Disclaimer: All Twilight-related characters belong to S. Meyer
A/N: *pops head through the brush* Oh hi. I'm back. Here's a one shot. Once upon a time a year ago, I saw a tumblr post. (can't for the love of all that is holy post the link in any format so nevermind. You can tweet me to ask for it. mholshev) I knew it needed to be fic'ed. I hope you enjoy.
Return to You
I've just been through something,
that's left me in pain.
In truth cut me deeper than even you.
now i realize,
that pain and confusion,
are much heavier than love.
so i return.
- Justin Vernon
He brushed her hair slowly over a bare shoulder. It was such a simple gesture. An easy one. Something he could have done to anyone, but he wasn't.
He was doing it to her.
She felt her skin break out in goose flesh, even though most of her was covered by one of his huge sweaters. The yarn was old, stretched and a faded cream color. Simple cable stitches ran from the collar, giving the illusion of an intricate woven design. The fire crackling in the hearth before them made the patterns move like snakeskin.
Now he traced his fingers along the collar of the sweater from where it hugged her neck on one side, to where it dipped low on her chest, and half way down her arm on the other side.
More goose flesh.
"Are you cold?"
His voice was anything but cold. Deep, soft and warm, like the bass trembling from a cello or bassoon. She could feel the vibration hum in the air around them, leaving it charged and static.
His question still hung in the space between them, unanswered.
"No," she whispered softly.
One corner of his mouth turned up slowly and just barely. His eyes showed the real emotion. Right now they were smoldering - absolutely glowing with warmth.
He seemed to be excited by the revelation that her goosebumps were caused by something else besides cold. He leaned closer and she could feel the heat from his skin against her cheek.
She gasped loudly when she felt his lips on her neck but made no apologies. Not now. Not when everything was finally right.
His mouth was smooth, soft, and hot like a branding iron. He lifted his head slightly and moved lower down her neck, placing another kiss after the first, then another, then another, until he was trailing his nose along her collarbone. He inhaled deeply, causing a welcome, cool breeze against her skin.
Her head lolled back against the couch cushion and she felt Edward's moan of approval against her ribcage. It barely registered as a noise, but she felt it, not just on her skin, but in the electricity between them.
She knew he felt it too, because she felt the tip of his tongue dip gently into the hollow at her throat.
"Edward," she gasped, and closed her eyes as he pulled the sweater over her head.
The fog was thick and cold.
She tried to think of another comparison besides pea soup, but now that was all that seemed to fit.
Vapor droplets clung to her skin, her hair, her gloves and the lenses of her sunglasses. They swirled in the air like snow flakes, catching light from the hidden sun and flitting away in the wind.
As she gazed down the slope of the mountain, she realized she could see about four rows of trees before they disappeared into nothingness. She knew from experience, that it wasn't nothing. It was miles and miles of uninterrupted pine forests as far as the eye could see.
Heavy breathing from the path below alerted her that the rest of her party had finally caught up to her. She turned to see who was first.
"Bells," he father panted, leaning heavily on a pine bough he had picked up on the way up the trail. "This is too far."
She smiled. "We're almost there, Dad. Just one more mile until we reach the lodge."
He groaned and rubbed at the moisture that had collected on his glasses. A hand clamped down hard on his shoulder.
"Lighten up, Charlie. Just wait until you see the top!"
Charlie frowned up at the sky. "See? See what, Jake?"
They all looked heavenward, to where the sun was nearly extinguished behind the thick fog. Bella smiled to herself.
"Just hang on, Dad. There's something pretty cool about knowing you're at the top." She pointed towards a flat-topped boulder nearby. "Have a seat. We'll take a rest."
As her father ambled towards the block of granite, she lowered herself onto a patch of springy grass and leaned back on her hands.
Jacob Black sat down beside her with his usual amount of clumsy fanfare. Best friend and hiking cheerleader, he was also handy for carrying supplies. He thrust a large jug of water into her hand. "Drink," he said, lifting his own bottle to his lips.
Bella rolled her eyes and followed suit.
"Pretty great hike," he said when he was finished, staring out at the tree line before them.
Bella nodded quietly.
"Shame your boyfriend couldn't make it," He said, jabbing her suggestively in the ribs.
She pursed her lips and shook her head. "I don't know what the point of you saying things like that is, Jake. You know I don't have a boyfriend. Haven't in roughly forever."
He shrugged, unaffected as usual. "Just hoping that eventually you'll get so sick of me teasing you, you'll just get one."
She blinked. "Get one. Just pick up a boyfriend? Like a puppy? Or milk from the store?"
He grinned. "Hey, you can pick up guys at the store."
Bella shoved the water jug into his chest with enough force to make him grunt, but not enough to actually hurt. "Not my style, Jake."
"Maybe you'll pick up someone today. On the trail. Or at the top!"
After a long, and nearly painful eye-roll, she took the opportunity to stand and walk to the edge of the path. Plumes of fog were blowing past the slope so quickly, that she could see the wisps dance in the wind. Right now, forcing herself to focus on the hike was the best way to push aside the fact that she was single. Still. It was hard enough with Jake reminding her at every turn, but she was doing a pretty good job of feeling bad on her own. Loneliness was a slow, cruel torture that became self-inflicted after a while. If she really wanted to meet someone she could.
She shook her head and looked down at her watch. It wasn't quite eleven in the morning, but she knew the fog wouldn't burn off today. Not if it was this thick. It was a bum deal for her dad, who had never been this close to the peak of Mount Rainier. Even though he'd lived here for his entire adult life, and all of her life, she'd never brought him. On a sunny day, when the sky was blue, there was no prettier sight to behold.
By the time they reached the day lodge at the top, there would be a sizable crowd waiting for lunch at the restaurant, but it was worth it after a long hike.
She heard her father clamber to his feet. "Okay," he grumbled. "Let's get this over with."
Bella smiled and walked over to him. She looped a hand around his back. "Oh Dad," she teased, "Live a little, would you?"
He patted her shoulder in the awkwardly affectionate way he always did. "I try, kiddo. Ready Jake?"
It was a scant 45 minutes later before they reached the lodge at Sunrise Point, a beautiful building, encased in rich, wood shingles, dark and damp from the fog. The roof was tall and angular and Bella could nearly imagine the height of the snow on the sloped rooftop in the winter. As it was, the lodge was only open a couple months a year. Up this high in the mountains, it didn't stay tolerably warm for long.
