The last few weeks had been spent with sleepless nights and heightened irritability for Bella. After her conversation with Will she remained more confused and hurt than when she had started. If she had just shut her big mouth she could have lived in the ignorance that not knowing was far kinder. The empty wine bottles were piling up and more things went flying around than usual. It wasn’t until Kristoph asked her to take a night off that she finally realized that keeping all of this bottled up inside of her might kill her and anyone in her path. So instead of genocide she decided to casually stroll over to Paul. Paul was a confidant, a wonderful distraction and very different from Will.
The wine bottle she’d emptied three quarters of hung from her grasp as she finally found him. She wasn’t her usual self though, she didn’t slide over to him and flirt casually. Her head hung low and the redness around her eyes indicated that she had been crying. Even though her speech was slurred, she still sounded somber. “Do you mind if we talk? I could really use a friend right now.”
Her footfalls were a welcomed sound in any state of being. That evening she was particularly more fragrant — wine, he could find that scent on the breeze easily because it was such an intimate one. Nearly the same way her skin and hair were. As Bella approached his stance had become sharp, as if she needed protection. Strong jaw set, shoulders squared, brow was furrowed with interest and curiosity, concern.
Those blue eyes were sharp and he knew this cadence. “For you?” He quipped, trying time make her smile, “I have all the time in the world.”
There was no hesitation in his action; Paul closed the distance between them and pulled Bella into his arms. The limbs would wind around her, hold her. He didn’t care who was watching.
As soon as she felt his arms circle around her a wave of emotion hit and the tears flowed like streams. The little sounds she made into his shirt felt pathetic and defeated but she didn’t have the energy to care. Out in the open like that she looked up at him with glassy eyes and sniffed. “Can we go somewhere more private? I don’t want to cause any more of a scene.” Like just earlier when her telekinesis tore a bottle out of her hand and threw it against a tree. When her emotions were this wild, her abilities weren’t easily controlled.
Truth was most of the incessant self hate chatter in her head was shocked into silence the moment Paul winded her arms around her. It seemed so silly that just a kind gesture like that could give her some form of temporary relief, but there she was and she was thankful to have someone like him in her life.
He held her, supported her through those little, wracked noises delivered into his shirt. And when he felt her begin to shift backward his grip lessened though those arms never faltered. There was nothing laced in the gesture more than friendship. “Sure,” he nodded. Whatever she needed he would do as much as he could.
Finally he did pull back. A glance would be cast around - it was habit by now, and then Paul was taking Bella’s free hand. “Give me that, first,” he coaxed, easing the half-empty bottle of wine from her fingers. “I’ll give it back.” That may or may not have been a promise.
Gently he would ease her toward a place he knew was secluded and that would be for a while, a small wagon.
After climbing into the wagon, Bella sat on the closest thing she could find which was a bed. “I’m so stupid, stupid stupid stupid…” objects began to shift in the wagon. What was coming was an explosion of emotion that she’d held onto desperately for so many years. “I asked the Reverend why he rejected me and he couldn’t even let me off the hook. I mean one minute I’m ok if he doesn’t love me and then next he’s telling me I’m beautiful even when I’m mad. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think.” Her arms gestured wildly as she explained their conversation.
For a moment she realized she might run out of breath so she breathed in slowly to try and calm herself down. Once she felt centered enough she spoke again. “He says I’m his ‘test’ from God.”
The door would whisk closed behind them. While he was alright with a bit of public display here and there, she deserved to say what was on her mind in peace and quiet. And he also didn’t want to advertise their current presence in the wagon if it could be helped. Once he felt secure enough, Paul would move the few careful steps and join Bella on the edge of the bed.
“What’re you talking about, Bells?” It was a little nickname he had procured for her, something sickeningly cute designed to leave her rolling her eyes. But in this context it was used to cheer her up. His arm wound around her frame and pulled her close, gently. “You definitely aren’t stupid. Silly, maybe.”
And then there it was. The dam had broken and Paul listened in silence as she spoke. Talked about the Reverend. His jaw would set with irritation but he kept his opinions to himself for now. “Well,” Paul began, emitting a sigh. “He isn’t wrong about that, you are beautiful when you’re angry. But that sounds like a cheap shot to me. At least I can be honest with a woman.” It was one thing to lead someone on, it was another to play mind games with them.
Bella deserved nothing but a man who would worship her and she was getting the raw end of the deal.
Fingers and palm would glide over the upper part of her arm in comfort. “He’s the stupid one,” Paul mumbled.
