On Tuesday morning we left early for Seattle in Paul's truck. We shared a backpack to hold a single change of clothes each and some toiletries and packed our suits and smart shoes and so on in a separate flat bag, both of which could be taken on the plane as carry-on luggage. I had been a little surprised at Paul's apparent reluctance to go back with me when I had first asked him and later the reason for it became clear - a reason which completely astounded me.
We parked up in the airport lot, took the connecting bus to the terminal and collected our tickets, having already booked seats online to make sure we could get on the nine o'clock flight. It would land us in Austin at twelve-thirty, a ninety minute drive to Fredericksburg, check into a motel and quickly change and make it to the funeral for four o'clock. I wondered if maybe we should have flown down on Monday after all; we were cutting it a little fine and if there was any kind of delay we'd miss it.
I fiddled with my boarding pass and fidgeted in my seat as we waited for the flight to be called. We had already been sent through to the departure lounge, but there was still around thirty minutes to go before boarding. I had never flown before and was quite looking forward to the new experience, but I was anxious that we get there on time so it made me nervous.
"What's the matter?" Paul asked, looking somewhat irritable.
"Nothing, I'm fine."
"I'm just a bit nervous."
"No, about being late."
"We're not going to be late," he said shortly.
He looked away from me, sitting with his elbows resting on his knees, his head down. I stared at him for a second. He was chewing his bottom lip, his brows drawn together in a frown. He picked at an imaginary rough nail on one finger, then sat up and leaned against the back of the seat, crossing one foot over the other knee. Then he dropped his foot back to the floor and leaned forward again. I watched him continue to shuffle and change position for a few minutes, my own worry about being on time forgotten.
"What!" he snapped.
"You know, if you really don't want to go, it's ok," I said, a little taken aback. He was pissed and I had no idea why.
"I bought the ticket already, of course I'm going," he grunted.
"But you're not happy about it."
"Will you just leave it?"
"Hey..." I reached out and put my hand on his arm. He was hot and his skin felt damp as if he were breaking out in a sudden sweat.
"I said leave it!" he growled and jerked away from me. Then he sighed heavily and looked at me. "I'm sorry, Jake. This is going to sound really stupid."
"I fucking hate flying." He snorted and dragged a hand through his short hair.
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because...I don't know, I'm supposed to be a tough guy. When I said I hate flying, I meant it scares the shit out of me."
Paul was scared? Somehow I had never imagined him being scared of anything. Like he said, he was a tough guy, nothing ever seemed to bother him. I reached out again and slid my hand into his and this time he didn't pull away.
"You know, you really don't have to go with me," I said.
"I want to. Seriously. Maybe it'll be ok this time since you're with me. First time I flew down to Austin when Sam sent me looking for you, it was fine. All I could think about was seeing you again; I hardly even noticed I was...thirty-odd-thousand feet in the air." He shuddered. "Coming back I was a mess. We slept together and then you told me to go away, so the whole journey back I felt like shit anyway. Then there was turbulance; the plane plummeted a couple of hundred feet and I thought I was going to die. Ridiculous, huh? You're less likely to die in a plane crash than be run over a bus. I read that somewhere."
I squeezed his hand tighter. He was talking faster and faster and I was still finding it surprising that something could actually unsettle Paul this much.
"Second time I went down there it was ok, I guess. I expected to hate it, but in the end I was so excited about being with you again, knowing you wanted to see me, it kind of masked it. Coming home, same thing as the first time. Feeling like hell having to leave you. The flight was fine, but I kept thinking all this stupid shit like, if it comes down I'll never see you again. It was twice as hard as when you sent me away the first time; I thought if something happened to me you'd actually miss me."
"God, Paul," I said. "I..."
"You think I'm a jerk," he said on a half laugh.
"No, I think you're cute," I smiled. "I guess it's my turn to look after you, then."
"At least if we crash, we're gonna go together," he said.
"Shut up. We won't crash. We'll get there and back fine, get off the plane here tomorrow safe and sound and then be run down by the shuttle bus."
Paul laughed, more genuinely this time. "I am a jerk," he said. "Seriously, what the hell do I have to be scared about? I got you, haven't I?"
