if you were willing to try and talk about this again.”

“I guess I could give it another listen.” I notice a stick and kick it his way.

Jake passes it back to me. “So I know you’re not a huge fan of the way I handled Bella’s leaning on me for support. And I guess from the outside, it can read a little creepy and unhealthy. But like, Bella didn’t ever tell me to stop.”

I cringe a little. “You’re another six feet deep with that statement right there.”

“Okay, bad phrasing. But I really do like her, and care about her. So when she came to me, I thought, I thought it was my time to prove myself to her. Then I phased and had to push her away, which really hurt. I didn’t want to but you know about the gag order. I don’t know, it’s just gotten really complicated really fast. And I’m at a point where I don’t want to lose her.”

“I understand not wanting to lose someone. I guess, for me, I wasn’t looking at it from the inside. And while I understand your perspective, I still think it’s not healthy. Like you could still have her as a friend, but this love you keep trying to chase down, I don’t think actually ever existed in the first place.”

Jake kicks the stick further down the road, way out that it rolls into the trees. “Don’t remind me.”

So he clearly understands that Bella’s not going to go after him. “So,” the question lingers, but I can’t find the right words for them.

“Why would I continue to chase a fruitless love? I wish I could tell you. Maybe it’s greed and selfishness, maybe I’m just an idiot. But all points wind up here, where my best friend is trying to tell me I’m wrong, when I really don’t want to hear it and I’m still chasing a fruitless love.”

“I’m not your best friend for no reason.”

“An unfortunate truth I live with.”

“Well, fuck you too then,” I chuckle. “So you’re still going to chase huh?” Jacob doesn’t respond. That’s a yes. “Well, I’m just going to say this now, I told you so.” We reach Sam and Emily’s place. “But know when I said that only reach out to me unless you had news about the vamp, your house or Billy.” Jake nods. “I still mean that. But if you show up at my job, I guess I’ll have no choice but to talk to you.”

“So you don’t completely hate me?”

“Only a little.” I head inside the house. “Em, I got your shirt. Fresh and clean.” I put in the laundry room on top of the washing machine, noticing the living room and kitchen empty. Someone climbs down the stairs.

“Thanks, Mae,” Emily calls out.

I step out of the laundry room. “You’re welcome.”

***** 

A few weeks go by and Bella lays down the law about her position to Edward. Jake retreats and wails in despair. He rants on why Bella chose Edward. Was he not good enough? As if a punch to the face wasn’t answer enough to back off, to just let Bella go, clearly the intentions that were never there can’t be forced. But obviously there is a way for him to make that change. Or at least make her aware of it, so says his rants and vents. There isn’t. I know that. This entire house knows that. Jake refuses to acknowledge that. I shake my head. I take out a tin of muffins and watch him pace. He looks over to me. I raise an eyebrow. “Hot and ready,” I tell him.

“Muffins aren’t going to solve my dilemma, Maelyn.”

“But it’ll solve that empty stomach.” I pop one out of tin. Slide it towards him on the counter on a napkin. Jake with a roll of his eyes, walks over and picks up the muffin. He pauses, reading what’s written on the napkin. Told you so.

“Thanks,” he huffs, throwing the napkin at me.

“Since you’re venting to the room.” I throw my hands up.

Jake sets the muffin down, with a sigh. “You’re wrong. Bella does feel something for me.”

“Friendship?”

“Lyn! Seriously.”

I go back to popping muffins out of the tin. “I am being serious. But fine. Fine.” I set the muffins on a plate and then place the plate on the table. Sam and Emily headed into town for some time to themselves. So it’s just us for now. “Drive yourself crazy. See if I care.”

“What do you think I’m doing to myself right now?”

Paul walks into the kitchen then. He grabs a muffin from the plate, one hand slipping into the back pocket of my jeans. It’s a protective move. “Paul, I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Take the muffins to the rest of them, please.”

“Mae,” the rest of the thought doesn’t get finished when he notices the stern look. “Okay. We got muffins, guys.”

“I hate the fact that you’re right and stubborn and I’m a fool and stubborn,” Jake says.

I sit down at the table, facing the back of Jake. “That’s us. But look, keep being stubborn. I’ll make you a great pie to eat your feelings later.”

“Fuck you, Lyn,” Jake replies with a mouthful of muffin. “Fuck, these muffins are good. Fuck you and fuck me and fuck, I need another muffin. Fuck everything,” he grumbles, polishing off the one muffin. “Fuck you, Maelyn,”

“The only one allowed to do that is Paul,” I return.

“Hell yeah, I am!” Paul comes into the kitchen, pushes my chair back and kisses me. It’s a quick loud smack. A kiss for show. “Speaking of which, you’re still coming over tonight, right?”

I hook my arm around his neck, as he presses his face into my neck. “Yes. Calm down there, tiger.”

“Wolf you mean,” he chuckles.

“Both,” we call out together and then laugh.

“Know what?” Jake calls out, walking into the living room.

Paul growls lowly, cutting off whatever the rest of that thought is. “You sure I can’t shut him up? Because I really would love to.”

“Ten bucks says you’ll wind up with another scar. So no.” I stand up and direct for him to the seat. I straddle his lap and sit, brushing my nose over his. Paul chuckles, arms winding around my waist.

 “Ten bucks says I put a scar on Jacob.”

“Twenty says Maelyn kicks his ass before you do,” Embry chuckles, walking past the table, to the trash can. “And then yours.”

“Smart man, Embry.” I give him a fist bump as he walks back into the living room.

 “Want to order take out for dinner tonight?” Paul asks. 

 “Sure. But I get to pick the place tonight.”

“Alright. But if you pick pizza again, you’re the one dealing with the stinky covers.” The entire house shakes with laughter. I pat Paul’s stomach. The cheese doesn’t go well with him, for whatever reason.

“I’ll be sure not to order pizza this time.”

 “Maelyn!” I hop from Paul’s lap and head towards Leah’s voice. She’s still a few feet from the house. She stops running once she sees me. “Do you have a minute?”

The whole Sam-Leah-Emily thing hasn’t gotten any easier and I know for a fact, if Leah came here because of an issue, she knows Sam’s not here. Which means she must’ve run into Sam at some point. She said she was going to just take a self care day at home. We even had sat down and planned out what she was going to do. I bet she didn’t listen. Not having an imprint is one thing, to know the man you love loves someone else and you can’t escape him is torture.

“Here we go again,” Quil mutters. “Sam hurt me, how am I supposed to go on?” he mocks.

“Woods?” I ask. She nods, her lower lip wobbles a little. I hop inside the house, unhooking the clasps to my bra. Paul reaches out for it and instead I lob it at Quil. He panics, swatting and slides off the couch. The boys chuckle a little. “Next time, it’s not the bra. It’s my fist. Watch your mouth.”

“You’re not really-,” I hop over the coffee table and haul him up by the collar of his shirt. His cough cuts off the end of his sentence.

“Be an asshole. But not to Leah. Or so help me God, you’re dead meat. You want to deal with the shit she does? No. You want to take the shit she gets from you guys? Probably not. But if you’re going to dish out, you better be able to handle it.”

Quil nods. “Sorry,” he squeaks. I drop him, watching as he takes a deep gulp of hair. “I just-”

“Save it.”

“Is this some sort of girls protecting girls thing?”

“Yes and the fact that I know love really fucking hurts.” Quil looks at me, eyes searching my face. “There are things that I can hide even with the wolf telepathy. Call it a superpower.”  I walk around the table, avoiding the clear gaze on me. Paul tries to catch me but I dodge his reach. Not having closure hurts worse than I ever anticipated, but knowing the truth is the thing that worst kind of ache. Knowing that the closure I once had was a farce. Knowing that no matter what I had done or didn’t do couldn’t change the outcome of anything in the slightest. 

Leah’s waiting, in her wolf form, at the edge of the trees. I strip my shirt, and pants and then phase.

“Thanks, Maelyn.”

“No problem, Leah. Besides, you were supposed to stay home today. Face masks, your favorite movies. What happened to the plan?”

“Mom came back early, needed help with the fish fry. I went to the store to get her things, ran into Sam. It was fine, we were cordial. And then Emily popped up. And I want to hate her so badly, but I can’t. It’s not her fault, it’s no one’s fault and I wish I had someone to blame. I can’t hate Sam. Emily’s precious. Everyone thinks I’m pathetic and it’s not the most ideal situation right now.”

“You’re talking to me, Leah. I get it. I’m sorry this is happening though.”

“Can we go to the waterfall?”

“Definitely.” We run over fallen logs and mossy grounds. The greens have brighter hues in wolf form. My ears perk when I begin to catch the faintest sound of the water. We make a sharp right, up and up until we’re on the opposite side and can clearly see the water cascading down the rocks, splashing into the bank below. I lay down first, legs curled underneath me and Leah lays diagonal to me, head resting on my side.

“I need serious space and phasing hasn’t help me a single bit.”

“Does it help that Sam tries to be sympathetic and put us on the same shifts now?”

“Yes and no. Yes because I’m not interacting with him constantly. No, because, it keeps picking at an open sore.”

“His sympathy makes you want him more?”

“No, not exactly. His actions make it harder for me to disconnect. Like, I have this crazy notion that somewhere he still loves me like he did before the imprinting.  But it’s clear that it’s not true. But his kindness makes me almost believe.”

“Tell him to treat you like shit.”

Leah laughs, the sound comes out like a bark. “That’ll help me. Most definitely. It would more than likely stop my what if thinking.”

“Like what if Sam didn’t really imprint on Emily? What if it’s all a lie? That sort of thing.”

“Yeah. It’s clearly not a lie. But he still treats me nice enough, my brain keeps feeding the imagination.” There’s a few moments of silence, just watching the water fall and fall and fall. Over and over again, a mind numbing cycle.

“I should probably tell him to stop tip toeing around me. That it’s not really helping and he needs to treat me like a pack-mate, not a piece of glass.”

“Worth a shot.”

Leah nudges me with her snout. “Do you realize I can see those thoughts? Had an argument with your Dad again, I see.”

“We were doing so well. I’m nineteen and he treats me like I’m twelve. Like I’m still that scared little girl at the funeral.”

“I mean, you will always still be his little girl.”

“As if I don’t get that. Though, I don’t know what scares him the most. Is he scared that I’m going to die out in this supernatural world or is he scared that I’m going to be the reason someone’s taken out of it? Like Mom.”

“Your mom died of a vampire attack?”

“Officially, no, they claimed a mugging that went south. Unofficially, yes.”

“But where was she? They’re not allowed on our lands.”

“Business trip. I don’t remember where she was. Once I phased Billy and the elders told me what really happened.”

“So you had to basically reprocess everything that happened?”

“Oh, ain’t life fun.” Both us bark out laughs.

“So what are you gonna do about your dad?”