The lodge was surrounded by an expansive meadow, littered with small purple flowers at this time of year. They fluttered slightly in the breeze as the fog drifted overhead. Here, at the top of nearly everything, they could see where the mountain slope dropped away into the abyss. It took her breath away.
She, Jake and her father walked together down the gravel road towards the parking lot and entrance to the building. A quick trip through the visitor center and a promised cafeteria lunch were first on the list, followed by a long and relaxing seat outside watching the trees sway. She wanted to watch the fog tickle the treetops.
The path edged its way along the grassy meadow and she watched as the grass blades rippled in the wind like lake water. She fought back the urge to run through the field like Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Ahead and silhouetted against the bright gray sky, the dark shape of the lodge stood out like another piece of the mountain. Bella traced her eyes along the edge of the building and noticed that one of the sides was missing shingles. The revealed side of the lodge stood out like a dark scab on pale skin. A workman had his sawhorses and tools scattered on the ground beside the wall. Stacks and stacks of shingles were gathered next to each other like towering houses of cards. The faint sound of hammering finally reached their ears and she watched distractedly as the workman hammered three nails into the shingle, before moving on to the next.
It was a slow, methodical process that was near perfect every time. As they grew nearer still, the man stood up to his full height and his arm over his forehead. As he turned towards the direction of the path, Bella heard her own breath catch in her throat.
Tall, pale, beautiful. Unruly copper hair, long, delicate fingers.
It was him. It had to be.
Not the gangly, brooding, brainiac of her youth. He wasn't wearing tight-fitting gray t-shirts or frayed black jeans. No trendy Vans or a backpack off one shoulder.
He was grown now. He was a man. And he was here.
Edward stood at one side of the lodge, surrounded by sawhorses, tools and piles of fresh wood. He wore a faded, plaid flannel shirt and was covered in sawdust. His green eyes were narrowed behind a pair of clear workman's glasses as they focused on the task at hand. His long fingers were covered by hide-colored gloves, but she could see the muscles of his forearms ripple as he drove a nail into the side of the lodge. The pile of new wooden shingles lay stacked at his feet. Bright and pale, compared to the worn, damp and dark brown shingles that covered most of the lodge already.
Bella's heart was in her throat and she couldn't move her feet. All she could do was stare at was the pattern of his flannel shirt.
How many years had it been?
Jake grabbed her arm and yanked her from her roots in the ground. She shrieked and fell hard into his ribs. Edward looked over his shoulder and for a split second, she was sure they caught eyes. The wide, blank expression on his face seemed to alert her to that conclusion.
"Don't think I didn't see," Jake said disapprovingly, as he tugged her closer to the entrance to the lodge. "You want to go back to being stupid in high school?"
"Did you see him?" she argued, fruitlessly. "He's not a teenager anymore, Jake."
He shrugged. "Probably still the same guy."
Bella shoved his hand off her sleeve. "Just like you're the same guy? Don't be such a hypocrite. Besides," she spread her arms out for effect, "I'm not running over there, am I?"
Jake rolled his eyes and pointed to Charlie, who was waiting for them impatiently by the entrance. "Whatever Bells. Let's go. Your dad hates waiting more than he hates hiking."
It took all the self-control she could muster not to look back over her shoulder one last time.
Edward Cullen. Here. What were the odds?
It wasn't until later, as she was inspecting the tiny details of a Native American beaded tapestry in the museum, that she saw him again. Truth be told, she was trying her best to remain focused and not go from window to window until they suddenly ended up face to face.
Yet, face to face they were as he stood quietly on the other side of the glass display case. Her head barely cleared the top of the tapestry between them, and he was at least a foot taller than she was. She looked up into his eyes. Had he come to find her? Her heart beat in her throat at the thought.
As she stared up at his flushed face, she was instantly flooded by memories from high school. They papered the inside of her brain in a flurry and she tried her best to grasp one of them just so she could remember his face properly. Pale, creamy skin peppered with freckles high on this cheeks. Expressive, green eyes with crinkles for both smiling and scowling, if she remembered properly. Full pink lips that looked best with a wide toothy grin. Those were rare, she recalled. But perhaps the most memorable bit of his appearance, even now, was the mop of coppery hair that stood up on his head like fresh-cut grass.
She made no apologies for staring unabashedly at his grown-up face. He seemed to have the same reaction and she watched his as bright green eyes fixed on every aspect of her own face. The corner of his mouth pulled up into a lovely half smile. "Bella," he murmured softly. She could hardly hear him through the glass but by the time her name rolled off his lips, the other side of his mouth had matched the first.
"Edward," she responded, side stepping slowly until she rounded the corner to his side of the case.
"Hi," he said. His voice was a deep soprano. She could feel it in her shaking knees. How long had it been since they'd stood like this?
"Hi, Edward." She repeated his name again.
"Did you hike here?" he asked.
It wouldn't be hard to deduce. She was carrying around a heavy jacket, wearing untied boots and had a scarf dangling unevenly around her neck. "Yes, with my dad. We just had lunch."
Edward chewed on his bottom lip and let his eyes flutter down to his shoes. She followed suit and noticed the dirty toes of his work boots. "What about you?" she prompted.
He lifted his head again, cocking it slightly to one side. "I'm, um, doing some contracting work on the place."
"Right, I saw you outside."
There was a small pause before he said, "Bella, you look great." It rushed out of him quickly, as though he was afraid he'd lose the nerve.
She felt her cheeks flame with bashfulness. She fought hard not to look away. "So do you! I'm so glad to see you."
Edward fumbled with his hands, and Bella noticing the pair of pale, leather gloves he was holding tightly. "It's been a long time." His voice hit a soft, low tone once more. She shivered.
"It has. I was just trying to work that out."
"Graduation," he said, almost too quickly. "I remember exactly."
"You had your hair down and…" his voice faded away. "You looked beautiful then, too."
Blood thundered in her ears and this time she had to look away. His stare was intense, and exciting. Now that he had mentioned it, she could remember the exact moment they last saw each other. They had been standing just like this, only dressed in billowing dark graduation robes.