He seemed to relax after that and a little while later we were boarding the plane, finding our seats, stashing our luggage in one of the overhead bins. I actually found the whole thing just a little exciting, even the take-off during which Paul sat next to me with his eyes shut, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead and upper lip and his hand gripping mine so tight I thought he may well break a few bones. Eventually the plane levelled out and he let go of me and opened his eyes.
"Are you ok?" I whispered.
"Yeah. Fine. I worry too much." He smiled at me and it only seemed a tiny bit forced. "You better not tell the rest of the pack about this, I'll never live it down."
"It might make Leah think you're actually human," I teased.
"I'm joking, I'm not going to say anything."
We passed the next couple of hours watching a movie on the individual screens in front of us and then a light snack of sandwiches, cookies, fruit and coffee was brought round to the passengers.
"This coffee is worse than yours," Paul grinned. "Here, have mine."
He had obviously relaxed about the flying and by the time the food trays were cleared away, there was only another thirty minutes to go before we were descending towards Austin. The landing was a little rough and Paul grimaced but didn't say anything. He heaved a sigh of relief when we began taxiing towards the terminal and then smiled at me.
"Well, we're still alive."
I elbowed him. "I should have stopped at Portland when I left. Then you wouldn't have had to fly to see me."
"You'd never have gotten rid of me either; I'd have been driving over every weekend," he grinned.
Once off the plane we hurried out of the building to find a rental car. I drove this time and we made it to Fredericksburg a little late, but not too late for the funeral. There wasn't really time to check into a motel, but I called Dave to let him know we had arrived and he insisted we go over to his house right away to freshen up and change there.
The funeral was a pretty quiet affair. There were only a handful of people there - Paul and I, Dave and AnnaBeth, Hank's brother from Dallas and his wife, Herb from the parts store and a couple of other friends. Tammy tiptoed in just as the service began and stood at the back wearing a hat and dark glasses, looking as if she wasn't sure if she should be there or not. She slipped away immediately afterwards before even the priest could speak to her.
We went back to Dave's house then and after a quiet consultation with AnnaBeth, he suggested we stay over rather than have to find a motel.
"You don't have to do that, really," I protested.
"Don't be stupid, Jacob, we're friends, aren't we?"
"And any friend of yours is one of mine." He smiled and nodded at Paul. "You can have the guest room - top of the stairs on the left. Anna's gonna start cooking a meal soon - fried chicken and mashed potatoes. You really don't want to miss it."
"Ok, thanks, Dave." We went up to the room, changed out of our suits and then went back down to the living room. Dave handed out beers and then spent an hour or so chatting to us until the meal was ready.
Later AnnaBeth's mother called in to bring the baby whom she had been minding for the afternoon. The little girl, Bethany was a year old, with bright red hair and blue eyes just like her mother. Anna gave her a bottle and then put her down while the rest of us continued talking.
We retired pretty early, exhausted after the long day of travelling and having to rise at five again on Wednesday to drive back to Austin in time for the eight-thirty flight.
The journey home was a little more relaxed. By the time we boarded the plane Paul was a bit tense, but not half as much as he had been on the way down. He held onto my hand, but told me he was fine and only using the excuse to keep hold of me.
"Do you really need an excuse?" I teased.
The flight was uneventful and by one o'clock we were on the road driving back to Forks. Paul drove, which was just as well as my cellphone rang fifteen minutes into the journey. Much to my delight it was my first customer; not even a person I knew, but someone who had seen Black's Auto Repairs' ad in the newspaper and wanted a service doing. He was from Forks, but had an altercation with the shop there and didn't want to go back. I booked him in for the following morning.
"Job already?" Paul asked as I hung up.
"That's great." He glanced at the clock. "Shit, I'll be late for my booking by the time we get home and..."
"Just stop in Forks," I said at once. "I can hang around."
"I'm outlining a back piece, I'll be hours," he told me.
"Well, then I'll go home and come back and pick you up later."
We reached Forks five minutes before Paul's appointment and he gave me a quick kiss, then jumped out of the truck. I slid over behind the wheel and drove home, to find Embry wandering around outside, his car parked by my new workshop.
"Hey, Embry, what are you doing here?"
"Looking for you. Where've you been?"
"Sick of us already?" Embry grinned.
"Getting that way. No, we went back for Hank's funeral."
"Paul went with you?"
"Yeah. So did you want something?"
"That heap of shit over there..." he jerked his thumb in the direction of the car, "...is making some weird kind of humming noise and vibrating. Could you check it out? I'm not in any rush."