“At this point, moving out’s a terrible option. But I’d really like to. He’s talked to Billy and the elders. He understands what I am. I just don’t think he’s over Mom’s death. And maybe never will be, but I refuse to be brunt of his anger.”

We sit until the sun starts to dip behind the horizon. Not quite sun set, but it’s getting there and we head back. Leah veers off and heads back home and I head back to Sam’s. I phase, get dressed and notice the house is not full. Well not from what I can see from the living room. I get inside to see Paul, sitting at the kitchen table. My bag next to him.

Sam’s in the living room. “Hey, Sam.”

“Heard you went out with Leah?” The questioning tone asks the question he doesn’t.

“I did. But if you want more, I’d talk to her directly. I don’t want to become the middle man.”

“That’s understandable. Thank you.”

I nod. Paul moves to my side and I reach to take my bag, but he puts it on his shoulder. We give our polite goodbyes and start out for Paul’s place. His dad must be gone for the weekend, if he invited me over.

“How’d your chat with Leah go?” Paul asks.

“Fairly well.” I take Paul’s hand and bring his arm around my shoulders. I don’t offer more and Paul knows not to push it. The rest of the walk is done in a comfortable silence. Our hips gently bump into each other.

“Thirsty?” Paul asks, after placing my bag in his room. I place the glass in the sink. He chuckles. “Guess you took care of that already.”

I crook a finger, beckoning him to me. Paul leans against the couch, arms folded across his chest. I rest against the kitchen sink. “That’s rude, you know.”

“You’re angry and need a release, don’t you?”

Damn it. He knows me a little too well. “If I answer truthfully, what does it get me?” 

One option is that he could take control, which would make me angry for a second, but I know in the long run it would be fine. But he could give control. Control is what I want, but I don’t necessarily want him to give it to me. Paul thinks for a second, making a show to tap his finger to his chin.  I push from the counter and disrobe, leaving only my underwear on.

“Oh that’s not fair,” Paul groans.

“Walk that cute little ass to me then.”

Paul walks over, and winds his arms around my waist. Fingers kneading hard into my skin. I pop the button on his shorts, while kissing him. Paul slides his hands down to my butt and then roughly pulls my pelvis into his. I pull back gently and kiss down his neck, dragging my tongue against his pulse which quickens as I continue to work at his skin. He bruises easily, though he’d never admit to that. I suck and nip leaving a trail of hickeys.

Paul growls, hands frantically gripping at me. I pause at Paul’s ear, lightly nibbling at the lobe. “You’re so evil,” he huffs, shoving me into the counter.

His fingers play at the band of my underwear, before they slip into the front of them. His fingers play in my dampness, just barely dipping into my lips. I gasp, letting go of his ear. I push down on his shorts, getting them down to his knees. Paul keeps teasing me with his fingers and moves his head to kiss at my neck. I rack my nails over the thick muscles of his back. His tongue glides over the skin of my throat and I shudder, tightening my hold on him.

“You’re not playing fair,” I sigh. His fingers press down on my clit in response. “Two can play this game.”

I start pushing at his shoulders. He presses down harder. A moan pauses my efforts to push Paul away. But I fight against the urge to cave in. I slide my hand between us, down into his underwear and grasp him. He shudders and I take the moment to push hard. He stumbles backwards a little but catches himself. With a hard yank, I pull the shorts all the way down and he steps out of them. Once out of the shorts, I press him into the wall. Hard, I know when he hisses a little. I rack my nails down his chest.

“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you.” I press kisses across the smooth area of pecs.

“You’ve done worse,” he breathes out. I kiss down his stomach, occasionally licking at the skin. His fingers dig into my shoulders. I continue down lower, gripping the band of his underwear. “Shit, Mae. I love seeing you like this.”

I grin up at him from my kneeling position. “Oh I bet you do. Fuels your wildest dreams, doesn’t it?”

***

A knock rings out from the front door and I push up from Paul’s warm embrace, ducking into the hallway. “Where are my underwear?” he asks.

“Kitchen!” I duck into Paul’s room, grabbing a shirt from his drawers. I come back up front to see Paul setting the food down on the coffee table. I settle on the floor in front of the table, sitting cross-legged.

“Who said you could put clothes back on?” Paul asks. Not an ounce of teasing to his tone.

“I mean you put something on.”

“Because I had to answer the door. Take the shirt off.”

“I’m gonna make a mess.”

“Well, good thing skin is easier to clean than cotton.” He winks at me. “Shirt off.”

“Take the boxers off then,” I smirk.

“You got control of the first and second round. Not this time, missy.” Paul walks over, pulling the shirt over my head.

“Fine.” I go to move towards the bag, but not without popping the band on the underwear. A tease, I could tug them off. But I won’t. Paul grins just a little at me. Like he expected nothing less of me.

I dig through the bags, trying to find my teriyaki wing platter. Paul sits down next to me and I slide his food towards him.

“Hey, Mae?”

“Hmm?” There’s squeezing at my thigh. I turn my head towards him.

“I know that neither one of us knows what the future holds, but if you’re in it, I definitely have zero complaints.”

“Except for everything else you complain about me,” I chuckle. Paul stares at me for a moment longer. There is a dreamlike state, but that doesn’t stop him from rolling his eyes. My heart flutters in my chest. Paul’s sentimental, but chooses actions rather than words.

He rustles around with the bags.  “I only complain because you point out the shit I know about myself and don’t want to admit. You’re good for me.”

I sit staring at my food. I’m good for him. God. I can feel tears and quickly wipe my eyes. He’s good for me too. Knows when I need to reeled in and when I need to be let go. He’s there for me when I need it, but definitely a teaser and instigator only because he knows I can dish it right back. I love him. I know I do. But I never admitted it because things could change. I didn’t think I was in a position to be that vulnerable. But hearing Paul say that, something snaps. I’m not scared, instead quite excited. I sniffle again, risking a glance over to him. I can feel the smile crossing my face.

“Paul?”

“Yeah?” he asks, through a mouthful of wing. His eyes widen and he sets his plate down. “Why are you crying, Mae? Is something wrong?”

I wait for him to clean his fingers and face before I sit in his lap. I kiss him gently, cupping his face with my palms. I trace his chin with my fingertips. “Why are you crying, Maelyn? Talk to me baby,” Paul pries again in a whisper.

“They’re happy tears, I promise.” I give him another kiss. “I know things are subject to change, but right now I’m really happy with you.”

“Good, that’s good to hear.” He presses a kiss to my cheek. “Now, eat. You need energy for later,” Paul winks.

I laugh, with a roll of my eyes and steal a wing from him. “Yes, sir.”

*****

Paul pulls me roughly up from the edge of the bed, my back rests on the wet skin of his chest. He bites at my shoulders, keeping a steady rhythm in his hips. “Fuck,” I sigh, trying to find something to keep my balance with.

“Like that?” Paul whispers in my ear. I moan a yes and he guides me back down, fingers trailing over my spine. A shiver runs through me. He continues to run his fingers up my sides, and back down, before griping tightly at my hips. I gently bring my hips forward and then back, testing the waters for his reaction. He says nothing, so I continue rocking on him. Paul slows on his speed, and I pick my speed.

I flip my hair over and look back at him. He smiles at me. “Am I your good girl yet?”

“Oh, you’re always my good girl,” Paul sighs, a moan cutting off the end of his thought. 

I reach around and guide his hand from my hips and ass down to the front of me, directly over my clit. The warmth that had plateaued starts to rise again and the moan falls off my lips. “Just like that. Fuck, keep it up, please.” 

Paul continues as instructed and I continue rocking on him. I can hear the changes in his breathing as I work. My toes curl and I know I’m being worked closer and closer to the edge. I begin to whimper feeling the orgasm pulling at my muscles. Occasionally, Paul thrusts into me and I can tell it’s involuntary.

“Maelyn,” he groans. His voice is tight. He’s close. “God, fuck.”

His free hand holds my skin like a vice and he slams into me, once, twice, and I hear the grunts. But his fingers don’t slow on my clit and he continues to thrust as much as he can. A whimper builds in my throat and I bury my face into the sheets. My orgasm crashes over me and I groan out a scream into the mattress. Slowly, I begin to feel my muscles relax. Paul gently pulls himself out, disposing of the condom. I sag to the floor, resting against the dresser. Fatigue rushes in and now I can feel spasms in my lower back.

I’m collected into Paul’s arms and he gently takes me to the bathroom. “Ugh, that’s right. I gotta pee.”

“I’ll carry you to bed. But yeah, pee first.” I take care of business in the bathroom and when I open the door, Paul is waiting. He extends his arms out. I embrace him and  wrap my legs around him. His laughter rumbles in his chest.

“I’m proud of you though. You did well on that last one.”

“Why, thank you.” My foot hits the edge of the bed and he releases me. I freely fall onto the bed with a bounce and crawl to lay the right way. “Though I will admit I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.”

“Four rounds will do that to you.”

“You’d think I’d learn that by now, but, look where we are.” I’m not even sure if the last of that sentence was audible due to the pillow swallowing my face.

*****

 

Sweet, almost too sweet. Their scent hits me before I can see them. Bella is here too; I notice her scent as well.

“Hey, Maelyn, you wanna explain the limp?” Quil teases as we run.

“I’d be tempted to show you, but I’m not sure you’d be able to keep up.” The rest of the pack laughs.

“I’m sure I could.”

“Proof’s in the pudding, baby.”

That shuts him up and everyone else gets a great belly laugh from it. We break into the clearing, Sam and Jacob in front. Quil, Paul and Jared next. Seth, Leah and I fill in behind them. My nose burns a little. I glance over their faces, making sure I ingrain them into my brain. Clearly size is not always an indicator of strength, but Emmett looks like one to have. However, he’s hovering towards the back, so clearly he’s not in charge here for newborn training. Jasper’s lingering behind Carlisle, so he must be the one.

“They don’t trust us enough to come in their human forms,” Edward informs the rest of the Cullens.

“That doesn’t matter. They’re here,” Carlisle returns.

Paul growls lowly, clearly on edge. He risks a glance backwards to me. I simply nod and then turn my attention back to the vampires. We watch them fight, taking notes. Jake makes googly eyes with Bella and the rest of the pack tries their best to ignore it. However, I don’t miss the way Bella keeps her sight trained on Edward. Jake is not going to like that. But how he responds will speak volume. After a couple hours, they finish. Sam calls for us to leave and we start climbing back into the trees. I go to follow formation back to Sam’s where I assume he’s leading us. But Paul steps aside and then motions for me follow suit.

I pause for a moment and notice that Sam doesn’t call us back. Paul and I run off to the west away from the pack, but make sure that we still stay on our lands. We listen to the pack, waiting for them to phase and therefore hopefully be alone. We reach a part of the woods that are clear, just a round path in the middle of the trees that’s just grass. He lays down first and I curl into him. Paul rubs his snout over the top of my head. Why are we out here? I ask.