"I guess I'll see you around," she said, picking at the graduation cap in her hands. The tassel hung lifelessly off the top. Every time she looked at Edward's maroon dress shirt she thought her heart might explode. It was safer to share at his shiny black shoes.
"Will you be around this summer?" he asked.
Her eyes snapped up. For a split second, hopeful flames roared to life in her belly. Maybe, finally, they could make it happen. "Yes, for most of it, actually. Will you?"
His eyes were sad. "No. Um…we're going on a summer long trip. My family is."
Guess that was a no then.
"But we're not leaving for a few days, maybe we could-"
They both jumped. His older brother was waving from the bleachers.
"We're leaving for the restaurant. Hurry up!"
He met her eyes with a pleading stare. Begging for her to connect the dots. It was terrifying. What if he merely wanted to hang out? There was a very fine line between 'dating' and 'hanging'. She swallowed helplessly trying to force her heart back down her throat.
"Um," she started, "Did you want to-"
He clenched his fists and flipped his head sideways so his hair moved out of his eyes. "Have a good summer, Bella. See you around."
His family been in Europe all summer and she had left for school before they returned. Somehow they seemed to be fated to miss each other, yet here they were once more. After all of these years, how had she not realized only Edward Cullen had ever made her stomach flip this way before?
"Sorry," he mumbled. He ran one hand hurriedly through his hair. "I should-"
"I remember too," she insisted quickly, before he disappeared all too quickly. "I thought I'd never see you again, to be honest."
He smiled again. "Surprise."
She was trying to work out her next question when she felt her dad's hand on her shoulder. She nearly jumped out of her skin.
"Was looking for you, Bells. Jake wants a coffee before we head down." Charlie nodded his head at the young man before her. "Hey Edward. "
Edward smiled warmly. "Hi Mr. Swan. Good to see you."
"You too. You look good. Haven't seen you around town much, lately. Was that you doing the woodwork on the outside?"
Bella was watching the conversation like a tennis match. Eyes wide and head snapping back and forth. Was he living in Forks?
Edward looked away and Bella saw the tips of his ears grow red. "The shingle siding. Yes."
"Looks good so far, son. Nice to see you." Charlie looked back down at Bella. "Do you want to meet us outside when you're done catching up?"
Bella had never been more thankful that her father was not the embarrassing type. Nor was he a lingerer. Short and to the point. She patted his hand on her shoulder. "I'll come find you in a few minutes. Thanks, Dad."
Charlie left them by their beaded display and suddenly they were alone again. Somehow it felt even more awkward than before.
"How did your dad do on the way up?"
She smiled gratefully at the change in subject. "All right. He grumbled a lot, but made it without any injuries...that I know of."
They chuckled quietly and looked down at their fingernails.
She wanted to ask so many questions all at once. What did he do for a living? How was his family? What had he been doing all these years? The thought of her father and Jake waiting outside for her held her back. What was she supposed to do? She barely saw her father as it was…
Edward reached forward and wrapped his fingers around her forearm. His touch was soft and tentative. The calluses on his fingertips scratched her skin.
"You should stay," he said quietly. He seemed calm, but his eyes were wide. Begging? It reminded her so much of before. Was she supposed to connect the dots this time too? Stay? Stay where? Stay why? How would she explain that to her father, let alone Jake? Was she weak if she stayed? Was she strong?
Her eyes must have conveyed her confusion. "Please. I feel like if you leave…I won't see you for another ten years," he said softly. The sentiment wrapped around her heart and squeezed it tightly. "I want to hear everything about you. I want to tell you everything about me."
She chewed on her bottom lip. Was he asking her to stay because he'd been missing her all of this time? Just as she'd missed him?
"Please," he said again. Softer this time.
She swallowed hard. Well, the benefits certainly outweighed the cons at this point.
"Stay where?" was all she could ask. Her voice was practically nothing.
"Here. With me. I've been staying here for a couple of days. I can drive you back, I've got my truck. We can work out the logistics later I just…" His eyebrows furrowed and he pursed his lips. When he lifted his gaze again, his eyes were intense, pleading. "Please stay."
"Okay," she said. It was a whisper so faint, she wasn't even sure it was real.
His eyes fluttered closed for a second and he let out a breath. He shook his head quickly. "I never thought I'd see you again. Never thought…"
They locked eyes for a moment. For one blink of an eye, she was transported back to her first day of high school, when they'd been forced biology partners and he'd been less than impressed by her microscope skills. He was cold, she was shy. They'd spent practically four years like that and never gotten much further than friends. Now suddenly, maybe they would.
"I have to tell my dad," she blurted out loudly. "Er, they need to leave soon if they want to make it back. Jake should know the way."
Edward's face contorted into a scowl. "Black? If you say so."
She couldn't stop her eyes from rolling. "Well, I'll be right back. Or, back in a while. Where can I find you–?"
"Out back," Edward said quickly. He clamped his mouth shut, took a breath through his nose and then said, "I need to finish the siding." He pulled his gloves over his hands and turned away without another word. She watched him go. He walked different than he used to. Still spry and tall, with long legs and a wide gait, but it was different some how. Older, heavier.
He stepped out of the front doorway and into the fog and she turned on the spot to find her father. She found them waiting outside, scuffing toes in the dirt and kicking pebbles down the road. Charlie was already looking at her with one eyebrow raised.
"I know that look on your face," he said, wryly.
Jacob was glowering. "I do too."
Bella's mouth bobbed open and closed as she tried to figure out what to say. Anything she said would sound ridiculous. The whole situation was ridiculous.
She was ridiculous.
"He wants me to stay."
Jacob sighed loudly and crossed his arms over his chest. "Typical."
She grit her teeth. "That's not fair! He never asked anything of me back then and you know it."
"What are we talking about here?" Charlie asked, looking between the pair. "A friend wanting to catch up with Bella or something more?"
Bella sighed. "A bit more I'm afraid, Dad."
"He wants you to stay here?" He lifted his eyes to look around at the lodge. "This isn't a hotel, Bells."
She nodded down at her feet. "I know. We're not really sure what the logistics are, I just know that I want to talk with him. I need to."
Both Charlie and Jake were quiet. Jacob was loudly quiet, if that was a thing. She could practically hear the steam whistling out of his ears.
"Well, you're old enough to make your own decisions now, as long as you get home safely." Charlie shrugged.
