“It's not fair and I think you're really mean...I think you're really mean...I think –”
Paul's temper – never the most forgiving thing in the world – finally snapped as his little sister restarted the one song he possibly despised above all others. “For God's sake, Haley, shut the hell up!” he roared, hoping to startle her into silence; but instead of being terrified, as any other self-respecting ten year-old would be, the girl turned on him with a scowl.
“You're not supposed to swear in front of me, mom says,” she scolded with scrawny arms crossed over her chest.
“You said,” and here her eyes narrowed, voice dropping to make sure nobody else heard her, “you said hell. And you told me to shut up, too. I'm telling mom.”
Paul wondered briefly how it was that he, whose mere glare was capable of having grown men backing away nervously, was utterly unintimidating to the skinny girl in front of him. For a second he was possibly proud of her – she was his little sister, after all – but that soon faded to annoyance. “You wouldn't dare,” he taunted her with one raised eyebrow. “What's mom going to do, after all?”
Haley drew herself up to the tallest her somewhat diminutive height could achieve, barely coming up to her brother's elbow, but managed to look surprisingly haughty for it. “She could ground you. Or take away your pocket money. Or not let you watch the TV for a week.” Her brown eyes positively glowed as the imagined punishments grew worse. “Make you do the washing up for a week. Make you hoover. Or – why are you laughing at me?”
“I'm not.” Recognising the rather unhealthy red shade of his sister's face as a sign that she was about to turn into a very loud, high-pitched and sharp-elbowed little demon, Paul took the opportunity to change the subject. “D'you want a snack before dinner, Hales?”
All the wind taken out of her sails, but with no viable route to complain, Haley dropped down into her chair with a huff, arms folded belligerently and lower jaw sticking slightly out. “No.” Then, because he was studying her with a half-amused glance and she wasn't sulking (not really) she added a short, “Thanks.”
With the nonchalant shrug he'd had a lot of practice irritating his mother with, Paul turned into the refrigerator and began digging through it, tossing food out onto the kitchen counters. He ate far more in the process of preparing than actually ended up on his plate, but that couldn't really be helped, he reasoned. It was one of the occupational hazards of being a wolf; also, in his mind, one of the benefits, because however much he ate now he never felt sick – not like before, when he ate just because it seemed a shame to waste the last Reese's on Haley, who never really appreciated it anyway. And there was the proof that he needed to eat it, anyway. He was growing, wasn't he?
“Paul, that's gross!” Haley wrinkled her nose as he took a swig straight from the carton of juice. “There are others in this household besides you, you know,” she added primly in a tone so much like their mother's that he choked while she grinned in triumph and began humming under her breath again. He tried to ignore it, but as it grew louder and she added the words his irritation increased.
“Hales, do you even know what that song's about?”
She shrugged, carried on singing with a wicked hint of a smile. “It's not fair and I think you're really mean...”
“Seriously, Haley. You're ten.”
That made her stop. “I'm nearly eleven!” she exclaimed indignantly. Then she paused. “What's it about?”
Paul nearly groaned. He should have known that question was coming, and he wasn't exactly planning on explaining it to a kid who still thought 'hell' was a swear word. “It's a stupid song,” he evaded.
“Don't talk with your mouth full. What's it about?” she demanded again.
He took great pleasure in taking a massive bite of food and pointing to his mouth, eyes widely innocent.
“Tell me what it's about, or I'm telling mom about you eating all the food again!” He shrugged carelessly, which only served to infuriate her more. “I'll tell her you swore at me!”
“Hales, you're the only person I know who still thinks that's a 'swear.' And you know that, because for all the times you've threatened? You've never told her.” His tone mocked until her small face crinkled up and turned as red as before.
“I'll tell her that you keep pictures of naked ladies under your bed!”
Well, he hadn't known that she'd found those. Jeez, he'd have to find a better hiding place. “Than I'll tell Dad what really happened to his favourite sweater the other week.”
“I'll tell them that you keep sneaking out of the house at night!” Haley's voice had risen several notes, and Paul winced at the pitch.
“So I'll tell that Brady kid you've got a crush on him.” He knew he'd hit home when his sister's face paled and she shrank back, aghast; shrugged when she stared at him in disbelief.
“You wouldn't!” Those massive eyes suddenly teared up, and he felt like shit as she ran from the room. “You're so mean!”
Aw, hell. He'd made her cry now. His mom'd give him crap over that.
As if the thought had summoned her, the sound of an engine grumbling up the driveway had him hurrying to clear the kitchen – run the dirty plate cursorily under the tap, brush any crumbs from the counter top onto the floor, and shove the juice carton back into the fridge. When his mom came in, he was leaning casually back in one of the kitchen chairs with books scattered across the table in front of him. “Hi, mom,” he greeted her.
“Hi, sweetheart.” She eyed him suspiciously, gaze darting from the books to the refrigerator and back to his face. “Are you working?”
“Uh...” Why not? “Yeah. Holiday homework.”
“Still haven't got the hang of those tricky triangles yet, then?” She smiled knowingly as he glanced down to realise that the books were his sister's.
“Oh, Haley must have picked up the wrong books when she just went upstairs now,” Paul lied glibly, standing quickly as he heard the girl's footsteps just outside the room. “I've got to go over to Jared's. He's...got some of my Spanish notes to copy up from when he was off sick.” And from every lesson since his change, because he never paid any attention any more with Kim sitting next to him. “I'll see you later...”
“Don't be back too late, you've got your chores to do, and don't be late for dinner!” his mom called after as he quickly made his escape before she could see Haley had been crying. Just in time; he was halfway out of the front door when he heard her exclamation of, “Oh, honey, what's the matter? Why have you been crying?” Haley, certainly, would have forgotten all about the incident by tomorrow morning's breakfast, and if he could stay out of his parents' way long enough they'd be too busy to reprimand him.
Feeling slightly smug with his evasion tactics, Paul slipped into the trees just across the road from where his house stood, running only long enough to be out of sight before stopping to remove his clothes. He only needed shorts when he got to Sam and Emily's house, so he left the others bundled up in his customary hiding place – a hollow where branch met tree trunk – revelling in the flex of his muscles as he reached up, the cool murmur of the breeze against his heated skin.
Then he was running again, but this time when his feet met the earth there were four paws, wind blowing back through silver-grey fur as he raced through the familiar pine forests to meet his pack. He could feel them already in his mind; the Alpha and Jared, and Brady (whom he was pretty sure already knew about Haley's crush) and, in some far distant part of his consciousness, the darkness that was Jacob's awareness. As far as Paul was concerned, Jacob's impromptu trip halfway across the country wasn't such a big thing – the guy had pretty much asked for it, dragging the leech-girl around all the time – but he was still brother, still pack. Even if he was an arrogant idiot most of the time.
Paul, the Alpha's voice came through warningly.
Sorry, he sighed, but knew that Sam would be able to read the lack of contrition in his mind. Do you need me around?
We're pretty much covered, the pack mind told him. But you could swing round by Billy's place, and then go down along the beach.. Paul didn't need to tell them he was already turning towards the Black house; they knew, could feel it.
You could see if Billy needs anything, Jared suggested. The sister arrived a couple days ago, and girls always need stuff.
Ugh, sisters. A brief flash of the argument with Haley ran through his mind, and he felt the others' amusement.
I will, Paul grumbled.