It's not easy to write a story for someone. You can't invade their privacy by writing about them specifically, so you have to write something else and try to sprinkle them through it. You want them to smile when they recognize themselves in the work, without it being obvious to others who read, except maybe to those very close friends, who will also know.
This story wouldn't have happened without the help of two very special girls, Hadley Hemingway and Edwards Beachlover. A million thanks to you both.
For Maple, on her birthday.
Sailing Into the Future
Jasper loves Bella. Bella loves Jasper. It's carved into most of the wooden structures and trees in the town where we grew up. "You never see them apart." That's what everyone said about the best friends who became lovers. Long absences when we separated for college made no difference. Both sets of parents approved. Convenience, safety, a common history – it should have been easy – we liked each other.
Then a proposal of marriage came out of nowhere, and it scared me to death. It seemed like one minute I was in the cocoon of a safe, loving relationship and then I peeked out, terrified I was making a mistake. I said yes, without thinking it through, and Jasper knows it. He hovers and worries about me. I do love him. I feel like I've always loved him and that I will continue to love him.
He's not the problem. I feel like I'm standing at a crossroad with two major decisions before me. I've only ever had two boyfriends in my whole life, and at twenty-three years of age, I know there's a world I haven't experienced. The other one is my job. Every day I hate going there. I know I'm lucky to have any job in this current meltdown of an economy, but I'm sick of taking on the workload of the other two who really aren't performing. I'm constantly dealing with inane problems of college students who can't get their act together, and it's not what I trained for. Now I have to renegotiate my contract sometime before this break is over, and I'm not sure if I want to.
My wavering over my decision to get married has caused a lot of tension, so my parents suggested I take a European vacation over the summer and sort myself out. Jasper wanting to come along was a bit of a surprise at first, but I can understand fully why he needs this too, so we came up with an agreement. We'd have no rules, and whatever happens will stay there. Jealousy and accusations are banned, and we're allowed to do anything we want. I hope that by the end of it, I'll know if I'm making the right decision.
I didn't wear my engagement ring on the plane. I've left it in the care of my best friend, Alice, who looked at me dismally when she agreed to keep it safe. I don't want to lose it because I chose it and love it, but I'm uncertain whether I'll want to wear it when I come back, and I can't face that scene where I have to take it off my finger and hand it back. It would be too tragic.
A week in England and a week in Ireland have proved to be an immediate test to the strength of the agreement. Everyone flirts over here, and the feeling of total freedom is exactly what I've been seeking.
There have been plenty of opportunities to get this out of my system. There was a particular night on Guinness, in the 800-year-old King's Head Pub in Galway, which will go down in history. We had a bet before we went out that night and I won 50 Euros for my first sleepover. Craig or "Creg," as they called him was nothing but a player, an attractive, cocksure, well-muscled, generous, sharp-witted womanizer. When I crept back in the morning, I was red-eyed and hung over; but even that drunk, I still didn't sleep with him. I wonder if he even remembers me.
It was easier to let everyone think I'd done the deed, than to explain why I didn't go through with it. I'm the one who thought this was my way forward, but the reality is very different than what I expected. It's one thing to laugh at someone's jokes and feel their hungry eyes on you, but another to get physical with them.
Anyway, the bet was to sleep over, and there were no stipulations on what you did while you were there, so I just didn't say I slept on his couch alone and snuck out of there before he woke up. Luckily, no one's done anything more than knowingly smirk at me. Even Jasper hasn't said anything, because it's all part of the agreement.
The group we're travelling with is always changing, sometimes six or more, depending on finances or the will to continue with life on the road, finding new hotels and dragging suitcases and backpacks around.
An idea formulates to head to the Riviera for some sun, so Jasper and I train it to Paris, and then on to Marseilles where we're meeting up again with Edward.
I can't wait to see him.
Unfortunately, our arrival coincides with a country-wide transport strike, which means we're going to be stuck in Marseilles for another two days before we can get a seat on the train to Cannes and Nice.
Jasper and I are at a bar having a pre-dinner drink when I see him walk in, the most desirable man I've ever laid eyes on. My heart rate immediately increases and I know I'm already blushing. Edward looks so delectable, with his golden skin, mesmerizing green eyes, and wild copper hair. I want to touch him. He sees me, and gives me a quick smile before he leans on the bar at the far end and orders himself a beer, paying no attention to Jasper. I can't take my eyes off him because he's like an addiction, the kind of man you can't possibly resist, so I'm wondering why I'm even bothering when there are no rules.
I've already slept with him on this trip, soon after we arrived in London, but he left for Spain with another group when we went to Ireland. I know if I give in to my overwhelming attraction for him, that it will blow the whole agreement apart and turn this trip into a complete waste of time. I'll be dragging him off somewhere to fuck our way through the rest of the vacation.
Edward is watching the television, showing the latest footage of Parisian crowds, assembling in lines and burning things. His eyes roam the clientele and then quickly find mine. He pushes himself off the bar, and works his way through the crowd to speak to us.
"So France is on strike for the next few days, huh?"
I never fail to melt when I hear his accent. He says the word "posh" sometimes, and it's a good adjective. Occasionally, though, a little Cockney creeps in. It's panty-dropping, every time.
Jasper replies, "Yeah, it looks like we're stuck. Any ideas on how we can get out of here?"
"I've got a boat, if you're interested," he says with a grin. "Where do we want to go, kids?"
Jasper and I look at each other in surprise and then I lock eyes with Edward, searching for what he's actually offering.
"I need to acquire a few more passengers to cover my costs, but 400 Euros each will take us all the way to Nice. That's where I'm transferring her to." His eyes take in my face in a way that tells me he's missed me too. I know how hard this has been for him. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jasper shaking his head, probably amazed at Edward's knack of coming up with the perfect solution.
"What kind of boat, Ed?" Jasper asks, looking for a way to break the eye contact between us. Edward blinks a few times before answering him, running his hands through his hair.
"It's Edward, Jasper. I prefer Edward." I hear the slight change in Edward's accent before he looks back at me. "She's a luxury sailboat, not huge, an eight berth. She's nice though. I've done this same trip before. It's a piece of piss."
"Can we catch fresh fish and barbeque on board?" I ask, and Edward laughs at me.
"Not around here, we can't."
"Is it polluted?" I ask, with a frown.
"There's nothing here, Bella. All the seafood comes from Belgium," he offers, still chuckling. "There's no seaweed."
My eyes grow wide, hardly believing him. He squeezes my arm and taps Jasper on the back. "You two have dinner. I need to contact these girls who want a ride. I'll catch you later."
I feel myself wanting to go with him, but calmly nod instead, letting him leave and tend to his business. I'm worried about my ability to resist him if we're going to be together on a boat for the next few days. I spend the rest of the evening doing my laundry and all the girly things I probably won't be able to do on a boat. Later that night, he calls to say he's found all his passengers, and gives us directions to the mooring.
The next morning, the noise of the mass of people in the streets wakes everyone up early. It's a struggle to get through the traffic and around to the marina where hundreds of fabulous boats wait to be taken out. Finding the numbered berth is even harder, dragging our bags in the simmering heat.
When we find it, I stand there staring. I can't believe this is where we'll be staying. Her name is "Irina," emblazoned across the back in a calligraphic script. She's beautiful, with a smooth, glossy white hull and decks of creamy beige timber, a blue colored sunshade covering built-in seating, next to the huge steering wheel. She has two masts, holding rolled up sails.