"Jake," Bella said sternly, "Can you get my dad back down the hill?"
He nodded with narrowed eyes. "I can do that. As long as you promise not to be stupid. And not to hurt yourself."
"I won't be stupid. I can't promise that I won't fall on my face, but I can promise that I won't hurt myself emotionally…if that's what you mean."
He was quiet for a moment, before turning and clapping Charlie hard on the shoulder. "I guess it's just you and me then, Charlie."
She saw her father's jaw bulge as he clenched down hard. He was a good sport, but they both knew that Jake was insufferable at times.
"Thanks Jake. And I'm sorry that plans changed, Dad. I'm really glad we got you up here finally."
Charlie smiled. "It's okay Bells. Thanks for bringing me here. Pretty great. We'll see you back home…?"
"Tomorrow," she assured him, firmly. "I'll be back tomorrow."
They waved and turned towards the trailhead, leaving Bella behind. She had her jacket clutched to her chest as they left, heart beating steadily underneath. This could be the best or the worst decision she had ever made. The distant, rhythmic drumming of Edward's hammer met her ears and she sucked in a deep breath.
Her eyes dropped closed and as she absorbed her last moment of solitude, she tried to remember more about before.
Quiet walks from biology to the lockers, sandwiches eaten in a comfortable silence over a lunch table, laughing at the boys' soccer team from the bleachers after school. Back then, she saw Edward Cullen as an escape from the blistering monotony of adolescence. He was handsome, mysterious, kind and a world apart from her other friends. He was special.
When he spoke, people listened. She listened.
And when she spoke, sometimes he was the only one who heard her.
Falling for him had kept life exciting.
When Jake had teased her earlier, it wasn't about jealousy. It was protectiveness. Her sensitive, teenage self-esteem had fluctuated daily because of her feelings for Edward. Jake always picked up the pieces on the walks home, even if Edward had done nothing wrong.
To his eyes, he was a problem. To hers, he had always been the solution.
When Bella opened her eyes again, the fog had descended further, blocking out the parking lot from view. The urge to run away down the mountain was strong, but the repetitive thwaps from the hammer held her to the lodge like an anchor. She slipped her arms through the sleeves of her coat and pulled it tightly around her waist.
"Now or never," she said, as she turned back to find Edward. It wasn't difficult to find him, even in the fog. His bright shirt stood out like a beacon.
Her feet paused before she turned the corner. She peered carefully around the wall, catching a fleeting glance at the checkered pattern of his flannel before reeling back and pressing her back firmly to the shingles.
"Get it together, Bella," she muttered to herself. "You're an adult now."
Adult? Sure. Spending an undetermined evening with her teenage crush? Apparently.
She was an adult, and she was terrified.
Before she could waste another moment, she dropped her hands in her jacket pockets and threw herself away from the wall and around the corner.
Her heavy footfalls made Edward look over his shoulder. His mouth twitched into a smile and he set the hammer down gently on his workbench.
"Everything is okay?" he asked, pushing his goggles up onto his forehead.
Bella let her eyes drift up to where the goggles had pushed up his hair like a pair of sunglasses. The gray light muted the true, copper color of his hair. In the semi-darkness his hair was a deep auburn.
"Everything is okay," she repeated, smiling as warmly as she could muster, considering that she wasn't sure if the muscles in her face were connected to her brain at the moment.
Edward wrestled with a grin that was threatening to break across his beautiful face, but eventually gave in. "I know it was a weird thing to ask of you." He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "I mean, I can't imagine what your dad thought-"
"He doesn't ask many questions," Bella said quickly. "He trusts me."
"And Jake won't let you hear the end of it I'm sure…"
Bella snorted. "No, probably not, but he's not my dad." She smiled. "They'll make it down safely and I'll see them…"
She swallowed and Edward raised his eyebrows in return.
"Whenever." She shoved her hands in her jacket pockets and took a step closer to him. "You were right. We should catch up and who knows how long it will be before we see each other again."
Edward looked down at his toes and shook his head to hide his smile. "You don't know how happy it makes me to hear you say that."
She took another step forward. From here she could smell the sawdust on his skin. "Sure I do."
His eyes snapped up to meet hers again. For a moment, he seemed nearly as lost as she was. They stood in silence as the breeze rustled the grass at their feet and the leaves in the trees. She was entranced by the green of his eyes, and the intensity of what she found there. It had always been this way. For as long as she'd known him, even when they were young, his glances were never without reason. They were never without emotion. And yet somehow, they always left her confused.
The sound of laughter from the trail jarred them out of their peaceful staring contest. Edward shook his head again, then lifted the hammer and waved it slightly. "I really do have to finish this wall before I can step away and we can talk." His eyebrows rose in the middle and he looked sort of guilty. Bella smiled. "Do you want to stay out here with me?"
She eyed the small patch of wall that still needed to be covered and took a few steps closer. "Do you want help?" she asked.
He looked at the pile of wood at his feet, then back at Bella. "Do you want to help?"
She pushed the sleeves of her jacket up over her elbows. "I may have been pathetic in high school, but I've put up a few custom shelving units in my apartment since then. I'm sure I can do something."
Edward chuckled softly. The sound was bright and cheerful in the bleak light of the day. "There's an extra hammer in my toolbox," he said, gesturing behind him. "You can help me with the rest."
As she stepped through the dew-laden grass, she watched the fog lower around them, encasing their precious moments together in a cool, misty embrace. Everything was quiet, except for Edward as he readied tools and trimmed shingles.
She closed her fingers around hammer and said, "Okay," to herself as much as anyone.
It was only a few minutes before she found that the hammer was not her best strength. It didn't take Edward long to notice either. Eventually, he removed the tool from her fingers, handed her a stack of shingles and led her over to the wall where she passed them out, one by one.
Conversation between them was subdued as they started working through the stack. What they'd done in college, who they knew from high school, what other cities were like. The minutes ticked by, and Bella's nerves about the evening ahead faded into the background and she listened to Edward's voice. She was fascinated by the path his life had taken. He had never been one to conform to standards, and it gave her a small sense of pride to know that his life hadn't unfolded as typically as most would have thought. A carpenter by trade, he now was registered as an expert in log cabins, which were gaining resurgence in popularity, especially in the Pacific Northwest. His portfolio ranged from Alaska to Iceland. His life was simple, but his experiences were not.
