“Ow,” I groaned, setting down my book to massage my left temple, which had just been battered with a volleyball.
“I am so sorry,“ a voice said; I looked up to see a large man dressed in nothing but cut off shorts and a t-shirt jogging towards me.
I shivered and instinctively pulled my coat tighter around my body. There was a bitter chill in the salty beach air despite it only being August.
"Er, it’s okay,” I said, throwing the ball back to him, which he expertly caught.
“Thanks,” he smiled.
My eyes raked over his exposed skin, “aren’t you cold?”
"Not as cold as you, apparently,” he grinned, staring down at the thick layers I was wrapped in.
“Touché,” I laughed.
“Oi Sam!” another voice shouted, “are you planning on rejoining us?”
I saw a group of boys staring at us out of the corner of my eye, they shared the same copper skin, cropped dark hair, and tribal tattoo as the boy in front of me I now knew to be called Sam.
They also shared his lack of weather-appropriate clothing; I frowned and wondered how they didn’t have numb toes and chattering teeth like I did.
They peered over at us curiously; I noticed one boy lurking at the back of the crowd staring at me intensely. His jaw and fists were clenched, and he looked furious, but there was a softness in his eyes as they focused on me.
I shifted uncomfortably on the blanket I was sitting on and broke eye contact with him. Still, I felt his unwavering gaze on me.
Sam looked between me and the other boy with a knowing look and slight smile, “I’m Sam, what’s your name?”
“I don’t think I recognise you. Are you from around here?” he asked.
“Eh, I’m from Forks, actually; I just come down here to read in peace,” I said, holding up my copy of Dracula for him to see.
Sam wrinkled his nose slightly at the book but quickly covered it up with a smile; he glanced back over at the group of boys who were still looking at us, “you must be freezing, my friends and I were just heading back to my fiancée’s place, why don’t you come with us and warm-up?”
My eyes flickered over to the boy who continued to glower at me, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, your friend doesn’t seem to like me too much,” I said hesitantly.
“Oh, just ignore Paul. He’ll come around, trust me,” Sam said, a smile playing on his lips.
I looked back over to the boys only to see them sniggering and elbowing Paul; I frowned as he shoved one of the other boys away harshly. He turned his back on me and began kicking up sand; there was a sudden hollowness in my chest as I no longer felt his eyes on me.
“You okay?” Sam asked.
My vision blurred slightly; I had to blink rapidly to bring it back into focus. My heart was sinking in my chest, and my body was racked with a sudden onset of chills.
I nodded stiffly, “yeah, I just felt really weird all of a sudden; I’m okay, though.”
“Weird how?” Sam asked, furrowing his brow.
“I don’t know…just really cold and kind of dizzy, I guess.”
Sam looked back to his friends; Paul was still sulking behind the other boys, a sharp burst of pain shot across my chest, I gasped quietly, but it was loud enough for Sam to hear.
“You should definitely come back with us; we’ll get you warmed up and something to eat; I’m sure you’ll feel better in no time,” he said, extending his hand out to me.
I took it gingerly and allowed him to help me to my feet, my legs felt like jelly, so I allowed Sam to carry my book, bag, and blanket as he guided me to his car. Some part of my brain was screaming at me not to trust this strange man, to not get in his car, but I felt so faint I’d have gone with anyone right now.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened,” I mumbled to Sam as he climbed into the driver’s seat next to me.
“Don’t worry about it; these things happen,” he said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
I shivered again. Despite Sam blasting the heating, I couldn’t seem to warm up. It was cold outside but not this cold; I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me.
Sam flicked on the windscreen wipers; as the raindrops were cleared from the window, I could just about make out the figures of Sam’s friends who were still on the beach.
Paul was pacing back and forth, and even from the car, I could tell that he was pissed off about something. One of the other boys placed a hand on his shoulder, and Paul shoved him off so hard he fell onto the sand.
“Is he okay?” I asked, motioning to the scene in front of us.
“Everything’s fine,” he said, sounding as though he was trying to convince himself as much as me. He started the engine abruptly.
“Aren’t your friends coming with us?”
Sam shook his head, “no, they’ll meet us there; it’s safe- better- that way.”
I narrowed my eyes but didn’t question him as he reversed out of the car park, he made an effort to keep me distracted with basic small talk on the drive, but I could see his mind was elsewhere.
It wasn’t long before Sam turned off the main road and pulled up next to a small house nestled at the edge of the woods, there were a few other cars parked outside.
Sam helped me out of the car and into the house; two women sat at the kitchen table, each with long dark hair and brown skin, one of them had deep scars across her face, which travelled down her neck and chest. They smiled at Sam as he entered, but their expressions turned puzzled as they saw me shuffle in behind him.