Edward comes out and greets us. He's loading supplies on board and we quickly help him, noticing two of our fellow passengers watching us. They are girls, obviously younger, and from the look of them, they slept on board last night. They're wandering around in bare feet, bikini tops and short shorts, drinking coffee and rubbing their eyes.
Jasper's eyebrows pop up as he takes them in, and I say nothing. My eyes are on our skipper's muscles, straining against his t-shirt.
A horn toots and Edward asks Jasper if he could help him. They head up the walkway to one of those strange-looking tiny three-wheeler trucks that speed around the streets here, labeled as "Delicatessen Max." I watch Edward hand over cash for several plastic bags and a large box with long baguettes sticking out of the top. The two men look mismatched coming back together, with Edward in board shorts, t-shirt, and bare feet, and Jasper in his jeans, casual button-down, and Docs. They are both gorgeous in their own way.
Edward hands over the bags to the girls and introduces them as Jane and Kate. I can't pick up their accents, but they seem friendly and happy to help now, taking the groceries inside. Then Edward grabs my bag and takes us downstairs to see the sleeping accommodations.
There are three double bedrooms and one room with two very narrow bunk beds. I suddenly feel like I've been hit with a sledgehammer; it's obvious they only used one room last night from the way the sheets hang off the bed. I have to draw on every reserve I have to keep standing as I think of him spending the night in one bed with two girls. I did say no rules, so I'm not supposed to disapprove of anything on this trip.
Just breathe, Bella. Suck it up.
"Where do I sleep?" I ask, expecting him to point me in a direction.
He shrugs, with a kind of smirk, and answers, "Wherever you end up, I suppose."
I ignore his eyes and what they do to me. "So, in here?" I point to the room on the right in the aft and I catch a slight frown ghost over his forehead.
"Well, there are two more arriving soon, friends of mine from London, so there will be three men and four women."
Since I can count, I work out it's a man and a woman about to join us. "Are they a couple?"
"No, she's an ex of mine. He's my friend, Emmett," he says, as he leaves me and climbs upstairs. Jasper follows him.
I don't know anything about the ex-girlfriend, but he's spoken of Emmett and made him sound larger than life. I got the impression they were very close and I know they shared a place in London when they were at university together.
Two weeks ago, I would have thought it exciting not knowing where I'd end up, but now it makes me sad. He said it as if he was expecting me to end up with him, but I couldn't get in that bed now. I don't claim a room; I just get changed and dump my bag, thinking I'll work it out later.
I look over the two tiny bathrooms and find them to be perfectly adequate. Surprisingly, several portholes and opening glass hatches in the ceiling throw plenty of light into this lower level. There's a living area down here with a television anchored to the wall and modular couches. I climb the stairs and find Edward lifting a huge hatch that opens up the wall and creates a sort of eating area to the side. It's clever and uses the space very well. There's another area toward the bow where you can lounge or sunbathe so, overall, I think seven of us can be very comfortable here.
I check out the kitchen next, and find he's stocked the cupboards with everything we could want, including his precious baked beans, and the fridge is full as well. There's a very smart built-in bar fridge full of chilling champagne, white wine, bottled water and beer. He's thought of everything, and I smile at how organized he is, because I doubt the two girls had anything to do with it.
"Look at this?" Edward calls and we all come out on deck, watching huge plumes of smoke rising from somewhere over in town. "Christ, I hope Emmett and Charlie don't get caught up in that. Their flight was arriving at ten."
"Charlie?" I'm puzzled, hearing the sound of my father's name.
"Her name's Charlotte, but nobody calls her that."
"Was she a serious girlfriend, Edward?" I feel it and can't quite contain it. The hackles have risen.
With a lopsided grin, he shrugs and answers, "No, not really, but she's good fun to have around."
I narrow my eyes at him, knowing instantly he's got something planned and it will probably surprise me when I find out what it is. In the short amount of time I've known him, he's proven to be very unpredictable, quite unlike me. This trip is the most adventurous thing I've ever done.
Someone calls out to him and I see a giant of a man, pulling his bag from the trunk, as a woman exits their cab. She waves towards us and my mouth drops. She's stunning, dressed like she owns the Riviera, not in an expensive way - she's just totally cool. She slings a small backpack over her shoulder, which looks like it contains less than I would take for an overnight stay.
I envy people who know how to pack. I've already sent one whole box-full back from London. I must have been kidding myself with all the extra stuff I threw in my bag.
The grins on both of them are captivating as they take in the boat, probably just as we had.
"Salut, bonjour! Ca va?" She takes Edward's arm to board and hugs him, closing her eyes.
He hugs her back and then holds her out to look at her properly. "I'm very well. You look great. Lucky you were available, huh?"
"Yes, well, somebody has to translate, right? It's my pleasure." She winks at him. "Introductions, please."
They're both charming, and they arrive smelling divine. Charlie gives me a truly welcoming hug and my heart has a little flutter when I find my hand on Emmett's huge bicep and experience his hard body against mine. He knows he's good looking, and he makes a point of giving each of us girls the benefit of a long appreciative stare before grinning at Edward.
"Aye, Captain, my captain. This is great."
"Will you co-pilot for me, Em?"
"Sure thing, Captain," he says looking over the deck. "We should be able to handle a jib and a mainsail." He breaks into a posh British officer's accent, from like a century ago. "Old chap, are you rusty?"
"You bloody pillock. How long have you been waiting to use that line?"
Emmett gives him a big smile and keeps on with the accent. "Well, let's get going and get un-rusty, Rusty."
Edward breaks into laughter and Emmett messes with his hair, pulling pieces up to inspect them as Edward tries in vain to push him off. The mop looks exactly as it did before Emmett touched it. I can't help but smile at them. They're delightful together.
"I missed you, you big ox. Get your kip downstairs and we'll take off. We'll do a basic training session with this lot once we're out in deep water."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n." Emmett salutes with his palm facing Edward and his fingers splayed, like he's drunk or mentally challenged. I laugh because he's innately funny. I turn and see Charlie viewing them in the same way. Jasper has moved up to the bow of the boat and is chatting with the two girls. Whatever he says must be good because they're both leaning towards him, laughing.
"Are we all ready to go?" There's a communal agreement from everybody and Edward calls us down onto the mooring for a quick demonstration on how to untie and tie a cleat knot. I get it right away: rope around the cleat facing away from the boat, down around and back in a full number eight, then you twist your hand counter-clockwise and leave a loop around the cleat facing the boat. Then you pull. It's easy to do up and even easier to untie.
"You're a natural at this, Bella. Have you ever sailed before?"
I shake my head and answer, "I'm sure this is the easy part."
"You'd be surprised." He nods his head in the direction of the two girls, who have a jumble of loops falling off the cleats, and I have to swallow a laugh. "Kate, Jane, forget it. Please just watch me. These long round things hanging down are called fenders. We don't take her out or bring her in to any sort of mooring without them protecting the outer part of the hull." He glances over at the girls and says, "The widest part of the white bit underneath the deck."
We all nod. That works. I think he's a good teacher.
We walk up a little and he points to the anchor. "We don't drop the anchor in the mooring, okay? We just tie up. The more cleats you tie on to, the sturdier she is." He directs us to untie a cleat each and hold the rope as he boards and starts the engine. The boat immediately shifts as if she wants to get out of her confines, and Emmett keeps the last ones in place while the rest of us throw our ropes on the deck and get on board.