“There was something bothering you last night and I know it wasn’t just Quil’s dumbass comment. Do you want to talk about it?”

It’s just with my dad again. I can’t tell if he’s upset about me phasing, or sad and frustrated over Mom’s death. But either way I’m getting the brunt of it and I don’t like it. I just want to leave.” I rest my head on my paws, exhausted still a little from last night, but mainly from how tense it is at home. We do well for a while and then something happens, I’m not even sure what, and it gets bad again.

Okay, but did you two talk?”

“Considering there was an argument, yes, there was a talk.”

“No, I mean talk, not yelling.”

“I tried to talk to him, but he started raising  his voice and I felt like I wasn’t being heard. So unfortunately, I raised my voice as well.”

“Maybe try talking to him again. This time if he starts yelling, don’t yell back, okay. Think you can do that?”

I turn my head and bury my face into Paul’s paws. “It always ends up in arguing. I can’t keep doing this.”

Paul rests his head against mine. “I’m sorry it’s such a struggle. If it gets too bad, you know you can always stay with me. I’m sure your dad will come around. He just needs his own time to grieve.”

“I don’t just mean the fighting with my dad. I mean, the whole wolf business. My life was headed places, but now I’m stuck in La Push, forever on the rez. Mom always told me to keep moving, put one foot in front of the other. But let’s face it, I’m never leaving here. I’m tied to the pack and that’s not a responsibility you can just walk away from.”

“While true that the pack is a large responsibility, it doesn’t mean it has to completely hinder your life. You can still live your life, Maelyn. You do realize it’s your life, and no one else.” I raise my head to look at him. “ You’re too hard on yourself sometimes. Have you ever considered the fact that the only one holding you back is you? Have you ever considered that you are not solely your responsibilities?”

I can feel myself blink. Am I the one holding me back? A rumble sounds a little far off. The air is getting a little colder too. A storm is rolling through. “ C’mon, let’s head out and grab our clothes,” Paul suggests, standing. I follow suit and we bound east back towards the path we took to get out here.        

“When did you get so insightful? ” I tease.

“I’m hot headed, yes. But I never said empty headed.” We gallop over the forest floor. The storm is rolling in, rumbling continues to chase us as we run. We grab our clothes into our mouths and keep running still in wolf form. Phasing back and changing would take too long and the way this storm is moving, we’d definitely be drenched. I’m a little faster than Paul and teasingly slow down once I’ve surpassed him.

“Just keep going and stop being an ass,” Paul huffs. We reach his house and he phases back, getting dressed as he walks up to the house. I hang back and pull my clothes on, just in case he’s dad come back soon. The rain starts to fall and I run up the stairs, but stop at the slightly ajar door, seeing Paul trying to navigate around his drunk father.

“When you gonna get a new girl? Huh, Paul?” The words are slurred, but I’ve seen him in much worse states.

“Dad, just put the drink down. You’ve clearly had enough.”

“Don’t it get boring fucking the sssame girl?” I step through the door then, ready to defend myself. But I notice a genuine curiosity resting on Mr. Lahote’s face. Paul manages to swipe the bottle out of his father’s hand and keep him upright. Mr. Lahote reeks of alcohol, which usually leaves him giddy. But his eyes are sad this time.  “Seriously son?”

“Well, when you actually love them and don’t see the woman as a prized possession to be won, no, the same woman doesn’t get boring,” Paul answers, throwing his dad’s arm over his shoulders. I slide in and uphold Mr. Lahote’s right side.

Mr. Lahote starts mumbling something. “...a good one. Got a good one,” is all that I can clearly make out. We get him into bed and I go back and grab some water for him. I fill up two glasses and hold the bottle of Advil to my side with my elbow. Back in the bedroom, Mr. Lahote is still talking, albeit half in mumbles and still slurring his speech. Paul’s putting up his shoes. I hand one glass to Mr. Lahote and place the other one down on the bedside table.

“This ain’t vodka,” Mr. Lahote grumbles. But he drinks from the glass again.

“No, fresh out. Best substitute I could find,” I answer. A particularly loud round of thunder causes the house to rattle a little. The lights flicker for a moment. He finishes the first glass, and I hand him the second.

Hands rest on my shoulders. “I got him. Thanks.”

When I look up I notice the look on Paul’s face is something I haven’t seen in a while. Usually, he’s wound up ready to go, ready to make a joke about something. But now his face seems sunken, the lines of worry taking up the majority of his face. “You know, I don’t mind,” I answer, hoping to take some of the load off him.

“You shouldn’t have to.”

I nod and move from the side of the bed. “Do you need anything else?” Paul shakes his head no. “I can fix some food for you.”

Paul shakes his head no again. Mr. Lahote’s mumbling slows down. Paul slips the second glass from his hands. I take both back again into the kitchen and put them in the sink. A few minutes later Paul walks into the living room, sitting next to me on the couch. I pull him into my chest, rubbing my palms and fingernails over his back. I start humming a little.

“I’m okay, you know?” Paul answers softly after a few minutes. But he makes no effort to pull back, or sit up. Instead he wraps his arms tighter around me, burying his face into my chest.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m here for you.” I continue humming, and eventually the lyrics slip out. I sing softly against the rumbles of thunder and the thick blanket of patter from the rain hitting the windows of the house.

Once I finish the song, Paul speaks. “You’ve always had an amazing voice. I remember the talent show sophomore year. It was the first time I had ever seen you. It was just you and your guitar and you sang “Where Is My Mind?” I think I fell in love right then and there. Your hair was long and your voice was strong and clear. My heart legit started racing, thought I’d die.”

I chuckle. “Seriously?”

“Dead serious. You’re absolutely gorgeous. I remember after that I started seeing you everywhere, school, grocery store, beach, mall, everywhere. I started asking around about you and then by the time I had worked up the nerve to talk to you, I had phased and my shot seemed ruined.”

“But now I’m here. With you.”

Paul picks his head up, unwinds an arm and ruffles my hair. I have to keep it short, which definitely made the short list of things that annoyed me about phasing. “And I am so incredibly happy about that fact.” He stretches up and gently kisses the bottom of my neck. “I also want to apologize for my dad’s behavior.”

“He didn’t say anything too out of line.”

“But still out of line.”

I run my fingers through his hair. “I accept your apology.” The silence between us stretches on for a moment as the rain continues to pitter down on the house. I start singing “Where Is My Mind?” and Paul laughs. I scratch at his scalp and continue on. Once I finish the song, Paul sits up, fingers playing at my thighs.

“You still look and sound just as amazing now as you did then.” He leans forward, tips my chin back and presses several kisses over my throat. I swear I feel a little bit of his tongue against my skin as well.

I giggle a little and push on his shoulders. “Was that tongue?” In response, Paul licks from the base of my throat up to my chin. “Definitely tongue,” I laugh. I push back on him and then kiss up and down his throat. Paul’s arm wrap around my waist and the both of us collapse into the arm of the couch. I pull back and tuck my head under his chin. We lay on the couch, listening to the sound of the rain falling.

*****

“Are you a wolf or a fox?” He teases about my bright red fur. If my nose hadn’t already gone numb to the smell of vampire, I’m sure I could smell the cockiness wafting off him. I growl at him, inching forward which causes him to my surprise to back up. Jasper’s on the rock behind him and leaps down pinning the newborn to the ground. I lunge in and chomp at his neck, severing the connection of head and body.

“I’m your worst fucking nightmare kid,” I smirk, looking at his dead body. Another vampire charges at me and I catch his lower half into my jaws. His legs break and when he collides into the cold ground, I tear at his chest and neck. The field is cleared except for one and Leah goes for him. He’s got her wrapped around from the back. Jake cuts in and after the snarls, there’s a crunch. Jake howls. I dart across the field; he’s already phased back, curled in pain. It’s bad. The boys phase back, even Leah but I hover next to him, gently edging my snout closer to his body.

Carlisle walks over, quickly assessing the situation. “All the bones on his right side are shattered. I need to set them correctly before the healing processes sets them wrong.”

“We’ll take him to Billy’s,” Sam informs. He turns to me. “Run ahead, warn him and grab Sue.”

I nod and take off into the woods. Sue’s closer, so I stand outside her house letting out a small howl. Almost immediately she comes running out the house. I can see the panic written all over her face. I don’t even phase back, instead I motion for her to climb onto my back. She hesitates for a second, but jumps on. I run down the dirt paths to Billy’s house. “Who’s hurt?”

Her voice sounds a little relieved. She knows it’s not Leah or Seth, but the worry of one us being hurt still courses through her veins. Once we arrive at Billy’s she jumps off. “Jacob’s hurt?” I nod. “But where is he? Are the others coming with him?” I give another nod and then motion to the house.

“I’ll go inside and warn Billy.” She heads inside pausing at the front door to take a deep breath and square her shoulders. She knocks and Billy lets her in, but I notice him peeking outside the door. He spots me and I catch the spike in his heart rate. The door shuts and a few minutes later, the boys are carrying Jacob on their shoulders into the house. He seems to be in significantly less pain, only because the accelerated healing is kicking in, but if they’re setting wrong, Carlisle will have to re-break and then set them correctly to heal.

They get Jacob inside and I remain outside, waiting, wishing for Carlisle to hurry. The Volturi stopping by put a wrench in the plan, but hopefully they don’t take up too much. A couple minutes later, Leah walks up to the driveway, my clothes in hand. I take them and change. “I could’ve handled him.”

“Leah, save it. We all saw what was happening,” Paul huffs.

“Jacob stepped in to help, not undermine you,” I add on.

She rolls her eyes. I know it’s a defensive tactic. She doesn’t want anyone to think she can’t handle herself. I step a little closer into Leah. She glances down at me. “It’s not your fault, Leah,” I whisper. 

Carlisle finally comes strolling up the driveway. He’s trying not to freak anyone out. “He’s inside,” Paul relays to him. Carlisle nods, stepping into the house. A few moments later, Billy and Sue exit. 

The first scream hits the night and a few birds nearby scatter off. My heart jumps a little. Leah coughs and I notice her covering her mouth, shoulders caving in. I wrap an arm around her waist, to keep her upright. She rests her head into my shoulder. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

I can hear the tears in her words. Paul stands close to Billy, eying Leah and I. Jake lets out another scream. “Let’s get out of here, huh?” I try. “Jake will understand. We should probably go grab some food, or maybe let Emily know how everything went?”

Leah straightens from over my shoulder and wipes her face. “No, no, I want to stay.”

“Okay.” I rub her back, listening to every scream that pierces the dark sky. My palms grow sweaty as the minutes pass and I’m sure Leah can feel it beneath her tank top, but doesn’t say anything. I can hear rustling. Someone’s coming up the driveway. Soon Bella breaks through the shadows. Jake screams again, making everyone jump again. Carlisle comes out of the front door. 