"This is y/n,” Sam explained, “We met at the beach, and she started feeling unwell; I brought her back here to warm up and get something to eat.”
“Oh honey, you’re shaking like a leaf,” the woman with the scars said gently as she stood up and hurried over to Sam and me, "come sit down, Kim would you make some tea?”
The other woman, Kim, nodded and began busying around in the kitchen as the woman with the scars led me to the couch. She helped me remove my coat and placed a blanket over my body as I lay down.
“I’m Emily, Sam’s fiancée,” she said.
“Nice to meet you,” I croaked, smiling weakly at her.
“What happened?” Emily asked, looking between Sam and me.
"I don’t know; I just felt really cold and faint all of a sudden.”
She squeezed my hand gently, "the tea will warm you up, and I’ve got muffins in the oven; the sugar will make you feel better.”
I smiled appreciatively at her, “thank you, both of you. You really didn’t have to do this for me; you don’t even know me.”
Sam gave me a tight-lipped smile, “Emily, can I talk to you?” he motioned with his head to the kitchen.
Emily gave my hand another squeeze before following her fiancée. I strained my neck slightly to see them form a huddle in the kitchen with Kim. They exchanged hushed whispers so quiet I couldn’t discern what they were saying; I rested my head back on the cushion as Emily and Kim looked over to me. I didn’t want to look as though I was eavesdropping.
I heard a car door slam, then a series of thundering footsteps and laughter. I strained my neck again just in time to see the boys from the beach burst into the house. They greeted Emily and Kim before diving into the tray of baked goods Emily had just removed from the oven.
“Careful! They’re hot,” she scolded.
One of the boys made his way over to Kim and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her gently on the forehead. They whispered to each other and looked over at me; I averted my gaze.
Unfortunately, I accidentally locked eyes with Paul. He still stood apprehensively in the doorway despite the other boys making themselves at home, every muscle in his body looked tense, and he stared at me with that same penetrating gaze from earlier.
I felt warm for the first time since I’d left the beach.
Paul broke eye contact with me first this time. Kim had shuffled over to him and was handing him a mug, she motioned over to me with her head, and Paul looked ready to crush the cup in his hands.
To my surprise, he shuffled over to me and handed me the mug of steaming hot tea. I gingerly accepted it, appreciating how it warmed my hands.
“How are you feeling?” he grunted, his eyes flickering over me quickly.
“Um, a lot better, actually…” I said, feeling stupid for all the fuss I had created just to feel back to normal fifteen minutes later.
“Good,” he nodded stiffly.
I didn’t know what else to say; he towered over me as he stood at the edge of the couch. I sipped my tea to distract myself from the awkwardness, but it burned my tongue, and I hissed in pain.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his hard expression melting into one of concern as he bent down next to me.
I nodded, “I’m fine; I should’ve waited for it to cool down…stupid.”
Paul sat by my feet at the edge of the couch, his dark eyes continuing to focus on my face. I wished I had an insight into what was going on inside his head; one minute, he was stoney faced and the next, he was concerned for my well-being.
“You’re looking much better, your colour is definitely coming back”, Emily commented as she sat on the couch opposite me, “she was practically grey when Sam brought her in,” she said to Paul.
He clenched his jaw again; I didn’t understand why he seemed so angry or why his anger seemed focused on me.
“You feeling better y/n?” Sam asked as he joined Emily on the opposite couch.
“Much better; I’m sorry for all the hassle.“
“Not at all,” Emily said, waving a hand, “we’re happy to help, aren’t we, Paul?” she looked expectantly at him.
“Yeah, whatever…” he muttered.
Something twinged in my chest; why did his standoffish attitude bother me so much? I didn’t even know him, and I had no reason to be so invested in whether he liked me or not.
The other boys began to shuffle to the seating area from the kitchen, hands full with muffins as they took seats around us. I began to move to make room on the couch between Paul and me, but Emily insisted that I stay lying down.
The others introduced themselves one by one, Embry, Quil, Seth, Jared and-
“Jacob Black, right?” I said as the last boy opened his mouth to introduce himself.
“Oh, yeah,” he nodded, looking at me sceptically.
“You’re friends with Bella Swan, aren’t you?”
The other boys, Paul included, chuckled slightly, and Jacob glared back at them.
“Yeah, I am.“
I nodded, "I thought I recognised you; I see you hanging around the school sometimes. My friend Steph has a thing for you.”
Jacob grinned back at me, “I did think you looked kind of familiar; you’re y/n y/l/n aren’t you?”
“The one and only,” I answered.
Jacob chuckled in response, “so you-“
But Paul interrupted before Jacob could even finish his sentence, “I need to go,” he said abruptly, leaping to his feet.
“Aw, Paul, just sit down,” Jared groaned, his arm casually draped around Kim’s shoulder, “we’re all having a nice time; you don’t need to ruin it.”