We're all quiet as Edward very slowly maneuvers us out of the marina. Emmett then shows us how to tidy up our ropes. We look back at the town and I have to admit it looks very pretty from here. We travel around the cape for about five minutes before he cuts the engine.
He and Emmett work like a team who've done this many times before, and after a lot of pulling of ropes and turning a handle around, the sails are up, filling with the breeze. They go through a similar process to position the sails at the right angle.
I'm fascinated. I really hope they'll let us try.
I have this huge grin on my face as we glide through the sea. After about half an hour, the color of the water becomes paler and more vivid when Emmett shouts out, "We have to stop here! Are you seeing this, ladies and gents?"
We're looking at a narrow inlet with a tiny beach. The dramatic cliffs all around are pure white, probably limestone, and it does look incredibly beautiful. The water is more inviting than any I've ever seen, but we've only just left Marseilles.
"Should we be stopping so soon? We'll never get there, surely," I call out to them. Edward and Emmett look at me as if I can't be seeing what they're seeing.
"We're less than ninety nautical miles from Nice, Bella. I think we have time. A lot of people come to Marseilles just to see this."
I shrug at my lack of knowledge. Well, in that case, why shouldn't we stop whenever we feel like it and swim in this beautiful clear water?
The boys get to work, turning us towards the shore so we're close enough to swim in. They pull the sails down and we drop anchor amongst a dozen other boats.
Unfortunately, this is where things are going to get difficult. Jasper has never been much of a swimmer, even though I nagged him for years to take me to the beach. The water around Seattle was freezing all year and he always had some excuse. He's still in his jeans, shirt and shoes.
I sigh as I look out at the sparkling azure water and know I have to get in. This journey is supposed to be about finding what makes me happy, and what makes me feel free. I may never come back to this part of the world and, if I miss this opportunity, I'll regret it when I go back home. Edward must be watching me, because as soon as he sees me pull my dress over my head, he yanks his t-shirt off and dives into the water. I follow him in and we come up in a world of bubbles together, both grinning at being in this beautiful location.
Swimming in slowly, we wave at the occupants of another sailboat who look like they've also been swimming. Edward tells me we are in one of the "Calanques" that dot the coastline towards the town of Cassis. He says it will be a good place for us to spend the night because the marina is not so busy, so we can choose if we want to tie up in town or anchor out offshore and stay on board. He says he prefers these smaller places to the big ports along the way.
Suddenly, Emmett swims past us like he's going for the world record. He pulls up and sighs as he turns over to float on his back, looking as happy as we are. Charlie is doing a sort of dog paddle and she calls out that she can't believe how clear the water is. It's not until she reaches us that I realize we're treading water, and I have my hands on Edward's shoulders and he's holding my waist. Emmett challenges us to race to the sand and he and Edward take off. Charlie and I have no interest in joining in and we continue to paddle in slowly.
"I couldn't talk Jasper into joining us."
"He's not a great swimmer, Charlie."
"Oh, no, what a shame." She looks genuinely sorry for him. "He can't miss this amazing water."
She's very nice. She wants to make sure a perfect stranger doesn't miss out. Maybe she will have more luck with him than I've had over the years.
I ask her how she and Edward know each other, and she tells me she met him at The Bartlett when Edward was doing his post grad degree in Architecture at the University College of London.
She tells me she is still studying spatial analysis and, when I ask her what that is, her enthusiasm bursts forth, telling me all about the study of the city as a model, of people's habits and movements, how they get to work, how far they travel for entertainment and how the public transport system affects their decisions. She's especially interested in the impact of transport failing and how people get around it. She tells me about the ridiculous cost of driving into London and how she sees the future model very differently, where micro-cities will pop up based on the type of business that goes on there.
She says she always knew that Edward would have to go to America when he had so much talent and a father whose company would give him the opportunity to shine, so they were never seriously dating. She says she loves him, though, and it reminds me of the way I feel about Jasper. She obviously knows nothing about me.
Suddenly our feet touch the bottom and we walk out of the water, admiring the two very fine specimens who are sunning themselves on a rock. I get a look at Charlie in her bikini. She really doesn't try hard. The top doesn't match the bottom and it's not particularly skimpy, but she has a smoking hot figure. It's actually the perfect swimsuit for showing off her assets and for diving off a boat and swimming in. I have to adjust mine to cover up as we walk up the sand.
We climb up on the rocks above the boys and I look back towards our boat, anchored in water so clear I can see its shadow on the bottom. The different blues of the water range from vivid aqua to deep blue.
"Beautiful." I hear Edward's voice, thinking he's looking at the scenery, but he's looking up at me. He does these sweet things that make me melt. I smile at him and then he looks toward Emmett.
"Have you heard from Jay?"
"No, not lately, but I know it's really over this time. She met a photographer, fell in love, and now she's moving back home to Canada with him. I think they want to have a kid together."
"I'm sorry, Emmett, she was a great lady."
"I'm sorry, too. I'm going to miss her big heart and her hugs." They both nod, quiet for a minute, looking out at the water. "What about you, anyone serious?"
I wait for his answer.
"I don't know, maybe. There is someone, but I'm not ready to tell everyone." He looks miserable and my guts are suddenly in knots, but I can't show it.
Emmett's head snaps up. "What does that mean?"
"It means what it means," he says, standing up. "Come on, I'm starving. Anyone ready for lunch?"
We swim to the boat together but I hang back, lost in my thoughts, knowing he's hurting.
When we climb on deck, we find Jasper, finally stripped down to his shorts, and both girls are massaging suntan lotion into his back. The sight of their backsides in their thong bikinis is one I would have preferred not to see. For a moment, I'm imagining them with Edward. They're doing a very sensual massage, slow with long strokes, matching Jasper's moans.
I try to ignore them and go to the kitchen with Charlie. Edward insists on helping us, even though I tell him he's done all the work in getting us here. He eventually gives in, telling us what he had planned for lunch and grabs beers for him and Emmett. His hand glances over my hip as he leaves, and he shoots me one of his sweet smiles.
Charlie plugs her iPod into the dock and she's chosen The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication." I wonder if she's been nice enough to find an American band for me. It does go perfectly with the relaxed lunch Edward has put together, and she bumps me with her hip as we laugh while we get everything ready.
There is nothing on this earth like fresh French baguettes. We put out a selection of wonderful food from Edward's delicatessen man and everyone makes their own, sitting under the shade of the canopy. Edward opens a bottle of wine for us, but he and Emmett drink only water, saying we're going to move on after lunch. Jasper and his new friends quickly finish their glasses and open another bottle. He keeps saying he loves their Welsh accents and he sounds fake, like he's chatting them up.
When we've cleaned up, I tell Edward I want to learn how to sail and his face erupts in the biggest smile, saying he was hoping I would.
He sits us all down and gives us a worst case scenario, where he and Emmett are both ill or have hit their heads and we've run out of fuel. I listen closely to every word after that, thinking of us floating aimlessly out to sea or tipping over.
We gather around as he points out the main parts of the sailing equipment: the big mainsail and the boom with its pulleys, telling us to make sure we keep out of its way. He shows us the smaller sail called the jib and its halyards, pointing out where the rope lines feed around to keep the sails pulled tight. Then we sit down again and he sketches a perfect drawing of the boat and both sails, using his hands to show how they change the angles depending on the wind. He explains that we set the sails into the wind because you can't sail directly into it or have it exactly behind you. He says we will zigzag back and forth to get to our destination. The way he explains it makes good sense.