"Sure, I'll take a look now," I said. "It sounds like the wheel bearings."
I dumped the bags in the house first and changed into some scruffier clothes for working.
"Must be strange being back here, in this house," Embry commented as I came out of the bedroom.
"No, actually it feels like I was never away," I grinned.
"What's it like living with Paul? Bet you're walking on eggshells," teased Embry.
"Not at all."
"You mean he's mellowing in his old age?"
"No, he's mellow because I'm here," I said smugly. "He was only so shitty before because he had to keep his thoughts about me to himself."
"I guess it'll just take me a while to get used to," Embry smiled. "I never expected you to end up with a guy, least of all Paul."
He followed me outside as I went to take a look at the car. I discovered quickly that it needed new wheel bearings, which I would have to get in. Embry told me to take my time and hung around a little longer gossiping. When he left I drove back into Forks and went to see a couple of motor spares stores to find out where I could get the best deal. One refused point blank to give me an account or even a discount, although their prices were lower to begin with. However, the second one was managed by someone who had been pretty good friends with my Dad and he quickly confirmed that Billy's son didn't need to prove himself trustworthy in advance. He gave me a thousand dollar account and supplied me with wheel bearings for Embry's car and the filters, oil and so on for servicing my next booking the following day.
Afterwards I went over to Paul's store and passed the time talking to him and his customer, who was having an enormous motorcycle design inked onto his back. The outline was maybe an hour from being finished now so I waited until it was done so Paul could come with me.
From the next morning I found myself busy most of the time. The bookings for work began coming in thick and fast, starting with Emily's car, Quil's grandfather's truck and Paul's father's sports car, then numerous people responding to my ad, some just on the off-chance I might do a better or more reasonably priced job than their usual shop and some attracted by me being Billy's son. At the rate things were going I would soon be having to hire a guy to work for me.
Both Paul and I usually worked Saturdays unless we didn't already have jobs booked in and once again Sundays became a day for the pack, although frequently it wasn't just the guys any more, but the whole 'family' as we thought of ourselves. Kim, Marie, Claire, Steven and Samantha would all join us at Sam's house either in the morning when Emily would make brunch, or later on when Sam and Embry would cremate vast quantities of steak on the barbeque while the rest of us did our best to spear pieces with our forks while they were still bleeding.
I thought to myself for about the thousandth time since I had come home that it felt as if I'd never been away, although I had to wonder if I had never gone, would Paul ever have made his feelings known to me? I had always thought everything happened for a reason, so I guessed me going away had been the best thing at the time for both me and him. It had certainly been the best thing for me at the time.
"Hey." Paul threw himself down on the rug I was lying on in Sam and Emily's back yard while we waited for the barbeque to start up. As usual Sam was feeding a stack of paper and wood into it in an effort to make the charcoal light, which invariably resulted in everyone being covered in fragments of burnt paper and soot after a while.
I propped myself up on one elbow and smiled at Paul.
"What are you thinking?" he asked. "You looked like you were miles away."
"I was just wondering, if I never went away, would we be here now, like this?"
"You mean together?"
"I don't know, I would hope so. I might have got my act together eventually and spoken to you. I suppose you being in Texas gave me a kick in the ass though."
"Good thing I went, then," I grinned.
"Hmm, that's debatable. You put me through hell." He leaned closer to kiss me and as usual, one brief caress of lips quickly deepened.
"Guys, come on," Leah protested, walking over and kicking Paul none too gently in the ankle. "There's children present." She jerked her head in the direction of Claire who was playing with Quil, rolling a giant beach ball back and forth.
"Sorry." I pulled away and sat up. Paul sniggered and gave my knee a squeeze. "Do you think they'll notice if we disappear?"
"Yeah, probably." I pushed his hand off. "Anyway, I want some burnt steak. You'll have to wait."
"Damn you." Paul hauled himself up and draped his arm around my neck instead. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you too." I rested my head against his shoulder. "You reckon we'll still be doing this when we're like, ninety?"
"What, a pair of decrepit old wolves smooching together while we wait for Sam's burnt offerings? Yeah, probably," he grinned. "If you still want me when we're ninety."
"I'm always going to want you," I whispered and then giggled as I realised how corny we probably sounded. Still, what did it matter? "I love you, Paul," I said again.
"Love you too. Always."