“I didn’t even want to come back here, you insisted I did,” he hissed back, pointing his finger at Jared, “and just to listen to Jake and some girl gush over Bella fucking Swan? I’m out of here.”
Paul was storming towards the door, and I felt colder and weaker with every step he took away from me. My hands were trembling again as I sat my mug down on the coffee table.
“Y/n you’re shaking,” Seth pointed out.
He seemed like a sweet kid, but I was internally cursing him for pointing that out; everyone’s eyes were on me now.
“I’m fine,” I said quickly.
“Paul come back here,” Sam ordered.
“Piss off Sam,” he snapped, swinging the door open.
“Paul,” Sam glowered, “get back here now.”
The air was thick with tension as Paul stopped dead in his tracks, no one spoke for several minutes, and all I could hear above the silence was my own heartbeat.
Eventually, he turned away from the door, but he didn’t rejoin us on the couches. I forced myself to sit up despite protests from Emily; I could feel Paul’s eyes focused on me the entire time.
“I really should go,” I said, “I really appreciate you looking after me, but I feel much better.”
That was a lie.
“Is your car back at the beach?” Sam asked.
I shook my head, “no, my brakes are messed up, so I can’t drive till I get it fixed. I walked down from Forks.”
“You really shouldn’t be walking through the woods,” Paul snapped from behind me.
Jared pulled Kim closer into his chest, and Sam gripped Emily’s hand. Some of the other boys exchanged concerned glances; others looked between Paul and me. I had the feeling that there was something else going on, a secret that I wasn’t privy to.
“I stay on the paths,” I mumbled, tugging on a loose thread from the hem of the blanket.
“It’s not safe,” he barked.
I twisted my torso round to see Paul; he stood in the kitchen with his arms folded tightly across his chest. He was trembling slightly; his thick eyebrows were furrowed, creating deep wrinkles across his forehead.
“Paul,” Sam said warningly, he dropped Emily’s hand to begin standing up, “calm down.”
“What?“ he snarled, "would you like Emily walking through the woods on her own? You know it’s dangerous, so don’t you dare tell me to calm down!”
I winced at his tone; I didn’t think that was a fair comparison; Emily was Sam’s fiancée and evidently the love of his life. I had known Paul for less than an hour, and in that time, we’d barely spoken twenty civil words to each other.
“It’s fine, really; I follow the roads and don’t walk in the dark; I’m careful,“ I said, trying to diffuse the tension between Sam and Paul.
“Be quiet y/n,” Paul said venomously.
“Don’t speak to me like that,” I snapped back; I pushed the blanket off of me and stood up, “I get that I’m a stranger to you, and you don’t have any reason to be nice to me, but you also don’t have any reason to be so rude.”
“Rude?” he snorted.
"Yes, you’ve done nothing but glare at me since I got here, and now, you’re going off on one because I sometimes walk through the woods-”
“You don’t understand-” he began, his tone laced with condensation.
"I’m not an idiot or a child Paul; you don’t need to speak to me like one,” I snapped before turning to face Emily and Sam, “thank you so much for everything, but I really should be on my way.”
I grabbed my coat from the edge of the couch and stormed past Paul as I made my way to the door. He reached out his hand to grab my arm, but I quickly dodged his grip and continued to storm past him.
“Where are you going?” Paul hollered after me.
I ignored him and the coldness seeping through my veins as I stepped off the front porch and onto the sodden grass.
I began to pull on my coat but couldn’t seem to find the hole for the left sleeve, and I let out an exasperated scream. I was ready to tear off the coat and throw it to the ground in frustration when I felt someone approach from behind and help me fit my arm through the sleeve.
I spun around only to find myself face to face with a still furious Paul. He grimaced down at me, his jaw still clenched and with something I assumed to be anger burning behind his eyes.
“Why are you helping me?” I asked bluntly.
“I don’t know,“ he said bitterly, "I really don’t know because I don’t want to, but I can’t seem to stop myself; I didn’t think it would feel like this….”
He spat on the ground next to him, and I wrinkled my nose in disgust; I could feel the anger and heat radiating off him, but it wasn’t bothering me as much as it should.
I didn’t feel cold anymore. Not when I was so close to him.
“What are you talking about?” I asked exasperated, running a hand through my hair, “I really don’t understand you.”
“Nothing, get in the car,” he said, motioning towards a battered red truck parked outside the house.
Paul took a deep breath, “y/n, get in the car.”
“No, you can’t tell me what to do.”
“You can’t walk back to Forks!” he roared, “it’s getting dark, it’s raining, and you’re sick, so get in the goddamn car.”