Watching them put it into practice is something else. Now that we know what they're doing, we look at each other, wondering if they'll ask us to help, and if we paid enough attention.
There is only a light breeze blowing when we turn the boat into the wind. Emmett pulls on the line to raise the mainsail and they keep it tight in line with the wind. When they raise the jib, it flaps around like crazy until Edward loops the line and turns the handle around and around on the winch, tightening it until it stops flapping. Then they do the same thing with main sail as the line travels through the pulleys on the boom. The entire boat leans over and suddenly we really take off.
He actually lets me steer after a while and I'm taking this very seriously, doing a great job of not laughing when he tells me I'm on lookout for "luffing." This is nautical speak for the sails flapping. He says when it happens, we need to watch the wind vane on top of the mast, lining up the vane between the two flags and tighten the sheet lines.
My eyes bug out when we change direction and "tack." The boom roars across very fast and they loosen the jib, whipping around almost out of control, before bringing the line around to the other side, tightening again. There is a lot of action in a small period of time and then everything calms down again as we let the wind take us. The feeling of pure exhilaration is enhanced by the noise of the boat slicing through the water, even though we're not going fast. I can't imagine what this must be like in a gale.
It seems like no time passes before we see the town coming up. The boys drop the sails and we help roll them up before Emmett gives us a lesson on tying the fenders in place before we motor in. Even Jasper and his two friends have to work. Cassis is very beautiful with many different colored buildings around the marina and boats everywhere. It takes Edward ten minutes to find an available mooring and he looks relieved when he brings her in safe and sound.
We all get off and tie a rope to a cleat. Edward checks them and reties a couple. As we're about to get back on, he puts his arm around me and kisses my hair, asking me if I really enjoyed it. I flinch from the physical contact, recoiling at the thought of him with the two girls last night. I tell him I loved the sailing and he gives me a smile that is both hesitant and forced.
Emmett opens a bottle of champagne to toast our first sailing lesson and Charlie and I ask about the more technical aspects of how they got us here. Emmett answers her question about how strong you have to be to pull the ropes by flexing his biceps. She sits very close to grab hold, and I see a moment pass between them. I get it, and I smile at them, seeing their first attraction to each other. I remember what that was like.
We look over the maps and I mention that we haven't come very far today. Edward says that now they're more comfortable with the boat, that we'll try to make it to The Porquerolles tomorrow, and we'll be about half way.
"Pork 'er 'ole?" Emmett asks in a Cockney accent and Charlie chuckles, smacking his arm.
I smile at them and sigh, feeling relaxed as I look back towards the lovely town in the afternoon sun, and I feel Edward's arm come around me and pull me back into a comfortable position against him. Emmett watches us, sipping his champagne but, as far as I can see, he's not reacting. Maybe he thinks this attraction has only started today and he knows nothing about me. I so hope he doesn't.
Jasper and the two girls emerge, dressed to go out, and they wave, saying they are going to look around. They're half drunk already and it's embarrassing to watch him with his arms around two women.
I wonder if Edward was drunk last night when they shared his bed. My guess is they think Jasper is going to pay for their drinks this evening, and they're out for whatever they can get from the men by being little sluts. Tomorrow, they'll probably be all over Emmett. Charlie is the only one who sweetly calls and waves to them, saying she hopes they have a great time.
We shower, deciding to head into town, rather than cook dinner. We lock up the boat and wander around the marina, quickly finding a place with outside tables and excellent food.
There's a flyer for Le Cirque on our table, and Emmett says he wants to go. Charlie is not so sure, but the image of the buff male acrobat twisting high in the air has us girls fascinated, so we agree. Charlie is charming again, telling the restaurant owner in French how much we enjoyed ourselves, and he directs us to where we can catch a cab to the town of Aubagne, about ten miles away.
As the sun is setting, we spot the big tent in the distance, glowing from inside. We head in and find our seats but I see nothing of the circus I went to as a kid. Ethereal music plays, and the lights gradually dim until it's quite dark.
A high octave female voice heralds the start of the performance and spotlights converge. It's the man from the photo on the flyer, coiled around a rope that hangs from somewhere further up in the dark. He balances his body by sheer muscle strength, wearing what I would call loose exercise pants. They're rolled a couple of times at the waist and it's obvious he's not wearing underwear.
Charlie and I look at each other and smirk at the French talent for attracting grown women to the circus. After his act, he climbs up, retracting his rope, smoothly replaced by two more men, just as physically perfect, but clad in silver one-piece suits that constrain their appendages.
They swing through the air on heavy ribbons twisted around their arms, and their dance is languid, circling each other. Just as you think it's over, ribbons fall from above. More acrobats descend like spiders on webs to the ground, climbing up on each other, building an upside down pyramid of humans, all carried by a man who looks no bigger than the previous performers.
The lights go down, the crowd applauds and we wait. A female lion appears alone, walking into a single spotlight, her voice a rumbling snarl. She's close enough to make me want to move back. Another beam of light reveals her handler there with her and we hear sounds of relief from the audience.
She roars at him, but does whatever he commands, jumping through rings and balancing on cylinders that can barely hold her huge weight. She's magnificent, an animal made of muscle, and when she disappears back into the dark, I want more of her.
The music changes and we're now at the carnival. Groups of performers appear, riding horses, festooned with large feathers. Tiny people and incredibly tall stick-insect-like men parade before us with red and white striped trousers, while others lift torches to their mouths and blow out streams of fire. This is the kind of circus I remember from my childhood.
A clown appears with golden hair sticking out horizontally from above his ears. He's spot lit, with skin painted yellow, but his face has the classic clown makeup in stark white. His mouth and nose are red and he wears a shrunken purple top hat. He's clumsy, like all clowns, and the crowd laughs and cheers, enthralled by his accident-prone performance.
Charlie is not. She's clutching Emmett as if something terrible has happened. She stands to leave, and she and Emmett have words. She actually walks out and, after a minute, Emmett follows. Edward watches them go and we look at each other, wondering what is going on.
He gets up to check on them and, after a few minutes sitting on my own, he comes back and tells me she's freaking out, that she's terrified of clowns. I go out to see if she's okay and I stop because she's hugging Emmett tightly just outside the entrance. He is really enjoying it too, running his hands over her hair with his eyes closed.
It's too intimate to interrupt, so I turn back and join Edward, asking him if he really wants to stay. He shakes his head and, after what feels like an appropriate amount of time, we go out and join them, haling a cab back to Cassis.
Edward sits in the front so Emmett and Charlie can stay close. She's only just beginning to calm down, still repeating the details of the way the clown looked. Emmett wraps his arms around her again and she settles, disappearing into his hug.
They still cling to each other on the walk back to the boat and Edward holds his arm out for me to take his hand. As our fingers entwine, the emotions I've kept squashed all day hit me. I can't bear the thought of him with anyone else but I have to bear it and pretend I'm okay with all of this.
He pulls me back and asks, "Are you okay? Where's my girl from London who couldn't keep her hands off me? Is there something going on here I should know about?"
I shake my head and try to give him my most authentic smile. He's been wonderful today and I should be enjoying every minute of this trip. Instead, I'm so disappointed in myself for having caused this to happen. I almost say something when we hear laughter coming from the boat.
Jasper is on deck, leaning against the boom with both girls. His shirt is unbuttoned and Kate has her hand down the front of his pants. He's kissing her while Jane attacks his chest with her fingernails, biting into the back of his neck.