Bella imagined the heavy logs weighing down on his shoulders and the toll his body had taken after these years. She considered what it would mean for his future. He talked about tall trees, seeing his first moose, vibrant sunset skies and dark stormy oceans. By the time he had filled her in on most of his life, she was handing him shingles like pieces of paper. He didn't complain, he hardly even noticed. He spoke, hammered three nails, spoke, hammered three more, and held his hand out for another piece.
The fell into the comfortable rhythm that she felt they had both longed for when they were younger, but never knew how to start. Already she was grateful for his hurried invitation. Still, in the corner of her mind she wondered if her father was faring well on the way back down the mountain. Which reminded her…
"My dad recognized you," Bella said quietly. She looked up from the slightly damp stack of wood she was holding in her hands. "Do you still live in Forks?"
Edward glanced over at her quickly, before hammering in two more nails. "I do." She reveled in the low hum of his short sentence until he expanded his answer.
"My parents retired to Alaska after my sister and I graduated college. It's not close but it could be worse, I guess. Anyway, I wasn't exactly making a lot of money after I started contracting, so I was staying in their house for a while. They kept the property after they moved, and I gained a steady flow of clients in the area, so I just stuck around."
Bella smiled. "I couldn't wait to get out of Forks, but I miss it a lot. Now. I'm glad you were able to stay. And in such a nice house!"
He chuckled and she saw the tinge of red on his ears. "Not in their house anymore. They owned quite a bit of land so I ended up building my own place." He smirked. "I've got my own address and everything."
She felt overwhelmingly embarrassed, despite the staggering smirk. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply-"
"I know," he said, warmly. "I wouldn't mind living in that huge house still if it wasn't so...contemporary." He shuddered.
Bella grinned. "Not your style?"
"No ma'am." Edward took a step closer and she felt a low heat build from her toes up to her face as his tall frame loomed over her small one. He reached towards her and removed the shingles from her hands. "We're done. Thanks for your help, and your company."
The ease in which they'd talked for the past hour suddenly evaporated into nothing and she had no idea what to say, let alone do. Was she supposed to leave? Was this all he wanted? She wasn't really going to stay the night, was she? Her eyes were wide as she watched him pull the safety goggles from his forehead and unhook his tool belt from around his waist.
Edward surprised her once more by reaching forward and pulling a strand of hair from her cheek. In contrast with their frustrations as teenagers, he now seemed determined not to let their time go to waste. His fingers moved slowly and purposefully as they latched the stray curl around her ear. He let them linger long enough to tell her that this wasn't only about catching up.
As he lowered his hand back to his side, she swallowed down her nerves… She didn't want him to be the only one who was brave.
"Edward, I'm so happy to hear of your success and happiness in what you do. It's wonderful to see you so happy in your own skin."
The smile that spread over his face could only be described as radiant. Bella's heart swelled in her chest. "That means a lot, Bella. Thank you."
Rather than nod and stare at his shoes, Edward stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her. She molded into his tight embrace with an eagerness she wasn't expecting. As she pressed her palms to the soft and worn flannel at his back, she fit her face snug against his chest. His skin was radiating heat and his arms were strong and snug. He smelled like sawdust and wet grass with the tang of metal from the sweat and nails on his skin. His heart beat strong and steady in her ear.
She thought, perhaps, there had never been a more perfect moment in the world.
The crowd at the lodge had thinned out steadily as the day ticked on. Getting down from the lodge was a rather long drive or hike, by any measure, and no one liked to be stranded. If anyone was left on the property, they were inside and quiet as can be. The only sounds that surrounded them were the soft shushing of wind in the grass and the pine trees overhead.
When Edward stepped back at last, he left his hands on her arms. His thumbs moved up and down. "It's going to get dark soon," he said quietly, lifting his eyes to the gray, twilight heavens. Bella followed suit, watching the patches of periwinkle sky shine through the holes in the fog as it drifted overhead.
When she lowered her gaze, Edward's green eyes were waiting for her. "I hope it's not a secret that I wanted to talk to you about more than just our lives."
She smiled nervously. "It's not. For me too."
He looked relieved. "I'm afraid that I'm going to scare you away."
"Why?" She giggled at the thought.
"I came on kind of strong. I don't want to make you leave."
He raised an eyebrow as a question.
"I'm pretty sure that your stomach did the same thing as mine when I saw you again, Edward. There's always been something between us. I think, now that we're older, we were finally meant to act on it." She cringed internally. "Er, talk about it."
Edward grinned. "Act on it, eh?"
She closed her eyes tightly. "That's not...I mean." Bella growled to herself. "You know what I mean."
His arms slowly slid down her arms and back around her waist once more. "Yes, Bella. I do."
She felt short of breath. "Y-you do?"
He nodded and leaned forward.
She didn't stop to think about how fast this was all happening, or how perhaps it wasn't the best idea to be necking with a contractor at his place of work. She refused to think about how many times she'd imagined this as a teenager, and, in contrast, how long it had been since she'd been kissed as an adult. Which was a very, very long time, by the way.
His lips were cold from the darkness of evening and one calloused hand moved from her waist to cup her cheek tenderly. She leaned into the warmth of his palm, and inhaled deeply through her nose. She could feel the restraint in his touch, and her insides trembled at the thought of what a kiss with Edward would be like if he didn't restrain himself.
A quiet sigh escaped her lips and Edward held her tighter. Kissed her harder. She wrapped an arm around his neck and held him close.
"Oh Bella," he sighed, pulling away to kiss her cheek and the side of her neck, before hiding his face in her hair. "So long. I've waited so long."
Bella closed her eyes and slid her fingers into his hair. "Me too."
They spent another moment in a silence under the purple sky, hearts beating against each other like drums. She clutched at his shirt helplessly in case her insides made her float away into the sky.
He kissed her again, softer this time. Reverently. His lips lingered longer and longer before pulling away until she held him close enough that he couldn't pull away. All of the bits of their story that had fallen away after she left Forks seemed to be stitching themselves back together. She felt such relief in her heart.
Eventually they stood against the wall of the lodge, locked in a tight embrace. Edward's face in her hair and hers pressed to his neck. The evening air was cool around them. Almost too cool. They would have to go inside soon.