She chuckled at him, eyes rolling nearly in the back of her head but it wasn’t a happy laugh. It was pitiful and pessimistic. “Who is the smart one, you?” It was a jab since Paul wasn’t exactly a relationship expert but it was sort of playful nonetheless. Paul was the only person on her side right now and she sort of needed it. She let some more tears fall before wiping her eyes and sniffling.
“Sometimes..” she began, fiddling with the material of her shirt. “...sometimes I think I might be going crazy. Then what will happen? Pure chaos with things flying around at random. What will Kristoph think then? You think he’d still keep me around?” Her mind was wandering as if often did to eventualities and all the things that could go wrong. What if he kicked her out? How could she survive out there on her own?
“Hey,” he laughed softly, “I have more than these good looks.” It was a quip in return, playful in context. He wasn’t in a relationship but that was alright - being serious frightened him. People were fragile and being what he was, cursed, he knew he could never feel safe and comforted binding himself to anyone for too long a timeframe.
“You’re already crazy,” he assured her, still teasing. He would squeeze Bella gently though. “But we like you anyway.”
Things flying around at random sounded dangerous but he didn’t believe it would ever get to that point. Somewhere between their journey to the wagon from the guard post he had set down the bottle of wine. It was probably a good thing it had vanished like that.
“If he kicked you out, he’d have to kick me out. And then who would bring in all of the ladies if I was gone?”
She laughed again and this time it was genuine. “Probably Charles and they’ll all be saloon girls.” The idea seemed silly to her and she laughed again. Her head tilted toward him so she could rest it on his shoulder. Bella wished she’d fallen in love with someone like Paul. Paul was good to her and he made her laugh. All Willis had ever done was cause her heartache, which made the whole thing even more humiliating.
She grabbed his hand and folded it between hers. “Why can’t every man be like you?” She wondered aloud, squeezing his hand between hers. Perhaps it was time for her to give up on love and just get herself knocked up the same way she got herself off. It was what she wanted anyhow, a family and she didn’t need a man to help her with that.
There was that smile. Paul grinned at her, admiring the tone of her laugh. This was the woman he knew, not the somber one who wore the same clothes. “What’s wrong with saloon girls?” He laughed, making a face at Bella.
He didn’t mind the added pressure of her head against his shoulder. Hand would move along the curve of her side in comfort. Paul pressed a soft, tender kiss into her hair and left it at that.
“Do you think the world could handle more men like me?” He joked, looking down at her with interest. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not perfect. You’ll find a good man who really deserves a second look from you. I promise.” Family was out of the question now that he had the curse. Before he had wanted kids of his own. They’d talked about this, him and her, a few times.
She sighed and snuggled closer in his arms. “I don’t want anyone else. You know when you think about getting a gift as a kid. You think about it so much that when you don’t get it, you don’t want to play with anything?” Play sure, as long as Paul was still up for it and whomever else held her fancy, but she’d never give her heart to anyone else, not ever.
“The worst part about all this is that I still love him. Isn’t that sick? It’s pathetic.” She was pathetic. Only fools fell in love with people they couldn’t have, so why was she finding it so hard to let it go. Maybe it was because he gave her a glimmer of hope.
He listened. If it made sense to her who was he to argue? He hated to see her in pain. For everything they went through together he cared enough about her to want her to be truly happy. That wasn’t asking too much, right? If there was anything he could give to help, he would. Even if it was a distraction here and there.
“Love is hard,” he admitted. “It’s fucked up and twisted, but you can’t live without it. Crazy, isn’t it?” How could someone put themselves through this and still it was the endgame. The end all, be all.
“But it’s not sick. You always did like pain.” The amusement was dwindling. “If he hurts you too bad I’ll rip his arm off. Don’t worry, I’ll leave the rest of him working.”
The idea appealed to her right at that moment but Bella never lied to get what she wanted, so she kept her mouth shut. The absolute truth was that this wouldn’t be the last time Bella would go to Paul about Willis, and a part of her knew that. She’d never get over that man and he’d never give into her. “I usually require consent if there’s pain involved so just make sure you let me know if you’re going to do it. And please just leave his face, I like that part.”
Of course there wasn’t a part of the Reverend she didn’t like. Many times whilst going at it with Paul she’d imagined it was Wills arms around her, him inside of her and yet it would never come to pass. “Please don’t tell anyone about this. People around here think I’m crazy as it is.” She hadn’t exactly helped in that department, especially when it came to her temper.
“I would never hurt a lady,” he replied, amused. “Unless it was consensual, of course.” With all they’d done together in the context of their friendship he hoped she would know better by now. “I’ll leave his face, though I know I really shouldn’t.” This was all talk of course - Paul didn’t know if he could even take Willis, let alone get away with trying to start anything. But he would try if the good Reverend hurt Bella physically.