"Fuck." It startles me hearing Edward swear. I wonder if he's as mortified as I am or if it's because Jasper has moved in on his territory. He rushes over to unlock the boat, saying sorry to Charlie and Emmett and I'm not certain what he's apologizing for.
I look up at Jasper and say, "Seriously? Are you really doing that in public?"
Jane looks over and then takes him by the hand, leading him and Kate inside as I watch them, feeling things crawling in my stomach. They go downstairs and I go to the fridge to grab a beer, needing some time on deck on my own. I just want to cry.
The boat is lit up like Christmas now and someone is opening the hatches in the roof. I guess it's stuffy. Then I hear Edward's voice.
"Why are you doing this? Don't you know much it's hurting her?"
I keep very quiet, wondering where this is going.
"For your information, Edwaaard, she's no angel herself."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"She fucked a guy in Ireland."
I set my beer down on the deck and rush downstairs before this gets out of hand. I should have never let him think I did that.
"She was drunk, having the time of her life, and she didn't come home until morning."
The look on Edward's face kills me. It's a mixture of disbelief and anger. I shake my head as his eyes bore into me.
"I didn't sleep with him. I haven't had sex with anyone."
"Then why is he saying you did, Bella?" His voice is controlled, but he's seething.
"She took 50 Euros off me for that bet. Whoever had the sleepover won." I want to smack Jasper's drunken smile off his face but this is my fault.
I look deep into Edward's eyes, wanting him to read my mind and know I'm telling the truth. "He didn't touch me. I haven't even kissed anyone."
He looks at me for a solid minute before I see him relax. I'm overwhelmed, unable to say the words I've been holding back. The first tear trickles down my cheek and I wipe it, shaking my head. "I'm not strong enough to do this."
"Those girls… Why did you have to sleep with them?"
"What girls?" Suddenly a look of recognition comes over him. "You mean those two? You seriously think…"
"One bed, Edward. There was only one bed used last night. I saw it."
"They got on board twenty minutes before you did this morning. Is that why you've been distant today?"
A gush of air escapes me and tears of relief pour out as I nod my head.
Jane drags Jasper toward the bedroom I thought I was using, but Kate hangs back, waiting for us to say more. "I'll have him if you don't want him."
Edward shoots her a sideways glance and then holds out his hand. "I need to get out of here. Come upstairs with me?"
Taking his hand in mine, I feel better than I have all day. We go to the fridge and he offers me a drink, but I tell him I still have one on deck. We go out to sit down and just look at each other. When we both start to speak, he tells me to go first, but I want him to start. He blows out a big breath with his hand in his hair and then drinks half of his beer.
"Do you know my brain stopped working there for a minute? I actually thought you were with someone else."
I smile and shake my head, running my finger around his ear.
"I would never have agreed to this if I thought there was even a slim chance you would cheat on me. Did you actually consider it?"
I just keep playing with his hair in the hope he'll calm down. "I did, and I enjoyed the attention, but that was all I needed, nothing more. I know what it feels like now and I've gotten it out of my system."
"I can't believe I went to Spain. After London, I thought I'd give you some breathing space because it was pretty full on between us there. How do you feel about me now?"
"Just the same. I've loved you since that first night."
He smiles and runs his hands over my hair, but adds, "Are you still unsure about the future, because I'm not. I rushed you and I'm sorry if that made all this happen."
I shake my head. I want to pour out a million apologies, but I know now that I needed this, and he agreed to it. I will apologize in my own way later.
"I… I guess it has more to do with my life not turning out as I planned, than about you. I thought I would come out of college, get a good job, and marry Jasper. Then when I had to take this admin job and I was so miserable, I started to question everything. I don't think Jasper thought it was permanent when I asked for a break."
"You're too hard on yourself, Bella. It's tough out there. Everyone is struggling to get the job they want and it's going to be a long time before the economy settles down. You still managed to scrape together the cash for this little jaunt and dragged two potential suitors along with you. You're not doing too badly."
He makes me laugh. "Suitors? You're funny, Edward."
"Well, I still want to marry you, as soon as you'll have me."
"In my head, the ring is already back on my finger."
The smile on his face is victorious. His arms encircle me and he kisses me with passion, but no tongue. I tell him I love him and hold his jaw, changing the kiss, making it softer, moving around his beautiful face. I think he's just starting to get into it when he pulls back.
"Do you want to hear what I did?"
Oh, why does this not sound good?
"I engineered this boat trip for three purposes other than just winning you back."
"You never lost me, Edward." I kiss him again, before he pulls away to go on.
"Well, that's how I saw it. You suddenly told me you weren't sure any more."
I sigh, wanting more kisses. "I know and I'm sorry, but I will make it right. Please tell me what you've been up to."
He looks around and drops his voice. "Well, the girls were for Jasper. I knew he wouldn't turn that down so I figured…"
My mouth drops open and I gasp at his underhanded planning.
"Then I had my two good friends, perfect for each other, living in totally different worlds."
"So you invited them down here to make up numbers."
He starts to chuckle to himself and nods. "I asked Charlie because she can speak French, not that we'll need it. Honestly, she's so much like his ex, Jay, that he's going to love her. She's smart, sweet, and kind, and gives the best hugs."
"She does give good hugs. Champion hugs."
"I know and she speaks the lingo of their trade with an enthusiasm that will have him building those cities she dreams of. Seriously, it's a match made in heaven." He's shaking his head, as if it should be obvious to everyone.
"What's the third one, Edward?"
"Oh, yes. I wanted to see how you liked sailing. My Dad has a decent boat slipped in New York we can take out any time we want."
"I loved it. I really did."
"I know, my darling, I saw your face. I watched how you listen and learn. That's one of the reasons I love you. You're willing to try new things. Please come to New York with me and don't go back to that job. You'll have much more opportunity to get what you want in the Big Apple."
"Let me think about it."
He starts to kiss my neck, knowing he can get almost anything he wants when he kisses me like that. Before long, it looks like we'll be the ones caught for indecent behavior.
"Hmm, let's go to bed." His voice is like liquid sex in my ear. He helps me up and takes my empty bottle, closing up before we head downstairs.
The door to the right aft bedroom is closed and it's obvious what's going on in there. I roll my eyes at Edward and he just shrugs. The next bedroom door is open. Charlie is snuggled up to Emmett, fully clothed, and he puts his finger over his mouth to tell us to keep quiet.
I follow Edward into the bigger bedroom and close the door. It looks so different now that he's pulled up the sheets and it's no longer the scene of his imagined infidelity. He strips and I go to him, running my fingers down his happy trail and watching him twitch.
"Have you got condoms?"
"Mountains of them," he growls, lifting me and laying me on the bed, kissing me like he's parched and I'm water. When my hands find his naked ass, I know I've come home.
It's still dark when I wake to the boat rocking. I lean up to the porthole and see another boat motoring past us. Moonlight is bathing our room and I look at the beautiful man next to me, sighing with absolute happiness. He's peaceful, just like he was that first night we met.
I know that fate brought us together. That he came to Seattle was incredible; that he walked into our college administration office that day was a miracle…
The damn phones were still ringing. We had supposedly completed registrations for summer school courses over a week ago but, of course, we couldn't cut off, could we? No, that would be counter-productive. We had to fill as many courses as possible. So why have the effing cut-off date at all? Instead of sending out emails with course information and start times, I was still dealing with asshole students and their pathetic attempts to restructure their schedules with all sorts of apologies about why they couldn't meet a fairly important deadline.