“I’m not sick,” I spat, “I felt a tiny bit faint earlier; I’m fine now, so leave me alone.“
That was true; I did feel better now. I wasn’t dizzy or cold anymore; in fact, I felt strangely safe despite the tall, muscular, and angry man standing in front of me. My heart skipped a beat as I became acutely aware of how close we were.
He sighed deeply, "just get in the car; I don’t want you walking on your own it’s not safe and believe it or not, I’m trying my best to be calm right now, so get in the car. Please.”
There was desperation in his eyes, and concern, and longing.
For some reason I couldn’t explain, I believed him. And I wanted to listen to him, so I silently shuffled towards the car and looked back at him expectantly as I waited for him to unlock it. A faint smile played on his lips as he pulled the keys from his pocket and unlocked the truck.
I liked seeing him smile.
I slammed the door behind me as I climbed into the truck, yanked the seatbelt so harshly that it jammed, and folded my arms tightly across my chest just as Paul clambered into the driver’s seat. He slammed the door twice as hard as I did.
He thrust the key into the ignition, and before I knew it, we were soaring down the main road back to Forks. Paul’s knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel, and his eyes were focused firmly on the road. For the first time since we met, I had the chance to examine him properly; he had sharp, angular features, muscular arms, and plump, pink lips.
He was kind of beautiful.
“Why are you so angry?” I asked after five minutes of driving in silence.
I could see him grinding his teeth as his jaw clenched.
Tentatively, I reached out my hand and placed it reassuringly on his arm; his skin felt like fire, "Hey, calm down.”
He flinched away from me, and I quickly retracted my hand. The sudden rejection sent embarrassment, regret, and disappointment flooding through my body. I pulled the cuffs of my jumper over my hands and clasped them in my lap, focusing intently on twiddling my thumbs.
“I’m sorry, okay?” Paul said through gritted teeth, “I don’t want to be like this, but I had anger problems before and now….”
“And now what?” I prompted.
“Nothing,” he sighed, turning the steering wheel sharply to the left as we swung round a bend in the road, “I’m trying to stay calm, but it’s not easy for me so…so tell me about yourself.“
“Tell you about myself?” I snorted.
He glanced over at me, and I could see how he was entirely serious, "yes, it’ll calm me down.”
I didn’t understand how on earth that would help calm him down, but something in me wanted to help him. Not because I feared his anger or because I was concerned for myself, but because I wanted him to be happy and relaxed. I wanted to see him smile again.
“Um, okay…” I began slowly, “my name is y/n, I live in Forks, I have a husky called Max-”
“You like dogs?” he interrupted.
I laugh slightly and nod, “love them, only big ones though, those tiny little chihuahuas look like rats to me.”
Paul’s face broke out into a grin, and he let out a deep, hearty chuckle, “I like big dogs too,” he said.
“Why don’t you like me?” I asked hesitantly.
Paul kept his eyes focused firmly on the road and didn’t speak for several minutes; he opened his mouth a few times as if he were going to talk, but no words came out.
“It’s complicated,“ he said finally.
I sighed deeply, feeling disappointed by his answer, “it’s fine, you don’t have to explain; I mean, you’re probably never gonna see me again, so what does it matter if you don’t like me-”
Paul suddenly swerved over to the side of the road and slammed on the breaks as we skidded to a halt; I gripped onto the overhead handle so tightly that my knuckles turned white.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I screeched.
“What do you mean I’ll never see you again?” he demanded.
“You could’ve killed us!”
“Answer me y/n! Now!”
“I’m not answering any of your questions until you explain what the hell is wrong with you! Why are you telling me you like dogs one minute and screaming at me the next?”
Paul punched the steering wheel, and the horn blared, I flinched slightly, and a flash of concern crossed his face. He unclipped his seatbelt suddenly.
“Get out of the car.”
“Get out of the car,” he said through gritted teeth.
I let out an exasperated laugh, “five minutes ago, you were yelling at me to get in the car, and now you’re yelling at me to get out of it? I don’t understand you at all,” I said, shaking my head.
“You want to know why I seem like I don’t like you? Why I’m so angry? Then get out of the car so that I can explain,“ he seethed; he swung open the door and jumped out of the truck, making sure to slam the door behind him.
I stayed in my seat for a few seconds, watching him stand outside the driver’s side with his arms folded, tapping his foot against the damp ground. I groaned but eventually unclicked my own seatbelt and exited the car; Paul didn’t say anything to me before he began trekking into the woods.
"You have got to be kidding me….” I mumbled under my breath, “you just told me the woods aren’t safe, now you’re leading me into them?” I called after him.
He froze and turned his head back around to reignite that same intense, unwavering eye contact from the beach, “you’ll always be safe with me, always, I swear that on my life,” he said solemnly.
I was taken aback by Paul’s sudden declaration, and against my better judgment, I decided to follow him into the woods.