“He’ll be fine in a few days. I gave him some morphine. But with his high body temperature it sure to burn it off. Try to keep him as cool as possible,” Carlisle instructs Billy. He looks over to Bella. “He’s calling for you.”

“Me?” I fight the urge to roll my eyes at her dumb act. Bella rushes into the house after Carlisle nods. 

“We’ll be back by tomorrow, Billy. Let me know if you need anything,” Sam commands. Billy nods. Leah steps out from my embrace and smiles down at me. It’s a little crude, but she’s thankful. Seth walks over and they start out in the direction of their house. I can feel warmth flooding my back through my t-shirt. I look up to see Paul, arm wrapping around my waist. 

“Well at least we survived,” he sighs. 

“At least there’s that.”

“Let me walk you home?” It’s phrased like a question, but it’s not. 

“Paul, no one’s gonna hurt me.”

“Maelyn.”

“Okay.” I take his hands from my waist and we start walking. His grip tightens as we pass the light of Billy’s house.  “We’re okay, babe. We got them all already.”

“I know.” I step into his side and we walk, hips bumping, with no more talking. We reach the beginning of my driveway and Paul’s grip doesn’t slack up. 

“Would you feel more comfortable spending the night?”

“I’m-I’m fine.” The lights in the front turn on. I can see Dad’s figure walking up to the door. 

“C’mon, Paul.” I pull him further up to the front door and Dad opens the door. He doesn’t look happy, but I shake my head trying to communicate that now isn’t the time. We pass him into the living room. 

“How was it?” Dad asks. 

“Well, they’re dead and only Jacob was injured, so pretty good,” I answer, pushing Paul down the hallway. Dad gives me an eye raise, but doesn’t say anything. “Use my bathroom,” I direct to Paul. He goes with no hesitation.

“How bad was it?” Dad whispers. “I’ve never seen Paul like that.”

“Jake’s hurt pretty bad, but Carlisle fixed him up. I think Paul’s worried.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know. The Volturi showed up, head vamps of vamps. It’s bad, whatever’s happening next. But I haven’t talked to him yet.”

“Talk to him. But no funny business. I’m too young for grandkids yet.”

I roll my eyes at his last comment and turn around. The shower starts up, the water muffled by the closed door. I knock gently. “Hey!” Dad calls out, throwing his arms up. I ignore it as Paul cracks open the door. Sliding into the bathroom, I notice how hot the water is turned up, steam is starting to billow. 

Paul leans over the sink, biceps and forearms taut, veins prominent under his skin. I rub my palm over his back. “What’s wrong, Paul?”

He says nothing, arms beginning to tremble a little. 

I press my palm to his chest. “Take a deep breathe.” The trembles increase. “Baby, please,” I push him upright, so my chest is directly flush against his back. “Follow my breathing.” I inhale for three seconds and exhale for five. 

“I’m not angry,” he chokes out. I move to the front on him and see his eyes are red. 

“Oh, God. Paul.” His eyes close as I stroke his cheeks, clearing the fallen tears with my thumbs. “Talk to me, baby. Please.”

“I’m scared.”

“Of what? What are you scared of? The Volturi?” He shakes his head, a sob racking his chest. I pull him into my embrace. “It’s okay, baby.” I shush into his ear, palms smoothing over the thick muscles of his back.

The sobs continue to rock Paul. “Baby, I’m so sorry. But you’ve got to calm down. You’re gonna make yourself sick. Please baby, please.”

He starts to crumble, knees bending and hitting the cabinet doors, back bowing, shoulders turning inwards. I fall into him, gently guiding him to the wall. “Please don’t leave me,” he heaves. “Everyone leaves. Now that we’re done with them, you’re going to leave.”

Kneeling between his legs, I hold the sides of his face between my palms. “Look at me Paul. Look at me.” I force his gaze upwards by shaking his head. “I’m here, I’m right here.” Paul presses a hand to my chest. “Feel that, my heart beating?”

He nods, “Yeah.”

“As long as you feel that, I’m right here beside you.”

“Mom left.”

“I know she did.”

“If you leave me, I’ll have no one. Dad’s drunk off his ass all the time. The boys,” he sobs again, getting worked up. 

“The pack will always have your back. I am in your corner. There is always someone in your corner.”

“I-I couldn’t handle it if-if you left me-me.”

“Shh, shh,” I pull his face into my upper chest, fingers curling into his hair. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“You said it yourself you don’t wanna stay here.”

 I lean back to look him in the eye. His face is red and puffy, clear snot running down his nose. “I know what I said. But my problems with Forks and the Rez are not problems I have with you. You are not the reason I want to leave. You are the reason that I stay.” 

“But I can’t make you stay forever. I couldn’t-couldn’t make Mom stay.” His sentence is interrupted by a hiccup. 

“Your mom didn’t leave because of you. Here,” I say, handing him toilet paper. 

“But she--she didn’t stay because of--of me.”

I hug him to my chest, his sobs and trembles rocking me. “Your mom leaving is not a reflection on you, Paul.” Another round of hiccups hit him. I find the small paper cups Dad uses for his mouthwash and fill it with water handing it to Paul. He calms down and no longer actively cries. “A nice shower will make you feel better. And you better hurry before the water gets too cold.”

I stand and hold my hand out to him.“You know how much you hate when the water’s too cold. You complain about your nipples getting too hard, and your dick shriveling up- no one wants a shriveled up penis. 

Paul sniffles and looks up. “Now is not the time to be worried about my dick.”

I chuckle. “I’m actually concerned about your mental well being but I know how much pride you take in your manhood. It's a guaranteed in with you.” I wiggle my fingers at him. He stands, pulling the shirt from over this head and then slides out of the jean cutoffs. I hand him my body wash— he’ll smell like passion fruit, but he’s never complained before. I turn for the door but he catches my hand. 

“Shower with me please?” 

“Okay,” I agree, pulling my shirt over, and peel myself out of my jean shorts. We keep spare wash clothes in a small bin under the sink. I grab one and join him in the shower. 

“Thank you,” he whispers, the water pelting his back. 

“There’s no need to thank me.” I take the bottle of body wash from his hand, pouring a little onto the cloth and start by scrubbing across his chest, down over his stomach and sides. I ring out the washcloth, clearing off the suds and then scrub his back. I move to his arms and neck. Paul stops me for a second, cupping my face before planting several soft kisses to my lips. 

I kiss down his chest and squat, scrubbing his legs and thighs. He chuckles, “This is a bit of a strange experience.” 

I look up at him, rinsing off the last bit of soap from his left leg. “I just wanted to show you I’m here for you.” 

 Paul motions for me to stand and once I do, he shuffles me from the back of the shower to directly under the water. The water hits my hair and I jump closer into him. “May I?” he asks. 

I nod and he takes the soap from me grabbing the washcloth he had. My limbs feel a little heavy, as Paul starts with my arm, the suds a stark contrast to my brown skin. I suddenly realize how tired I actually am, how fatigued the muscles are. He moves gently, across my chest and stomach to my left arm. He trails over my back, and ass, and down the full length of my right leg. He rings out the cloth, swipes the soap away and then moves to the inside of my thigh. Paul continues to wash my lower half, moving into the other leg. 

“Random question,” Paul starts. I hum my acknowledgment. “Proper way to clean a vagina is how exactly?”

“Washcloth and warm water. No soap unless it’s like a special kind. But I can do that.” He holds the washcloth out of my reach. “Or not.”

I put one foot up on the edge of the tub. It’s not like this is the first time he’s been between my thighs. Finished, he turns off the water and we both step out. I grab the towel hanging from the rack and hold it fully unraveled. “I’ll dry you off,” I offer. 

Paul nods and I start with his arm, gingerly rubbing the cotton over his skin. I move around his body, over his back, left arm, chest, right leg and foot, left leg and foot- his perky ass included. When I finish, I wrap the towel around his waist, tucking the ends over each other. “I already cleaned the clothes you left the last time you stayed over. Check my second drawer, to the left of my underwear.”

Paul pulls my face upwards, kisses me gently again. There are slight tremors in his hands. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’ll grab you a towel.” With that Paul slips out of the bathroom, leaving me to finally allow the panic to settle in. I’ve never seen Paul like that, and I would prefer never to see it again. My breathing becomes a little shallow and I cover my mouth, pressing my other palm into my stomach. I know I don’t want to stay in La Push forever. Paul knows that, but how can I leave now? Is it fair for me to stay? Is it fair to Paul to leave?

The bathroom door knob creaks as it’s turned over and I take a couple deep breaths to settle my nerves. Paul holds a teal colored towel out to me. “Thanks.” I wrap it around myself, collect our dirty clothes and exit the bathroom. 

The lights in the living room are off, only the hallway lights still bright. Dad must’ve turned them off. In my room, I dump our clothes in my laundry bin. Paul hands me a pair of underwear, red and lacy. “Did you not hear my dad?”

“No, I did,” he winks at me, sliding into his underwear. 

I snort, sliding on the panties before settling on the edge of my desk, pumping lotion into my palms. I start at my legs, lather some onto my arms and drop the towel to cover my chest, stomach and back. Paul watches me from my bed, already laying on his side with my miniature teddy bear I’ve had since I was a baby loosely held to his massive chest. “Snickerdoodles is an A + cuddler,” I offer, walking over to the bed. 

His fingers brush over my thigh, gaze fixated on my skin and body. “You’re a better cuddle partner.” 

“I’m too tired for sex. And there’s my dad across the hall.”

Paul shakes his head, finally looking me in the eye. His gaze isn’t heated- I was wrong. “I know. I wasn’t trying to suggest that.”

I run my fingers through his hair. My gut tenses; I’m going to say something I might regret. “I love you.” It hangs in the air, frozen for a second. But then it hits Paul what I’ve said and his eyes widen as he sits up. My hand falls to his chest. 

“What?”

“I said I love you. But I know I’m going to hurt you. People always end up hurting the ones they love. I know I can’t be there all the time. But just because I may not always physically be right there with you don’t think I’ve abandoned you. I will always be there for you.” 

Paul’s heart is racing beneath his chest. His mouth is slightly agape. I continue on. “Your mom left and that’s horrible; your dad’s chasing bottles to hide his pain. But you will always have the pack. They will love you no matter what, Emily will care for you. Billy, Sue- you have so many people here for you. You just have to let them in. And it’s hard for you, I know. It will always be hard to unlearn your defensive mechanisms. It takes a village to raise a child, as an old balding and gray haired man once told me.”

Paul chuckles at the joke about my dad. “Don’t forget the village that surrounds you. Sam was there from the beginning. He took so much time with you, he still treats you like a brother. There will be people who leave and people who keep pushing you back up. Remember those that held you up, not those that left.” 

He takes my hand from his chest, bringing it to his mouth. He presses a kiss over each of my fingers. “I’ll try to-I’ll remember them.”