It was probably the day when my frustration was at its highest. I had so much filing to do and, as soon as I finished with one call, another one came in. One of my co-workers had managed to get leave approved on the basis that registration was already over and the other one called in sick that day. As usual, it was a nightmare, and they left me to pick up the slack.
I didn't acknowledge the unusual after-shave scent, hoping whoever it was would see the state I was in and politely back away. At the sound of him clearing his throat, I took a long breath before I turned around. All I noticed was dark coppery hair falling forward and elbows on the counter, trying to trace a path to wherever he needed to be with his finger. Couldn't he have worked it out by now? There were at least four huge maps between the parking lot and here, so people didn't waste time coming all the way in to find their block was right near where they parked.
At least he didn't look like another annoying student, maybe more like a young professor. When he looked up and blasted me with those green eyes, I was glad that he'd missed every one of those maps and come in to give me one good moment in an otherwise horrendous day.
Eye candy - maybe it was the jaw line that got to me. It was definitely something.
"Do you need to answer that?" he asks in the sexiest British accent.
My enemy, the phone, has returned but it isn't going to spoil this for me.
"I'll let one go to voicemail. How can I help you?" Oh my, his skin is gorgeous.
"I'm looking for the Faculty of Architecture. I have an appointment with Professor Cope."
He's so formal. Most people come in and say they want to see Bob. I can't stop the smirk on my face and he sees it.
"Is there a problem?"
"I'm sorry, you sound like you're arriving at Harvard."
"Harvard?" Oh hell, that soft R. He's going to kill me. They'll find me in a pool of mush on the floor.
I sigh. I know I'm being very rude. "I apologize. I'm having a bad day." The phone starts again.
"Are you on your own here?"
I nod and answer him, "I know, it's crazy isn't it?"
"I'll get out of your hair, then. It's this way, right?"
I would love to lose my fingers in that hair, but I nod and pick up the phone, realizing my pulse rate has shot up.
The day continues in the same way. I'm starving but I can't leave the office unattended, so I have to forget about lunch. I give up on the filing and sit with my head in my hands, hoping for a couple of minutes of peace, and let out a long breath. As soon as I breathe in again, I catch his scent and know he's found me at my worst for a second time today.
I look up and he's using the sheet on the counter again when there's a full size map on the wall in the hallway behind him. Maybe I should direct him there so I can check out his ass.
I come around the counter to show him and find that the aftershave is even better up close. "Down that way and around to the left."
"Well, the soup is usually very good and… Just stay away from the pasta."
He smiles at me and he's so handsome, it's almost unthinkable not to offer to take him there but, right on time, the phone starts to go again. My eyes close in frustration; he thanks me and leaves. Ten minutes later, as I'm feeling sorry for myself, he returns with a tray, which he puts down on the counter.
"You looked like you were about to fade, so I brought you some soup and a bread roll. You should have an apple as well."
"Thanks!" I feel like I've fallen asleep at the desk and I'm dreaming.
"Edward Cullen." He introduces himself with that smile on his face and we shake hands.
"Bella Swan. This is so nice of you."
"Oh, it's nothing. I'm a bit worried about you. You seem like you're a little overwhelmed."
I just raise my eyebrows and nod because he won't want me going on about the woes of my job. When he doesn't move to leave, we glance at the clutter on the three desks and choose to stand, kind of hanging over the tray, eating the soup from plastic spoons, both dunking in pieces of bread. I see he's not as formal as I thought, when we laugh at the amount of crumbs we're dropping everywhere.
He tells me he's only in town for one day and that he flies back to New York in the morning. Of course, I'm disappointed. I was hoping he was applying for a position here, but it seems I'll never see him again. It would have been nice to have someone like him as my first date after all the years with Jasper. He says he has to get back upstairs, takes the tray, and I thank him again.
By 4:30, I really am starting to fade. The phones die down and I get a chance to enter the details of the last group of students who called. I've managed to control the chaos on my desk but there is still the stinking filing to do. I don't work Fridays, so I decide to get it finished tonight before I leave, because Mondays are always hell.
The pile of papers is huge and I think I'm looking at another hour or two to finish when Edward pops his head in.
"The place is empty, Bella. Don't you go home?"
"Oh, I'm not working tomorrow and I've got all this filing I need to finish."
"Would you like me to help you? I'm not doing anything."
"You want to help me do my filing?"
"Well, I could sort it for you and you could put it away. Do you have a conference table?"
"Um, yeah, we do. It's up the hall but…"
"How are they sorted?" he asks, picking up the pile.
"By student number."
I lead the way and we enter the meeting room. He starts making lots of piles, placing each sheet into its group. I take some and put them down as we walk around the table. They're all out in a matter of minutes and then he goes to the first group and sorts them. I stand there like an idiot and ogle him. Once he has a couple done, he hands them to me and I take them back to the office. This way, they go in one after the other. I can't believe I never thought to do the job like this. I go back to collect the next batch and he's half way done. I take them back, filing them away and before long, he returns with the last lot.
He sits on the edge of Jessica's desk and watches me, asking about my four day week, how long I've been working here, my education, my over-qualification for this job, and what they were thinking in leaving me on my own. He seems quite passionate about it being wrong.
"I'm finished! That only took twenty minutes. That's the second time today I have to thank you."
"Why don't you thank me by coming to dinner with me? I don't know anyone in town."
I don't know what to say. No one has ever asked me out like this and I wonder what he makes of my hesitation.
"I'm sorry. Your boyfriend will be waiting. How stupid of me." He rises as if he's going to leave. "Is there a particular cab company I should call? Do you know?"
Oh, he doesn't even have a car. Can I trust him? It's just dinner and he's going home tomorrow. I can use him for practice for when someone asks me on a real date. I do need the experience, desperately.
"No, I don't have a boyfriend and I have to eat. I would like to have dinner."
Suddenly his smile is back and I'm melting again. I manage to ask him where his hotel is and offer to drop him back after dinner. I don't feel strange. It's like I'm looking after someone's cousin who is in town alone for the night. He's very nice and courteous, opening doors and pulling my chair out, when we reach our table. We talk easily about our families and he makes me blush just listening to his voice. As the evening goes on, I know I'll be fantasizing about this for months. It's a shame he's going home so soon.
"So, why is such a pretty girl without a boyfriend?" he asks, sitting back and folding his napkin on the table.
"I've just broken up with someone. We were together for a long while."
"What do you call a long while?"
"Ten years actually."
"Ten years?" he says, a little loudly for a restaurant, and glances around. "I'm terribly sorry, but how is that possible? Are you much older than you look?"
I smile and shake my head, knowing I'm going to get the same reaction, no matter who I date.
"It was more like eleven years. We were best friends for a long time before we were…you know…more."
"You Americans are very different from the English then." His eyes are wide, like he's struggling with the concept of a decade with one person. So am I, really.
"I think we were pretty unusual, but we've grown apart."
"It puts us both in a similar position, then."
"How so?" I have a feeling that this will be entertaining.
"Well, I'm about to find out how the American dating system works, and so are you."
I throw my head back and laugh because it's absolutely true. When I look back at him, he's smirking.
"You are very pretty. I'm sure you won't have any problems." Oh God, that voice. I blush again. I need to lighten this up.
"So, have you moved to the States or are you just visiting?" I ask casually, playing with my napkin. I really don't want him to know how much I like him because he might expect something I'm not ready to give.
"No, I'm staying here. I'm working for my father's business in New York. Have you ever been?"