"Dinner." Her hair was muffling his voice.
He stood up to his full height without pulling away. "I need to make you dinner."
She clutched him tighter. "Do you?"
Edward smiled. "I'm scared to think of what would happen if I didn't."
She felt the nerves in her stomach drop to her toes..
Without another word, he took her hand and pulled her towards the nearest doorway.
Edward flicked the lights to the massive, industrial kitchen. It was a fortress of stainless steel and white tile, now lit by eerie, unnatural light. It seemed oddly bright, compared to the deep wood tones and wide windows of the building itself. Now the windows to the outside were inky blue with darkness.
He dropped her hand and wandered over to the fridge and cracked it open with a loud hiss. "Okay," he announced, rubbing his hands together, "I have supplies for chili and supplies for chili. What would you like?"
Bella laughed and sat herself on the nearest countertop. She could feel the cold from the stainless steel seep through the denim of her jeans. "I'll take the chili, please."
"Good choice," he nodded and disappeared inside the walk in, before emerging with a flat of ground beef and a couple of onions.
"Did they supply you food?" she asked, as he deposited his items beside her and looked around for a cutting board and knives.
"Not quite," he replied. He pulled a long, sharp-looking knife out of the knife block and looked satisfied with the metallic schwing noise it made. "I asked if I could cook my own meals in the kitchen and they agreed. I've been keeping myself fed on soup and chili." He smiled bashfully and began chopping up the onion.
Bella swung her legs over the edge of the counter and watched his precise movements. "Can I gather anything else?" she asked, feeling useless after four seconds.
"Chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper. They should be over by the pantry." He pointed with the knife, cringed sheepishly and lowered it back down to the counter. "Thanks."
She took a contemplative walk over to the pantry and drummed her fingers on her lips. They were still swollen and sensitive. They ached for more. Dinner seemed like the last thing she wanted, and yet it was the only thing holding them to reality at this point.
The contents of the shelf were a mismatched collection of random clear canisters labeled with tape and marker. Bella ran her fingers along the edge of each shelf until she found what she was looking for. She returned to Edward with an eclectic mix of spice containers.
He inspected her work. "Well done. Thank you."
She lingered awkwardly. Wanting, and yet not sure how to ask. Their moment outside seemed so momentous compared to this. How would they move on from here? The questions in her head ticked by.
He looked up from the onion he was chopping. "Yeah?"
She took a step towards him, closer than one should be when the other is holding a knife. Then another. Eventually he set down the blade. "Tell me it wasn't just that one."
His eyebrows puckered. "Just that one, what?"
Her cheeks were aflame. "Kiss."
Edward's face lit up with another blinding smile. "Are you joking?"
"I haven't had one in so long…"
"Bella," he said seriously, wiping his hands on a towel before wrapping them around her. "One is not nearly enough. In fact, I'm having a hard time concentrating right now. But if I don't feed you dinner, I feel like this whole invitation would be a ruse just to kiss you all night."
She chewed on her lip before saying, "What's wrong with that?"
He laughed and lowered his head. "Well, nothing apparently, but that isn't just what I want."
"What do you want?"
She watched his eyes close and could practically see the thoughts forming in his head. His fingers splayed out on her back. "I've had feelings for you since the first day I met you. I was so stupid back then, to have wasted all that time. We're older now, I'm older. I need to show you that this isn't just to tick a box in my head. This is more, Bella. I want to show you that."
Bella narrowed her eyes as she watched the crease between his eyebrows deepen and the lightness in his eyes cloud over. "Tell me."
Edward took both her hands in his, much larger ones. "It's more than just 'missing you', Bella."
She shrugged. "We always had something. I know that."
He shook his head slowly. "That's not what I mean." Upon sensing the hurt reaction on her face, he hurriedly corrected himself. "Sorry, yes we did. But that's not only what I mean." Another deep breath. "Okay, I'm just going to lay it all out."
She nodded slowly.
"I'm not trying to say that I've been holding out for you, because that's not entirely true. I've met other women, and I've even fallen in love, but something is always missing. I hoped some day that I would see you again, just to find out if that feeling in the pit of my stomach returned the way it did when we were younger. I wanted to know for sure that the feelings I had for you in high school were still real now that we're adults."
A smile tugged at her lips and she tried to hide it.
"Bella, back then you were so smart, focused and beautiful. There was something about you that I couldn't place. For a long time, I thought you transferred to our school just to torment me. I was so miserable in high school that I thought I deserved that, for some stupid reason. Which is why I took it out on you."
She chuckled under her breath. "We were all there at one point, Edward."
He waved his hand, as if to dismiss the mention of his emotionally tormented, high school mind. "Anyway, the point is, you're one of a kind. I know that now, and I knew that back then, too." He smiled fondly. "I had hoped all of this time that I'd somehow get the chance to see you again. Not only just to see you, but to try again. Do the right thing."
"The right thing?"
"To be with you. To make it happen. We never found out, even though I thought perhaps we both wanted to. I've regretted it for a long time."
Bella squeezed his hands. "Me too."
"What I'm saying, Bella, is that I want to offer myself to you, as a boy...er man...who has feelings for you. Who once knew you to be an amazing young woman and sees no doubt that you still are. I refuse to sit by and watch you walk away without knowing."
Edward pulled her hands to his lips and kissed each one. "I've been, almost literally, around the world and I've met people along the way. Women. None of them have made me feel the way that you made me feel when we were younger. And how I felt when I saw you walking up to the lodge a couple hours ago." He pointed in the middle of his chest to illustrate. "That means something to me."
"It means something to me too. It felt weird. I'm not sure I've recovered yet, to be honest."
He laughed. "I haven't either. What do you think it means?"
She squeezed his hands tightly. "I think it means that you're right. That you need to do the right thing."
"Oh do I?"
Bella nodded slowly. He made a small sound in the back of his throat that let her know he was struggling just as much as he was. She took a step closer and the grip on her hands tightened, almost painfully.
"What would that be right now?" Edward asked. His voice was gravelly and low.
She took their hands and looped his arms around her. They settled against the small of her back. "Kiss me again. Please, Edward," She begged, knowing exactly what she was asking him for. Knowing she wanted it with all of the strength in her heart. How, she wasn't sure, but now that she had Edward Cullen here, in her arms, she didn't want to let go.