I nod, pulling my hand gently from his hold. Paul knows I’m still going to leave. It’s not good for me here. But we both know I can’t leave just yet. The danger isn’t gone and I can’t escape my responsibilities to the pack. I may never fully escape this place forever but I can still have moments of my life away from here. We both know the second I can seize them I will. I will come back, but I will not stay rooted. 

Paul pulls me into him, my knees buckle, hitting the mattress and I fall into his chest. “I love you Maelyn, you know that right? I know you’ll leave. I know you’ll hurt me; I know I’ll hurt you. But for right now, for as long as you’re with me and probably even long after you leave, I love you.” 

I nod, tears collecting on my lower lids. “I know, Paul.” My lower lip wobbles and I know I can’t stop it- the tears are beyond my control. I sniffle hard, pulling snot from leaving my nostrils. My chest constricts, a wretched sob escapes my throat, feeling like a punch to my gut. All the air leaves my chest and I heave once, twice, three times. I rest my forehead to his sternum, shoulders trembling, a stream of tears and snot falling from my face. 

Paul wraps his arms around me with a tight hold. “It’s okay, baby.” He sniffles; he’s crying too. Paul rubs my back, quietly shushing me. Another sob shakes my core. “Deep breaths, sweetheart.” 

I press my lips into Paul’s chest to muffle the wails scratching over my throat. His warmth heats up my core and slowly the trembles stop. “I got you. You’re okay,” he whispers to me, pressing kisses to the side of my head. My tears still fall, but no more sobs escape me. “I got you,” he rocks me, back and forth and the motion surprisingly soothes me. I sniffle, wiping underneath my eyes.

 “I’m sorry,” I croak out. 

“Don’t apologize, Maelyn. It’s okay. Besides, I hadn’t realized such a simple sentence would turn you into such a girl. Who even are you?”

I chuckle a little, shoving his shoulder a bit. “Such a misogynistic thing to say, you pig. How dare a feminist such as me wind up dating the likes of you.”

Paul shakes with a bit of laughter, fingers running through my hair. “It’s okay. Most women are weak to my bad boy attitude. Don’t beat yourself up over it- you couldn’t help it.” 

“It’s not like I don’t give you a run for your money. Most men love a chase, a little play hard to get.”

“That is so unfeminist of you. This is not the Maelyn I know.”

“I’m a complex creature. Don’t think so little of me.”

Fingers still buried in the waves of my hair, Paul smiles. His face is still a little puffy from crying- I’m sure I look worse, my face feels tight. “I would never.” 

*****

“Jake, you asshole,” I growl, chasing down the soccer ball. He tried to get it pass Seth, fake passed to me, fake passed to Jared, and then when he finally kicked it to me, he kicked it too hard and Sam managed to get it before me. I managed to change my direction, and get it back, for a hot second before Sam toed it out of bounds. 

“Sorry!” he calls out. I catch it before it spills into the ocean. 

“C’mon, throw it in,” Seth shouts. We’re up by one and he’s eager to pull out a win from Sam, Paul, and Embry. I run back to the coned off boundary, toss the ball far to Jared and then get back to defending Sam. Seth is on Embry, Jake on Paul. I tried to defend Paul in the first half, but he takes no prisoners with soccer and I nearly got a face full of sand three times. He’s competitive, and I’d rather not die behind a game. 

Jared’s trying to get around Embry, but with little success. Seth comes around the back, taking the ball from Jared’s position and continues around. I run to come around the side. Sam hot on my heels. The ball comes my way, I dribble it a few feet and then try for a goal. Quil sails for it, and misses. “GOAL!” Seth cheers. 

“TIME!” Emily shouts. 

“FUCK,” Paul roars. I run over to Seth, giving him a high five. Jake and I nod at each other. Our friendship is different after he ran off angry about the news of Bella and Edward’s wedding. I think him running off was a way to come to peace with the truth and  I try to be there for him, listen when he needs to vent when he happens to be around. But Jake’s not the same, not to say that he’s completely change, but he smiles less, a bit quicker to anger. For the most part, he’s still Jake, but at the same time, he’s not. The time alone in the woods I think is partly the reason for it. 

“You’re still an asshole for kicking it too hard,” I tease. 

Jake cracks half a smile. “We still managed to keep the ball.”

“No thanks to you.” 

“Who scored the first goal?” I roll my eyes, it was him. But I’ll never admit it. 

Paul walks over, visibly upset. “Good game, guys,” he shakes hands with everyone. I’m last one and I extend out my hand. Instead of shaking, he pulls me into his chest, kneeling and throwing me over his shoulder. 

“Goddamn it, Paul. Put me down,” I squeal, softly hitting his back. 

“Never!” His free hand attacks my sides and I start laughing. “I’m a sore loser, and you get the consequences.”

“This is not fair!” My sides are starting to hurt from my laughing. “Oh, God, I’m gonna piss myself. Stop-please!”

Paul sets me down, kissing the top of my head. I finger the tiger quartz necklace- a random present I gave him. I saw it while shopping a few weeks back for my dad’s birthday present. Paul never goes a day without wearing it. “You played well.”

I push back from his chest. “I swear, if you say for a girl, I’m kicking your ass,” I laugh. 

He puts his hands up. “I wasn’t going to say it. But now that you’ve mentioned it-”

“Three,” I start counting as a warning. “Two.” Paul takes off down the beach and I start out after him. He pulls out pretty fast, but I know he’ll get tired fast. He gets down to the end of the beach, right on the edge of the trees and I tackle him. We fall into the sand, me atop him. 

“I didn’t actually say it,” he huffs, chest heaving from the run. 

“But you thought it!”

“Only after you said it!”

“It was a classic Paul line.”

He shrugs. “Admittedly, yes. But it never left my mouth.”

I lean down, capturing his lips with mine. “But you still thought it.” I kiss him again. “And I hate that I know you so well because of shit like this.”

“You know you love it,” he teases, fingers kneading into my thighs. “Let’s head back. I want some hot dogs.”

I laugh, standing and then help him up. We walk back to our group. Paul heads for the grill. “Grab me two!” I call out to him. 

“You really mean three,” he signals to the agreement to get me food by throwing a couple fingers up into the air. I sit on one of the blankets, watching the waves crash against the shoreline. A plate is set in front of me, three hot dogs with more ketchup than mustard- the way I like it. 

“Thanks, babe.” He settles in behind me and we eat in silence for a moment. 

“Still on for dinner tonight? I’ll actually follow the recipe this time.” The last time Paul tried to cook, he thought he didn’t need to follow the instructions. It turned out like a salt bath instead of stew. I nod, my mouth currently full of bun and meat. 

“There still better be some left for me.” I turn around to see Rachel- Jake’s older sister. I swallow my bite and run up to her. She wraps me into a hug. We were close when I was young, but since she left for college, and my fallout with Jake, I’ve lost the majority of contact with her. 

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I gush, hauling her up. I remember being so much shorter than her for the longest and now I clear the top of her head by a good six or so inches.

She laughs. “When did you get so strong? You’re as big as Jake now.” I finally set her down, but my smile doesn’t leave my face. “You phase too?”

“Yeah, a little over a year ago. But you’re back!”

Rachel laughs again. “Yeah, I decided to visit for a few days. The short hair looks good on you, Mae. You’ve grown into a vibrant young lady.”

“Oh God, I’m what? Two years younger, give me a break.”

“Only teasing.” 

“Hey, Rachel.” Paul speaks from behind me. I look over and my heart drops. His eyes are sad, his head tucked down a little. What happened? I look from Paul and see Emily, hand clutching at Sam. She looks mortified. Sam holds her close, watching me, Rachel, and Paul. I look over to Jake, he’s pissed, but trying to cover it up. No--no he couldn’t have. Just like that. In a fucking blink of an eye. It’s not possible. It couldn’t have happened.  

“Hi, Paul. I’m gonna grab some food. But we can catch up later, Maelyn,” Rachel touches my elbow.  

“Yeah, of course,” I nod, not quite fully landing my gaze on her before turning it back to Pau. Paul takes me by the hand, thumb ghosting over my thumb joint. Should I even ask? Would that make me feel better or just utterly destroy everything we’d planned and built for and with each other? 

“Did you?” I ask once Rachel is far enough away. 

His gaze doesn’t lift from the ground, but he nods. 

“Say it,” my voice croaks, vision blurring. “Just say it Paul.”

“Maelyn, please don’t make me do that.”

“Paul, please- did you imprint on Rachel?”

“I love you. I can’t hurt you like that.”

“Paul.” My voice is hard, I just need him to say it. Why else wouldn't he look at me? Why else would he want to avoid the conversation?

He sighs, tears filling up his eyes. “Yes, yes I imprinted on Rachel.” I pull my hand away, his touch now stinging my skin. My breath leaves me and it feels like someone just punched me in my chest. “Maelyn, please, don’t do that.” He reaches for my hand again and I take a small step backwards. “Mae, please, you know I love you.”

“Loved, you loved me.”

“No, no, it’s not like that. You know I love you, Mae.”

“It’s exactly like that Paul. Sam, Jared-- it’s exactly like that.”

“Maelyn, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. You-you didn’t mean for this to happen.” My stomach lurches when his hand touches me. I wrap my arms around my midsection. “I think I’m going to go home.”

“Mae,” his voice cracks. 

“I just—can I be alone? Please?” 

“Can we still have dinner?”

“I’ll think about it.” Arms still wrapped around my stomach, I start up the beach towards my car. 

Paul starts after me. “What do I tell them?” 

“I-I have to go. I can’t do this here. I just--I have to go,” I state and turn away from him, continuing to my car. Inside, I break down, sobs and wails racking my body. Someone raps on my door and I jump. 

It’s Leah. She opens the door. “I’ll drive, scoot over.” 

I climb into the passenger seat. “Key-key is behind the-the visor.”

“Paul told us that you were feeling sick, but didn’t want any of us to catch it if it was contagious. At least he’s good for that much,” Leah sighs. 

The car purrs beneath me. I curl into a ball, crying, and crying. The drive home isn’t long about ten minutes. But before we even get halfway there, the bumps in the road start to lull me, my head starts to hurt. 

“Maelyn.” I snap awake to the feeling of someone shaking my shoulders. My head feels heavy on my shoulders and keeps pounding. I climb out of my car and let Leah help me inside. Dad’s gone today and tomorrow so thankfully, I won’t have to deal with telling me and the half empty threats to take care of Paul. While I get that would be his way of trying to comfort me, it’s not the thing I want right now. 

I don’t make it pass the living room before I can feel the tears starting up again and collapse into the couch. I thought something like this would happen sooner or later, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon.  And I definitely didn’t think it would happen right in front of my face. And wasn’t even done in malice, Paul didn’t actively try to find someone to imprint on. It’s not like Rachel knew she was his imprint. The universe just did it, things just fell into place like that. That’s the shitty part, knowing I can’t do anything about it. I can’t fight Paul or Rachel about it. Everything is completely beyond my control and the only thing I can do is let it be out of control. Leah sits down next to me on the couch, putting a glass of water into my hands. I take a couple sips.