"No, I haven't travelled at all. I would like to one day."
He produces his wallet and I think he's going to call for the bill when he puts a business card down and tells me to contact him if I'm ever on the east coast. I take this as a cue that the evening is over.
"Well, I'll drive you home. This was great. I enjoyed your company immensely."
"I did too. Do you have to go? My flight's not until ten in the morning."
"In fact, I don't even have to go home tomorrow. The day's written off already so I could stay for the weekend. What are you doing?"
Once again, I don't know how to answer. Now what was one dinner has turned into something else. Do I want this? I know I like him a lot. Would everything be different if he lived in Seattle? Would it seem so strange then to continue this…whatever it is? The truth is I have no idea but I need to find out. He wants company and so do I. I might learn a thing or two and I would love to know what it feels like to kiss him and have him close to me. He's sitting there patiently waiting for an answer.
"I'm sorry, Bella, I know I'm being terribly forward, but I do enjoy your company and I want to spend some more time with you. I have a million questions that only an American woman can answer."
He's just like me, on the same page, in fact, so I smile and say, "I'm not doing anything."
The smile he blasts me with is bigger and more powerful than any he's shown me during the day. He looks for a waiter and holds his hand up, telling me right away that the business is paying the bill. I wonder if he thought I would argue about who pays. Should I? I don't even know.
When we're in the car again, he asks me where I live.
"Do you have a flat mate?"
"We call them roommates and, no, I'm on my own. I was living with Jasper until recently."
"I'd like to see your place. Can we go there? I can catch a cab back. It's no problem."
Once again, I halt at this leading question when it feels like he's backing me into a corner.
"What do you mean you want to see my place? What are you actually asking, Edward?"
"I just mean I want to see where you live, what your stuff looks like. It's all foreign to me. You can tell me what things are called over here. I'll need to know this if I'm going to date."
"I don't know." This is so effing embarrassing.
He sighs and says, "Look, I'll just go to my hotel. I won't bother you anymore."
I need to make a decision at the next set of lights, so I turn in the direction of his hotel. When we pull in, we look at each other for a while in silence and then he climbs out, gets his bag from the back seat, and walks around to my side.
"Thanks for the lift and for the company. This was honestly an unexpected delight. Don't forget to look me up if you're over my way." He turns and walks towards the foyer, looking alone and kind of hunched over. All these alien emotions fill my stomach and tell me I've just made a mistake.
"Edward!" He turns around and straightens up. "Come over for a while, and I'll drop you back later."
"Yes, get in."
He's back to his happy, positive self, and I take him via downtown for a tour of Seattle. He asks me how old some of the landmark buildings are, especially the tower, about the public transport system, where my college was located. He's surprised to hear about the size of the national parks around here and he says he'd like to come back one day to investigate. Just hearing him say that makes me smile at the thought of seeing him again.
When we arrive at my apartment, he snoops through every room and tells me I have too much stuff. He's right. It is time to sort through it all and start afresh. I make coffee while he continues with his questions, losing no time in asking me about dating practices.
"So would most women expect you to sleep with them after the first date?"
I gulp and tell him, from what my girlfriends have told me, that it depends on the guy and the attraction level. I wonder if he notices my eyes rest on his lips when I say the word "attraction." Those lips have been on my mind on and off all evening.
"What about a kiss? Would that be frowned on at the end of a first date?"
I chuckle because he seems quite worried all about the rules, like he's afraid he'll strike out if he gets it wrong. It's quite endearing.
"I think it would probably be expected if the date was good."
He watches me carefully, running his eyes over my face. "So, if I asked you, would you kiss me?"
Holy hell. The combination of his voice, his scent, his face, and this forthright question do something to me.
He leans in closer and touches my jaw. The sensation rushes through my whole body as my eyes lock on his lips.
"Do me the honor of being the first American woman I kiss."
"I'd love to."
He kisses me gently; once, twice, three times, before he moves closer and holds my jaw. He looks deeply into my eyes and then our lips open ready for a little more passion. He's not aggressive with his tongue but, it's there, nevertheless, coaxing mine to join it. His arm comes around my waist and holds me tight to him. My hands run all over his back and then end up in his hair. It's just as soft as it looks and his moan tells me he likes me being rough with it.
Too soon, he pulls back and we're both breathing heavily. "You're a very sensual kisser. You make me want more."
I gulp again at his honesty, but I'm drawn back to those lips. "I know I want more of your kisses."
"You don't realize how beautiful you are. One more kiss and then I think I had better go."
I lose my mind during his "one more kiss" because, before I know it, we're horizontal and my legs are wrapped around him. His hand is cupping my breast and I'm the one moaning now. He starts to kiss my neck and I call out from the feeling. He stops. He knows this has gone too far.
"I really don't think this is normal, Edward."
"I should go and come back tomorrow."
I realize that until this moment, I never knew I had an inner whore that wants to beg him to stay, but he's right, we need to cool this down because we've only just met. Is that what we're supposed to do? I don't feel like he's trying to take advantage of me. I think I'm the one who just pulled him down on top of me, and I don't recognize this version of myself. I'm so wet, it's embarrassing.
He won't accept my offer to drive him. He gives me a sweet kiss and leaves me with a pulse pounding between my legs, hating these rules of propriety. I'm a grown woman and, if I want to sleep with a good-looking man, I should be able to without feeling guilty. Shouldn't I? I don't know, I have no idea.
I sit there for a while and go over the day, trying to work out what is so different about this man, and why he appeals to me so much. When I start thinking about the kisses again, I know I'll never sleep unless I can get off, so I strip and get into bed. I'm getting into a good rhythm, fantasizing about him penetrating me, when there's a knock at the door. I call out to whomever it is to wait, because I have to wash my hands quickly, and throw on a robe.
When I look through the keyhole, my heart bursts because it's him. I open the door and he says, "It's tomorrow."
"Have you got condoms?"
"I just bought them, mountains of them."
While he kisses me, he's pulling my robe open and I'm trying to get the buttons of his shirt undone. I want to rip it off him, knowing I was never this turned on with Jasper. I drop the robe and wantonly lie on the bed, naked and panting, as I watch him reveal his body before me.
"Now, where were we? You obviously love me kissing your neck."
Yes I do, and there's a dozen other things that I love him doing to me. He's very generous with foreplay, spending a lot of time with his tongue on my nipples, and I confess I was so turned on before that I was masturbating when he arrived at the door. His eyes start to blaze, the condoms appear and he pushes inside me. I grab hold of his ass and pull him closer, trying to get him deeper. He groans and keeps going and going, pounding me, until I feel a new sensation. I've never come from just intercourse, but here we go. It's less intense, but spreads further and goes on for longer, and I know he's feeling the spasms from the way he reacts. He's soon over the edge himself and we collapse in each other's arms, trying to recover.
He's chuckling slightly when he says, "I'm very sure that's not normal for a first time, Bella."
"I don't normally come like that, but I've wanted to."
"Do you need to sleep? I want more."
"I've never been so wide awake in my life."
Hours later, I lie there watching him peacefully sleep and think I'm in a dream.
He changes his flight at dawn, with me draped all over him. Over the weekend, we get take out, we fuck, we kiss, we make out. We hit the 7-Eleven for bread, milk and more condoms. It's madness and we both know it, but neither of us is able to fight it. I now can't look at him without wanting to touch him, and it's starting to feel like an addiction.