His breathing was faster now and his fingertips dug into her back.
With one last sigh, he granted her wish, taking her face tightly in his hands and kissing her for all she was worth. Bella grabbed fistfuls of his shirt in her hands and pulled him closer. The sounds of their lips, breaths, and scuffling feet echoed off the infinite hard angles of the room, making the moment even more intimate.
Edward's hands moved down to her neck and his fingers weaved through the hair at the nape of her neck. "Bella…" he groaned. "If only you knew."
Her nose was pressed to his cheek. "Knew what?"
"How long I've dreamed of this moment."
She smiled to herself. "Making out in the kitchen on the top of a mountain?"
He chuckled softly and the sound made her shiver with delight. "Not exactly."
"It is pretty surreal," she said. "I know a little about what you're feeling."
He pulled back slowly and pushed some of her hair off her forehead. Her ponytail was coming undone. "Do you want dinner?" he asked, serious this time.
She stared at him as she thought. Her brain considered the rational response, probably the safe response: "Yes." All she could see was fumbling hands, pale skin and a bed...somewhere. A need she didn't realize she'd been hiding roared to life low in her belly. She couldn't bring her lips to say the words.
Instead she took the weak route and followed what her heart was telling her. She shook her head slowly.
"Oh God," Edward groaned, before kissing her once more.
The door to his small room upstairs slammed against the wall as he threw it open. They stumbled behind it as Bella tried to pull her scarf from around her neck. With another slam, the door closed behind them. The sound shook her from the situation slightly.
Alone. In Edward's room.
If she was being honest, she'd imagined this many times before, only as an innocent teen with no real concept of reality.
Now they were grown, and, she assumed, a bit more experienced in the ways of…adults.
Her heart was pounding in her ears and the tips of her fingers were tingling.
Was this really happening?
Edward seemed to be taking a breather as well, but his eyes were fixed on her. Dark, hooded. Slightly predatory.
She moved towards him like a magnet finding its mate. His hands cupped her face and he kissed her so deeply, she was surprised her legs still worked.
"Bella," he whispered over her lips. "I don't want to…"
She stepped back. "You don't want to?"
He shook his head quickly. "No, no. I do. I don't want to do anything you don't want me to. I don't have expectations, I really don't. I just want to be with you, in whatever way."
It was far too late now. Her entire body was vibrating, she was aching nearly everywhere.
"Edward," she said, voice low and husky. "I want you."
He closed his eyes tightly as she kissed his jaw and his neck. "Please."
When his eyes snapped open, she knew the hesitation was gone. He gripped her arms and guided her backwards towards the bed. She fussed with the buttons to his flannel while he pulled the elastic out of her hair. Their hands were frenzied and their breaths were ragged.
They collapsed on the small, double bed in a tangle of arms and legs. The springs of the thin, ancient mattress protested loudly. A nervous giggle escaped both of them.
"Wait," Edward said, after he finished a particularly sensual trail of kisses down her neck. "Let me light the fire."
Bella couldn't help but laugh as he pushed himself off the bed and tiptoed over to the fireplace. His bare back looked silver in the moonlight. She could see the sliver of his navy boxers at the base of his spine. "What we need in this situation is definitely more cliché," she said, pressing her hands over her eyes.
Edward threw a few logs on the fire and shoved some newspaper under the cast-iron log holder. "You joke now, but wait until night falls. Summer or not, it gets cold in this old building." He lit a match with a hiss.
She busied herself by pulling her arm out of the rest of her shirt and removing the heavy, unattractive woolen socks from her feet. She felt Edward draw near when she heard the cracks from the newly built fire. He stood over her, lit on one side by moonlight and the other by warm gold from the other side of the room. The lines of his face were stronger this way; more angular and, if possible, more attractive. He lowered himself rather skillfully on top of her.
"Sorry for the interruption," he murmured, resuming his trail of kisses from the base of her neck across her collarbone.
She could already feel the warmth in the room and was thankful that he had stepped away. As his lips drew lower and lower down her exposed skin, she felt her brain cease to function altogether.
"You are so beautiful," he breathed over her sternum. "I always knew, but was never brave enough to tell you."
She pulled at his shoulders and guided him back up to her lips. They moved further up on the bed and resumed their gradual undressing until they were skin on skin atop the covers. She felt a frenzied need, deep inside and an excitement in her heart.
The moment was surreal and unexpected. Earlier she had hiked up a mountain with no expectations whatsoever. Now she was about to make love to a man she thought she'd never have. She gripped him tightly as he moved his body over hers.
"Do you still want this?" he asked close to her ear.
She lifted her knees around his hips as an answer.
Edward groaned and lowered his head to her neck as he, at last, moved inside her.
Warm breath tickled the skin on her shoulder. Rough fingertips on her cheek.
"Bella, wake up."
Slowly, she cracked one eye, then the other. The morning light was blinding.
Edward was blinding.
His face was silhouetted by the pale sun out the window. A thin line of pure white traced his face and hair, illuminating his skin like a warm halo. His green eyes were dancing.
"What?" Her voice cracked with grogginess.
"Sunrise," he said, voice low and eyes bright. She had hardly seen him this excited about anything since she'd known him.
The facts behind his offer started materializing in her brain. Sunrise. It was tomorrow. She had to leave. Leave his bed. Where it was warm. Where they had spent the night previous hardly sleeping. Why would they leave…?
Edward seemed to deduce the train of her thoughts from the look on her face. He leaned close and pressed his lips to the skin behind her ear. "We can come back. We will come back. It's still early yet."
A chill went from the top of her head down to her toes and back up again. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly through her nose. "Promise?"
He chuckled against her skin and kissed her again. And again. And again.
Before they both lost their self-control, he pushed himself off the mattress and reached across the floor to lift the cream-colored sweater from the ground. Bella noticed that he was already dressed.
"You planned this?" she asked groggily as she sat up and pulled her hair away from her eyes. She held the sheet to her chest.
Edward moved around the room, lifting their clothes from the furnace, laying them on the bed, and finding their shoes. "It's called sunrise lodge for a reason. Hurry."
In a few minutes they were wrapped together in a blanket like enchiladas, as the pale, yellow sun rose from behind the mountains. The scratchy, wool blanket rubbed against Bella's cheek as she pressed her face into Edward's shoulder. The light was starting to burn their eyes, they would only be able to watch a few more minutes.