“Will it ever stop hurting?” I ask her. 

She plays with my hair a little before she starts rubbing my shoulder. “Some days are better than others.” 

I finish my glass of water before resting my head in Leah’s lap. She hums from above me. I listen for a minute before I catch on to what the tune is. It’s an old lullaby, I forget the last time I’ve heard it. When I wake up again, the sun is just starting to set. I can hear murmuring coming from the front door. I look up to see Leah and Paul in front of her. My chest stings again seeing him and I shut my eyes, pretending to be asleep. “She’s awake now; let me just ask her.”

“She looks asleep to me,” Leah returns. 

“Maelyn,” he calls out gently. I don’t move. “I know you’re awake.” I lay still for a few extra seconds before finally sitting up, looking over to them. The headache is starting again at the base of my neck. “May I come in?” he asks. 

Leah raises an eyebrow; I nod. She opens the door, standing off to the side, her usual sour expression growing even more sour. “You’re lucky she woke up.”

Paul nods, but his eyes stay straight on me. I scoot over and give him a spot to sit. I avert my gaze, desperately wanting more water and to be as far from him as possible, though every fiber calls to him. His weight causes the cushions to sink and my body wants to lean into him. I sit even further away. “I brought some food, I figured you may not have eaten.”

“Thank you.” 

It goes silent and then a chime echoes behind us. Leah huffs before crossing the room and presses down on my shoulders, speaking softly to me. “Call me if you need me, Mae. I’ll come by with ice cream--and you like sugar cookies right? Mom texted and I can’t ignore it”

I nod gently. “It’s okay. Thank you.”

“I promise I’m only a quick call away.” She stands up straight from behind me. “Drink some more water.” She leaves after that and I head into the kitchen with my glass. 

“Want anything?” I ask Paul, grabbing a glass from the cabinet. 

“Water is fine,” he answers. I fix his glass and then grab two tylenol from the bottle. Everything feels tight and tense from my neck up. I exhale heavily; I haven’t cried this hard since I found out my mother died and that time I did make myself sick from crying for so long and so hard. “What’s wrong, Mae?” Paul’s voice is soft. He knows. He knows everything is wrong. 

“Just a headache,” I whisper, gripping onto the counter hoping to counteract the pounding in my skull. 

“C’mon, lay down for a little bit before eating.” His hand rests in the middle of my back. I don’t have the energy to dodge the touch. We walk back into the living room, waters in hand. I settle into the cushions first. He sits at my feet and I can see him, go to reach out for me, but stop himself. I rearrange, I know he didn’t intend to hurt me and I know the progress of us ending will take a while. I might as well give into him for just a little while longer. This should probably be the start of the end.  But even if this is the beginning of the end does it have to be so sad?

Head tucked into Paul’s chest the pounding subsides just a little. Nothing major, but enough for me to finally release the tension in my shoulders and neck. He rubs at my arms. “I appreciate you bringing the food,” I mutter. 

“You’re welcome.”

“Give me a few more minutes to let this tylenol to kick in and then I’m going to get dressed.”

“What are you talking about?”

“If this is going to be my last date with you, I’m not doing it snotty nosed with a headache or in my living room with shitty clothes on.”

“Who said this is-”

I cut Paul off. “We both know this is the end. You're bound to Rachel. You can’t even begin to explore that relationship while still with me.”

“We talked about moving off the Rez, a life together.”

I take his hands into mine. “I know what we talked about, that was then. This is now.”

“But I’d be hurting you.”

“And I’d be hurting you by keeping you away from what you’re destined to go after.”

Paul presses kisses to the top of my head. “I never meant to hurt you like this, Mae. Swear to God, I never meant to.”

“I know you didn’t, Paul. I know you didn’t. What do you say? We will go somewhere nice.”

“What about Shannon’s?” It’s a 50’s style diner with pastel pink and greens tiles lining the walls. The lady that owns it, Shannon, is great. She’s in her sixties, constantly wears her hair in a single braid down her back, but dyes it crazy colors. The last time I saw her a couple weeks ago she had her graying roots dyed blue, and there was some purple in it from the last time she dyed it. She has a major sweet-tooth, with a heart of gold. She remembers everyone’s faces and orders and is genuine when she asks you how you’re doing. 

“Sure, that sounds great.” Paul continues to rub at my arm and I burrow my nose into his t-shirt. It stills smells faintly of the beach, but mostly of smoke. It doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke, just like the smoke from a fire. “Did you grill or something?”

“Yeah, I took over the grill after you left. Do I smell?”

“Just the shirt, I think.” I pick up his arm and sniff his skin. Paul chuckles a little and I continue with the overdramatic sniffs of his arm. “Definitely just the shirt,” I conclude. My head starts to hurt a bit more than it was before and I grimace. But it’s worth it hearing Paul’s laugh. 

“You maybe shouldn’t sniff too hard. Your headache,” he says, lightly pressing a hand to the base of my skull. 

“I’m partly dehydrated, only so much meds can do alone.” Paul motions with his free hand to his glass. “I can’t drink your water.”

“Yeah, you can, Mae. Go ahead, it’s okay. You just said you were dehydrated.”

I take his glass and start drinking. Paul plays a little with the ends of my hair and a tingle spreads down my spine. I always loved him when he played with my hair. “You should get those highlights again, they looked really good,” Paul comments. 

“Blonde?” I question. “Or the reddish ones?”

“Either. I think the pop of color matches your personality.”

I finish the glass. “I’ll consider it when I call Raquel. Want to help me get ready?”

“I’d like that.” 

We head down the hallway after I put the food in the fridge, I go to the bathroom and he heads to my bedroom. I wash my face, throwing some extra cold water onto my face to help reduce some of the redness and swelling under my eyes. After rubbing my lotion onto my face, I walk into my room and notice Paul with a pair of jeans in his hands, still flipping through the tops hanging up in my closet. He’s always loved the dark wash on me. I rest against the doorframe, watching him swipe through the tops. He’s thinking, but also seems to be going for something in particular. 

“You do realize it’s all color coordinated?” I tease.

“I know, but I can’t remember if the top is gray or black.”

“Describe it to me.” I saddle up next to him. 

His mouth turns up. “Floral, cropped, got that thing that goes around your neck with a zipper in the back. That weird fuzzy texture, velvet I think you said.”

“It’s black,” I point to the very back. He’s talking about my black floral velvet crop top. The top has a choker style neck piece attached that’s attached in the back. It’s really just a fancy bandeau, because it only covers the essential part of my breast but leaves the top of my chest and half my stomach exposed. Paul is quite the admirer of my tits, so the shirt checks all his marks.

I take the clothes and change, sliding into a strapless bra before putting the shirt on, which he helps zip up. Paul puts on a pair of silver hoops on me, brushing the ends of my hair with his fingers. I watch him look over the few perfume choices I have. 

“The one with the red top, that’s the one you like,” I point over to it. “Said it matched my personality the most.”

“It’s the one I called spicy peppermint,” he smiles, sniffing the cap. 

I chuckle and roll it over my wrist, along my collarbone, behind my ear. Paul walks over to me, kissing the back of my neck. A shiver runs down my spine at the touch of his lips. “Anything else you’d like?” I ask him. 

“That red lipstick?”

I point out my makeup bag, “Look for a tube with a gold top, that’s your favorite.”

“After you’re ready, we’ll stop by my house, there’s no way I can go out looking like this next to you.” He hands me the lipstick. I find my mirror, swiping it over my lips, blotting once. I slide into my black strappy heels. Not his favorite shoes on me, but the yellow heels don’t go with the outfit. I grab my wallet and keys, sliding my car key back onto the ring. We climb into his car and he hands me a couple rings. I slide them on and the drive is silent besides the radio playing. 

“Maelyn,” Paul starts, while waiting for a couple of deer to finish crossing. I give him my hand, knowing that’s what he’s asking for. He loves holding it while driving with me in the car. “Thank you.”

I try to memorize the way his palms are rough and how well his fingers fit perfectly between mine. No, I shouldn’t be doing that. I should be trying to forget. I should be forgetting the way he smells, or how thick his muscles are beneath his smooth skin. I blink back some tears and sniffle, sucking back the snot I can feel running. We pull up to his house- his dad’s truck is in the driveway. “You know just because I’m upset now and probably will be for a little bit, I will still care for you. You’ll just have to give me some time.”

“I know,” Paul kisses the top of my hand and then turns off the car. We head into the house. Mr. Lahote is on the couch, watching TV, with only a beer in hand. 

“Hey, Maelyn,” he calls out, raising the can. 

“Hi, Mr. Lahote. How are you?”

“Doing alright. You look fancy though, got a hot date somewhere?” There’s a smug grin on his face. He cackles, pleased with himself. 

“Dad, apologize. That’s disrespectful.”

I put a palm on Paul’s chest. He raises an eyebrow, shaking his head. I drop my hand. He needs to say this, needs to show me he still cares. “I apologize, Maelyn.”

“Apology accepted,” I return. Paul and I continue to his room. Going straight for his closet, I pull down the nice form fitting blue jeans he has in his closet. 

“You do love these jeans.”

“They do your ass all the justice it deserves,” I smile as he switches out shorts for the jeans. I thumb through the shirts until I find the white button up I bought him for his birthday with the small sparrows dotted all over the shirt.  His closet is not color coordinated- it’s really just a hodge podge of clothing. Unbuttoning the top few buttons, I hold it out for him to slip his arms through. Getting the collar situated, I move to the front of him and swat his hands out of the way. I rack my nails over his chest from the bottom of the tiger quartz necklace down to the top of his jeans. The heat of my gut spreads a little, curse his sculpted chest, and his abs. But I also suppress the urge to lick down the velvet smooth caramel skin. I shake my head a little, and start buttoning his shirt. 

“What shoes should I wear?” Paul asks. 

“Dress shoes. I never could convince you to buy those loafers.”

“They were hideous, babe.”

“Maelyn, please.” I blink rapidly—do not fucking cry again Maelyn, not right now. 

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. And they weren’t hideous. They were just different.”

“Hideous,” his tone is soft. 

I start tucking the shirt in and he huffs. “Did I complain? No, I didn’t.” He tucks in the back and I find the black belt to slip around his waist. Paul fishes out the dress shoes and I find his only cologne. He sprays it one, smoothing out the front of his shirt. 

“Is my hair okay?”

I nod, wiping at a fallen tear. “It’s perfect babe—Paul, sorry.”

“No, no, it’s okay.” He rubs his palms over my exposed arms, before pulling me into his chest. My shoulders tense, but the familiar scent of his cologne and the warmth of chest relax me. Paul kisses the top of my head several times. “Please stop fighting me. We’re supposed to enjoy this- our last date. Let’s make this a good one, yeah?”