Shaking his head, Paul promised. “I would never do that. Friends don’t tell secrets, yeah?” That violated the trust he had worked so hard to build up.
She smiled at him, tears drying in her eyes. She leaned back to press a kiss to his cheek. “One day, even though you don’t want it, you’re going to make some girl really really happy.” Just like she’d done with him. If only she felt love for him like she did for Will, but that was how life worked, wasn’t it? She only wanted what she couldn’t have.
Suddenly she looked around the wagon, noticing it somewhat familiar. “Did we have sex in this wagon?” She asked, a little chuckle coming from her lips.
“Yeah,” Paul laughed, making a face. “Sure.” He made women happy but only briefly. He couldn’t face being with anyone long term, trying to dance around the risk of the inevitable. It was easier being alone, running around without the intent to pounce. “One of these days.”
Head would lift and his gaze would cast around casually, perhaps distracted. But it wasn’t until her remark about the familiarity that Paul actually took a good look around. They’d had sex in a lot of places, but this one definitely brought back the memories from their last escapade.
A glance would be taken of the comforter. “Yep. Remember you were here screaming for me,” he teased, pointing at a random spot on the bedspread. “And I’m pretty sure I was there…” Paul pointed at a place close to the first spot, gaze lifting playfully.
She chuckled playfully and watched as he pointed to the bed. “Actually we started there but then you were there…” she pointed to the side of the bed. “...and I was on top of you.” She gave him a quick wink before wiping her eyes one last time. She then knocked into him with a smile and tucked her stray hair behind her ear.
“If you do find someone, you let me know. I’ll be sad to miss out on all the fun we have but I’m not here to be some dirty little secret.” She knew what this was, Paul knew what this was and there was no point being wrapped up in any kind of drama were a relationship to sprout.
As she corrected him, Paul only nodded. “Either way, I’m pretty sure we’ve been in here before.” How uncanny was it to end up back in the same place at random that had hosted an event or two inside of it in secret? Retracing silent and worn steps without even thinking about it.
“Sure. Doubtful, but sure. You’ll be the first one to know,” he assured her. He wasn’t into drama or hurting anybody more than he already had in the past. Especially not Bella. She was in enough pain and turmoil without a jealous and scorned ex lover of Paul’s to deal with.
Bella smiled and stood, relieving herself from his grasp. “I should probably get back, those kids are probably wondering when the ride is going to end.” She said, playing it off like she was serious. She watched Paul’s reaction, the look of horror on his face before she began cackling. “I’m kidding you big oaf, I got someone to cover me.” If there was one thing Bella would never do was let the children be in any danger.
Maybe someday she’d be a mother but her chances seemed to be growing thinner and thinner every day. “Should probably sleep it off. If I stay awake I’m just going to want to finish off the rest of my wine.” And the tears had made her weary. A good nights rest would do her some good.
At her statement he blinked. He didn’t know what was worse, her leaving a ride unoperated or operating it after drinking. Obviously she wasn’t serious but he couldn’t help but think about it anyway. “You wouldn’t leave a child unattended,” he retorted, amused. “It’s not in your character, Bells.” She loved those kids too much to just leave them in danger.
He would move to stand as well, letting her go. “Good idea. That helps.” The bad dreams would come regardless but he hoped she would find some measure of peace with the sandman.
Her smirk at him was hiding her pain through her demeanor. She pulled at his shirt to pull him into a quick kiss. “Don’t stray too far away, tough guy, I might need some stress release pretty soon.” She pressed one more kiss to his lips before carefully climbing out of the wagon. Her balance was off and she didn’t want to have to be escorted back to the tents.
Business might be booming outside but she was ready to shut her eyes and no sound could keep her awake at this point. Her own brain couldn’t stop the sleep she was destined to have. As she walked off she turned back to look at the wagon. Maybe she could make herself forget Willis and fine someone like Paul, but she doubted she’d get that lucky.
Nothing he said to her was going to change anything. He tried regardless because she was a friend but he knew how empty the words would be. She would either keep chasing or give up. Paul would be there for her when she fell over to stand her back up, otherwise he would simply spectate and hope she knew what she was doing.
“Only for you,” he replied, offering a grin. Those kisses were returned quickly and then he let her go.
A few steps and he was following out of the wagon, closing the door tightly behind himself. Paul would turn and catch Bella’s gaze as she looked over at him. And then he was gone, heading off toward the post he’d left.