Sunday afternoon comes and we're both desolate but, he has to go back. I drive him to the airport, not sure if I'll ever see him again, and we try twice to separate before he really has to go on the final call. He tells me he will call me and I nod with tears running down my cheeks. He kisses them away before he goes through security. My phone rings five minutes later.
"I said I would call. Now I'm telling you I will keep calling. This isn't over."
I can hardly speak I'm bawling so much, but I manage a strangled, "Okay, please keep calling. I don't want this to be over either."
About nine, he sends me a text that says he is missing me already, and he ends it with a heart. I send him one back, saying he is going to make me start crying again.
I go to bed that night and cry myself to sleep, completely exhausted.
The next morning, we wake to the smell of bacon and the sound of Eminem, singing "My Dad's Gone Crazy." Edward laughs, saying it's Charlie's favorite. I tell him I've been reminiscing about the weekend we met. We cuddle and kiss for a while, and then decide we're starving. I know we burned a few calories last night and I feel happier and more settled than I have in a long while.
The door to the threesome bedroom is still closed and I'm glad I don't have to face them down here.
As we climb the stairs, Emmett is standing with his hands on Charlie's waist while she cooks and sings. He moves away as if we've caught him doing something wrong, and Edward points between them, asking some unseen question with his eyebrows. Emmett shakes his head and then raises his eyebrows back at Edward. Edward shrugs with a half nod, looking sheepish. Honestly, I nearly burst out laughing, I'm so happy.
I sit in Edward's lap as he looks at the paper someone has kindly gone out to get. There's also a basket of fresh warm croissants on the table. I cut a piece off and spread butter on it, feeding Edward and kissing him. As soon as he swallows, he grabs the back of my head and kisses me, not caring who sees. I'm loving it.
When we emerge from our passion, Emmett is watching us closely, putting two and two together. He doesn't say anything more, though. Instead, he pours everyone a coffee. Charlie serves us breakfast and steals the inside of the paper from Edward who looks like he's forgotten it.
She holds it away from him. "I want to see the entertainment section. Oh my God, they are still together and engaged! Look, Bella, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Jason Statham. Isn't he hot?" She shows me the picture and I could swear I'm looking at an older version of Emmett with very short hair. She obviously likes buff, so it's no wonder she's into him. She'll like him even more if he loses his hair. Damn, Edward is good.
He whispers in my ear, "I'm dying to tell them." I nod and put my arms around his neck as we turn to them. "By the way, you two, we have an announcement to make."
They look up from their food and their newspaper respectively.
"Sorry?" Emmett looks like he's just bitten his tongue.
"How long has this been going on?" Charlie asks with a very broad smile and wide eyes.
"Well, we met in March when I was in Seattle. We went to dinner and that was the end of me. I was supposed to leave the next morning and I stayed the whole weekend. I knew she was the one right away. We kept calling each other every day and, after a few weeks, we met halfway in Colorado."
"It's so pretty there. We stayed in Boulder."
"I was crazy mad for her and, after I went back home, I knew I had to propose so she'd come to New York."
"He made up this story about his parents renewing their vows for their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and how his mother had hinted at wanting a more modern diamond ring. He said Carlisle had no idea and he sent me the link to the Tiffany's website so I could help them pick one. There really were only two rings that I fell in love with and, when he pressed me for an answer, I chose the round diamond."
"Yeah, she chose the two carat round one. I had it made up and flew to Seattle three weeks later to propose. I think she got the shock of her life."
"I could hardly speak to even answer him…but I managed to say yes." I put my head on his shoulder.
"That's when she got cold feet," he says, rubbing my back.
"He met my parents and they liked him. They seemed supportive but, after he went back, they told me they were worried, that he was English and that I'd be moving to join him. It was horrible, with him being so far away, and I started doubting whether it was the right decision. I thought it may be a rebound thing."
"My fault. I shouldn't have overwhelmed her and rushed her."
"Anyway, I needed to step back from everything and find out what I wanted. It seemed wrong to go from one serious relationship into another. I just needed to have a little time as Bella Swan, not somebody's girlfriend or fiancée. That's what this trip was all about."
"I wasn't worried about it until I found out that Jasper was going. I knew he was up to something, so I thought I'd better get over here."
"You know, I don't think he was, Edward. I think he needed to spread his wings like I did. You overreacted."
"Maybe. I'm sorry you two had to see us airing our dirty laundry like that, but it's all cleared up now."
"You're actually engaged?" Emmett is still not coping with the shock.
"Yeah, she's going to come to New York to live with me soon," he says, screwing his finger into my ribs.
"Probably," I say, giggling, knowing I'm going to, and watching his smile erupt as his arms come around me and he squeezes.
Charlie's arms surround us in one huge heartfelt embrace. "So, have you met Carlisle and Esme?" she asks, completely on board with this.
"Uh, Bella, I was going to talk to you about that. They're arriving in London in a few days. Could we visit on the way back and tell them in person?"
Wow, that's a nerve-wracking thought, but I have to get this over with, and it would really be better to meet them before I move in with their son. We are flying home from London, albeit to two different destinations, so I nod and he looks at me for a moment.
"I really do love you," he says with feeling, then buries his face in my neck. I hold his head, kiss his hair and whisper it back in his ear.
Charlie looks at us admiringly. "You two are incredibly cute together. I'm very happy for you."
"What's going on?" Jasper has appeared, looking worse for wear. He has several love bites on his neck – charming.
"These two are engaged." Emmett answers him in a monotone, still getting his head around it.
"Awesome," he says and then rushes out, throwing up over the side of the boat. At this point, I honestly think it's from the booze he consumed last night, rather than from our news.
When I don't follow him, Charlie races to his aid and they stay out there talking while I clean up the kitchen.
Edward helps me tidy while I wash up. "I think we'll get moving. Any objections?"
"None at all. Congratulations, Edward." Emmett must have finally accepted the idea and they embrace. He leans over while I'm wiping up and kisses my cheek, speaking into my ear. "He's a good man, Bella."
"I do know how lucky I am, Emmett."
"Have you thought about where you'll get married?" Edward and I look at each other nervously, knowing that's going to be the next hurdle.
Edward puts his arms around me. I giggle and say, "Let's see, it will either be in Forks, Seattle, New York or London."
We head out from Cassis, and I feel a little more confident with the boat. The wind is stronger today and less gusty as we head further east so, once the sails are set, we can relax for a while. It's fabulous.
Charlie is playing DJ again, cranking it right up today, and only some of the songs are familiar to me. When I ask her, she comes up with names like "The Kooks," "The Wombats," and "The Verve." Edward and Emmett know them all well, though, moving their hips and their heads, smiling at her selections. She throws in some classic Brit rock like the Rolling Stones and The Beatles and it makes this voyage feel like a real party.
Edward and I spend much of the time at the steering wheel, me holding on to it, and him holding me as we dance. I'm happy as my head swims with thoughts of my future: meeting his parents, getting my ring back and wearing it proudly, convincing my parents that I've finally made up my mind, leaving my job and moving to New York to seek a better one, getting married, maybe sailing past the Statue of Liberty together one day. There are so many unknowns, but I do know that, with Edward's love, anything is possible.
When The Beatles' "Birthday" starts to play, we all know the lyrics and we sing at the top of our voices.
I would like you to dance (birthday),
Take a cha-cha-cha chance (birthday),
I would like you to dance (birthday),
I'm glad it's your birthday,
Happy birthday to you!
Have a wonderful birthday, Maple.
Love and kisses and (((BIG HUGS))).