I wrap my arms around his waist. “I wish I could take a picture of this moment.” We embrace for a little while longer, before heading back out. Paul starts the car and I give him my hand. 

I watch the trees blur by the car window. before speaking, “I thought we’d end in fire--some loud argument, broken dishes.” 

“It does feel more like our speed. But I think we deserve this. You deserve this, a nice dinner.” 

I bring his hand to my mouth kissing his knuckles. “I appreciate that.” I reach for the stereo and turn it up but he turns it off. He threads his fingers back through mine. What the hell is he doing?

“I spy with my little eye,” Paul pauses for a second and I glance over to him. He keeps his focus on the road. “A very beautiful woman with the cutest lob who taught me what a lob was, with smooth skin the color of acorns- which is a weird thing to compare skin to but it was the next best thing, with a great laugh, a great sense of humor, and a killer bod. But best of all, she’s got a heart of gold and deserves nothing but what makes her happy out of this world.” 

I smile, tears flooding my vision. “Is it me?”

“I’m not saying,” he grins. It’s me- he was always a terrible liar. 

We reach the diner, sliding into the back corner booth- his favorite spot in the place. As close to the kitchen as possible. I sit across from him, interlacing our fingers. I want this to be normal, easy, but it’s hard, my chest keeps constricting every time I look up into his eyes. “If it ain’t my favorite couple,” a pop punctuates the end of the sentence. I look up from the table finally to see Shannon. “Usual?”

“Yeah,” Paul answers. “Extra pickle for her, please.”

“Of course, lovelies. Rough day, Mae?”

I can’t lie to Shannon, so I nod, but give a small chuckle. “What gave it away?”

“How about a rootbeer float? I can throw that in there.”

“No, you’re gonna make me fat,” I laugh. 

She winks with another pop of her bubble gum. “Sometimes it’s exactly what you need. I’ll be right back, lovebirds.” When she spins around, yelling the order into the kitchen, I pull my hands back. Maybe this was a bad idea. 

Paul reaches out to me. “You’re fighting me again, Maelyn.”

I bit down on the corner of my lip. “I don’t want to; everything just hurts now.” Paul slides out  his side of the booth and sits down next to me, arm draping across my shoulders. I rest my head into him, tears threatening to spill over again. 

“I’m sorry, Mae. I’m so sorry.”

The shirt is soft against my skin and I can feel his heat seeping through it. My hands gravitate towards him, gently grasping at the cotton. “Stop being sorry, Paul. Sorry won’t fix it.”

“What will?”

“I wish I knew.” 

Shannon brings out my rootbeer float, with two straws. Paul and I split it, though more than once I had to fight him on stealing both straws. “Paul, I swear to Christ!” 

He chuckles, releasing the straws from his lips. I pout, sliding the cup closer to me and down the rest. Shannon brings out our food, and I don’t miss her watching me. She suspects something, I’m not sure what she thinks is happening, but she’ll pry in her own special way to find out. I slide the plate with extra pickles to me and Paul thanks her. I hand Paul the mustard and slide the ketchup for myself. After a few bites, Paul goes for a napkin and I sneak a fry off his plate. “I saw that,” he says, wiping the mustard from the corner of his mouth. 

I finish the last half of the fry. “Payback for the float.”

“Fair.” 

“Did you ever figure out what to get Embry for his birthday?” His birthday is in a couple of weeks, and I know Paul is known to wait until the last minute. 

“Shit, no, maybe we could-” He doesn’t finish the sentence. I dip a fry in ketchup; I figured that might happen. “I’m sure I can figure something out.”

“He’s been gushing about a new album releasing in a couple days. I’ll get the name of it and pass it along to you.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate that. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do without you, Maelyn.”

I snort, “Something tells me you’ll be just fine without me.” I polish off the last bites of my sandwich. 

“Don’t be an ass. You know what I mean. It’s not a switch, you know. I’m not suddenly repulsed by you. It’s not like I didn’t spend an entire year with you; it’s not like I wasn’t looking forward to our future.” Pickle spear halfway to my mouth, I set it down, my appetite gone. Paul continues on,  “It’s not like I saw Rachel and just went, oh well, fuck Maelyn. My first reaction was shame. I wanted to crawl into the depths of hell because I knew-I knew the first person I had fallen in love with and the first person to love me back was about to be hurt. Your world was going to shatter in seconds and I was the wrecking ball. So, fuck you for thinking I don’t give a shit.”

God, I never knew the body could produce this much water in a twenty-four hour span. I wipe my tears on the back of my hands; the throbbing starts up again. “I’m sorry Paul. I didn’t mean to paint you to be the bad guy. You aren’t, you never will be to me. I know it’s not your fault. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. I saw your shame, I saw your hurt. It feels unfair, and I don’t mean to blame you or Rachel. I just wish I had someone to. It’s not fair to want to pass blame and I know that. I’m so sorry.”

Both of us are staring at the empty side of the booth, the emotions too raw. I know I’ll crack if I look at Paul. I’m tired of cracking right now, but I reach out for his hand. Paul keeps his hand in a fist, but I keep my hand palm up, waiting for him. He doesn’t budge. “I spy with my little eye,” I start, noticing his fists unfurls a little, not completely, “a very handsome man, with a tough exterior, whom I most definitely would not want to get in a fight with, but a soft inside, a gentle soul, with a smile that could slay a thousand hearts, who makes really great pancakes and omelets, who has put up with my crazy for a year and never gave up on me.” 

His fingers unravel and he takes my hand. “Is it me?”

“I’m not telling,” I chuckle, threading our fingers. 

“It’s me.” 

I stretch up a little and kiss his cheek. “Maybe.”

Paul turns to face me and leans in, our lips touch softly for a moment. A fire lights in my gut, like it always does with him, and caution melts away. I know where this is headed; I know I might regret it, but that doesn’t matter right now. “There was always something attractive about pickle breath,” Paul teases. 

“Onion’s pretty hot too, if we’re admitting to strange kinks now.” I kiss him again, just a peck. “Let me cover the check, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“Okay.” I hand him the cash, since he’s sitting on the outside. He walks over to the register and I sit for a moment longer, watching him walk. He needs more jeans that fit like those, just for viewing purposes. I slide out from the booth, and walk over to the counter. Shannon’s going to hand over change, but I push her hand back. 

“Keep the change. Think of it as a big thanks for the rootbeer float, that you obviously didn’t charge us for,” I smile. 

“I’m just looking out for my girl. You’re just about the only reason why I can still keep this place alive, besides all the wolf stomachs around here.”

“It’s not hard to find people that need to make money around here.”

Shannon shakes her head. “You ain’t never lied. But I really do appreciate you doing what you do for me.” She holds out the wrinkled dollar bills. 

“Telling people where to find employment and covering a few shifts here and there is hardly anything. Keep the money; think of it as something else I’m doing for you.” She holds the money out further, so I take it, rolling the bills up and then reach across the counter, tucking it into the pocket of her apron. 

“Watch out for her, Paul, you’ve got a stubborn one of your hands.” I look down to the counter. “Or did have on your hands.”

Paul speaks up, “Nah, she’s still on my hands and she’s just as stubborn as ever.”

I straighten up. Shannon’s eyes are wrinkled together in confusion. “I’ll see you Wednesday, yeah?”

“Yeah, okay,” she nods.  

“I’ll talk to ya then.” 

Paul and I leave, hand in hand. I bump his hip with mine. 

“Shannon’s gonna hate me come Wednesday,” he mutters. 

“She won’t- no one is going to hate you.”

“Jake does.”

“Well, we knew that was going to happen. If you had a sister and one of the boys imprinted on them, you’d be pissed too.”

“Give us some credit.”

“You know it’s true.”

I open up the passenger side door and Paul steps in closer to me. “Yes, it is. But still,” he sighs. 

“I’ll give you guys some credit.” Paul, even in my heels, still beats me by a couple inches. Reaching up, I stroke his chin, knuckles dragging over the smooth skin. He’s shaved recently. 

“Have you ever seen me try to grow a beard?” Paul asks, eyes fluttering close at my touch. 

“You mean that scraggly hot mess you call a beard.”

He chuckles. “Yeah, that would be what I mean.”

“It’s a shame.”

Paul opens his eyes. “What is?”

“I think you would look great with a beard.” I cup his chin and cheeks with my palms. “But I’ll take you without it. Any day of the week.”

“That’s good to know.” His smile lights up his face over the now dark horizons in the sky. It’s infectious, I can feel a smile spreading over my face. I laugh, wrapping my arms around his neck. Paul’s arms wrap around my waist, tracing at my exposed back and sides. His lips are the only thing I can focus on, so I kiss him, open mouthed and a little sloppy. But it’s okay—it doesn’t matter that this is only temporary, it is now and that’s all I want to focus on—the now. Paul kisses me back, pulling me even closer into his chest, hungry for more. I can tell by how tight his fingers dig into my skin, how rapid his lips pull away from mine only to meet again and again and again. 

“Let’s go back to my place,” I breathe out, needing a little bit of air. 

“Are you sure? I don’t mean to-”

“I’m sure, Paul, very sure. Now, take me home.” I kiss him, slow, running my hands down his chest. 

He lets a moan pass over his throat, spilling into my mouth, before pulling away. “No need to tell me twice.” I laugh at his jog around the car after shutting the door behind me. 

The ride is shorter than usual, more than once I catch the speedometer nearing seventy. My gut turns into knots, but I don’t tell him to slow down. If I speak, everything will be undone- all the courage will unravel and I will be left in a puddle on my couch yet again with no Leah to clean up my mess. I keep my fingers threaded through his fingers and stay quiet. When the car comes to a stop, I immediately turn to open the door, but Paul pulls me back. 

His fingers slip through my hair. “It’s okay if you say no, at any point.”

“I know I can say no, and I’m still saying yes.” We climb inside the house and Paul stops me in the living room, hands sliding around my waist. “You like it when I’m in heels?”

“Yes, I don’t have to look so far down.”

I give a dry laugh, turning to face him. “Must be so difficult to look down a whole five inches.” Paul’s hands move from my waist, hovering over my ass. I nod, answering his unspoken question. “It’s still a yes.”

“Here?” he questions, eying my chest. I nod; he unzips my shirt, revealing just the strapless bra. Paul kisses down my throat, over the swell of my breast, over the bra, down my stomach, kneeling as he hovers over the button of my jeans. He hesitates a bit before each kiss, and I give my consent at every stop, yes falling over my lips in a chant only for his ears, only for his fingers to move, only for his tongue to taste me. 