Pastel shades of blue, purple, orange and yellow painted the sky like a watercolor painting. The thin, wispy clouds, practically the polar opposite of the thick fog from the day before, lit up like neon against the sky.
Below, a thin layer of blue mist clung to the treetops. White and black birds flew from tree to tree like tiny dots in the wind.
It was silent aside from their slow breaths and heartbeats. Edward slurped his tin cup of coffee beside her. The steam floated up above their heads as he exhaled.
"This is incredible," Bella said, at last. They had been seated close and quiet for nearly an hour now.
As she continued to stare at the colors in the sky, she could see Edward turn to look at her. The reality of the ending sunrise made the knot tie even higher in her stomach. She met his eyes reluctantly.
"Let's go back," he said. His voice was deep and soft. The sound made her heart race and her skin red-hot.
Without thinking she leaned in and kissed him.
Edward looped his arm around her and pulled her closer. At once she knew that he had the same knot in his stomach.
They left their coffee mugs on the bluff.
The blanket barely made it through the door to Edward's room.
This time was rough and desperate. His fingers dug into the skin on her hip, as if he was afraid she'd disappear should he let go. His breaths were heavy as he tried his best to pace himself. Bella arched her back into the mattress, wanting more. More everything.
More of him. More time. More sunrise.
Edward obliged on his end and she cried out.
They collapsed into each other afterwards with chests heaving and minds reeling. He held her tightly and she clung right back, lulled into a shallow sleep by the heavy beating of his heart.
"Thank you for asking me to stay," Bella whispered into his skin, much later.
The room was quiet and still. Wood walls, white sheets, sunlight through the window. It felt like she was inside a post on Tumblr. The only noise that ever broke the silence, was the sound of the window screen rattling in the breeze. Bella's eyes followed the floating bits of dust in the air as the sunlight grew brighter and brighter.
Edward was staring up at the ceiling next to her. They turned to face each other. "Thank you for staying." His mouth turned up in a smile and she felt her heart melt.
"I wish I could stay longer."
He lifted an arm and dragged the tip of his finger down her cheek. "Real life isn't nearly as convenient as fantasy." He gave her a sad smile. "Anyway, I need to leave today too. My job is done."
"This was a pretty nice fantasy."
Edward nodded as he continued moving his finger on her face. It was very distracting. "Reality doesn't have to be so bad."
Bella smiled. "Oh?"
He held her chin between his thumb and forefinger as he watched her eyes. "I feel like I waited ten years to see you and tell you how I feel. You think I'm just going to let you walk away?"
"I wasn't thinking anything, to be completely honest," she said. "I mean, I was at first. At least, I was trying to rationalize what was going on. But eventually… I wanted to completely live in this moment and enjoy it to its fullest. Whatever happens after is…" she sighed pleasantly, "More than I could imagine."
Edward grinned and lifted himself on his elbow. "Let me try to do this right, Bella. I want to finally be together."
She let her eyes fall closed as he pressed his lips to hers.
When he pulled back she was smiling too. "Okay."
He gave a satisfied smile and lay down back beside her. She knew if they had it their way, they would never leave this room.
It took them a few hours to leave the lodge. And the bed. Bella helped him clean up his workspace outside. They piled extra shingles in the supply shed nearby. He pocketed extra nails and gathered his tools while she poked through the grass for scraps. They managed to clean up the remnants of their abandoned chili before the cooking staff wandered in the kitchen to prepare for early guests. They both laughed as he threw the spoiled and untouched ground beef into the trash.
It was nearly ten in the morning by the time they both piled into his truck and sat in near silence as they stared at the gravel parking lot before them.
"What now?" she said to herself and to no one in particular.
Edward's hand found her knee and he squeezed softly. "I take you to your dad's, I guess."
They had talked all through the morning about everything else, except what happened after they left.
"When do you go back to Seattle?" he asked quietly, fiddling with the keys on his key ring.
Bella realized she hardly knew what day it was. "Wednesday," she said eventually, tracing patterns over the top of his hand.
"Can I cook you dinner tomorrow night?" He smiled. "Actually cook this time, not just offer."
Bella grinned instantly and beamed across the cab. "Really?"
Edward snorted. "What do you mean, 'Really?' What did you think was going to happen?"
She shrugged, still smiling. "I don't know."
He pulled their joined hands to his lips and kissed her hand. "I told you. I want to do this right. Let me cook you dinner, and we can watch a movie. We can even go to the multi-plex if you want."
"Forks has a multi-plex now?" That was big news, indeed.
"Who do you think oversaw construction?"
Bella chewed on her lip. "Can I stay over?"
"Obviously." He paused for a moment. "Will your dad let you?"
"He left me stranded on top of a mountain with a boy I knew in high school. He can't discriminate now."
They laughed together and Edward kissed her hand once more before starting the engine, as though sealing the deal.
"So tomorrow," he said, eyeing her as he shifted into gear.
She nodded affirmatively. "Tomorrow. And we can make more plans then."
"Yes, we can."
The truck lurched forward and Bella moved as close to Edward as she could, without breaking her ribs on the console between them. She watched the windy road turn and weave as they slowly rumbled down the mountain.
She imagined their kiss on her doorstep when they finally made it back to Forks, and tried to decide whether or not she would invite him inside. After all, her dad worked all day. She daydreamed about their date the next evening and realized, with newfound glee, how hard it would be to wait that long to see him.
The future, which mere hours ago had seemed as hazy as the fog that clung to the trees yesterday, was now sparkling with possibility, clear as day. She looked slyly up at Edward has he focused intently on the hairpin turns ahead.
Edward Cullen, nearly a stranger to her before yesterday, was now possibly, hopefully, someone she would hold most dear for a very, very long time.
The corner of his mouth turned up slightly and she knew she'd been caught. She hid her face in his shoulder and smiled as wide as she dared.
The future was very, very bright indeed.
A/N: First of all, I realize that Forks isn't just a ho-hum drive from Mt. Rainer, but just roll with me on this, ok? Five hours is like NO TIME AT ALL. Please share your thoughts in the reviews if you'd like. I think about men in flannel shirts way too much. Sometimes I just have to write it out. :) Nice to see all of you! xoxo