****

The bells over the door chime as I’m sliding the check over to my patrons. I glance over my shoulder, smile already on my face. “Welcome to Shannon’s, take a seat anywhere and I’ll be with you shortly.” I freeze, fingers still on the ticket, once I see who the new guests are. It’s Paul, with Rachel, in the same white button up I last saw him in. In my mind's eye, I see it falling from his shoulders hitting my bedroom floor. I inhale sharply, suddenly a bit self conscious about the pastel pink uniform and how harsh the fluorescent lights are against my skin. 

Rachel smiles at me. “Hey, Maelyn.”

I nod in return, still smiling and turn back to my table. “You can take this up to the register whenever you’re ready.”

Paul and I took about two weeks to finally and truly end things between us and I stayed on the rez for another six months until things with Jake and the Cullens smoothed out. Paul was respectful to my need for distance and I never questioned how things were going between Rachel and him. I could see they were going well. I’m still a part of Sam’s pack having sided with Sam’s worry about the safety of the reservation on a half human half vampire child, but I can still hear Jacob and his pack even in my wolf form. 

I spent a year off the rez, getting my  certification in nursing and just moved back into town about three weeks ago. I work days at the hospital on the rez, not the greatest hospital ever, but we always need the extra hands—the rez hospital seems a constant slew of people on a daily basis. Sue gave a strong recommendation to the hiring staff- I kept in touch with her while I was away. On some evenings, like today, I help Shannon out- the money I get from working at the diner, I send to my dad. 

I grab the pot of coffee along with a couple menus and make my way over to them sitting in Paul’s favorite spot. I refill a couple cups along the way. Poking out from the top few buttons left undone on Paul’s shirt is the tiger quartz necklace. I slide the menus to each of them, blinking back the image of the tiger quartz necklace brushing against my chest with him above me, arm taut with his weight, but with a smile on his face. I reach up and brush my fingers over the amethyst necklace hanging from my neck. He gave it to me the morning after, nervous that I wouldn’t take it. I still wear it everyday. “What can I start you guys off with? Coffee, water?”

“You can start by telling me when you got back on the rez,” Rachel laughs. 

“Three weeks ago, I work pretty much day and night, sorry I haven’t been by yet.”

“When are you free? We barely talked before you left—I want to hang out with you. Besides, I’m sure you’ve got plenty to talk about after being away for so long.”

“I’m off this Friday morning, but I’ve got a shift here starting at 6:30, dinner rush.”

“Come by my place and all three of us can chat over lunch.” I look from Rachel to Paul. He’s smiling and it’s not a polite one. It reaches his eyes and he’s wearing a half grin- the same exact one he used to give me right after talking shit; it’s got a soft edge because he knows I would never let him get away without a comment back. It’s familiar, a home that welcomes you back with open arms, nothing has changed but time. I watch his hand reach up for the necklace. 

“It’d be nice to talk to you again, Mae,” he says softly. I considered writing letters to him, and I did. I have a shoebox full, but never had the guts to send them. It always felt wrong, too intimate, and maybe even too soon for me to write them. “Also, the purple looks nice.” He motions to where the ends of my hair would be on him. 

“Thanks. I just got it done.” I still keep it in a longer bob cut, but from time to time, I change the color. Previous to this, my ends were an auburn color. 

“So can you come by, say, 11:30?” Rachel’s persistent, that hasn’t changed.  She looks over her shoulder to Paul. 

“It’s not like I have much of a choice,” he teases. 

“Oh,” Rachel huffs with an eye roll. Classic Paul. 

I snort, but try to cover it up. Paul notices though, sending me a quick grin and a raised eyebrow. He always took pride in making me snort, which I hated. “Uh, I can be there at 11:30. I’ll bring something too. Now, what else can I do for you guys? Like of the food persuasion.”

“Just a water for right now, still debating what I want to eat,” Rachel smiles while eying over the menu. 

I look over to Paul. “Usual,” he says with a nod.

“You can’t just say that, Paul. Like she’s supposed to know,” Rachel huffs. “He means-”

“Coke, light ice,” I interrupt. “Breaded chicken sandwich, no tomatoes, extra mayo and mustard, add on onions and a pickle spear on the side with an extra side of fries. Fried egg this time or no?” 

“Fried egg, please.”

“Two.” It’s not a question, but he nods anyway. I glance back to Rachel, who’s clearly impressed and a little shocked. “My brain’s a catalog of usuals--Shannon’s magic is contagious. I’ll give you a few more minutes to look over that menu.” I take the menu from Paul, tucking it under my arm. 

“I wonder how many other people she can do that for,” Rachel gushes as I walk away. 

Paul laughs a little. “It’s not nearly as impressive when you remember Maelyn has a brain like a computer, she can just store stuff, babe.” 

He says more, but I’m too far away to catch it. Not to toot my own horn, but I was the only one in the pack to graduate high school with a perfect GPA, and same thing for nursing school. He’s right, my brain is like a computer. But unlike a computer, it opens files on its own violation sometimes--even the ones I wish it could keep buried, even at times when it would be best left untouched. My brain has its own agency regardless if I want it to or not. Putting the coffee pot up, I grab their drinks and hand them over, and take Rachel’s order. Sliding the ticket over to the kitchen, I manage to sit and wrap silverware. 

I thought coming back would be hard, thought I’d be trying to duck all my usual places. Or people would whisper about me, though for the most part I just live my life, everyone I run into is happy to see me again. I have a small house on the periphery of the reservation; I considered moving back in with Dad, but just couldn’t do it. Though Dad voiced how happy he would be to have me back at home. I knew I had changed and I didn’t want to be at the brunt of his frustration anymore. I was tired of being his crutch in a weird way; he could always count on me to understand his pain, everyone else was moving on, and moving onto other things, they had gotten tired of it. But I couldn’t- it was my mother who died, his wife who was killed, in his mind there was no way I could get over it. But I wanted to, I needed to find a way past that. No one else was forcing him too, until I left. I’m not sure he’s making it very far, but I couldn’t go back to the old. 

Most people ask me, when they find I live by myself, with no boyfriend, no kid, if I ever get lonely. The truth of the matter, I haven’t felt lonely in a long time. I know I’m alone in that house and alone in a romantic sense for now, but there are too many people around in my life to ever consider myself lonely. The front door bells chime again and Shannon’s grandchildren bolt through the door. “Hi, Mae!” the boys call out. They are ten and eight, and stop by the diner everyday after they finish their homework. 

I fish out a couple of Hershey kisses from my apron pocket. “Hey, Dylan. Hey, Beck. Don’t tell Shannon.”

“Have we ever?” Beck smiles, the oldest. 

“Yeah, you have, shrimp. She’s in the kitchen. Be careful,” I lift the gate to the counter and they walk through, grinning at each other. 

“Gram!” Dylan shouts.

“Order up, Mae!” 

Placing the appropriate plates in front of Rachel and Paul, I move the ketchup from behind the dessert menu. “Anything else you need?” They both say no. 

From my spot at the counter, I see just about the entire diner. The evening rush is slowing down which is a relief. I hear someone laugh and glance over from wrapping silverware to see it’s Rachel and Paul, huddled together, smiling- in their own private universe. My chest does not constrict, my heart does not sink; I smile. They deserve happiness. I ring another table up at the register when two sets of feet storm past me. Dylan and Beck fly out of the dinner. I look over to the clock- they’ll be late for dinner. Closing the register with my hip, I walk over to the phone, dialing their mother. 

She picks up on the second ring. “Late aren’t they?”

“Just ran out of here like bats out of hell. They’ll be back in about ten minutes.”

“Thanks for calling Maelyn.”

“Not a problem.” 

I check on my tables as I walk back to sit, but they need nothing but their checks. A few minutes later, Paul walks over to the register, check in hand. Shannon’s filling up coffees, but eyes me, a few strands of her now green hair falling into her face. She’ll always be concerned after I walked in that Wednesday night and broke down at the end of my shift. She fights hell and high water for the people she loves. I motion for her to stay where she is. 

“A little birdie told me there’s two slices of cherry pie in need of homes,” I rest my palms against the counter, pushing my weight to my arms. “And potentially a scope of vanilla bean ice cream too.”

Paul strokes his chin- still no beard. “Tempting, but I think I’ll have to pass tonight.”

“Your loss.” I start ringing him up. 

“You still wear it?” He motions to my neck, the stone still hanging from around it. 

“Everyday. I get a lot of compliments on it—you’ve got great taste.”

“I would say you do too. But you already knew that.” I chuckle. “Sue told me last week you were back. Had a place of your own too,” Paul continues. 

I raise an eyebrow. “And you didn’t tell your precious Rachel this? Is it snowing outside?”

He laughs, with a shake of his head. “No, I didn’t. I figured if you wanted her to know, you would tell her. Though, I did find out you were writing letters to Sue, and well, whenever I ran into her I would ask how you’re doing.” 

I take the two twenties and start counting out his change. “She told me that you were--I told her that it was okay to tell you whatever you asked about within reason.” 

“Are you happy to be home?”

“It was good for me to get away. But there’s no place like home. I met some great people; he was good for me, but she tasted like heaven and hurt like hell, so I guess I didn’t learn my lesson there. But you left some pretty big shoes to fill, both figuratively and literally.” 

Paul barks a laugh. “Still got jokes I see.”

A smile washes over my face as I hand him back the change. “It is me you’re talking to. If you don’t expect a hard time from me, what are you even doing?”

“So you’re...” the question trails off.

“Gay, Bi, not sure. Pan, maybe. Just not straight for sure.”

“That just about covers all possible orientations I could think of.”

“I’ve asked myself those questions a lot with no solid answer. But being away answered some others. Like maybe I’m not wired to imprint, but that’s okay.” I nod over to the necklace hanging from his neck. “It’s not like you can’t love multiple people at the same time. Maybe love just changes and you’ve gotta change with it.”

“Love’s not a switch.” 

I remember sitting in the diner when he first said that, how it had hit me in my chest and I realized things aren’t always bad. But it’s okay if they feel like that for a moment. 

“But love can be impatient too,” I chuckle. “She’s been staring us down hard.” I turn into the kitchen window. “I need a cherry slice with vanilla bean on top.” A couple seconds later, Kevin holds the plate out to me. 

“She knows,” Paul confesses as I slide him the plate with a fresh fork. “About the matching necklaces- she’s gotten on me a couple times about still wearing it.”

“You don’t have to, you know.”

“I know, but I want to. I’m not going to lie here- I love Rachel, but they’re right. Your first love doesn’t ever truly go away.”

“An unfortunate truth. Tell her, I respect you guys’ relationship. I’m not back to fuck things up. I’m back because this is where I belong. Both packs are family to me and I can’t leave them hanging. I know I’m going to leave for months on end again, but I can’t neglect myself anymore and I can’t neglect home. I can have both- it just takes balance.” I nod over to the slice of pie. “No charge.” 

“Thanks, Maelyn. Still covering my ass.” 

“I told you, I’ll always be in your corner.” He nods, taking the plate back to Rachel. I look down to see his change left behind.